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It's that time of year again, when Samsung's latest and greatest Galaxy smartphones make their debut and take a crack at being the best Android smartphones money can buy. But, just like the past several years, its most premium offering, the Galaxy S23 Ultra, will have to compete with Google's latest flagship device, the Pixel 7 Pro, and its lower price point. We're going to give you the full feature-by-feature rundown to compare the two devices followed by three reasons why each one might be perfect for the right shopper.
Samsung's Galaxy Note line has been gone for a few years now. However, the trademark S-Pen stylus that was once its defining characteristic was so missed that Samsung has integrated it into Galaxy S and Galaxy Fold smartphones since the Note line's demise.
The S23 Ultra includes the S-Pen and an embedded silo to store it in. This means you'll have access to all of the useful features of the legendary stylus, including pressure-sensitive writing and drawing, remote gestures, and remote shutter control.
2. You want some of the best camera hardware ever included in a smartphone
Anyone that's been around smartphone photography for some time will tell you there's more to smartphone camera performance than just raw megapixel counts. Things like sensor size, software post processing, and onboard AI can all drastically impact the final quality of your shots. That said, it's hard for any amount of post-capture trickery to overcome the massive advantage a 200MP sensor can provide.
On top of that, Samsung's latest also includes the sort of tricks that make Google's Pixel cameras punch so far above their weight class. Among these are Night Portrait mode, which provides better pics of your friends in low light; Astro Hyperlapse, which takes long-exposure night sky shots without blurring or star trails; and AI noise reduction, which can reduce noise during any dark scene captures.
3. Ample storage is key for your needs
While the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro trade punches evenly on a lot of specs, Samsung's contender is the clear winner when it comes to storage options. Not only does the base model S23 Ultra start at twice the capacity (256GB versus the Pixel 7 Pro's 128GB base model), but it also maxes out at 1TB, twice as much as the top-end 512GB Pixel 7 Pro. Sure, not everyone will need all of this storage. But if you plan to use either of these devices as the pro-level photo and video capture and editing machines they are, you might be amazed at just how fast those gigabytes can fill up.
This one's pretty obvious, but that doesn't make it any less important. Google's latest flagship, the Pixel 7 Pro, begins at just under $900, while Samsung's Galaxy S23 Ultra can't be had for less than $1,199. Sure, you could argue that $1,000 (the price of a 256GB Pixel 7 Pro) is a more direct comparison to match the base storage of the cheapest S23 Ultra. But, for many shoppers, 256GB is overkill.
I use my smartphones constantly to capture photos and videos for ZDNET, and I've rarely bumped my head on even 64GB of storage, let alone the 128GB offered at $900 by Google.
Of course, there are other performance and feature considerations. But, for the vast majority of users, both phones pack so much more power and capability than they'll ever need that paying any more than you must for either is just a waste.
2. You want the fastest updates
Google still has the advantage of being the company that created and continues to control the Android operating system that Samsung's Galaxy smartphones run on. Samsung's reliance on a customized version of the operating system means that every time there's an update, Samsung has to get its hands on it, perform its own testing, development, and modifications, submit those changes to carriers, wait for approval, and only then actually distribute its update to consumers.
The process can mean Samsung smartphone owners will wait months longer than their Google Pixel-owning counterparts to see new features and major updates. If you find yourself with "version envy" whenever a new update comes out, stick with Google.
3. You prefer the absolute minimum of bloatware and maximum customizability
Thankfully we've mostly left behind the days of massive amounts of bloatware from both your smartphone's manufacturer and your carrier, and whatever companies they both happen to have alliances with. That said, Samsung's version of Android still includes some extra apps, services, and components that most of us will never use, and would rather just not have to deal with.
Google's Pixel line consistently provides the purest stock Android experience you can find, offering just the basic, first-party Google apps that are a must, and letting you pick and choose what you'd like to add after the fact. To be clear, Samsung's devices can also be heavily customized, but you're starting off with far less of a clean slate.
The middle child of this year's Galaxy S lineup packs the same processor, base memory configuration, and connectivity as its more expensive sibling. However, you'll be dropping to a 50MP main camera (not much of a hardship for most), and a slightly lower-resolution display.
Google's less expensive option is even more affordable, while similarly dropping a camera and reducing its display resolution. It's also a bit smaller if you prefer something a bit easier to pocket or type with one-handed.
If you want a flagship smartphone but don't like either Samsung's or Google's offerings, OnePlus is one of the few other brands in the US market releasing hardware that can compete. Its OnePlus 10 Pro 5G is its latest, with a price that's fallen to just $599 since its release.