Laptop Mag Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is a revolutionary update in evolutionary clothing. Seemingly iterative changes yield a transformative upgrade for Android's one true flagship phone.
Qualcomm's 8 Gen 2 chip is a game-changer
Excellent battery life
Impressive 200MP camera
Bright, vivid display
Seamless ecosystem between smartphone and Samsung PC
Minimal design changes
Starts at $1,199
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OS: Android 13, One UI 5.1
Display: 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform for Galaxy chipset with Adreno 740 graphics
RAM: 8GB, 12GB
Rear cameras: 200MP main (ƒ/1.7); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 10MP 3x telephoto (f/2.4); 10MP 10x telephoto (f/4.9)
Selfie camera: 12 MP (f/2.2)
Storage: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Size: 6.4 x 3.1 x 0.35 inches
Weight: 8.3 ounces
Samsung's Galaxy S23 Ultra is the first flagship phone of 2023 and after a couple of weeks with it there is simply no true competition for Samsung's flagship offering.
Let me be clear, there are plenty of phones to consider as alternatives to the Galaxy S23 Ultra, but there is nothing else that comes close from a feature standpoint. Are some of those features like the S Pen, 200MP primary camera, or 10x optical zoom camera over the top? Sure, but if you are spending $1,200 or more on a flagship phone then it feels like you are owed a tasteful amount of excess.
If you want basic meat and potatoes flagship phone features the Pixel 7 Pro, iPhone 14 Pro Max, and to a lesser degree the OnePlus 11 have you covered. But for those that crave filet mignon with a bordelaise sauce and duchess potatoes the Galaxy S23 Ultra is ready to serve.
In an era where more affordable flagships, including Samsung's own Galaxy S23+, are offering up a compelling package for $999 or less, there's still something undeniably compelling about the audacity of the Galaxy S23 Ultra's feature set that puts it in a category all its own.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra pricing and configurations
You want super flagship features, you’re going to pay super flagship prices. The base model of the S23 Ultra costs $1,199 which gets you a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform for Galaxy chipset with Adreno 740 graphics, 8GB of RAM with 256GB of onboard storage. The mid-tier configuration bumps you up to 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. Finally, there’s the 1TB version which retains the 12GB of RAM.
If you take a lot of photos and videos, are frequently downloading content due to travel in areas with limited connectivity, or are a mobile gaming fiend I would recommend making the jump to 512GB to also get that 12GB of RAM. However, now that Samsung moved to 256GB as its base storage tier, I can confidently say that most users will be just fine sticking with that.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra design
We here at Laptop Mag love a massive smartphone and the Galaxy S23 Ultra is hard to beat in that regard. The S23 Ultra weighs 8.3 ounces and measures 6.4 x 3.1 x 0.35 inches. That’s identical to last year’s S22 Ultra’s dimensions and slightly larger, but lighter than the iPhone 14 Pro Max (8.5 ounces, 6.3 x 3.1 x 0.31 inches) — made from recycled aluminum, glass, and plastic, the Ultra feels both substantial and premium.
The Ultra is available in Phantom Black, Cream, Green, and Lavender. And if you purchase directly from Samsung, there’s a chance for a few site-exclusive colors. While the phone looks great in Black and Cream, my eyes were drawn to the Green and Lavender iterations of the phone. It’s my personal preference, but in a world of black, gray, and white devices, I prefer to go for a pop of color.
The sides of the phone are metallic with the Side key (a.k.a. Bixby key) and volume buttons along the right, and the rear panel is made of the same durable Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2. Just like the S22 Ultra, the S23 Ultra has a series of five lenses jutting out the top left corner of the back of the phone. I'm still not in love with this design, but it's at least Samsung is owning it by bringing it to the rest of the Galaxy S23 lineup this year. At the bottom are the USB-C charging port and the S Pen silo.
Turning our attention to the front, you see a glossy 6.8-inch QHD+ panel made of more of that Victus 2 Gorilla Glass. A pinhole camera sits top center, a welcome departure from the iPhone’s notch or Dynamic Island. The side of the display curves into a gentler waterfall edge than on previous models, which is a polarizing decision, but I dig it.
