I put the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs iPhone 15 Pro Max through a 7-round face-off — here’s the winner

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs iPhone 15 Pro Max
(Image credit: Future)

One of the biggest clashes in the phone world in 2024 so far is Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max — the latest from Android's biggest brand versus 2023's best phone overall.

As expected, you continue to get great cameras, performance and display quality on the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, but new this year is a treasure trove of AI tools to simplify and enhance your productivity. Meanwhile, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has focused on improving its telephoto camera, chipset power output and design to bring its hardware up to the level of its fiercest rivals.

Let's get into this face-off and see who's the current victor in this long-running battle of the top smartphone brands.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Specs

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Samsung Galaxy S24 UltraiPhone 15 Pro Max
Starting price $1,299$1,199
CPUSnapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy A17 Pro
RAM 12GB8GB
Storage 256GB, 512GB, 1TB256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Display6.8 inches QHD+ AMOLED (1-120Hz)6.7-inch OLED (1 - 120Hz)
Rear cameras 200MP main (f/1.7), 50MP 5x telephoto f/3.4), 10MP 3x telephoto (f/2.4) 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2) 48MP main (f/1.8), 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 12MP 5x telephoto (f/2.8)
Front camera 12MP (f/2.2)12MP (f/1.9)
Colors Titanium Black, Titanium Gray, Titanium Violet, Titanium YellowBlack Titanium, White Titanium, Blue Titanium, Natural Titanium
Battery 5,000 mAh4,441 mAh
Charging 45W20W
Dimensions6.40 x 3.11 x 0.34 inches6.29 x 3.02 x 0.32 inches
Weight8.22 ounces 7.8 ounces

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Price and availability

Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra officially went on sale starting on January 31, 2024, while the iPhone 15 Pro Max had its full release back in September 2023.

Both of these phones became more expensive than their predecessors this generation. The Galaxy S24 Ultra starts at $1,299/£1,249 for 256GB of storage, while the iPhone 15 Pro starts at a slightly cheaper $1,199/£1,199, also for a default 256GB of storage. Both phones scale all the way up to 1TB of storage, with the Ultra's 1TB model costing more ($1,659 vs. $1,599 for the 1TB iPhone 15 Pro Max).

Galaxy S24 Ultra: was $1,419 now $669 w/trade-in @ Best Buy

Galaxy S24 Ultra: was $1,419 now $669 w/trade-in @ Best Buy
There's only one phone can compete against the iPhone 15 Pro Max and it's none other than the Galaxy S24 Ultra. Most notably, its slew of Galaxy AI features provides users with more functionality to save them time. It's also a powerhouse with its quadruple cameras paired with new AI photo and video editing features.

Many retailers are offering generous trade-in offers with the Galaxy S24 Ultra upwards of $750 off, but Apple offers a similar rebate for trade-ins when you buy an iPhone 15 Pro Max. A Samsung offer does let you move up to the next tier of storage at no extra cost.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro Max

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Design

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung and Apple phones have distinct styles, though they now share a key feature: titanium side rails for a tougher and more premium-looking finish.

Both phones look good in their own right, with the larger Samsung handset featuring a mean-looking angular design and unique individually-mounted rear cameras. The iPhone offers a more conventional modern smartphone shape with rounded corners and a prominent camera bump. 

One other way the iPhone differs is its Action button key. There's no equivalent customizable button on the Galaxy S24 Ultra, nor even a mute switch like previous iPhones used.

Samsung and Apple colors options bear some similarities, and not just because of the naming scheme. The Galaxy S24 Ultra comes in Titanium Gray, Titanium Violet, Titanium Yellow and Titanium Black, with Titanium Orange, Titanium Blue and Titanium Green available exclusively from Samsung too. The iPhone 15 Pro Max comes in Natural Titanium, Silver Titanium, Black Titanium and Blue Titanium right now, with a chance that Apple introduces an extra color as part of its habitual Spring iPhone color refresh.

