The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE has a problem – its price. Despite this budget alternative to the Galaxy S21 launching for a lower price than its 11-month-old sibling did, due to the devaluation of tech over time, the older and more powerful handset is now the cheaper one.
S21 FE start price: $699 / £699 / AU$999
S21 start price: $799 / £769 / AU$1,249
S20 FE start price: $699 / £699 / AU$1,149
S20 start price: $999 / £899 / AU$1,499
As a result, after debuting at CES 2022, tech journalists' responses to the Galaxy S21 FE have been lukewarm; in our review, we said "at its launch price, it’s hard to recommend." And our sister site Tom's Guide (opens in new tab) said, "Samsung should have just canned this one and saved all the fanfare for the Galaxy S22."
It's easy, then, to discount this afterthought of a smartphone, but there's actually a way Samsung could save it – and it all comes down to the Galaxy S22, which we're expecting to launch soon.
A new S22
We were rather impressed by the Samsung Galaxy S21's price when it launched, as its $799 / £769 / AU$1,249 cost was representative of a larger price decrease for the family – the S20 mobiles cost quite a bit more.
That's part of the Galaxy S21 FE's problem. Its siblings were cheap enough that, at its price, it doesn't fit as a lower-cost alternative.
But Samsung could fix all that. Depending on how it prices the Galaxy S22 phones, the S21 FE could serve better as a budget companion to the new line, instead of the S21 family.
The timing works out – it's basically launching alongside them, give or take a couple of weeks.
The specs and features difference likely isn't much of a problem either. Samsung phones usually have just a small update each year, and we're not expecting the S22 devices to be hugely different from their S21 predecessors. So the S21 FE isn't going to feel like much more of a downgrade to the S22 models than its price would cause.
In addition, the S21 FE also runs Android 12, unlike the S21 family which came with Android 11 (though they can be upgraded now). So in terms of software, the S21 FE is already closer to the S22 than the S21 devices.
A climbing price
If the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE was positioned as the S22's cheaper sibling, there would be an obvious and possibly problematic implication: such a move would only work if the Galaxy S22 series was a little more expensive. We could see a return to the S20's start price of $999 / £899 / AU$1,499, or in that ballpark at least.
That high price would make the Galaxy S22 a little harder to afford for most average buyers, especially the Plus and Ultra models which would end up even costlier.
That's not just a problem for buyers, but for Samsung too, as the phones would be less tempting compared to alternatives from rivals like the Xiaomi 12, OnePlus 10, Oppo Find X4 and Realme GT 2, and later also the iPhone 14.
The premium-price smartphone tier is a competitive one, with lots of high-powered phones releasing for similar prices, and Samsung would be at a big disadvantage if it increased the price of its mobiles substantially.
If Samsung made the S22 start price higher than the S21's it might make the S21 FE seem like a more tempting option, but at a cost to the sales and appeal of the S22 models. There's no perfect answer, but we'll likely find out what the company's choice is soon, with the new Samsung Galaxy phones expected to launch near the end of January.