Samsung is back with a brand-new batch of flagship smartphones in the Galaxy S23 series, with the Galaxy S23 Ultra leading the pack. This is the first non-folding Samsung phone I’ve used since the Galaxy S10, but ever since the first Galaxy Ultra phone came out with its crazy Space Zoom camera feature, I’ve been itching to try one out for myself. The wait has been totally worth it.
For those who don’t closely follow the design trends of smartphones, you probably wouldn’t be able to point out the differences between the current model and last year’s if you put them side by side. However, the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a more balanced boxy shape that's easy to hold, and the reduced curve of the display is very much welcome.
Inside the phone is the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 but customized for Samsung. Throughout our testing, it's been an absolute beast in performance and getting the most from the 5,000mAh battery for excellent battery life. The upgraded cameras, including a 200MP sensor, are incredible, and Samsung’s tweaks to the processing are wonderful. It's too early to say if the S Pen-wielding Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra will be this year's best Android or just fade away. Here's a hint: It’s definitely coming for the crown.
About this review: This review was written after a week and a half of testing a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra provided by Samsung. The company did not have input in this review.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the best phones on the market, packing an all-new 200MP sensor, a refined design, a custom Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset, and One UI 5.1.
- Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
- 6.8-inch QHD+ Edge, Dynamic AMOLED 2X Display, Super Smooth 120Hz refresh rate (1-120Hz), 240Hz touch sampling rate in gaming mode
- 8GB, 12GB
- 256GB, 512GB, 1TB UFS 4.0
- Operating System
- Android 13 / One UI 5.1
- 5G, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3
- 3.07 x 6.43 x 0.35 inches
- Cream, Green, Lavender, Phantom Black, Samsung exclusive colors (Lime, Graphite, Sky Blue, and Red)
- 200MP f/1.7 wide angle, 10MP f/2.4 2x zoom, 10MP f/4.9 10x zoom, 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide, 12MP f/2.2 front camera
- 8.25 ounces
- IP Rating
- Starts at $1,199
- Stylus type
- S Pen (included)
- Smooth, fast performance
- Great battery life
- Superb cameras
- Top-notch display
- Design refinements make it more comfortable to hold
- New camera features aren't easy to find
- Speakers are hit and miss
- Charging speeds aren't up to par with the price
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Pricing and availability
- Available in three different RAM/storage configurations
- It comes in four colors via retailers and four exclusive colors directly through Samsung
- The base model Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra costs $1,199.
Samsung unveiled the entire Galaxy S23 series on Feb. 1, and preorders opened up that day. It's set to release in stores on Feb. 17. The Galaxy S23 Ultra has a retail price of $1,199 for the base model. The base model starts at $1,200 and goes up from there, but there are many discounts and deals available during the preorder period. Going through Samsung directly nets you a free upgrade to the next storage option, $100 off, and more savings opportunities.
The base model mentioned earlier offers 8GB RAM and 256GB internal storage. If you bump up to the higher storage options of 512GB and 1TB, your phone will get an increase in RAM to 12GB. The highest configuration will cost you $1,619. You can choose from four colors: Phantom Black, Cream, Green, and Lavender. However, if you order from Samsung, you get four more options: Lime, Graphite, Sky Blue, and Red.
Design and hardware: The same, but different
- Design is similar to the Galaxy S22 Ultra model but with subtle changes that improve its in-hand feel
- Samsung uses Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on the front and back of the phone
- Very impressive display
Last year, the Galaxy S22 Ultra introduced a new design language for the series, which remained largely unchanged for the 2023 model. If you compare the two models, you’ll see very, very small differences in physical stature. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is slightly wider and heavier, that’s about it. One of the more noticeable changes from last year’s model, though, is the curvature of the glass. Samsung reduced the curve, making the phone a bit boxier but more comfortable to hold.0
While it might seem like making the sides less curvy would cause the phone to be less comfortable to hold, it actually had a different effect. The reduction in curvature creates more space on the phone’s sides, allowing the aluminum frame to fill the void. Though small, the change makes the side rail less sharp and ultimately more comfortable to hold. The phone is still quite large, so if you have smaller hands, it will still be a lot to handle, even with the design update.
Reducing the curvature of the glass creates more space on the phone’s sides. This makes the phone's sides feel less sharp and more comfortable to hold.
The glass on the front and back of the phone is the latest from Corning, Gorilla Glass Victus 2, to provide improved drop protection. Though this glass should be more durable than before, it's still a good idea to check out some of the excellent cases and screen protectors out there.
