Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: Which is the world’s best phone?

The Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max battle crowns the king of big-screen phones

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max showdown is an intense one. Many phone shoppers have been waiting for this, as it pits the very best phones that Samsung and Apple have against each other.

Our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review shows just how impressive a flagship Samsung has produced — and it should be for $1,199. You get a gorgeous 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display that scales from 10Hz to 120Hz, dual telephoto zoom lenses, and a huge 5,000 mAh battery. Plus, the S21 Ultra supports the S Pen, a first for a phone outside of the Galaxy Note lineup.

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On the other hand, as you’ll see in our iPhone 12 Pro Max review, there’s a reason why Apple’s phone has been the No. 1 pick on our best phone list. It offers an amazing camera system with superb low-light performance and Dolby Vision video recording. Plus, it offers a stellar 6.7-inch OLED display, the fastest performance around, and a sleek new design.

So which phone is best overall, and which one is better for you? Our Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max face-off will answer these questions.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12: Specs

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra iPhone 12 Pro Max
Starting price $1,199 $1,099
Screen 6.8 inches (3200 x 1400) 6.7 inches (2778 x 1284)
Display refresh 10Hz to 120Hz 60Hz
CPU Snapdragon 888 A14 Bionic
RAM 12GB, 16GB 6GB
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
microSD No No
Rear cameras 108MP wide (f/1.8), 12MP ultra wide (f/2.2), 10MP telephoto (3x zoom, f/2.4), 10MP telephoto (10x zoom, f/4.9), laser AF sensor 12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.4), 12MP telephoto (2.5x zoom, f/2.2)
Front camera 40MP (f/2.2) 12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)
Water reisstance IP68 up to 1.5 meters IP68 up to 6 meters
Battery size 5,000 mAh 3,678 mAH
Battery life 11:25 (60Hz)/10:07 (adaptive) 10:53
Size 6.5 x 2.97 x 0.35 inches 6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches
Weight 8.08 ounces 8.03 ounces

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: Price

Yes, Samsung has cut the price on its Galaxy S21 phones by $200 compared to the S20, but Apple still holds the pricing edge here. The iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at $1,099 — $100 cheaper than the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s $1,199 cost.

 

In addition, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a higher IP68 water resistance rating of up to 6 meters, compared to 1.5 meters for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The biggest strike against the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the display notch; the S21 Ultra has a small punch hole camera up front.

Winner: iPhone 12 Pro Max

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: Display

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a few advantages over the iPhone 12 Pro Max in this round. For one, it offers an adaptive AMOLED display that can scale its refresh rate from 10Hz all the way up to 120Hz, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max is stuck at 60Hz. Having a faster refresh rate enables smoother scrolling and better performance in games that support it.

The 6.8-inch screen on the S21 Ultra is also a bit sharper than the panel on the iPhone 12 Pro Max with a resolution of 3200 x 1400, compared to 2778 x 1284. That’s a difference between 515 ppi and 458 ppi.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review display

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung keeps the winning streak going by registering a higher brightness on our testing. It notched a reading of 821 nits, compared to 654 nits for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Apple’s display did pull ahead with its color reproduction, reaching 84.8% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. The S21 Ultra managed 81.4%.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: Cameras

In addition, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a higher IP68 water resistance rating of up to 6 meters, compared to 1.5 meters for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The biggest strike against the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the display notch; the S21 Ultra has a small punch hole camera up front.

Winner: iPhone 12 Pro Max

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: Display

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a few advantages over the iPhone 12 Pro Max in this round. For one, it offers an adaptive AMOLED display that can scale its refresh rate from 10Hz all the way up to 120Hz, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max is stuck at 60Hz. Having a faster refresh rate enables smoother scrolling and better performance in games that support it.

The 6.8-inch screen on the S21 Ultra is also a bit sharper than the panel on the iPhone 12 Pro Max with a resolution of 3200 x 1400, compared to 2778 x 1284. That’s a difference between 515 ppi and 458 ppi.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review display

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung keeps the winning streak going by registering a higher brightness on our testing. It notched a reading of 821 nits, compared to 654 nits for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Apple’s display did pull ahead with its color reproduction, reaching 84.8% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. The S21 Ultra managed 81.4%.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: Performance

The Galaxy S21 Ultra packs a fast Snapdragon 888 chip and 12GB of RAM, but it’s still a step behind the iPhone 12 Pro Max in both synthetic benchmarks and real-world tests.

On Geekbench 5, the S21 Ultra notched 3,440 on the multi-core test and 1,123 on single-core. That’s behind the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which cleared 4,100 and 1,600.

The S21 Ultra performed fairly well on the 3DMark Wild Life graphics benchmark, hitting 34 fps. However, the iPhone 12 Pro Max averaged a higher 41 fps.

On our video editing test using the Adobe Premiere Rush app, the Galaxy S21 Ultra took 1 minute and 2 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p. The iPhone 12 Pro Max’s needed only 28 seconds.

Winner: iPhone 12 Pro Max

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: 5G

Based on our testing thus far, the Galaxy S20 Ultra offers faster 5G speeds than the iPhone 12 Pro Max. On AT&T, and the S21 Ultra averaged 84 Mbps downloads, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max didn’t even break 37 Mbps.

In a different location on T-Mobile’s network, the iPhone 12 Pro Max hit 93 Mbps, while the Note 21 Ultra exceeded 160 Mbps. The Galaxy S21 Ultra does have a newer and more powerful X60 Qualcomm modem, so that could account for the performance delta.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: Battery life

The Galaxy S21 Ultra makes full use of its 5,000 mAh battery, as the phone lasted a very impressive 11 hours and 25 minutes on our batter test. The iPhone 12 Pro Max endured for 10:53.

When we set the screen mode on the S21 Ultra to adaptive (120Hz), the runtime dipped to 10 hours and 7 minutes.

Neither Apple or Samsung includes a charger in the box, but both phones are capable of fast chaging. The S21 Ultra reached 56% in 30 minutes, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max only hit 47% in the same amount of time.

Winner: Galaxy S20 Ultra

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: Software and special features

iOS 14 brings a host of welcome features to the iPhone 12 Pro Max, including widgets on the home screen for easy access to info, including a Smart Stack of several widgets in one spot. And the new App Library feature automatically organizes your apps together by category.

Apple’s software also delivers lots of helpful tweaks to messages, such as pinned conversations and inline replies. The design of iOS 14 is sleeker, too, with a more compact Siri and calls interface that stays out of your way. And if you own AirPods Pro, the spatial audio feature gives you a 360-degree sound experience.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra runs One UI 3.0 atop Android 11, and it brings some great additions of its own. This includes a wide selection of widgets you can access without unlocking your phone. The Quick Panel is now easier to customize get things done faster, and there are exclusive camera tricks like Director’s View, which lets you use the front and back camera at the same time with recording video.

But the most unique special feature is S Pen support. The S21 Ultra has a digitizer for its display that supports S Pen input. You can buy a silicone case with S Pen combo for $69. The S Pen works well based on my testing, so it’s great for taking notes and sketching, but it doesn’t support Bluetooth.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

 

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