It’s tough for smartphone manufacturers to differentiate themselves from each other with every passing year. Especially at the top where every iterative improvement is scrutinised minutely by the YouTube and journalist community. The “new” Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra falls into that trap rather easily because it looks almost identical to last year’s S22 Ultra. Get up close and personal and you do realise that the S23 Ultra has a slightly flatter mid-frame, making it easier to hold. Dig into the camera settings and you see a new 200MP option, indicating another big leap in terms of resolution from 108MP last year. So how does all this add up in front of the competition?
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review
When more is more…
This could very well be the pinnacle of modern smartphone industrial design. The S23 Ultra might just be the slightest iterative upgrade over the last gen model but it’s a shape and aspect ratio that works well in the hand and the flatter sides definitely help grip it much better now. The S-Pen neatly stowing away from the bottom, leaving all the 6.8 inches of Super AMOLED real estate to be admired. And it is a screen worthy of being stared at. Inky blacks and bright, perfectly saturated colours make it a joy to watch content and play games on.
The camera lenses might have grown a smidge too to accommodate for the larger sensor but from a distance, there is nothing different here. On the inside though, there is a big change with Samsung clearly flexing its tier 1 status as Qualcomm partner with a ‘Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy’ customised chipset. It’s clocked higher and is said to better optimise performance and power efficiency. In Geekbench scores, it does race ahead of the OnePlus 11 which has the stock version of this SoC, but in everyday use, there’s not much difference you can tell just by opening different apps.
Straight up, you get the premium experience when you fire up that screen. VRR from 1-120Hz is great, but the video and sound quality really are in a class of its own with the S23 Ultra, making it a supreme content consumption device. The peak brightness of 1750nits along with a new Vision Booster algorithm that uses all of those nits when in sunny outdoor conditions makes it easy to appreciate what’s on the screen, regardless of ambient lighting conditions.
Our 12GB RAM equipped review sample also had no trouble opening heavy handed apps such as Lightroom, Real Racing and a gallery full of 200MP images. Although, compared to the iPhone 14 Pro Max, the S23 Ultra consistently was slower by a few seconds in things like applying Reel filters, saving 4K video clips and previewing LR edits.
But really, the camera is where most flagship phones offer differentiation in performance, if any, these days. The 200MP primary snapper does capture a lot of detail that helps to crop into an image, but since it’s also heavily aided by AI, some of the background objects are inconsistently sharpened (and some not). The subject however is crisp, but it does lose out on the HDR processing, so it assumes that you will be using a pro-grade photo editing app to make the most of all the pixels. If you’re into casual point and shoot stuff, the results are generally great, if not the most accurate when it comes to colours. It always brightens up the scene more than real life and the colour temperature is on the cooler side compared to the iPhone’s warmer tones. Again, this is clearly a camera tuned for life on social media where more (drama or otherwise) is better.
In Expert mode, you can switch between 12MP and 50MP too and once you download the Expert RAW app, it’s available within the native camera app. It could’ve had a better live preview in manual mode, but the results you can achieve are nothing short of stunning once you master it. The S23 Ultra keeps sharpness just on the right side of overdoing it and brightens things up perfectly so that highlights aren’t overexposed. The new sense of maturity it exhibits also allows it to take some impressive night shots, especially if you have the patience and skill to capture the night sky.
Astrophotography is the big new draw this year and while it still largely is a gimmick, the end result is genuinely likeable. Even if you don’t want to aim for the stars, Samsung’s supremacy over other brands when it comes to the everyday 3x and 10x optical zoom is easily visible and does allow you to get closer to subjects without losing detail.
Selfie cam has gone down in terms of specs from 48MP to 12MP, but the resulting images are in fact more natural looking with a high degree of feel-good factor without the skin smoothening plague from the 2020s. Even video, which is 8K/30fps capable now gets a major boost in terms of stabilisation with a system that operates over a wider FoV and it’s almost as good as Apple’s Action mode, if not better.
Strangely, Samsung has retained the 5000mAh battery but thanks to the new SoC and better power management, still claims the typically non-committal “all-day” usage. Wired charging is capped at a max capacity of 45W and you’ll have to buy the appropriate charger separately. We had absolutely no complaints with the battery life though and even with Netflix, photography, phone calls, social media doom scrolling and gaming, we had no problems making it last the day with juice to spare.
There are enough patrons of the Samsung Note series that are now moving on to the S-series for the S-pen alone and in terms of functionality, the S23 Ultra is hard to beat. It offers a premium feeling hardware with some stunningly capable cameras, but there were times when it did heat up uncomfortably to be held, took longer than a flagship phone should to process video and got beaten at colour accuracy by an iPhone. This still is the most phone any Android fanboy would want and is a pretty good one at that but it’s not enough to convert an iPhone user.
An undeniably powerful and highly functional flagship phone with great cameras. Just lacks the wow factor now.
|200MP main, 12MP+10MP+12MP, 12MP (selfie)
|6.8in Dynamic AMOLED 120Hz
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (for Samsung)