Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs Google Pixel 6
(Pocket Ribbon) – If you’re in the market for a flagship phone but don’t want to spend more than around £600 in the UK (or the equivalent wherever you’re reading this), chances are you’ve at least shed a look at the Google Pixel 6 or the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE. They are two of the better phones in this price range.
Google’s was one of the hit phones of 2021, with a flagship experience, great cameras and unique software at a price much lower than the top phones. As for Samsung’s, that’s a stripped-down version of the S21. But which one should you go for? Read on – or watch the video below – to find out.
Samsung: 155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9 mm – 177 g Pixel: 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9 mm – 207 g Samsung: Gorilla Glass Victus front, plastic back – IP68 rating Pixel: Gorilla Glass Victus front, Gorilla Glass 6 back – IP68 rating Both: Aluminum frame
There’s more than one way the Pixel 6 and S21 FE differ, and the most obvious ways are in the design. As glass plates go, the Pixel 6 is very different from pretty much anything on the market. The bold camera strip protrudes significantly from the back and extends all the way across the width of the phone.
Love it or hate it, there is a practicality that you can lay it on its back and it won’t wiggle. Unlike those phones with their cameras in the corner. Despite Samsung sticking to that standard size, the protrusion on the S21 FE is very minimal, and while there’s some wobble, it’s not huge.
There are a number of things that work in Samsung’s favor. First, the phone is noticeably slimmer. In fact, it’s a full millimeter thinner and noticeably shorter. That makes it a bit more comfortable and easier to hold for extended periods of time. And a surprising advantage are the materials used. While glass on the Pixel is definitely a premium material, the matte plastic on the Samsung makes it less prone to slipping and is warmer and softer in the palm.
However, both phones have quite square designs and both have very strong-feeling aluminum frames, so you know they have to be able to take a beating. Both also have the same Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on the front. They will even survive the one time you drop them in the sink, toilet or shower as they are both waterproof to IP68 ratings.
Both have equally thin bezels around the screen, but to the eye, the Pixel’s seem a little bit chunkier. A small difference that you do not see on the outside: the vibrator motor. Pixel has much nicer haptic feedback, feels more like a tap than a buzz, where the S21 FE has a buzzing feel.
One last little thing – the buttons. The Pixel’s power button is above the volume – making it a little harder to reach, of course – where Samsung has it within easy reach, below the volume rocker. Still, you quickly get used to both, so we wouldn’t base a decision on that.
Neither has a physical fingerprint sensor. Both use in-display. But we found the Samsung to be more reliable overall. It seems to register and unlock quickly and reliably almost every time.
Display and media
Both: 6.4-inch AMOLED – 1080 x 2400 resolution – HDR10+ support – 411ppiSamsung: up to 120 Hz refresh Pixel: up to 90 hz refresh Both: stereo speakers
Funnily enough, there’s one area – at least on paper – where the two phones are nearly identical: the screens. They both have the same 6.4-inch, 1080 x 2400 AMOLED display with HDR10+ support. However, they have different refresh rates.
Pixel 6 can go up to 90Hz, Samsung goes all the way up to 120Hz, but it would be hard to really tell the difference between those two peaks. Especially since there are very few really popular apps that take advantage of the highest refresh rates.
If you were to slide through the UI, record it at a high frame rate, and watch it back in slow motion, you’d see it. But otherwise it’s hard to say, because the peak refreshes are not active in most apps.
In their default modes – Samsung in ‘Vivid’ mode and Pixel in ‘Boosted’. They have very different approaches to color and contrast. With the Pixel seeing more contrast-heavy which can help make things look a little sharper, but then you lose some of the color and texture of elements. You can – of course – change the tuning slightly, with Pixel offering two additional color profiles.
However, Samsung’s screen appears brighter overall, which is quite beneficial if you watch your favorite HDR shows on Netflix and other services, you’ll see the dark scenes more clearly. Pixel struggles a bit with that.
On the speaker front, they are both similar. Both with stereo speaker. There is little discernible difference between the two. They can both be loud, taking similar approaches to frequency balance.
