Fan Edition phones from Samsung, at least in the recent past, have been about giving people flagship features and feel, but at a lesser price. This is supposed to be the case with the Galaxy S21 FE, which was released in early January 2022, and has since found its way to Kenya store shelves.
It follows the excellent S20 FE from 2020, which continues to be a very good phone to date, and that it launched at a substantially reduced price than the S20. However, Samsung went over the board with the S21 FE. It costs KES 90K here, and USD 700 in Western markets. That is way higher, almost KES 20K more than where the S20 FE started at. Also, let us not mention that the device launched this year, following months of rumours that can be traced back to as early as Q2 2021.
The phone is excellent in my book, and I could easily live with it, or even recommend it to people, but the price is just a little too high. It is still KES 17K cheaper than the normal S21, but its remix of features just doesn’t feel right this time around by sheer asking price. Add to the fact that the S22 is just a couple of days away, and you can start seeing why the device is already dated at launch. We honestly don’t understand Samsung’s thinking here, but maybe the South Korean phone maker knows something we are not aware of.
A familiar design
The S21 has a 6.4” screen, which is actually quite nice and compact in a world of mammoth phones. It has a plastic back, which should essentially make it cost lesser than its premium siblings with glass rears. The plastic doesn’t bother me, actually, because it actually manages to keep the phone light, and that is one less glass to break. The lavender back is also made from a single piece of plastic, and the Contour Cut design is here.
Still, it just looks and feels the same as the S21 or S21+. If you have those phones, you wouldn’t see any design departures in the S21 FE. That is how similar they look – and that is not a bad thing because the S21 series was already well-designed, with the S21 Ultra winning accolades following its tight finishes and generally great packaging.
You also get your basics here: all buttons are to the right, while the left side is bare. The dual sim slot is soloed at the bottom this time around, alongside a USB C port and speaker grill that works alongside another one at the earpiece for the stereo effect. They sound fantastic.
This is no surprise because Samsung started acing screens a long time ago. It is one of the best screens in the industry at 6.4” with a FHD+ resolution. It also refreshes at 120Hz, and brightness hits around 700 nits, meaning this phone is very usable even on the brightest of days. The S21, however, gets brighter than that, but everything else is the same.
The display is a Gorilla Victus one, and it also houses a speedy in-display fingerprint reader. It is the optical kind, not the ultrasonic one that Samsung has in the S21 lineup.
One UI 4.0 and Android 12
The S21 FE comes with Android 12 and One UI 4.0 out of the box. This is a good move because we would have been sad if it launched with Android 11. This is also a good time to mention that Samsung has been doing a good job updating its past devices to Android 12. Even my old A72 has since received the update, which is quite frankly more than I expected from Samsung. No other manufacturer other than Google and the Pixel line has updated its phones this fast.
However, from the visual point of view, One UI 4.0 is not any different from One UI 3.1. Icons look the same, the settings panel is the same, and other UI/UX elements have not been touched.
However, there are some customizations that you can enjoy, including colour palette that change UI colours to match your wallpaper. While not as robust as what Google has done with the Pixel series, Samsung’s implementation is more than enough.
Samsung has also had scrolling screenshots long before Android 12 introduced them natively.
There is also a new privacy dashboard, and you can get a notification when apps access a mic or camera (with a green notification on the notification area). The privacy dashboard can also help you access and manage elements such as data, permissions and tracking settings, to mention a few.
The S21 FE’s snappers are another place where Samsung tries to downgrade just a little bit so that the phone feels a little bit ‘inferior’ to the S21. It, nonetheless, has a familiar wide, ultra-wide and telephoto lens. However, the telephoto sensor is just 8 MP compared to the 64 MP of the S21. It still gives you 3x optical zoom. Both the telephoto and wide sensors are optically stabilized.
To put it simply, both the wide and ultra-wide snappers take awesome pictures. However, we could have used more pixels for the telephoto, but the 8 MP sensor still works. I am equally impressed with the cameras the same way the S21+ made me happy one year ago. The same can be said about the Z Flip3, although the bending phone does not have a telephoto camera.
The good thing is that Samsung bumped up the resolution of the S21 FE’s selfie snapper from 10 MP in the S21 to 32 MP. This is a good move if you like taking selfies or vlogging.
Powering the S21 FE is an Exynos 2100 – Version 2. The 2100 in the S21 series is already great, and while it does not match up to the speediness of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888, the 2100 version in the S21 FE is more than enough, and more than enough.
Simply put, this is a speedy phone that completes every task that you throw at it with finesse and power. You can bog it down even if you tried, and I am glad that is the case here.
It is also a good decision that Samsung chose to bring the S21 FE with Exynos here. The Flip3, for instance, has the S888, but that chip, while being fast, is a hot mess that gives me bad memories about the S810 from very many years ago. I would, honestly, rather have the 2100 over S888 because I know the former will give me good thermals.
Lastly, you get 8 GB of RAM in the phone alongside 128 GB of storage. That space can fill up quite fast if you shoot a lot of 4K clips, which the phone supports.
Two-day battery life for the frugal
The S21 FE has a fairly big body, which houses a 4500 mAh cell. This is bigger than the 4000 mAh juicer in the S21. This means that the longevity of the S21 FE is obvious, and it can easily pull two days between charges. I am actually quite surprised by this kind of battery performance because I was expecting worse, probably because I used the Flip3 before this device, which had horrendous battery life.
It also supports 25W charging, which is not the speediest in town, but it gets the job done. Samsung has also never been big on charging speeds, probably because it wants to maintain battery health over an extended period. The likes of OPPO and Xiaomi have equipped their phones, even mid-range ones with fast charging well over 65W. I must admit that juicing up your phone in under 30 minutes does spoil you of other charging speeds, and Samsung has chosen to stick to 25W. the highest the manufacturer has gone to is 45W, but that charger can only hit such speeds with the Note10 and Note20 Ultra, as well as S21 Ultra. Quite a limited number of devices, but do we complain?
Based on the assessment above, you can see that I have very many things to like about the S21 FE. It is a small phone, well packaged, has a great screen and battery life to boot, not to mention it is very light at just 177g.
The software has also been polished, though it feels familiar, it is speedy, and launches in a number of attractive colours.
However, my biggest beef with the phone is the price. At KES 90000, it is just a little on the expensive side. Bear in mind that hit store shelves this January, and before the month ends (February), the market will have shiny new and better phones in the name of the S22 series.
Let me remind you that the phone was leaked widely over the better part of 2021, only for it to go live in 2022. People had already moved on, and what is the point of really releasing a fan edition device (that is supposed to offer the same features as the premium version but a reduced price) when interest levels have gone significantly low?
Maybe the S22 FE will be launched in a timely manner this time around, and we hope that Samsung will really look into features that make their fans happy. How about a microSD card and 3.5 mm socket? How about faster charging speeds? And while at that, can the price be kept as low as that of the S20 FE when it launched? These are alternative features that fans actually love – but we guess that ship has sailed.
Overall, I just feel that the S21 FE lost a few friends this time around.
Grilla Glass Victus front
6.4″ FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED
2400 x 1080 pixels
|Exynos 2100 Gen 2
No SD card support
|Optical In-Display reader
12 MP wide angle with OIS
12 MP ultra-wide
8 MP telephoto with OIS [3X optical zoom and 30X digital zoom]
|Stereo with dual-speakers
25W fast wired and 15W wireless charging in tow
Upgradable to Android 15
|8/128 GB - KES 90000