If the previous decade has taught us anything, it’s that even if the vanguard phones are the ones that draw headlines, they’re not necessarily the best sellers. Most people will relate more to brands than capabilities, so on average, consumers just want a new Galaxy or iPhone for the least amount of money.
It’s the reason why we’ve seen this new approach of not just one Galaxy S or iPhone, and in these challenging times, I’m sure a very important question you might have, is where to draw the line. Which is the best bang for the buck affordable flagship that money can buy? Today, we decided to compare two of our favorites.
This is the Galaxy S21, Samsung’s least expensive flagship for 2021, and if you watched our recent review, one of the phones you should seriously consider right now. This is the iPhone 12, probably one of our favorite offerings in 2020, given how Apple was able to blur the lines between flagship features and price. I’m sure the fans are already drawing conclusions as to which one is going to win, but I’m gonna say it’s actually not that simple.
I think the debate between iOS and Android is so old, that I’m not planning to waste your time trying to get you to jump from one platform to another. The idea of this Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12 video is to help determine which phone is the better buy, and it starts with the hardware.
Physically both of these phones could not be more different. While Apple has decided to take a leap of faith on going entirely flat, Samsung has decided to flatten only the elements that are ergonomically convenient, which is smart given their differences in footprint. The Galaxy is 5mm taller, slightly narrower, slightly thicker, and yet manages to pull it off with just a meager 5 extra grams in weight. Both are made of aluminum frames, with Samsung favoring a shiny side rail versus Apple’s matte finish, but then both companies do the entire opposite at the back. As a result, the Galaxy handles fingerprints better, but I have a feeling the polycarbonate back Samsung provides does some leg work. It is controversial to launch a flagship with plastic, but keep in mind Apple’s ceramic shield is not present in the back.
Internally things get tight as both devices are relatively just as modern with Qualcomm and Apple’s 5nm processors. And sure, the Galaxy has double the RAM and almost double the battery, but we know that means nothing in the Apple world. What you should care about is that even if both devices don’t offer expandable storage, the Galaxy starts at double. Then they both offer essentials like fast and wireless charging, but only the Galaxy can reverse it. They’re both water-resistant and offer the same ways to remain connected, even up to both flavors of 5G. Where Apple swings back is in offering the new Ultra Wide Band on this iPhone, which this specific Galaxy S lacks.
But then when it comes to the displays, I’ll be more inclined to give this to Samsung. These are both OLED displays that support HDR10, with the S21 being only slightly larger as part of the trick since the iPhone is a tad wider. I’ll praise both for their color reproduction and amounts of detail, even if the iPhone only has a slight lead in pixels per inch. Really where the Galaxy wins is because it supports a 120Hz refresh rate versus 60, there is almost no notch to deal with versus the worse in the industry, and because it has an Ultrasonic fingerprint scanner under it, which is far more convenient during this pandemic. (Speaker test) In other elements like the speakers, I’d call it more of a tie.
Regardless of which one wins your hardware preferences, both are fragile, and even with the polycarbonate back on the S21, repairs on the front are not cheap, and that only gets ridiculous with the iPhone.
As I began this video, let me just once again clarify that I don’t plan to call winners based on iOS or Android. What I will do is tell you where your money is better invested. iOS makes it really hard for any Android OEM to compete unless you’re Google of course. The six-year-old iPhone 6s is still supported and you get your updates on day one, while Samsung only offers 3 years of support, is slow at them, and only gets slower the older your phone gets.
If this were the old grid of icons from Apple, I’d also give visuals to Samsung, but even here iOS 14 has finally evolved with widgets and a smarter app library versus Samsung’s app tray. I just find Samsung’s approach more dense, flexible, and useful, now even allowing the Google feed at the left, or the swipe menu for essentials like multi-window that iOS still can’t do. I’m also more of a fan of how Android 11 stacks notifications and even home peripherals.
The war of ecosystems is a tie, as both companies have gadgets that talk to each other well. I’d even say the battle of battery life is quite close as each device ended the day just fine, and that feeling extends to phone calls, and how each device handles 5G connectivity.
Really the last element left to help us break this minor and subjective tie is to compare the cameras. If you look at the spec sheet, you’d assume this is an easy win for Samsung, I mean you have a primary sensor that compares more with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, plus a telephoto the iPhone 12 lacks, but I’ll let the results do the talking.
I’m gonna call this a tail of opposite approaches. During the day the S21 tends to be warmer during the day, though results vary based on your focal length, while the iPhone is cooler, and really not a phone I’d recommend for anything other than ultra-wide and primary. I thought 3X digital on the iPhone could compete, but who am I kidding. I also notice more natural bokeh from the S21 given the larger physics of the sensor and also a tad more detail.
Once you turn off the lights I don’t recommend you use any other focal length as the ultra-wide is kind of washed, and telephoto in these conditions is actually a digital crop. I drift more to the Galaxy because the iPhone continues to be plagued with light reflections that Samsung barely deals with.
Things flip over literally with selfie photos where Apple gets warmer than Samsung. And sure, Apple’s deep fusion makes me look younger and handles skin tones really well, but I find Samsung to be more accurate, and it also offers less of a crop in selfie portraits.
Video is where the iPhone continues to reign supreme. Sure, Samsung has done a far better job with avoiding warping as you walk, but the sharpening is still there, even if in less of a degree. It’s a close call, but if I had to pick in that department alone I’d go iPhone, though the rest of the camera comparison belongs to the Galaxy.
Galaxy S21 vs iPhone 12: conclusion
To conclude, no worries, you know me, I’ll always call out a winner, but you can’t deny that in some ways this was a bit of a close call. Samsung wins Hardware, software drifts more to iOS, though it’s a matter of taste, then the camera really depends on what you care about most, be that photos or video, where I think the Galaxy is the better buy.
That said, once you jump into the price, Samsung wins. It’s a few dollars less expensive if you ignore the odd carrier discount from Apple, but then you get double the most things internally, more cameras, and if you were to take advantage of the pre-order deals, the Galaxy S21 gives you enough perks to buying back the charger and a pair of earbuds that neither offer in the box. I’ll be sure to link to some of my favorites in the description.
The bottom line, the Samsung Galaxy S21 wins. Those of you in the market for the best bang for the buck modern flagship that money can buy, this is it. I hate to take over Apple’s old slogan here, but seriously, I’d say the Galaxy S21 is not just the right amount of everything, but double that in a few elements here and there.