Every year Samsung releases its flagship phones to much fanfare – and for 2023 the Galaxy S23 has been no exception. However, as confirmed at the Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event, the year-on-year changes in this latest handset aren't exactly dramatic compared to its predecessor.
If the Galaxy S23 is going to make a dent in the best small phones or try to shoulder its way into the best Android phones then does its tweaked new design, uprated battery capacity, and newer processor amount to enough – especially in light of the range's year-on-year price increase?
I've been using the smallest-scale Galaxy S23 flagship for a working week, and while I don't think many will see it as an immediate upgrade option, I do still see it as a potential champion among smaller Android phones thanks to the considered design and great overall user experience.
Samsung Galaxy S23: Price & Availability
Available right now, the Galaxy S23 is priced from £849/$799/AU$1,349. That's for the 128GB version. You can also pay extra if you want 256GB of storage. It's therefore a little pricier than its predecessor, but that's inflation for you.
I'll mention the Galaxy S23 Plus here, too, as the mid-scale model in the series, which features a 6.6-inch screen, may appeal more if you want added screen real-estate and otherwise all the same features. It's pricier, though, starting at £1,049/$99/AU$1,649 for the entry 256GB model. By which point you may be eyeing up the (even more expensive but entirely different) Galaxy S23 Ultra instead.
Samsung Galaxy S23 review: What's new?
The Galaxy S23 embodies Samsung's refinement of the S series ultimately: to look at it's akin to an 'S23 Ultra Mini' because the contoured camera housing of old has vanished, so the separate lenses protrude individually from the rear in a striking yet familiar look. That design change is the biggest shift for the S23 over the older S22 though – and I do think it looks better for it.
Otherwise the Galaxy S23 is an echo of the earlier S22 model in terms of scale: it features the very same screen, at 6.1-inches, and even the cameras remain the very same, foregoing the 200-megapixel upgrade that you'll find in the S23 Ultra model.
There's the new inclusion of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform, paired with an even more capacious battery, which gains 200mAh to total 4,500mAh all-in – really not bad for a phone of this scale, especially with a processor that professes to be smarter when it comes to longevity. The cooling system is also larger than before which should further aid the longevity per charge.
Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Design & Display
Samsung is on a big drive to up the proportion of recycled parts that make up its device, which the Galaxy S23 also benefits from. It's not as though buying any new technology is going to fix they planet, mind, but it's a small step in the right direction – plus it's a demand that consumers are requesting.
The whole Galaxy S23 series now comes in four colours: Phantom Black, Cream, Green, Lavender. While my pictures in this review are of the Cream model, it's the less exuberant tones of Green that I've actually received for review. If I were to buy one, however, I'd go to Samsung direct as that's where you can access the 'secret' colours of Red, Blue, Lime, or Graphite.
Other than the colour choice and that minor tweak to the camera housing, however, it's otherwise business as usual with the Galaxy S23. That's to say it's the spitting image of its predecessor from the front – and while that might not deliver a mass of major upgrades, it's still a very accomplished little phone.
Take the display: this delightful little 6.1-inch AMOLED panel features a 1080 x 2340 resolution, is really bright (I've turned it down a bunch in the pictures on this page, to help with the photography), and as is typical of this technology there are deep blacks, punchy colours and great contrast. It's less resolute than the S23 Ultra, sure, but at this scale I really don't think people will be asking for more – especially given the 120Hz refresh rate panel, which makes everything look all smooth in playback.
Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Performance
In terms of raw power the Galaxy S23 delivers the same processing innards as the Plus and Ultra models. So just because you want to go small doesn't make any difference to how well everything functions in any way, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor inside.
And just as I said in my S23 Plus review, that translates well in the real world. Everything loads fast. Games run at decent frame-rates. There's no overheating concerns. However, and again the same echo of the other S23 reviews, I don't really feel a major difference here compared to if I picked up an S22 equivalent model from last year. Then again, the newer base S23 does have more battery, which is a big bonus.
