Best answer: The Galaxy S21 ($583 on Swappa) is a great phone, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best value. You can get the previous year’s Galaxy S20 and S20 FE for almost $200 cheaper. Not only do these older models already offer many of the S21’s best features, but in some cases they beat it with more RAM or longer battery life. If you want more for less, you’ll probably want to consider buying the S20 and S20 FE instead.
The Galaxy S21 is still Samsung’s latest flagship (for now), but just because it’s their newest phone, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s their best. A followup to the previous year’s Galaxy S20, the Samsung Galaxy S21 features a flashy new design, but more importantly it came with a lower price tag as well.
The biggest question on most people’s minds is whether the Galaxy S21 is worth it in 2021, or if it makes more financial sense to go with more affordable options like the previous generation S20 or S20 FE.
In this post, we’ll be taking a look at the Samsung Galaxy S20, and comparing it with its older, more budget friendly counterparts to see how it stacks up.
Galaxy S21 vs S20 vs S20 FE
It’s probably best to start with a brief timeline to better make sense of the phones. The Galaxy S20 was released in 2020 and features high-end specs with premium build quality. By every sense of the word, the S20 was a true Samsung flagship, with a steep $999 retail price to match.
Later that same year, Samsung introduced a more budget friendly version called the Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition), which featured a lower resolution display, plastic body, and more reasonable $699 retail price.
Then in 2021, we saw the release of the Samsung Galaxy S21 and in many ways it was closer to the S20 FE than a true S20 sequel. That’s to say, you get most of the hardware, but also that more cost-friendly plastic body and lower resolution display. Priced at $799 MSRP, it was only a hair more expensive than the S20 FE that launched in late 2020, but represented Samsung’s entry-level Galaxy for the 2021 year.
For more on how the hardware matches up, here’s how the Galaxy S21 compares with the S20 and S20 FE.
|Samsung Galaxy S21||Samsung Galaxy S20||Samsung Galaxy S20 FE|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (8-core)||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (8-core)||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 5G (8-core)|
|Screen Size||6.2 inches||6.2 inches||6.5 inches|
|Display Technology||Dynamic AMOLED 2x|
|Dynamic AMOLED 2x|
|Display Resolution||Quad HD+ 2400×1080 pixels (421 ppi)||Quad HD+ 3200×1440 pixels (563 ppi)||FHD+ 2400×1080 pixels (407 ppi)|
|Refresh Rate||48-120 Hz||60/120 Hz||60/120 Hz|
|Rear Cameras||Wide-angle: 12MP, f/1.8, 26mm|
Ultra-wide: 12MP, f/2.2, 13mm
Telephoto: 64MP, f/2.0, 29mm
|Wide-angle: 12MP, f/1.8, 26mm|
Ultra-wide: 12MP, f/2.2, 13mm
Telephoto: 64MP, f/2.0, 29mm
Primary: 12MP, f/1.8, 26mm
Ultra-wide: 12MP, f/2.2, 13mm
Telephoto: 8MP, f/2.4, 76mm
|Selfie Camera||10MP, f/2.2, 26mm||10MP, f/2.2, 26mm||32MP, f/2.2, 26mm|
|Storage||128GB, 256GB||128GB, 256GB||128GB, 256GB|
|RAM||8GB RAM||8GB RAM (Verizon), 12GB||6GB, 8GB RAM|
|Battery||4000 mAh||4000 mAh||4500 mAh|
|Dimensions||151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm||151.7 x 69.1 x 7.9mm||159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm|
|Water Resistance||IP68 water and dust resistance||IP68 water and dust resistance||IP68 water and dust resistance|
|Release Date||January 29, 2021||February 11, 2020||October 02, 2021|
Galaxy S21 vs S20 Display
Samsung is known for making some of the best displays in mobile, so it was a bit odd to see them walk things back with the release of the S21.
Whereas the Galaxy S20 featured a 5.8-inch high resolution 1440×3200 Quad HD 120Hz AMOLED display, both the Galaxy S21 and S20 FE use a lower resolution FHD+ panel. The logic here is that while in the S20 was in 120Hz mode, the resolution was capped at FHD+ anyway. Still, it’s always nice to have the option to drop to 60Hz and increase the resolution for even more clarity, something you’ll only find on the S20. The S21 does feature a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate that dials it down to 48Hz in some cases, something that theoretically should help with battery life.
It’s also worth noting that the S20 is one of the last Samsung flagships to feature a curved screen. Samsung officially went with flat panels for the subsequent S20 FE and S21, but depends on your own personal taste whether that’s a good or bad thing.
While cutting corners for the more affordable S20 FE makes sense, again, it’s just odd seeing Samsung make similar sacrifices for their flagship Galaxy S21. When it comes to the display, the Galaxy S20 is the clear winner here.
Galaxy S21 vs S20 Size
Both the Galaxy S20 and S21 feature nearly identical 6.2-inch AMOLED displays, with the dimensions of the phones themselves eerily similar as well. The S21 measures in at 71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9mm, while the S20 is 69.1 x 151.7 x 7.9mm — just a hair more narrow.
