The great usurper
The Pixel 6 represents the future of smartphones. Not only is it the first flagship-quality Pixel in years, but it also has lightning-fast Assistant commands thanks to AI upgrades with its Google Tensor chipset. Plus, its camera quality makes leaps and bounds over the competition.
- Google Tensor-powered AI tools
- Software/security updates through Android 15/2026
- Larger display
- Striking, colorful design with glass back
- Significantly cheaper
- Incredible main camera performance
- Only 90Hz refresh rate
- No telephoto lens
- Thicker bezels
- Limited availability internationally
Can't be king forever
Thanks to a 120Hz AMOLED display, still cutting-edge Snapdragon 888 SoC, three rear cameras for more photo versatility, and nearly as much software support as the Pixel 6, the Galaxy S21 remains a great purchase. Especially if you want a more compact, lightweight phone.
- AMOLED 2X display with 120Hz refresh rate
- Snapdragon 888 performance
- 64MP telephoto lens with 3X Space Zoom
- Popular One UI software
- Four years of security updates
- Only supported through Android 14
- Slightly smaller display
- Cheaper plastic back
- Battery life underwhelms
For most of 2021, the Samsung Galaxy S21 has been the best Android phone for anyone unwilling to spend a grand or more for a Pro or Ultra flagship. Now it has a legitimate contender for that throne with the Google Pixel 6, a superb phone with a shockingly low price and a system-on-a-chip (SoC) made by Samsung, ironically enough. As the newer phone, the Pixel 6 has some significant advantages; yet the S21 still holds up as a phone worth buying today. So let's dive into their differences and respective strengths.
Google Pixel 6 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Google Tensor or Snapdragon 888
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The Snapdragon 888 (opens in new tab) was Qualcomm's premium chipset when the S21 launched, and it has appeared in most 2021 flagships since. Of course, newer Snapdragons have surpassed it since, but this hardware still holds up incredibly fast for daily apps and gaming without draining the battery too much.
Google Tensor (opens in new tab) was developed by Samsung LSI with similar architecture to the Exynos 2100, the chipset found in the international Galaxy S21. However, Tensor differs from the 888 and 2100 with its two Cortex-X1 cores, which specialize in machine learning capabilities; in exchange, it uses one fewer mid-range core (2 instead of 3) and opts for the older Cortex A76 (2.25GHz) instead of the A78 (2.42GHz). Despite being a newer phone, it doesn't necessarily run on newer hardware.
Currently, techies are waging benchmark battles to determine whether Tensor or the Snapdragon 888 is faster. NanoReview (opens in new tab) claims both chips perform equally, amazingly well for gaming, but that Tensor falls barely behind in battery life and further behind in CPU performance. And Pixel 6 owners posting their Geekbench CPU scores and Wild Life Extreme scores show it falling behind the 888 in CPU performance but defeating it in GPU performance.
Benchmarks don't show the true measure of a phone (opens in new tab), however. How they perform from day to day is what matters.
Several Android Central writers use the Galaxy S21 as their daily phone, and its performance for gaming and demanding apps is top-notch. The Snapdragon 888 and its 8GB of RAM hold up to scrutiny over half a year after launch. Meanwhile, we've only had a brief time with the Pixel 6 and Google Tensor thus far, but our reviewer found it to be "butter smooth" 99% of the time, with remarkably few bugs for a first-gen chipset. Tensor is a multitasking champ, easily handling several apps at once without running hot — something previous Pixels struggled with.
So while we won't claim to know for sure if Tensor or the Snapdragon 888 is faster, both chipsets are more than fast enough to justify buying either phone. So let's talk about the intangibles outside of performance.
The Pixel 6 will get four years of software updates to Android 15; it'll receive them immediately alongside newer Pixels in the fall, while older Android flagships usually have to wait until winter or spring the following year. Plus, it'll receive one more year of security updates through fall 2026. That's unprecedented for any non-Apple phone.
Samsung has also stepped up its phone support for the S21. It'll update up to Android 14 (or One UI 6) in 2024, while Samsung has promised four years of security updates through early 2025. That falls short of the Pixel 6, but it's more than enough support to last you a few years until you're ready to upgrade.
Long-lasting support is excellent, but it's Tensor's AI tools that could sway you towards the Pixel 6. It enables tools like Instant Translation, where it takes spoken words or video dialogue and translates it in real-time to your language. Voice-to-text transcription is near-instant thanks to improved Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR). And it's a game-changer for photography: tools like Magic Eraser (above) that remove people or objects from photos are Pixel-exclusive and could stay that way for years to come.
Google Pixel 6 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Comparing camera quality
Spec to spec, each phone has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Pixel 6 wins with its powerful 50MP wide-angle rear camera, but it only has that and a 12MP ultra-wide on its rear module. On the Galaxy S21, you get 12MP wide-angle and ultra-wide sensors and a 64MP telephoto lens. And the S21 barely wins the selfie battle with a 10MP sensor over an 8MP Pixel 6 sensor.
But as with the processors, specs only reveal so much. Post-processing matters just as much for photo quality, and both Google and Samsung excel in this category. So let's look at actual photos taken by both devices and compare.
As you can see, the Pixel 6 takes vivid, gorgeous photos that make a strong impression. They lack the detail of a true flagship 108MP sensor, but outperform what you'd expect from a $600 phone. As our reviewer said, "Details are crisp, lighting is great on both daytime and nighttime shots, and colors are true-to-life." Night Mode photos look excellent, and Google's new Real Tone initiative ensures that your photos of people will look lifelike regardless of their skin tone.
With the Galaxy S21, our reviewer had a less magical and colorful environment for his photos than Disney World, but you can see how the phone captures a solid level of detail. He found that "photos taken on the S21 are generally great, with impressive dynamic range and vivid (if not overly so) colors, though in typical Samsung fashion, shots are often brightened to the point of overexposing in auto mode...I especially enjoy the improvements to Space Zoom on the 3x telephoto lens."
Google Pixel 6 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: A worthy specs showdown
The Pixel 6 costs $200 less than the Galaxy S21 at full price. But does that extra cost correspond to better hardware with Samsung's flagship? We've broken down how the two phones compare to clear the air.
|Header Cell - Column 0||Google Pixel 6||Samsung Galaxy S21|
|Operating System||Android 12||One UI 3.1 (+ One UI 4 beta)|
|Display||6.4 inches (20:9)|
2400x1080 (411 PPI) OLED
|6.2 inches (19.5:9)|
2400x1080 (421 PPI) Dynamic AMOLED 2X
2 ARM Cortex-X1 cores (2.8 GHz), 2 A76 (2.25GHz), 4 A55; Arm Mali-G78 GPU; Titan M2 security
1 ARM Cortex X1 core (2.84GHz), 3 A78 (2.42GHz), 4 Cortex A55 (1.80GHz); Adreno 660 GPU
No microSD slot
No microSD slot
|Rear camera||50MP, ƒ/1.85, 1.2μm (wide-angle)||12MP, ƒ/1.8, 1.8μm (wide)|
|Rear camera 2||12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.25μm (ultra-wide)||12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.22μm (ultra-wide)|