iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Which flagship could win?

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Update: Check out our Apple Event live blog for the latest from Cupertino on the iPhone 15 and more.

There’s a legitimate reason to preview the iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra battle. Obviously, Samsung’s flagship smartphone set the tone for all other flagships in 2023 — proving it’s the top dog to beat thanks to its extra long battery life and class-leading set of cameras.

It’s no surprise that the Galaxy S23 Ultra is not only one of the best camera phones around, but also one of the best phones that money can buy. However, now that the Phone 15 Pro Max is offical, there’s no doubt that this is going to be the matchup that determines which phone will be crowned the champ for 2023.

Apple's September event revealed a lot of new things, including the iPhone 15 series, Apple Watch Series 9, and Apple Watch Ultra 2. The iPhone 15 Pro Max features a new Action button, titanium alloy frame, USB-C port, upgraded cameras, and much more. Seriously, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is shaping up to match the Galaxy S23 Ultra in the camera department with a new 5x telephoto camera for a more even match.

In this iPhone 15 Pro Max vs. Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra preview, we’ll take everything we know about the iPhone 15 Pro Max right now to see how it stacks up against the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Price and availability

iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

One of the more shocking surprises out of the iPhone 15 event is the confirmation of Apple increasing the iPhone 15 Pro Max's price up to a whopping $1,199 — effectively making it a $100 premium over the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s starting price of $1,099. Preorders for the iPhone 15 Pro Max begin on September 15, followed by its official release on September 22.

Higher prices are not what people want to hear, but we can’t neglect the fact that the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra launched at $1,199 when it was released back in February. Apple’s higher pricing is a shock, so it should favor the Galaxy S23 Ultra because of the deals out right now that have the phone at a much lower price than when it launched.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Galaxy S23 Ultra: Specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
iPhone 15 Pro MaxGalaxy S23 Ultra
Price$1,199$1,199 / £1,249
Display6.7-inch OLED6.8-inch QHD AMOLED
Refresh rate 120Hz1 - 120Hz adaptive
Rear cameras48MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 12MP 5x telephoto200MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP 3x telephoto, 10MP 10x telephoto
Front camera12MP selfie12MP selfie
ChipsetA17 ProSnapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
StorageN/A256GB, 512GB, 1TB
BatteryN/A5,000 mAh
Charging20W wired45W wired
Water/dust resistanceIP68IP68

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Design and display

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra with S Pen

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 15 Pro Max gets the necessary refinements to its design, but it’ll more or less share the same design language as its predecessor. It features the same premium construction the series is known for — with a familiar triple camera arrangement on the back.

One of the biggest changes to the design of the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the addition of  a new Action button, which replaces the mute switch on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Furthermore, it gains a lighter, stronger titanium alloy frame — while also shrinking its bezels. Surprisingly, the entire package comes in at a lighter 7.81 ounces, which makes the 8.25 ounce weight of the Galaxy S23 Ultra feel heavy.

Speaking of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, it’s still the bigger phone that mostly requires two-handed operation. While it does feature premium materials, it trails the craftsmanship we see in Apple’s iPhone Pro series. Although, we do love the charming colors it’s available in — which are seven in total.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Galaxy S23 Ultra has an ace up its sleeve with its included S Pen stylus. Many people, including ourselves, have found this skinny pointing tool invaluable for signing PDFs, jotting down notes, and launching some neat features with the camera. Best of all, there’s no extra cost because it comes with the phone itself.

In regard to displays, the iPhone 15 Pro Max comes in with a 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR Display with a reduction in size with its bezel. Apple states that it still reaches the same 2,000 nits peak brightness, so it should give it the edge over the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 6.8-inch Quad HD+ (3088 x 1440) Dynamic AMOLED 2x display — which peaked at 1,225 nits in our testing.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Cameras

iPhone 15 Pro Max cameras

(Image credit: Future)

Out of all the areas in this face-off, this is arguably the most exciting part because let’s face it, the cameras are a big deciding factor for a lot of people. Currently, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra sets the bar high because it is the best camera phone out right now. It’s a tough challenge given how it’s packing a quadruple camera system, complete with a 200-megapixel main camera and a 10-megapixel telephoto lens with 10x optical zoom.

