Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Hands On: Fast, Sleek, And Lightweight

It’s been more than a year since Samsung released the Galaxy S20 Fan Edition (FE) and, unsurprisingly, some began wondering what the follow-up to it may be. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Fan Edition (FE) is, of course, that said follow-up, and compared to its predecessor, there are definitely a few features you could sink your teeth into.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. The S21 FE is, in a sense, a return to form for Samsung; unlike the S20 FE and its Snapdragon 865 SoC, the model we’re getting has reverted to Samsung’s own Exynos chipset and more specifically, the 5nm Exynos 2100.

As for its display, the S21 FE employs a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X FHD+ panel with a 120Hz refresh rate and, much like its predecessor before, it’s a flat-screen but boy, does it and the rest of the phone feels good to the touch, Every corner, every edge around the phone feels fleshed out. It almost feels like the device has been seamlessly carved out from a single source.

Still on the S21 FE’s aesthetics, the outside of the phone is as clean as it gets, with the standard power button and volume rocker on the right side of the phone, and the USB-C port at the base. For that matter, the port is capable of supporting up to 25W fast charging through a wired connection but there is a wireless charging option, although the option is capped at 15W. For that matter, there’s a 4500W nestled inside the phone, which is rather impressive, given the phone’s extremely slim form factor.

Around the back, Samsung has opted to use a matte design that is available in four colours: Graphite, Olive, Lavender, and White. Of the four, the Lavender option is by far the fairest of them all. The Graphite option, which is basically the fancy word for black, is tried and tested but boring; The Olive theme looks rather drab and reminds me of army fatigues; and the White option is, in my opinion, just asking to get dirty.

Then there’s the overall weight of the S21 FE or lack thereof. I cannot tell you just how eerily light the device feels in my hand, which virtually makes for effortless wielding, whether I’m gearing up to take a picture or if I’m just lifting it out of my pocket to check messages or read something online. In contrast, I use a Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G as my daily driver, and the weight difference between the two is like the sun and moon.

As for the S21 FE’s operating system, there’s little I can say about it to suggest that it is anything else but familiar. If you’re a Samsung user that’s planning on switching over to this phone, believe me: you’re not really missing much. Navigating through One UI 4 is effortless while scrolling through pages and opening apps are instantaneous, thanks in no small part to the Exynos 2100. On that note, I’m going to spare you what you already know, lest I sound like a broken record.

Oh, and the phone runs Android 12 out of the box and if Samsung keeps to its promise, the S21 FE should get upwards of three Android OS updates over the next few years.

Last but not least are the cameras on the S21 FE. The main triple-camera behind the phone comprises a 12MP f/1.8 main, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide, and an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto with OIS and 3x optical zoom. As with all Galaxy S series devices, the camera comes with all the bells and whistles that you’d expect, chief among them being AI-powered image correction software, as well as a modest choice of filters and background effects. Oh, and it even has the ability to do dual recording, in which the phone turns on both the main and selfie cameras to record at the same time.

For the module’s overall performance, the main 12MP sensor and its f/1.8 aperture mean that the camera is plagued by an ever-present bokeh effect that has existed since the launch of the Note20 Ultra 5G. For me, it’s a niggling problem that just grinds my gears.

Subject captured with default zoom.
Same subject captured with 3x zoom.

Adding on to that is the camera’s 3x optical zoom function that only kicks in and sharpens up the image when the subject is at an adequate distance. Otherwise, I’m looking at a very noisy and unflattering end result. Space Zoom is present as well and goes up to 30x the distance, but as always, the picture quality taken through this function isn’t going to be the sharpest or the prettiest.

As for the 32MP selfie camera in the punch hole, you’re pretty much guaranteed a detailed image of yourself with every snap, although I will point out that by default, it doesn’t actually capture selfies at the full 32MP. To do that, you actually have to manually set that up yourself.

All in all, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE feels like an improvement over the last generation, although I’m going to have to reserve judgment on just how much of an improvement it is until an in-depth review is done.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE starts at RM2899 for the 128GB model and RM3099 for the 256GB variant.

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