Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Everything that is good and expensive - that also applies to the price tag
Photo: Matthias Kremp / DER SPIEGEL
Samsung's recipe for new top smartphones is simple and has been tried and tested for years: a lot helps a lot and more is better.
This applies above all to the respective top device, such as the Galaxy S23 Ultra, which was presented today together with other cell phones and notebooks.
The engineers have put a correspondingly powerful battery into the housing for the 6.8-inch screen.
The selfie camera has 12 megapixels, as does the ultra-wide-angle camera, and the two telephoto cameras are content with 10 megapixels each.
So far, so unexciting.
Big numbers only come into play with the main camera, which has a resolution of 200 megapixels.
Samsung has never done that before.
And otherwise, cameras with so many pixels are rare.
Motorola's Edge 30 Ultra has something like that, the Xiaomi Mi12T Pro too, and now Samsung's S23 Ultra.
The Korean company is thus increasing the numerical distance to Apple's iPhone 14 Pro Max, which has 48 megapixels, but also to its own offerings.
The Galaxy S23 and S23+ models presented in parallel have to be content with 50 megapixels.
Small pixels, big pixels
With normal shots, however, you don't see anything from the 200 megapixels because the camera software combines 16 camera pixels into one image pixel.
This technique is called pixel binning in technical jargon.
From a pragmatic point of view, it ensures that the image files do not become excessively large.
In a first test with the new devices, images produced by pixel binning had a resolution of 3000 by 4000 points, and the resulting image file was 3.5 megabytes (MB) in size.
Switched to full resolution, the same motif was mapped at 12,240 by 16,320 pixels, resulting in a 22.5 MB file.
Apart from the fact that you can save storage space with pixel binning, the technology should help to improve image quality.
By summing up the information from many small camera pixels, each of which captures little light, to form one large virtual pixel, a large pixel is created that contains more image information, i.e. more light.
Similar results could also be achieved by simply equipping the camera's image sensor with larger sensor pixels.
But then you would lose the opportunity to take very detailed pictures in good light, which offer more possibilities for post-processing.
The marketing department is also happy about the maximum resolution.
Big numbers are good for advertising.
More is more, remember?
The prices are developing
With Samsung's Galaxy S series this year, more also means paying more.
Because almost all models are expensive.
Only the 128 gigabyte entry-level variant of the expensive Ultra models is offered 50 euros cheaper than its predecessor.
The Korean group apparently wants to take advantage of the trend that more and more people are willing to spend a lot of money on smartphones.
According to the company, the premium segment of smartphones over 600 euros and especially the segment of so-called super premium smartphones with prices over 1000 euros are developing better than the overall market.
In a presentation by the company, it is assumed that this trend will intensify in the future.
In 2022, 40 percent of people who bought a super premium cell phone in Germany decided on a Galaxy S22 Ultra.
It is noteworthy that, according to Samsung, this growth is not primarily due to men.
Rather, 55 percent of the Galaxy Ultras were sold to women.
Just as surprising: Samsung assigns more than a quarter of the buyers of the premium models to Generation Z, i.e. people who were born between 1995 and 2010.
Lots of paper and a strip of plastic wrap
The fact that Samsung is trying to improve the environmental properties of its smartphones could also be interpreted as a concession to this clientele.
This includes the fact that recycled materials are now used in a dozen components of the devices.
However, mostly only in small proportions.
For example, the speaker module below contains a few percent of plastic made from old fishing nets.
The same applies to the coverage of a 5G antenna - but only on models for Japan and the US market.
Samsung locates one of the highest proportions of recycled material in the cover glass of the screen, which consists of 22 percent recycled materials.
It looks better with the packaging, which is now completely plastic-free and is made entirely of paper and cardboard.
But that only applies if you don't count the mobile phone itself as part of the packaging.
Although the screen and back cover are no longer protected by plastic films but covered with special paper, Samsung still covers the metal frame with a plastic film.
This is a tradition with Galaxy smartphones.
According to company spokesmen, this is necessary to protect the shiny frame from scratches during transport and installation of the devices.
A Samsung-only chip
Incidentally, the innovations of the Galaxy S23 series are mainly in the details.
The processor with the cumbersome designation "Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy" is the current top model from chip manufacturer Qualcomm.
The addition "for Galaxy" is intended to indicate that it is a touch faster than other models in this series because some of its eight cores are clocked a little higher than usual.
In addition, a new optical image stabilization system should enable better videos even in moderate lighting conditions.
Up to 30 frames per second in 8K resolution are possible.
Or twice as many frames per second in 4K.
The ultra among notebooks
In addition to the new smartphones, Samsung also presented new versions of its notebooks on Wednesday.
The Galaxy Book3 Pro is said to score particularly well with its low weight (from 1.17 kilograms) and a casing that is only 11.3 millimeters thick.
In contrast, the Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 has a swiveling touch screen.
It could appeal to people who want to write and draw on the screen.
What both have in common is that they are offered with the latest Intel chips and 14-inch and 16-inch displays.
With prices starting at 1699 euros (Book3 Pro) and starting at 1799 euros (Book3 Pro 360), they do not belong to the cheap offers.
This applies all the more to the all-new Galaxy Book Ultra, which is crammed full of high-end technology.
A Samsung manager describes the 16-inch Amoled display as the centerpiece, which displays 2880 by 1800 pixels with refresh rates of up to 120 Hertz.
Intel chips from the Core i7 and i9 series provide computing power, while graphics chips from Nvidia's Geforce RTX 4050 and 4070 series are suitable for gaming.
Here, however, the entry-level model with 156 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD costs 2799 euros.
Samsung's price list for the top model of this series with fast chips from Intel and Nvidia and a 1 TB SSD is 3699 euros.
More costs more.