I was one of those who mourned the Note series' end after the Note20, where it was swallowed up in the regular Galaxy S series with the suffix "Ultra". And even though it doesn't say Note on it, there's no doubt that the successors, especially the S22 Ultra were, well, a Note. Some might say it's a joke, but the use and design just stands out, and once you get used to using the S Pen and a particularly solid and serious camera, it's hard to let go.
Here in the first few weeks, there's a hefty discount for trading in an old phone and a deal to double up on storage - well not exactly if you go for the 512GB model, and 1TB costs something like £200. Depending on the storage, the price starts at £1249.00, and 256GB sounds like a lot, it is, but if you shoot in 8K, well, it goes fast with over 10MB per second video. There's 12GB RAM in all models, and the 256G edition also comes in an 8GB version if you want to save a little extra.
The camera part is decidedly overkill. Five lenses ranging from 10-200 megapixels, and the one with 10x optical zoom in particular deserves praise. The camera supports RAW format as pretty much every phone now has to be able to fully compete with an SLR, and I have to admit the quality is getting there too. The selfie camera is at 12 megapixels, ultra-wide 12 megapixels, standard wide at an insane 200 megapixels and dual telephoto at 3x and 10x optical zoom, and 100x digital zoom - or, it's actually a combination of 10x optical and 10x digital zoom with AI, which then provides "Space Zoom". The latter doesn't matter, there's too much noise for it to be useful, in the same way that 200 megapixels should only be used for giant photos. It does that quite well. If that's too much you can also settle for 50 megapixels.
I've always been a big proponent of optical zoom. And while several make good 3x lenses, the 10x lens on the S23 Ultra works at least as well, even if it's a bit dark, or if like me you mainly take pictures of your cats and nature. For night photography things are also getting good, better black/grey differentiation and not least less image noise. Being able to see clear contours is important in my opinion, and although it's not perfect we are getting closer to something that is consistently usable. And that in itself is an upgrade. Plus, the colours are just better.
In keeping with the modern world, the whole thing is of course filled with recycled glass, plastic and even aluminium, well up to a limit otherwise you lose structural integrity, but they've taken it to the limit and even the box is made with soy based inks and in 100% recycled materials. In addition, plastic parts such as the S-pen are made with as much recycled material as possible, and Samsung's Danish press officer told us in a briefing that he strongly expects that every year they will have a larger and larger proportion of recycled materials, as they simply become more skilled as time goes by in recycling without losing strength in the material, which is a primary factor.
It comes in five colours, each with a matching integrated S-Pen. That's not quite right then, as there are four more colours, including a postbox red for those ordering direct from Samsung. The phone tested is in "cream" - but I'd call it more marble white. Beautiful it is, but it was immediately tucked away behind a cover.
Besides new camera, there are also new things inside, including that Samsung now uses Snapdragon processors they make themselves. Well, on license, but they still make them themselves now. It's a Snapdragon 8 Gen, 2 which is by all means a fierce thing.
While the battery is still at 5,000mAh like so many others, after a few days you find that the battery just doesn't drain as fast as most other phones. It doesn't come with a charger, though, but it can handle 65 watts of wired charging, wireless charging and PowerShare. As I recall, that equates to about 15 watts wireless. I do think that a wired charger could have been included, though, because there is indeed a cable included. Similarly, it wouldn't have cost them much with a small wireless charger, and then a cover, because there isn't one, and I think that should be with expensive phones so people can get started right away. I can't quite quantify the battery's slow drain, and that's without battery saving of any kind, as the test period has unfortunately been too short, but I'm currently able to get two full days out of the phone without using battery saving.
The screen is a fiercely bright. It's a Dynamic AMOLED 2X at 120Hz, it's 6.8" and offers 3088x1440 and 1750 NITS with HDR1200. I've tried cranking it up to full level, it's not recommended unless you want a quick-fix for cataracts or just melted your retina. It's super smooth and fluid, and really responsive, but it should be with 240Hz touch sampling.
There are a number of minor but not unimportant updates too; Gorilla Glass Victus 2, IP68 certification and aluminium frame. It's not exactly light at 234 grams, and it takes up a whole hand, so it's not a small phone. Even in medium use the cooling holds up well, 27 degrees with a room temperature centrally controlled at 21 degrees. And even pressed it didn't get above 37 degrees, impressive. Connections are all the usual, including WIFI 6E - and indeed Bluetooth 5.3 - of which there aren't many. Security-wise, as always with the Ultra, there's both Samsung Knox, and Knox Vault.
The speakers, by the way, are some of the best I've heard, easily on a par with a cheap Bluetooth speaker, which in practice means not just the hint of bass, but also real midrange, and a much smaller distortion and almost absence of disc management.
And then for some benchmarks - and they pull teeth, so 37 degrees at full load of benchmarks for over half an hour is pretty well done.
3D Benchmark Wild Life Extreme
22,5 frames on average
max frames: 126fps
Graph test 1: 112.2fps
Graph test 2: 69,4fps
PC Mark Work 3.0
Okay, let's sum up. There's not much new under the sun to be honest, but if you can look soberly there's a nice screen, great camera that at least just beats most others, and that's both in terms of stills, 4K video, night and zoom. In fact I probably won't buy a new SLR when the old one dies, I'll buy an S23 Ultra instead. There's plenty of space, Samsung's UI works brilliantly, it's easy to transfer and control files, and the S Pen is just a little nicer to use than before - and yes, once you get used to it, it's hard not to, coupled with particularly impressive battery life, even with heavy gaming, on a bright and colourful AMOLED screen.
It's no secret that I've been a big Note fan for many years, and while the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra isn't a revolution, it's still a noticeable improvement from last year's model, so much so that I'm actually vehemently considering upgrading from my Note20. But the price, even with launch offers, is at a level where many can't compete, and that's a shame. And it's not exactly a discreet or subtle mobile phone.