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Should you upgrade to the S21?


The Galaxy S20 Fan Edition was one of the best smartphones of 2020, as it included most of the features of Samsung’s more expensive phones at a lower $700 (or $600, or $550) price point. It clearly served as inspiration for the newer Galaxy S21 series, as the phone has the same plastic casing and flat display as the Fan Edition.

With the base Galaxy S21 having a similar price and design to the earlier S20 FE, and Samsung offering generous trade-in values for the Fan Edition, is it worth upgrading? That’s the question we’ll aim to answer here.

The side-grade

The Galaxy S20 FE has most of the same hardware as the S20 and other flagship Android phones from 2020, while the S21 has Qualcomm’s newer Snapdragon 888 chipset. The S21 also has 2GB RAM more than the S20 FE, more storage (if you opt for the slightly-pricier 256GB model), improved 5G support, and a better telephoto camera.

  Galaxy S20 FE Galaxy S21
Display 6.5” Flat 1080×2400 120Hz AMOLED 6.2” Flat 2400×1080 120Hz AMOLED
SoC Snapdragon 865 Snapdragon 888 (Exynos 2100 internationally)
RAM 6GB 8GB
Storage 128GB, microSD up to 1TB 128-256GB
Rear cameras 12MP f/1.8 main
12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide
8MP f/2.4 telephoto (3x)
12MP wide (f/1.8, OIS, DPAF)
12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2, 120° FoV, FF)
64MP telephoto (f.2.0, 3x hybrid, OIS, DPAF)
Front camera 32MP (f/2.2) 10MP (f/2.2, 80° FoV, DPAF)
Connectivity 5G (no mmWave), LTE, Wi-Fi 6, BT 5.0, USB Type-C, NFC 5G, LTE, Wi-Fi 6, BT 5, USB Type-C, NFC
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Battery 4,500mAh 4,000mAh
Dimensions 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm
Weight 190g 169g
Software One UI 2.5 (Android 10), upgraded to One UI 3.0 (Android 11) One UI 3.1 (Android 11)

Beyond those points, the Galaxy S21 starts to look like a downgrade, or at least a side-grade. The Galaxy S21 is a physically smaller device than the S20 FE, and while some might appreciate the more compact design, others prefer larger screens. There’s only a 0.3″ difference in size between the screens on the S20 FE and S21, but it is noticeable. The battery is also smaller, going down from 4,500mAh on the FE to 4,000mAh. That’s still more than enough for all-day battery life, though.

The Galaxy S21 in its various colors

There are also two key features that were removed with the Galaxy S21 (and S21+/S21 Ultra). The microSD card slot is gone, so once you fill up the internal storage on the S21, you can’t add more. Samsung also removed MST support for contactless payments on terminals, but now that NFC is supported at most payment terminals (at least in the United States), that’s less of an issue.

The value

So, if the Galaxy S21 isn’t that different than the S20 FE, and it’s even a downgrade in some ways (depending on what you consider bad), should you bother upgrading? In most cases, probably not, but there is one more factor that is worth considering — the trade-in value.

Samsung’s online store will currently take $550 off the price of a Galaxy S21 device if you trade in your S20 Fan Edition, as long as your FE doesn’t have a cracked screen/camera and is in working order. That drops the price of the Galaxy S21 to just $250. You can also pick an S21+ for $450, or an S21 Ultra for $650. That includes at least $100 of instant credit towards accessories (at least, as of when this article was written). Some carriers are offering even better deals, depending on what network you’re on and the type of plan — check out our deals roundup for more information.

Getting a better processor, more RAM, and improved cameras for $250 might be worth it, depending on what you want out of a phone. If the Fan Edition does exactly what you want, then don’t fix what ain’t broken.

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