S23 Ultra review

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review: the new camera king?

The Galaxy S23 Ultra sits at the top of the South Korean Electronics giant’s S-series range. Each year, the smartphone arms race continues to amp up capabilities, especially when it comes to the camera, which is what the S range is all about. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is also the successor to the productivity-focused and now-defunct Galaxy Note, and gains the Note’s ‘S-Pen’ stylus.

So this year’s Galaxy S23 range follows on from the critically acclaimed Galaxy S22, and includes three variants: the S23, S23+ and top-of-the-range S23 Ultra reviewed here. Visually speaking, you might have a tough time distinguishing between these new models and last year’s S22 range. However, a deeper inspection reveals there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. I’ve been testing the S23 Ultra for the past couple of weeks, and had a chance to put it up against the S22 Ultra as well as Apple’s flagship camera phone, the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

S23 Ultra phone with the rest of the Galaxy range

What are the new S23 Ultra features?

In a nutshell, the most notable Galaxy S23 Ultra updates versus the older S22 Ultra include:

  • A more powerful Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile chip system
  • Higher resolution 200-megapixel main (wide) camera
  • Improved but lower resolution 12-megapixel selfie camera 
  • Double the standard storage space (256GB vs 128GB)
  • 20% longer battery life thanks to the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip
  • New, harder Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on the front screen and rear cover
  • Less curved screen edges
  • New Green, Cream and Lavender colours
  • Starting price is $100 more (but you get double the base storage)

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Specifications

Price$1,949 (8GB + 256GB)
$2,249 (12GB + 512GB)
$2,649 (12GB + 1TB)
Display6.8-inch QHD AMOLED
Refresh rate 1 – 120Hz adaptive
Rear cameras200MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP 3x telephoto, 10MP 10x telephoto
Front camera12MP selfie
ChipsetSnapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
Storage256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Battery5,000 mAh
Charging45W wired/10W wireless
Water/dust resistanceIP68
Size163.4 x 78.1 x 8.9mm (6.4 x 3.0 x 0.35 inches)
ColoursPhantom Black, Cream, Green and Lilac

What camera technology does the S23 Ultra use?

Positioned as Samsung’s top-tier phone for photography enthusiasts, the S23 Ultra camera system is at the bleeding edge with a new 200-megapixel (MP) sensor for the f1.7 main (wide) camera. You can read more about what we love about the S23’s camera here. The remaining cameras haven’t changed all that much compared to the S22 Ultra, and include a 12MP f2.2 ultrawide, 10MP f2.4 3x telephoto and 10MP f4.9 10x telephoto. Flip the camera over and the selfie camera has gone on a diet and slimmed down to a 12MP f2.2 system versus the 48MP version on the S22.

The 200MP camera is designed to capture a vast amount of detail, while at the same time providing a 12MP mode that is more sensitive to light and colour. This is possible thanks to Samsung’s Super Quad Pixel technology, which essentially reduces the total amount of megapixels by grouping the sensor’s tiny pixels into four larger blocks of 16 or ‘Quad Pixels’. In theory, these fewer and larger pixels have more surface area for greater sensitivity. This also reduces the total photo file size, as there are fewer pixels included. (All the other cameras including the front selfie, use Dual Pixel technology.)

S23 Ultra 200MP camera test
The S23 Ultra camera allows you to zoom in and reveal hidden detail captured in photos. Notice how the max zoom-in level of our smart speaker test image is considerably greater on the 200MP (far right) sensor vs the 50MP and 12MP cameras.

High-resolution photos

With the main camera, you can switch between 12MP, 50MP and 200MP resolution modes, and even access 50MP RAW image data if you wish thanks to a Pro RAW setting. The key benefit to the 200MP mode is that you can take a shot and zoom right in to see loads of detail and make a new, cropped image, or otherwise reproduce the photo as a large A4 print without pixelation. 

