Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review: The flagship wars are at a stalemate, but Samsung still makes a damn good phone

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When you look out on the horizon of the smartphone world, what is it you see? I’ll tell you what I see. I see the dust gently settling to the ground as the big three struggle to figure out their next move. The flagship smartphone war is stalemate as the iPhone, Pixel, and Galaxy S series are fundamentally and evenly matched. The new Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is undoubtedly a work of art and a feat of technical ability, but it doesn’t leap or bound over either of its competitors.

Estimated reading time: 20 minutes

Sure, there are some things to love more than others between all three competitors. I traded my Pixel 7 Pro for the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. Not because the S23 Ultra is that much better. I traded it because Samsung’s One UI 5.1 suits my style more than the Pixel 7 Pro. So yes, we will all have subtle likes and dislikes between the big three; some of us will prefer one over another. But there isn’t a solid and significant technical area in which the S23 Ultra beats the others and vice versa. Of course, we have the foldable flagship wars to look forward to…but I digress.

That all being said. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is still the best flagship smartphone Samsung has ever produced. There is much to love here, so let’s get into it.

Thanks to AT&T for providing a review unit for us to look at. You can buy your AT&T S23 Ultra on AT&T’s website or visit one of its hundreds of retail locations.

The Quick Take

The Quick Take is a new section for our reviews. Here we provide a synopsis of the below review should you not have time to read the entire review. We hope you’ll come back and read the full review, so here’s the Quick Take on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.

As the headline already says, the flagship smartphone wars are stalemate. The big three make fantastic smartphones that most will be very happy with. Even the cameras are not a point of contention anymore. You will get review sites that do “shootouts” between the flagship cameras, but in the end, photos are subjective. These reviewers are giving their opinion on which looks nicer to their eye; for the masses of average buyers, all the cameras will look fantastic.

So is the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra worth it? Well, yes…and no.

If you’re coming from a Samsung S series phone that is the S20 or older, the S23 Ultra will be a great buy. If you’re coming from the S21 or S22, I recommend waiting. There are not enough compelling features and upgrades to move from the S22; there may be more if you’re on the S21, but still not enough. Here are my top improvements to the S23 over the S22.

  • Better design with rounded rails
  • A better and flatter display means fewer unwanted touch inputs
  • Battery life is improved

If you’re moving from an iPhone 11 Pro Max or older, the Samsung S23 Ultra would be a great buy. iPhone 12 and newer, wait it out. Or if you want to switch to Android and are considering the S23 Ultra, then yes.

It’s that simple. There’s a lot to love about the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, but enough to drop money on it and leave a one or two-year-old phone behind, probably not. Unless money is no object and you want the latest and greatest, this is the latest and greatest flagship Android phone.

Specifications

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has the following features and specifications:

