Saturday, February 24, 2024

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE vs. Google Pixel 6: Battle of the value flagships


Better value

Google Pixel 6


From $599 at Amazon


  • $100 cheaper
  • Best haptics in the business
  • Better camera
  • Deep Google integration


  • Less customizable OS
  • A bit buggy
  • No telephoto camera
  • Fingerprint scanner isn’t great

It took Google many years to develop what could be called a true flagship phone, but the Pixel 6 fits the bill from every angle. With a new custom processor designed by Google, snazzy new features, and a brilliant camera system, the Pixel 6 is an amazing phone at a great price.

More features

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE


From $699 at Best Buy


  • More features
  • More stable software
  • All the best S21 features for less
  • 120Hz display


  • No app color matching
  • Worse haptic motors
  • Less premium build
  • More expensive

Samsung’s second-generation value flagship phone delivers an upgraded display, redesigned chassis, upgraded software experience, and even ships with Android 12. It’s a powerhouse phone that’s a better value than the standard Galaxy S21, even if its haptic motors leave a bit to be desired.

Samsung blew everyone away with the value-heavy Galaxy S20 FE, which launched in 2020 at $300 less than the actual flagship Galaxy S20. This time around, however, the Galaxy S21 FE is only $100 less than the Galaxy S21 and, on top of that, the Google Pixel 6 is $100 less than the Galaxy S21 FE.

These are two of the best Android phones for a great price, but which one is the better deal?

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Pixel 6 Price is the key


So is the Google Pixel 6 a better value phone than the Galaxy S21 FE? In a nutshell, yes.

At $599, the Pixel 6 is one of the single best value phones ever, delivering a gorgeous premium build, a stunning 90Hz OLED display, Google’s unique colorful flavor of Android 12, plenty of Pixel-exclusive features, and a camera that’ll take the right shot every time, especially if you’re a parent with constantly moving kids.

Samsung doesn’t have the wild price advantage it once had.

Given the disruption the S20 FE caused when it launched at $300 less than the Galaxy S20, many people expected Samsung to do something similar for the Galaxy S21 FE. After all, since the launch of the Galaxy S20 FE, we’ve seen other affordable phones with brilliant cameras and superb features like the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5a, both of which cost a few hundred less than Samsung’s more affordable flagships.

However, unlike in 2020, Samsung doesn’t have the wild price advantage it once had. The Galaxy S21 FE is a better value than the regular Galaxy S21, but it’s a much more difficult decision to spend $700 on a Galaxy S21 FE when the $600 Pixel 6 exists.

But the price isn’t the only thing that makes the Google Pixel 6 the better phone for most people.

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Pixel 6 Camera competition


For generations now, Google has made phones with the best cameras you can buy. No matter what Google Pixel you pick, you’ll be getting a class-leading camera, and the Pixel 6 is no exception. In fact, the Pixel 6 has the first camera hardware upgrade Pixel phones have seen in years, and the results couldn’t be better.

Google’s machine learning-driven features are still better than what Samsung offers in most situations.

But Samsung has also seriously upgraded its camera software in the past year, adding in AI-powered features that make picture-taking a near-effortless experience. Google might have debuted Magic Eraser with the Pixel 6, but Samsung has Object Eraser and many other competing features to match Google’s photography prowess.

But Google’s machine learning-driven features are still better than what Samsung offers in most situations. Face Unblur is an incredible feature for parents who just want one clear picture of their ever-moving children, and Magic Eraser makes it easier to erase distracting objects in photos than Samsung’s Object Eraser feature.

Even regular old point-and-shoot photos generally look better on the Pixel 6. Oftentimes, Google’s photos exhibit wider dynamic range, better color accuracy, and more detail than what comes out of the Galaxy S21 FE. That’s not to say the S21 FE is a slouch, by any means, but Google consistently does it better.

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Pixel 6 What’s in a build?


Samsung made a big shift from glass to plastic-backed phones in recent years, often citing better durability, cost-reduction, and lighter weight. But this plastic isn’t like the icky shiny plastic from the Galaxy S III days. No, this matte finish plastic is lovingly referred to as “glasstic” because of its distinctly fogged glass feel.

Meanwhile, Google outfitted the Pixel 6 with an incredibly shiny — and incredibly slippery — glass and metal design.