In practice, snapping the huge 200MP and slightly smaller 50MP photos require a 1-1.5 second processing delay after pressing the shutter button, but the images display a striking amount of sharpness and detail. However, I was surprised at how much more contrast the 12MP version had, while the higher megapixel modes appeared flatter. The 12MP images were slightly brighter too in dimly lit scenes, which makes sense as the 12MP pixel-binned sensor is capturing more light. I’m not sure I’d use 200MP or 50MP modes all that much for day-to-day shooting, as they also limit your zoom to 6x, whereas in the 12MP mode, you can switch up to 10x.

Telephoto shots

In terms of telephotos, there’s still the same 100x digitally enhanced mode to play with. I tried this out and compared it to the S22’s version. It was difficult to discern any differences at maximum zoom, however. I would have expected to see a slight improvement given the S23’s more powerful AI post-image processing, but there doesn’t seem to be much more that can be squeezed out of this mode.

With Macro photography, the S23 produced some impressively clear and sharp results. However, I found that the iPhone 14 Pro Max could still get a little closer to the subject, with a 2-centimetre minimum distance.

Selfie camera

Otherwise, the remaining rear cameras are very similar to the S22’s already excellent versions, so no complaints there. On the front, the 12MP selfie camera does appear to create a more realistic image in terms of skin tones. However, it couldn’t match the detail on the S22’s, in both 40MP or 12MP modes. As mentioned earlier, S22’s camera is 48MP versus the S23’s 12MP, so it doesn’t have the physical pixels, although the results were not dramatically different.


The S23 does deliver on its low light performance or ‘Nightography’, with some very impressive results. The S22 Ultra was quite good but it’s clear that the S23 Ultra’s camera sensor and more powerful Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, with added post-processing, can really tune up the low light sensitivity. Samsung says that the S23 Ultra can operate in 0.1 Lux conditions, which is near pitch black. We shot some photos in a nearly black room and the S23 made it look much, much brighter. The front selfie camera night test destroyed the S22, with more accurate skin tones in low light and a lot more detail. I suspect that this performance is thanks to the larger pixels used by the 12MP sensor. 

Portrait mode

Thanks to its Dual Pixel sensor and AI Object aware engine, Portrait Mode has seen some fine-tuning, especially in areas where previous versions struggled to separate foreground images from the background. During our tests compared to the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which has a very accomplished Portrait Mode, the S23 Ultra showed that it could resolve my glasses’ arm near my face, keeping it in focus, whereas the iPhone confused it with the background.

S23 Ultra portrait mode test identifying glasses
The S23 Ultra’s Dual Pixel Selfie Camera (left) can recognise thin objects such as eyeglass edges or hair 
to deliver the best Bokeh effect versus the iPhone 14 Pro Max (right)

Astro photography

We love the new Astro-photography mode, called ‘Hyperlapse’ which helps you take long-exposure starry sky shots without the streaks caused by the earth’s rotation. This clever mode actually figures out where you are in the world and compensates for the rotation, leaving you with pin-sharp star shots. There’s also a sort of opposite mode called Star Trails that creates a cool ‘star streak’ effect of the night’s sky. Check out the 6 things we love about the S23’s camera for more details about this and other camera modes.

For a very deep dive into the S23 Ultra’s camera, highly respected testing organisation DXOMark rated Samsung’s flagship smartphone 10th in its global rankings for the best smartphone camera. Ultimately, many of the camera tests are subjective, as they depend on what kind of look a person prefers. When using the S23 Ultra, you certainly won’t be left wanting, and have a huge amount of creative options and capabilities at your fingertips.

What’s different about the S23 Ultra design?

While the S23 doesn’t have major visual differences, it does have a few minor tweaks. The one I appreciate the most is that the previously rounded screen edges are now slightly more squared off. I find this easier to grip the phone while picking it up, and it’s good that the overall design language is more consistent with the S23 and S23+ models in the range.

Otherwise, there are fractional size changes, and a tiny bit more weight, plus slightly larger rear camera cutouts. We have new colours too, including an attractive Green, Cream, along with Lavender and Phantom Black.

