Samsung Galaxy S23 Review: The Compact Flagship to Beat

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The base Galaxy S model from Samsung has enjoyed the privilege of being the only compact Android flagship in India for the past few years. However, things are different now as Google showed up out of nowhere and decided to bring its premium Pixel smartphones to India. The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are special too as they have their own custom-designed SoC which powers the ‘Pixel experience’. This consists of smart features, timely software updates, feature drops, and its imaging experience.

Samsung has upped its game by going with a slightly customised Qualcomm SoC this year for the Galaxy S23 series, but majority of the features of the Galaxy S23 are similar to last year’s model. Does the formula of a ‘small flagship with big power’ still apply in 2023, or would you be better off with something from the competition? We find out in this review.

Samsung Galaxy S23 price in India

The Samsung Galaxy S23 is available in four finishes and two configurations. There’s Phantom Black, Cream, Green, and Lavender finishes to choose from. The two storage variants include the base variant with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage which is available at Rs. 74,999, while the second variant with 256GB of storage is priced at Rs. 79,999. I received the Lavender unit with 256GB of storage for review.

Samsung Galaxy S23 design

The Samsung Galaxy S22 (Review) switched over from the more rounded design of the Galaxy S21 (Review), and added a contour cutout for the camera module which gave it a unique appearance. With the Galaxy S23, Samsung has recycled a major part of its predecessor’s design but replaced the contour camera module with three individual cutouts for each camera, just like the Ultra. Samsung calls this its ‘floating camera’ design. Everything else pretty much remains the same as before and this includes the thin bezel around the flat display on the front, and the IP68 rating for dust and water resistance.

The phone does not feel any different in the hand, compared to the previous model. In fact the Samsung Galaxy S23 has nearly the same dimensions as the S22. While the new rear camera design does help one distinguish the new model from the old one, it doesn’t help the S23’s premium appeal when Samsung’s new mid-range offerings (Galaxy A54 and Galaxy A34) show up with a very similar design.

The Samsung Galaxy S23’s display is similar to the previous model

Regardless of what has changed or unchanged, there’s no denying that the Samsung Galaxy S23 is the only other flagship in the Android camp that’s as compact as Apple’s iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro. The S23 might not offer the capabilities of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, but compact Android flagships are a hard find today and those with small or medium-sized hands will appreciate its size and form factor which can easily slip into a skinny jeans pocket. Its size also enables better one-handed usage, which is again rare when it comes to premium Android devices and is something that’s not even possible on the smaller Pixel 7.

Samsung Galaxy S23 specifications and software

Similar to its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S23 offers a 6.1-inch full-HD+ Super AMOLED display with a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz and a touch sampling rate of 240Hz. The fingerprint reader is embedded in the display and is quite reliable. Just like the Galaxy S23 Ultra, Samsung offers the same customised “Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform for Galaxy” SoC in the Galaxy S23.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 gets a new floating camera layout, while the rest of the design remains similar to the Galaxy S22

Samsung offers the phone with a maximum of 8GB RAM and 256GB of storage, however, keep in mind that Samsung offers the faster UFS 4.0 storage only on the top-end model, as the 128GB variant comes with UFS 3.1 storage. The SIM card tray can hold two nano-SIM cards and the phone supports several 5G radios with dual-5G standby as well. However there is no expandable storage available with the Galaxy S23.

Communication standards include Wi-Fi 6e, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC, USB Type-C port, and support for the usual satellite navigation systems. The Galaxy S23 now offers a slightly larger 3,900mAh battery which is a welcome move over the previous 3,700mAh unit. However, wired charging speeds remain the same at 25W and the same goes for wireless charging, which remains at 15W. As usual, Samsung does not offer a charger in the box anymore.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 comes with OneUI 5.1 out of the box, which is based on Android 13. Samsung promises “four generations of Android upgrades” and five years of security updates, which is impressive. Indeed, this is one area where Samsung has excelled over the years as it has been racing to update recent and older handsets to the latest Android 13 software.

Updates aside, OneUI 5.1 feels quite fluid and comes with some new tricks such as the ability to remove objects, people and pets from an image in the Gallery app, two new battery widgets, and an improved dynamic weather widget. Broader updates also allow Samsung Galaxy Book laptop owners to use their trackpad and keyboard with their phones.

While there’s a lot to like about Samsung’s OneUI, it still ships with a lot of third-party apps such as Microsoft 365, OneDrive, LinkedIn, Outlook, Facebook, Spotify and Netflix, which is not the sort of bloatware you expect on a smartphone that costs upwards of Rs. 70,000. More so, because Google’s Pixel 7 series manages to avoid this entirely.

There are plenty of Samsung-branded apps that come preinstalled on the Galaxy S23

Add to this, Samsung’s versions of the default Google apps and you have enough options to confuse the casual user as to which one they should go with. However, I’m glad to report that none of these Samsung-branded apps throw spammy notifications and most of them (apart from the core Samsung ones) can be uninstalled.

