Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Review – 6 Months Later

Is the Galaxy S23 Ultra worth it after 6 Months? Who is this phone for?

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S23 Ultra Review – 6 Months Later

by Josh Teder

Camera System

It’s been six months since I bought a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. While the camera system has been outstanding, I’m going to explain why I don’t think this phone is for everyone and answer some questions along the way.

Camera Features

The first thing I like about the S23 Ultra is the camera system. It is, without a doubt, the most advanced camera system Samsung has ever put into one of its phones, and it’s one of the best camera systems on any phone that I have ever used. This is part of why I brought it on my trip to Hawaii this summer. It’s a similar setup to the S22 and S21 Ultra. You have a main camera, ultra-wide, 3x telephoto, and then a 10x optical telephoto. Only this year, the main wide camera now boasts 200 megapixels, which allows for better low-light photos and the ability to crop in on a photo without losing a ton of resolution.

Main Camera Performance

The main camera, overall in my experience, takes great photos with good detail and sharpness. And overall, I’ve had no real complaints with the photos I’ve been able to get out of it.

Telephoto Lens

The other standout part of this camera system has been the 10x telephoto, which is so much more capable than it was on the S21 Ultra that I had previously. This 10x telephoto camera gives you better shots and surprisingly excellent video quality. Just look at some of the videos I’ve been able to capture with it. They’re stabilized well and have good sharpness, color, and focus.

Performance Issues

However, there are scenarios where the 10x won’t always perform the way you want. For example, in a close-up of the subject like this gecko in Akaka Falls National Park, I found the videos and photos to be not as sharp as I was expecting. Additionally, on a recent trip to Tanglewood for John Williams’ film night with the Boston Tiffany, while trying to snap a photo of the composer himself, I found that the S23 Ultra’s 10x struggled a bit to capture a clear shot of the composer under the stage lights.

Comparison with Other Smartphones

Now, compared to other smartphones I’ve used, like the Pixel 7 Pro and the iPhone 14 Pro, the cameras on the S23 Ultra hold up quite well. Samsung’s system can easily rival Google’s and Apple’s, especially because of that 10x optical zoom. This is probably why Apple is rumored to be upgrading the zoom capabilities of its upcoming iPhone.

Color Processing

Samsung’s color processing has continued to improve overall. My skin tones look natural in the photos I’ve taken with it, and face smoothing wasn’t turned on by default. Samsung’s color processing skews a bit warmer, similar to Apple’s. While Google will still give you the awesome, cool, contrasty look, Google’s color processing is still my personal favorite. However, Apple and Samsung also produce pleasing results. Nowadays, the difference isn’t as substantial to me as it was a few years ago.

HDR Capabilities

The S23 Ultra’s HDR capabilities might be the best of them all. I found it handles the broad spectrum of colors in a sunset really well. For example, this sunset viewed from Monica looks more natural compared to the popped highlights from the iPhone 14 Pro’s camera system.


The next thing I like about this phone is its external design. Samsung’s hardware is usually well-crafted, and this phone is no exception. The exclusive green color of this year’s model is very attractive in person. The sides are a bit flatter than the S21 Ultra, making the phone a bit easier to hold. The only thing I didn’t like about the design was the SIM card placement. The hole to eject the SIM card is right next to another nearly identical hole, and sometimes it’s a bit confusing which hole you’re supposed to put the tool into.


Another standout feature of this phone is its performance. It’s been extremely snappy with its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip, and I’ve never had an issue with performance in the past six months. It hasn’t notably degraded in the time I’ve been using it, either.

Battery Life

The battery life is another standout feature; it sips power with its 5,000 milliamp-hour battery, rated for up to 26 hours of video playback. In my case, when using this as my main phone, I’ve seen the battery at around 45 to 40 percent at the end of the day, which is pretty good for my use case. And on travel days, I didn’t encounter any issues with it either. As for whether the battery life has improved over time, considering that it was really good to start with, that’s kind of hard to say. So overall, I’d say no, not that I’ve noticed.

S Pen

Next up is the S Pen. This is another standout feature of the Ultra line, and it’s one I’ve actually quite enjoyed using over the past six months. But not for the reason you may think. The main reason I actually really like using it is that it completely changes the way I hold the phone, and I find the way I hold the phone with the S Pen is just more comfortable. Also, there are times I don’t like using my fingers and using the S Pen feels a bit more precise and sometimes just honestly a bit more fun.

S Pen Features

After having a phone with an S Pen for six months, would I buy another phone just for the S Pen? No, but I totally see why someone would, especially if you want to take advantage of its note-taking abilities on such a large screen. Samsung has packed so many features into the S Pen, like using it as a remote to take photos, using it as a magnifier, writing on your phone screen when it’s off, and converting handwritten notes to text. There’s bound to be a feature that you’d find really useful.


