Ryan Haines/Android Authority
Often copied, never surpassed, this is how the position of the iPhone among smartphones can be easily described. It’s clear to see its influence on the best Android devices at all price points, emphasizing features like the notch, flat side rails and corner-mounted square camera hump as OEMs try to outperform the iPhone . I would argue that no brand has been successful, at least until now. Samsung has finally found a way to eat Apple’s lunch by not only going back to its flagship features, but improving them. The Samsung Galaxy S23 has become the best iPhone whether you like it or not.
Does the Samsung Galaxy S23 offer a better experience than the iPhone 14?
Yes, give me Samsung all day
No, Apple still offers the best experience
Good hardware? Or great hardware?
Apple has never had any hardware issues. Aside from an oddly placed Magic Mouse charging port, everything from Cupertino is polished down to the last detail. When you pick up an iPhone, you know you’re getting a good mix of glass and aluminum, carefully curated inside and out. However, we are now in a time where good just isn’t good enough. Annual updates mean that a device must offer some form of actual improvement in order to move the needle.
The iPhone 14 doesn’t do that. Instead, it lands almost perfectly in its predecessor’s shoes, clinging to an outdated notched display, uncomfortably industrial side rails, and dropping the SIM tray in the name of, I dunno, progress? If Apple had locked down the 6.1-inch flagship market, we probably wouldn’t have much room to complain, but that’s not the case. The Samsung Galaxy S23 shows how good hardware can be in a small phone, trumping Apple in every detail.
Apple’s hardware is sophisticated, but it’s hard to say it’s making great strides.
Nowhere is this more evident than with the rear cameras. Samsung’s three rear cameras simply offer more control and flexibility than Apple can sniff out. The inclusion of a telephoto shooter allows you to zoom in up to 30x, while the iPhone’s wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle setup finishes it off at just 5x zoom. Are you likely to use the 30x zoom that often? Probably not, but you’ll probably find that you need to go beyond 5x zoom every once in a while and get better looking snaps even at 3-5x.
Gorilla Glass Victus 2 and gently curved side rails also give the Samsung Galaxy S23 a level of polish that we’ve been longing for. After a few years of growth spurts, curved displays, and the occasional “glasstic” finish, the Galaxy S23 is premium from top to bottom – and it still includes a SIM tray. It’s hard to overstate how comfortable the rounded design is. I am much more willing to hold and use the Galaxy S23 for hours at a time than I would be using the straight edge iPhone 14.
The base Galaxy S23 doesn’t feel like it’s settling for less like the iPhone 14 does.
The Galaxy S23’s display also puts the iPhone 14 in the shade, and we’re not just talking about the unsightly notch. Samsung’s tiny flagship offers up to 1,750 nits of peak brightness, well above Apple’s 1,200 mark. Of course, this peak brightness is reserved for selected HDR highlights, but small display features make a big difference. You don’t have to go pro for a 120Hz refresh rate in the Galaxy ecosystem either – all three devices hit that high mark. Yes, you get more bang for your buck when you buy the Galaxy S23 Plus or Galaxy S23 Ultra, but the base Galaxy S23 doesn’t feel like settling for less like the iPhone 14 does.
Robert Triggs/Android Authority
What I mean is that now you have to – at least – fork out an extra $200 on an iPhone 14 Pro to get the best Apple actually has. The top crust moves to Dynamic Island, rocks a telephoto lens (still only up to 15x zoom) and powers through with Apple’s latest A16 Bionic chipset.
Of course, repeated use of the A15 Bionic chipset doesn’t mean the iPhone 13 Redux is all bad. Apple’s 2021 chipset continues to deliver stunning benchmarking numbers, rivaling all variants of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 on the Samsung Galaxy S23. However, this is done while emphasizing a double standard within iOS. The base model is no longer good enough for true flagship specs, forcing many people to wait an extra year for long-overdue upgrades.
What does iOS really offer?
Ryan Haines/Android Authority
I’ve spent enough time as the black sheep in my friends group to know how much Americans love iMessage. It’s cause for celebration when I show up as a blue bubble for a few weeks instead of my usual green bubble. However, Apple’s flagship messaging app doesn’t really move the needle for the rest of the world. Most people turn to WhatsApp, WeChat, and Telegram to keep in touch, which quickly takes away from Apple’s experience. If you look at iOS more broadly, how much is really memorable about Apple’s current software? I wouldn’t argue much.
