Samsung Galaxy S23 Review: Nearly Perfect, Little, Expensive Phone

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Samsung launched the Galaxy S23 series more than one month ago (February 1), and the flagship devices by the South Korean phone maker, at least for the next couple of months (before the launch of the Flip 5 and Fold 5 in August), are already selling in the Kenyan market.

This time around, we have the smallest of the trio, namely the S23 (there is the S23+ and the big boy S23 Ultra), and for the most part, it is an excellent device that doesn’t do anything wrong. Heck, we can even say it is actually near perfect – but as we always know, there is no such thing as a perfect smartphone, but this one is darn near close!

Samsung appears to have made the right decision with the S23, and there are obvious improvements over its immediate predecessor the S22, but for the most part, these are two devices that only have a year between them – and save for battery benefits in the latest model, those with the S22 should be good with their purchase for the next year or more.

With that out of the way, here are the best five things that we have seen in the S23:

  • The display is excellent but that is no longer surprising from Samsung anymore.
  • Battery life is good if you do not push the device too much.
  • It is a compact device measuring 6.1” in a world full of very big phones.
  • The cameras are excellent.
  • This is a very speedy phone thanks to the power of the Snapdragon Gen 2 chip.

While these benefits are actually obvious for a flagship phone, the S23 is not perfect (to some extent) because of the following reasons:

  • It does not ship with a charger. For KES 135K, a charger should be standard but phone makers are likely making billions of dollars in savings from removing chargers in retail packages. Let no one lie to you: this is a financial decision, and not an environmental one because you are going to buy a charging brick anyway, right?
  • The S23 does not match the competition in terms of charging speeds. Samsung should give us at least 60W because the competition has gotten so much faster at this with options such as 120W being easily available for Kenyan phone buyers.
  • This is a very expensive device. Only a select portion of Kenyan customers can stomach dishing out KES 135K for a smartphone. With the current economic situation, this is just a lot of money.
  • The S23 is so slippery. Kindly put it in a case, and where possible, invest in a screen protector or else you will break this pricey toy.
  • I wish it had more fun colours, but that is a personal issue for me.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Lavender
Samsung Galaxy S23 Lavender

In this review, we are going to talk about the S23 in a story format, because there is no need to break down the analysis into segments. This is because some of the things I am about to say will be interrelated, so take note of that.

Right off the bat, the S23 is a light device and tips the scales at just 168g. This is the perfect size for people who like compact phones, which goes a long way in one-handed use. Such people exist, and there are many of them out there, especially the ladies.

The screen, as mentioned, is excellent. It refreshes at 120 Hz, meaning content will be smoother as you move around apps and the operating system. It measures 6.1 inches and is protected by Gorilla Glass Victus 2. Brightness can go up to 1750 nits, which is plenty bright. You will never have issues with outdoor visibility – and the same can be said for nearly every other Samsung smartphone, even the entry-level ones such as the A23.

You should keep in mind that keeping your display at high brightness over a long time can affect your battery performance because those pixels do consume a lot of juice.

Samsung has also kept the design of the S23 in terms of button placement the same as in previous iterations. All buttons (volume rocker and power key) are on the right-hand side. The left frame is uninterrupted.

The SIM tray is situated at the bottom, and our unit supports dual SIM. This is an essential feature for us and other Kenyans because we tend to have more than one SIM card. However, people who purchase the device from Safaricom should remember that the telco only sells single-SIM devices, so they should remember that (more about Safaricom and S23 partnership in a few moments).

Other hardware elements are quite straightforward: the fingerprint scanner is faster than before, and with zero to minimal fail rates (it worked 100 per cent of the time for me); the frame of the phone is shiny, and can take a ding if dropped so put a case on your S23; the bezels around the display are uniform and very thin, which makes the device look modern and cool; and the camera lenses are separated into three concentric rings for that great look that we first saw with the S22 Ultra.

Switching on gears to software, the S23 is powered by One UI 5.1, which brings a ton of cool tricks and features for the adventurers. The software itself is fast and looks modern save for the quick settings that need a revamp to match the competition. Users can have fun with Material You theme engine. They can also play around with other features such as Edge Panels that have been around for years. Those who use Edge Panel should be aware that it is a powerful tool that can be used for shortcuts and other tricks such as copying text from an image without the need for a third-party app.

