Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE: What are the differences?

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE (Image credit: Samsung)

This Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE showdown is a face-off we’re elated to see transpire — it’s been a long time coming. We expected the Galaxy S21 FE to hit the market last year, but rumormongers reported that delays, cancellations and supply-chain issues plagued the mid-tier phone’s launch, hindering its 2021 fall reveal. 

As such, when Samsung finally revealed the Galaxy S21 FE in early January, fans collectively breathed a sigh of relief. The Galaxy S21 FE is finally here. It had a rocky journey, but that doesn’t mean we’ll go easy on it. We’ll still put it to the test; we want to see how well it stacks up against its predecessor.

To be clear, this face-off isn’t an assessment of whether the Galaxy S21 FE is better than its ancestor. It’s a given that the current-gen FE supersedes the Galaxy S20 FE (it’s so 2020!). Instead, this head-to-head match serves to help you spot the salient differences between the two phones. At first glance, the dissimilarities may not be too stark, but when we dive into our test results and data, you’ll get a bigger picture of the FE’s evolution.

Without further ado, let’s compare and contrast these two budget-friendly phones to see whether the Galaxy S21 FE is a major generational leap or just a tiny, negligible step.

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Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE: Specs
Row 0 - Cell 0 Galaxy S21 FEGalaxy S20 FE
Starting price$699$699
Display6.4-inch, Dynamic AMOLED, 2340 x 1080 pixels (120Hz)6.5-inch, Super AMOLED, 2400 x 1080 pixels (120Hz)
CPUQualcomm Snapdragon 888Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
Storage Options128GB/256GB128GB/256GB
Selfie camera32MP32MP
Battery size4500 mAh4500 mAh
Water resistanceYes, IP68 Yes, IP68
ColorsOlive Green, Lavender, White, Graphite Red, Orange, Lavender, Mint, Navy, White
Dimensions6.13 x 2.93 x 0.31 inches6.29 x 2.93 x 0.33 inches
Weight6 ounces6.7 ounces

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE: price and value 

The Galaxy S20 FE launched in early October of 2020 with a starting price of $699. It’s equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor (7-nanometer chip) with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. A month after launch, Samsung added a 256GB variant with 8GB of RAM for just $70 more.

The Galaxy 21 FE, packed with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor (5-nanometer chip), comes with two configurations right out of the gate: a $699 model with 128GB storage and 6GB of RAM and a $770 variant with 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. If I had to choose between the two, I’d opt for the latter. Your phone should be able to hold a treasure trove of memories, selfies, and chuckle-worthy TikTok videos before the dreaded “insufficient storage” error pops up and ruins your life.

Winner: Galaxy S21 FE 

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE: Design  

The current-gen FE’s camera module mimics Samsung’s S21 series design dubbed the “Contour Cut,” which opts for a sleek style that wraps around the chassis’ top-left corner. The Galaxy S21 FE comes in three subdued colors: Olive Green, Lavender and White. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE (Image credit: Samsung)

The Galaxy S20 FE, on the other hand, sports a bulkier, more dated camera-module design that irks users who prefer their phones to sit flat on surfaces. I don’t mind the wobbling that comes from the protrusion, but if it gets under your skin, adding a case can resolve the issue. 

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The Galaxy S20 FE comes in many flavors: Cloud Lavender, Cloud Mint, Cloud Navy, Cloud White, Cloud Red and Cloud Orange.

The Galaxy S21 FE is thinner and lighter than its predecessor. It’s 0.31 inches thick and weighs 6 ounces. Conversely, the Galaxy S20 FE is 0.33 inches thick and weighs nearly 7 ounces. Should you get caught in a dust storm or heavy rain with one of these phones, don’t fret. Both have an IP68 rating, which means they can withstand water submergence and dust attacks — within reasonable limits, of course.

Winner: Galaxy S21 FE 

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE: display 

The Galaxy S21 FE sports a 6.4-inch, 2340 x 1080-pixel, Dynamic AMOLED display. Its predecessor, on the other hand, is equipped with a 6.5-inch, 2400 x 1080-pixel, Super AMOLED panel. Both feature the hole-punch display design, which lets the 32-megapixel selfie camera live discreetly on the panel without appearing too gaudy or distracting.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE (Image credit: Future)

Although the Galaxy S21 FE has a smaller display, its screen-to-body ratio is slightly larger at 86.7% (compared to the Galaxy S20 FE’s 85.8%). You may be asking, “How could this be?” Well, the bezels that wrap around the Galaxy S21 FE’s 6.4-inch display are much slimmer, allowing for more screen space. 

Both phones offer displays with 120Hz refresh rates, but it’s variable on the current-gen FE. In other words, for power efficiency, the Galaxy S21 FE’s refresh rate matches your finger’s momentum. For example, during resting states, the screen may drop to 10Hz to conserve energy, but intuitively jump to 120Hz when you need a smoother, more fluid response. Conversely, the Galaxy S20 continually hovers at a refresh rate of 120Hz. On the plus side, this provides a seamless navigation experience, but unfortunately, it drains the battery. 

According to our display testing, with Adaptive Brightness on, the Galaxy S21 FE is slightly brighter than its predecessor, reaching 700 nits. The Galaxy S20 FE peaked at 679 nits. The current-gen FE is also a tinge more color accurate than the Galaxy S20 FE; it has a Delta-E score of 0.3 (closer to 0 is better) while its predecessor has a score of 0.32.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE in hand

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Our colorimeter determined that the Galaxy S21 FE’s display is more colorful. Its panel covers a whopping 147% of the DCI-P3 color gamut while the Galaxy S20 FE takes up 133% of the space.

