They are flagships of two of the most bitter rivals in the phone business. They are both considered to be among the best phones around. Both come with cutting-edge hardware and updated software. While some might call their design predictable and repetitive, they still stand out in the smartphone crowd. And last but not least, they come with price tags that still inspire kidney jokes. We are, of course, talking of the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, the two champions of the heavyweight (literally) division of the smartphone world. Any person looking for the best phone around, money not being an issue, is inevitably pointed towards these two behemoths. But which of the two is actually the better option for those in pursuit of smartphone supremacy? We try and work that out for you.
Design: Battle of the classy clones
When it comes to design and appearance, both the Galaxy S23 Ultra and the iPhone 14 Pro Max have been criticised for being too similar to their predecessors. This criticism is a fair one – the Galaxy S23 Ultra is almost a clone of the Galaxy S22 Ultra and it is very difficult to tell the iPhone 14 Pro Max apart from the iPhone 13 Pro Max. But what also cannot be denied is that notwithstanding the similarity to those that came before them, both the Galaxy S23 Ultra and the iPhone 14 Pro Max are big, handsome devices with very premium feels to them. Both come with glass front and backs and metal frames. They also have dust and water resistance, but there the similarity ends. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra sticks to a more conventional style with a curved back and sides, while the iPhone 14 Pro Max goes with a flat back and straight sides. In terms of the back, we think the S23 Ultra has a slight edge with its raindrop camera design being easier on the eye as compared to the square-ish camera unit on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. The front of the two devices differ too – the Galaxy S23 Ultra sports a 6.8-inch curved display, while the iPhone has a 6.7-inch flat one.
The display of the iPhone 14 Pro Max also has its most distinct design feature – the Dynamic Island notch on the top which adds a different touch to the appearance and interface of the device. These are both unabashedly big and heavy devices. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is slightly lighter than the iPhone 14 Pro Max (234 grams against 240 grams) in spite of being larger – 163.4 x 78.1 x 8.89mm as compared to 160.7 x 77.6 x 7.85mm. Both phones look handsome and will stretch hands, but which you prefer is going to be a matter of very personal taste – the S23 Ultra’s back looks better but the iPhone 14 Pro Max scores on the front. We are calling this one a tie.
Display: Go for the curved display or the Dynamic Island?
This is a tale of two kinds of OLED displays with high refresh rates and very high levels of brightness – one that is curved and delivers brilliant colours and the other that is flat and tries to dial down the saturation that is almost an OLED signature. Which of the two you choose really depends on your own preference. If you want a large display with a high resolution that looks spectacular, the 6.8-inch dynamic AMOLED 2x display on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra would be perfect for you. However, if you want a display that tends to handle colours in a more realistic manner, then we would suggest you go for the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Both displays are great at handling content, and come with refresh rates that change according to the content shown on them. The round would have been a tie had it not been for the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s Dynamic Island, which adds a whole new dimension to the phone display. The jury is still out on whether it is hype or actually useful, but it is definitely the most innovative display feature we have seen in a while and actually tries to do things around the notch. It is that little island of dynamism that nicks the round for the iPhone 14 Pro Max. And even then, we can still see those who love high-density pixel counts and curved displays tilting over to the Galaxy S23 Ultra side.
Winner: iPhone 14 Pro Max
Chip and Memory: A second-gen Snappy Dragon takes on an A(16)!
When it comes to processor, both phones are difficult to compare because each comes with a chip that claims to be the best in its own segment. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is powered by a special version of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip that was designed especially for the device by Qualcomm. On the other hand, the iPhone 14 Pro Max runs on the A16 Bionic. Both chips are supposed to be top of the heap on Android and iOS and from what we could see, both were able to handle whatever was thrown at them with ease. In terms of RAM, the S23 Ultra comes with 12 GB across all variants, while Apple has never disclosed the RAM in the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Both devices are super adept at multi-tasking so we do not think that’s a factor. In terms of storage, the iPhone 14 Pro Max has one more variant than the Galaxy S23 Ultra – the iPhone has storage options of 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB and 1 TB, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra has 256 GB, 512 GB and 1 TB. But all said and done, there is not much to choose between the tone, so we are calling this one a tie.
