Samsung has long been adored when it comes to flagship phones. Indeed, one glance at T3's best Android phones at the time of writing and you'll see the flagship S22 Ultra sat pride of place at the top of the stack.
That's old news now, though, as Samsung has revealed the Galaxy S23 Ultra, vying to retain its crown in that top spot of best phones, and I've been lucky enough to play with the new top-tier Android handset ahead of its initial reveal.
As I've gone into more expansive detail over in this separate feature: the Galaxy S23 Ultra isn't widly different to its S22 Ultra predecessor. That might affect whether you're considering pre-ordering an S23 model or not. But brush that aside for the moment, because irrelevant of differences, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is clearly among the ultimate Android phones available today. Here's why you should consider buying one...
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Price & Availability
Available to pre-order from the moment Samsung's Galaxy Unpacked event ended on 1st February, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is priced from £1,249/AU$1,949. That's for the 256GB version. You can also pay £1,399/AU$2,249 if you need 512GB, or only direct from Samsung's store you can get the 1TB model for a princely £1,599/AU$2,649. Note that the 512GB and 1TB variants get 12GB RAM, too, compared to 8GB on the 256GB version.
There's not too long to wait between pre-order and arrival either: the S23 Ultra will be on the shelves and in people's hands from Friday 17th February in the UK. A little later than I'd initially predicted, but that'll give you more time to ponder over whether you think the new-and-improved S23 Ultra is the ultimate savvy Galaxy purchase for you.
Of course the Ultra is also part of the wider S23 series, which range from £849/AU$1,349 upwards, so I've included the price of those smaller-scale handsets in the widget below. There's also their predecessors to consider, and the S22, S22 Plus and S22 Ultra are all heavily discounted right now.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review: What's new?
I'm already this far in and I've yet to mention the Galaxy S23 Ultra's all-new 200-megapixel main camera and inclusion of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform. How rude of me. But, yes, it's true: those are the two biggest changes in the S23 Ultra compared to its S22 predecessor.
As I've pointed out in the separate S23 Ultra versus S22 Ultra feature, however, there are additional tweaks and changes too. The design, for example, has increased the curvature of the screen's edges, providing a greater flat surface area – particularly useful for S Pen stylus use right across the panel.
That more powerful processor is also what enables the camera to deliver more. In addition to nighttime shooting improvement claims, there's also 8K video recording at 30fps (up from 24fps before). While 200-megapixel certainly sounds impressive, and is the first for Samsung, it's not the first phone with such a resolution: Motorola's Edge 30 Ultra beat Samsung at its own game there.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review: Design & Display
In addition to yet more recycled parts making up the device, the Galaxy S23 Ultra now comes in four colours: Phantom Black, Cream, Green, Lavender. Only two of those are different to its predecessor, though, and all finishes are very subtle, subdued almost, as seems to be the 2023 trend. It's the Lavender one I've shot in these hands-on review photos.
Other than the colour choice and that minor tweak to the display, however, it's business as usual with the Galaxy S23 Ultra. That's to say it's the spitting image of its predecessor, at almost an identical size and weight, with many of the previous top-end features being retained.
I can see Samsung's conundrum here thought: much as I already have a sorta love-hate relationship with the S23 Ultra, that's mainly because its S22 Ultra predecessor was so darn good. If Samsung increased the screen size it'd become unwieldy; if the resolution was increased it'd become a detriment to the battery life and probably (or rarely) ever be utilised; same with a higher refresh-rate option, as the 120Hz panel here is just fine.
Well, that's me being reserved: the S23 Ultra's display is far more than just fine. It's downright delightful. A 6.8-inch panel on its diagonal measure, featuring a 1440 x 3088 resolution (around 500ppi), it's really bright, punchy with colour, while its AMOLED technology ensures beautiful blacks and contrast levels. Smartphone displays don't really come better than this. It even features Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2, the first time I've seen it, which hopefully I won't need to put to the test (it's said to be even better at drop-resistance to avoid shattering or scratching).
Another key aspect of the design is the integrated S Pen stylus. It can be clicked and released from its in-body stow with ease. Extracting it will automatically load the relevant software options, which are the same here as they were with its predecessor. Great for note-taking, annotating, drawing, and such like. And if you don't care for it, simply leave it stowed and it'll make little to no difference to your life.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review: Performance
At this early stage, given I've only thumbed my way around the S23 Ultra for an hour, it wouldn't be justified for me to give any true assessment of how it performs in the real world. That's something I'll be learning over the coming weeks once I've obtained the device.
