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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: which top-end phone is for you?

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We are comparing the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro Max, two flagships that will take a lot of your money.

Both are large, high-end handsets with nearly endless features. They have many similarities, but the details of their offerings are different.

This article will help you make a decision between the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It compares both phones in detail.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max design

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra features a slightly curved back and a large camera block at the top left corner. The front features an all-screen design with curved edges, and a punch-hole single-lens camera at the top.

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The iPhone 12 Pro Max is, however, much flatter on both the front and back. It also has a glass back and light bezel. However, rather than a cut-out for the selfie camera, there is a large notch at its top. The iPhone 12 Pro Max’s rear camera block is smaller and squarer than that of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, while Samsung’s is rectangular.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is about the same size as the S21 Ultra at 160.8×78.1x 7.4mm. While the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra measures 165.1×75.6x 8.9mm, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is 160.8×78.1x 7.4mm. Samsung’s phone is slightly taller and heavier, but it is also slightly smaller. Both phones weigh 228g.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max (Image credit to TechRadar).

Both handsets have IP68 certification which means they are dust and water-resistant. The iPhone 12 Pro Max’s water resistance is extended to 6 meters for 30 mins, while the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s water resistance is limited to 1.5 meters for 30 mins.

You can choose from the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in Phantom Black or Phantom Silver. If you buy directly from Samsung, there are also Phantom Titanium and Phantom Navy shades. The iPhone 12 Pro Max comes in Graphite and Silver as well as Gold and Pacific Blue.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max display

At 6.8 inches, the screen of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is huge. The screen is a curved OLED with a resolution of 1440×3200 and a refresh rate of 120Hz. It can be run at full resolution and highest refresh rate simultaneously, unlike previous Samsung flagships.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a large screen. In fact, it’s the largest Apple phone ever made. However, it’s slightly smaller at just 6.7 inches.

The S21 Ultra’s screen is slightly larger (Image credit: Future).

It also uses OLED but is a flat display at 1284×2778. You can see 515 pixels per inch in the Galaxy S21 Ultra and 458 pixels per inch in the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Although the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 60Hz refresh speed, we were still impressed by it. We found in our review that the screen was bright and had excellent color reproduction.

We also called the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra “Samsung’s best screen”, so that it impressed us a lot. Although it is slightly larger than the iPhone 12 Pro Max Max, the curved edges and narrower design make it easier to hold.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max camera

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a quad-lens camera. It includes a 108MP main sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide sensor, and a 10MP Telephoto f/2.4 telephoto lens (capable to 3x optical zoom), as well as a 10MP Telephoto f/2.4 one with an f/4.9 aperture that supports 10x optical zoom.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a quad lens camera. However, the specifications are very different. The main camera is a 12MP F/1.6, the ultra-wide 12MP, and the telephoto 12MP F/2.2. This allows you to judge depth and distances, which is especially useful in augmented reality.

Four rear cameras are available on both phones (Image credit: Future).

The front-facing Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra boasts a 40MP f/2.2 lens, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max sports a 12MP one.

Although the numbers may not be as impressive on Apple’s camera than they are on the iPhone, we were impressed by our review. We noted that the camera performs well at night and is “powerful”.

We did however call the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s cameras “phenomenally powerful” as well as its zoom, which we deemed to be the best smartphone zoom. The iPhone 12 Pro Max was slightly better than the iPhone 12 Pro Max for non-zoomed shots, especially indoors and at night, but it is still a good choice.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max battery life

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s huge 5,000mAh battery is more powerful than the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s 3,687mAh.

However, Samsung’s phone drains much faster if you increase the resolution or make heavy use 120Hz refresh rates.

In our tests, the iPhone 12 Pro Max was able to last for over a day without any problems, but it is unlikely that it can be extended to two days. The two phones will likely be similar in this regard, but you may need to reach faster for a charger if you want the Galaxy S21 Ultra to have all of its bells and whistles.

Both phones can charge wirelessly and fast, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra also supports Wireless PowerShare. This allows you to wirelessly charge other devices. The chargers are not included with the phones.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max specs & Features

These phones are both very powerful as you would expect. However, the specs of each phone differ. If you live in the US, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with either an Exynos 2100 or a Snapdragon 888 chipset. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is equipped with an A14 Bionic. These chipsets are all the best in their respective ranges.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is much more RAM-friendly than the other models. It has 12GB RAM in the 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB models, respectively, while the 16GB RAM model comes with the 512GB model. The iPhone 12 Pro Max, on the other side, only has 6GB RAM depending on which model you choose (128GB or 256GB), or 512GB. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is fast, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it had 6GB of RAM.

It’s difficult to talk about performance at this end of market. Other than saying that both the phones and both chipset versions (Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra) feel snappy. Mobile isn’t really meant to tax them.

Both phones offer 5G connectivity. However, many of their other features are different.

MagSafe is supported by the iPhone 12 Pro Max (Image credit to TechRadar).

One thing is that the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra does not have an in-screen fingerprint scanner; the iPhone 12 Pro Max, however, has Face ID.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra supports Samsung’s S Pen stylus, though this can be purchased separately. Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 Pro Max supports MagSafe accessories that you can magnetically attach on the back of your phone.

They also have different operating systems. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra runs Android 11 while the iPhone 12 Pro Max runs iOS14.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max Price and Availability

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is priced at $1,199/PS1,149/AU$1,849 and comes with a 128GB model. You can easily compare the iPhone 12 Pro Max with its 128GB storage. It costs $1,099 / PlayStation1,099 / AU$1,849.

The phones are identical in price in Australia. However, the iPhone 12 Pro Max in the US and UK is slightly more expensive, which is not something you’ll hear often. It’s not a lot, though.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is available now. You can also pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra at the time this article was written. It will go on sale January 29.

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