This article is part of a new series where we will try to give you a quick overview of how some of the most popular smartphones compare based on our test results. Long-time readers won’t find any new tests here, but nonetheless it’s an original piece of content that would hopefully add value to those looking for their next smartphone. We would appreciate your feedback in the comments if you find articles like this helpful.
If you’re looking for a large, high-end smartphone in 2023, the most popular dilemma would be between the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. Two large screen smartphones that have a lot to offer, but also a lot to ask with price tags to match.
You can compare full specifications sheets or check out our editor’s review below.
Whichever you choose, you’ll get the latest and greatest that each company has to offer. So let’s pit them against each other to see if we find a winner.
The numbers speak for themselves: the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the larger phone of the two. The difference is within a few millimeters though, while you get a little extra screen real estate thanks to the higher screen-to-body ratio and bigger screen in absolute terms.
You can compare the two phones in a custom 3D view using the link below.
Admittedly, both handsets are quite unwieldy. They are large and large enough to make one-handed operation a challenge.
But they feel very different in the hand. The blocky iPhone design and sharp steel edges make for a more secure grip, albeit not the most comfortable. On the other hand, the S23 Ultra feels a bit smoother but more comfortable to hold thanks to its rounded edges.
When it comes to the display hardware, Samsung’s phone offers a higher resolution, a larger diagonal and is curved to the sides, allowing a more comfortable grip and gesture execution.
The Pro Max has significantly higher brightness in both modes – manual and auto. It also tops the S23 Ultra’s HDR video standard with Dolby Vision, while the Galaxy settles for HDR10+.
The color accuracy of both displays is excellent as long as you choose the correct color mode.
The vast majority of users get a similar visual experience on both phones. Yes, the iPhone might look a bit better in direct sunlight as it can go up to 1,760 nits, but the S23 Ultra’s 1,274 nits are pretty respectable too. These numbers also don’t mean the iPhone will be about 40% brighter; that’s not how nits work. What’s important is that in either case you get a sufficiently bright screen for an excellent outdoor viewing experience.
Although the iPhone 14 Pro Max has a significantly smaller battery pack, the phone shows exceptional endurance. Apple achieves this through numerous hardware and software optimizations, squeezing impressive on-screen runtimes out of the rather small 4,323mAh battery.
Alternatively, the Galaxy S23 Ultra scores slightly better due to longer standby and call times. This is mainly due to the larger cell of 5,000 mAh. Still, it’s a step behind the 14 Pro Max when it comes to video playback and runtime browsing.
To be fair, neither phone is particularly fast when it comes to charging, especially when you consider the vast majority of Android phones released in the last two years. The Galaxy S23 Ultra can get up to 45W of Power Delivery if you pair it with the right charger, while the 14 Pro Max has a maximum of 27W (unofficial number), but your mileage will vary based on the charger you’re using.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra comes out on top with a big lead over its rival, reaching a full charge in just under an hour, while the 14 Pro Max tops out its cell in just under two hours. The 30 minute charge test puts them a bit closer together, with the S23 Ultra getting 68% of its juice back, while the Pro Max only getting 48% of its charge back.
Both devices have a pair of stereo speakers each and they come pretty close when it comes to overall quality and loudness. You’ll hardly notice any significant difference, as the two handsets offer a great listening experience – and frankly, these are some of the best speakers you can get on a phone.
Still, we think the Galaxy S23 Ultra sounds a little better. The vocals are brighter and the songs sound a bit flatter, suitable for those who are more critical of sound setups. The iPhone 14 Pro Max, on the other hand, provides some extra bass but dampens the vocals and makes everything sound deeper. Sometimes even unnecessary.
The two smartphones run on completely different chipsets, even though they are both built with a similar power-efficient 4nm manufacturing node. The Galaxy S23 Ultra has the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 tailored for Galaxy smartphones, while the 14 Pro Max uses Apple’s custom A16 Bionic chip.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 has an unusual 1+2+2+3 CPU configuration (1×3.36 GHz Cortex-X3 & 2×2.8 GHz Cortex-A715 & 2×2.8 GHz Cortex-A710 & 3×2.0 GHz Cortex-A510 ) with an Adreno 740 GPU taking care of the GPU intensive tasks.
