Apple iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Which Flagship Should You Buy?

Apple iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Which Flagship Should You Buy?

It’s that time of year again when we pit Apple and Samsung against each other. With the announcement of iPhone 13, people are sure to wonder if they should go with one of Apple’s latest flagships or pony up for one of Samsung's Galaxy S21 models.

We'll have full reviews of Apple's latest flagship smartphones later this month, but here's a rundown of where things stand with a head-to-head spec comparison.

Design and Durability

Tim Cook and the iPhone 13(Photo: Apple)

With the exception of a redesigned camera module, a smaller top notch, and some new color options, the iPhone 13 looks like a carbon copy of its predecessor. It's a glossy glass sandwich with an aluminum chassis that comes in five colors: black, blue, pink, white, and red.

Stainless steel rails and a frosted glass back give the iPhone 13 Pro Max a more sophisticated look. It's available in four more subdued colors: blue, gold, gray, and white.

The iPhone 13 Pro series(Photo: Apple)

While the entire Samsung S21 lineup got a makeover, the entry-level model is especially playful. It sports a matte plastic back in gray, pink, purple, and white. The camera module is also integrated into the aluminum frame.

Both the iPhone 13 and Samsung Galaxy S21 series have an IP68 rating, and can withstand dips in 4.9 feet of water for a half hour. Beyond that, there are some key durability differences

The S21 has a plastic body and Gorilla Glass display, while the 21 Ultra’s backplate is made of Gorilla Glass. The iPhone 13 and 13 Pro Max use Apple’s custom Ceramic Shield glass for the displays and back panels. Apple claims it’s more durable than other strengthened glass displays, and we’re inclined to agree, but it is much more prone to scratching. Apple’s forums are littered with complaints about hairline scratches to iPhone 12 models that use the same glass.


For years, iPhones have had the upper hand when it comes to processing power, and it doesn’t look like the tide has turned just yet.

Both the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro Max sport Apple’s latest A15 Bionic processor, but the Pro models have more powerful GPUs. On the iPhone 13 and 13 mini, you’ll find 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB storage configurations. If that’s not enough, the Pro models offer up to 1TB.

Galaxy S21(Photo: Samsung)

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 mobile platform powers the S21 and S21 Ultra. There are 128GB and 256GB storage variants on the S21, while the S21 Ultra also has a 512GB option.

Apple doesn’t list the RAM in its devices because its OS is more efficient than Android and requires fewer resources. The S21 series goes all the way up to 12GB of RAM on the Ultra but that’s probably overkill for 99% of people. Both the Apple and Samsung flagships have more than enough horsepower to chew through any task.


iPhone 13(Photo: Apple)

Here’s where things get interesting. The iPhone 13 sports a bright, 6.1-inch OLED display panel with a 60Hz refresh rate. On the iPhone 13 Pro Max, you’ll find an even brighter, 6.7-inch OLED panel with dynamic refresh rate between 10Hz and 120Hz.

On the other hand, Samsung has long been known for its gorgeous AMOLED display panels, and the S21 series is no exception. The Galaxy S21 sports a 6.2-inch screen with an variable refresh rate that changes from 48Hz to 120Hz .

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has the biggest display in the bunch, clocking in at 6.8 inches. And like the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the S21 can dip all the way down to 10Hz when you’re reading and jump back up to 120Hz when gaming.

Galaxy S21 Ultra(Photo: Samsung)

While Samsung has a slight advantage for display resolution, the numbers don’t mean much. All of the displays are so crisp it would be impossible to spot the higher pixel density with the human eye. Apple’s displays are significantly brighter, however, than the Galaxy S21 series, making them better for HDR content and use in bright light.


iPhone 13 Pro(Photo: Apple)

Both Samsung and Apple have the best camera sensors you’ll find in the US, but the companies approach imaging differently. Here’s the rundown.

On the iPhone 13, you’ll find two updated 12MP sensors. The primary lens has an f/1.6 aperture with 100% focus pixels and sensor-shift optical image stabilization. The ultrawide lens has a 120-degree field of view with an f/2.4 aperture and 2x optical zoom out. On the front of the phone, you’ll find a 12MP TrueDepth sensor with an f/2.2 aperture.

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The iPhone 12 Pro Max sports a slightly different camera module with three sensors. Both the 12MP primary and ultrawide lenses have slightly larger apertures than the iPhone 13 for better low light performance. The primary lens comes in at f/1.5, and the ultrawide lens clocks in at f/1.8. There’s also a 12MP telephoto lens with an f/2.8 aperture. The stack has a 6x optical zoom range, sensor-shift stabilization on all three lenses, and a LiDAR scanner for night mode portraits, faster autofocus in low light, and AR applications.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra(Photo: Samsung)

There’s a triple rear camera stack on the Samsung Galaxy S21. The primary telephoto lens is 64MP with an f/1.8 aperture, and it has dual phase detection autofocus (AF), hybrid optic 3X zoom, and optical image stabilization (OIS). There’s also a 12MP wide-angle lens with an f/1.8 aperture, dual pixel AF, and OIS. A 12MP ultra-wide lens with an f/2.2 aperture rounds out the trio. The front-facing camera clocks in at 10MP with an f/2.2 aperture and dual pixel AF.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra has an entirely different quad camera stack. For starters, there’s a 108MP sensor has an f/1.8 aperture, phase detection AF, and OIS. It supports "nona-binning" for super-sharp 12MP photos. You’ll also find a pair of 10MP telephoto lenses with f/2.4 and f/4.9 apertures that work in concert with the laser AF sensor to create Samsung’s 100X Space Zoom feature. Both telephoto lenses have dual pixel AF and OIS. A 12MP ultra-wide lens with an f/2.2 aperture and dual pixel AF fills completes the picture. A 40MP front-facing selfie cam with an f/2.2 aperture with phase detection AF peeks out of the hole punch on the front of the phone.

Special Features

The less expensive iPhone 13 models come in five colors(Photo: Apple )

Both Apple and Samsung tend to reserve their special features for the most expensive models, like the LiDAR scanner on the iPhone Pros or the Galaxy S21 Ultra's S Pen.

For the uninitiated, Samsung's stylus seems like a niche feature, but once you use it, you’ll be hooked. The S Pen makes it easy to take handwritten notes on the S21 Ultra, edit photos, and every draw fun animations.

And then there’s MagSafe. It’s a nice feature that brings 15W max wireless charging to all iPhone 13 models, but it’s basically just putting the phone on an even playing field with Samsung’s 15W wireless charging via the universal Qi standard. In short, we’re not really sold on it versus standard wireless charging on Android.

How to Buy

Pre-orders for the iPhone 13 lineup begin on Friday, Sept. 17; carriers are offering various trade-in deals. Samsung's flagship is currently on sale.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Review

4.0Excellent$799.99 at VerizonSee It

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Review

4.5Outstanding$1,199.99 at AmazonSee It

Apple iPhone 13 Review

4.5Outstanding$929.00 at AmazonSee It

Apple iPhone 13 mini Review

4.0Excellent$829.00 at AmazonSee It

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Review

4.0Excellent$1,299.00 at AmazonSee It

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max Review

4.5Outstanding$1,099.00 at AmazonSee It See all (6 items)

Check out the video below for the full rundown of everything Apple unveiled this week:

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