For gamers, Android is finally a close match against the iPhone in terms of raw performance. So, although the S23 Ultra might seem a bit boring at first, I think it's an extremely solid upgrade over the last generation. However, part of me feels like it isn't complete in its evolution, with a pretty mediocre 3x zoom that should have been swapped for a 5x zoom lens.
The new Galaxy S23 Ultra might not look that different, but two of the most important things – its camera and SOC – both receive pretty big upgrades this year. So now, I think the Galaxy S23 Ultra takes the best photos I’ve seen in a smartphone in most situations. For the first time in forever, an Android phone has more GPU performance than the flagship iPhone. However, there are definitely some aspects about this phone that I really wish were upgraded.
SAMSUNG Galaxy S23 Ultra 256GB Storage, 200MP Camera
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Galaxy S23 Ultra Design
The S23 Ultra’s design is definitely better than last year, with a less curved screen. You can clearly see the difference here when comparing it side by side with the S22 Ultra. It retains the benefits of a curved screen in terms of swiping along the edges, which feels very nice and smooth when using swipe gestures.
However, unlike last year, less of the screen is curved, so the edge of the screen is less affected by the curvature. It has less darkening, and when holding this phone, the curved screen and curved back together make for a much more comfortable experience than holding the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which has sharp angles on the sides. However, unlike the iPhone’s rounded bottom, the Galaxy S23 Ultra has pretty sharp 90-degree angles here, so if you often hold your phone horizontally, it might be a bit uncomfortable because it cuts into your hand. It seems like it was designed this way to better fit the S Pen. However, there are older Samsung Note phones with a curved bottom edge, so I do hope this sharp angle will be softened out at least a little bit in the future.
But in general, I really like the inclusion of the S Pen. I can pull it out and immediately start writing on the phone with the screen-off memo feature. It’s super convenient, and I use it pretty often to write down notes.
Galaxy S23 Ultra Display
Curvature aside, this is perhaps one of the best screens on a phone right now. It’s a 2K+ display with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate. However, it still cannot go as bright as the iPhone, topping out at 1750 nits. So, just like last year, it’s not too far behind the iPhone’s 2000 nits, especially since nits are measured on a log scale. However, for those super bright sunny days, more brightness will definitely help.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is just a tiny bit heavier than last year at 234 grams. So even without the stainless steel rim, it’s almost the same weight as the iPhone 14 Pro Max. You definitely don’t want to drop this thing on your face. But other than that, the S23 Ultra’s design didn’t change much from last year. It still has its individual camera cutouts, which are just slightly larger, and it uses the Gorilla Glass Victus 2, which is supposedly tougher. But in hand, it feels pretty much the same. The back is well-textured matte glass that’s fairly fingerprint-resistant.
Overall, I think the S23 Ultra’s design is very clean-looking, and this year it comes in four different colors. This one is cream, but there’s also black, lavender, and green. I thought the cream one was basically just white, but when placed side by side with the white iPhone, I think it definitely looks a lot more off-white.
The S23 Ultra has the usual IP68 water and dust resistance, as well as the same ultrasonic fingerprint reader as before. It also has slightly better speakers with more bass, which is pretty nice.
Galaxy S23 Ultra Performance
One of the biggest upgrades this year is a new SOC, which is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. It’s actually a huge jump in performance, especially considering that it’s using the same TSMC four-nanometer manufacturing process as the Gen 1. It has almost 30% faster single-core and 50% faster multi-core performance, which is a lot. This is partially thanks to the galaxy S23 Ultra’s CPU having a slightly higher clock than some other phones with the 8 Gen 2. However, even then, it’s still slightly behind the iPhone in terms of performance.
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||5432|
|Galaxy S23 Ultra||4987|
|Galaxy S22 Ultra||3343|
The more impressive aspect, I believe, is its GPU performance. For the first time in forever, it actually beats out the flagship iPhone by 10%. I also think it has better cooling than the iPhone, as it thermal throttles less, maintaining high performance for noticeably longer than both the S22 Ultra and the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Immediately after running a 20-minute benchmark, the S23 Ultra did measure a few degrees hotter than the iPhone, but I couldn’t really feel this difference with my hands.
If you’re a mobile gamer and the game you play has similar graphical settings on both Android and iPhone, you’re likely to have a much better time on Galaxy S23 Ultra. And if you’re upgrading even from last generation, this phone might be over 50% faster in some games, making it a night and day difference.
Also, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 will be in the S23 Ultras across the globe, so it’ll be an even bigger upgrade for those who were previously in the Exynos regions.
