The Pixel 8 Pro may be Google's showcase of what an Android smartphone should be, but there's a competing school of Android excellence headlined by the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. The Galaxy isn't exactly fresh - it's been around for close to a year now - but for the next couple of months, until its replacement shows up, it will remain the most talented alternative to the Pixel this side of the OS divide. We'll try to do a quick head-to-head to establish which of the two Android powerhouses is best for you.
For starters, you can compare the complete specs sheets or directly continue with our editor's assessment in the following video or in the text further down below.
The new Pixel 8 Pro has remained essentially the same size as its predecessor, and that means it's a touch smaller than the ultimate Galaxy. The S23 Ultra is less than a mil taller and less than two mil wider than the Pixel, but because of its blockier styling, it's a tangibly larger phone to operate. It's heavier too - the 21g of weight that separates the two handsets isn't negligible.
Beyond the measurable differences and the perceptible nuances in handling, the two phones aren't all that different in principle. Both feature Gorilla Glass Victus 2 front and back, the rear panels are frosted, the frames are aluminum and are treated to a glossy finish, and both devices should survive for as long as 30 minutes under 1.5m of water.
Some other operational particularities include the different types of fingerprint readers. The one on the Pixel 8 Pro is optical, and while somewhat improved over the previous generation, it's arguably not quite as fast as the ultrasonic unit on the Galaxy. Also, the Galaxy doesn't have to shine a light on your fingertip to read it, making it less annoying to use in the dark.
The Pixel 8 Pro comes in 3 colorways, with the Bay one that we got to review being particularly appealing. The Galaxy can be had in 8 different colors, and even though half of them are only available directly from Samsung, we'd give the Galaxy the nod for spoiling consumers for choice.
Perhaps here is a good place to mention what's likely the greatest standout feature of the S23 Ultra against the Pixel (or, for that matter, any other high-end smartphone in existence) - the S Pen. The always-with-you stylus is great for jotting down notes, unleashing your creativity, or simply serving as a camera remote - we say it's worth taking up the space inside the Galaxy's body.
One of the major developments on this year's Pixels are their improved displays and the one on the Pixel 8 Pro, dubbed Super Actua, is particularly impressive. In our lab, we measured 954nits of brightness available manually - one of the highest readings we've gotten on an OLED display, and better than the Galaxy S23 Ultra's 831nits. In auto brightness mode with the phones under bright light, the Pixel's 1,600nits are even more impressive next to the Samsung's 1,274nits
The Pixel has also gotten very adaptive in its refresh rate behavior, reporting 1Hz in most cases when idling - the Galaxy should be doing that too, but it's not as transparent in communicating it to common folk.
Both models have excellent color calibration in case you're doing color-critical work on your phone. Both support HDR10 and HDR10+, but neither does Dolby Vision, sorry.
The Pixel 8 Pro is equipped with a 5,050mAh battery - for purposes practical, the same capacity as the power pack of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. With similarly sized displays (high-res too) and comparable chipsets, you'd think that both phones will get you similar battery life.
In our testing, however, the Galaxy returned better numbers than the Pixel across the board.
The Pixel can't quite redeem itself when it comes to charging speed either, with a 30W rating next to the Galaxy's 45W. Now, it may not be quite as fast as you'd hope or expect it to be, but it still allows the Samsung flagship to charge from flat to 100% in just under an hour, while the Pixel 8 Pro requires 1:23h. 68% in 30 minutes on the Galaxy also sounds a lot better than the Pixel's 53%.
The Pixel is able to claim a small victory here, albeit a theoretical one, since it's not something we've been able to test. The 8 Pro is rated for wireless charging up to 23W with the Google Pixel Stand, while the Galaxy maxes out at 15W with Samsung's proprietary solutions. Then again, the Pixel will drop to 12W if using generic charging pads (that adhere to the Extended Power Profile), and we believe so too will the Galaxy.
