Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6: Which is the best affordable flagship?

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6: Which is the best affordable flagship?

We’re living at a time when smartphones are getting more and more expensive. $1000 is the new norm for flagship phones while a few brands have even breached that mark. Not everyone wants to spend that kind of money on a phone, especially when cheaper phones are getting so good. Enter affordable flagships. Phones that offer high-end specifications with a few compromises here and there to keep the price down. Two of the best affordable flagships in the US currently are the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE and the Google Pixel 6. The former starts at $699 while the latter takes an additional $100 off and starts at $599. Which is the better option though? We’ll help you figure it out.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6: Specifications

Google Pixel 6 Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
CPU Google Tensor Snapdragon 888 (US/China)/Exynos 2100 (EU, UK, Asia)
Body
  • 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9 mm
  • Weight: 207g
  • 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm
  • 177 grams
Display
  • 6.4-inch FHD+ AMOLED
  • 1080 x 2400 pixels
  • 90Hz refresh rate
  • Gorilla Glass Victus
  • 6.4-inch FHD+ AMOLED
  • 1080 x 2340 pixels
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • Gorilla Glass Victus
Camera
  • 50MP Primary, f/1.9 (OIS, Laser AF)
  • 12MP Secondary f/2.2 ultra-wide
  • 8MP Front-facing, f/2.0
  • 12MP Primary, f/1.8 (OIS, PDAF)
  • 12MP Secondary, f/2.2, ultra-wide
  • 8MP Tertiary, f/2.4, telephoto
  • 32MP Front-facing, f/2.2
Memory
  • 8GB RAM
  • 128GB/256GB UFS 3.1 storage
  • 6/8GB RAM
  • 128GB/256GB UFS 3.1 storage
Battery
  • 4,614mAh
  • 30W fast charging
  • Qi wireless charging (21W)
  • Reverse wireless charging
  • 4,500mAh
  • 25W fast charging
  • Qi wireless charging (15W)
  • Reverse wireless charging
Connectivity
  • 5G: Non-Standalone (NSA), Standalone (SA), Sub6 / mmWave
  • Ultra-Wide Band (UWB)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6e
  • Bluetooth 5.2
  • A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, BDS, QZSS
  • 5G: Non-Standalone (NSA), Standalone (SA), Sub6 / mmWave
  • Ultra-Wide Band (UWB)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, BDS, QZSS
Water Resistance IP68 IP68
Sensors Fingerprint sensor (under-display), Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro sensor, Proximity sensor, Light sensor Fingerprint sensor (under-display), Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro sensor, Proximity sensor, Light sensor, Compass
OS Android 12 Android 12 (One UI 4.0)
Colors Sorta Seaform, Kinda Coral, Stormy Black Lavender, Olive, White, Graphite, Navy
Material
  • Glass back
  • Aluminum frame
  • Polycarbonate back
  • Aluminum frame
Price Starts at $599 $699

Design

Galaxy S21 FE

There’s not a lot separating the Pixel 6 from the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE in terms of build quality but there is a slight difference in the materials used in the construction of the two phones. Both phones have an aluminum frame which feels quite premium and gives the phones a solid chassis. The Pixel 6 and the Galaxy S21 Plus have Gorilla Glass Victus on the front so there’s no real difference with regards to display protection either. While the Pixel 6 gets a glass back that’s arguably more premium, the Galaxy S21 FE has a polycarbonate back.

The Galaxy S21 and the Pixel 6 are sized similarly which means both phones are easy to handle given that they have a smaller display. Both phones are also IP68 dust and water-resistant. You shouldn’t be worried about picking up either device since they’re both solid. It all comes down to the design language that you prefer. The Pixel 6 has a bolder design and more premium materials. The Galaxy S21 FE has a slightly less interesting design.

Pixel 6 back

The Pixel 6 is also considerably heavier than the Galaxy S21 FE so some might find it easier to handle the Galaxy S21 FE. Samsung gave the Galaxy S21 series a design overhaul this year and the Galaxy S21 FE follows that design language. They moved the camera bump to the corner and merged it with the frame of the phone to give it a unique look. As a result, the Galaxy S21 FE does look quite different from most other smartphones in the market. The back has a matte finish too which a lot of people prefer over a glossy look. The Pixel 6 also takes a different approach to design. Google has given the phone a two-tone finish with a large camera bar separating the two colors.

