Samsung Galaxy S23+ Review: Overlooked No More


Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus in hand

The new year means new Samsung phones. The Galaxy S23+ is the middle child of Samsung’s latest family, but it’s trying to break out of that mold. It just might be the family favorite this time around.

For whatever reason, Samsung has decided it has to release three phones in its flagship Galaxy S series every year. The Plus model has often been the one passed over—why not save money and get the smaller version or go all out for the Ultra? I was expecting more of the same this time, but the Galaxy S23+ is a surprisingly likable device.

I’ve been using the Galaxy S23+ for over a week on AT&T’s network. While I’ve never been a huge fan of Samsung software, the hardware is hard not to like. Is this the Plus model to change the narrative around the middle device?

Here’s What We Like

  • Big, but not too big
  • Excellent performance and battery life
  • Premium Design
  • Solid cameras

And What We Don’t

  • One UI is a lot to take in
  • Only $200 cheaper (at full price) than the Ultra

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Hardware and Design: Fruity Vibes

Samsung Galaxy S23 vs iPhone
  • Display: 6.6-inch, FHD+ (1080 x 2340) AMOLED, 120Hz refresh rate, 1750 nits
  • Build materials: Armor aluminum frame, Gorilla Glass Victus 2
  • Security: In-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, Face Unlock
  • Ports: USB-C 3.2
  • Water/dust resistance: IP68
  • Dimensions: 157.8 x 76.2 x 7.6 inches
  • Weight: 6.91 oz

Samsung is not scared to change up the design of its flagship series, but the changes are subtle. The Galaxy S23+ is nearly (annoyingly) identical to the Galaxy S22+ in size—less than .4mm difference in height and width. The most noticeable design change this year is the camera bump, or rather, lack thereof.

All three Galaxy S23 models now share the same camera lens design as last year’s Galaxy S22 Ultra. The camera bump is gone, leaving only the three lenses jutting out from the back of the phone. The lenses stick out the same amount—and the device is still wobbly when lying on a flat surface—but I prefer this cleaner look.

One thing that stuck out to me when I first held the Galaxy S23+ is a certain fruity influence, if you catch my drift. While no one would mistake the Galaxy S23+ for an iPhone 14 visually, the large radius rounded corners and flat glass on the front and back provide a familiar feel. You might think you’re holding an iPhone if not for the slightly rounded edges.

Galaxy S23 Plus display

This isn’t a bad thing, by the way. I much prefer the rounded corners of the Galaxy S23+ over the sharper corners of a phone such as the Google Pixel 7. It’s much more comfortable to hold, and actually makes the phone feel smaller than the Pixel 7 despite having a larger display. That’s also thanks to the impressive 90% screen-to-body ratio.

Speaking of display, the 6.6-inch display has a resolution of 2340 x 1080 and a 120Hz refresh rate. 1080p might not seem that impressive, but I’ve come to prefer it over higher resolutions. I just don’t need that on a smartphone, and I’d rather have the improved battery life that comes with a lower resolution. Samsung makes some of the best displays on the market, and the Galaxy S23+ keeps that going.

I haven’t always been a fan of Samsung’s hardware design. At times, its devices have looked and felt cheap despite not being priced that way. The Galaxy S23+ looks and feels every bit as premium as its price tag and spec sheet imply.

Fingerprint Scanner: Not Terrible

Galaxy S23 Plus fingerprint scanner

Last year, I wrote an editorial titled: “The Dream of In-Display Fingerprint Scanners Is Dead.” It was largely inspired by my time with the Galaxy S22. Four years into Samsung using in-display fingerprint scanners, I was still utterly unimpressed. Thankfully, my experience with the Galaxy S23+ has been a bit better.

The Galaxy S23+’s in-display scanner is very, very quick when it works as intended—that just doesn’t happen reliably enough, though. It’s incredibly annoying to want to check something on your phone quickly and you’re stuck pushing your finger on the lock screen. I still prefer a good ‘ol fashioned rear-mounted physical fingerprint scanner.

One UI: An Acquired Taste

One UI on Galaxy S23 Plus
  • Operating system (when reviewed): One UI 5.1 on Android 13 (January 2023 security update)
  • Software updates: 4 OS updates, 5 years security updates

The Samsung Galaxy S23+ is running One UI 5.1 based on Android 13. There’s no mistaking One UI for any other flavor of Android. It is distinctly Samsung, and you either like that or you don’t. Personally, I’m not a fan of One UI, but I can’t deny Samsung has done a lot of great things with its software.

