Hands on: Samsung Galaxy S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra review

In a Galaxy not so far away from their predecessors

What is a hands on review?
Samsung S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

Samsung appears to be playing it very safe this year, with the S23 seemingly not straying far from the path beaten by the S22 and S21 – but perhaps that won’t be a problem for dedicated Samsung phone fans


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    Punchy AMOLED displays

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    Refined design on S23 and S23+

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    200MP camera on S23 Ultra


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    Substantial price increase

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    No obvious upgrades to picture and sound

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Samsung’s latest series of Galaxy S flagships has arrived, with the S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra replacing last year’s S22 equivalents. Last year was a major shift for Samsung, as it unified its previously distinct Galaxy Note and S models with the excellent S22 Ultra .

So what’s new this year? Well, not a whole lot, it seems, as Samsung has taken leaves out of Apple’s and Sony’s books this year and opted for a modest refresh to its range.

The new Galaxy S23 phones have only just been announced by Samsung but we’ve already had an opportunity to go hands-on with them at the Samsung KX “experience store”. We’ll obviously wait until we have the phones in our own labs for more extensive testing before we publish our full review and final verdict. Until then, here are our first impressions of the new Galaxy S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra.


Samsung Galaxy S23 hands on

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy S23 range, like many of its smartphone brethren, has seen a bump in price in comparison with its predecessor. Looking at the base configuration for each device, the S23 starts at £849, the S23+ starts at £1049, and the S23 Ultra comes in at £1249.

Last year’s models, the S22, S22+ and S22 Ultra, started at £769 / $799 / AU$1249, £949 / $999 /AU$1549 and £1149 / $1199 / AU$1849 respectively, so it's safe to say that this is a particularly substantial price increase across the board. Apple increased its iPhone prices in the last year, but not by much, and US pricing didn’t go up at all.

All three models come in 256GB and 512GB versions, with the standard S23 also available in a base 128GB configuration and the S23 Ultra getting an expansive 1TB option. This top-end model comes in at a sizeable £1599, so make sure you really need a whole terabyte of storage before splashing the cash.

You can pre-order the Galaxy S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra today, and all three models are set to release on 17th February.


Samsung S23 and S23+ design

(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to the S23 and S23+, there has been a slight change in design to the camera housing to make them look more like the S23 Ultra. The S22’s camera housing that melted into the frame of the phone is no more, as now each lens is separated with a colour-matched metal ring to the glossy aluminium frame.

Elsewhere, the standard duo of S23s feature flat, 1080p, 120Hz AMOLED displays up front, a matte-glass back panel, and the aforementioned glossy metal rails that it shares with its 2022 predecessor. The standard Galaxy S23 features a 6.1-inch display, while the S23+ has a 6.6-inch screen These are the same sizes that the S22 and S22+ come in.

However, it's the S23 Ultra that takes the uncanny cake, as it looks practically identical to the S22 Ultra that it replaces. Its imposing frame isn’t as unwieldy as it appears, but it can’t really be used one-handed in the way that the S23 can. The trade-off for the extra girth is, as ever, extra screen, with the Ultra featuring a 6.8-inch AMOLED display with a higher, 1440p resolution. As with the smaller models, the display has a 120Hz refresh rate. Specs-wise, this is the same display as before, but the new model’s screen curves slightly more over the edges.

All three models are available in three different colours; Phantom Black, Cream, Lavender and Green. Having seen all finishes in the flesh, we’re still hard-pressed to choose a favourite as each suits the phones very well. The Phantom Black is sleek, Cream is neutral and bright, and Lavender is an awesome shade of pastel purple. If pushed, though, it’s the Green we’d choose, with its deep matte olive finish continuously catching our eye during the event.


Samsung S23 Ultra camera

(Image credit: Future)

The features of the new S23 phones are very similar to those of the S22 models they replace, albeit with some notable enhancements to processing performance and camera quality.

Across the board, the Galaxy S23 range now uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 For Galaxy processor. This is apparently a slightly modified version of the standard Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, with slightly higher clock speeds for a boost in day-to-day performance. This is combined with 8GB of RAM on the S23 and S23+, and 12GB on the S23 Ultra, as Samsung has ditched the 128GB storage/8GB RAM configuration of yesteryear.