The colors are nice and playful and the camera bar really adds character to the phone. It spans across the entire width of the phone similar to what we saw on the Nexus 6P from a few years back. This sort of look is quite unique which makes the Pixel 6 score high in terms of design. The back here is glossy, though, so expect to see a lot of fingerprints if you use your phone without a case. Looks and design are extremely subjective so the winner in this department should ideally be chosen by you. Some may like the more conventional-looking design of the Galaxy S21 FE while some may prefer the bolder look of the Pixel 6.

Display

Galaxy S21 FE display

When it comes to the display, the main difference between the two phones is to do with the refresh rate and not the quality of the panel itself. The Pixel 6 has a 90Hz display which is still faster than the conventional 60Hz panels. However, the Galaxy S21 FE takes it up a notch with a 120Hz display. Some people, like myself, cannot differentiate between 90Hz and 120Hz so it doesn’t really matter to me. Some people claim that the difference is evident so your mileage may vary. Of course, 120Hz is going to be smoother and will result in a better experience if you play games on your phone. It’s also going to look better while scrolling through lists and social media feeds.

Both displays are OLED panels with the same Full HD+ resolution. In terms of display quality, you wouldn’t really be able to tell the two phones apart. The displays used on both devices are of top quality and you will enjoy watching content on them regardless of which device you pick. OLED panels are generally vibrant and display poppy colors with inky blacks resulting in a better contrast ratio. Since the size of the displays is also similar, no phone has an advantage over the other in terms of the real estate that you get to consume content or play games.

Pixel 6 display

There’s a hole-punch cutout on both devices at the center to house the front-facing camera. The Pixel 6 has slightly thicker bezels all around whereas the Galaxy S21 FE has a more immersive display with slimmer bezels. You get an under-display fingerprint scanner on both phones. To highlight the main difference in this department, the Galaxy S21 FE has a display with a higher 120Hz refresh rate whereas the Pixel 6 has a 90Hz one. It depends on you if you want that extra 120Hz smoothness and if you can tell the two apart.

Performance and Software

Galaxy S21 FE performance

Since both the Galaxy S21 FE and the Pixel 6 are flagship phones, they have top-of-the-line internals to power them. The Galaxy S21 FE runs on the Snapdragon 888 in the US and China while the rest of the world gets Samsung’s in-house Exynos 2100 SoC. The Pixel 6 runs on Google’s brand new Tensor chip — which as a matter of fact, is a slightly tweaked version of the Exynos 2100 itself. If you’re going to be comparing the Snapdragon 888 version of the Galaxy S21 FE, it would be more powerful than the Pixel 6 in terms of CPU and GPU performance. If you play more games and run heavier tasks on your phone, the Galaxy S21 FE would fair better, provided it has the Snapdragon 888 chip.

If you’re comparing the Exynos 2100 variant of the Galaxy S21 FE with the Pixel 6, there’s not going to be a lot of difference in terms of performance. Both chipsets perform similarly which means while the two phones are good at handling day-to-day tasks, they tend to struggle slightly when tasked with heavy, graphic-intensive games. Since Google has tuned Tensor specifically for the Pixel line of phones, it’s got better capabilities in terms of processing computation algorithms.

Pixel 6 performance

While the raw performance of the chipsets might be similar, the software on both phones is quite different. The Pixel 6 has a flavor of Android 12 that’s directly coming from Google. The Pixel experience is essentially AOSP — more commonly known as stock Android with some additional Pixel-exclusive features and tweaks. It’s arguably the best vanilla Android experience that you can get on a smartphone with updates being handled directly by Google. You get all the new Android 12 features including Material You and all the Pixel-exclusive goodies like live translate, face unblur, magic eraser, etc.

On the other hand, the Galaxy S21 FE comes with Samsung’s One UI skin on top of Android. One UI is one of the best custom skins out there with an ample amount of features and customization options. You also get additional features like Dex which turns your smartphone into a computer when plugged into a display. Samsung has also had a good track record with updates recently. The Galaxy S21 FE is going to receive three years of Android updates which is as good as the Pixel 6.

