Smaller phones are rare these days, and the Galaxy S23 is one of them. A dying breed, perhaps, on the verge of extinction? Or maybe it’s just that there simply isn’t a ton of demand for them, in spite of what you may have read on the internet or heard on YouTube. Not to worry, however, for Samsung likes to have a lot of options out there for people, so we don’t see it giving up on the ‘vanilla’ S series device anytime soon.
‘Vanilla’ this phone is definitely not, by the way – in the sense of ‘boring’ or ‘entry-level’. Even if it doesn’t have a “+” or an “Ultra” suffix attached to its name, it’s as much a proper flagship device as any other – if you don’t require the absolute best in terms of camera hardware, that is. Otherwise, it packs everything any other flagship device does, and so ‘vanilla’ is a misnomer – we had to say it, so there isn’t any confusion.
The S23 also happens to be the cheapest of the S23s, so in a strictly financial sense, it is the ‘entry-level’ in Samsung’s top line. But that doesn’t make it any worse than the S23+, for example, it just makes it a better deal and better value for money, that is, of course, if you don’t mind the size. If, on the other hand, you love the size, then this is one of only a few handsets that are available in a more compact form factor and are also packing a punch in terms of specs, so there’s that.
We were intrigued enough by the S23 to put it through the paces of our long-term review process. As usual, we have used only this phone for an extended period of time to see what it’s like to live with day-in, day-out, away from spec sheets and lab tests. Join us over the next few pages to see what our experience taught us about the S23.
The first thing that stands out about the S23 is its size, in a sea of bigger phones everywhere. It’s understated in its dimensions, if that makes sense, and people will notice – we got a bunch of “oh, it’s smaller than mine” comments from multiple people who saw us with it. Interestingly, most of those people seemed positively impressed by the size.
And yet, when they bought their phones, they didn’t go for a smaller one. It’s a strange dynamic – most people seem to like the idea of smaller handsets, but when push comes to shove, when the rubber hits the road, when it’s time to put their money where their mouth is, they still buy a mainstream sized device. And it all seems to come down to screen real estate.
The S23 was very much appreciated for its size, until the screen came on. Then, the “oh, it’s smaller” comments took a turn towards negative connotations. This wasn’t all people, mind you, but it was most. So the majority clearly values screen size over the entire phone size enough to keep buying ‘normal’ handsets. This tells us that rollable display smartphones (whatever happened to those?) might be very successful if they ever do actually launch.
Now, from the rear, this is unmistakably a Samsung circa 2023. The Korean company has made the individual camera circles/islands a very recognizable feature on all its phones this year, from the cheapest to the most expensive. That’s a good thing for brand recognition, definitely, but it might not be so great when it comes to actual model recognition.
People will instantly know you have a Samsung, but 99% of them will have no clue which one. It’s an interesting strategy, but we’re not sure where it’s headed – the designs do look nice, but no one phone is standing out in any way. Plus, in a year or two there undoubtedly will be a lot of fatigue regarding these looks. We’re not there yet, so let’s see if any redesigns are coming.
On our white review unit, the Samsung logo is very subdued, barely visible from some angles, which is an interesting touch and tells us the Korean company is very confident in the aforementioned ability of people to recognize it as a Samsung without the need for gaudy branding.
The back glass feels really nice and doesn’t show any fingerprints at all, ever, which is a nice bonus. As always, that means it’s incredibly slippery – for some physics (or chemistry? We’re not experts) related reason, you can either have no fingerprints showing or a less slippery phone, but not both.
That being said, in terms of overall slipperiness, the S23 is saved by its glossy metal frame. This will have visible fingerprint marks on it from some angles, but it’s also way less slippery than the back, so handling is actually very good. And of course, that’s aided by the phone’s size. It’s much easier to hold this one than any mainstream sized device, and pulling down the notification panel also requires way less finger gymnastics – if you have bigger hands, none at all, in fact.
Speaking of hands, people with big ones and average ones will find this a joy to use, while those with smaller hands will consider it a breath of fresh air coming from a larger model. That’s all expected thanks to the size, and reality does live up to said expectation.
On the other hand (excuse the unintentional pun), if you’re used to the ‘normal’ sized phones of today, the S23 will never not feel small, and because it’s smaller the default text size is smaller than what you are used to as well. You can make it bigger to compensate but then less things fit on the screen and it can look a bit off, as evidenced by all of our screenshots throughout this review.
The size also makes it ever so slightly harder to accurately type, since the letters are all smaller and closer together. It’s not as bad as on a Samsung Fold’s outer screen, of course, but it’s also more challenging than on a mainstream sized device, and we felt it would be important to mention.
The front is almost all screen, as you’d expect from a flagship. The top and side bezels seem identical (although they probably aren’t), only the bottom one feels a tiny bit thicker, but not so much that it would be annoying. Basically, you’ll only notice the difference if you go looking for it.
“Safe” is the word that best describes the S23’s design overall. It’s not offensive (unless you really hate shiny metal frames), it’s sort of understated, it’s solid, it works, but it won’t wow anyone. This seems very intentional on Samsung’s part, so we assume it has some data proving this strategy would work better for it than going all-in with designs that really stand out. Those would be much more hit or miss – a hit with some minority of people, but probably a miss with others, and that’s a risk Samsung is clearly not willing to take.