Cameras: Overwhelming variety clashes with utter simplicity
This is a clash of two camera cultures that are as apart as the two poles of the earth, and yet every bit as magnetic in terms of attraction. To start off, let’s make it clear that you are assured of superb photographs from both phones. The Galaxy S23 Ultra has a slightly brighter colour signature with more poppy colours by default, while the iPhone 14 Pro Max sticks to Apple’s dictum of keeping colours real. Which of the two camera setups you opt for depends on the kind of pictures you plan to take. The iPhone 14 Pro Max comes with a 48-megapixel main sensor with OIS, a 12-megapixel ultrawide sensor and a 12-megapixel telephoto sensor with OIS and 2x optical zoom on the back. The Galaxy S23 Ultra wins the numbers game with a massive 200-megapixel main sensor with OIS, two 10-megapixel telephoto sensors (one with 3x optical zoom, one with 10x optical zoom) with OIS, and a 12-megapixel ultrawide sensor. In terms of sheer variety, the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s cameras let you do far more with extremely high-resolution shots (the 200-megapixel snaps are remarkably clear), very good 10x optical zoom and digital zoom that is handy up to almost 30x and can even churn out usable snaps at a staggering 100x zoom.
That said, the iPhone’s performance across its three cameras was far more consistent than that of the S23 Ultra, which sometimes would literally change shades from snap to snap. Similarly, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra seemed to capture subjects more sharply in its portrait mode, the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s bokeh seemed more realistic. In low light performance, we can see a lot of folks preferring the more colourful results that the Galaxy S23 Ultra is likely to churn out, especially given the light flare issues that still plague the iPhone’s sensors.
In terms of videos, the Galaxy S23 Ultra might seem to hold the aces with support for 8K video as compared to 4K on the iPhone 14 Pro Max, but the iPhone is in a different league in terms of video quality, handling action shots and colours far better. We even found ourselves getting significantly better sound on videos recorded on the iPhone 14 Pro Max as well, and Apple’s handling of cinematic video remains well ahead of the competition, although sometimes the blurred background can start looking a little artificial. Both come with 12-megapixel selfie cameras but we preferred the results we got from the iPhone 14 Pro Max in terms of both colour and detail. Finally, the iPhone’s cameras remain far easier to use than the ones on the Galaxy S23 Ultra thanks to the relatively simpler interface on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. We even felt that the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s cameras worked a little faster in general as compared to those on the S23 Ultra, which sometimes seemed to stutter a little.
Picking a camera winner from these two is a tough ask. We wish the iPhone had the sort of zoom that the S23 Ultra did or that it let us take full-resolution snaps from the main sensor in normal mode (you can take 48-megapixel snaps only in RAW mode) as you can on the Samsung device, but then we wish the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s cameras had the sheer consistency and speed, and of course, the utterly magical video of the iPhone 14 Pro Max. We are giving this round to the Galaxy S23 Ultra for the sheer variety of options it brings to the phone photography experience, but the stark fact is that if we wanted to pick one of the two devices to take a quick snap, it would probably be the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Winner: Galaxy S23 Ultra (by a whisker)
Gaming and multimedia: Game on with a vengeance!
With so much processor muscle and super quality display real estate at their disposal, it is hardly surprising that both phones are gaming and multimedia monsters. You get great graphics and with superb speakers, very immersive sound as well. The S23 Ultra has a slightly larger display, but its curving over the sides at times makes it appear a little smaller than it actually is. The shape of the display is going to play a huge role in determining which device you prefer – if you prefer a curved display, the S23 Ultra will be the better one for you, but if you are more at home with a flat display, the iPhone wins. We found the iPhone 14 Pro Max delivering better sound, but the S23 Ultra is no slouch in that department. Also, the higher resolution of the S23 Ultra might sway some users. It is too close to call really.
Day-to-day work: Everyday smoothness
When it comes to everyday work, both phones simply fly through tasks like Web browsing, social networking, email and messaging. Both also can run dozens of apps at the same time without breaking a sweat. One area where the iPhone steals a march over the S23 Ultra, however, is the simple act of unlocking the device, with Apple’s Face ID still working way more smoothly than the in-display fingerprint scanner on the S23 Ultra. We also found call quality to be marginally better on the iPhone, although the S Pen allows one to sign documents and make rough notes and annotations far more easily on the S23 Ultra. In terms of handling, the S23 Ultra is slightly larger and more slippery, but the iPhone 14 Pro Max is heavier. Neither phone is easily usable with one hand, both are extremely powerful. We are calling this one another tie.
