Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review: King of slab phones

Or better yet, Samsung made slab phones great again.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review
S23 Ultra price in India starts at Rs 1,24,999.

It’s not easy to be impressed with slab phones these days. Quite frankly, most of them are boring and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be excited about a new smartphone anymore. Even a tech behemoth like Samsung isn’t immune to this. Its latest, Galaxy S23 Ultra, is jam-packed with great hardware (and an equally slick software experience), and yet, there’s the off chance it might slip under your radar, if you’re not paying attention.

The S23 Ultra is more of the same as the S22 Ultra on so many levels that, finding the –few— differences between the two would call for a curious mind and some thorough digging. The difference, here, as opposed to any other smartphone in its class, is that those differences are worth finding because those are the things that make the S23 Ultra truly exciting, even best in class with the usual caveat, which is, if you can afford it. The pricing has gone up with the S23 Ultra price in India starting at Rs 1,24,999 for 12GB/256GB, Rs 15,000 up from the S22 Ultra’s launch price. The top-shelf 12GB/1TB model can set you back by Rs 1,54,999.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra design

If you’re ready to splurge that much amount on a phone, let me tell you that the S23 Ultra’s design alone makes up for a good chunk of your money’s worth. These phones have always been big by default but this new gargantuan piece of sturdy cold glass, is much easier to tame than the last ultra, that too, with just one simple tweak. The S23 Ultra is a slightly boxier phone which improves handling in ways that makes you question, why the S22 Ultra wasn’t designed this way.

Also Read | Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Everything to know in 7 points

As is usually the case with every new flagship Galaxy phone, the core materials, too, have received a refresh, giving you Corning’s most recent Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on both the front and back. The frame is made of metal. The phone is also IP68 rated, much like the S22 Ultra. The only niggle— for the sake of keeping this review balanced— is that Samsung’s choice of colours is too dumbed-down this year especially for its off-the-shelf models.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review
The S23 Ultra’s screen is gorgeous.

The display is a different story. It is nice and colourful. The panel on the S22 Ultra can –still— give a lot of competing phones a run for their money which is probably why Samsung chose not to mess with a good, nay great thing. The 6.8-inch 1440p LTPO AMOLED display with up to 120Hz refresh rate and peak brightness of 1,750nits is plain gorgeous to look at, from every perceivable angle. Samsung complements it with a pair of exquisitely tuned speakers that are easily the loudest and clearest I’ve heard on any mobile phone to date.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra performance, battery life

Another big reason to get the S23 Ultra is the underlying chip. Samsung says it has worked closely with Qualcomm to get first dibs on what it’s calling a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 optimised exclusively for Galaxy, committing to a “faster and smoother gaming performance” over the S22 Ultra. Brand partnerships –like these— are anything but new, but it’s only once in a blue moon you see them making any real-world difference for the average consumer. This is one of those times.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra bundled S-Pen stylus.

The S22 Ultra is not just fast, it’s crazy fast. Forgive me for my language, but Samsung seems to have optimised the hell out of this chip to an extent you’d expect from high-end gaming phones. I don’t recall the last time a Samsung phone felt this gamer-y. The phone also stays cool, except for maybe a few fringe cases here and there. There is no throttling, either. Battery life, too, is terrific. The S23 Ultra could be a 2-day phone for many, not just some users. Its 45W fast wired charging cap may seem slow next to the Chinese, but Samsung –like Apple— isn’t biting the bullet yet. Make of it what you will. Wireless and reverse wireless charging are nice value-adds.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra software, cameras

Samsung, it seems, has pushed a button or something lately. I am not even kidding when I say this, my S23 Ultra review unit has received more software updates in two months than some phones— even a few flagships— get in a whole year, or maybe more. Instances of lag and bugs are few and far between.

The company’s recent track record vis-à-vis software makes its commitment to deliver 4 years of major OS and 5 years of security updates more believable— but we’ll see. The S23 Ultra runs One UI 5.1 based on Android 13 right out of the gate with a bunch of new features, some borrowed and directly squarely at Apple including object recognition and separation capabilities inside the Gallery app and Multi control that lets you seamlessly connect the S23 Ultra with a Galaxy Book, use the laptop’s keyboard and mouse to control the phone and drag and drop files between the two. The Expert RAW app has also been merged with the camera, which should have been the case in the first place.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review
The S23 Ultra is the phone to get if you’re into birdwatching.

Speaking of which, the S23 Ultra has a new 200MP camera sensor (versus 108MP in the S22 Ultra) that sits behind a bit wider f/1.7 aperture lens with optical image stabilisation. It’s not easy to get around a large sensor like that, even for Samsung, and same as things were a hit or miss when it went for a 108MP camera for the first time in the S20 Ultra, here too, it’s pretty evident that good things take time. The good thing about the S23 Ultra’s main sensor, though, is that it hits more often than it misses and when it does hit –the spot— it nails it. Everything from detail to colours to dynamic range is without a fault regardless of the lighting (though moving objects are its Achilles heel).

Samsung also lets you shoot at 50MP which is a nice middle ground for when you need higher resolution (for close crop) without compromising on fine(er) detail and stretching your phone’s storage due to bigger file size. Natively, this sensor shoots at 12MP. You can shoot at full 200MP, too, if you’re into printing photos off of your smartphone. Likewise, you can also record 8K@30fps videos using the main sensor, a niche use case but –still—something to brag about (the S22 Ultra topped out at 8K@24fps). Video recording is generally handled well by the S23 Ultra, and better than the S22 Ultra overall.

Also Read | Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: One ‘ultra’ phone to rule them all

There are three more cameras in this phone, a 12MP ultrawide, joined by two more 10MP telephotos— one for 3x and another for 10x optical zoom. These are same as the S22 Ultra. The results, too, are on expected lines which is to say that they’re quite good. The S23 Ultra is the phone to get if you’re into birdwatching. The 40MP selfie camera seen in the S22 Ultra has been swapped with a watered-down 12MP shooter in the S23 Ultra. It’s decent at best with room for improvement.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra | Should you buy it?

Samsung’s plan for the S23 Ultra was simple: take everything about the S22 Ultra and make it better. Not just in one area alone, or even two, or three but on the whole. Each of the core areas— design, performance, and cameras — has received subtle yet meaningful upgrades, those that matter and enhance the experience of using this super-premium smartphone. The S23 is using more sustainable build materials, too, while long-term support mean you can hold on to it, for longer.

It’s true that slab phones haven’t been very exciting lately (and you can blame Samsung’s own Galaxy Fold and Flip phones for some of this), but after having used the S23 Ultra for a while— and coming out mighty impressed with it— you can rest assured, that innovation can—still— find a way if you’re willing. Call it incremental or whatever, the S23 Ultra makes slab phones great again and is the best slab phone that money can buy today.   

Premium design, solid build Big and bulky
Gorgeous display Pricey
Fast sustained performance
Slick software
Great cameras
Fantastic battery life

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First published on: 03-04-2023 at 21:00 IST