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Should you wait for the Google Pixel 8 Pro or buy the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra?
If you walked into a store and asked for the best Android phone, you’d likely be pointed to the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. Samsung’s big and unapologetic flagship ticks all the right boxes for people who don’t mind spending the big bucks. In the land of the Apple and Samsung duopoly, perhaps the only other Android phone that can add a garnish of competition is the Google Pixel 8 Pro. If you’re on the cusp of making a phone purchase, should you wait for the Pixel 8 Pro, or should you go ahead and buy the Galaxy S23 Ultra? We try and solve your conundrum in this article.
Editor’s note: Google has yet to announce the Pixel 8 series, and any information about it is based on rumors or speculation. As renders and images are not available for the Pixel 8 Pro, the Pixel 7 Pro is used as a reference. Keep that in mind as we move forward with this article.
Will the Pixel 8 Pro be as big as the Galaxy S23 Ultra?
Let’s address the biggest elephant in the room: if you’re considering either the Galaxy S23 Ultra or the Pixel 8 Pro, you better have some big hands. Looking for something a little more reasonable? We’ve also looked at whether you should grab the Galaxy S23 or wait for the Pixel 8.
If you’re still here I take you’re in the bigger is better camp. Well, you’re in luck; the Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the biggest Android phones you can buy that doesn’t intentionally fold in half. With dimensions admeasuring 163.4 x 78.1 x 8.9mm, it’s not going to be a straightforward recommendation for anyone who wants a one-handed phone. All that physical footprint is put to good use towards the versatile camera, the large battery, and the S Pen that is housed within the body. At 234g of weight, your hands will also feel the heft of the phone when you grab it.
All of that weight and size on the S23 Ultra leads us to a beautiful 6.8-inch 3,088 x 1,440 AMOLED display, which is regarded as the best in the business. The display is curved on the sides, albeit not as much as the S22 Ultra.
We don’t have the exact dimensions of the Pixel 8 Pro at this stage. However, leaks and rumors suggest that Google will be sticking to the same size as with the Pixel 7 Pro. There may be some minor deviations in the exact dimensions, but the Pixel 7 Pro’s 162.9 x 76.6 x 8.9 mm dimensions are a good ballpark for the Pixel 8 Pro’s footprint. We’re also expecting the Pixel 8 Pro to stick close to the Pixel 7 Pro’s 6.7-inch display size.
You’d notice that the Pixel 7 Pro’s (and by extension, Pixel 8 Pro’s) dimensions are a few millimeters smaller than that of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Those millimeters only become apparent when you compare both phones side-by-side. In reality, both phones are big. So do not expect the Pixel 8 Pro to be any easier to handle for its “smaller” size. The Pixel 8 Pro’s size may become a bit difficult to digest when you realize that it does not house any S Pen functionality either, so it’s just a big phone without as much apparent hardware benefit as the Galaxy S23 Ultra.
Design and build quality
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is practically identical to its predecessor, the S22 Ultra. The only real differences are the slightly larger camera holes and the screen curve radius. And all of this is a good thing because the S Ultra lineup boasts some exceptionally well-built phones. There’s a solid aluminum frame here with Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on the front and back. All of it adds up to a good and chunky smartphone. You may struggle to confidently grip it with one hand because of the size and the 234g of weight, but you’d never get the feeling of “cheap” on this phone. It’s premium through and through.
We don’t have details about the Pixel 8 Pro’s design and build quality as of yet. If we had to take a guess, Google could continue to build up on the unique design language that it has carefully created with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 series. The wide camera visor on the back of these devices gives them an identity that stands out in the sea of similar-looking Android devices, and we would love to see the same built up on the Pixel 8 Pro. We further do not know if the visor will be made of glass or aluminum.
Even though the back material remains unconfirmed, our money would be on it being glass. So a combination of the aluminum mid-frame and good quality glass on the front and back would allow the Pixel 8 Pro to feel just as premium as the S23 Ultra.
We may have some good news on the weight front. The Pixel 7 Pro weighs 212g. So unless Google makes some drastic divergences, the Pixel 8 Pro should also be within 10g of this number.
