In recent years, many tech experts have questioned where we would go beyond the reach of smartphone hardware. While we continue seeing some gains in smartphone performance, these improvements have slowed down. This has made upgrading your device each year less and less appealing, with stats showing that many users have extended the time between upgrades to three years. Samsung recently launched its range of Galaxy S23 smartphones focusing on next-generation photography. Having received the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra for review, I was keen on experiencing what this looks like.
The colossal talking point trending in all spheres of life has been the exponential rise of artificial intelligence. It’s not a new technology, with the concept going back decades, only recently global attention as it filters into everyday life. Smartphones have also embraced AI for some time, with many features marked against improved battery life and efficient usage. Although it technically qualifies as AI, it was not until this year that it became a notable discussion, with Samsung veering into its use within its photography, not just in scene detection but how it possibly produces images. This is a topic of great significance and something I’m glad I can explore with the S23 Ultra review.
Build and Design
As with the Galaxy S23 Plus reviewed last month, the Ultra, too, doesn’t stray from the tried and tested. It is a quintessential Galaxy S smartphone and looks the part. Given some hits and misses from other brands trying to shake up their smartphone designs, I prefer the minimalist approach that Samsung has always adopted in its flagship range.
Unlike the S23 Plus, which switched from a protruding camera island to a cleaner design, the Ultra series already made this switch on the S22 Ultra. Furthermore, you’ll have difficulty spotting the differences when comparing the S22 and S23 Ultra.
There are changes, however slight they appear. Overall, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is just 0.2mm thinner while 6g heavier. That’s almost negligible. The most significant change between the two iterations of the flagship is that Samsung has switched from Corning Gorilla Glass Victus+ to the new Gorilla Glass Victus 2. This applies to both the front and rear glass panels, increasing the level of protection for owners.
There is another small change added to the new range. These are the colour options. Samsung keeps the Phantom Black option, which is most likely popular for most users. Additionally, colours are all new, including Green, Cream, Lavender, Graphite, Sky Blue, Lime, Red, and a unique BMW M Edition.
Overall, there’s not much to discuss on the design front year-on-year. That’s not a big issue. As the saying goes, it’s the inside that counts.
Screen and Display
Samsung has consistently delivered excellent viewing on its screens, whether on a smartphone or TV range. The same applies in 2023 with the Galaxy S23 Ultra. It continues to provide great visuals with vivid colour balance and crystal clarity.
That said, the screen is another aspect that hasn’t been upgraded regarding the hardware specifications. It still sports a 6.8″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel with 120Hz and HDR10+ support and 1,750 nits of peak brightness. Regarding the display, it also keeps its 1,440×3,088px resolution with a 500ppi pixel density.
It has an impressive score on DCI-P3 and Delta-E testing regarding viewing qualities. It achieved a score of 112% on the DCI-P3 tests (higher is better), along with a 0.3 score on the Delta-E test (lower is better). Furthermore, you can enhance your visual customisations further with the Vision Booster functionality. This allows users to adjust the colour and contrast to their preference, maintaining excellent image quality under various lighting conditions.
Samsung flagships always carry solid hardware specifications. That’s no different with the Galaxy S23 Ultra. In addition, the smartphone receives slight updates over its predecessor.
Starting with the chipset, it features a Qualcomm SM8550-AC Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 (4 nm) SoC. It has an Octa-core (1×3.36 GHz Cortex-X3 & 2×2.8 GHz Cortex-A715 & 2×2.8 GHz Cortex-A710 & 3×2.0 GHz Cortex-A510) processor. Additionally, it also includes an Adreno 740 GPU.
The brand has dropped its 128GB variant for this year’s model, which now comes in 256GB, 512GB and 1TB variations storage options. That’s a lot of data storage capacity, which will be much needed if you take high-resolution photos with its 200MP camera.
Regarding the memory options, its base 256GB model offers 8GB RAM. The remaining options all include 12GB RAM. This is great for multitasking or processing those photos.
Samsung hasn’t increased its battery capacity on the Ultra, keeping a similar Li-Ion 5000mAh, non-removable battery. However, its specifications have changed slightly. It supports 45W wired fast charging, offering 0-65% in 30 minutes. It also supports 15W wireless charging and 4.5W reverse wireless charging for your Buds or other devices.
Lastly, the unit comes installed with Android 13 and runs Samsung’s One UI 5.1. While the hardware hasn’t changed drastically year-on-year, its updated firmware has increased its capabilities, making it more powerful yet efficient.
