Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max: the ultimate flagship?

The battle for smartphone supremacy

It is one of the oldest rivalries in smartphone history, going all the way to 2010. Both the phones involved in it have got massive fan bases, which hate each other. Each phone claims to be the most powerful phone there is, boasting extremely high-class software and hardware. Both phones also come with massive price tags – the kinds you would expect to see on high-end notebooks rather than smartphones. And every year, both these phones clash with each other for the title of The Best Smartphone in the World.


This year is no different. Welcome to the superphone face-off, featuring the iPhone 13 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Astounding phones both. But which is the one for you? We are going to try working that out.

Design and appearance

This is a clash between two unashamedly big phones. No matter which phone you opt for, you will stretch your palms and your pockets. The iPhone 13 Pro Max is not extraordinarily tall at 160.8mm but is rather wide at 78.1mm. It is just 7.7mm slim, but at 240 grams is one of the heavier flagships around. The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, on the other hand, is a tall phone at 163.3mm, and is almost as wide as the iPhone 13 Pro Max at 77.9mm, while being slightly thicker at 8.9mm. In spite of appearing larger, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is actually lighter than the iPhone, weighing 228 grams.


The two phones follow very different design languages. Both cut very premium figures, with tall displays, metal frames, and beautiful glass backs with a gentle frosted finish that almost seems like metal. But that is where the similarity ends. The iPhone is all flat sides, front and back, while the S22 Plus literally throws a curveball in all three departments – curved display, curved sides, curved front. They have very different camera arrangements on the back as well. The iPhone has three sensors on a distinct and protruding square area, while the S22 Ultra has each lens protruding out of the back almost independently, and has no real “camera unit.”

Both phones come with touch glass on front and back, and both have dust and water-resistance as well. Which of the two devices you prefer is really going to be a matter of choice. Both phones look big and beautiful. Those who like curved sides and displays would prefer the S22 Ultra while the straight sides and back and front brigade will prefer the iPhone. The iPhone is more compact but the S22 Ultra is lighter. We think the camera arrangement on the S22 Ultra gives it a very distinct look, while the iPhone 13 Pro Max is almost indistinguishable from the iPhone 12 Pro Max, so we are going to hand this one to the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but the margin is a slim one.

Winner: Galaxy S22 Ultra

Display

Until a few years ago, this used to be a cakewalk for the Samsung device. They might not have pleased all the purists who wanted realistic colours, but Samsung’s brilliant AMOLED displays were considered the best one could get on a smartphone in terms of sheer viewing delight. Apple, however, upped its display game by getting into the OLED zone and has improved matters to the extent that choosing between a display of an iPhone and a Samsung flagship is no easy task.


Both phones have large displays. The iPhone 13 Pro Max has a 6.7-inch full HD+ XDR OLED Retina Display, while the Galaxy S22 Ultra has a 6.8-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. Both have variable refresh rates up to 120Hz. Both are bright and great at handling colour and detail. Which one you prefer could well boil down to whether you like flat displays (as on the iPhone) or curved ones (as on the S22 Ultra). We also felt that those who like brighter colours might prefer the Samsung phone. In our books, the S22 Ultra wins this round for its higher resolution, but there is very little separating the two devices.

Winner: Galaxy S22 Ultra

Processor

Comparing processors between Android and Apple devices is a bit like comparing, well, Apples and Oranges. Simply because both are made differently for different platforms. The iPhone 13 Pro Max is powered by the A15 Bionic chip, while the S22 Ultra gets the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Generation 1 chip (no Exynos for India this time). These are both top of the line processors, with little to choose between them. We suspect that the Bionic A15 will deliver a slightly better long term experience, but that is just an estimate based on history. As of now, we are calling this round a tie.

Winner: Tie

RAM and storage

In terms of RAM, Apple has never officially revealed the amount of RAM in an iPhone. Unofficial sources put the figure at 6GB for the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which is half of the 12GB on the S22 Ultra, That said, iPhones are well-known for needing far lesser RAM than their Android counterparts, thanks to better hardware-software integration, so we would not read too much into those figures. In terms of storage, neither phone has expandable memory. The S22 Ultra has two storage options – 256GB and 512GB – while the iPhone 13 Pro Max has four – 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and a massive 1TB. In terms of pure numbers, the iPhone 13 Pro Max takes this one, although the S22 Ultra is not far behind.

