The Galaxy S23 Ultra is worth your attention, and these are the 10 reasons why. The Galaxy takes better selfies.
While the resolution has been downgraded from the S22 Ultra, the quality of the front camera has gone up, leading to more accurate skin tones, more reliable focusing, and a little bit more detail.
The S23 Ultra has more storage - 256GB vs 128GB. So while the price of entry has gone up, all the company's really done is just slashed the base-level 128GB model that you used to be able to get. Which I don't love. It makes the phone even less accessible. But I think it makes sense. Given that we're talking about a media-centric phone that can shoot proper 8K video, I think it's about time Samsung stopped pretending that 128GB of non-expandable storage is actually sufficient. But the reason why I'm calling storage a win is that this is no ordinary 256GB.
This is the fastest flash memory in the world. Meaning that even compared to phones from just a few months ago, this thing can read and write files almost two times faster, while consuming less power. And all you have to do is open up a few apps on your home screen to see that extra responsiveness in action. Plus, if you were offloading huge files directly to your computer, you would feel it there too. Now, Samsung's also upgraded the speakers. Which I think is quite important because this is something they haven't really touched since 2018 with the Galaxy Note 9. They used to be top of the game. Samsung used to have some of the best speakers that you could get on a phone. And so I'm excited that they're trying to reclaim the reputation they once had. They bumped up the volume, but what I think you'll notice more is the base. The fullness. It's almost surprising. You don't expect this amount of it to come out of a package so tiny. Okay, so as with every new Samsung phone, you also get to play with a new piece of software. So in the case of the S23, you get Samsung's One UI 5.1 skin based on Android 13. It's a pretty thin update, not gonna lie. You basically get routines that can trigger a series of actions based on your activities. So whether you're sleeping or exercising or driving, etc. One cool thing, which means that your Bixby assistant on this phone can respond to incoming calls by just sending back a text. And I know, Bixby was a bit of a laughingstock when it first came out. But we tested it recently and honestly, it surprised me. And clearly a lot of you guys too. More importantly, though, when it comes to software, the key thing that has to be said is that Samsung has become a bit of an unexpected hero with updates. There was a time when buying a Samsung flagship meant you'd get two years of Android updates, and you'd almost definitely be one of the last to get those updates. But if you look at their current track record in the last couple of years, Samsung is getting out all of those smaller security patches faster than basically anyone. And right out of the gate, they're also promising four full years of major Android version upgrades too. So this phone is going to be supported all the way to Android 17, which is a really significant differentiator if you're planning to keep the phone for that long. Okay, it's time to talk about this design. And I know, my first impression was to cry myself to sleep. I just think it's really good when companies try new things. And historically, if you could rely on any company to do that, that would be Samsung.
But having taken a step back and really thought about it, the similarity may not be the worst thing. I mean, for starters, no one's upgrading their phone every single year anymore. So this is still going to feel new for someone upgrading from a two to three to four year old Samsung phone. Plus, like, I've tested a lot of phones where from the outside, they look like complete generational leaps from their predecessors. But then you use them and you almost feel cheated because they're pretty much the exact same thing, just in a new set of clothes. So this phone looking similar to the last might actually help prevent that feeling and people feeling like they need to buy something that they definitely don't need. But I think the most important thing, and probably the real reason that Samsung's kept the design language the same, is to let their other phones catch up. Last year's S22s were a bit kooky. You had the S22 Ultra, which split the cameras into multiple individual modules like this, and then the S22 and S22 Plus, which just had one big camera module. And so by this time, keeping the design similar on the Ultra model, but updating the normal S23 and S23 Plus, they've now at least got a lineup that looks cohesive. But also, if you look closer, it actually is an upgraded design. It's a little boxier, both the phone and the S Pen that still comes included, which I think is an aesthetic perk as well as a functional one, because they've sharpened it up in a way that the phone is actually more comfortable to hold instead of less comfy. I guess I'm glad that they haven't just copied Apple's design, like so many companies have. They've retained some of the curve on the screen, which is good because it lets your fingers glide onto the display panel from the sides, but they've made it somewhat less curved, which means you get more usable flat area of the screen before it starts to slope off. It's a really good, careful balance. And also, Samsung swapped out the Corning Gorilla Glass Victus Plus that their phones used to be coated in for Gorilla Glass Victus 2, which is a really interesting material because it's the first time that this Corning company is really acknowledging the fact that most of the time when you drop your phone, it's not from a perfect angle on some smooth laboratory floor.
Phones need to be able to withstand rough surfaces like concrete. And there's some quite impressive test footage of it in action, which I will not be recreating, at least not on purpose. And they've managed to achieve that drop protection while also making this display out of 22% recycled glass, which is something that I did want to touch on for a minute. Samsung is making a real deal about their commitment to the environment and how this phone has parts from recycled water bottles and fishing nets and recycled aluminium.
But there are plenty of great reasons to buy these new phones. I don't think this is one of them. Like they talked about how they could maybe theoretically reduce up to 15 tonnes of waste plastic in the oceans by the end of the year. But these are such tiny numbers in the scheme of things. Like I did the math for this, and this is the equivalent of Samsung for every $1,000 smartphone sold donating about $0.004 for manual ocean cleanup. So it's great that they're doing more and more of this eco stuff. But I'm just saying, remember that if eco is what you're after, the most eco-friendly thing is by far still to just buy a used one or to not buy one. Okay, so if you've been following Samsung's phones at all for the last few years, you'll know that camera zoom has become a big part of their strategy. Well, that's better here too. Sort of. So if you look at the spec sheet, you won't see a difference at all. The S23 Ultra has got the same combination of a 3x optical zoom camera and a 10x optical zoom camera, and the same max range as last time of 100x total zoom. But what I was told is that thanks to the new processor in this phone - more on that in a minute - it'll be able to use powerful AI to still majorly step up the end quality of these zoom shots. So I tried it. And I was surprised to see that, if anything, my S22 Ultra was actually getting slightly sharper results. So I tried it again. Same thing. I even looped in a Samsung employee, thinking I was doing something wrong, and we ended up in this kinda hilarious, kinda concerning situation where he sort of agreed that my S22 Ultra shot did look better. So if what you'd be wanting to do is randomly zooming into objects and buildings hundreds of metres away, I don't think the S23 Ultra is going to do much more than the S22 Ultra. But then we tested it on people, and the difference was absolutely enormous. I'm imagining this is where the AI in the new chip is doing its most work. But I will test this properly in a camera test coming soon. Also, if you do want to see a 100x zoom shot of Milo's nostrils, then a sub to the channel would be...sansational.
