The premium smartphone segment has quite a few brands vying for their share of the pie, but when it comes to the big league, it’s a two-horse race. I’m referring to Apple and Samsung of course. Samsung’s top-end offerings include foldables, a category it ventured into a few years ago, and in 2022, it went ahead and merged its S Series and Note Series lineups into one, with the marriage resulting in the birth of the Galaxy S22 Ultra (review). That lineage continues, with the new Galaxy S23 Ultra staking claim as the rightful heir to the throne. Does it prove to be a worthy successor though? Time will tell. In this review though, I’ll try and give you an idea of its merits and foibles.
Design and display
Make no mistake about it. The Galaxy S23 Ultra looks and feels very similar to its predecessor, though that might not be a bad thing. Samsung hasn’t broken any moulds while making it for sure, and while the new model has slightly flatter slides (making it easier to hold), the overall design language is the same. It’s a large slab fashioned out of Gorilla Glass Victus 2 and armour aluminium frame that offers reassuringly solid build quality. The handset is weighty as well, and suffice it to say it’s not for you if a compact, lightweight phone is what you’re after. The 6.8-inch display up top features a punch hole in the middle and slim bezels, while the right spine holds the volume rocker and power button.
The top and bottom edges are completely flat, with the bottom being home to the S Pen silo, Type-C port, speaker and SIM tray. The rear sports the camera lenses and flash on top left, placed directly on the panel instead of a separate camera module. The overall fit and finish of the phone is excellent as expected and worthy of a Samsung premium flagship.
Apart from design, the S23 Ultra shares a few aspects with the previous model as well — including the IP68 rating, 5,000mAh battery, and 45W charging speed. Aspects like screen size and display specs, S Pen and its features, plus a bunch of others, largely remain the same. The Galaxy S23 Ultra comes equipped with Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED display that boasts adaptive refresh rate from 1 to 120Hz, 1,440 x 3,088 pixels resolution, support for HDR10+ and peak brightness levels of up to 1,750 nits. It’s a gorgeous, vivid display that’s a visual treat, no less. Everything from the basic stuff like web pages to gaming and videos come alive on the screen – it’s just that good.
The big story, as far as the Galaxy S23 Ultra is concerned, is the camera prowess. Now its predecessor was no slouch in the photography department, and can easily be counted among the best camera phones we’ve seen yet. In fact, the Galaxy S22 Ultra was crowned the Best Camera Phone of 2022 in the premium segment at the recently-concluded Indian Gadget Awards. This means that the new model has some big shoes to fill and it certainly ups the ante as far the camera specs are concerned. On offer is a new 200MP, f/1.7 primary shooter that promises significant improvements, especially in terms of detail, night photography and videography. The OIS mechanism is said to now employ a wider area, promising enhanced stabilisation. The primary shooter is accompanied by a 12MP ultra wide, a 10MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom, and another 10MP telephoto with 10x optical zoom. Digital zoom goes up to 100x. New feature additions include capabilities like Astro Hyperlapse. The front camera is actually a downgrade in terms of megapixel count, dropping to 12-megapixels from the 40MP sensor offered by the S22 Ultra. However, the selfie shooter on the S23 Ultra more than makes up for that by adding new features and capabilities like dual pixel autofocus and Super HDR.
In terms of real-world results, the Galaxy S23 Ultra delivers on most of its promises. The high-res sensor manages to bring a lot of detail, keeps noise levels low, and in general, shoots vivid photos that look pleasing to the eyes. While the difference isn’t night and day, photos shot using the Galaxy S23 Ultra look better than those captured by its predecessor, especially in terms of crispness, colour, and detail. As usual, Samsung’s colour science tilts shots towards higher saturation levels, so if you compare it with shots captured by the iPhone 14 Pro Max, some results from the latter appear more natural. That said, the Galaxy S23 Ultra offers improvements across the board — low light, selfies, and videos. Speaking of videography, the Galaxy S23 Ultra can shoot 8K at 30 fps, and in terms of real-world results, manages to close the gap with the iPhone 14 Pro Max by churning out excellent video. And when it comes to zoom, there’s really nothing better than the S23 Ultra. I wouldn’t go so far ahead as to say that the Samsung flagship is the ultimate shooter out there — there are scenarios where the Pixel 7 Pro and the iPhone 14 Pro Max fare better, but in the overall scheme of things, the Galaxy S23 Ultra gets the edge.
Samsung seems a bit quiet this time on the S Pen front, maybe because the signature stylus hasn’t received significant upgrades in terms of features. That said, the tool is there, and comes ensconced in its dedicated silo on the bottom left of the device as usual. Pop it out and you can start jotting down notes straight away, or wake up the phone and use the Air Command menu to access features like Screen Write, Smart Select, AR Doodle, Translate, etc.
I won’t get into the details of each of these, but let’s just say that the S Pen is a key differentiator for the Ultra model in the S Series lineup, and acts as a handy tool for anyone looking to amp up their productivity. It’s especially suited for creative applications but there’s really nothing better when you need to scribble a quick note or two.
On the software front, there’s Samsung’s OneUI 5.1 with Android 13. Apart from the bunch of apps from Samsung, Microsoft and Google that come pre-installed, you get access to Samsung’s signature ecosystem features like Samsung Pass, Samsung Cloud, and others. DeX is there too, and I really feel it doesn’t get as much attention as it should. In case you didn’t know, DeX lets you hook up your smartphone to a large-screen display and gives you a desktop-like environment wherein you can open apps in resizable windows — just like a laptop. A keyboard and mouse can be attached as well. With the Galaxy S23, Samsung is promising four Android OS updates and 5 years of security updates… which sound pretty good.
Performance and battery
Moving on to performance, Qualcomm’s latest and greatest, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC powers the proceedings in the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The flagship smartphone is only the third one in the country to utilise this beast of a chipset, after the iQOO 11 and the OnePlus 11… both of which are recent launches. The new chipset’s capabilities are well known by now, but Samsung does say that the SoC inside the S23 Ultra has been specially tweaked for delivering better performance and efficiency. It’d be tough to quantify that in real-world terms but the handset certainly delivers top-notch performance across various use cases — basic apps, productivity, social, multimedia and even intensive gaming.
Battery life is another feather in the cap for the S23 Ultra. The device hasn’t changed in terms of battery specs as compared to the previous model, so you still get a 5,000mAh battery pack as before. Possibly due to the new chipset’s better power efficiency and optimisations added by Samsung, the Galaxy S23 Ultra delivers a day’s worth easily, even with heavy usage. Of course, if you get into intensive and prolonged gaming sessions, you might still need a top-charge by evening. Speaking of, the news is not so great on the charging front, with the device sticking to same old 45W charging speeds as before. There’s support for 15W wireless charging and 4.5W reverse wireless charging as well.
Suffice it to say that if you’re a Galaxy S22 Ultra user, you won’t find the new model exciting. Barring the fresh SoC and the camera upgrades (which are reasonably significant but don’t justify upgrading), the latest flagship doesn’t boast a lot of new capabilities. That said, the Galaxy S23 Ultra delivers on all aspects of smartphone usage, and comes across as a solid all-rounder for anyone looking for a premium flagship, provided you can stomach the price. As things stand currently, it’s the most loaded Android smartphone on offer, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better companion in the near future.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Lovely display
- Excellent cameras
- Solid performance & battery life
- S Pen is still unmatched
- Large and heavy
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|Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5G||vs||Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max|
|Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5G||vs||Google Pixel 7 Pro 5G|