We’re not saying that’s a bad thing, by the way – it’s a conscious decision, and if you want more bombastic designs these days, you’ll probably need to turn to ‘gaming phones’ or some of Samsung’s Chinese competitors.
In case you were wondering, the box does not contain a charger or a case, and this continues to set Samsung apart from its Chinese competitors which generally do at least ship the former – and some even bundle a simple case, which you may or may not end up using, but in our view, it’s a nice bonus to have when you’re spending this much money.
The S23 has dual speakers of course, and they’re great. We never felt the need for more volume from them, and they are also high quality – with the usual caveat: “for a phone”. You always need to keep in mind how tiny they are. But, again, for a phone, these are the best speakers we’ve ever heard on a device we’ve reviewed long-term.
On the volume front, note that we don’t usually listen to things on the phone’s speakers while in very crowded and noisy places – there you might need to bring the phone closer to your ear to hear everything. But with low and reasonable amounts of noise around, that won’t be necessary. There’s nothing more to say here – they’re the best, full stop.
The vibration motor inside the S23 is very good, although we still miss the older-style motors Samsung used to use a few years ago, which could be heard more than these new ones. We know some people absolutely hated those, so your mileage may vary. This one is a top notch late model, with ‘3D’-like vibrations, that you can definitely feel in your hand or pocket. In a purse? Not so much, which is where the ‘could be heard more’ motors would really have come in handy.
Samsung knows this so it’s given you a setting to add a “vibration sound” to incoming calls – this plays through the speakers, and it’s better than nothing, but not as good at making an impression as those older style vibration motors were. They are extinct at this point, however, so perhaps we should move on? For 2023, this is at the very top, quality-wise, on par with the best from Samsung’s Android competitors.
There are adjustments you can make to vibration intensity, separately for calls, notifications, media, and system stuff – touch interactions, dialing keypad, charging, navigation gestures, camera feedback, and the Samsung keyboard. All of these can have vibrations turned off individually as well.
These are all very welcome, although we’ve maxed out almost all of them as you can see, since at lower levels we didn’t quite feel there was enough ‘oomph’ to the vibrations, but of course you may see things differently, which is why it’s great to have so many customization options available. Notably, the call vibration pattern can also be matched to your ringtone, which is a nice touch and on by default. And for notifications you can choose the style you want.
Brightness, colors, quality
The S23’s display is the best we’ve ever seen on any phone we’ve reviewed long-term, and by quite a margin. It’s not close. In terms of brightness, this is the first screen we’ve used that seems to get more legible the more sun you throw directly at it, and if that sounds impressive in writing, trust us, it’s even more impressive to experience in person. There is absolutely no amount of ambient light that will make this not be perfectly legible at all times, and for years that’s been the holy grail in terms of phone displays. Well, it’s been achieved now.
At the other end of the scale, the screen does get plenty dark on the lowest setting of the brightness slider, and you can also employ the Extra dim feature (which has a slider of its own) to make it even dimmer if that’s not enough for you. We really do appreciate that, but as with all Samsungs we’ve used this year, the auto brightness algorithm never – and we mean never – actually goes all the way down.
When you enter a 100% pitch dark environment, it’s always close – but never there. So you need to manually adjust that slider to the absolute minimum every single time, since for some reason this setting isn’t remembered for that level of ambient light, like all the other manual tweaks you employ are. It’s a baffling thing, this, and since we’ve seen it on multiple Samsung phones across both One UI 5.x and the new One UI 6, we have to assume it’s an intentional decision on the company’s part, but we can’t fathom what the logic for it would be.
Speaking of things we can’t quite wrap our heads around, the ‘steps’ for the brightness slider are way too fine / minute at the lowest levels, which means adjusting can be a pain if you only want the screen a tiny bit brighter or dimmer than it is – you have to move your finger onto the slider by fractions of a millimeter, which, especially in a hurry, is quite challenging. Multiple times we found we over adjusted and then had to go back the other direction. This is the definition of a minor nitpick for sure, but the first 25% of the slider (from the left) should definitely not have such fine steps, in this reviewer’s opinion.
All of that aside, the auto brightness algorithm out of the box was quite average – not the best we’ve encountered recently, but far from the worst. We did perform a bunch of manual adjustments in the first couple of weeks or so with the S23, but there were never so many of these required that it became really annoying. And after those first two weeks, we’ve only ever touched the brightness slider in the aforementioned pitch dark conditions.
Quality-wise, the screen is top notch too, as you’d expect given that it’s a Samsung-made panel on a flagship Samsung phone. Color tuning is outstanding for sRGB if you pick the Natural preset, and almost on point for P3 if you go with Vivid – whites are a tiny bit too blue by default, but you can move the Cool-Warm slider one notch towards Warm to get even more accuracy.
Display and color settings
Once again we have to commend Samsung for having very simple and easy to use color settings – there are two presets, and only one of those (Vivid) is customizable. It’s almost like the company knows it’s the tiny bit less accurate one. Anyway, aside from the White balance slider, you also get a way to adjust reds, blues, and greens individually if you dive into Advanced settings, and that’s it. No confusing names, no over the top settings, just what you need and no pointless stuff on top. This is how all color settings should be, hopefully Samsung’s competitors are listening.
