A Comprehensive Look at the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Features, Pros and Cons
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (starts at $1,199.99) has the Galaxy Note flashlight as the only smartphone in Samsung’s lineup with the S Pen stylus. The company takes the kitchen sink approach with the S23 Ultra; it has just about every feature a flagship phone buyer could want, including high-end hardware, an excellent screen, blistering performance, and top-notch cameras. Its oversized footprint and price make us pause for a moment, but many buyers are likely to overlook these compromises for such a capable phone. If you don’t need the stylus or the extra cameras, the slightly smaller and more affordable Galaxy S23+ (starting at $999.99) might serve you better. But if you want it all, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is our Editors’ Choice winner for high-end Android phones.
The new phone will get at least five years of software updates from launch, including four major Android version updates and monthly security patches. Samsung has drastically improved the speed and availability of updates for older devices in recent years, meaning most of its top phones made in recent years already use One UI 5.1.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Is Now Global
The phone charges fully in just under 60 minutes and reaches 70% in half an hour with a USB-C fast charger of 45W or more (not included). It also supports 15W wireless charging.
Unusually for Samsung, all Galaxy S23 models use the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip from Qualcomm, regardless of where they are sold. In the past, most regions, including the UK and Europe, used Samsung’s slightly weaker chips, while the US used Qualcomm’s.
The new chip is, therefore, a big deal for consumers in Europe, as it not only improves overall gaming performance by up to 35% but also runs much more efficiently, stays cool under heavy workloads and significantly extends battery life.
The S23 Ultra lasts more than 52 hours between charges, making it one of the longest-lasting smartphones I’ve tested alongside Apple’s iPhone 14 Plus. That was where the screen was actively used for more than six hours and spent at least an hour a day on 5G, the rest of the time on WiFi. Heavy gaming sessions drained battery life, but the phone survived even the heaviest days of general use with about 30% left in the tank.
I do not doubt that nearly three days of battery life is achievable with more economical use. Disabling the always-on display adds about 10% to battery life.
An Impressive Screen
The S23 Ultra has one of the best screens you can find on a smartphone. While Samsung has only made minimal improvements to the screen compared to last year, it still delivers an excellent experience.
Samsung opts for a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display with an adaptive refresh rate of 120Hz, which helps balance power and performance. The screen can dynamically change the refresh rate from 1 Hz to 120 Hz depending on the activity to save battery or allow smooth scrolling. It has a QHD+ resolution (3,088 by 1,440), for a pixel density of 501ppi. The Pixel 7 Pro has a slightly higher pixel density at 512ppi, while the iPhone 14 Pro Max is lower at 460ppi. The S23 and S23+ have screens of 6.1 and 6.6 inches, respectively, and 120 Hz with FHD+ resolution (2,340 by 1,080 pixels).
The real upgrade is the brightness. The display delivers between 1200 nits (normal) and 1750 nits (external peak). That’s dramatically better than last year’s S22 Ultra’s maximum of 1,200 nits, though it falls short of the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s 1,600 nits (standard) and 2,000 nits (external peak). I’ve held the S23 Ultra and 14 Pro Max side by side outside in direct sunlight and the iPhone looks slightly brighter, but not enough to give it a serious competitive edge. In any case, the screen of the S23 Ultra is visible, even in the harshest lighting conditions.
Samsung allows a lot of customization. First, you can change the resolution between QHD+, FHD+, and HD+ depending on whether you want to see all the pixels or save power. You can also take advantage of adaptive brightness, blue light settings, color profiles, text and icon scaling, Samsung’s Edge panels (application shortcuts), navigation bar (for gestures), touch sensitivity, and screen savers. Adjusting this leads to a more personalized experience.
The selfie camera stops the screen at the top, but the bezels between the screen and the metal bezel are so thin they’re practically nonexistent.
Showcase competition is fierce at the top end of the market, but the S23 Ultra impresses and performs well against its main rivals.
S Pen performance
The S Pen stylus continues to differentiate the S23 Ultra from the S23 and S23+. The S Pen fits into a slot on the bottom of the phone on the left side. Gentle pressure loosens the head of the pen, making it easy to grab and slide out.
