With high-end flagship smartphone pricing cresting $999 in 2020, it seems that smartphone manufacturers are finally realizing that not everyone is going to commit that kind of money to a device they update every two to three years. Enter a more affordable tier of smartphone that tries to offer most of that flagship experience for around $700 and two high-profile examples that just launched are the Pixel 5 and the Galaxy S20 FE.
While Google has truly changed up its game plan and the Pixel 5 is its top smartphone this year at $699, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE is just a slightly scaled-back Galaxy S20 that shaves off some of the features and $300 off the price of that $999 flagship that launched in March.
Here’s an in-depth look at how the Pixel 5 and the Galaxy S20 FE compare to one another and which one we think will be the right choice for you.
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Pixel 5 vs. Galaxy S20 FE: Price
The price may be the biggest highlight feature for both of these smartphones. While they unquestionably come up short of true flagship specs, they get most of the way there for hundreds of dollars less. At $699, these aren’t budget smartphones, but they are perhaps budget flagships that won’t leave you feeling like you are missing out on a great smartphone experience.
Both of these smartphones also keep it simple with just a single 128GB storage option, particularly for Samsung it’s unusual to not see an upsell for more storage and/or RAM so this is a welcome change.
While you can certainly argue that the Galaxy S20 FE is a better value from a hardware perspective, a great deal of the appeal of the Pixel line is the software and the Pixel 5 comes close enough on the hardware front that it comes out about even.
Pixel 5 vs. Galaxy S20 FE: Specs
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Pixel 5||Galaxy S20 FE|
|Display (refresh rate)||6-inch OLED FHD+ 90Hz||6.5-inch Super AMOLED FHD+ 120Hz|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865|
|Rear cameras||12.2MP f/1.7 (Wide-angle), 16MP f/2.2 (Ultra-wide)||12.2MP f/1.8 (Wide-angle), 12MP f/2.2 (Ultra-wide), 8MP f/2.0 (Telephoto)|
|Front camera||8MP f/2.0 (Wide-angle)||32MP f/2.0 (Wide-angle)|
|Battery size||4,080 mAh||4,500 mAh|
|Water resistance||Yes, IP68||Yes, IP68|
|Colors||Just Black, Sorta Sage||Cloud Lavender, Cloud Mint, Cloud Navy, Cloud White, Cloud Red, Cloud Orange|
|Dimensions||5.7 x 2.8 x .31 inches||6.29 x 2.9 x .33 inches|
Pixel 5 vs. Galaxy S20 FE: Design
While the Pixel 5 does have some unique design elements that we’ll touch on in the durability comparison, outwardly these two phones are both pretty bland.
Neither one is bad to be clear, just extremely traditional. Samsung opts for it’s Infinity-O display with the centered hole-punch front-facing camera. On the Pixel 5 you get the left-aligned hole-punch. Both feature minimal bezels, but lack a waterfall edge or anything to make them stand out.
Both devices feature a fairly rounded rectangle overall design and a plastic (or at least what appears to be plastic with the Pixel 5) back. The one other design difference is that the Pixel 5 has gone back to a fingerprint reader on the back of the device while the Galaxy S20 FE uses the more modern in-display fingerprint reader.
The Galaxy S20 FE does come in a variety of colors including lavender, mint, navy, white, red and orange, which is fun for those that don’t immediately cover their phone with a case. By comparison, the Pixel 5 only comes in black or sage.
Ultimately both of these smartphones play it very safe when it comes to the design and that’s fine, but neither really stands out as a result.
Pixel 5 vs. Galaxy S20 FE: Display
While Google is known for its photo prowess, Samsung is renowned for its displays and that carries over to the Galaxy S20 FE.
It won’t beat the top-end Galaxy S20 options or the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra with their QHD+ resolution and HDR 10+ support. However, the FHD+ of the Galaxy S20 FE’s 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display coupled with its 120Hz refresh rate is enough to win this round against the Pixel 5.
The Pixel 5 puts up a solid effort with its 6-inch OLED display that gives you a 90Hz refresh rate. The device offers HDR 10+ support and a slightly higher ppi (432 to 407) as well. Google fitting that FHD+ resolution into a smaller display is nice, but ultimately Samsung’s displays just aren’t to be beaten.
