Australian Samsung S21 FE 5G hands on review, compared to Pixel 6 specs

The newly released Samsung S21 FE 5G is an unusual phone. Released just before the S22 series it’s priced between value mid range and flagship and features some of the key strong points of the S21 series without having any wow factors.

It’s likely Samsung would have preferred to release the S21 FE 5G mid last year but due to component shortages they weren’t able to. Now it’s in store when last years phones are on sell out sales and just before a whole flood of new phones get released at Mobile World Congress 2022.

Samsung S21 FE 5G hands on vs Pixel 6 specs

Since I don’t have any pricing yet on high mid range phones launched at MWC, if you have about $999 to spend on a newly released Android phone there are 2 new main contenders for sale in Australia.

The base level models of Samsung’s S21 FE 5G and Google’s Pixel 6 both sell for about a thousand dollars but that doesn’t mean they have the same features so let’s compare key aspects and see if there’s a clear winner.

Samsung S21 FE 5G Unboxing and Design

Unboxing Samsung phones is not that exciting any more as you don’t get a charger or basic ear buds, not even on the top of the line S22 Ultra.

What’s in the box for the Samsung S21 FE 5G is the barebones: phone, USB charger cable, paperwork and SIM tool.

The design language with aluminium frame and camera bump are as you’d expect matching the S21 series.

In comparison as you can see below the Pixel 6 has a horizontal camera bar design so your phone is even when put down on a table. It’s in the box inclusions are similar to Samsung’s.

Which kind of camera bump you like is a personal decision.

Score: Samsung 1, Google 1.

Colours

Pastel shades seem to be all the rage at the moment. There is no clear winner here unless you want a white phone in which case S21 FE 5G is the only option.

  • Samsung S21 FE 5G: White, Graphite, Lavender, Olive
  • Google Pixel 6: Sorta Seafoam, Kinda Coral, Stormy Black

Score: Samsung 1, Google 1.

Size and Build

There’s no sign of mobile phone’s becoming any smaller but the materials they’re made with can have a big impact on how heavy they are. The heavier a phone the less comfortable it is to hold for long periods of time.

Many people prefer glass backed phones but personally I’m a fan of composite backed phones (Samsung calls their material glastic) because they get damaged less easily and composite materials are lighter than glass.

Another benefit to the composite back is that I found the S21 FE 5G back was quite grippy and didn’t show fingerprints. In comparison the Pixel 6 is quite slippery. Obviously you can use a case to solve this.

Both phones have Gorilla Glass Victus front and aluminium frame and IP68 dust/water resistance (up to 1.5m for 30 mins).

Although both phones have a 6.4″ inch screen, thanks to it’s composite back the S21 FE 5G at 177 grams is 14.5% lighter than the Pixel 6’s 207 grams with Gorilla Glass 6 back.

Score: Samsung 1, Google 0.

Display

There’s not much difference between both phones here as they each have a 6.4 inch 1080 x 2400 AMOLED display, support HDR10+ and have Corning Gorilla Glass Victus protection

The only big difference is that the S21 FE 5G has a choice of fixing the screen at a buttery smooth 120Hz refresh or less smooth 60Hz whereas the Pixel 6 changes between 60-90Hz refresh depending on what’s on the screen.

Samsung keeps it’s best AMOLED screens for it’s own phones and while adaptive refresh is better in some ways, being able to choose between always saving battery or always getting the best smoothness gives Samsung the edge.

Score: Samsung 1, Google 0.

Processor, RAM, Storage

Both phones have either 128GB storage on board for the base model or for an extra $100 or so you get 256GB. This is worth considering because there’s no MicroSD card slot on either and if you keep a 128GB phone for 3-4 years you might fill the storage.

Pixel 6 wins the RAM race for budget buyers as it offers 8GB for both the 128GB and 256Gb versions. The S21 FE 5G has 6GB for the 128GB version and 8GB for the 256GB version.

Processing power is interesting because the S21 FE 5G in Australia has Exynos 2100 and the Pixel 6 says it uses a Google Tensor processor but it’s actually a slightly tweaked Exynos made by Samsung.

The Pixel 6 wins here because it offers more RAM at both price points and Tensor enables some cool bonus features.

Score: Samsung 0, Google 1.

Operating System and Updates

Both phones come with Android 12 out of the box. Some people prefer Google’s spin on the Android interface and others like Samsung’s One UI with it’s own custom features.

