Dernière mise à jour : 13 juil.
New information was made available, and the refreshed S21 FE shall not be a 4G model after all. Sorry for the confusion.
Following rumours of the S22 FE being canceled, other rumours and even leaks emerged, revealing the existence of what would've been a plausible alternative but ends up being quite... interesting.
Indeed, we have learned of a brand new Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 4G being under development, sporting the SM-G990x2 model number. There is one such variant for Canada, the SM-G990W2. What is particular about this model is that it bears a Snapdragon 720G, which, in theory, is a hefty downgrade from the Snapdragon 888 of the S21 FE 5G. I say "in theory" because in my unpublished testing from earlier this year*, the S21 FE 5G could not sustain good performance after mere minutes, no doubt handicapped by its plastic body.
I will call the "S21 FE 4G" the "S21 FE LTE" from now on for ease of reading.
But you may wonder "how will this device position itself versus the full S21 FE 5G?" and perhaps imagine a 100, 200$ price cut. However, we have to take into account that there is already a lower-tier smartphone on the Canadian market, the A53... 5G. Of course, pure 5G bands remain limited while Dynamic Spectrum Sharing continues to hamper LTE and 5GNR speeds, so the 5G modems aren't a worthwhile selling point, but we can't ignore the new entrant's competitors, can we?
The S21 FE 5G regularly goes for 710$ (and with the base S21's floor price now being 780$, it cannot reasonably go up), while the A53 5G goes for anywhere between 460 and 590$, but let's just take into account the lowest price, especially as the A53 is not worth 590$, as discussed here previously. This means the S21 FE LTE has to fit between 460 and 710$. It will have to lean towards 600-650$ to be of any interest while giving room to the ineluctable 100$+ price drop. At least, those are my observations.
There is one more thing however, and that is performance. The Snapdragon 720G sounds like a major downgrade from the Snapdragon 888, but what makes things more complicated is the Exynos 1280 powering the A53. The table below compares the specs and average performance of these SoCs, based on GSMArena's tests. For this comparison, I took a Samsung smartphone with the Snapdragon 720G which bears markedly the same dimensions and materials as the S21 FE to better emulate the real thermal conditions under which the S21 FE LTE will have to perform. The best match was 2021's Galaxy A52 LTE.
| SoC comparison - SD720G vs SD888 vs E1280
S21 FE 5G (SD888)
A53 5G (E1280)
A52 LTE (SD720G)
1x ARM X1 @2.8GHz,
3x ARM A78 @2.4GHz,
4x A55 @1.8GHz
2x ARM A78 @2.4GHz
6x ARM A55 @2.0GHz
2x ARM A76 @2.3GHz
6x ARM A55 @1.8GHz
Average CPU Performance
Mono/Multi - GeekBench 5
1096 / 3049
743 / 1891
525 / 1577
Average GPU Performance 3DMark Wild Life Vulkan
We can see just as much of a downgrade an S21 FE LTE with a Snapdragon 720G would be against both the current S21 FE 5G and the A53 5G. CPU performance is halved against the 5G FE, while GPU performance plummeted to a fifth of what it was. The A53 5G has twice the GPU performance while the CPU fares quite a bit better, thanks to higher clocks for the A55 cluster and thanks to the newer A78s. I could also reveal that the A52 5G's SD778G fares better in both CPU and GPU benchmarks but that would only be pouring salt into the wound at this stage.
Again, taking the A52 LTE is fair as they have markedly the same dimensions and use the same materials. In fact, this would ever so slightly overestimate the S21 FE LTE's performance as the A52 is slightly bigger.
| Others and conclusion.
Alright, so this "lite" S21 FE, itself a "lite" S21, itself a "lite" S21+ will not perform well against its cheaper alternative. Any redeeming qualities to make the upgrade from the A53 5G worthwhile? Well, the cameras might remain better, for what it's worth. There should be 2GB of extra RAM and maybe, just maybe we may keep the Victus protection. Otherwise, I'm afraid to say no. A 100-200$ upgrade for these things, especially today as people face rising inflation, is impossible to justify.
The future Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 4G promises to be a very middling refresh, held back by its conservative processor. It will struggle to find a proper spot in the market, as demanding users will pay the small premium for the vastly superior SoC in the "true" S21 FE 5G, while price-conscious users will merrily take the noticeably cheaper A53 5G, facing nearly no downgrade in the process. A previous-gen 8-series Snapdragon SoC would've dramatically altered these conclusions
*1: Now that I have more free time, I may finish writing that review, translate it and publish it, perhaps at the end of the month?