Reviews of Samsung’s newest Galaxy S21 Ultra flagship have hit today, with reviewers pitting the new 6.8-inch device against Apple’s current iPhone 12 lineup. Reviewers say that while the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra features a more ergonomic finish, the iPhone 12 lineup still has a leg up in certain areas.
Before we get into the iPhone 12 comparisons, be sure to check out our colleagues over at 9to5Google, who have also spent some time with the latest Galaxy S21 flagship devices.
The Verge’s review of the $1199 Galaxy S21 Ultra says that the new device is “much more comfortable to hold” than the iPhone 12 Pro Max because it is slightly more narrow and has curved edges:
Big Android phones are common now, though, so Samsung’s job is to not only make a powerful phone but to make one that feels well-made. Mission accomplished: the S21 Ultra looks great and feels better. It’s much more comfortable to hold than the iPhone 12 Pro Max because it is a little narrow and because it has curved edges.
In terms of the camera technology, the Galaxy S21 Ultra features four different sensors on the back, including a wide angle lens and ultra wide angle lens, plus two different telephoto lenses. The Verge review says that the Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro Max are very close in terms of camera performance:
As for the head-to-head with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, here’s where I have landed. If you were to take 50 photos or videos, 30 of them would be a toss-up based on your personal preference, seven or eight would be clearly better on the S21, and 12 or 13 would be better from the iPhone. They’ve very close.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra, however, has one key advantage:
But Samsung has those telephoto options. And it also has compensated for the relative dearth of high-quality third-party Android photo apps by building in its own features. Samsung has added a “director’s mode” that lets you switch lenses on the fly while shooting video in 1080p, but I found that I preferred shooting in 4K. You can shoot in 8K and pull out a still photo, you can use “Single Take 2” to let the AI try to make a bunch of amusing photos and video effects.
Interestingly, the Galaxy S21 Ultra also supports shooing in RAW. As you may remember, one of the key features of the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max is support for a new ProRAW photo format that provides some computational photography benefit with the flexibility of traditional RAW.
But while the hardware of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is solid, The Verge ultimately says that the software is what drags down the experience and will prevent any iPhone user from switching:
The biggest reality check is the software, which suffers from Samsung’s heavy-handed attempts to build its own ecosystem and further monetize an already expensive phone. I doubt that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra will convince many iPhone users to switch — the ecosystem lock-in on iOS is too strong for that and getting the most out of Samsung’s version of Android is daunting.
CNBC takes a similar angle with its review, saying that the Galaxy S21 Ultra is unlikely to convert any iPhone users. The review notes, however, that the Galaxy S21 Ultra features the best display on the market thanks to its high refresh rate:
It has the best display I’ve ever used on a phone. Like the S21, it has a high refresh rate that’s really smooth. It also gets super bright, which helps with movies and TV shows and viewing outside. And, unlike last year’s model, you can now use the screen at its sharpest setting with the high refresh rate on.
CNET ran some benchmarks and confirmed that the iPhone 12 Pro’s A14 Bionic processor outpaces the Snapdragon 888 chip found in the Galaxy S21 Ultra:
Ultimately, the consensus among these reviews is that the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Ultra hold their ground well against the iPhone 12 lineup, but the software experience is the biggest difference. The iPhone 12 appears to have the edge in areas like performance and build quality, but fans of bigger phones might actually find the Galaxy S21 Ultra a bit easier to hold.
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