Apple iPhone 12 Vs. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: Face Off

The CRN Test Center compares Apple’s popular iPhone 12 with Samsung’s new flagship in the Galaxy S lineup, the Galaxy S21 Ultra.


If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, chances are good that it’s coming down to an iPhone vs. Samsung decision. And your timing is good, too -- because Samsung has just launched its new Galaxy S smartphones for 2021. The latest Samsung lineup includes the flagship Galaxy S21 Ultra, equipped with a huge display, advanced cameras and other upgrades on specs over previous Samsung phones. Meanwhile, Apple’s iPhone 12 has only been out for a few months and has plenty of cool new features and updated specs of its own to offer.

Still, while either the iPhone 12 or the Galaxy S21 Ultra would make a solid choice for a new smartphone, and both come with 5G, the phones have many differences that you should know about--especially when it comes to price. Which of the two phones is the better fit for your needs? What follows is the CRN Test Center comparison of Apple’s iPhone 12 vs Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra on price, specs and 5G options.


One of the most noticeable differences between the iPhone 12 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra is on the display size. The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a lot more screen space to offer with its 6.8-inch display, compared to the 6.1-inch display on the iPhone 12. Another notable difference is the S21 Ultra’s refresh rate of 120Hz. The feature provides smoother display motion, both for playing games and for typical activities such as scrolling web pages. Despite rumors that the iPhone 12 was going to come with a 120Hz refresh rate, Apple ended up keeping the standard 60Hz refresh rate for the phone.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra display has another major differentiator, as well--with Samsung adding support for the S Pen stylus. Using Wacom technology, the Galaxy S21 Ultra works with the S Pen stylus that is most famous from its inclusion in the Galaxy Note series. (The S21 Ultra does not have housing within the device for the S Pen, which is sold separately).

In terms of display quality, both the iPhone 12 and Galaxy S21 Ultra displays offer vibrant OLED screen technology, as well as very high resolution in both cases--515 pixels per inch (ppi) for the Galaxy S21 Ultra and 460 ppi for the iPhone 12. In other words, neither phone’s display should be a disappointment.


With the iPhone 12, Apple launched a design overhaul that makes the device a lot boxier than it used to be. The iPhone 12 features a squared-off, flat-edge appearance, in contrast to the curved edges of prior generations of iPhones. The iPhone 12 design also removes the border that had separated the stainless steel body and the display--making the body and glass flush. Thus, one design difference between the Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 is on the display design--with the iPhone 12 featuring the new flat display design and the S21 Ultra offering an “edge” display design that brings more of a curve.

Meanwhile, on the back of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, Samsung has redesigned the camera housing in what the company is calling its “Contour Cut Camera” housing design. The idea is to blend the camera housing more seamlessly into the phone’s metal frame, Samsung said.

5G Connectivity

Finally, with the debut of 5G support in the iPhone 12, the iPhone can match up to Samsung’s Galaxy phones on supporting 5G. Samsung has stood out in the smartphone market by launching numerous devices with 5G support since mid-2019. And the Galaxy S21 Ultra is no exception, of course. In terms of the type of 5G service that’s available on the devices, both the iPhone 12 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra support the two major 5G variants. I.e., both phones are available with sub-6GHz 5G connectivity--which is the most widely available version of 5G—as well as the higher-speed 5G service, known as mmWave.

In terms of 5G capabilities, the service can deliver data rates that are 10X to 100X faster than current 4G/LTE networks—and that should greatly improve user experience, said Drew Blackard, vice president of mobile product management for Samsung Electronics America, during the recent CES 2021 conference.

Processor, RAM And Storage

Users shouldn’t notice a major difference on the performance of the two phones in our comparison. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is powered by Qualcomm’s new eight-core Snapdragon 888, while the iPhone 12 uses the six-core A14 Bionic chip. While Apple’s A series chips have historically out-performed Qualcomm Snapdragon chips, benchmark scores Geekbench 5 suggest only a modest performance advantage for the A14 Bionic over the Snapdragon 888.

In terms of RAM and storage options, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has three configuration choices--all with a huge amount of RAM. The options are for 12 GB of RAM with either 128 GB or 256 GB of internal storage, or 16 GB of RAM with 512 GB of storage. The iPhone 12 has lower amounts to offer on both storage and RAM. Buyers of the iPhone 12 can choose between models with 64 GB, 128 GB or 256 GB of internal storage, while the device comes with a reported 4 GB of RAM.

Camera And Battery Life

The rear camera system on the iPhone 12 comes with dual 12-megapixel cameras—including a new wide camera, in addition to an ultra-wide camera. The wide camera offers an improved ƒ/1.6 aperture, with the ability to take in 27 percent more light than the iPhone 11 camera—while the device also offers up to 2X optical zoom and up to 5X digital zoom.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra features a higher-end camera system, with twice as many cameras on the rear. The S21 Ultra’s quad-camera system includes 108-megapixel wide-angle and 12-megapixel ultra-wide sensors, along with a pair of 10-megapixel telephoto cameras. For zooming purposes, the S21 Ultra camera system offers “space” zoom of up to 100X as a new zoom lock feature that provides clearer photos by compensating for shaky hands while zooming.

On battery life, Samsung doesn’t want to make any promises on hours of usage for the Galaxy S21 Ultra—instead pointing to the fact that the device has a huge battery, 5,000 mAh, to demonstrate its battery life capabilities. That’s significantly larger than the battery on the iPhone 12, which has been reported at 2,815 mAh. However, Apple does give some sense of possible battery life on the iPhone 12, with the company saying the device can get up to 17 hours of video playback.

Additional Features

Other key features on the Galaxy S21 Ultra include improved support for the DeX Android desktop. The S21 Ultra now supports wireless connectivity to DeX on PCs and Macs, in addition to wireless connectivity to displays that support Miracast.

For the iPhone 12, the re-design of the device has also improved durability. The display features what Apple is calling “Ceramic Shield” material, which involves using high- temperature crystallization to improve toughness. The drop protection on the iPhone 12 is now 4X better, according to Apple. Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 now supports magnetically attachable MagSafe accessories. The accessories can snap onto the back of the phone, as a new way to provide wireless charging.

Price And Availability

While you can pre-order Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra now, you’ll have to wait just a bit longer to get your hands on the device. Samsung has said the Galaxy S21 Ultra will be shipping as of Jan. 29.

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra is clearly the higher-end phone in our comparison, with a larger display, double the cameras, a larger battery, more RAM and additional business features compared to Apple’s iPhone 12. The Galaxy S21 Ultra price starts at $1,199.99, which puts it $400 above the iPhone 12. However, the starting iPhone 12 price of $799 will only get you 64 GB of storage, whereas the S21 Ultra starts out with 128 GB of storage at the base level. The iPhone 12 cost goes up to $849 for a model with 128 GB of storage.

While the Galaxy S21 Ultra is by far the pricier phone in our comparison, it’s still worth noting that the device is actually $200 cheaper than its predecessor from last year’s Galaxy S lineup—the Galaxy S20 Ultra—which had a starting price of $1,399.