Samsung Galaxy S20 FE to Galaxy S21: Should you upgrade?

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The Galaxy S20 FE enjoyed a lot of success last year, to the point where it sold better than the Galaxy A51 in some markets. An incredible achievement for a phone that was released as late as October 2020, especially given the Galaxy A51’s own popularity.

Samsung has yet to reveal a Fan Edition device for 2021 but many fans are looking at the new Galaxy S21 5G for a potential upgrade. The latter was released for a relatively-low / flagship-killer price, even though it may have come at a cost. But is the Galaxy S21 5G worth the hassle, or should existing Galaxy S20 FE owners steer away from the new flagship?

Reasons to upgrade from the Galaxy S20 FE to the Galaxy S21 5G

The new Exynos 2100 chipset

The Galaxy S20 FE can be purchased with an Exynos 990 or a Snapdragon 865 chipset, and this is entirely dependent on whether the device is limited to 4G connectivity or if it has 5G. The fact that the Galaxy S20 FE 5G is shipping with a Snapdragon 865 flagship-grade chipset in every market is one of the reasons why it enjoyed as much success as it did.

The newer Galaxy S21 5G is, once again, split between Snapdragon and Exynos variants, namely the Snapdragon 888 and the Exynos 2100 chipsets, but customers no longer have a choice in the matter. The former variant is reserved for a smaller number of markets, whereas the latter SoC is shipping with the international S21 models. In other words, for customers who are normally restricted from buying Snapdragon-powered Galaxy phones, the Galaxy S20 FE 5G is the best Snapdragon-powered Galaxy phone available.

Fortunately for international buyers, the Exynos 2100 solution that debuted with the Galaxy S21 5G is shaping up to be a fighter, both in performance and efficiency metrics. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth upgrading from the Galaxy S20 FE, but if you feel like the Fan Edition is lagging behind and you’re looking for any kind of performance upgrade, the Galaxy S21 5G will provide.

Samsung’s latest device has an improved camera combo, with caveats

This is a bit of a mixed bag because not everything about the Galaxy S21 5G camera setup is straight up better than the Galaxy S20 FE’s. For example, both phones have 12MP wide and ultra-wide sensors but the Galaxy S20 FE has an actual 8MP telephoto camera as opposed to a 64MP camera that simulates zoom through cropping.

On the other hand, the Galaxy S21 does have 8K video recording capabilities and it benefits from a few One UI 3.1 additions to the Camera, whereas the S20 FE is limited to 4K and, as of now, One UI 3.0. Besides, the new flagship’s 10MP selfie camera is more competent than the 32MP mid-range sensor facing Galaxy S20 FE users.

It’s a relatively compact flagship

Most Galaxy phones today come with a 6.5-inch display and the same is true for the Galaxy S20 FE. Customers who may be looking for a compact flagship don’t have too many options to choose from, but perhaps the era of true compact flagships — at least that aren’t foldable — will forever remain in the past.

Nevertheless, the Galaxy S21 5G is small enough to be considered fairly compact by today’s standards, even though it might not look like it when placed side-by-side the Galaxy S20 FE. The new flagship has a 6.2-inch display and measures 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm as opposed to 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm.

The Galaxy S21 5G has a new design language

On its own, Samsung’s new design for the Galaxy S21 5G might not be a good enough reason for an upgrade, but it is at least an honorable mention. The new flagship looks more modern thanks to the redesigned camera housing, but truth be told, there probably aren’t too many customers out there who buy so-called flagship killers because of how they look. Nevertheless, if you feel like the Galaxy S20 FE’s design has gotten stale, the Galaxy S21 will offer a much-needed change of scenery.

Reasons to skip the Galaxy S21 5G and keep the Galaxy S20 FE 5G

The Galaxy S21 5G lacks microSD storage

The Galaxy S6 may have been Samsung’s first flagship to remove external storage, but the Galaxy S21 series will probably be the one to set an example for future models. Simply put, the Galaxy S21 lacks expandable storage while the Galaxy S20 FE doesn’t, and since both phones come with similar built-in storage configurations (128GB and 256GB), this makes the Galaxy S20 FE a lot more versatile.

MST is no longer supported

In many markets, Samsung’s latest flagship phone series has done away with one of the most popular Samsung Pay features — MST. If you are a Samsung Pay customer and you rely on MST-based mobile transactions because NFC-equipped payment terminals aren’t common in your city or country, then the Galaxy S21 5G just isn’t the upgrade you’re looking for.

The bad news is that if you’ll be looking for a phone upgrade at any point in the future, you will have to give up on MST because none of Samsung’s upcoming flagship phones will have this technology. So, perhaps in a weird way, you could say that now is as good a time to upgrade as any?

The Galaxy S21 5G has a smaller battery with the same charging speeds

Battery life isn’t one of the best selling points of the Galaxy S21 5G. It’s mediocre, as explained in our review, and you’re likely to get more mileage out of the Galaxy S20 FE. The latter provides all-day battery life even with the high 120Hz refresh rate enabled. This is helped by the fact that the Fan Edition has a 4,500mAh battery that’s 500mAh larger than the Galaxy S21 5G’s.

Both batteries have similar charging speeds and support 25W fast charging, 15W wireless charging, and 4.5W reverse wireless charging.

Conclusion: Look for a trade-in deal, if you must

Pros and cons aside, there are a lot of similarities between these two devices, and a few of the improvements that were introduced by the Galaxy S21 5G don’t necessarily call for an upgrade from the Galaxy S20 FE. One example would be that the new model has Gorilla Glass Victus display protection, which is a plus, but they both have a metal frame and a plastic back panel.

We could’ve also mentioned how the Galaxy S21 5G will eventually be updated to Android 14 whereas support for the Galaxy S20 FE will stop after Android 13 –sans consequent security patches — but this shouldn’t be a reason to look for an upgrade this early in the Galaxy S20 FE’s life.

But regardless of whether you keep the Galaxy S20 FE or you buy the Galaxy S21 5G in its stead, you’ll benefit from an IP68 dust and water resistance rating, a 120Hz refresh rate, the same display aspect ratio and resolution, an in-display fingerprint sensor (which is improved on the S21 5G but not majorly so), and compatibility with Wireless DeX.

All things considered, if you feel like you must replace your Galaxy S20 FE with the newer Galaxy S21 5G, a trade-in might be the best way to achieve this. As of now, you can trade-in the Galaxy S20 FE in the US and benefit from a $550 discount on the Galaxy S21 5G with 128GB of storage. This lowers the flagship’s price from $799 down to $249. Trade-in values vary by region and other factors, meaning that customers in other markets might get worse deals.

  • Model: SM-G991B
  • Dimensions: Bar: 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm
  • Display: 6.2 inch / 157.48 mm Dynamic AMOLED 2X
  • CPU: Exynos 2100
  • Camera: 12MP

  • Model: SM-G781B
  • Dimensions: Bar: 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4 mm
  • Display: 6.5 inch / 165.1 mm Super AMOLED Display
  • CPU: Snapdragon 865
  • Camera: 12MP





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