In regards to other design elements, Samsung used more recycled materials in the Galaxy S23 Ultra and its package than with previous devices. With 100% post-consumer recycled paper for the packaging and pre-consumer recycled glass, metals, and ocean-bound post-consumer plastic used in the phone itself.
Continuing an appreciated feature of its predecessor, the Galaxy S23 Ultra comes with an S Pen that slots perfectly into its silo on the phone. The S Pen doesn’t appear to have gotten any new features this year, but it does get a slight design update from last year’s version. Instead of offering a color-matched pen to phones, the pen is now just black for all model colors. The clicky button on the end of the phone does match the frame color, and it's also slightly more square than before.
In terms of audio, you’re getting dual speakers with Dolby Atmos support. If I had to say there was one hardware feature that regularly disappoints me here, it would be the audio. I haven’t been able to pin down the cause yet, but the audio sounds great and loud while listening to music through YouTube Music or watching something on Netflix. But if watching YouTube, the audio sounds much thinner and quieter.
I’ve tested it with various types of audio and tweaked different options in the device settings, and I could never get the audio consistent across apps. Also, the bottom speaker is really easy to cover up, and if you do, the second speaker isn’t nearly enough to make up for the loss of the other speaker.
Display: One of the best we've seen
- Has a 6.8-inch AMOLED display with 3088 x 1440 resolution and 120Hz adaptive refresh rate
- This is one of the best displays we've ever used
Underneath the front glass is arguably one of the best phone displays I’ve ever used. Samsung was already one of the top mobile display manufacturers, if not the best, and the one on the Galaxy S23 Ultra is chef's kiss.
The 6.8-inch AMOLED panel, or as Samsung calls it, “Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O QHD+ Edge Screen Display,” offers a 3088 x 1440 resolution with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate beauty. With a peak brightness of 1,750 nits, it does pretty great in bright light conditions. It doesn't offer the highest nit levels, but it handles probably 95% of lighting conditions just fine.
Without a doubt, this is a great display. I’m not a pixel peeper by any means, but I know what looks good when I see it. Everything looks fluid and smooth, from animations and scrolling to video games and videos. Colors are vibrant, and, as with most other Samsung phones, there are different preset profiles to pick from to change the saturation or tint of the display to match your preferences.
For those wanting a detailed display breakdown, we’ll have that coming very soon and will add a link here when it’s ready.
Performance: All you could want
- The new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy is exceptional
- Everything on the phone flies
With the word Ultra in the name, you’d probably expect this phone to handle any task you throw at it — and your expectation would be correct. Samsung has always used the best components in its Galaxy S line. Not only does the S23 Ultra get the latest from Qualcomm in this phone, but it also has some unique, exclusive customizations.
It's officially called the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy takes what is already an impressive chipset in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and includes tweaks to ensure the best possible performance from Galaxy S23 devices. The highlight is that it's the first phone to use Snapdragon’s Cognitive ISP to enhance images in real-time, but you can learn more about it in our detailed guide.
No matter what I did on the phone, the Galaxy S23 Ultra did so without a hiccup.
Aside from the performance monster that is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy, Samsung also included some impressively fast memory and storage. It uses the LPDDR5X spec for both the 8GB and 12GB RAM options and UFS 4.0 for internal storage.
Put all of this together, and using the Galaxy S23 Ultra feels very responsive. Whether opening fresh apps, recent apps, or enjoying animations or video games, I was very happy with the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s performance. For an in-depth breakdown of how powerful this phone is, be sure to check out Adam Conway's performance analysis here.
Whether it was playing a casual game, a retro game in one of the best Android emulators, or more spec-intensive titles like Call of Duty Mobile, the Galaxy S23 Ultra did so without a hiccup. While the phone would get warm, it never felt like it was getting too hot. Samsung noted how it increased the size of the vapor chamber for the cooling system, and it seems to have paid off. Even with the settings at max, the experience was fluid. But the weird speaker placement on the bottom of the phone and the weak secondary speaker I mentioned earlier would creep in anytime I held the phone in landscape.
Software: Welcomed familiarity
- Samsung’s One UI 5.1 is easy to use and full of options
- Now more ohesive with the rest of Android
Samsung, like all other Android OEMs, takes the stock OS and customizes it with a “skin” to make it unique to the brand. For a long time, Samsung’s interface was cluttered, sluggish, and a bit cartoony when compared to other brands. However, that was TouchWiz UI, and since the introduction of One UI back in 2018, the interface has gotten much easier to use.
One UI 5 has been rolling out to all recent Samsung Galaxy devices through updates. I've already been using it on my Galaxy Z Fold 4, but it’s a different experience than on a “normal” Galaxy device. The S23 series launches with a slight bump in versions with One UI 5.1. Visually, there are very few differences.