The S23’s panel is capable of 120 Hz refresh rate, and as usual with Samsung devices there’s a menu where you can pick between two settings – Adaptive and Standard. The former will get you all the way up to 120 Hz more of the time, and is what we picked.
Refresh rate has a disproportionately huge impact on perceived smoothness and thus is one setting we feel you should always max out. If, unlike us, you find yourself struggling with battery life on the S23, and don’t mind less smoothness, then you can try going with Standard and seeing if that helps.
Refresh rate settings (“Motion smoothness”)
120 Hz is the standard nowadays at almost all price points save for the lowest, so while it’s obviously good to have this maximum refresh rate on the S23, it’s also nothing out of the ordinary.
Display settings: Always On Display, Eye comfort shield
One UI 6 has an Always On Display that is pretty comprehensive in its settings, and is still the only one we’re aware of to offer you a choice between portrait and landscape orientations as well as a toggle for Auto brightness – which proves incredibly useful if you like your phone to be on your nightstand while you sleep, for example. You can always show the AOD, of course, or schedule it, or only show it for new notifications, or simply tap once on the screen at any time to have it appear.
While in the past we were huge fans of always on AODs, nowadays we like the “Tap to show” option the best, so that’s what we went with. In terms of customizations, there are a ton of options to choose from – not quite as many as Xiaomi’s MIUI/HyperOS gives you, but still probably enough for most people.
Always On Display settings
Now playing info will show up when you play music if you want it to, and in terms of clocks, you have analog ones, digital ones, or you can go with “Image clock” and pick from stickers, AR emoji, Bitmoji, or any image from your gallery. You can then go on to customize the colors, and if you’re picky you could spend a good half an hour making the AOD look just how you want it to.
For years we’ve praised MIUI’s blue light filter for being the most option-packed out there, and urged competitors to learn a thing or two and ’emulate’ its features. While we’re not quite there yet, we were very happy to see a new toggle in Samsung’s Eye comfort shield. It’s called “Enhanced comfort” and, according to its description, if you turn it on it will adjust color tones and contrast of the display for more comfortable viewing.
We’re happy to see Samsung take this step, but while we have nothing against contrast adjustments for less eye strain, the aforementioned adjustment of color tones is… weird. We were expecting something similar to MIUI’s “Light colors” mode where the colors are simply desaturated, but this seems to do more and actually change some colors around, which is obviously not great if color accuracy is important to you.
Eye comfort shield settings
Then again, an argument could be made that the entirety of blue light filter use messes with colors somewhat, and that’s true. We guess it’s just a matter of degree and the way in which color tones are adjusted by this new setting being unexpected. Anyway, we’re glad Samsung is trying something new, but – here we go again – it’s still a bit of a way to go from MIUI’s blue light filter, with its graininess slider and the aforementioned “Light colors” setting and even black and white.
Otherwise, Eye comfort shield hasn’t changed. You can turn it on and off, schedule it, and pick between Custom (what we always do) or Adaptive – the latter automatically adjusting color temperature based on the time of day, with colder colors during daytime and warmer tones at night.
The Galaxy S23 has the best in-display fingerprint sensor we’ve ever used, period. It’s an ultrasonic one and it’s by far the fastest. It feels a tad faster than the S22 generation’s, and is leaps and bounds ahead of any optical sensor we’ve tested so far in terms of speed. It’s actually kind of uncanny how little time your finger needs to spend on the sensor for unlocking to happen. Once you get used to it, if you then ever switch to a phone with an optical sensor, you will definitely feel frustrated.
Accuracy on the first try is extremely good, on par with the best optical in-display sensors out there, but unlike when it comes to speed, it doesn’t leapfrog those. It’s just as good as the best of them, which is still amazing – we got in on the first try about 96-97% of the time, which is, in this reviewer’s experience, the best you can hope for these days from any fingerprint sensor.
When in-display scanners started appearing, the promise was always that they’d match and perhaps even outdo the capacitive ones that used to be all the rage, the ones embedded in buttons here or there. Well, the S23’s sensor finally delivers on this dream, and does so in droves.
The phone also unsurprisingly has face unlocking, but we’re unsure why anyone would want to use it – aside from people in very cold climates who wear gloves all the time? Anyway, it’s there and it’s fast enough, but it only uses the front-facing camera so it will be way less secure than the fingerprint scanner. Still, if you need it you need it.
There’s a setting to “Require open eyes” which adds some security not allowing someone to unlock your phone while you’re sleeping, but as always you should keep in mind that various people on the internet have succeeded in defeating the security of these camera-only face unlocking functions with pictures or video of the phone’s owner.
One final note: in Biometrics settings there’s a “Show unlock transition effect” toggle which is on by default. In “Fingerprints” there is also a “Show animation when unlocking” toggle that’s also on by default. Everything we said above about how fast the fingerprint sensor is applies only if you turn these two off.
Leaving them on introduces a delay to show the (frankly pointless, in our view) transition effect and animation, so we would suggest turning both off unless you really like them for some reason. Also, “Fingerprint always on” is something we do always have on, since once you get used to the sensor’s location, you can just touch it and instantly unlock even if the screen is off.
After multiple years of people complaining about its Exynos chipsets used for the S series, Samsung finally read the room in 2023 and let the entire world enjoy the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, no geographical shenanigans whatsoever. It seems like this will be a very short lived victory for Exynos detractors, however, since rumor has it we’re going to be back to the pre-2023 situation this year when the S24 launches.
