- The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is easily the biggest and most powerful of the Galaxy S23 series unveiled by Samsung recently.
- In terms of hardware, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the most well-equipped phones around. It is the only Android flagship in many markets to come with a 10x optical zoom, as well as the S Pen stylus.
- At its starting price of $1199 / Rs 1,24,999, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra comes with a very stiff price tag that puts it right into the iPhone 14 Pro range. Does it do enough to be called THE Android flagship and rattle the cage of the iPhone?
Android has no shortage of flagships. Almost every brand on the platform has a high-end premium offering that it claims is the best. Most of these are broadly similar to each other in terms of basic hardware like processors, RAM, and even displays.
However, if there is one Android device that is considered the ultimate in terms of hardware and performance, it is the Ultra model of Samsung’s Galaxy S flagship series. A blend of the iconic Note series and the S series, the Ultra model is a bit like the T-Rex of the smartphone world – large, incredibly powerful, pretty much the boss of its terrain, and the biggest challenger to the iPhone’s Pro series.
The latest of that tribe, the Galaxy S23 Ultra, is built in that mode. It packs in the most powerful hardware you could find in the smartphone world into a large, tough frame and comes with much-hyped cameras and, of course, that legendary S Pen made famous by the Galaxy Note series of the past. At the time of writing, it also comes with a price tag that is well above any conventional Android flagship in the market (foldables excluded). But does it do enough to justify that price and challenge the iPhone 14 Pro’s hegemony of the premium segment?
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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Design: Are you the S22 Ultra?
In terms of design, the Galaxy S23 Ultra does not borrow a page from the design book of its predecessor, the Galaxy S22 Ultra – it borrows the whole darned book. So much so that, at a glance, it can be very difficult to tell the two phones apart. Both phones follow the similar curved glass front and back and armored aluminum frame design format, with curved sides too. Even the cameras on the back follow the same Raindrop design format, with three lenses that protrude a little more than the others. The base still has the USB Type C port and the S Pen stylus slot, and the speaker grill. The front is all displayed with the volume buttons and power/lock buttons on the right side of the frame. Even the proportions and weight are almost identical – the S23 Ultra is 163.4 x 78.1 x 8.9 mm thin and 234 grams heavy compared to the 163.3 x 77.9 x 8.9 mm and 228 grams of the S22 Ultra.
This similarity is not a bad thing in our books. Like the S22 Ultra, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is an unabashedly big and handsome phone. Its clean finish and elegant colors give it a very premium feel, and the materials used in its construction are a level above those used on the S22 Ultra. You now get Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on the front, and the frame is armored aluminum. The S23 Ultra remains one of the toughest devices out there, with IP68 dust and water resistance, which means it can stay in five feet of water for up to half an hour.
There is no getting away from the fact that the Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the largest flagship phones out there – it is taller, wider, and thicker than even the size-shamed iPhone 14 Pro Max. But it is still a very striking and premium-looking device. It will stretch your palm, and you will need both hands to use it, but it will grab attention with its elegant, slightly oversized appearance. Eyes will pop when you pop the stylus out of its base! We got the green variant, and while it did not attract curiosity, every person who saw it definitely kept staring for a while.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Hardware: Ultra powerful innards!
The Ultra has always been the most powerful in the Samsung Galaxy S series flagship lineup. So it is hardly surprising that the Galaxy S23 Ultra comes packed with easily the best hardware you can find in the smartphone world, or at least in the Android portion of it.
The display is a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2x display with 2K resolution and with 1750 nits of maximum brightness; it is one of the brightest and most colorful displays we have seen. However, it is set to a more modest FHD+ resolution by default. It also comes with a 120 Hz refresh rate which adjusts as per the content being shown on display, going all the way from 1 to 120 Hz to conserve battery. Beneath that display lies a fingerprint scanner, which is considerably improved over its buggy predecessor on the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Powering the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the task of a special version of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip, which has been designed especially for the S23 series. This is aided by 12 GB of LPDDR5X RAM and comes with 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB of UFS 4.0 storage options. No matter how you look at it, this is a phone designed for speed.
It is also designed for some spectacular photography, coming with a 200-megapixel main sensor with OIS, two 10-megapixel telephoto sensors (one of 3x and another of 10x optical zoom), both with OIS, and a 12-megapixel ultrawide. The selfie camera seems a bit of a climb down in megapixel terms from the S22 Ultra, going from 40 megapixels to 12 megapixels. All of this with stereo speakers, Android 13, and a large 5000 mAh battery with support for 45W charging and 15W wireless charging, as well as reverse charging. Oh, and the legendary S Pen stylus tucked into the base.
