Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review: Simply fabulous

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is currently the best phone on paper money can buy but is it the best for you? Read our full review to find out.

By: AMRITANSHU MUKHERJEE
| Updated on: Feb 18 2023, 10:50 IST
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra starts at a price of Rs. 124999. (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra starts at a price of Rs. 124999. (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

When your phone has an “Ultra” attached to its name, expectations rise extremely high. Samsung has been doing Ultra versions of its highest-end phones for years and it was only in 2022 when I felt the company had peaked with the Galaxy S22 Ultra. That phone had the biggest display, the most versatile cameras, superb performance, unmatched productivity, and that beautiful design draped in the stunning shade of Burgundy. So, what else could you ask for its 2023 successor?

It seems none of us could give any better ideas to Samsung and this is why the Galaxy S23 Ultra is an iterative upgrade from the S22 Ultra. That inflated price tag is a bummer but for the extra monies, the improvements are enough to justify making an upgrade from last year's Galaxy S22 Ultra. Yes, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is that good; and after living with it for almost two weeks, I think this is once again in line to nab the top honours.

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Design

The Galaxy S22 Ultra was a beautiful phone by all means and most Samsung fans wished Samsung to not change it for 2023. So Samsung complied but not without leaving it absolutely untouched. The sides are contoured better to increase the comfort and grip, all without looking too “iPhone-ey”. The display curves a little less on the edges as well. Repositioned buttons here, something refined there – that's all there's to say about the changes made to Galaxy S23 Ultra's design.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

For someone new to Samsung's ecosystem, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is once again a pretty phone to behold, and a nice one to feel. The camera arrangement at the back is beautiful and the dedicated silo for the S Pen stylus is neatly tucked at the bottom. The Gorilla Glass Victus 2 assures better drop protection on concrete surfaces and improved scratch resistance as well; my unit hasn't got any scratches on its display yet. Plus, the water and dust resistance rating is a big boon in a country like ours, where the weather goes to the extreme.

Display

One of the big reasons you buy an Ultra Samsung phone is for its display. The Galaxy S23 Ultra doubles up on that reason this year too. On this 6.8-inch QuadHD+ AMOLED display, all kinds of content looks lively. Colours now have a more natural-esque saturation and you enjoy the perks from very wide angles. The variable refresh rate keeps animations smooth – 120Hz for scrolling through menus and 30Hz while watching a YouTube video, or 10Hz when the display is static.

The best part though is the 1750 nits of peak brightness, which comes in handy while you are out under the Sun. Moreover, Samsung's Vision Booster now calibrates the colour accuracy at three different levels of brightness, which means you don't see brightened colours when the brightness is maxed out. I didn't notice any accidental touch on the curved sides on this phone. Plus, Samsung's ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is such a boon for unlocking the phone without picking it up; I just wish it was faster.

Performance

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

Phew! The Galaxy S23 Ultra is currently Samsung's fastest phone and this year, it shows more than just the numbers on the sheet. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy is tuned nicely for this phone and it shows when you push it. I threw some long session matches of Call of Duty: Mobile, and Shadow Fight 4: Arena, as well as rendered some hastily edited videos of my trip to Bangalore; the phone gulped it all down and asked, “Is that all you got?” And it does all that without heating the phone uncomfortably (for now). If you seek uncompromised raw performance, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the one to go for.

All that raw performance is handled well by Samsung's improved One UI 5.1 interface, which is based on Android 13. The newest version of One UI is well optimised, which means the phone feels snappy and eager even as you do multi-window multitasking using the S Pen. All of Samsung's extra features are neatly tucked at arm's reach and once you get used to this, there's no going back to your iPhone or any other Android phone. For example, you can make GIF's out of any video even if it's playing in a small window! That's insane! You can scribble notes on the lockscreen, or use the stylus to take selfies remotely. You can drag-n-drop text, or simply cutout a person from an image in Photoshop style (borrowed from iOS 16) and send it as a sticker on WhatsApp. Wow! I also love Samsung Wallet (earlier Samsung Pay) for quick payments via UPI and debit cards, and the Samsung Free app for, well… free live TV. Samsung preloads many of its own apps alongside Google and Microsoft apps, as well as some other third-party apps. None of them show ads and they can be deleted if not required. That said, Samsung's Push Service keeps showing occasional ads from Samsung in the notification shade.