Winner: Draw

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Display

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra in hand showing display and home screen

(Image credit: Future)

There's a 0.1-inch difference between the 6.8-inch Galaxy S24 Ultra and 6.7-inch iPhone 15 Pro Max's display, so size alone isn't going to determine which phone has the superior screen. Nor is their shape, since both screens are flat, a first for Samsung flagships in a long time since previous Ultras all used curved edges for a unique look.

iPhone 15 Pro Max shown in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The cutouts for the front cameras on the two phones are noticeably different. The Galaxy S24 Ultra uses the Android standard of a centered punch-hole camera, while the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a pill-shaped "Dynamic Island." This takes up more space on the display but also acts as a UI element when needed.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Samsung Galaxy S24 UltraiPhone 15 Pro Max
Delta-E color accuracy (lower is better)0.250.14
DCI-P3 color gamut coverage (%)98.584.5
Peak brightness1,3631,550

The Galaxy S24 Ultra has a slightly higher-res QHD (1,440 x 3,120) panel compared to Apple's custom Pro XDR resolution (1,290 x 2,796), but that is likely not noticeable either. However, as the test results here show, the iPhone does have a noticeable advantage with color accuracy and peak brightness, even if the Samsung wins with a higher color gamut coverage percentage. 

Also, while we couldn't verify the figures ourselves, the Gorilla Armor glass used by the Galaxy S24 Ultra purports to reduce reflections by up to 75%. This helps with visibility in bright areas in a way that the iPhone 15 Pro Max's Ceramic Shield display can only address with its higher peak brightness.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro Max

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Cameras

Samsung Galaxy s24 Ultra vs iphone 15 pro max cameras

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung has an advantage over Apple when comparing the Galaxy S24 Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro Max's camera systems. The S24 Ultra features 200MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP 3x telephoto, 50MP 5x telephoto and 12MP selfie cameras. That compares to the iPhone's 48MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 12MP 5x telephoto and 12MP selfie shooters. To put it another way, the iPhone is down a camera, and a good number of megapixels, compared to the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

But what difference does that make in the field? Let's start with this main camera shot of some jazzy-looking pillars in Paddington, London. In the cameras' default 12MP shooting modes, there's not much difference at all. The Galaxy S24 Ultra has a little extra saturation but not enough to make it an obvious winner.

With a closer shot, we see the same effect to a greater degree. This relief outside a church in Kentish Town has boosted colors in the Galaxy S24's image, but at the expense of the detail that the iPhone's managed to capture.

Moving now to a night shot of London's Covent Garden, the iPhone has the brighter and warmer shot. The light flares are smaller in the Galaxy's photo though, which preserves some detail around the street lamps at the expense of making the shadows a little too shadowy. 

It was a typically gray winter day in the U.K. when I took these ultrawide shots of the Kentish Town O2 Forum. But the iPhone has made the scene more appealing with its increased brightness, while the higher saturation of the Galaxy S24 Ultra just makes the scene even more depressing.

Comparing the two phones' 5x telephoto cameras by pointing them at the Welcome to Kentish Town sign, it's again a case of the Galaxy S24 Ultra's image looking darker. Except, in this instance, it doesn't even have a color richness advantage over the iPhone. At least both look equally sharp, which is important for high-magnification zoom.

Finally, we have a selfie portrait shot from both phones. My skin has a flatter color and texture on the Galaxy S24 Ultra image, and my glasses have been cut out from the background a little more effectively than in the iPhone 15 Pro Max's effort. The iPhone has probably taken a truer-to-life image of me overall, though.

Let's have a look at video samples from both phones. In the daytime, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is brighter, but with lower contrast than the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Although you can't necessarily see it in these samples, the Galaxy S24 Ultra has a resolution advantage, capable of recording at a maximum of 8K at 30fps, instead of 4K at 30fps like the iPhone.

At night, the iPhone's got the brighter footage of the two. But the S24 Ultra can again record at its higher 8K resolution, and manages to show off greater color detail in the darker areas of the video.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra's cameras seem more consistent than previous Galaxy phones, creating a good-quality image basically every time. The iPhone 15 Pro Max is just a tiny bit better in most situations though.

Winner: iPhone 15 Pro Max

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Performance

This round boils down to a face-off between the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy and A17 Pro inside the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Samsung upped the RAM in its Ultra model this year to 12GB, giving it an advantage over the 8GB in the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Both phones have a 256GB storage default, with 512GB and 1TB models also on offer for users who need all the space they can.

