Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review

Four prime lenses, infinite possibilities – Samsung’s 200MP S23 Ultra is the Android superphone to beat

5 Star Rating
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
(Image: © Basil Kronfli)

Digital Camera World Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra combines the most powerful mix of cameras of any smartphone. While it might feel like deja vu for anyone coming from an S22 Ultra, the S23’s more efficient processor and subtle refinements to the whole experience shine through, making it not only a camera phone champion, but a fantastic smartphone in general.

Pros

  • +

    Supremely versatile camera system

  • +

    Fantastic display quality

  • +

    Powerful performance

  • +

    Strong battery life

Cons

  • -

    Heavy-handed processing in auto mode

  • -

    Very similar to the S22 Ultra

  • -

    Will be too big for some

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Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra is very similar to the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which is no bad thing, with the S22 Ultra having one of the best phone cameras available. Both phones have comparable camera setups, even though their pixel counts differ. They also sport very similar designs, can share cases, and pack virtually identical interfaces and features. So why would you buy an S23 Ultra over an S22 Ultra?

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• Read our guide to the best Android phones
• See our comparison of the latest Galaxy series –
Samsung Galaxy S23 vs 23 Plus vs S23 Ultra

From a camera point of view, the headline highlight is the S23 Ultra’s 200MP camera sensor. It’s the same physical size as the 108MP camera sensor on the S22 Ultra, but benefits from Samsung’s latest camera smarts.

From a performance point of view, the S23 Ultra also packs cutting-edge, Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 power. For folks in the US, this is upgraded from the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 on the S22 series. In other regions, though, the S22 line packed an Exynos 2200 chip. The new 8 Gen 2 in the S23 Ultra trumps both chips when it comes to power, and when it comes to heat management, bests the Exynos by some margin.

So this expensive flagship has more megapixels and more power than its predecessor, in addition to more subtle updates. But are these features really worth its existence when the S22 Ultra is still so good?

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Design

There are two ways to look at the S23 Ultra – as a successor to the S22 Ultra, and as a standalone phone. If you’ve never used a Samsung Ultra device, then Samsung's latest premium phone will look mighty fresh. The big screen, that confidently robust profile, and a cascade of cameras around the back all marry in a clean package. For anyone who has used an S22 Ultra or Note 20 Ultra before, though, it's deja vu to the max.

The S23 Ultra's frame is polished and shiny, the back is frosted, and the screen is mostly flat, tapering in at the sides. The phone's curvy sides contrast starkly with the flat bottom and top. At the base, there’s a USB-C port, a SIM tray, and that pop-out S Pen, and at the top is a sole microphone port. All the S23 Ultra’s buttons are on the right, and the responsive fingerprint scanner is on the screen, about a third of the way up. The phone looks, feels, and behaves like a premium bit of kit, but it is big.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

Starting with its profile, and at 8.9mm thick, the S23 Ultra is anything but svelte. The S23 Plus, by contrast, is 7.6mm thin, and with its large 6.8-inch screen, you’ll really notice the Ultra in a palm or pocket, especially if you put a case on it.

As fans of Apple’s MagSafe, we tested our unit with the Mous cases pictured below, which adds heft, but plenty of protection. These also support magnetic mounting and charging. To find out more about Mous cases and others, check out our rundown of the best Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra cases.

When it isn’t tucked away in the case, our S23 Ultra review unit showed off its matte, white, glass back. This isn’t just any glass, it’s Gorilla Glass Victus 2, as is the display. After three weeks of use, we didn’t notice any scratches at all on the phone, despite it not having a screen protector – impressive stuff.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

We also like the fact that the back panel fends off fingerprints well, so always looks fresh if you don’t opt for a case, and the pop-out S Pen is as bubble-wrap-poppingly satisfying to click in and out as ever.

With IP68 water and dust resistance, there’s nothing missing from Samsung’s top-end smartphone when it comes to durability or design highlights. That said, it doesn’t ship with a case, screen protector, or power plug, so unlike many competitors, value adds in the box are dialed back, in favor of more eco-friendly, compact packaging.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Screen

Big screen lovers ahoy – this could be the phone for you. 6.8 inches might sound like a familiar number, but lots of Android phones like the Vivo X90 Pro 5G and OnePlus 11 pack similar-sized displays. But the reason the S23 Ultra feels bigger is because of its wider screen aspect ratio. 

