The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra wants to take smartphone photography to the next level with its massive 200MP camera and other improvements. And based on my testing, this camera system — and nearly everything else about this flagship — lives up to the hype.
So what can you do with 200 megapixels? The sensor can combine 16 pixels into one for brighter, more detailed shots, or you can shoot in full 200MP mode, which gives you a lot more freedom when it comes to cropping in and reframing your pics.
Other Galaxy S23 Ultra upgrades include a sharper 12MP front camera, an exclusive new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip made for Galaxy that delivers fast graphics performance that beats the iPhone and a display that's better optimized for S Pen use. See our Galaxy S23 Ultra vs S23 face-off if you're on the fence between both flagships.
Based on my extensive comparisons, I can tell you that the S23 Ultra is definitely one of the best camera phones — even better than the Pixel 7 Pro and neck and neck with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Even better, the battery life is much improved at over 13 hours. Is all of this worth $1,199?
Yes, the Galaxy S23 Ultra isn't just the best Android phone money you can buy, it's arguably the best phone period among premium flagships. Here's the pros and cons based on my Galaxy S23 Ultra review.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra release date and price
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra arrived in February with a starting price of $1,199 / £1,249 / AU$1,949 for 256GB of storage. That's double the storage of the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which is good news, but the UK / AU pricing is £100 / AU$100 more than what the S22 Ultra cost.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is also available with 512GB for $1,379 / £1,399 / AU$2,249 or 1TB of storage for $1,619 / £1,599 AU$2,649.
Check out our Galaxy S23 deals page for the latest discounts.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra specs
|Galaxy S23 Ultra|
|Price||$1,199 / £1,249|
|Display||6.8-inch QHD AMOLED|
|Refresh rate||1 - 120Hz adaptive|
|Rear cameras||200MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP 3x telephoto, 10MP 10x telephoto|
|Front camera||12MP selfie|
|Chipset||Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy|
|Storage||256GB, 512GB, 1TB|
|Charging||45W wired/10W wireless|
|Size||163.4 x 78.1 x 8.9mm (6.4 x 3.0 x 0.35 inches)|
|Weight||233g (8.2 ounces)|
|Colors||Phantom Black, Cotton Flower, Botanic Green and Mystic Lilac|
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra design and colors
There's a couple things you notice about the Galaxy S23 Ultra's design right of the bat. The cameras on the back are even bigger this time around compared to the Galaxy S22 Ultra and the display is flatter. There's still a gentle curve to the 6.8-inch panel, but you get a slimmer curve with a flatter surface area, which makes using an S Pen a bit more comfortable.
I know some would prefer a totally flat design, but I hold the S23 Ultra in my hand the curve does give it a slightly more premium feel. The only issue is that it can sometimes be difficult to target items with your finger on the extreme edges of the display.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is built to be tougher, too, as it's the first phone with Corning's Gorilla Glass Victus 2, which promises to protect the front and back better from scratches and drops. The YouTuber JerryRigEverything has conducted some durability tests, and the Galaxy S23 Ultra fares quite well when it comes to scratching and bending. However, you'll still want to invest in one of the best Galaxy S23 Ultra cases to protect your investment.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra comes in four colors, including Phantom Black, Green, Cream and Lavender. I'm partial to the green as it pops the most of all the hues — which is the model I'm testing — followed by the lavender, which is subtle and elegant. I also like that the design does a fairly good job of resisting fingerprints.
It's worth noting that the S23 Ultra still features a SIM card slot, unlike the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which is located on the bottom of the device.
Samsung is touting the eco-friendliness of the S23 Ultra's design, as the company is using more recycled materials for the phone. This included recycled discarded fishing nets for the S Pen inner cover and bottom speaker module, recycled water barrels for the side key and volume key and recycled aluminum for the SIM tray.
