iPhone 13 Pro Max vs Galaxy S21 Ultra

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iPhone 13 Pro Max vs Galaxy S21 Ultra

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is currently the king on the Android hill: with a gorgeous screen, powerful performance and a long-range zoom camera, it seems to have it all at a price that is actually not too crazy.

But can Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro Max change the mind of Android loyalists and convince them to switch sides?
And which of the two is actually the better device? In this article, we compare these two popular flagships from all sides: will the improved battery life on the iPhone 13 Pro Max beat the Galaxy S21 Ultra? And what about the camera specs, and actual photos and videos? And what about the performance and the experience of using them?

This is shaping up to be one of the most epic battles of flagship smartphones, so let’s jump right in!

iPhone 13 Pro Max vs Galaxy S21 Ultra in a nutshell:

  • iPhone to be wider and heavier, while Galaxy is narrower and easier to grip
  • Adaptive 120Hz OLED screens on both
  • Apple A15 processor vs Snapdragon 888 on Galaxy
  • 6GB RAM on iPhone vs 12GB RAM on Galaxy
  • No periscope zoom camera on iPhone
  • Big improvement in battery life on iPhone, but Galaxy still has larger, 5,000mAh battery

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

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Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

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Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

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Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

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Display and Design

Finally, an iPhone can match 120Hz on the Galaxy S21 Ultra

Starting with the looks, these two look and feel different. Both are big phones, that’s for sure, but it is the iPhone that feels like the larger of the two. The reason for that is that while the Galaxy has a slightly tapered screen, the iPhone uses a completely flat display and has larger borders around it.

The Galaxy has slightly curved sides, which make it a bit easier to grip, while the iPhone has these flat shiny sides that look good but are a bit sharp and uncomfortable when you hold the phone. What is new is also just how the 13 Pro Max has gotten slightly heavier again and now weighs 240g, which is more than the S21 Ultra’s 229g weight.

Neither phone has a headphone jack, which is hardly a surprise, and the iPhone uses a Lightning port for charging while the Galaxy goes with the industry standard USB-C.

When it comes to the screen, you get a 6.7-inch OLED panel with a resolution of 1284 x 2778 pixels on the iPhone, while the Galaxy has a slightly bigger 6.8-inch screen, which also supports a slightly higher, 1440p resolution. The screen on the iPhone is just a tad bit wider, it uses a 19.5:9 aspect ratio, while the Galaxy has a narrower screen with a 20:9 aspect ratio.

In terms of pure display quality and colors, Samsung has been the leader in the past few years and the iPhone actually uses a Samsung-made OLED display panel.

And with the iPhone 13 Pro Max, Apple is playing a bit of catch-up, and finally bringing one of the most exciting new features that debuted on a Galaxy in… 2020, and that was the 120Hz fast refresh rate! That matches the smooth scrolling experience on both phones. The screen size and resolution on the iPhone remain the same as on last year’s model: 

Interestingly, while official records say otherwise, we measured higher peak brightness on the iPhone than on the Galaxy. In our tests, the iPhone screen went over 1,000 nits of brightness, while the Galaxy measured at 889 nits. Keep in mind that unlike other websites, we test at 100% white levels on the screen, so that might explain some differences you see (others are testing at 1% white levels, a big difference).


Face ID on the iPhone vs fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy

The notch for Face ID on iPhones has been a sore point for Apple as Android fans love to ridicule it, but it has now gotten 20% smaller in all iPhone 13 models. That’s a neat little change.

As for biometrics, the iPhone 13 Pro Max still differs fundamentally from the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The iPhone does not have a fingerprint scanner and relies on Face ID, while the Galaxy has an in-screen fingerprint reader and only 2D, image-based face recognition.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra uses a faster ultrasonic fingerprint scanner than earlier Galaxy generations and it’s mostly been good, but we do get the occasional misfire and compared to traditional fingerprint scanners of the past, this one still feels slower and less reliable.

Face ID on the 13 Pro Max, on the other hand, works mostly as good as on earlier models, no better and no worse. And it’s still a big hassle using it with a mask on.


S21 Ultra has the zoom advantage, but the iPhone steps up what the main camera can do

The iPhone 13 Pro Max might be a big upgrade when it comes to battery capacity and other features, but it cannot quite match the camera versatility of the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Both phones have main and ultra-wide cameras, but while the iPhone only has a single zoom lens at 3X zoom, the Galaxy comes with two zoom lenses, one at 3X zoom and another one at 10X zoom, giving it far more range when zooming.

Here is how these cameras differ in specs:

  • Wide camera — 12MP on iPhone vs 108MP on Galaxy, 26mm vs 24mm focal length, f/1.5 aperture on iPhone vs f/1.8 on Galaxy
  • Ultra-wide camera — 12MP on both, 13mm on both, f/1.8 aperture on iPhone vs f/2.4 on Galaxy
  • Telephoto camera — 3X zoom on both
  • Long-range zoom — 10X periscope camera only on Galaxy S21 Ultra

Apple has these brand new sensors and lenses in the iPhone 13 Pro Max, and as you can see you get much wider aperture for the main and ultra-wide cameras that help them gather a lot more light and be much more capable at night.

In terms of camera features, Apple is adding Photographic Styles, which are filters on steroids that allow you to create a custom look and use it across all your photos, or just once, compared to the standard features that you can use on the Galaxy.

You can notice that the Galaxy captures the slightly wider photo with the main camera, and it also usually tends to have these slightly more cheerful colors and a brighter exposure, but that kind of depends on the scene. The iPhone also goes for this more contrasty look with deeper shadows.

While both are quite similar at 3X zoom, the Galaxy crushes it with long range zoom, especially with that 10X periscope lens. 