  • Network Technology: GSM / CDMA / HSPA / EVDO / LTE / 5G
  • Dimensions: 163.4 x 78.1 x 8.9 mm (6.43 x 3.07 x 0.35 in)
  • Weight: 234 g (8.25 oz)
  • Build: Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus 2), glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus 2), aluminum frame
  • SIM: Nano-SIM and eSIM or Dual SIM (2 Nano-SIMs and eSIM, dual stand-by)
  • Protection:
    • IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 min)
    • Armor aluminum frame with tougher drop and scratch resistance (advertised)
  • Stylus: SPen (Bluetooth integration, accelerometer, gyro)
  • Display:
    • Type: Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1200 nits (HBM), 1750 nits (peak)
    • Size: 6.8 inches, 114.7 cm2 (~89.9% screen-to-body ratio)
    • Resolution: 1440 x 3088 pixels (~500 ppi density)
    • Protection: Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2
    • Always-on display
  • Operating System: Android 13 with Samsung One UI 5.1
  • Chipset: Qualcomm SM8550-AC Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (4 nm)
  • CPU: Octa-core (1×3.36 GHz Cortex-X3 & 2×2.8 GHz Cortex-A715 & 2×2.8 GHz Cortex-A710 & 3×2.0 GHz Cortex-A510)
  • GPU: Adreno 740
  • Internal Storage and Memory Options: 256GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 12GB RAM, 512GB 12GB RAM, 1TB 12GB RAM
  • Rear Cameras:
    • 200 MP, f/1.7, 24mm (wide), 1/1.3 “, 0.6µm, multi-directional PDAF, Laser AF, OIS
    • 10 MP, f/4.9, 230mm (periscope telephoto), 1/3.52″, 1.12µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS, 10x optical zoom
    • 10 MP, f/2.4, 70mm (telephoto), 1/3.52″, 1.12µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom
    • 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 120˚ (ultrawide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, Super Steady video
  • Features:
    • LED flash
    • Auto-HDR
    • Panorama
  • Video: 8K@24/30fps, 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 1080p@960fps, HDR10+, stereo sound rec., gyro-EIS
  • Front Camera: 12 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), Dual Pixel PDAF
  • Features:
    • Dual video call
    • Auto-HDR
    • HDR10+
  • Video: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30fps
  • Sound:
    • Stereo speakers
    • 32-bit/384kHz audio, tuned by AKG
  • Communication:
    • WLAN: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6e, tri-band, Wi-Fi Direct
    • Bluetooth: 5.3, A2DP, LE
    • Positioning: GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO
    • NFC: Yes
    • USB: Type-C 3.2, OTG
  • Battery: Type Li-Ion 5000 mAh, non-removable
  • Charging:
    • 45W wired, PD3.0, 65% in 30 min (advertised)
    • 15W wireless (Qi/PMA)
    • 4.5W reverse wireless
  • Colors: Phantom Black, Green, Cream, Lavender, Graphite, Sky Blue, Lime, Red, BMW M Edition
  • Price: $ 1,090.00 / C$ 1,649.99 / £ 999.00 / € 1,285.31 / ₹ 124,999

What’s In The Box

  • Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
  • USB-C cable
  • Manuals and Documentation

Design

Solid build

I’ve watched the YouTube “influencer” crowd and their reviews for the past few weeks. One of their coordinated cries about the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is that it has the same design as the S22. They pull their S22s out and show them side by side with the S23. And sure, at first glance, they are very similar. But what you can’t see on camera and what they trivially point out are two distinct differences that make the S23 stand out over last year’s model.

I am not saying these two design differences make the Samsung S23 Ultra worth getting rid of your S22. But these two changes made using this phone much nicer than the S22.

The first and most noticeable difference is the slight change in the chassis contour. The new frame has a rounded square feel, making it much nicer to hold. The S22 was more barrel-shaped and didn’t feel as nice in my hand as the S23.

The second and most noticeable design difference is the flatter display. While there is a slight rounding off of the display, it has been scaled back, so I no longer have to worry about accidental inputs. The S22’s display fell off the sides, causing the meat of my palms to trigger touchpoints on the display. Samsung has fixed this, and I am more than pleased.

So with those two significant changes, the rest of the Samsung S23 Ultra is what you would expect, mostly the S22 Ultra.

On the back of the S23 Ultra are its quad-camera and flash system. The front houses the 6.8″ dynamic AMOLED display with nearly no bezels and the earpiece/speaker. One reviewer complained about the “large” chin on the S23 Ultra. Nonsense! The days of edge-to-edge displays should be over. The issue with edge-to-edge is the accidental touches, so having just a slight amount of bezel is better. I admit that edge displays look cool but get annoying quickly.

There is nothing along the left rail of the S23 Ultra. The volume rocker, power button, and 5G antenna sit along the right rail. The top rail houses one microphone, and the bottom rail houses the SPen, USB-C port, 2nd speaker, and microphones.

