If it doesn’t fold in half or reach for the moon, chances are the hype machinery may have drowned out the rather competent flagship smartphones that are this year’s Samsung Galaxy S23 and S23+.
With improved performance and better battery life than the S22 series, both the S23 and S23+ are great options for more reasonable sized pockets (in both senses of the term). Yet, what are they like to use on the daily, and more importantly, how do they compare against the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus if you’re looking for the best ‘not-over-the-top’ ways to spend your money on a flagship?
We look at answering some of the top questions one would have about the ‘normal’ S23 lineup.
Why should you consider the S23 and the S23+?
Think refinement, not reinvention. Visually, both the S23 and the S23+ are still two size-versions of the same phone, only this year they speak the same design language as the Ultra by ditching the camera bump on the rear panel. Same three-camera array on the rear (primary, ultrawide and telephoto), same IP68 durability rating with Gorilla Glass front and back, and bright, flat-edged 6.1/6.6-inch displays.
Both phones feel rather petite for their size – the S23 with its slightly curved yet flat edges is one of the last remaining ‘compact phone’ holdouts in a market that’s all but given up the hand-friendly form factor. The larger S23 Plus feels only slightly larger than the 6.1-inch Apple iPhone 14, despite the additional screen space it provides. Both displays reach a peak brightness of 1,750 nits in bright outdoor light, offer 1080p resolution and variable refresh rates from 48-120Hz.
Their handy sizes don’t come with performance compromises, though. Both phones pack in the custom Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset that wowed on the S23 Ultra, and make light work of daily tasks, and even the occasional graphics-intensive gaming session. Both phones are sold with 8GB of memory, which is sufficient but not class-leading. In our opinion, Samsung’s One UI is among the better skins on Android 13, but Samsung has promised four OS upgrades and five years of security updates, and going by their recent promptness on updates, we’re inclined to believe the brand is better than most.
The big win this time around, as with the S23 Ultra, is endurance. The slightly larger battery capacities – 3,900mAh and 4,700mAh – than last year’s models may not be much of an upgrade but the far more power-efficient chipset and display help boost S23 battery life into the ‘one-day territory’, and the S23+ into the ‘two days on moderate usage’ territory. The battery anxiety one felt with the smaller S22 has all but disappeared with the S23.
What needs work on the Galaxy S23 and S23+?
While the displays are typical Samsung (rich and vibrant), the 1080p resolution is a downer on phones this pricey. High resolution video streaming is already common, and a 1440p resolution display would have served both models well. The in-display fingerprint sensor is reasonably snappy, if a little finicky while being used to unlock the phone.
Another pain point is the rather slow charging speeds on both models – the S23+ can charge at up to 45W with a wired charger, but the S23 maxes out at 25W, and neither includes a charger in the box. There’s 15W Qi wireless charging for charging convenience, but faster charging would have brought the lineup up to speed with the competition.
The cameras are understandably a downgrade when compared to the S23 Ultra, but even so, the 50MP main-12MP ultrawide-10MP telephoto combo doesn’t significantly move the needle from last year’s phones. Images are sometimes excessively oversaturated, high contrast scenes trigger a somewhat overbearing HDR algorithm and shutter speed is a little too low in low-light scenes to keep up with subjects in motion. The telephoto does well in good lighting, but it’s not a lot of reach. Redemption comes by way of an excellent portrait mode, and excellent image stabilization in videos.
How do the base S23 and iPhone 14 models compare?
Picking up the base S23 or the iPhone 14 is a no-brainer for most regular folks invested in either ecosystem, but if you have the budget for an entry-level premium flagship and are open to trying either platform, how do these stack up? Both check off IP68 dust and water resistance, but the S23 is the handier of the two, sitting more comfortably in smaller hands. Both have 6.1-inch displays, but the AMOLED display on the S23 edges ahead courtesy the adaptive 120Hz refresh rate, the always-on display and 1750 nits of peak brightness – features Apple reserves for its pricier Pro models. There’s also an in-display fingerprint scanner on the S23 for authentication, a feature missing on iPhones at the moment.
Performance on both models is top-notch, and Qualcomm has narrowed the gap in terms of outright performance, but you should know that the iPhone 14 has 2021-era silicon while the S23 gets the same bespoke Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 as the Ultra, and the extra memory helps immensely under heavy multitasking.
Battery life is a tad better on the iPhone 14 even as it packs in a smaller battery as compared to the S23 (3279 vs 3900mAh), but both phones are single-day phones. Charging speeds are similar too, and it has to be said, abysmally slow as compared to the competition. Cameras will come down to individual preference – the rich results of the S23 or the natural palette of the iPhone – but the S23 has the extra reach of the 3x telephoto over the iPhone. And in terms of software updates, iPhones tend to be supported a year more than the four years that Samsung has currently committed to. Overall, the S23 pulls ahead of the iPhone 14, primarily since the iPhone 14 wasn’t a significant enough upgrade over the iPhone 13, while Samsung spent the year improving on the S22’s lacunae.
How much plus really are the iPhone 14 Plus and the S23+?
We’re mid-way in the iPhone yearly cycle, and the iPhone 14 Plus hasn’t exactly created the sort of fireworks the jumbo-sized iPhone 14 was expected to. On the other hand, the S23+ is the tweener for the S-series, lacking the compact form factor of the S23 on the one hand, and the camera and screen wizardry of the S23 Ultra on the other. What does the extra outlay for the Plus avatars get you? A bigger display, plus-sized ergonomics and a bigger battery, essentially. They’re both excellent displays for consuming content, with the iPhone additionally supporting the Dolby Vision standard.
Compared, the iPhone 14 Plus display is more pixel-rich, yet it still operates only at the 60Hz refresh rate reserved for the non-Pro iPhones, which means the ‘only 1080p’ resolution S23+ display is still the better choice. The S23+ is also the easier phone to hold in the hand, with the iPhone’s wide and flat edges and the 6.7-inch display a stretch for most hands. Battery life figures between both Plus variants are rather similar, but the S23+ offers faster 45W charging.
What’s the verdict on the S23 and S23+?
Samsung spends a lot of its launch events and marketing dollars on the improvements on the Ultra model, but the S23 and S23+ (Rs. 74,999 and Rs. 94,999) form the bread and butter of its premium lineup for folks who don’t have excess of a lakh to drop on the latest Galaxy.
In the S23 and S23+, Samsung has taken what has worked in the S22 series (design, display) and fixed what hasn’t (battery). That said, there’s still room for improvement – the screen could do with an upgrade, as could the cameras and the charging tech, areas where you will find the OnePlus 11 and the Google Pixel 7 Pro make a rather compelling case for themselves.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar