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Samsung Galaxy S21 vs iphone 12

THIS IS THE $800 PHONE TO BUY

- BY MICHAEL SIMON

THE FIGHT IS SURPRISING­LY CLOSE BUT THERE’S A CLEAR WINNER.

The year is still young and we are already seeing our first heavyweigh­t smartphone battle of 2021. Samsung has released its lineup of Galaxy S21 phones ( go.pcworld. com/gl21) a little earlier than usual this year, and it clearly has Apple’s newest phone in its sights. Samsung hasn’t reinvented the S21 so much as it’s retooled it to take on the iphone 12 ( go.pcworld.com/i12p), with a lower price point, sharper design, and some new camera tricks. I’ve had a chance to review both, and here’s how the two $800 phones stack up.

DESIGN

Samsung’s Galaxy S is always at the forefront of Android smartphone design, and the S21 continues that tradition. Samsung has crafted a truly unique design where the metal sides seamlessly blend into the camera array, as if it were snapped onto the back. The back is made of plastic rather than glass, but it still has a premium feel, even if it’s not quite as luxurious as the S20.

Of course, the iphone is no slouch in the looks department. Apple introduced a new, flatter design with the iphone 12 that has a retro charm reminiscen­t of the iphone 4, and it feels great to hold. The square camera array is nearly identical to the iphone 11’s and not nearly as unique as the S21’s.

The two phones are very similar in size. The S21 is slightly bigger and a bit heavier. However, Samsung has done a fantastic job

of distributi­ng the weight on the S21, so it doesn’t feel as heavy as it weighs in specs:

Galaxy S21: 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm, 171 grams

iphone 12: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm, 164 grams

Both phones come in a variety of colors that basically boil down to personal preference, but Samsung’s unique design stands out here as well. The camera array is treated as a design element and is made to stand out with a bold metal housing. It’s one of the most unique designs Samsung has ever made, and it makes the iphone 12 look—well, a little stale.

My pick: Galaxy S21.

DISPLAY

Now that Apple has gone OLED and Samsung has gone Full HD, the iphone 12 and Galaxy S21 have very similar displays:

Galaxy S21: 6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Infinity-o Display (2400x1080), 421ppi, 120Hz

iphone 12: 6.1-inch Flat Full HD+ Super Retina XDR (2532x1170), 460ppi, 60Hz

Marketing terms and tenth-of-an-inch difference aside, the only real distinctio­n between the two displays is the refresh rate. Samsung is once again using a 120Hz screen on the S21, and this year it’s adaptive, meaning it will switch dynamicall­y from a high refresh to a low one, depending on what you’re doing, in order to save battery life.

You’re also choosing between a hole or a notch. The iphone 12 sticks with the rather large notch at the top of the screen that houses the Truedepth camera and sensors for Face ID, while Samsung has a small hole in the center for its selfie camera.

The iphone 12’s display is excellent, and, thanks to the speed of system on a chip, it feels extremely fast. But the S21 takes it a step further with its buttery-smooth scrolling, which feels effortless.

My pick: Galaxy S21.

PROCESSOR, RAM, STORAGE, AND BATTERY

As usual, both phones feature the very latest in chip tech. The iphone uses Apple’s own A14 Bionic processor, while the S21 sticks with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888. Both

phones are extremely fast—more than the average app will ever need—but once again, the iphone takes the crown.

My pick: iphone 12.

Geekbench 5 Single-core/multicore Galaxy S21: 1,076/3,223 iphone 12: 1,599/4,107

Compute

Galaxy S21: 4,621 iphone 12: 9,439

3D Mark Wildlife Unlimited

Galaxy S21: 5,645 iphone 12: 8,659

When it comes to memory, Samsung has dialed back the RAM a bit from the S20’s ridiculous 12GB, but the 8GB inside the S21 should be plenty. Apple has only 4GB in the iphone 12, but IOS 14’s optimizati­ons make it seem like there’s much more. Both phones were able to store dozens of recent app screens and handle transition­s and app switching without an issue. Samsung also beats Apple with base storage, offering 128GB in the S21 compared to the iphone 12’s 64GB, though you can upgrade to 128GB for $50.

Battery life is a bit more complicate­d. On paper, the S21 boasts a 4,000mah battery versus the iphone 12’s 2,815mah one, but real-world results will be much more important. The iphone 12’s battery life bested that of Android phones with nearly twice as much battery capacity in 2020, and it outperform­s the S21 here too. It’s not a total rout, though. Both phones did well to last through an entire day, though I tended to get a bit more juice with the iphone 12.