Cameras

Galaxy S21 FE cameras

This is an area where the Pixel 6 absolutely shines. While the Galaxy S21 FE does click some good pictures, the Pixel 6 just does so much better. The Pixel 6 has a higher resolution primary sensor which captures more details. It’s also better at low-light photography compared to the Galaxy S21 FE. Google’s Night Sight mode is quite magical and captures more light than the night mode on the Galaxy S21 FE. The still images clicked by the Pixel 6 in almost all scenarios are better. The same applies to the ultra-wide camera. The Galaxy S21 FE has a wider FoV but the Pixel 6 clicks better images.

That’s not saying the Galaxy S21 FE is bad by any means. It’s still got a good set of cameras that produce photos with eye-catchy colors. The colors look slightly boosted on the images shot by the Galaxy S21 FE and the dynamic range looks great. In fact, the Galaxy S21 FE even has a slight hardware advantage here in the form of a dedicated 8MP zoom lens that the Pixel 6 lacks. However, it’s just a 2X zoom lens which isn’t that useful anyhow except while capturing portrait mode shots.

Pixel 6 cameras

The Pixel 6 also outputs images with slightly boosted colors and contrast, but it looks more pleasing to the eyes compared to the shots from the Galaxy S21 FE. Selfies are good on both phones with no clear winner. In terms of images, the Pixel 6 captures photos that are pleasing to look at which probably makes it a better pick for the average consumer, despite the Galaxy S21 FE having an extra lens.

In terms of videos, both phones are similar with not a lot to tell them apart. The Pixel 6 has improved considerably in terms of video recording over the Pixel 5 and all other previous-gen Pixel phones. The videos shot using both phones are crisp, stable, and the colors look great too. The Galaxy S21 FE offers more software features here though like the ability to shoot from multiple lenses at the same time which makes it a slightly more versatile option in terms of video recording.

Overall, we would suggest picking up the Pixel 6 if cameras are your priority. The Pixel 6 produces photos that can be readily posted to social media.

Battery Life and Charging

Galaxy S21 FE battery

The Pixel 6 has a 4,614mAh battery whereas the Galaxy S21 FE has a marginally smaller 4,500mAh battery. However, the Galaxy S21 FE also has a display with a higher refresh rate. If you’re considering the Snapdragon 888 version of the Galaxy S21 FE, you are going to get a slightly better battery life or perhaps similar battery life when compared to the Pixel 6. In between the Exynos 2100 variant of the Galaxy S21 FE and the Pixel 6, the battery life would be slightly better on the Pixel 6. Both phones aren’t battery champs so expect to be looking for a charger by the end of the day with both phones.

Speaking of charging, the Galaxy S21 FE supports fast-charging up to 25W while the Pixel 6 can go up to 23W. Not a lot of difference here. Both phones have wireless charging too with the Galaxy S21 FE capping out at 15W and the Pixel 6 going till 21W.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6: Which one should you buy?

Pixel 6 battery

The Pixel 6 starts at $599 in the US, while the Galaxy S21 FE starts at $699. You can take a look at the best Galaxy S21 FE deals to get some additional offers that can bring down the price to the same as the Pixel 6. Considering that, it all boils down to whether you want a phone that performs better while gaming (strictly on the Snapdragon 888 variant of the S21 FE only) or you want a phone that has stellar cameras. When comparing the Exynos 2100 version of the Galaxy S21 FE, the performance is more or less similar to the Pixel 6.

Other than that, I would personally pick the Pixel 6 for better cameras, a refreshing design, and all the software goodness that you get with a Pixel smartphone — all for a lesser or equal price. The slightly higher refresh rate display doesn’t really make a difference to me either. If it does to you, you can get the Galaxy S21 FE.

    The Galaxy S21 FE is Samsung's latest affordable flagship phone for the masses. It provides a flagship experience at a lower price.
    The Pixel 6 comes with Google's new Tensor chip, a modern design, and flagship cameras.

About author

Sumukh Rao
Sumukh Rao

A tech fanatic with a hunger for knowledge in the ever-growing field of science and technology. An avid quizzer and a gadget critic who loves simplifying tech for the masses has a keen interest in modding Android devices.

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