Rear of four phones

We have the Cream for our test unit, and it has a slight matte finish to it, making it easier to grip, and it’s a stylish, if a bit conservative, choice. On the plus side, you won’t need to worry about it going out of style.

What’s new with the S23 Ultra screen?

The S23 Ultra comes with the same excellent 6.8-inch QHD+ display as the S22. This has a dynamic OLED 2X panel with impressive colour vibrancy, contrast and a 3088 x 1440 resolution and 1750 peak nits brightness. Compared to the S22, the new Vision Booster really brightened up the screen, making it easy to review the beach scene test photos I took in direct mid-day sunlight.

Overall, the screen is a cracker and wonderful to use, in terms of its size, colour quality, brightness and 120Hz smooth scrolling capability. Whether you’re watching movies, browsing the web, watching TikToks or doodling with the S-Pen, this is one of the best out there.

Phones on towel at beach
The S23 Ultra’s screen (right) is noticeably brighter than the S22 Ultra’s (left) in direct sunlight

Both the front and back glass is now Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus 2, which is meant to be harder so it will resist damage and scratches better than previous iterations, and also has improved drop protection when not landing flat. We didn’t get to test this, so will need to take Samsung’s word for it, but good to have it nonetheless. This new glass also benefits from being made from 22% recycled glass, which is a great thing for the environment.

Interestingly, DXOMark scored the S23 Ultra’s screen 3rd in its Global rankings, after the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14.

Shooting video

For those that have a use for recording mega-high resolution 8K videos, the S23’s added processing power and memory bandwidth means that you can record up to 30 frames per second, which increases from the S22’s 24 frames per second. Still, this will create massive file sizes but if you have an 8K TV to play videos back on, they’ll look amazingly sharp.

What I do love about recording video on the S23 is the much-improved image stabilization. Called ‘Super Steady Mode’ it’s actually more stable than the excellent ‘Action Mode’ on the iPhone 14 Pro Max, so you can put this to use when walking, running, mountain biking, driving and much more. I stomped around the house while recording video, and it did a great job of cleaning up the jitters that would be otherwise noticed for each footfall. 

Interestingly, the S23’s speakers sound fuller and richer than those on the S22. I played a variety of tunes and found that there was an improvement in bass along with clarity and overall balance.

Rating the S23 Ultra performance

Given that the S23 Ultra has its most powerful processor ever, we expected to see some impressive performance. This is also compounded with the fastest-ever memory used in a smartphone, which really helps keep things snappy when sending the massive photos and 8K videos captured with the upgraded cameras.

GeekBench 6 testing saw big improvements to both CPU and graphics (GPU) scores versus the S22 Ultra. There was a 40% improvement on the single-core CPU tests and 51% on multi-core. With graphics and neural processing, Samsung’s version of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is meant to be more than 40% faster, with special optimisations for the Galaxy family of handsets. With Geekbench’s GPU test, l saw a nearly double (91%) increase versus the S22.

Note that I’ve included the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s results in the table below for reference. Apple’s homemade A16 Bionic chip still outclasses the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, however, the gap is closing. At this level, the S23 is no performance slouch and can handle just about anything you can throw at it, with snappy app opens, fast autofocus, and fluid gameplay. Gaming is further helped by a new cooling architecture, including a vapour chamber, along with dedicated Ray Tracing hardware for accelerated in-game lighting effects that make gaming worlds look more realistic than ever.

Galaxy S23 UltraGalaxy S22 UltraiPhone 14 Pro Max
Single Core191213692504 (OpenCL)
Multi-core496632905738 (OpenCL)
GPU Compute8901462522436 (Metal)
GeekBench 6 test results

Thermal throttling

I also tested out how much thermal throttling the phone experiences when running at maximum CPU and GPU load. This provides an indication of how overall performance gets reduced to keep it at a safe operating temperature while it’s trying to do a lot of things at once.

The test showed that the S23 Ultra was throttled to 71% of its max performance, compared to the S22 Ultra’s 78%. However, the S23 Ultra did a lot more work during the 15-minute test – averaging over 308,000 instructions per second, compared to the S22’s 220,000 giga instructions per second (GIPS), so while the S23 Ultra does get reigned in more, it still accomplishes about 40% more work. 

