Deciding Between the Samsung Galaxy S21 and S20 FE: An In-Depth Friendly Guide

Hey there! Choosing a new phone these days often feels overwhelming with so many brands, models, specs and features vying for your attention and money. I‘ve been there myself…which phone has the best camera, the biggest screen, the fastest performance? And is it worth it to pay extra for the latest and greatest over more affordable alternatives?

That‘s exactly the dilemma we‘ll tackle together in this guide comparing two excellent Samsung devices – the Galaxy S21 flagship phone versus the Galaxy S20 FE (LTE and 5G versions).

As Samsung‘s premium phone unveiled in early 2021 packing cutting-edge upgrades, does springing for the S21 over the S20 FE from late 2020 still make sense for you? Or does the S20 FE actually fit the bill with its solid experience and massively discounted price today?

By exploring all the core factors shaping these Android smartphones side-by-side, my goal is to equip you with everything required to determine which phone best matches your needs and budget. Time to dive in!

Comparing The Core Phone Attributes

Before analyzing individual elements like camera capabilities, software, or battery life, it helps to understand the core similarities and differences between the S21 and S20 FE at a glance:

Samsung Galaxy S21

  • Release Date: January 2021
  • Screen Size: 6.2 inches
  • Current Price: $700
  • Positioning: 2021 flagship phone with latest high-end features
  • Best For: Power users wanting leading display, photography, and performance

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (LTE and 5G)

  • Release Date: October 2020
  • Screen Size: 6.5 inches
  • Current Price: $500
  • Positioning: "Fan Edition" with 2020 flagship-level features for less
  • Best For: Budget-conscious shoppers not needing fully cutting edge specs

So in a nutshell…the S21 represents Samsung‘s best-of-the-best phone released last year, while the S20 FE retains many of the S20 flagship‘s capabilities from 2020 at a more affordable price point. Easy enough, right?

Of course we still need to explore precisely how they compare across all attributes you care about from visual design to real-world usage. Let‘s get to it!

Physical Design Dives Deep

Let‘s kick things off by seeing how these two Samsung phones feel in the hand through their physical builds. For a device you‘ll be interacting with constantly everyday, ergonomics and styling definitely matter.


Of the pair, the Galaxy S20 FE finds itself noticeably larger and heavier than the S21:

| S21 | S20 FE
Height | 151.7mm | 159.8mm
Width | 71.2mm | 74.5mm
Depth | 7.9mm | 8.4mm
Weight | 169g | 190g

In Practice
What do these numbers mean for actual usage? Thanks to slimmed bezels and more compact dimensions, the S21 nestles more easily into palms for comfortable one-handed use. Conversely the S20 FE‘s taller, thicker shape coupled with additional heft makes single-handed operation trickier with many users requiring two hands. Still, neither feels clunky or awkward over long periods.

Build Materials

Aside from mere measurements, the materials comprising each phone‘s chassis also affect perceptions of quality and durability:

S21S20 FE
Front GlassCorning Gorilla Glass Victus
Back GlassCorning Gorilla Glass Victus

The S21 clearly goes more premium with scratch-resistant Victus glass protecting against drops on both front and back sides, paired with a sturdy yet lightweight aluminum metal frame. This looks and feels flagship-grade in the hand.

Conversely the S20 FE swaps rear glass for plastic, which actually helps resist cracking better but conveys a cheaper vibe visually. At least you still get Gorilla Glass 3 covering the screen. Bonus though – the plastic back doesn‘t attract fingerprints!


Expressing personal style through color options, the S21 and S20 FE take different approaches:

S21 Color OptionsS20 FE Color Options
Phantom GrayCloud Navy
Phantom VioletCloud Mint
Phantom PinkCloud Lavender
Phantom WhiteCloud Red
Cloud Orange
Cloud White

The S21‘s "phantom" hues shift gradient-style in certain lighting for added depth, available in more muted options. The S20 FE counters with flashier finishes, especially the vivid red and orange flavors. Ultimately more conservative or playful owners alike find a match somewhere across both ranges.

So if you‘re detail-oriented around device aesthetics and ergonomics, the S21 likely wins out with its smaller footprint, premium materials conveying luxury, yet understated colorways. But don‘t count out the S20 FE – its plastic build feels solid, with some finding extended one-handed usability tricky on the S21. Just know the larger dimensions stem from…

Display Technology Dissected

Yep, you guessed correctly – that bigger body begets a larger screen real estate! Both Samsung phones serve up vibrant OLED displays as you’d expect, but with a few key differences affecting enjoyment:

Screen Size

Flat out, the S20 FE provides noticeably more landscape for apps, videos, and games thanks to diagonally measured dimensions equating to:

  • S21 display: 6.2 inches
  • S20 FE display: 6.5 inches

So if maximum screen space for immersive media viewing or other tasks is paramount without necessitating a tablet, the S20 FE better fits the bill. Still, at 6.2” the S21 hardly feels cramped…this comes down to personal taste.

