- Good performance with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
- Battery life is just beautifully managed
- Still that A-Grade display with good colours
- Granular improvements all around
- Camera works just the way it should: Good
- Computational Photography is here to stay and there's nothing we can do about it
- There's definitely space to bring back the headphone jack... Just saying.
It took us a while for us to be able to write this review. While it may look the same as its predecessor in many ways than one, Samsung decided to focus on the smaller things about this phone to elevate the experience – to what I like to call it: iPhone-like. You will understand why I say that in this review more to the end. Here’s our Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Review
Looks the same but there are some Granular changes in the design
From the outside, or at least from the renders – it’s easy to make a mistake that the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra looks exactly the same as its predecessor, S22 Ultra. Now, the S series has always touted the rounded-off design, even with the S22 Ultra. That’s not the case here with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. It has opted in for a much more squared-off design that’s more cuboidal with curved edges.
And since the curves of the glass on the front have been reduced to make the display wider by minuscule millimetres, the phone does give an illusion of it being much wider than it is. Truth be told, it is harder to hold one hand. I have dropped 6 times on my face and it hurts. So, please get that case with this strap for you to put your entire hands in it to hold it. Oh, the back of the phone is matte – and it can be slippery. So, be very careful when you place it on any surface.
Other than this, the phone has a nice weight to it and is dimensionally thick too. But you know what surprises me the most? The fact is that the bottom area of the phone can very well accommodate a 3.5mm headphone jack. Very sad that it doesn’t have one. But I guess it is what it is.
Still the A-Class Display in its league
If there’s one thing a lot of brands have caved into opting for the same thing: it’s the display. Dynamic AMOLED 2X display has shaped this phone in such a good way. This QHD+ 6.8”-inch display is such a sight to behold, with good colours, pristine sharpness and that signature “Samsung” vibrance that users would either love or hate. I like my display colours to be neutral, which this display has the potential to do so, in its settings of course.
But that said, if you happen to love watching shows and movies or even just as simple as consuming YouTube videos – the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s display does give the best experience possible. With its newer peak nit brightness, HDR content makes better sense as it does need those criteria to be fulfilled. The speaker setup of this phone is designed in a way to still gives the stereo audio experience – which is good.
On top of that display, you will find a Corning Gorilla Victus 2 glass, that protects from breaks but scratches are still prone to it – so, get a screen protector because it does not come with one.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2: Quite the Revival in Endurance and Performance
This isn’t the first Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 phone we are reviewing, in fact, that goes to the OnePlus 11 and the performance blew me away. However, this is the first custom-made Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 we are reviewing. Samsung teamed up with Qualcomm to make a “For Galaxy” processor for the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. Now there are two specific differences and they are the clock speed (3.36GHz vs stock 3.2GHz) and GPU (719MHz vs 680MHz),
Now, what’s interesting is that – you look above and the difference is just minor. But does it make a world of a difference? Nope. We have seen similar execution from another brand, ASUS where the ROG Phones used a higher binned processors in its phone for higher clock rates and for a cleaner performance. It’s essentially the same here too if you ask me.
What we experienced with the Oneplus 11 is pretty much the result we got here, in our day-to-day use case scenario. Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 fixed a lot of issues the Gen 1 had and for the better. This phone offers better battery life, good consistent performance and not to forget – it isn’t as hot as the S22 Ultra in the temperature department. I’ll be honest, to me, Samsung’s battery life has never been their strongest suit and I have always carried a power bank with me. That’s how much I don’t trust the battery life.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra however, offered a battery life where I could start my day with 50% left and come back with 15% of battery by the end of the day. I have charged once every day and a half, which is super good in my opinion. Given that we use our review units as our daily drivers, I can tell you that this phone has been used for navigation, music, entertainment, social media and even work – to get a standby time of over 12+ hours is good and screen on time as long as 7-8 hours is pretty fantastic.
That with impeccable performance is a nice combination to see in a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor. I didn’t use the S22 Ultra as my daily driver as it was riddled with a lot of frustration for me. But this Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra however does have the potential to be my daily driver.
S Pen works just the way it used to
There’s nothing much to comment on here because the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s S Pen is essentially the same as the last generation with barely any improvement. An area Samsung went with the “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. We are not going to dive into it a lot but all you need to know is: there’s a new “Write to Text” feature available via Software. It will be made available to older S22 Ultra as well. That’s really about it.
