I went back to the S23 Ultra to see if it was still as exciting as it was in February this year. I also wanted to see if waiting for the sequel instead of buying it today would be a wise decision to make. Here’s what I learned.
Just using the Galaxy S23 Ultra wouldn’t be enough. I wanted to remind myself what made it special. What if I said I had written the opening paragraphs on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, all using the S Pen stylus? Well, I did, and although it took a while and wasn’t very intuitive for a start, it did remind me just how good the technology behind Samsung’s stylus really is.
I’ve always struggled to get much use from the S Pen as I’m not an artist or a prolific note-taker, but it is one of the S23 Ultra’s unique features. It’s also genuinely well-engineered and very precise, so I wanted to find a way it would fit into my life when revisiting the Galaxy S23 Ultra nine months into its life.
Not only that, but I’ll find any excuse to use the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera again, especially as it also has a unique feature: the 10x optical zoom. If I used both these features and didn’t feel much for them, or each disappointed in some way, then holding out for the Galaxy S24 Ultra would probably feel like the right course of action.
Yes, I really am scribbling these words on the S23 Ultra’s screen with the S Pen. Sadly my options for writing anything using it are limited, especially as I wanted to use the S Pen’s handwriting-to-text feature. It doesn’t work in Google Docs, so I had to use Samsung Notes. It turned out to actually be really accurate once I got used to it, but it is quite slow going.
Writing a thousand words solely using the S Pen and Notes would take much longer than it would using a keyboard, and editing it would be even more time-consuming. To not confuse the conversion to text, it’s best to write just a few words at a time, and punctuation has to be added using the keyboard, while moving between paragraphs and words can mean messing everything up.
Writing short notes is superb — it was astonishingly accurate at converting even my worst scribbles into the correct text — but not so much for longer missives. It’s at this point I’m going to switch to my trusty computer to write the rest. Sorry about that, but I do have other things to do today.
There’s no other phone on sale today of the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s caliber with a stylus that’s integrated into the body, and the S Pen sets the benchmark for performance at an extremely high level. I don’t really have cause to use it very often, but when I do, I’m consistently impressed by what Samsung has managed to achieve. It’s genuinely pen-like when writing on the screen, right down to the scratchy accompanying sound effect, and even though it’s quite thin, I didn’t find it uncomfortable to grip. It makes the S23 Ultra special, and in the right hands, it is a really big benefit.
The S Pen isn’t the only feature that singles the Galaxy S23 Ultra out as being unique in the market. It’s still the only top smartphone to use a telephoto camera capable of a 10x optical zoom. This is far more up my street than the S Pen, and I always get plenty of use out of the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s versatile telephoto camera.
Over the time I’ve been using the S23 Ultra again, I’ve been putting the camera up against the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max. Even though the Pro Max has a 2x and 5x optical zoom feature, it’s nowhere near as accomplished as the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s zoom and lacks the same level of detail and sharpness. In the same way, the S Pen separates the S23 Ultra from other phones, so does the telephoto camera. It won’t be for everyone all the time, but when you do come to use it, it’s always very impressive.
It’s not just taking photos that’s fun with the Galaxy S23 Ultra — it’s editing them, too. While Google’s pushing the use of AI with Magic Editor to change the look of your photos, I think the Lightroom for Samsung app is the better choice. It’s well worth the subscription, as you can generate more realistic, better-looking photos that suit your taste and not just leave everything down to luck and the AI. The two photos above are a before-and-after view of what’s possible in Lightroom, even for an amateur like me with only a general understanding of the app’s ability.
It won’t be that long until we start to hear more about the Galaxy S24 Ultra, which will inevitably arrive in early 2024. But what if you want a new phone now and are eyeing up the Galaxy S23 Ultra but are aware it’ll be replaced early next year? Knowing when to wait for a new piece of hardware is always difficult, and although it’s always somewhat advisable to hold back and get the latest product, I’m not convinced you need to with the S23 Ultra.
It hasn’t “aged” at all over the past nine months. It’s still every bit as fantastic as it was when I first reviewed it. Every time I’ve returned to the phone this year, I’ve enjoyed it a great deal, and this time is no different. Apart from the sheer power and ability — the processor and screen are still the best you can get — unique features like the S Pen and telephoto camera make it truly special and unmatched by other expensive devices.
I chose the Galaxy Z Flip 5 over the Galaxy Z Fold 5 this year and would recommend the Galaxy S23 Ultra over the Galaxy Z Fold 5 too. The big-screen foldable may have that initial wow factor, but the S23 Ultra represents the pinnacle of non-folding big-screen flagship phones in 2023, while the Z Fold 5 has now got a pair of genuine rivals in the Google Pixel Fold and the OnePlus Open. Using the Galaxy S23 Ultra again has reminded me why it’s still unrivaled and still an absolute recommendation, even with the S24 Ultra potentially only a few months away.