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12 hours with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: The camera is truly fantastic

Picture the scene: after watching the live-streamed Galaxy Unpacked event from the comfort of a Vue cinema seat at Westfield, I was handed a bag – a bag with a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra inside.

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I rushed home as excitedly as Charlie when he found his Golden Ticket, ready to experience the new top-end Galaxy S23 Ultra. Within half an hour my data had been transferred, my SIM was installed and I was ready to go. 

Of course, it’s far too early to give any final verdict on the new flagship, but here’s what I’ve noticed so far after around 12 hours of use. 

It certainly is a big phone

First off, I forgot just how big the recent Ultra models are to hold. You see the 6.8-inch screen size and think ‘oh it’s not much bigger than the iPhone 14 Pro Max’ but reader, let me tell you, it really is. In fact, the naked Galaxy S23 Ultra is both taller and wider than an iPhone 14 Pro Max with a case on. 

It’s down to the aspect ratio, with the Ultra opting for a wider display than most large smartphones in a bid to make the most use of the S Pen stylus. It makes sense in terms of productivity, and I’ve enjoyed the extra screen real estate on offer so far, but blimey, it’s hard to use one-handed — and that’s coming from someone who has no complaints about using most big-screen phones. 

Moving on from the sheer size of the phone, the first thing I noticed was the flatter display compared to the S22 Ultra. Again, this was done in a bid to maximise productivity, providing users with slightly more usable screen and a less subtle curving of the display at the edges. 

The latter is a plus for me personally as I’m not a huge fan of dramatically curved displays, especially when it’s (usually) paired with sub-par palm rejection tech. That shouldn’t be as much of an issue here as it has been in the past.  

The camera module on the Galaxy S23 Ultra

Battery life could be an issue

It’s also stunningly detailed at its full WQHD+ resolution, though you’ll have to enable that manually in the phone’s settings menu — it’ll run at Full HD+ out of the box. There’s a good reason for that as I’ve found out: the full resolution absolutely drains the 5000mAh battery. 

I’ve not actually run out of charge yet after taking it off charge with 100% at 11pm last night, though I noticed the battery indicator counting down rather rapidly when scrolling through the likes of TikTok with the WQHD+ resolution enabled compared to using it at Full HD+. 

This leads me to believe that while it’s nice having the extra resolution, it’s only really worth enabling if you’re watching 4K content via the likes of YouTube and Netflix. For most things, including gaming, the Full HD+ resolution is more than enough. 

Performance has been solid so far, but that’s unsurprising given it packs an exclusive chipset dubbed the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy that boasts a faster CPU and more powerful and energy-efficient GPU than even the regular top-end 8 Gen 2. Everything feels near-instantaneous, from swiping across the various app menus to playing casual games like when on the train, and I’m confident that this will generate some of the best benchmarking scores for a phone yet once I put it to the test in the coming days.

Camera is key

Of course, it’s all about the camera setup with the Ultra models, and the new 200MP of the S23 Ultra really doesn’t disappoint. I’ve only had limited opportunities to snap away – there isn’t much of interest on my daily commute on the tube – but what pictures I have snapped so far I’ve been very impressed by. 

The 200MP snapper really does capture a large amount of detail and, unlike the S22 Ultra, it doesn’t look over-processed.

There’s also phenomenal low-light performance, as seen by the following snaps taken on my streetlight-lt road late last night. Not only are there impressive levels of light, but the colours are accurate and there’s plenty of detail, even when zooming in. 

This gets me very excited to put the camera to the test. I’ll be interested to see how it performs in more challenging scenarios, but for now, it looks like it could be a real winner. 

I’m also enjoying Samsung’s OneUI more than I thought I would, as I tend to prefer something as close to stock Android as I can get. Sure, there are UI quirks that I’m not a huge fan of – like the blocky shape of notifications in the notification shade – but on the whole, Samsung does a good job at enhancing the Android experience already on offer. 

That includes a number of shortcuts available in the notification shade not available on most competitors, a Settings app that actually makes sense (I’m looking at you, Xiaomi) and little tweaks that make the experience that little bit smoother overall. 

Of course, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has a very high-end price tag to match starting at £1,249 with 256GB of storage, but based on what I’ve seen so far, it could actually justify the cost. 

I’ll be working on my full review of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra in the coming days, so keep an eye out for my final thoughts soon.

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