Samsung’s struggles to bring the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE to market are well documented. A phone that was apparently supposed to launch somewhere in mid-2021 ended up launching in early 2022.
While many have pointed out that this would likely put the Galaxy S21 FE in direct competition with Samsung’s Galaxy S22 phones, there’s also the glitch of the iPhone 13, which launched a few months prior.
Even if Samsung ends up competing, it may have just produced a tempting alternative to the market leader. Let’s see how the two phones compare, starting with the all-important question of price.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs iPhone 13 price and availability
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE hit stores on January 7, 2022, nearly a year after the rest of the Galaxy S21 family. It was a bit late, to say the least.
Prices start from £699 / $699 / AU$999 for the 6GB RAM / 128GB storage model, rising to £749 / $769.99 / AU$1,099 for the 8GB RAM and 256 Go.
The iPhone 13 landed several months earlier on September 24, 2021. Prices start from $799 / £799 / AU$1,349 for the entry 128GB model, rising to $899 / £879 / AU$1,519 for 256GB and $1,099 / £1,079 / AU$1,869. for 512 GB.
We called the Galaxy S21 FE “way overpriced” in our review, but it’s still a good $100/£100 cheaper than the iPhone 13. What’s the deal?
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE stays true to the core design language of the Galaxy S21, exemplified by the “contour cut” camera module that blends into the side of the device.
Unfortunately, this shared DNA also includes the use of a “glasstic” body, which makes it much cheaper than the iPhone 13.
The iPhone 13 also carries over its flat-edged design from its immediate predecessor, in this case the iPhone 12. It was a much more premium phone than the Galaxy S21, however, with glass surfaces sandwiching a flat frame in aluminium.
One area where the Galaxy S21 FE is better than the iPhone 13 is its display notch, which is of the much more modest punch-hole variety. Apple may have reduced the slab-like notch of the iPhone 13 by 20%, but it’s still a bit of an eyesore.
On the other hand, while Apple’s phone lets you securely unlock it with just a glance, the Galaxy S21 FE relies on proven fingerprint authentication.
Despite the difference in materials used, both phones are IP68 certified, so they are also dust and water resistant.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is the largest device all around at 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm. The iPhone 13, on the other hand, measures just 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.65mm.
They are very similar in weight though, at 177g for the Galaxy S21 FE and 174g for the iPhone 13. This reflects the more premium materials used in the Apple device.
As far as colors go, the Galaxy S21 FE comes in White, Graphite (Black), Lavender (Pink), and Olive (Green). The iPhone 13 offers Pink, Blue, Night, Starlight, and Product Red. Neither range is particularly extensive, or all that eye-catching.
Overall, the iPhone 13 gets the design nod for its more premium materials and compact form factor. That said, if you’re not a fan of sharp angles and flat edges, the more curved design of the Galaxy S21 FE might be more to your liking.
Both of these phones have vibrant and bright AMOLED displays, but it’s the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE that takes the win here.
At 6.4 inches, it’s a tad larger than the iPhone 13’s 6.1-inch display. Conversely, the iPhone 13’s display is sharper, with a pixel density of 460 ppi compared to the Samsung’s 401 ppi.
But what really gives the Galaxy S21 FE screen the win is its 120Hz refresh rate. With the iPhone 13 screen stuck at 60Hz, it looks noticeably less fluid when scrolling through pages. Web and navigation between home screens.
Our iPhone 13 review called such a feature “nice to have, rather than a must-have”, but it’s hard to go back once you’ve sampled at 120Hz.
This fundamental difference in approach to the display notch is also worth remembering, as it means landscape media content is less impeded on the Galaxy S21 FE.
Don’t get me wrong, both of these screens are excellent. But Samsung’s display mastery is on full display here, delivering a superior screen for less money.
We called the Galaxy S21 FE’s display its “highlight” in our review. Aside from the price difference, this might just be its only big win over the iPhone 13.
The Galaxy S21 FE has a triple camera system compared to the dual camera system of the iPhone 13. The fact that Samsung’s phone has a dedicated telephoto lens represents its only win in the camera department, and it is relatively minor.
Both systems are driven by 12MP wide sensors, and both give you 12MP ultrawides as well. The Samsung complements this with an 8MP telephoto lens, which shoots with 1.1x optical zoom and 3x hybrid zoom. The iPhone 13 needs to crop for its zoom shots.
In general terms of image quality, however, the iPhone 13 wipes the floor with the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE.