The big news with the S23 Ultra is the camera, as Samsung has bestowed upon it a very impressive-sounding 200MP main shooter. While we weren’t able to offload any images from the test unit at the hands-on event for serious analysis, we did at least get to try the camera out, and it seemed very impressive indeed. It was capable of producing images that looked impressively crisp when viewed on the phone’s own screen, and its zoom function seems superb. Samsung also says it’s enhanced its Nightography system, so low-light photography and night sky shots should look even better than before.

The S23 Ultra also features an S-Pen, after its predecessor gained custody of the stylus when the beloved-by-some Galaxy Note series was discontinued. During our hands-on, it proved to be just as responsive as before, with slick integration both within the software of the device and within the shell of the phone itself.

In comparison, the S23 and S23+ are inevitably a little underwhelming, as neither gets the impressive camera setup or S-Pen integration. However, they both feature 50MP main cameras, which also performed admirably during the hands-on session, and should prove just as fast in use thanks to the shared Snapdragon processor.


Samsung S23 picture

(Image credit: Future)

Hands-on time with the S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra was somewhat limited, so we obviously weren’t able to put the phones through anything like the full testing process we would for a full review. However, thanks to some trusty film trailers via YouTube, we did manage to form some initial impressions on the picture quality.

Starting off with the upcoming Marvel superhero flick Ant Man and The Wasp: Quantamania , the trippy visuals popped on the Galaxy S23’s AMOLED display. Colours were rich and vivid, as is often the case with Samsung phone displays. Vibrant colours glowed, contrasting the authentically inky abyss of the Quantum Realm’s dark skies – both playing to the AMOLED display’s strengths.

Moving onto the S23 Ultra, 2022 blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick looked right at home on the huge display, resulting in a surprisingly engaging, cinematic experience. The display seemed to handle contrast nicely too, with plenty of detail in the skies as fighter jets soared through, as well as etching subjects out nicely from the background while still retaining a natural appearance.

Finishing off with our tried and true Blade Runner 2049 (well, the trailer), it too looked impressively punchy on both the S23 and S23 Ultra. Once again the vibrant nature of the AMOLED screen and its uncompromised deep blacks looked excellent, especially in the iconic scene that sees a towering projection of Joi standing over Officer K, bathing him in purple light.

Considering the extent to which we praised the S22 Ultra’s picture last year, and that this new model appears to be using a very similar display, it seems likely that we could have another impressive picture performance from Samsung on our hands. While the S23 Ultra display features a higher resolution, we didn’t notice the S23 and S23+ suffering in the detail department, so they too could prove strong options for those who value punchy picture quality but don’t want or need a huge screen. We will of course compare all three models with one another before delivering our final verdict.


Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung has shared next to no information relating to the audio capabilities of the S23 range, but we did get to try stereo speakers on the S23 Ultra during the hands-on event. The phone supposedly features Dolby Atmos support, but there wasn’t much in the way of Dolby Atmos content to test that out.

Instead, using the same YouTube film trailers mentioned above, we found the S23 Ultra’s speakers sounded decent, but not groundbreaking. Vocals were clear, and there was some semblance of low end, but the mids sounded somewhat crushed and muddled.

Of course, a noisy hands-on session isn’t the place to make serious judgements on sound quality, and we’ll be doing thorough testing of speaker and headphone performance for all three phones once we get them into our test labs for review.


Samsung Galaxy S23 event

(Image credit: Future)

The S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra are shaping up to be a solid if slightly unexciting next step in the Galaxy S series. Taking familiar designs from last year and upgrading cameras and performance has certainly become a trend recently, with the S23 seeming to be an upgrade in very much the same way that the iPhone 14 was over the iPhone 13.

With minimal upgrades to picture and sound, it's fair to say that we haven’t yet fallen head over heels for the S23 range yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great phone. The S22 Ultra, in particular, is an excellent handset, and the S23 Ultra appears to be at least as good. We’ll know for sure once we get it and its non-Ultra siblings in for full testing very soon.


Everything you need to know about the Galaxy S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs S22 : how do they compare?

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs S22 Ultra

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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max

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What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.