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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: Which one is best?

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Galaxy S24 Ultra (left) and iPhone 15 Pro Max Digital Trends

Samsung has just released its flagship 2024 smartphone lineup in a surprisingly early Galaxy Unpacked event. While the usual assortment of rumors left us with few doubts about what was coming in the Galaxy S24 lineup overall, the premium Galaxy S24 Ultra is still the most exciting update as it packs in some fascinating changes from last year’s model.

While the Galaxy S24 Ultra is perhaps a bit more iterative this year, there’s a lot to like about this model — including a new titanium design, an even brighter display, and a substantial push by Samsung into some fun and powerful new AI features.

However, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is also up against some tough competition from Apple’s heavyweight contender, the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which arrived last fall with a similar switch to titanium, some noteworthy camera improvements, and the most powerful chip by far that Apple has ever put into an iPhone.

Due to the typical timing of Apple’s and Samsung’s launch events, there’s a leapfrogging that often goes on between the two flagships. This makes the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra the newest kid on the block, but is its four-month advantage enough to take on the iPhone 15 Pro Max? Let’s take a look at how these two premium flagships compare.

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: specs

 Samsung Galaxy S24 UltraiPhone 15 Pro Max
Size162.56 x 78.99 x 8.64 mm (6.4 x 3.11 x 0.34 inches)159.9 x 76.7 x 8.25 mm (6.29 x 3.02 x 0.32 inches)
Weight233 grams (8.22 ounces)221 grams (7.81 ounces)
Screen

6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Display with Super Smooth 120Hz refresh rate (1~120Hz)

6.7-inch always-on Super Retina XDR OLED with 120Hz ProMotion
Screen resolution

3120 x 1440 pixels at 550 pixels per inch

2796 x 1290 pixels at 460 pixels per inch
Operating systemAndroid 14 with One UI 6.1iOS 17
Storage256GB, 512GB, 1TB256GB, 512GB, 1TB
MicroSD card slotNoNo
ProcessorSnapdragon 8 Gen 3 for GalaxyApple A17 Pro
CameraRear: 200-megapixel (MP) main camera (wide), 12MP Ultrawide, 50MP 5X telephoto, 10MP 3x telephoto.

Front: 12MP

Rear: 48-megapixel (MP) main camera (wide), 12MP Ultrawide, 12MP 5X telephoto, LiDAR Scanner

Front: 12MP TrueDepth

VideoUHD 8K (7680 x 4320) at 30 frames per second (fps)

Slow motion UHD at 120 fps

Slow motion FHD at 240 fps

4K at 24/25/30/60 frames per second (fps)

1080p HD at 25/30/60 fps

HDR video with Dolby Vision up to 4K at 60fps

Slow motion 1080p at 120/240 fps

ProRes video recording up to 4K at 60fps with external recording

Macro video recording

Cellular5G mmWave (U.S. models only), 5G (sub-6GHz),5G mmWave (U.S. models only), 5G (sub-6GHz), Dual eSIM with Physical SIM on non-U.S. models only.
Bluetooth versionBluetooth 5.3Bluetooth 5.3
PortsUSB-CUSB-C
Water resistanceIP68IP68
Battery5,000 mAh
45W fast charging (wired)
Fast Wireless Charging 2.0
Wireless PowerShare
Video playback: 25 to 29 hours
Audio playback: 95 hours
20W fast charging (wired)
15W MagSafe/Qi2 charging
Network supportAll major carriersAll major carriers
ColorsTitanium Gray, Titanium Black, Titanium Violet, and Titanium Yellow, plus Samsung exclusive Titanium Blue, Titanium Green, and Titanium OrangeNatural Titanium, Blue Titanium, White Titanium, Black Titanium
PriceStarting at $1,299Starting at $1,199

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: design

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra in its launch colors.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Samsung has seemingly settled on its design language over the past year, bringing many of the iconic aesthetics of the Galaxy Ultra down to its standard and Plus models, so we weren’t expecting any significant visual changes. Nevertheless, Samsung has followed Apple’s lead by adopting a new titanium frame for the Galaxy S24 Ultra — and some would argue it’s done so rather blatantly by adopting a similar “Titanium” branding for its seven color options.

Like the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the titanium construction technically helps the Galaxy S24 Ultra shed some weight from its predecessor. Still, it’s not nearly as significant as the weight Apple trimmed from its flagship lineup. Previous iPhone Pro models used much heavier stainless steel, so the switch to titanium made the iPhone 15 Pro Max 19 grams lighter.

