Mi 11 Ultra
Apple and Samsung are the titans of the smartphone world, but which is the best brand to go for? Here, we explore the features that separate the two.
If you're looking for a high-end mobile phone, two of the most popular options on the market are the Apple iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S series, running on Android.
Each year these phones compete with the latest features, camera technology and designs at the premium end of the market, with the very best handsets costing upwards of £1,000. It's now common to see multiple variations of these flagships, typically a standard model, a 'Plus' or 'Pro' version with enhanced features and/or a larger display, and the very top end 'Ultra' or 'Max'. Choosing between them, and weighing up the benefits against more affordable phones by these brands, is no easy task. We're here to help.
We narrow down some of the most important smartphone features and pit these two tech behemoths against each other to help you find your perfect fit.
Apple’s iPhones have come a long way since the rounded, plastic-backed iPhone first released in 2007. Newer models now take on a sleeker glass and stainless steel design that aim to turn heads. One distinguishing feature of iPhones is the 'notch' at the top – this houses the front camera and Face unlock sensor, and though it has become quite iconic, doesn't appeal to everyone.
Like Apple, Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones have veered away from the plastic design. The S6 Edge was the first of its models to feature its innovative ‘dual-edge’ display in 2015, and the range has evolved since with larger displays and thinner bezels. Samsung now uses more subtle 'holepunch' front cameras – a small hole to house the lens rather than a notch, which can make the display seem more immersive.
In both cases, expect some of the very latest screen technologies, with high resolutions, sharp images, and accurate colours. There's rarely much to choose from on this front.
Apple offers three versions of the iPhone 12. The 12 and 12 Pro actually have the same size display – 6.1-inches, and the same resolution – 1,170 x 2,532. The iPhone 12 Max is larger, with a 6.7-inch screen and 1,284 x 2,778 resolution.
Samsung takes a slightly different approach. It's 'standard' S21 has a 6.2-inch display (1x080 x 2,400), and the S21 Plus bumps this to 6.7-inches, with the same resolution. The S21 Ultra boasts a 6.8-inch display and 1,440 x 3,200 resolution.
The two phones have differing display types. The newest iPhones have a Super Retina XDR OLED display while Samsung's new models come with Dynamic AMOLED displays.
AMOLED displays allow control over each individual pixel, which in theory produces better picture quality. AMOLEDs also have better overall power consumption than OLEDs, but can use more power when displaying brighter colours and aren’t as visible in sunlight as OLED displays.
One of the most important factors for many people is handset size – but bear in mind that with different screen to body ratios, physical dimensions are a better indicator of this than display size.
Cameras are what drive demand for many high-end phones, and neither Samsung or Apple shirk their responsibilities when it comes to pushing the boundaries of technology.
Apple has embraced the benefits of multiple lenses and includes a 12MP wide and 12MP ultrawide on the iPhone 12. The 12 Pro adds an additional 12MP telephoto lens and a TOF (time-of-flight) lens to help improve photo effects. All three models also have a 12MP selfie camera.
Samsung has a three lens array on the standard S21 – a 12MP wide, 64MP telephoto and 12MP ultrawide. This is the same as the Pro, but the Ultra gets a boost with a 108MP wide angle lens, 10MP periscope telephoto lens, 10MP telephoto lens and 12MP ultrawide lens.
Samsung Galaxy loyalists can make use of ‘Scene Optimiser’ to automatically adjust and improve scene quality when the camera recognises the object or scene in the frame. Modes include food, animals, greenery, beaches and sunsets.
Apple is no slouch in the camera department either – it offers a range of genuinely useful and dramatic post-processing effects to enhance your photos. You'll find features such as Smart HDR – blending multiple photos for the best shot, and the ability to change the depth of field of images after they’ve been taken.
Whichever of the two smartphones you opt for, rest assured both Apple and Samsung are right up there when it comes to some of the best and most advanced camera technology.
