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)  and $700 (£499, AU$1,099)  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 . You might have to put up with some performance lag on the , 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 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 operating system upgrades and five years of security updates. They also support : sub-6, C-band and millimeter wave.

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 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 , 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 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

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

723

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

1,086

Note:

Higher is better.

Geekbench 5 Multicore

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

1,778

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

3,137

Note:

Higher is better.

3DMark Wild Life Extreme

Samsung Galaxy A53 5G

636

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

1,389

Note:

Higher is better.

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 . 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 , 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.