Xiaomi 12 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: Xiaomi attempts to beat Samsung at its own game

Xiaomi 12 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: Xiaomi attempts to beat Samsung at its own game


With a subtle shift in focus and a reduction in size, the Xiaomi 12 is clearly confronting the Samsung Galaxy S21 on compact flagship phone turf.

With the Samsung Galaxy S22 right around the corner – a phone that’s by all reports very similar to its predecessor – it’ll be interesting to see how these two phones compare.

We haven’t had a chance to go hands-on with the Xiaomi 12 just yet, but here’s how it stacks up to the phone that clearly inspired it.

Xiaomi 12 vs Samsung Galaxy S21 price and availability 

The Xiaomi 12 hit its home Chinese market on December 31. We don’t know when the phone will receive a global launch, but it’s looking likely to be either February or March.

Initial pricing for the phone in China is CNY3,699, which converts to around $580/£430/AU$800. Naturally, the final price in the West will be a little different, but the point remains that this is an even more affordable flagship phone than the Xiaomi Mi 11 before it.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 arrived on January 29, 2021, and it too took a slightly more affordable approach than previous releases. Prices started from $799 / £769 / AU$1,249 for the 128GB model, while the 256GB model cost $850 / £819 / AU$1,349.

Naturally, with the phone having been on the market for some time, you can get the Galaxy S21 for cheaper if you shop around. Those prices are going to drop further when the Galaxy S22 arrives.

Even so, the Xiaomi 12 is clearly set to be the more affordable phone of the two.

Design

These are two of the smallest Android phones you’re likely to come across. The Xiaomi 12 measures in at 152.7 x 69.9 x 8.2mm, while the Samsung Galaxy S21 measures 151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm.

It’s nip and tuck as to which phone is the bigger. However, the Galaxy S21 is significantly lighter at 169g vs 179g.

Part of that difference comes down to battery size, which we’ll discuss in the appropriate section. However, another point to note is that the Galaxy S21’s rear cover is formed from a plastic material that Samsung calls ‘Glasstic’, while the Xiaomi 12 uses the far classier (and heavier) Gorilla Glass Victus.

We prefer the design of the Galaxy S21’s curvy ‘Contour Cut’ camera module, however. It flows into the body much more seamlessly, and generally makes an attractive feature out of a frequently distracting component.

Xiaomi has disappointingly stepped back from its own curved camera module design introduced in the Xiaomi Mi 11. In its place is a rather generic rectangular module, which looks more like Samsung’s own Galaxy Note 20.

The Xiaomi 12 wins some style points back with its curved display, while the Galaxy S21 goes with a more practical but less desirable flat display. Speaking of displays…

A Samsung Galaxy S21 sat on a table

The Samsung Galaxy S21 from the rear (Image credit: TechRadar)

Display

As we’ve discussed, these are two of the more compact Android flagships on the market, which means both phones have smaller-than-average displays.

The Xiaomi 12 screen is fractionally larger at 6.28 inches, whereas the Galaxy S21 has a 6.2-inch display. There isn’t much in it at all.

Both phones have 2400 x 1080 (FHD+) resolutions, and both use vibrant OLED panels with super-fluid 120Hz refresh rates.

Samsung gets a win on the brightness front, with a peak output of 1300 nits. The Xiaomi 12 gets plenty bright, but only to the tune of 1100 nits.

We’ll need to go hands-on with the Xiaomi 12 to determine the quality of its display. All we know for sure is that the Galaxy S21 screen is of a very high quality, and that you need to be a brave person to bet against Samsung’s display technology in any head-to-head.

Camera

Xiaomi 12

The Xiaomi 12 (Image credit: Xiaomi )

Samsung and Xiaomi have taken fascinatingly different approaches with their camera tech. There really isn’t much they share in common on paper.

Both are triple camera systems, but the nature of those cameras differs quite a bit.

The Xiaomi 12 camera is led by a 50MP 1/1.56-inch wide sensor with an f/1.9 aperture. The Samsung Galaxy S21 gives you a 12MP 1/1.76-inch wide sensor. Xiaomi uses pixel binning to achieve results, whereas Samsung goes with fewer but bigger individual pixels.

