Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Review: A Dominant Android Phone

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Qualcomm's Powerful Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 And A Wild 200MP Camera Make This Android Phone Shine

S23 Ultra 03

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra - Starting at $1199
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra refines an already impressive flagship Android phone with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and a 200MP camera.

Product Pros
  • S-Pen versatility
  • Stunning display
  • Top-notch cameras
  • Superb performance
  • Exceptional battery life
    Sharp, bright display with 120Hz refresh
    ×Fast 80W charging and included plug
    ×Excellent performance with Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
    ×Alert slider is back
Product Cons
  • No microSD support
  • Heavy-handed One UI Skin
  • No charger in the box
hothardware recommended small

Samsung recently introduced its new flagships, the Galaxy S23 ($799), S23+ ($999), and S23 Ultra ($1,199). These premium phones boast top notch specs and are poised to lead the Android market in the US, and challenge the Android competition abroad. As such, these are significant handsets not only for Samsung, but also for consumers, carriers, and the mobile industry as a whole.

Last year’s Galaxy S22 series ticked all the right boxes, and the S22 Ultra stood out for its superior imaging performance. This year, Samsung opted for a more incremental approach. First, the entire lineup is now powered by a special version of Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 4nm SoC. Secondly, the S23 Ultra’s main shooter was upgraded to 200MP. Finally, Samsung improved the selfie camera across the board and made a few cosmetic changes.

So, have these improvements paid off? Is the Galaxy S23 Ultra a better phone? Let’s dig in and explore in our detailed deep dive review...

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Hardware And Design

When it comes to design, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is a dead ringer for last year’s Galaxy S22 Ultra. The overall shape and layout (buttons, ports, openings) are nearly identical, and the dimensions are the same within fractions of a millimeter. What’s changed slightly are the sides, which are now flatter and less rounded, and while the camera pod looks mostly the same, the rings around the three main lenses are now marginally larger.

S23 Ultra 00
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra front

Obviously, the S23 Ultra is a big phone – bigger even than the Pixel 7 Pro, or the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Just like with its predecessor, the screen is 6.8 inches across, and the frame is made of armor aluminum. Gorilla Glass Victus 2 now covers both the display and the back. In all, I really like how Samsung’s keeping the Galaxy Note-like design alive here. Despite its size, the S23 Ultra feels comfortable and familiar.

The short edges are perfectly flat, and are home to the nano SIM tray, primary mic, USB Type-C port, speaker grille, and S-Pen silo along the bottom, and to the secondary mic on top. Along the now flatter, curved sides, you’ll find a volume rocker, power / lock key, and mmWave antenna window on the right, but nothing more than antenna bands on the left. As you’d expect from a Samsung flagship, build and material quality are excellent.

Galaxy S23 series 02
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra back

Our Galaxy S23 Ultra review unit came in Cream, but other hues include Phantom Black, Green and Lavender. Four additional colors – Lime, Sky Blue, Graphite, and Red – are also available exclusively on Samsung’s website. The S-Pen is still mostly black, with only the clickable end matching the phone’s colorway. Like before, the S23 Ultra is IP68 water and dust resistant, and features an in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor.

Check out my Samsung Galaxy S23 series hands-on video before I dig in deeper...

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Specs And Features

Processing and 5G Platform Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 + integrated Snapdragon X70 5G Modem
Display 6.8" QHD+ LTPO AMOLED, 3088x1440 resolution, 1-120Hz, HDR10+
Memory 8/12GB LPDDR5x
Storage 256/512/1024GB UFS 4.0
Rear-Facing Cameras 200MP f/1.7 Main OIS, PDAF, Laser AF - 12MP f/2.2 120º Ultra-Wide dual-pixel PDAF - 10MP f/2.4 3x Telephoto OIS, dual-pixel PDAF - 10MP f/4.9 10x Telephoto OIS, dual-pixel PDAF
Front-Facing Cameras 12MP f/2.2 dual-pixel PDAF
Video Recording Up to 8k @ 30fps, 4K @ 60fps, 1080p @ 120fps, 1080p slow-mo
Battery 5000 mAh, 45W wired charging, 15W wireless charging
OS Android 13 With One UI 5.1
Dimensions 163.4 x 78.1 x 8.9mm
Weight 234 grams
Connectivity 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6e, Bluetooth 5.3+LE, NFC, UWB, USB-C, LTE, 5G (sub-6GHz and mmWave)
Colors Phantom Black, Cream, Green, Lavender, Lime, Sky Blue, Graphite, Red
Pricing Find Samsung's Galaxy S23 Ultra @ Amazon, Starting at $1,199

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Display Quality

Samsung’s flagships have consistently offered fantastic displays, and so does the Galaxy S23 Ultra. It inherits the S22 Ultra’s screen – a 6.8-inch Quad HD+ (3088 x 1440 pixels, 500 ppi) second-gen LTPO AMOLED panel with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio, a 1-120Hz variable refresh rate, HDR10+ support, and an eye popping 1750 nits peak brightness. Bezels are thin all around, and there’s a center punch hole for the front shooter.

S23 Ultra 15
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra display

The S23 Ultra’s display is also slightly curved along the left and right edges, and while I’m generally not a big fan of such “waterfall” designs, the effect is pretty subtle here. It also makes this handset slightly easier to grip. Obviously, this screen is exceptional. Colors are vibrant, blacks are deep, and viewing angles are superb. It also gets amazingly bright, which makes it a lot easier to read in direct sunlight.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Camera Performance And Image Quality

Samsung has always excelled at imaging, and the Galaxy S22 Ultra is universally regarded as one of the finest and most versatile camera phones of 2022. As such, the S23 Ultra retains most of its predecessor’s specs. This includes the 12MP f/2.2 1.4-micron 120-degree ultrawide with DPAF, the 10MP f/2.4 1.12-micron 3x telephoto with DPAF and OIS, and the 10MP f/4.9 1.12-micron 10x periscope telephoto with DPAF and OIS.

