The Galaxy S23 is another well-made, attractive and solidly performing flagship smartphone from Samsung. However, unless you’re loyal to Sammy and want the latest compact handset, it’s largely unchanged from the S22 and struggles to shine in any particular area – especially when rivals are cheaper.
As regular as the bus that takes me into the city centre, Samsung is back with its latest generation of flagship S23 smartphones.
While it might appear from the marketing campaign that the S23 Ultra is the only phone that matters, the plain old regular Galaxy S23 might just be the dark horse of the pack.
Granted, the Ultra is all-singing and all-dancing but not everyone, me included, wants, needs or can afford a handset like that. Many people, including numerous members of the Tech Advisor team, crave a smaller, simpler device for their daily driver.
If that sounds like you, then the Galaxy S23 might just be the one you’ve been waiting for.
At first, I loved this phone but though nothing overtly wrong with it, the more time I spent using it, the more I realised how similar it is to the year-old Galaxy S22 and how rivals remain more attractive overall, especially when it comes to value for money.
Design & Build
Almost identical to S22
Gorilla Glass Victus 2
More recycled parts
I won’t spend too long on this section because there are far more interesting things to say about this year’s flagship Galaxy.
The phones has near identical dimensions to its predecessor at 7.6mm thick and 168g, but that means it’s still one of the most compact and handleable flagships on the market. For comparison, the Google Pixel 7 is just over 1mm thicker and more importantly, weighs almost 200g.
The iPhone 14 is much closer in size and weight but will only be an option if you’re open to using iOS rather than Android, of course. Android alternatives include the Asus ZenFone 9 and, in the mid-range, the Pixel 6a and Sony Xperia 5 IV.
Samsung has only really changed one significant thing about the design from the S22. The rear cameras now just sit independently of each other, with no surrounding metal or the like. They look like port holes, or in landscape orientation might make you think of the three-eyed fish in The Simpsons.
It’s a small change but somehow makes a big difference and I personally much prefer this new style, whereas the older design didn’t do much for me at all.
You still get the same aluminium frame and IP68 rating, but the front and rear glass has been slightly upgraded to Gorilla Glass Victus 2 which on paper is more resistant to scratches and cracks.
ThE S23 model I’ve tested is Lavender but you can also get the phone in Phantom Black, Cream and Green. Samsung then has exclusive colourways on the official site in the form of Graphite and Lime.
The phone also has better eco-credentials with more recycled plastic (including fishing nets), aluminium and glass used for certain parts. It could be better but it’s progress nonetheless.
I’m a big fan of the vibration motor in the S23 which provides subtly crisp feedback for system navigation and typing. Not really noticing it doing its work in the background is a testament to its premium quality and you can adjust the vibration strength for various things in the settings menu.
Screen & Speakers
6.1in Dynamic AMOLED
The display on the S23 is, like the design, almost identical to the Galaxy S22 so it remains a Dynamic AMOLED panel with a Full HD+ resolution at 6.1in in size. That’s all good and generally consistent with similarly priced flagships like the Pixel 7.
A key element there is the 6.1in panel size which is nice and compact for those looking for a small phone – the ZenFone 9 is even smaller at 5.9in. It’s still big enough for enjoying entertainment, viewing photos and the like although some gamers might crave more real estate and the keyboard can feel a little cramped.
Like so many phones, the punch hole camera is a little distracting at times. The size jumps to 6.6in if you plump for the Galaxy S23+.
The resolution is perfectly crisp enough and as usual, Samsung offers punchy colours and excellent contrast and you have the usual options to make adjustments if you wish. There’s HDR10+ support as well, for services that support it such as Amazon Prime Video.
When it comes to refresh rate, the Galaxy S23 is still 120Hz which beats the Pixel 7 by 30Hz if you’re playing smartphone Top Trumps. It doesn’t have the latest LPTO tech but it can dynamically adjust down to 48Hz and on the default Adaptive setting is buttery smooth.
One upgrade on the S22 screen is a higher peak brightness of 1750 nits, up from 1300 so it’s got plenty of luminance to perform in bright outdoor conditions.
