Samsung Galaxy S23 FE vs Galaxy S21 FE

Samsung Galaxy FE phones are designed especially for fans: the “FE” in the same denotes “Fan Edition” and with each new version of the device, Samsung considers feedback from its users to build upon what people love and what they want to see. When considering FE edition phones, two models worth looking at include the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE vs. Samsung Galaxy S21 FE. Naturally, the former is the newest model while the latter was released last year. But is there a viable reason to get the newer version? We’ll explore that here.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE vs Galaxy S21 FE: Do they look different?

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Google Feed on Galaxy S23 FE

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

First off, let’s consider how they look. The just introduced Samsung Galaxy S23 FE  has a durable 6.4-inch screen and comes in more fun colours like Mint, Purple, Cream, and Graphite finishes, as well as Samsung exclusive colors Indigo and Tangerine. The screen, made of Corning Gorilla Glass 5, is a Dynamic AMOLED 2x with eye comfort shield, which is designed to help reduce blue light when you’re using it for something like gaming or watching videos for a long period of time. It boasts 1,080 x 2,400-pixel resolution, slightly higher than the Galaxy S21 FE. 

The phone itself has an aluminum frame with a glass back and employs recycled materials in the manufacturing process. Boasting 128GB or 256GB built-in storage, it has a 4,500mAh smart battery that Samsung says can run all day and intuitively conserves energy. At 209 grams, the 5G phone is slightly heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE as well as a tad bigger. It’s IP68 water resistant. 

However, what truly stands out about the aesthetics of the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE is that it’s designed to look more like its premium sisters in the Galaxy S23 family. It has a flat design with circular cut-outs for the cameras and a sleeker finish overall. Thus, if you want something that looks more premium, you’ll prefer the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE homescreen

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, meanwhile, comes in more muted colors like Olive, Graphite, Lavender, or white. It has the same 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED screen (,1080 x 2,340) with and a nicely slimmed down bezel, but it’s made from aluminum with a plastic versus glass back. The Infinity-O display, made of tough Gorilla Glass Victus, features Eye Comfort Shield as well. 

It, too, has 128GB or 256GB storage and the same 4,500mAh battery that lasts all day, along with 5G. The phone is also IP68 dust- and water-resistant, so you can confidently take it just about anywhere to capture memories. As noted, it’s a bit lighter than the Galaxy S23 FE, likely due at least in part to the plastic versus glass back. So, this is a factor worth considering as well.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE vs Galaxy S21 FE: Comparing specs

Before we dive into more about these two Fan Edition phones, let’s see what’s truly different about the new phone versus the older model based on specifications.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Samsung Galaxy S23 FESamsung Galaxy S21 FE
OSAndroid 13 (One UI 5.1)Android 12 (upgradeable to Android 13), One UI 4 (updateable to 5.1, country dependent)
ColorsMint, Purple, Cream, Graphite (Samsung exclusive Indigo, Tangerine)White, Graphite, Lavender, Olive
Screen Size6.4 inches6.4 inches
Screen TypeDynamic AMOLED 2xDynamic AMOLED 2x
Refresh Rate120Hz120Hz
ProcessorSnapdragon 8 Gen 1Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Storage128GB, 256GB (not expandable)128GB, 256GB (not expandable)
Camera50MP Wide, 8MP Telephoto with 3x optical zoom, 12MP ultra-wide, 10MP front12MP Wide, 8MP Telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide, 32MP front
SpeakersStereo SpeakersStereo Speakers
Wireless ChargingYesYes
Water ResistantIP68IP68
Size6.22 x 3.01 x 0.32 inches6.13 x 2.93 x 0.31 inches
Weight209 grams177 grams

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE vs Galaxy S21 FE: Features and functions

Close-up on Galaxy S23 FE cameras

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Now that you can see how these two phones compare in terms of specs, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty about what makes them different when it comes to features and functions. 

