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iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: which one is best?

Renders of the iPhone 15 Pro Max next to the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the best smartphones of 2023. It’s one of our favorite phones to carry because of the versatile camera system, good battery life, and excellent display.

But there’s a new challenger in town – the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Apple’s latest flagship iPhone brings better optical zoom capabilities to challenge the Galaxy S23 Ultra. It’s also got a design update with build materials that are solid for long-term use. Here’s how the iPhone 15 Pro Max compares to the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: specs

iPhone 15 Pro Max Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Size 159.9 x 76.7 x 8.25 mm (6.29 x 3.02 x 0.32 inches) 157.7 x 78 x 8.9 mm (3.07 x 6.43 x 0.35 inches)
Weight 221 grams (57.8193 ounces) 234 grams (8.25 ounces)
Screen size 6.7-inch OLED with ProMotion (120Hz dynamic) 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X (120Hz dynamic)
Screen resolution 2796 x 1290 resolution at 460 pixels per inch 3088 x 1440 resolution at 500 pixels per inch
Operating system iOS 17 Android 13 with One UI 5.1
Storage 2556GB, 512GB, 1TB 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
MicroSD card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services Apple Pay Google Pay, Samsung Pay
Processor Apple A17 Pro Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
Cameras Rear: 48-megapixel (MP) primary, 12MP ultrawide, and 12MP telephoto

Front: 12MP

Rear: 200MP primary with Laser Auto Focus, 12MP ultrawide, and 10MP telephoto

Front: 12MP

Video Rear: Up to 4K at 24, 25, 30, or 60 frames per second (fps), FHD at up to 60 fps, and slow-mo

Front: Up to 4K at up to 60 fps

Rear: Up to 8K at 30 frames per second (fps), 4K at 60 fps, FHD at 120 fps, and 960 fps for slow motion

Front: Up to 4K at 60 fps

Bluetooth Yes, Bluetooth 5.3 Yes, Bluetooth 5.3
Biometrics Face ID Ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor and Face Recognition
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Battery N/A
20W charging
Wireless charging
No reverse wireless charging
Super Fast Charging 2.0 at 45W
Fast Wireless Charging 2.0
Wireless PowerShare
App marketplace Apple App Store Google Play Store
Network support 5G 5G
Colors Black Titanium, White Titanium, Blue Titanium, and Natural Titanium Phantom Black, Cream, Green, and Lavender
Price From $1,199 From $1,199
Available from All major offline and online retailers All major offline and online retailers

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: design and display

The iPhone 15 Pro Max uses glass and titanium as materials for the design. For years, the Pro Max iPhones have been some of the heaviest phones on the market, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max sheds almost 20 grams, reducing its weight to 221 grams. By contrast, the Galaxy S23 Ultra features a glass and aluminum build that has it weighing in at 234 grams. Both smartphones offer IP68 dust and water resistance.

Switching to the front, you get a 6.7-inch display on the iPhone 15 Pro Max versus the 6.8-inch screen on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a brighter display that can go up to 2,000 nits, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra maxes out at 1,750 nits. Both smartphones support a 120Hz dynamic refresh rate and enough pixels on the screen to make the content look sharp.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max had a big ergonomics problem, and the Galaxy S23 Ultra was more comfortable to use compared to it. Apple says that it’s improved the ergonomics of the new iPhone with slightly curved edges, and in real-world use, those claims hold true. Plus, the reduced weight results in a better feel in the hand. While the Galaxy S23 Ultra offers a fingerprint sensor for authentication, you get Face ID with the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

With a brighter display and lighter design, the iPhone 15 Pro Max wins this round.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro Max

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: performance, battery life, and charging

An iPhone 15 Pro Max charging with a USB-C cable.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The iPhone 15 Pro Max is powered by Apple’s in-house A17 Pro chipset, which is built on the 3nm process. It features a 6-core CPU, a 6-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine. Apple promises that you’ll be able to play console games on your iPhone, which is a first for any phone ever; a few titles, like Resident Evil 4, have already appeared for pre-order on the App Store. Plus, you get 256GB on the base variant, just like the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

The Samsung flagship houses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset, which performed well in our review. We haven’t found any lag or stutters in our time using the S23 Ultra. However, the GPU performance on the iPhone is looking to be more powerful. Both smartphones offer three storage variants in the form of 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB.

Playing a game on the Galaxy S23 Ultra.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Apple didn’t make any tall claims about the battery life on stage while announcing the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Some members of the Digital Trends team have had below-average experiences with their iPhone 14 Pro Max, especially compared to the outstanding battery life of the iPhone 13 Pro Max. While it’s improved over the months, the battery life still leaves much to be desired. By contrast, the Galaxy S23 Ultra offered better endurance on a single charge. So far, the iPhone 15 Pro Max hasn’t fared much better, even with the new chipset, but some of that may also be down to iOS 17, which is also having a bigger negative impact on the battery life of the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

On a related note, the Galaxy S23 Ultra charges faster at 45W versus 27W on the iPhone 15 Pro Max. You don’t get a charger in the box for either of these phones, but you can now charge your new iPhone with any Android charging cable, as the Lightning port has been replaced with USB-C.

