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Samsung Galaxy S23 review: The definitive option for a smaller, premium Android phone

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The Samsung Galaxy S23 against a green background showing the display on the home screen and rear of the phone in the black color option.Samsung’s Galaxy S23 is the best Android phone if you prefer smaller devices.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

  • Samsung’s Galaxy S23 is an incremental upgrade over the S22, but it’s easily the best current option for Android users who prefer smaller screens.
  • Samsung also refined the S series design to make the S23 one of the best-looking phones you can buy.
  • The S23’s camera struggles to take photos of moving subjects, which often leads to blurry results.

Samsung’s Galaxy S phones have dominated the premium Android market in the US for the last few years, and the Galaxy S23 series as a whole is a shoo-in for 2023.

The Galaxy S23 isn’t a big upgrade from last year’s S22 — it offers a typically incremental performance upgrade and a slight design refresh over the previous generation. Camera performance is also similar on average.

However, Samsung made big gains in battery life for the Galaxy S23 series, and the standard S23 is a better phone for it.

In terms of competition in the smaller premium Android phone category, the standard Galaxy S23 doesn’t have much to worry about — those who prefer the smaller form factor only really have Google’s Pixel 6a to consider against the S23. 

For $300 at the time of writing ($450 full price), Google’s 6a is certainly tempting compared to the S23’s $800 price tag. Nevertheless, the S23 offers much more in terms of performance, screen quality, longevity, and camera options.

What works:

  • Classy design refinement
  • Improved selfie quality
  • Good battery life for its size
  • Smooth 120Hz display

What needs work:

  • Prone to taking blurry photos of moving subjects
  • Slower charging speed (25W) than other S23 models (45W)

A small refinement of a familiar design makes a big difference

The Samsung Galaxy S23’s cameras.The Galaxy S23’s only design change over the previous S22 generation is individual camera lenses instead of an overall camera module.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

Samsung went more minimalist than ever for the Galaxy S23 series. Gone is the camera module that surrounds the camera lenses. Now, the lenses protrude slightly on their own in the same way as the S23 Ultra, like round islands on the top left of the S23’s flat glass back.

Otherwise, Samsung stuck with the S22’s slim overall design with flatter edges around the phone than previous generations with more rounded appearances. The black borders around the screen aren’t any slimmer, but they’re still among the slimmest I’ve seen — they make the iPhone 14 Pro’s borders feel positively thick. 

It’s only a slight adjustment, but apart from the S23 Ultra, a Samsung phone has never looked so clean and sophisticated.

A high-quality screen and speedy performance that’s expected on a premium Android phone

The Samsung Galaxy S23 showing its display on the home screen with app icons.The Galaxy S23 has the best screen and performance on an Android phone in the $800 range.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

There’s little to report on the S23’s display from previous generations. It’s 6.1-inches with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate and 1080p resolution on Samsung’s traditionally gorgeous OLED displays, just like last year’s model. It doesn’t include the option to upgrade to a sharper 1440p resolution, like the S23 Ultra does, but I never felt the need for a sharper image.

The Android operating system and apps are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy, which is basically the top mobile processor available to Android phones optimized with a minor performance boost that’s exclusive to Samsung’s Galaxy S23 series. It’s the first time I’ve seen a processor that’s optimized for a specific Android phone lineup.

Indeed, the optimized processor for the Galaxy S23 phones offers a small boost in benchmark tests, and some apps occasionally open faster than the OnePlus 11, which runs on a generic version of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. 

Still, the Galaxy S23 delivers an inviting premium experience that’s typical in high-end Android phones. Apart from up-to-date performance, the Galaxy S23 offers little variation compared to a recent premium Android phone with a 120Hz display in daily use.

An excellent camera, but Samsung needs to work on performance for moving subjects

As any $800 phone should have, the Galaxy S23 comes with a triple-lens camera system, which includes a 50 megapixel (MP) main, 12MP ultrawide, and a 10MP 3x zoom camera lens.

Those are standard specs for a premium phone these days, and the S23 produces beautiful photos, even if it often processes and enhances your photos with boosted brightness and color saturation on your behalf, whether you like it or not.

Based on resolution numbers, it’s easy to think the S23 Ultra’s 200MP main camera offers a major advantage over the regular S23’s 50MP camera. However, I can’t say the S23 Ultra’s photos are appreciably better than the S23’s at all — you’re not missing out on the S23 Ultra’s 200MP camera by going with the S23.

