Galaxy S21 vs. iPhone 12: Sorry, Apple, but Samsung may have won this round

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Samsung’s new lineup includes (from left) the $800 Galaxy S21, $1,000 Galaxy S21 Plus and $1,200 Galaxy S21 Ultra. 

Drew Evans/CNET

Samsung’s trio of S21 phones — the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra — are here, and the lineup starts at a cool $200 less than its predecessor. While the price cut is a welcome change, the smartphone industry is notoriously cut-throat, and (as always) you can bet the S21 will face stiff competition from the iPhone 12 series. So let’s see how the S21 stacks up against its long-time rival.  

In a nutshell: The $800 S21 appears to be a slightly better deal for the features you get, on paper at least. Although the iPhone 12 line starts at $829 (£799, AU$1,349) you’ll have to pony up $879 (£849, AU$1,429) for the 128GB version, which is the same amount of storage you get for the entry-level S21.

The S21 also has an extra telephoto lens, and the highest-end S21 Ultra has support for Samsung’s S Pen stylus, which is sold separately.

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It’s also important to note what Samsung removed from its S21 family to allow it to start at that lower price. One of the most controversial changes is the lack of an in-box wall adapter and earphones. The South Korean company is pushing its customers to reuse older accessories in the name of the environment, just like Apple did with the iPhone 12 family. The S21 line also lost expandable local storage, joining last year’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Z Flip foldables in ditching the microSD card slot because “usage has markedly decreased.”

One thing you get in the iPhone 12 that’s absent on the S21, however, is MagSafe. That’s Apple’s proprietary magnetically enabled system that lets you charge your iPhone wirelessly and attach all kinds of accessories to the back of the device. The Pro models also have lidar, which is a depth sensor that’s useful for auto-focusing in low light for taking photos, videos and slow-motion footage, among other things. 

For more details on how the phones stack up against each other, check out our specs chart below.

Galaxy S21 line vs. iPhone 12

Galaxy S21

Galaxy S21 Plus

Galaxy S21 Ultra

Apple iPhone 12

Display size, resolution

6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display (2,400×1,080 pixels),

6.7-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (2,400×1,080 pixels)

6.8-inch Edge WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (3,200×1,440 pixels),

6.1-inch OLED; 2,532×1,170 pixels

Pixel density

421 ppi

394 ppi

515 ppi

460ppi

Dimensions (Inches)

2.80×5.97×0.31 in

2.97×6.35×0.30 in

2.97×6.50×0.35 in

5.78×2.82×0.29 in

Dimensions (Millimeters)

71.2×151.7×7.9 mm

75.6×161.5×7.8 mm

75.6×165.1×8.9 mm

146.7×71.5×7.4 mm

Weight (Ounces, Grams)

6.03 oz; 171g

7.12 oz; 202g

8.07 oz; 229 g

5.78oz; 164g

Mobile software

Android 11

Android 11

Android 11

iOS 14

Camera

64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide)

64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide)

108-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 10-megapixel (telephoto), 10-megapixel (telephoto)

12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide)

Front-facing camera

10-megapixel

10-megapixel

40-megapixel

12-megapixel

Video capture

8K

8K

8K

4K

Processor

Snapdragon 888 or 64-bit Octa-Core Processor 2.8GHz (Max 2.4GHz +1.8GHz)

Snapdragon 888 or 64-bit Octa-Core Processor 2.8GHz (Max 2.4GHz +1.8GHz)

Snapdragon 888 or 64-bit Octa-Core Processor 2.8GHz (Max 2.4GHz +1.8GHz)

Apple Bionic 14

Storage

128GB/256GB

128GB/256GB

128GB/256GB, 512GB

64GB, 128GB, 256GB

RAM

8GB

8GB

12GB, 16GB

Undisclosed

Expandable storage

No

No

No

No

Battery

4,000 mAh

4,800 mAh

5,000 mAh

Undisclosed; Apple lists 15 hours of video playback

Fingerprint sensor

In-screen

In-screen

In-screen

No (Face ID)

Headphone jack

No

No

No

Lightning

Special features

IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30X Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging,

IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30X Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging,

IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 100X Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging, 10x optical zoom; S Pen support

5G enabled; MagSafe; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM)

Price off-contract (USD)

$800 (128GB)

$1,000 (128 GB)

$1,200 (128 GB)

$829 (64GB), $879 (128GB), $979 (256GB)

Price (GBP)

£769

£949

£1,329

£799 (64GB), £849 (128GB), £949 (256GB)

Price (AUD)

AU$1,249

AU$1,549

AU$1,849

AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,429 (128GB), AU$1,599 (256GB)

Correction, Jan. 14: A previous version of this story indicated the Galaxy S21 has expandable storage, which is not the case.

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