Samsung Galaxy S23 performance

The Samsung Galaxy S23’s Super AMOLED display offers punchy colours at the default ‘Vivid’ setting which was not to my liking, so I switched to ‘Natural’ for better colour accuracy. The display gets quite bright outdoors during the day and also manages colours and contrast well in such situations.

The 120Hz refresh rate does come in use while playing certain games, but the touch sampling rate could have been higher, especially when playing Call of Duty: Mobile and Genshin Impact. It was hard to accurately point and aim when playing both titles, which could be problematic if you play such titles. The display also has an HDR10+ certification and playback of supported streaming content appeared as expected.

Taking its new and customised processor into consideration, the Samsung Galaxy S23 actually managed higher benchmark scores than the Galaxy S23 Ultra, mainly due to its lower resolution display. It scored 1,944 and 5,008 points in Geekbench 6’s single and multi-score tests, and 1,186,610 points in AnTuTu. Despite its higher scores, the phone did not heat up as easily as the previous model under load, but it throttles a lot faster than the Galaxy S23 Ultra when running the CPU Throttling app.

Battery life of the Samsung Galaxy S23 has definitely improved over last year’s Galaxy S22

Last year’s Galaxy S22+ and the Galaxy S22 Ultra models were upgraded with vapour chamber cooling systems, but Samsung left out the Galaxy S22, using just graphite sheets instead. Now, for the first time ever, Samsung claims to have used a vapour chamber cooling on its smallest Galaxy S series model and the results are noticeably better. The phone does heat up when using the camera on a sunny afternoon, but it is still quite manageable compared to the hot mess the Galaxy S22 was last year.

The same applies to gaming, where the phone manages sustained performance and runs a lot cooler than the previous model. However, the Galaxy S23 will still heat up when maxing out the visuals in games like Genshin Impact as it is a very graphically demanding title that’s better suited for more gaming-centric devices like the Asus ROG 6 (Review).

The Samsung Galaxy S23’s battery has increased by a small margin, but it is enough to make a difference. The phone easily got me through a whole day’s worth of heavy usage on one charge, which also included some gaming. However, the latter activity does end up draining the battery faster. In our HD video loop test, the Galaxy S23 ran for a solid 17 hours, 56 minutes.

While the Galaxy S23’s battery life has improved over the Galaxy S22, it’s still a one-day-use smartphone only. Competing smartphones that are bigger in size also pack bigger batteries, and can easily handle a day and half (or more) of usage. Charging the Galaxy S23 from empty to full is also similar to its predecessor (around 1 hour, 30 mins), which is a bit disappointing. 

Samsung Galaxy S23 cameras

Continuing the streak of limited hardware changes, I found that only the selfie camera has been updated from a 10-megapixel sensor to a 12-megapixel sensor, which is the same one used on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. According to Samsung, this upgrade enables HDR10+ recording on the front camera. The rest of the camera hardware remains similar to the previous model and it includes a 50-megapixel primary, 10-megapixel telephoto (3X optical zoom), and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide. Just like the Galaxy S23 Ultra, the Expert RAW app now has a shortcut inside the main camera app. The rest of the camera interface is the same as before.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 is priced similar to the Google Pixel 7 Pro

Sine the Pixel 7 Pro is the Galaxy S23’s closest competitor, it just made sense to do a few comparison shots. The Galaxy S23 captured quality images with plenty of detail and good dynamic range in daylight. But the colours looked a bit oversaturated despite keeping the phone’s ‘Scene Optimise’ AI enhancement feature disabled. Compared to the Pixel 7 Pro, the Galaxy S23 fell a bit short when it came to resolved detail, dynamic range and colour accuracy.

Shooting close-ups of objects is where the Samsung delivers much better details (dare I say excessive) than the Pixel. The Pixel 7 Pro on the other hand nails it when it comes to colour accuracy and dynamic range, which the S23 just cannot match.

Samsung Galaxy S23 and Google Pixel 7 Pro daylight camera samples. Top: Primary camera, bottom: Ultra-wide camera (tap to see full size)

With the ultra-wide camera, Samsung manages to replicate the colour tone of its primary camera quite well which is good for consistency, but these photos look a bit saturated. Dynamic range is excellent on both smartphones and the same goes for details, which is quite good.

Samsung Galaxy S23 and Google Pixel 7 Pro low-light camera samples. (Tap to see full size)

In low light, I used each smartphone’s auto-night mode letting each phone’s camera decide whether it needed to fire up Night mode or not. The Samsung Galaxy S23 had the same problems which I noticed when comparing the Galaxy S23 Ultra to the iPhone 14 Pro, where it captures slightly dreamy looking photos in dimly-lit scenes, and with a noticeable halo effect around objects. However, unlike the S23 Ultra, the Galaxy S23 lacks the high resolution sensor, so the resolved details aren’t as good. The Pixel 7 Pro on the other hand has minor problems with bright lights but manages much better photos with better details, colour accuracy and dynamic range than the Galaxy S23.

