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Carrying the weight of wanting to be the best Android of the year in the middle of February is not an easy task. Samsung presented its Galaxy S23 Ultra on February 1, a continuous evolution that breaks with a tradition of notable changes in the rear design and technical sheet. This is a year of refinement, discarding what worked and attempting to polish flaws.
This a risky formula for a device that increases its final bill by 150 euros and whose main arguments are a new 200-megapixel camera and a processor that we have been waiting for for a long time. Throughout this analysis, we will verify whether this will be enough to be the best phone of the moment. A little preview: sometimes less is more.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Review and Full Phone Specifications
For the design of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, we will try to pass with a certain lightness since it is practically identical to what we saw in the last generation. Samsung broke away from camera modules with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra to embrace a more minimalist design where the cameras stick out of the body.
The rear part has the same touch and sensations as last year. A matte finish, in which the fingerprints are somewhat marked, and the dust is trapped in the enormous lenses. Something similar happens with the edges. They are shiny aluminum, so it is easy to micro-scratch them and make them catch fingerprints. Although there is more recycled aluminum this year than ever, we must emphasize that the feeling is still just as premium.
The button panel is still solid, with the same problem as last year: it’s a massive mobile with too high buttons. It is impossible to reach the volume keypad comfortably; the only accessible button is the unlock button. The plus side is that they are also covered in aluminum and do not dance or play in any way. The sides of the device are now completely flat, losing the slight curvature of last year.
If we turn it around, we’ll find a small change for the better. Samsung is no longer betting on the curves, and although this Galaxy S23 Ultra is not entirely flat, it reminds us more of a panel with a slight 2.5D curvature than an edge panel. Now our finger directly touches the screen frame and not the screen itself, so the problems with ghost touches are minimized (or rather, disappeared). Frontal use is 89.5%, compared to 90.2% last year.
Do not be fooled by the numbers since the curved panels adulterate this figure. Frontal use is very well done, although we still find a small lower chin that is noticeably higher than the top frame. It’s a minor detail, given the all-screen feel this device offers.
Finally, if we talk about ergonomics, there are pros and cons. This year’s mobile is a little more comfortable. The lack of an exaggerated curvature makes it more ergonomic, though the very cornered and angular design puts it behind its siblings, the Galaxy S23 and S23+. It is not a greater evil, and any case will soften the impact of its corners in the palm of our hand. In short, the same as last year, with a less curved front.
It’s good not to touch what already works, except when your direct rival works better. The panel of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is (almost) the same as the previous generation. 6.8 inches, dynamic AMOLED, an adaptive refresh rate of up to 120 Hz, and a maximum brightness peak of 1,750 nits. Before talking about the general behavior of the panel, we will delve into the point of full brightness.
Last year, the panel was displayed more or less correctly in the sun. Nothing can change this year with the exact peak brightness figure. The critical point here is that, at least on a numerical level, Samsung has always stood out for offering the highest brightness compared to its competition. Last year, Apple broke the 2,000-nit barrier with its iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max. At the very least, we expected that Samsung would match this number. Because yes, it is noticeable when a panel has a brightness of 2,000 nits in the sun.
This is not just any mobile. It is a smartphone that aspires to be the best on the market, and we expect the most daring technologies. Despite this, the panel of the S23 Ultra is still, with a high probability, the best screen we can use on a mobile with Android. It repels reflections well, has excellent minimum brightness, the automatic brightness works flawlessly, and the sharpness in QHD+ is impressive (although the mobile is set to Full HD+ by default, something that should start to change).
The slight curvature has not been annoying, although it continues to cast the small and inevitable shadow that this type of panel generates. The curve disappearance has not been annoying with a cover, although it continues to throw the small and inescapable shadow that this type of panel causes. With a body, the curve disappears. According to a server, perfection would have been a flat panel in the style of the S23.
