For all the talk about how the Galaxy S23 Ultra isn't all that different from the outgoing model, it's in the design that you can, in fact, notice some tangible and visible changes. It's not a night and day type of differences and you won't be mistaking the S23 Ultra for any other maker's product, nor is it a dramatic departure from the whole Note aesthetic, but there are subtle developments here and there.Galaxy S22 Ultra (left) next to Galaxy S23 Ultra
Perhaps the most significant of those is the further flattening of the display. The pioneer in curved panels from before the whole foldable movement, Samsung's been continually shifting away from the curved edges in the past few years. So much so that in the last two generations, it's been only the Ultra that had any sort of bend to its screen, and the 2023 model all but does away with it completely.
That tweak will be met with applause by flat-screen lovers who insist that curved edges are detrimental to handling. We must admit that this latest refinement does indeed manage to deliver both the more secure grip of flat-panel phones and the premium impression that gentle curves give your fingertips when swiping in from the sides.
Your digits will appreciate the feel while your eyes will be feasting on that glorious OLED display. Adding to the experience are some of the slimmest bezels you'd find on a smartphone, and while the same flat-screen die-hards will insist that more bezels equal better handling, this reviewer has had no issues with misinterpreted touch input on the S23 Ultra.
A similarly painless and trouble-free experience can be reported on the fingerprint reader, which is fast and reliable. Plus, it does its magic without blasting 1000nits of brightness at you in the middle of the night since it's ultrasonic as opposed to optical. That said, there are users who've been reporting less than stellar experience with even the latest Samsung ultrasonic sensor implementations, so maybe there's a bit of that 'your mileage may vary' at play. In our office, fans vastly outnumber naysayers, so let's go with that.
With the straightening of the screen, Samsung has also redesigned the back panel to match the front's shape, maintaining symmetry. A byproduct of that is the almost flat sides you get this time around - another trend in the recent Galaxy flagship design.
The frame is made of what Samsung calls Armor Aluminum - a specific alloy they came up with that is tougher than your garden variety aluminum. Meanwhile, both the front and rear panels are courtesy of Corning - it's their latest Gorilla Glass Victus 2, which should be even better than the Victus+ of yesteryear, especially in the event of a drop on concrete.
Naturally, the phone is IP68-rated for dust and water resistance, though Samsung doesn't go above and beyond (below? and beyond) the standard's 1.5m depth for 30 mins requirement like Apple does with the iPhones (rated at 6m submersion for 30 mins).
Circling back to what's changed, we have to mention the new camera rings - the three 'large' cameras have gotten more pronounced outlines. Otherwise the same, the layout is different enough that the openings in cases made for the old phone won't align with the cameras of the new one.Galaxy S23 Ultra (left) next to Galaxy S22 Ultra
The camera restyling is more of a noteworthy development on the S23 and S23+, which have been tweaked to look like a family with the Ultra now, something that wasn't the case with last year's trio.Galaxy S23 family shot: Vanilla, Plus, Ultra
The Ultra does maintain its Note proportions - it's an XL-sized phone, so it's not for shallow pockets (in more ways than one). The relatively sharp corners don't help with the pocket situation either, but they carry the Note legacy too and contribute to the business-like look of the Ultra, compared to the more casually rounded regular S23s.Galaxy S23 family shot: Vanilla, Plus, Ultra
The S23 Ultra has gained a few grams of heft and now weighs 234g while the previous generation stood at 228g. It's a marginal increase, that you're unlikely to feel, plus the 2023 Ultra is still not as heavy as the iPhone 14 Pro Max, for example. Then again, a Pixel 7 Pro is somewhat tangibly lighter, at 212g.
The feature layout around the perimeter of this Galaxy also maintains continuity with the previous generation, and with Galaxies in general. The power button and the volume rocker are on the right, while there's absolutely nothing on the left.
On the nicely flat top plate of the S23 Ultra there's just a tiny mic pinhole.
In contrast, a whole bunch of things are on the equally flat bottom, including the USB-C port, the main loudspeaker, a couple of mics and the SIM card slot (which takes one or two nano SIMs, no microSD).
Also here is the silo for the S Pen that got relocated to the left side of the handset for the last 'true' Note, the Note20 Ultra in 2020, and the placement got carried over for the non-Note S-series Ultras. It remains a little odd all those year later, but is perhaps a godsend if you're a leftie.
The stylus itself is entirely identical to the one that came with the S22 Ultra, which in turn was the same you'd find on the Note20 Ultra. You get 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity (found in specs) and 2.8ms latency (nowhere to be found, but we can't see why it would be changed) when scribbling and you can also use the S Pen as a remote of sorts thanks to the Air Actions functionality - it's an 'active', battery-powered stylus that charges when it's inside the phone.
All S Pens are black, with only the clicky cap being recolored to match the frame. Our review unit is the Phantom Black variety (the best one, some say) so you get an all black S Pen.
Alongside the black, there will also be Green, Cream, and Lavender options widely available at retailers and carriers alike. Four additional colors will be sold exclusively at Samsung.com as well.