The last time I took a look at the S21 Ultra, I kind of bagged on pretty much the whole experience. But is the S21 FE any different? It's time to find out!
Today we continue our never-ending journey to try and switch away from the Apple iPhone to, an Android phone. Today, our focus is on the Samsung S21 Fan Edition - which is essentially a 1 year older, slightly cheaper version, using older and cheaper parts.
If I'm honest, it’s a really interesting phone. Because, well. It’s now 2022, and we’re probably a matter of weeks away from the S22, but also because it is, really good.
When I looked at the S21 Ultra, it was the second Android phone I’d ever looked at before and it was pretty clear that I was clueless about how Android worked. I complained about things not working that actually did work, I just didn't really know how to use it.
But, I’m older, wiser, and recently I fully switched to using only my Google Pixel 6 Pro and Galaxy Watch 4 and after three months of using them - today is a fresh start!
Like always, I’m going to cover off what I love AND some of the things I don’t love about this phone.
WHAT I LOVE
Firstly, the Fingerprint reader. It only takes a few seconds when I switched away from the Google Pixel 6 Pro to this, for me to realise how bad the fingerprint reader is on the Pixel.
Which in itself is crazy, since they’re both using the same technology.
With that said, It’s not as fast as the S21 Ultra which used an Ultrasonic sensor. This one uses an Optical sensor, but compared to the Pixel - I’ve actually enjoyed using it more this time around, which seems bizarre to me.
Also, I find the positioning of the fingerprint reader on the S21 so much better. With loads of other phones I’ve tested, you either have to look at the screen to line up your finger properly or just learn the muscle memory over time to know where to put your finger. But with the sensor being down the bottom of the phone it makes it really easy to pick it up and just know exactly where to place your finger.
The general size and shape of this model feel a lot nicer than both the Google Pixel 6 and the old S21, mainly because it’s a little shorter so you don’t have to stretch to reach the corners. It’s also much lighter, mostly due to the plastic back, but it’s noticeably lighter than the Pixel 6 Pro. Even though they have the same battery size. The buttons I find are also easier to work on this model too compared to the Pixel, as they’re more clicky.
The Screen is beautiful! Something I’ve come to love with Samsung phones, in general, is their screens which are probably one of the best in the business. It’s also flat, which I actually really like now. And at 700 nits with adaptive brightness turned on, it’s bright enough to see on sunny days too.
I love that the lock screen is more customisable and is bigger and can display more colour than the Pixel, so it’s easier to glance down and know which apps have notifications.
It’s also good to see the notification features once again where it can animate the outside border of the screen with a colour, which is based on what App is notifying, that’s a really neat feature.
It has definitely taken me some time to get used to the stock launcher but it is actually pretty solid. It’s taken me some time to get used to it and it does have a few quirks, but overall it works well. Though I do also really like using custom launchers and probably would advise you to do that if you like digging that little bit further under the hood.
If we look at the Cameras, these are now a good comparison hardware-wise to either the Pixel Pro or the iPhone 13, because we no longer have the dual telephotos with a 100x zoom that you got on the Ultra. Now it’s Ultrawide, Wide, and a single telephoto lens. I do like that they’re recessed more than either the iPhone or Pixel so there’s only very little wobble when typing on a desk. And I actually think it’s the cleanest looking of the 3 phones too.
In my camera test between the S21 Ultra, iPhone 13 Pro, and the Pixel 6 Pro, I always thought the S21 seemed a little washed out - but I’m happy to see that this isn’t the case with the Fan Edition, and I’d probably say that the Pixel still holds winner of the best camera, but I do prefer the interface on the S21.
Which kind of brings me on to the next thing that I love about the S21, and Android 12 - bugs.
I haven’t had half the number of issues with the S21 FE than I did on the Pixel. Though I have recently had both the December and January update which improved things a lot for the Pixel, The S21 FE just feels snappier. For example, If I compare double-tapping the power button to launch the camera when comparing, it is ever so slightly faster on the S21, but honestly, when actually using it day to day, it feels like, a complete night and day difference.
Now I’m using the Galaxy Watch along with a Galaxy Phone, the apps work properly! Which I know sounds stupid. But trying to use a Google Phone and a Samsung Watch, well basically none of the Google apps would work for me.
It’s automatic workout detection is better than Apple, picking up walks or tennis much better than the Apple watch does. The customisation and App selection, are also great. Have you ever tried to unpair and re-pair an apple watch? It takes AGES. Whereas the Galaxy watch took me minutes to set it up and get to using it.
This time I went for the smaller Galaxy Watch 4 rather than the Classic, and I really liked the experience of not wearing a bulky watch on my wrist like with my 45mm Apple Watch.
It’s more comfortable to wear whilst sleeping if you wanted to track your sleep, and there’s less resistance when swimming. I always defaulted to getting the one with the biggest screen, but I don’t actually think that’s the best thing to do anymore after trying a smaller watch for the last few months.
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Ok, enough about the good stuff, let's focus on what's not so good...
WHAT I DON'T LOVE
Firstly, and this is frustrating - because something I use on the iPhone constantly, is to swipe down and it instantly goes to search, which means you type what you want and there it is.
On the Pixel, it has this, but it’s a swipe up instead. Also great, it does the job.
