iPhone 13 Pro vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: which smartphone to choose when you have a big budget?

It is in a duel at the top that we find today the iPhone 13 Pro vs Galaxy S21 Ultra. Two high-end products that represent the best on the market. Samsung and Apple demonstrate their know-how by integrating the best technologies to date, for smartphones
uncompromising (and expensive) smartphones. If you want to treat yourself, but don’t know which model to choose, this versus will help you see more clearly.

Still a solid leader in the cell phone market, Samsung is regularly attacked by the competition. The Korean manufacturer continues to innovate every year to keep its “S” range at the forefront of what is done in the world of cell phones. For its part, the Apple brand improves its models by iteration, without ever totally playing the design and technology race. Two different philosophies have the same goal: to design the best smartphone on the market to win the image battle, but also and especially the commercial battle.

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iPhone 13 Pro vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Design

iPhone 13 Pro - iPhone 13 Pro Max test © © Pierre Crochart pour Clubic

Before we get into the details of the design, let’s put aside the obvious. The S21 Ultra and the iPhone 13 Pro are both smartphones with impeccable finishes. The aluminum and glass that make up the two products are as pleasant to the touch as they are resistant to the shocks of everyday life. Both phones are also IP68 certified for resistance to dust and water immersion for up to 30 minutes.

The design similarities end there. When you look at the backs of the phones, the different choices the two brands made when it comes to the integration of their photo modules jump out. The iPhone 13 Pro has a square photo module, with its three main sensors arranged in a triangle. On the other hand, Samsung’s photo module fits the shell in the upper left corner and the sensors are aligned. If the two photo blocks stand out from the phones, we appreciate the originality and the integration effort made by Samsung on its S21 Ultra.

iPhone 13 Pro - iPhone 13 Pro Max test © © Pierre Crochart pour Clubic

The more rounded corners of the iPhone 13 Pro are very pleasing to the eye. The same cannot be said for the huge notch that sits atop the screen. Of course, it has been reduced. Certainly, it is used to integrate the very effective “Face ID“. True, it has become a real way to distinguish the iPhone from other smartphones. But it is still quite unsightly if you compare it to the small centered punch of the Samsung Galaxy 21 Ultra. Add to that thinner borders around the screen and Samsung’s phone has a more modern design than its competitor.

And size-wise? The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is at the crossroads of the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max. If the two Apple smartphones are thinner than their competitor of the day, the Korean phone is wider than the iPhone 13 Pro and less wide than the “Max” version. Finally, the S21 Ultra is taller, thanks to its 20:9 screen format.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

As always, there is no point in debating taste and color. On the other hand, some more objective elements lead us to give Samsung the advantage in terms of design. While both phones have exemplary finishes, the integration of the camera module, the notch and the screen edges tip the balance in favor of the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

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Interface: two excellent proposals

iOS 15 © Apple

iOS 15 on the left, Android 11 + One UI on the right.

Both the iPhone 13 Pro and the Galaxy S21 Ultra offer the latest version of their respective OS: iOS 15 and Android 11. The changes brought by iOS 15 compared to the previous version are to be found on the practical side and not aesthetically. We note a grouping of notifications that now take up less space, or the arrival of the “Concentration” mode that allows you to create several profiles depending on your activities. The “Work” mode can for example cut all notifications from social networks. Apple’s native applications also benefit from new features, such as Safari, which now supports downloadable extensions from the App Store.

One of the great strengths of iOS is Apple’s exemplary software support. The brand promises at least 5 years of updates, which makes old smartphones like the venerable iPhone 6S released in 2015 compatible with the latest version of the OS. A follow-up that we would like to see more often on Android, which is trying to catch up with its competitor on this point.

For its part, Samsung has dressed up Android with its excellent home-made interface, One UI. Both simple to use and extremely complete, the Korean manufacturer’s overlay is one of the best available on Android. Emphasis is also placed on the display of notifications and security with more frequent requests for authorization, when applications want to access your location for example. There are also new software features on the video side with the “director’s view” mode that allows you to shoot simultaneously with the rear camera and the front camera of the smartphone.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is compatible with the S-Pen of Samsung. If we regret that the latter does not have a dedicated slot to accommodate the stylus, we enjoy its various features. We will remember the quick note taking, the translation on the fly of a text selected with the S-Pen, or the possibility of taking a screenshot more accurately.

Winner:

Don’t ask us to decide between two such complete and well-thought-out interfaces. Android or iOS, it’s mostly a matter of habit. Where Android users cry about the lack of customization in iOS, Apple OS users see a clearer and more intuitive interface to use. The interface is a key element that makes users stay when moving from one smartphone generation to another. And manufacturers have understood this.

Performance: the power to spare

iPhone 13 Pro - iPhone 13 Pro Max test © © Pierre Crochart pour Clubic

Benchmarks of the iPhone 13 Pro on the left, the Galaxy S21 Ultra on the right.

In the left corner, the iPhone 13 Pro and its in-house processor, the Apple A15 Bionic, accompanied by 6 GB of RAM. In the right corner, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and its Exynos 2100 processor accompanied by 12 or 16 GB of RAM depending on the configuration. The A14 Bionic chip of the iPhone 12 was already ahead of the SoCs that equipped Android smartphones. The 15 Bionic chipset is a further step forward, offering unrivalled performance on a smartphone, while consuming little power. In the benchmarks, this translates into scores that explode the ceiling, both on AnTuTu and Geekbench.

But how does this translate into everyday use? As you might expect, both smartphones are infallible when it comes to performing the common tasks you’d expect from a smartphone. Installing and launching applications is very fast. Multitasking is flawless in that both phones allow you to have many applications running in the background and return to them at any time without them restarting.

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It’s only once you start playing games that the difference between the two phones really becomes apparent. On the most demanding titles like Genshin Impact, the A15 Bionic SoC’s GPU makes the difference. At equal definition, the iPhone 13 Pro is more stable in the display of the number of frames per second. It also benefits from graphical effects that are not present on Android smartphones.

Apple doesn’t improve its processor every year just for the sake of benchmarks. By offering such powerful SoCs, the Apple brand ensures that its products will perform well for several more years, but also that they will be able to receive iOS updates for a minimum of 5 years.

Winner: iPhone 13 Pro

If you simply use your smartphone to browse the web, stream videos and check your favorite social networks, the two smartphones we’re comparing today offer more power than you need. On the other hand, if you do a lot of mobile gaming and want the best gaming experience available, the iPhone 13 Pro stands out as a reference.

Photo: zoom versus video

iPhone 13 Pro - iPhone 13 Pro Max test © © Pierre Crochart pour Clubic

Wide-angle photo of the iPhone 13 Pro on the left, Galaxy S21 Ultra on the right.

Let’s start with the forces at work. The iPhone 13 Pro is equipped with three 12-megapixel photo sensors: a wide-angle with f/1.5 aperture, an ultra-wide-angle (f/1.8) and a telephoto (f/2.8) for a x3 optical zoom. For its part, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra embeds a wide-angle sensor of 108 megapixels (f/1.8), an ultra-wide-angle of 12 megapixels (f/2.2), a telephoto of 10 megapixels (f/2.4) to make an optical zoom x3 and a second telephoto of 10 megapixels (f/2.4) for an optical zoom x10.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra therefore offers more versatility, and logically shows more detailed photos, but also shows itself more comfortable in zooms beyond x3. The software processing of the two phones is also quite different. The photos of the iPhone 13 Pro are brighter at wide angle (thanks to the large f/1.5 aperture) and the colors more vibrant.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra © © Pierre Crochart pour ClubicThe x10 zoom of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

For macro photography, both phones use the ultra-wide-angle sensor, but the iPhone has a focusing distance of 2 centimeters, against only 4 centimeters for the Korean smartphone. In short, you understood, it is played in a handkerchief between the two phones.

Samsung’s mobile is capable of filming up to 8K, while the iPhone 13 Pro can film in 4K at 60 frames per second in HDR Dolby Vision, a unique proposition on a smartphone. A software update should also bring him the “ProRes” format that can be compared to the RAW format for photography. In general, Apple’s cell phone offers better video quality and stabilization than the Galaxy S21 Ultra. To learn more, we invite you to read our complete test of the iPhone 13 Pro.

The iPhone 13 Pro introduces the cinematic mode that can be described as “video portrait mode”, with background blur and face recognition that allows for auto focus. Limited to 1080p at 30 frames per second (only on the wide-angle). Although not perfect, this shooting mode has a nice effect. For the more fussy, it is possible to edit the captured video files afterwards.

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Winner:

Here again, it is not easy to share the two behemoths. If we prefer the overall rendering of the wide-angle photos of the iPhone 13 Pro, the much more powerful optical zoom of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is very practical in use. If you shoot a lot with your phone, you’ll have to go with the iPhone.

Autonomy: progressing, but not everywhere

iPhone 13 Pro - iPhone 13 Pro Max test © © Pierre Crochart pour Clubic

Autonomy of the iPhone 13 Pro on the left, the Galaxy S21 Ultra on the right.

The iPhone and the Galaxy S had in common a dedicated autonomy for a few years. This era seems to be over, as the iPhone 13 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra have rectified the situation compared to the previous models. An improvement made possible by larger capacity batteries, less energy consuming SoC, but also a major novelty on the screen side…

Indeed, both phones are equipped with a 120 Hz screen. A technical feature that consumes energy on paper. But that’s without counting on the adaptive refresh rate that the two phones enjoy. Thus, they are able to go down to 10 Hz in some scenarios. If you’re watching a video, the screen will only be in 24 Hz, if you’re playing at 30 frames per second, the slab will be limited to 30 Hz, etc. The 120 Hz mode is mostly used when you are scrolling quickly through pages on the web browser or social networks.

And in real life, what does it give? The Galaxy S21 Ultra and its 3095 mAh battery will last a full day under heavy use. Under the same conditions, the iPhone 13 Pro and its 3095 mAh battery are able to last for a day and a half. This is of course an average and will depend on the uses of each. A slight advantage for Apple in terms of autonomy which is unfortunately tarnished by a recharge that does not shine by its speed.

Both Samsung and Apple no longer provide a charging pad on their high-end smartphones. So you’ll have to take the one you have on hand or reach into your wallet to get one. The iPhone 13 Pro is compatible with a recharge of only 20W (the magic of lightning…). Enough to recharge it completely in 1h30. For its part, the Galaxy S21 Ultra recharges in about 1h10 thanks to its 25W compatibility. A speed of recharge that we hardly qualify as “fast” today.

Winner: iPhone 13 Pro

Yes, in 2021, an iPhone can come out on top in terms of battery life. Despite a lower battery capacity on paper, Apple has done a real job on the energy consumption and software optimization of its smartphone. If we start to get used to the idea of not having a charging pad in the box anymore, we find it harder to conceive of a high-end smartphone that charges so slowly.

Conclusion

Out of the five rounds of this versus, the iPhone 13 Pro wins 2 and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra only one. The two other rounds are tied. In the end, the Apple phone is the winner. But as always, we invite you to read carefully our two complete tests to be sure to make the best choice.

If you value the phone’s design, use your phone’s zoom a lot, or simply prefer the Android interface, the S21 Ultra is a good choice. If you’re looking for the best smartphone for gaming, for taking videos, but also the most durable, your heart will probably go out to the iPhone 13 Pro.

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What we think at TechMarkup

Whatever your choice, it’s hard to go wrong. Like every year, the latest top-of-the-line models from manufacturers are released eight months apart. It is therefore normal that the latest product to date (iPhone 13 Pro) offers some advantages that its competitor does not enjoy. The beginning of the year will be the opportunity for Samsung to market its Galaxy S22 Ultra, which will bring its share of novelties against the iPhone. A fierce competition that benefits consumers as always.

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