Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, Fan Edition (smartphone review)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (Fan Edition) is the last 2021 Galaxy S21-series. It is a kind of mash-up using bits from the S21-series and offered at a $999 price.

But blame COVID – this phone is very late (it was scheduled for launch in October 2021). It may have missed the bus as the new S22-series is here. I would be tempted to get the S22 for the 2022 tech, including the Qualcomm SD Gen 1, 4nm processor and Adreno 730 GPU. OK, it is $250 more, but you get 8GB standard, a better camera, SIM and eSIM, and an adaptive AMOLED screen.

And it is in that ‘red ocean’ where there are some great phones like Google Pixel 6 ($999, 8/128GB), Vivo X60 Pro (12/256GB $899), ZTE RedMagic 6 Pro ($999, SD888, 16/256GB), and in a few weeks OPPO’s FindX5 upper-mid-range Neo (may be called a Reno7) and who knows what announcements we will see at Mobile World Congress at the end of February.

Better buy genuine, or 5G won’t work

We issue a strong warning that you must buy a genuine model with Australian firmware if you want to use 5G. Read Don’t buy a grey market phone to ensure you get the Australian model.

It is easy to identify the Australian version – usually under Settings, About Phone, Legal Information, Regulatory compliance, you will see the Australian RCM C-tick mark.

New review format for 2022 – both a short overview and deep-dive

We have reflected on how best to present our deep-dive reviews, now unique to CyberShack. Our readers tell us they want this detailed level of information to make purchasing decisions.

Deep-dive reviews have two aims:

First, to test the s*it out of the phones. We run more than 70 tests (many repeated three times) over a week to ensure accurate data you can rely on. You won’t find more accurate data on phone reception signal strength (a city or rural capable phone), battery life, Wi-Fi performance, CPU/GPU performance, throttling under load and importantly, how it sounds.

Second, to do this, we have developed a database with more than 300 facts and test results for all phones we review in 2022. It will be invaluable for objective comparisons. So, at the end of this review is the data and an explanation of why it rates. Following is a maximum 5-minute read summarising our findings for those that just want the summary.

5-minute review – Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (Fan Edition)

It sells for $999 (6/128GB), putting it in the upper mid-range bracket with premium features. When we rate it the score will be against other phones in this category.

Slimmer and lighter

It’s a 6.4″ screen, 7.9mm (thin) x 177g (light) and well-made with Gorilla Glass Victus on the front, an aluminium frame, and a fingerprint-resistant matte glastic back. It feels good in the hand.

6.4″ screen – bright and colourful AMOLED

No problems reading this day or night – it is brighter than most. But while it has a 60 or 120Hz refresh rate, these are fixed, and the latter reduces battery life a little. Most phones now have adaptive rates from 10-120Hz. You will get 1080p HDR10 streaming videos.

The screen is good, but it is not a class leader.

Processor – Exynos 2100

The same Exynos processor as the S21-series. Overall it is fast and smooth, but the 6GB of RAM can lag if you have a lot of open Browser tabs. The 128GB UFS 3.1 (100GB free) is fine, but there is no MicroSD slot expansion. Nor can it mount an external SSD or Flash drive as internal storage, making it unsuitable for videographers and vloggers.

Throttling is also a significant concern to power users and gamers. It drops back savagely by 44% over 15 minutes, but the average user won’t push it this hard.

Exynos versus Qualcomm?

The S20 FE had a Qualcomm SD865 Chipset, and there was a reasonable expectation that we would get the SD888 SoC (26 trillion operations per second – TOPS) and X60 modem. No, it is the Exynos 2100 (26 TOPS), and there is little between them. If anything, Samsung has more opportunities to tune the Exynos to its needs.

Do you care about the Qualcomm versus Exynos debate? Joe and Jane Average don’t, but many tech journos seem to get their knickers in a twist over what amounts to a scant few per cent difference either way. We can confidently tell you that performance-wise there is not enough to worry about but modem-wise there may be significant differences (see 4/5G in the table below).

Comms – all you need

Wi-Fi 6 (not 6E) VH80 means a maximum of 1200Mbps from a Wi-Fi router. The signal is reasonably solid but variable – not rock solid like other brands that are now VHT160 2400Mbps.

It has Bluetooth 5.0, NFC and a single band GPS.

Importantly the USB-C connector supports ALT DP audio and video, USB-C to HDMI wired DeX (a 1080p Android desktop) and screen mirror to a TV.

Phone – supports all Aussie bands

The Exynos Modem is more suited to city and suburbs only reception – it is not for weak reception areas, regional or rural use.

