The newly unveiled Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra packs a massive 200MP camera and the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, but is it enough to overcome the iPhone 14 Pro Max as the best high-end flagship? The Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max is a debate that will likely rage all year and we still need to get the former in our labs for testing, but we're taking an early look at how they stack up.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra wins the hardware feature race with its integrated S Pen, a powerful 10x optical zoom, and 45W fast charging. Apple wasn't resting on its laurels this year though, the iPhone 14 Pro Max debuted the new 48MP f/1.78 wide-angle, the redesigned Dynamic Island design, and a slew of new software features enabled by the A16 Bionic chipset.
There are almost no easy win categories for either phone anymore, but we'll help you sort through the shades of grey and find the answer to who wins in the face-off of the Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: price and value
The Galaxy S23 Ultra starts at $1,199 for the 256GB model with 8GB of RAM. Upgrading to 512GB or 1TB also bumps you up to 12GB of RAM.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max starts at $1,099 for a 128GB model with 6GB of RAM. You can upgrade to 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB. It’s an extra $100 for the 256GB model, which is necessary for the new ProRes video feature if you are a mobile cinematographer. Add another $200 for the 512GB and 1TB options, maxing the phone out at $1,599.
During the pre-order period for the Galaxy S23 Ultra (through February 16) you get a free upgrade to the next storage tier, making the 512GB model just $1,199, matching up exactly with the iPhone 13 Pro Max pricing and getting you that bump to 12GB of RAM as well.
While the iPhone 14 Pro Max starts at $1,099, you need the upgrade to the $1,199 256GB model to use the full feature set for the phone, so I'm calling this category a draw.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: design
While the Galaxy S23 Ultra sticks to a nearly identical design to last year, it still offers a unique industrial look in the market with the exposed lenses on the back. The iPhone 14 Pro Max's lone change is the introduction of the Dynamic Island to the display, but it's otherwise a dead ringer for the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
The small change that has me very eager to get my hands on the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the shift from a full waterfall display to a much more subtle curve. I prefer a flatter display and it appears that Samsung may have found an excellent middle ground that should make the S23 Ultra a pleasure to hold and use. It remains a massive phone, unless you are going to the Z Flip 4 there's only so much you can do to shrink a phone with a 6.8-inch display.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max design is a dead ringer for the 13 Pro Max unit you see the Dynamic Island on the display. While I welcome the change from the notch, I'm still not entirely sold on it. Apple's making mediocre lemonade out of lemons with the Dynamic Island, even months after launch there are still numerous apps that don't account for it and I'm left shifting the app around on the screen to see a crucial piece of information. As for the rest of the phone, I haven't tired of the squared-off aesthetic, and while the 14 Pro Max pushes the boundaries with its size it is still manageable.
At 3.1 x 6.4 x 0.35 inches and 8.25 ounces, the S23 Ultra is 0.17 ounces heavier than its predecessor, but the dimensions are nearly identical. The iPhone 14 Pro Max is slightly smaller at 3.1 x 6.3 x .031 inches, but outweighs the S23 Ultra at 8.47 ounces. Neither phone is disappearing into a pocket unnoticed.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra takes this category, but this is largely subjective. The Dynamic Island is the one design choice that is demonstrably worse, but overall I believe the Galaxy S23 Ultra to be a more comfortable device to use on a daily basis.
Winner: Galaxy S23 Ultra
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: display
With the exception of the addition of the Dynamic Island to the iPhone 14 Pro Max there are limited changes to its display this year and the Galaxy S23 Ultra made even fewer alterations.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max features a 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display with ProMotion and a 2796 x 1290-pixel resolution. The Galaxy S23 Ultra 1-ups it at 6.8 inches, but the Dynamic AMOLED 2X display buries it when it comes to resolution at WQHD+ (3200 x 1440). Both phones are now able to scale their refresh rate from 1Hz to 120Hz, which was previously an advantage for Samsung.
Last year we saw a massive spike in the peak brightness claims from both companies. The iPhone 14 Pro Max hit 1565 nits in our testing, we'll have to see how the Galaxy S23 Ultra fares in our lab tests.
I'm calling this category a draw until we have our tests in for the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Samsung has a clear advantage on resolution, but it's an otherwise close race and the lab tests combined with hands-on testing will decide the winner.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: performance
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is the first phone to launch in the U.S. with the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor. We are just getting underway with our testing, so you’ll need to return for the final ruling on this one. However, the best-case scenario is that Samsung somewhat closes the gap, there is simply no chance that the A16 Bionic is defeated.
With that said, I still believe that flagship phones are more powerful than we need them to be, so while the iPhone will unquestionably dominate the performance results, for 99.9% of users that is completely irrelevant. You will be able to fire up a nearly unlimited number of Google Chrome tabs, switch between dozens of apps while watching picture-in-picture videos, or max out the settings on PUBG or Genshin Impact without a problem.
The place where I think the A16 advantage comes into play is long-term performance. The iPhone 14 Pro Max's A16 Bionic should allow you to use it without much of a noticeable slowdown for at least 3-4 years. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is more likely to hit a ceiling for its performance in that timeframe. So if you like to hold onto your phone for 4-5 years, it's definitely worth considering.