Productivity: The Pro side
This would not even be a category in other devices, but with these two behemoths, it does come into consideration. And the battle is again a mighty one. The Galaxy S23 Ultra comes with DeX connectivity, letting you plug the device into an external device and literally giving you a desktop sort of environment. And then, of course, there is the S Pen stylus that lets you scribble and sketch on the device. The iPhone does not have these attributes although you can mirror it to an external display, but on the flip side, it is markedly superior when it comes to editing high-definition images and videos on the phone itself. It is really going to boil down to what your requirements are – the Galaxy S23 Ultra is great for those who are looking to use enterprise apps while the iPhone 14 Pro Max is a content creator’s dream! We are handing this one to the Galaxy S23 Ultra, thanks to that S Pen which adds a different level of productive versatility to the device, but it is still a close call between the two phones.
Winner: Samsung S23 Ultra
Software: Not as simple as in the past
This is a face-off between Apple’s iconic iOS and the One UI skinned Android on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The iPhone 14 Pro Max now comes with iOS 16 while the S23 Ultra comes with One UI 5 on top of Android 13. In the past, this would have been a cakewalk for the iPhone, thanks to iOS’ fantastic update record, but 2022 has seen Samsung up its Android update game spectacularly. So much so that Samsung’s high-end devices are second only to Google’s own Pixel range when it comes to getting Android updates. That said, iPhones do tend to get updates in a much more timely manner – often within a day of the update being released as compared to the Galaxy S range, which generally gets it a few weeks after its release. In terms of ease of use, while iOS 16 is no longer as simple and intuitive as it once was, it still is easier to come to grips than One UI which can seem a little overwhelming at times. We are giving this round to the iPhone 14 Pro Max, but the software gulf between the two devices has now narrowed to a slim stream.
Winner: iPhone 14 Pro Max
Battery life and charging: Charged with lasting without a charger in the box
Both phones come with big batteries (the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a 5,000mAh battery, while the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s is officially unknown, but is supposed to be in the region of 4,200mAh), both support wireless charging, and neither supports blisteringly fast charging speeds or has a charger in the box. In terms of battery life, we found that the iPhone 14 Pro Max lasted more than a day of heavy usage with its adaptive refresh rate turned on, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra struggled to go beyond a day at 2K resolution and refresh rate turned to variable. In terms of charging speed, the S23 Ultra has a definite edge over the iPhone 14 Pro Max, with a charging speed of 45W as compared to 27W of the iPhone. In simple terms, the S23 Ultra can be charged in about an hour, while the iPhone 14 Pro Max takes close to two hours. Both phones come with support for 15W wireless charging too. We are calling this one another tie.
Pricing: How much premium?
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and the iPhone 14 Pro Max are perhaps the highest priced “normal” (read “non-foldable”) phones in the Indian market at the time of writing. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is available at Rs 1,24,999 for its 12GB / 256GB variant, Rs 1,34,999 for the 12GB / 512GB variant and Rs 1,54,999 for the 12GB / 1TB variant. The iPhone 14 Pro Max on the other hand starts at Rs 1,39,900 for 128GB, Rs 1,49,900 for 256GB, Rs 1,69,900 for 512GB and Rs 1,89,900 for 1TB. Those prices mean that there’s only one winner here – even the 128GB variant of the iPhone 14 Pro Max starts at almost Rs 15,000 more than the base 12GB / 256GB variant of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. In times of pricing, the Samsung has a clear edge here.
Winner: Galaxy S23 Ultra
Which one is it gonna be? Ultra Sammy? Or Maxed out Apple?
So which of the two should you go for? Well, if you want to spend the least amount possible, then the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s lower price tag wins the battle right off. However, bring other parameters into play and the battle becomes an incredibly close one – after all, the phones tie on five of the ten parameters tested, and neither beats the other convincingly on any front. Which one you prefer is going to depend upon a few factors – your preference (or lack of it) for curved displays, styluses and Android or iOS. These are two massive, powerful phones. The sort that you can buy and forget about performance issues for a while. Be it a Maxed out Pro or a Galaxy with an Ultra – power is going to be the least of your problems no matter which one you choose to go with!