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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G Review - Still good after 3 months?

OPPO
Huawei
We share our thoughts and experiences with the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G after three weeks of use.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G Review - Better late than never?
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G in Olive Green

Launched in early 2022, the new Samsung Galaxy S21 Fan Edition 5G features all the "fan-favorite" features from the S21 series that arrived in early 2021.

Key features include the 5nm Exynos 2100 5G octa-core processor, Mali-G78 GPU, 8GB RAM, 128GB/256GB of storage, and a 4,500mAh battery with 25W Fast Charging via USB-C, 15W wireless charging, and reverse wireless charging

In the Philippines, the starting price of the S21 FE 5G is PHP 38,990 for the 128GB model.

How does it perform in real life?

Let's find out!


Multimedia Experience

Flat AMOLED panel
Flat AMOLED panel

In front of the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is a large 6.4-inch 2.5D curved Dynamic AMOLED 2x screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, 240Hz touch sampling rate and a 2400 x 1080 resolution.

The panel is bright with vibrant color, good sharpness and detail. It has deep blacks and thus great contrast. The 120Hz refresh rate and 240Hz touch sampling rate make it feel smooth and responsive. It also supports 10-points of multitouch that are responsive, accurate, and quickly most of the time. 

We love the fast and responsive panel but we hope Samsung can bring a 1440 resolution panel in the next one.
Top and bottom
Top and bottom 

The phone features stereo that is split between the earpiece and the bottom-firing speaker. It does not have a 3.5mm audio jack.

The speakers have a loud maximum volume. However, we recommend toning the volume down to 90 percent as the sound at the highest volume has some distortion and some tingyness. For the best clarity, separation and sound quality, we recommend having the volume at 90 percent.

The microphones can pick up audio from under a meter away. The noise cancellation is good enough that our callers never complained about voice quality. One is at the bottom while the other is on the top of the phone. These locations are preferred for better call and video recording quality.

Cameras

Rear triple cameras
Rear triple cameras

At the back is a triple camera setup made up of a 12MP f/1.8 main camera,12MP f/2.2 123-degree ultra-wide-angle camera and an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto camera with an LED flash.

The stock camera app includes the following modes: Photo, Video, Portrait, Single Take, Pro, Panorama, Food, Night, Portrait Video, Pro Video, Super Slo-Mo, Slow Motion, HyperLapse and Dual Recording.

The Pro mode allows for controls of ISO (50-3200), Shutter speed (1/1200s to 30 seconds), White Balance, EV (+-2) and for controls to switch between the 1x camera and the ultra-wide camera.

Rear Camera Samples

Daylight 1x
Daylight 1x
Daylight 2x
Daylight 2x
Daylight 10x
Daylight 10x
Daylight 30x
Daylight 30x
Daylight ultra-wide
Daylight ultra-wide

The S21 FE 5G can switch between the three cameras in the stock camera app. In daylight, all three cameras produce sharp and detailed images with decent color and good contrast. The 30X hybrid zoom is full of artefacts and noise while losing accurate colors. 

In short, daylight images are the strength of the cameras. However, we don't recommend using the hybrid zoom unless necessary.
Close-up shot

When shooting close-ups, there are cases where the image is great but is obviously oversharppened. We hope Samsung would tone down the sharpening next time.
Rear camera Portrait mode
Rear camera Portrait mode

The rear camera portrait mode images are great. The edge detection is near perfect. We don't see any out of place fur fibers at all. Samsung has nailed this feature.
Indoor 1x
Indoor 1x
Indoor 2x
Indoor 2x
Indoor 10x
Indoor 10x
Indoor 30x
Indoor 30x
Indoor ultra-wide-angle camera
Indoor ultra-wide-angle camera

Indoors, the photos get a hair increase in noise levels but the sharpness, contrast and detail are nearly the same as in daylight. The white balance however was thrown off by the warmer lights inside the bookstore. Otherwise, the images are great. Like in daylight, we recommend using the hybrid zoom only when necessary.
Lowlight 1x
Lowlight 1x
Lowlight 2x
Lowlight 2x
Lowlight ultra-wide-angle
Lowlight ultra-wide-angle

