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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: Apple better watch out

Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event was jam-packed with a ton of new hardware, including the Galaxy S23 series. This lineup includes the Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23 Plus, and the mega-powerful Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. Despite there being three phones, the most exciting one is definitely the S23 Ultra, which now has a massive 200-megapixel main camera and the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor that’s specially tuned “for Galaxy”.

But how does Samsung’s latest top-of-the-line flagship Android phone compare to Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro Max? Which one of these two massive, powerful phones should you buy? Let’s take a look at the two side by side.

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: specs

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max
Size 3.07 x 6.43 x 0.35 inches 3.05 x 6.33 x 0.31 inches
Weight 8.25 ounces 8.47 ounces
Display 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED

120Hz Adaptive Refresh Rate

500ppi

1,750 nit outdoor peak brightness

6.7-inch Super Retina XDR OLED

ProMotion up to 120Hz adaptive refresh rate

460ppi

2,000 nit outdoor peak brightness

RAM/Storage 8GB/256GB

12GB 512GB/1TB

6GB RAM

128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB

Processor Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy A16 Bionic
Biometrics Ultrasonic FP & Face Recognition Face ID
Rear Camera 200-megapixel main (OIS) with Laser Auto Focus

12MP ultra-wide

10MP (OIS) telephoto and periscope telephoto

48MP main (OIS)

12MP ultra wide

12MP 2X/3X telephoto

Selfie Camera 12MP 12MP
Video

8K at 30 fps, 4K at 60 fps

FHD at 120 fps and 960 fps (Super Slow- Mo)

4K at 4 fps/25 fps/30 fps/60 fps

1080p at 25 fps/30 fps/60 fps

720p at 30 fps

Cinematic 4KHDR at 30 fps

Dolby Vision 4Kat 60 fps

ProRes 4K at 30 fps or 1080p at 30 fps for 128GB model

Zoom 3X/10X Optical

100X Space Zoom

3X optical zoom in

2x optical zoom out

6x optical zoom range

Digital zoom up to 15X

Battery 5,000mAh 4,323mAh
Charging Super Fast Charging 2.0 up to 45W with USB-C

Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 up to 15W

Wireless PowerShare

Fast charging up to 20W with Lightning

Wireless charging up to 7.5W

MagSafe wireless charging up to 15W

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: design

The back of the green Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s design has not changed from the previous iteration. It’s massive in size, with a 6.8-inch display, and curved edges around the frame, and flat edges at the top and bottom.

The back of the phone is matte, so it’s not a fingerprint magnet, and the quad-camera system continues to be in the floating lens design since the S22 Ultra did not use the camera island like the regular S22 and S22 Plus. The bottom is where you’ll find the S Pen stowed away, along with the USB-C charging port, and the side has the volume buttons.

iPhone 14 Pro Max standing against a tree.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro Max pretty much has the same design as the iPhone 12 that came out a few years ago. It’s a tried and true design, with completely flat edges along the frame, with slightly rounded corners. You get a large 6.7-inch display, and the back of the device is also a frosty matte glass finish.

The triple camera array is arranged in a triangular formation and is rather large and unwieldy in terms of the camera bump. The bottom is where you’ll find the Lightning port for charging, and the left side has the volume buttons and mute toggle, while the right side has the sleep/wake button.

The designs for both phones are different, and both are very modern. So really, it all really comes down to which style you prefer.

Winner: Tie

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: display

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra's screen.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

On the Galaxy S23 Ultra, you get a giant 6.8-inch Super Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O QHD+ always-on display with a 1-120Hz adaptive refresh rate. The resolution is 1440 x 3088 pixels, which is about 500 pixels per inch (ppi) — which means details are crisp and clear, even on such a huge screen. When you’re outdoors, the peak brightness can go up to 1,750 nits, which is very respectable and makes it easier to use the phone outside in direct sunlight. The bezels are relatively thin, giving you more screen estate to work with, and the selfie camera and face recognition sensor are housed in a small and simple hole-punch cutout

With the iPhone 14 Pro Max, you have a 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display at 2796 x 1290 pixels, which comes out to 460 ppi. This is also the first always-on display for an iPhone (along with the iPhone 14 Pro), and it features ProMotion with up to 120Hz adaptive refresh rates. It’s a similar setup to the Galaxy phone, and the lower ppi isn’t something you’re likely to notice.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max next to a green pepper.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

It can reach up to 1,600 nits peak HDR brightness, but can go all the way up to 2,000 nits peak brightness when required. The front-facing selfie camera and Face ID sensors are housed in the new Dynamic Island, which integrates with iOS 16 software to vary in size and adapt to whatever you’re doing on the device.

