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Thinking about the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Great device, but not for me
I’ve been testing and writing about mobile devices for 22 years on Geek.com and ZDNET so it’s a bit strange to be on the “outside” looking in on the coverage of the Galaxy S23 series. I think it is also a healthy perspective, maybe once is enough, as I truly evaluate whether or not the S23 Ultra is worth the cost of admission.
Samsung usually moved the needle to encourage me to make a device purchase with pretty amazing trade-in offers, which is how I was able to purchase my Z Fold 4 last year for about $1,100 after trade-ins and pre-launch special offers. The Z Fold 4 launch offers were pretty amazing and since I did not get a chance to test one out I jumped at the offers. The Z Fold 4 is one of my favorite devices ever and the small tablet with S Pen functionality, along with the advanced engineering and design, mean it is going to take something amazing…and likely the Z Fold 5, for me to consider any other device.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra looks like another winner for Samsung, but here are a few reasons I am not going to purchase one for my own use and will instead keep the Z Fold 4 in my pocket:
The big display of the Z Fold 4 is too compelling
The Z Fold 4 has a side fingerprint sensor
The S Pen is great, but the display is still too small for justifiable handwriting
Too expensive compared to other options like the Google Pixel 7 Pro and OnePlus 11 5G
Big display of Z Fold 4
As a person who commutes by train and also flies on airplanes once a month for business, the ability to simply open up my phone and view a small tablet display is wonderful. The Z Fold 4 props up with the Samsung case and fits perfectly on an airplane tray and train table with room for food and drinks.
I’m in my mid-50s and my eyes are aging so a larger display helps me see content on the screen with ease. The larger display also means that I can actually write content on the display with the S Pen in a manner that is more effective than a standard smartphone display.
Side fingerprint sensor
Most Android phones today have fingerprint sensors positioned under the display and I HATE it. The sensor technology has improved over the years, but I still find it inconvenient and less reliable than other methods. The rear fingerprint sensor on past devices was good, but my favorite approach is the side button fingerprint sensor that lets me unlock a phone with my thumb as I pick up the phone.
The iPhone Face Unlock method is also amazing, but I still prefer the side button approach found on the Z Fold 4.
Is the S Pen actually useful on the display?
I think it was the Samsung Note 3 that I first purchased and used with a S Pen. I loved the ability to quickly jot thoughts and notes, but I never wrote long form content or a significant amount of notes because the display is not set up for lengthy content.
More often than not, I found the value in the S Pen as a replacement for navigating with my finger. Do you find value in the S Pen?
The Amazon Kindle Scribe has replaced my need for the S Pen and also has allowed me to no longer take notes on paper with a pen. Writing on a surface that feels like pen and paper has changed the way I work and I love it.
The only way I can justify purchasing phones that cost over $1,000 is with valuable trades. Samsung trade-in offers are not that great for the S23 Ultra ($750 for a Z Fold 4 and $720 for an iPhone 14 Pro Max) and you are likely to get better value selling your existing phone on ebay or Swappa. Samsung was very generous in the past, although the trade-in process has its own issues too. For example, I traded in one device and was given a reduced value at first. Thankfully, I had captured pictures and video to show the condition of the device when I sent it in so Samsung customer service adjusted the value based on my evidence.
The S23 Ultra starts at $1,199 for 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. A Pixel 7 Pro with 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM is available for $999, $200 less.
Looking ahead to the Z Fold 5
Since I am no longer earning a paycheck for writing about mobile devices, my budget for gear is gone and I’ll be looking a bit closer at the value of new devices before jumping to order the shiny new device. That said, I do value my smartphones as I use them more daily than a computer and they are essential for getting work done. It is easy to justify a high end smartphone for work, and play, but one should also look across the market to see which device best fits their needs and value.
Samsung’s Z Fold 4 addressed the fixes I wanted to see from the Z Fold 3. If the Z Fold 5 launches with mostly internal specification updates then I will be skipping that model too. You do not have to upgrade every year so don’t be pressured by advertising or reviews that show off the latest and greatest new shiny thing.
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