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In the world of consumer electronics, Samsung is arguably the most popular, with its product empire spanning from home appliances to mobile computing to software and services. Even if we tunnel into its smartphone lines, there are almost too many options to count. And with the announcement of the Galaxy S23, there are even more reasons to consider an upgrade if you're a Samsung loyalist.
That said, ZDNET's team of mobile experts has tested. reviewed, and compared the best and worst Samsung Galaxy smartphones over the years, including the value-driven A-series, the flagship S-series, and the shape-shifting foldables that make up the Z-series.
Also: Every Galaxy S23 model compared
See below for our top picks of 2023 and the phones we'd recommend from the Galaxy maker. And if you want more information on the latest Galaxy S23 models, you can also check out our Samsung Unpacked hub.
Tech specs: Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy | Display: 6.8 inches, 3088 x 1440| RAM/Storage Options: 12GB RAM with 256GB/512GB/1TB | Rear cameras: 200MP main, 12MP ultra-wide, 10MP 10x optical, 10MP 3x optical | Front camera: 12MP | Colors: Phantom Black, Cream, Green, Lavender | Battery: 5,000mAh
In the grand calculus of the Samsung multiverse, the Galaxy S23 Ultra reigns supreme. It's arguably the most no-frills smartphone that you can buy on the market, let alone from Samsung, which puts it at the top spot on our list.
The Galaxy S23 Ultra comes with a large 6.8-inch AMOLED display, a beefy 5,000mAh battery that can last you as long as two days, a customized Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor to keep things running efficiently, and the sacred Samsung S Pen -- ideal for jotting down notes, graphics designing, or even signing PDFs.
Read the review: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
Being the latest and greatest also means that the S23 Ultra comes equipped with Samsung's newest advancements in camera technology, including a 200-megapixel main lens that's capable of capturing the highest-resolution images we've seen on any Galaxy phone. There's also 8K video recording at 30 frames per second if you're into that.
All this is to say that the Galaxy S23 Ultra is our pick for the best Samsung phone overall, at least for now. Who knows how game-changing the company's line of foldables will be this year, and what other models are on the docket?
Tech specs: Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 | Main display: 7.6 inches, 2176 x 1812 pixels | Cover display: 6.2 inches, 904 x 2316 pixels | RAM/Storage: 12GB RAM with 256GB/512GB/1TB internal options | Cameras: 12MP ultra-wide, 50MP wide angle, 10MP 3x telephoto, 10MP cover screen, 4MP under main display | Battery: 4,400mAh
The 2020 Galaxy Z Fold 2 set the bar for foldable devices that also serve as mini tablets. The Z Fold 3 improved on that phone with S Pen support and IPX8 water resistance, two features requested by Fold users. With the Z Fold 4, Samsung again addressed user requests and improved the rear cameras and form factor of the phone.
Also: The best Galaxy Z Fold 4 cases
The cameras are not as good as those found on the S22 Ultra, but the hardware is clearly superior to any foldable before it. And it certainly helps that the Z Fold 4 is not as heavy and bulky as its predecessors.
Read the review: Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 4
In addition to the new rear cameras, Samsung updated the under-display camera found in the larger Main Display for a more immersive viewing experience. There's also Android 12L, Google's software designed for large-screen experiences, operating in the background.
Tech specs: Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 | Main display: 6.7 inches, 1080 x 2640 pixels | Cover display: 1.9 inches, 260 x 512 pixels | RAM/Storage: 8GB RAM with 128GB/256GB/512GB internal options | Cameras: Two rear 12MP, 10MP selfie | Battery: 3,700mAh
While the Z Fold 4 remains the best Samsung foldable, it's the Z Flip 4 that will likely sell the most and appeal to the masses. Not only is the clamshell handset less expensive than the Z Fold, but it's more compact and portable, and has a more user-friendly learning curve.
Shape-shifting displays aside, the Z Flip 4 is very similar to the standard Samsung Galaxy S-series flagship, with a large 6.7-inch AMOLED panel that's crisp and bright, up to 512GB of RAM for those high-resolution pictures and videos, and a healthy 3,700mAh cell powering it all.
Read the review: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
Folks who thrive in social media and content creation will love the Z Flip 4's ability to switch between shooting styles like camcorder mode and flex mode. And for more personalization, Samsung offers its Bespoke service so you can customize the color of the back plating, hinge, and edges of the Z Flip.
Tech specs: Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G | Display: 6.6 inches, 2408 x 1080 pixels | RAM/Storage: 6GB/128GB | Cameras: 50MP wide and 8MP ultra-wide. 13MP front-facing camera | Battery: 4,050mAh
Samsung released the Galaxy XCover 6 Pro back in September and it remains the best rugged option from the Korean giant. In fact, it's one of the only rugged smartphones that supports 5G connectivity, making the XCover 6 Pro a top prospect for industrial and enterprise users who work in hazardous environments.
By the numbers, the XCover 6 Pro is MIL-STD-810H compliant, meaning its undergone a series of military-level testing for durability and protection. The device is also rated IP68, allowing it to withstand a complete submersion below one meter for as long as 30 minutes.
Also: Samsung's Galaxy XCover 6 Pro and Tab Active 4 Pro are built to last
The dual cameras at the rear -- a 50MP wide and 8MP ultra-wide -- are passable but you're mainly paying for the ruggedness of the phone and nothing more. Fortunately, Samsung does bundle it with a Snapdragon 778G processor and a dependable 6.6-inch display that's covered in a scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass Victus Plus.