Apple users have long dealt with the woes of running out of space on their phone. iPhones don’t come with a micro-SD card to expand internal storage, so you need to think carefully about storage configuration before you buy. This year Samsung users join them – none of the new S21 range have a micro-SD card slot to expand storage.
Deciding how much you'll need before you buy is therefore important. The iPhone 12 starts at 64GB capacity, but all other Apple and Samsung models have a minimum of 128GB, which should be enough for most. At the top end, the iPhone 12 Pro, Pro Max, and S21 Ultra are available with 512GB of storage.
Famous for its in-house expertise, Apple iPhones use the iOS operating system. It may not be as much as of a behemoth as Android but iOS is owned by Apple, meaning that the manufacturer has more control over producing updates, security patches and rolling these updates out to its devices, than users of Google's Android operating system.
Samsung is the biggest smartphone brand in the world and the largest smartphone manufacturer running on the Android operating system. Samsung Galaxy devices are typically launched with the newest version of Android’s software. To optimise the use of its devices, Samsung has ‘One UI’, an operating system skin to overlay Android that offers a range of visual and functional improvements.
When it comes to these two tech titans, their premium smartphone ranges sit very close to each other in price.
For the first time in 2018, the iPhone toppled over the £1,000 threshold, making it one of the most expensive smartphones ever made. For those looking for a better deal with the iPhones, Apple had introduced the iPhone XR (£749), as a less expensive alternative to the iPhone XS (£999) and XS Max (£1,099).
It has maintained the same structure with the iPhone 12 range. At release, the iPhone 12 cost £799, the 12 Pro £999, and the Pro Max £1,099.
Samsung’s Galaxy range is a (slightly) less painful purchase. The Samsung Galaxy S12 cost £769 at launch, the S21+ £949, and the S21 Ultra an eye-watering £1,329.
If your eyes are still watering from reading those prices, fear not. Both Samsung and Apple offer cheaper phones that may well be worth considering.
Galaxy A models come in at a level below the Galaxy S range. They're mid-range handsets that aim to strike a balance between price and performance. They may lack some of the most sophisticated functions of their bigger brothers, and their design is a little more functional than fanciful, but they're an appealing choice for those who want a smartphone that can do everything they ask of it – without spending more than £30 per month on a contract.
The Galaxy J line is the entry-level, budget friendly option. They aren't quite as cheap as some other manufacturers' budget handsets, but in return you get the Samsung stamp of quality – and a mobile phone that feels more expensive than it actually is. If you don't use your smartphone for much more than the basics, this is a very valid option.
Following the success of the original, Apple re-released an all new SE in 2020. It's by far the brand's most affordable smartphone at £399, offers a 4.7-inch HD display (1,344 x 750 pixels), one 12Mp wide-angle rear camera lens and a single front 7Mp front camera. It's already proven popular among those who don't like larger phones. Read our for more.
Hot on the heels of the SE, the Mini arrived. It's still a relatively small phone, at 5.4-inches display size, but it's packing far more advanced features that are more comparable to the iPhone 12. You'll find a higher resolution 2,340 x 1,080 display and dual 12MP rear cameras (including ultra-wide), along with a powerful processor. It's not cheap though –£699, so is more suited to those who want a premium phone in a compact size. Read our for more.
Each and every mobile phone that passes through our test labs is subjected to the same set of tough lab tests. This enables us to compare them side-by-side and tell you which are worthy of your money. You can use our test results to avoid slow phones that can't take decent photos, and instead spend your money on a good-quality model that won't constantly need recharging.
We examine everything, including processor speed, screen and camera quality, battery life and call quality.
Our tests are unique. For example, when testing how quick each phone is, we don't just use the industry-standard speed tests, but we also rate what it's like in everyday use. Our testers assess whether the phone is sluggish when swiping through menus and how quickly it opens webpages. All these factors enable us to generate our star ratings and give every phone a score.