Weighing 8.2 ounces and measuring 6.4 x 3.0 x 0.35 inches, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the same size as the S22 Ultra but a bit heavier as that flagship weighed 8.08 ounces.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra display
The Galaxy S23 Ultra simply has one of the best displays on any phone. It's bright, bursting with color and performed very well in our lab testing.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, the S23 Ultra features a 6.8-inch QHD OLED screen with a resolution of 3088 x 1400 pixels and a rated peak brightness of 1,750 nits. You also get the same 120Hz refresh rate as before, which can scale down to 1Hz.
During my testing, I've been very impressed with the overall image quality from the S23 Ultra's panel. When watching the trailer for The Mandalorian season 3, the shiny helmets popped off the screen, and I enjoyed wide viewing angles. Even in direct sunlight I could see the display fairly well.
This is also an amazing canvas for showing off your photos and videos. I loved reviewing the shots I took with the S23 Ultra's cameras, including the super shot above image of a water fountain in Bryant Park.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Galaxy S23 Ulra||iPhone 14 Pro Max|
|HDR brightness (average)||1225 nits||1275 nits|
|DCI-P3 color||112.2% (Natural) / 193% (Vivid)||83.2%|
|Delta-E (lower is better)||0.3 (Natural) / 0 (Vivid)||0.26|
In our labs, the Galaxy S23 Ultra's display turned in an average brightness reading of 1,225 nits with HDR content, which is just behind the iPhone 14 Pro Max's 1,275 nits. The Galaxy S23 Ultra's screen delivers more colors, hitting 112% of the DCI-P3 color gamut in Natural mode, compared to 83% for the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Both panels are also highly color accurate, with the S23 Ultra registering 0.3 on the Delta-E Test where lower numbers are better in Natural mode and 0 in Vivid mode. The iPhone 14 Pro Max scored 0.26.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra also includes an advanced Vision Booster feature, which is designed to let you adjust color and contrast of the image to ambient lighting conditions. And there's an eye comfort feature to make viewing the display easier.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra cameras
Is it overkill or a game changer? After doing lots of testing, I'm leaning toward the latter. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is the first flagship phone in the U.S. to pack a 200MP camera, and Samsung says this sensor can deliver poster size prints.
But that's not the only benefit of having a main wide camera this powerful. The adaptive pixel sensor can combine 16 pixels into one larger pixel for brighter and more detailed photos, especially in lower light situations.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Row 0 - Cell 1|
|Main camera||200MP, f/1.7, 1/1.3 inches, 0.6µm pixels|
|Ultrawide camera||12MP, f/2.2, 1/2.55 inches, 1.4µm pixels|
|Telephoto camera #1||10MP, 3x optical zoom, f/2.4, 1/3.52 inches, 1.12µm pixels|
|Telephoto camera #2||10MP, 10x optical zoom, f/4.9, 1/3.52 inches, 1.12µm pixels|
|Selfie camera||12MP, f/2.2|
|Video recording||8K at 30fps, 4K at 60fps, 1080p at 240fps, 720p at 960fps|
Shooting in 200MP model also gives you the option to crop in on the image after you shoot, so you can get a completely different looking shot without (ideally) sacrificing detail. I was floored when I took a photo of a Bryant Park surrounded by colorful paper lanterns. Look how much I can crop in on the sign and then the lanterns themselves. (Note that the establishing shot is in 12MP because our system cannot support uploading such a large file.)
For more on the Galaxy S23 Ultra's main camera, check out our 200MP camera tests with Samsung's flagship phone.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra has a new 12MP front camera, which is technically a downgrade versus the S22 Ultra's 40MP selfie shooter, but Samsung promises better portraits overall thanks to better AI along with a compelling Night portrait mode.
In this selfie example, the Galaxy S22 Ultra produces a brighter image of my face but I appreciate the greater level of detail in the Galaxy S23 selfie, especially in my shirt on the left side. The grass also looks lusher in the S23 Ultra image.
You still get dual 10MP telephoto lenses with 3x and 10x optical zoom, and a very strong 30x digital zoom option. The 100x Space Zoom option is also still available, though the results can be shaky.
