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Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max: Battle of the giant phones

The Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max is a heavyweight faceoff in the flagship smartphone world.
(Image credit: Future)

Welcome to the battle of the big boys: Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max. Yes, now that Samsung's revealed its trio of S20 phones, we can see that Samsung's doing its best to out super-size Apple, with a 6.9-inch mega handset that packs a larger battery, a 100x digital zoom lens and, yes, even 5G.

So will Samsung win the battle to become the best phone? Or does Apple hold onto the throne? We can't hand the title over now — we're going to test and review the S20 Ultra soon — but this is how the two flagship phones are stacking up so far.

Interested in Samsung's other new phones? Check out our hands-on reviews of the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus.

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max specs 

Galaxy S20 UltraiPhone 11 Pro Max
Starting price$1,399$1,199
Display 6.9-inch quad-HD AMOLED; 120Hz refresh rate6.5-inch Super Retina XDR Display (2688 x 1242)
Rear cameras Quad-lens: 108MP primary (ƒ/1.8); 48MP telephoto with 10x lossless zoom (ƒ/3.5); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); VGA time-of-flightThree lenses: 12MP primary (ƒ/1.8); 12MP telephoto (ƒ/2.0); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera 40MP (ƒ/2.2)12 MP (ƒ2.2)
Cellular capability5G (mnWave, Sub-6GHz)Up to 4G LTE (also, 5Ge on AT&T)
Video Up to 8K resolution at 24 fps Up to 4K resolution at 60 fps
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 865Apple A13 Bionic
RAM 12GB, 16GB4GB
Storage 128GB, 512GB64GB, 256GB, 512GB
microSD Yes, up to 1TBNo
Battery 5,000 mAh3,969 mAh
Size 6.6 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches
Weight 7.7 ounces8 ounces

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max price

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max begins with a whopper of a difference at checkout: Galaxy S20 Ultra starts at the mighty steep price of $1,399, which is $300 more than the iPhone 11 Pro Max. I can't get too annoyed about this, as they're including 128GB of storage, twice the 64GB Apple defaults to with the iPhone. 

Yet, Apple still charges less to get you a 256GB iPhone 11 Pro Max, which costs $1,249. I guess Samsung thinks it can get away with this higher pricing by including an additional camera, a larger battery and 5G, which we'll get to later.

Samsung even charges more for a 512GB S20 Ultra, which is $1,699 (foldable phone territory). That model, however, has 16GB of RAM, four times as much as you get with the iPhone 11 Pro Max. You probably don't need to buy the 512GB model for the larger version, as the S20 Ultra has an SD memory slot for expanding the storage.

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max: 5G vs 4G

When it comes to fast cellular connectivity, the S20 Ultra is speeding into the future leaving the iPhone 11 Pro Max in the past. Yes, Samsung's stocked the S20 Ultra with both flavors of 5G connectivity: mmWave and sub-6GHz.

To break that down to layman terms, look no further than the words of Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon, who said "Real 5G is really the combination of sub 6 and millimeter wave," at a Snapdragon summit last December.

By comparison... well, the iPhone 11 Pro Max maxes out at 4G LTE. AT&T would probably love to boast about its 5GE network, which my iPhone 11 Pro Max supports, but we've proven that that 5GE is slower than Verizon and T-Mobile's 4G LTE.

The iPhone 12 should offer 5G connectivity, but that won't be available until September.

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max design, ports

Galaxy S20 line

(Image credit: Future)

It doesn't make sense that the larger phone is easier to hold, but that's the case here. The Galaxy S20 Ultra (6.6 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches) is taller and narrower than the iPhone 11 Pro Max (6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches), which means it simply fits better in your hand.

Of course, this could mean that the Ultra is harder to use, because your fingers have more territory to cover. Thankfully, that's not the case, as Samsung One UI 2 focuses the interactive elements to the lower portion of the screen, where they're within reach.

If you're not going to use a case (or plan to get a clear one), note that the S20 Ultra comes in four hues, Cosmic Black, Cosmic Gray, Pink and Blue. While the iPhone 11 Pro Max also comes in four colors (Space Gray, Silver, Midnight Green and Gold).

I'm currently partial to Samsung's assortment, as its pink and blue shells pop more, while Apple's hues all sorta blend into the background. By offering two playful hues alongside the more traditional black and gray phones, Samsung's appealing to more kinds of users.

iPhone 11 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Let's talk about the elephant in the room: the camera-set bulges on the backs of these phones. The S20 Ultra's four camera array is so pronounced, I was kinda shocked the first time I saw it. It makes the iPhone 11 Pro Max's trio of cameras almost look restrained.

