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iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Which flagship phone will win?

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21
(Image credit: Ian Zelbo/Tom's Guide)

With Apple and Samsung dominating the smartphone market, any new phone release by either company is going to be measured by how it compares to the flagship devices produced by its top rival. So it is with the iPhone 13 — and that phone won't even be out for another few months.

When it does arrive this fall, the iPhone 13 has its work cut out for it, should Apple want to earn bragging rights over Samsung. That company's latest flagship handsets, the Galaxy S21 family, made a strong debut in the spring, challenging the current iPhone 12 models for the title of best phone overall. If Apple hopes to retain its place at the top of our list, the iPhone 13 is going to have to deliver in a big way.

Based on rumors we've heard so far about Apple's upcoming phone, chances are good that any iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21 clash should be a close one. We'll have to wait for Apple's phone to come out before we can take on a formal comparison, but here's how Apple's next big device figures to stack up against the best Samsung phones currently available.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Specs

iPhone 13/iPhone 13 mini (rumored)iPhone 13 Pro/iPhone 13 Pro Max (rumored)Galaxy S21/S21 PlusGalaxy S21 Ultra
Starting price$799/$699 (mini)$999/$1,099 (Max)$799/$999 (Plus)$1,199
Screen size6.1 inches/5.4 inches (mini)6.1 inches/6.7 inches (Max)6.2 inches/6.7 inches (Plus)6.8 inches
Refresh rate60Hz120Hz dynamic48-120Hz10-120Hz
CPUA15 BionicA15 BionicSnapdragon 888Snapdragon 888
Rear camerasMain camera, ultrawide lens, LiDAR sensorMain camera, ultrawide and telephoto lenses, LiDAR sensor12MP wide (f/1.8), 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2), 64MP telephoto (f/2.0) with 3x hybrid zoom/30x digital108MP wide (f/1.8), 12MP ultra wide (f/2.2), 10MP telephoto (3x zoom, f/2.4), 10MP telephoto (10x zoom, f/4.9), laser AF sensor
Battery size3,095 mAH/2,406 mAh (mini)3,095 mAh/4,352 mAh4,000 mAh/4,800 mAh (Plus)5,000 mAh

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Price

You don't really think of Apple and Samsung as waging a price war, but that's sort of what's materialized in the past year. It started with Apple lowering the price of its entry-level iPhones to the point where the iPhone 12 mini now lets you get your foot in the Apple ecosystem for $699.

Samsung must have taken note because after the S20 lineup started at $999, it dropped prices on all three S21 models by $200. The Galaxy S21 costs $799 — the same as the iPhone 12 — while the Galaxy S21 Plus matches the iPhone 12 Pro's $999 cost. Only the Galaxy S21 Ultra is more expensive than its iPhone 12 counterpart — $1,199 versus $1,099 for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Keep those iPhone 12 Pro prices in mind, because you're likely to see them again when the iPhone 13 arrives based on the latest rumors. Things could change by the fall, but right now, we're expecting the iPhone 13 mini to start at $699, with prices scaling up to $1,099 for the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Design

As the pricing section implies, we're anticipating four iPhone 13 models that match the sizes of their iPhone 12 predecessors — a 5.4-inch iPhone 13 mini, 6.1-inch versions of the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, and a 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max. That compares to the trio of Galaxy S21 models that Samsung released last fall. In addition to the 6.2-inch Galaxy S21, you also can choose between the more phablet-like 6.7-inch S21 Plus and 5.8-inch S21 Ultra.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung Galaxy S21 family (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both Samsung and Apple make their less expensive phones out of plastic, while reserving glass and metal designs for the iPhone 12 Pro and S21 Plus and Ultra models. That's likely to continue with the iPhone 13 lineup, too, which is expected to retain the straight edges Apple reintroduced with last fall's iPhone 12.

One other thing that should stick around on the iPhone 13 is the notch used to house the front facing camera and Face ID sensors. Fortunately, rumors suggest that the notch will be a little smaller on every iPhone 13 model, freeing up a little extra screen real estate. 

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Display

One area where the Galaxy S21 lineup indisputably enjoys an edge over the current iPhones involves the devices' respective displays. All three Galaxy S21 models feature adaptive displays that adjust their display rate depending on your activity at the time. All four iPhone 12 models remain stuck at the standard 60Hz refresh rate.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21

iPhone 13 dummy units (Image credit: Sonny Dickson)

There's no easy way to explain what a difference the 120Hz refresh rate makes when you're scrolling through web pages. It's so much smoother on the Galaxy S21, which also benefits from more immersive videos and gameplay thanks to its fast-refreshing screens. And because the refresh rate scales down when you're engaged in more static activities, Samsung can offer this feature while preserving battery life.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung Galaxy S21 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone 13 is likely to level the display playing field, at least where the iPhone 13 Pro models are concerned. The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max are both rumored to be getting adaptive screens of their own, matching the S21's most valuable feature. We wish the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini were joining the fun, too — they'll feature the same old 60Hz screens, the rumor mill claims — but at least it's a step in the right direction for Apple.

iPhone i3 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Cameras

Cameras have become a big battlefield for smartphones, and the iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21 clash should continue that. The iPhone has some catching up to do in terms of zoom features. The S21 and S21 Plus both feature a 64MP telephoto lens in their triple camera arrays that can provide a 3x zoom; the Galaxy S21 Ultra ups the ante with a pair of telephoto lenses. 