The calibration options are the same as last year, with the opportunity to adjust the white balance only in Vivid mode. We’ve noticed that this panel performs better in terms of a problem that Samsung has been dragging its feet on for generations: the blue tint of its panels. It is a handicap that is appreciated when slightly tilting the device.
With the S22 Ultra, it improved; in this generation, we have had another small leap. We still don’t have the best viewing angles, and blue is still present, but at least we know that work is being done in that direction. As usual with Samsung, we Always have On Display mode and Edge content that we can call up from the corners of the device, and this year we have improvements to eye protection modes. Screen colors are automatically adjusted based on the time of day to make reading more comfortable.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has the combination required of all high-end products: double stereo speakers and Dolby Atmos. Sound is one of the strengths of this generation. There is an outstanding commitment to high and medium tones rather than bass, although we liked the low distortion in the higher volume ranges and the clarity with which we hear the audio.
I cannot deny my excitement for this day. The day I tested a Samsung flagship with a Qualcomm processor, only a few versions of the Galaxy FE had reached Europe, far from the clutches of Exynos. It is now the turn of the best Samsung smartphone. The chosen processor is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, one of the best processors Qualcomm has ever made. In particular, for this Galaxy, the clock frequencies of both the CPU and the GPU have been increased.
The CPU increases the clock speed from 3.2 GHz of the standard version to 3.36 GHz. The same happens in the GPU, which goes from 680 MHz to 719 MHz. Later, in the performance tests, we will tell you about the implications of this overclock. Our reviewed unit features 12 GB of LPDDR5X RAM and 256 GB of UFS 4.0, and we can only speak highly of the raw performance.
Light-duty, heavy-duty, and 8K recording This Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is fluid, and the raw power ensures that One UI does not hinder performance in general terms (in the software section, we will talk about a small but). Last year, we had graphical problems with the AMD GPU in games like “Genshin Impact” or “PUBG New State.” All of the games are flying this year. We have measured the stability of the FPS in proposals such as “New State” with the graphics in Ultra and HDR, keeping the line of 60 FPS relatively flat.
Let’s talk about synthetic tests since, in this case, there is a lot of cloth to cut. This Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor is much more efficient than the last generation. This Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor is much more efficient than the previous generation. We achieved 99.8% stability in sustained GPU performance in mobiles such as the OnePlus 11, which shows that this processor shines with an adequate cooling system.
Samsung has nearly tripled the size of its vapor chamber (2.7 times more significant) in this S23 Ultra, but being clocked that high makes it harder to sustain performance. In tests like Geekbench, we have obtained a brutal single-core score, much higher than that of the OnePlus 11. It also performed flawlessly in our CPU stress test, with higher average and peak scores than we’ve ever seen before.
It is in the demanding 3DMark stress test where it can be seen that the sustained performance is not so impeccable. We obtained the highest score in one pass, but the performance drop was not so impeccable as the test progressed. We got the highest score in one pass, but the performance dropped as the trial continued. How far has it fallen? Up to figures close to the peak performance of a Snapdragon 888. This represents a stability of 78.5%, which is still remarkable.
