The Samsung Galaxy S21 is a great phone. If you’re on the hunt for a new device that you want to last for years, it offers top-end processing, a stunning design, and an excellent camera — and it’s also a great deal considering its $800 price tag.
But this isn’t the first time that Samsung has launched a flagship-tier phone at a reasonable price. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE from last year was hailed as the Galaxy S20 most users should buy, thanks in part to its lower price, yet still incredible camera and beautiful display. And it shares many features on offer by the new Galaxy S21.
Given the fact that the Galaxy S20 FE is still available, you might be wondering which phone you should buy. I’ve used both phones — and I think that if you really want value for the money, then the Galaxy S20 FE is still the way to go. Here’s why.
There are a number of things about the Galaxy S20 FE that are only slightly worse than what’s on offer by the Galaxy S21. But there are also a number of things that are pretty much the same — and arguably, they’re some of the things that make the Galaxy S21 a great buy.
Chief among those is the display. Both the Galaxy S20 FE and the Galaxy S21 have a beautiful 120Hz display. This high refresh rate makes animations smooth, and helps the software feel fluid and responsive. They both have a slightly lower resolution compared to their more expensive siblings, at 1,080p, but you won’t really notice a difference. The display is easily a selling point for both of these phones.
The overall processing power and performance is obviously better on the Galaxy S21 — but it’s not that much better. The Galaxy S21 features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, which is Qualcomm’s latest and greatest. The Galaxy S20 FE, on the other hand, offers the last-generation Snapdragon 865.
Now, an argument could be made for both phones here. The Snapdragon 888 means the S21 will probably get updates for longer and stay high-performing longer into the future. But the Snapdragon 865 is still a very high-end chip, and should ensure that the Galaxy S20 FE performs for years to come. Frankly, you can’t go wrong.
In edge cases, like 10x zoom, low light, and so on, the Galaxy S21 seems to perform that extra bit better — but not enough to warrant paying a boatload of extra cash.
Then there’s the camera. The specs of the main camera and ultrawide camera are more or less the same, but while the Galaxy S20 FE has an 8-megapixel telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom, the Galaxy S21 has a 64-megapixel telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom. Both phones are able to deliver excellent photos, and results are similar in many situations. In edge cases, like 10x zoom, low light, and so on, the Galaxy S21 seems to perform that extra bit better — but not enough to warrant paying a boatload of extra cash.
Some differences are down to personal preference. The Galaxy S20 FE, for example, has a 6.5-inch display, which is a little bigger than the 6.2-inch display on the Galaxy S21. One makes for more immersive gaming and video watching, while the other makes for a more pocketable phone.
Newer is better
Of course, while there are plenty of areas in which the Galaxy S20 FE and Galaxy S21 offer a similar experience, there’s one way the Galaxy S21 is head and shoulders above the Galaxy S20 FE — look and feel. Having used both the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S20 FE, the Galaxy S21 is frankly just more premium-feeling.
The Galaxy S21 uses the same design language as the Galaxy S21 Ultra, including that camera bump that melts into the rail. It’s also thinner than the Galaxy S20 FE, and doesn’t feel as bulky in the hand — because it’s not as bulky. Other details, including smaller bezels, a larger and faster fingerprint sensor, and more, also contribute to the overall premium look and feel of the device. And, I personally love the gold-on-violet look of the Galaxy S21 — next to the black-on-navy color scheme on my Galaxy S20 FE, it’s just that extra bit more fun. They’re both built with Samsung’s plastic back, but honestly, it’s not a big deal.
The only thing that really impacts the usability of the phone is the fingerprint sensor, and it really is a whole lot better. But a lot of people can probably look past that.
What to buy?
Right now, the Galaxy S21 costs $800, while the Galaxy S20 FE comes in at $700. As a result, if you’re looking for a near-flagship experience and could stand to save a bit of cash, the Galaxy S20 FE is still the phone to buy. Add that to the fact that there are some incredible trade-in deals, and it’s an even better deal.
That might change if you have a newer phone to trade in, with the Galaxy S21 dropping as low as $100 depending on the device — but let’s be honest, the only way you’re getting a Galaxy S21 for $100 is if you trade in a Galaxy S20.
If you really want or need the latest and greatest, without spending the money on a Galaxy S21 Ultra, then you won’t regret buying the Galaxy S21. But for everyone else, the Galaxy S20 FE is still the budget flagship to buy.
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