Not to deviate too much from the tradition, Samsung continues to offer loads of customization options in the settings menu along with its theme store and Good Lock apps. But the overall feel of the interface is much more familiar compared to Android devices, including a Pixel. While each manufacturer has their own exclusive features, the different UIs don’t feel like different worlds.
The One UI 5.1 update brings even more features and modes to devices. The camera mode picks up a new warm color tone option for selfies and puts the Expert RAW option as a quick toggle in in the camera app. There are improvements in the Gallery app for better searching, Shared Family Albums, automatic shadow and reflection removal, and more. Samsung is packing a lot in this update with new widgets, connectivity features, modes, and more.
Camera experience: Quirky perfection
- An improved camera system is highlighted by a new 200MP sensor
- The overall camera system is incredible
- Samsung introduced some interesting new shooting modes, but some aren't easy to find
A standout feature of Samsung’s Ultra line has been the cameras, and that didn't change with the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Plus, it gets some nice upgrades to boot. Kicking off the improvements is the new 200MP camera sensor. Before the official announcement of the phone, I attended a briefing where Samsung went over all the changes to the camera system. So far, my experience has mostly matched the hype.
During the briefing, Samsung said the 200MP sensor is using a new Adapt Pixel Sensor that brings many improvements to the photography experience, including how the system handles all of those megapixels. By default, the camera will automatically choose whether to take a full 200MP image or to bin it down into a 50 or 12MP image. You can force it to stay with the higher resolutions. However, if you leave it in automatic mode, depending on the environmental lighting conditions, the system will bin the pixels to achieve the best photo.
In addition to the new 200MP primary sensor, the phone has two 10MP sensors with a 10x and 3x optical zoom and a 12MP ultrawide sensor to round out the rear camera system on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Samsung also improved optical image stabilization (OIS) by doubling the range of motion. Previously the OIS system only had 1.5-degree movement, and now it has 3 degrees. This makes video recording much steadier and allows for better camera performance in low-light situations.
On the front side, Samsung changed from a 16MP selfie camera to a 12MP. While the megapixel count is lower, the change brings Dual Pixel technology to offer improvements for depth measurement in portrait shots and low-light performance. Something else Samsung brought to the front camera is Super HDR for photos and video to allow the phone to take great photos in both bright and dim environments.
A standout feature of Samsung’s Ultra line has been the cameras, and that didn't change with the Galaxy S23 Ultra.
While having great camera hardware in the phone is an important part to take great photos, without proper tuning and complementary software, the hardware isn’t enough. In the past, Samsung phones were known for taking over-saturated photos. However, in the last few generations of Galaxy devices, the processing has become more balanced. I’m not sure how to describe the photos I’m getting from the Galaxy S23 Ultra other than they're more vibrant and natural-looking.
Samsung’s camera app is much like the phone’s settings menu — there’s a lot there. The company has never been shy about providing plenty of options, and the Galaxy S23 Ultra is no exception. While the multiple toggles, modes, and adjustments available in the camera app can feel overwhelming, you can take amazing photos leaving everything on auto mode. Below are some photos I took while leaving it all on auto.
Below are photos taken on the Galaxy S23 Ultra, Galaxy Z Fold 4, and Pixel 7 Pro, and it's clear that Samsung has done a great job with the hardware and tuning on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. I've always owned a Pixel for photography and software, but this is the first phone that might make me reconsider my preferred smartphone camera.
Image order: Pixel 7 Pro, Galaxy S23 Ultra, Galaxy Z Fold 4
Otherwise, the camera software hasn't changed much. The expected photo, video, portrait, and night modes are there. But tapping on the More tab, you’re greeted with 11 more options to choose from, including Pro, Pro Video, Food, Portrait Video, and more.
One of those modes is Expert RAW, which has to be downloaded and is where the improved Nightography options are. When taking astrophotography, you can not choose 4, 7, and 10-minute capture times. You can even have a star guide overlay on the screen, so you know what constellations you are photographing.
Another fun nighttime feature is a star trail recorder option in the Hyperlapse mode. Star trails are those cool images you see where the landscape stays in focus while the camera captures the movement of the stars over a long period of time. Then, those images are stitched together, or in the case of a video, combined and sped up to create mesmerizing captures of the sky. This is in addition to the other helpful preset options in Hyperlapse for recording cars driving by, sunrise and sunset, and more.
Here are some nighttime photos and videos. It has been overcast in the evenings where I live, so most of these were taken in the early morning.