Battery – a mixed bag

Typical-to-low use should give you 24 hours between charges, but heavy use and gaming can reduce this to about 6 hours.

It does not have a charger (grrr, Samsung is penny-pinching), so go and buy a GaN (Gallium Nitride) PD intelligent Charger of at least 30W (it charges at 25W). Alogic has a two-port USB-C 68W for $84, and you can get 4-port 100 and 200W for not a lot more.

It supports Qi wireless 15W charging, and you can get charge pads for about $60 and use one of the GaN ports above.

Charge times have improved over the S21 at around 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Sound – Stereo

The Analytical sound signature is not the sweetest sounding (being polite) – it has a focus clear voice (1000-4000Hz) for hands-free. If you want to listen to music, you will need Bluetooth headphones or speakers where the Dolby Atmos EQ helps give you a wide sound stage and decent frequency response.

You can read more about sound signature and what to look for (including test tracks) How to tell if you have good music (sound signature is the key).

Build – very good

The Glastic back is a fibreglass-reinforced polyester. Add an aluminium frame and IP68 rating (1 metre for 30 minutes) – it is a keeper.

Warranty is 1-year which we think should be longer – OPPO and Google offer 2-years.

Android 12 and three updates

Samsung UI 4.1 is the grease over Android 12’s cogs, making it a pleasure to use. Getting Android 14 and four years of security patches is one of the better policies.

Samsung tries to draw you into its world with Galaxy Apps, Samsung Account and Backup. There is nothing wrong with that, and you can avoid these if you don’t want Samsung to know what you do. We strongly recommend using the Google app alternatives to make it easier if you ever want to exit the Samsung world.


Samsung Knox hardens Android and offers things like secure and hidden folders. It has an under-glass optical fingerprint reader; you can use Face ID (2D and not as secure) and PIN, Pattern etc.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE camera – good all-rounder

It has essentially the same camera specs as the S20 FE (DXOMARK 115). It scores 120, reflecting more AI power in the later Exynos 2100 SoC.

  • Daylight and office light shots are fine with natural colour, fast focus, and exposure.
  • Office Light shots are good.
  • Night mode lets it down a little – it can induice noise and takes a few seconds to take the shot – hold it very still.
  • The 3X optical zoom was good to 20X – 30X was a stretch.
  • Bokeh failed as it focused on the background and blurred the foreground.
  • Daylight and office video was above average with solid colours, exposure, good autofocus (primary lens) and OIS. Low-light was noisy. As usual, it is best to shoot in 1080p@30fps.
  • Selfies were variable. Fixed focus means blurred if you were slightly out of range.

Camera samples are at the end

CyberShack – Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a great upper-mid-range phone

It is good but not class-leading. I would be sorely tempted to spend more on the Galaxy S22, and I am afraid that more new models will out-class it after Mobile World Congress in late February.

Deep-dive CyberShack Smartphone comparison v 1.1 (E&OE)

This tabular format enables us to compare smartphones. It has test results under most categories. If a field is blank, it either does not apply or we could not find the spec.


ModelSamsung Galaxy S21 FE (Fan Edition)
Model NumberSM-G990E single SIM (DS dual SIM not for AU)
Price Base$999
   Price base6/128GB $999
   Price 28/256GB – $1099
Warranty months12
 TierUpper mid-range
WebsiteProduct Page
FromSamsung Online and approved retailers
Country of OriginVietnam
Test date12/02/2022
Ambient test temp24°
Other models not for Australia (Don’t buy)SM-G990B, N, U, U1, W or any model ending in DS (dual sim)


Flat/Curve/2D/3DFlat with centre 0-hole (the Ultra has curved edges)
Resolution2340 x 1080 (it is seen as a FHD phone)
Screen to Body85.30%
Colours bits16m 8-bit
Refresh Hz/adaptive60 or 120Hz and 240Hz touch – not adaptive
Response 120Hz10.5 GtG and 2.4ms BtW
Nits typical/testApprox. 400
Nits max/test800 (test: 760-790)
sRGBNatural: Test 97%
DCI-P3Vivid: Test approx. 60% (DCI-P3 more applicable to 10-bit 1 billion colours)
OtherRGB and temperature adjustment
Delta E (<4 is excellent)2.5
HDR LevelIt Plays HDR10+ (but downmixes to HDR10)
SDR UpscaleNo
Bluelight controlYes
PWM if knownAll AMOLED uses PWM 250Hz approx.
Daylight readableYes
Always on DisplayYes
Edge displayYes
AccessibilityFull suite of vision and sound enhancements
DRMWidevine L1 1080p HDR10
GamingGame mode
Screen protectionGorilla Glass Victus
CommentLovely bright, colourful screen, but lack of Adaptive refresh puts it slightly behind the leaders. Battery life is hardly affected by 120Hz.


