Can it become your new favorite CQB PDW?
Specna Arms (SA) has been steadily building a reputation for great quality RIFs at reasonable prices in recent years, so I jumped at the chance to review one for myself to see what the fuss is all about.
From the moment you open the box, you know this is a step above the usual sub-£200 RIF. Admittedly, the SA-E21 PDW EDGE only just comes under that barrier at around £195, but it looks, feels and performs well enough to embarrass far more expensive hardware.
Looks to kill
The E21’s finish throughout is impressive and it’s solidly built in a way that suggests your day won’t be cut short through breakage if you drop it onto a hard surface. Not that we’d recommend making a habit of it…
The metal construction throughout is reassuringly solid – which on this PDW model even includes the telescopic stock, other than the polymer ‘foot’ with its non-slip texture.
The upper receiver on our review sample is a beautiful bronze affair that’s sure to be the envy of many VFC Gladius owners spending twice as much. It’s devoid of intrusive markings and SA even tells us that the hardware features a ‘Nano Coating’ to prevent scratches. With skirmishes sadly off the agenda for the foreseeable due to world events, the PDW hasn’t faced a proper field test, but other than an early bright spot on the angular protuberance behind the ejection port, it’s otherwise held up well to the rigours we’ve put it through so far.
The lower receiver bears a subtle SA logo to the left above the ‘5.56mm NATO’ legend that these tired old eyes needed a magnifier to read. The right bears the words ‘Specna Arms Industries’, while both sides show Safe, Semi and Auto. The whole package is beautifully devoid of any obnoxious safety warnings that blight many RIFs.
Our review sample also came with both a QR code and holographic stickers to prove authenticity.
As standard, the SA-E21 PDW comes with a 6.03mm inner barrel, as well as a rotary hop-up adjuster that’s accessed by pulling – and holding open – the asymmetric charging handle. That explains why both the bolt release and forward assist are purely decorative.
And that charging handle isn’t the only sign that this RIF isn’t designed for left-handers; both the fire select switch and mag release are only only the ‘nearside’ too. As a conventional shooter, I actually prefer this as it reduces the opportunity for unintentionally operating either interface with your loadout, but it means that Southpaws aren’t catered for at all.
Both controls feel well engineered and operate precisely. The fire mode is particularly crisp and better than you might find from more established manufacturers. The range of adjustment through the minimalist stock’s three positions is up to 9cm, which makes for a small AR that will be comfortable for players of most sizes.
The included iron sights – or should that be plastic sights? – pop up when pressed into service and do a decent enough job. And not only is that short forward rail M-LOK compatible, but you also get a stubby foregrip with internal storage. It’s secured by just one mounting point, so it rotates more than ideal and we’d recommend switching it out sooner rather than later, but it’s great to see one included as standard.
Speaking of which, you get not just one, but two S-MAG mid-cap magazines with a capacity of 125 BBs each. They’re SA’s exclusive polymer magazine and work well enough, even if they feel a bit cheap and plasticky. But kudos to SA for setting up new players with a spare magazine for mid-skirmish reloads from the get-go.
The SA-E21 also feeds just fine from every mid and high capacity magazine we’ve thrown at it.
Any RIF with a Mosfet practically demands that you run an 11.1 LiPo battery to get the most out of it, but even though the SA-E21 PDW features GATE’s X-ASR as standard, good luck finding a battery pack to fit the dummy buffer tube. Your maximum dimensions are 15x11x115mm with a Deans/T-plug and even many 7.4 stick packs are just too long to fit. Of course, other rear-wired PDWs face the same restrictions, but it’s something to bear in mind.
In any event, the X-ASR should improve the trigger response, extend the life of both the electronics and the battery, as well as allowing basic diagnostics through the signal diodes.
The ORION gearbox is compatible with M140 springs and the SA-E21 comes as standard with a reinforced polymer piston with full steel jaw, aluminum nozzle and cylinder head, bearing spring guide, steel gears and 8mm bearings.
It’s also surprisingly straightforward to access the gearbox, just by squeezing in the base of the polymer QD pistol grip without the need for any tools.
But for all its Nanos, GATES and M140s, what’s the SA-E21 PDW like to shoot?
Really good. And for under £200? Really, REALLY good! I’ve had the pleasure of using a wide range of airsoft RIFs, from budget starter guns all the way up to fully-fettled firestarters and you know what? If I started all over again tomorrow, I’d be hard pressed to find a reason not to buy the SA-E21.
Well, okay, I’d go for a fuller-framed option in SA’s line-up, but what we have on test here is their entry into the highly competitive PDW sector. Shorter barrels usually mean lower FPS, but the SA-E21 turns in a respectable 340 FPS on average, which makes it just about perfect for most UK/European sites with a limit of 350FPS for AEGs.
That means it has plenty of punch and can easily lift heavier BBs for better accuracy at range, making up for that shorter barrel. With just 10FPS between max and min output as recorded, the SA-E21 is also consistent – which makes for more accurate shooting too.
At 25m outdoors, it achieved a 3-inch grouping; all slightly low and left, but predictable throughout. Adjusting the hop brought shots up, but still off to the left – you’d either need to compensate or dial in your sights with a right-bias.
But you won’t be looking to make 3-inch shots at that range in a skirmish, when a hit is a hit, after all. Even far beyond that distance, the SA-E21 still consistently lands shots on a torso-sized target to a surprising degree. It seems that this is the little RIF that can.
It’s often said in airsoft that spending more doesn’t always deliver more – and the reasonably priced SA-E21 PDW bears that out. What we have here is a sub-£200 RIF that confidently outperforms more expensive rivals for both build and performance.
If I was looking to buy My First RIF (™) that I wouldn’t outgrow anytime soon – and especially if my local field was CQB – then Specna Arms’ SA-E21 PDW EDGE carbine would be right at the top of my list.
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ABOUT THE NEW AMNB EDITOR – Steve T
More familiar with a keyboard than KeyMod, Steve’s been writing professionally for decades and playing airsoft for years. Usually to be found lurking in the undergrowth of South-West England, he normally eschews workaday M4s and Glocks for oddball options such as his beloved Tactical Tuna, the F2000.