If you haven’t seen the latest Samsung One UI these are some example screenshots I took:

Google promises 3 Android OS updates and 5 years of security updates for the Pixel 6 series vs Samsung offering 4 Android OS updates and 5 years of security updates.

Samsung wins this one as it will support the S21 FE 5G with OS updates for longer.

Score: Samsung 1, Google 0.

Photography

I haven’t owned a Pixel phone for a while but my friends who are Pixel fans say it’s unique computational photography ability make it very reliable for taking photos during the day and amazing at night.

In comparison Samsung phones have a reputation for offering solid camera functionality with photo colour and saturation that is pleasing to the eye, as you can see in the photos I took with the S21 FE 5G below:

The S21 FE 5G has the following cameras

  • Main: 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/1.76″, 1.8µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
  • Zoom: 8 MP, f/2.4, 76mm (telephoto), 1/4.5″, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom
  • Ultrawide: 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 123˚ (ultrawide), 1/3.0″, 1.12µm
  • Selfie: 32 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/2.74″, 0.8µm

You can expect better night and lowlight photos from the Pixel 6 but it doesn’t have a optical zoom lens whereas the S21 FE 5G has a 3x zoom lens.

The Pixel 6 just wins but if you don’t take photos at night and want an optical zoom I’d choose the S21 FE 5G

Score: Samsung 0, Google 1.

Connectivity, Sensors, Battery

Both phones have 5G support, dual speakers, no headphone jack, support Wi-Fi 6, NFC, under display optical fingerprint reader and a USB-C port.

As you can see below using my Optus 5G SIM in the S21 FE 5G it has no problem zooming along when near a 5G tower. As you’d expect once I walked about 700 metres away the 5G speed dropped to 142 megabits down.

This is still great compared to Optus and Telstra 4G which are often slow around where I live.

Pixel 6 has a slight edge if you use wireless tech that supports Bluetooth 5.2 whereas the S21 FE 5G has Bluetooth 5.

Battery functionality is similar. In reality these are both only all day phones for low-medium screen time users, heavy users will have to recharge a bit in the early evening to keep using their phone late into the night:

  • Pixel 6 4614mAh, 23W charging wired, 15-21W charging wireless, Reverse wireless charging
  • S21 FE 5G 4500mAh, 25W charging wired, 15W charging wireless, Reverse wireless charging

Score: Samsung 1, Google 1.

Bonus Features

In terms of bonus features the S21 FE 5G offers the Bixby assistant (though some people find it annoying) and the option of using Samsung Pay or Google Pay.

The Pixel 6 point of difference is lots of interesting features enabled by their Tensor Chip and Software optimisations eg: Magic eraser for removing unwanted details from photos, two way live translation offline for messaging and super fast accurate voice typing.

Score: Samsung 0, Google 1.

Should you buy a S21 FE 5G?

If you look purely at my scoring then the S21 FE 5G scores evenly with the Pixel 6 although both have particular strengths and weaknesses which you should consider carefully before rushing in to buy either.

Some Pixel fans may disagree with me but the price of being first to get the latest Android OS and cool software features is that you get to be the “canary in the coal mine” that experiences all the bugs first.

Every single Pixel phone released in the last few years has had quite a few annoying bugs that take several months if not half a year or more to fix. After about 12 months they’re usually stable and safe to buy.

With the Pixel 6 series current bugs that aren’t fixed yet include: Wi-Fi issues, touch input freezing every time the battery drops 1%, external DAC’s not working properly and auto rotate not working sometimes. Other more major bugs that existed at initial release 4-5 months ago have been mostly fixed by now.

In comparison Yes Samsung’s S21 FE 5G doesn’t have any cool features like those enabled by the Google Tensor chip but at it only has one known widespread bug (occasional sub 60Hz low refresh rate), that I’m confident Samsung will fix soon with a patch.

Samsung phones are in general not that exciting but they are boringly reliable and have a low number of software bugs, which is one reason they sell the most Android phones of any brand.

I’d say the S21 FE 5G suits the 80% of average phone buyers and the Pixel 6 suits the 20% who are more tech savvy. In both those cases the buyers would be happy with their purchase as both phones provide great value and will be supported for many years.

The S21 FE 5G is available from Samsung Australia online and instore as well as retailers like JB Hi-Fi. Keep an eye out for frequent sales and deals if your budget can’t handle $999/$1099 outright.

 

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.