We weren’t being coy when we named the $599 Pixel 6 and $899 Pixel 6 Pro the best Android phones money can buy. Four months down the road that stands, but another midrange phone has made its debut: the $699 Galaxy S21 FE.
Samsung phones are generally fantastic Android devices, and the S21 FE is no exception. But with a price that’s $100 more than the Pixel 6, is the Galaxy S21 FE worth it? Or does the Pixel 6 still get the job done? All are fantastic questions, and we’re unpacking those and more now.
You should buy the Galaxy S21 FE if…
You already own a lot of Samsung products
One thing that all major tech companies do a great job at is keeping you within their own ecosystem. Google has Pixel phones and the Pixel Buds, and Samsung’s approach is similar. It has a little bit of everything for its customers, and because of that, it’s easier to seamlessly use multiple devices. For example, you can quickly pair your Galaxy Buds 2 with your Galaxy S21 FE, which also happens to easily pair and work with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4. It’s designed to be effortless, and it is.
You just have to have Space Zoom
A couple of years ago Samsung debuted Space Zoom, and it lets you use your camera to zoom in at impressive levels. With the S21 FE, you’re getting an 8-megapixel telephoto lens that can do 3x optical zoom or 30x Space Zoom. It’s true that the quality after 10x starts to drop off, but we’re confident you’ll remain impressed about being able to zoom in so close to the action from the nosebleed seats at your next concert or sporting event. It also beats out the likes of the Pixel 6 here.
You like Samsung’s more traditional design approach
Google’s Pixel phones — especially the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro — have a unique look to them. What makes them so different is the camera bar on the back of the phone and a dual color scheme; it’s not for everyone, though. The Galaxy S21 FE looks more like a traditional phone that doesn’t try to reinvent what smartphones should look like (that’s Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold and Z Flip).
You should buy the Pixel 6 if…
You don’t like Samsung’s software changes
Samsung is known for having a bit of a heavy hand when it comes to changing the way Android looks and behaves. For some Android fans, it’s too much. With the Pixel 6 you’re getting a phone that runs Android 12 with a few subtle tweaks and features that are exclusive to Pixel phones (call screening tops the list for us). And you’ll also receive quarterly Pixel Drops that bring new features to your Pixel phone.
You really care about timely software updates
Before Galaxy fans get upset, we want to be clear: Samsung has gotten much better about releasing timely software updates to its phones. That said, no one can compete with how fast Pixel phones — including the Pixel 6 — receive monthly security updates and bug fixes, and they’re also the first phones to receive major software updates. For instance, Pixel phones were the first to receive the update to Android 12, while companies like Samsung released the update a couple of months after.
In addition to getting major updates first, you can also take part in early beta testing of the next version of Android. This year, we expect Google to make Android 13 available for Pixel phones this spring before an official launch later in 2022.
You want more battery life
When it comes to battery life, the Pixel 6’s battery beats out the Galaxy S21 FE’s battery. It’s not by much, but there’s definitely a difference. In our testing, both phones got through a full day of use, but the Pixel 6 has plenty left to spare, while the Galaxy S21 FE would have us nervously looking for a charger if we had plans outside of the house in the evening.
You want the best Android camera
Google’s Pixel phones have always had one of the best cameras, if not the best camera, when it comes to smartphones. And with the Pixel 6, that hasn’t changed. If anything, Google once again regained its crown, thanks to the impressive performance of the Pixel 6’s dual-camera setup. You won’t get the fancy Space Zoom feature of the S21 FE, but you will get a reliable, consistent and fast camera setup on the Pixel 6. And like most other phones in this price range, you get wide and ultrawide lenses to capture content with.
If cost is your main deciding factor, you’re certainly going to be happy with the Pixel 6. It’s a well-rounded phone that offers great battery life, timely software updates and an impressive camera. For $100 more you’re getting a Samsung phone that has an impressive camera trick combined with the deep integration with the rest of Samsung’s products.