Galaxy A53 5G vs. Galaxy S21 FE: Cameras, Speed and Battery Make the Biggest Difference

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At first glance, the $450 (£399, AU$699) Galaxy A53 5G and $700 (£499, AU$1,099) Galaxy S21 FE have a lot in common. Their screens are similarly sized, they each have multilens cameras and a nearly identical design. So which one’s right for you?

Samsung’s Galaxy S phones tend to get most of the attention, but the company’s cheaper Galaxy A lineup has been a quiet success. Galaxy A devices accounted for 58% of Samsung’s overall smartphone unit sales in 2021, while other models made up the remaining 42%, according to Counterpoint Research.

Overall, the Galaxy A53 5G offers more value for your money. It has a large screen with a high refresh rate for smoother scrolling, a decent camera for the price and impressive battery life. However, there are reasons why it costs $250 less than the Galaxy S21 FE. You might have to put up with some performance lag on the Galaxy A53, unlike the S21 FE. And Samsung’s more expensive phone has better cameras that can take clearer photos from a distance.

While the Galaxy S21 FE checks all the boxes for the most part, it also feels overpriced compared to the Galaxy A53 5G. The Galaxy S21 FE would be a much more tempting choice if it were regularly priced at $600, putting it right smack in the middle of the $450 Galaxy A53 and $800 Galaxy S22.

The good news is both phones are well positioned to last for a while. The Galaxy A53 and S21 FE are both guaranteed to get at least four years of Android operating system upgrades and five years of security updates. They also support all 5G frequencies: sub-6, C-band and millimeter wave.

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Here’s a closer look at how the two phones compare when it comes to design, performance, battery life and camera quality.

Similar phones, with slight differences

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
The Galaxy A53 5G.

 


Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Galaxy A53 5G and S21 FE essentially look the same, but with some minor differences. Both phones have a borderless screen with a centered hole punch cutout for the selfie camera. The back of each device is smooth with a matte finish, and unfortunately they both collect fingerprint smudges easily.

But the Galaxy S21 FE’s brushed metal edges and heavier build create a more premium look than the Galaxy A53 5G. Samsung also took a different approach with the camera module on each phone. The Galaxy S21 FE’s camera bump blends in with the edge of the device just like on the Galaxy S21 and S22 series, while the Galaxy A53’s has a full outline.

samsung-galaxy-s21-fe-cnet-review-2022-008
The Galaxy S21 FE.

 


Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Galaxy S21 FE is also more durable than the A53 5G. It has an IP68 rating, meaning it can withstand submersion in up to 1.5 meters of freshwater for up to 30 minutes. The Galaxy A53 5G’s IP67 rating means it can be dunked in one meter of freshwater for the same amount of time. Either way, Samsung doesn’t advise using these phones in the pool or at the beach.

Design shouldn’t be much of a factor when deciding between the two devices. They’re essentially the same, aside from a few minor tweaks. The same goes for display quality; both screens are roughly the same size (6.4 inches for the S21 FE versus the A53 5G’s 6.5 inches) and can each crank their refresh rates up to 120Hz.

The Galaxy S21 FE has better performance, but the A53 5G excels in battery life

samsung-galaxy-s21-fe-cnet-review-2022-016
The Galaxy S21 FE.

 


Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Galaxy A53 5G often feels more expensive than it is, but performance is one area where its price starts to show. There are times when the Galaxy A53 5G’s Exynos 1280 processor struggles to keep up as I’m scrolling and using apps. I noticed an occasional lag when closing apps and navigating between home screens and settings menus, but it’s not frequent enough to ruin my experience with the phone. However, I didn’t notice stuttering like this during my time with the Galaxy S21 FE, which runs on the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip as last year’s Galaxy S21.

Benchmark tests that measure general performance and graphics showed similar results, as you can see below.

Geekbench 5 Single Core

Geekbench 5 Multicore

3DMark Wild Life Extreme

Both phones also offer long enough battery life to get you through more than a day of usage, and they each support 25-watt fast charging. (Just remember you’ll have to purchase that power adapter separately). But the Galaxy A53 5G doesn’t support wireless charging, which likely isn’t a deal-breaker but could be worth considering if you already own a charging pad.

