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Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra lives up to the Note but can’t move beyond it
Samsung’s most expensive flagship stands tall but the price-tag looms just as large.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is a gorgeous premium smartphone that’s easy to enjoy using in spite of its familiarity. It lives up to the legacy of the Galaxy Note but fails to add much to it beyond just megapixels and dollar signs.
Where last year's Galaxy S22 Ultra was a Galaxy Note in everything but name, this year's Galaxy S23 Ultra comes more confident in its own skin. There’s been little change in direction on Samsung's part, and what’s here feels like a timely refinement and natural extension of what came before it.
Depending on who you are and why you’ve been drawn to look at this particular device, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is either going to feel like a restrained improvement on last year's best Galaxy handset or a stale remix that struggles to justify the lofty price tag.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Samsung has chosen to roll with it.
How much does the Galaxy S23 Ultra cost in Australia?
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 onboard 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 2022 equivalent. The same can't be said for the 512GB and 1TB variants, which are a little more expensive.
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
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra plans
Alternatively, you can grab the Galaxy S23 Ultra on a postpaid plan through either Vodafone, Telstra, Optus or Woolworths Mobile. Check out the widget below for a round-up of the cheapest plans available for the device.
Galaxy S23 Ultra - design and features
Thanks to the 6.8-inch AMOLED panel, the Galaxy S23 Ultra still stands out from the rest of the roster in size. However, a slight shift in curvature means that the screen is more comfortable to cradle in your palm and use than its predecessors.
This year’s Galaxy flagship is slightly wider and heavier than the last one, but chances are most won’t notice the difference. The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is millimetres from mimicking the form factor of its 2022 counterpart.
The display here is still curved. However, the fall-off along the edges is that much less steep. In a practical sense, this feels as close to flat as a curved screen on a smartphone can get. All the charms that come with the futuristic look of curved glass remain intact. The same can’t be said for the usual hassles.
That said, if you do find yourself daunted by the idea of handling a smartphone this large then I don’t blame you and I don’t think the Galaxy S23 Ultra is going to win you over on that particular front. Samsung has done a great job making the S23 Ultra not feel bulky, but it is still going to be a bit of a handful for those with smaller palms.
Assuming you can find a comfortable grip on that larger form factor, you’ll probably find plenty to like about the look and feel of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The polished metal on the sides of the handset is sleek, shiny and solid. The frosted glass on the backside of the device does an admirable job of repelling fingerprints and the QHD display rocks a sharp 120Hz.
What’s more, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the first device to benefit from Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus 2 protection on both sides of the handset. This inclusion promises to offer better durability than previous efforts when it comes to concrete, though we haven’t exactly tossed the handset at the pavement to put those claims to the test.
Size and curvature aside, there are two other big things that distinguish the Galaxy S23 Ultra from its less exxy counterparts. The first is the presence of additional camera lenses on the back. The second is the S-Pen stylus that’s housed in a compartment on the bottom edge of the unit.
That latter endures as one of the biggest reasons to consider the Galaxy S23 Ultra over the other options at this end of the smartphone spectrum. There still isn’t really an equivalent available from either Apple or Android manufacturers. And even if Samsung hasn’t taught the S-Pen any new tricks this year, it’s still plenty capable.
Writing notes with the accessory is an obvious highlight, but the S-Pen can also be used to create annotated screenshots, control the shutter on the device’s camera and more. It's unlikely that every user will use absolutely all the toolbox has to offer, but it’s a fairly sizable bag of tricks nevertheless.
Putting the S-Pen to the side for a moment, the camera was the main advantage that the Galaxy S22 Ultra offered over its more affordable counterparts and the same is true of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The back of the handset features a quad-lens setup that promises to reap the benefits of pairing up the aforementioned main sensor with a 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens and a pair of 10-megapixel telephoto lenses.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra also incorporates the same improved 12MP selfie cam seen across the rest of the Galaxy S23 series. This does make for better selfies, though the cameras on both sides of the Galaxy S23 Ultra do suffer from the overly-saturated and artificial look that's become commonplace among Samsung smartphone cameras.
That's the kind of small detail that's not necessarily going to turn away too many potential consumers. However, it's a shame that Samsung hasn't looked to introduce something like the Photographic Styles found in the latest iPhone.
In comparison to my experience with previous Samsung flagships, I found that the Galaxy S23 Ultra managed to find a fairly good balance between power and flexibility. The main and wide-angle lenses tended to produce the best results, but the 3x and 10x zoom allowed for more than passable photography at a distance.
To check out what the camera on the Galaxy S23 Ultra can do for yourself, check out the gallery of samples below.