Performance and Battery Life
The performance of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has been greatly improved. The reason is two-fold. For starters, there are improvements to the processing power of the Qualcomm SoC. However, most gains are derived from the newly introduced One UI 5.1. This also means that any of the older units getting the 5.1 updates will also experience a boost in power and efficiency from the firmware.
Samsung has always excelled at providing multitasking functionality and has taken that to new heights with the firmware update across the S23 range. Switching between apps and leaving apps open in memory doesn’t reduce any performance on the device. In fact, you can use multiple apps simultaneously with the “dual screen” function and copy text and more between the two apps.
One of the great leaps forward has been the battery life. Although the device has the same 5,000mAh battery, it has a much better life. During my testing, I could efficiently complete a full day’s use and still have sufficient battery to play games or edit. Under normal load, you can go as far as two days between charges, which is impressive. Even with the more powerful camera, you won’t have any issues running around all day snapping shots and worrying whether you’ll need to recharge.
That AI-Enabled, Quad-Lens Camera
It’s a strange concept that we continue to seek better and more from our smartphones year-on-year with the proclivity of throwing more and more hardware at it. However, in many cases, having great software and efficient features can make a difference in performance. Regarding the camera, the same applies to both the hardware and software.
The quad-lens camera has the following specifications:
12MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 120˚ (ultrawide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, Super Steady video
Samsung has packed a lot of hardware into its quad-lens camera setup to provide the best results for your imagery needs. In addition, however, the brand has done much work on the behind-the-scenes software to improve the results further.
For starters, it offers RAW image files. This allows advanced users to improve the image in post after copying it onto their PCs. With the 200MP RAW files, there’s room for editing and enhancements to get that perfectly colourised image you’re looking for. And it scales well, too, allowing it to be used in posters and large prints. This is great for professionals when there isn’t any time to reach for their DSLR.
The second of the software enhancements comes from its use of artificial intelligence. Samsung has incorporated AI to improve the image, how it sets it up and in processing the result. Some of the features it utilises are scene optimiser, object recognition, brightness and contrast control, and how to manage image stabilisation techniques. The latter is beneficial when taking images using its 100x zoom capabilities.
These techniques are still highly controversial, as many suggest that Samsung is using AI to mimic better shots of the moon, for example, and superimposing this over your image. The brand released a lengthy explanation of the behind-the-scenes of its AI technology regarding moon imagery. You can take a look at that here.
I was impressed most with the nighttime photography and shots of the moon. Knowing the claims presented by a few, I was sure to take as many different pictures of the moon, even a few with foreground interference and cloud cover, to ensure that my image was correct. In most cases, I could zoom in and align the shot, and it would represent what I saw with my eyes (however flawed they are). However, I picked up that on the crescent moon shots, it struggled to adjust accordingly. This was because there wasn’t enough light from the moon in these phases to be captured on the camera. To get a better attempt at a shot in this instance, you’d need to play around with the professional settings.
It was still able to manage a suitable image. For me, it was clear then that the camera wasn’t simply detecting the scene and looking for results in its data source to match and mimic once you’ve hit the snap button.
I thoroughly enjoyed taking photos with the Galaxy S23 Ultra. I’ve taken the most images in the last few weeks than I did for most of 2022, attempting to get the most out of my time with the smartphone and perfecting each shot.
As with the previous review of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus, the Ultra doesn’t have all that many changes on the surface level. However, at the same time, the brand has spent quite a bit of R&D on its software and supporting services to make the Galaxy S23 Ultra feel like a device light years ahead of its predecessor. As a result, it is more powerful, more efficient and a joy to use for daily tasks.
If there is one true standout among any other Galaxy smartphones, it is the camera. Samsung has made significant strides in pushing the envelope of what’s possible on a device that fits in your pocket. Not only has it added more powerful hardware, but it has also significantly impacted image quality and results with the use of AI. It may still be controversial, but comparing images will make you appreciate its performance in all conditions.
You can pick up the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra for around R24,999, depending on where you look. Compared to many other smartphones in a similar or higher price range, the unit offers much more and is arguably the best smartphone on the market today. As such, it is worth the purchase and comes highly recommended.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is the best smartphone I’ve ever experienced. It may not offer the massive jump as some predecessors for their respective eras, but it provides excellent enhancements due to improved firmware. Its 200MP camera, which supports AI enhancements and RAW images, makes for great fun in all lighting conditions. It’s an excellent smartphone well worth its price.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is the latest in smart phone technology, with a 200MP camera that supports AI enhancements and enhanced firmware.