Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: which phone should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra comparison can help you decide which Samsung flagship to buy. It's a matter of figuring out whether the premium features in Samsung's ultimate smartphone are worth the extra money or if the entry-level flagship has enough features to satisfy what you're looking or in a phone.

You might be tempted to think this face-off of Samsung flagships isn't very close. Our Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review found that Samsung has made the best phone overall, with impressive cameras, extensive battery life and the best performance we've seen on an Android device.

But while it's true that the S23 Ultra offers more premium features, the our Galaxy S23 review shows that it shares more than a few capabilities with its pricier sibling that make this one of the best Samsung phones. The Galaxy S23 runs on the same chipset as the Galaxy S23 Ultra and features a display with the same maximum brightness. The cameras on the S23 are pretty impressive in their own right, too.

If you're trying to find out which new Galaxy phone to buy, turn to this Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra face-off for guidance. We've also got Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Plus and Galaxy S23 Ultra vs. Galaxy S23 Plus comparisons if you want to figure out differences and similarities among those different models.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: Specs

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Galaxy S23Galaxy S23 Ultra
Screen size6.1-inch AMOLED (2,340x1.080)6.8-inch AMOLED (3,088×1,440)
Refresh rate48Hz-120Hz1Hz-120Hz
CPUSnapdragon 8 Gen 2 for GalaxySnapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
Storage128GB, 256GB256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Rear cameras50MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP telephoto (3x zoom)200MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP telephoto (3x zoom), 10MP telephoto (10x zoom)
Front cameras12MP12MP
Battery size3,900 mAh5,000 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)10:2712:22
Charging speed25W wired45W wired
Size5.8 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches6.4 x 3.1 x 0.35 inches
Weight6 ounces8.2 ounces
ColorsPhantom Black, Green, Lavender, CreamPhantom Black, Green, Lavender, Cream

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: Price

There's a substantial price difference between the Galaxy S23 and S23 Ultra. Samsung's entry-level flagship starts at $799, while the Galaxy S23 Ultra costs a hefty $1,199. That's a $400 price gap, which could mean some pretty significant savings if you decide the features on the Galaxy S23 deliver enough for your needs. The best Galaxy S23 deals can help you find additional savings on both models.

Just be aware that you're getting more capacity with the Galaxy S23 Ultra out of the gate. The $1,199 model features 256GB of storage compared to just 128GB of capacity in the $799 Galaxy S23. To match the S23 Ultra's base storage, you'd have to pay $859 for the 256GB Galaxy S23.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: Design

Samsung changed up the look of the Galaxy S23 to more closely match the appearance of the Ultra model in a change from how the phone maker approached things just a year ago.

With the Galaxy S22 family, the base model featured a contour cut design in which the cameras were housed in a separate array that blended into the side of the phone; meanwhile, the rear camera lenses of the Galaxy S22 Ultra were stacked in a vertical line simply prottruding from the back of the phone. The Galaxy S23 now adopts this look, making it indistinguishable from the Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra colors

Galaxy S23 Ultra (Image credit: Future)

The design similarities don't stop there. The Galaxy S23 and S23 Ultra both feature Gorilla Glass Victus 2 glass to guard against scuffs and scratches. The phones even come in the same colors — Phantom Black, Cream, Green, Lavender.

So apart from different sizes to accommodate the Galaxy S23 Ultra's larger screen, you've got two phones that essentially look alike thanks to the same design flourishes. The other main difference is that the S23 Ultra's display is slightly curved, while the S23's panel is flat. 

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: Display

Apart from the differences in size — the Galaxy S23 features a 6.1-inch panel to the 6.8-inch screen on the S23 Ultra — the phones' displays have more in common than you might think. That's because Samsung made the Galaxy S23 screen brighter, with a maximum brightness of 1,750 nits which just happens to match the S23 Ultra's rating. (And the Galaxy S23 Plus, while we're at it.)

Samsung Galaxy S23 review

Galaxy S23 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In testing, the Galaxy S23 Ultra came closer to approaching that maximum brightness level. We measured the S23 Ultra's display at 1,184 nits, while the S23 hit 1,158 nits on our light meter. In either case, you won't have to struggle to make out details on either display in bright sunlight.

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Galaxy S23Galaxy S23 Ultra
Peak brightness1,158 nits1,184 nits
sRGB %212.1% (Vivid), 128.6% (Natural)193% (Vivid), 111.2% (Natural)
DCI-P3150.2% (Vivid), 91.1% (Natural)136.7% (Vivid), 78.8% (Natural)
Delta-E03.4 (Vivid), 0.24 (Natural)0.37 (Vivid), 0.3 (Natural)

As you can see in the table above, the Galaxy S23 actually shows off a wider range of colors, whether it's the sRGB spectrum or the more demanding DCI-P3 spectrum. Colors are marginally more accurate on the Galaxy S23 display, too, given the 0.24 Delta-E rating in Natural mode to the S23 Ultra's 0.3 score.