All in all, unless Google really messes things up, the Pixel 8 Pro should continue to retain the Pixel identity, of which there are many fans. We’ll let you choose which phone looks better when we have marketing renders.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra has one card up its sleeve that the rest of the competition simply doesn’t: the S Pen. The S Pen is a stylus that is housed within the body of the S23 Ultra, tracing its roots back to the legendary Galaxy Note series. With the S Pen, you unlock a whole host of precise scribbling and drawing functionality. The stylus can also be used for system navigation and control.
While Google has not explicitly denied the presence of a stylus on the Pixel 8 Pro, none of the previous Pixels have supported an active stylus or have come included with one. And we do not expect that to change with the Pixel 8 Pro either.
The Galaxy S23 series comes with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 in a special “for Galaxy” avatar. This collaboration between Samsung and Qualcomm gives us a chip that has a higher clock speed on the prime core as well as a marginally higher clock speed on the GPU compared to the vanilla version of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. So what you get is excellent performance thanks to the 1+(2+2)+3 core setup and overall improved thermal efficiency year-on-year.
This is also the first time everyone around the world gets the same Qualcomm processor, as Samsung has benched its Exynos variants for this generation. For RAM, the Galaxy S23 Ultra gets 8GB or 12GB of LPDDR5X RAM, and for storage, you get options of 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of UFS 4.0 storage. There is no microSD card slot on the Galaxy S23, much like how it has always been the case for the Pixels.
Forecasting for the Pixel 8, leaks suggest it will come with the new Tensor G3 processor. We don’t know the performance and efficiency capabilities of this processor, so all observations are through its predecessor, the Tensor G2. We know that the Tensor G2 performs well as a flagship SoC for regular usage but falls behind Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8-series offerings in GPU and sustained performance. Comparing the Tensor G2 to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, the Snapdragon has a good lead, especially for use cases like gaming. So it remains to be seen if Google can catch up with the Tensor G3.
If you call yourself a gamer, going with the Galaxy S23 Ultra right away makes a lot of sense. We’re not writing off the Tensor G3, but based on past trends on the original Tensor and Tensor G2, gaming hasn’t been a large focus for Google. There’s nothing to indicate this is changing in 2023. But the Galaxy S23 Ultra already performs well in gaming, so you can safely pick the Samsung phone for your daily Fortnite needs.
If you rely on AI-related tasks, like functions around the Google Assistant, there’s an argument to be made on how the next Tensor could be worth the wait, knowing Google’s keen focus on AI performance.
For other bits of performance, the Pixel 8 Pro is expected to come with 12GB of RAM. We do not have information on the storage numbers, nor do we have info on the technical specification underneath.
What about the cameras?
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra comes with an insanely versatile set of cameras that also excel in setting a high bar for the rest of the smartphone market. There are four cameras on the back of the device, and all four serve their purposes very well.
The primary camera is a 200MP ISOCELL HP2 1/1.3-inch sensor with an f/1.7 aperture, which will give you excellent results, day or night. Other than slight complaints of shutter lag and consequent motion blur, there really isn’t much to complain about the S23 Ultra’s primary sensor, and that says something. Check out some of the samples from the primary sensor below:
The S23 Ultra opts for the 12MP Sony IMX564 sensor for the ultrawide shooter, with a 1/2.55-inch sensor, f/2.2 aperture, and 120-degree FoV. While there are still some differences in quality between the primary and ultrawide sensors, it is the narrowest margin in the S-series history, a testimony to the years of evolution of Samsung’s processing algorithm.
Telephoto zoom duties are handled by the 10MP ISOCELL S5K3K1 sensor that can do 3x optical zoom and has an f/2.4 aperture. The fourth camera is the 10MP 1/3.52″ sensor that has an f/4.9 aperture and is responsible for 10x optical zoom. This is the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s party trick, as it can handle both 3x and 10x zooms optically. Distances between 1x, 3x, and 10x milestones are done through a digital crop from the higher zoom sensor.