In spec terms, this is perhaps the most loaded phone out there by some distance. Our only point of nitpicking was the absence of a charger in the box, but like the 3.5 mm audio jack and expandable memory slot, that is a feature that seems to have been consigned to the flagship spec graveyard.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Cameras: The colors pop, but these are crazy versatile cameras
The cameras have been the most talked about feature of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, and in terms of sheer versatility, these are the best you can find on any smartphone in the world. Yes, that includes the likes of the iPhone and the Pixel. The sheer variety that the S23 Ultra gives you in terms of photography is staggering. The two telephoto sensors are our favorites, as they let us take snaps of birds and animals without disturbing them – 10x is a lot of zoom and unmatched in the smartphone zone. The 100x digital zoom is great in theory but a little flaky in practice, although you get very usable images right up to 30x, which in itself is no mean feat! The ultrawide camera comes with autofocus, too, and you get some stunning landscapes.
Of course, most of the hype in the camera department has been around the 200-megapixel main sensor. It takes 12-megapixel snaps by default and delivers high-quality photographs even at that resolution. However, take it to 200 megapixels, and the game changes with details jumping out at you. You can literally take a group shot of a dozen people, crop each person out and still end up with great images of each person. Or capture a cityscape and zoom in to see the details of every building.
Capturing in 200 megapixels is slow, with some processing taking place as well, but the results are well worth the wait. Video quality is very good, too, although not really of the iPhone level in terms of sheer stability and detail. The selfie camera, however, is a little disappointing compared to the others – you will get good selfies. Still, these seem a significant step down in terms of both color and detail from the cameras on the back, with some shots even looking a little washed out (we hear that Samsung plans to address this with an update in the coming days).
The images and videos captured by the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s rear camera conform to the Samsung template of delivering bright colors and lots of details. Things might seem a little oversaturated, with the reds and browns going a little crazy at times, but people are unlikely to complain about that, as you almost always end up getting very good-looking content. Purists might frown at this, especially as low-light images get a slight tinge of yellow, but overall we would say that these are magnificent cameras and are unmatched in terms of variety.
We still think that shot for shot, the Pixel 7 Pro pulls in more detail and that the iPhone 14 Pro series scores on color and videos, but neither of those worthies can even come close to matching the 200-megapixel muscle and 10x zoom of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The camera interface of the Galaxy S23 Ultra does need some work, though, as it is not very intuitive – it even took us some time to figure out how to take a 200-megapixel snap. That said, it goes without saying the camera on the S23 Ultra is no one trick pony – there is a lot you can do with it, more perhaps than with any camera set on any smartphone right now.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Performance: Does everything, does it Ultra well too!
With all that hardware on board, it is hardly surprising that the Galaxy S23 Ultra goes through all tasks without breaking a sweat. The combination of processor, speakers, and display make it one of the best gaming devices you can get, with the likes of Call of Duty and Genshin Impact running very smoothly on maxed-out settings. You get great colors and higher refresh rates when supported by the game, and in combination with the stereo speakers, an extremely immersive experience. Watching videos and shows on that large display is an absolute treat too. Unlike the S22 Ultra, which had a few heating issues initially (which got fixed by an update), the S23 Ultra stays comfortably cool most of the time, heating up only when you try too many hefty tasks at the same time, like recording 8k video with a game running in the background.
Multi-tasking is never an issue with at least 12 GB RAM on board. We found ourselves running multiple applications on the phone without any problems whatsoever. Then there’s the iconic S Pen, which adds a whole new dimension to the device, letting you make notes, annotate and sign documents, sketch at will, and even scribble to write in certain applications. The handwriting recognition and sensitivity of the S Pen are exceptional, and the fact that it is tucked away neatly at the base of the device makes it by far the easiest-to-use stylus in phoneland and beyond – it is always charged and always paired. We do wish Samsung would make it a little rounder, as the flat sides are not the easiest to grip. Still, given the plethora of usage options (from acting as a camera’s shutter button to making AR sketches on camera images), the S Pen is a magnificent productivity tool.
Speaking of productivity, the Galaxy S23 Ultra comes with support for DeX, which lets you connect wirelessly to a monitor to get a full-screen desktop-like experience. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is a productivity powerhouse. Even earlier editions’ erratic in-display fingerprint sensor has been sorted out and now performs quickly enough. The phone came with support for 5G and worked perfectly fine with our Airtel 5G SIM in Delhi.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Software: Android Pizza with Ultra special toppings…and more updates than a Pixel
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra comes with Android 13 out of the box with OneUI 5.1 running on top of it. While it is nowhere near as clean as stock Android, we love the variety of functions OneUI brings to the device, be it shooting options on the camera, additional functionality on the edge of the display (sliding your finger from the right gives you quick access to a selection of apps), or making the S-Pen a truly formidable tool. You do get an interface that is slightly more cluttered than the ones on stock Android devices. Even on the likes of OnePlus and the near-stock look of the Nothing Phone (1), on the flip side, there is just so much more you can do on the Galaxy S23 Ultra right out of the box as compared to those other devices.
