You might think that best phone The start of the year occurs in September when Apple announces its latest product iPhone 15. In fact, the premier phone event happens in February, when Samsung sets the hurdle that every new smartphone has to jump or duck under. After we’ve seen them Galaxy S23 Ultra With Samsung Unpacked (assuming we do), the only question left is how Apple, Google and others will try to beat it.
It’s going to be particularly tough this year. We get a good idea of what parts make up a new smartphone long before it hits the market. With most manufacturers buying from the same parts makers, it’s difficult for a phone maker to differentiate itself. Launching a phone at the beginning of the new year is particularly daring.
A better Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform
Take the mobile platform. Last year, Samsung launched the Galaxy S22 Ultra with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset. It was the best platform you could buy outside of an iPhone, but it wasn’t exclusive to Samsung. When Samsung announced its Galaxy Z Fold 4 in August, it was already time to upgrade to Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1.
What’s worse, last year’s Galaxy S22 didn’t launch in every region with the latest Qualcomm chips. A Samsung Exynos platform was built into some areas, and tests showed that the Qualcomm device was the superior phone.
This year, Samsung is taking no chances. Not only does each region get a brand new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform, Samsung is also offering a better chip than the competition will be using, making it possibly the most powerful phone you can buy. Rumors suggest that Qualcomm will overclock the Snapdragon in Samsung phones to give the devices a speed advantage over the rest of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 phones.
Of course, we’ll definitely see faster chipsets from Qualcomm before the end of the year. Samsung won’t hold the performance crown all year, but it’s possible it could defend the title until reinforcements arrive in August in the form of a possible Galaxy Z Fold 5.
The joker is the new mobile platform MediaTek Dimensity 9200, which could show up in competitors like the Oppo Find N2. MediaTek has made high-end chips for mid-range devices as well as some flagship phones sold outside the US market. The latest high-end chipset is aimed at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, and MediaTek talks about its graphics performance as if we’ve gone back to the old days of gaming console wars. We expect heated competition.
That wild 200-megapixel camera sensor from Samsung
If you’ve been following the Samsung Galaxy S23 rumors so far, you know that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform isn’t even the most exciting spec upgrade. Qualcomm has hinted for months that it will be the exclusive partner for the Galaxy S23. It’s the Samsung 200MP camera sensor, a huge leap in resolution that really excites us.
Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 image signal processor can handle 200MP images, but that doesn’t mean manufacturers will reach for that extreme level of sensor data. Samsung is rumored to be installing an ISOCELL HP2 sensor from Samsung Semiconductor, which, in addition to pure resolution, will also blow away the competition when it comes to low-light photography.
Smartphone imaging is about much more than just the number of pixels. High resolution doesn’t help if those pixels are too small to collect enough light to take great photos. Phones also need fast lenses and the software to put it all together. Our experience with the best Samsung phones makes us excited to see the images that the Galaxy S23 Ultra will produce with the new shooter.
Apple and Google will have a very hard time keeping up if the new camera delivers the excitement it creates. Both competitors could theoretically also buy the new camera module. Samsung Semiconductor’s camera sensors are separated by a legal firewall from the Mobile Experience Group, which makes phones for exactly this reason.
Samsung sells sensors to other phone manufacturers, including Motorola on the Motorola Edge 30 Ultra. Samsung phones use camera sensors from Sony and other camera manufacturers.
Not on the next Apple iPhone or Google Pixel
We don’t expect Apple or Google to upgrade to 200MP, at least not with the next Apple iPhone 15 Pro (or possible iPhone 15 Ultra) or Google Pixel 8 Pro (or possible Pixel Ultra). It just doesn’t fit the storyline or camera style.
Apple just recently upgraded its iPhone from a 12MP sensor to a larger 48MP sensor, but that still falls short of the 108MP of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, which tops our list of the best camera phones. Of course, actual sensor size is very similar between these two, and both companies downscale images to a more reasonable size by default.
We don’t expect Apple to significantly increase the pixel count on the iPhone for a few generations. Apple likes to hit a resolution plateau and then hone its imaging craft for a while to get the best results from familiar technology.
Google, on the other hand, uses AI enhancements to enhance images. The Pixel 7 Pro uses fine sensors and lenses, but nothing superlative. Instead, the Google Tensor G2 chipset offers unique image processing and editing capabilities that you’ll only find on a Google Pixel 7 family phone. These make a real difference, but can only build on the existing image quality.
It will be harder for Google to match its optical image quality to the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra than for Samsung to come up with some new AI and software tricks to give us Google-like results. With a fantastic new sensor and competent lenses, Samsung doesn’t need to blur photos or dramatically improve zoom. The camera does the work.
Satellite Emergency SOS will up the ante
Finally, we hear that Samsung will be working with Iridium Communications for a satellite messaging service similar to the satellite emergency SOS that Apple has included in the iPhone 14 family. Satellite capabilities will be a running theme in mobile devices this year.
We expect numerous competitors to support satellite distress messaging, so by the time the next iPhone launches, that will be the table. If a phone maker hasn’t ticked that box, does it really care about its customers who regularly climb the K2?
Competitors can win on battery and performance
There are a few missing avenues that we wish Samsung would set the stage for the year, but there will be room for competitors to win, as competitors have done before. Samsung batteries aren’t big enough and Samsung phones don’t charge as fast as the best OnePlus phones. We’d love to see Apple and Google up their game in these areas as well.
Samsung has been rumored to be improving the fingerprint sensor on its phones but seems to be sticking with older devices. The latest Qualcomm 3D Sonic Max sensor can handle multiple fingers at once, and we expect it to appear on competitor phones. Security will be a big issue this year, so this could be an important upgrade.
Samsung won’t improve where we really need it
Again, we have no hopes for improvements to Samsung’s OneUI this year, and the gulf between Samsung’s software design and the Google Pixel version of Android is clearer than ever. Samsung needs to modernize, or rivals aligning themselves closer to Google’s sleek, mature, and unobtrusive UI will find happy buyers.
It’s going to be a tough year financially for most of us, and we haven’t seen any rumors of Samsung responding to the global cost of living crisis. We’re hearing that the latest phones from Samsung and Apple will cost more, not less. That would be a mistake, but also an opportunity for the competition.
We know where Samsung wants to lead this year. With top-of-the-line processors and camera sensors that the competition might not be able to match, we can see how high Samsung is setting the bar this year. Here’s hoping that as the competition tries to make a leap forward, we see phones that find the room to duck under and give us the battery and security improvements Samsung lacks.
Before the 2023 editions from Samsung, Google and Apple arrive, take a look back at the best smartphones they’ve shipped this year.