Finally, it’s here. Perhaps the most leaked Samsung smartphone of all time, the Galaxy S21 FE 5G has had a roller-coaster journey so far from rumours of it being cancelled to finally launching the world over. In fact, I’m glad the S21 FE 5G launched because the under-50k range lacked a true all-rounder where there are no glaring compromises even as it doesn’t specifically specialise on any one particular aspect. I’m going to be testing the S21 FE 5G for a few more days before filing my in-depth review, and for now, here’s my first impressions of Samsung’s annual fan service —
Glasstic For The Win
The S21 FE 5G takes after the S21 series, and bears close resemblance to the vanilla Galaxy S21, with a flushed camera module that blends in with the frame, and a glasstic design. Samsung is champion of this material, and I for one, don’t mind it. It helps keep the design costs down, but leaves no smudges or fingerprints on the body, giving a smooth matte feel in the hands.
It’s also more compact, but thicker than last year’s Galaxy S20 FE 5G, despite sporting a larger display. That’s because the bezels on this one is dangerously thin, almost stretching to the edges on all four sides. As a result, the panel looks intensely immersive. The thick edges help with the grip and it’s easy to use this one-handed.
Samsung also didn’t skip on the important nitty-gritties. It’s one of the few smartphones in this range to sport a full IP68 ingress protection. There’s no 3.5mm headphone jack, but dual stereo speakers are present, and while it weighs a hefty 177 grams, it feels lighter than its predecessor particularly for the glasstic design.
If you’re upgrading from a glass-bodied smartphone, glasstic might sound off-putting at the least, but trust me, as you hold and use the Galaxy S21 FE 5G, the material will start to grow on you, and the advantages of it will be quite apparent over the glamour of glass.
Exynos 2100, Live With it
Another thing Galaxy S21 FE 5G users will have to live with, is the Samsung Exynos 2100 SoC, even though there is a Snapdragon 888 variant that’s available outside India. But hearing Exynos’ name shouldn’t be that much of a disappointment anymore, as we demonstrated in our detailed SoC comparison between the Exynos 2100 and the Snapdragon 888 early last year. Since then, Snapdragon 888’s reputation has been sprinkled with complaints of excessive heating and unstable performance. So far on the S21 FE 5G, I haven’t observed much heating, but it get warm while installing apps during setup.
The complaints are usually about the Exynos SoC’s power efficiency, and if the Galaxy S21 Ultra is any sign, that too have seen massive improvement in the Exynos 2100. But poor battery life was an issue with the S20 FE last year, and I’m presently daily driving the phone to note how long it lasts across multiple scenarios.
The Galaxy S2 FE 5G has its flagship DNA in the right place. There’s 8GB LPDDR5 RAM and up to 256GB storage, and it runs on OneUI 4.0 based on Android 12 out of the box. The latest OneUI 4.0 brings forth tons of new customisation features including Android 12’s comprehensive theme engine that applies the colour palette of your wallpaper to everything else including accents, app icons and more. There are redesigned widgets, all new animations and privacy settings that makes using the S21 FE 5G fresh AF.
That Gorgeous Display
But what impressed me the most was the S21 FE 5G’s edge-to-edge display. The panel is cut from the same cloth as the flagship S21 series, and is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus. It’s a 1080p display with 120Hz refresh rate and feels super immersive. The colour reproduction is just fantastic. I’m going to delve deeper into the display performance in my detailed review, but on paper, it can go up to 1200 nits of brightness with the option to finetune the colour temperature in the Settings App.
The panel is punctuated by a punch-hole camera, center-aligned, and there’s an in-display fingerprint sensor. The positioning of the sensor on the display is not the most natural. It’s placed further at the bottom where the thumb is difficult to place. But it’s quick enough to register a quick tap, so there’s that.
The phone also features excellent haptics. There’s a soft, but stiff rumble every time you interact with the screen, be it using the navigation gesture, typing on the keypad, or selecting something on the screen.
The S21 FE 5G belongs to the same family as the star-studded S21 Ultra, but the camera setup isn’t as outrageous, for obvious reasons. It still has a triple camera stack, but instead of 108MP and 64MP sensors, it sticks to the tried and tested 12MP sensors, stabilised with OIS, for the primary and ultrawide caneras and an 8MP sensor for the telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom and 80x digital zoom. The zoom lens also features OIS. On the front is another 12MP camera for selfies.
The camera setup might feel a little too basic for a 50k-smartphone, especially when you have the likes of the Vivo X70 Pro, Xiaomi 11X Pro 5G and more. But after using the camera for a day or two, I’m mighty impressed by the output. Samsung has skipped on the gimmicks and focused purely on the colour science and detail extraction. The resulting shots, some of which reproduced below, feel just right for the gram.
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The camera is capable of shooting at 4K 60FPS, and has a stablisation mode and portrait video mode. There’s even a Pro Video mode that lets you tweak the shutter speed, ISO and focus manually while shooting. This will need more testing, and I will be heading out as soon as the weather clears up in Delhi NCR.
The Galaxy S21 FE 5G feels like a wholesome offering that while not focusing on any one particular aspect, offers refinement all-round. Samsung has picked and chosen features that are hardly available in this price range; features like IP68 rating, smudge-free back, that would go on to maintain the durability of the device, along with quality-of-life improvements like thin bezels, compact and lightweight body and that awesome display. The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G is a phone with a lot of potential. It starts from Rs 49,999 and goes on sale from January 11 on Amazon, Samsung online store and other offline retail stores.
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