Performance and battery
Samsung: Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100 processor Pixel: Google Tensor chip Samsung: 6GB/128GB, 8GB/128GB, 8GB/256GB optionsPixel: 8GB/128GB, 8GB/256Gb optionsSamsung: 4500mAh battery – 25W wired/15W wireless chargingPixel: 4614mAh battery – 30W wired /21W wireless charging
Google’s Pixel 6 runs on Google’s proprietary processor called Tensor, which is similar to Samsung’s Exynos chips. But if you do a geekbench test – as an example – you would see that it doesn’t quite hit the same numbers as the S21 FE which comes in two variants – Snapdragon 888 and Exynos 2100. There isn’t much in it though.
This particular S21 FE we had for review has the SD888, and when using either phone the feel is one of speed and smoothness. They load the most demanding games quickly, without lag or stutter. We can’t say we found one here vastly better than the other. It feels very smooth on both phones.
From a battery point of view, the interesting thing we found out about Pixel is that the longer we kept using it, the better the battery performed as the software got used to our usage patterns. At 4614 mAh, it has a larger capacity than the 4,500 mAh in the Samsung, but there isn’t much in it.
Because they are similar, we saw no significant difference between the two in normal, everyday use. Neither is good enough to get through two full days of our moderate usage — usually about 2-3 hours of screen time per day — but they’ll comfortably get through an entire day and finish the day with about 40 percent left. Both also charge at similar speeds, offering about 50% charge in 30 minutes. You can even charge them both wirelessly.
Overall, at least when it comes to speed and fluidity or battery life, it’s definitely an area we wouldn’t use as a factor in deciding which of the two phones you should buy.
Samsung: Triple camera system 12MP f/1.8 primary dual pixel – PDAF/OIS12MP f/2.2 ultra wide angle 8MP f/2.4 telephoto 3x zoom – PDAF/OISPixel: dual camera system 50MP f/1.9 primary dual pixel – PDAF/ Laser AF/OIS12MP f/2.2 Ultra Wide Both: 4K video up to 60 fps
When it comes to cameras, the two phones have slightly different makeups. The most obvious difference is that the Pixel 6 doesn’t have a dedicated zoom camera like the S21 FE. But that doesn’t make as much of a difference as you might think in actual use. It still has a pretty good 2x digital zoom, getting you closer to the action and getting decent, sharp images.
If you compare the results, especially in daylight, you’ll see that the two have different approaches to color reproduction, but both can give you that vibrant, slightly unnatural result. But of the two, the Pixel looks closer to natural colors and has better details.
What struck us most, however, was that Google’s HDR performance was better, so in the parts of the image where you have bright highlights from direct light, the Pixel was much better at smoothing out and preserving the details. And it didn’t matter if we used the ultrawide or the main camera, it was the same.
Both also have decent night mode capabilities, offering a way to shoot completely handheld in low light without any need for stabilization. Again, there are differences, but both are solid. Using the main camera, the Pixel seemed better at picking up detail from the shadows and smoothing out highlights, but Samsung’s ultrawide seems to pick up more light by default. Although the results of both ultrawides can be quite strange and unnatural at night. Re-cut with too contrasting looks.
Both: Android 12Samsung: One UI 4Pixel: Pixel launcher
Oddly enough, it might be in software that reading the spec sheet really doesn’t give you a full understanding of the differences in experience between the two phones. After all, they both run on Android 12. They just feel very different.
One UI 4 – Samsung’s skin – is very similar to previous versions, with large, colorful app icons and lots of extras that Samsung is happy to add. It has Android 12’s ability to theme the interface based on wallpaper colors, but that’s about all that’s changed. Most of it is – stylistically – the same as before.
Google’s version is very different. Everything from the drop-down menus, phone dialer, and pre-installed keyboard is themed. And there are – of course – all these new widgets, giving it a much more whimsical feel. It’s a redesign that’s sure to divide opinion, but I happen to like it a lot. And it’s one of the main reasons I’d prefer the Pixel 6 over most other Android phones, including the S21 FE.
Here’s one you don’t have to base your decision on: the price. Both sell for exactly the same amount. While they can cost slightly different amounts if you contract them with a carrier plan, the two phones are very similar in price.
Ultimately, we think it comes down to a few things. Pixel has – of course – that new software experience, which we really like. And it has the better camera performance.
If you care more about media consumption, we think the Samsung’s screen is better, and the slimmer, more comfortable build is something to consider too. Or if you really want a zoom camera, it’s on the Samsung.
Written by Cam Bunton.