The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (Fan Edition) 5G was released in Australia just before the S22 series. It’s priced between high end mid range and flagship, featuring some of the key strong points of the S21 series without having any wow factors.

It’s likely Samsung would have preferred to release the S21 FE 5G mid last year but due to component shortages they weren’t able to. Now it’s in store when last years phones are on sell out sales and just before a whole flood of new phones get released at MWC 2022.

Since we don’t have any pricing yet on high / mid-range phones launched at MWC, if you have about a thousand dollars to spend on a newly released Android phone this phone is one of the main contenders to consider in Australia … at the moment.

Samsung S21 FE 5G Unboxing and Design

What’s in the box for the Samsung S21 FE 5G is the barebones: phone, USB charger cable, paperwork and SIM tool.

Unboxing Samsung phones is not that exciting any more as you don’t get a charger or basic ear buds. Seems a bit stingy for a Fan Edition phone to not include at least the 25W charger… but let’s be honest, lots of people have quite a few of these already, and they’re cheap if you need an extra one.

The design language with aluminium frame and camera bump are as you’d expect, matching the S21 series released last year.

Colours, Size and Build

Pastel shades seem to be all the rage at the moment. The Samsung S21 FE 5G is available in White, Graphite, Lavender and Olive.

There’s no sign of mobile phones becoming any smaller but the materials they’re made with can have a big impact on how heavy they are. The heavier a phone, the less comfortable it is to hold for long periods of time.

Many people prefer glass backed phones but personally I’m a fan of composite backed phones (Samsung calls their material glastic) because they get damaged less easily and composite materials are lighter than glass.

Another benefit to the composite back is that I found the S21 FE 5G back was quite grippy and didn’t show fingerprints. I have found that glass backed phones can be quite slippery and often need a case to solve this.

The front of the have phone is well protected thanks to a Gorilla Glass Victus, aluminium frame and IP68 dust/water resistance (up to 1.5m for 30 mins). Thanks to it’s composite back the S21 FE 5G at 177 grams is lighter than other phones that have a similar size screen and a glass back.

Display

The 6.4 inch 1080 x 2400 AMOLED display, which supports HDR10+ and has Corning Gorilla Glass Victus protection looks great but it has one feature which could be viewed by some as a weakness.

The S21 FE 5G has a choice of fixing the screen at a buttery smooth 120Hz refresh or less smooth 60Hz. Samsung has unfortunately not enabled adaptive refresh, so the phone doesn’t change between 60 & 120Hz dynamically depending on what’s being shown on screen.

Samsung keeps many of it’s best AMOLED screens for it’s own phones and while adaptive refresh is better in some ways, being able to choose between always saving battery or always getting the best smoothness is a reasonable compromise for a mid-range phone.

Processor, RAM, Storage

Processor choice is disappointing for a “Fan Edition” phone because the S21 FE 5G in Australia has a Samsung Exynos 2100 processor and Galaxy phone fans almost always prefer a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

The S21 FE 5G has 128GB storage on board for the base model or for an extra $100 you get 256GB. This is worth considering because there’s no MicroSD card slot and if you keep a 128GB phone for 3-4 years you might fill the storage.

RAM is a bit disappointing as the S21 FE 5G has 6GB for the 128GB version and 8GB for the 256GB version. This is especially important to consider if you plan on playing graphics heavy games on this phone as these can easily use over a GB of RAM by themselves.

Clearly Samsung is trying to nudge customers into buying the $100 more expensive 256GB storage/8GB RAM version.

Operating System and Updates

As you’d hope for a 2022 phone the S21 FE 5G comes with Android 12 out of the box. Samsung is offering 4 Android OS updates and 5 years of security updates for their top phones including this one.

This is a real strength for this phone as it has the longest software update support compared to other manufacturers with similarly priced phones.

If you haven’t seen the latest Samsung One UI there are some example screenshots I took below. In it’s first few iterations I used to use a 3rd party launcher but during the last few years the Samsung One UI has matured and I like it well enough to use it as well as their default launcher.

Photography

The S21 FE 5G has the following cameras

  • Main: 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
  • Zoom: 8 MP, f/2.4, 76mm (telephoto), 1/4.5″, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom
  • Ultrawide: 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 123˚ (ultrawide), 1/3.0″, 1.12µm
  • Selfie: 32 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/2.74″, 0.8µm

Samsung phones have a reputation for offering solid camera functionality with photo colour and saturation that is pleasing to the eye, as you can see in the photos I took with the S21 FE 5G below. All the cameras take good photos, the only slight weakness is the Zoom which at 8MP is a bit low resolution for a phone at this pricepoint.

Connectivity, Sensors, Battery

Connectivity is sorted with 5G support, good sounding dual speakers, support for Wi-Fi 6, NFC, under display optical fingerprint reader and a USB-C port.

What’s missing is no headphone jack, no microSD slot and Bluetooth 5 instead of the more modern Bluetooth 5.2. The first two of these would be expected as inclusions for a Fan Edition phone.

As you can see from speed tests using my Optus 5G SIM in the S21 FE 5G it has no problem zooming along when near a 5G tower. As you’d expect once I walked about 700 metres away the 5G speed dropped to 142 megabits down.

This is still great compared to Optus and Telstra 4G which are sometimes congested in the Inner West of Sydney where I live and work.

In terms of battery this is only an all day phone for low-medium screen time users. 4500mAh capacity and 25W wired charging speed means it’ll take over an hour to fill from empty. If you can wait longer then 15W charging wireless is also available. Reverse wireless charging is a handy feature for charging your buds case.

Should you buy a S21 FE 5G?

During my testing this phone did everything I wanted from taking photos, doom scrolling news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to playing Wordle, making crystal clear phone calls and never experiencing any slow downloads of music or videos on public transport thanks to 5G coverage.

The Samsung’s S21 FE 5G doesn’t have any particularly cool hardware features but like other Galaxy phones it should be reliable and have a low number of software bugs, which is one reason Samsung sell the most Android phones of any brand.

One big plus on the software side is that this phone will get 4 Android OS updates and 5 years of security updates so as long as you don’t smash the screen, it could faithfully serve you for 4-5 years which is good for the environment and your wallet.

I’d say the S21 FE 5G suits a phone buyer who has a grand to spend and wants a good phone that will be supported for many years.

If that’s you buy the $100 more expensive 256GB storage 8GB RAM version of this phone as it will be able to store data and handle memory hungry apps for much longer.

The main catch is price. I think the launch price is too expensive for what you get but there is value in this phone if you can buy it on sale and/or get a trade-in deal to reduce the price of the 256GB storage 8GB RAM version to sub $1000.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is available from Samsung Australia online and instore as well as retailers like JB Hi-Fi at $999 for 128GB storage/6GB RAM or $1099 for 256GB storage/8GB RAM.

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ahmad

no 5G mmwave support for australia

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