Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs OnePlus 9: Which phone should you buy?
The Galaxy S21 FE continues Samsung’s momentum in the budget flagship space with powerful internals and the latest Android version out of the box. It may not offer the best value right now, as we mentioned in our Galaxy S21 FE review, but that’s expected to change soon. There’s a lot to like about this particular phone and we keep coming back to it as a mainstream choice in the value flagship category right now. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs OnePlus 9 comparison to find out which one’s better.
The OnePlus 9 isn’t the latest flagship from the brand, but we think it’s aging quite well. A lot of that credit goes to the Snapdragon 888 delivering a buttery smooth experience. You also get some sweet additives including the 65W fast-charging support, a 120Hz AMOLED panel, and a decent set of cameras leveraging Hasselblad’s color science. But just how good is this phone overall, and is it worth picking up over something like the Galaxy S21 FE for around the price. Let’s find out.
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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs OnePlus 9: Specifications
Before we begin the comparison, let’s take a quick look at the specifications to find out what each of the smartphones brings to the table:
|Specification||Samsung Galaxy S21 FE||OnePlus 9|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
||In-display fingerprint scanner|
|Front Camera(s)||32MP, f/2,2||16MP Sony IMX471, f/2.4, FF, EIS|
|Port(s)||USB Type-C||USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-C|
|Software||OneUI 4.0 based on Android 12||OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11|
Looking at the specifications, it’s safe to say that this Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs OnePlus 9 comparison is going to be a nip and tuck affair. Both phones have very similar internal hardware with some minor differences. It’ll be interesting to see how they stack up against each other in different sections, so let’s take a look.
Design and build quality
Starting off with the design, we’d say Samsung is going with a minimal aesthetics for the Galaxy S21 FE whereas the OnePlus 9 has a svelte body. Both phones look modern but the OnePlus 9 shows off its flagship status with more premium materials. The Galaxy S21 FE features a plastic back with a metal frame while the OnePlus 9 is a glass sandwich with a fiberglass-reinforced polymer frame in the middle and Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front as well as the back. Even though you miss out on the glass back, we’d say the Galaxy S21 FE has a more robust chassis.
Naturally, the OnePlus 9 is also the heavier phone in this comparison, weighing as much as 192 grams. It also measures 8.7mm in thickness. You’ll have to go with the Galaxy S21 FE if you’re leaning toward a lighter and thinner phone as it weighs 177 grams and measures just 7.9mm in thickness. The matte finish also makes it easier to hold and use this phone overall.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is available in a bunch of fun pastel colors including Lavender, Olive, White, and Graphite. It’s also modeled after the Galaxy S21 series, so you get the contour cut design at the back, where the rear camera housing blends into the chassis. The OnePlus 9 has a more flashy design in comparison. You can get it in Astral Black, Winter Mist, and Arctic Sky colorways, all of which are designed in a way to turn heads and attract eyeballs. You get a pretty standard-looking camera module at the back with Hasselblad branding too. The OnePlus 9 sports the fan-favorite alert slider, a feature that we’ve come to love over the years. The difference in back-finish or the aesthetics isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for many as they’ll be covering it with a case in the name of protecting the device. If you’re going to use a case, which we highly recommend you do, then be sure to check out our collection of the best Galaxy S21 FE cases and the best OnePlus 9 cases to find some solid options.
As for the durability, all models of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE come with an IP68 rating whereas only the T-Mobile version of the OnePlus 9 gets the IP68 dust and water resistance. There are similar restrictions in other areas too. The Indian variant of the OnePlus 9, for instance, lacks wireless charging. That, however, isn’t the case with the Galaxy S21 FE, as all models come with an IP68 rating and support for wireless charging. Neither phone has a 3.5mm headphone jack or a microSD card slot. That’s not really a surprise considering how most flagship phones these days don’t allow you to expand storage externally or use a wired pair of earbuds or headphones without an adapter.
Moving over to the front, both phones in this comparison have 120Hz AMOLED screens with the OnePlus 9 being slightly on the larger side. The Galaxy S21 FE features a 6.4-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X while the OnePlus 9 features a 6.55-inch FHD+ AMOLED panel. There’s a punch-hole camera cutout on the front panel of both phones too. While the Galaxy S21 FE has it on the top center of the display, the OnePlus 9 features a camera cutout towards the left-hand corner. We’re looking at two of the best displays in this segment and we think you’ll absolutely have no complaints with either of the phone’s displays. You get HDR 10+ support on both panels with support for a high refresh rate and good brightness levels.
Both phones also feature an in-display fingerprint scanner, and they’re both quite fast and reliable. It’s worth pointing out that the Galaxy S21 FE earns some brownie points for having a Gorilla Glass Victus for the front glass pane. The OnePlus 9, on the other hand, features a Gorilla Glass 5 panel. We expect the “new” Gorilla Glass Victus to be a bit more resilient, but it goes without saying that you might want to use a screen protector. These are glass panels at the end of the day and they’re bound to break if/when they take a significant hit. You can check out our collection of the best Galaxy S21 FE screen-protectors to find some good options.