In low light, the main camera and telephoto camera managed to produce vibrant, sharp and clean images. The ultra-wide camera's image has. noticeably more grain and has lost its sharpness and color accuracy.
Night mode 1x
Night mode 1x
Night mode 2x
Night mode 2x
Night Mode 4x
Night Mode 10x
Night Mode ultra-wide
Night Mode ultra-wide

The Night Mode is available with all three cameras and was able to significantly improve the images from the main, telephoto and ultra-wide cameras. There is almost no noise in the ultra-wide camera anymore.  We highly recommend using the Night mode when shooting still subjects.
Selfie camera
Selfie camera

While on the punch hole is the 32MP f/2.2 selfie camera. This is a higher spec camera than the other members of the S21 series. The stock camera app that uses the selfie camera includes the following modes: Photo, Portrait, Video, Single Take, Night Selfie, Dual Recording and Hyperlapse.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie

In daylight, the selfie camera produces sharp and detailed selfies with vibrant color and good contrast. This may be the best Selfies we've seen on a Samsung smartphone yet. 
Daylight Portrait selfie
Daylight Portrait selfie

The portrait mode offers the same quality while offering a nice bokeh. The edge detection is spot on and the bokeh does look almost natural.
Indoor selfie
Indoor selfie

Indoors, there is an increase in noise and grain which slightly reduced the detail and sharpness of the image. Otherwise, the colors and contrast is good.
Low light selfie
Low light selfie

In lowlight, the phone managed to keep the subject's sharpness and detail at a good level. However, the noise has reduced the color accuracy and the contrast of the image.
Night mode selfie
Night mode selfie

The Night mode was able to recover the contrast and noise of the low light selfies. It even is sharper. We highly recommend using the Night Mode for selfies in low light when possible.

The rear cameras can capture up to 4K at 60fps with stabilization but you can not switch between the rear cameras. It can also capture up to 4K at 30fps with stabilization while being able to switch between the three rear cameras. While the selfie camera can capture up to 4K at 60fps without stabilization.

The footage from both the selfie and rear cameras are sharp and detailed with good contrast and with little grain. Being able to shoot with stabilization is great as the micro jitters and shakiness have been reduced. We hope Samsung can add stabilization to the higher resolution video of the selfie camera in the future. 

Note: We will upload our video samples here. Stay tuned!

Performance

AnTuTu and GeekBench
AnTuTu and GeekBench

Inside the phone is the 5nm EUV Exynos 2100 5G octa-core processor, Mali-G78 MP14 GPU, and 8GB RAM. It managed to score over 637,657 in AnTuTu and scored over 706 in Single-core and 3041 in Multi-core test in GeekBench.
WildLife Extreme and CPDT
WildLife Extreme and CPDT

While in 3DMark Wild Life Extreme, the phone managed to score 1,849 overall and got an 11 fps average. These scores are expected for a flagship as Wild Life Extreme is tough.

While in the internal storage benchmark CPDT, it scored over 515.30 MB/s in sequential read speeds and 224.43 in sequential write speeds. These are impressive read speeds but the write speeds are lower than expected from a flagship.
Genshin Impact Graphics settings
Genshin Impact Graphics settings

The Exynos 2100 managed to unlock the medium graphics setting as the default. This is expected and it is in line with the flagship smartphones of 2021. The phone gets warm after 30 minutes on medium. It never got alarmingly hot even after two hours of gameplay however we recommend toning down the graphics for the best thermals.
Call of Duty: Mobile

In the latest version of Call of Duty: Mobile, the phone managed to unlock the highest graphics settings of Very High and Max frame rate. This is expected as the SoC is flagship-grade. What is even better is that the phone can run the game at Very High graphics quality while at Max Frame rate. Very few phones can do this. However, we do not recommend running the game like this as the phone's cooling can't keep up after an extended session. We recommend toning down the graphics and frame rate to High to be able to play longer play sessions.

Playing Call of Duty: Mobile with the best settings and maintaining it for an extended play session is impressive.

The optical in-display fingerprint scanner is easy to set up and it detects and scans the fingerprint quickly. It isn't as secure as the sonic fingerprint scanner from the other S21 series members but it is more than good enough in performance.

