Samsung’s S23 Ultra is the best Android you can buy, but it’s not that different from last year’s model
Advantages: Best-in-class camera system, great display, good battery life, integrated stylus
Disadvantages: more expensive than last year without being much different
There are two ways to look at Samsung’s new Galaxy S23 Ultra. On the one hand, it’s the best Android phone you can buy. Its combination of performance, screen, cameras (particularly) and battery life – not to mention a built-in stylus for those who like it – beats any other mainstream competitor.
At least that’s my experience in the week I tested it.
On the other hand, there really isn’t much that differs from the Galaxy S22 Ultra here. And the base price has increased significantly, although Samsung will say it’s for a higher spec than last year’s model – it’s almost double the price of Google’s Pixel 7 Pro, also an excellent Android flagship phone.
So if you’re on a (very) generous budget, this is literally the best you can get in the Android world. But you won’t get something too far away for a lot less money.
So what are the actual upgrades?
On the camera side, the S23 Ultra can now produce 200-megapixel photos, compared to its predecessor’s 108-megapixel shots.
8K video capture is also marginally better at 30fps than 24fps, with a wider angle of 57 to 80 degrees and a larger pixel size for a more cinematic effect.
And its selfie camera also has improved video capability – to 60 frames per second with boosted HDR – for those who want better-looking news and posts.
Like the S22 Ultra, it has two zoom cameras – a 10-megapixel 3x lens and a separate 10-megapixel 10x lens. Together these can comfortably push the zoom to around 30x and still produce decent, clear shots, a pretty amazing feat for a phone.
Technically, Samsung lets you zoom up to 100x, but the quality is so fuzzy at this point that mostly results in unusable shots. There’s a fourth lens, a 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens (0.6x) that’s also excellent – Samsung has consistently produced the best ultra-wide lenses for phones over the past few years.
These can comfortably push the zoom to around 30x and still produce decent, clear shots, a pretty amazing feat for a phone
As usual with Samsung, photos taken with the S23 Ultra have a slightly higher contrast than some other systems by default. This can look great for revealing detail in shots, but can also make photos of people a bit more difficult than the default “less contrast” setting that iPhones have.
The 200MP capture, limited to the 1x lens, is an option you have to select from the settings menu. If you squeeze after the shot, you’ll see more detail than you would normally in normal 1x mode. It’s a nice feature for well-lit landscapes and other bright scenes you want to blow up.
Don’t confuse it with a standalone camera, however, with its much larger sensor and high-end lens – you’ll notice a lot more “noise” in the smallest detail than the average Canon, Nikon or Fujifilm. While I didn’t have the S22 Ultra to do a side-by-side analysis of, it didn’t seem that much more detailed than the 108-megapixel sensor I tested a year ago. But it’s still impressive in its own right.
In general, the S23 Ultra has been optimized to be better in low light conditions, both for regular photos and night sky photography.
The handset’s new adaptive pixel sensor processes 16 pixels into one larger pixel, Samsung says, for better lighting.
The selfie camera has an improved Night Portrait mode that measures the sense of depth and creates an “enhanced” bokeh effect by analyzing the distance of objects and separating the subject from the background.
In reality, the camera setup remains the reason to get the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
And not only with the Samsung Galaxy series, but with all smartphones. In general, this is the most complete, flexible, and high-quality camera system on any phone you can buy. Its lenses, sensors and computational photography are pretty much unbeatable as a package for someone who wants the widest range of photo options on their phone.
The only part of the setup that’s slightly outperformed by a competitor is the video quality. Also excellent and capable of a higher resolution at 8K, it’s still not quite at the smoothly stabilized level of the iPhone 14 Pro.
The only part of the setup that’s slightly outperformed by a competitor is the video quality.
The physical design of the S23 Ultra also features some improvements. While very similar to the S22 Ultra, the front is flatter, with less curved glass on the side. To me, that’s a very good thing: I’ve never been a fan of curved glass on the edge of phones, from the Samsung Edge to the latest Galaxy Note – it always leads me to typos and other slightly awkward user experiences.
The S23 Ultra comes with a unique accessory for flagship smartphones – an integrated stylus. The S Pen, inherited from the Galaxy Note series, isn’t for everyone, but can be very handy when you click it out of its embedded spot on the bottom left side of the phone.
You can just start scribbling. Due to its excellent latency, its use is almost indistinguishable from using a pencil or pen on paper. The S Pen also comes in handy for things like setting up selfie photos.
The display is expectedly the best you can get on a phone, with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate resulting in smooth scrolling, along with its ultra-high 3k (1440p) resolution.
In terms of performance, the S23 Ultra has ditched its Exynos chips for European models and now relies on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 across the board.
Samsung says the processor under the hood here is actually a modified version of the top-level chip exclusive to Samsung, and it’s faster than the fastest processors available for any other Android smartphone.
The phone’s battery life was generally very good thanks to its 5,000mAh battery – a small miracle considering there’s still room for the S Pen stylus.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra, like all S23 models, comes in four colors – black, cream, green and lavender.
It is available in three configurations: 256 GB (€1,459), 512 GB (€1,639) and 1 TB (€1,879).
https://www.independent.ie/business/technology/reviews/samsungs-s23-ultra-is-the-best-android-you-can-buy-but-its-not-that-different-to-last-years-model-42333780.html Samsung’s S23 Ultra is the best Android you can buy, but it’s not that different from last year’s model