Generally speaking, there is so much you can do with this software, and Samsung has stuck to this formula, which seems to work and has been rewarding to customers, to say the least. However, the Settings could need an adjustment because first-time One UI users will surely have a problem with pinpointing where a given setting is.

Remember, the S23 is packed to the brim with all these features, and the latest silicon chip in the market: the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. This is also the first time that Kenyans are able to buy the Galaxy S phones without an Exynos chip. We have always felt cheated by Samsung because it brought Exynos-powered flagships to the MEA region – but this stopped in 2021 following the launch of the Flip 3 and Fold 3; both are powered by Snapdragon 888 – but Samsung went back to the Snapdragon-Exynos formula with the S22s with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Exynos 2100.

The ship has finally sailed, and all users in the world now can enjoy a superior experience offered by the mighty Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. This is a very powerful chip built on a 4nm process, which means it has the power and efficiency needed for a modern flagship handheld.

Simply put, the chip is a beast and the S23 is crazy, turbo-fast. It opens apps on the fly; the camera, which is one of the heaviest apps, is very fast here – and all these tasks are made better with the 120 Hz screen.

When I was setting up the device, I performed a lot of tasks at the same time, including downloading my backups from Samsung Cloud, downloading and updating apps from the Play Store, and doing other processor-intensive actions. The S23 did not break a sweat, nor did it get unnecessarily warm. That is surely flagship-level performance and I will always be impressed with superior output.

Also, this is where I need to remind you that running benchmarks here is useless because the phone is fast to call for the need of benchmarking apps.

Samsung Galaxy S23 Floating Camera Design
Samsung Galaxy S23 Floating Camera Design

Now, onto the cameras: the short answer is that they are excellent, even in poorly lit conditions, but let’s assess the specifications first.

  • 50 MP main with OIS
  • 10 MP telephoto with OIS
  • 12 MP ultrawide
  • Can capture 8K video at 24/30 fps
  • 12 MP selfie shooter with 4K video recording support

Now, I have always been a fan of Samsung cameras because they do produce great images that most people will be happy about. This is also one of those cameras that do not require a user to play around with the settings. Just point to your subject and shoot. You will get great images from this simple approach.

People who want to play more will see that the camera settings have an Expert Raw feature. This allows photographers to capture RAW images that they can tune later to their liking. The feature is also key because users do not need to separately download the Expert Raw app to achieve the same as before.

Daylight shots are impressive, to say the least, and with this kind of camera performance, you will be tempted to snap a lot of images of people and the environment around you. Now, for that reason, I would suggest you get the 256 GB model that has more space because those images and videos are going to consume a lot of GBs.

I shot the majority of my videos in 4K and was very impressed with the outcome. Stability is very good and comes close to iPhone quality with low noise, a lot of detail, and excellent colours, which is very good in my book.

Selfie lovers should be happy because the new snapper here is a 12 MP unit, which is up from the 10 MP shooter in the S22. The selfies are outstanding with great details and superb colour reproduction.

Will you love this camera? Obviously, because for the average user, or even seasoned photographers, the snappers impress and don’t have any obvious shortcomings.

Now, using the camera a lot will surely take a toll on battery life, because, well, cameras are power-hungry.

However, when that is not the case, the S23’s battery can last for an entire day. Frugal users can actually get additional hours from it – and those who want even better performance can consider the expensive S23 Ultra.

We still have an issue here though: filling the cell takes more than one hour, and it is relatively average in size at 3900 mAh. Charging tops off at 25W, which is very low for 2023, and we hope and wish that Samsung will catch up with its rivals. What makes it worse is the device ships with a Type C to C cable, with no charging brick. This is not a very cool thing to do considering the phone is expensive.

Price and where to buy

You can purchase the S23 at Samung’s online shop for Ksh 129,999 for the 256GB version.

Kenyan customers should be happy to note that the S23 and its siblings can be purchased on contract from Safaricom, which is a first for the country. It will cost you KES 140,999.

Its bigger sibling the S23 Ultra can be picked on contract too at KES 70K in deposit, and KES 12K monthly deposits for 24 months (amounting to KES 238K). The same deal also gets you 2500 minutes, 45 GB of data, and 5000 SMS every month, which is the same as the KES 5K Postpaid package.