It's battery life where I certainly had my biggest initial concern with the Galaxy S23 though. The capacity is the smallest in the range (at 3,900mAh), inevitably given the handset's size, but I'm still impressed that Samsung has squeezed extra in here (the S22 had a 3,700mAh cell). Charging speeds remain the same, though, with 25W charging being lower and slower than the rest of the range, which is a shame.
As I've learned from reviewing countless Samsung phones over the years, they can take a bit of time to settle down when it comes to battery longevity. My concerns were of little bother in the end, with the Galaxy S23 lasting for only a little less than the Ultra model really, so it'll push you through to the end of a working day no worries. I've been reaching bedtime with 20 per cent battery left, including a full 5 hours of screen time across a 15 hour period. So about an hour of use time less than the bigger Galaxy flagships.
Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Cameras
- Main (23mm): 50-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, optical stabilisation (OIS)
- Portrait (70mm): 3x zoom with 10MP, f/2.4, OIS
- Wide-angle (13mm): 12MP, f/2.2
- Selfie (25mm): 12MP, f/2.2
I've outlaid the four main cameras you'll find on the Galaxy S23 above so you can see what you're getting. If the list looks familiar that's because, with the exception of a resolution change for the selfie camera (up from 10MP to 12MP), it's an identical camera arrangement to the earlier Galaxy S22 model. It's also the very same as you'll find in the S23 Plus handset.
Now that'll disappoint those hoping for a next-level experience from this small-scale flagship, especially as the S23 Ultra gains a super-resolute 200-megapixel main camera. Although, realistically, you don't need that super-resolute option to take great pictures with this handset. It's in the wide-angle and the zoom lens where I'd really like Samsung to have upped the resolution, especially that 3x lens, which I think could deliver greater clarity from its results.
Otherwise, however, the Galaxy S23 is still an excellent camera phone. The 50-megapixel main sensor on offer here is perfectly adept at delivering detail in all manner of conditions – and I really enjoyed using the handset to shoot some great images when away on holiday. Whether dim-lit cellar, daylight mountain scene, or anything else I cared to throw its way, it's simply a case of point, shoot, and smile. The simplicity of using this camera is part of its key appeal for me.
All in all, then, the Galaxy S23's camera setup remains impressive, but for the series to really push forward in the next generation I think the Galaxy S24 range will need to do a little more work and rethink its sensor choices to remain competitive. Especially when great handsets such as the Xiaomi 13 Pro are appearing and offering surprisingly impressive specifications and results.
Samsung Galaxy S23 review: Verdict
The Samsung Galaxy S23 didn't really need to change a bunch of stuff compared to its predecessor to remain a stellar little phone. Little being the operative word: this is a small flagship with big successes, including a better battery than the last-generation model, and a neat design that's perfectly in sync with the flagship Galaxy family.
However, and much like I said with the S23 Ultra: I don't think those currently using the Galaxy S22 are going to dash out immediately to grab an S23 upgrade, because the differences and now higher price tag probably don't warrant it. But if you're coming from a different phone, or perhaps an older device, and are looking for a great small Android flagship then, well, Samsung has once again delivered the goods.
It's also worth considering that you can bag the previous Samsung Galaxy S22 for less cash. Sure, it's got the older design, and you forego 200mAh of extra battery capacity, but aside from the slight processor upgrade that's pretty much all that differs, making this older model potentially more appealing for those buying the handset outright.
If you think the 6.1-inch display of the Galaxy S23 might be a bit too small for your needs, then there is also the Galaxy S23 Plus. It's the same in every regard, except features a larger screen and more battery capacity. But it's also a fair chunk of cash pricier.
Outside of team Samsung it's the Google Pixel 7's eye-catching design and great cameras that may appeal, plus it's cheaper than the entry Galaxy S23, making it another one of the top picks for smaller-scale Android phone fans.