The S Pen is small. It has a slightly flat profile and a matte finish to improve grip. A utility button on one side allows for a variety of actions, such as fast-forwarding PowerPoint slides or triggering the camera shutter (this is handy). Samsung hasn’t claimed any improvements to the S Pen’s responsiveness this year. That said, it’s still the best stylus experience you’ll get from a modern smartphone. It’s an incredibly fluid experience, and the small nib feels sturdy when you write on the glass.
The S23 Ultra has the same S Pen-focused software suite as the S22. This means features such as Smart Select (for fetching items from web pages), Translate (for selecting and translating text), S Pen for Text (for transcribing), and Air Actions (for motion-based control) are all available, without new ones. functionality.
The only major update is tighter integration with Google apps on the S23 Ultra. Notably, more text fields in Google apps like Gmail, Chrome, and Maps support S Pen input. In practice, many of the text fields you want to write in are small and require an extra tap to activate the feature. However, if you’re in pen mode and don’t want to put down the S Pen to enter text in certain fields, this can come in handy. You won’t find a thinner or more powerful stylus on any other phone.
Hardened aluminum and the latest Victus 2 Gorilla Glass make the S23 Ultra more durable, but most will want a case and something like a Popsocket.
Samsung doesn’t give an expected battery life, but it should last more than 500 full charge cycles with at least 80% of its original capacity.
The phone is generally usable. Screen repairs cost around £260, while the battery can be replaced at authorized service centers. Samsung offers a self-repair program in the US, but not in the EU or UK. The phone scores up to 6 out of 10 in iFixit’s repairability ranking.
It contains recycled material in 12 components – twice as many as last year – including aluminum, glass, and plastic. Samsung offers trade-in and recycling programs for old devices. The company publishes annual sustainability reports, but no impact assessments for individual products.
Camera – Pixel Challenger
Samsung usually reserves its best camera tech for the Galaxy S series and the S23 Ultra takes things to a new level. The phone has a slew of cameras (five!) that take photos as good as – and sometimes better than – the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max and Google Pixel 7 Pro.
Last year’s Galaxy S22 Ultra featured a 108MP ISOCELL HP1 sensor. This year, Samsung upgraded the S23 Ultra to a 200MP ISOCELL HP2 sensor. The 200 million pixels are packed on a 1/1.3-inch chip, each measuring 0.6 µm. The phone shoots out of the box at 12.5MP, breaking down pixels by a factor of 16 to 1. You can choose to take 50 MP photos or 200 MP photos if you want. They provide more information for finer details, but potentially more noise. The main lens has an aperture of f/1.7 and benefits from optical image stabilization (OIS) and laser autofocus. Samsung says it has increased the area the sensor can cover during the movement of the phone to account for a wider range of stabilization. In other words, you should take better pictures when your hands are shaking compared to the S22 Ultra.
In addition to this main camera, the S23 Ultra also has a 12MP ultrawide camera at f/2.2, a 10MP 3x telephoto with OIS at f/2.4, a 10MP 10x periscopic telephoto at f/4.9 and a 12MP selfie camera with phase detection. detect autofocus at f/2.2. While the three additional rear cameras are carried over from the S22 Ultra, the new selfie camera is a significant upgrade over last year’s model’s 40MP camera.
The new sensor along with Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 supports multiple shooting modes such as Adaptive Pixel, Auto Framing, Director’s View, High-Resolution Photo, Multi-Exposure, Nightography, Selfie Night Portrait, and Super HDR. There are also the basics, including slow motion, hyper-lapse, panning, and food. If you want to fantasize, you can use Pro mode to take full control of aspects such as shutter speed, exposure, and ISO, and Expert Raw to capture images with more detail for advanced editing afterwards.
How are the photos? Extraordinary. We’ve shot in a variety of environments and lighting conditions, and suffice it to say the photos look pretty good. The camera is a small step up from the S22 Ultra and almost comparable to the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Pixel 7 Pro. Which is best for you depends a bit on what you want from your phone. The Galaxy boosts the colors but shows excellent exposure and HDR. The iPhone takes warmer photos that are sometimes a bit softer.
Same Battery, Longer Life
The Galaxy S23 Ultra has the same 5,000mAh battery as last year’s S22 Ultra. Despite the unchanged capabilities, the 2023 phone outperforms the 2022 model, albeit not by much.