Samsung has also improved the video recording capabilities for the Galaxy S23 Ultra. While its predecessor was no slouch in this department, the new model has much better video stabilization, in part to the new OIS system and also in software changes. Video recording in most lighting conditions looks clear and balanced thanks to the new Super HDR. The phone is now capable of taking HDR10+ content, 8K video in 24 or 30 FPS, and 4K in 30 or 60 FPS, giving you even more options to capture video.
Another noteworthy addition is the Camera Assistant app, which was previously an experimental lab feature. While you still have to download it separately, the Camera Assistant app allows for more control over how the camera system operates on One UI 5.1 devices. You can enable or disable features like Auto HDR or auto lens switching, adjust capture speed, timers, and more. You may not know this, but most smartphones don’t capture the photo until you release the shutter button. In Camera Assistant, you can set it, so the phone captures the photo on the press, not the release of the button.
Though I appreciate Samsung offering plenty of customization options for the camera, some of the newest features aren’t easy to find.
For all the customization options Samsung offers, it can get overwhelming. There are so many different settings and options that it can be confusing for the average user. You'll still get fantastic pictures even on auto mode, but there are so many menus that it can be difficult to find settings you might want to learn more about.
Take the new Nightography features. If you didn’t know that the star guide and capture times were in the separate Expert RAW mode, you, like myself, would probably look in the Night mode menu first. The same goes for the star trails recording. I would not assume it would be in the Hyperlapse mode, but that’s where it is
If you're looking for an in-depth evaluation of what Samsung has done to make the Galaxy S23 Ultra's cameras the powerhouses they are, be sure to check out Ben Sin's complete explainer here.
Battery life and charging: It doesn't make sense
- Samsung kept the same sized battery — 5,000mAh — as last year’s Ultra
- Daily battery life is excellent
- The 45W charging is nice but falls short compared to other phones
- No charger in the box
One of the downfalls of last year’s Galaxy S22 Ultra was battery life. While it wasn’t bad, it seemed to be inconsistent and, at times, underachieving. Thankfully, I've been happy with the time between charges over the nearly two weeks I’ve been using this phone.
I have been getting nearly 36 hours of use on average between charges, with around 4-6 hours of screen time. Neither my Pixel 7 Pro nor Galaxy Z Fold 4 can reach those numbers. With the Galaxy S23 Ultra, I had no issues leaving my charger or power bank behind and going out for the night after a long day.
While all of that sounds good, I do have some qualms related to charging. Samsung opted to use the same 5,000mAh battery from last year’s Galaxy S22 Ultra, which is fine, but it also kept the same 45W charging speeds. The charge rate could be worse (the base Galaxy S23 only has 25W charging speeds), but for the price, 45W could be much higher. With many brands offering 60W, 80W, 100W, and higher charge rates on smartphones that cost significantly less than the Galaxy S23 Ultra, there’s no reason Samsung can’t do more for its premium devices. While most of those faster options aren’t available in the U.S., the latest OnePlus 11 is, and it offers 80W charging in North America.
I know this isn’t the first phone from Samsung to skip including a charger in the box, but one of the prior excuses for not doing so was that users already had chargers. However, that was when phones only reached 15W charging speeds at the most. But with higher charge rates and a $1,200 price tag, the 45W charger should be included. Thankfully, there are plenty of excellent USB-C chargers available, including the new Galaxy-optimized option from Anker.
Should you buy the Galaxy S23 Ultra?
You should buy the Galaxy S23 Ultra if:
- You need a smartphone that can handle any task
- You are a casual or advanced photographer.
- You like to take handwritten notes.
You should not buy the Galaxy S23 Ultra if:
- You are on a tight budget
- You don’t like big phones
- You don’t need the absolute best
Samsung is one of the oldest and most successful Android phone makers, so it's an understatement to say it knows how to make excellent smartphones. Even if it could be said the company has been coasting a bit over the last few years, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is an impressive device. It can satisfy any person's smartphone needs... if they have the budget for it.
While not as expensive as the Galaxy Z Fold 4, $1,200 for a phone is a lot of dough. But it’s not like Samsung isn’t trying to find ways that you can get your money’s worth from it. The company skimps on very little in terms of hardware and software, except in the charging department. It has a camera system that can make the most casual of photographers look better than average and give professionals a flexible and powerful camera. The performance capabilities of the phone can tackle any task with ease, and the S Pen is great for jotting down notes or doodling.
But the phone is very big and may have features you just don’t need. There are plenty of great phones to consider if you’re on a budget or prefer not to spend money on things you won’t use. The new OnePlus 11 offers excellent performance and solid cameras at $699 and there are the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro for less than the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Even the new Galaxy S23 and S23+ are great options.