The build quality is OUTSTANDING! The iPhone is the only other phone that competes on build quality; sadly, the Pixel is not in the same league. All aluminum and glass, this is a very breakable device, as all flagship smartphones are. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra uses more robust glass and aluminum materials than previous years, but I recommend a case.

The S23 Ultra is as slippery as every other expensive phone, but the matte back does an excellent job of not holding on to fingerprints. The S23 Ultra has some heft, much heavier than the Pixel but slightly lighter than the iPhone; it weighs approximately 234 grams.

Overall, the Samsung S23 Ultra design is my favorite S design in a long time. My complaints about the S22 Ultra were addressed with a more squared-off chassis and a flatter display. It’s still insufficient to suggest upgrading from the S22, but it is progress.

Display

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Techaeris Review
Love this display

The Samsung S23 Ultra houses a dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 1200 nits (HBM), and 1750 nits (peak) display. This is one area that doesn’t change much from the S22. This is the same display, but the screen-to-body ratio is smaller by 0.03% due to the flatter and less rounded display. Which I am perfectly fine with.

The other significant change in the display is that the Samsung S23 Ultra uses Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2 instead of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus+. This isn’t a big deal that you would want to ditch your S22.

The peak brightness of this panel remains the same at 1750 nits, but it feels much brighter and more readable outdoors than the S22. I could be completely wrong, and it may only feel that way. Either way, this display looks fantastic indoors and outdoors and in any lighting condition.

Scrolling is (as always) excellent, thanks to the display’s adaptive 120Hz refresh rate. Samsung says the S23 Ultra automatically adjusts the minimum starting rate from 10Hz to 1Hz, saving energy. All gestures work fluidly on the S23 Ultra display with no lag or visible stutter.

As I said in my S22 Ultra review. Colors are as vibrant as ever on this AMOLED display. This is Samsung’s bread and butter. They have been doing screens for years and have made their formula for bringing out vibrant colors, keeping blacks deep and inky, and making whites clean and crisp.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Samsung makes the best displays on any smartphone available today. The company makes displays for Apple and other smartphone makers, so it stands to reason that the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra display would be the best Samsung can make.

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has the best display of any smartphone. Manufacturing displays is what Samsung does, and they’re continually improving their design and technology.

Software/UI

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra runs Android 13 with Samsung’s One UI 5.1 over the top. Some still have nothing good to say about Samsung’s user interface. I was one of those individuals back in the time of TouchWiz, but this is not TouchWiz, and it is time to get over your petty beef with Samsung’s old interface.

I own several smartphones, with the iPhone 14 Pro Max being my primary device and the Pixel 7 Pro my secondary device. After one week with the Samsung S23 Ultra, the interface prompted me to trade my Pixel 7 Pro for the S23 Ultra. This review unit is going back, but the strength of One UI 5.1 made me trade in my Pixel 7 Pro.

I used to think I wanted “vanilla Android,” and I do to some extent. That’s why One UI 5.1 is excellent. Samsung has learned from its TouchWiz days. It has made One UI 5.1 easier to navigate and with fewer quirks, but it gives you customization features that matter to me. And without having to download a third-party launcher. But it also is a little heavy on the features, so many that it would take a while to get through everything. But Samsung has (mostly) learned to allow users to pick the features they want to use and not use.

There is way too much to cover about One UI 5.1 in a review, so check out Samsung’s website here for more information.

Samsung has made some significant improvements to ThemePark and other Galaxy theming options. Now. You can use custom icons from the Google Playstore to theme One UI without needing a custom launcher. You also have more grid sizing options and many other customization options, including matching the system UI colors to your wallpaper.

One UI security features are also a plus. You can manage app permissions easier in the privacy tab in settings. In this tab, you can see what permissions each app has and what the app is accessing. You can limit permissions or deny them all. This might affect how certain apps behave, but it is an excellent option. It’s probably evident by now, but I am a fan of One UI, and I think most people will love it.