As this test runs for 15 minutes with the CPU and GPU cranked up to the maximum, we compared the heat of both units and found them to be about the same to the touch, with no excessive hot spots along their bodies.


Samsung’s UI 5.1 comes installed on the S23 Ultra, which has a few new features. Things like Bixby Text call, for example, will answer incoming calls with its own voice and then send a text message to you, relaying what the person said. 

Another feature is Routines, which starts a sequence of actions on your phone, sort of like a macro. There are new Modes too, which let you set up specific settings for work, sleep, exercise, driving, etc.

Other UI 5.1 features, according to Samsung:

  • Greater flexibility to create professional quality photos and new navigation improvements for a more engaging photo gallery 
  • More customisation options for a unique mobile experience personalised for every Galaxy user  
  • Greater connectivity throughout Galaxy Ecosystem 

It’s also fantastic to see Samsung’s commitment to fast software updates and support for 4 years of major Android updates – all the way up to Android 17.

There’s also a new Modes option that lets you create customized settings for different aspects of your life, whether it’s sleep, exercise, driving or work. (Think iOS 16’s Focus mode feature, but on a Samsung device.) There are also more personalization features in One UI 5.1, such as an improved stacked widget system and recommended apps and actions for different times of the day. 


On the power front, there’s a huge 5000mAh battery, which should provide a 20% bump over the S22 Ultra and more than a day’s charge during regular use. I got two full days during testing. The S23 Ultra also gets 45-Watt SuperFast Charging 2.0, along with 10W Fast Wireless Charging 2.0, and there’s Wireless PowerShare for topping up other phones, smartwatches and earbuds directly from your handset.

Charging with the SuperFast adapter will give you a 65% fill in about 30 minutes according to Samsung. Unfortunately, you don’t get the 45W SuperFast charger in the box and will need to either rely on what you have lying around or buy one.

A new era of sustainability

It’s also worth mentioning that Samsung’s latest flagship is made with sustainability in mind. While there’s always more that can be done, the S23 Ultra makes a great start, reusing materials such as PET bottles, recycled aluminium and glass, and even helps remove about 15 tonnes of fishing nets from the ocean. Samsung also uses 100% recycled paper for its packaging and has removed the box’s plastic sealing sticker.

GadgetGuy’s take

While the S23 Ultra does resemble its predecessor on the outside, it’s clear that there are plenty of new and improved bits as well, especially when it comes to the 200MP camera system and top-of-the-range Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform. Its camera is one of the best on the market, producing stunning photos in a wide variety of lighting conditions. The 100x digital zoom, Expert RAW and Hyperlapse modes give you all sorts of creative options too, along with quite a bit of control over your final photos.

Otherwise, building on an already excellent S22 Ultra platform is no bad thing, with a wonderful display, the versatility of the S-Pen, long battery life and loads of other sound design choices and features. Yes, price-wise it’s not a bargain, however, like most flagships, you need to pay a premium to access cutting-edge features. While the Google Pixel 7 Pro has a more competitive price point and somewhat comparable features, at the time of writing, there are few, if any phones in the Android camp that can rival the S23 Ultra, leaving it to take its rightful place at the top.

Valens Quinn travelled to Galaxy UnPacked S23 launch event in San Fransisco as a guest of Samsung Australia.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra packs in class-leading camera features, along with the latest and most powerful hardware ever in a Galaxy smartphone. It's as good as you can get in an Android smartphone, as long as you can afford it.
Value for money
Ease of use
Amazing detail captured by 200MP main camera
Excellent display that is visible in direct sunlight
Fun and creative Astro photography modes
More processing power that you'll probably ever need
Design is attractive but could be a little more distinct than the older S22 Ultra
Google Pixel 7 Pro is cheaper while offering a competitive feature set
No major advances apparent with 100x zoom in terms of clarity vs the S22 Ultra