This week Samsung announced its next-generation S23, S23+, and S23 Ultra flagship smartphones, alongside five new Ultrabook laptops in its Galaxy Book series. Samsung held its first-of-the-year Galaxy Unpacked event online and in person and I was fortunate enough to attend in person and get a hands-on experience of these new devices. You can read about my coverage of last year's Galaxy S22 series at Samsung Unpacked here and Moor Insights & Strategy Principal Analyst Anshel Sag’s coverage here.
Last year, Samsung's S22 series reintroduced the built-in S Pen and the Note design that fans have grown to love. This year, Samsung introduced the S23 Ultra, which builds on the S22 Ultra's highly performant and "ultra" design. Samsung also announced a new Galaxy Book3 that takes on the "Ultra" name. While monikers like "Max," "Ultra" and "Pro" always help in differentiating the different levels of devices, when Samsung includes its "Ultra" in a device, it means it.
Let's look at what Samsung announced with its S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra smartphones and its five new Galaxy Book3 laptops.
Camera improvements in the Galaxy S23 series
With its Galaxy S23 smartphones, Samsung has focused on improving the camera, meeting sustainability goals and obtaining higher performance thanks to the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor.
Samsung says the Galaxy S23 Ultra offers the Samsung Galaxy's most advanced camera system with better “Nightography,” improving photos and videos taken at night. Year after year, Samsung has improved its ability to capture photos at night with its pixel-binning technology. Pixel binning combines multiple pixels within a high-megapixel sensor to create images that have fewer megapixels but capture more light for better night photography. Last year's S22 Ultra combined a three-by-three pixel cell into one larger pixel; this year, Samsung has combined a four-by-four pixel cell into one larger pixel. I am really excited about the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s new camera capabilities including Super HDR, AI Obejct-aware engine, and video stabilization OIS+VDIS. I was given the opportunity to demo the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 200MP sensor and Nightography mode and it was a night and day difference when turned on.
This processing of combining pixels allows for better low-light performance with the Galaxy S23 Ultra's whopping 200-megapixel (MP) camera sensor. It also supports multiple levels of high-resolution processing at once with 200MP, 50MP and 12MP image captures. Thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2's AI-powered image signal processing (ISP), it is also able to correct noise that often ruins high-megapixel images. Anyone can put a high-megapixel sensor in a smartphone, and I remember the days when smartphone cameras would chase high-megapixel camera sensors. However, not everyone can pull off a high-megapixel camera sensor like the Galaxy S23 Ultra's 200MP camera sensor with its pixel-binning technology and AI-powered ISP.
Samsung also improved the front-facing camera of the Galaxy S23, S23+, and S23 Ultra with fast autofocus and Samsung's first Super HDR selfie camera. As Anshel Sag, senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said in his review of the Galaxy S22 Ultra camera, which you can read here, a camera needs to be fast, versatile, high-quality and capable. In this age of quick videos, video calls and streaming content, these four criteria matter more than ever for front-facing cameras. The front-facing camera's jump from 30 frames per second (fps) to 60 fps is also a welcome upgrade.
The Galaxy S23 and S23+ also benefit from the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 with AI-powered ISP. As we continue to see more AI-enhanced images, I believe one challenge will be the real-time aspect of taking photos. Some AI enhancements come from processing after the photo is taken, which makes taking a photo more of an automatic action that can be a good and a bad thing. For example, the image that you see on the device looks different than the image that you see after it has been cleaned up and processed by AI.
Samsung has also minimized the camera bump on the back of the Galaxy S23 and S23+, making it more in line with the camera bump on the back of the S23 Ultra. Although the raised aluminum back on the S22 and S22+ looks better in my opinion, changing the backs to match the S23 Ultra makes sense. However, sometimes OEMs change designs just to change things and I get the feeling this is what Samsung did here. Nevertheless, it does make for a , modern look and the opportunity for cleaner case designs.
Galaxy S23 series boasts premium performance
The Galaxy S23 devices boast Qualcomm's newest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 system-on-chip (SoC), and it is one of the biggest generational improvements I have ever seen in an SoC. Alongside 45% better power efficiency and 25% better Adreno GPU performance, it has 60% better performance per watt (PPW) and 90% better overall performance compared to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Although those are measures of chip performance and not direct percentage improvements from the Galaxy S22 to the Galaxy S23, these are still huge upgrades for mobile gaming and overall performance on the Galaxy S23.
