The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE has been in the rumor mill for months now. The device specifications and images have been appearing online since before August 2021. There have been a lot of contradictory rumors, and some expected it to be unveiled at the Samsung Unpacked Part 2 event on October 20. However, there was no mention of it then and no indication of when it’ll come — if ever. And at this point, I’m not sure if it even makes sense for Samsung to launch the Galaxy S21 FE, especially with the Galaxy S22 launch already tipped for early next year.
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE was a popular smartphone that gave a much-needed boost to Samsung’s image in the affordable flagship segment. It offered a top-notch chipset, flagship cameras, a good display, and decent battery life. To build on the success of the Galaxy S20 FE, Samsung was rumored to be preparing to launch the Galaxy S21 FE along with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3. That didn’t happen.
The second set of rumors, that it was due to have its own Unpacked event in the fall, also didn’t pan out, as there were no traces of it at Unpacked Part 2. The answer to why the S21 FE launch keeps getting pushed back can clearly be attributed to the ongoing chip shortage.
For the unaware, various kinds of chips that go into the manufacturing of electronic devices like a smartphone are in short supply globally. Even Apple, with its famously reliable supply chain, is getting hit and being forced to cut iPhone 13 production. As a result of the pandemic’s work-from-home situation, demand for electronics like laptops, smartphones, and tablets has flourished, driving prices higher while the supply chain simply can’t keep up. Chip factories also closed down during the lockdowns, resulting in a backlog, with consumers struggling to buy devices before they go out of stock.
The Galaxy S21 FE has clearly been a victim of the global chip shortage, and it is now rumored to be launched in January. But with some analysts predicting the supply shortage to continue till mid-2022 or longer, we can expect further delays in the Galaxy S21 FE launch. That raises the question, does it even make sense for Samsung to launch the device now if consumers can’t get their hands on it till next year — after the S22 has already launched?
Every smartphone manufacturer has a device pipeline prepared at least a year in advance. With the Galaxy Note 21 series canceled, the Galaxy S21 FE was supposed to take the baton from the Galaxy S20 FE in the affordable flagship segment — ideally around the third quarter of 2021. As we’ve covered already, things didn’t go according to the plan and, as a result, we don’t have an FE device in the Galaxy S21 lineup, so the gap has largely had to be filled by the upper tiers of Samsung’s A-series.
If Samsung launches the Galaxy S21 FE in early 2022, it will coincide with the Galaxy S22, which is supposed to launch right around the same time. Early rumors have indicated that the next-gen Galaxy S smartphones will feature a new camera module and slimmer bezels. This wouldn’t be a surprise — the Galaxy S21 camera module design trickled down to the Galaxy A-series of smartphones over the course of the year, so we can expect the same for 2022. If the S21 FE still does release next year, it won’t be able to differentiate itself from the A-series in terms of camera quality or performance.
If the S21 FE launches in January, it will become outdated soon after. And there are three major reasons for it.
First, the FE device won’t look anything like the Galaxy S22 series. As soon as the latter launches, the Galaxy S21 FE will be a generation older. No company would want its newly launched device to be outdated within the same quarter, let alone within a few weeks. The Galaxy S22 design elements won’t be a part of the Galaxy S21 series, which would clearly mark it as a previous-gen device in the market.
Secondly, Qualcomm launches a new flagship chipset every December, which is then used by a wide number of flagship devices the following year. The Samsung Galaxy S22 series is likely to be powered by the next-gen Qualcomm system on a chip, while the Galaxy S21 FE is expected to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset. That’s the current flagship chipset, but already nearly a year old. With manufacturing pivoting to the new Snapdragon chips, it’s an open question if Samsung will have enough Snapdragon 888’s on hand for the S21 FE. The price difference between the S21 FE and the base model of the Galaxy S22 also won’t be too far apart, but the S22 will offer a newer chipset, the latest design, and a better set of cameras.
Third, even if the Galaxy S21 FE is priced significantly lower than the vanilla Galaxy S22, it will compete with the Galaxy A52s, one of the segment’s best-selling smartphones. If Samsung does release the S21 FE, it would be cannibalizing the sale of a smartphone that’s already doing well.
These reasons, mixed with the chip shortage, have likely killed the Galaxy S21 FE ahead of the launch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if confirmation of that came in a few months. The market is looking forward to the next-gen tech Samsung is bringing to the Galaxy S22 series in early 2022. The Galaxy S21 FE would only hold back the company from beginning 2022 on the right foot.
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