If the Galaxy S23 Ultra display enjoys an edge over the S23 panel, it's with the adaptive refresh rate. Both phones can scale up to 120Hz when there's a lot of onscreen activity for smoother scrolling and immersive graphics. But the Galaxy S23 Ultra can scale down to 1Hz when the action's static to preserve battery; the lowest the Galaxy S23 can go is 48Hz.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: Cameras

Here's where you get your starkest Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra differences, as Samsung has equipped the Ultra with some premium camera optics. It's not that the 50MP main camera on the Galaxy S23 is subpar — we include that device on our rankings of the best camera phones, after all — but it's no match for the 200MP main shooter on the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

The astrophotography mode in the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra's ExpertRAW app

Galaxy S23 Ultra (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That 200MP camera gives you greater flexibility when capturing images, as you can combine 16 pixels into one larger pixel for a brighter photo, opt for 50MP photos or shoot at the full 200MP resolution. In the latter option, you can then crop in on the image for a more detailed photo.

Similarly, the Galaxy S23 Ultra gives you a more powerful telephoto lens — two of them, in fact, since Samsung equips that phone with a pair of 10MP sensors that offer a 3x and 10x zoom. In addition, only the Galaxy S23 Ultra supports a Space Zoom feature that gives you up to a 100x zoom if you need it. The Galaxy S23 tops out at a 30x digital zoom and its lone 10MP telephoto lens tops out at a 3x optical zoom.

Samsung Galaxy S23 review

Galaxy S23 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Don't let the comparison to the Galaxy S23 Ultra's zooming capabilties fool you into dismissing the telephoto capabilities of the Galaxy S23. Other phones in the S23's price range like the $799 iPhone 14 and $599 Pixel 7 don't offer a dedicated telephoto lens, so that gives the Galaxy S23 a leg up on the competition.

Both Samsung phones feature a 12MP ultrawide sensor as part of their rear camera arrays, and up front, Samsung uses the same 12MP selfie cam on all its Galaxy S23 models. Both phones are capable of recording 8K video at 30 fps, too.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: Performance

The entire Galaxy S23 lineup runs on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset. That's an overclocked version of the standard Qualcomm silicon that allows Samsung's flagships to deliver faster performance than other top Android phones. The Galaxy S23 Ultra augments that with 12GB of RAM in some configurations, though the base model features the same 8GB of RAM you'll find in the Galaxy S23.

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Galaxy S23Galaxy S23 Ultra
Geekbench 5 (single-core/multicore)1,582/4.8761,578/5,081
3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (fps)87.387.5
Adobe Premiere Rush video transcode (Mins:Secs)0:390:39

It shouldn't be much of a surprise, then, that the Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23 Ultra posted comparable results when we ran benchmark tests on both devices. The two phones posted nearly identical single-core scores on GeekBench 5, though the Galaxy S23 Ultra's multicore result was noticeably better. Both phones also turned in 87 fps results when we tested graphics using 3DMark's Wild Life Unlimited test. Our real-world test in which we transcode video using Adobe Premiere Rush produced matching 39-second times for each phone.

The similar testing numbers are noteworthy if you're wondering which phone to get, as they confirm that you'll get top performance even if you opt for the less expensive Galaxy S23.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: Battery life and charging

The Galaxy S23 Ultra's larger size gives it an edge in terms of battery life, as Samsung can equip that phone with a larger battery. The S23 Ultra features a 5,000 mAh power pack to the 3,900 mAh cell in the Galaxy S23.

Samsung Galaxy S23 review

Galaxy S23 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The larger battery, combined with the power-saving attributes of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, helps the Galaxy S23 Ultra turn in an impressive result on our battery test. We have phones surf the web continuously over cellular, timing how long it takes them to run out of power. That turned out to be 12 hours, 22 minutes for the Galaxy S23 Ultra, landing it a spot on our best phone battery life rankings.

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Galaxy S23Galaxy S23 Ultra
Battery size3,900 mAh5,000 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)10:2712:22
Recharge percentage (30 mins)55%57%

The Galaxy S23 didn't hold out nearly as long, running out of power after 10 hours and 27 minutes. That's better than the average smartphone and a big improvement over the Galaxy S22's performance on that same test, but it's no match for the S23 Ultra.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra also enjoys an edge over the standard S23 when it comes to charging. While Samsung's entry-level flagship is limited to 25W wired charging, the S23 Ultra offers a faster 45W speed. That said, when we tested the two phones, the Galaxy S23 Ultra only filled up its battery a little more than the S23 did after 30 minutes of charging — 57% to 55%.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: Software and special features

With both Galaxy S23 models shipping with Android 13 and Samsung's One UI 5.1 interface, you can expect similar software experiences regardless of whether you use the S23 or the S23 Ultra. Similarly, both phones get four years of software updates and five years of security support.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra S Pen menu

(Image credit: Future)

The real difference here boils down to the S Pen — the Galaxy S23 Ultra ships with one and the Galaxy S23 does not. If you're the sort of person who views their smartphone as a productivity tool, you'll appreciate the ability to jot down notes, edit photos and sketch out ideas using the included stylus. If that's not on your wish list, you'll be perfectly satisfied with the S Pen-free Galaxy S23.

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra: Bottom line

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is built for people who want the most powerful phone possible and are willing to pay top dollar for it. If you want the flexibility of a 200MP camera, the power of a great telephoto lens or the productivity boosting capabilities offered by the S Pen, the Galaxy S23 Ultra's asking price of $1,199 is perfectly easy to justify. The Ultra will also appeal to people who want a big screen, though you can opt for the 6.6-inch Galaxy S23 Plus and save yourself $200.

That said, opting for the Galaxy S23 is hardly settling for a lesser phone. It's got the same powerful chipset as the Galaxy S23 Ultra, and its display is every bit as bright and colorful. You sacrifice some photo features and battery life, but that's about it.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.