Samsung has kept the overall look of the Galaxy S22 Ultra but improved on a few things. The display and rear glass panel curves were significantly reduced, and the frame became wider at the sides. These changes transformed a hard-to-pick-up and slippery S22 Ultra into a comfortable-to-handle S23 Ultra. Those alterations were also a godsend for people who use their phones naked.
The matte rear glass repels fingerprints and is lovely to touch, if a bit slippery. In contrast, the glossy Armor Aluminum frame is easy to smudge but has the benefit of being grippier.
The flatter glass makes writing with the S Pen easier. The flatter screen edge is usable if you want to employ the full width of the display - this becomes easier if you disable the back gesture with the S Pen.
There's no getting away from the hugeness of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. But Samsung has perfected its handling. For one, it's nicely balanced - it doesn't tilt or lean when you hold it in your hand.
Then there's the spot-on button placement - the power button is right where your right thumb (or left index finger) would be. Button placement is a fine art - just ask any iPhone 15 Pro Max user if they find the new Action Button placement comfortable.
The S23 Ultra handles as well as a phone its size can. That's assuming you have fairly average-sized hands - people with smaller hands may find the Galaxy S23 Ultra too cumbersome.
Samsung uses the full girth of the back panel for the phone's internals. Because of this, the four camera rings, the LED flash, and the laser autofocus module simply float inside the flat surface. This embedded camera island is unique to Samsung and looks good. It doesn't mean the phone doesn't wobble when used on its back on a flat surface.
We've used our Galaxy S23 Ultra mostly in a case since it launched in February. However, there have been a few weeks in the months of use that we've purposefully taken the phone out to enjoy its premium feel.
The display is pristine aside from a few micro-scratches that you need an LED (or the Sun) pointed at the glass to see. We'd say that's a testament to the Gorilla Glass Victus 2 on the front, though we're not the sort to throw our phones around on the ground.
The back glass panel suffers from the same tiny dot-scratches or blotches as the Galaxy S22 Ultra. We guess some dust particles got in between the phone and the case. On the upside, the dots are hardly visible.
The frame is immaculate. Whether it's Samsung's special alloy (which it calls Armor Aluminum) or something else, we haven't had any issues with it.
Dust likes to gather in the tiny slit that is the Galaxy S23 Ultra's earpiece. It's seemingly impossible to remove. We've tried going at it with an air blower, water, and a toothbrush but it's still there. Luckily it doesn't affect call quality in the slightest.
We complained last year about the Galaxy S22 Ultra's poor oleophobic coating and it's sadly the same thing this year. The smudge protective layer simply wears off and the display becomes an oily mess right around summertime - that's after 5 months of use. You can wipe off the screen with a microfiber cloth but it will just get smudged up again in no time.
This brings us to an issue with curved displays. They're lovely to look at and feel better to touch around the edges, but they limit your choice of screen protector. There are almost no quality glass screen protectors for the Galaxy S23 Ultra but there are more than a few for the Galaxy S23 and S23+, which don't interfere with the ultrasonic fingerprint scanner. A good glass screen protector has its own oleophobic coating and if and when it wears off, you can just install a new protector and have a silky-smooth display for another six months to a year. That's a major advantage of glass protectors outside of their obvious protecting qualities. Alternatively, you could go with an awful plastic protector if you prefer the cheap feel of plastic over glass.
We admit to being careful with our smartphones. We've only ever dropped the Galaxy S23 Ultra once on some rough concrete stairs but it was in a case and the worst thing was that the S Pen popped out a little. The case carries the bruise of honor, the phone was safe and sound.
Vibration on Samsung flagships is very strong out of the box. But you can dial it down and make it specific to your needs.
One UI doesn't have the kind of subtle haptics the Pixel, Xiaomi smartphones, and the iPhone offer. That underlying soft tap lends a physicality to the virtual interface that One UI lacks. It would be great if Samsung made an effort towards more thoughtful haptics.
The fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S23 Ultra is excellent. It's seemingly the same one from the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which was also excellent. It's as fast today as it was on Day 1 and no amount of smudges interferes with its accuracy and immediacy - that's the great thing about ultrasonic fingerprint scanners. We'd be ever so lucky to have another one of the same tech on the next Galaxy S Ultra.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra has one of the best displays on a smartphone. In fact, max brightness aside, it's the nicest display on a conventional smartphone - it's bigger than any market rival's, it's very color accurate without sacrificing viewing quality, and it can double as a canvas for writing or drawing.
The rectangular shape is ideal for note-taking, though the curved sides, flattened out compared to the S22 Ultra as they may be, aren't ideal when you need to write along the edge. We'll share the fix for that in the software section.
Auto brightness is handled up to Samsung's usual excellent standard. The phone is never too bright or too dim in relation to your environment. It's just right if you'd pardon the Goldilocks pun. You can push it up or down, and it will stay like that for a while unless you move and the light changes drastically.
The display can also get pretty dim when you need it to - if you're using the phone to read a book at night, for example.
Speaking of using your phone before bed, the display's blue light will keep you awake and by extension mess with your sleep quality. Samsung has a sophisticated blue light filtering system in place. You can set a color temperature you're happy with or leave the phone to adaptively change it, depending on the light around you. You can even have the phone adjust the tones and contrast.
It's an excellent feature and the detailed way you can set it up makes it very functional. Samsung could make it even better by allowing a black-and-white mode - something that's already available when your Galaxy Watch is synced and in do-not-disturb mode.
The Always On Display is also excellent on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. It's set to show up when you get a notification or tap on the screen once and it will stay on for 6 seconds, saving battery. You can have it on all the time, set it to follow a specific schedule, or only show up for notifications. You can choose the design of the clock, the color, or choose a widget.
The speakers on the Galaxy S23 Ultra are excellent. Despite this being a hybrid arrangement with one speaker tucked into the earpiece, it doesn't sound lesser than the dedicated one on the bottom. Sound comes out full and rich and there's volume to spare.
During our use of the phone, it's routinely used as an in-shower speaker for podcasts or music. It can easily outdo the hum of falling water. It could be a little bassier, like the iPhone 15 Pro Max, but it's not far behind either.