The A17 Pro chip is a performance beast, but with longer battery life and faster charging on the Samsung phone, the S23 Ultra wins.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: cameras

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has the most versatile camera setup on any smartphone. It comes with a 200-megapixel (MP) primary camera, two 10MP telephoto sensors for 3x and 10x optical zoom, and a 12MP ultrawide-angle lens. It’s one of our favorite phones to carry with us on vacations for its lively colors and excellent zooming capabilities.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max brings the competition to Samsung’s best phone with a 5x optical zoom, but you miss out on 3x optical zoom – that’s only available on the iPhone 15 Pro, which lacks 5x optical zoom. However, Apple delivers a virtual 2x optical zoom from the main lens of the iPhone 15 Pro Max by using the center 12 megapixels of the 48MP sensor. It’s also worth adding that the iPhone’s 5x telephoto lens has a surprisingly wide f/2.8 aperture compared to the f/4.9 of the 10x camera on the Galaxy S23 Ultra, which should produce much better pictures in low light conditions.

Someone using the camera app on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

In terms of numbers, the iPhone 15 Pro Max sports a triple rear camera setup with a 48MP primary camera, a 12MP ultrawide sensor, and a 12MP telephoto camera. Apple says it’s improved HDR on photos on the iPhone 15 lineup thanks to its newer Smart HDR 5 technology. Moreover, you get an updated portrait mode where the phone captures depth data in every photo, so you can turn a regular photo into a portrait image in the Photos app.

In practical terms, the iPhone 15 Pro Max produces great photos with balanced colors and even more realism and character than its predecessor. Of course, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is also no slouch in this department; it beat out the iPhone 14 Pro Max in nearly all categories in our head-to-head comparison earlier this year, and it’s still an open question how much ground Apple has gained with the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

When it comes to video, the Galaxy S23 Ultra captures does a good job, but we expect the iPhone 15 Pro Max to do better thanks to its support for Dolby Vision HDR and ProRes. Plus, you can now record 4K videos at 60 frames per second (fps) directly to an external storage on the new iPhone. On the front lies a 12MP selfie shooter on both phones.

Both phones take incredible photos, and a lot of it will come down to personal preference. This one is a tie.

Winner: Tie

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: software and updates

iOS 17 interactive widgets on an iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

While Apple doesn’t promise a specific number of updates for its phones, it doesn’t really need to. The company has a proven track record of offering at least five years of major iOS updates for its phones, and sometimes even six. The iPhone 15 Pro Max ships with iOS 17, so it should get updates until at least iOS 22 in 2028, and possibly even iOS 23. However, considering that Apple is still releasing security updates for the 2013 iPhone 5s, it’s likely the iPhone 15 Pro Max will get security patches well into the 2030s.

As for Samsung, the company has a 4 + 5 year update policy where the phone will get four years of Android OS upgrades and five years of security patches. Since it shipped with Android 13, that means Android 17 will be the end of the road for major OS updates in 2027, and it will be cut off from security patches by the end of 2028.

It’s a personal choice on the OS side of things. While iOS gives you Apple ecosystem benefits, we don’t like the fact that there’s no multiwindow or popup window support – both of which are available on Samsung’s One UI. That being said, you won’t have any major concerns using either iOS or Android.

Winner: Tie

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: special features

Both phones carry special features that we haven’t talked about yet. The iPhone 15 Pro Max offers Dynamic Island and Live Activities, which offer an intuitive user experience. It also offers an Action button that can be customized to specific tasks, which is also possible with the S23 Ultra’s side key.

On the other hand, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the only flagship phone to offer a built-in stylus that resides inside the smartphone’s body. It’s really useful for clicking selfies, and it’s also great for annotations as well. Oh, and you can take 100x zoom images and moon shots with the Galaxy S23 Ultra, which is still not possible on the iPhone.

Winner: Tie

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: price and availability

The iPhone 15 Pro Max starts at $1,199 for the 256GB storage variant and is available in capacities up to 1TB for $1,599. It comes in Natural Titanium, Blue Titanium, Black Titanium, and White Titanium finishes and can be purchased directly from Apple or at most retail and carrier stores.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra launched at the same price of $1,199 for the 256GB version up to $1,619 for the 1TB model, although it can now easily be found at discounted prices. It’s available in Phantom Black, green, lavender, and cream from most carriers and major retailers, plus exclusive graphite, red, sky blue, and lime when ordering directly from Samsung.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: which one should you buy?

iPhone 15 Pro Max lying on the ground surrounded by leaves.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The iPhone 15 Pro Max features an upgraded processor and a new telephoto camera for better zooming capabilities while offering software upgrades to HDR and portraits. You also get a brighter display and the Dynamic Island. On the other hand, the Galaxy S23 Ultra remains the phone with a more versatile camera setup, S Pen support, moon shots, and better software for multitasking.

For many people, this will come down to software preference. If you’re deep in the Apple ecosystem and you know you want an iPhone, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the easy choice. If you’re more of an Android person, you’ll be happier with the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

The back of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, showing its green color.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Okay, but what if you’re open to using either phone? That’s where things get a little more complicated.

If you want a big phone that doesn’t feel like it, the new design of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is outstanding. The prospect of playing console-quality games is also really intriguing, and its camera system is fantastic. The Galaxy S23 Ultra comes out ahead if you want the longest possible battery life, faster charging, and one of the most versatile zoom cameras on a phone today.

Regardless of which one you end up choosing, you can rest assured you’re buying one of the best smartphones available today.

Editors' Recommendations

Prakhar Khanna
Prakhar writes news, reviews and features for Digital Trends. He is an independent tech journalist who has been a part of the…
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