What the Galaxy S23 Ultra also manages to do well is 30x and 100x digital zoom, a feature unmatched by any other phone sold in the US. 30x zoom photos have also been fairly usable now, and while it won’t be wallpaper material, it is still useful to capture information at a distance that was simply not possible before.
The front camera is a 12MP ISOCELL S5K3LU that is also seen on the Galaxy S23 and S23 Plus. It’s technically a hardware downgrade from the 40MP sensor on the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but most average users are unlikely to notice a difference.
The final takeaway from the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera setup is that it is arguably the best smartphone camera you can buy in the US. The iPhone 14 Pro Max maintains a slight lead in video, but oh so slightly. The Google Pixels have excellent post-processing, but Samsung has become the king of versatility with the S23 Ultra. No matter the shooting condition, you will always be well-equipped to take a good shot with the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The only real complaint, as mentioned, would be the shutter lag and the accompanying motion blur, which can be an issue if your primary subjects are excited pets and children.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra's camera merges versatility with practicality, while the Pixel 8 Pro will be all about that Google camera magic.
The Pixel 8 Pro’s camera is still a fair mystery. Early leaks suggest that Google could be upgrading from the 50MP ISOCELL GN1 sensor to the GN2 sensor, bringing along support for features like staggered HDR. If this turns out to be the case, then you can expect to see quicker HDR shots with better details and richer colors.
The Pro Pixel is where Google experiments a bit with the auxiliary camera hardware. We don’t have good information on any experiments yet on the Pixel 8 Pro, but it is still safe to presume that we will see at least three camera sensors, with the primary and ultra-wide being a good bet. The third camera will likely remain a telephoto with optical zoom, but admittedly, things could change by the time the product officially releases.
Irrespective of whether we see hardware changes or not, there’s one thing we can safely guarantee for the Pixel 8 Pro: Google’s computational photography magic. Google leans very heavily into letting post-processing do the heavy lifting rather than just the pure hardware. As a result, Pixel cameras have always punched way above their weight than their boring spec sheet numbers. It’s even hard to recall when a Pixel’s camera was bad, ever. So we remain very optimistic about what Google can do with the Pixel 8 Pro.
It’s very difficult even to comment on which would be a better camera phone: the Galaxy S23 Ultra in its current avatar, or the Pixel 8 Pro in its late 2023 avatar. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the best camera smartphones you can purchase right away, but Google has the potential to really raise the bar with the Pixel 8 Pro.
Software and updates: Is Samsung beating Google at its own game?
Google hasn’t explicitly mentioned anything about the Pixel 8 Pro’s software situation yet, so we will use the Pixel 7 Pro as the baseline. We’re expecting the Pixel 8 Pro to continue to ship with stock Android as the base and Google’s Pixel-specific additions on top. Everyone familiar with stock Android will appreciate the no-frills approach, and all of Google’s Pixel UI additions are focused on enhancing your phone experience with smaller Quality-of-Life changes. The Android base is also likely going to be Android 14, as Google uses the Pixel launch as the opportunity for the public release of the next version of Android.
Whether the Pixel 8 Pro’s Android 14 plus Pixel UI experience will be better than Galaxy S23 Ultra’s One UI 5.1 experience is entirely a subjective opinion. There are fans of both user experiences — some people like One UI’s feature abundance, while others approach the more thoughtfully-minimalistic approach of Pixel UI. We also don’t know what new software features Google will add to the Pixel 8 Pro, so we have to stay tuned for that.
For software updates, you are getting best-in-class update policies with Samsung. The Galaxy S23 Ultra will get four Android platform updates and five years of security updates, meaning it will get up to Android 17 and security patches up to 2028. This makes it the phone with the most update potential.
The Google Pixel 8 Pro may or may not be better than Samsung, but we’re confident it will at least come very close. Google promises up to three Android platform updates and up to five years of security patch updates. Confidently presuming the Google Pixel 8 Pro launches with Android 14 in 2023, it will get up to Android 17 and security patches up to 2028 as well. So while Google’s platform update promise is technically lower than Samsung’s by one generation, it gets equalized by the fact that the Pixel launch is also the launch vehicle for the latest version of Android. There’s also a very small chance that Google manages to further increase its software update promise — we’re keeping our fingers crossed.