So, if you live in one of the places that used to get the S series with an Exynos, and don’t want one of those, you’re probably not going to be looking at the S24 when it arrives in a few weeks. And that’s perfectly fine, since while the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 inside the S23 may have been superseded by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, we’re going to say what we pretty much always do for 8-series Snapdragons.
The old one is perfectly good for any and all day to day activities, save for, perhaps, the most premium games. Oh, and AI stuff using AI specific bits in your phone’s chipset, but that’s still more of a marketing gimmick than anything else. Of course, there’s a chance that Samsung’s huge AI push for the S24 family will be more than just marketing fluff, but is it really a very high chance? Time will tell.
Anyway, it goes without saying, but let’s say it nevertheless – the S23 is a top performer. The SoC is good, and very efficient too (see the Battery life section after this one to get a better idea what we mean by that), and it is, of course, very fast.
The S23 is also the smoothest Samsung we’ve ever reviewed long term, but unfortunately it still lags ever so slightly behind some of its competitors in this regard. We know we say this every year, but every year Samsung improves things a little bit on this front, but not quite enough to be on par with some of its Chinese competitors. We’re wondering if it ever will.
So while the Xiaomi 13 Pro might still be our king of smoothness of all the phones we’ve reviewed long-term, and the OnePlus 11 a close second, the S23 is third, and the delta between it and the others is smaller than it’s ever been. If you’re coming to it from another Samsung, or from any other device that isn’t the Xiaomi 13 Pro or the OnePlus 11, you’ll be impressed.
We have seen microlag here and there throughout our use of the S23 when it was on One UI 5.1, especially when picking up the phone after a long time not using it (say, when you wake up) and notifications started pouring in. One UI 6 is much better when it comes to lag and stutters, there are way less of those than in the previous version, to the point where for most people this phone now wouldn’t feel laggy and stuttery at all. We still notice some from time to time, but we notice because we handle a lot of phones and can instantly draw comparisons to others – if you don’t, you won’t, and the S23 will feel amazing.
Battery life, charging
Battery life has been great throughout our time with the S23, which may seem surprising at first if you’ve ever checked its specs. Yes, it’s a very small cell for this day and age, but the handset itself is small too. Add in the very efficient chipset and (we assume) very efficient screen, and, with our use case, we got numbers that we definitely didn’t expect beforehand. This was easily a phone that got us through each day without an issue, although we couldn’t quite stretch it to two full days on anything but the weekends when our usage is lighter than what’s described below.
So, overall, we think it delivers great battery life. When you factor in the fact that all of this comes from a mere 3,900 mAh cell, we’d say it’s actually outstanding. The way One UI 6 shows screen on time numbers not just for the current day, but for a few days before too, is also the best way for these stats to be displayed that we’ve ever seen, and we hope Samsung’s competitors are taking notes here. It’s great to be able to quickly compare numbers for a few days with a few taps, and we like this very much.
Battery life snapshots on different days
As you can see from the screenshots above, 6 hours of screen on time was the absolute minimum we could hope for in a day, but 8 hours was also very much achievable on other days. That’s on par with what we’ve previously seen from phones with ~1,000 mAh more juice in the pack, and there simply isn’t anything to complain about regarding this device’s longevity.
That being said, we can and will complain about the slower-than-competing-phones charging. The S23 needs an hour and 16 minutes to go from zero to full, which isn’t as bad as Sonys or iPhones, but it’s way worse than practically all of its Chinese competitors. For context: the OnePlus 11 fully charges in 22 minutes, while the S23 gets to 57% after 30. Such a huge performance delta in what is a very important part of the experience shouldn’t be acceptable, and yet Samsung still gets away with this year after year.
Perhaps that means people find the rest of the Samsung experience so enticing that they are willing to overlook this, or maybe most don’t actually care about charging speed? With the S23, the great battery life at least ensures you won’t be needing any midday top-ups if your use case is anything like ours, and considering how slow that would go, that’s definitely a plus – unlike the missing charger in the barebones box.
Wireless charging is present too, but limited to 15W so even slower (and by quite a bit) than the wired type. That’s less of an issue in our book, since we’d mainly only use it for overnight charging on our nightstand while we sleep. Others have wireless charging pads on their desks at work, for example, and given the great battery life that should be fine too, but of course your mileage with this will vary depending on what your stance on wireless charging is.
As always, our use case involves the phone being off the charger for about 12-16 hours each day, with primarily Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, about an hour or two of 5G data, location always on with 30 minutes or so of GPS navigation via Waze, Bluetooth always on with about two hours or so of listening to music or podcasts via TWS earbuds, and an hour or so of phone calls via TWS earbuds. The normal caveats apply – if you have a more mobile data-heavy usage scenario, and especially if the signal isn’t great, that will negatively impact your screen on times compared to ours.
The Galaxy S23 received the update to One UI 6 based on Android 14 while we were using it for the purposes of this review. Samsung has once again been on a roll with delivering this major update to dozens of devices within weeks, and there’s no other Android device maker coming even close to it in this regard. Sure, Google’s updates go out sooner, but Google only supports a few devices. At the scale Samsung operates, its rollouts are still impressive, even if this isn’t the first time we’ve seen such a quick turnaround.
