If you’re looking for big changes on Samsung’s new Galaxy S23 Ultra, look no further than the back: there’s a 200MP camera mounted in the top left corner, which is going to give you a level of processing unlike any smartphone before (at least in the United States). Beyond that, the S23 Ultra is an extremely incremental upgrade over the S22 Ultra, from the design and S Pen to the specs and price.
Unveiled during its Galaxy Unpacked event, Samsung will charge $1,199 for the S23 Ultra, just like it did the S22 Ultra last year. It’s launching in four colors – Phantom Black, Green, Lavender, and Cream – and it goes on sale February 17th. There will be a lot of hype around this phone, mainly due to Samsung’s preorder strategy of offering insane discounts on trade-ins. Some of that hype will also be driven by the fact that this is a new Samsung phone, but it won’t be as much as last year given how incremental this upgrade fundamentally is.
The 200MP Adaptive Pixel camera on the back of the S23 Ultra is its marquee feature, at least in terms of new features. A massive upgrade over the S22 Ultra’s 108MP shooter, the camera uses the new ISOCELL HP2 sensor that Samsung announced a few weeks ago. It’s designed to capture far more detail and resolution than traditional smartphone cameras to give you better overall image quality. It uses a ton of pixel binning to get images down to 12MP, all while blending in every minute detail the sensor can capture. Samsung says you’ll mostly notice these improvements at night thanks to the new sensor and a new AI-powered image signal processing algorithm which helps to correct visual noise.
If you’re wondering whether you can capture outright 200MP photos, the answer is yes, although that’s not the point of the sensor. Much like the 108MP camera from the past few Galaxy Ultra smartphones, the 200MP camera is there to grab extra details and clarity that normal smartphone cameras simply can’t capture. In comparison, it dwarfs the amount of detail the iPhone 14 Pro’s 48MP camera can grab, and the same can be said for the Pixel 7 Pro’s 50MP shooter.
Samsung is backing the 200MP camera up with a 12MP 120-degree ultra-wide, a 10MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom, and a 10MP periscope telephoto with 10x optical zoom that powers the company’s signature 100x Space Zoom. There’s also new 12MP selfie camera on the front with faster autofocus and support for HDR video.
As for quality improvements, Samsung includes a couple that are considerably noteworthy. Low-light video is being improved with twice the amount of optical image stabilizer angles, and you can capture enhanced 8K video at 30 frames per second. There’s also a new object-based AI system that analyzes each detail in your camera’s frame to increase the accuracy of the finished photo. As always, you can also download Samsung’s Expert RAW app and get DSLR-like controls for capturing images with much more granular controls.
None of this means anything until reviewers get a chance to evaluate it and see whether it’s better than what Apple and Google’s latest phones can produce. I’ll be one of those reviewers, by the way, so stay tuned for my coverage.
Camera stuff aside, this is a very familiar phone. The design is almost identical to the S22 Ultra, with the same 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display on the front and the same boxy corners on the sides. There’s still an S Pen stored in a silo at the bottom, which gets a slight improvement thanks to the flatter edges on the screen which give you a more even writing surface. Speaking of the screen, it gets a boost in brightness to 1,750 nits compared to 1,300 nits, and Samsung includes a new vision booster that helps to make it easier to see in direct sunlight.
There’s a new chip inside called the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, but it’s a special edition that’s optimized “for Galaxy.” Samsung says you can expect to see greater CPU, graphics, and efficiency performance because of the work it’s done, although it probably won’t be able to match the A16 Bionic in the iPhone 14 Pro.
Still, this is a powerful phone. It comes with 8GB or 12GB of RAM (depending on how much storage you get), a larger vapor cooling camber, and real-time ray tracing for mobile gaming, which helps to render scenes in a way that’s almost lifelike. You can configure the phone with up to 1TB of storage, and there’s a 5,000mAh to power the whole thing (rechargeable via 45W wired or 15W wireless charging).
The phone is wrapped in Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus 2 which gets you increased durability over the previous version, and Samsung leans on its Armor Aluminum for the frame to aid in drop protection.
Out of the box, you’ll get One UI 5.1 based on Android 13, which includes a handful of new features compared to One UI 5. There are new battery and weather widgets for your home and lock screens, quick access to the Expert RAW app from the main Camera app, updates to the Gallery app, new features in AR Zone and AR Emoji, tighter integration with Galaxy Books, and even a few upgrades for DeX. The biggest news in the software department is Samsung’s commitment to four OS upgrades and five years of security patches, which remains one of the longest commitments in the Android market.
It’s clear that the S23 Ultra will grab the attention of many, if only for that 200MP camera. While the rest of the upgrades are minimal, it all sounds like Samsung’s Galaxy Ultra series will continue to deliver one of the best mobile experiences in the industry going into 2023. If the phone winds up being as good as Samsung promises, I might have to update my Best Phones roundup sooner than I thought.
Preordes for the Galaxy S23 Ultra are live now on Samsung.com and various other retailers. If you use my link, you’ll get an additional $50 credit for accessories on top of Samsung’s $100 credit. In addition, until February 16th, you’ll get to double your storage for free.
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