Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: A Mighty Phone With A Mighty Price Tag [Review]

It’s incredibly feature-rich and the new camera sensor is astounding, but it’s not without flaws.
(credit: Tech TRP)

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Samsung sent over a review unit and I have been using the phone for almost three weeks now and this is going to be my review of the latest and greatest from the Korean company. But before we begin, here’s the spec recap.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra is running a custom-tuned Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, and comes with 12GB of RAM and 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of built-in storage. The Ultra has a 6.8-inch 1440p Dynamic AMOLED 2X LTPO display with a 120Hz refresh rate and up to 1,750 nits of brightness.

The Ultra comes with a Samsung ISOCELL HP2 200MP sensor and three additional rear cameras on Ultra: a 12MP ultra-wide with autofocus, a 10MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom, and a second 10MP telephoto with a 10x optical zoom. There’s a hole-punch notch with a 12MP selfie camera with autofocus.

To keep the phones running, the S23 Ultra has a 5,000mAh and support wired fast-charging at up to 45W and wireless charging.

What’s in the box?

The phone comes in a slim black box with an image of the phone to indicate the colour of the unit inside. Samsung sent over Cream colour and this one is equipped with 12GB RAM and 256GB of storage.

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Inside the box, there’s a USB-C to USB-C cable, a SIM ejector tool, some reading materials and that’s it. Samsung is still not providing a charger with the phone and you have to get it separately. If you pre-ordered the phone, you get a charger for free, if not, you have to buy one. You can still use your old charger, but it might not be able to fast-charge the phone.

The Build Quality and Handling

Upon initial observation, the S23 Ultra appears to closely resemble its predecessor, the S22 Ultra, and may be difficult to distinguish for less observant individuals.

When I first held the phone, I noticed that it felt quite heavy and cumbersome to hold with one hand, and I found it more comfortable to use with both hands. Additionally, the phone has a rectangular shape with a slightly curved back that makes it somewhat easier to hold.

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The matte finish also prevents unsightly fingerprint smudges, but it’s kind of slippery. The sides, top, and bottom of the phone are all flat, although the S-Pen protrudes slightly from the bottom. Depending on the pants or shorts one is wearing, it may be challenging to fit the phone into a pocket.

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The S-Pen’s metal clicker matches the phone’s color, but the stylus itself does not, which may be a minor disappointment. However, the S-Pen functions identically to the previous S22 Ultra.

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The display has a subtle curve that makes it feel like I’m using flat screen and it enables smooth gesture navigation. It’s a joy to use and definitely not as curvy as the previous phone that I reviewed, the OnePlus 11.

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Although the camera lenses on the back of the phone protrude noticeably, they do not cause the phone to wobble that much when placed on a table for typing. I do foresee them gathering lint and dust easily though. A camera island like the S21 Ultra would have been a better choice.

The Display

The 6.8-inch 1440p Dynamic AMOLED 2X LTPO display is simply amazing to look at. The display boasts vivid colours, strong saturation, and deep blacks as well as excellent viewing angles. The adaptive brightness feature is also impressive, particularly when transitioning from indoor to outdoor settings, as it ramps up the brightness to ensure clarity even in bright sunlight.

Samsung said the display can go up to 1,750-nits peak brightness, I have no way of measuring that, but believe me when I said it can get eye-searingly bright.

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You can choose either QHD+ or FHD+ resolution, but why pay so much and not use sharpest resolution? Besides that, since it’s using a LTPO tech, the display can go as low as 1Hz when idle and all the way up to 120Hz when I start touching the screen again.

There are two downsides to the display though. The ultrasonic fingerprint sensor isn’t as accurate and fast as I like. Compared to OnePlus 11 which uses an optical fingerprint sensor, the one on the S23 Ultra feels sluggish and inconsistent. It could be due to my own thumb though. But the nice thing about ultrasonic sensor is that you don’t have to wake the screen to use it.

Despite its high price, Samsung has yet to equip the phone with a 10-bit display, a feature that has been available on other brands’ devices for some time now. But, when comparing the phone to the OnePlus 11, which has a 10-bit display, it is challenging to discern any notable differences.

