Unpacked 2021 is over and Samsung’s weeks away from unleashing the new Galaxy S21 series onto the market. Interestingly, Samsung has positioned the base Galaxy S21 model $100 off from the so-called flagship killer territory where the Galaxy S20 FE 5G resides.
The latter was introduced late last year for $699 and the Galaxy S21 will go on sale for $799. So, how does this gap in pricing translate into the real world? How much better are the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21+, the latter of which goes on sale for $999 by the way, than the Galaxy S20 FE budget flagship?
Galaxy S21/S21+ vs Galaxy S20 FE: Camera
As surprising as it may sound, the Galaxy S20 FE could have the upper hand on the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21+ in the camera department, or at least we can assess this by looking at how the Galaxy S20 FE compares to the Galaxy S20 and the Galaxy S20+.
This is because the Galaxy S21 and its larger sibling have the exact same camera setup as the 2020 flagship models. And as we explained in our Galaxy S20 FE review, the budget flagship beats the Galaxy S20 duo thanks to a real telephoto camera that doesn’t emulate zoom through cropping of a 64MP image.
The Galaxy S21 will offer a few extra features inside the Camera app thanks to One UI 3.1, but these are probably coming to the Galaxy S20 FE later this year.
We’ll talk more about the Galaxy S21 camera performance in our upcoming reviews, but preliminary specs suggest that the Galaxy S20 FE might be a better choice for mobile photographers. Selfie enthusiasts might get better mileage out of the Galaxy S21’s 10MP sensor though, as the 32MP unit that’s used by the Galaxy S20 FE is roughly of mid-range quality despite the higher resolution.
Galaxy S21/S21+ vs Galaxy S20 FE: Display
The Galaxy S20 FE has a 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display with HDR10+ capabilities and a resolution of 2400 by 1080 pixels. The panel is capable of 120Hz but it is not an adaptive refresh rate.
The Galaxy S21 / S21+ feature Dynamic AMOLED 2X HDR10+ displays with the same resolution as the Galaxy S20 FE. They take advantage of an adaptive refresh rate of 48-120Hz, and this will lead not only to improved battery life but also smoother animations all around. The base Galaxy S21 model is the smallest at a 6.2-inch diagonal, and the Galaxy S21+ has a 6.7-inch panel.
Galaxy S21/S21+ vs Galaxy S20 FE: Hardware and features
Although the Exynos 990 / Snapdragon 865 chipsets are more than fitting for the Galaxy S20 FE and its 5G counterpart, the latest Exynos 2100 and Snapdragon 888 solutions employed by the Galaxy S21 series should be far superior. They’re built on a 5nm process and promise significant power and efficiency improvements over the last generation. That’s not to say the Galaxy S20 FE is slow, but the new flagship lineup offers the best-possible experience and are better proofed for the future.
You’ll get more RAM and the same 128GB / 256GB storage options out of the Galaxy S21 and S21+, but both these phones lack expandable storage. The Galaxy S20 FE has a second SIM slot that doubles as a microSD card slot.
All three phones have 25W fast charging. In terms of battery capacity, the base Galaxy S21 model has a 4,000mAh battery and it’s followed by the Galaxy S20 FE with a 4,500mAh unit. The Galaxy S21+ benefits from a 4,800mAh battery.
Last but not least, the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21+ offer the most complete software experience to date via Android 11 and One UI 3.1, but the Galaxy S20 FE is bound to be updated to the latest version of One UI this year. And worth noting is that the Galaxy S21+ is the only model here that takes advantage of UWB.
Galaxy S21/S21+ vs Galaxy S20 FE: Design
We were pleasantly surprised by how premium and well-built the Galaxy S20 FE felt when we first experienced it and, evidently, we don’t expect any less from the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy S21+.
The base Galaxy S21 model has more in common with the Galaxy S20 FE as they both have a plastic back panel, but the Galaxy S21 series has Gorilla Glass Victus display protection and the Galaxy S21+ has the back panel made of the same material. All phones come with an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance.
Durability and build quality aside, the Galaxy S21 duo boasts a modern design with a bold camera housing. It looks exquisite, and sadly, the same can no longer be said to describe the Galaxy S20 FE’s rear panel design. It’s not ugly but the more we get used to the Galaxy S21’s camera housing the more outdated the 2020 models seem, and this is valid for Samsung’s entire smartphone range released last year.
Galaxy S21/S21+ vs Galaxy S20 FE: The wrap-up
The Galaxy S21 and its Plus sibling offer a better display, better materials, a new modern look, a more powerful chipset and more RAM as standard. The duo also boasts an improved AMOLED display and newer firmware, however, it lacks expandable storage and the main camera setup — the zoom lens in particular — might underperform compared to the Galaxy S20 FE.
New buyers will get more mileage out of the Galaxy S21 or the Galaxy S21+, but existing Galaxy S20 FE owners can comfortably skip the new flagship duo and wait for a sequel if they so desire. Or they could consider the Galaxy S21 Ultra for an upgrade. Feel free to check our comparison widget below for a closer look at how these three phones compare side by side.