While the Face Unlock with the selfie camera is also easy to set up and works fast. It detects our faces and unlocks the phone instantaneously in both well-lit and poorly lit environments. The screen brightens up when in a darker environment too. 

The phone works with OTG when the feature is enabled manually. The WiFi, Bluetooth 5.1, 5G, LTE and NFC connections are fast, stable, and reliable. The GPS acquires our location immediately and accurately.
3DMark Battery test and Battery usage
3DMark Battery test and Battery usage

Inside the phone is a large 4500mAh battery with 25W fast charging thru USB-C. In our usual PCMark battery test, the phone managed to endure over 10 hours and 38 minutes. 

While in our real-world use where we use the phone as our daily driver, it managed to last for 5 hours and 58 minutes of on-screen time after a loaded 8-hour workday. This is impressive given that there is still 25 percent battery left.

It takes the phone under 70 minutes to charge from 0 to 100 percent with the 25W charger. This is a reasonably fast charging for its price range. It is not the best but it is faster than even some flagships.
One UI 3.1
One UI 3.1

For software, it is running on the latest Android 11-based One UI 3.1. Like the rest of the S21 series, the latest version of One UI with a lot of visual and practical UI changes that make it fun to use. It isn't the fastest, but it is a lot easier and more functional to use than most of the Android skins out there.

Our main concern is that there is a ton of pre-installed Samsung branded apps that can conflict with stock Google apps. This can easily be remedied by uninstalling the bloatware one by one. It takes extra time upon initial set-up but that's it.

Performance-wise, navigating thru the UI and launching apps is decently fast. We have no complaints about the overall performance phone. 

Pros - Powerful specs, good battery life, great cameras, value for money pick, lightweight and solid build materials, 
Cons - Thermals during games and heavy workloads can get warm quickly,

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G Specs

Display: 6.4-inch 2.5D curved Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen w/ 120Hz refresh rate, 240Hz touch sampling rate, FHD+ 2400 x 1080 resolution at 411 ppi
CPU: 2.9GHz 5nm EUV Exynos 2100 5G octa-core processor
GPU: Mali-G78 MP14
RAM: 8GB
ROM: 128GB/256GB
Back Camera: 12MP f/1.8 w/ Dual Pixel AF, OIS + 12MP f/2.2 123-degree ultra-wide-angle camera + 8MP f/2.4 telephoto camera + LED flash
Selfie Camera: 32MP f/2.2 81-degree wide
Battery: 4,500mAh w/ 25W SuperFast charging + 15W wireless charging + reverse wireless charging
OS: Android 12 w/ One UI 4
Connectivity: WiFi 6E 2x2 MIMO, 5G, 4G LTE, Bluetooth 5.1, UWB, MST, OTG, NFC, dual-band GPS, dual SIM
Sensors: Accelerometer, light, orientation, proximity, gyroscope, sound, magnetic
Others: In-Display fingerprint sensor, IP68 water, and dust resistance, stereo speakers, Colors: Olive, Lavender, White, Graphite
Dimensions: 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm
Weight: 177 g
Price: PHP 38,990 (128GB), PHP 41,990 (256GB)

Verdict

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is the company's current attempt at the best value smartphone with flagship-like performance.

It has a unique design that is built with lightweight but solid materials. Inside are near top-shelf components that offer powerful performance across the board. This results in snappy performance, long battery life and great camera output. 

The Selfie camera and the main camera performance are good.

Where the phone lacks is thermal cooling as we found that the phone warms up quickly after playing games or performing heavy workloads. It never gets uncomfortably hot, but it warms up quicker than expected for a phone of its price.

We highly recommend the S21 FE 5G for people who want the flagship 5G experience but want to save money and who are willing to forego the thermal concerns. However, we recommend that the buyer also looks at the S22 and S22+ if the budget allows.

Lastly, competition in the price point is fierce and if if you add several thousand pesos more, you are at the price point of the new S22 series.

What do you guys think?

Build/Design - 4.25
Multimedia Experience - 4.5
Cameras - 4.5
Performance - 4
Average - 4.31/5
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