The A16 Bionic chipset has a more conventional 2+4 CPU configuration consisting of 2×3.46 GHz Everest + 4×2.02 GHz Sawtooth cores. For graphics, a custom Apple GPU with 5 cores is used.
The new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 shows superior GPU performance and also takes the lead in combined scenarios like AnTuTu 9. However, pure CPU-bound tests show the superiority of the Bionic A16 despite its hexa-core configuration. It is measurably faster in single- and multi-core workloads.
At the end of the day, though, the two devices are good enough to run just about anything you’ll find in their respective app stores smoothly. It’s going to be pretty hard to determine which one is better in standard everyday use. Our best guess is that you won’t feel the difference.
There is also the argument for software optimization. Some users might find iOS more optimized and fluid than Samsung’s Android-based One UI, and we tend to agree – especially a year or two later when storage starts to fill up. But in the end, not many people will notice the difference. It mostly comes down to personal software preference.
Both manufacturers promise a similar number of major future software updates and have a pretty good track record of delivering on their promises in that regard.
Comparison of cameras
The camera comparison is multi-faceted, so it’s a bit tricky depending on your preferences. Both phones take great photos and record really nice videos. Sharpness, detail, dynamic range, contrast, noise – it all seems to be under control, which is what you’d expect from a modern flagship phone. But Samsung and Apple have a different view on photography.
More examples and a detailed analysis can be found in our Galaxy S23 Ultra review.
Let’s just say Samsung’s style of processing is likely to appeal to the majority due to its vibrant aesthetic. Colors are punchier and HDR is a little more aggressive, lifting even the darkest shadows. Samsung’s photos are definitely more social.
More examples and a detailed analysis can be found in our iPhone 14 Pro Max review.
The same goes for the low-light photos, which in Samsung’s case look like they’ve been rendered on a computer due to the artificially added sharpness during processing. Don’t get us wrong, that’s certainly not a bad thing, but some might find it less appealing. In this case, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is literally and figuratively the more “natural” choice.
Apple is a bit more conservative in that regard. Still, you could argue that Samsung can do both. The Expert RAW app is tailored for those who like to do the post-processing themselves and take full advantage of the S23 Ultra’s camera hardware.
Here’s a glimpse at how the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s main camera compares in image quality to that of the Galaxy S23 Ultra in our Image comparison tool.
And this is how the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s main camera compares to that of the Galaxy S23 Ultra in terms of video quality in our Video comparison tool.
Picture quality intricacies aside, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is objectively the most versatile camera phone. While the 14 Pro Max has three cameras – a standard camera, an ultra-wide and a telephoto with 3x zoom, the S23 Ultra tops that with a 10x periscope camera, so you get an extra focal length.
Video recording is where the iPhone 14 Pro Max shines. Overall, the video quality is better, although the Galaxy S23 does a good job when it comes to stabilization.
As is usually the case with Android vs iOS phones, it all comes down to personal preference. The two phones are neck and neck in most respects, with the S23 Ultra standing out with an S Pen, an extra zoom camera and faster charging, while the iPhone relies on an advanced Face ID for unlocking (preferred by some), a mature software ecosystem that is compatible with dozens of other devices and arguably the best video recording capabilities on a smartphone right now.
If you’re a user looking to switch to Android, the S23 Ultra should definitely be at the top of your list and vice versa – if you want to try out iOS, there’s no better way to experience it on the 14 Pro Max’s big screen. Both companies have come a long way and personal preference will be the deciding factor, especially considering how price tags are quite close together.
- Enjoy the best iPhone yet.
- The better CPU performance.
- The promise of a minimum of 5 years of iOS updates (as opposed to 4 on the Galaxy).
Buy the iPhone 14 Pro Max for:
- The slightly larger and sharper screen.
- The pressure-sensitive S Pen functionality.
- The faster charging.
- The better image quality of the camera and for having two zoom cameras.
- The double base storage for the same price.
- The more customizable Android operating system (as opposed to the “walled garden” of iOS).
Buy the Galaxy S23 Ultra for: