Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs S21 Ultra: Two Years of Difference!

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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs S21 Ultra: Two Years of Difference!

Intro


What new features does the Galaxy S23 Ultra bring and how does it compare to the Galaxy S21 Ultra?

And should you upgrade to the S23 Ultra now?

We pit these two Galaxy phones across various categories: we test their screens, performance speed, battery life and cameras, so read on! 

Galaxy S23 Ultra: save with a trade-in at Amazon

The Galaxy S23 Ultra with 256GB of storage is available at Amazon. The smartphone isn't discounted right now, but you can trade-in a suitable device to get up to $401 off as an Amazon Gift Card.

Galaxy S23 Ultra (1TB): up to $525 off with a trade-in

You can get up to $525 enhanced trade-in credit for a new Galaxy S23 Ultra at Samsung.com when you trade in your old phone. This is the 1TB configuration.
$1094 99
$1619 99
Expired

Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra in a nutshell:
  • Wider design with square corners vs narrower design with rounded corners
  • Brighter and more impressive display on S23 Ultra
  • S23 Ultra is significantly faster
  • But base S23 Ultra model comes with less RAM
  • S23 Ultra has double the storage in base model
  • Cameras have improved all around
  • S23 Ultra has longer battery life
  • S23 Ultra supports 45W charging vs 25W on S21 Ultra

Table of Contents:


Design and Display Quality

Small improvements add up on the S23 Ultra


The S23 Ultra feels much larger than the S21 Ultra despite the fact that both have a 6.8-inch sized screen. The reason for that is clearly the wider aspect ratio on the newer phone, which it inherits from the Galaxy Note series, while the S21 Ultra feels narrower with its rounded corners and narrower aspect ratio.

Both are quite heavy at slightly more than 8 ounces, so carrying them in a pocket is definitely not very comfortable, but especially so for the S23 Ultra which has sharp corners.

The construction on both is glass and metal, and they both use aluminum frames, with the only notable difference being that the new S23 Ultra goes with the latest Gorilla Glass Victus 2, which is more resistant to drops compared to the Victus first-gen used on the S21 Ultra.

But let's not forget the biggest difference between these two: the S Pen!

The S23 Ultra has got the S Pen built inside it, while the S21 Ultra does support S Pen input, but you need to buy the S Pen separately and if you want to have it always handy, you need to purchase a special case with an S Pen slot, which complicates the process a lot. So for those who want the S Pen, the S23 Ultra is just better.


Of course, being two generations apart, there is also a difference in the display quality.

Display Measurements:



The newer S23 Ultra gets brighter and is more comfortable for use outdoors. Color accuracy is improved, but the one thing we appreciate the most is that the S23 Ultra screen can get dimmer at night, so it's much easier on the eyes when you use the phone in bed.

Both support dynamic refresh rate that can go up to 120Hz for buttery smooth scrolling, however the S23 Ultra can drop all the way down to 1Hz vs the 10Hz minimum on the S21 Ultra.

We did not notice any meaningful difference in biometrics. Both phones use an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner built into the screen, and it's quite fast and accurate on both of them.

You can also use the front camera for face recognition, just keep in mind that it's not all that secure using a 2D image that can be spoofed and it will force your screen to go extra bright when you use the face ID feature at night, which can be stressful.

Performance and Software

The biggest leap in speed in years!


With the Galaxy S23 Ultra, Samsung finally waves goodbye to its Exynos processors that it used in Galaxy models sold outside the United States, and this is a good riddance.

But even if you compare the Galaxy S23 Ultra to the Snapdragon-powered version of the S21 Ultra (aka the U.S. model), you will notice some significant increases in processing speed. Put simply, this is the biggest generational leap in performance power in years!

Performance Benchmarks:


Geekbench 5 SingleHigher is better
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra1583
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra1081
Geekbench 5 MultiHigher is better
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra4937
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra3463
3DMark Extreme(High)Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra3828
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra1963
3DMark Extreme(Low)Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra1951
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra1179

As you can see in the benchmark scores above, the new Galaxy scores nearly 50% more on CPU performance, and brings nearly double the gaming performance, which is really, really impressive.

Many people might argue that phones are already fast enough and you wouldn't notice those changes all that much, but we cannot agree completely with that argument. The S23 Ultra is so much faster it can be felt, and this speed will remain with you throughout the many years of using the phone.

We also love that the S23 Ultra has 256GB of storage in even the base model, which is double what you get on the S21 Ultra. Having more storage does not seem important when you first get the phone, but after a year or so of usage, many people realize they need more storage. Both the S23 Ultra and S21 Ultra do NOT have a microSD card slot for expandable memory, so keep that in mind.

For the first time, with One UI 5.1 and Android 13 on the Galaxy S23 Ultra, we finally also see the software catch up with the hardware. Previously jittery animations that were always a problem on Samsung phones now feel fluid and refined, much like on rival Pixels and iPhones. Samsung has finally nailed this after so many years!

Camera

200MP main camera brings big improvements to low-light shots


We like the new camera styling, each individual lens in its own enclosure, with a protective metal ring around it so that you don't scratch the lens itself. But you have to know that this look is also an absolute dust trap on the S23 Ultra.

Anyway, you are not here for this though. You probably care about the new 200MP main camera on the Galaxy S23 Ultra and how it compares to the images from the S21 Ultra, so let's take a look!

