Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Google Pixel 6: The battle of the affordable flagships

When Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 FE back in 2020 for $699, we thought it was among the best Android smartphones you could buy in its segment. Fast forward to 2022, and the outlook seems radically different for its much-delayed successor, the Galaxy S21 FE. Unlike the case 16 months ago when there were no compelling “affordable flagships” that put up a fight against the S20 FE, customers looking to spend $500 to $800 on a smartphone today have a myriad of options to choose from.

With its $699 price tag, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE inevitably locks horns with one of these options — the Google Pixel 6. With a starting price of $599, not only is the Pixel 6 a good $100 cheaper, it actually stacks up well against the S21 FE. We were impressed in our Pixel 6 review and awarded it a 4-star rating.

So, if you have between $500 and $800 to spend on a new smartphone and are on the fence, confused between the Galaxy S21 FE and the Google Pixel 6, this article might just be the thing you need to arrive at an informed decision. Let’s dive right in and figure out which of these phones you should be spending your hard-earned money on!

Specs

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Google Pixel 6
Size 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm (6.12 x 2.93 x 0.31 inches) 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9mm (6.29 x 2.93 x 0.41 inches)
Weight 177 grams (6.24 ounces) 207 grams (7.30 ounces)
Screen size 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X capacitive touchscreen (120Hz) 6.4-inch OLED capacitive touchscreen (90Hz)
Screen resolution 2400 x 1080 pixels (411 pixels per inch) 2400 x 1080 pixels (411 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 12, One UI 4.0 Android 12
Storage 128GB, 256GB 128GB, 256GB
MicroSD card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Google Tensor, Titan M2 coprocessor
RAM 6GB, 8GB 8GB
Camera 12-megapixel wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 8MP telephoto rear, 32MP front 50-megapixel wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 8MP front
Video 4K at 60 frames per second 4K at 60 frames per second
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.2
Ports USB-C, 3.1 USB-C, 3.1
Fingerprint sensor Yes, in-display Yes, in-display
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Battery 4,500mAh

Fast charging (25W)

Fast wireless charging (15W)

4,614mAh

Fast charging (30W)

Fast wireless charging (21W)

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network Support AT&T, Verizon Verizon
Colors Olive, Lavender, White, Graphite Stormy Black, Sorta Seaform, Kinda Coral
Prices $699+ $599
Review score News 4 out of 5 stars

Design, display, and durability

  • 1. 1. Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
  • 2. 2. Google Pixel 6

The Google Pixel 6’s design is a huge departure from last year’s Pixel devices — particularly when you get to the rear panel. The design changes made here have (generally) been well-liked by people across the board. The central design element here is the large, elevated camera strip that spans the entire width of the phone. Apart from providing visual relief to an otherwise uneventful rear panel, this design also happens to be somewhat functional in nature and lets you keep the Pixel 6 on flat surfaces without wobbling.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 makes no attempts at hiding its connection to the Galaxy S21 family. Again, this is evident from the rear camera module, which bears the now-famous Galaxy S21 series look. But that aside, there is nothing exciting going on here. Samsung does offer you four very good color options, but that’s just about exciting a polycarbonate rear panel could get.

The Google Pixel 6 scores easy brownie points over the Galaxy S21 FE and definitely looks more premium of the two. And this is primarily because of its glass-clad metal body. And if that wasn’t all, the Pixel 6 matches the S21 FE (well, almost!) when it comes to offering interesting color options.

If you’re fussy about phone sizes and were considering the Pixel 6 because it is a compact device, that’s actually a point in favor of the Galaxy S21 FE. Yes, surprising as it may seem, the Pixel 6 is slightly bigger, and at 207 grams, it is substantially heavier than the 179-gram Samsung. So, if compact phones are your thing, the Galaxy S21 FE is the one to go for here.

The Google Pixel 6’s 6.4-inch AMOLED panel is the same size as the Galaxy S21 FE’s. They share the same resolution numbers and have Gorilla Glass Victus’s improved scratch resistance and durability. But the Galaxy S21 surges ahead with a higher 120Hz refresh rate and 240Hz touch sampling rate, which is objectively better than the 90Hz, 144Hz sampling rate display on the Pixel 6 — especially if you play games.

Besides, the S21 FE also gets the supposedly superior AMOLED 2X panel compared to the Pixel 6’s standard OLED panel. Another screen-related similarity between the two is the presence of an under-display fingerprint scanner on both phones. However, initial reviews indicate that the S21 FE’s fingerprint unlock mechanism works flawlessly — quite unlike the one on the Pixel 6’s scanner that has been riddled with bugs since the phone’s release.

Both smartphones are evenly matched when it comes to ingress protection and durability, thanks to their IP68 rating. However, the Galaxy S21, because of its polycarbonate panel, is technically better equipped to take in an occasional fall without you needing to visit a service center for a cracked rear panel.

Even though the Galaxy S21 has several things going for it, we have to award this one to the Pixel 6, which feels better and is almost as good as the S21 FE in terms of other features, while also costing $100 less. Besides, some of the “issues” on the Pixel 6 can be sorted by a mere software update.

Winner: Google Pixel 6

Performance, battery life, and charging

Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE’s powerful Snapdragon 888 chip may not be the newest kid on the SoC block anymore, but it is still a beast of a performer. In terms of raw performance and benchmark scores, it easily leaves Google’s new Tensor chip behind.

But then benchmark scores don’t matter that much in real life. Besides, the so-called difference in performance between the two will only manifest in intensive tasks like gaming and heavy multitasking. For day-to-day tasks, Google’s Tensor chip — which is also a flagship-grade SoC — should be more than enough.

Google’s Tensor chip also gets a powerful A.I. and ML-focused Tensor Processing Unit which should work well with Google’s existing and upcoming A.I.-centric initiatives ranging from computational photography and automatic speech recognition to an improved Google Assistant experience.

The Google Pixel 6 is physically larger than the Galaxy S21 FE and also boasts a slightly bigger battery. However, the difference in capacity is marginal, and the 4,500mAh cell on the Samsung should hold fairly well against the 4,614mAh battery on the Pixel 6.

Google also supports faster 30W fast charging — which on the Samsung is restricted to 25W. The Pixel 6 also gets faster (21W) wireless charging support compared to the S21 FE’s 15W. So even though the Galaxy S21 FE seems to trail the Pixel 6 in terms of its battery capacity and charging speeds, we expect real-life performance to be much closer — thereby resulting in no clear winner here.

As far as battery life is concerned, this will depend on the kind of usage you subject your phone to. However, recent improvements in OneUI and stock Android should endow both phones with good battery life. We’ll update this section with more battery-centric information once we get to review the Galaxy S21 FE.

This section would have been a tie – but the presence of the uber-powerful Snapdragon 888 chip on the Galaxy S21 forces us to award this one to the Galaxy S21 FE — especially because the phones are evenly matched in most other departments.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21

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