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Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: Which is better?
While the iPhone 12 arguably had the edge on the Samsung Galaxy S20 in 2020, the competition is a lot tighter in 2021 with the S21.
Whichever handset you opt for, you shouldn’t experience buyer’s remorse. If you’re an Apple fan, there’s no need to look longingly over the fence at the Samsung Galaxy S21 if you want an iPhone 12. The same is true in reverse. The S21 offers better value with a bigger battery, while the iPhone 12 has slightly better performance stats. Outside of that, there’s not a lot in this race.
Just the other week, we pitted the Samsung Galaxy S21 against a few key Samsung Galaxy contenders: the not-so-old S20 FE, the ageing S10 and the top-tier S21 Ultra . Now it’s time to step outside of the Samsung family and pit the S21 against its big across-town rival, the iPhone 12.
While there was some close competition and surprising winners in those Samsung Galaxy comparisons, pitting the S21 against the iPhone 12 is in many respects more interesting because they’re the two latest-model poster brawlers of the Android and iOS wars. Let’s see who comes out on top.
Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: Price
There’s not a whole lot in this comparison, and it feels as though Samsung has tactically undercut the pricing of the iPhone 12 with the launch of the Galaxy S21. While it costs $1,349 to buy an iPhone 12 outright, the S21 is $100 cheaper at $1,249. That’s not a big enough difference to make the S21 the clear winner in this category, but when you consider that Apple price is for a 64GB model, the price difference is even better when comparing the base 128GB S21 against the iPhone 12 128GB model ($1,429).
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21
Below is a pricing table for these Galaxy and iPhone handsets with the best pricing.
Samsung Galaxy S21 plans
You can see the top-five Samsung Galaxy S21 plans below, which are updated daily and organised in terms of popularity (minimum 2GB of data and on 24-month handset-repayment terms).
iPhone 12 plans
Below is a daily updating list of iPhone 12 plans, based on popularity, which include at least 2GB of data and are priced based on a 24-month handset repayment.
Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: Specs
Our full analysis is just beyond this table, but the table below offers an at-a-glance side-by-side breakdown of comparable Samsung Galaxy S21 and iPhone 12 specs.
6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X
6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED
1080 x 2400
1170 x 2532
Refresh rate (max)
Max brightness (nits)
Fast Charging 25W
Fast Charging 20W
Front (selfie) camera
Ultra-wide camera (12MP, 120°, F2.2)
Ultra-wide (12MP, Aperture: F2.4)
Dual-LED dual-tone flash
8K @ 30fps
4K up to 60fps
Apple A14 Bionic
Water and dust resistance
IP68 (up to 1.5m for 30 min)
IP68 (up to 6m for 30 min)
Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: Camera
This is a fascinating comparison. On a pure specs front, the Samsung Galaxy S21 beats the iPhone 12, with the addition of a 64MP telephoto camera and superior zoom. In terms of video, the S21 can shoot at up to 8K at 30fps, where the iPhone 12 taps out at 4K at 60fps. That said, the iPhone 12 can record 1080p video at up to 240fps (120fps on the S21), and it has the edge with a 12MP selfie camera, compared to the 10MP selfie cam on the S21.
While we don’t yet have an S21 review handset, we do know that the S21 has the same camera specs as the S20. In side-by-side comparisons between the S20 and iPhone 12, the Apple handset tends to have better detail, including in darker areas, helped along by a faster aperture on its rear cameras. Still, if you want better video quality and greater camera versatility, you want the S21, but if you want better detail in everyday photography, the iPhone 12 will likely be more your speed.
Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: Design
This is another category that’s too close to call and will depend largely on personal preference. In a practical sense, both handsets have an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance, so they’re practically protected. While the iPhone 12 is lighter at 164 grams, the 171-gram weight for the S21 isn’t enough to call it cumbersome by comparison, especially when you consider the additional rear camera and slightly larger display.
That S21 weight is kept low partially thanks to a plastic back compared to the iPhone 12’s ceramic shield glass all over. Glass arguably feels better in the hand but it also raises concerns over durability; regardless, whether you prefer the feel of plastic or glass, it should be moot if you protect your expensive new handset inside a case.
Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: Display
From the outset, I assumed the iPhone 12 would easily take this category, but the competition is a lot closer here. For resolution and pixels-per-inch (ppi), the iPhone 12 takes the cake with a higher resolution (1170x2532 vs 1080x2400) and more ppi (460 vs 421) for better detail. That’s easier on the eye overall, but the Samsung Galaxy S21 intuitively scales up to a 120Hz screen refresh rate, which is easier on the eye for faster-moving things, including scrolling (the iPhone 12 is fixed at 60Hz).
The S21 has a slightly larger screen (6.2-inch vs 6.1-inch) for a slight screen-real-estate edge, plus it also has better max brightness at 1300 nits, compared to the iPhone 12’s 1200 nits, while the S21 also has HDR10+ support (the iPhone 12 has HDR10). If you prefer brightness and smoother scrolling on slightly larger screen, you want the S21; but if you want a higher resolution, go for the iPhone 12.
Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: Performance
This category comparison would be a lot tighter if Australia was one of the regions that supported the Snapdragon 888 processor inside the speedier Samsung Galaxy S21 instead of the Samsung-made Exynos 2100 processor. According to tech-deep-dive site NanoReview, the A14 Bionic processor that’s inside the iPhone 12 has better performance than the S21’s Exynos 2100, despite the A14 being a six-core processor and the Exynos boasting eight cores.
While the results are close enough that you shouldn’t ultimately pick the iPhone 12 over the S21 because of its slight performance edge, there’s enough there to make the iPhone 12 the winner in this category. In terms of the numbers, here’s how the A14 Bionic stacks up against the Exynos 2100:
- CPU performance: A14 Bionic 5% better than Exynos 2100
- Gaming performance: A14 Bionic 6% better than Exynos 2100
- Battery life: A14 Bionic 1% more efficient than Exynos 2100
- Overall score: A14 Bionic 4% better than the Exynos 2100
Though RAM isn’t the be-all and end-all of multitasking, it’s worth noting that the S21 has double the memory (8GB vs 4GB), which should make it feel speedier when shifting between multiple apps.
Winner: iPhone 12
Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: Battery life
While the results of real-world tests for the Samsung Galaxy S21 are still in progress, it’s clear the Samsung phone has the edge over the iPhone 12 when it comes to battery life. For starters, the iPhone 12’s battery capacity is 2,815mAh compared to the 4,000mAh battery inside the S21. That’s plenty of extra juice to deal with the draining current realities of the yet-to-be-optimised 5G network.
The S21 has the edge in terms of Fast Charging (25W vs 20W), as well as a bolstered USB Power Delivery (3.0 vs 2.0), and it also gives users the option of reverse wireless charging if you want to share battery with other compatible devices.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21
Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: Which should I buy?
With draws in three of the categories, the Samsung Galaxy S21 emerges as the winner with its wins in terms of better price and bolstered battery life. That said, given those three drawn categories can go either way based on personal preferences, this could easily be a victory for iPhone 12 or a clearer win for the S21.
Both handsets compete well against each other, so if performance, a higher-resolution screen, a glass-focused design and better detail in pictures matter most to you, choose the iPhone 12. If you want the best-value handset with better battery life, more video options and camera versatility, as well as a higher-refresh-rate screen, the S21 should be the smartphone for you.