Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Galaxy S23 Ultra: What are the rumoured differences?

Apple and Samsung's flagship phones are expected to arrive in late 2022 and early 2023, but which (if any) should you save up for?

iPhone 13 Pro Max and Galaxy S22 Ultra on T3 background
(Image credit: Future / Apple / Samsung)

While we don't have a crystal ball here at T3 (if only, eh?), that doesn't stop the frantic rumours and sheer interest pouring out of every digital pore of the internet when it comes to Apple iPhone versus Samsung Galaxy flagship phones. 

Specifically, in this case, the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, the would-be top-tier flagships from the expected incoming makers' respective phone series, predicted to launch with Apple first, come September 2022, followed by Samsung, in February 2023. 

That sounds like rather a long way out, right? In this world of increasingly higher costs, a bit of foresight and planning – by which I mean month-on-month saving – means that you may wish to ponder whether the iPhone 14 or Galaxy S23 will even deliver what you'd want from such devices. 

To preface this comparison: obviously this is all based on rumour and conjecture, as nothing from either brand is official at this moment in time. Furthermore, I'm not suggesting that you're likely to drop Apple and switch to Samsung overnight, or vice versa, but it's always interesting to benchmark where the top two sit relative to one another.

iPhone 14 vs Galaxy S23: What's expected to be new?

Let's address each device on the basis of progress: how much better will the iPhone 14 be over the iPhone 13?; what new features will the Samsung Galaxy S23 add over the Galaxy S22?

Early rumours suggest the answer to that is pretty straightforward: i.e. not a lot. Most influential analysts and pundits are pointing to an iPhone 14 range that will look, well, like the iPhone series 13 through and through. It's the same story with Samsung: the S23 range is expected to look like the S22 series. 

What about the headline differences? At the moment everything in iPhone land points to the iPhone 14 range getting improved cameras, principally a 48-megapixel main sensor, which is much higher resolution than anything Apple has previously put out in its phones. 

As for the Galaxy S23? It's a similar story: it's believed the S23 could be the first (or at least among the first, as I get the feeling Motorola is going to beat the Koreans to the punch) to receive a 200-megapixel main camera. 

iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Galaxy S23 Ultra: Cameras

But I think it's worth exploring the gulf that rumour sets between Apple and Samsung. Even now, based on their current products, Apple hasn't ever chased down the higher-resolution sensors. Samsung, on the other hand, has been pushing the resolution train much faster: the S22 Ultra, for example, features a 108-megapixel main camera, which is 98MP more than the 12MP unit in the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Samsung has also pushed harder when it comes to variety of optics. Again, the S22 Ultra features both 10x and 3x optical zoom components nestled next to its wide and ultra-wide cameras. Apple, by comparison, opts for a 3x optical zoom only in its Pro Max. However, having used both phones extensively, it's rare I reach for the Samsung's 10x, as it's not especially practical, whereas Apple's portrait-focused lens delivers consistently good results.

That above make-up – that the Galaxy will retain quad lenses through ultra-wide, wide, 3x and 10x zoom; the iPhone a trio of lenses for ultra-wide, wide and 3x zoom – isn't expected to change from iPhone 13 to 14 or S22 to S23. It's just the resolution of the main camera within that setup that's predicted to change by increasing. 

Why does more resolution matter? While there's likely to be the option to shoot raw images at full resolution, that's not really why high-res sensors are used. Instead it's about volumes of data: the ability to capture, say, four, six, nine pixels and process that data into one for increased sharpness, greater colour accuracy, and a wider dynamic range. It'll therefore deliver more data to be able to manipulate in the edit, for more creative filters and opportunities. 

iPhone 14 vs Galaxy S23: What about design changes?

There's been various discussion around both Apple and Samsung shifting the design of their flagships to accommodate even larger screen sizes, further squashing the bezel to point of near removal, but I highly doubt when the new phones arrive that we'll see any sizeable difference (geddit?).

That's to say: the iPhone 14 Pro Max will probably be built around a 6.7-inch screen on the diagonal; the Galaxy S23 Ultra will probably utilise a curved-edge 6.8-inch panel. Just like their respective iPhone 13 and S22 equivalents. Both with 120Hz fast refresh too, rather than any further enhancement in that department.

There is one rumour that will bring the iPhone even closer in look to the Samsung: Apple might ditch the notch for the iPhone 14 series, opting for its first punch-hole design instead. Samsung already uses a punch-hole design, and after the not-so-amazing response of the Galaxy Fold 3's use of an under-display camera, I don't think we'll see the Korean maker opt for this in the S23 series – the technology just isn't quite up to speed.

iPhone 14 vs Galaxy S23: More power?

Year on year we've seen processing power enhancements, but we've reached the point where I feel these shifts aren't palpable. One generation to the next doesn't seem to offer real-world use-cases that are any more different to the last. 

However, I would expect that both Apple and Samsung will be using their own in-house expertise in semiconductor to push the iPhone 14 and Galaxy S23 series' power up a notch. It's rumoured that Samsung may drop Qualcomm and ramp up its  Exynos production for international release instead. Apple, meanwhile, is thought to be leaning towards a new A16 Bionic chip. 

iPhone 14 Pro Max or S23 Ultra: In conclusion

Here's where it gets a bit complex: given how similar the iPhone 14 Pro Max is thought to be to its predecessor, and the same with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra compared to its predecessor, do you even need to consider saving now for that big purchase?

I think there's going to be a multitude of other factors at play, especially by early 2023, governed largely by cost of living rises. Inflation, for example, is thought to be sky-high come then, product prices are only going to rise, not shrink, and there's an impending next-stage energy cost price bump anticipated in October 2022. 

My advice: save your money, but put it towards what will then be a generation-older purchase, i.e. buy the iPhone 13 Pro Max towards the end of 2022 in a savvy sale; or opt for the stylus-toting Galaxy S22 Ultra on discount when the new model launches. You won't miss out on any software updates in the initial stages, so you'll be able to save yourself a few quid, have a super handset that'll feel new and up-to-date, and can then await the bigger changes that an iPhone 15 and Galaxy S24 are likely to bring in the 12 months that follow. 

Tech Editor at T3, Mike handles all things tech – from phones, tablets and laptops, to gaming and computing. He's been working as a consumer technology journalist for the best part of 15 years, previously the Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint for 10 years, and has provided freelance work to publications such as Wired, The Guardian, Metro, and more over the years. In addition to his tech expertise, Mike is also a bit of a travel fiend, having travelled the globe extensively for both personal and work-related pursuits. You'll always find him setting up a new mobile phone, or critiquing the next MacBook, all while planning his next get-away.