Samsung took a scalpel to the Galaxy S23 Ultra design rather than a carving knife, with just some minor tweaks to the display and body of the phone that should make it more comfortable to hold and use. However, Samsung and its partners were busy upgrading what's inside the S23 Ultra. The new 200MP primary camera could be a game-changer, particularly paired with the capabilities of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset.
That's just a glimpse into what's new in the Galaxy S23 Ultra, read on for the complete picture.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra price and availability
The Galaxy S23 Ultra starts at $1,199 in the U.S., matching the price of its predecessor. That is particularly notable as the base model now features 256GB of storage, up from the typical 128GB, and international pricing is almost universally increasing. If you want more storage you can upgrade to 512GB or 1TB; these models also offer 12GB of RAM compared to 8GB in the base model.
While the iPhone 14 Pro Max starts at $1,099, it only has 128GB of storage. To match the S23 Ultra you need to pay the same $1,199. It's a negligible difference now, but rumors suggest the Pro Max is going to become the iPhone 15 Ultra this year and that could come with a price bump.
Galaxy S23 Ultra pre-orders start today (February 1) on Samsung.com, along with major retailers and carriers. If you order before the phone ships on February 17, you are eligible for a free upgrade to the next storage tier and up to $100 Samsung Credit.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra specs
|Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra|
|Display||6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic Super AMOLED 2X with adaptive 120Hz|
|RAM||8 or 12GB|
|Storage||256GB, 512GB or 1TB|
|Cameras (Rear)||200MP f/1.7 wide angle, 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide, 10MP f/2.4 3x telephoto, 10MP f/4.9 10x telephoto|
|Camera (Front)||12MP f/2.2|
|Dimensions||6.4 x 3.1 x 0.35 inches|
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra design
The Galaxy S23 Ultra design doesn't look drastically different from last year's model with Samsung focusing on material changes that increase the use of pre- and post-consumer recycled content. Whether the environmental messaging clicks with you or not, you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference in hand.
The phone features a matte finish on the back that curves into the display. However, this isn't the aggressive waterfall curve of last year, Samsung has finally listened and given us a flatter display that also gives you a larger surface area and hopefully fewer accidental screen taps. The flat top and bottom of the phone starkly contrast with a shiny metallic finish, and of course, the base houses the silo for the S Pen with its clickable color-matched top.
I'm still sorry to see the Contour Cut Camera housing design go, the Galaxy S23 and S23+ now join the Galaxy S23 Ultra in the minimal industrial look with exposed camera lenses. While 99% of buyers would put a case on the phone anyway, this design absolutely screams for protection.
Samsung once again gives you a quartet of color options on the Galaxy S23 Ultra with Phantom Black, Cream, Green, and Lavender generally available. Samsung.com as per usual gets an assortment of exclusive colors: Lime, Graphite, Sky Blue, and Red.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra display
The Galaxy S22 Ultra features a 6.8-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X adaptive 120Hz display. Those basic specs are unchanged from last year, but Samsung has made some changes. The most immediately noticeable is the aforementioned reduction to the curve of the display, but there are performance differences as well.
Samsung's Enhanced comfort feature lets you adjust color tones and contrast, while the Vision booster gives you an added level of control to fight overly bright environments.
The LTPO panel again allows it to scale the refresh rate from 1Hz up to 120Hz depending on the content on your display, meaning you get both the best performance and the best efficiency.
As the main supplier of mobile displays, there's little doubt that the Galaxy S23 Ultra will be among the leaders in the flagship phone realm again this year, but we'll have to see how it holds up in our labs.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra cameras
The primary wide-angle camera in the Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the most intriguing updates to the phone this year. Remember when you had to settle for a paltry 108MP sensor last year? Well, those dark days are over and you now have a 200MP Adaptive Pixel sensor to play with. I kid, but this sensor has the potential to rocket the Galaxy S23 Ultra back into serious contention for best phone camera if it delivers on its potential. Samsung is focusing on its capabilities in low light and its overall sharpness, while also stressing enhancements to its AI-powered image signal processing algorithm that push the sensors even further.
That 200MP f/1.7 wide-angle uses pixel binning to deliver you an optimal 12MP image, but you can choose to output a 50MP image or even the full 200MP if you want to really dig into the details in the Expert Raw app. I'm eager to give this a go with astrophotography to see if someone can finally give the Pixel a run for its money. On a more practical note, the binned 12MP images will be an intriguing test of whether Samsung can outperform the iPhone and Pixel in typical low-light conditions with a combination of improved computational photography and simply outmuscling them on the hardware front.
While the software enhancements will help all of the cameras, the rest of the rear camera array retains the same hardware as last year. This includes the 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide, the 10MP f/2.4 3x optical zoom, and the 10MP f/4.9 10x optical zoom. While rumors of a periscope zoom lens on the iPhone 15 Ultra persist, for now Samsung is comfortably coasting on its lead.
The front-facing camera drops from 40MP down to 12MP f/2.2, matching that of the Galaxy S23 and S23+. I'm not bothered by this move, but we'll do side-by-side comparisons against the Galaxy S22 Ultra to see if it's actually a downgrade. Samsung boasts that the Super HDR selfie camera, improved fast autofocus and up to 60fps video make it a marked improvement over last year.
Samsung is also taking aim once again at the iPhone's video crown with improved optical image stabilization, enhanced 8K video at 30fps, a new object-based AI that makes adjustments to your image on the fly, and a new 360 Audio Recording feature when using the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro to create multi-dimensional sound.
Everyone talks a good game when it comes to their cameras, but we'll see how they hold up in our real-world tests.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra battery and charging
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra features a 5,000mAh battery, matching most other top-tier flagships. Samsung claims that thanks to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 the Galaxy S23 Ultra lasts 20% longer than the S22 Ultra, but we'll let our lab tests be the judge of that.
Samsung claims its 45W charging will get the Galaxy S23 Ultra up to a 65% charge in 30 minutes. It's hard not to look enviously at the 80W or even 120W charging that companies like OnePlus are delivering, but this is still a welcome upgrade from the old 25W charging. Just remember you need to pick up a 45W charger if you don't already own one.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra enjoys the first-mover advantage once again in 2023, ushering in the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 flagship era. We'll see if Qualcomm's latest lives up to the hype and the S23 Ultra will be an excellent test bed for it as little else has changed from last year.
Mobile photographers and videographers are going to be the most swayed by the Galaxy S23 Ultra upgrades with that 200MP sensor and enhancements to the OIS that we'll face off against the iPhone 14 Pro's image stabilization.
Galaxy S21 Ultra owners should feel pretty comfortable skipping this upgrade from what we've seen so far, but there's enough here that Galaxy S20 Ultra and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra owners may be swayed. Between the camera upgrades, the S Pen, and the latest Snapdragon processor if Samsung's trade-in offers are reasonable on those phones, it's a worthwhile leap.
Of course, the on-paper breakdown of the phone can only tell us so much; we got to go hands-on with the Galaxy S23 Ultra for a short time already, but we'll be starting our full review soon to put all of its capabilities to the test and see if it can land among the best smartphones.
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Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more. Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.