Samsung is making yearly phone upgrades obsolete. I used my beloved Galaxy Note 10+ Plus until its dying breath. Even when the charging port failed and could only be charged wireless, I persisted until one day; it refused to charge.
I have been using the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra for the last couple of years. It’s no Note, but it’s one of the best phones I have ever owned. Even now, the hardware specifications of the S21 hold up against newer devices.
The pandemic dampened innovation as components became more challenging for companies to obtain. Combined with rampant inflation and increased cost of living, people aren’t buying new phones yearly as they used to. Made even more evident by the fact that it’s now commonplace for Australian telcos to offer 36-month plans.
There isn’t much reason to upgrade to the latest smartphone like there used to be.
If you’re upgrading from the Galaxy S22, the S23 might not have much to offer you besides camera improvements and better hardware specs. But, if you’re coming from the S21 or older, the Galaxy S23 comes as close to a modern Galaxy Note as possible.
Since the S21, Samsung has trimmed down what comes in the box. Minimal packaging, a USB-C cable and a metal pin for opening the sim card tray. There are some pieces of paper for the warranty and stuff too. Like other manufacturers, you don’t get a charger anymore, but you probably already have one.
The S23 Ultra is the new Samsung Galaxy Note.
The S Pen now ships with the S23 Ultra with a dedicated spot on the phone to hold it. For those like myself that use it, it’s incredible for taking notes and interacting with your device like a boss. Once you get used to the S Pen, you can interact with your phone in ways your fingers could only dream of. It was one of the best things about the Note series.
Essentially, the Galaxy S23 Ultra feels like a Samsung device from the last few models. The interface has had some subtle changes, and Samsung has reduced the preinstalled junk, but there is nothing distinctive from a UI perspective on the S23 that makes it stand out.
Even though the phone isn’t the same as the S22, dimension-wise, they’re essentially the same in almost every other way. The phone is less rounded on the edges and feels more square, which makes more of a difference than you would expect when you hold it. That is one of the criticisms of my S21 Ultra, the rounded corners made it uncomfortable to hold one-handed for long periods.
Where things begin to differ from my S21 Ultra is the speed. Specs-wise, it’s a no-brainer that the S23 Ultra is bigger and better on every level. Finally, Samsung is shipping just the Snapdragon chipset to everyone instead of Exynos and Snapdragon. You don’t have to be a hardware geek to know that Snapdragon outperformed Exynos consistently in most benchmarks on previous Samsung Galaxy phones.
Things feel snappier. The battery drains slower, tabbing between browser tabs in Chrome feels faster, and even auto-completing with 1Password into fields when using my favourite password manager feels faster. Maybe it’s just new phone energy, but I suspect it’s because there is more ram and a faster chipset. Things are happening more quickly.
The Camera = wow
The Camera is noticeably better than my S21 Ultra in both photo and video. And let’s be honest, the essential feature of a smartphone isn’t how fast it can run a graphically intensive game; it’s the camera. It’s the thing you use your phone for the most, probably even more than making calls.
It takes better nighttime shots that blur less, has better clarity, and has a monster 200mp camera. Although, you won’t need 200-megapixel photos unless you’re taking photos for print billboards or something. An understated feature they have added is multi-timed photos. Instead of setting a timer to take a single photo, you can take multiple timed photos and set the interval between each photo.
Arguably, the best camera feature is the new Expert RAW feature, and it’s not even shipped with the phone.
If/when you get the S23 Ultra, you will want to download the Expert RAW app. This gives you a powerful new RAW mode that is more configurable than ever. An astrophotography mode is a new feature that can take those long exposure shots of the sky and stars for 10 minutes. You’ll want a tripod, as the lowest exposure is still 4 minutes.
And then you have the video capabilities. With Super Steady, Samsung has finally made the feature worthy of the title. You can take videos with rapid movement, and they’re pretty smooth, with the white balance no longer flickering like a Christmas tree. Finally, 8k is usable on a smartphone, with the S23 Ultra offering 8k video at 30fps, which makes a substantial difference compared to the S22 Ultra and other 8k-capable phones.
The space zoom feature, which promises 100x zoom, is still a gimmick. The photo quality of 100x photos is not usable at all. A cool trick to show your friends, but you wouldn’t post those photos to social media or use them for anything.
The autofocus is perhaps the most significant improvement to the Camera many won’t talk about. Look, the S21 wasn’t terrible, but it had autofocus issues. I read how the S22 also had similar issues with autofocus. To the point where it became a thing synonymous with Samsung cameras. In the S23 Ultra, they stepped things up; autofocus is finally fixed, from what I can see. The autofocus tracking feature works well, up to 4k 60fps video.
Don’t just take my word for it. See the YouTube video that made me decide on the S23 Ultra:
The score given to the S23 Ultra is 7.5 vs the iPhone 14 Pro Max at 4.5. The reviewer in this video highlights how Samsung has seemingly caught up to Apple, which has had the better smartphone camera for years.
The cost of the S23 Ultra is nothing to sneeze at. The total price upfront is a hefty chunk of change. Although, if you shop around, you can get a good discount on the S23 if you go on a plan. I managed to get the 1 TB model for the price of the 512 GB version through Optus here in Australia when I pre-ordered.
If you’re coming from the S22, I won’t rush to upgrade unless you want to. However, I upgraded from the S21 Ultra, and the difference in camera quality and overall improvement of the phone that addresses many outstanding Samsung-esque issues made it worthwhile.