Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra vs S21 Ultra: Is It Worth Upgrading After 2 Years?

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is the latest flagship phone from Samsung, released in February 2023. The Galaxy S21 Ultra was Samsung’s premium phone from two years prior in 2021. With a two year gap between these flagship phones, is it worth upgrading from the Galaxy S21 Ultra to the newer Galaxy S23 Ultra? Let’s take a detailed look at how these two phones compare across various factors to see if the Galaxy S23 Ultra provides enough improvements to be worth the upgrade.

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Design and Display

The Galaxy S23 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Ultra share a very similar overall design aesthetic, both featuring a large screen with slim bezels and a punch-hole front camera. The rear camera modules differ slightly, with the Galaxy S23 Ultra having separate cutouts for each lens rather than one integrated housing.

In terms of dimensions, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is very slightly larger, measuring 163.3 x 78 x 8.9 mm compared to the Galaxy S21 Ultra at 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mm. Both phones have a hefty weight of around 234g for the Galaxy S23 Ultra and 229g for the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra introduces a more squared-off frame with sharper corners, contrasting the rounded sides of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. This gives the newer model a boxier aesthetic. An important ergonomic difference is that the Galaxy S23 Ultra has a slot for the S Pen stylus built right into the body, making it much easier to keep with you.

Durability sees improvement with the Galaxy S23 Ultra having the latest Gorilla Glass Victus 2, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra uses the first version. Both models retain an IP68 dust and water resistance rating.

In terms of display specs, not much changes between generations. Both phones have a 6.8 inch Dynamic AMOLED screen with QHD+ 1440p resolution. You get a smooth 120Hz maximum refresh rate on both as well. The Galaxy S23 Ultra display can reach higher peak brightness at 1750 nits versus 1300 nits on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Overall, the designs are quite iterative between the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S23 Ultra, with small improvements in areas like brightness, durability, and boxy aesthetics on the newer model. The built-in S Pen slot is the most significant addition.

Performance and Hardware

Internally, the Galaxy S23 Ultra enjoys more substantial upgrades courtesy of its newer Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip, versus the Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100 used in the Galaxy S21 Ultra depending on region.

In CPU performance alone, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 achieves Geekbench 5 scores of around 1550 for single core and 4600 for multi core. This represents a sizable 40-50% increase over the Snapdragon 888’s scores of around 1100 and 3100 respectively.

Gaming and graphics intensive applications also see major gains thanks to the improved Adreno 740 GPU in the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. For example in 3DMark’s Wild Life test, the Galaxy S23 Ultra reached 2828 points versus 1963 points in the Galaxy S21 Ultra – nearly 50% faster.

Real world performance feels significantly snappier on the Galaxy S23 Ultra thanks to these CPU and GPU improvements. Everything from launching apps to switching between tasks feels faster. This will provide a smoother experience for years to come as apps become more demanding.

In terms of memory, the base Galaxy S23 Ultra comes with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, with 12GB/512GB and 12GB/1TB options available too. The Galaxy S21 Ultra offered 12GB or 16GB RAM with 128/256/512GB storage configurations. So you can equip the Galaxy S21 Ultra with more RAM, but the Galaxy S23 Ultra offers double the base storage.

Battery capacities remain the same at 5000 mAh. However the more efficient Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip allows the Galaxy S23 Ultra to last noticeably longer on a charge compared to the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Charging speeds see a nice bump with 45W wired charging on the Galaxy S23 Ultra, versus just 25W on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Both support 15W wireless charging.

Overall the Galaxy S23 Ultra brings much faster performance and solid improvements to storage, battery life, and charging speeds. These are meaningful upgrades over the two year old Galaxy S21 Ultra.


The Galaxy S23 Ultra introduces an upgraded 200MP main camera, replacing the already impressive 108MP sensor on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Both cameras use pixel binning to output 12MP images though.

In daytime outdoor conditions, the two cameras produce comparable images with excellent detail and color. The Galaxy S23 Ultra leans more towards contrast and saturation versus the more neutral output from the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Low light photography sees bigger improvements on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The larger sensor can take in more light leading to reduced noise and better detail in night time or indoor shots. The differences become more apparent as lighting conditions worsen.