That brings us to the general update talk. Samsung promises four major updates for its S-series phones, which means the Galaxy S23 will get Android 17 in late 2026. Only Google’s recent seven-year update promise for its latest flagships surpasses Samsung’s currently, and Samsung is still the best third party Android device maker when it comes to updates.
Current software at the time of writing
We’re not just talking about major ones either. Samsung constantly sends out monthly security updates the way they’re meant to be sent out – monthly. A lot of its competitors aren’t. You also get the current month’s update within that specific month 99% of the time, again, unlike what happens with some other Android device makers which are happy to give you, say, the November update in late December. Samsung isn’t perfect, and it does stray from this general rule sometimes, but overall, if timely updates are important to you and you want an Android phone, get a Pixel or a Samsung.
One UI 6
One UI 6 introduces a new font, which we do like more than the previous default, but is otherwise still easily identifiable as One UI. It comes with a slightly modernized look which is welcome, but no one will confuse this for any other Android skin – or iOS. Samsung has recently been slowly iterating in terms of design both on the hardware front as well as in software, we assume in order to create very recognizable looks for both.
New font in One UI 6
And it’s succeeded in that realm for sure, but whenever strategies like this are employed there’s always going to be talk about what is sacrificed to accomplish such goals. And in this case, it’s definitely ‘freshness’ of design. One UI 6 doesn’t look ‘stale’, but it’s definitely not wow-inducing either – to anyone. This is definitely a deliberate choice on Samsung’s part, so we hope the company has carefully weighed the pros and cons.
While we might complain about this, let’s never forget that Apple gets away with exactly the same thing year after year, especially when it comes to iOS, which pretty much still looks as it did years ago, give or take a few small touches here and there. So it’s rather clear who Samsung is trying to emulate here, and the huge upside to this strategy when it comes to software is that someone jumping from a Samsung phone running One UI 5 to one with One UI 6 will still feel right at home.
Another thing that seems heavily influenced by Apple (or, perhaps, more generally, just the way of the mobile world these days) is Samsung’s ecosystem play. But there is a huge difference in how these two companies go about achieving that. Unlike Apple, Samsung has to rely on Android, which means it has to have Google’s Play Store on its devices, along with all the other apps Google mandates should be preinstalled on any handset that has that.
But leaving things there would only help Google’s ecosystem play, so Samsung, as you probably know by now, also bundles its own app store and a bunch of built-in apps that are alternatives to Google’s. This is not a new situation by any stretch of the imagination, it’s been going on for years, so if you’ve ever used a Samsung smartphone before you’re probably content with it.
That, however, doesn’t make things less confusing for first-time Samsung buyers. Samsung’s apps all update through Samsung’s app store, while Google’s go through – you guessed it – the Play Store. Samsung’s store has a lot of the same apps as Google’s, and sometimes even updates them before the Play Store has had a chance to. It’s pretty messy, and the fact that we’re all used to this by now doesn’t make it less so.
We have ranted a lot about needless duplication in the past, so we won’t dwell on this for too long here, just know and keep in mind that nothing’s changed on this front, aside from Samsung’s texting app now using Google’s RCS and overall being a weird hybrid of the old Samsung texting app and Google’s own Messages.
It works, and we’re thankful for the lack of duplication on offer in this one case, but it only shows how great it would be to not have duplicates for others. Additionally, some Google apps that usually come preinstalled on other Android phones, like Google Calendar, aren’t built-in on Samsung devices, so you’ll have to go get it from the Play Store. Obviously, that’s not a huge issue in and of itself, it just could be jarring for someone who’s used other Android handsets and then switches to a Samsung like this one.
The Settings menu in One UI 6 is just as extensive and packed as always, but it looks 10% prettier now (in this reviewer’s opinion, at least). There are still more options for more things in there than you may have ever imagined, so a lot of small things that could irk you can be tweaked to your liking. That’s a huge plus for anyone who’s into tinkering with various settings, although it could take even those people a good amount of time to go through everything.
At the other end of the scale, if you don’t care about any of that and simply want things to ‘just work’, as Apple fans would say, you’re mostly going to be fine. There could be a small thing here and there that isn’t quite how you imagined it would be (or how it is on other skins), but, as we’ve already said, that’s a small tweak of a setting away from pleasing you, regardless of your taste. So the S23 isn’t fully in the ‘just works’ realm for everyone, but it’s close enough that it’s unlikely to annoy anyone.
The launcher could take some getting used to, if you’re not coming to the S23 straight from another Samsung. It still insists on scrolling horizontally in the app drawer, unlike literally every other Android skin out there, and sure – this makes sense in a way since it’s exactly the manner in which the home screens scroll. We get that logic, but entering the app drawer requires a swipe up (unless you’re one of those people who still use an icon for it). As such, it feels more natural to then keep swiping up to scroll vertically, the way everyone else does it.
As is probably obvious from how we started the last paragraph, we’re in the latter camp and would either like an option for how it scrolls, or an outright change. Alas, Samsung doesn’t seem to want to – and since it’s been like this for so long, we get that it doesn’t want to confuse long-time Samsung users. But that’s at the expense of new ones.