Samsung Galaxy S23 and Google Pixel 7 Pro daylight zoom samples (Tap to see full size)

When it came to zoom, Samsung’s Galaxy S23 captured slightly oversharpened photos at 2X magnification, while Google’s Pixel managed photos with better resolved details. At 3X, which is the Galaxy’s optical zoom limit, both phones manage a similar level of quality, which was surprising because the Pixel’s photos are digital crops from the primary camera. At 5X zoom, which is Pixel’s optical limit, it managed better quality photos, while the Galaxy S23’s photos appeared a bit flat with some oversharpening (because they are digitally cropped photos). In low light, the Samsung Galaxy S23’s 3X telephoto camera’s optical zoom performance isn’t impressive and is unable to focus properly. Meanwhile, the Pixel 7 Pro does a much better job at 5X optical zoom.

Samsung Galaxy S23 and Google Pixel 7 Pro low-light samples (Tap to see full size)

Selfies in Portrait mode from the front camera look great from both smartphones, but Samsung’s Galaxy S23 has an edge thanks to its newer sensor. The Pixel 7 Pro also showcases natural skin tones while the Galaxy S23 produces a slightly reddish appearance. The Galaxy S23 also captures sharper images thanks to its PDAF system, but the Pixel has a much wider field of view, which is useful if you have many people in the frame.

Samsung Galaxy S23 and Google Pixel 7 Pro daylight and low-light selfie camera samples (Tap to see full size)

Capturing selfies in low light is where the Samsung Galaxy S23 comes out on top, when used with the screen flash switched on. The Pixel’s images look quite messy with the same settings. However, both cameras show similar quality when shooting selfies with their respective Night modes.

When capturing video, I stuck to 4K setting as both smartphones are equally capable of shooting the same. The Galaxy S23 captures slightly sharper looking video while the Pixel 7 Pro has a more realistic look when recording at 4K 60fps. The Pixel also managed more accurate colours while the Galaxy had more cooler tones. Both phones managed a steady bitrate and good stabilisation when panning and moving around.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 is also capable of shooting 8K video. While it’s not as detailed as the footage captured from the Galaxy S23 Ultra, it does a good job at it and manages a steady bitrate. However, do keep in mind that 8K recordings take up a lot of storage space.

I also tried HDR video recording on the Samsung Galaxy S23. While the Pixel’s HDR capabilities haven’t improved since my last shootout with the iPhone 14 Pro, Samsung did a much better job, albeit with saturated colours. In low light, both smartphones did a decent job when shooting at 4K 60fps, but Samsung managed to control noise a lot better than the Pixel. However, the Galaxy S23’s aggressive noise reduction comes at the cost of weaker details.

Verdict

Samsung is currently the only smartphone brand in India to offer a truly compact flagship phone, year after year. Most manufacturers withdrew from this form factor in the premium space as display size and battery life became bigger priorities among buyers. This holds true as even a brand as rigid as Apple, announced it’s second XL-sized smartphone in the form of the iPhone 14 Plus (Review) last year.

While last year’s Samsung Galaxy S22 just about cut it when it came to battery life, this year’s Galaxy S23 does a better job. It improves on that one paint point most buyers have with compact flagships and this should surely help it find a lot more takers. If you are in the market for a compact flagship and are willing to live with the compromises these phones are known for (relatively smaller battery and display), then get a Samsung Galaxy S23 by all means, as there’s no competition.

However, when it comes to value, it gets really hard to justify the Galaxy S23’s Rs. 74,999 price. Samsung’s own Galaxy S22 (Review) comes quite close to the S23 in terms of features and performance, including that compact form factor. Since it’s more than a year old, you can now find it for roughly Rs. 57,999 or even lesser in online stores.

If you are comfortable with something slightly larger, Google’s Pixel 7 is a worthy competitor. While it cuts down on the number of rear cameras and is only available in one storage option, it’s also priced a lot lower than the Galaxy S23 at Rs. 59,999. The bigger Pixel 7 Pro (Review) adds a third camera with solid telephoto performance at a price that is similar to the Galaxy S23’s 256GB variant. Google’s Pixel devices are also the first to get software updates and it’s all stock, minus the bloatware that Samsung still loads on its smartphones. Also available at the same price is Vivo’s X80 Pro (Review) which at Rs. 79,999, offers incredible camera capability along with better battery life.


The newly launched Oppo Find N2 Flip is the first foldable from the company to debut in India. But does it have what it takes to compete with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4? We discuss this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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