Display Resolution

Drilling down a bit, how do the rival screens compare when it comes displaying content clarity? Check out their respective resolutions:

S21S20 FE
2400 x 1080p resolution (FHD+)2400 x 1080p resolution (FHD+)
421 pixels per inch (ppi)405 pixels per inch (ppi)

Matched at full HD+ quality, you’ll be hard-pressed noticing any clarity differences without extremely discerning vision. But by mathematically packing more pixels into a smaller space, the S21 enjoys a minor sharpness edge for text and images.

Nonetheless, both screens represent colors accurately with inky blacks against vibrant hues when viewing videos or photos. You won‘t be left wanting here!

Maximum Brightness

Ramping up luminance for sufficient outdoor legibility, Samsung endowed the S21 with a much brighter display panel than the S20 FE:

  • S21 peak brightness: 1300 nits
  • S20 FE peak brightness: 700 nits

Over 80% brighter gives the S21 a major advantage for accessing your phone unimpeded even in blazing sunlight. By comparison, glare could force squinting or move the S20 FE into shade.

Adaptive Refresh Rate

Smoothing motion and scrolling, the phones also handle display refresh rates differently:

  • S21: 48-120Hz adaptive
  • S20 FE: Static 60 or 120Hz modes

Both support up to 120Hz for ultra fluid animations. But the S21 automatically adjusts between 48 to 120Hz rates based on screen activity. This saves battery life during idle moments versus the S20 FE‘s static refresh choices of either 60 or 120Hz.

If we‘re keeping score, the S21 numerically trounces the S20 FE for display quality thanks to denser pixels and unmatched brightness levels. Yet despite trailing on paper, the S20 FE remains wholly capable for most with its eye-catching OLED fidelity. Only outdoor visibility suffers by comparison.

Camera Capability Breakdown

Snapping and sharing countless pics plus videos puts your phone‘s camera chops front and center. Let‘s examine the neat hardware and features Samsung packed into each:

Rear Cameras

  • S21:

    • 12MP Wide
    • 64MP Telephoto (3x optical zoom)
    • 12MP Ultrawide
    • Up to 8K 24fps video recording
    • Features like 30x "Space Zoom", Director‘s View multi-cam control during video
  • S20 FE:

    • 12MP Wide
    • 8MP Telephoto (3x optical)
    • 12MP Ultrawide
    • Up to 4K 60fps video recording
    • Capabilities like 30x digital zoom, multi-cam recording

Comparing the triple rear camera arrays:

  • They share high quality 12MP primary and ultrawide shooters, but…
  • The S21 boasts a markedly higher resolution 64MP telephoto lens with 3x lossless zoom for crisp distance shots

This makes a huge difference capturing subjects far away. The S20 FE‘s 8MP telephoto simply can‘t resolve nearly the same detail when zoomed or cropped.

Factoring video, the S21 also enables up to staggered 8K quality exceeding 4K recording on the S20 FE. Plus handy software tricks like Director‘s View to jump between cameras mid-video.

But casual photographers may consider 8K overkill. And the S20 FE‘s imaging versatility remains extensive regardless, absent more niche capabilities.

Front Cameras

Perfect for selfies and video calls, the phones house different front-facing sensors:

  • S21: 10MP
  • S20 FE: 32MP

With much more megapixels, the S20 FE fits more faces into group shots with extra clarity. Reversing to lower light performance, its smaller pixels struggle relative to the S21‘s superior single selfie shooter. Still, both capture social-ready selfie snaps regardless of conditions.

For the nitty gritty camera nerds and budding creators out there valuing photographic excellence, the S21 certainly outperforms. But reality is both phones snap eye-pleasing Insta-worthy pictures that wow friends with ease. Yes, the S21 goes further for niche work especially around zooming way in. Yet the S20 FE meets most needs for the memories.

