Now that Samsung has just introduced its new line of high-end smartphones, the Galaxy S21s, let’s compare them, on paper at least, to tough competitors: the iPhone 12.
The two main smartphone manufacturers wage a marketing war each year aimed at putting their current flagship in the spotlight. With the presentation of the new Samsung Galaxy S21s, which we had the opportunity to quickly take in hand, we can already note some differences with the iPhone 12 from Apple.
Galaxy S21 or iPhone 12: very extensive ranges
Whether we are talking about the Galaxy S21 or the iPhone 12, the first point to clarify is that of the models, since it is now complete ranges including several phones. Thus, Samsung offers three smartphones: the Galaxy S21, S21 + and S21 Ultra, while Apple offers four: iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max.
At Samsung, we have on one side the Galaxy S21 and S21 + which are almost identical except for the size of the screen (and the battery) and on the other the S21 Ultra which is positioned as the technological showcase from the manufacturer. In the case of Apple, we have on one side the iPhone 12, available in two different sizes, and on the other the iPhone 12 Pro, but the Max variant is more than a simple large format since it also offers improvements in the photo. As such, it is the one that will come closest to the S21 Ultra.
Design: back to basics
For the 2021 vintage, both Apple and Samsung have decided to go back to basics in terms of design. This is obvious on the iPhone 12 with their straight edges reminiscent of the design era of the iPhone 4 (and its three successors). Of course, Apple does not sweep away 10 years of evolution and the iPhone 12 still benefit from impeccable finishes with an aluminum or stainless steel frame depending on the model and front and back glass facades, but above all the thin borders and uniforms around the screen.
“Fine”, relatively speaking. Although released in 2020, the design of the iPhone 12 still suffers from its large notch encompassing the sensors necessary for Face ID. In use it is not annoying, but we must admit that this gives a less “modern” aspect to the screen, however very beautiful.
For its part, Samsung is evolving its previous formula by refining in particular the photo unit of the Galaxy S21 integrated in an aluminum frame in the continuity of its tranche. At the front, the thin borders are accompanied by a discreet bubble centered on the top of the screen for better immersion. Heads up or tails, the result is rather pleasing to the eye.
However, we also note a certain step backwards, just like for Apple. Yes, take a closer look: apart from the S21 Ultra which sports a discreet curvature, the screen of the S21 and S21 + is flat! We could also note the presence of a plastic shell on the S21 and not glass like its big brothers, which in no way detracts from the care taken with the finishes.
This difference in materials affects the weight of the devices. Count only 171 grams for the Galaxy S21 against 202 and 228 grams respectively for the Galaxy S21 + and S21 Ultra. Apple for its part manages to reduce the figure on the scale with only 133 g for the 12 mini, 162 g for the iPhone 12 and 187 grams for the iPhone 12 Pro. Only the iPhone 12 Pro Max climbs to 226 grams.
In either case, it’s hard not to notice at first glance that this is a premium smartphone.
Amoled HDR on the program across the range
Display specialist, Samsung always amazes with its screens and the Galaxy S21 are of course no exception to the rule with Amoled panels compatible with HDR10 +, in Full HD + for the two “small” and in QHD + for the Ultra. Apple does not have much to envy him on this point since the full range now benefits from an Oled screen, also HDR compatible.
Samsung, however, keeps a step ahead with a refresh rate (dynamic) of 120 Hz on its three smartphones while the iPhone 12 remained at 60 Hz not to reduce autonomy, already reduced by the arrival of 5G .
The iPhone 12, however, has a significant advantage for some: more variety in sizes. With a screen diagonal ranging from 5.4 inches for the 12 mini to 6.7 inches for the 12 Pro Max, there is something for everyone. At Samsung, the Galaxy S21 starts at 6.2 ″ and that goes up to 6.8 ″ for the S21 Ultra.
Apple untouchable on performance
In terms of performance, Apple and Samsung are equipping their entire range with the same chip: A14 Bionic on one side and Exynos 2100 on the other. These two SoCs are engraved in 5 nm and are designed to distribute the workload over different more or less greedy cores. Nothing really surprising here.
For RAM, we find 8 GB on the Galaxy S21 and S21 +, 12 to 16 GB on the S21 Ultra, and only 6 GB on the iPhone 12 and 8 GB on the iPhone 12 Pro. This debauchery of RAM from Samsung also reflects a greater difficulty in managing the operating system. Thanks to its closed and controlled architecture, Apple can therefore run iOS more easily.
We will have to wait for more complete tests of the Galaxy S21 to confirm it, but the first leaked benchmarks show that the Exynos 2100 is more or less on par with the Snapdragon 888, which is itself below what Apple offers. In addition, the ecosystem of the latter allows it to have better control over its equipment and thus obtain more performance in use.
Versatility is everything
In an age where the capabilities of smartphones often exceed requirements, the hardest part to master, the most demanding, separating the premium from the ultra-premium, is the photo (and video capture). On this point, Samsung and Apple are among the best and it is difficult to separate phones on their simple technical sheet as software algorithms are so important in the equation. However, we can note their versatility.
On the Samsung side, we are in the presence of a triple sensor on the S21 and S21 +: a main 12 Mpx (f / 1.8), an ultra wide-angle of 12 Mpx (f / 2.2) and a 64 Mpx x3 hybrid zoom (f / 2). Apple on its iPhone 12 and 12 mini is satisfied with a wide-angle of 12 Mpx (f / 1.6) and an ultra-wide angle of 12 Mpx (f / 2.4).
For the S21 Ultra, Samsung integrates a main sensor of 108 Mpx and adds to that a 10 Mpx optical zoom x10 and a ToF sensor to measure the depth. The iPhone 12 Pro just adds a 12-megapixel x2 telephoto, while the 12 Pro increases the zoom to x2.5 and adds a LiDAR sensor.
Samsung therefore wins in terms of versatility with many more possibilities to offer users. We must also take into account the usual faults of the two brands: the treatment of the iPhone lenses leaves something to be desired, creating lens flare at night, while Samsung tends to saturate its colors a little too much, especially with its night mode. However, we will have to wait for more extensive tests to really compare all its smartphones on their real potential in specific use cases.
For video capture, Samsung is also taking a step ahead by offering 8K recording in addition to 4K at 60 fps and Full HD at 120 fps. For its part, Apple is satisfied with a very well controlled 4K at 60 fps, but adds Dolby Vision HDR for better contrasts and finer color management.
Learn more about the Galaxy S21 and iPhone 12
Whether at Samsung or Apple, we are therefore in the presence of very good smartphones that shine by their excellence in all areas, even if some points still need to be clarified, especially with regard to autonomy, black point of the Galaxy S20 in 2020 (except for the Ultra model).
To learn more about each of these smartphones, we invite you to consult our complete iPhone 12 reviews:
As well as our handling of Galaxy S21:
Where to buy iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy S21?
The Samsung Galaxy S21s are currently on pre-order for release on January 29. Count 859 euros for the cheapest model, 1059 euros for the S21 + and 1259 euros for the S21 Ultra, with 128 GB of storage in all cases. It is possible to extend this storage space by adding a few tens of euros each time.
The iPhone 12 are already available from 809 euros for the mini, 909 euros for the iPhone 12, 1159 euros for the 12 Pro and 1259 euros for the 12 Pro Max.