The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and Google Pixel 6 both claim to offer groundbreaking excitement at a price a little lower than you might expect to pay.
We’ve tested both phones extensively, and you can read our reviews in the links above. But if you’re simply looking for the lowdown on where the Affordable Flagship is the better phone, you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s our final view on the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and the Google Pixel 6.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6: Price and Availability
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE was released on January 7, 2022, about a year after the rest of the S21 lineup. It costs £699/$699/AU$999 for the 6GB/128GB model, and £749/$769.99/AU$1,099 for the 8GB/256GB model.
The Google Pixel 6 landed a few months ago, on October 28, 2021. Pixel 6 prices start at $599 / £599/AU$999 for 128GB. There is also a 256GB model in the US and Australian markets, which costs $699/AU$1129.
We called the Galaxy S21 FE “too expensive” in our review, because its rival, the Pixel 6, is about $100/£100 cheaper.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is very similar to the Galaxy S21 – hence, the Galaxy S22. All of these Samsung phones are recognizable by the company’s “Contour Cut” camera module design, which appears to flow out of the phone’s frame.
The Google Pixel 6’s design is all-new, with a bold, full-width camera module that resembles a futuristic visor. We also dig into the two-tone color scheme. The Pixel 6 (along with the Pixel 6 Pro) is very likely the best phone Google has ever made.
Speaking of colors, the Galaxy S21 FE comes in white, graphite (black), lavender (purple), and olive (green). The Pixel 6 gives you options for Stormy Black, Sorta Seafoam, and Kinda Coral.
One disappointing feature that the Galaxy S21 FE shares with the Galaxy S21 is a plastic body, which looks a bit cheap given its price. In fact, you might find yourself wondering about the price difference between the S21 and the Pixel 6 when you see that the Pixel is made entirely of glass and metal.
The Galaxy S21 FE is the smallest and lightest device here. It measures 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm and weighs 177 grams, while the Pixel 6 measures 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9 mm and weighs 207 grams.
Both phones are IP68 certified, so they have the same level of dust and water resistance. But as for the overall design, the Pixel 6 beat the S21 FE.
Both phones give you two 6.4-inch FHD+ OLED screens, and each of our reviewers noted how vibrant they were.
The Galaxy S21 FE has a slight advantage over the Pixel 6 due to its 120Hz refresh rate. Google phone only reaches 90Hz.
The vast majority of people won’t notice any difference, but the Galaxy S21 FE’s screen is noticeably smoother when scrolling through web pages, emails, and the like.
In our review, we described the Galaxy S21 FE’s display as a “strong suit”. Meanwhile, the Pixel 6’s display is a welcome upgrade from the Pixel 5’s.
Many competitors will put their own camera cutouts in the corner, but the S21 FE and Pixel 6 both put their own cutouts in the middle of the top. We don’t have a particular preference, but this design choice gives these phones a pleasing sense of symmetry.
Each phone offers its own imaging capabilities but they also share some similarities. The Galaxy S21 FE has a triple-camera system with a dedicated telephoto lens. On the other hand, the Pixel 6 gives you a dual camera system without optical zoom.
Samsung has opted for a 12MP ultra-wide sensor, backed by a 12MP plus 8MP ultra-wide camera. The latter allows you to capture 1.1x optical zoom and 3x hybrid zoom shots.
The Google phone uses a 50MP wide sensor, which is also supported by a 12MP widescreen monitor. You can take 2x magnified shots, but these are just crops from this wide, pixelated sensor.
Unsurprisingly, we found that the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE’s camera performance is largely comparable to that of the S21. This means that the S21 camera delivers sharp and bright shots filled with saturated colors suitable for social media.
Meanwhile, the Pixel 6 takes better photos in most conditions. The nuances of colors and shades are simply on another level when compared to the shots captured with the Galaxy S21 FE. Google phone photos give you more realistic ringtone and clearer night shots.
The only area where Samsung reigns supreme is in those zoom shots, given that it has a telephoto lens, which the Pixel 6 lacks.
Both camera systems bring software tricks to the table. Samsung gives you Single Take, which takes 5 to 15 seconds of videos and pulls your best shots and shots. Google offers Face Unblur, which removes blurring of human faces, and Magic Eraser, which allows you to remove photo bomber with one click.
Both phones can record 4K video footage at 60 frames per second.
Specifications and performance
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is powered by the Snapdragon 888, which is a generation successor to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 of the Galaxy S22 family.
It’s still faster than the custom Tensor chip that powers the Google Pixel 6, at least in terms of raw CPU power. The Geekbench 5 multi-core average score of 2,837 is lower than the Galaxy S21 FE, which averages around 3100.
Google will tell you that its custom Tensor chip is all about machine learning, or ML, capabilities. Thanks to these additional smart features, the Pixel can perform unique camera tricks and quickly transcribe speech in real time..
It is important to note that a few numbers in a benchmark test result means nothing compared to the experience of using both phones. And on that front, there’s really nothing in between.
Both phones are equally fast when it comes to browsing the web or playing games. High-end games run smoothly on both devices.
Both phones give you 8GB of RAM and a choice between 128GB or 256GB of storage, depending on your region.
There is a major difference when it comes to software. The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE runs Android 12, with Samsung’s One UI 4 fork on top. The Pixel 6 runs on pure Android 12, just as Google intended it.
While Samsung’s user interface has come a long way in recent years and is likely to be more customizable than Android, it’s still a bit cluttered and less cohesive.
Moreover, some of the software’s features are only available on a Google phone (thanks to the Tensor chip), such as the ability to live voice translation. We’re already digging into Google’s Material You color palette formatting system as well, which syncs UI elements and UI icons to match the chosen color theme.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE gives you a 4,500mAh battery, while the Pixel 6 packs a 4,612mAh battery. These are actually very similar.
With the Galaxy S21 FE, our reviewer found that “heavy use ensures that we will need to charge the mobile early in the evening to keep it powered on until the next morning.” In our Pixel 6 review, we noted that the phone “makes it comfortable during a full day of use,” but concluded that it’s an “average battery.”
The Pixel might have the fewest bezels, then, with a combination of that slightly larger battery and a less demanding 90Hz screen. But neither of these phones is a champion in stamina.
When it comes to recharging, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE supports 25W charging, while the Pixel 6 can only offer 21W charging support. Neither gives you a charging brick in the box, which leaves both reeling behind the likes of the Xiaomi 12 and OnePlus 10 Pro.
Both phones support wireless charging.
Since there were only two months between Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and Google Pixel 6 reviews, it’s not hard to decide which phone we think is the best one to buy. We rated the Pixel 6 one point out of 10.
There are several reasons for this. While the two phones are generally reasonably identical, the Pixel 6 gives you a better camera and a more modern design for $100/£100 less.
The Galaxy S21 FE is a good phone taken in isolation, but it was launched too late in the day, and at a price too high, to get an unconditional recommendation. Despite a few shortcomings (like the lack of a telephoto lens), the Pixel 6 got a nod from us.
The Galaxy S21 FE is a good phone that suffered a tragic launch. Pixel 6 is simply a good phone.