The usual final note about One UI’s app drawer still applies – it has folders in it for some reason and, by default, it’s not sorted alphabetically, again, unlike every other skin out there. The sorting issue is easily fixable with a setting that’s readily available in the three-dots menu at the top right, but there’s nothing you can do about Samsung’s love of folders inside the app drawer.
The One UI 6 launcher
These may or may not be niggles for you personally, however we always point them out because they are pretty important points of differentiation compared to the competition. Otherwise, Samsung’s launcher is very good and does the job well, although it’s weirdly not as customizable as almost everything else about One UI is. It hasn’t received a new feature in probably years, so maybe it’s time? Regardless, the very good news is that it’s been fully devoid of any bugs throughout our use of the S23. Most launchers these days are, but it’s still good to see and we thought we’d acknowledge that.
To the left of your leftmost home screen you can find the Google Discover feed, which is now the only option. You used to be able to pick Samsung Free, which was One UI’s alternative, but not anymore. We can’t say we’re sad to see it go, not at all, but if you used it then you should know it’s gone. The menu for selecting which “media page” to add is thus now pointless, since it was clearly built to show you more than one option, and yet now it only has one. Maybe someone at Samsung HQ should look into cleaning it up a bit.
Recents, Dark mode, Wallpapers
The Recent apps display is horizontally scrolling like most are these days (Samsung seems to only do things differently sometimes, other times it sticks with where the market as a whole is at, like in this case). A great feature that’s been in One UI for a while but still wows us every day is the row of four suggested app icons at the bottom. It’s a great use of what would otherwise be empty space (or, even worse, space wasted by pointless ‘clear all’ buttons and the likes).
These are suggested based on your usage, and depending on which Samsung phone we’re talking about, we found that, for us, they are accurate at least 85% of the time – it was more like 90% on the S23 specifically. What we mean by that is that when we enter Recent apps, 90% of the time the app we were going to switch to was to be found within those ‘suggested apps’ icons. That greatly improves the speed of multitasking in this way and we still highly appreciate it. It’s a small but useful thing we’ve used dozens of times each day.
The Dark mode in One UI 6 isn’t changed from 5.x, it’s still basic but gets the job done. You don’t get any darkness settings, you can just turn it on and off and schedule it to either come on at sunset and turn off at sunrise, or based on custom hours. Additionally, there’s a “Dim wallpaper when Dark mode is on” toggle that’s in the Wallpaper and style section of settings. That’s it.
Dark mode settings
Speaking of wallpapers, Samsung took Google’s automatic theming based on wallpaper colors and Samsung-ified it with plenty of “Color palette” options. For each wallpaper, you get a few different palettes to choose that are based on its colors, but if you don’t like any of them, you can always opt for the “Basic colors” and go with that. On top of all this Samsung still has a theme store as part of its app store, so the options for customizing the UI’s looks are pretty much endless.
Wallpaper and style settings
Gesture navigation works perfectly on the S23, we didn’t encounter any issues with the Home gesture triggering a scroll inside the app we’re in before finally taking us to the home screen, as we did on the Galaxy A54 that we reviewed long-term recently. As we said in that review, we assume this means Samsung’s interpretation of gesture navigation needs a lot more resources than any other Android skin and so it works well on high-end devices like the S23 but is stifled by lower-end chipsets like the one in the A54. That’s a shame and a weird idiosyncrasy of One UI since we’ve never had a similar issue on any other skin.
You can get rid of the white pill bar at the bottom if you use gestures to navigate the UI, and even when you do that, you can still quickly switch between apps by swiping across the bottom of the screen. That’s the best of all worlds in this reviewer’s personal opinion, and not an option you have anymore in MIUI, for example. As we already mentioned, the navigation gestures work great, but if for some reason you have some issues with them while using a case, there’s a sensitivity slider that you can play with. For the S23, we liked this in the second highest position, but of course you may have a different preference.
Speaking of gestures, there are more that you can use in One UI, and they get an entire Settings submenu for themselves: Motions and gestures. This is where you have some options that you could find quite useful, like walking the screen when you pick up the phone (though this reviewer finds that rather annoying so kept it off), double tapping to wake and turn off the screen, muting incoming calls and alarms by turning your phone face down or putting your hand over the screen, swiping the edge of your hand across the screen to take a screenshot, and, in our opinion, the most useful of all – “Alert when phone picked up”.
This will gently vibrate when you pick up the phone if you have a missed call or message. Thus, if you don’t use the Always On Display, you will instantly know you have a missed call or message even before the screen turns on (unless you have “Lift to wake” also on, but you get the point).
Motions and gestures
Another gesture that you might enjoy, and one that’s not specific to One UI, is swiping diagonally from the bottom left or right of the screen to access Google Assistant – this seems to be imposed by Google since it’s now in practically all skins. If you don’t like using “Hey Google” to activate the Assistant, this is, in our view, the second best option. It doesn’t interfere with any other gesture and gets you there quickly.
Speaking of assistants, Bixby is still present but you can thankfully 100% ignore it, that is, if you go into Side key settings and switch up the default for long pressing the power button, which still takes you to Bixby. If you change this to the power menu showing up instead, you can use your S23 forever without ever encountering Bixby, and that might be a huge plus in your book. On the other hand, if you want a lot of Bixby in your life, that’s also an option, in true Samsung style.
