Experience Cutting-Edge Technology with Samsung S23 Ultra

Samsung wants the S23 Ultra to be the best camera for filmmakers and photographers. Im certainly not a professional filmmaker nor do I consider myself a photographic light. 

Experience Cutting-Edge Technology with Samsung S23 Ultra
The Galaxy S23 Ultra.
James Martin/CNET

But after a few days with the Galaxy S23 Ultra its clear that the new camera like low-light photography is taking Samsungs already great parts and pushing those strengths a little further. The $1200 (£1249 AU$1949) Galaxy S23 Ultra is set to launch on February 17 alongside Samsungs other new phone line-up including the $800 Galaxy S23 and $1000 Galaxy S23 Plus. 

Like last years Galaxy S22 Ultra the S23 Ultras huge screen is expensive and the full camera is overkill for the average person. The name Ultra tells us everything. This phone is for those who want a luxury phone. 

The Samsung S23 Ultra camera goes one step further.

Experience Cutting-Edge Technology with Samsung S23 Ultra

Compared to the Galaxy S23 and S23 Plus the Ultra is a closer zoom for most people than the stylus offers on the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the 68-inch display on the Google Pixel 7 Pro. Plus you might not need all of these but after using this phone for a few days I wouldnt blame you for wanting them.

Features and Performance of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra A Comprehensive Review

Samsung S23 Ultras camera takes a step forward If youve seen Samsungs unboxing presentation you already know that the S23 Ultras main camera is its standout feature. Samsung has added his 200MP sensor for the first time marking a technological upgrade from his 108MP main shooter on the S22 Ultra. 

The S23 Ultra gives you the option to shoot in 12MP 50MP or 200MP which can be adjusted in the settings menu using the viewfinder. Samsungs Expert RAW app is now integrated into the native camera app after initial download. I dont usually do raw image editing myself but the use case certainly seems to suit a phone like this. Being editable gives you more flexibility in working with your data in terms of color and exposure.

Improved color dynamic range autofocus and low-light performance seem to be more important than improved resolution. Samsung unveiled his S23 Ultra saying the new image sensor is better at reducing noise and has improved algorithms to improve color tone and detail. 

Experience Cutting-Edge Technology with Samsung S23 Ultra

Samsung has made these improvements primarily around video recording and low-light photography but overall its still a photographer.

These changes are more visual than adding solutions. A 200 megapixel file is too large to display here so unless otherwise stated images in this article are taken at 12 megapixel resolution by default. Still even at this low resolution you can see a shift in how the camera handles color skin tones and dynamic range. 

Experience Cutting-Edge Technology with Samsung S23 Ultra

However he did get some 200-megapixel photos during testing. The biggest difference I noticed between these 200-megapixel photos of him compared to his 108-megapixel photos taken on the Galaxy S22 Ultra has to do with color. The flowers were bright orange and the trees looked greener. The resolution difference is only noticeable when you zoom in to see the actual pixel size. 

Experience Cutting-Edge Technology with Samsung S23 Ultra

However the image below shows how the Galaxy S23 Ultra camera has changed compared to his S22 Ultra. See photos of trees and shrubs taken in the park. Its not felt in the slightly padded version below but the S23 Ultras image has less separation and sharpness than his S22 Ultra and has better contrast with the bark.

Those who have taken photos with Samsung phones before may notice that colors sometimes appear enhanced. LG has improved this over the years but the Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro images look natural overall. 

But natural doesnt always mean good. Sometimes the Samsung Color Enhancer works well and sometimes it doesnt. For people and portraits of people for example Samsungs emphasis on color can produce a more flattering image. 

The Galaxy S23 Ultra photo of my husband in the photo below looks more natural than the Pixel 7 Pro photo because it makes the beard and eyes more alive. 

But the iPhone 14 Pro loves photos the most because it strikes the right balance between accurate and bold colors. The iPhone 14 Pro also takes a close look at the cookie bench it sits on.

However Samsung phones dont always handle challenging lighting scenarios well. When I took a picture of my husband in front of the bakery window both the S23 Ultra and S22 Ultra images looked washed out and overexposed but the colors of the S23 Ultra were richer than the S22 Ultra. In this case the iPhone 14 Pro is the best but the Pixel 7 Pro is also impressive. 

Colors may appear brighter and more exaggerated in landscape photos taken with the Galaxy S23 Ultra compared to the iPhone 14 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro. 