One UI’s greatest strength can also be its biggest weakness—there’s just so much. There are times when I really appreciate the maximalist approach, but I often find myself being drawn to the simplicity of Google’s Pixel UI.

Bixby on Galaxy S23 Plus

It takes a lot longer for me to get a new Samsung phone customized and set up to my liking than it does any other Android device. I have to lock Bixby up in its room (seriously, who is using this?), remove as many of Samsung’s duplicate apps as I can, trim down the Quick Settings panel, and turn off notifications for a bunch of annoying apps.

One UI isn’t bad; it’s just a lot to take in. However, there’s one thing that is unquestionably great about Samsung’s software—you get four major Android OS updates and five years of security updates. That’s a big win.

Cameras: Solid, If Unremarkable

Galaxy S23 Plus cameras
  • Primary camera:50 MP, f/1.8, 24mm, 1/1.56″, 1.0µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
  • Second camera:12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 120-degree field of view, 1/2.55″ 1.4µm
  • Third camera: 10 MP, f/2.4, 70mm, 1/3.94″, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 3X optical zoom
  • Front-Facing Camera: 12 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), Dual Pixel PDAF
  • Video recording: 8K 30fps, 4K 30/60fps, 1080p 30/60/240fps, 1080p 960fps, HDR10+, stereo sound, gyro-EIS

In a lot of ways, the Galaxy S23+ is every bit as good as the Galaxy S23 Ultra—except for one thing: cameras. The Galaxy S23+ “only” has a 50MP main camera, 10MP 3X zoom lens, and 12MP ultrawide camera on the rear. Upfront is a 12MP selfie camera.

The cameras are very good, if not a little boring. Photos from a Samsung phone tend to have their own unique look. They’re fine in a vacuum, but if you compare them with photos from other phones, you can see how unnatural they sometimes look. Colors are pumped up just a little too much.

The same can be said for low light photos. They’re certainly good and more than acceptable for a modern smartphone, which is good since the weather was not great in my testing period. I wasn’t blown away by the results, though. Google’s Night Sight mode is still king in this department. However, you shouldn’t worry about not being able to capture moments in low light.

Galaxy S23 Plus camera app

The one area that Samsung has really nailed is Portrait Mode. I mentioned in my Google Pixel 7 review that I felt Samsung had passed Google’s Portrait Mode with the Galaxy S22, and that’s still the case here. It’s remarkably good at isolating small details from the background, and the blurring effect isn’t overdone. I’ve taken some Portrait Mode photos that are literally flawless.

Samsung has equipped the Galaxy S23+ with tons of options when it comes to video. You can record up to 8K at 30fps, or max out the fps at 960 in 1080p. While I still prefer Google’s cameras and software optimizations for photos, I think Samsung is better at video. Check out my standard, low light, and slow-motion samples.

Rear-Facing Cameras Samples

Galaxy S23+ Sample PhotoGalaxy S23+ Sample PhotoGalaxy S23+ Sample PhotoGalaxy S23+ Sample PhotoGalaxy S23+ Sample PhotoGalaxy S23+ Sample PhotoGalaxy S23+ Sample PhotoGalaxy S23+ Sample PhotoImage Gallery Slide, Number 9Galaxy S23+ Sample Photo

Front-Facing Camera Samples

Galaxy S23+ Sample PhotoGalaxy S23+ Sample PhotoGalaxy S23+ Sample Photo

Performance: Blazin’

Galaxy S23 Plus
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • Storage: 256 GB, 512 GB, no microSD expansion

The Samsung Galaxy S23 series is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset—but not just the regular Gen 2. Qualcomm and Samsung have made some extra customizations for the Galaxy S23 series. It’s not exactly clear what those customizations are, but this is a very speedy phone.

I can safely say the Galaxy S23+ is the fastest Android device I’ve ever used. You might think that’s an obvious statement for the newest device in a series, but it’s not always the case. I was not impressed with performance on last year’s Galaxy S22, for example. I have the model with 8GB of RAM—which is not the most you can get—and it’s been absolutely great.

