Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. iPhone 13: Affordable flagship takes on the mass-market iPhoneJanuary 12, 2022
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE may have had a delayed launch, but it has made the affordable flagship smartphones’ space quite a bit more interesting. Not only does it compete against affordable flagships like the Google Pixel 6 and the OnePlus 9, but the S21 FE’s launch price of $699 also inevitably pits it against several phones that are positioned above it — including its stablemate — the Samsung Galaxy S21 and not to mention, the Apple iPhone 13. These two handsets will definitely be on the list of people intending to spend around $700 on a new phone.
Does Samsung’s affordable flagship really have a chance when pitted against Apple’s mid-tier iPhone model, the mightly iPhone 13? That is precisely what we will investigate in this article.
155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm (6.12 x 2.93 x 0.31 inches)
146.7 x 71.5 x 7.7mm (5.78 x 2.81 x 0.30 inches)
177 grams (6.24 ounces)
174 grams (6.14 ounces)
6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X capacitive touchscreen (120Hz)
6.1-inch Super Retina OLED
2400 x 1080 pixels (411 pixels per inch)
2532 x 1170 pixels (460 pixels per inch)
Android 12, One UI 4.0
128GB, 256GB, 512GB
MicroSD card slot
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Apple A15 Bionic
12-megapixel wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 8MP telephoto rear, 32MP front
Dual-lens 12-megapixel wide and 12MP ultrawide rear, 12MP TrueDepth front
4K at 60 frames per second
4K at up to 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps
No, FaceID instead
Fast charging (25W)
Fast wireless charging (15W)
Fast charging (20W charger sold separately)MagSafe wireless charging (15W)Qi wireless charging (7.5W)
Google Play Store
Apple App Store
All major carriers
Olive, Lavender, White, Graphite
Black, blue, green, white, and red
4.5 stars out of 5
Design, display, and durability
1. Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
2. Apple iPhone 13
The design of the iPhone has mostly remained unchanged since the days of the iPhone 11 — except for the smaller notch and the rear camera alignment on the iPhone 13. While this might not worry someone buying their first iPhone, for those of you upgrading from an older iPhone, having to look at the same old design might feel a bit repetitive.
Even though the Galaxy S21 FE looks quite a bit different from its predecessor — the Galaxy S20 FE — the phone shares the same design traits as the Galaxy S21 series — perhaps best exemplified by the design of the camera module. The phone also gets a polycarbonate back panel – an obvious cost-cutting measure to keep prices in check.
The iPhone 13, on the other hand, gets a glass-clad rear panel and a metal body, which makes it look more premium than the Galaxy S21 FE. The major difference between the two phones, however, has to be their respective sizes, with the iPhone 13 being considerably smaller in size than the S21 FE. The difference between the weights, however, isn’t too much, with both phones just shy of the 180g mark.
The iPhone 13’s 1170 x 2530-pixel OLED display measures 6.1-inches across and supports HDR10 content. Unfortunately, it misses out on the high refresh rate option, which Apple has only reserved for the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max models.
In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE gets a 6.4-inch, 1080 x 2400-pixel AMOLED 2X panel which is arguably among the best smartphone displays currently in existence. Furthermore, this panel is HDR10+ ready and supports a 120Hz refresh rate. In addition, Samsung also offers Corning’s latest scratch resistance technology with Gorilla Glass Victus on the S21 FE while also integrating an in-display fingerprint scanner.
Both handsets are IP68 rated for water and dust resistance, but Samsung’s plastic rear panel and superior Gorilla Glass protection help it score over the iPhone 13 in the durability department.
Even though the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE trumps the iPhone 13 when it comes to display quality and durability, the iPhone 13 gains points in the look and feel department. There is no clear winner here, and chances are, you will select either of these devices based on what really matters to you. Fans who love high refresh rate panels will pick the S21 FE over the iPhone — while someone on the lookout for a good-looking, premium smartphone will go for the iPhone 13.
Performance, battery life, and charging
Dan Baker/Digital Trends
In the U.S., the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE comes powered by Qualcomm’s 2021 flagship chip — the Snapdragon 888. Though superseded by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, the SD888 is still a potent performer and is every bit a flagship chip capable of handling almost any task you ask it to perform. Moreover, with up to 8GB of RAM on offer (there’s a 6GB RAM option as well), multitasking on the Galaxy S21 FE should be the least of anyone’s concerns.
With the powerful A15 Bionic chip at its core, the iPhone 13 is no slouch and exceeds the performance benchmarks set by the Snapdragon 888. Adding Apple’s optimized software to the mix, and you have a phone that performs like a beast and is second to none as far as multitasking goes.
