Samsung Galaxy S22 vs. S21 FE: Which should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Back White
Samsung Galaxy S22 Back White (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Samsung Galaxy S22

Galaxy S22 Render

The Galaxy S22 has a gorgeous design that builds on last year's S21 series, and you get the absolute latest hardware in the form of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and global 5G connectivity. The 6.1-inch 120Hz AMOLED panel is sublime, the new 50MP camera takes amazing photos, and you get four Android OS updates and five years of guaranteed security patches. The battery is smaller than last year, but other than that, the S22 is a standout offering.

Samsung Galaxy S22

Obvious choice

Latest internal hardware
Ideally suited for one-handed use
Sublime 120Hz AMOLED screen
Amazing 50MP camera
Four Android OS updates
IP68 rating and 15W wireless charging
No MicroSD slot
Doesn't come with a charger
Small battery
Wired charging limited to 25W

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Galaxy S21 Fe White Render Crop

If you want the best value that Samsung has to offer right now, you'll need to take a look at the S21 FE. The phone has a large 6.4-inch 120Hz AMOLED screen, and the Snapdragon 888 holds its own for gaming and any other use case. You also get great cameras at the back, IP68 rating and wireless charging, and four Android OS updates with five years of security patches — the same as the S22 series. With the S21 FE getting its first discount, now is the time to pick up the phone.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Value leader

Powerful hardware
Smooth 120Hz AMOLED screen
Versatile cameras
Four Android OS updates
IP68 rating and 15W wireless charging
No MicroSD card slot
No charger in the box

Samsung has two noteworthy options if you're interested in a new phone for under $1,000. The Galaxy S22 offers the latest design, hardware, and cameras, and the 6.1-inch screen is great for one-handed use. If you're interested in a more value-focused phone, the Galaxy S21 FE distills the fundamentals of the S21 series into a more affordable package. So let's take a look at what you're getting with both phones and which device you should pick up.

Samsung Galaxy S22 vs. S21 FE: Design and display

Samsung didn't make too many changes to the Galaxy S22 series in terms of design aesthetic, and as a result, this year's flagship looks very similar to the S21. That's not a bad thing, as the contour cut design for the camera housing still looks great, and with Samsung rolling out new colors for the S22, you can pick up the phone in attractive options.

The Galaxy S22 is easier to hold and use, and it features a metal-and-glass chassis.

A big point of difference with the S22 is the choice of materials. The phone features a glass back and a metal mid-frame, and it ends up looking a lot more premium than the S21 FE. Don't get me wrong; I really like the way the S21 FE looks, and the matte finish makes it easy to hold and use the phone, but the plastic back just doesn't have the same feel as the glass finish of the S22.

The S21 FE has the contour cut design for the camera housing as well, but it isn't milled out of metal like the S22. The S22 also scores big points for usability; Samsung went with a smaller 6.1-inch screen here and coming in at a height of just 146mm, the phone is ideal for one-handed use.

By contrast, the S21 FE is 155.7mm tall. With a width of 70.6mm and a thickness of 7.6mm, the S22 is a fantastic choice if you want a small phone in 2022. This market has been underserved in recent years, so it's good to see Samsung still offering a flagship option that's easy to use.

Although the S22 has a heavier chassis because of all that glass and metal, it comes in at 167g, 10g lighter than the S21 FE. That's due to the smaller size and the 3700mAh battery — the S21 FE has a larger 4500mAh unit.

Galaxy S21 FE 5G Exynos review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Up front, you'll find 120Hz AMOLED panels on both phones. The best Android phones feature Samsung's AMOLED tech, and the brand reserves the best panels for its own use. There are zero issues with the screen on either device, and the S22 has a few extras.

The screen size itself varies between the two models, with the S22 offering a 6.1-inch panel with a resolution of 2340 x 1080, and the S21 FE sporting a larger 6.4-inch screen with a 2400 x 1080 resolution. Both devices feature HDR10+ and let you stream HDR content from your favorite streaming services, and the S22 goes up to 1300 nits in maximum brightness — the S21 FE goes up to 1200 nits.

Both devices also get stereo sound as standard, making them a great option for streaming videos or playing games. The S21 FE gets a slight edge in that you get a larger screen, but if you're looking for usability, the S22 is the outright winner. And finally, the S21 FE has a layer of Gorilla Glass Victus at the front, with the S22 offering Gorilla Glass Victus+ for the front and rear glass panes.

Samsung Galaxy S22 vs. S21 FE: Hardware

Samsung Galaxy S22 Back White 02 With Galaxy Buds Purple

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Switching over to the hardware, the S21 FE is powered by the Snapdragon 888, with the S22 getting Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. The S22 has the edge thanks to a 4nm node and all-new cores, but the Snapdragon 888 is no slouch; it continues to deliver incredible performance in 2022. In most day-to-day use cases involving browsing, texting, and playing intensive games, you shouldn't notice any difference between the two.

You're not short on power here, with the Galaxy S22 delivering the latest hardware and sublime cameras.

Both phones get Sub-6 and mmWave 5G as standard in the U.S., with global models limited to Sub-6. There's no difference in the memory and storage configuration either, with either device starting out with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. You won't find a MicroSD slot on either device or a 3.5mm jack.

