This story is part ofCNET’s collection of news, tips and advice on Samsung’s most popular products.
Five months ago, I went from a die-hard Samsung Galaxy fan to a sold-out iPhone owner. Since then, I’ve fully adapted to the Apple world and enjoyed the benefits of features like AirDrop and iMessage (mostly to the delight of my friends who were fed up with my green messages).
But I still have a soft spot for Galaxy phones, and when Samsung unveiled the S23 lineup in February, I was eager to see how the top-of-the-line S23 Ultra would stack up against my iPhone 14 Pro. So I got my hands on one and started using the phones side-by-side to compare everything from cameras to battery life to overall design and see if I’d regret going over to the “dark side.” Here’s what I found.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra display versus Apple’s Super Retina display
First: I have an iPhone 14 Pro, not a Pro Max, so the Ultra’s massive screen definitely stands out in comparison. I never feel like I need a bigger screen than what I get on my 14 Pro, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to have that bigger display when I’m watching a YouTube video or streaming — or spending too much time on TikTok.
The trade-off with this larger screen is trying to fit it in my pocket and carrying something a little bulkier. Still, it’s a pretty sleek phone for all that real estate.
The display quality of both phones is stellar and I don’t see much difference in quality between the two. Right out of the box, the S23 Ultra has a nice bright display, which you can achieve on the iPhone by turning off True Tone (a feature that adjusts the color and intensity of your display depending on your environment). If Ultra’s brightness is too much, you can reverse-mimicking the effects of True Tone by going into the display settings and either switching to Eye comfort shield, or going to Screen mode and selecting Natural. You can also play with the white balance scale. iPhone images look lightly sharper, but colors pop a bit more on the S23 Ultra. Overall, though, there really isn’t much of a difference between the phones.
There’s one aspect of having an iPhone that I still haven’t come to terms with, and that’s the keyboard. I’m glad Apple added Slide to Type with iOS 13 a few years ago, followed by haptic keyboard feedback with iOS 16 (finally), because these are features I’ve come to love on Android. But I still get frustrated that I have to switch between numbers and letters when typing on the iPhone. Meanwhile, on the Galaxy, the numbers sit right above the letters, so you can select them more quickly, as you would on a laptop keyboard. You can download different iPhone keyboards like Gboard, but it’s not the same. I admit this is a minor complaint, but I think the user experience would benefit if Apple took a page from Android’s book – you know, like they’ve done many times before. Moving of….
Battery life on the Galaxy S23 Ultra is next level
I’ve had my iPhone for a few months now, and luckily I’ve yet to notice any noticeable drops in battery life. My phone still lasts all day with heavy use, but I always have to charge it at the end of the day.
The Ultra’s battery is next level. I can use all day and still have some juice left. This is not surprising considering that the S23 Ultra has a 5000 mAh battery. Apple doesn’t share battery capacity for its phones, but says the 14 Pro has up to 23 hours of video playback. An iFixit teardown found the iPhone 14 Pro to have a 3,200mAh battery.
Although the Ultra has a larger battery, Apple actually manages to get more performance out of its batteries thanks to iOS and its own A-series chips. Meanwhile, Android has to work with different devices running on different processors, so it becomes more important to have that bigger battery.
Specs and logistics aside, I’m amazed at the Ultra’s battery life, and so was CNET mobile reporter Lisa Eadicicco when she reviewed the Ultra.
The S23 Ultra’s 200-megapixel camera
The camera quality is on the most important aspect of any phone to me. I take a lot of photos and videos for work and social media, including for my very niche tea Instagram account. The camera on Galaxy phones has kept me in the Samsung family for a decade, so I couldn’t wait to compare the S23 Ultra’s cameras to the iPhone 14 Pro’s.
What I noticed right away is how much more saturated the photos are on the Ultra. In most cases, this saturation adds a nice color to the images and makes them stand out more. Photos of my colorful teacups look even more vibrant on the Ultra. Sometimes this saturation can be a bit overwhelming and make photos look unnatural, like they have a filter on them. But other times it makes colors and objects stand out in a good way.