On the ultra-wide front, the Xiaomi 12 gives you a 13MP 1/3.06-inch 123-degree sensor with an f/2.4 aperture, while the Samsung Galaxy S21 goes with a 12MP 1/2.55-inch 120-degree ultra-wide sensor.

But the real difference comes with that third sensor. The Xiaomi 12 goes with a slightly gimmicky – if undeniably cool, judging from the Xiaomi Mi 11 iteration before – 5MP ‘telemacro’. This lets you take extreme close-ups from a reasonable distance.

In the opposite corner, the Samsung Galaxy S21 gives you a 64MP telephoto sensor, for 1.1x optical zoom shots and 3x hybrid zoom shots.

We’d go with Samsung’s ‘holy trinity’ approach any day, as the provision of a telephoto lens simply gives you more shooting options in a greater number of everyday situations. If you’re really into macro shots, of course, your opinion may vary.

On the selfie front, the Samsung Galaxy S21 gives you a 10MP sensor, while the Xiaomi 12 lays on a more impressive-sounding 32MP sensor. Of course, these are small sensors, so more pixels doesn’t necessarily mean better selfies.

Specs and performance

A close-up of the Samsung Galaxy S21's camera

The camera hardware is much the same on both phones (Image credit: TechRadar)

We’re looking at two phones that are a year and a generation apart here, so there’s a clear performance gap. The Xiaomi 12 runs on the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, while the Samsung Galaxy S21 runs on two of the previous generation’s chips.

Those in the US and China get the Snapdragon 888, which is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1’s immediate predecessor, while the rest of us get Samsung’s own Exynos 2100. This is roughly equivalent to the Snapdragon 888, but a little less capable in the GPU department.

Whichever chip you’re talking about, the Xiaomi 12 comes out top in the performance stakes. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 might not be a significant improvement in the CPU stakes (at least according to early benchmarks), but its GPU is a healthy step up.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Xiaomi 12 performs well in day-to-day usage, of course. The Galaxy S21 might not have as much headroom, but if it’s been better optimized, and has more stable software, then that hardware advantage won’t matter too much.

Elsewhere the Xiaomi 12 comes with 8GB or 12GB of RAM, while the Galaxy S21 gives you a fixed 8GB. Both phones offer the option of 128 or 256GB of storage.

Both phones have decent stereo speakers, the Galaxy S21’s provided by AKG, and the Xiaomi 12’s tuned by Harman Kardon.

Battery

The Xiaomi 12 is slightly thicker and heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S21, and part of that is down to its larger battery. It packs a 4,500mAh cell, whereas the Galaxy S21 only has a 4,000mAh equivalent.

It remains to be seen how good the Xiaomi 12’s stamina is, but we weren’t too impressed with the Xiaomi Mi 11’s in 2021.

That said, we weren’t too impressed with the Galaxy S21’s stamina either. Our reviewer could generally get through a full day on a single charge, but more intensive usage would tend to drain the tank before bed time.

The Xiaomi 12 certainly seems to have the Galaxy S21 beat when it comes to recharging. With a 67-Watt charger in the box, it’s capable of going from 0% to 100% in just 39 minutes.

Samsung, by contrast, has only provided 25W charging support, and you don’t even get the brick in the box.

Wireless charging shows a similar gap: 50W for the Xiaomi, 15W for the Samsung. The latter really needs to up its game in this department.

A close-up of the bottom edge of a Samsung Galaxy S21

The Samsung Galaxy S21 from the bottom edge (Image credit: TechRadar)

Takeaway

Xiaomi has clearly modeled the Xiaomi 12 on the Samsung Galaxy S21 this year. Like Samsung’s phone, it’s smaller and cheaper than its predecessor, providing a tempting alternative to the more premium flagship crowd.

It remains to be seen if Xiaomi has been successful with this move, which can be viewed as a managed downgrade in certain respects. Samsung was only partially successful with its own attempt, so there’s definitely room for the Xiaomi 12 to go one better.

With greater power and a more premium design than the Galaxy S21, Xiaomi seems to be on the right track. It’ll come down to the software, the camera quality, the battery life, and the all-round feel of the Xiaomi 12, which we won’t be able to judge until the global model rolls out.

Xiaomi 12 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: Xiaomi attempts to beat Samsung at its own game

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Xiaomi 12 vs Samsung Galaxy S21: Xiaomi attempts to beat Samsung at its own game

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.