Samsung Galaxy S22 vs. Galaxy S21 FE: How to Decide
The Galaxy S22 is smaller and has a better camera, while the Galaxy S21 FE has a larger screen and a sharper selfie camera.
Lisa EadiciccoSenior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
Shopping for a new Android phone? If you're a Samsung loyalist, you might find yourself deciding between the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S21 FE. Both devices are around the same price and share some similarities when it comes to size and camera specifications. That said, there are some important differences between the two.
The Galaxy S21 FE is essentially a repackaged version of last year's Galaxy S21, while the Galaxy S22 is the next generation of the S21. The Galaxy S21 FE launched at $700, although Samsung is currently listing it for $600. It runs on a slightly older processor than the S22 and its main camera is lower-resolution. The Galaxy S21 FE doesn't have the improvements that Samsung has made to nighttime photography, and its design is less exciting than that of the Galaxy S22. But the S21 FE has a noticeably larger screen than the S22, a sharper selfie camera and, most importantly, a lower price.
The Galaxy S22, which launched at $800 but is currently priced at $725 through Samsung, is better suited for those who want better camera quality and prefer smaller devices. The S21 FE, on the other hand, is for those who prioritize screen size and a lower price.
Before you make your decision, remember that Samsung usually launches its new Galaxy phones at the beginning of the year. So if you're in a position to hold off, it's a good idea to wait.
Here's a closer look at how the two phones compare.
The Galaxy S22 has a smaller screen, but a more elegant design
The most obvious difference between the two devices can be seen by just looking at them: The Galaxy S22 has a 6.1-inch screen, while the Galaxy S21 FE has a 6.4-inch display. Which size is better depends on your preference. The Galaxy S22 can seem a little cramped, especially when typing, while the Galaxy S21 FE feels like a better balance of portability and screen space. Compared with the Galaxy S22 Plus and Ultra, the Galaxy S22 feels right for people who prefer smaller phones like the iPhone 13 Mini or Samsung Galaxy S10E. However, both of those phones are considerably smaller than the S22.
The Galaxy S22 and S21 FE have very similar display quality. The Galaxy S22 technically has more pixels per inch, but the difference isn't noticeable. Both phones can crank their screens' refresh rates up to 120Hz for smoother scrolling and they both support HDR10 Plus, so you're not missing out on anything major by opting for the cheaper FE. The Galaxy S22 family has a new feature called Vision Booster, which adjusts the screen to the lighting in your surroundings, but I didn't notice much of a difference between the two.
Where you will notice a difference, however, is in the phones' design. The Galaxy S22 is made from metal and glass, giving it a more elegant and expensive feel than the cheaper Galaxy S21 FE. The S22's metallic edges even remind me a bit of the iPhone 13 Pro. The Galaxy S21 FE's design looks dull by comparison, but that probably doesn't matter much if you plan to cover your device with a case. The Galaxy S22 is also slightly lighter than the Galaxy S21 FE at 167 grams compared with the S21 FE's 177 grams.
The Galaxy S22 has a better main camera, but the S21 FE wins at selfies
The Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S21 FE both have triple-lens main cameras, but the difference is in the details. The Galaxy S22 has a 50-megapixel main camera, a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera and a 10-megapixel telephoto camera. The Galaxy S21 FE has a 12-megapixel main camera, a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera and an 8-megapixel telephoto camera.
As a result, I found photos taken with a Galaxy S22 generally looked more colorful and detailed than those shot with a Galaxy S21 FE. These changes are most noticeable in photos of single subjects, like a portrait or a bouquet of flowers, than in busier scenes like a street corner.
Galaxy S21 FE
Galaxy S21 FE
I also noticed that the Galaxy S22 took sharper zoomed-in photos than the Galaxy S21 FE, which makes sense since it has a slightly higher-resolution camera. Take a look at the photos below to see the difference. The photos of the spiky ball hanging from a tree were taken at a 10x zoom, and you'll notice that the Galaxy S22's is sharper.
Galaxy S21 FE
But it's not just the resolution that's changed. Samsung has also improved the way the Galaxy S22 lineup takes photos in low light, which you can read more about in our full story on the Galaxy 22's Nightography night photography improvements. The Galaxy S22 took photos that were generally clearer, brighter and crisper than the Galaxy S21 FE's during my testing. Take a look at the photos below, which were captured in my apartment with all of the lights turned off.
Galaxy S21 FE
But the Galaxy S21 FE's 32-megapixel front camera gives it an advantage when it comes to taking selfies. The Galaxy S22, by comparison, has a 10-megapixel selfie camera. You'll notice the Galaxy S21 FE's photo has much more detail, especially when it comes to my hair.
The Galaxy S22 has newer Qualcomm processor, but general performance is similar
The Galaxy S22 runs on Qualcomm's new processor, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, while the Galaxy S21 FE has last year's Snapdragon 888. That's the same chip found inside the Galaxy S21 lineup.
So what does that mean for overall performance? Not much. Both phones feel snappy and fluid when loading apps, playing games and scrolling around the operating system. The Galaxy S22 performed slightly higher in benchmarks that test general computing and graphics performance, but by a slim margin. Check out the results below.
Where the new processor really makes a difference is in powering new features. Part of the reason why the Galaxy S22 is better at taking photos in the dark, for example, is its new processor.
The phones also offer similar memory and storage, although the Galaxy S22 has more memory at the base level (8GB versus the S21 FE's 6GB). But both phones are available in either 128GB or 256GB storage options.
The Galaxy S21 FE has slightly longer battery life than the Galaxy S22 according to my testing, but not by much. The S21 FE lasted for 15 hours, 46 minutes in CNET's battery test, which involves continuously playing a video in airplane mode with the screen brightness set to 50%. The Galaxy S22, by comparison, lasted for 15 hours, 21 minutes during the same test. Both phones lasted noticeably shorter than the Galaxy S22 Plus and giant-size Galaxy S22 Ultra, which both exceeded 18 hours.
Should you buy the Galaxy S22 or the Galaxy S21 FE?
Before you buy a new Samsung phone, remember that new devices may be just around the corner. Samsung is expected to launch the Galaxy S23 lineup in early 2023, which will likely have a new processor and some camera improvements. The company also released the Galaxy S21 FE in January 2022, so if Samsung keeps the same launch pattern a Galaxy S22 FE could be arriving shortly. (However, a report from the blog SamMobile suggests Samsung may have canceled the Galaxy S22 FE).
If you do need a new Samsung phone right now, the Galaxy S22 is the best choice if you don't mind swapping a smaller screen size in exchange for a better camera, marginally faster performance and a classier design. If photography is a top priority, the Galaxy S22 is the better option. It can capture photos that are generally more detailed with more contrast than the S21 FE gives you, and it's better at taking zoomed-in photos too. It can also take brighter photos in low-light conditions.
But the Galaxy S21 FE is better for those who want a larger screen at a significantly cheaper price than the $1,000 price tag of the Galaxy S22 Plus. The camera isn't as good as the Galaxy S22's, but it still takes photos that are good enough for most people. The S21 FE's sharper front camera will also come in handy if you take a lot of selfies, or frequently use your phone for video calls.