The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra strengthens its photography capabilities. Owners of the Galaxy S22 Ultra don’t yet need to update, though.
Samsung wants the Galaxy S23 Ultra to be the ultimate camera for filmmakers and photographers. I am certainly not a professional filmmaker, nor do I consider myself a photographer. But after using the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra for a few days, it’s clear that the new camera retains the areas where Samsung already excels, such as low-light photography, and takes those advantages a step further.
The $1,200 (£1,249, AU$1,949) Galaxy S23 Ultra will be available on February 17, alongside Samsung’s other new phone lines, including the $800 Galaxy S23 and $1,000 worth of Galaxy S23 Plus. Like last year’s Galaxy S22 Ultra, the S23 Ultra’s big screen, high price, and the enhanced camera might be too much for the average person.
The name “Ultra” says it all; This is the phone for people who want a premium phone. Compared to the Galaxy S23 and S23 Plus, the Ultra offers zoom ratios that are closer to what’s needed, a stylus that can be stored inside the phone, and a large 6.8-inch screen that’s bigger than the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Google Pixel 7 Pro. You might not need all the extra features, but after using this phone for a few days, I wouldn’t blame you for needing them.
Samsung almost achieved its goal of offering a premium phone with a great camera and a large screen. The high price can’t be ignored, and photos taken with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra don’t always look as natural as those taken with the iPhone 14 Pro or Pixel 7 Pro.
- Fast performance
- The excellent main camera, especially in low light
- Bright screen
- Included stylus
- Double the storage in the base model
- Four years of Android OS updates
- High price
- Photos don’t always look natural, especially selfies
- No improvements to fast charging
Discover The Incredible Photo Quality Of The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Camera
If you watched Samsung’s Unpacked presentation, you know the S23 Ultra’s main camera is its prized attribute. Samsung added a 200-megapixel sensor for the first time. The 12-megapixel and 50-megapixel modes are unchanged from earlier models, but now you have the option to shoot photos at a 12-megapixel, 50-megapixel or 200-megapixel resolution, which can be adjusted in the settings menu alongside the camera’s viewfinder.
Samsung’s Expert Raw app is now integrated into the native camera app after you download it for the first time. Although I don’t typically edit raw photos myself, this use case certainly seems appropriate for a phone like this because it allows photographers to edit full uncompressed images with more flexibility and data than compressed JPEGs can offer.
Under-the-hood improvements to colour and dynamic range seem more meaningful than the resolution bump. Samsung said when announcing the S23 Ultra that its new image sensor is better at minimizing noise and that its algorithms have gotten better at enhancing colour tones and details. The improvements are more noticeable to the naked eye than the increased resolution.
The photos in this article were taken at the default 12-megapixel resolution because the 200-megapixel files are just too large to display here. You can still see changes in how the camera processes colour and skin tone even at this lower resolution, but I did capture several 200-megapixel photos throughout my testing period.
The biggest differences I noticed between the 200-megapixel photos taken with my Galaxy S22 Ultra and those taken with the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s 108-megapixel camera were in colour. Flowers were more vibrant orange, trees looked more lush and vibrant, and even the sky looked crisper than it did with the smaller camera. When zooming in on any of these images, you can see just how much higher resolution there is compared to the smaller camera.
The photos below show how the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera has changed compared to the S22 Ultra’s. Take a look at the photos of trees and shrubbery taken at a park. Although you might not notice it in the smaller embedded version below, there’s better separation of leaves in the S23 Ultra’s photo and better contrast between bark and tree trunk.
If you’ve ever taken photos with a Samsung phone, you might notice that the colours can sometimes look a little exaggerated. Samsung has improved this in recent years–but the Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro still take photos with more natural-looking colours overall.
While Google’s Pixel 7 Pro and Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra both have more natural colour in still photography, the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s video recordings had more detail. I tested this by recording clips at different resolutions and frame rates on each phone, including 8K at 30 fps for the Galaxy S23 Ultra, 8K at 24 frames per second for the Galaxy S22 Ultra, and 4K at 60 fps for the iPhone 14 Pro and Google Pixel 7 Pro.
Unlock The Power Of Performance With The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra runs on a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, which is an upgrade from the Snapdragon 835 found in last year’s S20 and S30 series. The new chip has been custom-made for the S23 series by Samsung. It’s essentially a special version of the processor that’s been optimized for better performance and power efficiency. A standard version of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is being included in rival phones like the OnePlus 11 5G.
The S23 Ultra is fast and snappy, whether I’m just swiping around the operating system, playing games while on a video call or running Samsung’s Dex program to use my phone as a PC. I plugged my S23 Ultra into an external monitor, attached a keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth and had five apps running. I never experienced any lag or overheating during any of these tasks.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra can export video files quickly, which might be helpful for those who shoot and edit video projects on their phone frequently. I tested the device by exporting a 30-second 4K clip to 1080p three seconds faster than the S22 Ultra and a full 10 seconds faster than the Pixel 7 Pro on average. By contrast, however, the iPhone 14 Pro finished the job about three seconds faster than the S23 Ultra on average. You’ll also get double the storage that’s in the base model of this phone (256GB versus 128GB), which gives you more space to store those video projects.
