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After a few weeks of teasing and several leaks, Samsung has finally revealed the new Galaxy S23 series, its latest range of flagship phones. This year, the company is making waves with its new camera system, but look behind the headlines and you’ll find precious little else has changed. Is it still good enough to see off a horde of new competition? Samsung let us get our grubby hands on the new devices ahead of time, and here are our initial thoughts.
Looks the same, feels the same, is the same?
As expected, these phones are very similar to last year’s S22. You have the 6.1-inch S23, the 6.6-inch S23+ and the big boy 6.8-inch S23 Ultra. Not only do they carry over the same dimensions, they also come with a very similar design, incorporating polished aluminium frames, matte glass backs, the same hefty feel and all the rest of it. The only difference is that the regular S23 and S23+ lose their signature camera bump, which Samsung called the Contour Cut. Now, they have “floating” camera lenses, much like the S23 Ultra, which looks practically identical to the S22 Ultra.
Ah, but it’s not exactly identical. The S23 Ultra still has a 6.8-inch AMOLED edge display, but the flat section extends further outwards, so only the extreme edges are curved. That means there’s less falloff at the corners, the colours won’t shift so much because the viewing angle doesn’t change so dramatically. Even so, it’s a bit hard to notice the difference, even next to the S22 Ultra, although the flatter sides do make it a little bit easier to hold.
As for the S23 and S23+, they have the same displays as before, measuring 6.1 and 6.6 inches respectively. All three displays have an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate; they’re also the first phones to come with Gorilla Glass Victus 2, which is not only claimed to be more durable but also uses 22% recycled material. An improved Vision Booster feature adds a third contrast and colour setting to enable the display to better adapt to varying degrees of direct sunlight.
But the most notable change is in the cameras, and this is where you’ll find probably the biggest discrepancy between the regular S line and the Ultra. I mean, the S23 Ultra gets a 200MP main camera now, which not only pixel-bins to either 50 or 12.5MP but also introduces Super Quad Pixel autofocus that uses four adjacent pixels across the whole sensor for phase detection. The camera’s optical image stabilisation is also able to stabilise double the movements compared with the previous model.
By contrast, the S23 and S23+ get…the same 50MP main camera. I mean, I wasn’t expecting much, but I was hoping for at least 108MP—you know, from last year’s S22 Ultra. I know we live in a world where the iPhone is only now getting 48MP but come on, Samsung.
The rest of the cameras are identical to before, including a 12MP ultra-wide and a 10MP telephoto shooter. The S23 Ultra also has a periscope telephoto lens that provides 10x optical zoom. Samsung has added a few new features this year—all three models get a new AI-driven image signal processor for reduced noise, as well as a new Astro Hyperlapse long-exposure mode for shooting hyperlapse videos with a tripod. If you want to take photos instead, there’s a new Astrophoto mode built into the downloadable Expert RAW app. The company says these two are perfect for capturing the night sky; you’ll have to wait for the full review for that.
All we can say for now is that these cameras take detailed photos—except for the ultrawide, which still looks a little soft—and deliver vibrant colours no matter the lighting conditions. But we barely had any time with these phones, and as before, we couldn’t save the photos taken from these cameras, so we couldn’t view them from a proper display instead of Samsung’s usual oversaturated touchscreens.
As for videos, Samsung has improved the 8K recording feature on the S23 Ultra. You might remember that shooting videos in this mode in the S22 Ultra resulted in quite a tight crop compared with other S22 models, and that was because it was using only the middle 33MP of the 108MP sensor. The new sensor’s ability to pixel-bin to 50MP means it can now have the same wider view as its siblings. You can also now shoot in 30fps, up from 24fps last year.
Flip the phone over and you’ll find a 12MP selfie camera across all three models—an upgrade from the S22 and S22+’s 10MP, but a downgrade from the S22 Ultra’s whopping 40MP. It now comes with dual-pixel autofocus, Smart HDR and the ability to enhance certain details using an AI-driven object-aware engine.
Fastest Snapdragon made even faster
The rest of the spec sheet sets a benchmark for all other flagship smartphones this year. All three models are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip, customised for this application and featuring an enhanced 3.36GHz Kryo CPU and an accelerated Adreno GPU, plus an upgraded neural processing unit (NPU).
Samsung is claiming a 34% improvement in CPU performance, a 49% faster GPU and a 41% faster NPU compared to the S22 series. A company spokesperson at the event said that the GPU and NPU in particular beat the chips of “competitor A”—you can make a guess as to who that might be. We were also told this is a limited Samsung exclusive and will be made available to other phone makers at a later date.
You also get 8GB of RAM as standard; in Malaysia, the Ultra is only available with 12GB of RAM, and there’s still no 16GB option available anywhere. As for storage, you have 256GB and 512GB options with the S23 and S23+, along with a base 128GB version of the S23. For the first time, you can spec the Ultra in Malaysia with up to 1TB, which will be very expensive.
Elsewhere, you still get a 5,000mAh battery in the S23 Ultra, but the S23 and S23+ each get bumped up by 200mAh to 3,900 and 4,700mAh respectively. Again, the S23 only gets 25W fast charging, while the S23+ and S23 Ultra bump it up to 45W. No crazy over-100W charging here, but at least you still have 15W of wireless charging.
All three phones run on Android 13 with One UI 5.1 with some unique features. For instance, Samsung has copied the iPhone’s Focus Modes with Modes and Routines, which now has a Sleep mode that will silence all notifications. Another feature lifted from iOS 16 is improved lock screen customisation, which can be accessed by simply pressing and holding on the lock screen. Samsung goes one up on Apple by adding the option of a video wallpaper.
Other features include a Bixby Text Call for answering calls with a text and the ability for multiple users to make collaborative edits in Samsung Notes…through Google Meet calls (weird way to do it, I know). And of course, there’s the S Pen in the S23 Ultra, which works just as well as it always has.
A price hike for not that much new
Overall, this feels like a mild spec bump over the S22, new chip and massive camera improvement on the S23 Ultra aside. The hardware hasn’t changed all that much, and you even get mostly the same cameras as before on the S23 and S23+, just with some software enhancements. As with the iPhone 14, it feels like customers are getting shortchanged here, especially considering that the prices have gone up quite a bit over last year:
- Samsung Galaxy S23 128GB – RM3,899 (up RM400)
- Samsung Galaxy S23 256GB – RM4,199 (up RM500)
- Samsung Galaxy S23+ 256GB – RM4,699 (up RM400)
- Samsung Galaxy S23+ 512GB – RM5,199
- Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 256GB – RM5,699 (up RM200)
- Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 512GB – RM6,199 (up RM300)
- Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 1TB – RM7,199
But the new 200MP camera is genuinely interesting, and I can’t wait to test it out. We’ve received the S23 Ultra, and you can expect the full review to come out soon, so stay tuned.
- Samsung Galaxy S23 Malaysia: 10 things you need to know
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- Samsung Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23+: Custom Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, bigger batteries
- Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: A 200MP camera, custom Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and Gorilla Glass Victus 2