With a Spyder X Pro I measured the display at 752 nits with automatic brightness off and extra brightness on. As ever, it’s not possible to lab test the true peak output but even 750 is plenty of brightness for outdoor sunlight.
Surprisingly, I had a few issues with the ultrasonic fingerprint scanner embedded in the display. Redoing my fingerprint registration helped and the cracked, winter dry skin on my thumb won’t have helped so it’s not all Samsung’s fault. The facial recognition was also somewhat sporadic, way off the reliability of Apple’s Face ID.
Things are more pleasing when it comes to audio, and although it’s a pipe dream I’d still like a headphone jack. If you don’t have a Bluetooth speaker or headphones, the built-in stereo speakers are impressively loud and offer up clear and balanced sound.
Specs & Performance
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
8GB of RAM
128- or 256GB storage
While it might seem like a small change, swapping the processor from Samsung’s own Exynos chip to Qualcomm’s latest flagship Snapdragon is actually the most significant adjustment about the Galaxy S23 compared to previous generations.
Some markets have been getting Snapdragon models for a while, but not here in the UK, and this change makes a big difference in some key areas. Battery life is the main one, but there are also performance improvements, too.
General operation is effortless. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 can handle demanding games without much sweat and comes with 5G compatibility as you would expect. The S23 can manage a consistent framerate in Genshin Impact even at max settings and the phone doesn’t get too hot either.
As mentioned, it’s the smaller screen that’s not so good if you play games like this or CoD Mobile.
It’s worth noting that the Galaxy S23 only comes with 8GB of RAM and storage is limited to just 128- or 256GB in the US and UK. With no microSD card slot, you might want to go for 256.
Those wanting a more impressive 12GB of RAM will have to get the Galaxy S23 Ultra.
50Mp main camera
On the back of the phone, Samsung has stuck with the same three cameras as last year so you get the usual flagship combination of wide, ultrawide and telephoto options. Note that the S23+ has the same photography credentials, so you need to get the Ultra if you want a 200Mp main sensor and 10x optical zoom.
It’s no surprise, then, that the performance on offer here is very similar to the S22 and that trio of lenses gives you good scope to get excellent shots in a wide range of situations and, like so many modern smartphones, there’s lots of clever processing going on in the background to help you just point and shoot.
Samsung’s camera app is one of the easiest to use and you’ll often get excellent results from the main and ultrawide cameras when shooting in good light. There’s plenty of detail (the main camera pixel bins images down to 12Mp by default) and dynamic range, with the ultrawide avoiding the annoying distortion you sometimes find with cheaper sensors.
I don’t personally have much need for a telephoto lens but this is one of the better ones I’ve tested with good quality results, aided by the built-in optical image stabilisation (OIS). The app lets you then digitally zoom in up to 30x with, at times, surprisingly clear images.
There are some issues though as the main camera can overexpose a little, and can struggle to focus if you’re not shooting something that’s not still and colours are often over-saturated. This is especially true in the food mode as I can tell you my pizza in the below slideshow definitely didn’t look like that in real life.
While it has lots of modes to play with, the portrait mode doesn’t always do a great job of cutting around hair. Meanwhile, low light performance is OK, but not as good as I’d expect from a flagship device with images quickly turning soft, fuzzy and lacking colour, plus there’s a lot of lens flare.
You can at least go and use the pro mode and also shoot in 50Mp RAW if you should wish (bearing in mind that you’ll start to fill the storage up very quickly).
The night mode can conjure something out of nothing which is impressive (it really was pitch black to my eyes when I took the shot of my garden) but it’s understandably grainy.
It’s the selfie camera that’s received an upgrade from 10- to 12Mp and it’s a good camera on the whole, albeit nothing particularly special. As per the main camera, portrait mode can struggle at times and low-light situations require a steady hand.
The Galaxy S23 can shoot in up to 8K at 30fps which is impressive, albeit excessive for most users. You’re probably better off shooting in Full HD or 4K where quality is still sharp and colourful and the optical stabilisation does a solid job of keeping things smooth.
