Unlike some tech reviewers, I don’t get to try every flagship smartphone that hits the shelves – but I do get to play with the ‘biggies’.
Primarily (and I know this will ruffle a few feathers), that means devices from Apple, Samsung, and Google. Certainly, those are the three brands which draw the most interest from my audience.
I’ve already compared the Samsung S23 Ultra with the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Spoiler: the former is a better device than the latter in all but photographic reliability, video capture, and ecosystem benefits (for me, at least). But they are both stellar smartphones.
That leaves one comparison I’m yet to approach – until today. It’s the battle of Samsung versus Google; which device wins out of the S23 Ultra versus the Pixel 7 Pro? And are they both better than the flagship iPhone?
Let’s find out!
The Pixel 7 Pro won my heart last year due in no small part to a stellar retail price for what is an unmistakably premium offering from the big ‘G’. For £849, you can grab a Pixel 7 Pro with 128GB of storage. The most you can spend is £949 on the 256GB model.
That’s right – this is a flagship smartphone on which you cannot spend over £1,000.
By comparison, the 256GB model of the S23 Ultra (there is no 128GB edition for comparison) would set you back £1,249. Although it’s unlikely to ever cost that much because Samsung is so keen on adding discounts and generous trade-in values against the retail price.
As I type, they’re offering up to £750 against your old device (which is £150 more than when I bought mine). Even if you don’t have an old device to trade in, there’s a £150 discount available – no questions asked.
These are, therefore, refreshingly-priced flagship smartphones, even if each brand takes a rather different approach to reach a non-wallet-sapping figure.
Winner: it’s a tie.
This is the first of the subjective points of comparison between the S23 Ultra and the Pixel 7 Pro. Although, arguably, they look spookily similar when viewed from the front.
There have been several times during my ownership of the S23 Ultra when I genuinely thought I was still using the Pixel 7 Pro as my Android daily. They both have expansive 120Hz displays that curve slightly on either side and which are only broken by a tiny pinhole camera at the top. The only noticeable difference is a marginally smaller surface error (the Pixel 7 Pro display is 6.7 inches to the S23 Ultra’s 6.8), which results in a slightly taller Samsung device. The Pixel also has marginally chunkier bezels, but there’s not much in it.
You have to push the Pixel’s display brightness more than the S23 Ultra, and the latter is definitely a bit sharper thanks to a higher resolution. It’s very close, though, which is a huge compliment for Google’s latest flagship when you consider that the S23 Ultra has the best display on the market.
As for the rest of the design, they’re both handsome, premium-looking smartphones, but the S23 Ultra just nudges it for me, and the Pixel 7 Pro loses a few points due to that highly-scratchable camera surround.
Winner: S23 Ultra (because of that beautiful display).
If you had asked me to compare the Pixel 7 Pro against the S22 Ultra last year, I’d have confirmed instantly – without even grabbing the latter – that Google’s offering absolutely wipes the floor with Samsung’s.
That was a different time, though. It was when, in the UK (and certain other regions), we were subjected to the awful Exynos chip. Thankfully, the S23 Ultra comes complete with the wonderful Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 no matter where you buy the device.
As a result, there is nothing separating these two in terms of performance. You’ve come to the wrong place for deep dives and benchmarks for this stuff but, trust me – in everyday use, they feel identical. Even Samsung’s One UI doesn’t spoil the party anymore (after you’ve removed the countless gigabytes of preinstalled rubbish, of course).
That’s quite a feat when you consider that the Pixel 7 Pro offers the most unfettered Android experience.
Winner: it’s a tie.
This is the second subjective point of comparison between the S23 Ultra and the Pixel 7 Pro. For that reason, I’m not going to undertake a deep dive into the camera systems. Instead, I’ll cover just the highlights and need-to-know stuff.
They both take wonderful photos in their own right. I still prefer the images taken by the Pixel 7 Pro, and there are some issues with the S23 Ultra relating to its inability to reliably take photos of fast-moving subjects unless you tweak settings and install additional software.
The Pixel takes far moodier and contrasty photos than the S23 Ultra, whereas the latter is more inclined to saturate colours and, occasionally, overdo blue skies and green leaves.
They both have ludicrous zooming options. The Pixel 7 Pro tops out at 30x, whereas the S23 Ultra extends all the way to a frankly unusable 100x.
Both phones take brilliant, reliable selfies, and video performance (although not on par with the iPhone) is great on both accounts if you fancy shooting some 4K stuff with the device you carry everywhere.
Put simply, there’s not much to separate the two in the camera stakes, but for me, the Pixel 7 Pro edges it due to my preference for its image processing and the absence of any need to tweak settings out of the box. Both devices feature marketing-tuned extra features, but I guarantee you’ll try them once and forget they exist after a couple of weeks.
Oh, and there’s some controversy rolling around the internet at the moment about Samsung and the moon. I genuinely – no word of a lie – have no idea what it’s about, and, try as I might, cannot find the effort anywhere within me to even take a look at what sounds like a headline from The Day Today. Sorry.
Winner: Pixel 7 Pro (just).
Do they BOTH beat the iPhone 14 Pro Max?
This is such a hard question to answer.
And, no, it isn’t because I’m an Apple fanboy.
Ok, it’s partly because I’m an Apple fanboy.
I’m locked into the Apple ecosystem. This is a problem of my own making and it relates primarily to my reliance on Final Cut Pro and my undying preference for macOS over Windows (i.e. I’d love to retain what remains of my hair and sanity, you see).
This leaves me with a slightly skewed view of any device I pitch against the iPhone 14 Pro Max, because, as dull as Apple’s smartphone is increasingly becoming, I do rely on it rather heavily.
However, both the S23 Ultra and the Pixel 7 Pro are serious contenders for the iPhone’s crown in everything from build quality to performance, camera prowess, and that all-important wantability factor. Indeed, if you’re unlike me and aren’t welded into the Apple ecosystem, I’d suggest considering both of these devices, simply because you’re going to save yourself a significant amount of money in the process.
So, in answer to the question posed in the subtitle above – yes, both the S23 Ultra and the Google Pixel 7 Pro beat the iPhone 14 Pro Max. You just need to be someone other than myself to fully appreciate that point of view.
The Pixel 7 Pro set the standard for flagship Android smartphones last year, and it remains my first recommendation for people who want a well-priced and massively capable device residing on that platform.
The S23 Ultra is, by default, the best Android smartphone of 2023 thus far, and I can’t put it down. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that Samsung has finally standardised its chip strategy across the globe.
This leads me to an inevitable conclusion. If you’re trying to decide between these two phones, you probably already know which one you want. This is absolutely a case of which brand you prefer. There is so little separating these devices, and the pricing is so similar (thanks to those Samsung incentives) that it’ll come down to whether or not you’re a Samsung kinda person or a member of Team Pixel.
Which one is it?