However, if you want the most complete, top-of-the-line package from an Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is it. I have loved my time with this phone, and unlike other phones I’ve used before, I haven’t counted the days until I can go back to my Pixel.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the best phones on the market, packing an all-new 200MP sensor, a refined design, a custom Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset, and One UI 5.1.
Q: What colors are the Samsung Galaxy S23 series phones available in?
All three phones in the Galaxy S23 series are available in four colors: Phantom Black, Cream, Green, and Lavender. Green is the hero color for the Galaxy S23 Ultra, while the regular Galaxy S23 and Plus variants are mostly seen posing in Cream and Lavender, respectively. It's worth mentioning that the Galaxy S23 Ultra doesn't come with a color-matched S Pen stylus, so you'll have a black-colored stylus regardless of the variant you pick.
If you don't particularly like any of the colors you see above, then you can consider checking out the Samsung.com exclusive colors: Lime, Graphite, Sky Blue, and Red.
Q: Does the Samsung Galaxy S23 have a SIM card slot? Does it have eSIM?
All phones in the Samsung Galaxy S23 series have a SIM card slot. This is probably a relief to those worried about Samsung pulling an Apple and removing the SIM card slot entirely. It's tough to tell if Samsung will retain the SIM card slot for the next phones in the Galaxy S series, but it's staying for now. All three phones also have support for eSIM out of the box, meaning you get dual SIM support too. You can check out how to enable and use eSIM to learn more about the process in detail. You can, however, use only one eSIM along with a physical SIM card on the Galaxy S23 series. It's not necessarily a dealbreaker, but it's something to keep in mind considering there are phones like the Pixel 7 with dual eSIM support.
Q: How fast does the Samsung Galaxy S23 charge?
Samsung hasn't changed the charging speeds from the previous models, so the new phones in the Galaxy S23 series have the same wired and wireless charging speeds. This means the Samsung Galaxy S23 supports up to 25W fast charging, while the Galaxy S23+ and Galaxy S23 Ultra support up to 45W charging. Samsung isn't including a charging brick with these phones, so you'll have to pick up separate chargers to top them up if you don't have an older one lying around.
Q: Does the Samsung Galaxy S23 support wireless and reverse wireless charging?
The Samsung Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23+, and Galaxy S23 Ultra all support 15W Qi wireless charging, which is once again on par with the Galaxy S22 series phones. However, it's worth mentioning that you can buy phones that support faster wireless charging speeds. Those looking for novelty features will also appreciate the addition of support for 5W reverse wireless charging. This particular feature comes in handy for quickly topping up an accessory like your wireless earbuds or even another phone that supports wireless charging.
Q: How many software updates will the Samsung Galaxy S23 get?
Samsung is known for its commitment to delivering reliable and timely updates to its phones, and you can expect the same for the Galaxy S23 series. The Galaxy S23 series phones will get up to four major Android OS updates and up to five years of security updates. All three phones in the series ship with the One UI 5.1 based on Android 13, meaning you can expect them to stay up-to-date until Android 17 or whatever Google decides to call its software in the future. A few other Samsung devices are also eligible to receive up to four major Android updates, but the Galaxy S23 series devices have a slight edge as they ship with One UI 5.1 with Android 13 out of the box.
Q: Does the Samsung Galaxy S23 have a good warranty?
All phones in the Samsung Galaxy S23 series come with a standard warranty mandated by the law in the U.S. That means you get a one-year limited warranty, whereas in some countries, including a few in Europe, you get a two-year warranty by default. You can get your phone repaired if it breaks during that period, as long as it's not due to external factors or misuse. Accidental damages aren't covered by default, but you can always use Samsung Care+ for your peace of mind.
Samsung Care+, in case you're wondering, is a service that extends the warranty of your phone up to three years for a monthly fee. Additionally, it covers repairs for accidental damage, such as drops and spills. Alternatively, you can also spend more to get the Samsung Care+ with Theft and Loss, which can also get you a replacement device if yours gets stolen or lost. We recommend getting at least the Samsung Care+ to ensure you are covered for accidental damage. Even the best cases aren't enough to fully protect your device sometimes, so it's better to pay the additional charge and be safe than sorry.
Q: Does the Samsung Galaxy S23 have expandable memory?
The Samsung Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23+, and Galaxy S23 Ultra all come without support for microSD cards, so you can't expand the storage on these phones. You're essentially stuck with the storage you get on these, so be sure to pick the right one based on your requirements. The regular Galaxy S23 can be configured with either 128GB or 256GB storage, whereas the Plus model can be purchased with either 256GB or 512GB. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is the one that can be had with either 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB, so it's definitely the one to get if you're a power user who needs a ton of storage.