With the Galaxy S22 Ultra, Samsung has combined the speed, performance and camera system of its flagship S-series devices with the compatibility and functionality of its now-defunct Note devices. The result is an excellent device that Note fans are going to love, however it might be a bit too “Noteish,” for regular smartphone users.
The S22 Ultra has gone away from the familiar S-series formula, and I’m torn. On one hand I applaud Samsung for doing something different, but on the other hand, this doesn’t feel like an S-series device.
It’s still a premium smartphone with brilliant cameras, one of the best displays I’ve seen with the performance capabilities to match – but when it comes down to it, this is a niche device.
That said, if you are a stylus user, you won’t find a better smartphone than the S22 Ultra.
- Great performance
- Stylus is well implemented
- Best in class display
- Best stylus based device
- Camera array, although familiar, still takes great photos (10x telephoto being a highlight)
- Underwhelming battery
- Doesn’t come with 45w charging brick
- If you don’t use a stylus with your phone, the S22 Ultra probably isn’t for you
The Galaxy S22 Ultra comes in three configurations.
- 128GB storage, 8GB RAM for $1,999
- 246GB storage, 12GB RAM for $2,099
- 512GB storage, 12GB RAM for $2,399
These are standard prices for a flagship device, but interestingly each configuration is around $100 cheaper than the S21 Ultra was at release.
Is it a Note or is it an S-series? This is the question that immediately comes to mind when looking at the S22 Ultra’s design. Samsung will tell you it’s a mix of both, however, it definitely leans more towards a Note.
When comparing the S22 Ultra to its predecessor, the S21 Ultra, the design is where you’ll find most of the differences. It’s also the feature that I think is most divisive. While I think Note fans will love it, it’s probably too “Note-like,” for S-series purists.
It’s not an ugly device, but the squared-off top and bottom edges don’t look as sleek and stylish as a rounded edge phone. It has a chunky Note-like look to it. Be warned, it’s going to take up all the space in your pocket.
Similar to its predecessor, this is a big phone. Weighing 228g and measuring 16.33cm (height) x 7.79cm (width) x 0.89cm (thick), expect to use this phone with two hands. I have larger hands with long fingers and I even struggled to use it with one hand.
The part of the design I liked most is the camera bump or lack thereof. Samsung have removed the raised camera housing found on the back of the S21 Ultra completely. The four lenses and the autofocus sensor sit individually on the back of the S22 Ultra and it makes the camera array less imposing and much more subtle.
Like the S21 Ultra, the S22 Ultra is compatible with Samsung’s stylus, the S-pen. This time around the S22 Ultra has a housing for it. While I’m not one who regularly uses a stylus with my phone, it’s impossible to not be impressed at how well implemented this was. The stylus tucks nicely into the bottom of the device and is easy to retrieve with a push button that pops it out.
The S22 Ultra boasts Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back, which has a premium feel and also lends itself well to sturdiness. It’s the toughest Gorilla Glass available meaning this device will survive drops and scratches. It’s also IP68 resistant meaning it can survive dust, sand, dirt and being 1.5m underwater for up to 30 minutes. I wasn’t afraid to take this phone to the beach, or even at a stretch, generously rinse it clean in the sink.
The S22 Ultra boasts a 6.8-inch, 1440 x 3088 resolution, OLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. It’s brilliant and arguably the best screen on the market right now. The colours are vibrant, it’s smooth, sharp, and the most noticeable improvement is the brightness.
With a peak brightness of 1,750 nits and a standard brightness of 1,250, you can easily see every detail on the screen, even in direct sunlight. To put it into perspective the iPhone 13 Pro Max boasts a peak brightness of 1,000 nits. The display requires a lot of battery though. To accommodate this Samsung has included a Vision Booster feature which automatically adjusts the brightness based on your surroundings. Unfortunately it doesn’t do enough though and the battery in the S22 Ultra isn’t great (more on this below.)
It’s also an LTPO (low temperature polycrystalline oxide) display, meaning it will seamlessly change the refresh rate of the screen depending on what you’re doing, again in order to save battery.
The bezel around the edge of the device is miniscule and barely noticeable due to the slightly curved edges of the display. It looks nice but it doesn’t work well with the S-pen. If you’re using the stylus near the edge of the device, the point will slide off, there’s nothing blocking it and it gets frustrating. While a case may remedy this issue, you shouldn’t need a case for a device with Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back. It feels like a bit of an oversight on Samsung’s part.