The Pixel 8 Pro and the Galaxy S23 Ultra have similar speaker setups with a 'main' unit on the bottom and a second speaker up top that also serves as an earpiece. The channels are assigned dynamically, so you'll be getting the correct soundstage in landscape, regardless of orientation.
In our test, the Pixel posted a 'Good' score for loudness, a notch below the Galaxy's 'Very Good'. When it comes to sound quality, we'd call this a tie, as both phones deliver balanced output with little to complain about across the frequency range.
The S23 Ultra is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, Galaxy edition - Qualcomm's special delivery of its high-end chip for 2023 that features a higher clock rate on the CPU than what most others are getting (and possibly other small tweaks that aren't as marketable).
The Pixel 8 Pro, on the other hand, gets the third-gen in-house-designed Tensor G3 chipset, manufactured by Samsung.
Both phones can be specced with up to 1TB of storage, but the Galaxy starts at a reasonable 256GB, while the Pixel's base 128GB version is inadequate at this level. Then again, all Pixel 8 Pros have 12GB of RAM, while the base model S23 Ultra comes with 8GB, so it's not easy to pick whom to scold with more zeal.
When it comes to benchmark scores, Pixels never excel - in fact, they're more like last-year's middle-of-the-road level of performance. That's reflected in the numbers we got on the 8 Pro, and comparing them to the Galaxy's figures, they're rather low.
Anecdotally, both phones are really smooth in operation, but there's a bit of an edge in the way that the Pixel feels. There's also a bunch of Pixel-exclusive AI features, but those may or may not be available in al locales. Counter that with the vast array of proprietary stuff that One UI offers, particularly on the S Pen-wielding S23 Ultra, but also things that all high-end GAlaiex have like the DeX desktop functionality, and you arrive at a dilemma.
It doesn't get any easier this year with Google's promise for 7 years of software support on the Pixel 8 family - if you're after longevity, 7 is better than 4+1. Then again, if you're buying the top-of-the-line model, perhaps you have the means to update it every now and then.
Being at the top of each lineup, the Pixel 8 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra are inevitably some of the best cameraphones on the market, even if they do take somewhat different approaches. Starting on the hardware level, the Galaxy has four cameras on its back, the primary one sporting a whopping 200MP sensor, while the ultrawide and the two teles (3x and 10x) feature more modest imagers. The Pixel, on the other hand, makes do with three cameras, but boasts larger sensors on both the ultrawide and the single telephoto (5x), potentially forming an equally capable configuration (possibly even a superior one).
The Galaxy's output has gotten some questionable changes with recent updates - things were looking different (and, we'd argue, better) at review time almost a year ago. With that in mind, there's no wonder that we're liking the Pixel's detail rendition a lot better, particularly on the main camera, where the Galaxy's extreme sharpening is rather unappealing. The Pixel's ultrawide also has superior definition of small random stuff.
Zooming in, the two capture similar levels of detail at 2x, but the Pixel's 2x is noticeably more 'zoomed in' than the Galaxy's. The Samsung's photos at this level are noisier and, again, quite unnatural when viewed at 1:1.
The two phones take different paths when zooming in further and the Galaxy's 3x gives you a wider frame than the Pixel's 5x - trying to replicate the other phone's zoom level will inevitably put it at a disadvantage, so we just compared them at their native zoom levels. Both give you sharp and detailed photos, with the Galaxy maintaining a grittier texture next to a noise-free Pixel. The Pixel's 10x output from its large-ish Quad Bayer-type sensor (on its otherwise 5x camera) does compare well to the Galaxy's dedicated 10x shooter - the Samsung does have the upper hand in sharpness, though it also remains a little noisy.
When it comes to global properties, Samsung's color science differs significantly from Google's and the Galaxy will tend to give you more colorful images with extra punch in the skies and greenery. The Pixel's output is a bit more toned down, but not really drab - just different. Dynamic range is great on both.
