Samsung does like to go bananas with its most premium phone, doesn’t it? It is in the name after all — Ultra. So you’d expect no less than the upper echelons of quality. And it is no surprise that you get that with their latest Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra smartphone.
Most will say that it is only an incremental upgrade from S22 Ultra, and they’d be right; much of it, like the design, is very similar to its predecessor. But that isn’t a slight towards it; the S22 Ultra was and still is an excellent phone. That the new S23 Ultra is even a little better than it should be considered a good thing.
At the heart of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s set of features is its new camera system, one with specs you’d only dreamed of a couple of years ago. It is the cherry on top of what will probably be the best Android phone you can get this year.
Design and Build
As mentioned, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s design is largely similar to the S22 Ultra. It retains the slab-like boxy frame, with the cameras housed individually in metal ringed cut-outs; no elaborate camera bump design is needed here. It makes for a sleek and elegant appearance that stands out. And as they say, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.
Its sleekness does not extend to just its looks. Samsung has equipped the S23 Ultra with the best materials to ensure that your experience is of quality. The glass back is smooth and satisfying to the touch, but the Gorilla Glass Victus 2 material also ensures that scratches and dents won’t sully it. Similarly, the aluminium frame feels tough, while its shiny sheen adds to the premium look.
But there are differences from the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, namely its display. It is slight, but the screen is flatter than what was offered before. That works in its favour though, since it makes the display better for viewing.
The S23 Ultra is a big phone too, but you surprisingly won’t notice it. Normally I have trouble holding big-sized phones, but the S23 Ultra feels secure when holding it. It is the perfect length and weight for an average hand, and you also benefit from having a decently-sized screen.
Samsung offers four base colours for consumers: Green, Phantom Black, Cream, and the iconic Lavender. The Lavender and Cream colours are stand-outs and look very good to the eye, but the rest of the options are a little uninspired; they are just dark hues. The Green variant (the one I got) doesn’t even look that green—more like grey.
Luckily, there are nicer and more vibrant colours to choose from, like the visually distinct Lime, but they are exclusive to the Samsung Online Store.
With the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, you get a 6.8-inch screen for the phone — the largest size out of the Galaxy S23 line. In addition, it comes with a 1440p peak resolution and 120Hz refresh rate, and uses a Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel for the screen.
It is an exceptional display to use. Everything seems to jump out beautifully on the screen; the colours are strikingly vibrant, and images appear wonderfully sharp in detail — all complemented by the large screen. Plus, with a peak brightness of 1,750 nits, I never had to worry about viewing stuff outside. Start up a K-pop video, and you are in dreamland. Honestly, this is everything you could need from a smartphone display.
But if you’ve already experienced the S22 Ultra, you’d already be very familiar with how good the screen is. For its insides, it is a slightly different matter.
This year, Samsung brings Qualcomm to all iterations of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra worldwide, using the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip. But this isn’t the same chip in other phones; the company has equipped a customised version.
To be frank, unless you are a big mobile gamer, the performance gains on this special Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 aren’t something you would notice. It features unique vapour cooling, ensuring the phone remains cool when gaming. It predominantly works in use, with the S23 Ultra never being too uncomfortable to hold after a long playing session. Gameplay also remains smooth throughout, even for more intensive games.
Outside of gaming, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra runs very well on daily use. Apps run super quickly, and given the big screen size, you can even multitask with separate windows for each application. Of course, it isn’t something I’ll say is the best phone multitasking experience (it certainly cannot match the Fold series), but the option is there for you.
Navigation is also a breeze, complemented by the 120Hz refresh rate. Everything just feels fast on the phone. Suffice it to say, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is a capable processor that should last.
S Pen functionality returns, and you’ll again find it neatly hidden away on the underside of the phone. The pen itself retains that satisfying clickable end, though I’m still not quite used to the thinness of the stylus.
There is little new you can do with the S Pen here, if any. But you still get the benefits, like the convenience of quickly jotting down a note or highlighting things from a webpage you are currently reading. So if you have been a fan of the S Pen, you’ll continue to enjoy using it on the S23 Ultra.
Now we move on to the main highlight; let’s talk about the new camera.
The S22 Ultra already had an impressive camera system, but for the S23 Ultra, Samsung has gone ahead to nearly double the megapixel count to 200MP. Of course, now megapixels aren’t what make images look good by themselves, but they help in many aspects.
The 200MP primary camera is mainly excellent for retaining detail in an image. When you use the standard photo mode, the image is binned down to the standard 12MP picture, but since there are more pixels, it spits out a sharper image. As a result, what you get in the final output is much more accurate to real life.
If you want the full 200MP power, Samsung also lets you do that. You can select it within the settings and now take photos using the full resolution. The difference is obvious when you zoom in. You get much finer detail in the image’s background, making this an excellent option for landscape shots.
However, there are some caveats. First, you’ll notice the lag immediately when you take a 200MP shot, so you can’t exactly machine gun it when taking pictures. Another is that these images have big file sizes — some are nearly 40mb — which means you have to be prudent with how many you take. Finally, you also lose access to certain features in 200MP, such as ultrawide, which is not available.
But the general consensus is that whether or not you use the standard or 200MP mode, photography on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is excellent. Images will have that Samsung style to them — a punchy and saturated look that makes the colours pop and looks impressive to the eye, especially if you have shot it in bright lighting conditions.
For heavy users of zoom, you’ll be glad to know that the OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) is improved here. The viewfinder remains very stable even at upwards of 10x zoom, so you can more easily get your shot for something in the distance.
Night photography also sees an upgrade. An in-built version activates and shows a yellow crescent icon at the bottom right when the camera detects a dimmer than the usual environment; this works for both the standard and 200MP modes. It works pretty well in brightening up the image whilst keeping detail on subjects — seven times out of ten, the auto night mode should suffice if you want a quick shot.
If the environment is much darker, you can opt for the dedicated night mode in the settings. It gets you a brighter image with sharper-quality details.
Overall, night shots look better than before on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. Photos look much cleaner, with less “halo-ing” around bright lights. It is also faster at taking images, taking just one to two seconds to capture the photo.
While I couldn’t test out video recording too much, it also looks to be a capable performer. The photo stabilisation feature is also here, so videos remain super steady even if there is a lot of movement. It can also do 8K videos at 30 fps, which is great if you happen to be a content creator.
In terms of battery life, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra still uses a 5,000mAh battery capacity from before, but having the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip provides a more efficient use of its power, meaning that it should be able to last longer.
As an admittedly light phone user, I garnered nearly three days’ worth of use with it. That sounds pretty good, but it is even better with context. This is a high-resolution 1440p smartphone with a large screen that refreshes at 120Hz, and I could still get that kind of battery life without actively trying to save it — it is impressive, to say the least.
This is a phone you can indulge yourself with. I could enjoy watching videos at high brightness and taking my time to browse the internet without worrying too much about depleting the battery quickly. It is honestly a breath of fresh air to experience.
I am just going to put it out here. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is everything you could possibly need in a phone. Aesthetically pleasing design? Check. Premium build? Yep. Nice large high-resolution display? That’s right. Quality camera system? Absolutely. Great battery life? Of course.
The only real slight against it is that it is costly. Its lowest configuration already starts at S$1,828, which is frankly not something that many people can afford.
It is no doubt a luxury item. But if you manage to get the cash for it, you are getting a monster of a device that will bring a thoroughly enjoyable experience for several years.
Photos by Russell Loh of the DANAMIC Team.