I can make some assumptions, though, given the battery is the same 5,000mAh capacity as its predecessor, and its wired charging is the same 45W (wireless is 10W). I do feel as though Samsung could have upped the fast-charging capacity here, to give the new handset a little additional edge over its predecessor.
Furthermore, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 compared to its predecessor is, to me, a bit an echo of how the S23 Ultra varies to the S22 Ultra: i.e. not very much. Having attended the 8 Gen 2 launch I know Qualcomm has gone all-in on artificial intelligence, but actual real-world application and uplift generation to generation is only going to be marginal I suspect. So while the S23 Ultra is clearly among the most powerful of phones in 2023, on paper at least, day to day experiences are likely to be much the same as other flagships from the past year.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review: Cameras
- Main (23mm equiv.): 200-megapixel, f/1.7 aperture, optical stabilisation (OIS), laser autofocus
- Zoom (230mm): 10x periscope zoom with 10MP, f/4.9, OIS
- Portrait (70mm): 3x zoom with 10MP, f/2.4, OIS
- Wide-angle (13mm): 10MP, f/2.2
- Selfie (25mm): 12MP, f/2.2
I've outlaid the five main cameras you'll find on the Galaxy S23 Ultra above so you can see what you're getting. The wide-angle and zoom lenses are all the same, while the main camera ups the resolution from 108- to 200-megapixels, and the selfie camera downs its resolution from 40- to 12-megapixels.
I'll say it up front: the earlier Galaxy S22 Ultra's cameras are among the best and most comprehensive that you'll find in any Android phone – especially if you're looking for significant zoom, which many other flagships simply lack by compare. Therefore the S23 Ultra is building on a great foundation.
The inclusion of a 200-megapixel main might sound like overkill, but frankly you'll need not think about it much. It's there to do a lot of processing work, converting 16 'pixels' into one for the final image, giving greater potential detail and dynamic range to the 12.5-megapixel final shots. Having more pixels in play also means more areas of focus and that should make its laser autofocus-equipped system even better this time around.
Just like with the Performance section above, I've clearly not yet used the S23 Ultra's cameras beyond a little bit of point-and-shoot action. I'll be digging much deeper into the camera's offerings once I've obtained a phone to review and can then bring a more definitive verdict on how this device compares not only to its predecessor, but the wider context of the market too. There's still competition from the likes of Oppo, Google, OnePlus and more to consider.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review: Early verdict
I think there's two ways to look at the Galaxy S23 Ultra. As an upgrade over the S22 Ultra it's marginal, almost like a half-mast 'S' edition rather than full-blown next-level upgrade. But as a standalone device it's an exceptional, refined and accomplished piece of hardware that's easily among the best Android phones you could consider.
Thing is, it's 2023, and with people tightening their belts and the year-on-year mobile phone market down on sales by more than it has been in almost a decade, there's a newfound consumer focus on how much things cost. And the Galaxy S23 Ultra obviously isn't budget. Indeed, its asking price may surprise you – namely because, in the UK at least, it's £100 more, or near to 9% more, than the S22 Ultra predecessor was at launch just last year. In Australia, it's a similar deal, with the S23 Ultra receiving a AU$100 price increase over its predecessor.
If you want the latest and greatest then the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has clear appeal. Considered against its nearest competition of the recent past, however, and its asking price may just come across as being a little too higher for a moderate upgrade model.
You can pick up the previous Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra for over £400 less (only around AU$250 less in Australia) if you can cope with a lower resolution main camera and last-gen processor on board. That's about a third off by comparison, so that appeal is clear.
Elsewhere, however, the Google Pixel 7 Pro's eye-catching design and great cameras (albeit with less zoom) may appeal, while Oppo's Find X5 Pro is also distinctive looking and has some great cameras (again with less zoom).
Nothing outside of Samsung's own range can offer the S Pen stylus level of control, though, so if that's a key appeal then it'll be the Galaxy you want – whether S22 Ultra or S23 Ultra is up to you, it may depend how good a deal your mobile phone contractor is offering!