I gave my Galaxy S23 Ultra new life by installing a turbocharged software update — here’s why

Galaxy AI features on Galaxy S23 Ultra.
(Image credit: Future)

One of the most exciting aspects about the Galaxy S24 Ultra is how it introduces a slew of features powered by artificial intelligence. In my Galaxy S24 Ultra review, I specifically mention that the new Galaxy AI features were the biggest incentives to buying Samsung’s latest flagship phone. Yet, here I am back to using a Galaxy S23 Ultra once more.

That’s because the One UI 6.1 update that Samsung promised has finally arrived on my Galaxy S23 Ultra, injecting new life to the year-old phone that previously held the top spot on our best camera phones list. I’m both stoked and surprised by the software update, mainly because it takes a lot away from convincing people to buy or upgrade to the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Even more intriguing is that the software update is not locked to just the Galaxy S23 Ultra, but it’s available to the Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23 Plus, Galaxy S23 FE, Galaxy Z Fold 5, and Galaxy Z Flip 5 — essentially all of last year’s major releases. But before I get to all of those reasons why these Galaxy AI features on my S23 Ultra makes me forget about the S24 Ultra, I think it’s best to recap all the Galaxy AI features these phones can access.

Galaxy AI: all the features on the Galaxy S23 Ultra

An image showing the Samsung Galaxy S24 with the Circle to Search feature being used on screen

(Image credit: Future)

My colleagues and I detailed many of the Galaxy AI features listed below when we tried them with the Galaxy S24 series. For the most part, we like how they make complex functions simple — like leveraging generative AI to resize a subject in a photo. While this particular feature works well, we’ve explained how others, like Call Assist, still need further refining to become practical to use for the vast majority of people.

  • Circle to Search: Searching on Google gets easier with Circle to Search. Essentially, you use your finger to circle whatever you want to perform a Google search on, then it’ll automatically populate the results — including shopping links to where you can buy what you’re looking for.
  • Call Assist: With the help of AI, Call Assist allows for real-time translation with phone calls. Think of it much like an actual person in between you and your caller, who will translate what they’re saying to your language.
  • Writing Assist: Through the Samsung keyboard, Writing Assist can change the writing style of what you’re planning to write about, along with grammar corrections and suggestions. There’s even a feature that can offer language translation in select chat and texting apps — like WhatsApp.
  • Interpreter mode: Accessible through the Quick Panel, this hidden app uses advanced intelligence to translate conversations in person — as well as showing them the translation on the phone and reading them aloud.
  • Note Assist: Through the Samsung Notes app, Note Assist will easily auto format your notes, correct the spelling, and can even summarize everything complete with bolded headings and bulleted lists.
  • Summarize and translation: Samsung’s own voice recorder app gains intelligence in the form of summarizing and translating your audio recordings. The same summarizing and translating features are also accessible on web pages with Browsing Assist.
  • Generative Edit: Easily resize subjects, remove unwanted ones, and even transform crooked photos so they look straight with Generative Edit.
  • AI generated wallpapers: Rather than using any of the wallpapers out of the box, you can now get AI generated wallpapers based on the categories and keywords you select.
  • Voice Focus: If you’re in the middle of a phone call and can’t quite comprehend what they’re saying due to background noise, enabling Voice Focus will remove those distractions and make their voice sound more clear.
  • Instant Slow-Mo: Convert your existing videos and apply a cinematic slow motion effect with Instant Slow-Mo. It relies on generative AI to add additional frames to your video to make it appear like a slow motion one.
  • Studio video editing: You’ll have access to an incredibly powerful video editing software with Studio installed on your device. Not only can you tweak and crop videos, but it offers layered editing to allow you to add titles and other content over your video.

Telephoto camera superiority with the S23 Ultra

One of the first things I did when I got my hands on the Galaxy S24 Ultra was to see if its new 50MP telephoto camera with 5x zoom was a downgrade. That’s because the optical zoom is less than what the Galaxy S23 Ultra offers, which is a 10MP telephoto with 10x optical zoom.

Initially, I thought the Galaxy S24 Ultra would be leveraging pixel binning techniques and newer image processing algorithms to effectively offer the same quality as its predecessor’s 10x optical zoom — but that didn’t quite turn out to be the case. While the S24 Ultra had the upper hand at 5x zoom, the S23 Ultra consistently produced better images at 10x zoom and beyond. I know a lot of people rely on zooming on their phones, so the Galaxy S23 Ultra still proves it’s the champ in this area.

