Samsung’s first big release of the year has arrived with the Galaxy S21 FE. With odd timing and a high price, though, it feels like a tough sell despite, after a few hours using it, it seems like a solid device.

Looking at the Galaxy S21 FE in a bubble after my first day or so of use, it’s a solid device. It has a wonderful screen that shines even compared to Samsung’s most expensive flagships, and the spec sheet on paper is solid even as we start seeing 2022’s first high-end releases. In my limited testing so far, performance is admirable as well.

The hardware isn’t half bad, either. The plastic body of the S21 FE is refreshingly light and a marginally smaller size compared to last year’s S20 FE. The new design also moves closer to what the rest of the S21 series uses, with the camera bump pushed over to the top corner of the device. It’s a good look, and I really like the subtle look of the “Graphite” colorway Samsung sent over, though it is a fingerprint magnet.

What’s the problem, then? Samsung made a good phone, and it makes perfect sense to have made a sequel to the Galaxy S20 FE looking at its sales figures. However, what makes the Galaxy S21 FE such a headscratcher is just when it’s launching, and how much it costs.

Looking first at the timing, the Galaxy S21 FE is launching roughly three months after it should have. That was supposedly due to shortages, but whatever the cause, it means this phone is being released just barely a month before the Galaxy S22 series makes its debut. While the S22 series will most certainly not match the starting price of the S21 FE, it will have better specs and most likely some new features that this phone simply won’t.

The other, bigger issue, is the pricing. At $699, the Galaxy S21 FE isn’t really filling the same gap that the Galaxy S20 FE was when it came out. At that point, Samsung was selling its flagship series from $999 and up, and the upper mid-range segment of the Android market didn’t really exist as it does today. Fast forward to 2022, and Samsung’s Galaxy S21 has a retail price of $799, but is often discounted to much lower price points. That’s a phone with a virtually identical offer to the S21 FE.

Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is Google’s Pixel 6. That $599 device took us all by surprise with its shockingly great value. Looking the Pixel 6 versus the Galaxy S21 FE, too, it’s hard to see why Samsung’s phone is the better call. Both devices are similarly sized and have Android 12 out of the box, but the Pixel has better build materials, a rock-solid camera experience, and a package that, overall, felt like the best offer of the year in our opinion.

There are a few things that Samsung technically does better. The Galaxy S21 FE has a faster refresh rate and, in turn, a faster touch sampling rate which does make the phone feel slightly faster compared to Google’s. It also has a telephoto camera that Google’s phone lacks entirely. But, personally, I’d argue that neither of these features are worth $100.

Where this phone will likely shine over the next few months is at carriers, at least in the United States. With a cheaper price than the Galaxy S22 series, Samsung’s carrier partners will probably be eager to offer the S21 FE for free with trade-ins or new lines, or at heavily discounted rates. That’s exactly what we saw with the S20 FE, and it worked.

The Galaxy S21 FE will be available in the US and other regions starting on January 11.

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Ben Schoon

Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

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