It’s the S20 FE that’s the heftiest of the bunch, with a larger 6.5-inch AMOLED display and coming in at 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm. And while the screen is larger than the S21 and regular S20, it’s hardly noticeable unless you’re holding it side-by-side with one of those devices.
If you’re looking for a big phone, we’d recommend going with the 6.7-inch Galaxy S21+ or the more affordable Galaxy S20+.
Galaxy S21 vs S20 Performance
Performance is one area where you’d expect the newest of the three models — the Galaxy S21 — to absolutely excel. This is because every year, Samsung outfits their flagship phones with the latest Qualcomm processors.
For the Galaxy S21, it’s equipped with a Snapdragon 888 SoC, a more advanced chipset than the Snapdragon 865 chip found in the Galaxy S20 and S20 FE. Real world speed remains to be seen, but benchmarks (however much value you place on them) show a noticeable improvement.
One area where Samsung did cut corners was in the RAM. Gone is the 12GB of RAM found on the S20, replaced instead by 8GB on the S21. Yes, Samsung removed 4GB of RAM from the newer model, something that’s sure to impact multitasking performance as apps continue to grow larger each and every year.
This puts the S20 FE somewhere in between, with 6GB or even 8GB of RAM on some models. Of course, this isn’t typically a spec people pay much attention to, but when your phone is capable of transforming into a full-blown desktop OS via Samsung DEX, you’ll probably want as much RAM as possible to keep everything running smoothly. Another case where the Galaxy S20 wins again.
Galaxy S21 vs S20 Camera
The Galaxy S20 features a 3-camera setup that originally debuted on the S10. That’s to say, you gt a 12MP f1.8 primary camera, 12MP f2.2 ultra-wide camera, and 64MP f/2.0 telephoto camera.
The Galaxy S21 has an identical triple camera array, although software tweaks and a newer processor helps improve things slightly. You’ll find a similar three-camera setup on the S20 FE, only it has a 12MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, and lower resolution 8MP telephoto shooter. The S20 FE does make up for it somewhat with a higher resolution 32MP front facing camera than the 10MP camera on the S20 and S21, which could be worth the trade-off for selfie addicts.
When viewing a few comparison videos on YouTube, it’s easy to see that — despite featuring identical camera specs — the Galaxy S21 does take better quality photos in most cases. You also get improved Portrait Mode with Advanced Bokeh and Studio Mode, AI-Based Face Enhancement, Enhanced Auto White Balance, and even integration with third-party camera apps like Snapchat and Instagram, and more.
Both the Galaxy S20 and S21 support up to 8K video recording, while the S20 FE caps out at 4K video. Probably not the biggest issue given most social networks max out at 1080p, but 8K could be more fun as 5G networks are improved.
Galaxy S21 vs S20 Battery Life
The Galaxy S20 saw Samsung really push battery life to a new level with the inclusion of a high capacity 4,000mAh battery. Most of this had to do with the fact that the S20 was one of the world’s first 5G phones, so Samsung was anticipating a hit to battery life with the newer, more powerful network technology.
Not much changed with the Galaxy S21, with Samsung using the same 4,000mAh battery inside. But to get the most battery for your buck, the Galaxy S20 FE takes the cake with a whopping 4,500mAh battery, something relatively unheard of in its size category.
While it’s true that newer, more energy efficient processors can extend a phone’s battery life, there’s no denying that raw mAh still plays the biggest role in determining a phone’s runtime. So between the three models, if you’re looking for the phone with the best battery life, the Galaxy S20 FE wins hands down.
Samsung 5G Network Compatibility
The Galaxy S20 series was some of the first phones to offer wide support for 5G, and it’s a big reason why most carriers chose the phone’s to debut the power of their next-generation wireless networks.
Unfortunately, things get a little dicey with the Galaxy S20, which only offers support for Sub6 5G — also known as “nationwide 5G” — which is the least impressive form of the wireless technology. Samsung fixed this issue with the Galaxy S20 FE which supports both Sub6 and mmWave 5G, the exception being the Verizon model which doesn’t have Sub6 support.
Meanwhile, the Galaxy S21 is similar to the previous S20 in that most carrier versions only support Sub6 5G, but Samsung’s website mentions there is a special Galaxy S21 5G mmWave model only it’s a bit more elusive.
Galaxy S21 vs S20 Price
Probably the biggest deciding factor for anyone shopping for a new (or gently used) phone is the price. This will help you gauge the overall value from the phones you’re comparing, and will help you figure out if something like the Galaxy S21 is worth it, or if you could get 90% of the features for a lot less money.
On Swappa, the average price for the Galaxy S21 is around $583, which is a lot less than Samsung’s $799 asking price. Meanwhile, the previous year’s Galaxy S20 is right around $450 well-equipped, while the Galaxy S20 FE is around $395.
You can get nearly all the most important features and save almost $150 by going with the slightly older Galaxy S20, or sacrifice little and go with the Galaxy S20 FE for around $188 less than the Galaxy S21.
With the Galaxy S21 being more of a step back for 2021 — and the fact that it doesn’t even have the option for microSD expandable storage — it’s hard to deny the Galaxy S20 and S20 FE are both much better values — especially when you consider the savings.