By comparison, last year’s Galaxy S23 Ultra uses aluminum, which is already a very lightweight material. This leaves the Galaxy S24 Ultra at only 1 gram (0.03 ounces) lighter. That’s basically a rounding error, so the real win for Samsung in switching to titanium isn’t lighter weight, but a stronger build quality.

iPhone 15 Pro Max lying on the ground surrounded by leaves.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

This also means the Galaxy S24 Ultra is heavier than its iPhone counterpart. The iPhone 14 Pro Max came in at 240 grams, slightly heavier than the Galaxy S23 Ultra, while the iPhone 15 Pro Max widens that gap in the other direction. However, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is a larger phone, so that difference probably won’t be readily apparent.

In terms of durability, both smartphones should be pretty evenly matched. While both feature the same IP68 rating, the iPhone 15 Pro Max gets an edge for its higher water resistance — up to 6 meters for 30 minutes compared to Samsung’s usual 1.5 meters. However, the Galaxy S24 Ultra beats out the iPhone with its new Corning Gorilla Glass Armor on both sides. Apple uses its own proprietary Ceramic Shield glass, but only puts that on the front display.

While the iPhone 15 Pro Max is available in Natural Titanium, Blue Titanium, Black Titanium, and White Titanium, the Galaxy S24 Ultra offers greater choice for those who want something more colorful, with Titanium Violet and Titanium Yellow options joined by the Samsung-exclusive Titanium Blue, Titanium Green, and Titanium Orange.

At the end of the day, design is subjective, and there are a lot of trade-offs in both directions here, so we’re calling this one a tie.

Winner: Tie

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: display

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra showing the screen.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Samsung has always offered some of the best displays on any smartphone, which isn’t surprising since the company has its own display division. In fact, Apple buys most of its screens from Samsung Display, including those used on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

It’s fair to say that Samsung reserves its best display technology for its own flagships, and the Galaxy S24 Ultra is proof. It’s mostly the same 6.8-inch AMOLED 2X display found on last year’s Galaxy S23 Ultra, with an adaptive refresh rate that runs from 1Hz to 120Hz and only a very slight resolution increase to 3120 x 1440, up from 3080 x 1440 on the S23 Ultra.

The big trend among flagship smartphones over the past few years has been pushing brightness levels to new heights, and the Galaxy S24 Ultra follows suit, jumping to a maximum brightness of 2,600 nits — up from 1,750 on the S23 Ultra. That handily beats the 2,000 nits offered by the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which should make for even better outdoor visibility. While that’s a nice spec on paper, we’ll have to wait to see how much it matters in the real world, as we’ve never had any problems using our 2,000-nit iPhone screens outside.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra does get a flatter display and slimmer bezels, which puts it more on par with Apple’s design, although the corners remain squared-off rather than rounded like they are on the iPhone and standard S24 models.

The Home Screen on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The iPhone 15 Pro Max similarly didn’t move the needle much in display technology compared to its 2022 predecessor. It boasts the same always-on Super Retina XDR Display with a variable refresh rate that runs from 10Hz to 120Hz during normal operation and drops down to 1Hz for always-on mode. The resolution on the 6.7-inch iPhone 15 Pro Max is lower at 2796 x 1290, and while the slightly smaller screen size compensates for that a bit, it still has a lower density of 460 pixels per inch (ppi) versus 501 ppi on the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

That’s a subtle difference that most folks probably won’t notice, but one area in which Samsung has closed the gap this year is its always-on display. Apple was late to the game in bringing always-on display technology to the iPhone, but as is often the case, when Apple finally did get with the program, it did so brilliantly, surpassing its monochromatic Android rivals with a rich, full-color display that kept the wallpaper and notifications always in view.

It’s taken Samsung over a year to catch up, but it’s done so with the Galaxy S24 Ultra, which now offers the same muted, but colorful view that Apple fans have been able to enjoy since the iPhone 14 Pro. While that’s not everyone’s cup of tea — some folks prefer the basic black-and-white look — it’s hard to argue that it’s gorgeous to look at on both devices. The good news is it’s easy to tone down or turn off entirely if you don’t like it.

While the Galaxy S24 Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro Max offer two of the best displays you’ll find on any smartphone today, the larger size, brighter screen, higher pixel density, and improved always-on display features give the S24 Ultra a slight edge here.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: performance and battery

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, showing the bottom.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

We’ll have to wait for the inevitable benchmarks and some real-world, hands-on experience before we can measure how these two flagships perform, but there’s little doubt that they’re both powerhouses in their own way.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra packs Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip with its usual “for Galaxy” branding, suggesting that it’s once again partnered with Qualcomm to tweak the chip for the unique needs of the S24 Ultra and One UI 6.1. In general, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 is supposed to be 30% faster and 20% more power-efficient than its predecessor, which should translate to better gaming performance and longer battery life.