Samsung’s new phone scored higher than the Galaxy S22 Ultra, Pixel 7 Pro and OnePlus 11 5G on benchmarks meant to test computing power in everyday tasks and in apps that require short bursts of high performance. Apple’s iPhone 14 Pro scored higher than the S23 Ultra on one benchmark (Geekbench 5) but lower on one that measures brief periods of high intensity (3DMark Wild Life Extreme).
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Has A Very Long Battery Life & Charges Quickly
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has a 5,000-mAh battery, just like the Galaxy S22 Ultra. But it should offer better power efficiency, thanks to its new processor–at least according to early test results. I need to spend more time with the phone to compare it to the S22 Ultra, but the results are promising so far. After 12 hours of use, which equates to a full workday and then some, the battery was down to 66%–not too shabby!
I had adaptive motion and adaptive brightness settings turned on, which adjust the screen’s refresh rate and brightness based on the situation. I also enabled the always-on display feature, but set its timing to not display the time and date unless I touched the screen. Battery life will always vary depending on how you use your device. In this scenario, I used my phone to take photos, record a few videos, check email, browse social media and stream music for about 15 minutes.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra still had nearly three-quarters of its battery left by the middle of the workday on a separate day, even after shooting 4K video for roughly a half hour. We’re still conducting more battery tests on this phone and will update this review accordingly.
To test the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s battery life, I ran a 45-minute test in which I played games, made a 10-minute video call and checked social media. The results were similar to those of the Pixel 7, which hit 94% after that same challenge. During this test, I kept the brightness at 50%, left the high refresh rate setting turned on and switched off the always-on display.
Like last year’s Galaxy S22 Ultra, the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a top-wired charging speed of 45 watts. To charge it at that rate, you need to use an adapter from Samsung’s Quick Charge 2.0 lineup. However, if you already own one of these adapters or have purchased one separately, then you don’t need to buy another one since Samsung bundles one in the box. So far, this 45-watt charging speed has enabled my S23 Ultra to go from 46% to 91% in just 30 minutes of charging.
That’s great, but it would be even better to see Samsung push things further now that companies like OnePlus and Xiaomi are offering faster charging. According to my colleague Sareena Dayaram’s review of the Xiaomi 12T Pro, the device can charge from zero to 100% in just 19 minutes.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Features & Design
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra looks almost identical to the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It has the same boxy edges that give it a sharper look than its predecessors, but this year it comes in a range of colours: cream, green and black as well as lavender. Like last year’s device, it’s rated for IP68 water resistance (it can be submerged in up to 1.5 meters of fresh water for 30 minutes)
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is a massive phone. It has a 6.8-inch screen, making it slightly bigger than the 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Pro Max and Google Pixel 7 Pro. It’s big enough to attract attention from people around you who might want to admire your purchase. That’s not an insult; there are plenty of people out there who love large phones. It’s just another reminder that this phone isn’t for everyone. But if you do a lot of reading, gaming, photo editing and TV watching on your phone and don’t mind stretching your fingers for one-handed use, you’ll likely appreciate the extra screen space.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s screen is bright enough to see in direct sunlight. It reaches 1,750 nits, which is brighter than the Pixel 7 Pro’s 1,500-nit peak brightness but not quite as luminous as the iPhone 14 Pro’s 2,000-nit peak outdoor brightness. Still, it’s bright enough to fit most people’s needs and circumstances.
You’ll also get an S Pen stylus, just like last year’s Galaxy S22 Ultra. The Galaxy Note series has effectively replaced the Galaxy Note lineup, which was previously known for its large screens and embedded stylus. Expect the same familiar experience on this device; as soon as you pop the pen out from the bottom of the phone, you’ll see a pop-up menu with compatible apps like Samsung Notes and PenUp.
Samsung has committed to four generations of Android OS upgrades, and it has surpassed Google’s three-year promise for the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro. Samsung, OnePlus and Google all provide five years of security updates for their latest devices. That means you won’t have to worry about the S23 Ultra’s software feeling outdated anytime soon since it launches with Android 13 and Samsung’s One UI 5.1 software.
The Ultra or Plus model comes with ultrawideband support, which makes it easier to connect to nearby devices more precisely than Bluetooth. UWB isn’t a necessity, but it can make sharing files or using your phone as a digital car key faster and easier. We could see more services and accessories that require it in the future.
Should You Buy Or Skip Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra?
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is a ton of phone, with a large screen, 200-megapixel camera, 100x zoom and S Pen. But it’s not too much for most people.
If you want a new Android phone with a large screen and versatile camera, the Pixel 7 Pro is probably your best bet. The Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23 Plus are also great options but they haven’t been tested yet by us so we can’t recommend them just yet.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is more expensive than the iPhone 14 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro, but it offers certain features that are desirable to some users. For example, it has a larger screen size and a better zoom lens. While these aren’t essential features for all people, this is a phone designed with those who want extra amenities in mind.
Samsung has the potential to do more with its Galaxy Ultra line of smartphones. I would have liked to see faster charging options, for example. And although the camera on the Galaxy Ultra is impressive, the iPhone 14 Pro often outperformed it in my testing.
If you’re looking for a giant-screen smartphone, with great camera quality, and are upgrading from a phone that’s more than two years old, the S23 Ultra will not disappoint. However, be prepared to pay full price – it is often difficult to find a discount.