Galaxy S23 Ultra Battery life
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||65|
|Galaxy S23 Ultra||70|
|Galaxy S22 Ultra||78|
This new SOC is noticeably more efficient as well. I charged the Galaxy S23 Ultra to 100% and then did video playback on it for nine and a half hours to get a more accurate result. By the end of it, it still had 30% battery life left. That’s 8% more than the S22 Ultra in the same test. This is quite an impressive result, especially considering that the battery size is the same at 5000 milliamp-hours. However, the iPhone still has the strongest battery life. Even though the iPhone 14 Pro Max has a smaller battery of around 4300 milliamp-hours, in the same test it ended up with 35% battery remaining, beating the new Galaxy S23 Ultra by 5%.
When it comes to heavy gaming, these impressive numbers do come at a cost. In a one-hour-long test running a benchmark loop, the S23 Ultra drained 31% battery, which is 3% more than the previous generation and 10% more than the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
In terms of storage, the baseline this year is now 256 GB. Since the starting price stayed the same, in a way, the S23 Ultra is cheaper than the previous generation. I think, for a camera-focused phone like this one, the 256 GB starting storage makes sense. High-resolution photos take up a lot of space. However, do note that the 256 GB version only has 8 GB of RAM instead of 12 GB. I don’t think this will be a significant difference, but I don’t have one to test out side by side.
Galaxy S23 Ultra OneUI 5.1
What matters a lot to the user experience are these phones’ operating systems. I recently compared Samsung’s One UI 5 with iOS 16 and stock Android 13 on the Pixel. One UI is definitely the best for customization. You can check out that article to see more details on One UI 5. However, the Galaxy S23 Ultra actually comes with a slight update when you buy 5.1, which brings a few additional small changes. There’s a new Batteries widget that looks pretty familiar. You can also set different wallpapers on the lock screen and home screen to change with different modes, which might also feel familiar. Additionally, you get up to four generations of One UI and Android upgrades.
Galaxy S23 Ultra Camera Test
This year, the biggest headline is the new 200-megapixel main camera, but this also means that some of the other lenses received much less attention and love. The 10x telephoto is basically the same as last year. Now, 10 times is a ridiculous amount of reach, and it can definitely capture some pretty unique shots. Of course, in this department, there’s no other phone that can match it. The iPhone’s three times telephoto lens doesn’t even come close in terms of reach, and once you zoom in 10 times, the quality is just bad, as you can see here.
As for the 3x telephoto, this was one of the weaker lenses on the S22 Ultra, and unfortunately, the S23 Ultra didn’t receive a new one. So, in this photo, it’s still noticeably less sharp than the iPhone’s. However, something interesting is that digitally zooming in three times in the 200-megapixel mode is only slightly worse than using the current three times telephoto lens. So, I feel like it would have made more sense to have the telephoto lens be five times, just like on the Pixel 7 Pro. This way, the Galaxy S23 Ultra would have better performance throughout the entire zoom range.
The ultra-wide lens is also the same as before, with the same sensor. However, this was a really good chance to demonstrate the new processing against the S22 Ultra. The new phone’s photo is a lot more toned down, looks more natural, and is much more similar to the iPhone’s color. Actually, for this shot, I think it struck a great balance between the two and looks the best here.
Now, let’s talk about the new 200-megapixel main camera. The sensor is larger than before, but it’s actually still slightly smaller than the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max’s. However, the Ultra does have a faster lens that lets in more light, so in terms of light-gathering ability, it’s second to none. As a side effect, it has a very shallow depth of field for a phone, so things that are behind the subject tend to fall out of focus, giving it a more professional look. I do like it. I feel like it brings focus to the subject, like a natural portrait mode.
Speaking of the portrait mode, it has always been great on Samsung phones. The segmentation map has always been very clean, and in this shot here, I think it did a good job preserving the detail around my hair. Now, if we look at the 200-megapixel and 12-megapixel photos side by side, they look quite different even without zooming in. Overall, the 200-megapixel image looks way more natural, mostly because there seems to be less sharpening applied to it. The tree here doesn’t have this slight white glow all over it, like in the 12-megapixel image, which is an artifact that’s pretty common in all smartphone photos.
And of course, when zooming in, the 200-megapixel photo has way more detail compared to the iPhone’s 48-megapixel photo. However, I’ve noticed that the 200-megapixel image can look a bit more smoothed out in lower light settings. There is also a 50-megapixel mode on the S23 Ultra, and I think it’s the best balance between the two modes. Honestly, for most photos, I don’t really care if it still looks good after zooming in all the way. But I don’t really like the oversharpened look that phone photos tend to have.
A good thing is that, for some reason, just taking a higher resolution photo seems to fix that. Both the iPhone and the S23 Ultra apply way less sharpening when it’s a higher resolution photo. However, I’ve noticed that the galaxy S23 Ultra’s 250-megapixel photos tend to look a bit less saturated. But you can easily edit the colors afterward. And you cannot really unsharpen an image, so I think the trade-off here is well worth it.