No display issue with Mura effect

Samsung Galaxy S24 Mura effect.

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung did better by improving the display brightness in the Galaxy S24 Ultra, which reached 1,363 nits in our testing. That’s better than the S23 Ultra’s reach of 1,225 nits, but the Mura effect that plagues my Galaxy S24 Ultra is hard to overlook. This display issue first surfaced when owners realized a clouding effect at lower brightness levels. I didn’t notice the issue until I put it side-by-side with my Galaxy S23 Ultra, and it was hard to miss.

This only becomes problematic at night when the display purposely goes to a dimmer setting to prevent eye strain. Samsung has yet to officially classify it as a defect, but some owners have been able to get their units replaced.

Galaxy S23 Ultra outlook

Now that my Galaxy S23 Ultra is running One UI 6.1, I don't have to worry about those Galaxy S24 Ultra issues — I can keep using my old phone as before, only with some great new AI features added to the mix.

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John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.

  • Timpo1985
    I sent my s24 ultra back. It did a software update and stopped charging. $1300 it should be ready to go without issue, but, as I researched it, it's a common issue. It's like they are taking a page out of Microsoft windows book. Remember when windows 95 and subsequent versions were never truly ready for use and they overcharged premium pricing?

    Go for you for keeping your s23.
    Reply
  • KingPinZ
    Timpo1985 said:
    I sent my s24 ultra back. It did a software update and stopped charging. $1300 it should be ready to go without issue, but, as I researched it, it's a common issue. It's like they are taking a page out of Microsoft windows book. Remember when windows 95 and subsequent versions were never truly ready for use and they overcharged premium pricing?

    Go for you for keeping your s23.
    This still seems like an isolated issue. My S24U doesn’t have any of these issues. I’ve been using it for two months now and have never faced any of these aforementioned problems. A family member of mine uses the S23U, and of course, I compared them. Although the differences aren’t that major, I saw quite a few, what I would call, satisfactory upgrades that just let you know you’re using a much more powerful and newer phone.
    Reply
  • Timpo1985
    KingPinZ said:
    This still seems like an isolated issue. My S24U doesn’t have any of these issues. I’ve been using it for two months now and have never faced any of these aforementioned problems. A family member of mine uses the S23U, and of course, I compared them. Although the differences aren’t that major, I saw quite a few, what I would call, satisfactory upgrades that just let you know you’re using a much more powerful and newer phone.
    Samsung and AT&T both told me that it's an issue and would be addressed with the next update but couldn't tell me when that would be. My choice was to change wirelessly and hope the issue would be resolved with the next update or send it back.

    I've been a Samsung fan for a long time. Since the s4 (I even bought the s4 camera (which was still a phone). This has been my first disappointment.
    Reply
  • RonnieB223
    Timpo1985 said:
    I sent my s24 ultra back. It did a software update and stopped charging. $1300 it should be ready to go without issue, but, as I researched it, it's a common issue. It's like they are taking a page out of Microsoft windows book. Remember when windows 95 and subsequent versions were never truly ready for use and they overcharged premium pricing?

    Go for you for keeping your s23.
    My S23 (non-ultra) just got the update and now my phone won't charge via usb on 3 out of 4 chargers or be recognized by a PC! Samsung support was useless and are telling me to bring it to a service center 1.5 hrs away...

    Some bugs are to be expected but, charging is a basic function. It's definitely making me reconsider whether I buy a Samsung for my next phone ...
    Reply
  • Timpo1985
    RonnieB223 said:
    My S23 (non-ultra) just got the update and now my phone won't charge via usb on 3 out of 4 chargers or be recognized by a PC! Samsung support was useless and are telling me to bring it to a service center 1.5 hrs away...

    Some bugs are to be expected but, charging is a basic function. It's definitely making me reconsider whether I buy a Samsung for my next phone ...
    I will give the s26 a try, because this is a a first time issue for me.
    Reply
  • Yazzoo7
    Is anyone having issues with their video captures being pixelated when they are sent to and received by other Android (and iOS) phones? I've had this problem for quite some time. Android's "fix" has been to suggest sending them via a 3rd party app like WhatsApp. Currently, I am sending them to the receiver's FB Messenger and that seems to work but I shouldn't have to do that.
    Reply