Whatever you do, don’t buy a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

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Samsung’s Galaxy S24 Ultra is finally here, and on my list of the best phones you can buy it is the best phone overall. On paper it doesn’t look like a huge upgrade over the Galaxy S23 Ultra, and in some ways even seems a step backwards. Should you just buy last year’s Ultra instead, if the price is right? No! Even if the S23 Ultra falls in your lap for free, I’d suggest buying this year’s model or waiting until you can afford a phone made from this point onwards. 

Wait, is the Galaxy S23 Ultra still on sale? Yes, and unfortunately the pricing makes little sense considering the new hotness is already here. When the Galaxy S23 Ultra was launched in February, 2023, it cost $1,199 in the US. Today at Samsung.com you can buy a brand new Galaxy S23 Ultra for the low price of … $1,199. Yup, Samsung hasn’t dropped the price at all.

Samsung is even offering more value on a trade if you buy a Galaxy S24 Ultra instead of an S23 Ultra. I checked the value for an iPhone 14 traded for a new Galaxy Ultra and Samsung offered $400 if I buy this year’s Ultra, but only $325 if I pick the S23 Ultra instead.

Seven years of Android versus four

Even if you find a deal on a used or refurbished Ultra from last year, I’d still stick with the Galaxy S24 Ultra. First of all, Samsung only promises four years of Android updates on phones from 2023. That’s not bad, and probably longer than you’ll own the phone, but the latest Galaxy S24 family, including the Ultra, comes with a promise of seven years of Android and security updates.

Samsung Galaxy S24 home screen options

Even the Galaxy S24 gets seven years of Android and security updates (Image credit: Philip Berne / Future)

That’s a major, game-changing promise. That could mean higher resale value when you sell this phone in two years, since your buyer will still have five years of Android updates to enjoy. Samsung’s confidence in this phone could also mean more available repair options if you keep this phone for four years and need to replace the battery.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra camera is better and I won’t be taking questions

Second of all, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is a complete upgrade over the Galaxy S23 Ultra, no matter what the spec sheet says. The biggest point of contention is the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 10X zoom camera, which has been reduced to only 5X zoom. I’ve tested both cameras side-by-side and I’d pick the Galaxy S24 Ultra every time.

Let’s be real, neither phone is a truly great camera for astrophotography, but they get the job done when other smartphone cameras don’t come close. Photos of the moon taken with the Galaxy S23 Ultra look like they’ve been shot through a telescope. They aren’t professional-quality; you won’t print them and hang them on a wall. They just look better than you’d expect, because most smartphones can only make a blurry blob.

Full moon over Tappan Zee Bridge taken with Galaxy S23 Ultra

The moon shot with the Galaxy S23 Ultra (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

The Galaxy S24 Ultra makes an even better photo. You lose some detail but there is much less noise, and the new phone shows better color and dynamic range between the light and dark spaces. It’s a good trade, and in almost every scenario I like the newer camera better.

In fact, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is better in every way

Aside from the cameras, the Galaxy S23 Ultra doesn’t even come close to the Galaxy S24 Ultra. Even though both phones have a battery cell that measures the same 5,000 mAh, we got hours more screen time from the S24 Ultra in our Future Labs battery testing.

In terms of raw power and performance? The Galaxy S23 Ultra was very fast, sure, but it wasn’t as fast as the iPhone 14 Pro. The Galaxy S24 Ultra beats the fastest iPhone 15 Pro. Nuff said.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max in front of stalactite photo

The iPhone 15 Pro is fast, but it can’t beat the Galaxy S24 Ultra (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

I haven’t mentioned the Galaxy AI features yet because I don’t think they are key to my recommendation, but they could be important in the future. If that happens, you’re going to want the phone that is future-proof. The Galaxy S24 Ultra uses the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, a chipset with a much more powerful neural processing unit (NPU), a specialized processor component that drives so-called AI and machine learning features.

We’ve already heard rumblings from Samsung that older phones would lose out on AI features when the latest software features roll back to the previous generations. The Galaxy S23 Ultra should get foreign language translation, and some of the same photo editing features as the new phones, but it won’t get every AI feature that you’ll find on the Galaxy S24 Ultra. The list of features the S23 Ultra is missing will grow faster than the list of features that Samsung adds.

With the price so close on these phones, it’s hard to imagine the Galaxy S24 Ultra is a tough choice over the Galaxy S23 Ultra. If you do find a great discount or inherit a rich uncle’s Galaxy, I’d take that S23 Ultra, then trade it for this year’s phone instead.

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With longer support and AI features that won’t come to older phones, it’s more important to opt for the newer Galaxy S24 Ultra