What does this data mean? The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has the most potent Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. However, this power ends up not being fully exploited since it is complex to maintain those peaks of raw performance. Despite these technicalities, the mobile is a beast that can handle everything, and we can only classify its performance as outstanding. At a thermal level, we have noticed that it acquires heat quickly, although it keeps the temperature relatively stable.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Specifications and Prices
|GSM / CDMA / HSPA / EVDO / LTE / 5G
|2023, February 01
|Available. Released 2023, February 17
|163.4 x 78.1 x 8.9 mm (6.43 x 3.07 x 0.35 in)
|234 g (8.25 oz)
|Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus 2), glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus 2), aluminum frame
|Nano-SIM and eSIM or Dual SIM (2 Nano-SIMs and eSIM, dual stand-by)
|IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 min)
Armor aluminum frame with tougher drop and scratch resistance (advertised)
Stylus (Bluetooth integration, accelerometer, gyro)
|Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1200 nits (HBM), 1750 nits (peak)
|6.8 inches, 114.7 cm2 (~89.9% screen-to-body ratio)
|1440 x 3088 pixels (~500 ppi density)
|Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2
|Android 13, One UI 5.1
|Qualcomm SM8550-AC Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (4 nm)
|Octa-core (1×3.36 GHz Cortex-X3 & 2×2.8 GHz Cortex-A715 & 2×2.8 GHz Cortex-A710 & 3×2.0 GHz Cortex-A510)
|256GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 12GB RAM, 512GB 12GB RAM, 1TB 12GB RAM
|200 MP, f/1.7, 24mm (wide), 1/1.3″, 0.6µm, multi-directional PDAF, Laser AF, OIS
10 MP, f/4.9, 230mm (periscope telephoto), 1/3.52″, 1.12µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS, 10x optical zoom
10 MP, f/2.4, 70mm (telephoto), 1/3.52″, 1.12µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom
12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 120˚ (ultrawide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, Super Steady video
|LED flash, auto-HDR, panorama
|8K@24/30fps, 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 1080p@960fps, HDR10+, stereo sound rec., gyro-EIS
|12 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), Dual Pixel PDAF
|Dual video call, Auto-HDR, HDR10+
|Yes, with stereo speakers
Tuned by AKG
|Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6e, tri-band, Wi-Fi Direct
|5.3, A2DP, LE
|GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO
|USB Type-C 3.2, OTG
|Fingerprint (under display, ultrasonic), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer
|Samsung DeX, Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support)
Bixby natural language commands and dictation
Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified)
Ultra Wideband (UWB) support
|Li-Ion 5000 mAh, non-removable
|45W wired, PD3.0, 65% in 30 min (advertised)
15W wireless (Qi/PMA)
4.5W reverse wireless
|Phantom Black, Green, Cream, Lavender, Graphite, Sky Blue, Lime, Red, BMW M Edition
|SM-S918B, SM-S918B/DS, SM-S918U, SM-S918U1, SM-S918W, SM-S918N, SM-S9180, SM-S918E, SM-S918E/DS
|1.12 W/kg (head) 0.92 W/kg (body)
|0.96 W/kg (head) 1.40 W/kg (body)
|$ 1,100.00 / € 1,299.00 / £ 999.00 / ₹ 124,999 / C$ 1,649.98
|AnTuTu: 1241531 (v9)
GeekBench: 4927 (v5.1)
GFXBench: 67fps (ES 3.1 onscreen)
|Contrast ratio: Infinite (nominal)
|Photo / Video
|-25.6 LUFS (Very good)
Endurance rating 126h
Android 13 with One UI 5.1 and five years of updates ahead, four systems, and five security Samsung is starting to do quite well with its software. One UI is still a ROM with lights and shadows. On a functional level, it is one of the best (if not the best) solutions of the moment.
On an aesthetic level, it leaves us with mixed feelings. Although it includes the automatic Material You themes and the settings have been redesigned to be cleaner and more precise, the interface is still very Samsung, far from the minimalism of Google’s stock ROM. This does not have to be a problem if we are attracted to this somewhat overloaded interface.
This means the notification bar is still “the old” Android, with the classic row of six shortcuts and no integration of apps that play multimedia content. The launcher is the same as always, with an app drawer invoked with an upward gesture and Google Discover on the left. We experienced some lag when opening Discover, a scourge caused by heavy ROMs.It’s not consistent, but when we haven’t opened it for a while, and it has to reload certain information, we usually notice a little jerk when accessing this information screen. It is the only performance problem we have found with this Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
For the rest, One UI 5.1 arrives loaded with news. Expert RAW is now integrated into the camera app, as we will detail later. The gallery also has improvements, such as extracting content from the photos with just one click (is that you, iOS? ). The metadata of the images is more complete than ever (something relevant to know which path the content we are on), and we have improvements in the weather app, cleaner settings, etc.
We liked this interpretation of one UI. It’s still a heavy and resource-hungry ROM, but with this processor and 12 GB of RAM, it’s not too much of a problem. We want Samsung to move towards a cleaner system, but the average company buyer will likely demand a ROM full of options.
ISOCELL HP This is the absolute protagonist of the photographic section: the new camera sensor that arrives to improve the results of a Samsung that achieved a good grade in our great photographic comparison, thanks above all to its zoom, but fell behind in the rest of the points.
Primary camera: 200-megapixel sensor (1/1.3″), phase detection autofocus, 23mm equivalent, optical stabilization, laser focus, f/1.7 aperture value, and 0.6-m photodiodes.
Ultra-wide angle: 12-megapixel sensor, Dual Pixel technology, autofocus, 13mm equivalent, f/2.2 aperture value, and 1.4 m photodiodes.
Telephoto lens 1: 10-megapixel sensor, Dual Pixel technology, autofocus, 3x optical zoom, 69mm equivalent, optical stabilization, f/2.4 aperture value, and 1.12 m photodiodes.
Telephoto lens 2: 10 megapixels, Dual Pixel technology, autofocus, 10x optical zoom, 230mm equivalent, optical stabilization, f/4.9 aperture value, and 1.12 m photodiodes.
Except for the primary sensor, the rest of the sensors are identical. However, we already anticipate that photography is not the same since the hardware is not the only thing that determines the behavior of a camera. But first, let’s go over the app.
The interface is identical to last year, with the mode carousel at the bottom, optional settings at the top, and no integration with Google Lens, something we don’t fully understand with Google being one of its main partners Samsung. One of the changes in this generation is that Expert RAW is now integrated into the camera interface.
The app is still downloaded from the Samsung store, but we can invoke it from the advanced menu. This is the app to make the most of the Samsung sensor, although later, we will discuss the differences between shooting in Expert RAW and shooting in Pro mode.
The main problem with this camera app is that Samsung still doesn’t implement HDR in preview despite having integrated Qualcomm’s new ISP, the best processor, and plenty of capacity. We will not know if a photo is burned until the gallery processes it. Only Google and Apple are committed to showing a realistic preview, in which we see how the skies and highlights will look when shooting.
|RAM / Storage
The 2022 model and the Samsung S23 Ultra feature batteries with a capacity of 5,000 milliampere-hours (mAh), making the batteries in both smartphones virtually interchangeable. On the other hand, Samsung asserts that the Galaxy S3 Ultra is 20% more power efficient than its predecessor due to improvements made to both the hardware and the software integration, which enable it to squeeze out longer life from the same battery.
The S23 Ultra fulfills all the requirements for a phone considered the highest luxury, making it difficult to recommend. It has a stunning display, a solid build, and more power than you could use in a lifetime. Unfortunately, with prices beginning at $1,200, it is pretty pricey and does not significantly improve the product sold the previous year. With its brand-new 200MP sensor, I do not doubt you can shoot movies on par with those produced in Hollywood. It is essential, however, to remember that even with Samsung’s advertisements, we are dealing with a crew with years of experience, not to mention additional equipment such as external microphones, camera cages, gimbals, and a variety of other devices. The camera on the S23 Ultra offers a lot of untapped potential, but to make those features shine, you need more than just a passing familiarity with them.
Those unsure, if they should sell their existing handset after only a year may consider the following: No, it’s not worth the effort. If you only want a premium tablet and don’t care about being able to take notes with a stylus, then the Pixel 7 Pro might be a better value for you. Nevertheless, if you already have an older phone and are seeking a significant improvement, the S23 Ultra is unlike any other Android phone currently available. And with its fancy new sensor, Samsung’s 2018 flagship might be the closest thing you can get to a professional-grade camera in a phone, as long as you’re prepared to polish your content in post-production. However, this only applies if you’re willing to spend more money on the phone.