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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE: Should you upgrade?

When Samsung announced the affordable Samsung Galaxy S20 FE in September 2020, there were apprehensions about the viability of this phone, which found itself slotted between Samsung’s mid-range A series and flagship-grade S series smartphones. Apart from being a completely new product line, its naming scheme was new for most Samsung users.

But apparently, none of these things mattered to the people who eventually ended up buying the Galaxy S20 FE in hordes. With more than 10 million units sold, the Galaxy S20 FE was among Samsung’s bestselling phones from 2020 to 2021. Buoyed by this response, Samsung is really keen on replicating the same formula with the recently launched Samsung Galaxy S21 FE — the much-awaited successor to the Galaxy S20 FE.

In this article, we compare the Galaxy S21 FE and the Galaxy S20 FE and see if the improvements on the newer phone are significant enough to warrant an upgrade from the Galaxy S20 FE. Or, if you’re wrestling between the two, which one you should buy.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Size 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm (6.12 x 2.93 x 0.31 inches) 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm (6.29 x 2.93 x 0.33 inches)
Weight 177 grams (6.24 ounces) 190 grams (6.70 ounces)
Screen size 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X capacitive touchscreen (120Hz) 6.5-inch Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen (120Hz)
Screen resolution 2400 x 1080 pixels (411 pixels per inch) 2400 x 1080 pixels (407 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 12, One UI 4.0 Android 11, One UI 3.0
Storage 128GB, 256GB 128GB, 256GB
MicroSD card slot No Yes
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Samsung Pay, Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Exynos 990 (5G version: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865)
RAM 6GB, 8GB 6GB, 8GB
Camera 12-megapixel wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 8MP telephoto rear, 32MP front 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 8MP telephoto rear, 32MP front
Video 4K at 60 frames per second 4K at 60 frames per second
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports USB-C, 3.1 USB-C, 3.1
Fingerprint sensor Yes, in-display Yes, in-display
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Battery 4,500mAh

Fast charging (25W)

Fast wireless charging (15W)

4,500mAh

Fast charging (25W)

Fast wireless charging (15W)

App marketplace  Google Play Store  Google Play Store
Network Support AT&T, Verizon AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon
Colors Olive, Lavender, White, Graphite Cloud Lavender, Cloud Mint, Cloud Navy, Cloud White, Cloud Red, Cloud Orange
Prices $699+ $699+
Review score News 4 out of 5 stars

Design, display, and durability

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is noticeably smaller and lighter than its predecessor. It weighs 177 grams compared to the 190-gram heavyweight the S20 FE was. The newer phone also shares the same design language as the rest of the Galaxy S21 lineup. This becomes evident when you observe the camera bump — which looks like a lift from the Galaxy S21  — albeit with slight modifications. The S20 FE’s camera array looks a bit more mainstream in comparison.

Save for the size difference, both phones look the same when seen from the front. The display on the Galaxy S21 FE is a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel which, on paper, claims better color accuracy compared to the older 6.5-inch Super AMOLED on the S20 FE. Both devices get a display hole punch for the selfie camera.

The handsets also share the same display resolution numbers (2400 x 1920 pixels) and support a 120Hz refresh rate. Samsung has also decided not to meddle with the optical under-display fingerprint scanner arrangement we saw on the S20 FE, so the S21 FE uses the same technology. Both phones are IP68 rated for dust and water resistance, making them even in durability.

It’s a tough one to score, as there are few real differences. Until we’ve had more hands-on time, we’re leaving this as a tie.

Winner: Tie

Performance, battery life, and charging

The rear panel of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE.
Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE comes powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 chip — which, even after the arrival of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, is still amongst the most powerful mobile SoCs around. The Galaxy S20 uses the older Snapdragon 865 processor, which, even though old, can still handle most things you throw at it. This arrangement changes if you live in other markets where the S20 FE launched with the Exynos 990 chip. While Samsung is yet to confirm this, the European and Asian variants of the Galaxy S21 FE will probably use the Exynos 2100 chip. The S21 FE is going to be the faster one in any case, but the difference is fairly small.

The storage and RAM options on the Galaxy S21 FE and its predecessor remain unchanged, and they come in 6GB/8GB RAM and 128GB/256GB storage variants. Battery capacity and charging speeds too remain the same, with both handsets boasting a 4,500mAh battery with support for 25W wired and 15W wireless charging. Significant changes this time around include the fact that the Galaxy S21 FE does not come with a travel adapter and misses out on a microSD card slot.

Again, this is a tough category to score, as they’re both fairly close in power. However, while the S21 FE doesn’t have a microSD card slot, the more powerful processor just tips it for us.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Cameras

A photo showing the camera UI of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE.
Samsung.

While the camera module on the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE may look radically different from the one on the Galaxy S20 FE, the camera configurations and the resolution remain identical. This means the 12-megapixel primary lens (with optical image stabilization), 12MP ultra-wide lens, and 8MP telephoto lens from the S20 FE are replicated on the Galaxy S21 FE. Even the selfie camera — which uses a 32MP sensor — has been retained on the Galaxy S21 FE.

Needless to say, we expect both these phones to output near-identical results in a camera comparison. The differences, if any, should stem from the different software versions the devices are on.

Winner: Tie

Software and updates

The diplay of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE being the newer device, has an inherent advantage here because it runs Android 12 and OneUI 4.0 at launch. The S20 FE, on the other hand, is currently on Android 11 and One UI 3.0 — but originally launched with Android 10 and OneUI 2.5.

The S20 FE is slated to receive two more major Android updates — to Android 12 and Android 13, making the phone good enough for the next two years. In contrast, the newer S21 FE will likely get regular updates until Android 15 arrives a few years down the line.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Special features

DeX trackpad mode on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Being affordable flagships of their respective eras, both devices are evenly matched (well, almost!) when it comes to extras like Samsung’s Dex mode, Knox security, Single Take, and 30x Space zoom. One Galaxy S21 FE feature that is missing on the S20 FE is the dual recording mode which allows users to simultaneously record videos using both the front and rear cameras. Since the two are so similar, that’s enough to break the draw here.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE starts at $699 for the base 6GB and 128GB variant, going up to $769 for the 8GB and 256GB option. The pricing of the base model is identical to that of the Galaxy S20 FE’s pricing in 2020.

In the U.S., the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is available via Verizon and AT&T. The phone comes in four color options; white, graphite, olive, and lavender, and it goes on sale starting January 11, 2022.

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

If you already own the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and are thinking of upgrading to the S21 FE, the short answer is no. This is because your S20 FE is good enough to last you another year comfortably, and unless you absolutely thrashed your phone around, leaving it in a near-unusable state, there is no compelling reason to upgrade.

If you are still insistent on an upgrade and can spend around $700 on a new smartphone, there are many other compelling options out there for the same price. These include the Google Pixel 6 ($599), the OnePlus 9 ($729), the iPhone 13 ($799), the iPhone 13 Mini ($699). Of course, there is in-house competition as well from Samsung’s own Galaxy S21 (which is an objectively superior smartphone over the S21 FE) and retails for anywhere between the $699 and $799 mark. The above arguments hold even if you did not own the Galaxy S20 FE previously but were considering the S21 FE as a fresh purchase.

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