Galaxy S20 FE vs. Pixel 5: Which should you buy?

Technology is supposed to become cheaper as it improves, but prices for high-end smartphones have done nothing but rise over the past few years. However, 2020 represents something of a change in attitude, as several companies have opted to revamp their pricing. There have always been options for cheaper smartphones, […]

Technology is supposed to become cheaper as it improves, but prices for high-end smartphones have done nothing but rise over the past few years. However, 2020 represents something of a change in attitude, as several companies have opted to revamp their pricing. There have always been options for cheaper smartphones, but now both Samsung and Google have released flagship-tier options for lower-than-normal prices.

The $700 Pixel 5 is Google’s top phone this year, even if the internal hardware doesn’t quite stack up against its competitors. Meanwhile, Samsung has slightly refreshed the Galaxy S20 and given it the same $700 price tag, deeming it the Fan Edition. Which smartphone deserves your hard-earned money? Spoiler alert: by most accounts, the S20 Fan Edition comes out ahead.

Hardware: Samsung wins

The key difference between the S20 FE and the Pixel 5 is the chipset. While Google opted for a cheaper Snapdragon 765G chipset, Samsung kept the same Snapdragon 865 found in the regular Galaxy S20 and Note20. This gives the S20 FE a performance boost over the Pixel 5, particularly in gaming, though both phones will handle tasks like watching videos or messaging without a hitch.

  Galaxy S20 FE Pixel 5
Chipset Snapdragon 865 Snapdragon 765G
Storage 128GB
microSD support up to 1TB
128GB
No microSD slot
RAM 6GB 8GB
Display 6.5″ 1080×2400 120Hz AMOLED 6.0″ 2340×1080 90Hz AMOLED
Battery 4,500mAH 4,080mAh
Rear cameras 12MP f/1.8 Main
12MP f/2.2 Ultra-wide
8MP f/2.4 Telephoto (3x)
12.2MP f/1.7 Main
16MP f/2.2 Ultra-wide
Front camera 32MP f/2.2 8MP f/2.0
Charging 25W Wired
15W Qi Wireless
4.5W Reverse Wireless (PowerShare)
18W Wired
10W Qi Wireless
5W Reverse Wireless
Headphone jack No No
Water protection IP68 IP68
5G support Yes Yes
Dimensions 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm 144.7 x 70.4 x 8.0mm
Weight 190g 151g

Another important distinction is the physical size. The Pixel 5 has a 6-inch screen (diagonally), while the Galaxy S0 FE has a larger 6.5-inch panel. Larger screens are a plus for most people, but if you prefer more compact phones, the Pixel 5 comes out ahead. The S20 FE also a slightly-smoother 120Hz screen, compared to the Pixel 5’s 90Hz panel.

There are a few other differences, but they might not matter all that much, depending on how you use phones. The S20 FE has a microSD card slot, but the Pixel 5 does not. The Pixel 5 has 2GB more memory, so it’s slightly better at switching between apps.

Camera: Google (mostly) wins

Both phones will take excellent photos and video, though Samsung’s processing sometimes creates more unrealistic colors than the Pixel’s camera. The S20 Fan Edition has three cameras in total: a 12MP main lens, a 12MP ultra-wide, and an 8MP 3x telephoto camera.

That gives you more versatility than the Pixel 5’s two cameras (a 12MP main and 16MP ultra-wide), though the Pixel usually comes out ahead in image quality. The Pixel 5 also generally wins in low-light photography, thanks to Google’s Night Sight software.

Galaxy S20 FE camera samples

Pixel 5 camera samples

Software: Pick your poison

Google and Samsung have radically different approaches to the software experience. Google’s Pixel phones stay relatively close to stock Android, with a few added features on top like Call Screen. Not everyone is a fan of the lightweight software, but for those of you who value an unobtrusive and straight-forward experience, the Pixel comes out ahead of the competition.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy S20 FE has the same One UI software that the company’s other Android devices use. It adds a pile of features on top of regular Android, and the upcoming One UI 3.0 update (based on Android 11) will bring even more improvements. It’s not all sunshine and roses, though — the wide range of functionality can be distracting at times, and Samsung loves to include advertisements in the system apps.

The good news is that both the S20 FE and Pixel 5 will receive system updates for at least three years, and Samsung closely matches Google in how quickly it rolls out security patches.

Price: Usually identical

While the Galaxy S20 FE and Pixel 5 are different in many ways, they do share the same retail price: $699. That makes the S20 FE the better value on paper, at least for most people — it has the bigger screen, bigger battery, and faster chipset. However, if you prefer smaller phones, or place photo quality above most other factors, the Pixel 5 is still a decent buy.

However, phone prices are never fixed. The S20 FE already dropped to $599 once, which is an almost unbelievable deal for a flagship-class phone in 2020, and it will likely go on sale for that price again at some point. Google also usually discounts its Pixel phones after a while (historically around Black Friday), but we haven’t seen any indication yet of the exact discount.

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