Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra First Impressions: Big Daddy of Android Flagships

The Galaxy S23 Ultra has gone extraterrestrial this time around with its crazy 200MP camera and the astrophotography modes, but is it enough to be a meaningful upgrade?

  • The Galaxy S23 Ultra packs a 5,000mAh battery.
  • It features a 200-megapixel primary camera.
  • The Galaxy S23 Ultra is powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen-2 SoC.

The big daddy of Android flagships, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra broke cover tonight, and it features some crazy innovations, mainly in its cameras. Because Samsung didn’t want us to spoil their D-Day, they were tight-lipped about several new features while introducing the phone to us, so our impressions are still in the nascent stages. Nevertheless, after spending some time in a conference room with the Galaxy S23 Ultra, we can confidently say that it brings about some meaningful upgrades. Read on to know more.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra First Impressions

Let’s quickly get done with the design because there’s one subtle difference here that might mean the world to the in-hand experience of buyers – the degree to which the display curves. Unfortunately, the angle of curvature of the Galaxy S Ultra/Note displays has always been a bit too much, to the point where gripping the device properly without a case seems a chore.

The new curvature is far more shallow yet seamlessly flows on the metal railings. It yields a far more confident grasp over the edges of the phone. Even though it’s physically bigger than the Pixel 7 Pro (review), it feels more nimble just because of this tiny little change. Except for the width between the two rows of the camera module, the design remains identical to the previous generation. There’s a new colour, however – green. For reference, it’s a slightly more subtle shade of green of the iPhone 13 Pro, launched a couple of years ago.

Internally, just like its smaller brothers, it’s powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen-2 SoC. So far, we know it’s a custom chip that offers 34% better CPU performance, along with 41% graphics improvement. The neural processing unit horsepower is hiked by as much as 49%, and that accounts for all the crazy photography chops of the Galaxy S23 Ultra that we’ll get to in a bit. It’s also got ray-tracing capabilities, courtesy of the new SoC. All this is tamed by the new Vapour Cooling chamber with up to 2.7 times the cooling surface.

Coming down to the cameras, Samsung isn’t the first to introduce 200-megapixel sensors, but it makes the most of them. From what we inferred, within 10 minutes of tinkering with the camera, it’s the fastest-focusing camera we have seen while being super reliable. Here’s the deal, the primary sensor is the Samsung ISOCELL HP2, equipped with an adaptive pixel sensor and super quad pixel. Here’s what the mumbo-jumbo means – it automatically switches to 12-megapixel output in low light conditions to make its effective pixel size bigger by binning four pixels, and all of its 200 million pixels can be used for autofocus. The result is better exposure in night shots and faster autofocus speeds.

Do note that this is only applicable to the primary sensor. From what we were told at the briefing, the rest of the configuration is the same – 10-megapixel periscope, 10-megapixel tele, and 12-megapixel ultrawide cameras assisting the 200-megapixel primary camera.

There are a bunch of new modes too, and they might have derived some inspiration from Google Pixels. So, now we get Astro Photography and Astro Hyperlapse modes. The former can be used only in the Epic Pro mode, whereas the latter requires a bit of digging around within the hyper-lapse video mode. Unfortunately, we couldn’t try out these, but it does look promising for astronomy buffs.

Enthusiasts can rejoice because the Expert Raw app has also received updates. It can now click 50-megapixel raw photos, up from 12 megapixels, and even the selfie camera can click in raw – WHAT!?

The selfie camera is now in the overkill territory, with Nightography, dual pixel autofocus and 60 fps @ FHD shooting features.

The OIS is now enhanced to offer three degrees of movement, so it can compensate better for shakes while being held in the hands.

At the front, it still has the same display dimensions, resolution and brightness as the S22 Ultra, but it’s made smarter with the new adaptive brightness tech. So, it still spans 6.8 inches, has QHD+ resolution and shines bright at 1,750 nits. Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2, made from recycled glass, protects the sprawling curved screen.

While we are at it, Samsung claims that all Galaxy S23 have at least some recycled material in each of their components, be it the S-Pen, rear panel or the PET plastic. Even the dye is eco-friendly and natural, instead of the harsh synthetic stuff.

This is paired with One UI 5.1 based on Android 13. Samsung has been a bit silent about the new updates. But we know for sure that some features are going to be present, such as AI-powered adaptive performance mode, which automatically figures out how much power to extract from the SoC while playing games and ensures performance stability over longer durations. Other software tweaks include video streaming optimisation, which helps with power saving and HDR while playing videos across streaming platforms.

The battery and charging capacity remains the same, although Samsung claims it has tinkered around with adaptive battery a bit more. It’s still a 5,000mAh pack that charges at 45W peak power with a cable and 15W wirelessly.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Initial thoughts

In our limited time with the Galaxy S23 Ultra, we liked the new curvature of the display, which aids handling the phone, the refreshed internal hardware and the crazy camera capabilities. The same charging capacity and secondary cameras can seem redundant, but if it works, why fix it, right?

We will soon be posting the full specifications of the Galaxy S23 series as and when we receive them, and the full review will be on its way shortly.