The Speakers

The Galaxy S23 Ultra is equipped with stereo speakers that support Dolby Atmos. The left speaker is seamlessly integrated into the top of the phone above the central punch hole, nigh on impossible to spot and the right speaker, which is also the loudest, is located at the base of the phone.

The speakers produce a full and rich sound with noticeable low-end bass. I can hear the singers’ voices clearly, with a pleasingly balanced treble. It’s great for watching movies, YouTube, and playing games. But don’t turn the volume up too high, as it can get quite loud.

The Charging Speed and Battery Performance

Samsung didn’t provide a charger with the phone, so I was using OnePlus 150W charger to charge the phone. When I plugged in the charger, the phone shows ‘Super fast-charging’. From 0 to 100%, it took slightly more than an hour to charge the 5,000mAh battery. The phone supports wireless charging as well, but I didn’t test that because I don’t have one.

On my daily usage, I’m getting at least 7 hours of SoT and sometimes it will go more than that number. I can comfortably say this phone will easily last an entire day with constant usage, maybe even a day and a half depending on what I’m doing.

The Software Experience

The Galaxy S23 Ultra’s One UI 5.1 offers a smooth and fast user experience with numerous refinements. Navigation is quick, and animations are super-smooth. Samsung’s One UI is packed with a wealth of functionality and an extensive range of options, providing users with more out-of-the-box features than many other Android devices.

The updated One UI places emphasis on setting up modes and routines and offers more lock screen customization options.

While Samsung includes many apps during setup, users can also remove many of them. However, there are still some app duplications, such as with the browser, messaging, gallery, etc. The phone doesn’t come with Genshin Impact pre-installed, I installed that game afterwards.

I didn’t use the stylus all that much during my time with the phone, but I took it out to sketch or write something from time to time. I’m impressed with the incredibly low-latency and accuracy. It’s nice to have the option to use the stylus to jot down some notes quickly without the need to unlock the phone.

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For me, the most useful feature is the ability to use the stylus as a remote shutter button for the camera.

For mobile gaming, the phone has a feature called “Game Booster”. Here you can check the phone’s temperature, battery, memory plus and turn on optimisation. If you want more options, you have to download “Game Plugins” from the Galaxy Store, which is free.

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Gaming performance is nothing less than stellar due to its custom 8 Gen 2 chip. Genshin Impact and Call Of Duty: Mobile run flawlessly, while the phone does get warm after playing games for a couple of hours, but not to the levels where it’s uncomfortable.

Besides that, the great thing about Samsung’s software is the support. You get four years of OS updates and five years of security updates.

The Camera

Personally, the Galaxy S23 Ultra captures impressive photos in daylight with bright and lively colours and a preference for warm tones. The shadows still preserve the details, and the photos are sharp and detailed.

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The ultrawide camera performs well in capturing excellent photos with pleasing colours, a broad dynamic range, and exceptional detail.

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When zoomed in 3x, the phone may produce slightly grainy images, but the details are still visible, and the overall quality is excellent.

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However, when zoomed in at 10x, the photos become more grainy, but the details are still clear, and the overall quality remains good.

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When taking photos at night or during low-light situations, the camera will automatically switch to night mode.

The primary camera of the phone is capable of capturing decent low-light photos. The colours are well preserved, and the auto white balance performs well even in a challenging lighting condition. The photos exhibit ample detail and are nicely rendered, with minimal noise.

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The 3x and 10x zoom take acceptable photos. They are decent but have more noises compared to the one taken during daylight.

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Regarding selfies, the dynamic range is superb, the colours and skin tones are quite accurate, and the photos have minimal noise. It can be disabled, but I just leave it at the default setting.

Is it Worth The Price?

At RM5,699 for the base S23 Ultra model, this phone is going to burn a hole through your wallet. But this year, Samsung packs a new 200MP sensor into the phone, making it the first and only smartphone on the market with that hardware.

If you are still using S22 Ultra, there’s very little reason for you to upgrade, unless you really want the 200MP sensor. For everyone else who are looking for a complete package that can do it all, the S23 Ultra doesn’t disappoint.

This phone, despite being expensive, is well worth the money if you only change your smartphone once every four to five years.

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