On the S21 FE, you can only have the instant search after you swipe up if you also have the Home Screen layout set to Home screen only, which then means you have pages and pages of apps, when I’d rather use the Home and Apps screen, which hides away anything you don’t want to see and only shows you all the apps when you swipe up.
This way round, means you have to now tap on the search bar each time.
It’s kind of really minor, but also a really annoying feature - I’m not sure why you’d do this, or at least not have the option to enable the quick search when swiping up with these settings enabled.
Next is the battery and charging speeds. The S21 FE has 15W wireless charging vs 21w on the Pixel, and only 25W when wired, which IS still better than the iPhone, but with all of my playing with Android phones this year, particularly around the OnePlus 9 Phones, every phone I use now just feels really slow to charge. I’ve kinda been spoilt there with the OnePlus.
Battery life is not as good as the Pixel in my use case. I’m already having to charge the Pixel mid-day sometimes to get through, and the S21 FE definitely needs more charging than others. Again, this will depend on your use case, for most people, it’s probably just fine - I probably spend way too much time on my phone...
A random one here, but I guess again, I've been spoilt by other phones now, one thing I really had gotten used to on the Pixel and found it much better than the iPhone was to double tap on the back to take a screenshot. I found it really convenient, it didn’t miss-trigger too often, as someone who plays the drums and taps away with their fingers all day, so it’s kind of annoying to not have this feature on what is another flagship phone.
The face unlock, for me, is still not that great. I don’t think anyone will be able to have as good a Face unlock solution as Apple, and I’m guessing they’ve patented that so nobody else can use it. Samsung tells you that Face ID isn’t secure and could be unlocked by someone who looks similar to you, or using an image of you, so yeah - that’s a no-go for me. But the fingerprint reader was surprisingly easy to get used to on this phone. I think if you’re a first-time user switching to Android - going from FaceID to Fingerprint, it does feel like you’re going backward. It’s just one of those things that you’ll have to suck up if you want the other benefits that Android can give you.
I only really found this an issue a few times when painting a room where I wanted to see what notification I had, without having to physically touch the phone. With iPhone I would just glance at the screen for it to unlock and it would show me what was going on. But with the S21 FE I had to put down my paintbrush and physically pick up the phone. I suppose that means if you get water on your finger or paint, or if you’re outside in the cold for a while, then it won’t always work as reliably as either an ultrasonic sensor or Face ID.
The biggest issue of all with the S21 FE though, has to be the price.
Whilst this is a great phone, the price just doesn’t fit right.
Back in early 2021, the S21 was a flagship, with specs that basically set the precedent for all the other phones that came out for the whole of 2021. But we’re probably only a matter of weeks away from seeing the S22 launch.
The S21 FE, is being launched at $699 which, is interesting - since you can actually pick up an S21 - for £699 on Amazon, or even less if you want a refurbished one.
That $699 price puts this in between both the cheaper Pixel 6, which I’d say is a better camera, but more buggy Android experience, and Samsungs own S21 itself.
So I’m not sure why anyone would be going out to buy this phone, for £699, when right around the corner we’re going to get the S22. Unless of course, they’ll be phasing out the original S21 when the S22 drops, pricing the S22 much higher, and then that in itself would open up other questions.
So, other than that strange price question - there are 2 other things that remain from my original frustration with the S21 Ultra, but they’re perhaps now marginally better than before.
The first up is Screenshots. You can either use the 2 keys, which are on the same side of the phone which you can kind of do if your thumb is big enough to push both buttons together, but probably needs 2 hands to do it.
Or you can swipe your palm across the top - something which feels a bit gimmicky to me and I’m quite lazy, that’s quite a lot of effort!
The other is the spacebar which, on the iPhone, if you hold it down, basically turns your finger into a mouse, effortlessly being able to move the cursor around like on a computer. It’s better on the S21 than the Pixel which only moves one character at a time, but it has this feature where if you push too far up or down, it will jump to the beginning or end of the conversation. I can see why as it helps jump there if that’s where you want to go. But I found it too sensitive and perhaps could wait for a second more before it moved. I just found it frustrating when you simply want to quickly correct something and go a smidge too far.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be an Apples to Android comparison without mentioning Universal copy and paste - it’s kind of annoying that it’s not there, natively built into Mac like the iphone - yes. I get that, and it did frustrate me a little at times. But honestly, it’s not a huge change - and there are apps like snapdrop that can let you get back AirDrop to any device, not just Apple devices. So there are workarounds, none that work quite as well as the apple universal copy and paste but that’s what you get from the whole Apple Ecosystem with the whole integration thing.
So, a year later after testing the original S21 Ultra, do I think Android is good?
Do I think the iPhone is better?
Do I think, the S21 FE is better than the Pixel 6 Pro...
Actually, right now I do think that I’d prefer to use this as my daily driver, instead of the Pixel. It’s smaller, fits in my hand better, feels snappier, has less bugs, the watch works better and the fingerprint reader actually works well...
But, I’m not actually going to switch to the S21 FE - Yet.
Although I really want to - what I intend to do after using the Pixel 3 for 3 months and this one for a couple of weeks, is actually try going back to the iPhone, because I want to see if I miss anything from Android when going back to iPhone, after spending the best part of 4 months not using an iPhone.
So subscribe if you want to see that video which will be coming soon. Thanks for reading!
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🎥 3 Months with Pixel 6 Pro: https://youtu.be/hTXxUY25a-Q
🎥 Lifelong iPhone User Switches to Android: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list...