In addition to making the phone feel like more of a handful, the wider, larger screen also means the interface, your photos, videos, games, and pretty much everything you do on the phone enjoy a bit more space to impress – and impress the S23 Ultra’s screen does.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

With its Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology, expect bright, beaming colors, and the displays’ smooth 120Hz refresh rate keeps things competitive. HDR10+ credentials and a maximum peak brightness of 1750 nits make sure videos pack tonal range, and outdoor viewing is excellent, and with a resolution of 1440 x 3088 pixels, it’s one of the sharpest screens around.

Anyone looking to upgrade from a Note 20 Ultra who uses the S Pen, the new, flatter screen with a less pronounced curve helps when writing nearer to the edge of the panel, and the 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity matched with Samsung’s smart notetaking software ensure scribing is as natural as ever.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Cameras Specs

The Galaxy S23 Ultra's camera is very similar to that of the S22 Ultra. There's a new 200MP main sensor at the helm, matched with an f/1.7 aperture, Dual Pixel AF, and a 24mm focal length. With a 1/1.3-inch sensor, it isn't the biggest around – the new Xiaomi 13 Pro's main camera has a full 1-inch sensor, as does the Xiaomi 12s Ultra and the Vivo X90 Pro 5G. Still, it’s a hair smaller than that of the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max (1/1.28 inches), so you should expect all the benefits a relatively large sensor brings.

The S23 Ultra's 12MP ultra-wide camera features an f/2.2 aperture and a 120-degree field of view. As for the telephoto setup, there's a 10MP telephoto camera with an equivalent three times zoom (f/2.4) and another 10MP telephoto camera, this time with a 10 times zoom (f/4.9). 

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

To capture high-bitrate RAW photos, Samsung’s Expert Raw app is now pre-installed. It works across all three lenses, and files are saved as JPEGs and DNGs, so can be easily edited in Lightroom too.

There are loads of other highlights Samsung packs in, especially when it comes to the 12MP selfie camera. When in a WhatsApp video call, for example, you can add a beauty filter or swap out your background. The new selfie camera’s also been tuned to better handle different skin tones, and despite its lower resolution – 12MP versus 40MP on the S22 Ultra, its shots are more nuanced and enjoy superior dynamic range.

In addition to Expert Raw, there are plenty of shooting modes on the S22 Ultra, including Portrait, Photo, Video, Pro, Pro Video, Single Take, Night, Food, Panorama, Super Slow-mo, Slow Motion, Hyperlapse, Portrait Video, and Director’s View.

Screenshot of the data for a 50MP RAW image shot with the S23 Ultra (Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

Screenshot of the Pro photo mode in Samsun's photo app (Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Camera Review

The reason we love the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera so much is because it’s like having two camera phones in one. There’s the automatic camera that captures photos packed with contrast, loads of saturation, and vibrant to the max – Samsung stops short of making photos look radioactive, but expect zing from most shots you snap on the phone. 

Then there are the Pro modes and Expert RAW. Pro mode lets you dial up and down contrast, highlights, shadows, saturation, and tint, while keeping all the shooting settings as automatic or manual as you want, and Expert RAW gives you maximum flexibility post-shot, with the ability to shoot in either 12MP or, for the first time in the mode, 50MP.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

As a result, it’s very difficult to review the S23 Ultra’s camera without caveating, its automatic photos only scratch the surface of what’s possible with the phone.

The main camera is the most powerful of all four around the back. It takes detailed photos, and Samsung’s automatic night mode literally turns night into day if left to its own devices. The phone’s zoom and ultra-wide cameras are less powerful in challenging scenes, but still give you plenty of scope to get right up close to subjects that are far away, and squeeze more into frame.

The fact you get four optical focal lengths to play with, some of the most powerful camera software we’ve ever seen, and optical stabilization across three out of the system’s four lenses means the S23 Ultra’s camera is nothing short of astonishing.

