Galaxy S21 vs. iPhone 12 specs: Samsung may have beaten Apple this time

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Samsung’s new lineup includes (from left) the $800 Galaxy S21, $1,000 Galaxy S21 Plus and $1,200 Galaxy S21 Ultra. 

Drew Evans/CNET

This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

Samsung’s trio of S21 phones are here — and the lineup starts at a cool $200 less than its predecessor. The Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra, unveiled in a virtual Unpacked event on Thursday, are all available to preorder and will ship on Jan. 29.

While the price cut is a welcome change, the smartphone industry is notoriously cut-throat, and (as always) you can bet the S21 will face stiff competition from the iPhone 12 series. So let’s see how the S21 stacks up against its long-time rival.  

In a nutshell: The $800 S21 appears to be a better deal for the features you get, on paper at least. Although the iPhone 12 line starts at $829 (£799, AU$1,349) you’ll have to pony up $879 (£849, AU$1,429) for the 128GB version, which is the same amount of storage you get for the entry-level S21.

The S21 also has an extra telephoto lens, and the highest-end S21 Ultra has support for Samsung’s S Pen stylus, which is sold separately.

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One thing you get in the iPhone 12 that’s absent on the S21, however, is MagSafe. That’s Apple’s proprietary magnetically enabled system that lets you charge your iPhone wirelessly and attach all kinds of accessories to the back of the device. The Pro models also have lidar, which is a depth sensor that’s useful for auto-focusing in low light for taking photos, videos and slow-motion footage, among other things. 

For more details on how the phones stack up against each other, check out our specs chart below.

Galaxy S21 line vs. iPhone 12

Galaxy S21 Galaxy S21 Plus Galaxy S21 Ultra Apple iPhone 12
Display size, resolution 6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display (2,400×1,080 pixels), 6.7-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (2,400×1,080 pixels) 6.8-inch Edge WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (3,200×1,440 pixels), 6.1-inch OLED; 2,532×1,170 pixels
Pixel density 421 ppi 394 ppi 515 ppi 460ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 2.80×5.97×0.31 in 2.97×6.35×0.30 in 2.97×6.50×0.35 in 5.78×2.82×0.29 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 71.2×151.7×7.9 mm 75.6×161.5×7.8 mm 75.6×165.1×8.9 mm 146.7×71.5×7.4 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.03 oz; 171g 7.12 oz; 202g 8.07 oz; 229 g 5.78oz; 164g
Mobile software Android 11 Android 11 Android 11 iOS 14
Camera 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide) 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide) 108-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 10-megapixel (telephoto), 10-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel 10-megapixel 40-megapixel 12-megapixel
Video capture 8K 8K 8K 4K
Processor Snapdragon 888 or 64-bit Octa-Core Processor 2.8GHz (Max 2.4GHz +1.8GHz) Snapdragon 888 or 64-bit Octa-Core Processor 2.8GHz (Max 2.4GHz +1.8GHz) Snapdragon 888 or 64-bit Octa-Core Processor 2.8GHz (Max 2.4GHz +1.8GHz) Apple Bionic 14
Storage 128GB/256GB 128GB/256GB 128GB/256GB, 512GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 8GB 8GB 12GB, 16GB Undisclosed
Expandable storage No No No No
Battery 4,000 mAh 4,800 mAh 5,000 mAh Undisclosed; Apple lists 15 hours of video playback
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen In-screen No (Face ID)
Headphone jack No No No Lightning
Special features IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30X Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging, IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30X Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging, IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 100X Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging, 10x optical zoom; S Pen support 5G enabled; MagSafe; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM)
Price off-contract (USD) $800 (128GB) $1,000 (128 GB) $1,200 (128 GB) $829 (64GB), $879 (128GB), $979 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £769 £949 £1,329 £799 (64GB), £849 (128GB), £949 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,249 AU$1,549 AU$1,849 AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,429 (128GB), AU$1,599 (256GB)

Correction, Jan. 14: A previous version of this story indicated the Galaxy S21 has expandable storage, which is not the case.


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