Main Camera - Day



During the day, the main change has got to be in the colors. The Galaxy S21 Ultra dialed down colors, then the S22 Ultra cranked them up to the extreme, and now the S23 Ultra is kind of the middle ground. Yes, it still captures more saturated colors than we have in reality, but compared to the bleaker colors out of the S21 Ultra, we do prefer this color rendition.

Detail, however, has gotten that typical smartphone look with a ton of oversharpening that you don't really have on the older S21 Ultra, so in that regard, it might actually be a step back.

Main Camera - Night



There is no arguing that the bigger differences in photos comes at night time. The improved processing from the S23 Ultra results in superior images with more color and pop.

Zoom



One of the big advantages of the Ultra series is zooming, and the S21 Ultra was the first to introduce a 10X zoom periscope camera for Samsung, and yet to this day detail out of it looks incredible.

However, you can't help but notice how the new S23 Ultra does a much better job with colors when zooming and preserves a lot of those natural tonalities.


And at 30X and 100X zoom again the biggest change has got to be just about the more accurate colors out of the S23 Ultra.

Ultra-wide



The ultra-wide camera on the S23 Ultra follows the same pattern of change as the main camera, that is to say that it captures more vibrant colors compared to the S21 Ultra, and the biggest change is noticeable when you shoot photos at night.

Selfies



Selfies out of the new S23 Ultra are sharper and lift up the shadows more for a less contrasty look. We'd say they are a step forward compared to the older model as well.

Video Quality


Video Thumbnail

The S23 Ultra finally makes 8K video a practical solution as you no longer have a lot of crop to go with that footage like you used to have on the S21 Ultra, but still most of the time, we'd go with the more reasonable size of 4K footage.

Comparing the 4K30 video recordings above, you notice something interesting happens with the S23 Ultra: a ton of oversharpening! This is what we call the "smartphone look" and it's not a compliment.

At the same time, you can see how there is less noise in the video and there is a huge improvement in the video stabilization when you use the 10X zoom camera.

Finally, in low light, the S23 Ultra is a big step up with more pleasing colors and that larger sensor captures a ton more light too.

Audio Quality and Haptics



The S23 Ultra finally brings a big overhaul to the speaker system with a boomier sound that is a big improvement from the very tinny sounding S21 Ultra which lacked sorely in the lower frequencies.

Music and games sound vastly better on the S23 Ultra, so if you can appreciate such a change, the S23 Ultra is well worth considering.

Unfortunately, haptic feedback on both these Samsung phones is just okay, it's nowhere nearly as good, tight and controlled as on the industry leading smartphones like the iPhone and OnePlus 11.


Battery Life and Charging

Big surprise: you can get a lot more out of the same battery!


Both the S23 Ultra and S21 Ultra have 5,000 mAh batteries inside, but the actual battery life has improved a great deal on the newer model thanks to the more efficient processor.

It's a change we, frankly, did not expect.

While the Galaxy S21 Ultra would easily last us through a full day of use, the S23 Ultra goes above and beyond and adds a half a day on top of that.

We have run our independent battery tests on these phones, and here are the results we got:

PhoneArena Battery Test Results:


Video Streaming(hours)Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra8h 54 min
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra8h 52 min
Web Browsing(hours)Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra18h 57 min
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra14h 43 min
3D Gaming(hours)Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra7h 13 min
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra5h 3 min

While both phones score similarly in terms of web browsing, the new S23 Ultra lasts nearly 4 hours more on our YouTube video playback test, and nearly two hours longer for 3D gaming at the 120Hz refresh rate. Good stuff!

We had one more surprise on the battery front: the charging situation!

The S23 Ultra supports faster 45W charging speeds, while the S21 Ultra maxes out at 25W speeds. Do keep in mind that you need a bulkier charger for that and don't forget that it also requires the thicker, 5A cable so that you get the best speeds.

Interestingly, the S23 Ultra model is a bit of a downgrade when it comes to wireless charging speeds, which are now actually slower at 10W vs 15W on the older one.

We guess this is Samsung's way of preserving battery life long-term, and we have not received a response from Samsung about this situation, but it is a strange move.

We prefer using the wired charging method, and if you go for that, you should know that a 45W charge takes around 1 hour and 5 minutes on the S23 Ultra, while the S21 Ultra takes a bit slower to charge at about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Specs Comparison


And here is how the Galaxy S23 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra specs look like:


As you can see, the change in processors is really the big news, but also the new 200MP main camera sensor on the S23 Ultra.

Summary and Final Verdict



So... is the Galaxy S23 Ultra so good to convince S21 Ultra buyers to upgrade?

First, you have to know where you stand on the S Pen. If it's a must-have feature, than the S23 Ultra is definitely worth it, simply because it has a dedicated slot for the S Pen and a more suitable aspect ratio for drawing with the pen.

If you don't care that much about the S Pen, then still you have to factor in the performance gains, improved cameras and battery life on the S23 Ultra. The S23 Ultra is improved in all those aspects, but the S21 Ultra was already quite good too, so you could wait out another year.

Lastly, it's the phone enthusiasts and those who have an S21 Ultra with an Exynos chip. To those people I say go for the S23 Ultra. Unlike other people, you will notice the big improvements with the new processor, the longer battery life, the improved cameras. This is a worthy upgrade to them.

So what do you think, would you get the S23 Ultra?

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