Photographers looking to pick up the S23 Ultra should also enjoy the fact Samsung has partnered with Adobe, so Expert RAW now sends DNG files directly to Lightroom, where they can be edited using the S Pen, perfect for masking photos with the brush tool.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

Able to capture up to 8K video on the main camera, and 4K video on all its cameras, the S23 Ultra is also a mighty video tool. You can shoot in pro mode to control various settings, and connect a Bluetooth microphone for external audio too. If you want to engage the 10x zoom-in video, you should try and steady it – we used a Mous case with Moment MagSafe tripod accessories to great effect. Handheld video across the other cameras looks super-steady and clean in well-lit scenes.

All this means to reduce the S23 Ultra’s camera experiences down to its hardware would be a mistake. No, its main camera isn’t the best we’ve ever used in every respect, but what Samsung does with it, and the entire camera system makes it the most powerful camera phone around, edging ever so slightly ahead of its predecessor.

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

(Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Additional Features

The S23 Ultra's photo and video wins don’t stop with its camera. Hook it up to a big screen either wired or wirelessly (using Miracast casting), and you can fire up DeX, a desktop UI. This makes editing photos much more natural – akin to doing so on a laptop or desktop. Hook up a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and the phone’s upgraded into a full-blown productivity suite.

With Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 power, the S23 Ultra also nails performance, whether 3D gaming or 8K video editing. Even at maxed-out graphics settings, Genshin Impact, a demanding open-world RPG plays back brilliantly, and the phone didn’t get as hot as the S22 Ultra did before it which is a big win.

The phone works with magnetic cases, including with Anker's series of magnetic power banks (Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

Samsung's OneUI 5.1 interface which sits on top of Android 13 won’t be to everyone’s tastes as it’s a bit more complicated than Google’s stock Android, which you get on phones like the Google Pixel 7 Pro, but it’s very powerful and is still easy enough to use, especially if you’re coming from another Samsung phone.

The addition of an S Pen also adds loads of utility for anyone who likes to write, but it’s also handy for web browsing and annotating screengrabs. Click the button on the side of the pen and you can select text with pen-tip precision, or select a draw around a section of your screen to make unselectable text (in a photo, for example) selectable.

Using the built in S Pen on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra  (Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

With either 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB storage, the S23 Ultra has plenty of space even in its lowest-capacity version, and with either 8GB or 12GB RAM, that Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is given plenty of help when it comes to multitasking.

While the S23 Ultra doesn’t have a bigger battery than the S22 Ultra, its battery life is better, particularly if you’re comparing it with an Exynos (UK or European) version of its predecessor. We comfortably made it through a day with about 30-40 percent battery remaining on average, and when we were hammering YouTube watching, photo taking, and gaming, we wrapped up the day with 10-15 percent, which is still impressive given the phone’s screen size.

With wired charging up to 45W, the S23 Ultra isn’t a particularly fast-charging smartphone, and that extends to its 15W wireless charging, but you can power it up by around 60 percent in 30 minutes, which isn't too bad.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Verdict

If you have an S22 Ultra and are happy with its battery life and performance, there’s absolutely no reason to upgrade to the S23 Ultra. It’s an incremental update across the board. 

For anyone else, though, the S23 Ultra could be the best balance of camera hardware, software, and versatility available on a smartphone. Its zoom range is exceptional, its manual shooting modes save the heavy-handed photo processing in auto mode, and the Expert RAW feature which is linked to Lightroom does a fantastic job when you want to labor lovingly over a shot.

The fact the phone’s screen looks so good, its pen adds such handy functionality, and the battery lasts a comfortable day with plenty of wiggle room means as a package, there’s very little to grumble about.

So, yes, the S23 Ultra is very similar to the S22 Ultra, and you may be better off saving some pennies and picking the older model up. But that doesn’t take away from the fact it is an excellent phone and the best camera phone of 2023 for anyone after versatility.

Read more:

• Add some protection to your new phone with the best Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra cases
• Samsung S23 doesn't do it for you? Check out the other best camera phones you can buy today
• Like Samsung and want to see what else they offer, check out the best Samsung phones

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