The S-Pen and its software allow you to draw and take notes within dozens of apps. The S-Pen has been around since the first Galaxy Note. Some find it very useful, while others rarely use it. It’s nice to have the option, even if you don’t use it much. My favorite S-Pen feature is using it as a remote for the camera. This allows you to set up a shot with you in it and take the photo using the button on the S-Pen. You can also turn handwriting into text, as seen below.

Like last year, Samsung has made it so you can easily share between Galaxy devices. Like Apple’s AirDrop, this ecosystem allows you to collaborate between your devices and others. This feature is optimized for the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and Galaxy Tab S8 series of tablets. You can transfer files or videos from one to the other and even pick up working in an app from one device to the other.

You’ll also use Android 13 on the Samsung S23 Ultra, with updates coming promptly. Samsung used to be very bad with updates, but they have improved since the S21, and updates are much more frequent and timely. Android 13 is familiar and easy to use; there is not much to discuss.

Overall, the software experience on the Samsung S23 Ultra is one of the best of any smartphone. In many ways, it is better than iOS and Android on Pixel. But most of that is very subjective, and you may disagree.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Techaeris Review
S Pen and more

Performance and AT&T

The Samsung S23 Ultra runs on the Qualcomm SM8550-AC Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 paired with Adreno 740. What does that mean? Basically, the new CPU and GPU from the same two companies provided the CPU and GPU in the S22 Ultra. Of course, they are both better in performance, but the gains are nominal if you’re coming from the S22. You will see significant improvement coming from the S21 or older.

Performance is strong, and the CPU/GPU/RAM combo can keep up with everything you can throw at it.

From basic tasks like web browsing, email, messaging, and note-taking; to more intensive tasks such as conference calls, streaming content, and gaming, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra takes it all in stride. I found zero lag, zero stuttering, and nearly no wait time for apps to load and become available.

As for AT&T, it has been over ten years since I’ve used its mobile network. I currently use Verizon, which has been okay but not perfect. Honestly, I don’t think any mobile network can be perfect. But I will say this. AT&T has better speeds in my area than Verizon, and I have thought of switching since doing this review.

I’ve found that AT&T speeds in the Branson, Missouri, area are double and triple those of Verizon. I will be considering a switch once our Verizon devices are paid off. One area that both AT&T and Verizon have failed at in my area is 5G. There really isn’t much 5G coverage, even when the coverage maps say there is.

Overall, the performance of the S23 Ultra is fantastic. The performance of the AT&T network in my immediate area was also excellent, and there may be a possible switch in the future.

Speakers/Sound

Let me say this, the speakers on the S22 Ultra were a big disappointment. I was very disappointed in Samsung for shipping their flagship smartphone with speakers so bad.

Samsung must have listened to the negative feedback because they have fixed that issue with the Samsung S23 Ultra speakers. These are fantastic speakers, even on par with the king of smartphone speakers, the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

The S22 Ultra speakers were so thin I felt like my ears were sliced open by the shrill trebles with little to no bass. The S23 Ultra brings a nice balance to the sound with rich mids and punchy bass complementing the treble and making a far better listening experience.

The S22 Ultra speakers weren’t even suitable for podcasts to me. They were fine for speakerphone calls and whatnot, but anything beyond that, they were hot garbage. The speakers on the S23 Ultra are miles better, and a big thumbs up to Samsung for fixing this.

Overall, there was excellent sound coming from these speakers, and Samsung fixed what they broke in the S22 on the S23.

Camera

Some years back, arguments could be made for one flagship camera system to be better than the other, but those days are past. Many still spit out dramatic video titles and over-the-top headlines, claiming one camera system is better, but it’s all a pile of horse crap.

Are there differences between the iPhone, Galaxy, and Pixel cameras? Yes, of course, there are. But the differences come down to how each phone handles the photos on the software side. The results from all of the big three flagship phones are outstanding! Now, it mostly comes down to what user preference is.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra takes some of the best photos you’ll ever look at, and its peers do the same. Samsung’s photo tuning tends to be more vibrant with added ambiance. Does that make them the best? I don’t think so. But the photos the S23 Ultra produces are damn good.