Galaxy S23 Ultra - performance and battery life
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra comes armed with up to 12GB of RAM (8GB on the 256GB model), up to 1TB of storage and a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor. That last one represents a clear update on last year's model, but the rest of the rap sheet sheet here is more-or-less on par with what the Galaxy S22 Ultra brought to bear.
As mentioned before, the form factor here is a little wider than in the previous generation. Part of the reason why is that Samsung has incorporated a larger vapour chamber this time around. Combined with the efficiencies that come with an upgraded processor, these under-the-hood tweaks bring with them a promise of superior performance and battery life. That’s the story told by the spec sheet anyway.
In practice, the Galaxy S23 Ultra offered performance that felt mostly commensurate with the fidelity of the display and the steepness of the price tag. Apps loaded fast and games like Diablo Immortal, Apex Legends Mobile and League of Legends: Wild Rift ran at a smooth frame rate on even the highest settings. Then again, when you’re spending this much it’s hard to expect anything less.
On the other hand, Samsung did get called out for throttling gaming performance by Geekbench last year. It's hard to say at this point whether the Galaxy S23 Ultra might be doing the same. The so-so performance of Genshin Impact on the Galaxy S23 Ultra has me suspicious, but we'll have to wait and see until the wider tech world has the chance to properly mess around with it.
I can't say I feel as open-minded when it comes to the One UI. At this point, Samsung’s Android skin has accrued enough bloat over the years that I found myself longing for the more stripped-back interfacing of the Google Pixel 6a or Nothing Phone 1. There’s a lot of additional functionality that you get out of the box here, but it’s a little overwhelming and hard to keep track of if you’re not already familiar with the ins and outs of the wider Samsung ecosystem.
As with last year's Galaxy S22, the Galaxy S23 Ultra support wireless and fast charging of up to 45W. On the inside, it's got a 5000mAh battery that's the same size as the one in the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
In practice, I'd be able to make it through two days on a single charge. Usually, this works out to be around eleven hours of screen time. Burned down from a full charge to 50% by video streaming via YouTube, the Galaxy S23 Ultra lasted 9 hours and 47 minutes. The full charge came in at 19 hours and 20 minutes. That's a pretty decent result. It’s not a huge improvement on where Samsung’s flagships have sat for the past few generations, but it does put them ahead of devices like the Find X5 and iPhone 14.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S23
If you’re looking to talk yourself down from dropping the $1949 on the entry-level Galaxy S23 Ultra or selling yourself up from the standard Galaxy S23, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind before you make your decision.
The first is the difference in size and screens. Both are AMOLED and clocked at 120Hz. However, the Galaxy S23 has a 6.1-inch FHD screen and the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a 6.8-inch QHD screen. The Galaxy S23 also has a flat-screen display while the Galaxy S23 Ultra is slightly curved edges.
When it comes to specs, the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Galaxy S23 have the same Snapdragon processor. However, the Galaxy S23 is only available with 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage. The Galaxy S23 Ultra caps out at up to 12GB of RAM and up to 1TB of storage depending on the model. The latter also has a larger 5000mAh battery.
As for features, the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a few extra bells and whistles that you won’t find in the standard Galaxy S23. There’s the S-Pen. There’s also the 200MP main camera on the back, plus an additional 10MP telephoto lens.
Is Galaxy S23 Ultra worth buying?
There’s plenty to like about the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, even if it rarely eclipses the sum of its parts. The tweaks that Samsung has made this time around are as small as they are savvy.
Upgraded optics have finally put Samsung back in the game when it comes to smartphone photography, and the new processor gives a modest bump to everyday performance. Still, on most of the fronts that matter, this is just a better Galaxy S22 Ultra.
In my initial hands-on with the device, I found myself wishing that the Galaxy S23 Ultra had more to add to the legacy of Note. After a little longer with the device, I still feel that way.
If you’re the kind of person who found themselves drawn in by the power user pitch of Samsung’s now-retired phablet line, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is absolutely going to be your thing. But when the same was true of last year’s Galaxy S22 Ultra, it’s hard not to wish that Samsung had gone further when it comes to making this year’s most expensive Galaxy S handset feel as ambitious as its referent.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra succeeds on every front where last year’s Galaxy S22 Ultra could have been accused of coming up short but it fails to offer much for the already converted to chew on.
How does the Galaxy S23 Ultra compare?
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|Snapdragon 8 Gen 2||6.8-inches||See it at Amazon|
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|Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1||6.7-inches||See it at Amazon|
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|Snapdragon 888||6.55-inches||See it at Amazon|
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|Snapdragon 8 Gen 1||6.1-inch||See it at Amazon|