Even though the 4,500mAh battery on the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is quite a bit bigger than the iPhone 13’s 3240mAH battery, the iPhone 13, with its proven battery life of over a day and a half, should easily match up against what the S21 FE can offer. While we will reserve a final judgment on this after reviewing the Galaxy S21 FE, no one here expects Apple to lose this battle without giving a fight.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 supports wired charging speeds of up to 25W using Samsung’s own fast charger, while wireless charging tops out at 21W. The iPhone 13, on the other hand, tops out at 20W for wired charging and 15W for wireless charging. Even with iPhone’s slower charging speeds, we expect it to charge faster than the Galaxy S21 FE because of its lower battery capacity. Unfortunately, both phones do not ship with a charging adapter, and you’ll need to spend extra to buy one if you do not already have one lying around.
Overall, we feel that the iPhone more than matches the Galaxy S21 FE’s performance while also offering excellent battery life and good charging speeds. And for the same reason, we have to give this round to the Apple iPhone 13.
Winner: Apple iPhone 13
The iPhone 13’s dual-camera setup has largely remained unchanged over its predecessor and includes a 12MP primary camera and a 12 MP ultra-wide camera. The major change this time around is the addition of OIS — which was only available on the Pro and Pro Max models with the iPhone 12 series. This inevitably means better photos in difficult conditions such as fast-moving subjects and low-light shots. For selfies, the iPhone 12 gets another 12MP camera that also supports 4K video recording.
In our review, the iPhone 12 captured images that rivaled the likes of the Google Pixel 5 and the more expensive iPhone 13 Pro. Needless to say, this is one of the best cameras you will find on a smartphone in its price segment.
The Galaxy S21 FE gets a triple camera array that includes twin 12MP sensors for primary and ultrawide cameras. The third camera — which is mated to a telephoto lens — gets an 8MP sensor. The S21 FE supports OIS on the primary camera and the telephoto lens as well. At the front, the phone gets a 32MP selfie camera which should let it capture some very good self-portraits.
While we are yet to test the Galaxy S21 FE, given that even the Galaxy S21 struggled to compete against the iPhone 13 in our comparison from last year, we think this will be an uphill battle for the S2 FE — which is essentially a toned-down S21. Nevertheless, we will reserve a final judgment once we properly test the S21 FE, but for now, it seems the iPhone edges it.
Winner: Apple iPhone 13
Software and updates
Dan Baker/Digital Trends
The iPhone 13 runs iOS 15, which is the latest version of Apple’s smartphone OS that offers a bunch of new features. Some of the newer features on the iPhone 13 include enhanced notifications, a brand new ‘Focus’ feature, and improvements to Facetime. Apart from these, iOS is known for its speed, ease of use, and security.
The Galaxy S21 FE, by virtue of its delayed launch, runs Android 12 beneath a layer of Samsung’s own OneUI 4.0. Being on the latest version of Android and Samsung’s promise of three-year Android updates mean you can expect the phone to comfortably last for the next three years. If that wasn’t all, Samsung promises security updates for an additional year — thereby giving the S21 FE a chance to stay relevant even in 2026.
Compared to iOS, however, Samsung’s stellar 4-year update promise doesn’t seem good enough. This is because Apple’s tight control over hardware and software essentially means its smartphones last and state relevant for much longer than comparable Android smartphones. For example, iOS 15 is compatible with the iPhone 6S, released nearly seven years ago. So for the Galaxy S21 FE to even compete, Samsung will need to support the phone until 2029.
While it is ok to prefer Android or iOS, for someone looking to use one of these devices for a really long time, they’re better of with the iPhone 13. But Samsung’s four-year software support is excellent by Android standards, and for the same reason, we’ll call this one a tie.
Both handsets in question here come with their own set of unique features. So choosing between them really boils down to what you really want from each of these devices. For example, the iPhone 13 would make perfect sense for people already invested in Apple’s ecosystem and use iMessage a lot.
But Samsung clearly wins the special features battle here thanks to a repertoire of exclusive features. This includes support for Samsung DeX, which allows users to connect the phone to a monitor and use it in ‘desktop mode’ — almost turning it into a PC. Then there are specific camera-centric features like Single Take and Dual Recording mode — the latter allowing you to capture simultaneous videos using the front and rear cameras.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Price and availability
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE comes in two options, starting with a 6GB and 128GB base variant that costs $699. Then, there is a pricier 8GB and 128GB variant that goes for $769. The phone is available via Verizon and AT&T and comes in four color options: white, graphite, olive, and lavender. The phone went on sale starting January 11, 2021.
At $799, the base 128GB iPhone costs (slightly) more than the base variant of the S21 FE. If you wish to go further up the price ladder, you have the option to get the 256GB variant for $899 and the top-end 512GB variant for $1099.
Overall winner: iPhone 13
Even though the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is a very good phone, its delayed launch and peculiar pricing put it in a strange position. The phone not only competes against genuinely affordable flagships like the Google Pixel 6 and the OnePlus 9 — the $699 price tag puts it tantalizingly close to flagship devices like the Galaxy S21 and the iPhone 13. Given an option to choose between a proper flagship and an affordable flagship by paying a slight premium, most users will almost always go for the pricier flagship.
Perhaps, we will revisit this comparison once the Galaxy S21 FE settles in. But until then, as things stand now, we have to award this one to the iPhone 13.
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