Samsung offers more platform updates on the Galaxy S23 Ultra, but Google launches the Pixel on a new platform, marking them as equals.
The number of updates is one argument, but the speed of delivery for these updates is another. Pixel phones get all platform updates on day one. There may be small delays because of bugs, but Google has largely delivered on this promise. On the other hand, Samsung will lag behind by a month or three for platform updates as One UI platform update will also be delivered alongside the Android platform update. This lag also increases as the device gets older, which isn’t usually the case with Google.
The story is surprisingly flipped for security updates. Samsung frequently pushes security updates to its devices before the security bulletin is even released for the month! Google always follows with an update after the bulletin is released.
All in all, both the Galaxy S23 Ultra and the Pixel 8 Pro are as good as it gets for the software situation overall. Which device you choose will end up being based on your personal preference towards the UI: do you like One UI, or do you like Pixel UI?
Battery life and charging
The Pro Max iPhone is widely regarded as the king of battery life on smartphones. But in 2023, Samsung actually managed to one-up even the iPhone 14 Pro Max with the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s battery life.
The physical battery on the Galaxy S23 Ultra has remained the same at 5,000mAh, as seen on the Galaxy S22 Ultra. What has changed is a switch over to LTPO 3.0 for refresh rate efficiencies, and a new and efficient Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC. These have been enough to push the Galaxy S23 Ultra from being a one-day phone like its predecessor to being a solid two-day phone which can give you 6-8 hours of screen time. That’s very impressive, considering the fact that this is a very powerful, capable, and versatile smartphone.
For the Pixel 8 Pro, once again, leaks have not pointed to its battery spec yet. We’re hoping to see the device retain its 5,000mAh battery from the Pixel 7 Pro, which should be enough to deliver a full day’s worth of battery life to most users.
Samsung is doing better than Google when it comes to charging speeds, albeit only marginally. The Galaxy S23 Ultra boasts of 45W fast charging through a USB PD PPS charger. You can expect to take under an hour for a full charge, which is decent for the size of the battery on the device.
There’s no information on what the Google Pixel 8 Pro will bring to the table. If the Pixel 7 Pro is any reference, we aren’t expecting a charging revolution either. The Pixel 7 Pro supported only 23W charging, taking around one and a half hours for a full charge of the 5,000mAh battery. No matter how you cut it, that is rather slow. Google really needs to catch up to the rest of the market here, and we hope they do with the Pixel 8 Pro.
How long do I have to wait for the Google Pixel 8 Pro?
If you’re in the market for a phone purchase right away, and you were leaning towards picking up the Google Pixel 8 Pro, we have some bad news for you: you’re going to have to wait a while. The Google Pixel 7 series was just launched in October 2022, so it’s just a few months old. We’re still a good eight to nine months away from the first sales of the Google Pixel 8 Pro. It may even take Google a few months until Google I/O 2023 in May to officially reveal any further teasers about the device.
The Pixel 8 Pro launch is months away, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra can be picked up right now.
So for the next few months, all that you will likely hear about the Pixel 8 Pro will be leaks and rumors. With history as our reference point, expect some Pixel 8 Pro teasers in May during Google I/O, and then an official launch and first sales around October 2023.
On the other hand, the time is ripe to pick up the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The phone was just launched a few weeks ago, and Samsung is being fairly generous with its trade-in deals and discounts. Since the phone is very new and early in its release cycle, you will get a lot of utility out of your purchase in the form of regular bug fixes and updates. Enjoy all the attention for almost a year until the next S series launches in 2024.
Will there be a price difference?
While we don’t know the price of the Pixel 8 series and likely won’t know it until the phone actually launches, we do know the general trend. Google doesn’t shy away from pricing its Pro flagship in the higher ranges. If you want a more value-oriented product, there’s the vanilla Pixel and even the Pixel A series.
