Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: This is the $800 phone to buy

January has barely begun and we have already got our first heavyweight smartphone battle of 2021. Samsung has launched its lineup of Galaxy S21 telephones a bit sooner than typical this yr, and it’s clear they’ve Apple’s latest cellphone in its sights. Samsung hasn’t reinvented the S21 as a lot because it’s retooled it to tackle the iPhone 12, with a cheaper price level, sharper design, and a few new digicam tips. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to overview each handsets, here is how the 2 $800 telephones stack up.


Samsung’s Galaxy S is all the time on the forefront of Android smartphone design, and the S21 continues that custom. Samsung has crafted a really distinctive design the place the steel sides seamlessly mix into the digicam array, as if it had been snapped onto the again. The again is made from plastic reasonably than glass, nevertheless it nonetheless has a premium really feel, even when it’s not fairly as luxurious because the S20.


The S21 has a beautiful shade palette this yr.

After all, the iPhone is not any slouch within the appears to be like division. Apple launched a brand new, flatter design with the iPhone 12 that has a retro appeal harking back to the iPhone 4, and it feels nice to carry. The sq. digicam array is almost an identical to the iPhone 11’s and never practically as distinctive because the S21’s.

The 2 telephones are very comparable in dimension. The S21 is barely greater and a bit heavier. Nonetheless, Samsung has performed a improbable job with distributing the burden on the S21, so it doesn’t really feel as heavy because it weighs:

Galaxy S21: 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm, 164 grams
iPhone 12: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm, 171 grams

Each telephones are available quite a lot of colours that mainly boil down to non-public choice, however Samsung’s distinctive design stands out right here as properly. The digicam array is handled as a design component and is made to face out with a daring steel housing. It’s one of the crucial distinctive designs Samsung has ever made, and it makes the iPhone 12 look a bit stale.
My choose: The Galaxy S21


Now that Apple has gone OLED and Samsung has gone Full HD, the iPhone 12 and Galaxy S21 have very comparable shows:

Galaxy S21: 6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Infinity-O Show (2400×1080), 421ppi, 120Hz
iPhone 12: 6.1-inch Flat Full HD+ Tremendous Retina XDR (2532×1170), 460ppi, 60Hz

Michael Simon/IDG

The iPhone 12 sticks with the notch.

Advertising phrases and tenth-of-an-inch apart, the one actual distinction between the 2 shows is the refresh charge. Samsung is as soon as once more utilizing a 120Hz display on the S21, and this yr it’s adaptive, that means it is going to change dynamically from a excessive refresh to low, relying on what you’re doing, with a view to save battery life. 

You’re additionally selecting between a gap or a notch. The iPhone 12 sticks with the reasonably giant notch on the prime of the display that homes the TrueDepth digicam and sensors for Face ID, whereas Samsung has a small gap within the middle for its selfie digicam.

The iPhone 12’s show is great, and because of the velocity of system-on-chip, it feels extraordinarily quick. However the S21 takes it a step additional with its buttery-smooth scrolling that feels easy.
My choose: Galaxy S21

Processor, RAM, storage, and battery

As typical, each telephones function the very newest in chip tech. The iPhone makes use of Apple’s personal A14 Bionic processor, whereas the S21 sticks with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888. Each telephones are extraordinarily quick—greater than the common app will ever want—however as soon as once more, the iPhone takes the crown.

Geekbench 5


Galaxy S21: 1,076/3,223
iPhone 12: 1599/4107


Galaxy S21: 4621
iPhone 12:

3D Mark Wildlife Limitless

Galaxy S21: 5645
iPhone 12: 8659

In terms of reminiscence, Samsung has dialed again the RAM a bit from the S20’s ridiculous 12GB, however the 8GB contained in the S21 needs to be lots. Apple has solely 4GB within the iPhone 12, however iOS 14’s optimizations make it appear to be there’s far more. Each telephones had been in a position to retailer dozens of latest apps screens and deal with transitions and app switching with out a problem. Samsung additionally beats Apple with base storage, providing 128GB within the S21 in comparison with the iPhone 12’s 64GB, although you’ll be able to improve to 128GB for $50.

Michael Simon/IDG

The Galaxy S21 is not nearly appears to be like—it is also one of many quickest Android telephones you should purchase.