Check out the above photos of the Empire State building ranging from 1x all the way up to 100x. At 3x you can make out the steam coming off the top of a nearby building in the freezing cold, then the spire of the building at 10x and then the windows surrounding the top of the building at 30x. While a bit shaky it's impressive that you can see the colored lights at 100x.
While we're on the subject of zoom, let me just say it's no contest here between the S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro. The Samsung's shot of the Chrysler Building at 30x is considerably sharper. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max only goes to 15x, so it couldn't compete here.
In this portrait comparison, the Galaxy S23 Ultra delivers crisp detail in my blue jacket and hair without blowing out my face in the sun like previous Galaxy phones. The bokeh effect is a bit aggressive blurring out the trees, though you can adjust that. By comparison, I'd say the iPhone 14 Pro is a bit too warm but the Pixel 7 Pro does the best job with my face and skin tone.
Next we have a couple of M&M cookies for a close-up food shot. The Galaxy S23 Ultra's colors are oversaturated, while the iPhone 14 Pro's and Pixel 7 Pro's shots look more natural. The difference is that the iPhone's image blurs out the background while the Pixel keeps the whole cookie in focus. Samsung loses this round.
For this photo I wanted to see how the Galaxy S23 Ultra could capture a skating rink while dealing with the sun directly off to the right. The skaters and surrounding buildings look good but the ice looks blank. The iPhone 14 Pro does a better job showing off texture in the ice, as does the Pixel 7 Pro, even though they both exhibit some lens flare.
I snapped this photo of bumper cars on the ice rink to see how well the S23 Ultra handles lots of colors. In this case I think the punchy yellow, red and blue plays to Samsung's advantage, although I prefer the higher contrast and slightly better definition from the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Galaxy S23 Ultra in this photo of the Bryant Park fountain. It's the brightest image of the bunch and does the best job exposing the area right underneath the top part of the fountain, which kind of gets lost in the shadows on the iPhone and Pixel. Though the Pixel better captures the bricks on the building in the background.
So how well does the Galaxy S23 Ultra's cameras perform in low light? Quite well, even if it doesn't always beat the competition. In this photo of a fish market at night, the iPhone 14 Pro Max's image is brighter overall, from the walkway and parking lot to the car to the right. However, the S23 Ultra's image does a better job with the neon sign, as it's closer to red than orange.
Indoors in this photo of a home bar I'd say it's a toss up between the S23 Ultra and Pixel 7 Pro. The iPhone 14 Pro Max pic is brightest but also on the fuzzy side. The S23 Ultra is brighter than Pixel but Google's phone produces more natural looking colors in the bottles.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra fell a bit flat in low light with this photo of a sleeping dog. Check out the more detailed fur in the iPhone's image, and in the blanket on the right side. Samsung's photo is a bit blurry by comparison.
Photographing fire or candles is tricky for most camera phones, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra renders the frames well here as well as the soot below. In this case warmer is better. The fire's reflection in the glass door looks pretty cool, too. The walls in the iPhone's photo are better defined, but I'd rather share the S23 Ultra's image. The Pixel's shot is too dim.
For this night mode challenge I took a photo of some patio furniture with only the moon as a light source. The Galaxy S23 Ultra snapped a brighter shot but the iPhone 14 Pro Max delivers more detail in the wicker chairs and has the edge here.
I was really impressed when I turned the Galaxy S23 Ultra's camera on the moon, especially since all I could get out of the iPhone 14 Pro Max was a blurry bright blob. The 100x space zoom photo shows darker and lighter spots on the surface; it's almost like having a telescope in your pocket.
Other camera upgrades include an astro hyperlapse mode for taking clips of star movements, enhanced auto focus and a multiple exposures mode for combining multiple frames into one picture.
Since our review was initially published, a Galaxy S23 software update brought more refinements to the camera system, including the option to take photos faster.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra video
On the video front, the Galaxy S23 Ultra offers improved video stabilization in video, and video recording now goes up to 8K at 30 fps (up from 24 fps) with a wider angle for recording (from 57 to 80 degrees).
