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Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Smaller is definitely better

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : 849
inc VAT

The regular Samsung Galaxy S23 is our pick of the bunch offering superb value in a compact package

Pros

  • Huge generational speed increase
  • Smaller size is a big bonus
  • Beautiful AMOLED screen

Cons

  • Weakest battery life of the three
  • Slight price increase
  • Mundane design

The Samsung Galaxy S23 finds itself in a somewhat unique position. It’s much smaller than your average modern smartphone and yet, where many other pint-sized handsets come with restricted capabilities, this one matches up with the very best. Indeed, aside from the smaller screen and battery, it’s identical to its larger and more expensive sibling, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus.

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Some might not get on with the comparatively small screen but I like it a lot. With both the Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra launching as a pair of truly monstrous handsets, Samsung’s pocket-sized flagship is a breath of fresh air.

Samsung Galaxy S23 review: What you need to know

The Samsung Galaxy S23 has a lot going for it aside from its size, though. As with the rest of the S23 range of phones, it has a new design, fresh internals and a suite of new camera features compared with last year’s S22 devices.

The biggest change is the shift to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset. Moving away from Samsung’s own Exynos silicon, this is a 4nm octa-core part with boosted clock speeds of 3.36GHz – up from the 2.8GHz of last year’s Exynos 2200. The size of the battery has also increased to 3,900mAh (an extra 200mAh).

The Dynamic AMOLED 2X display is the same size and resolution as before at 6.1in and 2,340 x 1,080, however, and supports a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz. The camera hardware also goes largely unchanged, with a 50MP main camera sitting between a 12MP 120-degree ultrawide and a 10MP 3x optical telephoto.

Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Price and competition

The Samsung Galaxy S23 starts at £849 for the entry-level 128GB model and costs an extra £50 (£899) for the 256GB model. That’s £80 more expensive than both versions of the Samsung Galaxy S22 at launch.

Coincidentally, this price rise also brings the Galaxy S23 roughly in line with Apple’s pricing. Pick up the 128GB iPhone 14 and you’re looking at spending the same amount (£849) as the cheapest version of Samsung’s flagship. However, if you need more storage, the S23 is the better-value pick here, with the 256GB iPhone 14 costing £60 more at £959.

Pay an extra £200 (£1,049) and you can pick up the S23 Plus instead. It has a larger 6.6in screen and a bigger 4,700mAh. The Ultra is top dog with its S Pen stylus, QHD+ display, secondary 10x telephoto zoom and massive 200MP main camera, and it costs even more at £1,249.

The Pixel 7 Pro is arguably the S23’s biggest Android-based competition, and like the iPhone 14, this too starts at £849, although the downside is that its performance isn’t as good. There’s also the OnePlus 11, which is a good deal cheaper than the S23 at £729 and comes with the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset.

Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Design and key features

Where last year’s model incorporated the “Contour Cut” camera housing, the Galaxy S23 has ditched the camera block entirely. The lenses this year have simply been placed on the back in a vertical line.

I appreciate Samsung’s new “clean and linear design” (their words, not mine) but I think the S23 has lost a bit of its character as a result. It now looks like any other modern smartphone, and we’re already struggling to tell the difference between phone manufacturers as it is.

I do like the S23’s compact size, however. Sure, bigger screens serve a major purpose, especially if your phone is your primary content consumption device but the 146 x 71 x 7.6mm (WDH) dimensions of the S23 means it can fit in tighter jeans pockets and is more comfortable to use for those with smaller hands. It’s also nowhere near as heavy, at 168g, as the S23 Plus (196g) or Ultra (234g).

I also rather like the selection of colours on offer this year. The Galaxy S23 can be picked up in either Cream, Phantom Black, Lavender or Green. The latter you’ll see pictured here is my pick of the bunch. The “Armour aluminium” frame matches your chosen colour, too, which is a nice touch.

Like the rest of the range, the phone is IP68-rated for dust and water protection and there’s space for two nano-SIM cards at the bottom next to the USB-C charging port. However, there isn’t any room for a microSD card, which means you won’t be able to increase the internal storage.

Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Display

The S23’s 6.1in screen is another Dynamic AMOLED 2X affair, with a 120Hz refresh rate, an FHD+ resolution (2,340 x 1,080) and support for HDR10+ playback. That’s the same as last year except it’s now coated in a protective layer of Gorilla Glass Victus 2, which Samsung says is not only more durable than the previous generation but is also constructed using an average of 22% pre-consumer materials.

Like most Samsung handsets in recent years, the Galaxy S23 has two display modes to choose from in the phone’s settings. The default ‘Vivid’ profile boosts colour saturation, delivering a colour gamut that’s closer to DCI-P3, while the ‘Natural’ setting provides coverage of the sRGB gamut at 93.3%, with an average Delta E of 1.58.