AI is changing the way smartphones do everything, from optimizing the device's connectivity to the phone's battery and natural language processing on multi-level software stacks. The Galaxy S23 Ultra supports real-time ray tracing for enhanced gaming, and Samsung says its 5,000 mAh battery also lasts 20% longer.
Christiano Amon, CEO of Qualcomm, got an unprecedented amount of stage time at Samsung Unpacked and talked about the close relationship of Qualcomm and Samsung. Amon also talked about how the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is for Galaxy which leads me to believe there is some semi-customization in the S23 processor. The collaboration between Samsung and Qualcomm on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy enables AI ISP and Adreno GPU ray tracing for “desktop level” gaming.
Another differentiating feature of the Galaxy S23 Ultra is its QHD+ display, and this year Samsung has reduced the screen’s curvature for a flatter, more S Pen-friendly display. I appreciate Samsung's reduction in curvature for the Galaxy S23 Ultra. A pronounced curve in the display is not ideal for pen support, and I personally would rather have a less curved display.
Galaxy Book3 covers three classes of notebooks
While Samsung is very well known in the smartphone space, its Galaxy Book devices receive less attention. However, over the past couple of years Samsung has done an incredible job of designing these laptops to target the premium, ultrathin and light notebook market. Samsung has continued this trend with its next-generation Galaxy Book3 series of notebooks delivering thin, light, convertible and high-performance computing.
With this launch, Samsung introduced the Galaxy Book3 Pro 14-inch and 16-inch, the Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 16-inch and the Galaxy Book Ultra 16-inch. These three devices feature 13th Gen Intel Core processors with the Intel Evo Platform. While the Pro models have the option of a 13th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, the Galaxy Book3 Ultra has the option of either a 13th Gen Intel Core i7 or i9 Processor and the option of an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050 Laptop GPU or an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070 Laptop GPU.
I have written about Intel's 13th Gen Core processors at CES 2023, which you can read about here. Without repeating myself too much, the Galaxy Book3 Pro and Ultra should benefit from an increase in performance and a boost in machine learning with Intel's Movidius vision processing unit (VPU). Likewise, Nvidia's GeForce RTX 40 Series Laptop GPUs, featuring Nvidia's Ada Lovelace architecture, show massive improvements over last-generation Nvidia laptop GPU hardware. You can read my coverage of Nvidia's GeForce RTX 40 series laptop GPUs at CES 2023 here.
The Galaxy Book Pro was Samsung's first big push into the PC market, and while its Pro series targets ultra-portability, I believe the Galaxy Book3 Ultra takes it to another level with its dedicated GPU and higher-performance Core i9 processor. I don't think Samsung could have picked a better year, either, considering how much potential Nvidia's 40 Series Laptop GPUs and Intel's 13th Gen Core processors have in terms of PPW.
Considering I was able to get a hand-on experience with the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra, I’ll say that Samsung really knows how to make a premium device. It does have a sleek aluminum chassis and a large trackpad which I like and almost makes up for the lack of a touch display. It also has a 3K (2880x1880) resolution AMOLED display with a 16:10 aspect ratio and 120-hertz refresh rate. I believe the Galaxy Book3 Ultra has the performance and build quality, display and software support to take on any laptop in content creation and gaming tasks. It all looks good on paper, and I will let you know more once I get my hands on a Galaxy Book3 Ultra.
Samsung’s newest devices continue to raise the bar for mobile computing. Samsung continues to improve its night photography and push the boundaries of high-megapixel camera technology with pixel binning. The smartphones’ Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processors add extra performance with an improved AI engine, a better GPU and better-optimized CPU cores.
The Galaxy Book3 Ultra, the newest edition to Samsung's Galaxy Book series, packs a hard punch with new 13th Gen Intel Core processors, Nvidia GeForce RTX Laptop GPUs, and a large 16 inch, 3K resolution AMOLED display. Samsung could not have designed the Galaxy Book3 Ultra at a better time. I am interested to see how well it stacks up to content creation devices like the MacBook Pro M2 Max and the Razer Blade 16.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.