5 ways Samsung Galaxy S21 can beat the iPhone 12

Samsung Galaxy S21
(Image credit: LetsGoDigital)

If the leaks are true, the Samsung Galaxy S21 is coming January 14. That’s earlier than usual, with the logic being that Samsung wants to answer what appears to be a very successful iPhone 12 launch. 

While there are plenty of strong Android phones on the market, such as the Google Pixel 5 and OnePlus 8T, the Galaxy S21 looks to be the Android phone to beat and the biggest rival to take on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro

The biggest Galaxy S21 upgrades are expected to be improved camera systems (especially on the S21 Ultra) more powerful performance via the new Snapdragon 888 chip and a better fingerprint scanner for unlocking these devices.  

We don't expect the Galaxy S21 to outperform Apple's A14 Bionic chip or necessarily surpass its computational photography, but there are several ways Samsung can win. Here's 5 ways the Galaxy S21 can beat the iPhone 12. 

Bigger, even better zoom

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra camera

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 12 Pro Max uses a fusion of the 2.5x optical zoom on its 12MP telephoto lens with the 12MP wide-angle camera to give 5x optical zoom range. And in our testing we found it delivered pretty good zoomed in shots. 

However, the Galaxy S21 is set to have a 64MP telephoto camera, much like the Galaxy S20. We currently expect a similar 3x hybrid optical zoom and super resolution (digital) zoom up to 30x.

It's when we get to the Galaxy S21 Ultra that Samsung could smack down the mighty iPhone 12 Pro Max. According to the leaks, the S21 Ultra is set to have a pair of telephoto cameras on its rear. One is set to offer a 3x optical zoom, while the other will go up to 10x optical.

But we also need to stress that Samsung will need to ensure it brings its A-game on the image processing side, as phones like the Pixel 5 have proved that better lenses don’t alway mean improved smartphone photos if you you don’t have the computational photography to back it up.

Improved 120Hz displays 

Samsung Galaxy S21 blade bezel display

(Image credit: Snoreyn/LetsGoDigital)

The Galaxy S21 is set to have 120Hz refresh rate displays across the standard, Plus and Ultra models. That’s hardly surprising as the Galaxy S20 range all have 120Hz displays. But there's a good chance Samsung may have found a way to tweak the displays so that they don’t consume as much power. 

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is set to get the LTPO tech found in the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. LTPO panels allow a display refresh rate to be dynamically adjusted, scaling it down to as little as 1Hz, thus saving on battery life. This "Adaptive motion" feature could get an upgrade over the Note 20 Ultra’s and make it even more power-efficient. 

Another rumor suggests that the Galaxy S21 Ultra could come with a mighty 144Hz refresh rate. That would put it on par with the displays of some gaming phones, like the Asus ROG Phone 3. So the Galaxy S21 Ultra could pull double duty as a powerful flagship handset and an impressive gaming phone. 

Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are still stuck at 60Hz, with no ProMotion display in sight. 

A better built-in fingerprint sensor 

Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Galaxy S21 is tipped to get a larger under-display fingerprint scanner. That should improve upon the responsiveness of the Galaxy S20’s scanner, making for snappier and more reliable unlocks. 

While Face ID is excellent on the iPhone 12, the coronavirus pandemic has meant a lot more mask wearing, which can trip up Face ID. And with no Touch ID sensor, COVID-19 safe iPhone 12 users have to then tap in their passcode. Do that a lot of times a day and it could get very annoying. 

With an under-display scanner, the Galaxy S21 avoids that situation and trumps the iPhone 12, at least while the coronavirus pandemic continues. 

Bigger batteries and longer battery life 

Samsung Galaxy S20 charging

(Image credit: Future)

From the leaks so far, it’s looking like the Galaxy S21 range have mostly the same battery capacities, with one exception. The Galaxy S21 will have a 4,000 mAh battery, the S21 Plus a 4,800 mAh battery (up from 4,500 mAh) and the S21 Ultra 5,000 mAh. 

The iPhone 12 (2,815 mAh), iPhone 12 Pro (2,815 mAh) and iPhone 12 Pro Max (3,687 mAh) all have smaller batteries than what's expected for the S21. 

In our web battery test, the Galaxy S20 lasted 9 hours 31 mins over 5G in 60Hz screen mode and 8:04 in 120Hz mode. The iPhone 12 lasted 8:25. However, Samsung is stepping up to a more efficient 5nm Snapgragon 888 chip for the Galaxy S21, so the phones should last even longer on a charge.  

S Pen support

Samsung Galaxy S21 design render

(Image credit: OnLeaks)

One of the major features of the Galaxy Note series is the S Pen. But with Samsung increasing the size and capabilities of the Galaxy S series with its Ultra model, and making larger screen devices with its Galaxy Fold phones, the days of the Note series could be numbered. In fact, there are rumors that the Galaxy S21 Ultra will have S Pen support.  

If those tidbits of information do come to fruition, then the Galaxy S21 Ultra will not just render the Galaxy Note range a tad moot, but also bring in another feature the iPhone 12 can’t match. As impressive as the latest Apple Pencil is, it simply doesn't work with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. 

And while all the features of the S Pen might not suit everybody, simply navigating a large display with the precision of a smart stylus is a joy, and it comes in handy for taking notes and drawing. Just don't expect the S21 Ultra to have a holster for the S Pen. 

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.