But the Galaxy S23 Ultra also gains a couple significant upgrades. It now boasts a larger 12MP f/2.2 front shooter with DPAF, and – most importantly – a higher resolution 200MP f/1.7 0.6-micron main camera (Samsung Isocell HP2) with laser AF, PDAF, and OIS. If 200MP seems like overkill, that’s because it is. In most situations you’ll be capturing 12.5MP photos. But this high resolution does enable some interesting new image processing tricks.

S23 Ultra 26
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Camera Pod

For starters, the Isocell HP2 provides two distinct pixel-binning modes. It can either merge sixteen (4x4) 0.6-micron pixels into a single, massive 2.4-micron pixel, to produce 12.5MP images, or combine four (2x2) 0.6-micron pixels into one large 1.2-micron pixel for 50MP shots. Since bigger pixels handle low light better, you can pick how much detail you want in your pictures based on the amount of available light.

Those 200MP can also improve digital zoom. When zooming in to 2x, you’re basically using 50MP at the center of the sensor. Bin those pixels 4-to-1, and you end up with higher quality 12.5MP photos in low light. Even at 4x magnification, the available native resolution after cropping is 12.5MP, meaning you don't lose any data. But obviously, with 0.6-micron pixels, you’ll definitely need more light when shooting at 4x.

Overall, The S23 Ultra packs the same imaging features as the S22 Ultra, with a few added software enhancements. Both night and portrait modes now benefit from additional cutting-edge AI tech. As a result, low light pictures are more refined and portraits look a lot more natural, particularly in night mode. For example, portrait mode is now able to blur the background around eyeglasses properly.

S23 Ultra sample 43
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra main camera (50MP mode)

One new feature is Astrolapse, a setting within the hyperlapse mode that makes it easier to capture the movement of the stars, for that awesome star trail effect. The Color Tone setting is now easier to access when taking selfies with a new “warm” option replacing “bright”. Besides the existing audio zoom, 360 audio recording allows you to capture binaural audio when paired with Samsung’s Galaxy Buds2 Pro.

Samsung’s Expert RAW, which is similar to Apple's ProRAW, still lives in a separate app, but is now integrated as a mode within the main camera app. Beyond astrophotography and multiple exposure, it now supports 50MP shots. In addition, the new Camera Assistant app lets you fine tune camera settings. Auto Framing is able to detect and track up to 10 people while recording video, and automatically zoom to keep them within the frame.

Single Take, which was introduced a few years ago, captures a series of videos and photos using different styles, angles, and formats for up to 10 seconds while you move the phone around. The S23 Ultra records stabilized video with stereo audio at up to 8k 30fps (main shooter only), 4K 60 fps, and 1080p 60fps. Rounding things up, video pro enables 1080p 120fps video capture with either the main camera or the ultrawide.

S23 Ultra sample 09
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra ultrawide

S23 Ultra sample 10
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra main camera (1x)

S23 Ultra sample 11
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra main camera (2x zoom)

S23 Ultra sample 08
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra telephoto (3x zoom)

S23 Ultra sample 12
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra telephoto (5x zoom)

S23 Ultra sample 13
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra telephoto (10x zoom)

S23 Ultra sample 14
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra telephoto (30x zoom)

Other capture modes include high-res (200MP or 50MP), portrait video (up to 4k 30fps), pro, pro video (up to 8k 30fps / 4k 60fps / 1080p 120fps), motion photo, panorama, food, slow motion (1080p 240fps), super slow motion (720p 960fps), HDR10+ video, super steady (up to 2k 60fps), and hyperlapse (up to 4k 30fps).

The S23 Ultra takes beautiful photos, with accurate colors and exposure. The main shooter in particular, delivers a wide dynamic range and impressive low-light performance. While the default 12.5MP shots contain a lot of detail, switch to 50MP, and photos become super crisp. And honestly, that’s the sweet spot. Obviously, 200MP pictures contain even more detail, but the resulting files are huge (50MB+), and you need even more light.

Are these images better than those captured with last year’s S22 Ultra? Yes, slightly. Once again, the 10x telephoto is what really differentiates S23 Ultra from the competition. With the 3-5x telephoto shooters on most other flagships, 10x zoom is still perfectly acceptable, but 30x zoom is troublesome. With the S23 Ultra’s 10x telephoto, 30x zoom becomes completely usable, and things only start breaking down beyond that.

S23 Ultra sample 65
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra main camera (auto)

S23 Ultra sample 64
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra main camera (night mode)

By default, the S23 Ultra captures selfies at 8.7 megapixels, but you can switch the front camera to “wide” to access the full 12MP resolution. The resulting photos are quite pleasant, and portraits in particular, stand out. We're especially fond of the Color Point filter, which turns the background black and white, while keeping the subject in color. Video performance is also excellent, almost matching the iPhone 14 in quality.

Finally, the S23 Ultra’s main camera benefits from twice the OIS range (3 degrees of correction vs. 1.5 degrees previously), resulting in much better stabilization when recording video, and longer shutter speeds when shooting photos in low light.

S23 Ultra sample 26
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra selfie camera (portrait mode, Color Point filter)

Next up: audio, performance, and battery life...

Related content