A photo of a barn taken with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Plus’ main camera.The S23’s 50MP main camera is just as good as the S23 Ultra’s 200MP camera. This photo was taken with the S23 Plus, which has an identical camera system to the standard S23.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

A photo of a barn taken with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s main camera at 12 megapixels.The same barn photo taken by the S23 Ultra slightly later in the day. Still, there’s no appreciable bump in quality from the S23 Ultra’s 200MP camera.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

The S23 Ultra’s 200MP camera should help improve low-light photos by technically capturing more light in a process called pixel binning, where pixels combine to form a larger pixel that’s designed to absorb more light. However, the S23 can take low-light photos just as well with its 50MP.

That’s all to say that the S23 has among the best cameras for low-light photos.

A photo of a firehouse taken by the Galaxy S23 Plus at night.The S23 can take photos in low-light conditions just as well as the S23 Ultra. This photo was taken with the S23 Plus, which has an identical camera system as the standard Galaxy S23.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

A night shot of a firehouse taken with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.The same photo taken by the Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

The Galaxy S23 also enjoys the same excellent 12MP selfie camera as the Galaxy S23 Ultra. It’s technically a downgrade from the S22 Ultra’s 40MP selfie camera, but HDR and colors look more natural than I remember from previous Galaxy generations, and it actually feels like an upgrade.

A selfie of the author taken with the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s selfie camera.The Galaxy S23 has the same selfie camera as the S23 Ultra, which delivers excellent selfies that feels like an upgrade over previous Galaxy generations.

Antonio Villas-Boas / Insider

Videos taken with the selfie camera also received a new 60 frames-per-second (fps) option in addition to the existing 30fps option. It makes for smoother selfie videos, which are more eye-catching than standard 30fps videos in social media apps.

However, the S23 struggles to take clear and sharp photos of moving subjects, like pets and young kids. It’s a stain on the S23’s otherwise impeccable assets, especially when I don’t experience nearly as many blurry photos of moving subjects using iPhones.

Similar battery life to the iPhone 14 Pro

The Samsung Galaxy S23’s bottom edge with the USB-C port, SIM port, and speaker grill.The Galaxy S23 competes with the iPhone 14 Pro in battery life.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

Being a smaller phone, the standard Galaxy S23 has shorter battery life than bigger phones, like the Galaxy S23 Plus and Galaxy S23 Ultra. 

In our battery stress test, the Galaxy S23 had 56% remaining. That’s pretty decent compared to the 6.3-inch Pixel 7’s 60% result, as well as the iPhone 14 Pro’s 58% result. Oddly, The Galaxy S23’s battery test result was the same as the larger 6.7-inch Pixel 7 Pro. 

Either way, larger devices are always going to be better choices if battery life is a higher priority for you. 

Our battery stress test includes two hours of video streaming, where we set the screen brightness at the same level across every phone we test. It also includes one hour of music streaming while connected to Bluetooth headphones. Finally, we put the phone through two runs of the 20 minute 3DMark Wild Life Stress Test, and five runs of the Geekbench 5 CPU benchmarking tool.

As for charging speeds, the standard Galaxy S23 is limited to 25W compared to the 45W charging speeds on the Galaxy S23 Plus and Galaxy S23 Ultra. It’s also odd that Samsung didn’t make charging speeds uniform across its Galaxy S23 lineup. 

Samsung doesn’t include a charger with the Galaxy S23, so you’ll need to buy one that supports up to 25W charging speeds if you don’t already have one.

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S23?

The Samsung Galaxy S23’s back in the black color option.The Galaxy S23 is a clear winner for Android users who prefer more average-sized screens.

Antonio Villas-Boas/Insider

The Galaxy S23 is the only average-sized premium phone option available to Android users in the US, so your choice is made for you if you’re looking for a smaller Android phone with the latest premium features. 

Good thing, then, that the S23 is an excellent phone: Its battery life punches above its weight and its camera quality is on par with the higher-end S23 Ultra, which also runs on the same powerful processor.

Easier to hold than the S23 Plus and S23 Ultra, and with comparable overall performance, the standard S23 is not only your best choice for a smaller, premium Android phone, but the only worthwhile option of its kind.

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