This is turning into a fabulous year for Android hardware; we're just getting into Q2, and we already got the likes of the iQOO 11, OnePlus 11, OPPO Find N2 Flip, Find X6 Pro, Vivo X90 Pro+, ASUS's ROG Phone 7 Ultimate, Samsung's Galaxy S23 series, and Xiaomi 13 Pro.
I've been fortunate enough to use all of these devices, and the Galaxy S23 Ultra has emerged as an early frontrunner for my favourite phone of 2023. At the outset, Samsung hasn't changed much with the S23 Ultra, so there aren't many wholesale changes from last year's S22 Ultra; instead, the S23 Ultra offers small tweaks to the design alongside hardware and camera refinements.
So while the device itself may not seem all that enticing at a first glance, all these changes add up to make a huge difference. Let's start with the design; I used the S22 Ultra for a few months last year, and while I liked the direction Samsung took with the overall aesthetic, the curves on the sides along with the size of the phone meant it was uncomfortable to hold and use without a case.
Samsung fixed that on the Galaxy S23 Ultra by reducing the curvature on the sides, so even though you get a dual-curved screen, it is significantly easier to hold the phone as the sides are flatter. While the design language itself hasn't changed, this small alteration makes the S23 Ultra that much more usable; no small feat considering its size and heft.
I also have to give credit to Samsung for not going overboard with the design of the camera housing. The Xiaomi 13 Pro, Find X6 Pro, Vivo X90 Pro, and OnePlus 11 all sport massive camera islands that dominate the attention at the back, and while I like the look of what OPPO and Xiaomi are doing, the oversized housing makes the phones look busy. The S23 Ultra, meanwhile, has a minimalist camera housing with rings around the three modules, and it gives the device a clean aesthetic that looks fabulous.
Samsung is doing all the right things on the hardware front as well. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 globally, and Samsung is using a custom version of Qualcomm's latest silicon that's marginally faster than what everyone else is using.
This isn't noticeable in daily use, but one area where Samsung has a lead over its Chinese rivals is gaming; the S23 Ultra is able to play most titles at their highest framerates, with no limitations. This isn't the case on devices like the Find X6 Pro and OnePlus 11, with these devices limiting games to 60fps across the board.
Then there's the screen. The best Android phones use Samsung's AMOLED panels, and the manufacturer reserves the best for its own devices, and the S23 Ultra features a large 6.8-inch screen that's brighter than last year. Without going into the weeds too much, this is one of the best screens you'll find on any phone today, and it is incredible for gaming and streaming content. Of course, the rest of the field isn't far behind, but the S23 Ultra takes the overall lead when it comes to brightness figures, and features like Vision Booster are unique to the brand.
Battery life is better than last year as well, with the 5000mAh battery easily lasting over a day without fail. I used the S23 Ultra as my daily driver for close to two months now, and in that time I didn't have to worry about the battery running out before the end of the day even once. Now, Samsung isn't innovative when it comes to charging tech, and this is one area where I think the brand should change things going forward.
I understand Samsung's reticence to add 100W or even 65W fast charging to its devices, but 45W tech feels dated in 2023 when devices like the Find X6 Pro and Xiaomi 13 Pro are able to charge the battery in less than half the time.
Obviously, the biggest differentiator for a flagship is the camera tech, and Samsung didn't play it safe with this generation. With the rest of the field significantly raising the bar this year — the Xiaomi1 3 Pro, Find X6 Pro, and X90 Pro+ all sport outstanding cameras — Samsung needed to do more to solidify the S23 Ultra's position as one of the best camera phones of the year, and it did just that.
The 200MP main camera takes stellar photos in any scenario, and the tweaks to the camera tuning this year mean you get more accurate colors that doesn't look as overly saturated as previous generations. Samsung still has a few things to fix here; the camera isn't great at taking shots of moving objects — that's still an area where the Pixel 7 Pro rules the roost — and there's still HDR-related artifacting, but on the whole, the S23 Ultra has one of the best overall packages available today.
Finally, there's the software. I used One UI more than any other Android interface over the last 18 months, and that's down to all the changes Samsung introduced in that time. The UI feels modern, has all the features I need, and Samsung did a good job tackling the bloatware. There's still a lot of preinstalled services out of the box, but these can be uninstalled without any issues, and on balance, One UI 5.1 feels better to use than ColorOS 13 and MIUI 14.
I still like what Google does with the Pixel Launcher, and ASUS is doing all the right things with Zen UI. But the sheer number of features on offer with One UI give it a slender edge. Of course, there's the undeniable fact that Samsung rules the roost when it comes to productivity.
Updates are another area where Samsung gets it right. The S23 Ultra will get four Android OS updates and five years of security updates, and while OPPO and OnePlus have also started doing the same for their 2023 flagships, Samsung is the only brand other than Google that rolls out monthly security updates and bug fixes.
I'm still waiting to see how the Xiaomi 13 Ultra holds up and looking forward to the the Pixel Fold and Pixel 8 series later in the year, but Google has to do something truly spectacular to oust the Galaxy S23 Ultra this year — if you want a flagship, you won't find a better all-round device than Samsung's flagship.
With a gorgeous design backed by the best feature-set of any phone available today, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is a clear winner against its 2023 flagship rivals. If you want the best all-round package, this is the phone to get.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.