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Hands on with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Samsung's latest flagship is a bet that little changes count for a lot.

Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Starts at
$1949
pro 200MP sensor
pro Flatter display
con Steep price
con No new S-Pen tricks
Fergus Halliday
Feb 04, 2023
Icon Time To Read4 min read

As with earlier Ultra devices, this year's Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is primed as the go-to Android-based option for productivity and photography power users. It's not a new story that Samsung is spinning here, though it is one written in bolder ink this time around.

When it comes to the high-end of the Galaxy S23 line-up, Samsung is keen to let the numbers do the talking. We had the chance to spend a little bit of hands-on time with the device ahead of its official reveal, here are our first impressions of how those big numbers translate into reality.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Initial pros

More megapixels! While the standard Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23 Plus and Galaxy S23 Ultra all tout an improved 12MP front-facing camera, the upgrade that smartphone photography fanatics are most likely to care about is exclusive to the most expensive of the three devices.

If you want that 200MP main camera sensor, you'll have to pay the premium for the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Given Samsung's track record for introducing big smartphone camera sensors with even bigger autofocus problems, there's some cause for scepticism here. However, Samsung seems confident that improvements in AI image processing algorithms and the way that the Time of Flight sensor and autofocus are integrated should help alleviate the kinds of issues seen with the Galaxy S20 Ultra at launch. We'll have to wait until we have the chance to fully review the device to know for sure.

For what it's worth, our initial hands-on with this inclusion offered up some promising results. The finer details of photos taken with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra hold up to a smidge more scrutiny than you'd expect. It's an interesting alternative to the 10x zoom periscope lens setups that have become popular among other high-end Android devices, though it seems like you'll have to work a little to find the situations where it makes the most difference.

Better selfie shots While spotting the difference between the quality of images taken with the main camera on the Galaxy S23 Ultra and its predecessors might take a magnifying glass, the same can't be said for the improvements that have been made to the front-facing one. Samsung has taken a solid crack at this part of the piece this year, trading out the 40MP sensor seen in the S22 Ultra for a 12MP one with dual-pixel, super fast AF and an object-aware AI engine.

At first, that might sound like a downgrade. However, our first impressions of the device suggest that it's anything but. Low-light shots taken with the front-facing camera on the S23 Ultra seemed significantly and visibly more colourful and detailed than they have been on earlier models. As opposed to the 200MP sensor, you don't have to look very hard to see the difference that this particular upgrade makes.

A less curved screen. Where last year's Galaxy S22 Ultra was a Galaxy Note in everything but name, this year's Galaxy S23 Ultra feels like a more confident evolution of that design. It still stands out from the rest of the range, but a slight shift in curvature means that the screen is much more comfortable to use. On paper, this might sound like a small change but it is a welcome one regardless.

Initial cons

The price Weighing in at $1949 for the cheapest possible storage variant, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is a solid $100 more expensive than the cheapest version of Galaxy S22 Ultra was at launch. This particular drawback is far from new when it comes to the Ultra line and it is slightly softened by the fact that the standard model starts at 256GB of storage rather than 128GB. Still, some may find that figure off-putting and difficult to stomach in the current economic climate .

Few surprises It's one thing for the Galaxy S23 Ultra to be more expensive than last year's device, it's another for it to cost more and come kitted out with so few big upgrades or exclusive innovations. The updates made to the cameras on both halves of the device are noteworthy, but they feel like extensions of what Samsung has been doing with their premium devices over the last few years rather than a breakthrough that's worth paying extra for to have now. Samsung hasn't even bothered to teach the S-Pen a few new tricks this time around!

Here's a look at a selection of Galaxy S23 Ultra plans:

First thoughts

We'll have to spend more time with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra before we can render a final verdict on the design, battery life and performance. Right now though, our takeaway on the Galaxy S23 Ultra is that it's as technically impressive as it is unsurprising. There are plenty of smart touches and tweaks, but few big ideas.

If all you're after is a better Galaxy S22 Ultra, this might suit you just fine. Devoid of the broader context, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is still an incredibly nice device to behold and handle. On the other hand though, it's hard not to wish Samsung's most expensive smartphone had a little more ambition given the price.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra pays owes a lot to the legacy of the Galaxy Note. It would be nice if it had something to add to it."

Hands-on photos

How much does the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra cost?

Starting at $1949 in Australia

For those who want the short version, here it is. In Australia, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra starts at $1,949. That sum gets you the 256GB version of the device. Upgrading to 512GB of on-board storage will cost you $2,249 while going for the 1TB option will hit your wallet for $2,649.

On a dollars-to-gigabytes basis, a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra with 256GB is cheaper and better value than its Galaxy S22 equivalent. However, the same can't be said for the 512GB and 1TB variants.

Check out the table below for a full breakdown of Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra pricing and how it compares to the launch pricing of last year's Galaxy S22 Ultra.

Galaxy S23 Ultra
Galaxy S22 Ultra
128 GBN/A$1,849
256 GB$1,949$1,999
512 GB$2,249$2,149
1 TB$2,649$2,449
Fergus Halliday
Written by
Fergus Halliday
Fergus Halliday is a journalist and editor for Reviews.org. He’s written about technology, telecommunications, gaming and more for over a decade. He got his start writing in high school and began his full-time career as the Editor of PC World Australia. Fergus has made the MCV 30 Under 30 list, been a finalist for seven categories at the IT Journalism Awards and won Most Controversial Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards. He has been published in Gizmodo, Kotaku, GamesHub, Press Start, Screen Rant, Superjump, Nestegg and more.

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