Maybe that’s what people love about it. You can pick up an iPhone—any iPhone—and know exactly where everything is. It makes it easy to help your cousin or grandma with her new phone, but it doesn’t make it an exciting experience. Ironically, picking up iOS every few months reminds me of the old Android slogan, “be together, not the same,” just for the fact that Apple has ended up so far in the opposite direction.
Going back to the messaging example, the rest of the world doesn’t care about iMessage. Once you get rid of blue and green bubbles, you can focus on what makes software enjoyable to use. Many developers focus on the iOS versions of apps first, but their Android counterparts offer much more freedom and flexibility in exploring, self-publishing, and sideloading.
The iOS experience is familiar but lacks a lot of the personal touch.
Sure, you can customize your app icons in iOS, but the process is long and tedious, and you might get tired of it halfway through. Apple now has widgets too, although it’s hard to argue that there’s a lot of soul in a series of squares and rectangles. I don’t know if Android’s widgets are much more exciting, but at least Google is trying to spice things up with some organic You shapes.
I’d argue that perhaps Samsung’s greatest software strength is not owning every last granular piece of Android. Instead, the minds at Samsung can tweak and tweak the base software, adding their own twists to the camera app, the settings menus, and the way you can customize the layout of your Samsung Galaxy S23 home screen to suit your apps and widgets need and hide everything else. Sure, you end up with unnecessary complications like Galaxy Internet and a second gallery app, but you also have the freedom to change your launcher and install icon packs on the fly.
Or, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, you can place apps at the bottom of your display — right there, within thumb’s reach. Yes, yes, Apple has its drawer where you can put four favorites, but what if you need more than four apps? You need to ballast them to an achievable height with other apps, folders, and widgets.
iPhone can optimize its performance like no other, squeezing every last gram from smaller batteries and less RAM.
Credit where it’s due, Apple’s control of iOS means it can continue to push software updates long after Samsung’s move. Samsung’s four years of Android updates and five years of security patches is a noble promise, but Apple continues to be the gold standard. This means the iPhone can optimize its performance like no other, squeezing every last ounce from smaller batteries and less RAM, while Samsung tries to fit more of each into shrinking phone bodies. But at the end of the day, would you rather have a phone that lasts forever or one that feels like it reflects your true personality?
The great ecosystem debate
Ryan McLeod / Android Authority
Apple’s Walled Garden has always reminded me of the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Once you’ve bought an iPhone, you’re already on a slippery slope that includes an Apple Watch, iPad, and MacBook. After all, why pair an iPhone with a Windows laptop when you can get all your notifications anytime by staying in the Apple ecosystem? Some would argue that the iPad is still the best tablet and the Apple Watch has had years to figure itself out, while Android wearables are still squabbling over a common software platform.
But while Apple has been enjoying life at the top of the podium, sharing notifications and sharing seamless design across all verticals, Samsung has had something of a big bang (get it? Galaxy pun?). The Samsung Galaxy ecosystem now includes a little – or maybe a lot – of everything. Samsung has multiple tablets, Chromebooks, Windows laptops, earbuds, wearables, and tons of accessories to choose from. That’s without delving into TVs, electronics, and every conceivable smart home gadget — a world Apple can’t even begin to compete in.
Samsung’s sprawling Galaxy now offers more freedom – and just as much quality – as Apple’s walled garden.
Samsung has not only entered almost all of Apple’s categories, but has found ways to improve in many of them. The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro offers several days of battery life, while all but the Apple Watch Ultra require daily trips to the charger. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab range often includes a stylus rather than a stylus that you need to connect with a USB-C to Lightning cable. Even the choice between Windows and Chrome OS brings some variety to Samsung, so you can find what works best for you.
Ultimately, I think the time Samsung has spent watching Apple create its iPhone juggernaut and seamless ecosystem has served it well. It turns out that bigger isn’t always better, that you can’t mess with materials, and that the experience built around a phone is just as important as the phone itself. All of Samsung’s hard-earned lessons have created a Galaxy S23 that is the iPhone beats at its own game and I have a feeling it will make the smartphone arms race fun again.