And while the Galaxy S20 Ultra features the increasingly ubiquitous USB-C for charging, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is still using Apple's Lightning port (though the European Union's trying to change that). While most Apple device owners probably don't want to throw away another cable (remember the 30-pin connector?), I'm looking forward to that day when I only need the USB-C cable snaking out from my desk, as having that and a lightning cable feels like a bit too much clutter.

Neither the Galaxy S20 Ultra or iPhone 12 have a headphone jack, so you're better off with wireless earbuds.

Galaxy S20 backs

(Image credit: Future)

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max display

Galaxy S20 Ultra selfie camera

(Image credit: Future)

The 6.9-inch quad-HD AMOLED panel in the S20 Ultra will probably be the king of the mountain, at least until the next iPhones come out.

The biggest difference between these screens is how the S20 Ultra boasts a super-smooth 120Hz response rate, for the smoothest scrolling around. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a 60Hz refresh rate, which isn't bad, but I can tell you that the faster rate simply makes for a better experience, as that's what I see on the 2018 iPad Pros, which I love. 

The S20 Ultra's touch input sensor is also twice as fast, receiving input at 240Hz, to the iPhone 11 Pro Max's 120Hz.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Even better, Samsung's defaulting towards a more neutral color palette (like what you get in the iPhone 11 Pro Max), by giving users the choice to opt for the hyper-saturated color balance that makes hues pop to unbelievable levels. Once we've tested the S20 Ultra's brightness and sRGB ratings, we'll update this post with that information.

In terms of pixel-rich density, the S20 Ultra wins with a 511 ppi rate; that's a bit sharper than the 458 ppi screen in the iPhone 11 Pro Max. 

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max cameras

I love the images I capture using the iPhone 11 Pro Max's amazing cameras, and until now it was the best around. Of course, Samsung's out here to blow minds and make headlines, starting by finally answering the question, "how many megapixels are enough?" The S20 Ultra's quad-cam array on its back touts a 108MP camera on the back and a 64MP selfie cam up front, with larger sensors to capture more light and detail. 

Galaxy S20 Ultra cameras

(Image credit: Future)

And the S20 Ultra stands out from Samsung's other S20 phones with its folded zoom lens that uses a prism to create 10x losses zoom, which will make iPhone owners envious. Samsung's also debuting its Space Zoom technology, which combines hardware and software, for a "hybrid optic zoom" for up to 100x zoom. 

That being said, iPhone 11 Pro Max owners like myself will continue to be happy as they shoot with the trio of 12MP cameras on its back. Its primary camera has the same ƒ/1.8 rating as the S20 Ultra's, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max has a better (lower) ƒ-stop rating of 2.0, to the S20 Ultra's ƒ/3.5. The S20 Ultra's ultrawide lens has a better ƒ rating of 2.2 to the iPhone's 2.4.

The S20 Ultra's winning on video, too, recording up to 8K while the iPhone 11 Pro Max still maxes out at 4K. 

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max performance

OK, Samsung's been strutting its stuff for most of this face-off, but now is when Apple's 2019 phone probably shines brighter. Leaked benchmarks for the S20 line and its Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor saw a high score of 3,230 on the multicore test of Geekbench 5. 

Meanwhile, the Apple A13 chip from last year's iPhone 11 Pro Max still outdid that rate, with a 3,517. Normally, you'd think Samsung and Qualcomm could have spent these months working to at least tie Apple, if not exceed them. 

Galaxy S20 Ultra vs iPhone 11 Pro Max battery life

Samsung isn't providing specific battery life claims for the S20 Ultra, but its 5000-mAh battery should help them challenge the iPhone 11 Pro Max's long endurance. The 3,969-mAh battery in the iPhone 11 Pro Max enabled a battery test time of 11 hours and 54 minutes of web browsing on an LTE connection.

We look forward to updating this story with the final scores from the S20 Ultra's testing at the Tom's Guide lab, using both 5G and 4G networks.

Outlook

Right now, it appears as if Samsung's on the right side of the endurance and photography fights with Apple. If those two bear out in testing, the S20 Ultra has a fine chance of toppling Apple from the big phone throne. 

Except those wins would need to be dominant, case-closed-level victories. The S20's heftier price and unimpressive leaked performance should give Apple some confidence in the iPhone 11 Pro Max. 

At the end of the day, though, the S20 Ultra has a head start on aesthetics and connectivity. It's easier to hold, comes in cooler colors and has the smoother screen, and if your city has 5G, your decision may be much easier to make. We're not calling this fight yet, and can't wait to get our test results in soon.