Something else I dig is the durability. The S23 Ultra has an IP68X rating which means it can withstand being submerged in up to 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) of water for 30 minutes along with protection from dirt, dust, and sand. That’s great news, especially if you’re shelling out over $1,200 you don't want an accidental dip to spell instant disaster.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra display
If Samsung does nothing else correctly, the company knows how to make an absolutely stunning display. In the case of the S23 Ultra, the smartphone has a 6.8-inch, Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. There's a reason why Apple and others turn to Samsung for their displays as well, but it certainly seems like Samsung keeps the best for itself. Beyond the adaptive display's ability to drop down to 1Hz or ramp up to 120Hz based on the content on your screen, it is simply stunningly vivid and sharp.
Pairing that high refresh rate with its 240Hz touch sampling rate and you have a phenomenal overall phone that can almost keep up with dedicated gaming phones, eliminating lag and making sure you get that kill shot. But when you’re reading, looking at photos, or just navigating the home screen, the display adjusts accordingly to ensure you’re always getting a seamless viewing experience.
|DCI-P3 color gamut percentage|
|Galaxy S23 Ultra||136.7% (78.8% natural setting)|
|iPhone 14 Pro max||83.2%|
|Pixel 7 Pro||74.3% natural setting|
Anticipating the amount of screen time you’re going to put in, Samsung has added a few measures to prevent eye strain and increase comfort depending on the lighting environment. There’s the proprietary Enhanced comfort feature that adjusts color tones and contrast levels, along with Vision booster which offers three levels of lighting in order to combat brightness and glare in daylight.
|Peak brightness||Average brightness|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||1,565||980|
|Galaxy S23 Ultra||1,444||1,020|
|Pixel 7 Pro||927||927|
The Pixel 7 Pro puts up a good fight, but the two titans take peak brightness to a whole new level. In the end the iPhone hits a higher peak result (1,565 nits to 1,444 nits), while the Galaxy S23 Ultra delivers a superior average score (1,020 nits to 980 nits). The Pixel 7 Pro can't compete on the top end, but slots in pretty close on the average result (927 nits).
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra performance
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Multicore score|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||5,333|
|Galaxy S23 Ultra||5,081|
|Pixel 7 Pro||3,046|
Qualcomm isn't playing around and Samsung, by association isn't either. Powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform for Galaxy chipset, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is doing something that we haven't seen in a while — give Apple some competition.
When we ran our synthetic benchmarks like Geekbench 5.4, the S23 Ultra got 4,882. It easily outpaced the Google Pixel 7 Pro and its Tensor G2 CPU which notched 3,046. However, the iPhone 14 Pro Max's A16 Bionic chip still got the win at 5,333.
During the Adobe Premiere Rush test, the S23 Ultra posted a time of 39 seconds, while the Pixel 7 Pro hit 00:47. The iPhone sped past them both at 30 seconds.
Remember, we said it gave Apple competition, not outright beat it. For that kind of action, check out the graphics section. Needless to say this level of performance is more than enough to handle literally anything you can throw at this phone. Loading it up with 40 Chrome tabs, a YouTube video in the background, and then jumping around between apps yielded not a single stutter.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra graphics
|3DMark Wild Life Extreme||3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited|
|Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra||3,858||3,788|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||3,331||2,792|
|Pixel 7 Pro||1,834||1,805|
We promised you some Apple arse-kicking and a whomping you shall get dear reader. The Adreno 740 GPU in the Samsung Galaxy Ultra S23 is seriously powerful as we found out during our testing.
The S23 Ultra delivered big scores on our benchmarks starting with 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited where the smartphone notched 14,611. The iPhone 14 Pro Max (5-core Apple GPU) only got 8,652 while the Pixel 7 Pro (Mali-G710 MP7 GPU) only reached 6,725.
Switching over to 3DMark Wild Life Extreme benchmark, we saw the S23 Ultra achieve 3,858, beating the iPhone's 3,331. The Pixel 7 Pro was left in the dust at 1,834.
During the 3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited test, the S23 Ultra hit 3,788. The iPhone came in second at 2,792 while the Pixel 7 Pro once again brought up the rear with 1,805.