Simply put, One UI 5.1 is the most feature loaded yet polished experience you can have on any smartphone today. The Material You infused theme on the Google Pixel still has my heart for its aesthetics but for everything else, nothing beats the Galaxy S23 Ultra's interface. The best part is that Samsung will drop four more Android OS updates and 5 years of security patches, which is one more than what Google promises for the Pixel 7 Pro.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

The niceties don't stop here. The Galaxy S23 Ultra get new speakers and they are a colossal improvement over the ones from the Galaxy S22 Ultra. The sound separation across all frequencies is as good as the iPhone 14 Pro Max although the surround effect is a bit muffled. Hence, watching those musical Reels on Instagram is a much better experience on the whole.

Then there's the rock solid connectivity – be it Airtel's 5G or Jio's 4G LTE, the Galaxy S23 Ultra latches on to the network strongly, delivering good data speeds. Call connectivity is good but it struggles in basements (maybe an update could fix this).

Cameras

The Pixel 7 Pro has won me over for its superb still photos and the iPhone 14 Pro Max with its video recording. What about the Galaxy S23 Ultra?

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

My preferences still don't change but that doesn't mean the S23 Ultra has bad cameras. In fact, this may be the best overall camera system on any smartphone today. The new 200MP camera sensor plays a vital role for the slightly sharper details in the photos, as well as brighter photos at night. Of course, you can take photos in full 200MP resolution but the best results are achieved only in broad daylight; use this mode only if you want to print very resolution photos. For zooming, you can rely on the tried-and-tested and now improved 3X and 10X zoom cameras. It is still impressive to zoom in to far away objects such as building tops and small birds without losing out on quality. Yes, you will see pixelation after 30X zoom but the S23 Ultra does what no other phone camera can when it comes to zooming. The ultra-wide camera is good in all light scenarios but it still lacks details you see on the main camera.

When it comes to video recording, the overall performance is second to the iPhone 14 Pro Max but only by a slight margin. 4K and FHD video quality is great, and I can say the same for 8K at 30 fps. You will see great colours, good sharpness, and superb audio recording via the mic. However, the struggles with grains happen at night and the jittery effects are observed occasionally.

Click here to check camera samples.

The new 12MP selfie camera improves the quality of selfie photos and videos, achieving vibrant yet natural colour tones with slightly boosted saturation. The exposure control on faces is much better and is vastly improved over the iPhone 14 Pro Max's front camera. The portrait mode does a beautiful job with subject cutouts.

Battery

While the battery capacity remains unchanged from last year at 5000mAh, it is the efficiency of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip that increases the stamina. The Galaxy S23 Ultra has consistently matches the overall stamina on a single charge that you get on the iPhone 14 Pro Max – 1.5 days easily with moderate usage (no gaming and light camera usage). Note that this figure is achievable while the display resolution is set to Quad HD+ resolution; the FHD resolution enhances it by a few hours.

Sadly, Samsung is sticking to the 45W wired charging as the fastest way to fill up the battery, which takes close to an hour. You also have 15W wireless charging as a more convenient but slower alternative.

Conclusion

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Amritanshu / HT Tech)
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Amritanshu / HT Tech)

The Galaxy S23 Ultra is to the smartphones what Bentley is to the world of cars – it has got all the luxuries you can ask for, draped in utmost style. It has a large and beautiful display to let your eyes feast upon, a highly capable and power efficient Snapdragon chip that also runs cool, a set of splendid cameras outdoing the versatility of a professional camera, and a good battery life to back it all. And when you are done dealing with all that, one look at the stately design of the S23 Ultra and most of you seem to be proud of your hefty investment.

But what about the competition? The Galaxy S23 Ultra has to peek at just two rivals – the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max that rides the hype train with its Dynamic Island, and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 with its large tablet-like folding display. The Fold 4 is a worthy alternative only if you want the folding display, and the iPhone is a solid phone but with less capable cameras and a restricted ecosystem.

This makes the Galaxy S23 Ultra an easy pick for anyone who has a starting budget of Rs. 124,999 for their next smartphone. It has literally got everything you can ask for in a smartphone today. Our new top recommendation for a smartphone in 2023, if money is no bar.

Rating
4.5 out of 5
Price
INR 124,999/-
Product Name
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Brand Name
Samsung
Pros
  • Great performance
  • Incredible cameras
  • Good battery life
Cons
  • Stale design
  • Expensive
Specifications
  • Display
    6.8-inch QHD+ AMOLED 120Hz
  • Chipset
    Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
  • Rear Cameras
    200MP + 10MP + 10 MP + 12 MP
  • Front Camera
    12MP
  • OS
    One UI 5.1 on Android 13
  • Charging
    45W wired, 15W wireless

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First Published Date: 18 Feb, 10:49 IST
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