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are two of the most premium, large-screen phones that one can buy, but how do they differ and what advantages does one have over the other?
With a fast, 120Hz refresh rate the Galaxy has the smoother moves
The Samsung has a couple of other advantages too: its screen has a higher resolution for sharper detail, something especially noticeable when reading text. Most importantly, the screen can run at a 120Hz refresh rate, twice as fast as the 60Hz on the iPhone, and this makes scrolling zippier and smoother than on the iPhone. New on the Galaxy is that this fast refresh rate can be used with the maximum supported QHD resolution, plus the screen will automatically adjust the refresh rate, so the full 120Hz speed will be used only when needed, while the rest of the time the screen can smartly switch to a lower and more power-efficient refresh rate (as low as 10Hz).
Both manufacturers use the most advanced technology available for these processors: 5nm manufacturing, and just… crash the benchmarks!
Still, you can see that the Apple A14 has the upper hand in performance. The gap is especially big in single core CPU performance where the iPhone really goes berserk, but interestingly the graphics performance on both chips is quite similar in the GFXBench Car Chase on-screen test performed at 1080p resolution on the Galaxy.
The Samsung, however, has the advantage of an integrated 5G modem that should make it more efficient with 5G use.
In terms of storage, the base Galaxy S21 Ultra model starts at 128GB of on-board memory, matching the storage offered on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The Galaxy S21 is also skipping the microSD card slot, just like the iPhone, so there would be no easy way to expand the storage on either of these two phones.
Of course, both phones will be available on all major carriers across the globe and in the United States, and they will support 5G connectivity with all bands required for a particular market (both support sub-6GHz and mmWave types of 5G in the US).
Two telephoto zoom cameras on the Galaxy might make it the most versatile zoom camera, but only the iPhone has a LiDAR sensor for AR
The Galaxy S21 Ultra brings a new style to the camera unit which now blends with the side of the phone, while the iPhone features that recognizable induction stove top like design for the cameras. Both are very distinct and easily recognizable, but also both feature raised camera beds, so both phones will wobble if you lay them back down on a table without a case.
Apart from the styling differences, there are some big differences in the amount and specs of the cameras.
The Galaxy has the upper hand with two telephoto cameras, while the iPhone only has one telephoto camera. On the Galaxy, you get a periscope lens, with a long-range, 10X zoom capability, up from the 5X zoom lens of the Note 20 Ultra.
On top of the periscope lens, the S21 Ultra also adds a secondary zoom camera, this one being a short-range 3X zoom lens. Combined together, these two cameras make the Galaxy clearly the superior phone for when you have to get a clear picture of something far away.
Interestingly, the Galaxy will also adopt a wider main camera with a 24mm lens versus a 26mm lens on the iPhone (and most other phones for that matter). This might not sound like a huge difference, but it will result in a wider perspective for shots with the main camera.
*Notice the iPhone has cleaner detail around the helm of the boat, but the Galaxy has a wider field of view
The most impressive feature of the Galaxy has got to be its zooming ability, so let’s see how it compares against the iPhone:
That really is one world of a difference, the Galaxy truly impresses here. Next up, let’s take a look at a real challenge, low-light photos! Keep in mind that the photos below were captured using auto mode with Scene Optimizer enabled on the Galaxy and we have also used the Auto mode on the iPhone.
On the video side, the S21 Ultra also adds 8K video recording at 24fps, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max can do 4K video but it supports the Dolby HDR standard for richer colors. With 8K you get much cleaner detail, while the HDR option on the iPhone gives you a higher dynamic range, so both have their own unique advantages. Those are the technical differences. In real life, recording at 4K, we noticed the iPhone still has the higher dynamic range, especially in challenging situation it stands out, and also, in extreme low light the Galaxy fails to squeeze out enough light and videos on it appear way too dark. However, it would be short sighted to just give the iPhone the win because it is just not a match for the Galaxy in terms of zooming! The iPhone can only go to 12X zoom in videos, while the Galaxy can go all the way to 20X, and it’s the quality that matters, you can get incredible shots on the Galaxy with the 10X zoom periscope lens, while at the same magnification… well, let’s just say you don’t really want to zoom that far on the iPhone.
More video footage coming soon…
Battery Life and Charging speeds
- 5,000mAh (Galaxy S21 Ultra) vs 3,687mAh (iPhone 12 Pro Max)
- Faster charging on Galaxy
Finally, these two will also differ in their battery sizes. Android phones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra always come with bigger batteries than iPhones, and the S21 Ultra is no exception. It’s projected to come with a 5,000mAh battery cell, compared to a 3,687mAh battery on the iPhone. That means the Galaxy has a nearly 50% larger battery capacity than the iPhone!
In real world use, we were getting north of 7 hours of screen time on the S21 Ultra, a bit more impressive than the iPhone, but to confirm that, we turn to our scientific battery tests!
Web Browsing Test (Wi-Fi, 200 nits brightness)
On our lightest test, web browsing, the S21 Ultra outlasted the iPhone even when it was running at the 120Hz Adaptive rate, which is a truly impressive achievement. We definitely recommend that smoother and more pleasing 120Hz mode, especially with such great battery life, but if you switch to 60Hz, you will indeed squeeze a bit more on this test. At 60Hz the S21 Ultra scored more than 16 hours, an all-time record for flagships!=
Our second test is streaming YouTube videos from the same playlist at the same, 1080p quality, and lo and behold, the S21 Ultra once again beats the iPhone with a small margin. Great showing for the Samsung and its battery so far.
3D Gaming Test
Last but not least, we have our gaming test, and if you play games like Call of Duty and Minecraft, this is the number one test that you should care about. While the other two tests load up the CPU, this one strains the GPU and shows how effective it is.
And once again, the Galaxy with outlasts the iPhone with a bit extra running time at 60Hz, but keep in mind that using 120Hz for gaming really hits the battery hard and you get nearly half the battery life you would get otherwise at just 5 hours of playtime at 120Hz. If you want a balance between performance and battery life, it really makes sense to game at 60Hz.
For charging, the iPhone 12 Pro Max supports speeds of up to 20W, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra is expected to support marginally faster, 25W charging speeds. The iPhone was also the first mainstream phone on the market to ship without a charger, and the S21 Ultra is the first major Android phone to follow this unfortunate move.
Unfortunately, that means that these two premium flagship are behind the curve in charging times. It takes about an hour and a half to fully charge the S21 Ultra with a 25W charger, while using a 18W/20W charger on the iPhone takes up around 1 hour and 45 minutes. In times when phones charge at under an hour, and some can fully charge in half an hour, those speeds are just way too slow.
What the iPhone cannot do is reverse wireless charging, while the Samsung does have this option so you can place your Galaxy Buds Pro for example and quickly top them up using your Galaxy phone as a wireless power bank of sorts.
Last but not least, let’s talk pricing. Market conditions this year have forced Samsung to lower its flagship phone prices. In 2020, Samsung launched its flagship S20 Ultra at an exorbitant price of $1,400, while this year’s Galaxy S21 Ultra start at a more reasonable price starting at $1,200, which is still a bit more expensive than an iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Finally, the Galaxy S21 Ultra release date is set for January 29th.