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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S21: Every big difference

Now that we've tried Samsung's new Galaxy S21 FE, let's compare it to last year's flagship phone.

The successor to Samsung's popular Galaxy S20 FE has arrived. The Galaxy S21 FE, which was announced just before CES 2022, is a less expensive version of Samsung's marquee smartphone, the Galaxy S21. The base model of the S21 FE starts at $700, while the S21 is priced at $800.

But, besides price, how else do the smartphones compare? And what will you be missing out on by choosing Samsung's budget-minded option? Here's what we know about how the Galaxy S21 FE stacks up against the Galaxy S21.

Read more: Galaxy S21 FE review: A solid $700 phone that goes head-to-head with Pixel 6

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Samsung Galaxy S21 Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Display 6.2-inch AMOLED 2,400x1,080; 120Hz refresh rate 6.4-inch AMOLED screen; Full HD Plus resolution (2,340x1,080 pixels); 120Hz
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G
Camera 12-megapixel wide, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 64-megapixel telephoto 12-megapixel wide, 12-megapixel ultrawide, 8-megapixel telephoto
Front camera 10-megapixel 32-megapixel
Battery and charging 4,000-mAh capacity; fast charging; Wireless PowerShare 4,500-mAh (No bundled charger); fast charging; Wireless PowerShare
Storage 128GB or 256GB 128GB or 256GB
Memory 8GB RAM 6GB or 8GB RAM
Price (USD) $800 (128GB); $850 (256GB) $700 (128GB/6GB); $770 (256GB/8GB)

Display: The Galaxy S21 FE is slightly larger than the Galaxy S21

The Galaxy S21 FE comes fitted with a 6.4-inch screen. This makes it just a bit larger than the Galaxy S21's display, which has a 6.2-inch screen. The Galaxy S21 FE is a good middle ground for those who want a screen that's bigger than the S21's but not as large as the 6.7-inch Galaxy S21 Plus.

Just like the Galaxy S21, Samsung's new budget phone comes with a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling. The Galaxy S21 FE also uses Samsung's Dynamic AMOLED technology and has Full HD Plus resolution, the same as the Galaxy S21. However, the pixel density, or number of pixels per inch, is lower than the Galaxy S21's since the S21 FE's screen is larger, but the difference isn't noticeable. 

Read more: Forget the Galaxy S22 and get an S21: Main differences between S21, Plus and Ultra

Price: The Galaxy S21 FE is cheaper than the Galaxy S21

Samsung's Galaxy S21 FE will cost you $100 less than the S21. The S21 FE starts at $700 for the base model, which has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The price increases to $770 for the 8GB/256GB version. The base model for the Galaxy S21 costs $800, in comparison.

Samsung's FE models have cost less than the company's flagships in the past. For reference, the 5G version of the Galaxy S20 FE was about $300 less expensive than the Galaxy S20. If you're curious how the Galaxy S21 FE stacks up against the Galaxy S20 FE, you can check out CNET's comparison here

Read more: Galaxy S21 FE vs S20 FE: Same $700 price, but with notable changes

Camera: The Galaxy S21 FE has a triple-lens, but with different resolutions than the Galaxy S21

Like many of Samsung's other Galaxy phones, the Galaxy S21 FE comes with a triple-lens camera. The smartphone is fitted with a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera, a 12-megapixel wide camera, an 8-megapixel telephoto camera with a 30x digital zoom and a 32-megapixel front-facing camera. 

The Galaxy S21, by comparison, has a triple-lens camera with a 12-megapixel wide, 12-megapixel ultrawide, and 64-megapixel telephoto lens with a 10-megapixel selfie camera. 

That suggests the Galaxy S21 FE may take sharper selfies, but the Galaxy S21 will likely take crisper zoom and ultrawide shots. It sounds like Samsung wants to provide the flexibility that comes with having three cameras and multiple shooting modes, but may have opted for lower-resolution sensors to keep the price down. 

Read more: The best camera phone for 2022

They run on the same processor, but the Galaxy S21 FE has a bigger battery

One area where Samsung didn't compromise is in the Galaxy S21 FE's performance. It runs on Qualcomm's high-end Snapdragon 888 processor, just like the Galaxy S21. This is a key factor that distinguishes the Galaxy S21 FE from Samsung's other budget phones, namely the Galaxy A52 5G, which runs on a less powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G 5G chip. 

In terms of RAM,  Samsung gave the Galaxy S21 FE options of 6GB or 8GB. RAM is essentially your phone's short-term storage. It lets you jump right back into an app and pick up where you left off without having to reload, making the experience feel snappier. The Galaxy S21 comes with 8GB of RAM. 

Galaxy S21 FE additionally comes with a 4,500-mAh battery, which is larger than the regular Galaxy S21's 4,000-mAh battery. 

Read more: Galaxy S22 vs. Galaxy S21 FE: Every difference we expect

Design: The Galaxy S21 and S21 FE are similar, but come in different colors

Like the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21 FE has a nearly borderless screen with a hole punch cutout for the front camera. There's also a camera bump on the back just like on the Galaxy S21. 

Color choices appear to be the main difference between the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 FE in terms of design. The Galaxy S21 FE comes in black, white, green and purple, while the Galaxy S21 comes in purple (with a pink camera module), gray, white and pink. 

Read moreBest Samsung phones to buy for 2022

Should you buy the Galaxy S21 FE?

It sounds like the Galaxy S21 FE could be a good fit for those upgrading from an older Samsung phone. If you were already considering waiting for the Galaxy S22 to launch so that you can get the Galaxy S21 at a cheaper price, the Galaxy S21 FE might be a better choice, depending on your budget. For more about Samsung's latest Galaxy phone, take a look at CNET's Galaxy S21 FE ongoing review

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Galaxy S21 is Samsung's current flagship smartphone. It starts at $800 and comes with a 6.2-inch screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G processor in the US and a triple-lens camera with a 12-megapixel wide lens, 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens and 64-megapixel telephoto lens. CNET gave it a great review for its sensible price, attractive design and high refresh rate screen, but it's worth remembering that the Galaxy S22 is expected to launch soon. 

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The Galaxy S21 FE is a less expensive version of Samsung's standard Galaxy S21. At $700, it's $100 cheaper than Samsung's regular entry-level Galaxy S21. It comes with a slightly larger 6.4-inch screen, the same processor as the Galaxy S21, and a triple-lens camera that has a 12-megapixel wide lens, 12-megapixel ultra-wide angle lens and an 8-megapixel telephoto lens (compared to the Galaxy S21's 64-megapixel telephoto lens). Check out CNET's full review for more details.