The S22 Ultra is a performance powerhouse. It can easily handle anything you throw at it. I was able to play graphically intensive games like Genshin Impact without any stuttering, seamlessly use AI tools in the camera app and take and process multiple pictures in RAW format quickly.
Usually in New Zealand, the flagship Samsung devices are released with the company’s own Exynos chipset. This time around the S22 Ultra has been released with the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset from Qualcomm. Should you care? Not really. For average use you’ll barely notice a difference in performance between the two chipsets – though history suggests the Qualcomm chip will deliver a slight battery boost.
The S22 Ultra comes with Android 12 and OneUI 4.1. These work just as well as they always have, they’re straightforward and easy to navigate. Samsung also announced that the S22 Ultra will be compatible with the next 4 generations of Android OS updates which is great for those who don’t change their phone year on year.
I was slightly disappointed to find that not much has changed when it comes to the S22 Ultra’s camera array. The telephoto lenses have been made wider but the hardware is very similar to last year’s model.
The S22 Ultra camera array features 4 lenses on the back and a selfie camera on the front:
- 108MP f/1.8 Standard wide with optical image stabilisation
- 10MP f/2.4 3x telephoto with optical image stabilisation
- 10MP f/4.9 10x telephoto with optical image stabilisation
- 12MP f/2.2 ultrawide
- 40MP f/2.2 selfie
Although not much has changed, this is still a brilliant set of cameras. The S22 Ultra, will allow you to take fantastic photos but in some cases they still tend to look oversaturated.
We compared the photo capabilities of the S22 Ultra with an iPhone 13 Pro which has the same camera array as the iPhone 13 Pro Max. At 1x zoom, there isn’t much difference between the two. The S22 Ultra does make the colours a bit more vibrant and saturated however there’s no winner here, it all comes down to personal preference.
The highlight remains the 10x telephoto lens. Being an optical lens, this zoom uses physical changes in the lens to adjust the distance between the sensor and the subject. What that means is it isn’t using software or digital remastering to zoom in. It’s a physical change in the lens and it makes for a much clearer and sharper image. This is one of the largest telephoto lenses you can get on a device at the moment and it remains one of the best for zoomed in photography. You can still perform up to 100x digital space zoom, but that feels a bit gimmicky as images produced at this range are always blurry and poor.
At 3x zoom we can see the S22 Ultra oversaturates the image quite a lot. The brightness also seems to be ramped up. If you look at the greens of the Lego set, they look washed out and are significantly brighter then the more realistic portrayal of the colours generated by the iPhone 13 Pro.
At 10x zoom the S22 Ultra is the clear winner. You are able to see finer details like the dust on the Lego and the “Lego” brand written on the bricks. The iPhone 13 Pro looks more smudged and less detailed. This is all due to the 10x telephoto lens found on the S22 Ultra. The iPhone 13 Pro’s telephoto lens has a maximum 3x zoom, at 10x zoom it’s using AI to predict colours and shapes. The results aren’t nearly as good.
Instead of focusing on hardware changes Samsung, like most manufacturers seem to be doing these days, has instead aimed at improving the software behind the scenes. Portrait mode photos have better depth mapping so finer details like hairs remain sharp and in focus while the background is out of focus, and there’s a new autoframing feature that will track and adjust the shot as people come in and out of frame. These are both welcome improvements but aren’t anything to write home about.
The main battle between premium phones now seems to base itself on night-time/low-light photography capabilities. Samsung’s new “Nightography,” features are a combination of hardware improvements and software upgrades to make night photography better. The 108MP lens has been given a larger 2.4 micrometer sensor to take in more light and has an anti-reflection coating to mitigate lens flare effects often seen when taking night-time photos. This is paired with what Samsung calls Night Solution which is a program that detects when you’re taking low-light photos and will take multiple shots, combining the best ones into a final image. The software will also combine 9 pixels into one to produce better images in the dark. And thanks to Samsung’s neural processor unit (NPU) built on to the mobile processor, all of this happens seamlessly. There’s a lot of complicated processes going on here but all you need to know is taking low-light photos with the S22 Ultra is better than the S21 Ultra. For our tests, we compared the iPhone 13 Pro with the S22 Ultra, and based on our results, even with all the improvements made by Samsung, last years Apple device is still better, especially when there’s no light at all.