Comparing the first photo of the garden with similar photos taken with the iPhone 14 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro with a green shade looks more natural. The right side of the iPhone 14 Pro photo looks overexposed but otherwise it would be a better photo because the colors are more accurate. 

However Samsung has done a good job with the dynamic range. You can see the shadows more clearly in the photo than in other photos. But in my opinion Samsung is still the king of low light photography. In my tests the Galaxy S23 Ultra captured better details and colors. 

The Galaxy S23 Ultra is able to focus more sharply than the Pixel 7 Pro and the iPhone 14 Pro. Sometimes its small but its slightly better than the Galaxy S22 Ultra. My favorite example is the picture of my cat Buddy shown below. The iPhone 14 Pro has a brighter image but I prefer the S23 Ultra for better contrast and detail. 

When the photos are viewed side by side on a large monitor the streaks of fur become more apparent. The Galaxy S22 Ultra photos are too soft while the Pixel 7 Pro photos appear to have a blue filter on the big screen.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra performance

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Performance The Galaxy S23 Ultra is powered by a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor. No wonder Samsung usually uses the latest Qualcomm chips in its new phones. Surprisingly Samsung decided to customize the chips for the S23 series more than usual. What Qualcomm calls the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for the Samsung Galaxy is a special version of the processor optimized for better performance and energy efficiency. 

Competing phones like OnePlus 11 5G have Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 as standard in their phones. Whether Im swiping through the OS using my phone as a computer playing a game on a video call or running Samsung DeX the S23 Ultra stays snappy and lively. 

I connected my S23 Ultra to an external display connected a keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth and launched five apps including Google Docs to take notes for this review. 

I have never experienced lag or overheating while performing these tasks. The S23 Ultra can quickly export video which is useful for those who frequently shoot and edit video projects on their phones. In my tests it sent a 30-second 4K video at 1080p three seconds faster than the S22 Ultra and 10 seconds faster than the Pixel 7 Pro. 

However the iPhone 14 Pro was three seconds faster on average than the S23 Ultra. The Galaxy S23 Ultra (256GB vs. 128GB) gets twice the storage of the base model giving you more room to store those video projects. Samsungs new phones scored higher than the Galaxy S22 Ultra Pixel 7 Pro and OnePlus 11 5G. 

Experience Cutting-Edge Technology with Samsung S23 Ultra

Designed to test system performance for applications that require short-term performance such as daily tasks and mobile applications. However the iPhone 14 Pro scored higher than the S23 Ultra in the general computing benchmark (Geekbench 5) but underperformed in the short-term extreme stress test (3DMark Wild Life Extreme).

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra battery life and charging

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra battery life and charging The Galaxy S23 Ultra has the same 5000 mAh battery as the Galaxy S22 Ultra but should offer better power efficiency thanks to the new processor. Ill have to spend more time with the phone to compare it to the S22 Ultra but so far the results are promising. After 12 hours of operation which is equivalent to a full working day the battery drops to 66.%

I turned on the Motion Adaptive and Brightness Adaptive settings which adjust the screen refresh rate and brightness based on the situation. 

Always on display is also on but I had to tap to show enable which means the time and date will not display unless I tap on the screen. Battery life always depends on how you use your device. 

In this case I used the phone to take photos record some videos check email browse social media and stream music for about 15 minutes. 

After shooting nearly half an hour of 4K video on a given day the Galaxy S23 Ultra still had three-quarters of its battery left in the middle of the workday. Were still running more battery tests on the S23 Ultra and will update this review accordingly.

I also did a 45-minute test where I played games making video calls for 10 minutes checking social media and streaming videos; The S23 Ultra dropped from 100 to 94 in that time. The Galaxy S22 Ultra fell to 91 on the same test. 

The Galaxy S23 Ultras results were similar to the Pixel 7 which also scored 94 after the 45-minute challenge. (During this test I left the refresh rate setting high setting the brightness to 50 and disabling the always-on display.) Like last years Galaxy S22 Ultra the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a maximum wired charging speed of 45W. 

You need to use the correct adapter which you have to buy separately if you dont already have one as Samsung doesnt include it in the box. So far the 45W charging speed has allowed my S23 Ultra to go from 46 to 91 in just 30 minutes of charging. 