Though the iPhone 14 Pro Max can go even brighter outdoors than the S23 Ultra, the latter is more impressive due to Samsung’s exceptional Super Dynamic AMOLED 2X display and higher resolution.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: performance and battery

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

Samsung ships Android 13 with One UI 5.1 out of the box for the S23 series, including the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Everything is powered by the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chip from Qualcomm, which is an optimized version of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 specifically made for Galaxy devices. Not only is this one optimized for Samsung, but it also has a faster 3.3GHz clock speed. If you choose the 256GB version, you’ll have 8GB RAM, and the 512GB and 1TB variants come with 12GB RAM.

It was a safe assumption that the S23 Ultra would be able to handle anything you throw at it, and that assumption has turned out to be true. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is a supremely powerful device, way beyond most of the competition. We tried, but we couldn’t find a single task, app, or game that truly troubled it. The “for Galaxy” label isn’t just a marketing term — it’s really something special indeed.

But Apple’s processors are nothing to dismiss out of hand. You’ll find Apple’s own in-house A16 Bionic chip in the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which has a six-core CPU with two performance and four efficiency cores. There’s also a five-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine, as well as 6GB RAM. Though this all sounds like technical mumbo jumbo for the average person, it basically means that the iPhone 14 Pro Max has blazing-fast performance. With iOS 16, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is responsive, fluid, snappy, and just a joy to use — and even though it has less RAM than the S23 Ultra, that isn’t something that holds it back at all. It’s another incredibly powerful device.

Battery stats on the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

On the battery side, the S23 Ultra has a 5,000mAh battery, which hasn’t changed from the previous S22 Ultra. However, because it has the optimized Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy, the battery should last longer than the previous iteration, despite no change in capacity. During our testing, it lasted a solid day’s worth of use, ending long and demanding days with over 20% still left in the tank. Not a bad showing for a device this powerful.

The S23 Ultra also supports Super Fast Charging 2.0 at a 45-watt maximum charging speed with USB-C, has Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 support up to 15W, and Wireless PowerShare (reverse wireless charging) at about 4.5W.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max has a battery capacity of around 4,323mAh, but it largely matches the S23 Ultra’s daylong battery life, with similar performance all around. However, it still uses Lightning to charge, and it has a maximum fast charge speed of 20W, wireless charging speed of 7.5W, and certified MagSafe charging at 15W. There’s no reverse wireless charging, so you can’t use your iPhone 14 Pro Max to charge up other devices like your earbuds.

These devices are both strong performers, with excellent daylong battery lives. However, the S23 Ultra’s faster charging and reverse wireless charging give it the win here.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: cameras

Joe Maring holding a black Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Though the S22 Ultra’s 108MP main lens was pretty impressive, the Galaxy S23 Ultra takes it a step further with a massive jump to a 200MP main lens. On top of that, the main lens has laser autofocus and optical image stabilization (OIS) for incredibly sharp photos. The quad-camera system also has a 12MP ultrawide camera, a 10MP telephoto lens, and a 10MP periscope telephoto lens, which gives you both 3x and 10x optical zoom, as well as the bonkers 100x Space Zoom.