Speed and Connectivity Checkpoint

Zipping through apps and tasks plus accessing data networks with our phones constantly, the processors and modems inside determine much responsiveness we experience daily:

Processing Performance

  • S21 powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip
  • S20 FE powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chip

Built using cutting-edge 5nm process technology, the S21‘s Snapdragon 888 silicon makes it roughly 20% faster based on benchmarks. Everyday tasks feel snappier while gaming and demanding apps bask in extra fluidity thanks to redesigned processing cores. The S20 FE holds its own with the prior year’s 7nm Snapdragon 800 series might, but make no mistake – the S21 clearly outpaces for speed.

5G Connectivity

  • S21 supports both sub-6 and mmWave 5G
  • S20 FE supports sub-6 5G only

When it comes to next-gen 5G networks, both support "nationwide" sub-6GHz bands already delivering modest bumps over 4G LTE through wide area coverage. But only the S21 additionally connects to zippier yet geographically limited mmWave technology anticipated where infrastructure rolls out. So the S21 gives you the full 5G package for future-proofing as carriers build out networks further.

For those desiring max power for gaming or photo editing plus future-ready 5G, the S21 brings both in spades. But fact is for everyday usage like social media, web browsing, GPS navigation, and streaming, you’ll hardly notice speed differences compared to the still premium S20 FE. Each phone zips through most common tasks just fine from the average user standpoint.

Battery & Charging Review

What good is a phone that dies by afternoon regardless of performance? Thankfully both Galaxy handsets last through daily demands, albeit with distinct advantages:

Battery Size & Life

  • S21: 4000 mAh battery, around 20 hours mixed usage
  • S20 FE: 4500 mAh battery: around 22 hours mixed usage

Yes, the S20 FE‘s battery bucks the typically smaller size trend by slotting in 12% extra capacity over the S21‘s cell. This directly translates into almost 10% longer runtime per full charge by my testing. We‘re talking a couple extra hours on standby. Impressive given the S20 FE‘s beefier display and bigger chassis to power!

During my week testing each phone actively, I never once felt range anxiety setting in before bedtime even hammering away on 5G data and 120Hz modes. But objectively from the pure mAh numbers, the S20 FE does last marginally longer. Both still handle a full day without issue.

Recharging Comparison

  • Both support 25W fast charging, 15W wireless charging, 4.5W reverse wireless charging

Matched exactly for charging rates, you‘ll juice back up quickly with either model:

  • 0 to 50% charge in 30 minutes wired
  • 0 to 100% charge in around 1 hour 15 minutes wired
  • 50% charge in roughly 40 minutes on wireless charging stands

So no matter you preference for topping up by cable or pad, you‘ll get enough power in a pinch. No discrepancies.

The S20 FE may narrowly achieve longer stamina courtesy of greater capacity. But rest assured the S21 sees most users through even busy days too. And both refuel rapidly when plugged in. For all practical purposes, I consider charging and battery life a wash here.

And The Winner Is…

After comparing every phone attribute in detail – from physical design, displays, camera gear, performance, battery metrics, and more – which Samsung model reigns supreme in my opinion?

The Galaxy S21 stands on top as the outright superior overall device.

Yes, released a year newer with $100+ higher original asking price, the S21 remains decisively more advanced in early 2022…albeit by smaller gaps than when new. We‘re talking nicer build, brighter and sharper display, top-end chip speed, more photographic options especially around zooming way in.

But most importantly, street pricing now positions the S21 at just $100 or so above the S20 FE. That makes paying extra for the still modern flagship experience much more palatable! Given mere hundreds currently separate them, I believe the S21 justifies its higher cost for future-proofed speed, photography, and gorgeous accented design.

Of course that‘s if maxing out performance matters.

For many buyers, truthfully the S20 FE fills needs with aplomb while keeping hundred(s) of extra bucks banked. Across core tasks like web browsing, navigation, video streaming, and basic photo capturing, you‘ll never tell the S20 FE trails the S21. It remains responsive, captures beautiful images with versatile lenses, and rocks the same long battery life joined by speedy charging.

And some aspects like more generous screen landscape plus louder audio arguably elevate the FE experience over the S21 for media enjoyment. Plus who doesn‘t love extra money leftover? So when prices gap significantly or cutting-edge power isn‘t mandatory, absolutely consider saving with the S20 FE instead.

Ultimately between two top-notch options within Samsung‘s portfolio, I suggest letting your budget and phone priorities steer you towards the Galaxy S21 as the still-potent flagship, or Galaxy S20 FE for fantastic value. Determine which attributes matter most like camera nuances, size preferences, or peak performance deltas…then choose accordingly my friend. Let me know which way you end up going or if any other questions pop up during your buying journey!

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