Its not bad but it would be nice to see Samsung push things forward now that OnePlus and Xiaomi are around. Offers more than 100W fast charging. For example Xiaomi 12T Pro supports 120W fast charging and according to my colleague Sarina Dayaram review Xiaomi 12T Pro goes from zero to 100 in 19 minutes.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra design, display and other features

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra design reveal and the rest of the Galaxy S23 Ultra looks almost identical to the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It has the same bezels giving it a sharper look than the regular Galaxy S23 and S23 Plus. 

However this years S23 Ultra is available in three colors: white green black and purple. Like last years unit it has an IP68 water resistance rating. This means it can be submerged in fresh water up to 1.5 meters deep for 30 minutes. There is nothing wrong with that. Like its predecessor the Galaxy S23 Ultra is a great phone. The screen is 6.8 inches which is slightly larger than the 6.7 inches of the iPhone 14 Pro Max and Google Pixel 7 Pro. 

The kind of phone that makes friends cringe when they pull it out of your pocket. Its not an insult. There are a lot of people who like big phones. Another caveat is that this phone isnt for everyone. 

But if you read a lot of photo-editing games while watching TV on your phone and you dont mind stretching your fingers while using it once youll appreciate the off-screen space.

Were also sure youll have no problem viewing the Galaxy S23 Ultras display in direct sunlight. Very bright reaching 1750 nits. Thats brighter than the Pixel 7 Pros 1500 nit peak brightness but not as bright as the iPhone 14 Pros 2000 nit peak external brightness. 

However it is bright enough for most peoples needs and situations. Like last years Galaxy S22 Ultra youll also get an S Pen stylus. Samsungs Ultra line has effectively replaced the Galaxy Note series which was previously known for its large screen and embedded stylus. Expect the same familiar S Pen experience on this device. 

As you pull the pen out from under the phone youll see a pop-up menu with compatible apps like Samsung Notes and the PenUp drawing app. 

I dont usually use the S Pen very often but while doing this review I realized that it takes more notes than I thought. Samsung is once again promising to improve the 4th generation of the Android operating system. 

That puts it on par with the OnePlus 11 and beats Googles three-year commitment to the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro. Both Samsung OnePlus and Google offer 5 years of security updates for their latest devices. 

That said you dont need to worry about the S23 Ultras software being outdated as it will launch with Android 13 and Samsungs One UI 5.1 software.

Samsung has also re-committed to four generations of Android OS upgrades which is on par with the OnePlus 11 and surpasses Googles three-year promise for the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro. Samsung OnePlus and Google all offer five years of security updates for their latest devices. 

This means you dont have to worry about the S23 Ultras software looking outdated with Android 13 software and Samsung One UI 5.1 at launch. 

The extra feature you get by going with the Ultra or Plus over the regular models is ultra-broadband. 

Support that makes it easier to connect to nearby devices more accurately than Bluetooth. UWB isnt required but it can make it quick and easy to share files or use your phone as a digital car key. We can see more services and accessories requiring it in the future.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Buy or skip?

The Galaxy S23 Ultra has a lot but in a good way. Its large screen 200-megapixel 100x zoom camera and S Pen are probably more than most people need. 

Experience Cutting-Edge Technology with Samsung S23 Ultra

Experience Cutting-Edge Technology with Samsung S23 Ultra

But who is targeting Samsung ends up repeating the old formula. This is a phone for those who are seriously looking for features like a large screen and a versatile camera. 

If you want a reliable new Android phone with a great camera then the cheap Pixel 7 Pro Galaxy S23 or Galaxy S23 Plus will do the trick. (We havent tested the other new Galaxy phones so we cant recommend it yet.) The Galaxy S23 Ultra has a higher barrier to entry than the iPhone 14 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro. 

But you also get some extra features like more storage a slightly bigger screen and a better zoom lens than the basic S Pen. 

Its not a must-have for everyone but this is a phone for those who want extras like this one. The Galaxy S23 Ultras new camera is the most noticeable change from last years S22 Ultra. 

But in my experience Samsungs behind-the-scenes improvements in how the camera captures skin tone colors and dynamic range are more welcome improvements than just sharpness. Samsung could do more to promote the Galaxy Ultra line. Off camera. I would like to see fast charging for example. 

While the camera is impressive the iPhone 14 Pro often outperforms it in my tests. If youre looking for a bigger screen better camera and an upgrade from a phone thats more than two years old you wont be disappointed. S23 Ultra. Try to lower the $1200 price tag with a trade deal to make it easier to swallow.

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