Since everyone is making a big deal about image stabilization these days, I started with a test running up a small incline at a park trail. The iPhone 14 Pro Max wins this contest hands-down. Not only is its footage smoothest, the blue in the sky is more pronounced and it does a better job handling the sun.
I'd say the S23 Ultra is second best here with fairly smooth video and the Pixel 7 Pro just looks washed out.
Next up I wanted to see how the Galaxy S23 Ultra fared with a video of the Bryant Park skating rink, and my colleague Mike Prospero volunteered to skate. I actually prefer the Samsung's video in this case, as the footage looks a bit brighter and more colorful.
And with the 10x optical zoom feature on the S23 Ultra (something the iPhone lacks), I could get closer to Mike without losing detail. The zoom mic also kicked in, which was a bit jarring as the music got instantly louder, but it definitely works. I'd say the Pixel 7 Pro's video just looks flat and dull by comparison.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra performance
The Galaxy S23 Ultra packs an exclusive version of Qualcomm's new chip called the Snapdragon 8 Gen for Galaxy. Samsung promises that this processor can deliver even higher clock speed than the standard version of the chip, going as high as 3.36 GHz.
Samsung also promises the world's fastest mobile graphics in a phone. We've run several Galaxy S23 Ultra benchmarks, and the results are quite strong. In fact, the S23 Ultra beats the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max on graphics.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||CPU||Single-core||Multicore|
|Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra||Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy||1396||4882|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||A16 Bionic||1882||5333|
|iPhone 14 Pro||A16 Bionic||1891||5469|
|iPhone 14||A15 Bionic||1727||4553|
|Galaxy S22 Ultra||Snapdragon 8 Gen 1||1240||3392|
Geekbench measures CPU performance, both in single-core and multicore applications. The Galaxy S23 handily beat the Galaxy S22 Ultra on both tests and the iPhone 14 on mult-core but not single core. The iPhone 14 Pro's A16 Bionic is still fastest though.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Unlimited (FPS)||Extreme Unlimited (FPS)|
|Galaxy S23 Ultra||79.3||20.9|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||74||20|
|iPhone 14 Pro||74||19|
|Galaxy S22 Ultra||57||14|
We use 3DMark Wild Life to test the graphic performance of mobile devices. And this is where the S23 Ultra shined with its frames per second (FPS) count.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra surpassed the iPhone 14 Pro 79 fps to 74 fps on the Unlimited test and it narrowly beat the iPhone with a 20.9 to 20 fps score on the more demanding Extreme Unlimited test.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Time to complete (Mins:Secs)|
|Galaxy S23 Ultra||0:40|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||0:30|
|iPhone 14 Pro||0:26|
|Galaxy S22 Ultra||0:47|
In our Adobe Premiere Rush test we transcode a 4K video file to 1080p and time the results. The Galaxy S23 Ultra took 40 seconds, which is 7 seconds faster than the S22 Ultra. The iPhone 14 Pro needed only 26 seconds and the Pro Max 30 seconds.
I can also say that the phone is very responsive when using the app switcher and popping in and out of open apps. The only lag I noticed was when attempting to edit a 200MP photo in the Gallery app.
So how about actual gameplay? I played Apex Legends, and the graphics were stunning and controls super responsive. Whether I was sliding down a mountain to ambush an opponent or blasting away enemies or punching them, the S23 Ultra never slowed down. Plus, I didn't notice the device get hot even after a half hour straight.
It's also worth noting that the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a larger vapor cooling chamber than the Galaxy S22 Ultra, so you should see stronger sustained performance along with less heat. For that reason, the Galaxy S23 Ultra could be the best gaming phone out there, better than even purpose-built gaming handsets.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra battery life and charging
The Galaxy S23 Ultra offers the same high-capacity 5,000 mAh battery as the S22 Ultra. But it looks like Samsung has made this phone more efficient through the Snapdragon 8 Gen chip.
