You Don’t Need the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, but You Do Want It

You Don’t Need the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, but You Do Want It

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra really is the ultimate Samsung phone that doesn’t fold. It has all the best of the Galaxy S range paired with everything that made the Note line special. As someone who always used to wish for basically this exact phone every time there was a Samsung launch, this is fantastic. However, with massive power and performance comes a price tag that makes you wince.

So, is the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra worth it?

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

They truly threw the kitchen sink at the S23 Ultra. Aside from the ability to make toast or fold my laundry, I can’t think of anything else that could have been packed into a phone with this form factor.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra specs

  • Display: 6.8-inch Edge QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display (3088 x 1440), HDR10+ certified, up to 120Hz refresh rate.
  • S Pen: Yes (it’s the best part of the phone)
  • Front camera: Same as the rest of the S23 range. 12MP, 80-degree  field of view, F2.2 aperture.
  • Rear cameras: Four of them, because why not? 12MP Ultra Wide with 120-degree field of view, F2.2 aperture. 200MP Wide camera with 85-degree field of view, F1.7 aperture. 10MP Telephoto camera with 11-degree field of view, F4.9 aperture. 10MP Telephoto camera with 36-degree field of view, F2.4 aperture.
  • Video recording: Up to 8K at 30fps, or 4K at 60fps.
  • Battery size: 5000mAh
  • Fast charging: 45W
  • 5G: Yes
  • Processor: Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform for Galaxy. 4nm 64-bit Octa-Core Processor 3.36GHz (Maximum Clock Speed) + 2.8GHz + 2.0GHz
  • OS: Android 13
  • Water resistance: IP68
  • Price: From $1949-$2649

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs S22 Ultra: Fight

Comparison of the Samsung Galaxy Ultra22 and Ultra23 with both phones camera side up on a wooden surface
S23 Ultra vs S22 Ultra. Image: Alice Clarke/Gizmodo Australia

Every single phone launch ever is touted as “the most powerful X” ever. And sure. It probably is. No one is ever going to put “it’s basically the same” or “we made it a bit worse this time” on a poster. To that end, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is the most powerful Galaxy S phone ever. It’s also basically the same as last year with a few key incremental differences: the chip is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 instead of Gen 1, the main back camera is 200MP instead of 108MP, and the front camera is now 12MP instead of 40MP. Also, the battery is a little more efficient, despite being the same size. And the launch RRP is $100 more expensive than last year because nothing can be left untouched by the ravages of time nor inflation (mostly inflation). Though, that $100 bump could also be explained by a doubling of the starting storage. Last year’s model was 128GB, now it’s 256GB, which seems much more reasonable for a phone with a camera making photos that big.

Also, that Gen 2 Snapdragon chip is, for the first time, a Samsung exclusive chip that’s been specifically overclocked for the S23 range, so it’s not really comparing exact like for like, apples to apples, and more like comparing a floury pink lady apple to a superior granny smith.

With that in mind, do you need an S23 Ultra instead of a (probably) discounted S22 Ultra? I don’t know. Depends on how much you value these upgrades.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Google Pixel 7 Pro

Cage match: Three phones enter, all of them leave because they don’t have arms or legs to fight with.

These are probably the three phones someone at this end of the market, not looking at foldables, would consider. The problem is that all three are really different phones aimed at different uses and people.

The Google Pixel 7 Pro has the cleanest Android UI, a really, really nice camera and a good battery. It’s also about half the price on sale. Some people think it has the best phone camera, which I disagree with. To my eye Pixel 7 Pro photos come out a bit dark and a touch lifeless. Pixel cameras tend to skew towards slightly cooler tones, which I’m not a fan of, but some people love. Plus, its screen isn’t as technically good as the S23 Ultra.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is an iPhone with iOS. The operating system is set up completely differently, and some people find it difficult to switch between the two. Chances are, if you’re in one ecosystem you’ll stay there unless you decide you don’t like it anymore.

On the hardware front, the screen is slightly smaller, but otherwise pretty similar. The iPhone chip is significantly faster, which is nice. The Samsung camera can do a lot of stuff that the iPhone can’t, but the Samsung also looks a bit more processed, and so it comes down to what you prefer. There’s no clear technical winner between the two.

But, over both phones, the Samsung Galaxy S23 has a bigger screen, and has that recessed pen, which is a feature I wish every phone had. You retain more knowledge when you write by hand, and so being able to whip out a pen on a phone that can almost understand my handwriting (I sure can’t) is a huge help when trying to learn. But you might not value the pen, and in that case you can save some pennies and drop down to the S23 Plus.

The camera system

On a technical level, looking only at the specs, the Samsung Galaxy S23 camera is the best currently available in a phone. It is ridiculous how much it can do.

You don’t need a 200MP phone camera, or a 100X zoom. Most people will never fully take advantage of these things.

But boy howdy, they are kinda cool. The 100X zoom looks better on the S23 Ultra compared to previous generations. Before it mostly looked like a blurry mess, especially if you didn’t use a tripod. For example, look at this picture of Melbourne, that bridge sure looks busy today.

City skyline of Melbourne

What bridge you ask? This bridge at 30X zoom.

Bridge at 30x zoom taken with Galaxy S23 Ultra camera

There’s a truck on it at 100X zoom.

Zoomed in photo of bridge taken with Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

However, on a more subjective note, I usually find that Samsung phone photography looks a touch over processed. The colours are usually too saturated, and there’s too much AI trying to guess what I want to see, rather than just showing me what is. However, the S23 Ultra doesn’t seem to have that problem. These are probably the most natural photos I’ve taken on a Samsung phone. The colours are still, perhaps, a little unnaturally bright, but I actually really like that. The processing isn’t as obvious as it used to be. Look at this photo of a bouquet of Lego flowers and how glorious those bright colours look, without overwhelming the other, more muted tones of my apartment.

Lego bouquet surrounded by house plants on the floor
Image: Alice Clarke/Gizmodo Australia

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is my pick for the best phone camera currently available. You just can’t beat those specs and features, and it’s a joy to use. Below, we move through how the phone compares to the iPhone 14 Pro Max and the S22 Ultra, and please don’t judge me for how much dust is on my Lego. It is very hard to clean.

Lego bouquet taken with a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (left) S22 Ultra (middle) iPhone 14 Pro (right). Image: Alice Clarke/Gizmodo Australia

And 3x zoom.

3x zoom of a Lego bouquet taken with a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (left) S22 Ultra (middle) iPhone 14 Pro (right). Image: Alice Clarke/Gizmodo Australia

The verdict

holding up the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, camera side in focus
Image: Alice Clarke/Gizmodo Australia

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is expensive. The features are more than what any mere mortal who doesn’t live on their phone 24/7 could ever fully take advantage of. That said, I want one, and you probably want one too.

If you have a Note phone, or an S20 Ultra, then now is probably the time to upgrade. Those with newer flagship models probably won’t be getting an upgrade significant enough to justify the price. If you’re coming from a Pixel phone, or really any other non-folding Android phone more than a couple of years old, then you’ll notice a decent upgrade, particularly if you use the S Pen.

Price is the only thing holding me back from wholeheartedly recommending it to all. But, if $1949-plus is in your budget, go for it. You’ll have a great time.

Where to buy the Samsung S23 Ultra

Outright, via Samsung, pricing is as follows:

  • 256GB/8GB RAM: $1,949
  • 512/12GB RAM: $2,249
  • 1TB/12GB RAM: $2,649

But if a contract is more your thing, we’ve got every Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra plan from Telstra, Optus and Vodafone organised via this link.