iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Which should you buy?

Iphone 13 Select
Iphone 13 Select (Image credit: iMore)

Samsung's answer to the iPhone 12 was the Galaxy S21, which came out in early 2021. This model was a real contender against the then-newest iPhone with more memory, more storage, a bigger battery, and more advanced video recording technology. With the release of the iPhone 13, however, the Galaxy S21 now has a higher standard to meet. Let's run down the specs to see how they compare on a technical level.

iPhone 13 vs. Galaxy S21: Key Differences

As usual, Apple and Samsung's flagship smartphones look very similar when you compare them spec by spec, with Samsung looking a little better in some categories. Have a look for yourself:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 iPhone 13Galaxy S21
DesignCeramic Shield front + Glass back and aluminum frameGlass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), polycarbonate back, aluminum frame
ColorsPink, Blue, Midnight, Starlight, and (PRODUCT)REDPhantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink
Display6.1‑inch OLED display, 60Hz refresh rate6.2-inch Amoled 2X display, 120Hz refresh rate
ProcessorA15 BionicSnapdragon 888
CameraDual lens 12-megapixel wide and 12MP ultra-wide rear, 12MP TrueDepth frontTriple lens 12MP main camera, 12MP ultra-wide, and 64MP telephoto lens
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB + 4GB RAM128GB, 256GB, 512GB + 8GB RAM
Battery3,095 mAh, Fast charging (20W charger sold separately), Qi wireless charging4,000 mAh, Fast charging (charger sold separately), Qi wireless charging
IP ratingIP68IP68
Headphone jackNoneNone
Size and weight5.78x2.81x0.30 inches, 174 g5.97x2.80x0.31 inches, 171g
SoftwareiOS 15Android 11

Here you can see that size is very similar, as is the design and color selection. They both offer similar memory and storage options ,as well as the same high level of water resistance. When you compare displays, cameras, and RAM, however, the Galaxy S21 looks better on paper. That does not necessarily mean that the Galaxy performs better, but let's take a deeper look.

iPhone 13 vs. Galaxy S21: Tough design versus streamlined look

Galaxy S21 Versus Iphone 13 Colors

Galaxy S21 Versus Iphone 13 Colors (Image credit: iMore)

Both the iPhone 13 and Galaxy S21 are pleasant to behold, with a sleek shape and a shiny aluminum chassis that peeks through in all the right places. The iPhone 13 does boast the newest ceramic shield screen that has proven to be the toughest anti-crack screen on any smartphone. The Galaxy's Corning Gorilla Glass Victus is also tough with a good anti-scratch surface, but it cracks easier than the iPhone's ceramic shield. The iPhone also has a glass backing, which makes it feel a little heavier and more substantial in the hand, while the Galaxy has a lighter, polycarbonate feel. The designs are similar in quality but look quite different side by side.

If I have to choose between FaceID or a black notch, I'll take the notch.

When it comes to color choices, the iPhone 13 has five to choose from including the new pink colorway. The Galaxy offers four colors with an interesting iridescent quality on the surface. The smooth plastic looks nice but might be more susceptible to scratches than the frosted glass backing on the iPhone 13. On the other hand, you don't have to worry about the polycarbonate backing on the Galaxy cracking when dropped.

It's important to note that the iPhone 13 still has that conspicuous black notch in the display. I know that this is necessary for TruDepth FaceID technology, but it does take away from the streamlined look of the design. I feel like the Samsung Galaxy display looks bigger and more modern without it. To be honest, however, if I have to choose between FaceID or a notch, I'll take the notch. I'm hoping one of these days they'll figure out to support TruDepth camera tech without the black notch.

iPhone 13 vs. Galaxy S21: Brains versus brawn

Galaxy S21 Versus Iphone 13 Camera

Galaxy S21 Versus Iphone 13 Camera (Image credit: iMore)

The great debate between Galaxy phones and iPhones has always been the camera. Some smartphone photographers swear by the vibrant colors and amazing zoom features that are provided by Samsung, while others insist that Apple's computational photography technology can't be beat. When it comes to the new iPhone 13 versus the Galaxy S21, the same debate rages on.

When it comes to the new iPhone 13 versus the Galaxy S21, the same camera debate rages on.

The newest iPhone has brought even better computational photography onto the scene with better night mode shots in low light, a feature that is now available in the iPhone 13 and 13 mini models as well as Pro models. While the Galaxy also has a feature that improves lighting in low light situations, it does not provide such clear and accurate shots as the iPhone 13. Other computational features include photographic styles, cinematic mode, and sensor-shift optical image stabilization.