Side button settings
The S23 has the same cameras on the rear as its predecessor, the Galaxy S22, which may not be a great sign – sure, these were perfectly adequate sensors for the last generation, but Samsung’s competitors keep innovating in the camera hardware space and the Korean company feels like it’s just coasting here, riding the coattails of its higher brand awareness. We won’t judge the S23’s cameras simply based on this, however – the samples will tell the full story. Can software improvements make this phone perform better than the recycled hardware would imply? We sure hope so.
Let’s take a look, starting with the main 50 MP snapper, which saves 12 MP shots after pixel binning. It was the same situation last time around, even though these should be 12.5 MP. But we assume the 23mm width has something to do with that – maybe some cropping occurs.
Anyway, the shots it produces during daytime come with high contrast, good dynamic range, high levels of resolved detail, and a sharpness level that’s high but probably not too high for most people’s liking. It’s a similar story with colors – they are overly saturated, but you get that ‘Samsung look’ as a consequence, which most people seem to love. No one will accuse this processing of being natural, but then again – if 9 out of 10 people pick livelier colors and higher contrast and sharpness, does it really matter?
Daytime samples from the main camera
The weird but not unexpected thing about these is that they’re practically identical to what the Galaxy S22 produced. So the software didn’t do any magic tricks in the end, we got the same main camera with the same processing and thus the same results. Whether or not that’s acceptable at the high end in this day and age is up to you.
The ultrawide is excellent for an ultrawide, delivering detailed photos with well looked after noise, good contrast and dynamic range. The only weirdness is the fact that its colors are, a lot of times, different from those of the main camera and the zoom camera, and while that’s par for the course in the mid-range, for a flagship it’s not great to see.
Daytime samples from the ultrawide
The 3x zoom camera saves 12 MP even though it has a 10 MP sensor – again, just like in the S22. The upscaling is done really well, however, so much so that no untrained eye is going to notice it at all. The shots are all very detailed, with decent contrast, great dynamic range, and punchy colors of course. There is still some visible noise here and there, which you will notice if you go looking for it, but it’s not enough that it would be problematic.
Daytime zoom samples
At night there’s an Auto Night Mode which triggers when the phone thinks it’s dark enough around you that the pictures you take could benefit from it. When this triggers, a small moon icon shows up in the viewfinder, and if you tap it then you’ll disable the Auto Night Mode, although we don’t know why anyone would want to. Auto Night Mode shots are among the quickest we’ve ever seen, each capture takes barely a second or two on the main camera, and the improvements compared to turning it off are pretty visible.
We shot the images below with Auto Night Mode on, since that’s the default and how 90% of S23 owners will end up using their phone – barely anyone goes into the Camera app’s settings to begin with, and even fewer would tinker with something like this. Auto Night Mode didn’t always trigger in these shots, however.
The resulting photos from the main camera are very, very good. They have plenty of resolved detail, high contrast, good dynamic range, and very good noise reduction. Colors still pop, but a little bit less than during daytime – this makes them more realistic, but only comparatively. Still, these are images that most people will really like.
Nighttime samples from the main camera
The manual Night Mode takes about a second longer to capture each image than the Auto Night Mode, and the differences are minute. So much so that we’d recommend skipping manual Night Mode entirely if you leave Auto Night Mode on. The only real use it has is for scenes where Auto Night Mode didn’t trigger, but you want a Night Mode look to the photo in question. Sure, if you really pixel peep, you’ll notice a tiny bit of improvement in highlights in the manual Night Mode, but we’re not sure that in itself is worth the extra second of capture time.
Night Mode samples from the main camera
Interestingly, Auto Night Mode and manual Night Mode shot-to-shot times have improved compared to the Galaxy S22, by about one second each. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s very useful since the longer the capture time, the more blurriness could in theory be introduced. We had no such issues here, no blurry shots whatsoever.
The ultrawide does a decent job at night, with okay levels of resolved detail, good dynamic range, and low noise levels. This is one of the better ultrawides out there – clearly not the best, but very good. During nighttime shots the color weirdness we mentioned for daytime ones can become much more pronounced – at times it feels like different teams were in charge of the color science, one team handling the main and zoom cameras, and an entirely different one working on the ultrawide. Needless to say, these imaginary teams didn’t talk to each other at all.
Nighttime samples from the ultrawide
The manual Night Mode’s speed is improved too compared to the S22, by about two seconds, and perhaps unsurprisingly it’s the one that takes the most time to shoot and process. Shot-to-shot time varies based on conditions, but it’s never under four seconds and can go up to six – this was just our experience, mind you. Again, with manual Night Mode there are minute improvements compared to Auto Night Mode shots. Compared to those where Auto Night Mode didn’t trigger, these are way better.
Night Mode samples from the ultrawide
The 3x zoom camera by default comes up with decent levels of detail, saturated colors (of course), good contrast, and decent dynamic range. It’s a step below the main camera, and noticeably so, but it’s definitely still pretty good generally. That said, noise has a tendency to creep in, and if there isn’t a lot of light around you, it will do so to a pretty dramatic extent.
Nighttime zoom samples
If you introduce manual Night Mode into the equation, the delta compared to Auto mode for this camera is the highest, as you’ll get the most improvements, especially in lowering noise. So for the zoom camera we’d recommend always going the manual Night Mode route if that’s convenient for you in terms of shooting time.
