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Samsung's S23 lineup spans a wide range of prices and capabilities. The standard $799 Galaxy S23, for instance, is the most affordable and boasts the smallest display of the lot. The S23 Ultra is on the opposite end of the spectrum, carrying a $1,200 price tag, a massive camera upgrade, and the largest display Samsung offers in a traditional smartphone.
Then there's the $999 Galaxy S23 Plus. The phone that, it appears, Samsung has gotten just right. It's priced just under $1,000, with a display that's big enough for work or play, a camera setup that's sure to get your photos some attention, and performance that matches the S23 Ultra.
At least, that's what it looks like on paper. I've spent the last couple of weeks testing the S23 Plus, putting it through its paces to see if this is the Galaxy S23 model that most people should get. And, well, you're going to have to keep reading to find the answer.
The only physical buttons you'll find on the S23 Plus -- the power button and volume up and down keys -- are on the right side of the armor aluminum body. There's a USB-C port on the bottom of the phone, next to the physical SIM card tray. Samsung hasn't followed Apple in ditching physical SIM cards, but the Galaxy S23 Plus does support dual SIM cards, one of which can be an eSIM.
It's not until you flip the S23 Plus over that you see the biggest difference in design between last year's S22 Plus and the S23 Plus: the camera array. There are still distinct camera lenses on the S23 Plus, but instead of being in an area that extends out from the phone's body and houses the camera lenses, the cameras are vertically stacked on the left-hand side.
It's a much cleaner design, and one I much prefer over the S22 Plus' layout. It also somewhat standardizes the design language between all three Galaxy S23 models, with the only real visual difference between the S23 Ultra and both S23 models being the Ultra's two extra lenses.
The S23 Plus comes in a slew of colors, but if you end up deciding the S23 Plus is your next smartphone, be mindful of where you buy it. The standard color lineup you'll find at Samsung's retail partners offers Phantom Black, Green, Lavender, and Cream.
However, if you buy the Plus directly from Samsung, there are two additional color choices. There's a close-to-black Graphite option, and a Lime color option. All of them look great. I've been using the Lavender model, and it's a very light purple that I'd have no problem using on a daily basis if it was my personal phone.
Having just reviewed the S23 Ultra, which is objectively a giant phone, I found the S23 Plus much easier to hold and manage. It's comfortable to grip, and I had no trouble reaching the top and bottom of the screen when using it with one hand.
The result is a trio of smartphones that are wicked-fast and responsive and can handle high workloads, hiccup-free.
The S23 Plus has a single memory option of 8GB, and your choice of 256GB or 512GB storage. I'm here for 256GB of storage as the new starting point for phones.
I ran a quick benchmark test using Geekbench 6, which simulates common tasks and workloads, on the S23 Plus to get a general idea of its performance. The S23 Plus' average single-core score average was 1,961, and its average multi-core score was 5,207, practically matching the S23 Ultra's scores in the same test.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max with Apple's A16 Bionic processor outperforms the S23 Plus on the Geekbench 6 tests, scoring 2,527 and 6,290 respectively.
Don't get too wrapped up in those numbers, though. Even though the iPhone 14 Pro Max scores higher, benchmarks only tell a small portion of the story. Real-world experience is what really matters, and the S23 Plus feels just as fast and high-performing as the iPhone 14 Pro Max in daily use.
For me, daily use includes spending a lot of time scrolling Reddit, Megalodon (a Mastodon client), Slack messages, BlueBubbles, and FeedMe RSS, streaming Apple Music, watching random YouTube videos, and occasionally completing a race or six in Asphalt 9.
Throughout all of that, and other random tasks like capturing a quick selfie, checking the weather, or using the new Object Cut Out Tool in the Gallery app, I can't recall a single instance of sluggish performance. The S23 Plus handled all of it with ease.
Also, watching videos or gaming and the display on the S23 Plus are a perfect match. The display is clear and vivid, and has the right amount of saturation. Its peak brightness of 1,750 nits makes it viewable in nearly any environment, including direct sunlight.
Consistency is key to a solid camera
The Galaxy S23 Plus has a lone 12-megapixel front-facing selfie camera and three rear-facing cameras: a 50-megapixel main camera, a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, and a 10-megapixel telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom.
The three cameras, on paper, don't appear to hold their own compared with the S23 Ultra's five cameras that span from 200 megapixels (you read that right) to two different 10-megapixel telephoto lenses, with 3x and 10x zoom capabilities respectively.
When it comes to everyday photos, the S23 Plus nails it in traditional Samsung fashion. What I mean by that is that Samsung is known for upping the saturation levels of its photos, giving it a pop of color many prefer.
Both in regular lighting settings and in low-light environments, the S23 Plus' photos are vibrant and have a sharpness to them that just looks good.
The front-facing camera took smooth, and sometimes too smooth, selfie photos. That's long been a complaint of mine about Samsung's selfie cams -- they're far too aggressive trying to smooth out my skin and it results in an almost fake-looking photo.
It's natural to have some megapixel envy when comparing the S23 Plus and the S23 Ultra and feel tempted to spend more money on the Ultra just for its camera setup, but having used both phones, I can say that while the Ultra's camera is impressive, the Plus is no slouch, and I'd wager most people will be just as happy with it.
All-day battery life
Another small tweak Samsung made to the S23 Plus over last year's model was to boost the battery size from 4,500mAh to 4,700mAh. It's a minor difference, but when it comes to battery life for our pocket computers, every bit counts. I've yet to run out of battery life during a single day of use, be it at home on Wi-Fi all day long, or while on the road and bouncing between cellular and Wi-Fi connections.
I used the hotspot feature on the S23 Plus a handful of times during my testing. On one occasion, I used it for exactly 60 minutes to see how much battery it would use. With around 6GB of traffic (I downloaded a 5.4GB iPadOS update), the S23 Plus went from a full charge to 90%. This is the first time I've tracked hotspot use in this way, and it's not a tell-all metric, but it's a data point that's worth mentioning.
I also played a 4K video on loop and monitored how long it took for the phone to go from a full charge to powering off: The S23 Plus powered through 20 hours and 45 minutes of constant video playback, while the S23 Ultra lasted 15 hours and 36 minutes running the same test. I'll admit, I was puzzled. The S23 Ultra has a larger display, but also a larger battery, and I didn't anticipate the S23 Plus lasting that much longer. Again, real-world experience is what matters most.
I absolutely loved using the S23 Ultra. It has everything you could want in a phone, and then some. But, I have to admit -- there's a big part of me that wants the features and capabilities of the S23 Ultra, in the body of S23 Plus.
That said, I think Samsung absolutely nailed the S23 Plus' balance of performance, features, and price. The unfortunate truth is that $999 flagship phones are here to stay. But at least as far as the S23 Plus is concerned, you're getting your money's worth.