In low light both phones do a very good job, but the Galaxy now has these more muted colors, while the iPhone seems to add extra bit of saturation to make the image pop more.

What Samsung lacks, though, is night mode for the ultrawide camera, while the iPhone captures a lot more light and a much cleaner photo with the ultra-wide snapper.

Both phones now support Macro mode for both photos and videos, that was a feature missing on the iPhone previously.

The killer iPhone video feature this year is called Cinematic Mode, and it’s something like the Portrait Mode video you have on the Galaxy… but not quite. It automatically knows when to change the focus, and unlike any other phone, you will be able to change the focus on an already existing recording (captured with an iPhone 13 that is).
The iPhone 13 Pro Max also comes with a LiDAR scanner, helpful for augmented reality and easier focus for night-time portraits. You don’t get such a scanner on the Galaxy.

Audio and Loudspeaker Quality

The Galaxy disappoints with low-quality loudspeakers
With no headphone jack on either phone, Apple and Samsung are gently nudging customers towards wireless headphones (or you can use clunky adapters, if you really insist on using your old pair of headphones).

Both phones feature dual speaker systems with one bottom firing “main” speaker and a secondary speaker located in the earpiece at the top. But despite this technical similarity, the actual quality of the sound coming from those loudspeakers is vastly different. The Galaxy S21 Ultra in particular is a disappointment as while it does get loud, its sound feels poorly balanced as it lacks depth.

The iPhone has a boomier sound profile with far more definition in the lows (as much as that is possible on a phone), while still maintaining good mids and highs. If you happen to value sound quality, the iPhone is the better option.

Performance comparison

Apple A15 Bionic vs Snapdragon 888 (or Exynos 2100)

Apple has the lead in performance in the smartphone space, and the new Apple A15 Bionic chip in the iPhone 13 Pro Max is once again the fastest in the industry. The Galaxy comes equipped with the top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip for the US model, while international S21 Ultra models come with a very slightly slower Samsung-made Exynos 2100 processor.

While the iPhone has the advantage in processing speeds, the Galaxy comes with 12GB of RAM compared to just 6GB RAM on the iPhone, which helps keep more apps open in the background and is good for multitasking.

Below, you can find A15 benchmarks and how they compare against the Exynos 2100 version of the S21 Ultra:

So, Apple has now extended its lead in performance power over the Android competition. The A15 is built on the same 5nm technology as the A14, but Apple is said to have boosted the CPU speed and increased the cache to achieve that. Interestingly, Apple itself said that the A15 has a 50% faster CPU and 30% faster GPU than the competition.

GPU and Gaming Performance

Looking at the GPU performance we see that the iPhone 13 Pro Max is far ahead of the S21 Ultra. The iPhone actually starts at a 3,000 score on the 3D Mark Wildlife Extreme benchmark, three times higher than the Galaxy! It quickly throttles to around 2,400, but even after that drop it’s more than twice as fast. Apple seems able to utilize the larger form factor of the Pro Max to allow the GPU to run free and you can tell, it’s the absolute best GPU performer of any 2021 phone and no other comes close. 

The two phones are quite similar when it comes to the amount of on board storage you get: the base models of both have 128GB of storage, plus you can pay extra and get a 256G or 512G models. The iPhone 13 Pro Max is also the first iPhone rumored to come with a 1TB storage option. Keep in mind that the Galaxy S21 Ultra does not offer expandable storage like you had in previous Samsung models.

Battery and Charging

The biggest upgrade to iPhone battery life

While all iPhone 13 models have some form of a battery boost, the iPhone 13 Pro Max gets the biggest one.

Apple is not disclosing the exact battery capacity for the iPhone 13 Pro Max, but teardowns of the device have revealed that it has a 4,352mAh battery, which goes against the 5,000mAh battery on the Galaxy. Keep in mind, though, that battery numbers alone don’t tell the whole story as Android and iOS are quite different, so let’s take a look at our detailed PhoneArena battery tests below:

It’s impressive to see the battery gains that Apple has made with this latest Pro Max model, it has a notable advantage over the Galaxy S21 Ultra that has undergone the very same tests.

On the charger front… well, don’t expect a charger in the box… on either one! Both Apple and Samsung will charge you an additional $20 bucks for a fast charger.

Unfortunately, neither of these two phones supports quite the impressive charging speeds: at 20W, the iPhone takes around 2 hour and a bit for a full charge, while the Galaxy is much faster at a bit more than 1 hour, but neither are close to the 30-minute charging times we see on phones from brands like OnePlus.

iPhone 13 Pro Max vs Galaxy S21 Ultra: Specs Comparison

And here is a detailed specs comparison between the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Galaxy S21 Ultra.

So at the end of the day, the iPhone 13 Pro Max brings some welcome upgrades like the best battery life so far on an iPhone, and improvements to all the cameras, but it cannot quite match the long-range zoom on the Galaxy, nor does it have the openness of the Android platform.

These remain two very different devices, both excellent in their XL-sized glory and long battery life.

It’s hard to conclude that one is better than the other, but if you asked for recommendations, we would suggest an iPhone for people who like iOS and the Apple ecosystem and plan on also using AirPods, an Apple Watch, or work with a Mac machine and can easily AirDrop files. The iPhone also still feels like the faster of the two, it’s gaming performance is unmatched and it has an edge when it comes to battery life. On the other hand, the Galaxy S21 Ultra would be the obvious choice for people who value the openness of the Android ecosystem and how it’s not restricting you to specific products. The Galaxy feels more customizable, it obviously has a huge advantage if you want to zoom in with the camera, and not least, it’s more compact and easier to operate with one hand.

So with this in mind, let us know your thoughts about the iPhone 13 Pro Max and the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and your reasons to go with one over the other.

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