Camera: Computational Processing takes the front seat
Now the biggest upgrade happened in the camera department with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is – specifically switching the 108MP primary sensor for a 200MP sensor. Other than this, you have the same 10MP + 12MP + 10MP configuration – all functional, ranging from ultrawide to telephoto capable of doing 100x zoom.
This is funny and we had to address it – we are doing this review at the same time when Samsung has some interesting conversations about how pictures of the moon happen to be fake and all that. Now, let’s talk about something almost every other tech reviewer has barely addressed: Computational Processing Photography or Computational Photography. This is a completely different topic to talk about and we will do separate content on it. But to understand this, you need a normal DSLR or Mirrorless.
Proper cameras have dedicated Imaging Processors that give the camera the ability to perform very well, as a camera. It’s really a simple concept of taking pictures with no shenanigans going around. But here’s what smartphone cameras do: they have a much more powerful processor, more specifically ISP (Image Signaling Processor) which works hand in hand with NPUs (the AI processing), to do things like pixel-binning, image stacking and so on to give images that have exposures well exposed in areas where it should be, and so on. To put it short and sweet: your phone already does the post-processing the moment you hit the shutter button.
Have you ever noticed, how right after you took a picture, and enter the gallery, the app glitches for a split second and the exposure suddenly improves, and the image looks pleasant to the eye?
That’s exactly what that Computational Photography is. The fact that it exists is great because it take quick snaps, it does so well. But, the fact that smartphone brands go as far as to “improvise” by giving more details etc. so that their camera happens to perform well. As much it is a dirty trick, and even if its not as bad as what Huawei did – it is still a dirty trick – to sharpen details which is non-existent.
In fact, I have a good picture to show as an example of how computational photography fails as compared to a traditional camera, in my case, the Sony A7III I use every day. Me and Robin Wong (click here to watch the vlog), took a trip to Sekinchan and I put the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra camera to the test. This zoomed image of two people walking is proof that the camera does struggle as it does have software baked into it that will – no matter what – try to correct and you will never be able to get a SOOC picture. (Straight out of camera).
Otherwise, yes, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra does take decent pictures, good low-light performance, the kind of post-processing that makes the picture instantly instagrammable. I am not a fan of punchy vibrance, but I can’t deny that it has taken some good pictures when I needed it to. But if you are wondering if all the Computational elements will be removed, the answer is simple: nope. It’s here to stay and it will stay the way it is. What you see with your eyes will always be different from what you capture through the phone. Call it a fantasy versus reality kind of situation.
Samsung’s focus is more on Software than Hardware this time around
One of the biggest areas Samsung decided to focus on, starting with the S10 was the software improvement. Making OneUI more intuitive, easier to use, and providing longer support – while it may not be close to Apple but offering long enough to justify the expensive price tag the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra carries with it. Another thing, we will talk about in another article.
Now, why do I call the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, iPhone-like? For this, I am going to talk about three criteria that make an iPhone what it is. For years, Apple’s strategy towards its product has always been playing the long game and you can see that in its software department with a good 6-7 years of software commitment.
So, much so to a point that, at the time of writing this review the last EOL iPhone at the moment is the iPhone 7, which came out in 2016. Proving that their software commitment is stellar. Secondly, the hardware – which was state of the art at that time but you do see users, who still use the iPhone 8 because they can – and the hardware works just as well as it should.
Now those two important criteria have been lacking for years in the android segment and Samsung happens to wield the torch in leading in that area – that is offering longevity in software support paired with good hardware. This makes the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, and finally, the android smartphone worth paying the price tag in comes with.
Using this phone for the past 3-4 weeks, made me realize that this is getting refined – just the way Apple does with their iPhone. I am glad Samsung is making steps in that direction. Also, remember – to be sustainable, you don’t just have to use recycled parts in a phone – to be able to use a phone for as long as 6 years is equally if not, a better way to be sustainable.
Should I buy it then?
At the starting price of RM5699 (at least for the one we reviewed here), its definitely pricey – given that Samsung had some great deals going on where you can get the 512GB for the same price and all that. If you want to play the waiting game to get it at a discounted price, go for it. But if you happen to use the S22 Ultra, 21 Ultra or Note20 Ultra and you just want the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra – get that Buy 1 Free 1 offer because it’s the best deal in town. Do remember, the S23 Ultra you will get is 256GB and not 512 GB.