[we will update this with S23 and S23+ deals]

You can outrightly buy the devices from any officially certified vendor, and if you use your KCB credit card, you won’t incur any extra charges (interest) if you repay the loan in 6 months.

Badili Africa is also offering trade-in deals.

Outro

Samsung has managed to make a very good phone for people who like small devices with great cameras, excellent software, and a screen that has no match. The smartphone is also plenty fast, and customers in Kenya can now have the same experience as those in the US and China (where Snapdragon-powered Galaxies used to sell). The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is beastly, and you need to use this phone in person to understand how fast it really is.

We would have loved it to be a little bit cheaper, but the market has been unforgiving to Kenya (in addition to taxes). However, looking at the competition, there is nothing like it in terms of sheer performance on all fronts (speed, camera, and battery), nor does it skip on features and design just because it is a compact device.

It is an obvious recommendation from us, and we hope the price drops in the future so more people can afford it.

Specs S23S23 PlusS23 Ultra
BodyCorning Gorilla Glass Victus 2 front and back.

Armor aluminum frame

IP68
Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2 front and back.

Armor aluminum frame

IP68
Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2 front and back.

Armor aluminum frame

IP68
Weight167g195g233g
ScreenFlat
6.1″ FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED
2340 x 1080 pixels
120 Hz
HDR10+
Flat
6.6″ FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED
2340 x 1080 pixels
120 Hz
HDR10+
6.8″ QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED
3200 x 1440 pixels
120 Hz
HDR10+
1750 nits
ChipSnapdragon 8 Gen 2
Adreno 740 GPU
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
Adreno 740 GPU
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
Adreno 740 GPU
RAM8 GB8 GB8/12 GB
Internal128 UFS 3.1

256GB UFS 4.0
No SD card support
1256 GB UFS 4.0
No SD card support
256/512 GB UFS 4.0
No SD card support
Fingerprint readerUltrasonic In-Display readerUltrasonic In-Display readerUltrasonic In-Display reader
Main CameraTriple
50 MP wide angle with OIS
12 MP ultra-wide
10 MP telephoto with OIS

720p@960fps, 1080p@30/60/240fp, 4K@30/60fp, 8K@ 24fps and 30fps

stereo sound recording
HDR10+
Triple
50 MP wide angle with OIS
12 MP ultra-wide
10 MP telephoto with OIS

720p@960fps, 1080p@30/60/240fp, 4K@30/60fp, 8K@ 24fps and 30fps

stereo sound recording
HDR10+
Quad
108 MP wide-angle with OIS
12 MP ultra-wide
10 MP telephoto, OIS, 3x optical zoom
10 MP Pertiscope telephoto, OIS, 10x optical zoom

720p@960fps, 1080p@30/60/240fp, 4K@30/60fp, 8K@ 24fps and 30fps

stereo sound recording
HDR10+
Selfie12 MP
1080p@30fps, 4K@30/60fps
HDR10+
10 MP
1080p@30fps, 4K@30/60fps
HDR10+
40 MP
1080p@30fps, 4K@30/60fps
HDR10+
Radios5G
Bluetooth 5.3
Wi-Fi 6
5G
Bluetooth 5.3
Wi-Fi 6
5G
Bluetooth 5.3
Wi-Fi 6
Headphone socket No
32-bit/384kHz audio
No
32-bit/384kHz audio
No
32-bit/384kHz audio
AudioStereo with dual-speakers Stereo with dual-speakers Stereo with dual-speakers
Battery3900mAh
25W PD Wired
10W wireless
4.5W reverse wireless
4700mAh
45W PD Wired
10W wireless
4.5W reverse wireless
5000mAh
45W PD Wired
10W wireless
4.5W reverse wireless
SoftwareAndroid 13, One UI 5.1Android 13, One UI 5.1Android 13, One UI 5.1
ColoursLavender, Phantom Black, Green, Lime, Crea,Lavender, Phantom Black, Green, Lime, Crea,Lavender, Phantom Black, Green, Lime, Crea,
Price256 GB version – KES 129,999256 GB version – KES 144,995
256 GB version – KES 182,995
512 GB version – KES 194,995