2023 has begun with a bang. Most major android manufacturers have launched their top-tier flagships at the start of the year. Let’s look at three quintessential brands popular among android phone users. Starting off with the newest handheld machines on the block, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, a refined iteration of the beloved Galaxy S22 Ultra with a similar camera design for the entire line-up. OnePlus 11, the latest and greatest from OnePlus, adheres to all last year’s issues and updates hardware and software to match their potential buyers outside China. The Google Pixel 7Pro is also known as the smartest android phone money can buy, making its software reign over hardware.
Design & Specs
Samsung Galaxy S23 Series
Samsung Galaxy S23, S23+ and the S23 Ultra are iterative updates to their predecessors. We know these are flagship units from each manufacturer and hence are priced accordingly. Considering flagships from all the companies, let’s compare the top-tier Samsung S23 Ultra, arguably a better Note series from Samsung. Maybe the Note name is kindly reserved for something that matches the name? The Ultra now has a redesigned chassis with a more rounded rectangle design that fits the hands confidently and brings significant camera improvements. On the other hand, the Galaxy lower S23 series is more like a refreshed update bringing Ultra design to the Galaxy S23 and the S23+.
The design is clean overall, and the display is curved upfront while looking symmetrically beautiful at the rear. The camera housing for individual sensors is carried on with the entire line-up this year. The outer glass is now industry-leading Gorilla Glass Vitcus 2 on both ends, with armour-grade aluminium for the chassis for better fall protection. Overall the changes on the outside are minor, but there’s better hardware this time around. Newer to the device is the new Snapdragon 8 Gen2 processor, slightly overclocked for Samsung devices with a brighter 6.8-inch Dynamic SAMOLED 2K 120hz panel with HDR10+ supporting 1750nits of brightness in scenarios necessary. It still retains all the good parts like an IP68 rating, 45W charging with a 5000mAh battery, standard and reverse wireless charging, WiFi 6E, BT 5.3 and one of the fastest in-display fingerprint sensors. This is an apt design for someone who wants a sophisticated, premium, and functional flagship phone. The S-Pen is retained with all the necessary sensors. Pen hardware and software are still crisp and work as well as the earlier editions. Samsung One UI 5.1 brings goodies of Android 13, S-Pen features and updated apps like Samsung Pay with a multitude of features. Improved 200MP OIS primary wide with 10MP OIS (10X) periscopic zoom, 10MP OIS (3x) optical zoom, and 12MP EIS Ultrawide cameras complete the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera setup. The new 16MP front camera, as opposed to the 40MP earlier, has better AI algorithms (that may take some OTA updates to get better) for better colour tones and 4K capabilities. At the same time, the rear can shoot 8K 30FPS, but the file size would require Galaxy-level storage.
The OnePlus 11 was launched in China many months ago and has finally landed in India with Oxygen OS 13 based on Android 13. The most considerable improvements include a newer Hasselblad camera design with improved AI and hardware. Exterior design improvements bring back the alert slider and retain the matte finish sandstone rear glass. Like most phones on the market, this is a large phone with a nice balance, but it feels dense despite its slim circumference. Unlike the newer Samsung Galaxy S23 series glass, the OnePlus 11 features gen 1 Gorilla glass Victus upfront and Gorilla glass 5 at its rear.
Hasselblad computation has improved on the 50MP OIS primary camera sensor with 32MP (2x) telephoto lens, 48MP ultrawide sensor and an improved 16MP autofocus front camera. Despite the lower pixel counts upfront, the algorithm has improved. A new LTPO3 E4 2K AMOLED panel with 120Hz refresh rate and 1300nits max HDR 10+ brings software support for Dolby Vision, 8K 24FPS capabilities limiting FHD for the front camera, BT 5.3, WiFi 7 are welcome generational update.
Google Pixel 7Pro
The Pixel design by Google is exciting and flagship-grade, to say the least. It includes a similar glass setup to the OnePlus 11 and was launched last year, but it is safely the most intuitive android phone to use. This is authentic vanilla android as cooked by Google. The software is the main king compared to the hardware. Hardware is no slouch at 6.7-inch LTPO 2K AMOLED 1500nits max bright panel with excellent touch response. The Tensor SOC is no match to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 of the others, but this time around is much more balanced for all the multitasking expected out of a flagship device.
