Phone Home: Samsung’s Sleek New S23 Ultra Shoots for the Moon (Literally)
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Samsung’s bi-annual Unpacked event unveiled a host of new Galaxy products, including the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Galaxy Book3. Along with the S23 Ultra, the tech company also launched the S23 and S23+ smartphones, with all devices available to order now.
Samsung’s S23 Ultra packs the same sleek design we’ve come to expect from Samsung smartphones., but there’s a lot going on down under. The S23 Ultra now features an upgraded 200MP lens, a Super HDR selfie camera and a battery life that’s designed to last well over 24 hours. The build itself also keeps Samsung’s sustainability principles in mind, now boasting recycled Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on the front and rear.
Buy Samsung S23 Ultra $1,199.99+
The Samsung S23 and 23+ are also spectacular in their own way, boasting a similar speedy processor to the Ultra and the same sustainable build. That said, both will have slightly smaller screens, with the S23+ featuring a 6.6-inch AMOLED FHD+ display (the Ultra has a 6.8-inch AMOLED QHD+ display). The S23 and 23+ also feature slightly shorter battery lives and a 50MP wide camera, compared to the Ultra’s 200MP.
All three Samsung smartphones will be available in multiple storage sizes though and four vivid colors, including Phantom Black, Cream, Green and Lavender with prices for the S23 series starting at $799.99.
While we haven’t had a chance to test the S23 and S23+, we did spend a week testing out the S23 Ultra. and here’s what we thought about the camera, battery life and design.
S23 Ultra: Design and Performance
Design-wise not much has changed since last year’s S22 Ultra. The S23 Ultra has got a slightly flatter design with rounded edges made to sit comfortably in your palm. The best part is that it’s incredibly lightweight weighing just 234 grams, which makes this phone easy to carry around or whip out at a moment’s notice to capture a special moment.
Buy Samsung S23 Ultra $1,199.99+
Of course, it’s got every other major feature to compete with other smartphones at its price point, including a sturdy Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2 build and IPX8 water resistance, which means it can be submerged in up to 1.5 meters of fresh water for 30 minutes. Plus it’s got one of the widest displays on a smartphone, which I particularly love for gaming or streaming
The 6.8-inch AMOLED display is pretty clear and looks great when watching videos or gaming. You can have it toggled to ‘Always On’ if you’re constantly checking your phone, or turn that feature off if it’s not what you are used to. Since it’s got 1,750 nits of peak brightness, watching the screen even under direct sunlight was possible — something I appreciated as it’s one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to smartphones. The 120Hz refresh rate felt lightning fast — good for graphic-heavy games and streaming alike.
Under the hood the S23 Ultra has got the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset, which could handle virtually anything. I tried gaming with Mario Kart, spent the day looking for pokémon and battling trainers in Pokemon Go, and even spent some time binge-watching TikTok videos for a whole hour. Luckily the phone never lagged during my sessions. Of course, you will feel it warm up a bit, but that’s to be expected after some pretty vigorous testing. This is already a big upgrade to last year’s S22 Ultra and stacks up with some of our favorite smartphones of last year, including the iPhone 14 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro.
The 5,000mAh battery lived up to my expectation too. While the battery capacity is the same as last year Samsung says it’s made the battery more power efficient, so your phone can last longer. I charged up my phone on a Saturday night and with very limited use, I could get the battery to last upwards of three days. Of course, I didn’t have a lot of background app activity going on (always on display was also toggled off) at the time, but I was still pretty impressed.
With continued usage, saying watching videos, or even using the 200-megapixel lens on the camera, you will notice that the battery drains faster, but it should still last you all day — mine was down to around 35% after continued use.
Samsung S23 Ultra: Camera Performance
One of Samsung’s biggest selling points of the S23 Ultra is its mega 200-megapixel camera sensor. You can quickly toggle on this sensor by editing the camera setting within the app, and within no time you ‘re going to be shooting extremely detailed images. There is a bit of a wait time (about 5 to 7 seconds) while your phone processes these pixel heavy images, but it’s worth it. You’ll notice the difference the most when you zoom into a 200MP picture and notice minute details sticking out that even the naked eye could not see.
