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Specs showdown: Sorry, iPhone 12, but Galaxy S21 may have won this round

Samsung has slashed prices of its Galaxy S21 lineup, but will that give it an edge over the iPhone 12 family? Here's the Galaxy S21 versus iPhone 12 specs comparison.

Sareena Dayaram Senior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
Expertise Huawei, Oppo, smartphones, smartwatches Credentials
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Sareena Dayaram
3 min read

Samsung's trio of S21 phones  -- the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra -- are here, and the lineup starts at a cool $200 less than its predecessor. While the price cut is a welcome change, the smartphone industry is notoriously cut-throat, and (as always) the S21 faces stiff competition from Apple and the iPhone 12 series. So let's see how the S21 stacks up against its long-time rival.  

In a nutshell: The $800 S21 is a slightly better deal for the features you get, on paper at least (and only in the US; the price differences vary from country to country, as you can see in the chart below). 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 highest-end S21 Ultra has support for Samsung's S Pen stylus, which is sold separately, and the S21 also has an extra telephoto lens. You can see how that factors into its camera performance in Patrick Holland's camera comparison:

Watch this: Camera comparison: Galaxy S21 vs. iPhone 12

Each phone has its strengths, Patrick found, but dollar for dollar the S21 is giving you a little more for your money in terms of photo and video performance.

It's also important to note what Samsung removed from its S21 family to allow it to start at that lower price. One of the most controversial changes is the lack of an in-box wall adapter and earphones. The South Korean company is pushing its customers to reuse older accessories in the name of the environment, just like Apple did with the iPhone 12 family. The S21 line also lost expandable local storage, joining last year's Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Z Flip foldables in ditching the microSD card slot because "usage has markedly decreased."

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.   

Angela Lang/CNET

The iPhone 12 is Apple's mainstream 2020 smartphone model. The iPhone 12 Mini offers most of the same features in a smaller body for a lower price, while the iPhone 12 Pro models offer an extra lens with optical zoom, among other upgrades.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Galaxy S21 is Samsung's keystone 2021 smartphone, released in early 2021. Unlike the dual-lens iPhone, the S21 includes three rear cameras: wide, ultrawide and telephoto. The Galaxy S21 Plus and S21 Ultra are also available in larger screen sizes.

For more details on how the iPhone 12 and Galaxy S21 stack up against each other, check out our specs chart below.

Galaxy S21 line vs. iPhone 12

Galaxy S21Galaxy S21 PlusGalaxy S21 UltraApple iPhone 12
Display size, resolution 6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display (2,400x1,080 pixels),6.7-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (2,400x1,080 pixels)6.8-inch Edge WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (3,200x1,440 pixels),6.1-inch OLED; 2,532x1,170 pixels
Pixel density 421 ppi394 ppi515 ppi460ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 2.80x5.97x0.31 in2.97x6.35x0.30 in2.97x6.50x0.35 in5.78x2.82x0.29 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 71.2x151.7x7.9 mm75.6x161.5x7.8 mm75.6x165.1x8.9 mm146.7x71.5x7.4 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.03 oz; 171g7.12 oz; 202g8.07 oz; 229 g5.78oz; 164g
Mobile software Android 11Android 11Android 11iOS 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-megapixel10-megapixel40-megapixel12-megapixel
Video capture 8K8K8K4K
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/256GB128GB/256GB128GB/256GB, 512GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 8GB8GB12GB, 16GBUndisclosed
Expandable storage NoNoNoNo
Battery 4,000 mAh4,800 mAh5,000 mAhUndisclosed; Apple lists 15 hours of video playback
Fingerprint sensor In-screenIn-screenIn-screenNo (Face ID)
Headphone jack NoNoNoLightning
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 support5G 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
£799 (64GB), £849 (128GB), £949 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,249
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.