In the dark, the Galaxy's ultrawide tends to outperform the Pixel's in terms of sharpness, and the main camera also has a bit of an edge. At 2x, it's mostly a toss-up, with both phones managing decently. The Galaxy's 3x remains noisier than the Pixel's 5x in the dark, and while each has its flaws, both return solid shots. At 10x zoom, darkness takes its toll on both phones, but once again, the results aren't bad - the more noise but better detail in the Galaxy's photos is an expected trade-off.
When it comes to video recording, both phones remain solid options. The Galaxy has 8K30 capability on its main camera that the Pixel can't match, but we're still considering that to be overkill of a mode, so we don't really think the Pixel is underequipped in this respect. On the other hand, the Galaxy can't record at 24fps, which the Pixel does support, and that might be more important to the right crowd. Other than that, both phones can capture in 4K at both 30fps and 60fps with all cameras.
Video quality in daylight is better out of the Pixel's ultrawide, while it's more of a tie between the two main cameras at 1x. The Galaxy does have a significant advantage when you torture the primary cameras to capture at 2x, though.
That means the Pixel is no good for video between 1x and its telephoto's 5x zoom level, though at least there things are looking nice. The Galaxy adds good 3x videos to the good 2x, so it's shaping up like the superior option for short-range zoomed-in videos. The Samsung also has the upper hand at 10x, even though it's not exactly tack-sharp there.
Basically, the Pixel's videos are great at its camera's native focal lengths, which is nice if you can limit yourself to just those three zoom levels. The Galaxy, meanwhile, delivers solid results at four native zoom levels, plus the intermediate 2x - that sounds like the more versatile video camera, from a focal range perspective.
The balance of power remains mostly unchanged in the dark. The Pixel's ultrawide has the upper hand, while the main cameras are more or less comparable at 1x, with the Galaxy scoring a win at 2x.
The Pixel's 5x telephoto suffers from bad flare and astigmatism, while the Galaxy's 3x output is riddled with noise, so neither is particularly great in the dark. You also shouldn't expect too great results at 10x from either phone.
Both phones do very well to stabilize the footage on the ultrawide and the main cameras, though they still remain a notch behind the iPhone in shakier conditions. The Galaxy does have an advantage with its telephotos (3x and 10x), which both look more stable to our eyes than the Pixel's 5x (at both 5x and 10x).
Here's a glimpse of how the Pixel 8 Pro's main camera compares in image quality to the Galaxy S23 Ultra's in our Photo compare tool.
And here's how the Pixel 8 Pro's main camera compares in video quality to the Galaxy S23 Ultra's in our Video compare tool.
Whether you pick the Pixel 8 Pro or the Galaxy S23 Ultra, you'll be treated to a masterclass of Android goodness - it's just Google's take vs. Samsung's. In that sense, the two are very different - Google is leaning on a simple UI backed by a ton of AI functionality, while Samsung opts for a more in-your-face, feature-packed approach.
When it comes to our test findings, there's little splitting the two on a lot of the smartphone pillars. Displays are awesome, speakers are great, charging is so-so, but the Galaxy does have the upper hand in battery life, so that could help with decision-making.
The biggest divide comes in the camera department, and it's not necessarily a dilemma that can be settled objectively. For one, the Pixel look is very different from the Samsung look, and you can love one and hate the other. There are also some questionable processing choices that Samsung's done recently that don't help its case.
Of course, the matter of personal preference in focal lengths is key, and we can't decide that for you either. While the Pixel can more or less match the Galaxy at 10x, if you're more of a 70mm type of person, the Galaxy's 3x will serve you better. In video in particular, the Pixel has no answer to the Galaxy between 1x and 5x.
Ultimately, in our minds, this is decided on two main counts - how far you prefer to zoom, and whether you like OneUI, S Pen, and DeX more than Google's own Android. Ah, and also, whether the Pixel is available in your region at all.
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