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Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Which should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S20 FE
Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. Galaxy S20 FE (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus Render Phantom Violet Back Official

The Galaxy S21 is a compact, affordable flagship with three great cameras and the latest One UI 3.1 software. The screen is better than ever, and with Samsung's current trade-in offers, you can grab the S21 for an unbeatable price.

Samsung Galaxy S21

Best overall

Gaming-optimized Snapdragon 888
Aggressive trade-in deals
Smaller, trimmer design
Newer One UI 3.1 software
No microSD slot
No charger in the box

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Galaxy S20 FE

The S20 FE is a terrific phone at a great price, with many features as the newer S21. It's the most affordable option in the Galaxy S series, with a larger screen and plenty of great colors to choose from.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Even better value

Expandable microSD storage
Optical 3x telephoto camera
Retails for $100 less
Larger battery
Older specs and software
Less generous trade-in

When the Galaxy S20 FE launched last fall, it set a new standard for Samsung's affordable flagship line, offering just about everything the higher-end models could do for hundreds less. The Galaxy S21 follows in the FE's footsteps with a flat display, plastic body, and all of the same ultra-powerful specs of its pricier counterparts. So which of these affordable models is the right choice for you?

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Battle of the budget bangers

Plastic isn't the dirty word it used to be. The Galaxy S21 and S20 FE feature polycarbonate backings that help bring the total cost down without sacrificing build quality. This is still top-notch hardware, free of any creaking or bending. As a bonus, plastic is less prone to shattering than the glass used in some of the other best Samsung phones.

The Galaxy S21 is slightly smaller than the S20 FE and has tighter bezels around the display upfront. It has a newer design with a refined camera housing, though both phones feature similar triple camera systems. The Galaxy S20 FE impressed last year when it shipped with the same top-end Snapdragon 865 processor as the rest of the S20 series. The S21 kicks it up a notch with the latest Snapdragon 888, which focuses largely on gaming performance, 5G support, and image processing for photography.

Both phones are IP68 water- and dust-resistant and ship with 128GB of internal storage. However, while the S20 FE has a single storage configuration, the S21 can be upgraded to 256GB and benefits from 8GB of RAM versus the S20 FE's 6GB. The FE does have one advantage over the newer S21, though: microSD support. The S21 lacks expandable storage of any kind, so you'll need to plan for your storage needs at the time of purchase.

CategoryGalaxy S21Galaxy S20 FE
Operating SystemAndroid 11 + One UI 3.1Android 11 + One UI 3.0
Display6.2 inches, 2400x1080 (421 ppi) resolution, Dynamic AMOLED 2X6.5 inches, 2400x1080 (407 ppi) resolution, Super AMOLED Plus
ProcessorSnapdragon 888Snapdragon 865
Storage128/256GB, 8GB128GB, 6GB
Rear Camera12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8µm (wide)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4µm (ultra-wide)
64MP, ƒ/2.0, 0.8µm (telephoto)
12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8µm (wide)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.12µm (ultra-wide)
8MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.0µm (telephoto)
Front Camera10MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22µm32MP, ƒ/2.2, 0.8µm
Battery4000mAh4500mAh
Water ResistanceIP68IP68
Dimensions159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm, 190g159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm, 190g

You'll get a great screen on either device, as well. The S20 FE has a larger screen at 6.5 inches, but both measure in at 1080p with an ultra-smooth 120Hz refresh rate. Each phone also runs on Android 11 with Samsung's One UI interface, but while the S20 FE has been updated to One UI 3.0, the Galaxy S21 ships with the newer One UI 3.1, which comes with new features like the ability to swap the Samsung Free feed to the left of the home screen with the Google Discover feed.

A large focus of each phone is the camera system, and both feature nearly evenly-matched triple-camera arrays with 12MP primary sensors, backed by ultra-wide and telephoto cameras. While the main and ultra-wide sensors are more or less identical, the S20 FE utilizes an optical 3x telephoto sensor, while the S21 crops in on a higher resolution image to achieve the same effect. You'll see similarly great results from either phone, with 3x zoom from the telephoto camera that reaches up to 30x thanks to Samsung's Hybrid Optic Zoom technology.

Here's the real kicker, though: the Galaxy S21 is currently available for as low as $100 through aggressive trade-in offers. While you can knock a few hundred dollars off of the S20 FE's price (which typically retails for a bit less than the S21), it's tough to beat the S21's current price — assuming you have a relatively new phone to trade in already. If you already have the S20 FE, there's no reason to upgrade to the S21, but if you're stuck deciding between the two, the S21 is a no-brainer.

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.