Hands-on: Galaxy S21 FE is hard to sell in a world where the Pixel 6 exists


Samsung’s first big release of the year has arrived with the Galaxy S21 FE. However, with weird timing and a high price tag, it feels like a hard sell, even though it looks like a solid device after a few hours of use.

When I look at the Galaxy S21 FE in a bubble after my first day of use, it’s a solid device. It has a wonderful screen that shines even compared to Samsung’s most expensive flagships, and the spec sheet on paper is solid even as we see the first high-end versions from 2022. In my limited tests so far, the performance is also admirable.

The hardware isn’t bad either. The plastic body of the S21 FE is refreshingly light and slightly smaller compared to last year’s S20 FE. The new design also moves closer to what the rest of the S21 series use, with the camera hump moved to the top corner of the device. It looks nice, and I really like the subtle look of the “graphite” paint Samsung sent in, despite being a fingerprint magnet.

What is the problem then? Samsung made a good phone, and it makes perfect sense to make a sequel to the Galaxy S20 FE Look at the sales. However, what makes the Galaxy S21 FE such a headscratcher is only when it hits the market and how much it costs.

If you look at the timing first, the Galaxy S21 FE will hit the market roughly three months after launch. That was supposedly due to bottlenecks, but whatever the cause, it means this phone hits just under a month before the Galaxy S22 series debut. While the S22 series certainly won’t keep up with the starting price of the S21 FE, it will have better specs and most likely some new features that this phone simply doesn’t have.

The other, bigger problem is pricing. At $ 699, the Galaxy S21 FE doesn’t really fill the same void as the Galaxy S20 FE when it came out. At the time, Samsung was selling its flagship lineup starting at $ 999, and the upper mid-range of the Android market didn’t really exist like it does today. Fast forward to 2022, and Samsung’s Galaxy S21 has one Retail price of $ 799, but is often reduced to much lower price points. This is a phone with a virtually identical offering to the S21 FE.

The elephant in the room, meanwhile, is Google’s Pixel 6. This $ 599 device surprised all of us with its shockingly good price. If you also look at the Pixel 6 versus the Galaxy S21 FE, it’s hard to see why Samsung’s phone is a better choice. Both devices are similar in size and have Android 12, but the Pixel has better build materials, a rock-solid camera experience, and a package that overall felt like the best deal of the year in our opinion.

There are a couple of things Samsung does better technically. The Galaxy S21 FE has a faster refresh rate and, in turn, a faster touch sampling rate, which makes the phone feel a bit faster compared to Google. It also has a telephoto camera that Google’s cell phone lacks entirely. But personally, I’d argue that none of these features are worth $ 100.

Where this phone is likely to shine in the next few months is with wireless carriers, at least in the United States. With a cheaper price point than the Galaxy S22 series, Samsung’s cellular partners will likely endeavor to offer the S21 FE for free with trade-in or new lines, or at heavily discounted prices. This is exactly what we saw with the S20 FE, and it worked.

The Galaxy S21 FE will be available in the US and other regions starting January 11th.

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