Both phones feature metal rails all around the side, so which is better? In all likelihood, you’re going to put a case on the phone and probably don’t care all that much. But, if you’re one of the brave folks who likes to rock a phone without a case, the Pixel 6 is the phone that’ll feel more premium every time you use it.

The Pixel 6 is the phone that’ll feel more premium every time you use it.

On top of that, Google put some unbelievably good haptic motors inside the Pixel 6. These haptic motors help create a physical dimension to what’s happening on screen, vibrating ever so subtly when you click UI elements, pull down the notification shade, or type away.

Using a Pixel 6 is absolute bliss, and a lot of that is owed to the haptic motors. They complete the experience and make Google’s phone feel like a true premium phone without compromise.

Meanwhile, Samsung is using what feels like older-generation haptic motors in the Galaxy S21 FE. Compared to the Pixel 6, these motors feel antiquated and cheap. It’s one of those subtle things that immediately downgrades the experience, no matter how good the rest of the phone looks or feels.

The Pixel 6’s 90Hz OLED display isn’t quite as smooth or color-accurate as the gorgeous 120Hz OLED panel on the Galaxy S21 FE, but the difference between a 90Hz display and a 120Hz one is much less pronounced than comparing any of them with a 60Hz display. If you’re upgrading from any phone that uses a 60Hz display, both phones will feel liquid-smooth and super fast by comparison.

The real downgrade in the Pixel 6’s display isn’t the display itself; it’s what’s underneath. That optical fingerprint scanner is simply not as good as the one Samsung put in the Galaxy S21 FE since it often requires you to press your finger against it more than once to unlock the phone. There’s little doubt that every Pixel 6 owner is going to get annoyed with the fingerprint scanner at some point in time.

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Pixel 6 The software difference


Here’s where Samsung wins pretty handily. The company has made absolutely massive strides in recent years, moving from being regularly criticized for (almost) never updating its phones to an era where Samsung is often first to the punch with major Android updates.

On top of that, One UI 4 — that’s the company’s custom flavor of Android for its phones — is built upon Android 12 and offers more features than Google has ever been able to deliver on a Pixel phone to date. Whether that’s the everyday user experience or power-user features like Good Lock, Samsung has all its bases covered and will regularly surprise you with how many useful features can be packed into one phone.

One UI 4 offers more features than Google has ever been able to deliver on a Pixel phone to date.

One UI 4 is also a more grounded, stable experience than what’s currently on the Pixel 6. We maintain a list of Pixel 6 bugs for a reason. While the phone is amazing and the software experience is a uniquely excellent one, Google’s phones are known for having issues in the first few months.

Google postponed the December Pixel 6 update after customers cited significant connectivity issues, and several other problems have cropped up since launch. There’s no doubt that Google will get these ironed out in the coming months but, until then, there’s a possibility that you could run into some software annoyance until then.

But Google’s Android 12 style is truly unmatched. It launched Material You with the Pixel 6, which includes a theming engine that Pixel fans have been dreaming about for years.

Both the Pixel 6 and Galaxy S21 FE will change the color of the UI when you change your wallpaper — helping better customize the look of your phone from all the others in the world — but only Google’s Pixel theme engine can theme supported apps with that color, as well.

Sure, some Samsung apps will also see a color change when the wallpaper is changed, but until Google makes the Pixel theme engine available on other devices, the Pixel 6 is the best place to experience how good automatic color-theming can be.

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Pixel 6 Just save the $100

Despite some bizarre software issues that’ll no doubt get fixed in fairly short order, the Pixel 6 is a better experience for $100 less than the Galaxy S21 FE. If you’re looking at pure unlocked pricing, Google’s phone is simply too good to overlook. It’s the premium phone we’ve been waiting for from Google, and it doesn’t even cost as much as other premium phones, either.

Premium without the price

Google Pixel 6


Google’s got it goin’ on

From $599 at Amazon
From $599 at Best Buy
From $599 at Google

The first “true flagship” phone from Google comes without that “true flagship” price. $600 gets you an unbelievably good phone and an even better camera.

Still more feature-rich

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE


A Galaxy S21, for less

From $699 at Best Buy
From $699 at Samsung

It might be in a less fancy body and have weaker haptics, but everything else from the Galaxy S21 is here in all its glory. Get that Samsung experience without paying the exorbitant price.

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