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

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE against plant rear centered right

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Samsung finally took the wraps off of the Fan Edition of its 2021 flagships at CES 2022. The Galaxy S21 FE continues what the series is known for — bringing the best high-end features to a more affordable price. Unlike when its predecessor was released, the Galaxy S21 FE faces stiff competition in this new price segment, spearheaded by the impressive Google Pixel 6. So how do the two compare? Here’s the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6!


Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6

Design and display

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE in hand rear profile

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE retains the design language of its flagship namesake. You’d be hard-pressed to differentiate between the vanilla Galaxy S21 and the S21 FE. The camera bump houses three cameras on the back, and a centrally placed punch-hole selfie shooter is the only blemish on an edge-to-edge display.

Both also have the same polycarbonate “glasstic” body. But the FE is about cutting costs to keep the price down. In this case, that extra step comes in the form of the build of the camera bump. While the flagship series uses metal, the S21 FE keeps the polycarbonate body going. It still looks the same at first glance, but a closer inspection will show the difference in build quality. The Galaxy S21 FE also misses out on the contrasting colors of the main body and camera bump seen with the flagship.

The S21 FE has a 6.4-inch AMOLED display with a Full HD+ resolution and 120Hz refresh rate. If those specs sound familiar, it’s because it is what you get with the standard Galaxy S21, with the only difference being the slightly smaller screen size of the latter. Unsurprisingly, you get a fantastic display with the Galaxy S21 FE.

The Google Pixel 6 in Sorta Seafoam color in hand

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

On the other hand, sticking to the tried and tested isn’t a part of Google’s playbook. No two Pixel generations look alike, and Google really ups the ante with the Pixel 6. While not a new idea, a central punch hole notch is a first for the Pixel line. But it’s on the back that things get interesting. Google’s take on the unseemly camera bump is a hard-to-miss black bar. The clear divide also allows Google to introduce two-tone colorways that look great.

The Pixel 6’s display specs are par for the course in this price range. It comes with a 6.4-inch OLED screen with a Full HD+ resolution and a 90Hz resolution. You’ll have to turn to the far more expensive Pixel 6 Pro to get a higher resolution and faster refresh rate.

More reading: Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE | Google Pixel 6 review

The Galaxy S21 FE and the Pixel 6 have pros and cons in design and display. The Pixel 6 gets the leg up in build quality with a Gorilla Glass 6 back and Victus glass front, compared to the plastic body of the S21 FE. Design is, of course, a personal choice, but the two-tone Pixel 6’s with the camera bar stands out compared to the relatively tame single-tone colorways of the Samsung phone.

The Google Pixel 6 in Sorta Seafoam color in hand showing the home screen and display

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

But the S21 FE has a better display, courtesy of the faster refresh rate. Scrolling on both phones is fast and smooth, so the difference might not be immediately noticeable until you switch between the two. Despite the same screen size, the Pixel 6 is also taller, wider, thicker, and heavier than the S21 FE.

Hardware and cameras

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE rear centered left

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro are powered by the new Tensor chip, while the Galaxy S21 FE stays with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, the flagship processor of choice in 2021. The Galaxy S21 FE is available with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM, which also informs how much storage you get, 128GB or 256GB. Meanwhile, the Pixel 6 comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of storage. Neither phone has a microSD card slot, which is standard for the Pixel but a departure for the FE compared to its predecessor.

The Tensor chip doesn’t benchmark as well as the Snapdragon 888

There are still a lot of questions surrounding the Tensor chip. It’s not a mid-ranger by any stretch but falls short compared to top-tier processing packages from Qualcomm and Apple. That doesn’t make much difference in real-world performance, though. You get smooth performance regardless of which device you get. Helping this along are optimized software packages, with Google’s and Samsung’s respective takes on Android 12.

The Google Pixel 6 front facing camera punch hole close up

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Speaking of software, you’ll get three years of major OS updates and four years of security updates with both phones. That gives the S21 FE an advantage over the S21 series because of the later-than-expected release of the former, making it the first Samsung phone to run Android 12 and One UI 4 out of the box. On the flip side, despite its recent troubles, Google is known for timely updates, and Pixel phones are usually always the first to receive major OS upgrades.

See also: Hands-on with One UI 4 | Android 12 (Material You on the Pixel 6) review

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE comes with a 4,500mAh battery and features 25W wired charging and 15W wireless charging. We’ll need to spend more time with the phone to judge battery life. But it’s a bigger battery than the similar Galaxy S21, which offers impressive battery life.

The Pixel 6 has a 4,600mAh unit, with up to 21W wired charging and wireless charging. These charging speeds aren’t the fastest we’ve seen and are a far cry from the ultra-fast charging phones from OnePlus, Xiaomi, and others. Regardless of charging speeds, the Pixel 6 offers solid battery life.

The Google Pixel 6 in Sorta Seafoam color camera bar up close

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Google’s Pixel upgrades don’t end with a new design and processing package. The camera gets a major overhaul as well. Granted, you’ll want the Pixel 6 Pro if you want a telephoto lens, but the Pixel 6 is no slouch with its 50MP primary shooter and a 12MP ultrawide camera. Pixel smartphones are perpetually a part of our best camera phone roundup, and the Pixel 6 series is no different.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE camera closeup from left

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

If there’s one area of the Galaxy S21 FE where the cost-cutting is obvious, it’s the cameras. Passing on the excellent cameras of the S21 series, the FE retains its predecessor’s camera setup — a 12MP wide-angle lens, a 12MP ultrawide, and an 8MP telephoto shooter. You also get a 32MP selfie camera. The Galaxy S20 FE’s camera performance was really good, and we can expect that with the S21 FE. Unfortunately, that might not be enough for it to find its place among the best camera phones in 2022.