In our battery life test, which consists of looping a YouTube video over Wi-Fi at the phone’s maximum brightness, the S23 Ultra lasted 13 hours and 11 minutes. That’s a nice increase from the S22 Ultra’s 12 hours and 14 minutes and the Pixel 7 Pro’s 10 hours and 30 minutes, though well below the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s 19 hours.
How did Samsung manage to improve battery life despite the same battery capacity and a brighter screen? The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is likely playing a part here, as it’s capable of performing computing tasks more efficiently than the S22 Ultra’s 8 Gen 1 SoC.
In more anecdotal terms, the S23 Ultra easily got through a full day of heavy use with enough charge in the tank. I would expect most people to see 1.5 days of battery life with average use.
The phone does not charge faster than the previous version. It supports the same 45W wired and 15W wireless charging speeds as the S22 Ultra. The phone also doesn’t come with a charger, so you’ll need to get one. We tested it with a 45W charger and a 25W charger and saw charging times of 71 minutes and 81 minutes respectively. That’s faster than charging an iPhone 14 Pro Max (90 minutes), but not as fast as the OnePlus 11 5G (27 minutes).
Android at its second best
The Galaxy S23 Ultra ships with Android 13 and Samsung’s One UI 5.1 user interface. Android 13 is a good base layer for the S23 Ultra. Samsung has spread its software across the top, meaning Android 13 on the S23 Ultra is nothing like Android 13 on Google’s Pixel 7 Pro.
There’s not much new here for the S23 Ultra other than minor tweaks to the phone’s customization options. For example, there’s a new home screen widget system and a new video lock screen option. There are a handful of new modes and routines that you can switch between depending on where you are or the time of day. This is useful, for example, if you need to concentrate on your work. Samsung has also revised the Bixby Text Call feature, making it easier to generate text-to-audio replies to incoming phone calls. Finally, Samsung has tightened the screws around its Knox security suite, which is more business-friendly than ever.
There’s no question that Samsung’s software is powerful, though it can be overwhelming. You might prefer the simpler functionality of Google or Motorola’s Android versions, but you can’t deny the sheer amount of features available on the S23 Ultra and One UI 5.
However, what will most affect S23 Ultra owners is Samsung’s commitment to system and security updates. The company promises four OS updates (to Android 17) and five years of security updates. That’s better than Google’s promise for Pixel phones, which only get three OS updates.
Finally, Samsung has made sure that all three of its new Galaxy phones integrate tightly with its latest Galaxy Book laptops. A variety of features allow Samsung phones and laptops to talk to each other for things like copying and pasting text, syncing web browser history and passwords, connecting seamlessly via mobile hotspot, and sending text messages from your laptop.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S23 ULTRA PERFORMANCE
The Galaxy S23 Ultra packs an exclusive version of Qualcomm’s new chip called the Snapdragon 8 Gen for Galaxy. Samsung promises that this processor can deliver even higher clock speed than the standard version of the chip, going as high as 3.36 GHz.
Samsung also promises the world’s fastest mobile graphics in a phone. We’ve run several Galaxy S23 Ultra benchmarks, and the results are quite strong. In fact, the S23 Ultra beats the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max on graphics.
|Row 0 – Cell 0||CPU||Single-core||Multicore|
|Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra||Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy||1396||4882|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||A16 Bionic||1882||5333|
|iPhone 14 Pro||A16 Bionic||1891||5469|
|iPhone 14||A15 Bionic||1727||4553|
|Galaxy S22 Ultra||Snapdragon 8 Gen 1||1240||3392|
Geekbench measures CPU performance, both in single-core and multicore applications. The Galaxy S23 handily beat the Galaxy S22 Ultra on both tests and the iPhone 14 on mult-core but not single core. The iPhone 14 Pro’s A16 Bionic is still fastest though.
|3DMark Wild Life (graphics)|
|Row 0 – Cell 0||Unlimited (FPS)||Extreme Unlimited (FPS)|
|Galaxy S23 Ultra||79.3||20.9|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||74||20|
|iPhone 14 Pro||74||19|
|Galaxy S22 Ultra||57||14|
We use 3DMark Wild Life to test the graphic performance of mobile devices. And this is where the S23 Ultra shined with its frames per second (FPS) count.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra surpassed the iPhone 14 Pro 79 fps to 74 fps on the Unlimited test and it narrowly beat the iPhone with a 20.9 to 20 fps score on the more demanding Extreme Unlimited test.
|Adobe Premiere Rush (video transcoding)|
|Row 0 – Cell 0||Time to complete (Mins:Secs)|
|Galaxy S23 Ultra||0:40|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||0:30|
|iPhone 14 Pro||0:26|
|Galaxy S22 Ultra||0:47|
In our Adobe Premiere Rush test, we transcoded a 4K video file to 1080p and timed the results. The Galaxy S23 Ultra took 40 seconds, which is 7 seconds faster than the S22 Ultra. The iPhone 14 Pro needed just 26 seconds and the Pro Max 30 seconds.