The Ultra’s 200-megapixel sensor improves color and detail even further. One photo I took of a decorative teacup highlights the intricate floral design and gold trim, and another image of a Klay Thompson mural shows bright blues and yellows.
However, not all moments are made for a 200-megapixel sensor. In another image taken outdoors, the sensor removed a few too many highlights, making it harder to see detail and understand what was going on.
Overall, I appreciate the softness and brightness of the Ultra’s photos. iPhone shadows are often too harsh and give some images a darker hue. A sky image on the Ultra will look nice and bright, while on the iPhone there may be distracting shadows under the clouds. The Ultra’s softness and brightness also make for more flattering selfies. You can adjust the iPhone’s camera settings and play with things like contrast, tone, and color temperature, and even mimic Galaxy photography styles (and vice versa), but I wish the iPhone would just auto-correct for things like shadows a bit better .
The camera feature that surprised me the most was portrait mode. I think portrait mode on the iPhone is the gold standard. The subject is usually in perfect focus, the background is smoothly blurred and the colors look more natural. But I noticed there was something the Ultra did better than my iPhone. I took a picture of my friend with her sunglasses on top of her head and the iPhone struggled to keep the bridge and sides of the glasses in focus until the Ultra failed. It’s that little detail that shows how far portrait mode has come on Galaxy phones. I still prefer the look of iPhone portraits because of the lower saturation and you can capture a bit more detail in the background which is nice.
Does the Galaxy S23 Ultra beat the iPhone in video?
Given the popularity of TikTok and Instagram Reels right now, video is a huge focus for both Apple and Samsung — and it’s also important for people like me who shoot a lot of videos. Since switching to the iPhone, I’ve noticed an increase in the quality of my videos. Colors are more natural and images are sharper. Cinematic mode makes objects pop and gives my content a more professional look. Samsung has its own equivalent of a cinematic mode called Portrait Video. It also does a great job of blurring the background, but objects and people look a little less defined than on the iPhone.
One area where the Ultra is a clear winner is video stabilization. Even when going down stairs, footage is incredibly smooth, as if you were using a gimbal. With the iPhone, you can still feel every step you take, and there’s a lot more movement.
The design of the S23 Ultra vs. the iPhone 14 Pro
Let’s be honest: iPhone camera bumps are ridiculous. The Ultra is a breath of fresh air because the cameras don’t stick out as much, so it wobbles less when you put it down.
The Ultra’s S Pen is a fun extra, though I’ve never really run into it. I don’t want to write much by hand and I can just touch the screen for almost all functions. Still, I’m glad the legacy of the retired Galaxy Note series lives on.
The in-screen fingerprint reader was my favorite feature on my Galaxy phones, and it’s nice to have that option again while using the Ultra. I missed it when I first switched to the iPhone, but Face ID is solid enough to get over it quickly. Unlocking both phones is seamless.
The price of the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the same as the iPhone
The S23 Ultra costs $1,200 for 256GB of storage and is priced similarly to the iPhone 14 Pro Max with the same amount of storage. The smaller iPhone 14 Pro is $1,100 for 256GB. Whether you’re a Galaxy fan or an iPhone fan, $1,200 is a lot. But in this case, you get what you pay for.
Galaxy S23 Ultra vs iPhone 14 Pro final thoughts
It was fun to revisit a world I left behind and compare the iPhone I have now to the one I could have had if I had stayed in the Galaxy family. While there are aspects of the S23 Ultra that I appreciate, such as brighter and more colorful images, better video stabilization, and amazing battery life, there are benefits to having an iPhone that exceeds the specs that will likely keep me in the ecosystem of Apple for a while until. Features like Airdrop and iMessage have made the user experience more seamless. And I don’t know if I could give up iPhone video quality for anything else.
However, I know that if I want to take a photo that makes people fall, I’ll probably reach for the S23 Ultra. Then I’ll wait for the shocked look when I tell them it wasn’t taken with an iPhone.
Check out the video above to see more of my experience testing these two phones, along with some sample photos and videos taken side-by-side on each.
Galaxy S23 Ultra: Get a closer look at Samsung’s gigantic new phone
See all photos