On the Tom's Guide Battery test, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of screen brightness over 5G, the S23 Ultra lasted a very strong 12 hours and 22 minutes in Adaptive mode (where the screen can go up to 120Hz). That's good enough to make our best phone battery life list.
Even better, in 60Hz mode, the S23 Ultra's battery lasted a superb 13 hours and 9 minutes.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Battery size||Battery life (hrs:mins)|
|Galaxy S23 Ultra||5,000 mAh||13:09 (60Hz) / 12:22 (adaptive)|
|Galaxy S22 Ultra||5,000 mAh||10:18 (60Hz) / 9:50 (adaptive)|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||4,323 mAh||13:39|
|Pixel 7 Pro||5,000 mAh||8:04|
|Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro||6,000 mAh||16:27 (60Hz) /15:30 (adaptive)|
|Moto G Power||5,000 mAH||13:15|
|iPhone 14 Plus||4,325 mAh||11:57|
|OnePlus 10T||4,800 mAh||11:22|
The previous Galaxy S22 Ultra lasted only 10 hours and 18 minutes in the Tom's Guide battery test, and the iPhone 14 Pro Max endured for an even longer 13:39. For more details see our Galaxy S23 Ultra battery life results comparison.
Unfortunately, Samsung is sticking with the same 45W fast charger for the S23 Ultra. We'd like to see it go higher, as the OnePlus 11 that shipped just after the S23 Ultra features 80W charging in the U.S. and 100W charging elsewhere.
On our charing test, the S23 Ultra reached 57% in 30 minutes, which is below Samsung's claim of 65%. After half-an-hour, the OnePlus 11 was nearly completely charged, so yes, the faster charging speed does matter.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: S Pen
Other than minimizing the curve on the display for comfier S Pen use, there are no major new S Pen features for the Galaxy S23 Ultra. But it's still a valuable tool for taking notes, drawing and sketching. I also find it a good option for making finer photo edits or even scrolling while reading.
If your screen locks on you while you're taking notes, I like that you can just tap the S Pen button to unlock the screen if you want to bypass entering a password or fingerprint, though you have to set this up in settings. And while it's not new, I appreciate being able to hover over images in the gallery for an Air preview.
The Samsung Notes app does have a new collaboration feature, allowing users to share a note and be edited simultaneously by different people.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: One UI 5.1
Running on top of Android 13, the new One UI 5.1 software for Galaxy S23 Ultra offers a number of handy improvements. For example, with Bixby Text Call Samsung's assistant can answer incoming calls for you, and then you can pass on messages via speech-to-text or by voice typing. It's actually pretty cool to see the Bixby feature in action, though callers might be freaked out the first time they encounter this.
There's also a new Modes option that lets you create customized settings for different aspects of your life, whether it's sleep, exercise, driving or work. (Think iOS 16's Focus mode feature, but on a Samsung device.) There's also more personalization features in One UI 5.1, such as an improved stacked widget system and recommended apps and actions for different times of the day.
For more, see our One UI 5.1 guide to all the new features.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra verdict
Based on my testing I'd say the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is the best Android phone you can buy period, and it makes a very strong case for being the best phone overall. Galaxy S24 Ultra rumors are already promising big changes for next year's model, but that's further down the road — the S23 Ultra is the best right now.
The 200MP camera is simply stunning, and Samsung has really upped its game when it comes to low-light performance. In some cases the S23 Ultra delivered better looking photos than the iPhone 14 Pro Max, though Apple won other rounds. But the iPhone still falls behind on zoom power.
The S23 Ultra is also a seriously fast phone, thanks to the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chip, and this is the best phone for gaming I've tested yet. Plus, the over 13 hours of battery life is a serious improvement over the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
If you don't need an S Pen, the Galaxy S23 Plus could be a better value. For $200 less, you get a slightly smaller 6.6-inch display, but the same powerful Snapdragon chip, an equally bright screen and the same 256GB of storage.
But if you want a phone that can do it all and want to see what a 200MP camera can do, the Ultra is definitely worth the splurge.