Winner: iPhone 13 Pro Max

Gaming and multimedia


Both phones come with top-notch displays (no pun intended), stereo speakers with excellent sound and the best processors around. So it is hardly surprising that both the iPhone 13 Pro Max and the Galaxy S22 Ultra are almost gamers’ dream machines. They handle pretty much any game you throw at them with a degree of comfort. The superb displays and very good speakers translate into immersive viewing experiences, whether you are watching a football match, a Bollywood blockbuster or just getting up to speed with your favourite Netflix show. It would have been perfect even had not the Galaxy S22 Ultra shown a tendency to start heating up during intense gaming sessions. It never reaches alarming proportions, and to be fair, even the 13 Pro Max does heat up a little although far less often. We also feel that the flat displays are better for gaming and viewing than curved ones – a very personal preference, which might vary. We are giving this one to the iPhone 13 Pro Max by a whisker.


Winner: iPhone 13 Pro Max

Cameras and photography

A massive round, and like all the others, incredibly close. Like the design, the cameras on the two phones come from two schools of photography thought. The iPhone 13 Pro Max comes with three 12 megapixel cameras at the back – a main wide sensor with OIS, an ultrawide and a telephoto with 6x optical zoom range. The S22 Ultra has a much more formidable lineup on paper – a 108-megapixel main camera with OIS, two 10-megapixel telephoto lenses (one with 3X optical zoom and another with 10X optical zoom) with OIS, and a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera. In front, the iPhone 13 Pro Max has a 12-megapixel camera, while the S22 Ultra has a 40-megapixel camera.


There are truckloads of photography features on both devices, so we will keep it simple – the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the more consistent performer, but the S22 Ultra simply lets you do much more. The 10X optical zoom on the S22 Ultra gets it right into the animal photography zone, even though the much-hyped 100X digital zoom is not that handy, as things get very pixelated beyond 30-40X (mind you, even that is impressive). The iPhone 13 Pro Max, however, delivers incredible consistency and delivers the realistic colours that it is known for. We also felt that it handled macros far better than the S22 Ultra, although the Samsung did seem to deliver better portrait shots. The S22 Uttra’s colour scheme is a little more bright and poppy than the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s default one, but that can be adjusted now. Both have different approaches to low light photography too, with Samsung tending to accent colours a little more and handle glare a little better, while the iPhone 13 Pro Max managed to smuggle in some extra detail time and again. In the selfie department too, both phones match each other very closely.


When it comes to videos though, the iPhone 13 Pro Max pulls clear of the S22 Ultra. Videos just seemed sharper and with way better sound than on the Samsung device – Apple clearly has some secret sauce up its sleeve. Image and video editing were also far easier and smoother on the iPhone, with Apple having similar editing tools for videos as well as stills in the gallery app.

It is very difficult to pick a winner here. If we had just one chance at taking a picture, we would go for the iPhone 13 Pro Max, such is its consistency. But on the flip side, the Galaxy S22 Ultra opens up a whole new vista of photographic and video possibilities. It is the difference between having one superb dish, and a whole thaali full of multiple options. The video and smooth editing muscle of the iPhone 13 Pro Max make us favour it a little, but that massive zoom on the S22 Ultra makes us call this one a tie

Winner: Tie

Software

This is a classic Android vs iOS battle. Android 12 vs iOS 15, to be exact. The Android here is flavoured with Samsung’s One UI interface, which makes it way more colourful and versatile than stock Android. The iPhone of course comes with iOS. A few years ago, this would have been a win for the iPhone, thanks to the simplicity and ease of use of iOS. However, that has changed in recent years, with even iPhones getting a little more complicated to use. Still, we have to admit that thanks to its relatively consistent interface, iOS remains the easier to use to this day. Of course, it is much more plain out of the box – you have to often download apps to do more on the iPhone.


The Galaxy S22 Ultra, on the other hand, comes loaded with a number of apps and features, including support for the S Pen stylus. While there is no doubt that both Android and Samsung’s own UI have improved remarkably over the years, the iPhone’s operating system continues to have an amazing record in terms of regular updates for a long time, security and a higher quality app eco-system. This round goes to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, simply because its software is likely to be still running more smoothly for years, going by its past track record.