Read more: Testing the best 2021 smartphone cameras

Price and colors

The Google Pixel 6 in Sorta Seafoam color showing the G logo

Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (6GB/128GB): $699
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 FE (8GB/256GB): $769
  • Pixel 6 (128GB): $599 / £599 / €649 / CA $799 / AU $999
  • Pixel 6 (256GB): $699 / CA $929 / AU $1,129

The Galaxy S21 FE will be available starting January 11, 2022, on Samsung.com, as well as third-party retailers and Samsung’s carrier partners. The phone comes in four colors: white, Graphite, Olive, and Lavender. There are also two configurations of the phone. One has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage priced at $699, while the other has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage and will set you back $769.

As new competitors arrive in the affordable flagship space, it’s hard not to be more and more impressed with the Pixel 6’s pricing. Starting at $599, it’s quite a bit cheaper than the S21 FE and doesn’t skimp as much on the premium features. As far as colorways go, the Pixel 6 comes in Stormy Black, Kinda Coral, and Sorta Seafoam.

Galaxy S21 FE Green Back RGB

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE

Samsung’s 2021 flagship finally gets a “fan edition”

The Samsung Galaxy S21 FE is very similar to the vanilla Galaxy S21. However, it pares things down a bit in order to slash $100 from the MSRP.

google pixel 6 press image sorta seafoam

Google Pixel 6

The more affordable Pixel

The Google Pixel 6 features a 6.4-inch FHD+ display and runs on the all-new Google Tensor SoC. It has an upgraded camera system, exclusive software features, and offers some of the best hardware Google has ever produced.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE Google Pixel 6
Display

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED
20:9 aspect ratio
FHD+ resolution
2,400 x 1,080
411 ppi
120Hz refresh rate

Google Pixel 6:

6.4-inch OLED
20:9 aspect ratio
FHD+ resolution
2,400 x 1,080
411ppi
90Hz refresh rate

Materials

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

Gorilla Glass Victus front
“Glasstic” back

Google Pixel 6:

Gorilla Glass Victus front
Gorilla Glass 6 back

Processor

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (US)
or
Unnamed Exynos processor

Google Pixel 6:

Google Tensor
Titan M2 security

RAM

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

6GB or 8GB

Google Pixel 6:

8GB

Storage

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

128GB or 256GB
No expandable storage

Google Pixel 6:

128GB or 256GB
No expandable storage

Battery and power

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

4,500mAh
25W wired charging
15W wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging

No charger in box

Google Pixel 6:

4,614mAh (typical)
21W wired charging
21W wireless charging (w/ Pixel Stand)
12W Qi wireless charging
Battery share

No charger in box

Cameras

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

Rear:
-12MP primary (ƒ1.8, Dual Pixel AF, OIS, 79-degree FoV)
– 12MP ultrawide (ƒ2.2, 123-degree FoV)
– 8MP telephoto (ƒ2.4, 3x optical zoom, OIS, 32-degree FoV)

Front:
– 32MP single (ƒ2.2, 81-degree FoV)

Google Pixel 6:

Rear:
– 50MP main
1.2 μm, ƒ/1.85, 82-degree FoV
1/1.31-inch sensor
LDAF, OIS, and EIS
– 12MP ultra-wide
1.25 μm, ƒ/2.2, 114-degree FoV
Laser AF

Front:
– 8MP single
1.12 μm, ƒ/2.0, 84-degree FoV

Security

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

In-display fingerprint sensor

Google Pixel 6:

In-display fingerprint sensor

Water-resistance

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

IP68 rating

Google Pixel 6:

IP68 rating

Connectivity

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

Wi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC support

Google Pixel 6:

Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax)
Bluetooth 5.2
NFC support

Software

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

Android 12
One UI 4

Google Pixel 6:

Android 12

Dimensions and weight

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm
177g

Google Pixel 6:

158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9mm
207g

Colors

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE:

White, Graphite, Olive, Lavender

Google Pixel 6:

Stormy Black, Kinda Coral, Sorta Seafoam

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

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE rear on red background

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Before diving into which phone you should buy, we should mention the higher-end versions of these phones. The Pixel 6 Pro comes with a larger display with a higher resolution and faster refresh rate, a telephoto camera, and more RAM. Starting at $899, it’s also quite a lot more expensive than the Pixel 6.

In the case of the S21 FE, the flagship series offers an interesting mix. The closest to the FE is the vanilla S21 with its smaller battery but better camera setup. The S21 Ultra is the best of the lot and starts at a thousand dollars. If you’re considering a Samsung flagship, though, you’ll be better off waiting for the Galaxy S22 series.

Back to the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6. The Pixel 6 has its share of advantages over the Samsung phone. The build quality and design are arguably better, and the Pixel 6’s camera trumps the S21 FE, at least from our initial impressions. On the other hand, the S21 FE has a faster display refresh, and the Snapdragon 888 is the better processing package on paper. That’s likely not going to make a noticeable impact on real-world performance, though.

The real issue with the S21 FE is its price. The S20 FE was a proper affordable alternative to its flagship series. In the case of its successor, though, the Galaxy S21 offers more RAM, better cameras, and better build quality for $100 more. It’s a smaller difference if you opt for the 8GB of RAM and 256GB storage versions of these phones. Rumors suggest that the S22 will be priced like the S21 as well, so waiting for its launch isn’t a bad idea either.

Or you can spend $100 less and get the Pixel 6. We’ll need more hands-on testing with the S21 FE before offering a decisive verdict, but it’ll have to blow us out of the water to overtake the Pixel.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6: Which do you prefer?

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