Samsung Galaxy S23 series hot take
Samsung’s first big Unpacked event for 2023 has come and gone, and after what feels like years of talk about the Galaxy S23 lineup, they’re finally officially here. We’ve had a few days to play with the trio and collect a few thoughts on them.
This is our hot take on the Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23+ and Galaxy S23 Ultra.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is better in all the important ways
On paper, the Galaxy S23 Ultra isn’t a particularly impressive upgrade over the Galaxy S22 Ultra. In real life, the Galaxy S23 Ultra even looks a lot like its predecessor.
But it’s a much better phone in functionality and polish. Let’s start with the physical differences – Samsung made the side bezel a bit flatter, which goes a long way in making the S23 Ultra more comfortable to hold. The display is also not so curved at the edges, which adds to the feeling of comfort and security in the hand.
Then there are the important changes on the inside. The new chipset will increase performance while being more efficient with battery usage. Sustained performance in particular should be a key area of improvement – the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2’s TSMC 4nm process is known to be a big leap over 2022’s processors in terms of thermals.
Then there is the new camera. It is a sharper device than its predecessor. It manages to extract more detail from scenes in every light, which is impressive.
The display and battery are technically the same, but that’s not bad either. Both were industry leaders in 2022 and are still on top in early 2023. The panel refreshes variably from as low as 24Hz (although it can turn off its GPU and effectively be at 1fps) to as high as 120Hz. It can easily jump over 1000 nits when it needs to. While 5,000 mAh should last longer under the latest Snapdragon silicon.
The Galaxy S23 and S23+ are matte upgrades
On the other hand, the Galaxy S23 and Galaxy S23+ are not nearly as impressive. The pair got 200mAh on their respective batteries, which is a welcome addition, and a speed boost for the same bespoke Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform for the Galaxy as the Ultra. The two also share the new 12MP selfie camera with the Ultra, but that’s about it.
We would have loved to have seen autofocus added to the ultra-wide camera, which would have enabled macro mode. We’re also not universally sold on the new back panel design without a camera island.
There is a potential buyer for both new Galaxy S phones, but it’s certainly not the owner of their predecessors – there’s not enough incentive to upgrade unless there’s a serious buyback campaign.
Samsung has to decide what it wants from the smaller S models
This brings us to the fact that Samsung seems a bit lost when it comes to their non-Ultra S phones. Looking back at the Galaxy S22, Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S20, there is a lack of direction. The Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S21 had 4,000 mAh batteries and 6.2-inch screens, so suddenly the Galaxy S22 shrunk them to 3,700 mAh and 6.1 inches. Now the Galaxy S23 brought the battery back to 3,900 mAh. The Galaxy S20 had a 1440x3200px display, which was reduced to 1080p from its successors until today. There was also the move to a plastic back panel on the Galaxy S21 that was recalled with the S22.
It’s a similar story with the Plus models. The Galaxy S20+ had a 6.7-inch 1440p display and 4,500mAh battery, then the S21+ dropped the resolution to 1080p but made the battery 4,800mAh, then the Galaxy S22+ shrunk the display to 6.6-inches and brought the battery down to 4,500mAh . again. Now the Galaxy S23+ brought the battery up to 4,700 mAh.
It’s a bit of a winding road that not only goes sideways, but also up and down. There are genuine fans of the smaller phones in the Galaxy S series, but Samsung seems to be struggling to identify their needs.
Samsung made Apple’s S-year upgrade
This is the first time Samsung did an honest S-year upgrade where we didn’t even get a noticeable design change. It’s not bad in itself, changing for change’s sake is not what anyone wants.
Samsung evolves, matures and takes on the challenges that come with each year full of economic and cultural problems as it comes.
It’s just not the most exciting upgrade.
Only Snapdragon was the right choice
Moving exclusively to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset makes a lot of sense and is beneficial to the end user. Qualcomm’s latest SoC is excellent, and Samsung likely understood that its own Exynos wouldn’t be able to compete on a consistent level by the time of the Galaxy S23 series.
The last few flagship-level Exynos and Snapdragon generations have seen efficiency and thermal performance slowly shift in Qualcomm’s favor.
A chipset is more than just core count, clock speed and thermal performance. There’s AI, neural processing units and most importantly, built-in network modems that enable faster and better Wi-Fi, 4G and 5G. Qualcomm had a better offer in 2023 and the Galaxy S23 series will be better off using only the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. There is also the advantage of sending updates to a single hardware configuration.