Still, it’s been fabricated using TSMC’s slightly older 4-nanometer (nm) technology, which lags behind the bleeding-edge A17 Pro chip used in Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro Max. Since Apple designs its own chips from the ground up, it’s hard to make a direct comparison here, but when Apple unveiled the A17 Pro, it promised to usher in a new generation of console gaming on the iPhone. So far, that seems to have paid off, with several premium full console titles making their way into Apple’s mobile ecosystem.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip.
Andrew Martonik / Digital Trends

In terms of raw specs, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 features a single ultra-high-performance “prime” core, plus five performance cores and two efficiency cores. Qualcomm claims that it can drive gaming at 240 frames per second (fps), assuming you can find a phone and a game with a display that can handle that. Apple’s A17 Pro has a six-core CPU that leans more toward efficiency by combining two high-performance cores with four high-efficiency cores.

However, Apple’s chip also features a sophisticated new six-core GPU with hardware-accelerated ray tracing — a feature typically only found on PC and console GPUs — as well as upscaling of effects created using Apple’s Metal frameworks. This works in conjunction with the chip’s 16-core Neural Engine to turn it into a gaming powerhouse in its own right. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 uses Unreal Engine 5’s Lumen system with its Adreno GPU to provide its software-generated ray tracing. Again, we’ll have to wait for some real-world tests to see how this bears out in practical terms.

Call of Duty: Mobile on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

As for battery life and charging, the Galaxy S24 Ultra still packs in the same 5,000mAh cell as its predecessor. However, the power-efficiency improvements in the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 should allow owners to eke out a bit more runtime. The Galaxy S23 Ultra never had a problem getting through a full day of heavy use, so we’re expecting the S24 Ultra to do at least as well.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max also remains on par with the 2022 model in terms of battery life, and both held their own against the Galaxy S23 Ultra. This means the two phones should be evenly matched when it comes to getting you through the day with power to spare.

Although Apple has made two significant charging improvements with the iPhone 15 Pro Max by switching to USB-C and embracing open-standard 15-watt Qi2 charging, it still hasn’t pushed the actual charging speeds any higher. The iPhone 15 Pro Max is officially rated at 20W charging, although it will draw up to 30 watts with a suitable adapter. However, that’s still dwarfed by Samsung’s 45W wired fast charging and the ability to pull in 15 watts from any compatible Qi charger, not just the newer Qi2 magnetic chargers.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: cameras

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Samsung made an interesting and unusual change to this year’s Galaxy S24 Ultra, ditching its long-standing 10x zoom telephoto camera for a 5x lens with a higher-resolution sensor. That results in an increase from 10 megapixels (MP) on the S23 Ultra’s 10x lens to 50MP on the S24 Ultra’s 5x, but Samsung claims you can still get a 10x optical zoom thanks to its Adaptive Pixel Sensor Technology.

It’s not entirely clear how Samsung is doing this, but thanks to the larger sensor, it’s most likely using a pixel-cropping technique first used by Apple on the iPhone 14 Pro’s new 48MP sensor, which produced 2x photos by using the 12 megapixels in the center of the sensor. Samsung used the same technique to add a 2x optical zoom to the Galaxy S23 Ultra in a software update last summer, and it carries on with the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Close-up of the cameras on the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The iPhone 15 Pro Max also added a 5x optical zoom — a first for an iPhone — but it still only packs in a 12MP sensor behind that lens, so that’s as high as the optical zoom goes. Samsung, of course, still boasts its 100X super digital zoom, plus the same 3x 10MP telephoto lens and 200MP primary sensor used in the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Both those leave Apple’s cameras in the dust when it comes to raw specs.

That’s not to say that the iPhone 15 Pro Max doesn’t take great pictures. They’re actually incredibly good considering the more limited camera hardware, with the image processing and computational photography in Apple’s A17 Pro chip more than making up for it. It also leaps ahead of the iPhone 14 Pro Max as it produces photos that are even more natural and balanced.

Simply put, we expect you’ll get fantastic photos from either phone, but the Galaxy S24 Ultra edges out the iPhone 15 Pro Max with more versatility thanks to its higher optical and digital zoom levels and additional lenses. Still, if photography is your main reason for purchasing one of these two phones, you may want to wait for our camera shootouts before you make a final decision, as raw specs aren’t everything.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: software and updates

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra using the Circle to Search feature
Circle to Search Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Galaxy S24 Ultra ships with Android 14 and Samsung’s One UI 6.1 layered on top, which brings support for new features like the richer always-on display with live wallpapers. The iPhone naturally comes with Apple’s latest iOS 17 release.

