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iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: best $1,200 phone?

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. The new Apple 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, based on everything we know so far.

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 in the market, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max shreds off almost 20 grams to measure just 221 grams. By contrast, the Galaxy S23 Ultra features a glass and aluminum build that makes it 234 grams heavy. 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 has improved the ergonomics of the new iPhone with slightly curved edges. Plus, the reduced weight is likely to result in better in-hand feel. While the Galaxy S23 Ultra offers a fingerprint sensor for authentication, you get Face ID with the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

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

A promotional image showing the USB C port on the iPhone 15.

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 has claimed that you can play console games on your iPhone, which would be a first for any phone ever. 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.

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 has 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. We hope the iPhone 15 Pro Max battery fares better because of the new chipset, but it remains to be seen.

On a related note, the Galaxy S23 Ultra charges faster at 45W versus 20W 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.

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 200MP 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. 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. The company says it has improved HDR on photos with the new iPhones. Moreover, you get an updated portrait mode where the phone captures depth data in every photo, so you can edit a regular photo to a portrait in the Photos app.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra captures good videos, but we expect the iPhone 15 Pro Max to do better. Plus, you can record videos on the new iPhone directly to an external storage. On the front lies a 12MP selfie shooter on both phones.

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

iPhone on charging stand showing Clock and Calendar widgets in iOS 17 StandBy mode.

Apple usually offers six years of iOS updates to its phones. The iPhone 15 Pro Max ships with iOS 17, and it should get updates until 2029. 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. It should last you a year less than the iPhone.

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.

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.

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

View of the iPhone 15 Pro's camera module.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max starts at $1,199 for the 256GB storage variant, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra can now be purchased at discounts, though it was launched at the same price of $1,199.

Both smartphones are available via major online and offline retailers. You can now preorder the iPhone 15 Pro Max while general availability commences on September 22.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: is it time for you to upgrade?

The back of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, focusing on its rear cameras.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends / 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.

If you already have the Galaxy S23 Ultra, there’s no reason to buy the iPhone 15 Pro Max. But if you have been contemplating jumping to the iOS side from Android, the new iPhone is a great opportunity to do so because it’s more than just an iterative upgrade.

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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