Brand/ModelSamsung Exynos 2100
CoresOcta-core (1×2.9 GHz Cortex-X1 & 3×2.80 GHz Cortex-A78 & 4×2.2 GHz Cortex-A55)
Geekbench 5 Single-core1046
Geekbench 5 multi-core3226
LikeAbout 5-10% faster than the S21 with Exynos 2100 so reflects later tuning
GPUMali-G78 MP14 854Mhz
GPU Test 
Open CL7605
LikeAbout 5% faster than the S21 Exynos 2100
RAM/type6 LPDDR5
Storage/free/type128 UFS 3.1 (95GB free)
CPDT internal seq. Read1290
CPDT internal sew. Read/write222.21
CPDT external (mountable?)Won’t test – seen as external storage but can’t mount as internal storage
CommentVideographers and vloggers will soon run out of space without mountable storage, seen as internal storage.
Throttle test
   Max GIPS246,792
   Average GIPS195,902
   Minimum GIPS133,233
   % ThrottleSamsung Galaxy S21 FE
   CPU Temp50°
CommentWe re-ran the throttle test several times with similar results. Gamers need to note this would be an issue – average users won’t notice.
Heavy users should avoid this phone

Comms – all you need but slower Wi-Fi 1200Mbps

Wi-Fi Type/model6 AX HE80 BCM43571
   Test 2m -dBm/Mbps-31 to -35, 1200 variable, not stable
   Test 5m-59 to -60, 866-1134 variable
   Test 10m-63 to -70, 680-816 variable
BT Type5
GPS single/dualSingle (10m accuracy)
USB type3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbps)
   ALT DP/DeX/Ready ForYes – USB-C to HDMI cable only and will mirror to a TV
   AccelerometerYes – combo with Gyro
   GyroYes – combo with Gyro
   Pedometer? Probably
   Ambient lightYes
   Hall sensorYes
CommentIt’s a shame to limit the Wi-Fi speed to 1200Mbps when others have 2400Mbps. DeX support is nice even if its 1920x1080p. It also supports an external mouse and keyboard as well as a trackpad screen

LTE and 5G – strictly a city/suburbs phone

   ActiveOnly one
Ring tone single/dualSingle
VoLTECarrier dependent
Wi-Fi callingCarrier dependent
4G Bands1,2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 20, 26 28 32, 38, 40, 41, 66
CommentAll Australian 4G bands
5G sub-6GhzN1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40, 41, 66, 78
CommentAll Australian and 5G low-band
Test Boost Mobile/Telstra
   UL/DL/ms16.1/15.3, 39ms – average
   Tower 1 -dBm/fW or pWFrom -81 to -87 and 2.5 to 7.9pW – strong single tower signal
   Tower 2No (a recurrent issue with the Exynos modem is antenna reception of adjacent towers).
   Tower 3No
   Tower 4No
CommentIt is strictly a city/suburbs phone with strong tower coverage.

Battery – maximum one day and no charger

mAh4500 or 17.46Wh
Charger/type/suppliedNo – suggest SS 25W or GaN PD
 PD level3
Qi wattage5 to 15W
Reverse Qi or cable5W
Test (60Hz or adaptive screen)
   Charge % 30mins50% claim (verified)
   Charge 0-100%75 minutes claim (80 minutes)
   Charge Qi/WYes 15W (not tested but assume 5-8 hours)
   Charge 5V/2AApprox 5 hours
   Video loop 50%/aeroplane14 hours and 12 minutes
   PC Mark 3 battery7 hours 17 minutes 60Hz – a fairy accurate indication of heavy use
6 hours 56 minutes 120Hz – not a large overhead on battery life
   GFX Bench Manhattan batteryOut of memory error. Not uncommon for Exynos SoC.
   GFX Bench T-Rex502.8m (8.38hrs) 3351 frames
   Drain 100-0% full load6 hrs 30 minutes
   Watt full load9W
   Watt idle1.5W
   Estimate battery loss at 120HzNegligible
   Estimate typical usemaximum 24 hours typical use but carry a charger
CommentNo charger is penny-pinching, and heavy users will need to charge twice a day. Out of memory error is common with the Exynos SoC and probably no issue.