Night Mode zoom samples
On the front there’s a new, higher-res selfie snapper. You get 2 extra MP, now 12 instead of 10, in a move that was way overdue. During daytime, the selfies are amazing. They have excellent detail levels, minimal noise, great color rendition and dynamic range, and most importantly – the subject is always well exposed. They are sharp, but not over the top.
Like with many other Samsungs, you get two field-of-view options – a full one and a cropped (closer) one. The quality is the same, the latter is just cropping. At night things obviously go down in quality the less light you have around, but this is still one of the best selfie cameras on the market right now. The lesson here seems to be that Samsung may rarely update camera hardware, but when it does, it’s definitely a true upgrade.
Selfie samples, day and night, both FoV options, Portrait Mode off/on
We used the screen flash to capture the nighttime selfie samples, and we recommend you do the same for all conditions save for the brightest of artificial lighting surrounding you. Your face will nicely pop against the background if you do. Nighttime selfie quality, while not the same as during daytime, is still acceptable, and these are undoubtedly usable for social media or sharing with friends.
Overall then, the S23 presents a weird but good camera package. Weird in that the rear snappers are reused from its predecessor, but they still deliver very good quality images and Night Mode processing is now faster across the board. In fact, the S23 has some of the fastest Night Mode-ing that we’ve ever seen, which is a boon for those who like to shoot in low light conditions.
That said, while the rear cameras here are very good, none of them is actually the best in its field, which for a high-end smartphone like this is, let’s say it again, rather weird. We can smell some artificial differentiation going on to make the S23 Ultra stand out more, can’t you? Anyway, the selfie camera’s upgrade is definitely observable in the quality of the shots it takes.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 is a very, very good phone, and one of a dying breed of more compact devices that should appeal to people who don’t value screen real estate above all else in their experience. It’s also obviously the most comfortable to hold and use out of all the S23 family members, thanks to its size. It’s not very small, though – just smaller, but for people with smaller hands, that might be all that’s needed.
Additionally, the Galaxy S23 is a very good deal nowadays, with prices going down significantly since its launch – as it usually happens with Samsung’s flagships. That’s bad news for people who bought at RRP and want to sell now, but it’s great news for you if you want to purchase one today. This is a very good phone that’s easy on the pocket (or bank account), so what’s not to like?
As it turns out, not much. There are a lot of things about the S23 that deserve praise. The screen is the best we’ve ever encountered, it’s well-tuned, and its top brightness makes this the first phone we’ve reviewed long-term that can be used comfortably, with zero squinting or repositioning required, even when the sun is directly hitting the display. That was an unimaginable feat mere years ago, and yet here we are.
Performance is excellent, and smoothness is the best we’ve ever experienced on a Samsung and surprisingly close to what the OnePlus 11 delivered – that’s our second smoothest phone ever reviewed long-term, and very close to the Xiaomi 13 Pro that’s No.1. So the S23 takes the bronze medal currently, and that’s the best any Samsung has ever managed in this totally subjective evaluation. Props for that, too.
Battery life has been great overall, if compared to any other phone out there, and actually outstanding when factoring in how small its battery capacity is compared to most mainstream flagships today. With our use case, we never had an issue making it through a day with no need for random top-ups throughout.
The in-display fingerprint sensor is by far the fastest we’ve ever used (if you turn some pointless animations and transitions off), and in terms of accuracy on par with the best ones out there. The speakers are great in both maximum volume (for the size) and quality (for a phone). The vibration motor is as good as you can get these days.
One UI 6 very clearly improved perceived smoothness in operation, while modernizing the skin’s looks (including the default font). It’s still very recognizable as One UI, but updated here and there to keep it in tune with the times. The update arrived for our unit only a few weeks after Google started sending out its update to Android 14, and Samsung is still among the fastest non-Google companies to put major Android updates out – and not just for its flagships either. The South Korean company updated dozens of devices in the span of a few weeks, and the scale of its update operation is unmatched.
Monthly security updates generally arrive both monthly, as they should, and in the appropriate month, unlike what we see a lot in some competing devices. We’ve encountered no bugs during our time with One UI 6, and that speaks highly of Samsung’s software quality control in recent times.
So after all this praise, you may be wondering whether there is a catch. Well, there are a few bits and pieces. While being very good, rear cameras are simply reused from the S22 is kind of a weirdly low effort in a mobile space where other companies keep innovating in terms of camera hardware every year. There are also zero software processing improvements compared to the S22, but Night Mode captures have become faster, which is definitely nice to see. For what it’s worth, the selfie camera is new, and it’s among the best out there at the moment.
Charging is too slow compared to the competition, and you don’t even get a charger in the box. Thankfully, the great battery life alleviates the first issue if you aren’t among the top 1% of heavy users. Finally, while some of those picking up an S23 might be used to One UI, for others it could feel like just a bit much, with its millions of settings and tweaks for everything, and some uncommon choices for default behavior (not showing notifications on the lock screen, scrolling the app drawer horizontally and not sorting it alphabetically – this sort of things).
But really, these are more nitpicks than anything that would substantially ruin your experience. If you are okay with the size and with not getting the absolute best rear cameras, then we can wholeheartedly recommend you pick up an S23, especially at the current prices. It’s closer to a ‘no brainer’ than any other smartphone we’ve ever reviewed long-term.