Hot off the heels of Samsung's Galaxy Unpacked, where the Korean company announced the Galaxy S23 Ultra flagship, it's got me pondering whether or not it's the new best Android phone. Because, as an avid Google Pixel 7 Pro user, that phone has won my heart over recent months. So which Android wins?
I've seen and used both devices, so I'll be bringing you my thoughts and assessment based on hands-on experience, although with the Galaxy S23 Ultra we're talking a matter of hours, compared to my months of use of the Pixel 7 Pro. Nonetheless, first impressions are important, so here's how I see the S23 Ultra stack up against the Pixel 7 Pro...
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Google Pixel 7 Pro: Price
There are sirens and warnings about 2023 being 'that year' and everyone supposedly will be tightening their belts. As such the price of a phone outright, or the monthly cost on contract, could be even more important to you.
In that regard the Google Pixel 7 Pro is the outright winner in terms of being the lower-cost option. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is around 9% pricier (5% in Australia) than its S22 Ultra predecessor was at launch, but as that older 2022 model is so much cheaper now in the UK – comparable to the Pixel – you might think of that as the alternative. In Australia, thought, the Google handset is still far better value. Check out the live shopping widget below to compare prices.
Of course comparing the S23 Ultra to the Pixel 7 Pro isn't as simple as counting the cash. The Samsung has more cameras, including a more significant zoom compared to the Google handset. The Samsung also features a built-in S Pen stylus, making it an entirely different use case for some. It's whether those additions are suited to you and reason enough to spend the extra.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Google Pixel 7: Display
The Samsung features a 6.8-inch display (at 1440 x 3088 resolution), while the Google houses a 6.7-inch display (at 1440 x 3120 pixels). Basically the Samsung is a little taller, the Pixel a little wider in proportion, but not by much. Both panels deliver 120Hz adaptive refresh rate.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra goes with a subtle yet steep screen curve, while the Pixel 7 Pro has a gentle curve-off to its screen edges. Neither have a notch, with both opting for a centralised punch-hole arrangement for their front camera.
Having used the Pixel 7 Pro for months, I have various scratches in its Gorilla Glass Victus covering. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is the first device to feature Gorilla Glass Victus 2 that I've heard about, so hopefully this will be even more rigorous in its drop- and scratch-resistance.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Google Pixel 7: Design
You might think the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the larger phone of the pair, based on its greater screen diagonal, but that's not really the case: both Galaxy and Pixel are large phones in this format, so not ideal for those seeking a small handset (check out the base S23 or Pixel 7 for that option).
Design, as ever, is a matter or taste. Really this is all about the rear of these phones, though, as that's where both are most distinctive. The S23 Ultra has five individual circular cut-outs that elevate slightly from its surface, while the Pixel 7 Pro has a large protruding 'bar' that houses its cameras.
Both models have gone with pastel colour palettes, too: the Pixel 7 Pro is available in Obsidian (black), Snow (white), or Hazel (greenish); the S23 Ultra available in Phantom Black, Cream, Green, Lavender (which are all as they say). Short of punchy Pantone colours, this seems to be the 2023 fashion, the art of subdued.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Google Pixel 7: Cameras
The cameras are the biggest differentiator of these two devices really. I've listed what each possess on their rears to make it easier to read without too much excessive detail:
S23 Ultra: 200-megapixel main, 10MP wide-angle, 10MP 10x optical zoom
Pixel 7 Pro: 50-megapixel main, 12MP wide-angle, 48MP 5x optical zoom
It's a bit of a surprise that Samsung hasn't chosen to upgrade the S23 Ultra's zoom cameras with more resolution, as I find the 10MP sensor to be so-so in its results. The same can be said for the Pixel's 5x zoom, but the added resolution there does help it produce better results overall in my view.
Where Samsung has really gone all-in with resolution, as you can see, is the main camera's 200-megapixel sensor. Thing is, as it uses a 16-in-1 process, you'll still just get 12.5MP results. The Pixel does much the same, so all this added resolution does only so much for day to day photographs.
It's with night shooting that both have their own methods: the added resolution from the Samsung really helps in this regard, while Google's computational photography, aided by its own Tensor silicon, is really impressive on that main 50MP camera.
So while the S23 Ultra offers more zoom, have a think about whether that really matters to you or not. Increasingly I think we'll see manufacturers dial back from 10x optical, as it's just not that widely used.
Oh and a word on video: the Samsung can manage 8K30fps maximum, compared to the Google's 4K60fps max. Both feature optical stabilisation (OIS) too.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Google Pixel 7: Hardware
Samsung has opted for Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform, while it mulls over the prospect of making its own silicon in the future, whereas Google already has its own production, hence using Tensor G2. They work in different ways, both powerful.
However, it's battery life where I'd expect the Qualcomm chip to (hopefully) see the S23 Ultra last longer. Over time the Pixel 7 Pro's battery life has only weakened the more I've used it. Both phones feature a 5,000mAh battery, so are comparable in that regard, but many users complain about Pixel longevity per charge.
Software is also a big point of difference: the Pixel, being a Google phone, gets first dibs for the company's pure Android operating system; the Samsung, meanwhile, is high up this list, but uses its own One UI 5.1 skin over the top.
That's a necessary move for Samsung for the simple fact that the S23 Ultra features an S Pen stylus, which opens up all manner of additional tools and operations. If you want a stylus phone then there's nothing better on the market right now. The Pixel can't compare in this regard, even if its software is overall 'cleaner'.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Google Pixel 7: Which wins?
So which is the Android winner and contender for best phone in 2023? It's a really close call. In summary: you have to pay a fair lot more cash to obtain the S23 Ultra's stylus operation (that being the S Pen) and obtain its greater zoom (it's 10x compared to the Pixel's 5x).
Right now, given the weakness of the global economy, the decline in smartphone sales, and the sheer price appeal of the Google Pixel 7 Pro, it might well be Goog that takes this crown. Unless you consider the earlier Galaxy S22 Ultra as a Samsung alternative, but that's kind of against the whole point of this exact comparison really (similar as it is to the S23 Ultra).