Battery life is a little more difficult. On paper, the S21 boasts a 4,000mAh battery versus the iPhone 12’s 2,815mAh one, however real-world outcomes will probably be far more vital. The iPhone 12’s battery life bested that of Android telephones with practically twice as a lot battery capability in 2020 and it outperforms the S21 right here too. It isn’t a complete romp although. Each telephones did properly to final by way of a whole day, although I tended to get a bit extra juice with the iPhone 12.

In terms of charging, neither cellphone features a charger within the field, although each telephones provide quick charging with a succesful charger, 20W with the iPhone 12 and 25W with the S21. They each provide 10W wi-fi charging as properly, and the iPhone additionally gives MagSafe magnetic charging by way of non-obligatory equipment.

Elsewhere, each telephones have sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G, and Wi-Fi 6 for quick connectivity, in addition to IP68 water resistance. The iPhone 12 additionally has a U1 ultrawide band chip for exact location mapping, however you’ll must improve to one of many different fashions (S21+ or S21 Extremely) to get that on the S21. Like final yr, the iPhone 12 has 3D facial recognition, whereas the S21 has an ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor, which is improved however nonetheless not as safe or speedy as Face ID.
My choose: iPhone 12


Considerably surprisingly, each Samsung and Apple opted to stay with comparable digicam {hardware} in comparison with their respective predecessors. Within the S21’s case, the triple-camera system is an identical to the S20’s, whereas Apple solely barely upgraded the wide-angle sensor on the iPhone 12 with a wider aperture (f/1.6 vs f/1.8).

Michael Simon/IDG

In darkish images, the S21 tended to overly brighten images in order that they misplaced some element as seen right here on this shot. All three telephones did extraordinarily properly to seize a really darkish scene however the S21 (left) missed a little bit of the element that the iPhone 12 (middle) and Pixel 5 (proper) grabbed.

As an alternative, the enhancements are principally behind the scenes and like Google, Apple has greater than confirmed its capacity to course of stellar images. Time after time, the iPhone 12 produced images with crisper particulars, higher shade, and sharper distinction, the place the S21 usually overexposed photographs and missed some components. It is undoubtedly subjective and each telephones will snap reliably good images in a snap, however I most well-liked the iPhone 12 in practically each occasion, from vivid to low mild.

Michael Simon/IDG

On this shot of a flower, the S21 (left) blew out the colours and element a bit whereas the iPhone 12 (middle) and Pixel 5 (proper) dealt with the brilliant surrounding mild properly.

Nonetheless, the iPhone 12 doesn’t have anyplace close to the ability of 30X zoom. In truth, it doesn’t have a zoom lens in any respect, so that you’ll must get very near your topic. That is not one thing you are going to want all that usually, however if you do, the S21’s telephoto skills blow away the iPhone 12, which maxes out at 5X. Nonetheless, except you are planning on taking quite a few far-away photographs, the iPhone 12 is just the superior shooter.
My choose: iPhone 12.

OS and updates

As all the time, you’re getting the most recent OS with every of those telephones—One UI 3.1 primarily based on Android 11 with the S21, and iOS 14 with the iPhone 12—however the future isn’t fairly as clear. Because the launch of the Galaxy S20, Samsung has promised all new telephones will get three generations of Android updates, so the S21 is assured to get Android 14 when it arrives in 2023. Apple technically gives no such assure, however iPhones are usually supported for 5 years of upgrades. For instance, the iPhone 6s, which launched with iOS 9 in 2016, bought iOS 14 when it landed in September.

You’re additionally assured to get iOS updates on the day they arrive, one thing that isn’t so sure with the S21. Whereas month-to-month safety updates land shortly, new variations of Android usually take months earlier than they arrive on the most recent telephones.
My choose: iPhone 12


Samsung and Apple have been opponents for so long as they’ve been making telephones, nevertheless it’s been some time since they’ve had telephones that had been such shut opponents. Each telephones are improbable and both will carry distinctive worth in comparison with practically each competitor. Nonetheless, if OS to a particular shade is not an element, I might go together with the iPhone 12, regardless of its considerably stale design. You will not be sad with the S21, however you will be a bit happier with the iPhone 12. 

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