In a year in which I have seen and tested a lot of great phones, two handsets stand out for me: the exquisite Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, and Apple's iPhone 15 Pro Max. And when I was asked to help choose the phone of the year for the TechRadar Choice Awards 2023, sponsored by Norton, I was torn.
On paper, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is a winner with an unbeatable 10X optical zoom camera that puts every other shooter to shame. It's a gorgeous phone with surfeit features, including the integrated S Pen (which I admittedly almost never use).
Still, none of the other best phones of today brings all its features together in as wonderful and cohesive a package as Apple's flagship.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max does not have everything, but it has everything it needs and each part performs at an industry-leading level.
Let's start with the silicon – or rather, Apple Silicon. The A17 Pro blows away all mobile chips and lets me play a 30fps console game on its 6.7-inch screen like a tiny Xbox. As is the case with most iPhones over the last five years, there's never a moment of finger tapping while waiting for the iPhone to finish a task.
Apple's 5x tetraprism zoom does not compare the the Galaxy S23 Ultra's 10x periscope optical zoom, and that is a shame. But when it comes to combining image and color truth with a formidable zoom, Apple still wins.
Carrying the best
I test a lot of phones and have pocketed every model from Google, Samsung, and Apple and while I have carried the Galaxy S23 Ultra for long periods of time, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the only handset I've truly adopted as my own.
This is a big deal because I normally prefer smaller phones and will always gravitate toward the iPhone Pro model. In this case, though, Apple's choice of titanium, newly buffed-away edges, and a slight shrinkage of the body make this the most palm-friendly Pro Max in memory. And, yes, I am very happy the iPhone finally has an ultra-fast USB-C port.
What really gives the iPhone 15 Pro Max an edge over the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is iOS 17. It is still the best mobile platform around, with features like Standby mode, Contact Posters, widget updates, and Personal Voice. Android 14 is good and powerful, but there remains a bit of an unruly competition between what Android offers and the Samsung One UI overlay. This disconnect gets marginally better every year, but Apple operates from a position of full-stack strength. You can feel its vicelike control and polish over the entirety of the smartphone.
This is a good thing and makes the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max the full package and a worthy TechRadar Phone of the Year (with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra very close behind).
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A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.
Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.