The question isn't what Android games can Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 games play, the question is what games are going to be created to take advantage of Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. We could be at an inflection point for Android gaming, but it may take a year or more for developers to respond.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra cameras
The S23 Ultra’s cameras are the smartphone’s claim to fame and there are 200 reasons for all the hub-bub. The S23 Ultra is the first Galaxy phone to feature a 200-megapixel sensor. The Adaptive Pixel sensor is designed to capture crystal clear photos no matter the lighting environment. However, Samsung is really playing up night photography, with a new AI-powered image signal processing (ISP) algorithm that enhances both details and color tone.
Still not impressed? Samsung’s also claiming that the Ultra will have the ability to do astrophotography. The weather hasn't really been cooperating with me for that, but my early efforts show that it is still behind the Pixel 7 Pro, but it may have surpassed the iPhone. I'll be conducting more tests and will update this review when I have more definitive samples.
For those that have a hard time leaving their DSLR at home, the Expert RAW app may be entry point you need — the Samsung exclusive that allows photographers to capture DSLR-style images that can be edited in RAW and JPEG with myriad options to tweak.
While the 200MP sensor is the headliner, it has plenty of companions back there. You also have a 12MP ultrawide with f/2.2 aperture, a 10MP 3x optical telephoto with f/2.4 aperture, and finally a 10MP 10x optical telephoto with an f/4.9 aperture. In case you were wondering about the front-facing camera is a 12MP sensor. It’s also the first Super HDR selfie cam in the Galaxy line. Not only will you get beautifully colorful images, but with the sensor’s ability to jump from 30fps to 60fps and the fast autofocus, the images should be extra crisp.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra battery life
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Battery life (hh:mm)|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||13:07|
|Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra||12:22|
|Pixel 7 Pro||8:05|
The S23 Ultra comes with a 5,000mAH battery, the same as its predecessor, but Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 worked its magic again as the Galaxy S23 Ultra powered through 12 hours and 22 minutes before calling it quits. That's over two hours longer than the S22 Ultra on the same test and the longest a Galaxy S series phone has ever made it in our tests.
That didn't quite eclipse the iPhone 14 Pro Max's average score of 13 hours and 7 minutes, but the iPhone cut out at 10 hours and 43 minutes in one of our tests so it's not completely cut and dry. The Pixel 7 Pro by comparison tapped out at 8 hours and 5 minutes, so needless to say it's not in the running for phones with the best battery life.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra software
Samsung flashed the Galaxy S23 Ultra with the latest version of its One UI software. It’s fast and responsive and chock full of Samsung features. Security-wise, Samsung Knox is there to keep your sensitive info under lock and key. Speaking of security, Samsung is promising five years of security updates and four generations of Android updates.
But the bigger news is that Samsung has made a concerted effort to make this latest generation of phones play nice with its new line of laptops. Similar to the Apple ecosystem, Samsung is employing deeper levels of connectivity including second screen capabilities and Multi Control, which lets you use the S23 line as a mouse or second keyboard with a Samsung PC or tablet. There’s also the ability to copy and paste between devices. And thanks to the S Pen, video conferencing can be even more collaborative. In a Google Meet call, you can now co-edit docs instead of looking at a static shared screen.
Incremental and generational progress. That’s what the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra brings to the table. On one hand, the $1,199 flagship doesn’t divert too far from its predecessor’s design. The phones even share the same dimensions and battery size. That doesn’t mean that Samsung hasn't made a few leaps and bounds.
First, there’s the 200MP camera that Samsung is hyping up for its night photography capabilities. Then, you have the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform that finally surpasses the iPhone's seemingly unbeatable mobile chipset in some tests for the first time in years. And finally, there’s Samsung’s focus on connectivity which is building an ecosystem similar to Apple.
While we weren't entirely sure whether the Galaxy S23 Ultra was going to be able to deliver on the promise of our initial tests, it has continued to impress throughout our time with the phone. The battery life is outstanding, the cameras are on par or better than all but the Pixel 7 Pro with telephoto of course tipping to Samsung and the performance is simply wildly better than we anticipated from an Android phone in 2023.
While at $1,199 it's a steep starting price, if you want the best Android phone on the market, the Galaxy S23 Ultra unquestionably holds that title.
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.
- Sherri L. SmithEditor in Chief