Battery Life & Charging
No charging brick in box
The inclusion of a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset means a significant improvement in battery life when compared to the S22. It also helps that the battery has got larger from 3700- to 3900mAh, although that’s still slightly off the 4000mAh found in the older Galaxy S21.
Last year’s regular flagship struggled to get through a day with medium usage at 120Hz but I’m pleased to report that’s not the case for the S23. It can now get you through to bedtime with around 10-20% power remaining with mixed usage.
Of course, if you’re hammering games, media streaming or video recording then that won’t happen.
When it comes to charging, wired speed remains at 25W which is to say Samsung is way behind the times on this front. The S23+ and S23 Ultra charge at 45W, and plenty of much cheaper phones come with 50-100W and we’re seeing devices like the Realme GT Neo 5 hit the market with 240W.
Samsung doesn’t supply an adapter in the box, just a cable, so you’ll need to get your own and using a 67W adapter, I found the Galaxy S23 charged to a mediocre 41%.
There’s also wireless charging but this is also relatively slow at 15W, then reverse wireless charging so you can top up your wireless earbuds case or similar on the back of the phone while it’s face down. This is rated at 4.5W.
Software & Apps
One UI 5.1
Four years of OS support, five of security
The S23 range comes with Android 13 with Samsung’s One UI 5.1 over the top at launch. Samsung’s Android skin is quite heavy and changes the look and feel of Android substantially.
Compared to the early days of One UI (or TouchWiz as it was known), things are significantly better now with a generally polished and mature experience that’s easy enough to get your head around.
Samsung still insists on doing certain things differently though such as having the app tray panels scroll horizontally instead of vertically. I also find the screen brightness slider awkward to use as it’s hidden behind two swipes down in the notification shade.
There’s also plenty of duplication in the pre-installed apps with Google and Samsung options for things including app stores. It’s bloatware, and Samsung should sort it out.
There is value in things like Samsung Health for wearables and smartwatch metrics and SmartThings for smart home kit, but less so when it comes to Bixby and the aptly named Samsung Internet when Google Assistant and Chrome are exponentially better.
Still, there’s lots of customisation and settings you can play with and the sidebar showing your favourite apps can come in really handy at times.
The good news once again is that Samsung offers long term support for its S series phones so you will get four years of OS updates along with five years of security patches meaning you can rest easy that the S23 won’t be forgotten about after Android 15. This is amongst the longest support in the Android world and a great thing.
Price & Availability
Compared to the S22, the Galaxy S23 has been given a price rise (in the UK at least) and now costs $799/£849 for the cheapest model (up from $799/£769).
This will get you 128GB of storage and jumping to 256GB will set you back $859/£899. Either way you get 8GB of RAM and, as mentioned earlier, there’s no SD card slot so choose wisely.
As you might imagine, the phone is widely available with the official Samsung store offering two exclusive colours as well as some excellent trade-in offers for your old phone.
Buy the galaxy s23 from samsung
You can also buy it from the following retailers:
If you want the Galaxy S23 on contract, here are your options:
The cost may put some people off but there are a number of rivals to consider at lower prices including the Asus ZenFone 9, Google Pixel 7 and OnePlus 11.
Check out our chart of the best phones to see more options.
The Galaxy S23 is another accomplished flagship smartphone and for those of you who are loyal to the brand and don’t want a bigger phone in the S23+ or Ultra.
However, in the wider market, the phone sits in a strange position as not only is it more expensive than its predecessor, many rivals are considerably cheaper yet of a similar quality. The Google Pixel 7 offers a similarly premium experience – minus a telephoto lens – for a considerably cheaper at $599/£599.
The design and build of the S23 is top-notch as is the display and a considerable amount of the spec sheet. However, I did expect slightly better photography performance.
The new Snapdragon chipset is just about the only major upgrade from the S22, though, and there’s no getting around the fact that previous-generation Samsung phones remain easy to find at much reduced prices.
I started out really liking the S23 but the more time went on, the more I realised that the S22 is a better bargain, the S23+ is a better sweet spot and a number of non-Samsung rivals are better value.