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Samsung’s $600 Galaxy S20 FE is so good that it’s a better buy than the $800 Galaxy S21

  Summary List Placement Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE runs on 2020's top hardware for Android phones, and it costs $600.  The Galaxy S21 phones run on the latest parts for 2021, but they cost $800 to $1,000. The Galaxy S21 phones are better, but not "$200-$400" better than the Galaxy S20 FE.  See how...

 

galaxy s20 fe vs galaxy s21 4x3

Summary List Placement

  • Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE runs on 2020’s top hardware for Android phones, and it costs $600. 
  • The Galaxy S21 phones run on the latest parts for 2021, but they cost $800 to $1,000.
  • The Galaxy S21 phones are better, but not “$200-$400” better than the Galaxy S20 FE. 
  • See how these models stack up on our guides to the best phones and the best budget phones for 2021 so far.

Table of Contents: Masthead StickyGalaxy S20 FE (small)Galaxy S21 (small)Galaxy S21 Plus (small)

When Samsung released its Galaxy S21 flagship line in January 2021, it stopped selling the previous Galaxy S20 series, save for the more affordable Galaxy S20 FE that you can still buy today.

Launched with a $700 price tag in October 2020, the Galaxy S20 FE was a less expensive alternative to the regular Galaxy S20 series that started at $1,000. Despite its cheaper price, however, the Galaxy S20 FE maintained similar specs as the flagship Galaxy S20 phones, a triple lens camera, and a smooth 120Hz screen. 

Overall, the Galaxy S20 FE presented a nearly identical experience as the regular Galaxy S20  series. And, without a doubt, the Galaxy S20 FE posed the best value, and we recommended the S20 FE over the more expensive Galaxy S20 phones whenever possible in 2020. 

Now, Samsung sells the Galaxy S20 FE for $600, and it’s being sold alongside the new Galaxy S21 line that starts at $800. 

Here, we’re comparing the Galaxy S20 FE with the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus. We’re not including the $1,200 Galaxy S21 Ultra, as that model is in a different league in terms of price and capabilities — someone who’s considering the Galaxy S20 FE isn’t likely to be looking at the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Read our full reviews for the Galaxy S20 FE and the Galaxy S21.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and Galaxy S21 specifications

Galaxy S20 FE Specs
Price  $599.99
Screen (resolution, refresh rate) 6.5-inch (1080p, 120Hz Super AMOLED, HDR10+)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
Memory and storage 6GB RAM & 128GB storage, expandable with microSD card up to 1TB
Operating system Android 11 with Samsung One UI 3.0
Rear camera 12MP standard wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 8MP 3x optical zoom and up to 30x digital zoom, OIS
Selfie camera 32MP
Battery 4,500Ah; supports 15W wireless charging, 25W wired charging
Water resistance IP68
5G Yes (sub6)
Galaxy S21 Specs
Price $799.99
Screen (resolution, refresh rate) 6.2-inch (1080p, 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED 2x, HDR10+)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Memory and storage 8GB RAM and 128GB/256GB flash
Operating system Android 11 with Samsung One UI 3.1
Rear cameras 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 64MP 3x  telephoto up to 30x, OIS
Selfie cameras 10MP
Battery 4,000mAh, supports 15W wireless charging, 25W wired charging
Water resistance IP68
5G Non-Standalone (NSA), Standalone (SA), Sub6/mmWave)
Galaxy S21 Plus Specs
Price $999.99
Screen (resolution, refresh rate) 6.7-inch (1080p, 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED 2x, HDR10+)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Memory and storage 8GB RAM and 128GB/256GB flash
Operating system Android 11 with Samsung One UI 3.1
Rear cameras 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 64MP 3x  telephoto up to 30x, OIS
Selfie cameras 10MP
Battery 4,800mAh, supports 15W wireless charging, 25W wired charging
Water resistance IP68
5G Non-Standalone (NSA), Standalone (SA), Sub6/mmWave

Spec for spec, the Galaxy S20 FE and its $600 price tag makes a very strong case for itself. It has the top-of-the-line processor from 2020, a great screen with a high 120Hz refresh rate, a good amount of memory and storage, a similar triple-lens camera setup, and a big battery. 

The main things you’d be compromising on by going for the Galaxy S20 FE, technically, is a previous-generation processor, minor camera improvements that Samsung implemented in the Galaxy S21 series, and access to your carrier’s faster millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G networks. 

Whether getting the latest processor, camera improvements, and access to mmWave 5G networks is worth the extra $200-$400 is largely going to be up to you. Let’s dig in a little deeper into some of the specifics.

Design

galaxy s20 fe vs s21 front design

The Galaxy S21 phones are undoubtedly more luxurious and sleek with their ultra-narrow bezels around the screen and flashy wrap-around camera module. The Galaxy S20 FE also has a plastic back with a matte finish, while the Galaxy S21 phones employ a frosted matte glass. That said, while the Galaxy S20 FE’s plastic back looks bad on paper, it’s almost imperceptible from glass — I actually forgot that its back is plastic until I re-read my own review. 

Thankfully, the Galaxy S20 FE, S21, and S21 Plus all have flat screens rather than the curved edges you’d find on the Galaxy S21 Ultra and some previous Galaxy S models. 

Speaking of the screen, there’s no noticeable difference between the screen on the Galaxy S20 FE and the Galaxy S21 phones. Both have the same resolution, refresh rate, and similar AMOLED technology that makes colors pop, and delivers perfect black color and high brightness that makes for unmatched contrast.

