Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review

These days there’s a few things you can expect from a flagship phone. A stylish design, a crisp, smooth display, fast performance, a long-lasting battery and a powerful camera array.

Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra ticks all these boxes.

In our review of the S22 Ultra, we said it’s a niche device, the same can be said for the S23 Ultra. Feeling more like a Samsung Galaxy Note than a S-series device, the squared off edges and the included S Pen stylus won’t be for everyone. But there’s more than enough here to satisfy all users.

An iterative device rather than an evolutionary one, the S23 Ultra is very similar to the S22 Ultra however it brings with it some impressive new features, mainly the 200MP main camera and a significantly improved 5,000 mAh battery. 

The unique Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor is a performance powerhouse, the 6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x screen is still one of the best displays on the market and the 10x telephoto lens is still the best camera for zoomed photography.

For most people, at a minimum of $2,299 Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra will be too much phone for what they realistically need. It’s a device for those that want the very best of what Samsung can offer in a mobile device, and it’s not only the best phone in Samsung’s range, it’s the best Android phone out there.

Pros

  • Great performance capabiltiies
  • Vibrant, colourful 120Hz display
  • Powerful camera array
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Sleek design

Cons

  • 45W charging
  • Expensive

Price

The S23 Ultra comes in three configurations:

  • 256GB storage | 8GB RAM: $2,299
  • 512GB storage | 12GB RAM: $2,649
  • 1TB storage | 12GB RAM: $3,099

The S23 Ultra is expensive; however, the price is in line with the competition, and it’s slightly cheaper than its main competitor, the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

A 256GB iPhone 14 Pro Max costs $2,399, a 512GB device costs $2,799 and a 1TB iPhone 14 Pro Max costs $3,199. 

Design

Samsung’s previous flagship, the S22 Ultra, introduced a completely new design to the “Ultra” range. It was larger, squarer and came with Samsung’s stylus – the S-pen – built in. It felt like a hybrid device, combining the speed and style of the S-series range with the size and functionality of the now-defunct Note range. 

The S23 Ultra’s design isn’t nearly as revolutionary. It feels and looks almost identical to the S22 Ultra. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a great-looking device. It’s sleek, stylish, and lovely to use. Subtle features like the front and back panels sloping down into the aluminium frame give the device a high-quality, precise feel.

It has the same flat back design without a camera island – instead, each lens has its own circular housing – and squared-off edges at the top and bottom. Both the front and back of the device are Gorilla Glass Victus 2 that’s smooth and nice to hold, and it boasts an aluminium frame. The S-pen inserts nicely into the bottom left corner, and there are no buttons on the device’s left edge. 

It’s a beautiful device, but it will prove to be divisive. This is a massive phone, and again, like the S22 Ultra, it feels more like a Note than an S-series flagship. Which for some might be a turn-off.

Measuring 78.1mm (W) x 8.9mm (D) x 163.4mm (L) and weighing 233g, it’s a bit bigger than the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which measures 77.6mm (W) x 7.9mm (D) x 160.7mm (L) and weighs 240g. 

It comes in four colours, Green, Phantom Black, Lavender and Cream. Our review device sported the Cream complexion, and it looks excellent. 

Samsung-Galaxy-S23-Ultra-review

Display

The display is the same as the one found on the S22 Ultra, but it’s still one of the best displays on the market. The 6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x screen is fantastic. It’s colourful, vibrant, sharp and smooth. Watching videos and movies on this device is a delight.

It’s a 3086 x 1440 resolution display boasting 500 pixels per inch (ppi) and a 120Hz variable refresh rate. It’s an LTPO (low-temperature polycrystalline oxide) display, meaning it will change the refresh rate depending on what you’re doing to save battery. It can go as low as 1Hz.

It supports Vision Booster, which will adjust the colour and contrast of the display depending on the ambient lighting, and it boasts a peak brightness of 1,750 nits which is a bit less than the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s 2,000 nits.

Samsung-Galaxy-S23-Ultra-review

Cameras

Mostly, the camera array on the S23 Ultra is very similar to its predecessor. However, the big improvement here is the main camera is now a massive 200MP lens as opposed to the 108MP lens found in the S22 Ultra.

The S23 Ultra has four lenses on the back and a selfie camera on the front:

  • 200MP f/1.7 main with optical image stabilisation
  • 10MP f/2.4 3x telephoto with optical image stabilisation
  • 10MP f/4.9 10x telephoto with optical image stabilisation
  • 12MP f/2.2 ultrawide 
  • 12MP f/2.2 selfie
Samsung-Galaxy-S23-Ultra-review

The 200MP lens allows you to take photos in three sizes, 12MP, 50MP and 200MP. For the 12MP and 50MP size photos, the S23 Ultra uses a process called “Pixel-binning” or “Photo-binning”, in which groups of pixels are joined together to form one large pixel. As an example, to generate a 12MP image with the 200MP lens, 16 pixels are grouped together or “binned” to make one large pixel. You can find out more about this process here, but the key takeaway is it allows the lens to capture more light meaning the photos will be sharper, with more contrast and better low-light performance.

