Samsung's aim with the Galaxy S23 Ultra is to offer the ultimate camera experience for professional photographers and filmmakers. Although the author is not a professional in the field, after using the device for a few days, it is evident that Samsung continues to excel in areas such as low-light photography and has even taken it to a higher level.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is priced at $1,200 (£1,249, AU$1,949), with the rest of Samsung's new phone lineup, including the Galaxy S23 at $800 and the Galaxy S23 Plus at $1,000. With its large screen, high cost, and advanced camera features, the S23 Ultra may not be suitable for the average consumer, much like last year's Galaxy S22 Ultra.
The name "Ultra" speaks for itself, as this phone is designed for those who want a phone that goes above and beyond. Compared to the Galaxy S23 and S23 Plus, the Ultra boasts a higher zoom magnification, a stylus stored within the phone, and a massive 6.8-inch screen larger than the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Google Pixel 7 Pro. Although these features may be excessive, the author believes that after using the phone, one would understand the appeal.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Camera
The S23 Ultra's camera is the centerpiece of Samsung's latest offering, and its unveiling at the Unpacked presentation emphasized this. The device features a 200-megapixel sensor for the first time, a technical improvement from the 108-megapixel main camera in the S22 Ultra.
Users can choose to shoot photos at resolutions of 12 megapixels, 50 megapixels, or 200 megapixels, and adjust these settings in the camera app. The Expert Raw app is now integrated into the native camera app, which can be downloaded for the first time. Raw shooting allows photographers to edit the full, uncompressed version of an image, providing more flexibility and data for color and exposure adjustments.
Improvements in color, dynamic range, autofocus, and low-light performance are more significant than the resolution bump. Samsung claims that the new image sensor reduces noise and enhances color tones and details with improved algorithms. These improvements are particularly emphasized in video recording and low-light photography but are also noticeable in general still photography. These changes are more apparent to the naked eye than the increase in resolution.
The most striking differences I observed in the 200-megapixel photos compared to the 108-megapixel images captured on the Galaxy S22 Ultra pertained to color. The photos of flowers appeared in more vivid shades of orange, and the trees looked lusher. The resolution difference is only discernible when you zoom in to the point where you can see the actual size of the pixels.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Performance
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, which is not unexpected given Samsung's habit of incorporating the latest Qualcomm chips in their new phones. However, what sets this phone apart is Samsung's decision to tweak the processor specifically for the S23 series. Dubbed the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy, it has been optimized for enhanced performance and energy efficiency. The standard Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 can be found in competitors like the OnePlus 11 5G.
The S23 Ultra is fast and responsive, whether I was navigating the operating system, playing games while on a video call, or running Samsung's Dex program to use my phone as a computer. I connected my S23 Ultra to an external monitor, paired a keyboard and mouse through Bluetooth, and had five apps running simultaneously, including Google Docs, and I did not encounter any delays or overheating during any of these tasks.
The S23 Ultra is also capable of quickly exporting videos, making it a convenient option for those who frequently shoot and edit video projects on their phone. In my testing, it exported a 30-second 4K video clip to 1080p three seconds faster than the S22 Ultra, and a full 10 seconds faster than the Pixel 7 Pro on average. However, the iPhone 14 Pro was slightly faster, completing the task about three seconds ahead of the S23 Ultra on average. Additionally, the base model of the Galaxy S23 Ultra has double the storage capacity (256GB versus 128GB), providing ample space for storing video projects.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Battery Life and Charging
The Galaxy S23 Ultra boasts a 5,000-mAh battery, like its predecessor, the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but the new processor is expected to improve power efficiency. After a full day of use, I found that the battery was still at 66%. This was with adaptive motion and adaptive brightness settings on, and the always-on display with the "tap to show" function enabled.
My usage during this time included taking photos, recording videos, checking emails, browsing social media, and listening to music for about 15 minutes. However, battery life will vary depending on how you use the phone.
On another day, even after recording 4K video for about half an hour, the Galaxy S23 Ultra still had about 75% of its battery left in the middle of the workday. Further battery tests are being conducted, and this review will be updated accordingly.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Design, Display, and Features
The Galaxy S23 Ultra has a design that is almost identical to that of the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It features sharp boxy edges that make it stand out from the Galaxy S23 and S23 Plus. The device comes in four new color options, including cream, green, black, and lavender. Like the previous version, it is rated IP68 for water resistance, making it suitable for submersion in up to 1.5 meters of fresh water for 30 minutes.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is a massive phone, with a 6.8-inch screen that is slightly larger than the 6.7-inch screens of the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Google Pixel 7 Pro. This device may not be for everyone, but for those who love large phones and engage in a lot of reading, gaming, photo editing, and TV watching on their device, the extra screen space will likely be appreciated. However, one-handed use may be challenging.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra comes equipped with the S Pen stylus, just like its predecessor, the Galaxy S22 Ultra. This Ultra lineup has taken over the role of the Galaxy Note series, known for its large screens and integrated stylus. You can expect a familiar S Pen experience with this device, as soon as you remove the pen from the bottom of the phone, a pop-up menu with compatible apps will appear, such as Samsung Notes and the drawing app PenUp. Although I don't typically use the S Pen often, I found myself writing notes frequently during this review.
Samsung also remains committed to providing four generations of Android OS upgrades, the same as the OnePlus 11 and surpasses Google's three-year promise for the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro. All three companies, Samsung, OnePlus, and Google, offer five years of security updates for their latest devices. This means that you can rest assured that the S23 Ultra's software will not become outdated soon, as it launches with Android 13 and Samsung's One UI 5.1 software.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Specifications
|Display size, tech, resolution, refresh rate||6.8-inch AMOLED; 3,088x1,440 pixels; 120Hz|
|Pixel density||500 ppi|
|Dimensions (inches)||6.43 x 3.07 x 0.35 in|
|Dimensions (millimeters)||163.3 x 78 x 8.9 mm|
|Weight (ounces, grams)||234 g (8.25 oz)|
|Mobile software||Android 13|
|Camera||200-megapixel (main), 12-megapixel (ultrawide) 10-megapixel (telephoto) 10-megapixel (telephoto)|
|Processor||Galaxy-optimized Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2|
|RAM/storage||12GB + 256GB; 12GB + 512GB; 12GB + 1TB|
|Battery/charging speeds||5,000 mAh (45W wired charging)|
|Special features||5G (mmw/Sub6), IP68 rating, faster-wired charging, wireless PowerShare to charge other devices, integrated S-Pen, 200x Space Zoom, 10x Optical Zoom, UWB for finding other devices|
|US price off-contract||$1,200 (12GB/256GB) Buy Now|
|UK price||£1,249 (12GB/256GB)|
|Australia price||AU$1,949 (12GB/256GB)|