All that isn't to say that the camera on the Galaxy S21 is any slouch. There's nothing on the market that compares to the Galaxy's zoom technology. With 3x hybrid optical zoom and 30x digital zoom, it offers a lot more versatility than the 2x optical and 5x digital zoom on the iPhone 13.

Overall, when comparing the two, the Galaxy does offer more detail in zoomed-in photos than the iPhone. The Galaxy also offers a 64MP camera as opposed to the 12MP setup on the iPhone, so it definitely has its advantages.

iPhone 13 vs. Galaxy S21: Processing speed versus refresh rate

Galaxy S21 Versus Iphone 13 Speed

Galaxy S21 Versus Iphone 13 Speed (Image credit: iMore)

We can't talk performance without discussing refresh rate. Although the Pro versions of the iPhone 13 model have the long-awaited 120Hz refresh rate, the baseline iPhone 13 does not. Sadly, the iPhone 13 and the 13 mini will feature the same 60Hz refresh rate as the 11 and 12 models before them. This means that video playback, gameplay, and scrolling functionality will be much smoother on the Galaxy S21. That 120Hz refresh rate makes a big difference, although it can also affect battery life.

Although the Pro versions of the iPhone 13 model have the long-awaited 120Hz refresh rate, the baseline iPhone 13 does not.

The Galaxy S21 has adapted its high refresh rate to a variable model that can automatically adjust to a lower refresh rate during activities where it's unnecessary. This made it possible to improve the battery life from previous models, but it still only clocks in at about 10 hours of use, as opposed to almost 15 hours for the iPhone 13.

When it comes to processing speed, there's really no match for Apple's A15 Bionic chip. Even the Snapdragon 888 can't compete, but it's fast enough to do everything you need a smartphone to do. While the Apple A15 is the fastest smartphone processor known to man, the Galaxy S21 does have a higher refresh rate and more RAM than the iPhone 13, so the difference is not all that noticeable for everyday activities. The performance and display of these handsets is pretty similar overall, although the iPhone 13 might have an edge because of its faster processor and brighter display.

iPhone 13 vs. Galaxy S21: Price

Galaxy S21 Versus Iphone

Galaxy S21 Versus Iphone (Image credit: iMore)

The iPhone 13 and the Galaxy S21 are going for exactly the same price of $799 at the moment, although you may periodically find temporary deals for either on Amazon. When these deals go up, we'll be sure to post them in the iMore Deals section. There's also Apple's monthly plan through the Apple card or payment plans through affiliated cellular carriers for both handsets. There's a variety of ways to buy both smartphones, so the price and buying options won't make a big difference no matter which brand you go with.

iPhone 13 vs. Galaxy S21: Which should you buy?

Iphone 13 Camera

Iphone 13 Camera (Image credit: Rene Ritchie)

There are so many factors that go into the decision to buy a smartphone. Which ecosystem do your other electronics operate on? If you're working with a Mac computer, an Apple TV, and iPad tablets, then it might be hard to adapt an Android device into that setup. If you're a PC enthusiast however, an Apple iPhone might prove less compatible than a Samsung Galaxy. You also have to consider what your friends and family are using. If everyone you know is on the iMessage network, it wouldn't make much sense to buy a Galaxy, and visa versa. Ecosystem is a big factor that you will want to consider before making your purchase.

If you're comparing the two smartphones spec by spec, however, there are clear advantages to both. The Galaxy has a cleaner design and a better refresh rate, as well as superior zoom functions within its 64MP camera. If image resolution and refresh rate are important to your work or gaming habits, then the Galaxy S21 might be the way to go.

The iPhone 13, on the other hand, has better computational photography and smart video recording technology, so some photographers and videographers may prefer the iPhone 13. Both handsets support 5G networks and they're both fast and powerful to boot, so this is a decision that will depend on your own preferences and needs.

Jaclyn Kilani

Jaclyn Kilani is a content writer at iMore. She's a longtime Apple addict with a flair for creating (written works, design, photos; you name it!) on her devices. Jaclyn has also worked in the marketing sector for over 16 years, dabbling in a bit of everything from writing to graphic design and digital marketing. In her heart of hearts, however, she is a born writer and an avid reader who adores everything about the written word. Someday she may even churn out a book or two. Throughout her career, Jaclyn has also developed something of an addiction to all things Apple. Her professional and personal life is enhanced by an ever-growing collection of iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, Apple Watches, and even AirTags. Luckily, this expensive habit is of great use to her work at iMore, where she writes with authority on Apple products and the accessories that go with them.