The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and the Google Pixel 6 are aimed at customers who want a flagship-like experience without spending a small fortune. While the S21 FE is the follow-up to last year's Galaxy S20 FE from Samsung, the Pixel 6 is the smaller, non-Pro sibling of the top-tier Pixel 6 Pro. Google has managed to launch a formidable Pixel phone after a few years of solid-but-unassuming releases, while the S21 FE is the latest entrant in the Galaxy S21 series. Both phones are cut-down versions of their premium variants and make a few compromises to reach a lower price point — but only one will be right for you.
|Google Pixel 6
|Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
|Snapdragon 888 / Exynos 2100
|6.4” Flat FHD+ (2400x1080) 90Hz OLED
|6.4” Flat FHD+ (2400x1080) 120Hz AMOLED, Always-on Display
|4,614mAh, 30W fast charging, up to 21W wireless charging
|4,500mAh, 25W fast charging, up to 15W wireless charging
|50MP wide (f/1.85, OIS,); 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2, 114° FoV)
|12MP wide (f/1.8, OIS, DPAF); 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2, 123° FoV, FF); 8MP telephoto (f/2.4, 3x optical zoom, 30x Space Zoom)
|10MP (f/2.2, 80° FoV, DPAF)
|32MP f/2.2 (81° FoV, fixed focus)
|5G, Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, USB Type-C
|5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, NFC, USB Type-C
|158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9 mm, 207g, IP68 certified
|155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm, 177g, IP68 certified
|One UI 4.0 (Android 12)
|Stormy Black, Kinda Coral, Sorta Seafoam
|White, graphite, olive, lavender
|Starting at $599
|Starting at $699
Just like the Galaxy S21 and the S20 FE before it, the S21 FE features a "glasstic" back, though Corning's durable Gorilla Glass Victus still protects the front. The company uses the same kind of back panel on many of its mid-range devices. Meanwhile, the Pixel 6 features Gorilla Glass 6 along the rear and extra-durable Victus in the front, giving it a more premium in-hand feel overall.
Aside from their design, both phones are surprisingly similar:n other areas: IP68 certification, stereo speakers, in-display optical sensor, and multiple color options. Samsung's optical fingerprint sensor is much better than the Pixel's slow and buggy scanner. While software updates have improved the experience, its performance is still far from ideal. The Pixel 6's design has more character than the S21 FE, thanks to that massive camera bump — though it may not be to everyone's taste.
One area where the S21 FE trumps the Pixel 6 is in its dimensions. Despite both phones featuring similar-sized displays, Google's offering is notably larger than Samsung's, making it less compact and one-handed use difficult. It's still a large screen experience, just with a more pocketable body.
Both the Galaxy S21 FE and Pixel 6 feature 6.4-inch OLED displays. However, while Samsung uses a 120Hz panel on its offering, the Pixel sticks to a 90Hz refresh rate. It gives Samsung's phone an advantage in display smoothness, though most users won't be able to tell the difference between 90Hz and 120Hz outside of side-by-side comparisons.
The display quality on both phones is top-notch, with excellent brightness levels, contrast, colors, and viewing angles. Irrespective of which phone you pick, you won't have much to complain about regarding the display. However, if we have to pick a winner, the S21 FE does have a slight edge over Google's latest device, thanks to its 120Hz refresh rate and those sleek, minimal bezels.
The Pixel 6 features Google's first in-house Tensor smartphone chip that heavily focuses on machine learning and AI performance. Like other Galaxy S21 models, the Fan Edition is powered by Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100 chip, with the latter found in units sold outside of the US. While neither is the latest or greatest in the world of Android, these chips are still powerhouses in their own right and can run any app or game you want without any issues. That Snapdragon chip is around 8-10% faster than Tensor, but the latter pulls ahead in GPU performance. Its superior machine learning and AI performance enable Google to offer several features exclusive to the Pixel 6 series that are handy to have in daily use.
The Pixel 6 comes with 8GB of RAM in all of its configurations, while the S21 FE only sports that allotment in its more expensive configurations — otherwise, you're stuck with 6GB. When it comes to software support, things get interesting. The Pixel 6 series is slated to receive updates for at least three years from when they first become available, with five years of security patches also promised. It will also be the first to get each new release through Android 15. Meanwhile, Samsung promises three OS updates and four years of security patches for the S21 FE — though major releases will always lag behind the Pixel. While this makes the Google phone more tempting, you cannot ignore the sheer number of bugs currently plaguing the Pixels. Samsung's update time has improved significantly over the last few years, making the S21 FE an appealing buy for any lapsed Google fan.
The Pixel 6 has a dual-camera setup consisting of a 50MP f/1.85 shooter and a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide. The S21 FE features a more versatile triple-camera setup with a 12MP primary, 12MP ultrawide, and an 8MP telephoto sensor with 3x optical zoom. As we noted in our Galaxy S21 FE's review, its photos lack that "wow" factor — something you certainly can't say about the Pixel. The telephoto camera is also less useful than you'd expect., at least in most scenarios, as its zoomed-in photos are cropped from the primary 12MP sensor.
The Pixel 6, with its larger sensor and Google's AI magic, can take excellent photos across different lighting conditions. The ultrawide is not as impressive, especially in low-light, but can still hold its own. Google's offering misses out on a telephoto camera, and despite featuring a 50MP primary shooter, it only offers 7x digital zoom — the S21 FE tops out at 30x.
The Pixel 6 has a 10MP shooter for selfies, while the S21 FE features a 32MP sensor. The former does have autofocus, giving it a slight edge, but you should be happy with selfies from both phones.
Ultimately, if camera performance is of the utmost importance, get the Pixel 6. Though Samsung's phone may have a more versatile camera setup on paper, it does not offer much real-life value.
The Pixel 6 has a slightly bigger battery than the S21 FE: 4614mAh vs. 4500mAh. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't make much of a difference in real-life use. Both phones offer enough juice to last through a day, but the Pixel 6 can struggle if you use 5G often. The Snapdragon 888-powered S21 FE can easily offer up to 7-8 hours of screen-on time on a single charge.
Both phones charge relatively slowly compared to the likes of the OnePlus 9. The Pixel 6 technically supports 30W wired charging speeds, but for the sake of battery management, it won't pull more than 20-22W of power. Similarly, the Galaxy S21 FE supports 25W fast charging, though it only pulled around 20W in our testing. The phones can charge from 0-50% in approximately 30 minutes, but topping the battery up to 100% will take over an hour.
There's also wireless charging support, with the Pixel supporting speeds up to 21W provided you use the second-gen Pixel Stand. In comparison, the S21 FE tops out at 15W.
The Pixel 6 and Galaxy S21 FE both offer terrific value for the price, and it's hard to go wrong with either. Irrespective of which phone you buy, you won't be disappointed with the overall package. Google's biggest issue lies in its availability — the phone is only available in a handful of markets, while the Galaxy S21 FE is available in significantly more countries. Additionally, Google's customer support is lacking compared to Samsung's, which could cause problems should you run into any hardware failures.
If you can look beyond the camera prowess of the Pixel, the Galaxy S21 FE makes for a better buy. The Pixel 6 is $100 cheaper than the S21 FE, though Samsung's usual post-launch deals should bring the price down to compete directly with Google's latest smartphone. However, if the Pixel's availability isn't an issue for you — or you're dying for the best mobile camera on the market — you shouldn't hesitate for a second.
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Rajesh Pandey started following the tech field right around the time Android devices were going mainstream. He closely follows the latest development in the world of smartphones and what the tech giants are up to. He loves to tinker around with the latest gadgets to see what they are capable of.MoreFrom Rajesh Pandey