What’s more, 2022 saw Samsung move its Android update game to the next level, which means that users of the Galaxy S23 Ultra can be assured of getting perhaps the most timely and frequent Android updates in any non-Google device. Samsung has committed to four Android OS updates and five years of security updates. That is actually better than what the Pixel 7 range is supposed to get – those phones will get three Android OS updates and five years of security updates. In simple terms, the Galaxy S23 Ultra will get updated to Android 17, while the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro will stop at Android 16. Now that is some serious software commitment.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Battery: The heel of Achilles?
The only slightly false note in the Galaxy S23 Ultra symphony comes from its battery performance. The phone packs in a large 5000 mAh battery, which Samsung claims is intelligent enough to optimize its usage, saving itself for intensive tasks like high-end gaming.
Now, if you use the Galaxy S23 Ultra with the default settings, you will find the battery easily lasts a day and a little more heavy usage. The point to keep in mind, however, is that the Galaxy S23 Ultra is set by default to not its maximum resolution (2K) but to FHD+. Move that resolution to 2K, and the battery takes a hit. You will still get through a day of normal to heavy usage, but just about. It seems a waste not to use that gorgeous display at its maxed-out resolution, but doing so means that you have to keep an eye on that battery meter.
It is at these times that you wish that the phone also supported faster charging and had a charger in the box. The Galaxy S23 Ultra does support 45W charging, but it takes about an hour to get charged fully, which is well above what the likes of OnePlus and Xiaomi’s flagships are capable of. The phone also comes with support for 15W wireless charging (again, not the fastest) and also 4.5 W reverse wireless charging, which is handy enough for charging TWS buds and the like. It is by no means a deal breaker, but we would say that the battery is perhaps the only department where the Galaxy S23 Ultra seems less than Ultra-special – the Heel of Achilles if we were to use a classical simile. Or make that a slightly flawed claw on the T-Rex.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Review Verdict: Should you buy it?
It has the hardware muscle, a superb stylus, incredible versatile cameras, more assured software updates than a Pixel, great performance, and a design that is not fresh but is still elegantly premium. But on the package containing all that is a rather hefty price tag. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is available at the time of writing for $1199/Rs 1,24,999 for 12 GB/ 256 GB, $1365.99/Rs 1,34,999 for 12 GB/ 512 GB, and $1619.99/ Rs 1,54,999 for 12GB/ 1TB. Those prices make the Galaxy S23 Ultra easily the most expensive non-foldable Android flagship out there, although it is well below the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which is perhaps its most direct rival and starts at $1099/Rs 1,39,900 for a 128 GB version.
Is it worth the money? Mighty though the Galaxy S23 Ultra is, it would be naive to ignore the fact that one can get the OnePlus 11 (Rs 56,999 onwards). The iQOO 11 (Rs 59,999 onwards), both of which boast very good displays, similar processors, RAM, and storage aplenty, decent cameras, and much faster charging batteries (with a charger in the box, too), each at less than half the price of the Galaxy S23 Ultra – in fact, you can buy both phones at less than the price of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Camera fanatics might also feel tempted by the Google Pixel 7 Pro, which retails for Rs 81,199 at the time of writing and comes with its own series of smart features (courtesy of that Tensor chip) and cameras that still inspire awe. And then, of course, there is the inevitable shadow of the iPhone 14 Pro series, although that is a totally different platform and series of specs.
Still, if you want a phone that does just about everything and that too exceptionally well, then the Galaxy S23 Ultra is hard to beat. The S Pen itself makes it a one-of-a-kind flagship, and those cameras are packed with potential. Other phones might match some of its features, but none can really bring as much to the smartphone table as the Galaxy S23 Ultra does. There were, after all, plenty of dinosaurs, but the T-Rex was one of a kind. The year is going to see plenty of other Android flagships, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra is likely to remain the flagship to beat for the rest of the year, even for the likes of the Pixel 8 and the iPhone 15 (or whatever Google and Apple choose to call them). Many might think that that is worth paying a hefty premium for.
- Most versatile cameras on a smartphone
- Excellent display
- S-Pen works brilliantly
- Superb for gaming and multimedia
- Brilliant performance overall
- Design too similar to the S22 Ultra
- Still relatively slow charging speeds
- Battery life not the greatest at 2k resolution
- 200 MP shots take time to process.
- Not the greatest selfie camera
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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Review: It comes with a very stiff price tag that puts it right into the iPhone 14 Pro range. Does it do enough to be called THE Android flagship and rattle the cage of the iPhone?