Zoom capabilities are identical on paper with both phones offering 3x and 10x optical zoom lenses. But the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s software and processing does extract more detail at high zoom levels, making those distant shots look cleaner.

The ultra wide and selfie cameras remain largely similar between the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S23 Ultra, producing great images with dynamic range. Video recording sees minor upgrades to 8K 30fps capture on the Galaxy S23 Ultra from 8K 24fps on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

So while you can still get fantastic shots on the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Galaxy S23 Ultra does provide noticeable improvements to low light photography and zoom quality. It offers an overall more versatile camera system.


The brand new Galaxy S23 Ultra ships with the latest One UI 5.1 software on top of Android 13. Meanwhile the Galaxy S21 Ultra has also now been updated to One UI 5 and Android 13 after launching on Android 11.

This means you get effectively the same user interface and features on both phones. Samsung promises 4 major Android OS updates for both models, so the Galaxy S21 Ultra is halfway through its lifecycle having been updated twice already. The Galaxy S23 Ultra will enjoy updates for a year longer through 2028.

Daily use and apps are indistinguishable between the two at this point. But the Galaxy S23 Ultra will stay secure and updated for longer.

Pricing and Value

With the Galaxy S23 Ultra just launching, it commands a premium $1199 starting price. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S21 Ultra can be found refurbished or used for around $500-600 in good condition.

Considering just a moderate trade-in value of $300 for the Galaxy S21 Ultra, upgrading to the Galaxy S23 Ultra ends up costing about $600-700 extra.

For this price difference, you gain noticeably faster performance, improved display brightness, battery life and charging speed, more capable cameras especially in low light, and an extra year of software support.

These are great improvements, but ultimately neither phone is sluggish or severely lacking in any area. If your Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is still performing well and meets your needs, it may be hard to justify spending an extra $600-700 on the Galaxy S23 Ultra right now. Holding onto the Galaxy S21 Ultra for another year and reassessing with the Galaxy S24 Ultra launch is sensible, since you still get regular software updates on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

On the other hand, for heavy users who demand the best, upgrading to the Galaxy S23 Ultra will provide a meaningful boost across the board in nearly all areas. Power users who take lots of photos and videos will also appreciate the much improved camera system. And the built-in S Pen makes the Galaxy S23 Ultra far more convenient for creators and professionals who can utilize it.

Overall the Galaxy S23 Ultra brings a host of improvements over the Galaxy S21 Ultra that may warrant the upgrade for some, but not necessarily everyone. Consider how much you use your phone, which new features matter most to you, and the upgrade cost to decide if moving to the Galaxy S23 Ultra makes sense for you right now. Either way, both remain excellent flagship phone options at their respective stages in Samsung’s line-up.

Verdict: Minor Improvements in Most Areas, Big Camera Upgrade

To summarize:

  • Design is very similar with minor changes to materials and ergonomics
  • Display sees slight improvements to brightness but otherwise identical performance
  • Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 provides much faster CPU and GPU performance versus Snapdragon 888
  • More base storage on Galaxy S23 Ultra but Galaxy S21 Ultra can be equipped with more RAM
  • Battery life and charging speeds improved on Galaxy S23 Ultra
  • 200MP camera captures more detail and light, huge upgrade to low light photos
  • Software is nearly the same between both after Android 13 update on Galaxy S21 Ultra
  • Galaxy S23 Ultra will get 1 year longer of software support until 2028
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra provides most of the same features for much lower cost of $500-600 used/refurbished

Unless you really need the latest speed, camera quality, and battery life, the Galaxy S21 Ultra likely remains good enough for most people’s needs and is a better value choice. But for those who demand the absolute cutting edge features, the Galaxy S23 Ultra brings enough enhancements across the board to potentially warrant upgrading from the Galaxy S21 Ultra.


For most Galaxy S21 Ultra users, holding onto it for at least another year is probably the smartest move. But for power users who care most about performance, camera quality, and long term software support, the Galaxy S23 Ultra provides meaningful improvements that can justify upgrading now rather than waiting.

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