Housing a versatile set of cameras, we love how the Galaxy S23 Ultra covers the gamut by allowing users to capture subjects near, far, and very far away. It’s also one of the best when it comes to low light photography, producing bright images under extreme low light settings that reveal fine details. It’s also a video recording champion as well thanks to its maximum 8K 30fps capture.

Not to be outdone, the iPhone 15 Pro Max receives a new 5x telephoto lens — almost doubling its range over the 3x offering with the iPhone 14 Pro Max. With the help of hardware and software integration, Apple says it's able to achieve what's the equivalent of seven pro lenses in its new camera system, but it'll interesting to see how well its new 5x telephoto camera stacks up against the 10x one that the Galaxy S23 Ultra carries.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra back cameras

(Image credit: Future)

Beyond photography, the iPhone 15 Pro Max still tops out at 4K 60fps, but gains a few new tricks that video editors enjoy. For starters, its USB-C connection enables users to transfer 48MP ProRAW images from iPhone to Mac — along with Log encoding for better color grading in post.

While all of these video feature sound convincing, it's going to hinge on performance and quality to beat out the 8K video recording of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Regardless, Apple’s making a serious effort in this area, so it could be another close race to see which will turn out to be the superior camera phone.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Performance

iPhone 15 Pro Max gameplay

(Image credit: Future)

Apple’s silicon has always proven to be outstanding, beating out other chips in various synthetic benchmark tests. However, things changed with the arrival of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy with the S23 Ultra — it actually posted better results against the A16 Bionic chipset that powered the iPhone 14 Pro Max in some graphics processing tests.

The A17 Pro chip of the iPhone 15 Pro Max sounds like an absolute beast, which is based on the 3-nanometer manufacturing process — an improvement over the 4nm process of its predecessor. Apple claims to increase to its graphics processing performance by 20%, but we could also see a significant boost to its power efficiency.

Until we’re able to properly test out each of them, it’s hard to say which of the two will have the edge in this area. At the very least, you can expect apps to open relatively quickly — while animations should be backed by fluid movements.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Battery life and charging

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Iphone 14 pro max displays

(Image credit: Future)

Given how the iPhone 14 Pro Max edged out the Galaxy S23 Ultra in our battery benchmark test, it’s a safe assumption that it’ll only get better with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. That’s because the iPhone 14 Pro Max achieved a time of 13 hours and 39 minutes, enough to earn itself a spot in our best phone battery life list. In contrast, the Galaxy S23 Ultra peaked at 13 hours and 9 minutes when set to a 60Hz display refresh rate.

This acknowledgement would absolutely give the iPhone 15 Pro Max the win, because let’s face it, Apple’s likely to improve the performance in any way possible. Apple didn't dive into much detail about the iPhone 15 Pro Max's battery life, but Apple's official specs sheet indicates it's on par to last year's iPhone 14 Pro Max with video and audio playback.

Over on the recharging side, the Galaxy S23 Ultra benefits from having super fast 45W wired charging. Apple’s iPhones have never been recharging beasts, mainly due to the 20W cap of Apple’s Lightning connector, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max fails to make any improvements in this area. Even with the switch to USB-C, it's still stuck at the slower 20W wired charging rate.

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Outlook

We learned a lot about the iPhone 15 Pro Max at Apple's event and got an even more intimate look during our hands-on. It's still up in the air if it's indeed the biggest leap since the iPhone X — but we'll know for sure after properly testing it out. With iOS 17’s official release date coming soon, it should give us something to look forward to as well over on the software side.

For Apple, this refresh is necessary because the competition has shown that Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra offer impeccable utility for a wide range of users. Not only does it offer mobile photographers plenty of coverage with its quadruple camera system, but Samsung’s OneUI offers incredible depth when it comes to productivity. While the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is expected to bring even more meaningful improvements, the S23 Ultra remains the phone to beat.

More from Tom's Guide

John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.