Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6

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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6: Which affordable flagship hits the mark?

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A Google Pixel 6 (left) and a Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (right) (Image credit: Google / Samsung)

Table of Content (toc)

Both the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and the Google Pixel 6 claim to offer thrills for a slightly lower price than you'd expect to pay.

We tested both phones extensively, and you can read our reviews at the links above. But if you're just looking for the "affordable flagship" that's the best phone, you've come to the right place.

Here's our definitive take 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 launched on January 7, 2022, about a year after the rest of the S21 lineup. It costs £699 / $699 / AU$999 for the 6GB RAM / 128GB storage model and £749 / $769.99 / AU$1,099 for the 8GB / 256GB model.

The Google Pixel 6 landed a few months earlier, on October 28, 2021. Pixel 6 prices start at $599 / £599 / AU$999 for 128GB. There's also a 256GB model in the US and Australian markets, which costs $699 / AU$1,129.

We described the Galaxy S21 FE as "too expensive" in our review, and that's because its rival, the Pixel 6, is around $100/£100 cheaper.


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A Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Design

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE looks a lot like the Galaxy S21 and by extension the Galaxy S22. All of these Samsung phones are identifiable by the design of the company's "Contour Cut" camera module, which appears to protrude from the frame of the phone.

The design of Google's Pixel 6 is completely new, with a bold full-width camera module that resembles a futuristic visor. We're also digging deeper into the two-tone color palette. The Pixel 6 (along with the Pixel 6 Pro) is probably the best-looking phone Google has ever made.

Speaking of colors, the Galaxy S21 FE is available in White, Graphite (black), Lavender (purple), and Olive (green). The Pixel 6 gives you Stormy Black, Sorta Seafoam, and Kinda Coral options.


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The Google Pixel 6 has a glass and metal build

One disappointing feature the Galaxy S21 FE shares with the Galaxy S21 is a plastic body, which feels a bit cheap considering its price. In fact, you might be wondering about the price difference between the S21 and the Pixel 6 when you see that the Pixel is all glass and metal.

The Galaxy S21 FE is the smallest and lightest device here. It measures 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm and weighs 177g, while the Pixel 6 measures 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9mm and weighs 207g.

Both phones are IP68 certified, so they have the same level of resistance to dust and water. But when it comes to the overall design, the Pixel 6 beats the S21 FE.


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The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE has a 120Hz refresh rate

Display

Both phones give you 6.4-inch FHD+ OLED screens, and our reviewers noted how vibrant they were.

The Galaxy S21 FE has a slight edge over the Pixel 6 due to its 120Hz refresh rate. Google's phone only hits 90Hz.

The vast majority of people won't notice the difference, but the Galaxy S21 FE's screen is noticeably smoother when scrolling through web pages, emails, and more.


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The Google Pixel 6 is limited to 90Hz (Image credit: Future)

In our review, we describe the display of the Galaxy S21 FE as its "highlight". Meanwhile, the Pixel 6's display is a welcome upgrade from the Pixel 5's.

Many rivals will put their camera cutouts in a corner, but the S21 FE and Pixel 6 will put them in the middle of the top. We don't have a particular preference, but this design choice gives these phones a nice sense of symmetry.

Camera

Each phone offers its own photographic capabilities, but they also share some similarities. The Galaxy S21 FE has a triple camera system with a dedicated telephoto lens. The Pixel 6, on the other hand, gives you a dual-camera system with no optical zoom feature.

Samsung has opted for a 12-megapixel wide-angle sensor, supported by a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle and an 8-megapixel telephoto lens. The latter allows you to take photos with 1.1x optical zoom and 3x hybrid zoom.

Google's phone uses a 50-megapixel wide sensor, which is also backed by a 12-megapixel ultra-wide. You can capture 2x zoom shots, but they're just cropping from that wide, pixel-packed sensor.


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The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE wins for zoom shots

Unsurprisingly, we found the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE's camera performance to be broadly comparable to the S21. This means the S21 delivers sharp, bright photos full of oversaturated colors suitable for social media.

Meanwhile, the Pixel 6 takes better photos in most conditions. The nuance of colors and shadows is simply on another level compared to the shots captured by the Galaxy S21 FE. Google phone images give you a more realistic tone and much clearer night shots.

The only area where Samsung reigns supreme is in those zoomed-in shots, given that it has a telephoto lens, which the Pixel 6 lacks.

Both camera systems bring software tricks to the table. Samsung offers you Single Take, which captures 5-15 second video clips and extracts the best still images and footage. Google offers Face Unblur, which erases blurry human faces, and Magic Eraser, which lets you remove photo-bombers with just a tap.

Both phones can record video footage at 4K resolution and 60fps.


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The Google Pixel 6 has a distinctive camera block

Specs and performance

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is powered by Snapdragon 888, which is one generation behind Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 in the Galaxy S22 family.

It's still faster than the custom Tensor chip that powers the Google Pixel 6, though, at least in terms of raw CPU power. An average Geekbench 5 multi-core score of 2837 is lower than the Galaxy S21 FE, which averages around 3100.

Google will tell you that your custom Tensor chip has to do with ML or machine learning capabilities. With these additional features, Pixel can achieve its unique camera tricks and fast real-time voice transcription.

It's important to note that some numbers in a comparison test result mean nothing compared to the experience of using both phones. And on that front, there really is nothing between them.

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 of 128GB or 256GB of storage, depending on your region.

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The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE has an overlay on top of Android (Image credit: Future)

There is a key 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 pure Android 12, just as Google intended.

While Samsung's UI has come a long way in recent years and is potentially more customizable than Android's, it's still a bit cluttered and less consistent.

Plus, some software features are only available on Google's phone (thanks to that Tensor chip), like the ability to translate live audio. We also like Google's Material You color palette coordination system, which is used to sync widgets and UI icons to match a chosen color theme.

Battery

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE offers you a 4,500 mAh battery, while the Pixel 6 comes with a 4,612 mAh battery. These are indeed very similar.

With the Galaxy S21 FE, our tester found that "heavy usage required us to recharge the phone early in the evening to keep it going until the next morning." In our Pixel 6 review, we noted that the phone "comfortably gets through an entire day of use," but concluded that it had "average battery life."

So the Pixel might have the slightest advantage, thanks to a combination of that slightly larger battery and a slightly less demanding 90Hz screen. But none of these phones are endurance champions.

When it comes to charging, the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE supports 25W charging, while the Pixel 6 can only offer 21W charging support. It gives you a charging brick in the box, which leaves Xiaomi 12 behind. and OnePlus 10 Pro.

Both phones support wireless charging.

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The Google Pixel 6 is a slightly better phone (Image credit: Future)

Takeaway

Given that only two months passed between our reviews of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and the Google Pixel 6, it's not hard to establish which phone we think is the best buy. We rate the Pixel 6 just one point higher out of 10.

There are many reasons for this. While the two phones are a reasonably good match overall, the Pixel 6 gives you a better camera and cooler design for $100/£100 less.

The Galaxy S21 FE is a good phone on its own, but it launched too late and at too high a price to warrant an unqualified recommendation. Despite some weaknesses (such as the lack of a telephoto lens), the Pixel 6 earned us a nod.

The Galaxy S21 FE is a good phone that suffered through a calamitous launch process. The Pixel 6 is simply a good phone.
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