When it comes to charging, neither phone includes a charger in the box, though both phones offer fast charging with a capable charger, 20W with the iphone 12 and 25W with the S21. They both offer 10W wireless charging as well, and the iphone also offers Magsafe magnetic charging via optional accessorie­s.

Elsewhere, both phones have sub-6ghz and mmwave 5G, Wi-fi 6 for speedy connectivi­ty, and IP68 water resistance. The iphone 12 also has a U1 ultrawide band chip for precise location mapping, but you’ll need to

upgrade to one of the other models (S21+ or S21 Ultra) to get that on the S21. As was the case last year, the iphone 12 has 3D facial recognitio­n, while the S21 has an ultrasonic in-display fingerprin­t sensor, which is improved but still not as secure or speedy as Face ID.

My pick: iphone 12.

CAMERA

Somewhat surprising­ly, both Samsung and Apple opted to stick with similar camera hardware compared to their respective predecesso­rs. In the S21’s case, the triplecame­ra system is identical to the S20’s, while Apple only slightly upgraded the wide-angle sensor on the iphone 12 with a wider aperture (f/1.6 versus f/1.8).

Instead, the improvemen­ts are mostly behind the scenes, and like Google, Apple has more than proven its ability to process stellar photos. Time after time, the iphone 12 produced photos with crisper details, better color, and sharper contrast, where the S21 often overexpose­d shots and missed some elements. Photo quality is definitely a subjective judgment, and both phones will snap reliably good photos, but I preferred the iphone 12’s results in just about every instance, from bright to low light.

However, the iphone 12 doesn’t have anywhere near the power of 30X zoom. In fact, it doesn’t have a zoom lens at all, so you’ll need to get very close to your subject. A zoom is not something you’re going to need all that often, but when you do, the S21’s telephoto abilities blow away those of the iphone 12, which maxes out at 5X. But unless you’re planning on taking numerous

faraway shots, the iphone 12 is simply the superior shooter.

My pick: iphone 12.

OS AND UPDATES

As always, you’re getting the latest OS with each of these phones—one UI 3.1 based on Android 11 with the S21, and IOS 14 with the iphone 12—but the future isn’t quite as clear. Since the launch of the Galaxy S20, Samsung has promised that all new phones will get three generation­s of Android updates, so the S21 is guaranteed to get Android 14 when it arrives in 2023. Apple technicall­y offers no such guarantee, but iphones are generally supported for five years of upgrades. For example, the iphone 6s, which launched with IOS 9 in 2016, got IOS 14 when it landed in September 2020.

You’re also guaranteed to get IOS updates the day they arrive. In contrast, while Android’s monthly security updates land quickly, new versions often take months to arrive on the latest phones.

My pick: iphone 12.

BOTTOM LINE

Samsung and Apple have been competitor­s for as long as they’ve been making phones, but it’s been a while since they’ve had phones that were such close competitor­s. Both phones are fantastic and either will bring exceptiona­l value compared to nearly every other competitor. However, if the OS or a specific color isn’t a factor, I’d go with the iphone 12, despite its somewhat stale design. You won’t be unhappy with the S21, but you’ll be a little happier with the iphone 12.

 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? The S21 has a gorgeous color palette this year.
The S21 has a gorgeous color palette this year.
 ??  ?? The iphone 12 sticks with the notch.
The iphone 12 sticks with the notch.
 ??  ?? The Galaxy S21 isn’t just about looks—it’s also one of the fastest Android phones you can buy.
The Galaxy S21 isn’t just about looks—it’s also one of the fastest Android phones you can buy.
 ??  ?? In dark photos, the S21 tended to overly brighten photos so they lost some detail, as seen in this shot. All three phones did extremely well at capturing a very dark scene, but the S21 (left) missed a bit of the detail that the iphone 12 (center) and Pixel 5 (right) grabbed.
In dark photos, the S21 tended to overly brighten photos so they lost some detail, as seen in this shot. All three phones did extremely well at capturing a very dark scene, but the S21 (left) missed a bit of the detail that the iphone 12 (center) and Pixel 5 (right) grabbed.
 ??  ?? In this shot of a flower, the S21 (left) blew out the colors and detail a bit while the iphone 12 (center) and Pixel 5 (right) handled the bright surroundin­g light well.
In this shot of a flower, the S21 (left) blew out the colors and detail a bit while the iphone 12 (center) and Pixel 5 (right) handled the bright surroundin­g light well.

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