These were available on last year’s model, but Samsung’s upgraded software now makes the 100x Space Zoom photos actually look good, similar to the 30x mode a year ago. That 30x mode has also seen a jump up and now is well on its way to matching the quality of the 10x zoom. That’s a big leap in quality, and Samsung’s S23 Ultra remains the only phone range to manage this level of zoom. The only odd bit about the S23 Ultra is that Samsung decided to downgrade the selfie camera from 40MP on the S22 Ultra to 12MP on the S23 Ultra.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is a little less impressive in terms of raw numbers, despite getting a big upgrade last year. You have a triple-lens camera system with a 48MP main camera with OIS, a 12MP ultrawide lens, and a 12MP 2x/3x telephoto lens. The front-facing selfie camera is 12MP. However, on the iPhone 14 Pro Max, you can only get 3x optical zoom in and 2x optical zoom out, so about 6x optical zoom range (and digital zoom up to 15x). You won’t get anything near the S23 Ultra’s 100x Space Zoom, unfortunately, at least not until Apple incorporates a periscope lens on future generations of the iPhone.

Both of these are accomplished snappers with impressive lineages, and there are many reasons to prefer the output of either phone. However, with both of these smartphones basically at loggerheads for image quality, we’re giving it to Samsung’s incredible zoom feature.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: software and updates

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, the Galaxy S23 Plus, and Galaxy S23's screens.
The Galaxy S23 (left), Galaxy S23 Plus (center) and Galaxy S23 Ultra (right) Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

As mentioned earlier, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra ships with Android 13 and One UI 5.1. Samsung is also pretty good about keeping support for its flagship devices — the S23 Ultra should get four years of Android OS updates, and there will be five years of security patch updates as well.

However, it’s hard to beat Apple when it comes to the longevity of most of its devices. For example, iOS 16 can be installed on devices as far back as the iPhone 8, which came out six years ago in 2017. Typically, we should expect at least five years of software upgrades for an iPhone device, though it may vary depending on the actual hardware. With the iPhone 14 Pro Max, though, we should still see support for it well past five years. The iPhone 14 Pro Max comes equipped with iOS 16, so it’ll likely get updated through at least iOS 21, if not more. And while there’s no specified timeline for security updates, Apple is pretty good with providing security patches for older devices.

Winner: Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. iPhone 14 Pro Max: price and availability

The Galaxy S23 Ultra sitting on a table and showing its home screen.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Galaxy S23 Ultra is available for purchase right now directly from Samsung, as well as from carriers and big box retailers like Best Buy. The Galaxy S23 Ultra starts at $1,200 for the 256GB model, with optional storage upgrades to 512GB and 1TB. You can get the Galaxy S23 Ultra in all of the standard colors: Phantom Black, Cream, Green, and Lavender. If you order directly from Samsung, there are four additional exclusive colors to pick from: Lime, Graphite, Sky Blue, and Red.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is currently available directly from Apple, carriers, and big box retailers like Best Buy, Target, and Amazon. Though Apple typically does not have deals on its smartphones, sometimes you may find specials from your specific carriers, and retailers may run sales from time to time. The starting price for the iPhone 14 Pro Max is $1,099 for 128GB, and it goes up to $1,599 for 1TB. If you want to compare the 256GB price with the S23 Ultra (as that is what it starts at), then that will run $1,199. Available colors are Deep Purple, Space Black, Gold, and Silver.

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Though the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max are very powerful smartphones, we’re going with the S23 Ultra as the better device. The reasoning for this is the S23 Ultra has a better display (AMOLED vs. OLED, higher ppi, and resolution), a fast and powerful chipset with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy, along with a 5,000mAh battery, 45W fast charging with USB-C, 15W wireless charging, and reverse charging capabilities. Not to mention, the S23 Ultra has a powerful 200MP main camera and 100x Space Zoom capabilities that look a lot better than they used to.

And while Samsung may have fewer years of software support than Apple, four years of OS upgrades is nothing to sneeze at. Samsung does a pretty good job of keeping support for its flagship devices, including the Galaxy S23 Ultra. And on top of all that, you start at 256GB of storage, it can go up to 12GB RAM, and you have a whopping eight colors to choose from.

Let’s see if Apple can up the ante this year with the iPhone 15 lineup. But for now, Samsung wins.

Editors' Recommendations

Christine Romero-Chan
Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade. She graduated from California…
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