It gets an IP68 rating for water and dust protection like Samsung and Apple devices with similar wireless and reverses wireless charging despite no charger in the retail box. This is the only phone among the lot with low UFS 3.1 storage compared to UFS 4.0 on others despite LDDR5 RAM on all of the contenders. The most impressive feature on Pixel devices, apart from the fantastic ML AI algorithms throughout the UI, must be the 50MP OIS primary camera, 48MP OIS (5x) telephoto and 12MP ultrawide camera with an autofocusing 4K recording 10.8MP front camera. The battery on the Pixel 7Pro is 5000mAh, and WiFi 6E makes it apt for heavy users.
We consumed some media, and honestly, there is nothing as impressive as a Samsung display. No wonder iPhones get their displays from Samsung. Isolated, the OnePlus and Pixel 7Pro bring a large, crisp, colour-rich display viewing experience. Outdoor viewing was never an issue on any phone while being the best on the S23 Ultra. The colour balance in dim conditions showed some flaws on the OnePlus 11 and Pixel 7Pro. No such issues with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
The camera setup on all the phones is interesting and different in their own hardware and algorithms. Here are some camera samples clicked in auto from the same distance as the other phones. 10X samples, ultrawide, front camera samples and more for your perusal. The Ultra wins hands down in the portrait department with a clean cut out on my hair. The Pixel algorithm has a mind of its own at times and selects colours it likes that are far from reality. Samsung and Pixel perform great at video stabilisation, while the OnePlus 11 struggles to maintain stability. Night photography is more than satisfactory on all the phones, with the Galaxy S23 Ultra and OnePlus 11 being marginally better than the Pixel 7Pro.
In night photography, the OnePlus Hasselblad setup works wonders, followed by S23 Ultra, and then the Pixel makes things appear as it wants. Pixel photos look great outdoors, but the OnePlus and Samsung somehow manage better details in photos and videos. Let us know in the comments which would be your phone of choice for capturing memorable moments.
Performance and Processors
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is finally catching up with Apple’s processing power. Both the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and the OnePlus 11 eat up any task thrown at them. Gaming at the highest fidelity is no problem for both phones, but the Pixel 7Pro struggles on max settings. We noticed considerable frame drops, and while most games play flawlessly on all three devices, demanding titles will struggle on the Pixel 7Pro. We set a tie for the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and the OnePlus 11 regarding sheer flagship performance. Regular tasks and straining downloads were not an issue on either device. Speaking of performance, the software cannot be ignored. While the Samsung and OnePlus devices make a strong case on paper, the Pixel 7Pro is a software king among the lot. The purest form of android with all permissions running flawlessly and ML AI built inside, like most iPhones, the Pixel 7Pro flies miles above any other android device when it comes to phone UI and app usage. This year, Samsung has a trick up its sleeve with social media platforms, especially Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok (where it’s still not banned). The collaboration allows these apps to use the Samsung camera algorithms inside their apps, allowing them to shoot at full fidelity offered by the improved Samsung Galaxy S23 series camera setup. Battery life on all these phones is more than adequate for a typical work day and then some with all sporting ultra battering saving modes.
Which one should you buy?
This is a tricky question, especially with such amazing products from all the brands. All the phones are amazing packages. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra brings unique functionality to people who want the S-Pen along with hardware and software that surpass most spec sheets on any smartphone. The OnePlus 11 is a tough competition, but the hardware and software package cuts corners, acceptable for the price. Speaking of which, the Google flagship Pixel 7Pro still proves to be the best software package with amazing AI and ML capabilities on the hardware and HDR-rich images. One cannot go wrong with either phone, and all the phone manufacturers make the Android phone market better than ever. If the price was not a bar, there is nothing in a clamshell design that matches the sheer functionality, self-charging S-Pen, premium experience and a well-rounded flagship like the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. If money does a concern, the S23 series, OnePlus 11 and, to some extent, even the Pixel 7Pro are great options. All offer ad-free user experience and flagship-grade performance in daily use. Our winner among these Android flagships is the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. OnePlus 11 offers good functionality but misses out on some essential features that make flagship phones desirable, but the cameras are much better than predecessors. Google’s Pixel 7Pro is up for an update, but the overall Android UI with intelligent features like whispering “stop” to stop an alarm make it the smartest Android phone in the Indian market.