Apart from the 200MP lens, Samsung’s S23 UIltra also has a 12MP ultra-wide camera, two telephoto lenses at 10MP, and a 12MP selfie camera. There’s an option to zoom in up to 100x if for whatever reason you were trying to take a picture of the moon.
While I couldn’t find a particularly clear day while the moon was visible, I did try using the space zoom feature on my balcony and it does the job but as expected, the image is still quite blurry and pixelated. I don’t think there’s ever a reason to have to use 100x zoom on a regular day anyway, so it’s not a big deal, but it’s not the ‘selling point’ on this phone for me. For me, the regular zoom capabilities with the telephoto lens are what stood out. Pictures at 10x zoom still looked incredibly clear and didn’t give the impression that it was a ‘zoomed in’ shot to begin with.
You’ve also got the option for 30x space zoom, depending on your camera preferences. Portrait mode is pretty good, and as you can see it captures the subject’s frame well without compromising on detail or looking too ‘done up.’ You can also adjust the background blur on the image to your liking. Low-light pictures were just ok on this smartphone— I felt that the pictures lacked the detail that I was used to with the iPhone 14 Pro and sometimes the images felt a little noisy. This isn’t anything major, just a personal opinion.
As for the selfie camera, you’ve got clear, detailed pictures, especially in a well-lit room. For some reason, my hair looked a little darker than normal and it looked like the certain parts of this photo were a little more saturated than I’m used to, but overall every picture I took came out pretty good.
If you’re interested in taking video, you’ll be pretty impressed with the S23 Ultra, which can shoot in 8K at 30 frames per second (up from last year’s 24fps) and has a wider field of view. There is a ‘super steady’ setting too, if you’re taking video on the go and are trying to keep your subject in the frame.
Samsung S23 Ultra: Other Features
One of the other big selling points of the S23 Ultra is the integrated S Pen. This nifty device is a breeze to use and helps you mark up your images, take notes, or even write text messages. As expected the S Pen had no lag during usage and could even understand my very atrocious handwriting (most of the time). Since it’s got a designated slot in your smartphone you also don’t have to worry about it falling out or getting misplaced.
Another notable feature of the S23 Ultra is its integration with Samsung smart home. Via the Smart Things app, you can easily monitor any smart home-connected devices you have. Plus, the smart view feature helps you quickly cast to a Samsung TV — I tried it and was impressed by how quick, easy and seamless it was. You can also easily sync your smartphone with a compatible Galaxy Book to expand your work-from-home setup,
Your smartphone will also support numerous future updates — up to four years of OS updates and up to 5 years of security updates.
Finally, like its competitors, Samsung also offers Face ID unlock, as well as backup passcode options, including a pass key or pattern unlock. I had no trouble with Face ID, and even with continued usage, my phone unlocked within a second.
Samsung S23 Ultra: Our Verdict
With a mega 200 MP lens, all-day battery life, and snappy performance the S23 Ultra is one of the best smartphones you can buy in 2023, especially if you’re still clinging to a slightly older Samsung model.
I was impressed with the phone’s edge-to-edge display and clear visuals even under direct sunlight. Plus, in my one week of testing, I faced no lags or screen freezes, even while multitasking. Of course, Bixby is not the best smart assistant out there, and if you’re a previous iPhone user, the Samsung Ultra isn’t the easiest phone to adapt to. It’s also not the cheapest advanced android smartphone, but if you’ve got the cash and the affinity for a superior camera, the S23 Ultra is for you.
As for me, I love the ultra-large display, lightweight design, and top-notch hardware that makes me feel like a technological whiz kid with this phone in my pocket. And, Samsung’s robust trade-in service can help you save a little extra and make this smartphone well worth your buck.
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