Performance

galaxy s20 fe vs s21 screen

Hard benchmark numbers reveal the Galaxy S21 series is, indeed, more powerful. During a test designed to measure everyday performance using Geekbench 5’s central processing unit (CPU) benchmark, the Galaxy S21 scored an average of 1,098 on the single-core test and 3,259 on the multicore test. To compare, the Galaxy S20 FE measured a single-core score of 870 and a multi-core score of 2,955.

To test real-world performance, we ran a variety of popular apps and games with both phones in February 2021. During testing, there was little perceivable evidence that the Galaxy S21 series is faster during normal usage than the Galaxy S20 FE. Both phones, combined with their smooth 120Hz screen, are buttery smooth while swiping around the Android operating system and various apps. 

That’s to be expected, as the Galaxy S20 FE isn’t even a year-old, and the Snapdragon 865 processor is only one generation behind the current Snapdragon 888 processor found in the Galaxy S21 series. 

Cameras

Both phones come with triple-lens camera systems, including a standard wide lens, an ultra-wide lens, and a 3x zoom lens that’s capable of digitally zooming up to 30x. 

Both phones take similar quality photos overall, with the Galaxy S21 doing a slightly better job at managing HDR, contrast, and Samsung’s usual lust to overly boost brightness. Here’s a photo taken with the Galaxy S20 FE:

S20 FE normal photo

And here’s the same photo taken with the Galaxy 21, which has slightly richer colors, deeper contrast, and highlights aren’t as overblown as the Galaxy S20 FE’s photo: 

S21 normal photo

Being a newer “full-fat” flagship model compared to the “skimmed” Galaxy S20 FE, the Galaxy S21 has better camera hardware and more features. Most notably, the Galaxy S21 has a 64-megapixel zoom lens that can also be used to take higher-resolution non-zoomed photos than the Galaxy S20 FE’s 12-megapixel lens. Here’s a photo taken with the Galaxy S20 FE 12-megapixel standard lens, which has been zoomed in on my computer after taking the photo:

Samsung S20 FE zoom pic

And here’s the same photo taken with the Galaxy S21’s 64-megapixel lens, which shows significantly clearer detail when you zoom in after taking a photo: 

Samsung S21 zoom

Both phones have optical-image-stabilization (OIS) that help steady the shot when you take a zoomed photo, but it was clear during testing that the Galaxy S21 has a better implementation of OIS than the Galaxy S20 FE, especially when zooming in up to 30x. With that said, the Galaxy S21’s better OIS doesn’t produce better results. Here’s a photo taken with the Galaxy S20 FE’s zoom lens with 30x zoom:

S20 FE 30x zoom

And here’s the same photo taken with the Galaxy S21’s zoom lens at 30x zoom. Even though the viewscreen was more steady than the Galaxy S20 FE’s, the photo still comes out blurry and lacking detail:

S21 30x zoom

Battery life

In our battery life test, where we continuously play a YouTube video at 1080p resolution (the same resolution as the S20 FE’s screen) with dynamic drone footage until the battery dies, the Galaxy S20 FE and its 4,500mAh battery lasted 13 hours and 40 minutes. 

In the same test, the Galaxy S21 and its 4,000mAh battery lasted 12 hours and 46 minutes. These results are as expected, seeing as the Galaxy S20 FE has a larger battery. Unfortunately, we don’t have a Galaxy S21 Plus on hand for battery testing. With that said, we can surmise that the Galaxy S21 Plus’ larger 4,800mAh battery will result in slightly longer battery life than the Galaxy S20 FE. However, we wouldn’t expect anything dramatic. 

Both phone series support wireless charging up to 15W, as well as 25W wired charging. The Galaxy S20 FE comes with a 15W charger, which unfortunately doesn’t take advantage of its full charging speed. At the same time, the Galaxy S21 doesn’t come with any charger at all, so you’d have to buy your own if you don’t already have a decently fast charger. They also have Samsung’s Power Share reverse wireless charging that lets you charge small accessories, like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro, from the back of the phone.

Should you buy the Galaxy S20 FE, the Galaxy S21, or the Galaxy S21 Plus?

galaxy s20 fe vs s21 cameras

Right off the bat, the Galaxy S20 FE is on the larger side with its 6.5-inch screen and overall size. If you prefer smaller phones, you’re unlikely to like the Galaxy S20 FE, and your best option is going to be the Galaxy S21.

If you like larger phones, the Galaxy S21 isn’t likely to be on your radar. So, it boils down to picking between the $600 Galaxy S20 FE and the $1,000 Galaxy S21 Plus

Without a doubt, the Galaxy S20 FE poses the better value — you’re not getting $400-worth of extra perceivable performance, camera improvements, battery life, or anything else with the Galaxy S21 Plus. If you’re looking for excuses to buy the Galaxy S21 Plus and justify its $1,000 price, you’re not going to find them here.

To be sure, the Galaxy S21 Plus is the better phone with its newer processor and slightly better cameras, and it’ll likely run smoothly for a longer time than the Galaxy S20 FE and its one-year-old processor. Still, it’s not “$400” better. 

Buy the Galaxy S20 FE for a great phone and save $400. Or, buy the Galaxy S21 Plus for the latest and greatest — just make sure you can afford it.  

Also note that Samsung and carriers often have deals and trade-in programs that can dramatically reduce the price of either phone. If you find a deal or trade-in that brings the Galaxy S21 Plus’ price closer to the Galaxy S20 FEs, then get the Galaxy S21 Plus. Likewise, a good deal on the Galaxy S20 FE can let you save a lot of money, and you’d be getting a great phone.

Galaxy S20 FE (small)Galaxy S21 (small)Galaxy S21 Plus (small)

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