Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

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The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max 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?

After a bunch of leaks, we know almost everything there is to know about the Galaxy S21 Ultra and it’s time to compare it against the iPhone 12 Pro Max. In this comparison we will go over the display differences, cameras, battery sizes, charging, processors, and we’ll also look at a few things that you used to get for free in the box with your phone but that you no longer have.

Display

With a fast, 120Hz refresh rate the Galaxy has the smoother moves
Both the Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro Max have extra large screens, but on paper, it is the Galaxy S21 Ultra that has the slightly bigger one. The difference of 0.1 inches, however, is barely noticeable, and these two are clearly stretching the limits of how big a screen you can get in a non-foldable phone.
One signature iPhone element is the notch, which houses its complex Face ID sensors and front camera, while the Galaxy S21 features a much more discrete punch hole front camera that doesn’t obstruct your view. It’s easy to get used to the iPhone notch in everyday, casual use, but it can be very noticeable when you watch videos and particularly when you play games. The Galaxy, on the other hand, has a slightly tapered screen for easier swiping and it also has the advantage of razor thin bezels for a more futuristic, all-screen look.

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).

Performance

The Galaxy S21 Ultra comes equipped with the latest and most powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip in the United States, while international models will ship with a Samsung-made Exynos 2100 processor, which this year is expected to finally match the Snapdragon in both performance and power efficiency. On the other hand, the iPhone 12 Pro Max uses the Apple A14 Bionic chip.

Both manufacturers use the most advanced technology available for these processors: 5nm manufacturing, and just… crash the benchmarks! The Galaxy, 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 is said to sport 128GB of on-board memory, matching the storage offered on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The Galaxy S21 is also rumored to skip 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).

Camera

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.

Both the Galaxy and the iPhone feature an ultra-wide angle lens, so you have parity on that front. When it comes to focusing, the Galaxy has a laser auto focus system that should help resolve focusing issues we have seen on earlier Galaxy phones, and the iPhone on its part, has a LiDAR sensor that also helps to lock focus faster in low light.

On the video side, the S21 Ultra also adds 8K video recording at 30fps, 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. 

As for image quality, we’ll reserve judgment until we actually get to test both phones side by side.

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!

Don’t expect this to directly correlate to 50% improvement in battery life, but we do expect the Galaxy to outlast the iPhone in the battery endurance department.

Charging

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 said to be the first major Android phone to follow this unfortunate move, as per leaks.

Both phones also support wireless charging at speeds of up to 15W with a compatible charger. The iPhone stands out here with its new MagSafe technology so the phone can magnetically and securely snap to chargers and accessories, a nifty little extra that you don’t get on the Galaxy.

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.

Prices

Last but not least, let’s talk pricing. Leaks point out that market conditions have forced Samsung to lower its flagship phone prices in 2021. In 2020, Samsung launched its flagship S20 Ultra at an exorbitant price of $1,400, while this year’s Galaxy S21 Ultra might start at a lower price of around $1,300, which is still considerably more expensive than an iPhone 12 Pro Max.

  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G — around $1,300 for 128GB model
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max — $1,100 for 128GB model

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