As for the cameras, the S21 FE retains the same camera modules as the S20 FE, but manages to deliver better photos thanks to tweaks in the camera tuning algorithms. The S22 gets new hardware in the form of a 50MP primary lens, and it delivers outstanding photos in just about any lighting scenario. Both phones shoot great photos, but the S22 gets the edge thanks to newer sensors and better hardware.

Samsung has been offering IP68 dust and water resistance and wireless charging as standard on its high-end phones for a while now, and you'll find the same on the S22 and the S21 FE. Both phones charge wirelessly at up to 15W over the Qi protocol, and they also have reverse wireless charging.

As for the battery, Samsung went with a smaller 3700mAh unit on the S22 this year, smaller than the 4000mAh battery that we got on the standard S21 last year. The S21 FE has a significantly larger 4500mAh battery that manages to last a few hours more on average.

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CategorySamsung Galaxy S22Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Operating systemAndroid 12One UI 4Android 12One UI 4
Display6.1-inch 120Hz AMOLED2340x1080 (20:9)HDR10+Gorilla Glass Victus+6.4-inch 120Hz AMOLED2400x1080 (20:9)HDR10+Gorilla Glass Victus
ChipsetSnapdragon 8 Gen 11 x 2.8GHz Cortex X23 x 2.50GHz Cortex A7104 x 1.80GHz Cortex A5104nmSnapdragon 8881 x 2.84GHz Cortex X13 x 2.42GHz Cortex A784 x 1.80GHz Cortex A555nm
Storage128GB/256GB UFS3.1128GB/256GB UFS3.1
MicroSD slot
Rear camera 150MP f/1.81.0um, OIS8K at 24fps12MP f/1.81.8um, OIS8K at 24fps
Rear camera 212MP, f/2.21.0um, 120-degree wide-angle12MP, f/2.21.12um, 123-degree wide-angle
Rear camera 310MP, f/2.41.0um, OIS, telephoto3x optical zoom8MP, f/2.41um, OIS, telephoto3x optical zoom
Front camera32MP, f/2.24K at 60fps, autofocus32MP, f/2.24K at 60fps, autofocus
Connectivity5G Sub-6/mmWave, SA and NSAWi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0NFC, A-GPS5G Sub-6, SA and NSAWi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0NFC, A-GPS
AudioUSB-CStereo speakersUSB-CStereo speakers
ChargingUSB-C PD 3.025W fast charging15W wireless chargingUSB-C PD 3.025W fast charging15W wireless charging
Water resistanceIP68IP68
SecurityIn-display fingerprint (ultrasonic)In-display fingerprint (optical)
Dimensions146 x 70.6 x 7.6 mm167g155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm177g
ColorsBlack, White, Green, Pink Gold, Sky Blue, Violet, CreamWhite, Olive, Lavender

Samsung Galaxy S22 vs. S21 FE: Software

Galaxy S21 FE 5G Exynos review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

With the launch of the Galaxy S22 series, Samsung is guaranteeing four Android OS updates along with five years of security patches for its high-end and select mid-range phones. The best part is that the guarantee extends to last year's phones as well, and the move gives Samsung an unassailable lead over other Android brands when it comes to software updates — even Google doesn't guarantee four platform updates to its Pixels.

Both phones run Android 12 out of the box and will get four Android OS updates.

Another bonus is that both devices run Android 12 out of the box. That was always going to be the case with the S22, but it's great to see that the S21 FE hasn't missed out, and what that means is that both devices will be eligible for the Android 16 update.

As for the software itself, One UI 4 is clean, modern, and doesn't change too much from an aesthetic point of view. But you get all the latest features Google introduced in Android 12, and Samsung's extras are intact as well.

There really isn't much more you could ask from a software point of view, and in this regard, Samsung is doing all the right things.

Samsung Galaxy S22 vs. S21 FE: Two standout options

Galaxy S21 FE 5G Exynos review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Choosing between the S21 FE and S22 comes down to your preferences. I've used the S21 FE for just over a month now, and it is a remarkable phone. The plastic back doesn't bother me at all, and the matte finish is great for usability. The large 120Hz AMOLED screen is fantastic, the cameras manage to hold their own against other devices in this category, and the battery lasts all day. You also get IP68 dust and water resistance, wireless charging, and Android 12 out of the box with four Android OS updates.

The S21 FE gives you the essentials for a little less, while the S22 has the latest cameras.

In short, the Galaxy S21 FE gives you everything you're looking for in a phone, and does so for a few hundred dollars less than the Galaxy S22. So what are you getting with the S22 that's worth the premium? For one thing, the design looks a little more upmarket, and the new color options look gorgeous.

You also get slightly faster internal hardware and better cameras. But the differentiator for me is the size; the S22 is diminutive, making it ideal for one-handed use. The battery doesn't last as long as the S21 FE and you're limited to 25W charging like the S21 FE and not the S22+ and Ultra's 45W charging, but other than that, the S22 has a lot going for it.

So if you need truly amazing cameras and a glass-and-metal design that's easier to hold and use, get the S22. But if you want the best value, the S21 FE is the way to go.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is Android Central's Senior Editor of Asia. In his current role, he oversees the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, networking products, and AV gear. He has been testing phones for over a decade, and has extensive experience in mobile hardware and the global semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.