This 200-megapixel main sensor, when compared to the 12-megapixel one, performs really well at night too. In this shot, I would say it beats the iPhone convincingly. The blacks are way less crushed near this region, and the Ultra captures way more information in the darker areas. In this shot here, the detail is also a bit better preserved on the Samsung. And it’s even more obvious that the Ultra captures this sunset scene a lot better than the 14 Pro Max on the iPhone. All the grass in front here is just black on the iPhone.
Overall, at night, the S23 Ultra consistently takes photos with more dynamic range, and fewer of the darker regions are crushed to black. But when it comes to video at night, this advantage largely disappears, and both Samsung and iPhone look pretty similar. Notice how smooth this video is. Both of these were just handheld as I was walking. I do feel that Samsung has improved their video stabilization by quite a bit, although it’s still not as good as the iPhones. The iPhone’s video is more stable, especially when I was running. The more abrupt movement caused this artifact on the Samsung, where part of the frame would darken.
The Super Steady mode on the Samsung does help improve stabilization, but the quality of the video is greatly reduced. Also, there’s a new 8K at 30 FPS mode on the galaxy S23 Ultra, and I don’t think this is a gimmick. I would actually start shooting most of my videos in this mode from now on. Not because I really need the detail to zoom in, but more so for the same reason as taking high-resolution photos. The 8K video really reduces the oversharpened smartphone video look.
For example, just look at the foam on the ocean here. In the regular 4K video, it has this shimmering glow to it, but the 8K video has far less of this artifact. But watch as I apply a ton of sharpening to this 8K video. Now it has the same shimmery look. And you can see the same effect in this video here. I feel like the grass in the 4K video just grabs your attention because it looks sharpened in an unnatural way. So yeah, the 8K video does have meaningful benefits over 4K, but the Ultra’s 4K video is pretty good too.
Against the 14 Pro Max, which can only go up to 4K, they look pretty similar in terms of quality. The colors are different, but I would say it’s more down to personal preference which one you think is better. The only downside about the S23 Ultra is that you cannot record 8K videos in 10-bit HDR. Regarding Samsung’s HDR, it’s pretty good. There are no weird artifacts like I saw last year. And when playing on the phone, it really brightens up the screen, and I think it jumps out at you a lot more than a non-HDR video. So it’s pretty similar to how it is on the iPhone.
And lastly, the selfie lens. So this year, it actually has fewer megapixels, 12 down from 40. But the 40-megapixel selfie lens on the S22 Ultra has always been downscaled to around 10 megapixels anyway. So you’re not really losing resolution in low light. Like this one when I’m in the car, the new selfie does have more detail in my hair than the last generation. And against the iPhone, it has a bit more detail too, but also a bit more noise. So it’s a trade-off. And in good lighting, my hair again looks better, more detailed in this year’s selfie compared to last year. And against the iPhone, the Samsung selfie just looks way more colorful, alright.
As for the S Pen, it seems like it’s here to stay on the Ultra line, and I really like it. The S Pen is very light, and even though it’s quite flat, it still feels very comfortable to write with. The tracking is very good, and in the first-party Samsung Notes app, it’s practically perfect. The line is always directly underneath the pen tip.
In third-party apps, the tracking isn’t as perfect, but it still feels great to write, and it doesn’t feel laggy at all. Now, the aspect ratio of this phone is not great for writing, so I wouldn’t really say it’s a tablet replacement. However, for writing down a few quick notes or adding some annotations to your screenshots, maybe even drawing some doodles on your pictures, the S Pen is great for all of those.
And there’s also a button here which can be used as a remote shutter button, and I found this to be very convenient. For most people, the S Pen is probably not necessary, but it’s still fun to have, and it can definitely be useful at times.
So the Galaxy S23 Ultra is definitely the most interesting phone out right now. Having a pen and a 10x zoom lens is really unique and fun, and combined with the great display, it provides a really nice experience. However, you can argue that all of these features were already on the S22 Ultra. But I think the huge increase in speed and efficiency alone makes this a pretty substantial upgrade. Not to mention the new main and selfie cameras, which are probably the two most commonly used cameras on a phone, got some pretty notable upgrades as well.
For gamers, Android is finally a close match against the iPhone in terms of raw performance. So, although the S23 Ultra might seem a bit boring at first, I think it’s an extremely solid upgrade over the last generation. However, part of me feels like it isn’t complete in its evolution, with a pretty mediocre 3x zoom that should have been swapped for a 5x zoom lens. So what you think about Samsung galaxy S23 Ultra comment below to let us know.