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

Samsung Galaxy S21 Fe Back Sunset
Samsung Galaxy S21 Fe Back Sunset (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

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 launched at only $100 less than the Galaxy S21 and, on top of that, the Google Pixel 6 was $100 less than the Galaxy S21 FE.

But Samsung has dropped the price of the S21 FE since launch, and the two phones are now more like $60 apart in price. Even still, we've seen deals from places like Best Buy put the S21 FE well under $600 at times. 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

Google Pixel 6

(Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

So is the Google Pixel 6 a better value phone than the Galaxy S21 FE? Probably. That answer really depends on what you're looking for in a smartphone.

At $599, the Pixel 6 was one of the single best value phones ever when it launched in 2021, 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 Galaxy 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. That, of course, would be the camera.

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Pixel 6
Samsung Galaxy S21 FEGoogle Pixel 6
Operating systemAndroid 12 + One UI 4.1Android 12 with Pixel UI
Dimensions155.7 x 74.5 x 7.9mm158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9mm
Weight177g207g
Display6.4 inches, 120Hz refresh rate, Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 2340 x 1080 resolution6.4-inch, 2400x1080, OLED, 90Hz, 500 nits
ProcessorSnapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100Google Tensor
Memory6GB or 8GB8GB
Storage128GB or 256GB128GB or 256GB
Battery4500mAh, 25W Fast Charging, 15W Wireless Charging, 4.5W Reverse Wireless Charging4614mAh, 30W Fast Charging, 12-23W Wireless Charging, 5W Reverse Wireless Charging
Rear Camera (main)12MP, ƒ/1.850MP, ƒ/1.85, 1.2μm
Rear Camera (ultra-wide)12MP, ƒ/2.212MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.25μm
Rear Camera (telephoto)8MP, ƒ/2.4, 3x optical zoomN/A
Front Camera32MP, ƒ/2.28.0MP, ƒ/2.0, 1.12μm
Software supportThree major Android updates (to Android 15), security updates through 2025Major Android updates through October 2024 (to Android 15), security updates through October 2026
SecurityOptical in-display fingerprint sensor, single-camera face unlockTitan M2 Security Chip, In-screen fingerprint sensor (optical)
ProtectionIP68IP68
AudioStereo speakersStereo speakers
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 5G sub-6GHzWi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, 5G sub-6GHz
ColorsWhite, Graphite, Olive, LavenderStormy Black, Kinda Coral, Sorta Seafoam

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Pixel 6: Camera competition

Samsung Galaxy S21 Fe Taking Photo

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

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.

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.

And while it's true that the Pixel 6 doesn't have a telephoto camera on the back, Google's use of a 50 MP main camera sensor and its machine learning smarts more than makes up for this hardware difference in real-world use. You can zoom in further with the Galaxy S21 FE in the camera software, but the actual results aren't better than the Pixel 6.

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

Samsung Galaxy S21 Fe Back Sunset

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

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.

Google has improved the fingerprint scanner on the Pixel 6 since its launch, so it's quite a bit more accurate and notably quicker than it was a few months ago. Still, 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

Google Pixel 6 Material You Pink Theme

Source: Alex Dobie / Android Central (Image credit: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

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.

But Samsung added in this missing functionality with the One UI 4.1 update, and apps are now properly themed when you choose a main color palette while personalizing your phone. It's a great touch that makes the whole experience feel more congruent all around.

Galaxy S21 FE vs. Pixel 6: The camera still wins

Google Pixel 6 Pro Long Exposure City

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Despite some bizarre software issues that have mostly been resolved since its launch, the Pixel 6 is still a better phone for less money 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.

Google's camera experience is second to none, especially at this price range. If you've got pets or kids, there's no better camera phone on the market. But if everyday features and extra settings are more your style, it's hard to argue with a Galaxy S21 FE these days. The camera is certainly more than "good enough," and Samsung's software updates have become the best in the business.

Nicholas Sutrich
Nicholas Sutrich
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu