Google could have dropped a bombshell on the Android market last week by announcing a flagship device with big batteries, crazy cameras, a Snapdragon 865+ processor, and other dabs of Google magic cooked-up in a quarantined laboratory somewhere. Instead, we got the Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5 — fine smartphones, sure, but decidedly mid-tier devices.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say you should hold off on buying a new Pixel until you’ve taken a few moments (or weeks) to consider Samsung’s competing mid-tier phone, the just-released Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. (That’s short for “Fan Edition,” a naming convention that makes no sense to me.)
Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE is a more powerful phone for the same amount of money as Google’s best Pixel. It’s also available right now, unlike the Pixel 5, which arrives October 29 and the Pixel 4a 5G, which will hit sometime in November. But is it the best phone for you?
How do the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and Google Pixels stack up?
Before we begin, keep in mind that you shouldn’t judge a phone based solely on its specifications, as the user experience plays a big role — especially if a phone is buggy, bloated, or otherwise annoying to use. Hardware is important, but it’s just one part of the equation.
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: 6.5-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED w/ HDR 10+ (407 ppi), 120Hz refresh rate
- Google Pixel 4a 5G: 6.2-inch FHD+ OLED display w/ HDR (413 ppi), 60Hz refresh rate
- Google Pixel 5: 6-inch FHD+ OLED display w/ HDR (432 ppi), up to 90Hz refresh rate
Analysis: With regard to size (not included in the bullet points above) he Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is the largest of the three phones in terms of length (approximately 6.3 inches to the Pixel 4a 5G’s 6.1 inches and the Pixel 5’s 5.7 inches). That’s almost an extra full inch on top of the Pixel 5, in case that kind of a thing irks you. It’s also a big selling point if you just want a gigantic phone.
The most interesting difference between the displays is their respective refresh rates. The Galaxy S20 FE can jump up to a buttery-smooth 120Hz. That’ll cost you a little battery life, sure, but it’ll look great. The Google Pixel 4a 5G, on the other hand, maxes out at 60Hz — good enough for everyday use, but not as wow-inducing. The Pixel 5 splits thee difference at 90Hz (if you force it)
You’ll have to wait for reviews to see which one offers the best colour-accuracy and usability across a variety of lighting situations — and whether the Galaxy S20 FE’s 120Hz affects its battery life a bit too much. In general, all three phones’ displays should be fine for whatever you need them to do. I wouldn’t base my purchasing decision on this factor alone.
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: 4,500 mAh
- Google Pixel 4a 5G: 3,885 mAh
- Google Pixel 5: 4,080 mAh
Analysis: A phone’s battery size, on paper, doesn’t matter. How the phone uses that battery is the larger issue. A gigantic battery doesn’t mean much if the phone’s hardware and software draw more power than a phone with a smaller battery and a more optimised design.
These sizes are interesting data points, sure — and you could reasonably conclude that the Galaxy S20 FE could probably outlast the Pixel 4a 5G — but I wouldn’t trust that assumption until I saw the phones in action. Also, remember, the new Pixels come with Google’s “Extreme Battery Saver” mode, which could actually get you more time with the critical apps you use over Samsung’s phones.
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (on 5G models)
- Google Pixel 4a 5G: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
- Google Pixel 5: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
Analysis: This one’s simple. The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE has a better processor, which offers much better graphical performance than what you’d find in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G. If you have a need for speed, Samsung’s the way to go.
Google’s phones are no slouch either, and they’ll be fine for your everyday activities, but heavy gamers might want to future-proof a wee bit with the Galaxy S20 FE. You could theoretically even record 8K video with the Galaxy S20 FE, if only the phone’s cameras supported such wild endeavours.
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: 6GB (LPDDR5)
- Google Pixel 4a 5G: 6GB (LPDDR4x)
- Google Pixel 5: 8GB (LPDDR4x)
Analysis: The Pixel 5 comes with slightly more memory, but you’ll probably be hard-pressed to notice the difference. That’s especially true since Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE technically has faster and more power-efficient memory. But now we’re splitting hairs. The processor difference between these phones is more noteworthy (though I certainly wouldn’t have minded if the Galaxy S20 FE bumped up to 8GB).
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: 128GB (w/ bonus microSD slot)
- Google Pixel 4a 5G: 128GB
- Google Pixel 5: 128GB
Analysis: Everyone’s equal on this one, save for one key difference: The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE allows you to drop in a microSD card if you need more space beyond 128GB. Google’s Pixels have no such slot, which means you’re stuck with 128GB. That should be more than enough space for most people, especially if you’re making good use of cloud storage (like Google Photos) to keep space-hogging images and videos off of your device. Still, the Galaxy S20 FE earns top marks on this one.
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: 12MP wide (ƒ1.8); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ2.2); 8MP telephoto (ƒ2.4)
- Google Pixel 4a 5G: 12.2MP wide (ƒ1.7); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ2.2)
- Google Pixel 5: 12.2MP wide (ƒ1.7); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ2.2)
Analysis: How often do you use a telephoto camera? I know my answer: Not very. Still, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE comes with that capability (a 3x optical zoom), which might top any kind of digital zoom Google comes up with.
As before, photographic quality is something you’ll want to evaluate once reviewers have taken multiple shots with each camera across a variety of environments. If you just care about specs, Samsung’s setup wins out, hands-down. However, given just how much Google prides itself on its camera software features, I might hold off on ordering any new Android until I’ve seen some of Google’s fun new features (such as “Cinematic Pan,” “Portrait Light,” and “Night-Sight” portrait shots) in the real world . If killer photography is the most important requirement of your next smartphone, you’ll probably want a little more evidence before you pick a mid-range winner.
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: 32MP (ƒ1.8)
- Google Pixel 4a 5G: 8MP (ƒ2.0)
- Google Pixel 5: 8MP (ƒ2.0)
Analysis: Megapixels aren’t everything, but Samsung’s selfie camera can let in ever-so-slightly more light and supports 4x the pixel count of Google’s Pixel phones. Google is going to need some wicked magic (possibly in the form of Night Sight portrait shots) to overcome this technological gap.
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Up to 4K at 60fps (or 30fps if you use image stabilisation)
- Google Pixel 4a 5G: Up to 4K at 60fps, 1080p at up to 240fps
- Google Pixel 5: Up to 4K at 60fps, 1080p at up to 240fps
Analysis: I haven’t found any information about the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE’s slow-motion capabilities, and I’m going to assume you at least have the ability to shoot at 480 frames-per-second (which will then get converted up to 960fps, likely). That’s a little bit better than what Google offers, but all the the phones are otherwise equal for video recording resolutions and frame rates.
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- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: $999
- Google Pixel 4a 5G: $799
- Google Pixel 5: $999
Analysis: Generally speaking, I’d put Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE above the Pixel 4a 5G, with one asterisk: It’ll cost you $200 more for the presumably better display, faster processor, speedier memory, extra camera, and potentially killer selfie camera.
If budget is your primary concern and you only really use your phone for benign, everyday activities, these are all nice-to-have upgrades, but nothing I’d spend $200 to get. I’d be a bit more tempted if you can find the Galaxy S20 FE for $850-ish instead of $999— which you can, as of this writing. (If you’re not having any luck finding a discount, consider holding out, as prices for Samsung phones tend to drop post-launch.)
For $150 more? Samsung’s phone is hardly asking very much for the reasonable upgrades you’re getting. However, that’s still more expensive than the Pixel 4a 5G; if you really don’t want to pay more, there’s your decision. But if the Samsung ever drops in price to match Google’s phone, go Samsung — with one caveat: Google’s Pixels run a very clean version of the Android operating system and are always first in line for security and major OS updates. Samsung owners typically have to wait. If you like being at the head of the pack as far as new features go, that’s something to keep in mind, too.
As for the Pixel 5, the race is a bit more neck-and-neck, given that both phones launched at the same price. All things considered, I’d go with Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE. You’re generally getting much better hardware than what you’ll find on Google’s phone.
There are only two additional caveats (beyond the update factor) that would make me pause. First, we don’t yet know how well Google’s software enhancements will impact its photo quality. Samsung might have a little extra hardware on its phone, but its mere existence doesn’t mean anything. Until people can compare both phones side-by-side, I wouldn’t assume either one has the leg up on the other. If photography is your main focus, I’d wait to buy.
Second, we haven’t seen both phones in action, so we can’t evaluate their battery life. Though Samsung’s phone can charge faster (25W maximum vs. 18W, if you have a supported adaptor), we don’t yet know how each device fares against the other in everyday or heavy use (including videos and gaming). We also haven’t seen how Google’s Pixel-exclusive “Extreme Battery Saver” mode works; it could very well give you a lot more time on your phone if you don’t mind limiting yourself to just an app or two.
If these things don’t matter to you, Samsung’s phone beats Google’s on paper — even more so if you can score it for $150 cheaper (or less). Hopefully this guide helps you weigh your purchasing decision while you wait for the Pixel 5 to hit virtual shelves at the end of the month.