Peak brightness is fantastic, reaching 707cd/m2 in normal use and 1,054cd/m2 in auto brightness mode. It’s also a stonking screen when watching HDR material, reaching an even brighter 1,469cd/m2 in our testing. The latest episode of Disney’s The Mandalorian looked as good as could be, with noticeably distinguished dark tones and bright specular highlights.

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Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Performance and battery life

Using the ‘for Galaxy’ designation, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 inside the S23 is a tweaked version of Qualcomm’s top-end mobile chipset. In a nutshell, what this means is that the primary ‘performance core’ has been overclocked to 3.36GHz, up from 3.2GHz on the base version while GPU frequency is boosted from 680MHz to 719MHz.

Admittedly, this doesn’t make a huge difference in terms of real-world operation but it’s the improvements compared to the previous Exynos 2200 where the Samsung Galaxy S23 really springs to life.

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Before I dig into the figures, however, it’s worth noting that we didn’t review the regular S22 last year. However, we did test the S22 Plus which, aside from a bigger battery, used the same internal componentry.

There’s a huge improvement in the Geekbench 5 results this year with a 23% jump in the single-core portion of the test compared with the previous model and an even bigger jump in the multi-core portion of the test, with the S23 scoring 4,875 to the S22 Plus’ 3,488. That’s a massive 40% improvement.

In general use, the S23 adds an extra layer of fluidity where the S22 Plus struggled. Boot-up times are faster, app switching happens in the blink of an eye, and adjusting camera features is a much more satisfying experience as well. As an example, I was able to capture images that required a lot of back-end processing power – such as telephoto zoom and night shots – in a mere fraction of the time.

These improvements also carry over to the gaming side of things. The S23’s on-chip Adreno 740 GPU was more adept in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 off-screen benchmark, pushing out 36% more frames than the previous Exynos 2200 and its Xclipse 920 GPU.

The S23’s battery has also received an upgrade, increasing in size from 3,700mAh to 3,900mAh. That might not sound like a lot but every little helps in the stamina stakes and there’s an obvious jump here as well. In our video playback test, the Samsung Galaxy S23 lasted a total of 22hrs 27mins before needing to recharge, compared with the S22 Plus’ 19hrs 13mins.

I should mention that this is still the weakest score of all three S23 models. If battery life is your top priority (and you can afford to pay extra), then the Plus might be worth considering instead. In our testing, it lasted almost five hours longer.

Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Software

Software-wise, the Samsung Galaxy S23 comes with Android 13, accompanied by the latest version of Samsung’s One UI launcher (5.1). Generally speaking, there’s not much to complain about here, since Samsung takes more of a soft-touch approach than some other heavy-handed Android launchers we’ve looked at recently.

One thing I will mention is that Samsung is still insistent on filling its phones with its own-brand applications, as well as a bunch of other third party apps such as Netflix, Spotify and Facebook. These are annoying but can be uninstalled if you prefer.

Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Cameras

As for the cameras, not much here has changed. The 50MP (f/1.8) main camera remains, alongside a 12MP (f/2.2) 120-degree ultrawide unit and a 10MP (f/2.4) 3x telephoto. However, the front-facing 12MP (f/2.2) selfie is now the same across all three models, up from the 10MP number in the previous version.

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That’s not a particularly strong look for a brand-new flagship but what I can say is that the S23’s cameras are still very good for the money. In a side-by-side comparison of shots captured with the S22 Plus, Samsung’s latest came off rather well, with a richness to images and oodles of contrast.

Photographs are bursting with detail, too, and I was particularly pleased with the S23’s low-light stills. In this mode, I captured a wide array of city scenes at night and each picture looked terrific, with dazzling streetlight highlights set against darker areas of the image and a lack of visual noise.

Zoomed images might not be on par with those captured on the S23 Ultra but they’re still rather good. You can hybrid zoom up to 30x although I would recommend not going much past 10x, since past this point images start to look a little murky. You’d be surprised at how much detail you can capture at some of these higher zoom ranges, however – this nighttime shot of Tower Bridge in the distance is really quite something:

There are new shooting modes to play around with this year, too, such as Astro Hyperlapse and Astrophoto, although I struggled to test these in light-polluted London. There are also some improvements to skin tone capture in the phone’s Portrait mode.

Should you wish, video can be recorded at up to 8K resolution but this is limited to 30fps and lacks any form of stabilisation. Again, I would recommend dropping the resolution to 4K, which allows for both optical and electronic image stabilisation as well as a 60fps toggle. Even in this mode, though, you’ll not be disappointed with the overall quality with footage looking smooth and stable and brimming with detail.

Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Verdict

The Galaxy S23 is a remarkably classy handheld. A proper pocket-sized powerhouse, the S23’s significant internal changes grant a whole new level of performance, not to mention that its beautiful AMOLED display and sublime photographic capabilities ramp things up even further.

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Even with the price hike taken into account, the Samsung Galaxy S23 is still stupendous value for money with very few downsides. Ultimately, if you buy the S23 because you can’t afford to stump up the extra cash for the Plus or the Ultra, you shouldn’t worry about missing out.

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