Both the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and the OnePlus 9 offer a good set of internals for the price, and that’s one of the biggest draws for these phones in this category. We’re looking at the Snapdragon 888 SoC inside both phones, which is known for delivering reliable performance in most day-to-day workloads. The Galaxy S21 FE uses the in-house Exynos 2100 in most global markets including India, but that’s also on par with the Snapdragon 888 chip. You’re bound to see some performance difference while running, say, a benchmark app or some resource-intensive application, but the general performance should be outstanding in each case.
The base variant of both devices will fetch you 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, so no difference there. Although the Galaxy S21 FE only comes with 6GB of RAM in some markets when you pick up the base variant, so keep that in mind. The top-of-the-line variant of the Galaxy S21 FE comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, whereas the OnePlus 9 gets 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage on the top-end. It’s also worth mentioning that you get support for both Sub-6 and mmWave 5G as standard with the Galaxy S21 FE in North America, but you only get the mmWave 5G option on the OnePlus 9 if you pick up the carrier variant. The unlocked model is limited to Sub-6 bands, so keep that in mind while making a purchase decision.
Lastly, there’s the topic of battery life. Both phones in this comparison pack a 4,500 mAh battery inside, which should be enough to last for an entire day’s worth of use without any issues. The OnePlus 9, however, has an edge over the Galaxy S21 FE due to its battery chops. For starters, it supports 65W wired charging to top up the phone’s battery in just over 30 minutes. The Galaxy S21 FE, with its 25W fast charging, will take more than an hour to do so. Notably, you also have to buy a charger separately for the Galaxy S21 FE since it doesn’t come with one included in the box. OnePlus is yet to follow this trend, thankfully, so you still get a charger inside the box.
It’s also worth pointing out that all models of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE support 15W Qi wireless charging and reverse wireless charging. However, only the North American and European variants of the OnePlus 9 support wireless charging, and the feature is distinctly missing from the Indian variant.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE sports a triple camera setup which includes a 12MP primary lens, a 12MP wide-angle camera, and an 8MP module that offers 3x optical zoom. It’s not quite the 100x space zoom feature found on the flagship models, but this is capable of doing 30X space zoom. And the OIS support makes it that much easier too. The OnePlus 9 features a 48MP primary camera, a massive 50MP lens for the wide-angle lens, and a 2MP monochrome camera. The Hasselblad camera is one of the USPs of the OnePlus 9. OnePlus is only leveraging Hasselblad’s color science, though. As we mentioned in our OnePlus 9 camera review, the Hasselblad color science has improved overall camera performance. It may not be the best shooter around, but it certainly delivers a refreshing camera experience.
Since the Galaxy S21 FE has almost the same camera configuration as the Galaxy S21, and because the Galaxy S21 generally captures excellent photos, we think you’ll have no issues with the S21 FE either. Again, it’s not winning any awards for capturing the best photos out there right now, but the overall photo quality is great. We’ll add some camera samples captured using both phones below, so be sure to take a look and see which one you like the best.
The Galaxy S21 FE features a 32MP selfie shooter on the front, while the OnePlus 9 comes with a 16MP Sony IMX471 for selfies. When it comes to video recording, the Galaxy S21 FE captures [email protected] videos on all cameras, while [email protected] is available only to the main and selfie cameras. The OnePlus 9 can also record [email protected] videos but it has a slight advantage with support for [email protected] videos.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE camera samples
OnePlus 9 camera samples
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs OnePlus 9: Which one should you buy?
Both Samsung and OnePlus have a great value flagship in the form of the Galaxy S21 FE and OnePlus 9, respectively. With the S21 FE, Samsung has managed to deliver a great overall experience, albeit a bit expensive. If you ignore its price tag, then the Galaxy S21 FE just seems like a no-brainer for those who are looking to buy a value flagship smartphone without spending upwards of $1,000. The same is the case with the OnePlus 9 too, but there’s a bit of uncertainty on the software side of things from OnePlus.
The Galaxy S21 FE comes with OneUI 4.0 based on Android 12 out of the box while the OnePlus 9 — having launched a year earlier — runs Android 11 out of the box. Both devices are slated to get three years of Android updates, which means the Galaxy S21 FE will switch to Android 15 (or whatever it’s called at that time) whereas the OnePlus 9 will see Android 14. Even if you don’t plan on using the Galaxy S21 FE for the next three years, the fact that it’s guaranteed to get three major updates after Android 12 means it will be worth just that little bit more in the resale market. But if that doesn’t bother you, then you won’t be disappointed by the OnePlus 9 too. It delivers reliable performance, offers a good set of cameras, and a great display too. It also helps that the OnePlus 9 costs $100 less than the Galaxy S21 FE, making it a great option to consider right now. We expect Samsung to reduce the S21 FE’s price in the future, but it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to wait for that inevitable price cut.
The latest budget flagship from Samsung is a great phone, as long as you get it on sale.
The vanilla OnePlus 9 is for those who want flagship performance but don't want to pay top dollar.
You can check out both phones using the links mentioned above. We also encourage you to visit our best Galaxy S21 FE deals and the best OnePlus 9 deals pages to see if you can snag a good discount on your purchase. Alternatively, you can also check out our collection of the best Android phones right now to see which phones are holding the top spots in the Android ecosystem.