The Pixel 7 Pro launched at $899 for the 8GB/128GB variant. We assume the Pixel 8 Pro will maintain the same price level, so expect to pay top dollar if you want to pick the Pixel 8 Pro on launch day. If you are fine with waiting, we’ve seen the Pixel 7 Pro get as much as a $150 discount in holiday sales, so you could take a risk on the Pixel 8 Pro going down in price for the holidays too.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra, on the other hand, is even less shy from strutting its high price tag. Starting at $1,199 for the 8GB/256GB variant, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is substantially more expensive than the Pixel 7 Pro. And we also expect it to stay more expensive than the Pixel 8 Pro based on current trajectories. Samsung is also rather stingy with offering discounts on the Ultra series post the pre-order period, so unless you plan to pick a pre-owned or refurbished unit, we wouldn’t advise holding your breath on a tight discount.
Should I buy the Galaxy S23 Ultra or wait for the Pixel 8 Pro?
The answer to this question rests heavily on how urgently you need a new phone, and what your budget would be. The biggest hurdle in advising people to wait for the Pixel 8 Pro is the fact that you won’t be able to buy the phone before October 2023. If you are in need of a phone right now, waiting these many months is not a feasible solution. Thus, it makes better sense to pick up the Galaxy S23 Ultra immediately.
The only two reasons why someone should wait till late 2023 for the Pixel 8 Pro is if they are a big fan of Google’s computational photography approach, and are looking to get a camera-centric top-tier flagship under $1,000. We admittedly do not know the pricing of the Pixel 8 Pro, but it’s a safe bet to presume a sub-$1,000 flagship. We’re also big fans of Google’s camera approach on the Pixels, where the hardware-software combination punches above its weight on paper. It makes sense in this situation to see what Google will be doing before committing to a phone that you will use for many years in the future.
Waiting for the Pixel 8 Pro does not make a lot sense. Pick up the Galaxy S23 Ultra right away, or choose the Pixel 7 Pro instead.
If you do want a phone right away but still want to stick to a Google Pixel, the Pixel 7 Pro is actually a pretty good smartphone, even in 2023. The phone was launched in late 2022, so it is still fairly early in its release cycle. And Google frequently offers surprise discounts, letting you get the phone for as low as $750 before trade-in. That price tag gives the Pixel 7 Pro some great value, especially when you compare it to the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s $1,199 price tag. One caveat worth mentioning is that the Pixel 7 Pro is not a recommended phone for gamers, as the sustained performance and gaming performance of the Tensor G2 chip is lackluster, and you’d get a significantly better experience from a Samsung flagship with a Qualcomm processor. You can read more about how these two devices compare in our Pixel 7 Pro vs Galaxy S23 Ultra comparison.
If you aren’t particularly keen on Google’s specific flavor of computational photography, the Galaxy S23 Ultra just makes so much sense. It does everything that the Google Pixel 7 Pro does (and by extension, what the Pixel 8 Pro could do), and then some. It has an excellent display, excellent build, exceptional and versatile camera, excellent performance, excellent battery life, and even an S Pen to round things up. However, all of this comes at a price.
If you want something a bit more pocket-friendly, both in terms of price and ergonomics, then take a look at the Galaxy S23 Plus too. It features a lot of what makes the Galaxy S23 Ultra so great, at a price that makes it more palatable to a wider audience. The $999 price tag is still higher than the Pixel 7 Pro, though, so you will have to individually assess whether the Galaxy S23 Plus ticks all the boxes for you or not.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra was released on February 9, 2023.
Google has not released any official teasers or date. But looking at historical data, we expect the Pixel 8 series to launch in October 2023.
We do not know what price the Pixel 8 Pro will launch at. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra launched at $1,199. The Pixel 7 Pro launched at $899, so you can generally expect the Pixel 8 Pro to hover around similar levels.
Yes, the Pixel 8 Pro will get updates directly from Google on day one. However, Samsung has been doing an excellent job with security updates, with its flagships often receiving security updates before Google can deliver them to Pixels. Both devices will have excellent software support.