Setting up a phone from a backup is one of the most resource-intensive things you can do. Dozens of apps are being downloaded and installed, settings are being restored, images and videos being transferred, etc. The Galaxy S23+ handled it all without a hiccup and didn’t even get warm.

Perhaps the biggest performance improvement I’ve noticed with the Galaxy S23+ is the camera. I was very frustrated with the laggy camera experience on my Galaxy S22. So much that I stopped using the phone altogether. Thankfully, Samsung seems to have solved that problem.

Battery Life: Long Days

Galaxy S23 Plus
  • Battery size: 4,700 mAh
  • Max charging speed: 45W
  • Wireless Charging and Battery Power Share

Despite being practically the exact same size as the Galaxy S22+, Samsung managed to add an extra 200mAh of battery into the Galaxy S23+. That may not be a huge upgrade, but battery life was already pretty good for the Plus model last year (I can’t say the same for the smaller S22). Now it’s even better.

Thanks in part to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 optimizations and 1080p display, I never had any anxiety about running out of battery before the end of the day. With most phones I end up at around 25% or lower by bedtime. The Galaxy S23+ is closer to 50% by the end of the day, which is pretty amazing. Turn off some things like the Always-On Display and you probably could get two days out of it if you really needed to.

Phone Calls: Crystal Clear

Smartphones are still phones at their core—even if you don’t make as many phone calls as you used to. It’s easy not to think about that when call quality is good, but bad call quality is annoying. Thankfully, it’s not a problem with the Galaxy S23+.

I compared the audio recordings from my Pixel 7 review and was pretty surprised by how much better the Galaxy S23+’s microphones sound. Background noise was not completely removed, but my voice sounds a lot more clear. Check out the recording below to hear how it sounds with and without background noise.

Galaxy S23 Plus vs. Galaxy S23 vs. Galaxy S23 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S23, S23 Plus, S23 Ultra in Green laying on a table

The Galaxy S23+ is the middle child of the S23 series. It’s joined by the smaller Galaxy S23 and the bigger Galaxy S23 Ultra. The Galaxy S23 and S23+ have a lot in common—more so than the S22 series—but the Ultra model has quite a bit more.

If you’re looking for a “small” Android device, the regular Galaxy S23 is the best option on the market. The 6.1-inch display is much better for one-handed use than the 6.6-inch Galaxy S23+. However, the Galaxy S23+ is honestly not as big as you might think, thanks to the aforementioned screen-to-body ratio. If size isn’t your top concern, I think the Plus model is the way to go this year.

Of course, we can’t forget the Galaxy S23 Ultra. It has everything you could possibly want out of a high-end, premium smartphone. You get more cameras, a bigger display, bigger battery, and a stylus. It also costs $1,200, which is a lot for a phone that doesn’t even fold. I don’t think most people need all of that.

Should You Buy the Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus?

Galaxy S23 Plus vs Pixel 7 Pro

Most years, the Plus model feels like a weird, unnecessary middle ground. However, the Galaxy S23+ might be the best of the bunch this time. It feels like a worthwhile upgrade over the smaller S23—for those who don’t need the kitchen sink approach of the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

That being said, you’re not limited to only Samsung if you’re interested in Android phones. The Google Pixel 7 Pro sits in the same display size category and also costs $999. It has more RAM (12GB), slightly weaker performance, a 5X zoom lens (compared to the S23+’s 3X), higher resolution display, and Google software.

Which should you choose? If you’re planning to use the phone for multiple years, the Galaxy S23+ is the more reliable choice. Samsung offers better software support than Google, and better quality control in general. However, if One UI isn’t your cup of tea, the Pixel 7 Pro is a fantastic device.

Overall, this might be the best Plus model device Samsung has made in the Galaxy series. It stands on its own as a solid choice among its siblings. $1,000 is still a lot to spend on a smartphone—which gives a slight edge to the smaller S23 still—but you can often find it for cheaper. If you can swing it, don’t let middle child syndrome fool you this time.

Here’s What We Like

  • Big, but not too big
  • Excellent performance and battery life
  • Premium Design
  • Solid cameras

And What We Don’t

  • One UI is a lot to take in
  • Only $200 cheaper (at full price) than the Ultra

Original Article