While we'll update this section with lab results when they come in, it's unlikely to change the result. Both phones should deliver excellent performance today, but the iPhone 14 Pro Max should comfortably retain its title as the most powerful phone on the planet.
Winner: iPhone 14 Pro Max
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: battery life and charging
Big phones should get you big batteries and both phones deliver on this promise. The Galaxy S23 Ultra has the size edge with a 5,000 mAh battery compared to the 4,323 mAh battery in the iPhone 14 Pro Max. However, we are still testing the Galaxy S23 Ultra to see whether that physical advantage results in superior battery life.
Samsung has its work cut out for it as the iPhone 14 Pro Max offers the longest-lasting battery of any iPhone. In our Laptop Mag battery test, it managed 13 hours and 25 minutes of continuous web surfing on 5G with the screen set to 150 nits of brightness.
While we await the results, charging is a much more cut-and-dry matter with Samsung boasting 45W fast charging, obliterating the 29W of the iPhone 14 Pro Max. We'll see how that goes in practice, Samsung claims you'll get a 62% charge in 30 minutes, while the 14 Pro Max only manages 42%.
Both phones support wireless charging with Qi compatibility and Apple’s proprietary MagSafe charging. Speeds are considerably slower, topping out at 15W, but as a wireless charging convert that has littered his house with Qi charging stands and pucks, I find the convenience to be worth the speed trade-off for daily use.
Until the lab and real-world test results for the Galaxy S23 Ultra come in, this is a draw as the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a major charging advantage, but as far as a single charge goes the iPhone 14 Pro Max is almost certain to win the day.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: cameras
The Galaxy S23 Ultra has two changes to its camera array, one is a massive upgrade to a 200MP primary wide-angle, while the other is arguably a downgrade to a 12MP front-facing camera. We need to take our review unit out for a spin to see just how much of a difference each one makes, but Samsung already offered the most versatile camera array of any phone on the market.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max finally made moves on its camera array too with a new 48MP f/1.78 wide-angle that users can leverage for full 48MP images or 12MP pixel binned images as Samsung has done in the past. The ultra-wide at f/2.2 is a step down from what Apple offered in the past and the telephoto remains a 3x optical zoom at f/2.8. The front-facing camera at f/2.2 remains one of the best in the industry for portrait selfies, thanks to the extra depth-sensing tech now hidden in the Dynamic Island. Sensor-shift optical image stabilization further enhances low-light performance.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra largely sticks to its predecessor's array, with the exception of that incredible new 200MP at f/1.8 camera sensor that I can't wait to test. The rest are the same 12MP ultra-wide sensor at f/2.2, a 10MP 3x telephoto at f/2.4, and a 10MP telephoto at f/4.9 camera. Turning to the front, you have the now 12MP front-facing camera at f/2.2. We'll need to see if the switch from 40MP to 12MP on the front makes an appreciable difference. That main camera promises absolutely outstanding low-light and astrophotography performance, but the rest of the lineup should remain roughly on par with last year. The big unknown is how much of an impact the improved computational photography capabilities of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 will have.
This is once again a draw for now. Both companies made some minor tweaks to the camera systems this year and I want to thoroughly test how those shook out. Overall I haven't been blown away by the iPhone's Pro camera system this year, so I think there's a chance that the S23 Ultra may overtake it, but we'll update with samples when we have them.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: software
This won’t be a discussion of iOS versus Android; each one has its advantages and disadvantages. I have shifted back and forth between the two for over a decade now and while there have been moments where one or the other is superior, it's been a pretty dead heat for some time now.
iOS 16 added some interesting new features to the iPhone, but the larger story has been relative instability and bugs, which has led to rumors of iOS 17 focusing on stability over new features. The Galaxy S23 Ultra uses Samsung’s One UI 5.1 overlay on Android 13, but for the most part this just means you get some handy extras on top of Android including S Pen support and Samsung’s DeX mode which essentially turns your phone into a laptop replacement.
Software support remains a differentiator, although far less so than in the past. Apple doesn’t have a specific support commitment, but it consistently offers at least 5 to 6 years of software updates for its flagship phones. The Galaxy S23 Ultra, by comparison, will get four major Android updates and five years of security updates. That's the best software support of any Android manufacturer.
I’m calling this category a draw. While Apple has the support lead, at four OS updates and five years of security updates, Samsung has dramatically reduced that advantage and Samsung's more advanced features like DeX are beyond what the iPhone offers.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: Outlook
Several of these categories will tip one way or the other once we have the test results in and we've spent some time with the Galaxy S23 Ultra, but for now this is basically a toss-up.
These categories are all extremely close among these phones. iOS versus Android may decide it for you if you are already heavily invested in either, but both phones offer a strong hardware and software experience
The Galaxy S23 Ultra gives unique features like the S Pen, DeX and a 10x optical zoom. The iPhone 14 Pro Max shook things up a bit with the Dynamic Island and the new 48MP camera, while still delivering outstanding battery life and the most powerful mobile chipset around.
We'll crown a champion soon, but for now this one is too close to call.
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Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more. Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.