Another thing I really like about this phone is its 6.8-inch display. The colors are nice, if a bit saturated, but you can, of course, turn that down in settings. Like most modern smartphones in this class, the display has an adaptive refresh rate, plus 1750 nits of peak brightness, so it’s good outdoors.

PWM Concerns

However, it might not be the ideal display for everybody due to its use of pulse-width modulation (PWM). One of our subscribers asked about PWM. PWM, or pulse-width modulation, is a technology some OLED panels use to dim the display by rapidly turning the display’s pixels on and off at a specific frequency. Depending on the frequency used, this tech can cause eye strain and headaches for some users. This is because your eyes can still perceive the rapid brightness adjustment, even if the flashing of the display isn’t actually registered in your vision when you look at it. The S23 Ultra’s PWM is 240 Hz, a frequency low enough to cause problems for people sensitive to pulse-width modulation potentially. While this is the same as the PWM for the Pixel 7 Pro, which I have, it’s lower than the iPhone 14 Pro’s 480 Hz, and the Nothing Phone 2 seems to have a much better rate at 1920 Hz. These are specs that phone manufacturers don’t make readily available, so there might be some inaccuracies in the numbers. If there are, I’ll post corrections in the comments.


All right, that covers everything I generally liked about this phone. What do I not like about it?


One of the biggest downsides I found with the S23 Ultra is how bulky it feels, likely due to the space needed for the S Pen. This isn’t Galaxy Fold-level of bulkiness; that phone is way chunkier than this one. However, the S23 Ultra is quite heavy at 234 grams. That’s considerably heavier than phones of this size, like the Pixel 7 Pro at 212 grams or the Nothing Phone 2, which comes in at a more reasonable 201.2 grams. That’s probably why I found the Nothing Phone 2 to feel much better in my hand compared to the S23 Ultra.


Another significant downside of this phone, and honestly all Samsung phones, is Bixby. Look, Samsung, I know you don’t want it to be Cortana. I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s like Cortana. Nobody in their right mind is going to choose Bixby over Google Assistant if given a choice. This is probably why Samsung makes it hard to remap the Bixby button to trigger the Google Assistant. I had to use a Bixby button remapper application that worked initially, but it seemed to stop working during my review period. Honestly, it’s just ridiculous. Google even lets Samsung do this. It should be in the terms of the Android Operating Agreement that Samsung signs that if you allow users to trigger an assistant using the buttons on the side of the phone, you must present them with a choice that allows them to choose the Google Assistant. That’s how it should work.

One UI

Speaking of my frustration with Bixby, let’s now talk about One UI, which is Samsung’s version of Android. It’s fine, okay? It’s not great, but it’s not bad, either. It has been worse in previous years. But I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m being sold third-party services when I use this phone. For example, in security and privacy under device protection, there’s an ad for one of McAfee’s products. The phone comes preloaded with Facebook. You also get Microsoft apps preloaded, which is less of an issue but also contributes to the feeling that the premium phone you just spent a ton of money on is filled with many things you didn’t ask for. And the one thing Samsung is absolutely allowed to preload on this phone is a BTS ringtone, and they did just that. Good on you, Samsung.

Additional Features

All in all, though, One UI does feel very fluid and fast, while at the same time, I don’t think it feels as slick or cool as, say, Nothing OS. And I hate Samsung’s refusal to give you a proper app drawer as you have with Pixel OS and Nothing OS versions of Android.

Final Thoughts

Now, the flip side of using a phone with One UI is that Samsung has put a ton of work over the years to build really cool features on top of Android’s stock. These include all of the features of the S Pen that I mentioned earlier, Samsung DeX, and the extra controls for the camera in their camera app. There’s a lot to like and a ton of functionality that I think many out there will find useful. And yes, you can also install another launcher, especially for the home screen, which fixes some of these annoyances, but you can still retain some of Samsung’s great features.


So, do I recommend getting a Samsung S23 Ultra? Yes, I recommend this phone for anyone who wants the best camera system on a Samsung phone and one of the best smartphone camera systems you can get. Plus, it’s one of the only smartphones that comes with an S Pen, and after six months of using one, I do understand the appeal. However, I also wish that those who just care about having the best camera didn’t have to get a heavier, chunkier phone to accommodate the S Pen. Now, if you don’t care about having the best camera system or an S Pen, then I’d recommend looking at either the Pixel 7 Pro or the Nothing Phone 2. Both of these have a similar size to the screen but cost much less and provide a more stripped-down, simple Android experience.

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