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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra hands-on: the Korean’s Galaxy S star child

By Liu Hongzuo - 4 Feb 2023

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra hands-on: the Korean’s Galaxy S star child

Note: This feature was first published on 2nd February 2023.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra in Phantom Black, Cream, Green, and Lavender.

Samsung launched the Galaxy S23 series (S23, S23+, and S23 Ultra) to great fanfare in Singapore. The Korean brand flew in and hosted the region’s hottest tech media and influencers at the only Samsung Galaxy Experience Space in Asia, sited within a heavily-manicured Gardens By The Bay. By now, you should have seen all your favourite icons cooing over 2023’s Galaxy S models, especially the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.

If its online keynote and spec sheet haven’t tipped you off, know this: the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the star child in this year’s iteration of Galaxy S phones. It received the most upgrades, even if it had minor aesthetic changes.

 

@hwztech Lavender is just @Samsung Singapore #withgalaxy #galaxys23ultra #sgtiktok #sgtech ♬ She Share Story (for Vlog) - 山口夕依

 

Here’s a quick stock take on what the premium flagship variant offers – it has a top-end chipset (TSMC-manufactured Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2) like the other two models. It also packs the largest display among the three, touting excellent fluidity and resolution (6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 1-120Hz refresh rate, 480Hz touch sampling rate for gaming, at 3,088 x 1,440 pixels). To take advantage of its specs, Samsung reduced the curvature of its curved panel. Honestly, it’s a minor difference from the Galaxy S22 Ultra we brought along for comparison. You’re forgiven if you can’t tell the difference when you visit the Galaxy Experience Space in February.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra has S Pen metal tips that match the rims of its phone.

Galaxy Note and S Pen aficionados would be pleased to hear that the built-in S Pen makes a return. In its announcement, Samsung almost skipped mentioning S Pen beyond its existence. But rest assured: the S Pen is virtually unchanged since the Galaxy S22 Ultra, with minor, yet crucial software improvements to play better with even more apps.

S Pen on Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Samsung fans would know that the brand made the Galaxy S22 Ultra a true successor to the Galaxy Note, with full compatibility, a built-in slot, and heightened pressure accuracy. Note that the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s S Pen is only compatible with its device, so you still can't take the stylus to its other S23 series siblings or older models. If you’re coming from an even older Galaxy Note, the new Samsung flagship is certainly worth checking out for its S Pen.

Another crucial upgrade that only the Ultra model gets is a new 200MP sensor on the main camera, which confers a cascading series of other perks. First, a higher megapixel count than its old 108MP main camera meant that Samsung could introduce Super Quad Pixel, its 16-in-1 pixel binning technique to the phone’s imaging capabilities. The phone can combine the sensor’s 16 adjacent pixels into one fat pixel, capturing more light at the cost of overall megapixel count (12MP). 

Taken with Galaxy S23 Ultra. Note the subject's coloured illumination, the gaps in the fake brick walls, and how the entire image didn't lose itself to lacking white light in this image.

Next, and also impressive, were the AI-assisted imaging tools that worked behind the scenes, where the Galaxy S22 Ultra knew how to identify people and kept them white-balanced enough to look natural in unnatural shooting scenarios. 

All this doesn’t yet look at its improved videography features, which include a wider 8K30FPS field-of-view (80°, up from 57°), double the OIS angles (for better stabilisation in videos), and Noise Reduction Technology.

On the surface, the phone seems to offer incremental upgrades – the perks we mentioned above are things we could see and test in a short session. But the Galaxy S23 Ultra offers plenty of sleeper improvements under-the-hood, or in its software which we can test further in our full review. 

No visible changes, but there's likely plenty more to discover in One UI 5.1.

For example, One UI 5.1 (Samsung’s proprietary reskin of Android OS) is based on Android 13, which means tons of quality-of-life changes. A feature showcased at its reveal was Routine and Modes, offering a series of automated phone actions and controls in a similar style to Apple iOS15’s Focus mode (although Apple’s version suggests the types of modes you need). It was previously available in the Bixby suite of functionalities, but Samsung only introduced it to mobiles and tablets when One UI had its major OS update last year.

Other lesser-known improvements would be Bluetooth 5.3, which can potentially consume less power, pair faster with other Bluetooth gadgets, and generally perform better when handling smart homes or IoT products. Folks who love long drives or long meetings are most likely to come across its new Bixby Text Call, which fires an automated, courtesy SMS if you’re too busy to pick up.

Is it fair to say that the Galaxy S23 Ultra doesn’t seem like much? Probably yes, since there were no visual differences nor does it change how you use a phone like how the Galaxy Z Fold4 did. But you’d be sorely mistaken if you thought Samsung didn’t do much to make its already popular Galaxy S Ultra-type models even better than before.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra starts at S$1,828 for the 256GB model. In the meantime, you can check out what the other two models offer, and see local prices, bonuses, and availability options here. You can also read the full Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review here.

The Galaxy S23 series is available for online pre-order at the following places: 

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