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21

iPhone 13 concept design (Image credit: Jermaine Smit/LetsGoDigital)

Apple doesn't even include a telephoto lens on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, a move that's unlikely to change with the iPhone 13 versions, and the Pro models stop at a 2x optical zoom (2.5x in the case of the iPhone 12 Pro Max). Rumors suggest that the zoom features on the iPhone 13 Pro models aren't going to get a boost, with Apple instead focusing on improving the ultrawide angle lens on those phones. Look for those phones to switch to a 6-element ultrawide angle lens — the current Pro models feature a 5-element lens — along with autofocus features. The result should be better image quality and sharper pictures.

All four iPhone 13 models are said to be adding the sensor-shift stabilization feature included with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. And other rumors point to Apple beefing up the computational photography on the new iPhones by adding a dedicated astrophotography mode and supporting portrait mode or video. It's clear Apple is aiming to top the Galaxy S21 (and other Android devices) for the title of best camera phone.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Performance and 5G

It's safe to call this a no-contest, even with the iPhone 13 still on the drawing board. All three Galaxy S21 models are powered by a Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip — the best silicon you can find in an Android phone. And the A14 Bionic processor in the current iPhone 12 models outperform Samsung's flagship phones, as you can see in the Galaxy S21 benchmarks we published in the spring when Samsung's new phones arrived.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21

Snapdragon 888 (Image credit: Qualcomm)

What hope does the Galaxy S21 have, then, when the iPhone 13 is all but certain to feature a faster A15 Bionic processor? Even if the gains over the A14 are modest, the new Apple chip should still handily beat the Snapdragon 888 in benchmark tests, and we'd bet that translates to superior real-world performance for the iPhone 13, too.

All the iPhone 13 models are going to offer 5G compatibility, the same as the iPhone 12 before them. Reportedly, the iPhone 13 will feature Qualcomm's Snapdragon X60, which should improve speeds over the X55 that delivers 5G connectivity to the iPhone 12. Samsung users should know — the X60 is also the modem in the Galaxy S21 and it's helped Samsung's recent flagships deliver the best speeds among 5G devices.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Battery and charging

Battery life proved to be a mixed bag for the Galaxy S21 family. The Galaxy S21 Ultra lasted the longest of the three phones in our battery testing, landing on our best phone battery life list thanks in no small part to its 5,000 mAh power pack. The Galaxy S21 Plus' longevity is consistent with the average smartphone, as is the Galaxy S21 — provided you turn off that phone's adaptive display feature. Otherwise, the S21 and its 4,000 mAh battery lasts about 6.5 hours on our test, where phones surf the web continuously over cellular until they run out of power.

iPhone 13 vs Samsung Galaxy S21

iPhone 13 renders (Image credit: LetsGoDigital)

Apple tends not to put big batteries into its phones, though that's rumored to be changing with the iPhone 13. Recent leaks suggest each iPhone 13 model will have a larger battery than its iPhone 12 equivalent. That's good news because apart from the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the iPhone 12 lineup performed below the industry average on our battery test.

The iPhone 12 offered 20W wired charging, which is slower than the Galaxy S21's 25W charging speed. We haven't heard if Apple plans to speed things up for the iPhone 13, though one rumor claims the iPhone 13 won't support reverse wireless charging like Samsung's Galaxy S21 models do. Apple is also unlikely to reverse its decision on not including a charger with its phones, though the Galaxy S21 models also shipped without a charger.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Software

We've already gotten our first look at the software that will power the iPhone 13 when it arrives this fall. Apple previewed iOS 15 in June, releasing a public beta by the end of the month. Based on our iOS 15 beta hands-on, the iPhone 13 will be able to share videos and music during FaceTime calls, manage notifications through a new Focus mode and offer improvements and enhancements to Maps, Photos and other apps. There are some hints as to what iOS 15 says about possible iPhone 13 features as well.

iPhone 13 vs Samsung Galaxy S21

iOS 15 on an iPhone 12 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Likewise, we've seen a preview of Android 12, which arrives in a few months, and will likely wind up on the Galaxy S21 around the end of the year. Until then, the Galaxy S21 runs Android 11. Samsung now commits to three years of Android updates and four years of security updates. That's better than it used to be, though iPhones routinely get four to five years of iOS updates.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21

Galaxy S21 Ultra and S Pen (Image credit: Samsung)

If you opt for the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you can get a feature you won't find on any current iPhone and that the iPhone 13 is unlikely to offer. Samsung added S Pen support to the Ultra, though the stylus is only available as an optional accessory.

iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21: Outlook

The ultimate winner of the iPhone 13 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21 face-off will be determined once the iPhone 13 actually ships. But based on some pretty concrete rumors about Apple's next phone, this figures to be a pretty heated battle between the major players in the smartphone world.

Philip Michaels
Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.