Winner: Galaxy S20 FE
Pixel 5 vs. Galaxy S20 FE: Durability
Google has done something unique with the Pixel 5 that could make it one of the more durable modern smartphones we’ve seen. An aluminum frame is common in higher-end devices –– the Galaxy S20 FE also uses an aluminum frame. Google’s switched things up using an aluminum back as well.
Normally going with a metal back would prevent support for wireless charging. However, Google got around it by cutting a hole in the back for the charging coil and then covering the entire back in a thin but resilient resin layer. The end result should be the structural benefit of a metal back with the more pleasant feel of a plastic.
The Galaxy S20 FE uses the more common plastic back, which will still hold up to a drop better than the glass back that many of the true flagship devices use. Both smartphones also feature IP68 waterproofing that will allow them to withstand submersion for up to 30 minutes at around 6 feet, so no need to worry about a little rain or a temporary dunk in the sink or tub.
Winner: Pixel 5
Pixel 5 vs. Galaxy S20 FE: Battery Life
We haven’t had the opportunity to get these phones in the lab just yet for battery life testing, so for now we are going to have to go off the battery size and the claims from Google and Samsung.
The Galaxy S20 FE wins on the pure specs front, its 4,500 mAh battery bests the 4,080 mAh battery found in the Pixel 5. However, it isn’t that simple of course, the Snapdragon 765G in the Pixel 5 offers much better efficiency than the more powerful Snapdragon 865 of the Galaxy S20 FE.
That CPU difference coupled with the larger screen and 120Hz display of the Galaxy S20 FE would lead me to believe that this will come out relatively close in the end. The companies don’t give us anything definitive to go on either with just the basic claim of “all-day” battery life from each of them.
We’ll get to the bottom of this and update you once we have tested each smartphone, but based on the specs alone this seems like they are pretty evenly matched.
Pixel 5 vs. Galaxy S20 FE: Cameras
From a hardware standpoint, the Galaxy s20 FE once again has a pretty clear advantage here given that it adds a telephoto lens to the wide-angle and ultra-wide lenses found on the Pixel 5. However, the Pixel line has been unstoppable on the photography front, so it’s hard to bet against it.
Digging into the specs for the sensors, the Pixel 5 does have a slightly superior primary wide-angle lens at f/1.7 to the f/1.8 found on the Galaxy S20 FE. This will help with low-light photos, something that Google also dominated from a software standpoint with its Night Sight mode. While Google gives a little more resolution to its ultra-wide sensor at 16MP to 12MP from Samsung, both come in at f/2.2 and its unlikely the results will be significantly different.
Samsung’s 8MP telephoto lens is its big advantage, allowing for up to 30x digital zoom as a novelty, but probably very usable photos in the 5-10x range. Google, on the other hand, is relying entirely on digital zoom which can work for static subjects. But if you are hoping to capture your kids or pets on the run at a distance, it isn’t happening with the Pixel 5.
Selfie-fans should also gravitate to the Galaxy S20 FE which puts a monstrous 32MP sensor on the front compared to the 8MP of the Pixel 5.
Samsung has a better track record when it comes to video capture, but the pure specs for both smartphones are the same with 4K capture up to 60fps and 1080p all the way up to 240fps. Google has boasted that it put considerable work into video this time around, so we’ll need to see for ourselves if this has paid off.
The hardware advantage is Samsung’s, but Google has consistently managed to produce superior photos to Samsung with lesser hardware. So until proven otherwise in our testing we are calling this a draw.
Google has proven time and again that it can manage some impressive things with software. But the Galaxy S20 FE is so clearly the superior hardware that it is difficult to see the Pixel 5 coming out ahead in this particular match up.
For $699, the Galaxy S20 FE gives you a very close approximation of the hardware found in the Galaxy S20 for $999. There are cuts to be sure, but not many that would go noticed by the vast majority of users and $300 is a meaningful savings.
While we will absolutely be taking a close look at how these two smartphones actually perform in testing, based on what we know today the Galaxy S20 FE is the better buy for those looking for an affordable flagship smartphone.
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Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more. Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.