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
The Galaxy A53 5G.

 


Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Galaxy A53 5G’s 5,000-mAh battery had 50% of its battery the next morning after a full day, while the Galaxy S21 FE had 32% of its 4,500-mAh battery left after a day and a half. That’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it indicates they can last for a day and then some.

The Galaxy A53 5G blew the Galaxy S21 FE out of the water during CNET’s battery test. It lasted for 20 hours and 35 minutes, outperforming not only the S21 FE but the entire S22 lineup. The Galaxy S21 FE, on the other hand, drained its battery after 15 hours and 46 minutes. For this test, I continuously played local video on the device in airplane mode with the screen brightness set to 50%. Both phones also had the display motion smoothness setting set to high, which boosts the refresh rate to 120Hz.

The Galaxy S21 FE has a better camera, but sometimes it’s close

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
The Galaxy A53 5G.

 


Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Galaxy S21 FE and Galaxy A53 5G each have multilens cameras, but the difference is in the details. The S21 FE has a standard wide camera, an ultra-wide camera and a telephoto camera, while the Galaxy A53 5G has a main camera, ultra-wide camera, macro lens and depth camera. The main cameras on both phones also have optical image stabilization. But the key takeaway is the Galaxy A53’s lack of a telephoto lens means you won’t be able to take great photos from far away.

Many phone manufacturers tend to highlight megapixel count as being the primary metric for measuring a device’s camera quality. But elements like shutter speed, aperture (the camera’s opening for taking in light), and the size of both the sensor and the pixels themselves have a bigger impact on a camera’s ability to take great photos.

I’m far from a photography expert, but bigger is generally better when it comes to pixel size. For aperture, lower numbers are usually better. As you can see in the table below, the Galaxy S21 FE’s main camera has larger pixels than the A53 5G’s.

Galaxy S21 FE and Galaxy A53 5G Camera Specs

Cameras Resolution Aperture Pixel size (larger is better)
Galaxy A53 5G wide 64-megapixels f/1.8 0.8um
Galaxy S21 FE wide 12-megapixels f/1.8 1.8um
Galaxy A53 5G ultra wide 12-megapixels f/2.2 1.12um
Galaxy S21 FE ultra wide 12-megapixels f/2.2 1.12um
Galaxy S21 FE telephoto 8-megapixels f/2.4 1.0um

When it comes to general image quality from the main wide camera lens, the results were mixed. Photos taken on the Galaxy A53 5G and S21 FE looked very similar in some cases.

But in other instances, there was a clear winner. Take the photos of bushes below as an example. The Galaxy S21 FE’s photo looks sharper and more colorful with better lighting. But in the second photo set, the picture of my cat taken on the Galaxy A53 5G looked crisper than the A53 5G’s. The images of pink-flowered trees essentially look the same on both phones.

However, the Galaxy S21 FE was better at taking pictures in more specific circumstances. That includes capturing photos from a distance, in the dark and in portrait mode, as shown below.

Let’s be honest: Neither of these photos taken at a 10x zoom looks great. But the Galaxy S21 FE’s image is noticeably clearer than the A53 5G’s.

I also preferred the S21 FE’s brighter portrait mode photo over the A53’s. Even with the intentionally blurred background, the S21 FE does a better job of making the tree stand out against the sky.

My cat Buddy almost stayed still long enough for me to take the same photo with both phones. Even though the photos are slightly different, you can tell the Galaxy S21 FE’s picture is more detailed.

Despite image quality sometimes looking the same, I think the Galaxy S21 FE’s telephoto lens and better low light performance ultimately gives it the upper hand. But if you don’t care about that and just want an inexpensive phone that takes decent photos, the Galaxy A53 5G will do just fine.

Which one should you buy?

Galaxy A53 5G and Galaxy s21 FE
The Galaxy A53 5G (left) and Galaxy S21 FE (right).

