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Samsung Galaxy S22 vs. S21 vs. S21 FE vs. S20 FE — which is best for you?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Regular Plus Ultra
(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Between the Galaxy S22, S21, S21 FE, and the S20 FE, Samsung has four exciting options on offer. The Galaxy S22 is obviously the latest from Samsung, and it features the latest hardware, 50MP camera at the back, and runs Android 12 out of the box.

Of course, last year's Galaxy S21 is no slouch either, and the phone is a noteworthy option in 2022. Then there's the S21 FE, which has identical hardware as the S21, same great cameras, 120Hz AMOLED screen, and all the extras, but for a lot less money. And with Samsung continuing to sell the S20 FE, you have a value-focused phone that continues to hold its own.

So if you're in the market for a new phone and can't make up your mind as to which device to pick up, here's what you need to know.

Galaxy S22 vs. S21 vs. S21 FE vs. S20 FE: Specs

Samsung Galaxy S22 Back White

(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

I'll go into a little more detail around what each phone has to offer further below, but first, let's look at what you're getting from a hardware point of view. All four phones have a few consistent features: 120Hz AMOLED screens, IP68 dust and water resistance, wireless charging with reverse wireless charging, stereo sound, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of base storage, and 5G connectivity.

Here's a high-level rundown of the hardware:

CategoryGalaxy S22Galaxy S21Galaxy S21 FEGalaxy S20 FE
Operating SystemAndroid 12Android 12Android 12Android 12
One UI 4One UI 4One UI 4One UI 4
Display6.1-inch 120Hz AMOLED6.2-inch 120Hz AMOLED6.4-inch 120Hz AMOLED6.5-inch 120Hz AMOLED
2340x1080 (20:9)2400x1080 (20:9)2400x1080 (20:9)2400x1080 (20:9)
HDR10+HDR10+HDR10+HDR10+
Gorilla Glass Victus+Gorilla Glass VictusGorilla Glass VictusGorilla Glass 5
ChipsetSnapdragon 8 Gen 1Snapdragon 888Snapdragon 888Snapdragon 865
1 x 2.8GHz Cortex X21 x 2.84GHz Cortex X11 x 2.84GHz Cortex X11 x 2.84GHz A77
3 x 2.50GHz Cortex A7103 x 2.42GHz Cortex A783 x 2.42GHz Cortex A783 x 2.42GHz A77
4 x 1.80GHz Cortex A5104 x 1.80GHz Cortex A554 x 1.80GHz Cortex A554 x 1.80GHz A55
4nm5nm5nm7nm
RAM8GB8GB8GB8GB
Storage128GB/256GB UFS3.1128GB/256GB UFS3.1128GB/256GB UFS3.1128GB/256GB UFS3.1
MicroSD slotYes (Up to 1TB)
Rear camera 150MP f/1.812MP f/1.812MP f/1.812MP f/1.8
1.0um, OIS1.8um, OIS1.8um, OIS1.8um, OIS
8K at 24fps8K at 24fps4K at 60fps4K at 60fps
Rear camera 212MP, f/2.212MP, f/2.212MP, f/2.212MP, f/2.2
1.0um, 120-degree wide-angle1.4um, 120-degree wide-angle1.12um, 123-degree wide-angle1.12um, 123-degree wide-angle
Rear camera 310MP, f/2.464MP, f/2.08MP, f/2.48MP, f/2.4
1um, OIS, telephoto0.8um, OIS, telephoto1um, OIS, telephoto1um, OIS, telephoto
3x optical zoom3x optical zoom3x optical zoom3x optical zoom
Front camera10MP, f/2.210MP, f/2.232MP, f/2.232MP, f/2.2
1.22um, autofocus1.22um, autofocus0.8um, autofocus0.8um, autofocus
4K at 60fps4K at 60fps4K at 60fps4K at 60fps
Connectivity5G Sub-6/mmWave, SA and NSA5G Sub-6/mmWave, SA and NSA5G Sub-6, SA and NSA5G Sub-6, SA and NSA
Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
NFC, A-GPSNFC, A-GPSNFC, A-GPSNFC, A-GPS
AudioUSB-CUSB-CUSB-CUSB-C
Stereo speakersStereo speakersStereo speakersStereo speakers
Battery3700mAh4000mAh4500mAh4500mAh
Non-removableNon-removableNon-removableNon-removable
ChargingUSB-C PD 3.0USB-C PD 3.0USB-C PD 3.0USB-C PD 3.0
25W fast charging25W fast charging25W fast charging25W fast charging
15W wireless charging15W wireless charging15W wireless charging15W wireless charging
Water resistanceIP68IP68IP68IP68
SecurityIn-display fingerprint (ultrasonic)In-display fingerprint (ultrasonic)In-display fingerprint (optical)In-display fingerprint (optical)
Dimensions146 x 70.6 x 7.6 mm151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm
167g172g177g190g
ColorsBlack, White, Green, Pink Gold, Sky Blue, Violet, CreamPhantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet, Phantom PinkWhite, Olive, LavenderCloud Mint, Cloud Lavender, Cloud Red, Cloud Orange, Cloud Navy, Cloud White

Galaxy S22: The compact option

Samsung Galaxy S22 Back White 02 With Galaxy Buds Purple

(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

The Galaxy S22 stands out for a few reasons. First up, it has the latest internal hardware in the form of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and Samsung is rolling out this version in more global markets in lieu of the Exynos 2200 model. 