While Apple has long held the crown for software longevity, it was unseated earlier this year when Google made a staggering promise of seven years of Android updates for its latest Pixel phones. Not to be outdone, Samsung is now matching that with the Galaxy S24 Ultra, which means you’ll someday be able to update it to Android 21 in 2030.

Apple makes no specific promises on updates, but the longest it’s ever gone is six years, with 2021’s iOS 15 release going as far back as the 2015 iPhone 6s. Five years is a more typical number, so we can expect an iPhone 15 Pro Max to hit at least iOS 22 in 2028. It could go longer, but with two more years of promised updates on Samsung’s part and no promises at all from Apple, we have to give the Galaxy S24 Ultra the nod here.

Winner: Galaxy S24 Ultra

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

Editing a photo on the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra using the AI toolkit.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

While most people think of Google’s Pixel phones when it comes to sophisticated mobile AI features, there’s been a big push inthat area across the board over the past year or so, as generative AI systems are slowly becoming mainstream. This has resulted in Qualcomm packing the kind of computational photography and machine learning technologies into its Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 that were once the exclusive domain of Google’s Tensor chips.

Samsung’s Galaxy S24 Ultra takes advantage of those new capabilities with Galaxy AI, which powers significant improvements in translation, transcription, and photo editing.

Perhaps the most interesting among these is the new Interpreter and Live Translate features that use AI to translate live in-person conversations and phone calls in real time, breaking down barriers when trying to communicate with someone in another language.

Samsung’s AI is also used in Samsung Notes to help you create AI-generated summaries and transcribe and translate voice recordings to text — even from multiple speakers. A new intelligent Circle to Search feature lets you use the S Pen (another special feature exclusive to the Galaxy Ultra) to circle items in photos and automatically look them up online. There are also photo- and video-editing enhancements that can fill in backgrounds, provide suggestions on how to enhance images, and even slow down action sequences in videos.

iPhone showing context menu to create an iMessage sticker from the Photos app.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

Apple has added a few similar features to the iPhone over the past couple of years, including the ability to look up specific items like animals, plants, and landmarks from photos and lift foreground images from their backgrounds. However, it’s always lagged behind when it comes to these types of features, and now that Samsung has thrown its hat into the AI ring, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is even further behind the curve. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a few of its own unique tricks, such as the new Action button that was added to the side of the phone this year, but those pale in comparison to what the S24 Ultra is bringing to the table.

It’s also worth noting that, like most of Apple’s products, the iPhone 15 Pro Max fits into the company’s ecosystem like a glove. Folks who own a MacBook or iPad can take advantage of impressive continuity features like using the iPhone as a webcam, sharing clipboard content between devices, and much more.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

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

iPhone 15 Pro Max laying outside in a park.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The Galaxy S24 Ultra has gotten a $100 price bump over its predecessor, with the standard 256GB model now starting at $1,300. Higher 512GB and 1TB storage capacities are also available. It’s up for preorder now directly from Samsung and should be showing up at most other major retailers and carriers in the coming weeks. It’s available in Titanium Gray, Titanium Black, Titanium Violet, and Titanium Yellow, with exclusive Titanium Blue, Titanium Green, and Titanium Orange colors available if you order directly from Samsung.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max has also seen an increase in its base price, although in Apple’s case, that came as a result of eliminating the more affordable 128GB entry-level model. That puts the starting price at $1,200, but that gets you the same 256GB capacity as the S24. It’s available from Apple and most major retailers and carriers in Natural Titanium, Blue Titanium, Black Titanium, and White Titanium.

Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max: verdict

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

When it comes down to specs and features, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is a clear winner with better cameras, more powerful AI features, a larger display, and a built-in S Pen. While it comes in at $100 more for the same storage capacity, it offers more than enough to justify its higher asking price.

Of course, the comparison isn’t as simple as raw specs, as both phones straddle two entirely different ecosystems. As great as the Galaxy S24 Ultra is, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is an outstanding smartphone that doesn’t disappoint, and most folks who prefer Apple’s iOS or otherwise live in the Apple ecosystem probably won’t find enough compelling features on the S24 Ultra to encourage them to leave.

While both phones will serve you well if you’re looking for one of the most powerful smartphones you can buy and aren’t heavily invested in any given ecosystem, the Galaxy S24 Ultra will likely come out on top for most people.


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