These photos were taken in low light conditions. There isn’t much to separate them.
Both of these photos were taken in complete darkness to the human eye (i.e. I couldn’t see anything). The results speak for themselves. While both photos aren’t great, the iPhone 13 Pro does a much better job at lighting the target. Both these photos were taken using Night mode with the exposure time set to maximum which is 10 seconds for the iPhone 13 Pro and 9 seconds for the S22 Ultra.
Video capabilities have also been improved. You can take good looking videos in up to 8K at 24fps. The main improvement here is in the Super Steady mode which makes footage look smooth and less bumpy however this is only compatible with maximum 1080p at 60fps footage which is a shame.
The S22 Ultra is now “fully” compatible with Samsung’s S-pen. While you could use it with the S21 Ultra, this year’s device has a silo in the bottom left of the device the S-pen tucks away, no case required anymore.
The S Pen works very well. Writing with it is smooth, responsive and it feels great. I was impressed at how well the S22 Ultra recognised my terrible handwriting when using handwrite to text functions, and it sort of felt like I was writing on paper.
Samsung claims it improved the responsiveness of the S Pen by 70%. This is hard to test as it changed the response time from 9 milliseconds to 2.8. It’s not a drastic change you’ll readily notice.
I really liked how the device recognised when the stylus had been taken out. Removing the S Pen will automatically open a window prompting you to select a program with which to use the stylus with. There’s Create Note, View Notes, Smart Select, Screen write, Live Messages, AR Doodle, Translate, PENUP and more. Other apps like Chrome, Gmail and Messages would also recognise I was using the stylus and would replace the keyboard with a whiteboard for handwriting.
However, even with all these improvements, I still wasn’t able to find a situation where using the S Pen was more efficient than simply using my thumb and fingers. Note enthusiasts and regular stylus users are going to absolutely love it. However, if you’re an average phone user or are the type of person who doesn’t regularly use or plan to use the S Pen, it’s not going to suddenly turn you into one of those people. The only time I used it was to show people there’s a stylus or I gave it to my 3 year old nephew to colour on the screen. Other than that, it stayed in its holster.
The S22 Ultra boasts a 5,000mAh battery that supports 45W charging.
The battery performance is a bit disappointing. It’s a long way off the all-day battery capabilities of the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max.
When streaming a YouTube video on medium brightness, albeit at maximum resolution, I watched the battery steadily decline throughout the video.
With minimal usage you’ll have roughly 50% battery left by the end of the day, moderate usage, 20%, and if you’re playing games or have the screen turned on a lot, expect to have to charge the S22 Ultra multiple times a day.
If I’m going to cough up $2,000 for a flagship phone I want to use it at its best. That means maximum resolution and suitable brightness. Having to make concessions in order to manage the battery life was frustrating.
Even more frustrating, the device still doesn’t come with a charger. The charging capacity has increased from 25W with the S21 Ultra to 45W here. If you’re upgrading to the S22 Ultra you probably don’t have a 45W charging brick meaning you’ll have to pay an extra $66 for one. It doesn’t sound like a lot but when you’re paying at least $2,000 for a phone, having to pay more for a charger can feel like a kick in the teeth.
Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra is a brilliant phone. It takes great photos, the 10x telephoto lens is best in class and low-light and nighttime photography has been improved. The display is vibrant and bright making it one of the very best on the market, and the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset is powerful enough to allow you to do everything seamlessly.
It’s important to know, this is a niche device. More like a Note than an S-series phone, it’s unique features will appeal to those who like using a stylus and prefer a large screen. If you’re one of those people – and Samsung promises us that these people actually exist – this is the best option on the market.
If you aren’t one of these people it’s an expensive purchase for features you probably won’t use. If you aren’t a regular stylus user, this device isn’t going to turn you into one, you’ll be better placed buying the S22 Plus.
The only problem I had with this device was the battery. For a flagship phone it’s disappointing. The iPhone 13 Pro Max has a much better battery life and other Android based phones now support 80W charging. The S21 Ultra had better battery capabilities.
The main questions I had when reviewing this device is who is this for? Who does it appeal to? If you’re a fan of Samsung’s Note range, you’re going to absolutely love this device. It can do a lot. If you’re an S-series fan, you may be better off buying the S22 Plus.