Samsung Galaxy A53 vs. S21 FE: Which value phone is the real value?

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G vs Galaxy S21 FE
(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

If you're looking for a great Samsung phone that doesn't cost as much as a flagship device like a Galaxy S22+, the Galaxy A53 5G and Galaxy S21 FE are great choices. But is the Galaxy S21 FE really worth it over the Galaxy A53 5G? We compare these two budget-friendly phones to see which is better worth your hard-earned dollars.

Samsung Galaxy A53 vs. S21 FE: Design and display

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Samsung Galaxy A53 5G vs Galaxy S21 FE

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Both the Galaxy A53 5G and Galaxy S21 FE are unmistakably modern Samsung devices on the outside. The large camera hump on the back is brought about gradually by curved sides, and the vertical orientation of the camera sensors is extremely similar between the two devices. However, the Galaxy S21 FE follows more closely to the style of the Galaxy S21 or S22, aligning it better with those premium phones.

Both phones sport a polycarbonate back with a powdery matte finish. Modern polycarbonate phones don't feel anything like the old shiny, greasy plastic that so many phone manufacturers — Samsung included — had used. The Galaxy S21 Fe's sides are a matte finish metal, while the Galaxy A53 5G sticks with a shiny trim, instead. Both Harish and myself tend to gravitate toward the matte edges as we both pointed out in our reviews of these phones.

Where we differ in our opinion is with the flat sides of the Galaxy A53 5G. Personally, I prefer the stockier, flatter sides of the Galaxy A53 5G, while the Galaxy S21 FE is a bit more rounded out.

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G vs S21 FE sides

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Samsung outfitted the Galaxy A53 5G with a slightly larger display — that's 6.5-inches versus the 6.4-inch display on the Galaxy S21 FE — but both phones sport a 120Hz refresh rate. They also both use Samsung's AMOLED display technology, so you can expect gorgeous colors, perfect black levels, and some of the best picture quality you'll find on any phone.

Samsung Galaxy A53 vs. S21 FE: Performance and battery life

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

This category is where the real differences lie. The Galaxy S21 FE delivers outstanding performance that's nearly double that of the Galaxy A53, and while the phone launched for twice the price, that is not true now. The S21 FE is just $150 more than the A53, and that makes it the best value that Samsung has to offer right now. 

The S21 FE features the exact same Snapdragon 888 chipset as the more expensive Galaxy S21, while the Galaxy A53 5G packs in Samsung's own Exynos 1280, a chip that was built for efficiency above all else.

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CategoryGalaxy S21 FEGalaxy A53 5G
SoftwareAndroid 12 with One UI 4.1Android 12 with One UI 4.1
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 888Samsung Exynos 1280
Display6.4-inch AMOLED | 2340x1080 (491ppi) | 60Hz refresh rate6.5-inch AMOLED | 2400x1080 (473ppi) | 60Hz refresh rate
ProtectionIP68 water/dust resistance | Gorilla Glass VictusIP67 water/dust resistance | Gorilla Glass 5
MicroSD card slot
SecurityIn-display fingerprint sensorIn-display fingerprint sensor
Rear Camera 112MP, ƒ/1.8 Main64MP ƒ/1.8
Rear Camera 212MP, ƒ/2.2 Ultrawide12MP, ƒ/2.2 Ultrawide
Rear Camera 38MP, ƒ/2.4, 3x optical zoom Telephoto5MP ƒ/2.4 Macro
Rear Camera 45MP ƒ/2.4 Portrait
Front Camera32MP, ƒ/2.232MP f/2.2
Charging25W wired fast charging, 15W wireless charging, 4.5W reverse wireless charging25W wired charging
Connectivity5G (sub-6, mmWave), Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 65G (sub-6), Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 5 (ac)
ColorsWhite, Graphite, Olive, LavenderBlack, White, Blue
Dimensions155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm, 177g159.6 x 74.8 x 8.1mm, 189g
AudioStereo soundStereo sound

That massive gulf in performance is going to make the biggest difference for power users and mobile gamers, who are going to be the most pleased with the faster phone — the Galaxy S21 FE. It also means that, thanks to the extra headroom, the Galaxy S21 FE is sure to achieve steady 120Hz at all times, while the lower-powered chipset in the Galaxy A53 5G goes down to 60Hz for games with intense graphics, and you'll see the occasional lag. 

But all that additional hardware might not be the thing for you, especially if you value battery life above all else. The Exynos 1280 inside the Galaxy A53 5G is a more energy-efficient chipset than the Snapdragon 888 because it doesn't run as fast. On top of that, the Galaxy A53 5G has a battery that's almost 10% larger than the Galaxy S21 FE.

At the end of a single day, you're absolutely going to need to charge the Galaxy S21 FE in order to use the phone again the next day. Power users might even need to top it up a bit before then on a particularly busy day. Meanwhile, the Galaxy A53 5G will have no problem getting through a full day no matter what you do, and many users will even find that they can get through a second day — or at least partly through that second day — before needing a top-up.

Samsung Galaxy A53 vs. S21 FE: Cameras and video

Taking a photo with the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Here's an area where the spec sheet doesn't give the full picture. On paper, the Galaxy A53 5G likely looks more impressive. It's 64MP main camera sensor is quite a bit higher resolution than the 12MP one found on the Galaxy S21 FE, and it's even got a fourth dedicated macro camera that might be attractive for certain kinds of close-up photos and videos.

However, in the case of cameras especially, numbers don't mean very much. While the Galaxy A53 5G takes some of the absolute best pictures in its price range, the Galaxy S21 FE handily beats its quality in every single situation. Part of this is due to the sensors themselves. While the Galaxy S21 FE's camera is lower resolution, it makes up for the difference by having physically larger pixels. This allows more light to enter the sensor — think big windows versus small windows in a house — resulting in less noisy, more detailed photos in every kind of light.

The Galaxy S21 FE also has a much more powerful processor — double the speed, roughly, of the Galaxy A53 5G — which is used for computational photography and smoothing out video during recording. When taking a photo, you will find that the Galaxy S21 FE can produce images with wider dynamic range and is more often able to capture moving objects with greater clarity.

The Galaxy S21 FE also has a 3X telephoto lens which helps keep things clear when zooming in. It's the same level of zoom detail you'll find on all Galaxy S models — the Galaxy S21 Ultra and Galaxy S22 Ultra are the exceptions here — which helps add value to the phone any time you find yourself needing to digitally zoom into the frame.

Samsung Galaxy A53 vs. S21 FE: Which should you buy?

Galaxy S21 FE 5G

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Both the Samsung Galaxy A53 and Galaxy S21 FE offer the "value phone" proposition, but only one actually comes across feeling like a truly stellar value. While we initially picked the Galaxy A53 because it was selling for half the price of the S21 FE, that situation has changed. 

The Galaxy A53 is retailing at $350 for Black Friday, while the Galaxy S21 FE is discounted to just $399. The $50 difference means the S21 FE is the obvious choice between the two, and if you want a new Samsung phone right now, the Galaxy S21 FE is the one to buy. Black Friday savings on the S21 FE effectively make it one of the best values of 2022, and having used both devices side-by-side, it is an easy recommendation over the A53. 

The Galaxy S21 FE is the better phone by nearly all measurements, and while the Galaxy A53 has better battery life, the S21 FE manages to last a full day without too much of an issue. The S21 FE takes gorgeous photos on par with the Galaxy S21 and S22, it is significantly faster in daily use, and the design feels more elegant. 

Nicholas Sutrich
Senior Content Producer — Smartphones & VR
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu