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Which phone should you buy?

When you want the best phone available, the leading contenders are the top-end Samsung Galaxy and the top-end iPhone. So, should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or the iPhone 12 Pro Max? The choice is a tough one as they’re both great smartphones with lots to recommend them. 

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra uses the Android operating system. In contrast, the iPhone Pro Max uses Apple’s iOS, making it easier to integrate with the Apple ecosystem and products such as iPads and Apple watches. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

The largest of the Samsung Galaxy S21 models, the S21 Ultra is a premium smartphone perfect for those who favor performance and features over a compact size. It has an excellent camera and can record video in 8K. It runs the Android operating system, which is more open to customization than iOS, and buyers may prefer if they’re already used to Android phones.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is available from Amazon. It starts at around $1,150 for the 128GB model and costs up to $1,250 for the 256GB model. You can, however, get money off for trading in your old phone if you use the Samsung website. Of course, this is just the price of the phone. You’ll still have a monthly fee for your phone carrier of choice. 

What you’ll love about the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has a large 6.8 inch OLED display with excellent color reproduction and slightly higher resolution than the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The screen has curved edges and a refresh rate of up to 120 Hz, making it excellent for watching videos and playing games. 

Keen phone photographers will love the four rear camera setup with a 108MP wide-angle lens, 12MP ultra-wide-angle lens, 10MP telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom and second 10MP telephoto lens with 10x optical zoom. You can also achieve a digital zoom of up to 30x. This phone can record video footage in 8K resolution while the iPhone can only reach 4K resolution.

This phone runs quickly and smoothly, even when running multiple apps or power-hungry apps. Although the Snapdragon 888 processor chip isn’t quite as fast as the A14 chip in the iPhone, it has 12-16GB of RAM to make up for it, compared to the iPhone’s 6GB of RAM. 

What you should consider about the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 

Some colors can look slightly washed out when taking photos compared to the iPhone. They may also look artificially enhanced and less true to life. Although the 30x digital zoom gets you in close, the results are blurry. While it’s nice to have an 8K video option, the stabilization isn’t great. The file sizes are also enormous. 

Although the S21 Ultra’s 5,000 mAh battery is larger than the 12 Pro Max’s, the phone uses more power, so if you take advantage of all the bells and whistles, it can run down faster. However, it will still last all day with average use.

iPhone 12 Pro Max 

On par with the S21 Ultra, size-wise, the iPhone 12 Max is a large handset with an impressive display. Although its cameras don’t boast as many megapixels, they have an arguably better sensor and take excellent snaps. Like all iPhones, it runs Apple’s operating system, iOS. People switching from Android can struggle with it initially, but many dedicated iPhone users would never move over to Android. It’s great for people who use other Apple products, like Mac computers, Apple watches and iPads. 

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is available from Amazon. It starts at roughly $1,100 for the 128GB model and up to $1,400 for the 512GB version. As you’d expect, this cost is just for the handset, so you’ll still need to pay a monthly fee to a phone carrier for your calls, texts and data. 

What you’ll love about the iPhone 12 Pro Max 

The 6.7-inch screen on the iPhone 12 Max is almost as large as the screen on the S21 Ultra, but the phone is slightly smaller and thinner overall, making it less bulky and awkward to carry around with you. Despite the screen resolution not matching the Samsung, the display still looks incredible overall with impressive color reproduction. The battery easily lasts all day, even when using your phone constantly. 

This phone features an array of three rear-facing cameras, including a main wide-angle camera, an ultra-wide-angle camera and a telephoto camera with 2.5x optical zoom. There’s also a LiDAR scanner in the array, which helps judge depth and distance for better and faster focusing. When snapping photos with the 12 Pro Max, the colors look more true to life than the S21 Ultra, plus it has an outstanding night mode for taking pictures in low light. 

What you should consider about the iPhone 12 Pro Max 

The iPhone 12 Pro Max features a notch in the front of the screen, where the front camera and face recognition hardware are stored, which some users can find annoying. However, you’ll hardly notice it once you get used to the phone. 

The rear-facing cameras only have 12MP, far less than the 108MP primary camera on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, though the sensor on the iPhone makes up for it. You also don’t get as impressive optical or digital zoom on any of the iPhone’s cameras. 

Should you get the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or the iPhone 12 Pro Max?

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 12 Pro Max are both excellent phones. While each phone has its areas where it’s slightly superior to the other, this balances itself out when you look at the phones as a whole.

There’s no clear winner out of the two. Ultimately, people who prefer Apple phones should opt for the iPhone 12 Pro Max, while people who prefer Android phones should opt for the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. 


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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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