Tech specs: Processor: Samsung Exynos 1280 | Display: 6.5 inches, 2400 x 1080 pixels | RAM/Storage: 6GB/128GB | Cameras: 64MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 5MP depth sensor. 5MP macro, and 32MP front-facing camera | Battery: 5,000mAh
While the flagship Galaxy S and Z fold series provide compelling options, they are flagship phones priced in the $900 and higher range. In order to offer customers another alternative, Samsung created the Galaxy A series, led by none other than the A53 5G.
Here's the breakdown: For $449, you get a 6.5-inch AMOLED display that ramps up to 120Hz refresh rate, 6GB of RAM, a quad-camera setup that includes a 64MP main sensor, and a beefy 5,000mAh battery. Oh, and the A-series of smartphones fall under Samsung's five-year commitment to software and security updates, which is rare for devices in this price range.
Read the review: Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
The Galaxy A53 5G only looks better when stacked next to competing mid-range handsets, like Apple's iPhone SE (2022) and Google's Pixel 6a. Not only does Samsung's bright and colorful display make for a convincing package for entertainment lovers, but its larger battery should last you much longer than the industry's best.
Tech specs: Processor: Mediatek Dimensity 700 | Display: 6.6 inches, 2408 x 1080 pixels | RAM/Storage: 4GB/64GB | Cameras: 50MP wide, 2MP macro, 2MP depth sensor, and 13MP front-facing camera | Battery: 5,000mAh
The flashiest of smartphone features tend to exist only on flagships, but many will find appeal in Samsung's humble Galaxy A14 5G, which boasts 5G connectivity, a massive 5,000mAh battery, and a budget-friendly $200 price tag. That's a compelling new package at a time when consumers are cutting down on spending.
Also: Samsung just launched its cheapest 5G Galaxy phone yet
And don't let the lower cost fool you; the Galaxy A14 5G has all the specs you'd want for a feasible mobile companion, from the relatively large 6.6-inch 90Hz display -- a rarity in this price range -- to the expandable storage (up to 1TB) to Samsung's four-year commitment to security patches. Oh, and the front-facing camera is higher resolution than ever for the selfie-lover in your life.
While the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra sits at the top of this year's ranking list, here's a wider scope of ZDNET's best picks and their respective feature sets.
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5G
10MP with 10x optical, 10MP with 3x optical, 200MP, and 12MP ultrawide. 12MP front-facing camera
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4
7.6 inches and 6.2 inches
10MP with 3x optical, 50MP wide, and 12MP ultrawide, 10MP cover screen, 4MP under main display
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
6.7 inches, and 1.9 inches
Two rear 12MP, 10MP selfie
Samsung Galaxy XCover 6 Pro
50MP wide and 8MP ultrawide. 13MP front-facing camera
Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
64MP wide, 12MP ultrawide, 5MP depth sensor. 5MP macro, and 32MP front-facing camera
Samsung Galaxy A14 5G
50MP wide, 2MP macro, 2MP depth sensor, and 13MP front-facing camera
It was much easier to choose a Samsung phone option in the past when just the S and Note series were available, along with some low-range, basic phones. Samsung has significantly expanded its offerings with the A Series, Fold, and Flip options. So, the first thing you should now consider is your desired form factor.
First, decide if you want a standard "glass rectangle" smartphone or if you want a folding device. For maximum screen real estate, get a Z Fold 4. Or, for taking up the minimum space in your pocket and providing that extra bit of style, get a Z Flip 4 or Galaxy S23.
With Samsung's current lineup, you have phones priced from under $200 to over $1,200. Your budget should quickly help you figure out which price point is right for you. From there, begin comparing individual features, like stylus support, or which device has the best camera array.
Choose this Samsung phone...
If you want...
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra
The top-of-the-line flagship Samsung phone with all the bells and whistles in a traditional form factor.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4
A tablet/smartphone hybrid foldable and one of the best Samsung devices available.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4
A stylish and pocket-friendly smartphone that doesn't compromise performance.
Samsung Galaxy XCover 6 Pro
The standard suite of smartphone features, packaged in a rugged shell that can take a hit or two.
Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
You're shopping on a $500 budget.
Samsung Galaxy A14 5G
You're shopping on a $200 budget but still want a good handset.
We try to spend time with every phone in our best list and, if we don't get that opportunity, then we look to trusted reviewers in the mobile space. We only include phones that are still readily available since Samsung tends to clear the queue when new models are launched.
While we personally spend most of our time with higher-end models that help us get our work done most efficiently, there are mid-range phones worth consideration so we include them as well.
The newest Samsung phone is the Galaxy S23, which comes in a standard variant (6.2-inch), Plus (6.6-inch), and Ultra (6.8-inch). All three models come with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset and are running One UI 5.0 software over Android 13.
Bixby was first introduced in the Galaxy S8 phones and, according to Samsung, is an "intelligence assistant" that can be activated by voice, taps, or text. Bixby is essentially Samsung's version of Siri and can perform the typical smart assistant functions like telling you the weather, translating text, and even controlling smart home appliances.
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra has the best camera of any Samsung phone and one of the best overall cameras on the phone market. It features a 200MP main camera along with four accompanying cameras, which allow it to take extremely high-quality shots including close-up images and ones that are ultra-wide. The S23 Ultra can also video record in up to 8K UHD quality at 30fps, making it one of the most capable phone cameras money can buy.
There's beating around the Galaxy A53 5G and its wealth of flagship-killing features and specs. As flagship smartphones continue to creep up in price -- no thanks to inflation -- a $449 that does everyday tasks well is both a surprise and a blessing. As mentioned earlier, the value package of the A53 5G only looks better when you compare it to other smartphones in its price range.
Be sure to check out ZDNET's comparisons of the best phones and Android phones available. We've also listed the top (non-Samsung) picks from both those guides below for your convenience.