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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Review: Minor Changes, Major Improvements
February 22, 2023 Andrew Cheng

In recent times, Samsung has focused on refining its range of high-end phones without making drastic changes. This is exemplified with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, which is largely similar to its predecessor, the S22 Ultra. This, in turn, does not make for a…particularly exciting update.

But the S22 Ultra was considered one of the best phones released last year, so the fact that the S23 Ultra retains many of its feature set isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plus, the changes that Samsung did introduce with the S23 Ultra – improved camera sensor and performance, to name a couple – do make for a more refined, more polished flagship phone.

That, unfortunately, also entails a more premium price tag. But for folks who want (easily) one of the best Android phones in the market now, it’s hard to go wrong with the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

What It Is

Display6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (3088 x 1440), 120Hz adaptive
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 3.36GHz octa-core
GPUAdreno 740
RAM12GB
Storage256GB/512GB/1TB, non-expandable
Camera (rear)200MP f/1.7, multi-directional PDAF, OIS
12MP f/2.2 (ultra-wide angle), Dual Pixel AF
10MP f/2.4 (telephoto), Dual Pixel AF, OIS, 3x zoom
10MP f/4.9 (telephoto), Dual Pixel AF, OIS, 10x zoom
Laser autofocus system
Camera (front)12MP f/2.2, Dual Pixel AF
Battery
5,000mAh with 45W charging
Dimensions163.4 x 78.1 x 8.9 mm
Weight
233g
OSOne UI 5.1 based on Android 13
Connectivity5G
LTE
NFC
Bluetooth 5.3
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4/5/6GHz)
USB Type-C
PriceRM5,699 (256GB), RM6,199 (512GB), RM7,199 (1TB)

On paper, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is a high-end flagship phone through and through. It has the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, a sharp Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with a fast 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, and a sophisticated quad camera system with a 200MP primary sensor.

If there’s anything to nitpick, it would be the fast charging rate of the S23 Ultra. Given that other flagship phones have much faster charging speeds – even the RM3,299 OnePlus 11 can do 100W fast charging – the S23 Ultra is noticeably falling behind. Nonetheless, let’s move on to something more positive.

The Good Stuff

Since the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera system sees one of the most drastic changes, let’s talk about that first. The quad camera setup is made up of a whopping 200MP primary sensor, a 12MP ultra-wide angle shooter, a 10MP telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, and another 10MP telephoto camera with 10x optical zoom.

While it is largely the same camera system as the previous model, the 200MP main camera is a new sensor that bins 16 pixels into one to output 12.5MP images. Overall, the S23 Ultra’s camera does feel more capable than last year’s S22 Ultra, though not by a huge margin.

In short, the camera performance of the S23 Ultra remains as excellent as ever. It performs well regardless of lighting situation, it can lock in focus very quickly, and its far-reaching zoom is still my favourite aspect of the camera system. There just aren’t many phones that can rival the zooming capability of this flagship.

Yes, the colour reproduction of the camera can be a tad too saturated sometimes, but to my eyes, it does make for more pleasant-looking shots.

Next, we have the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, and it brings with it a slew of improvements. Performance, for one, is markedly better than last year’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC. Whether it’s multitasking with various apps or gaming, the S23 Ultra can keep up with my usage.

Another benefit the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset brings is better power efficiency. On average, I can easily get over six hours of screen on time with the S23 Ultra out of the 5,000mAh battery. For the sake of comparison, I could only get about five hours of screen on time with last year’s S22 Ultra, which had the same battery capacity.

Basically, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset of the S23 Ultra not only offers better performance, but much improved battery life as well.

In the display department, the Galaxy S23 Ultra has undeniably one of the best-looking screens in the business. The 6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel offers bright, vibrant colours, good white balance, deep blacks, and of course, wide viewing angles. It’s a display befitting of a premium, high-end phone.

Also worth highlighting is the fast 120Hz adaptive refresh rate of the S23 Ultra’s display. It’s a joy to game on such a fast panel – assuming you’re running games that support 120fps – and the extra frames do make for a phone that feels that much more responsive.

Oh, there’s also the built-in S Pen of the S23 Ultra. It still feels natural to scribble on the screen with the stylus, and the various Air Actions are easy to execute. All in all, it’s the same S Pen loved by many.

Last but not least is the slightly tweaked design of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Compared to the S22 Ultra, the new phone has flatter sides, giving it more of the signature “squared-off” design aesthetic found in previous Galaxy Note phones. This, in turn, makes the phone easier to grip, improving its ergonomics.

The Bad Stuff

For a flagship phone that ticks so many boxes, it’s odd that the Galaxy S23 Ultra is lacking in one area: the aforementioned charging speed. While 45W charging isn’t slow by any means, it does lag behind its competition that can do much faster charging rates. Even mid-range phones support 120W charging speeds now.

And then there’s the asking price of the S23 Ultra. Retailing from RM5,699 for the 256GB model, the starting price of the flagship phone went up by RM600 compared to its predecessor. That being said, it’s worth noting that the S22 Ultra had a 128GB variant that went for RM5,099; the equivalent 256GB configuration was priced at RM5,499.

Still, that’s a high price of entry, and the S23 Ultra now costs dangerously close to the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which starts at RM5,799 for the 128GB model. While staunch Android users may not look at iPhones when they’re shopping for a new phone, that’s not the case for everyone.

Android phones (even flagships) always had a sizeable price advantage compared to iPhones. Now that the price gap is getting smaller, it may be worth looking into the iPhone as well for those who are shopping for a premium Android phone like the S23 Ultra, especially if you value certain things more.

Is It Worth It?

If you’re certain you want an Android phone, then yes, you really can’t go wrong with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. It has a very capable camera system, it is faster than ever, battery life is much improved, and of course, the signature S Pen is still here.

It’s a costly phone, to be sure, and the 45W charging speed leaves much to be desired. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the S23 Ultra is a fantastic, premium high-end phone. It may not have some revolutionary new features, but the upgrades that Samsung did implement with the S23 Ultra do lend to much improved user experience in many areas.

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