 


Samsung

The answer depends on your budget and priorities. The Galaxy S21 FE is a better all-around phone for several reasons. The build quality is slightly better, the performance is smoother and the camera takes sharper photos in low light and from a distance. That being said, it’s hard to recommend the Galaxy S21 FE without encouraging you to consider the Galaxy S22, which starts at $800. It has a better camera and a more refined design, although you’ll have to compromise on battery life and display size. Check out our full story for more details on how to decide between the Galaxy S21 FE and Galaxy S22.

The best thing about the Galaxy A53 5G is its low price. At $450, it’s $250 less expensive than the Galaxy S21 FE. The Galaxy A53 punches above its weight most of the time — especially when it comes to battery life — making it easy to forget how cheap it is. But there are moments when the software will stutter or lag. You also won’t get the same camera quality as Samsung’s higher-end phones, although the A53 takes good photos for the price.

Overall, the Galaxy A53 5G is the right choice for those shopping for a phone on a tight budget, as long as you’re willing to cope with the occasional performance hiccup. The Galaxy S21 FE is a solid phone, but it feels a little lost in Samsung’s lineup at $700.

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G vs. Galaxy S21 FE

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Display size, resolution 6.5-inch AMOLED (2,400×1,080 pixels); 120 Hz 6.4-inch AMOLED; FHD Plus (2,400×1,080); 120 Hz
Pixel density 405 pixels per inch 401 pixels per inch
Dimensions (Inches) 6.28 x 2.94 x 0.32 in 6.13 x 2.93 x 0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 159.6 x 74.8 x 8.1 mm 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.67 oz; 189g 6.24 oz; 177g
Mobile software (at launch) Android 12 Android 12
Camera 64-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 5-megapixel (macro), 5-megapixel (depth) 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 8-megapixel (telephoto)
Front-facing camera 32-megapixel 32-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K
Processor Exynos 1280 Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (in the US)
Storage 128GB 128GB/6GB; 128/8GB; 256GB/8GB
RAM 6GB 6GB/8GB
Expandable storage Up to 1TB None
Battery 5,000 mAh (charger not included) 4,500 mAh (No bundled charger)
Fingerprint sensor In-display In-display
Connector USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack None None
Special features 5G-enabled (Sub-6 and mmWave); IP67 rating; 120Hz display;supports 25W wired fast charging, lacks wireless charging; Samsung Pay 5G (Sub-6GHz and mmWave), 120 Hz display, IP68 rating, 25W wired charging, 15W wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $450 $700 (6GB/128GB); $770 (8GB/256GB)
Price (GBP) £399 £699 (6GB/128GB); £749 (8GB/256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$699 AU$899 (6GB/128GB); AU$999 (8GB/256GB)

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

New for 2022, the Galaxy A53 gets you a plethora of Samsung features and power at a fraction of the S series price. It boasts a far larger screen and more versatile camera cluster than the iPhone SE, though Apple’s budget model delivers snappier performance.

Still, Samsung fans will appreciate what they’re getting here considering the affordable price. The Galaxy A53 5G has an ultrawide lens for taking photos with a broader field of view and also supports night-mode photography. Image quality isn’t as good as what you’d get on a more expensive Samsung phone like the Galaxy S21 FE or Galaxy S22, but it’s certainly clear and colorful enough for basic shots. Other highlights include a long-lasting battery, four guaranteed generations of Android operating system updates and a microSD card slot for expandable storage.

The Galaxy A53 5G is a suitable choice for those who want a large screen and long battery life for less than $500. Just keep in mind you might have to deal with some occasional lag, and the camera isn’t as advanced as those found on pricier phones. Read our Samsung Galaxy A53 5G review.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The first S20 FE seriously impressed us with its balance of performance and price, and the new Galaxy S21 FE takes that further with a solid triple camera, a vibrant display and the same powerful processor found in the flagship S21. It has a 6.5-inch screen, making it an ideal choice for those who want a phone that’s larger than the regular Galaxy S22 without the Galaxy S22 Plus’ high price. Although it’s missing some of the Galaxy S22’s bells and whistles — like improved night photography and a newer processor — this phone has a sharper front-facing camera for selfies and video calls.

The Galaxy S21 FE faces some tough competition from Google’s Pixel 6, but if you’re after a great overall Samsung phone and don’t want to pay top dollar for the flagships, then the S21 FE is well worth considering.

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