The S22 also has the distinction of being the only phone on this list that has a glass back — the other three models feature a polycarbonate back. You get a layer of Corning's latest Gorilla Glass Victus+ at the front and back, and the aluminum chassis has been strengthened to withstand tumbles.

The S22 is the ideal option if you want a small Android phone in 2022.

With a 6.1-inch screen, the S22 is the smallest option in this list, so if you want a compact device, this is the one to get. With a height of just 146mm and coming in at 167g, the S22 is shorter, narrower, and thinner than last year's S21. Samsung managed to do this in spite of the phone offering a glass back by slotting in a smaller 3700mAh battery — the S21 has a 4000mAh unit.

You still get a sublime 120Hz AMOLED panel that goes up to 1300 nits for HDR videos, and it's safe to say that this is one of the best screens you'll find on any phone today. The cameras have also been overhauled, with a new 50MP lens delivering stunning photos. The wide-angle lens is the same as the S21, but a new 10MP zoom lens goes up to 3x optical zoom.

On the software side, the S22 runs One UI 4 based on Android 12 out of the box, and with Samsung now guaranteeing four Android OS updates, it will make the switch to Android 16.

The main differentiator for the Galaxy S22 is the size; it has newer cameras and updated hardware, but the smaller form factor makes it a great overall choice.

Galaxy S21 FE: The value king

Galaxy S21 FE 5G Exynos review

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

The Galaxy S21 FE is easily one of the best Android phones you'll find today, and a lot of that has to do with the value on offer. The phone shares a lot of similarities with the S21, including the same 120Hz AMOLED panel, 12MP primary camera at the back, Gorilla Glass Victus, IP68 and wireless charging with 25W wired charging, and stereo sound.

But the fact that it manages to undercut the S21 while retaining its best features makes it a phenomenal option. The best part is that the S21 FE comes with Android 12 out of the box, and it will get the same four Android OS updates as the S22 and S21, so it will get the Android 16 update down the line.

The phone launched at $700, but Samsung already discounted it to $600 once, and we should see the pricing stabilize around that figure once the S22 is on shelves for a few weeks. At $600, there's no question that the S21 FE is the best option on this list.

Galaxy S21: Good if you can find it on sale

Samsung Galaxy S21

(Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

The Galaxy S21 continues to be a great phone in 2022, but it is too similar to the S21 FE. The only area where there's a considerable difference is the cameras, with the S21 offering higher-quality sensors and the ability to take better images in just about any lighting scenario.

The downside to the S21 is that it isn't discounted at the moment. Furthermore, with the phone launching with Android 11 out of the box, it won't be updated past Android 15. It makes sense to pick up the S21 FE if you can find it at around the $550 to $600 figure, but anything more than that, you're better off with the S21 FE or the S22.

Galaxy S20 FE: More for less

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE Exynos review

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Like the Galaxy S21, the S20 FE has aged very well, and there's nothing wrong with the phone itself. But with the S21 FE now widely available, you should look at this phone only if you can get it at a substantial discount — under $450 would be my recommendation.

The S20 FE and the S21 FE are nearly identical, with the latter using the same camera hardware and much of the same innards. The differences are minute; you get the newer Snapdragon 888 on the S21 FE, Gorilla Glass Victus (versus GG5), and a slightly smaller 6.4-inch panel. In fact, the S20 FE has a little more to offer as it includes the MicroSD card slot — the only one on this list to do so.

The reason why I'm not recommending the S20 FE to enthusiasts has to do with software updates. It has already picked up two platform updates — having launched with Android 10 out of the box — and it misses out on the four guaranteed updates, so you'll only get the Android 13 build later this year. 

If that isn't as big a consideration, you can save a decent amount of cash by picking up the S20 FE. If not, the S21 FE is the ideal alternative.

Which should you buy?

Honestly, I'd just go with the S21 FE. I've used the phone as my daily driver for a month and a half now, and it has been phenomenal. I like the lightweight design, the matte texture at the back makes it easy to hold the phone, and the screen is sublime. I haven't run into any lag while gaming and the cameras take outstanding photos. The phone has an IP68 rating and 15W wireless charging as well, and it runs Android 12 out of the box and will get the same four Android OS updates as the Galaxy S22.

The Galaxy S22 costs $200 more than the S21 FE (at the time of writing), and you get new camera modules, slightly faster hardware, and a brighter AMOLED panel. The main differentiator for the S22 is the size; if you want a small Android phone in 2022, this is the best choice by far. But if you want to maximize value, the S21 FE is my recommendation.

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor covering Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone manufacturers, and writes about the semiconductor industry, storage servers, and audio products. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.