iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: is Apple or Samsung champion?

The best iPhone and the best Android phone go head to head. Which is best?

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
(Image credit: Future)

With the launch of the iPhone 15 Pro Max, Apple has made the most advanced iPhone yet. Its most significant rival, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, is one of the best Android phones ever made – and while we know the Galaxy S24 is in development, it'll remain the best Samsung phone until early 2024. But which is better today?

There's more to this than the old Apple/Android division, not least because the arrival of USB-C in the iPhone line means Apple's devices finally get features Galaxy users have enjoyed for years now. 

Both flagship phones are packed with seriously impressive technology, but they don't necessarily prioritise the same features or target the same demographics. And of course they have very different app and accessory ecosystems too.

Let's see how the two flagships face off against each other.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: price

Last year's iPhones went up in price, but this year's Pro Max price has stayed the same as its predecessor (in the UK anyway) with a slight storage boost from 128GB to 256GB in the cheapest model. The iPhone 15 Pro Max starts at £1,199 / $1,199 / AU$2,199 for 256GB, rising to £1,599 / $1,599 / AU$2,899 for 1TB. If you have an older iPhone, Apple is offering some pretty handy trade-in deals too. 

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra starts at £1,249 / $1,199 / AU$1,949 for 256GB, rising to £1,599 / $1,619 / AU$2,649 for the 1TB version. At this stage in the phone's life you'll often see special offers; at the time of writing, Samsung is bundling a pair of Galaxy Buds2 Pro and six months of Disney+.

iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max colours

(Image credit: Apple)

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: design & display

The iPhone 15 Pro Max may not look very different from its predecessor, but its exterior is now made from light, strong titanium alloy instead of aluminium and it has narrower bezels than before. The mute switch has been replaced with a new customisable Action Button, which you can use to launch shortcuts or open specific apps – so for example you might program it to take a photo. The slimmer bezels and slightly curved edges make the iPhone look more similar to the Samsung than before, although Samsung doesn't have the distinctive Dynamic Island lozenge-shaped cutout at the top of the screen.

The iPhone display is an always-on 6.7-inch OLED with 2,796 x 1,290 resolution at 460ppi. Refresh rates are up to 120Hz and there's 1,000 nits typical max brightness, peaking at 1,600 in HDR and 2,000 outdoor. 

The S23 Ultra is very slightly larger, with a 6.8-inch always-on AMOLED covered in Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2. The AMOLED has 120Hz refresh and 1,750 nits of peak brightness, delivering a resolution of 3,088 x 1,440 at 500ppi.

As ever, the Galaxy Ultra has S Pen support. The iPhone doesn't have equivalent support for the Apple Pencil. 

One of the biggest hardware changes to the iPhone 15 Pro Max is its new USB-C connector, which allows for features Android users have been able to access for some time: reverse charging of earbuds and fast data transfer, in this case at USB 3 speeds. It also enables iPhone users to connect USB-C audio devices such as USB-C headphones and DACs, and to record video directly to compatible USB-C storage – a potentially huge deal for filmmakers. Apple even launched a USB-C-supported set of Airpods Pro

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review

(Image credit: Future / Mike Lowe)

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: cameras

The big news in the iPhone 15 Pro Max is its new periscope zoom, which ups the maximum optical zoom from 3x to 5x. That's a major step up when you consider that optical zoom is much clearer than its digital counterpart. Speaking of, the iPhone's digital zoom is 25x.

The main camera here is 48MP f/1.78, and it's backed with a 12MP, f/2.2 ultrawide and 12MP telephoto. The quad-pixel sensor enables a second 12MP telephoto, and the Pro Max can use its dual-lens capability for Spatial Video – which is so far only apparently for the Vision Pro headset. 2D video is up to 4K at 60fps.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has a huge 200MP camera sensor flanked by a pair of 10MP telephoto lenses and a 12MP ultrawide sensor. Optical zoom is up to 10x and there is a Night Portrait mode plus an all-new Astro Hyperlapse mode for shooting the stars. Night photography in general is helped by the 200MP sensor, which like the iPhone 15 sensor uses pixel binning to combine pixels together – but where the iPhone combines four pixels, the Samsung can combine 16 pixels into one for better capture of low-light shots. In the digital zoom stakes, the Samsung offers up to 30x magnification and a 100x space zoom feature.

Both handsets feature a 12MP front-facing camera, and both are capable of shooting RAW images – the iPhone at up to 48MP and the Samsung at 50MP. 

Apple A17 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: performance and battery

The new iPhone has Apple's A17 Pro processor, a 6-core CPU with 6-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine. It's a 3nm chip with dedicated engines for ProRES media, AV1 decoding and the Pro Display engine. Apple promises 20% faster GPU performance and the new GPU has support for hardware-accelerated ray tracing, a big upgrade to the iPhone graphics system: Apple says it's four times faster than the software acceleration on the A16 Bionic. This will make it a strong choice for gamers. 

The Galaxy S23 Ultra has the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, manufactured with a 4nm process to deliver up to 30% faster performance than the previous generation. The S23 Ultra uses the same 5,000mAh battery as the previous Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, which managed around 17 hours of battery life in our video playback test and lasted well over a day in normal use.

We haven't had the opportunity to test the iPhone battery in real-world tests just yet, but it appears to be slightly larger than before – and by slightly we mean slightly; regulatory filings suggest it's 4,422mAh compared to last year's 4,323mAh. Apple claims up to 29 hours of video playback and the usual all-day battery in everyday use.

The Galaxy has faster charging – 45W to the iPhone's 20W – and reverse wireless charging, but the iPhone has support for Qi2 wireless charging, the new generation of the wireless charging standard. 

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra in green

(Image credit: Future / Mike Lowe)

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: verdict

We said in our intro that there's more to this than the old Apple/Android division. But that's still something you need to take into account. The iPhone runs Apple's iOS 17, which is very tightly integrated with the hardware, and Apple has a very tight lock on its ecosystem from how much you can customise your device to what apps you can put on it. Android is much more flexible and tends to be more sociable too, with wider smart home compatibility (via Google Assistant) than Apple's HomeKit.

If you haven't picked a platform yet and don't have a preference, the Samsung is likely to be the better buy. It's the better photo phone for longer distance shooting, with twice the optical zoom and four times the resolution. The S Pen is useful too. The Samsung is also likely to be the more affordable of the two devices: Samsung often discounts and/or bundles its phones and so do retailers, but iPhone deals – SIM-free at least – are much rarer and usually much less impressive. 

In terms of sheer power and camera capabilities, these two phones represent the very best of their respective lines. The iPhone 15 Pro Max is by far the most powerful iPhone ever made, and the Galaxy S23 Ultra is arguably the best Android phone you can buy and definitely the most powerful Samsung. They are both exceptional devices that show their respective manufacturers at their very best and we'd happily recommend either one.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com).