One area I do think Samsung overkills is the number of features within the camera app. I understand they want to give as many options as possible, but sometimes it’s so much that users can be overwhelmed. To Samsung’s credit, these features are at least tucked away and not thrown all at you in one interface. Many of those features were on the S22 and now on the S23, and here are just a few.

  • Nightography: With enhanced AI technology powered by the new NPU, the Galaxy S22 series’ camera is designed to let in more light, draw out details, and capture colors that make your content pop, even in the dark9. Also, when you enter Night mode, you can enjoy powerful nighttime photos.
  • Auto framerate: Auto framerate detects lighting and automatically shifts to an optimal fps speed.
  • Auto framing (video only): The new Auto Framing feature detects and tracks up to 10 people in each video and automatically adjusts the camera’s focus.
  • Portrait Mode: Not new, but improved for sure. The new AI Stereo Depth Map helps capture that perfect portrait photo.
  • Expert RAW: Edit in-camera and capture high dynamic range pictures with the Multi-Frame RAW format for post-capture editing. Select settings: ISO, Shutter-Speed, White Balance, EV, focus, and choose between different lenses. Expert RAW must be downloaded separately from the Galaxy Store, for free, before use.
  • Object Eraser: The Object Eraser removes unwanted objects, shadows, and reflections in the background with just one click. AI technology in Photo Editor restores the deleted part to match the surrounding environment after you tap the region you’d like to delete.
  • Photo Remaster: You no longer need to spend time editing photos yourself. The on-device AI works for you by analyzing textures, noise levels, and details to enlarge the photo without compromising quality and improving clarity. It also adjusts brightness and identifies the image noise to revise photos.

Overall, you will not be disappointed with the Samsung S23 Ultra photos. Will you get a bad shot here and there? Of course, but you’ll get bad shots with iPhone and Pixel too. Samsung does great things with its cameras, and these are exceptional cameras.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Camera Samples

We are trying something new with our camera samples. Uploading full-resolution camera samples to our server takes up a tremendous amount of space. So we always reduce the size and compress the files. I am trying out Flickr with full-resolution samples and no compression for this review. Let’s see how it goes.

Samsung S23 Ultra Camera Samples

Reception/Call Quality

There’s not much to complain about or report in this category. Reception and call quality were excellent. I do not live in a 5G area, so I could not test 5G speeds. AT&T is far better in my area than Verizon, but your results may vary. The call quality and speakerphone quality are excellent.

Battery Life

I’m unsure what Samsung has done with its battery balancing in the S23 Ultra. The S22 Ultra was just fine for my use case, and I ended the day with 40% left on that phone.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is on another level, and battery life has improved, ending my day around 55% and sometimes better.

Battery life is so subjective and depends on so many variables that it is hard to confidently say whether you will get this number or that number. I can say this; I think the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is the battery king and is better than my iPhone 14 Pro Max. That’s saying something because the iPhone is pretty damn good on battery.

Overall, you will not be disappointed with the battery life of this phone.

Price/Value

Prices vary from one mobile provider to another, and if you want to purchase the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra outright, you’re looking at a starting price of $1,199.99. Yes, that’s expensive, but you are getting your money’s worth.

Wrap Up

Some may not need all of these features or fantastic cameras. Other less expensive options aren’t going to compete head-to-head with S23 Ultra, but many mid-range phones offer good enough features at much lower prices. Even the Pixel 7 or 7 Pro will save money and give you a nearly equivalent experience.

But, if you’re looking for the absolute best Android phone (that is a Samsung) in nearly every category, that is the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. The price of admission is high, but you wouldn’t be reading this review if you were not already aware of the cost.

Last Updated on June 23, 2023.

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