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Samsung Galaxy S24 UltraiPhone 15 Pro Max
Geekbench 6 CPU test (single-core/multicore score)2,300 / 7,2492,783 / 6,945
3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited (score/fps)5007 / 29.93481 / 20.8
Adobe Premiere Rush time to transcode (mins:secs)0:420:24

But what does this all mean for the phones' power? In our lab, we found that the two phones trade blows over CPU, GPU and media transcoding tests, as seen in the test results above. Normally iPhones thoroughly beat Android phones on benchmarks, so this draw, with specific wins when it comes to multicore CPU performance and GPU performance, is still a positive result for Samsung.

Winner: Draw

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Battery and charging

When comparing Galaxy S24 Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro Max battery size, Samsung provides a 5,000 mAh cell to the 4,441 mAh power pack found in the iPhone. But pure capacity doesn't always tell the full story when it comes to battery life.

The two phones actually last quite a long while on a charge, with both claiming spots on our best phone battery life list. When set to its adaptive refresh rate, the iPhone 15 Pro Max lasted 14 hours and 2 minutes on our custom battery test, but the Galaxy S24 Ultra managed to beat that by more than 90 minutes with a time of 15 hours and 41 minutes. 

Apple offers up to 20W charging on the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which fills the battery to 20% in 15 minutes and 41% in 30 minutes. The Galaxy S24 Ultra has 45W wired charging support which powers it to 39% in 15 minutes and 71% in 30 minutes. Neither phone comes with a charger in the box, so you'll need to get your own.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Software and special features

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra hands-on

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Samsung's gone in hard with Galaxy AI features for the Galaxy S24 Ultra, bringing all sorts of new capabilities to the standard One UI 6 OS we first met late last year. Among the S24 Ultra's AI features are Circle to Search — a shortcut for searching stuff as it appears on-screen; in-call translation via text-to-speech (even when calling users of non-S24 devices), the ability to summarize and translate articles, transcripts and text; differentiating between speakers in voice recordings; performing generative AI edits to your photos; and suggesting different ways of writing messages to help you find the right tone for the moment.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra is also a rare example of a phone with a built-in stylus. The S Pen may not have received any big updates this year, but it's still a responsive and versatile way to interact with the phone. It's also something you'd normally only be able to use on devices with far larger screens, such as a foldable phone or tablet.

Transferring contact details using NameDrop in iOS 17 with iPhones.

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 15 Pro Max's features aren't marketed as AI but are still rather smart. Its iOS 17 interface offers unique experiences like StandBy Mode to keep an eye on your widgets while your phone's charging; NameDrop to easily swap contact details with other iPhone users; Live Voicemail transcriptions of incoming calls; and Check In for keeping your friends and family aware of your whereabouts. These aren't specific to the iPhone 15 series though, and can be used on the past few years of iPhone models, dating all the way back to phones released in 2019.

Samsung has guaranteed seven years of full Android updates for the Galaxy S24 series, an unprecedentedly high number of updates for a Galaxy phone. iPhones tend to get five years of updates, which is still quite generous but not quite on-par with what Samsung promises.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Verdict

At the end of this close-fought contest, one phone has just edged ahead. You can read our full point breakdown in the table, but we think the iPhone 15 Pro Max is just a little better for more people than the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra.

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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra iPhone 15 Pro Max
Price (15 points) 11 13
Design (10 points) 9 9
Display (15 points) 12 14
Cameras (20 points) 18 19
Performance (15 points) 15 15
Battery and charging (10 points) 8 6
Software and special features (15 points) 15 13
Total (out of 100) 87 88

The Galaxy S24 Ultra has held up brilliantly against a fierce opponent, including victories in the software and battery rounds and a surprise draw in the performance benchmarks. However, the iPhone's superior photography and display along with its lower starting price make it our champion. 

Without a doubt these are two of the best phones available today, and will satisfy any buyer. But for now the iPhone 15 Pro Max has the bragging rights when it comes to this battle of premium devices.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.