Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Review: The best that the Android world has to offer
For years, Samsung's Ultra phones have been about the bleeding edge when it comes to what a smartphone can offer. It is the flag bearer for camera tech in a smartphone, usually has the best display on a smartphone, and comes with top-tier parts. Some features, like the 100x zoom on Samsung's flagships are unchallenged, while others like the inbuilt stylus offer versatility that no other mass market smartphone offers.
Last year, this commitment to offering the most premium smartphone resulted in the S22 Ultra, a phone that had arguably the most competent camera system on a smartphone. And, true to form, it offered fans of Samsung's 'Note' series the S Pen to amplify productivity. Personally, I don't see much of a reason to use a stylus on a smartphone. But I have seen a number of people use it and make it a tool for getting more done on a smartphone. Even if those users are a minority, Samsung's Ultra phones are about offering everything you could possibly ask for. Frankly, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, as other Samsung Ultra phones before it, may be overkill for most people. And that’s true this year as well.
The headline figure, something Samsung is using a lot in its marketing, is 200. 200MP is the resolution of the primary wide camera. While for the most part, pixel binning would result in images being stored in smaller, more manageable sizes, it does open up opportunities for the main sensor. The megapixel count, regardless of what size you choose to capture, will still mean that there will be more light captured and more information extracted from any given scene. This does result in much sharper images in low light scenarios – something the S22 Ultra already did well. The S23 Ultra just takes that to another level.
More than just the resolution bump, there are under the hood improvements that should make a bigger difference to the camera system. There’s updates to the colour science, dynamic range and autofocus capabilities that are very noticeable. The S23 Ultra, right off the bat, produces warmer, more vibrant colours, auto focuses quicker and is particularly good when capturing shots where HDR plays a key role – shadows and highlights are very well handled. The colour science might lead the colours of the photos to look a little less natural, but it does make most images a lot more vibrant and that’s something a lot of people appreciate in a smartphone camera. There are updates to the selfie camera as well. While the megapixel count has gone down substantially from 50MP to 12MP, there is a perceptible improvement in terms of the images that it produces. The images are sharp and colours are on point.
Build quality, as you'd expect from a Samsung flagship, remains top-notch. The power and volume buttons are clicky and tactile, the shell seems solid and all the materials, from the Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on the front to the gun-metal gray edges and the beautifully finished back come together very well. The edges have been curved a tiny bit and thar makes holding the the S23 Ultra a lot easier. In fact, the S23 Ultra is easier to hold and use with one hand than most other phones this large.
The exceptional display has been a hallmark of Samsung flagships and that is true here as well. It gets incredibly bright (1750 nits), has QHD+ resolution and reproduces colours very accurately. The adaptive brightness, unlike some other smartphones, works imperceptibly and gets sufficiently bright factoring in the ambient light. This was evident when I was on a flight and the adaptive brightness accounted for the bright sunlight streaming through the windows with minimal delay, dimming just as quickly when not in direct sunlight.
Samsung has worked closely with Qualcomm on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip in the S23 Ultra. Both companies claim that there are chip level improvements. Performance as a whole, is again, phenomenal. It is legitimately difficult to find a scenario where the S23 Ultra doesn't sail through. You can even connect the S23 Ultra to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse if the 6.8-inch screen seems too puny.
The capacity of the battery is the same at 5000mAh and you can continue to power through a day and a bit of usage with it. Samsung, as it has been for the last few years, continues to be conservative when it comes to charging speed with the S23 Ultra getting 45W fast charging capability. While not high when compared to a number of Android devices, it has to be mentioned that the slower charging speed should help with battery preservation.
As with other Samsung Ultra devices before it, it comes across as a device that most people want and desire for, rather than something you need. It offers the very best that the Android world offers, and in some aspects it sails over every other smartphone. Samsung has improved on the already stellar S22 Ultra there is absolutely no reason to not recommend the S23 Ultra to someone looking for a flagship smartphone in 2023.