Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra Detail
Source: Samsung

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Stop me if you've heard this one before: Samsung's new top-end Galaxy S23 lineup features a 6.1-inch smartphone, a bigger 6.6-inch S23+, and an even-larger Galaxy S23 Ultra that goes all-out on the cameras.

This year's new flagships from Samsung hit man of the same notes from last year, offering incremental improvements over the S22 line. It's mostly a modest spec bump across the board, and that's not a bad thing.

At the bottom end of today's announcements is the Samsung Galaxy S23, a very competent smartphone for $800. It has a 6.1-inch AMOLED display at a 2340x1080 resolution and 120hz refresh rate, a beefy 3900mAh battery, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB or 256GB of storage. If you want a bigger version of the same phone, Samsung's taking a note from Apple and offering exactly that. The Galaxy S23+ is simply a larger version of the Galaxy S23, with a 6.6-inch display instead.

Both phones offer the same trio of rear cameras: a wide-angle 50MP ƒ/1.8, an ultra-wide sensor with 12MP behind an ƒ/2.2 lens, and a 3x telephoto that does 10MP at ƒ/2.4 — all exactly the same specs that the S22 offered. The front camera's been boosted from 12MP from 10MP.

Even the $1200 Galaxy S23 Ultra isn't an inspiring update — it has the same selfie shooter (a drop in pixels from the 40MP camera of the S22 Ultra, but an improvement in quality) and a mammoth 200MP camera sensor, but apart from that it's virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor.

The Galaxy S23 is a minor update over last year's S22 phones. And last year's phones were good!

Effectively, these are minor updates over last year's phones. And last year's phones were good! There's been a minor evolution of the design, opting for a simple back panel without the cutout around the cameras, but otherwise there's not anything fancy going on here. Samsung didn't try to break the mold with the S23, and it shows. If you're an S22 owner, there's little about these phones' hardware to entice an upgrade.

The bigger change is on the software side, which unlocks some of the potential of that Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor. The cameras offer a new Super HDR mode that can shoot at 60 frames per second with an expanded dynamic range. Samsung's EyeComfort mode has been improved to automatically adjust contrast levels on the display as the evening rolls on.

The updated One UI 5.1 interface also offers Apple-like customizations for the lockscreen with your choice of widget, color, and font style. And copying Apple's Focus Modes with Samsung Modes. And Apple's Shortcuts if-this-then-that automations tool with Samsung Routines. And widget stacks and the ability to press on an object in a photo and isolate the subject from the background… just like iOS 16. Look, after years of Samsung pushing the envelope on software features, this update really feels like Samsung is back to copying what Apple's done recently.

That 200MP camera sensor on the Galaxy S23 Ultra does lean heavily on pixel binning — combining a group of neighboring pixels to spit out a higher-quality but lower-resolution image. It can provide photos at 50MP (a 2x2 bin) and 12.5MP (a crazy 4x4 bin). The latter is the default setting, though you can opt for the higher resolutions and accept the trade-off in noise and computational detail that comes with them.

All-in-all, this is an iterative year for Samsung's flagship smartphones. And that's okay; phones are a mature market now and there's not a huge amount of space for innovation — and the things that are innovative right now like under-display cameras still need work. That Samsung didn't blow the doors off anything today shouldn't be a surprise or a disappointment.

The Samsung Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23+, and Galaxy S23 Ultra are all available now for pre-order, with shipments beginning on February 17, 2023.

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