Now this leads us to the elephant in the room. What I imagine will become the entire tagline of the S23 Ultra, it's 200 megapixel main camera. This is a really important jump, but not for the reason you think. See, actually trying to take full 200 megapixel photos from a tiny camera like this is generally going to be a pretty fruitless exercise. Each photo is gonna end up as like a 50 megabyte file, but even with that, compared to a proper 200 megapixel camera that would look something more like this, you just can't get enough light into a mini phone one to fill that 200 megapixels of resolution with real detail. The actual perk of this sensor comes into play with something called pixel binning. There's a good chance you've heard of it, but it's the idea of individual smaller, noisier pixels being grouped together and collating all of their information into fewer, bigger, cleaner pixels. With the 108 megapixel main camera on the previous S22 Ultra, what Samsung was doing is clumping together pixels into three by three grids, which means your end photos have a ninth of the total pixel count, around 12 megapixels, or 12 million pixels, but that those are 12 million really clean pixels because each is made with the information from nine smaller pixels. And so what's interesting about this new 200 megapixel sensor is that it now gives us two really good options. You can either stick to a 12 megapixel output, but it will now be an even cleaner 12 megapixel output because instead of each pixel being made of nine smaller pixels, each will now be made of 16 smaller pixels. Or you can divide your 200 million pixels into groups of four.
So you're still getting somewhat clean pixels, each using the information from four smaller pixels, but you're also still getting a really high 50 megapixel resolution output, which might be the perfect middle ground. Hopefully that made sense, but if it didn't, then all you need to know is that the S23 Ultra is going to take really good photos. And it's actually not just a resolution thing. This new 200 megapixel camera also has a few fancy technical tricks that let it bring in even more light, but they are also even more complicated. So I'll spare you the details. And the single thing that I think is going to make the biggest difference is that it can do all of this faster. My three biggest complaints about past Samsung cameras are low light performance, video, and slow capture time. And so what's really exciting is that even with more pixels to be processed, the newer camera is capturing photos distinctly quicker than its predecessor. This is part of the reason why that face from earlier looked so much more crisp, but this is where it starts dialing up because as it turns out, Samsung isn't just addressing this one key weakness, but in fact, all three of its past cameras key weaknesses. So you know how this camera can now make these clusters of 16 pixels? The biggest place we're going to notice that is in low light shots. The lower the light, the lower the quality of the information that each individual pixel can pick up. And so the more benefit there is to multiple pixels grouping together. We tried a few side-by-side low light shots, and there is definitely more texture and a little better control over the super bright spots, which is really important for nighttime cityscapes. And so I'm actually gassed to see what's going to happen when you pair that. With the new astrophoto mode Samsung's added that optimizes capturing starry skies. Night sky shots are one of my favorite tests to run on any new phone. And so knowing that they've specifically optimized for it now, this is where it starts to get juicy. The cherry on top is that Samsung has also worked with Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok to integrate this updated night mode and the different zoom cameras into those apps. So when you're zooming in on TikTok, for example, you won't just be using digital zoom like you used to have to do. And then, you guessed it, Samsung seems to finally be getting serious when it comes to video too, which benefits from the light gathering ability and faster focusing of the new sensor.
It benefits from the real-time noise reduction thanks to the higher intelligence of this new chip.
It benefits from an optical image stabilization system that has two times the range of motion and therefore ability to stabilize compared to last year. If this ends up being as big of a jump as it felt like in my first impressions, I'll be a very happy man. Like, Samsung's video quality is one of the only reasons that I constantly keep an iPhone with me at all times. I spent a decent amount of time messing with the new stabilization too, and this is a real jump. This rivals those proper gimbal stabilized cameras and objects are noticeably less blurry in motion because of it.
Oh yeah, and the other spinoff effect of this new camera hardware is that 8K video is actually usable now. They used to be capped at the quite janky looking 24 frames per second and also not able to use the full camera sensor.
But now it can run a smooth 30 frames per second, which is the frame rate that this video is shot at. And because the new sensor is not just better, but also more suited for 8K, it'll finally be able to use the sensor's entire area, leading to a higher quality, less zoomed in video. This feels like the turning point to which many people will start shooting their phone content in 8K. I probably won't, but some definitely will. So what is even more important than all of that? Well, it's this chip I've been referencing the entire video. For the last 10 years, Samsung's been fitting their phones with Snapdragon chips for the US and India, and then their own in-house Exynos chips for Europe and Africa. And it doesn't seem to matter how much they tried or how many times they claim to have finally fixed it, Exynos was almost always a significantly worse chip in terms of both the battery life and the performance. So the fact that this time around, Samsung has finally ditched Exynos, giving every single S23 purchaser a brand new 2023 Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip means that I can finally rest in peace.
- Rest in peace, God.
that Radeon 8 Gen 2 chip means that I can finally sleep in peace. For the first time in a decade. To check out the 10 gadgets that I actually use every single day of my life, that video's here. And we'll see you there.