Sound – speakers are a bit harsh for music

SpeakersStereo – top earpiece and bottom down-firing. Slight volume and bass preference to the bottom
AMP2 x Cirrus Logic CS35L41 each 5.3W, 1% THD, 8 ohm
Dolby Atmos decodeYes, downmix to two speakers
Hi-Res32-bit/384kHz (not tested)
BT CodecsSBC, AAC, Samsung Scalable
MultipointCan connect to two devices
Dolby Atmos (DA)Yes – auto, movie, music, voice and games mode
EQNormal, Pop, Classic, Jazz, Rock and Custom – makes more of a difference in headphones as inbuilt speakers limit what they can do.
Mics2 – with background noise suppression
Test dB – all on EQ flat DA off
   Volume max80dB fine for personal use
   Media (music)73
   Hands-freeBottom mic for voice only and top for noise reduction. Hold the phone close as the volume is a tad low.
   BT headphonesExcellent left-right separation and DA makes quite a difference with DA content.
Sound quality
Deep Bass 20-40HzNo
Middle Bass 40-100HzNo
High Bass 100-200HzSlowly Building
 Low Mid 200-400HzSlowly Building
Mid 4000-1000HzSlowly Building
High-Mid 1-2kHzSlowly Building
Low Treble 2-4kHzFlat
Treble 4-6kHzFlat
High Treble 6-10kHzDecline
Dog Whistle 10-20kHzSteep decline from 13khz
Sound Signature typeAnalytical: (bass/mid recessed; treble boosted) – crisp but not pleasant for most music
   Soundstage2D (no 3D spatial height, but DA gives a wider sound stage.
CommentInternal speakers are not the best for music – the focus is on a clear voice for hands-free

Build – well-made

Size (H X W x D)155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9
Weight grams177
Front glassGorilla Glass Victus
Rear materialGlastic Plastic  matte finish grippy
IP rating68
ColoursOlive, Graphite, Lavender, White
Pen/Stylus supportNo
In the box
   USB cableUSB-A to USB-C
   Bumper coverNo
CommentWell-made, IP68 and should be a keeper
Security patch date1/11/2021
UIOne U1 4.0
OS upgrade policyThree OS upgrades
Security patch policyRegular security patches four years
BloatwareSamsung alternative to Google suite. Microsoft suite and OneDrive (requires subscription)
OtherSelection  of Galaxy Apps
CommentExcellent upgrade policy and Une UI is easy to use
Fingerprint sensor location/typeOptical under glass – Goodix
Face ID2D
OtherKnox and Secure folder
CommentOne of the more secure Android devices

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Camera – good all-round

Rear Primary
   SensorSamsung S5K2LD
   FocusDual Pixel PDAF (fast focus)
  FOV° (stated/actual)-67.4
   Zoom8X digital
Rear 2
   SensorSony IMX258
  FOV (stated/actual)123° (104.3°)
Rear 3
   SensorHynix Hi847
  FOV (stated/actual)?
   Zoom3X Optical 30X Space  zoom
Special, e.g. Lidar
   Video max4K@60fps. Above-average all around but best at 1080p@30fps for excellent, rock steady video.
Object eraser
   QR code readerYes
  MP32 (Bins to 8MP) but delivers 5.2MP
   SensorSony IMX 616
   FocusFF can result in out of focus shots
   um.8 (bins to 1.6)
  FOV (stated/actual)(69.7°)
   Zoom4X digital
   Video max4K@60fps – it is above average with good colours and sound. But forget 4K and go for 1080p@30fps for webcam use.
   Screen flashYes
    FeaturesDual record, Filters, HDR
Macro – not dedicated but uses the primary lens
Indoors office light 400 lumens approx
Low light <40 lumens

CyberShack final comments – The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a fine phone but not the class-leader

No microSD, 3,5mm, Charger, single sim and fixed refresh rate screen but a very strong processor
There are perhaps more <$999 options to look at, like Pixel 6 and OPPO Reno or Vivo
It should be stellar, but throttling and heat let it down
Ease of Use9
Long OS update and security patch. One UI 4.0 is easy to use
It is a glass slab with no distinguishing features
Rating out of 108
1AMOLED 120Hz fixed-rate screen
2Nice in-hand feel
3Qualcomm SD888 is hard to beat
4Great camera all around
5It is a Galaxy S series and all that goes with it
1No Charger and other price compromises
3No 3.5mm jack or microSD
4There is a lot of <$999 competition
Final commentA worthy successor to the S20 FE – better display, SoC, camera and battery life. You may want to spend more and get the new Galaxy S22 – I would.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (Fan Edition)

From $999







Ease of use