If there's one smartphone from 2020 that we'll remember vividly for years to come, it's the Galaxy S20 FE. The device itself isn't the most jaw-dropping or amazing thing we've ever seen, but it launched at just the right time, shipped with a killer price, and ended up earning the title of the best Android phone you can buy.
Although the S20 FE shared a lot of the same DNA as the S20 and S20+, there were still a few key differences to help justify its lower price. The back design went from glass to plastic, we got slightly downgraded cameras, less RAM, and the display was made completely flat with no curves at all. None of that adversely affected the user experience of the S20 FE, but compared to the regular S20 and S20+, it was obvious that some corners had been cut.
With the baseline Galaxy S21 that just came out, we're already working with many of those exact same compromises — including the plastic back, flat display, and no major camera improvements. It also touts a lower price compared to the S20 at just $800. This all results in the Galaxy S21 being a really excellent phone for the money, but looking ahead at what Samsung can do for an S21 FE, things get complicated. With those compromises already made, where do we go from here?
There's one thing that sticks out to me, and that's the processor. One of the hallmark features of the S20 FE was that it shipped with the same Snapdragon 865 found in the other S20 models, but if Samsung hopes to release a less expensive version of the S21 while still keeping it in that "value flagship" space, downgrading from the Snapdragon 888 seems like the most logical move. In its place, Samsung could ship the Galaxy S21 FE with the Snapdragon 870.
The Snapdragon 870 is basically the exact same chip as last year's 865+, just with newer branding for 2021. That means it's incredibly fast, offers full 5G and Wi-Fi 6 support, and can power displays in Quad HD+ at up to 144Hz. While it may not have the same technical prowess as the 888, it's still an insanely good chip that would feel right at home on an S21 FE. And, perhaps most importantly, it would cost less for Samsung to use. It's also possible Samsung will just eat the added cost of the 888 and put it in the S21 FE anyway, but I feel like the 870 would be a smart compromise in a world where the Galaxy S21 already exists.
Another smart move would be to bring the Galaxy S21 camera system over to the S21 FE exactly the way it is now. The S21's cameras are basically identical to what we saw on the S20, with the S20 FE featuring a downgraded version of that. It wouldn't be a massive year-over-year jump in quality, but it would still be a decent upgrade for the S21 FE.
As for the display, I'd expect to see another 120Hz AMOLED panel with flat edges. Samsung could always make the bezels and hole-punch cutout slightly larger similar to what we saw on the S20 FE, allowing for another cost-cutting avenue without wrecking the UX. Throw in 8GB of RAM, at least 128GB of storage, a lower price tag of $600, and Samsung would have an absolute beast on its hands.
Whether or not any of this speculation becomes a reality remains to be seen, but I'd wager a path like this makes the most sense for Samsung. Even if the S21 FE isn't drastically different compared to the S20 FE, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. The S21 has a lot in common with the S20, but thanks to a lower price and some cut corners, it ends up being a really great overall product.
All Samsung has to do with the S21 FE is keep its component cost in-check, spruce it up with a new design, shave $100 off, and we'll be looking at another easy recommendation from the company. The entire S21 family proves that Samsung has wiggle room to lower its MSRPs from last year, meaning it's entirely possible — and likely — the S21 FE will get the same treatment.
I don't expect we'll see the Galaxy S21 FE until much later in 2021, but if/when it does come out, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which it isn't another home run. That might sound like too high of praise from a device we won't see for many more months, but all of the pieces are there for Samsung to kill it all over again.
A smaller and more affordable Galaxy flagship
The Galaxy S21 doesn't offer the same incredible value found with the Galaxy S20 FE, but depending on where your needs lie, it's still one heck of a smartphone. It features Samsung's gorgeous new design, a 120Hz AMOLED display, and the latest Snapdragon 888 chipset. For just $800, it's a great alternative to the larger and more expensive S21 Ultra.
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