You can take a full 200MP photo, and you’ll get an incredible amount of detail and quality; however, these photos are massive in size. One 200MP photo is around 40MB in size compared to a 12MP image that utilises pixel-binning, which is only 4MB.

Performance

Powered by the specialised Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor, the S23 Ultra is a performance powerhouse. This device will handle anything you can throw at it. Whether gaming, surfing the web or taking photos, the S23 Ultra flies.

For a more detailed look into the S23 Ultra’s capabilities, we ran a Geekbench 5 CPU test to measure the speed of the device’s CPU and a 3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited test to measure the performance of the processor’s 3D graphic rendering and CPU workload processing capabilities. 

We then compared that to the results found on the iPhone 14 Pro Max:

Geekbench 5 results

Geekbench 5 resultsSingle-coreMulti-core
Samsung S23 Ultra15684892
iPhone 14 Pro Max18825411

We can see that the iPhone 14 Pro Max and its A16 Bionic chip had higher scores for both single-core use and multi-core use. This means it’s faster for both high-intensive tasks and standard tasks. But in practical use, you’ll hardly be able to tell the difference between the two devices.

3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited results

3DMark Wild Life Extreme UnlimitedScoreFrames
Samsung S23 Ultra379922.8fps
iPhone 14 Pro Max299918fps

The 3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited test results show the S23 Ultra is better at processing 3D graphic renders, achieving a higher score and better framerates. Again though, in practical use, you’ll hardly be able to tell the difference between the two devices. 

UI/S Pen

The S23 Ultra uses Samsung’s OneUI 5.1 operating system on top of Android 13. Once again, the combination proves to be successful. The S23 Ultra is fast, menus are laid out nicely and navigating the device is straightforward. 

OneUI 5.1 is a minor update on OneUI 5.0, which was released in February this year. Version 5.0 of the software brought with it several changes and improvements, including more customisation options for the lock screen, new multitasking gestures, tweaks to the camera app, different colour themes and better usability with Samsung’s optical character recognition (OCR) in which photos of words or text will appear in chosen apps. 

The S Pen hasn’t seen any changes. It’s the same as the one found in the S22 Ultra, and it still works flawlessly. While I don’t usually use a stylus with my mobile device, taking notes and writing with the pen is smooth and responsive. Anyone who prefers a stylus will be happy with the performance capabilities here. 

Samsung-Galaxy-S23-Ultra-review

Battery

The S23 Ultra has the same 5,000 mAh battery as its predecessor, which offered disappointing performance. This time around, Samsung has managed to push the battery’s capabilities thanks to the efficiency of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor and draw out significantly better performance capabilities.

With normal usage, in which we sent messages, surfed the web, played music and used Google Maps, we achieved close to 11 hours before we needed to charge the device again. While it’s not quite as good as the 12-hour capabilities of the iPhone 14 Pro Max, it’s still very good. We also noticed you could squeeze more hours out of the device if you drop the refresh rate to 60Hz achieving closer to 13 hours of use.

The S23 Ultra still only supports 45W fast charging, which is lower than the 80W capabilities of Oppo’s flagship, the Find X5 Pro but is better than the 20W capabilities of the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Samsung claims the device will charge from 0 to 65% in 30 minutes. We found it was closer to 60%. It’s fine.

Verdict

Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra gets everything right. It improves on the S22 Ultra’s weakest aspects and maintains its strongest ones to create an even better flagship device. 

Not everything has changed, the display and the S Pen are the same as its predecessor, and the UI and design are almost identical. But none of this needed changing or improving. It worked well in the S22 Ultra, and it works well here. 

The massively improved 200MP main camera allows for even better photos, and the 10x telephoto optical lens is still the best-in-class for zoomed photography. But the main standout here is the improved 5,000 mAh battery. The battery capabilities of the S22 Ultra were poor, and Samsung has remedied this, in part thanks to the efficiency of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor. Battery life is significantly better, lasting close to 11 hours with normal usage before requiring a charge.

The stylus won’t be for everyone and the 45W maximum charging capabilities is still a bugbear but that’s all there is holding this device back. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is a beast of a phone, and it’s the best Android device available.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Price
Design
Display
Cameras
Battery
Performance
Patch Bowen
Patch Bowen is an accomplished technology journalist with a solid academic foundation, holding a degree from Auckland University. His expertise spans across a range of tech topics, with a notable focus on product reviews, industry trends, and the impact of technology on society. With his work featured on major New Zealand websites like Stuff.co.nz, thebit.nz, and The Press, Patch has established himself as a credible voice in technology media. His articles are known for their detailed analysis and practical insights, particularly in making complex technological concepts understandable for a broad audience. At ReviewsFire, Patch is renowned for his thorough evaluations and clear, informative writing style. He has a knack for identifying and explaining the nuances of the latest gadgets and digital trends, earning him a reputation as a trusted source for tech advice and information.
samsung-galaxy-s23-ultra-review These days there’s a few things you can expect from a flagship phone. A stylish design, a crisp, smooth display, fast performance, a long-lasting battery and a powerful camera array. Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra ticks all these boxes. In our review of the S22 Ultra, we...

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