Samsung has just unveiled its new lines of smartphones and laptops. Both product lines give the feeling that this is an iterative or incremental year for improvements rather than one that brings revolutionary changes. And let’s be honest: there’s only so much you can do with a “candy bar” smartphone and a clamshell laptop. Yes, Samsung is doing some exciting things with foldables like the Z Flip4 and Z Fold4; however, the new models in those lines won’t debut until later in the year.
In the U.S. and many other markets, Samsung must compete with the likes of Apple, while in Asia the new S23 needs to compete with Vivo, Oppo and Xiaomi as well as numerous sub-brands. Samsung appears to continue to emphasize camera functionality while also trying to compete on performance thanks to a new set of chips and capabilities from Qualcomm. I have encouraged Samsung to improve its camera’s zoom capabilities, but the company seems intent on pushing low-light photography capabilities instead.
The Galaxy S23 Lineup
There were many rumors that Samsung would axe the S23+ model, which is more expensive than the S23 and doesn’t nearly have the feature set of the S23 Ultra. However, it appears that Samsung still thinks there are enough users to justify this middle ‘Goldilocks’ price tier. I believe this is why it still offers an S23+, because in terms of features and capabilities it’s almost identical to the base model S23 save for the larger screen and battery size. The S23 starts at $799, while the S23+ starts at $999 and the S23 Ultra at $1,199, filling the three price tiers the company has addressed for years.
This year, the S23 lineup transitions to a full Qualcomm configuration across all models globally, which is a massive win for both consumers and Qualcomm. Samsung’s Exynos processors traditionally suffered from worse battery life and performance when compared to the Qualcomm chips in the Galaxy S series, even when Qualcomm used Samsung Foundry for manufacturing. While nobody is explicitly stating it, it seems that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 inside the S23 series will likely be fabricated by Samsung in its foundries as opposed to at TSMC ( I expect we will see other OEMs stick with TSMC). In fact, what other OEMs decide to do about this may serve as an interesting barometer for where Samsung Foundry is relative to TSMC.
Given all of this, we may need to ask the question:I Is the Exynos dead? In addition to supporting Samsung on the SoC (system on a chip), Qualcomm is also racking up significant wins on the Wi-Fi side, for instance, because the Galaxy S22 Ultra features Qualcomm’s latest Wi-Fi 7 chipset, the FastConnect 7800. At the same time, the S23 and S23+ both utilize Qualcomm’s last-generation FastConnect 6900—a great Wi-Fi 6E chipset that I have enjoyed considerably in my ZFold4.
The S23 and S23+ both have flat 120-hertz FHD+ displays—a 6.1-inch model on the S23 and a 6.6-inch model on the S23+. These are both dwarfed by the S23 Ultra’s 6.8-inch display with curved edges. The S23 features a 3,900 mAh battery, the S23+ has a 4,700 mAh battery, and the S23 Ultra has a 5,000 mAh battery.
The S23 Ultra again differentiates its camera with a new 200-megapixel (MP) sensor, an upgrade from the current 108MP unit in the Galaxy S Ultra series since the S20 model. Having this many pixels allows improved low-light performance through pixel binning, combining 16 pixels into a single pixel for capturing more light. (The larger pixels capture light more easily.) This results in a low-noise 12MP image. And if you are in a well-lit environment, you can capture very high-resolution 200MP images, which look incredibly detailed and can easily be cropped without losing much detail.
Samsung has also enhanced autofocus with Super Quad Pixel, which takes advantage of the quad-pixel binning in its new higher-resolution sensors. Samsung continues to emphasize low-light photography—what it calls ‘Nightography’—although I think the company would be better served to lean harder into its zoom functionality, especially with concerts, sporting events and travel picking back up again. Samsung is right to keep improving its products’ night photography, but I believe it should also take wins where it deserves them and promote features that its competitors (especially Apple) cannot touch.
Unfortunately, other than the 200MP main sensor, the other camera sensors on the S23 line are still 12MP, 10MP, and 10MP, while the selfie camera gets a downgrade from 40MP to 12MP. I will admit that I rarely used the camera in 40MP mode and often thought it was in that mode when it was not.
The S23 line will be available on February 17, with pre-orders beginning on February 1. I will be getting my hands on the new models at the launch event, so look for my early impressions via social media on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.
The Galaxy Book Lineup
Samsung’s Galaxy Book lineup is getting updated to its third generation with the new Galaxy Book3 Ultra, Galaxy Book3 Pro 360, and Galaxy Book3 Pro. The entire Galaxy Book series will feature Intel 13th-generation processors, with 28-watt i5 and i7 processors for the Book3 Pro and 45-watt i7 and i9 processors for the Book3 Ultra. Additionally, Samsung is putting Nvidia RTX 4050 and RTX 4070 discrete graphics chips in the Galaxy Book3 Ultra, making it more attractive for gaming and content creation.
The Galaxy Book3 Pro will come in both 14- and 16-inch models, while the Book3 Pro 360 and Ultra will only come in a 16-inch model. 16-inch notebooks have become extremely popular, especially as the 16:10 aspect ratio gets adopted by more OEMs looking to increase productivity with the significant increase in vertical pixels and total resolution. The new displays on the Book3 series will also have 500-nit peak brightness and a 120-hertz refresh rate, matching the S23 series experience. The new displays on the Book3 family will also carry VESA’s DisplayHDR 500 True Black and ClearMR certifications.
While it appears that Samsung has gone all-in on Qualcomm for the Galaxy S23 series, the company seems to have drifted away from Qualcomm’s 8cx processors and Windows on Arm for its PCs. The Galaxy Book3 family uses Intel processors, which seems perplexing for a company with such a robust mobile heritage.
Speaking of mobile heritage, Samsung is touting multi-control and second-screen experiences shared by its PCs, smartphones and tablets, allowing the user to control and move files, text and images seamlessly among devices. This includes Expert RAW Auto Share, which allows for taking photos using a Samsung smartphone in Expert RAW mode and then easily sharing it to a Samsung PC for editing. Samsung is also combatting the lack of 5G modems in its PCs with Phone Link, which enables hotspots with just one click. However, I believe that a mobile hotspot will never outperform an integrated 5G modem and will significantly weigh the smartphone’s battery life if used for prolonged periods.
The Galaxy Book3 Pro starts at $1,449.99, and the Galaxy Book3 Ultra starts at $2,399.99.
I think Samsung’s new smartphone and PC lineups are not massive departures from where the company was last year. While these new smartphones and PCs feel like they’ve been upgraded, there doesn’t seem to be much that has changed other than newer and faster internal components and software. The design borrows a lot from last year’s Ultra design, and as far as the S23 Ultra compared to the S22 Ultra, they are indistinguishable. Meanwhile, the company seems to have put most of its real innovation into foldables.
I think Samsung can market its smartphones better. In fact, I believe that the company is missing an opportunity to cater to a massive audience of people who have no idea what its phones are capable of in terms of zoom photography. I keep blowing people away with my photos from baseball games and concerts—but Samsung doesn’t seem to understand just how impressive some of its features are.