While the Samsung actually captures larger pixels than the iPhone 13 (1.8µm vs. 1.7µm), the iPhone has a much wider aperture (f/1.6 vs. f/1.8) .
But the real hardware advantage for Apple here is its sensor-shift OIS technology, which was imported from the iPhone 12 Pro Max. This stabilization system is more advanced than the Galaxy S21 FE’s standard OIS, and together with Apple’s superior algorithms, it can capture much better Night Mode shots.
Beyond that, Apple’s image processing just results in more balanced shots with more natural lighting. About Samsung’s approach, our reviewer said that “obviously the brand’s scene optimization software has never heard of oversaturation.”
Galaxy S21 FE shots are bright and clear, not to mention eminently social media ready, but iPhone 13 shots are simply more nuanced and “as seen”.
Both phones do an admirable job of equalizing their tones on each of the camera modules. That means your shots will be broadly similar whether they’re taken on wide or ultra-wide (or telephoto in Samsung’s case).
There are plenty of camera features to explore with both camera systems. The iPhone 13 gives you Photography Styles, which allow you to fundamentally change the tone of your shots without that fake filter. You can even make them look more Samsung-like, if you want.
Samsung gives you Single Take, which captures short snippets of five to 15 seconds and then extracts the best photos and video footage from them. Dual recording, on the other hand, allows you to record video on the rear and front camera at the same time.
Specifications and performance
Apple has been dominating its Android rivals on performance for years now, so it’s no surprise to hear that the iPhone 13 outperforms the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE for sheer power.
During the launch of the iPhone 13, Apple claimed that its six-core A15 Bionic processor was 50% faster than the Android competition. While the Galaxy S21 FE wasn’t around at the time, the Snapdragon 888 it runs on most certainly was.
In our own CPU and GPU benchmarking tests, Apple’s A15 Bionic tends to beat the Snapdragon 888 by a healthy margin.
Not that it really matters much in practical terms, with both phones feeling as crisp and snappy in the hand as you could hope for. High-end games run smoothly on the highest settings on both, and general browsing is a pleasure.
Indeed, the Galaxy S21 FE might just feel the faster of the two given its 120Hz display, even if it has the more limited processor.
If you detected any sense of disappointment with the performance of the Galaxy S21 FE, it has nothing to do with the actual experience of using it. Rather, it’s because the Snapdragon 888 is yesterday’s chip, with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 now rolling out in high-end Android phones.
Conversely, the iPhone 13 will continue to be among Apple’s top performers – and one of the fastest phones on the market – well into 2022.
As far as storage goes, both phones start at 128GB and double that up to 256GB. the privilege.
They’re both 5G-enabled phones, so they’re ready for the fastest mobile data speeds available in your area.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE gives you a 4,500mAh battery, while the iPhone 13 was found to be packed in a 3,240mAh cell.
However, such a capacity comparison doesn’t make sense, due to the inherent differences between iOS and Android, as well as Apple’s tight grip on software and hardware.
In short, Apple can extract more endurance from its phones than Samsung, allowing it to use smaller batteries. In fact, the battery life of the iPhone 13 is significantly better than that of the Galaxy S21 FE.
With the iPhone 13, we found that we would typically have 20% left at the end of a day of heavy use. With the Galaxy S21 FE, on the other hand, our tester found that “heavy use required us to recharge the mobile in the early evening to keep it running until the next morning”.
Neither phone comes close to best-in-class when it comes to charging. The iPhone 13 supports 20W, while the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE supports 25W charging.
Given that OnePlus, Oppo, and Xiaomi frequently equip their phones with 65W chargers, you’ll forgive our lack of enthusiasm.
That’s another thing: these manufacturers actually give you a charging brick in the box. Neither Samsung nor Apple does.
Both phones give you 15W wireless charging, but again, other flagship phones will give you much faster speeds.
To take with
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE may have arrived a little over three months after the iPhone 13, but it looks like an older phone. While it’s a fine effort, the Galaxy S21 FE suffers in comparison.
On the plus side, the Galaxy S21 FE is around $100/£100 cheaper than its rival, has a smoother display and has a dedicated telephoto camera built in. That’s where its benefits end, however.
The iPhone 13 packs a punch when it comes to performance, design, battery life, and camera quality. Apple’s smartphone will also remain relevant for much of 2022, when we suspect the Galaxy S21 FE is going to feel oddly outdated well before mid-year, if it isn’t already.
It may be more expensive, but the iPhone 13 is a better buy than the late Samsung Galaxy S21 FE.