Samsung boasted that users would be “wowed” by the S21 FE’s “ultra-crisp, high-quality graphics and picture quality,” and the numbers seem to be backing up the Korean company’s claims.

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE: performance and graphics 

The Galaxy S21 FE is equipped with the same powerful 5-nanometer processor found in the S21 series: the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888. The Galaxy S20 FE is packed with a more obsolete, 7-nanometer chip (Snapdragon 865).

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE (Image credit: Samsung)

On the Geekbench 5 overall performance test, the Galaxy S21 FE notched 3,199 while the Galaxy S20 FE scored an inferior 2,928. 

On the Jetstream 2 benchmark, which tests how quickly Web pages load, the Galaxy S21 FE achieved a score of 67, much better than its predecessor’s score of 49. 

When we ran the 3DMark Slingshot Extreme test (Unlimited OpenGL ES 3.1), one of the more demanding graphics benchmarks we run, the current-gen FE hit a score of 8,248. This isn’t far off from the Galaxy S20 FE’s 8,134.

Winner: Galaxy S21 FE 

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE: cameras 

Hardware-wise, the Galaxy S21 FE’s triple-camera rear setup isn’t much different from its predecessor. Both have a 12-megapixel main camera (f/1.8 aperture, 26 mm focal length), a 12-megapixel, ultra-wide lens (f/2.2 aperture, 13 mm focal length) and an 8-megapixel telephoto lens (f/2.4 aperture, 76 mm focal length). 

Galaxy S21 FE

Galaxy S21 FE (Image credit: Samsung)

What really sets these two apart is the software. According to Samsung, the Galaxy S21 FE improved the Night Mode setting. While you’re out with buddies at night, the S21 should take clearer, sharper photos in low-light environments. The Korean company also boasted about the Galaxy S21 FE’s AI Face Restoration capabilities, a technology that ensures that everyone in your selfie shots look their best. 

Samsung also used artificial intelligence to enhance the cameras’ perception of depth. The Galaxy S21 FE’s photos reportedly offer more accurate visual cues on dimensions, distance and more.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (Image credit: Samsung)

Another cool feature that caught my attention is Dual Recording. You can capture video using the front and rear lenses simultaneously. This is excellent for those moments when there’s a lot going on and it’s difficult to figure out how to record everything all at once. Dual Recording lets users capture more content, thanks to its bidirectional characteristics. For example, you can use Dual Record to capture your embarrassed facial expression while recording your friends and family singing “Happy Birthday” to you before cutting the cake.

Winner: Galaxy S21 FE

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE: battery life 

The Galaxy S21 FE and its predecessor both sport a 4,500 mAH battery. According to our battery rundown test, which consisted of continuous web surfing over AT&T’s 5G network at 150 nits of brightness and 60Hz, the Galaxy S20 FE lasted nearly nine hours on a charge (8:59). This doesn’t seem impressive, but when you compare it to other mid-tier phones like the Google Pixel 6, which only lasted 7 hours and 47 minutes, it’s not too bad.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. S20 FE (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Still, it’s worth noting that the average smartphone’s runtime is 9 hours and 33 minutes, so the Galaxy S20 FE’s battery life is below average. 

We don’t have the runtime data for the Galaxy S21 FE just yet, but we’ll update this page when we have the results. I suspect the current-gen FE will likely last longer than its predecessor due to its variable refresh-rate display.

Winner: TBA

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Galaxy S20 FE: software 

The Galaxy S20 FE currently runs on Android 11 with Samsung’s One UI version 3.0. Conversely, Android 12 (One UI version 4.0) powers the Galaxy S21 FE.

It’s important to note that Samsung is scheduled to release two major updates for the Galaxy S20 FE: Android 12 and Android 13. As such, users can get upgrade support on the last-gen FE for the next two years. On the other hand, Samsung will deliver updates for the Galaxy S21 FE until Android 15 makes its debut, so current-gen FE users get the benefit of a longer window of software support.

Winner: Galaxy S21 FE 

Overall winner: Galaxy S21 FE 

The Galaxy S21 FE, poised to hit store shelves on Jan 11, is the clear winner in this face-off, but as much as I love a good competition, this match wasn’t a “who’s better?” challenge. This was a showcase of how much the current-gen FE has improved from its predecessor. Some may argue that the differences aren’t conspicuous enough. After all, the camera specs are relatively similar and the design changes aren’t noteworthy, but I’d counter that taking a “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” approach was a wise decision.

We also can’t overlook some of the Galaxy S21 FE’s best selling points, including the Dual Recording perk and AI Face Restoration software. One thing you must consider, though, is that the Galaxy S21 FE is only $100 less than the base model of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S21 line. However, even standing beside the entry-level Galaxy S21, I’d bet that the Galaxy S21 FE still reigns supreme —  but that’s another face-off for another day. In conclusion, the second-gen FE is a pretty darned-good upgrade for a budget-friendly line that launched less than two years ago.

Kimberly Gedeon

Kimberly Gedeon, holding a Master's degree in International Journalism, launched her career as a journalist for MadameNoire's business beat in 2013. She loved translating stuffy stories about the economy, personal finance and investing into digestible, easy-to-understand, entertaining stories for young women of color. During her time on the business beat, she discovered her passion for tech as she dove into articles about tech entrepreneurship, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the latest tablets. After eight years of freelancing, dabbling in a myriad of beats, she's finally found a home at Laptop Mag that accepts her as the crypto-addicted, virtual reality-loving, investing-focused, tech-fascinated nerd she is. Woot!