The biggest differences here lie in the processing power and cameras. The Samsung Galaxy S23 FE has a better processor with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. It also comes with 8GB RAM to start, skipping over the slower 6GB RAM option. It also comes loaded with Android 13 as well as Samsung One UI 5.1. While you can update the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE to this OS as well, it may support fewer updates in the future. 

Available with an optical fingerprint sensor, the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE supports super-fast charging with the optional wall charger, as well as wireless charging. Like other Galaxy devices, it will work seamlessly with compatible Galaxy devices like the Samsung Buds, Tab, and other Galaxy phones. This includes the new Samsung Galaxy Buds FE and Tab S9 FE, which were launched at the same time. 

In terms of the camera, you get an improved pro-grade camera system that includes a 50MP wide-angle camera that is much better than the one in the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE. It has also a 12MP ultra-wide camera, 8MP telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom, and a 10MP selfie camera that is actually not as high resolution as the one in the previous generation phone. 

The stand-out feature for the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE is Vision Booster, which helps optimize display settings to reproduce colors more accurately, no matter the lighting condition. It also features Nightography for improved night photos and videos that provide rich colors and reduced noise. Additionally, there’s a feature called Photo Remaster than can sharpen blurry photos.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE homescreen

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, which isn’t quite as snappy. It comes with either 6GB or 8GB RAM depending on the storage capacity option you choose. So, if you’re opting for the 128GB storage version, you’ll be dealing with less RAM. It’s still decent, but if you multitask, game, stream videos, and use other bandwidth-intensive tasks, you might notice the difference. 

As noted, since this phone is older, it comes with Android 12 and Samsung One UI 4, but you can update the OS versions. It, too, has an optical fingerprint sensor and works with compatible Samsung Galaxy devices. In his review, Android Central’s Nicholas Sutrich appreciates that the phone comes with 120Hz refresh rate enabled right out of the box, saying the “best experience can be had without tweaking a single thing.” 

This phone also supports wireless charging as well as reverse wireless charging, and Sutrich says he had no issues getting a full day’s use out of the phone through his review period. On occasion, he was even able to get up to two days with lighter use. 

For the cameras, you get a lesser main camera at just 12MP ultra-wide and 12MP wide-angle as well as a lesser telephoto lens at 8MP. The selfie camera, however, is better with 32MP resolution, so if you take a lot of selfies or use it for recording social media videos, you might actually prefer the older phone. There is also the 30z space zoom feature that will lock in to the subject as you zoom and help reduce shakiness.

Samsung Galaxy S23 FE vs Galaxy S21 FE: Which should you buy?

Galaxy S23 FE in-hand showing Home Screen

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Now comes the big decision: between the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE vs. Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, which should you buy? Both are capable Fan Edition phones you’ll be pleased with. Naturally, the newer models boasts improvements over the older one. Namely, this includes a faster, better processor, Android 13 and Samsung One UI 5 out of the box, a better main camera, and the useful Vision Booster feature which makes the screen a step-up, even if it’s the same type and size (with slightly higher resolution as well). 

But the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE isn’t a massive step-up from the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE. If you already own a Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and you enjoy it, there’s no reason to rush to upgrade. If the RAM is a deciding factor, you should consider upping to 256GB anyway, which isn’t much by today’s standards. This is especially so since neither phone has expandable memory. 

Bottom line: if you’re buying new, wait and go for the Samsung Galaxy S23 FE. If you already own a Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, you can hold out a little longer, or upgrade to another of the best Samsung Galaxy smartphones for an even more premium experience, albeit at a higher price.

Christine Persaud

Christine Persaud has been writing about tech since long before the smartphone was even a "thing." When she isn't writing, she's working on her latest fitness program, binging a new TV series, tinkering with tech gadgets she's reviewing, or spending time with family and friends. A self-professed TV nerd, lover of red wine, and passionate home cook, she's immersed in tech in every facet of her life. Follow her at @christineTechCA.