I’ve had the Samsung S23 Ultra for exactly two months now, from the day it arrived until today. Initially, I had plans to buy this device, and I was actually thinking of waiting until June 18th to see if it would be discounted on that day. However, at the end of May, my existing Note 20 Ultra suddenly went black, likely due to the infamous black screen issue. Repairing it would cost over $230, so I decided to just buy a new phone. After receiving my salary in early June, I went ahead and purchased the Chinese version with 512GB of storage in green. It was $27 more expensive than on June 18th, which was a bit frustrating.
When the device arrived, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from all the reviews I had seen. The first impression I got when I held the actual device was its solidity. Even though it weighs about as much as the iPhone 13 Pro Max, it distributes the weight evenly. Compared to the Note 20 Ultra, it’s a bit heavier, but the flat middle frame and the curved edges on the sides of the frame make it feel more comfortable to hold. Unlike some other flagship phones with a large camera bump, the S23 Ultra doesn’t feel top-heavy. As for the width of the phone making it less convenient to operate, I’ve been using large-screen phones for years now, and I’ve become adept at using them with one hand, so it’s not a big issue for me.
Regarding the screen, the first thing I noticed was its clarity. Perhaps I haven’t evolved enough, but I didn’t find the lack of a high-refresh-rate screen uncomfortable at all. After two months of use, I actually feel like high-refresh-rate screens are a marketing gimmick created by manufacturers. I’ve compared it to screens in various stores, and it’s closest to the Oppo Find X6 Pro in terms of that clear visual sensation. However, I felt that the Oppo screen was slightly over-brightened.
In terms of the software, because my old phone had suddenly died and I couldn’t use Samsung’s Smart Switch to transfer data directly, I had to rely on cloud backups and the SD card from my old phone (music, podcasts, photos, and videos were all saved there – I was quite annoyed when Samsung removed SD card support later on). It took me about a month to install apps, restore call logs, chat histories, import old data, set up a VPN to restore Google services, and reconfigure the phone according to my preferences. It was quite a process, similar to when I first got my Note 20 Ultra a few years ago. It’s not like Apple where you can just restore and it’s ready to use. Of course, this is my personal experience and might not apply to everyone.
As for the S Pen, I’ve grown used to it for taking quick notes and jotting down thoughts. Writing with a pen feels more profound than typing with a keyboard for me. The S Pen technology is pretty much at its peak, especially after the Note 20 Ultra.
Perhaps due to the upgrade to the 8gen2, based on my experience coming from the Note 20 Ultra, I can say that the smoothness has improved significantly. It also doesn’t heat up as quickly as the Note 20 Ultra did (to be clear, the Note 20 Ultra was relatively cool compared to the Snapdragon 888 and 8gen1). One UI can be a bit of a hassle, but with apps like Good Lock, Good Guardians, and One Hand Operation, you can make the phone comfortable to use even with one hand.
In terms of notifications, it seems that the Chinese version of the system has been optimized for QQ and WeChat. I’ve turned off background data for these apps, and I haven’t missed any notifications. I use both Android and iPhone, and I even have separate WeChat accounts for work in the same group chat. I receive messages within a fraction of a second on both phones, and sometimes the S23 Ultra is even faster. However, I haven’t used other apps like DingTalk, but you might have to manage their background activity manually. Personally, I don’t like messy notifications, so the S23 series limiting notifications by default is actually a good thing for me. It saves me the trouble of customizing each app.
Regarding performance comparisons with phones that rely on their gaming abilities, it’s true that there are some tests showing the S23 Ultra falling short. I mostly play games like PUBG and Fate/Grand Order on my phone, and performance was never an issue with these games, even with the Snapdragon 865. PUBG, in particular, caused the Note 20 Ultra to heat up quite a bit in 90Hz mode, but I haven’t noticed any issues with the S23 Ultra. I also tried Genshin Impact, and after tweaking the settings, it ran at around 58 to 60 FPS. Frame rate fluctuations are normal when you’re close to the limit, but does it really matter if the frame rate fluctuates by one or two frames? Has Genshin Impact become an e-sports game?
In terms of battery life, for the first week or so, it was probably learning my usage patterns and adjusting, which led to a noticeable drop in battery life due to the heat generated. It made me wonder if all the battery life claims were exaggerated. However, after that initial period, the battery life started to improve. It’s similar to Flyme’s One Mind, a learning system. Battery life just keeps getting better.
I’m the type of person who spends most of their time working outside for clients. I use the phone with a 2K resolution, 120Hz refresh rate, both 5G and Wi-Fi as needed, and I play podcasts that I’ve downloaded. With these habits, I typically get at least 6.5 hours of screen-on time when I leave in the morning until I return home, and it can reach 7 to 7.5 hours with Wi-Fi. In the evening, I usually have 30 to 40% battery left, so I can comfortably go through the day with one charge. This is much better than the Note 20 Ultra, which required two to three charges a day. Personally, in terms of battery life, the S23 Ultra is on par with the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which is known for its Wi-Fi endurance, but with the added benefit of running a VPN in the background.
As for the criticism of the 45W charging, similar to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, as long as the battery life is good, the slower charging speed doesn’t bother me much. Plus, it supports PD and PPS, so it’s compatible with various chargers. I have several third-party 65W gallium nitride chargers that have come in handy.
In terms of camera performance, I haven’t had much time to travel lately, so the most practical use for the camera has been zooming in from quite a distance to read menus when dining out. Photos taken at 20 to 30 times zoom and posted on social media look like they were taken with a much closer view. However, when it comes to zoom levels below 10 times, it doesn’t perform as well as some other phones. So, while the S23 Ultra excels at higher zoom levels, I’m a bit puzzled as to
why they didn’t improve the algorithms for lower zoom levels. Of course, if you don’t pixel-peep, this is a non-issue.
In summary, after two months of use, apart from not having the chance to thoroughly test its camera and video capabilities due to a lack of travel opportunities, I can say that the S23 Ultra provides a well-rounded experience. While you could pick out individual parameters or features and argue that other phones are better, overall, it feels like a balanced phone that consistently scores around 90 in every aspect.
Also, Android heavily relies on the SOC (System on Chip), and the performance of the 8gen2 really breathes new life into the phone. When the S23 Ultra was first released, reviews said it wasn’t innovative, just a chip upgrade from the S22 Ultra, and it was criticized for not bringing anything new. These reviews might be influenced by the fact that they handle new phones every year and don’t notice significant changes. However, for someone like me who upgrades every few years, coming from the Note 20 Ultra, the S23 Ultra has significantly improved my overall experience. Compared to other phones released this year, it doesn’t lag behind in any aspect, which is exactly what I needed.