Winner: iPhone 13 Pro Max

The Stylus


This deserved a round of its own. The S22 Ultra features the S Pen stylus made famous by the iconic Galaxy Note series. It is parked a little unusually to the left on the base of the phone, but is literally a finger’s press away. It works very smoothly and is great for Note fans and for anyone who loves to sketch and scribble on their phone. A number of apps have been optimised for the stylus and that big, bright display is a great surface to scribble on. The fact that it slots into the phone without increasing its size makes the Ultra very Note-worthy. The iPhone on the other hand has no styluses bundled with it, and Apple seems determined to keep styluses away from the device, as the Apple Pencil works only with the iPads. The S Pen is a bit like the cameras on the S22 Ultra. It enables you to do so much more on the device. There is only one winner in this round, although we can see iPhone fans going “who need a stylus on the iPhone?” The answer to that is: you might not, but its presence on the device itself does make a difference in terms of how much you can do.

Winner: Galaxy S22 Ultra

General usage

When it comes to general usage, both phones pretty much match each other. Thanks to the powerful hardware, routine tasks like browsing the Web, social networking, messaging and mail, simply fly on both devices. The large displays are an absolute joy to use, whether one is reading an article or watching a video. We, however, found Apple’s FaceID far more convenient to use to unlock our devices as compared to the in-display fingerprint scanner on the S22 Ultra – the Samsung phone also comes with face unlock, but alas, it is not as secure as Apple’s, so we generally stuck to the fingerprint scanner. The S Pen is a great tool for quick sketches and notes, but in most routine tasks, we found ourselves sticking to the onscreen keyboard, which works just fine.


When the iPhone 13 Pro Max was released, it was criticised for being too large, but ironically it is its size that wins it this round against the Galaxy S22 Ultra, for the Samsung phone is significantly taller and thicker. Some people do not like the straight sides of the iPhone in terms of comfort, but we prefer them to the more slippery curved sides of the S22 Ultra. It is a close call, but we are going with the iPhone 13 Pro Max here.

Winner: iPhone 13 Pro Max

Battery life


We never thought we would see the day when an iPhone would outlast a Samsung Galaxy S device, but in the course of this comparison, that is exactly what has happened. The iPhone, which used to be notorious for its poor battery life, has improved by leaps and bounds in the department. Our iPhone 13 Pro Max often saw out a day of normal to heavy usage on a single charger. The Galaxy S22 Ultra, on the other hand, finishes a little short of that duration, if you keep its resolution on quad HD. Bring it down to full HD and both phones are pretty much on par. It would, however, be strange to buy a device with a gorgeous Quad HD display only to run it at a lower resolution. We cannot believe we are writing this, but the iPhone 13 Pro Max beats the Galaxy S22 Ultra in terms of battery life.

Winner: iPhone 13 Pro Max

Charging speed


Neither phone comes with a charger in the box, but while the S22 Ultra can support up to 45W charging, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is supposed to stop at around 20W (although some say it supports 27W charging). While being charged at the highest speeds, the iPhone 13 Pro Max takes about an hour and a half to charge fully while the S22 Ultra takes a little lesser – generally about an hour and 10-15 minutes. Both phones also support wireless charging speeds of up to 15W. The S22 Ultra wins this one, although we really wish both brands would give us the option of getting phones with chargers.

Winner: Galaxy S22 Ultra

Value for money

The Samsung Galaxy Ultra is available for Rs 1,09,999 for a 12GB / 256GB variant and for Rs 1,18,999 for the 12GB / 512GB variant. The iPhone 13 Pro Max on the other hand starts at Rs 1,29,900 for a 128GB version and goes all the way up to Rs 1,79,900 for a 1TB version. With those price tags, there is only one winner here if you wish to keep your expenditure down.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Which of the two superphones to go for?

So which of the two phones should you consider investing in? Both phones win on five parameters each, and tie on two, but the point to keep in mind is that most of the wins were extremely narrow ones. The difference between the two phones is extremely slim in terms of performance. A lot is going to depend on how much you value specific features. The iPhone’s amazing software update and consistent performance track record makes it seem like a better long-term investment, but anyone who values a stylus with a smartphone would be swayed by the S Pen that is tucked inside the S22 Ultra. Similarly, we can see those who love hefty specs getting attracted to the monster spec sheet on the Samsung phone, especially in the RAM and camera department.


Speaking personally, we would incline towards the iPhone 13 Pro Max. It is a sterling performer, and thanks to Apple’s software update record and control over its ecosystem, it is likely to remain one for a long period of time. But we would so love it if Samsung were to put on its software hat and deliver similar service to the Galaxy S22 Ultra.

As always, this is a clash not just between two phones but between different lines of thought – iOS and Android, Apple and Samsung. We can assure you that no matter which of the two you pick, you are unlikely to regret your decision in terms of sheer performance.

With inputs from Akriti Rana