I can also say that the phone is very responsive when using the app switcher and when switching open apps on and off. The only lag I noticed was when editing a 200MP photo in the Gallery app.
So what about the actual gameplay? I played Apex Legends and the graphics were amazing and the controls were super responsive. Whether I was descending a mountain to ambush an opponent or shooting or punching enemies, the S23 Ultra never slowed down. Also, I did not notice that the device got warm even after half an hour at a time.
It’s also worth noting that the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a larger vapor cooling chamber than the Galaxy S22 Ultra, so you should see stronger sustained performance along with less heat.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra costs £1,249 ($1,199.99 / A$1,949) with 256GB of storage.
For comparison, the Galaxy S23 is £849, the S23+ is £1,049, the Z Fold 4 is £1,649, the Google Pixel 7 Pro is £749 and the iPhone 14 Pro is £1,099.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Pros and Cons
- Large, high-quality display: The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra features a large 6.8-inch AMOLED display with a 3200 x 1440 resolution, making it great for watching videos and browsing the web.
- Excellent camera performance: The phone boasts a quad-camera setup, with a 108MP primary camera, a 12MP ultra-wide camera, a 10MP periscope telephoto lens, and a 10MP telephoto lens. This combination provides excellent image quality, even in low-light conditions.
- Powerful performance: The Galaxy S23 Ultra is equipped with the latest Snapdragon or Exynos processor, ensuring fast and smooth performance.
- Long-lasting battery life: The phone has a 5000mAh battery that can last for up to a day and a half, depending on usage.
- 5G connectivity: With 5G support, the phone is future-proofed for the next generation of mobile networks.
- Expensive: The Galaxy S23 Ultra is priced on the higher end, which may not be affordable for everyone.
- Large and heavy: The phone’s 6.8-inch display and larger battery make it larger and heavier than other smartphones, which may not be comfortable for some users.
- No headphone jack: The phone doesn’t have a headphone jack, which can be inconvenient for users who prefer wired headphones.
- No expandable storage: Unlike some previous Samsung phones, the Galaxy S23 Ultra doesn’t come with a microSD card slot, which means that you can’t expand the phone’s storage capacity.
- No significant design change: The Galaxy S23 Ultra looks similar to its predecessor, which may not be appealing to those who were hoping for a significant design change.
- Main screen: 6.8 inch QHD+ Dynamic Amoled 2X (500ppi) 120Hz
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
- Working memory: 8 or 12 GB
- Storage: 256, 512 GB, or 1 TB
- Operating System: One UI 5.1 based on Android 13
- Camera: Quadruple rear: 200 MP, 12 MP ultra-wide, 10 MP 3x and 10x telephoto; 12MP front
- Connectivity: 5G, USB-C, Wi-Fi 6E, NFC, Bluetooth 5.3, UWB, and GNSS
- Water resistance: IP68 (1.5m for 30 minutes)
- Dimensions: 163.4 x 78.1 x 8.9mm
- Weight: 233g
Verdict – A Clear Winner
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is an excellent choice if you want the best of the best. The phone has an excellent screen, some of the fastest performance we’ve ever seen, great battery life, powerful software with S Pen stylus integration, and a top-notch camera package. However, it’s a giant phone and might not suit users with smaller hands (or pockets). Plus, with a starting price of $1,199.99, it might also be out of reach financially. The Pixel 7 Pro will save you $300 (though you’ll lose the S Pen), while the iPhone 14 Pro Max will save you just $100 (and you’ll need to run iOS). Meanwhile, the Galaxy S23 and S23+ offer many of the same Ultra features in smaller, cheaper bodies. But if you want it all, the Galaxy S23 Ultra earns our Editor’s Choice award.