SAMSUNG GALAXY S22 ULTRA REVIEW: A worthy Note successor - gadgets burner

SAMSUNG GALAXY S22 ULTRA REVIEW: A worthy Note successor

Phones in a flagship series have grown to feel like variants on a theme. There’s the basic model, the larger base model, and then the largest model with an additional camera and some other small hardware enhancements. Features, screen size, and pricing all grow in increments as you move up the chain, but you’re more or less getting the same phone in three different flavors.

That’s been true of Samsung phones for the previous several years, but it’s not the case anymore – the $1,199 Galaxy S22 Ultra stands at the top of this year’s list as a totally new alternative. It’s the first S series phone to incorporate a built-in pen, a feature it’s acquiring from the obviously now-retired Galaxy Note series. On top of that, it still boasts a very strong 10x optical zoom, as well as some intriguing upgrades to its photographic functions. It happens to be a terrific phone, too, but despite its position in Samsung’s popular S series, it still seems like the enthusiast gadget that the Note series represented.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S22 ULTRA REVIEW

GOOD STUFF

  • Snappy overall performance
  • Built-in S Pen is a versatile, unique offering
  • Excellent cameras and improved portrait mode

BAD STUFF

  • Lackluster battery performance
  • Stylus features can take a while to master
  • Night selfie portraits don’t look great

Samsung has, at least, made the work of picking which of this trio of phones is for you quite straightforward. If you miss the Note and you adore the stylus life, grab the S22 Ultra. There’s nothing else like it in Samsung’s range or anyplace else on the market, really. If you’re only marginally intrigued about the pen or the 10x zoom, or you simply want a very great big-screened phone without a lot of bothers, then you’re definitely better off with the S22 Plus. It’s not for everyone, but for a few, the S22 Ultra is a genuinely fantastic smartphone.

SAMSUNG S22 ULTRA DESIGN AND HARDWARE

SAMSUNG S22 ULTRA DESIGN AND HARDWARE

Different it may be, there’s still plenty of common ground between the Ultra and its S22 and S22 Plus brothers. All three variants have (in the US) Qualcomm’s newest, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 CPU, as well as IP68 weather sealing, and Gorilla Glass Victus Plus on the front and back. The Ultra and S22 Plus feature OLED panels with greater 1,750 nits peak brightness, although all three have the highest refresh rate of 120Hz. Only the Ultra features an LTPO display, which enables the screen to adjust its refresh rate more than the other versions, which in theory helps preserve battery life. It’s a massive, 6.8-inch 1440 x 3088 display, so every bit of power-saving may make a significant impact.

Not surprisingly, the display itself is outstanding. At its default “vivid” setting, it’s a tad on the warm side, but I only noticed this looking at it side by side with the Pixel 6. Colors are, indeed, vibrant but not to the point of oversaturation. There’s also a somewhat cold color change when seen from extreme angles, but nothing that disturbed me in day-to-day usage. It was also fairly bright for me outdoors, but I live in Seattle, so I didn’t really push it to the limit here.


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The Ultra distinguishes out with a boxier appearance ripped directly from the Galaxy Note and, of course, the built-in S Pen silo. While the S22 and S22 Plus follow last year’s design ideas with rounded edges and a camera bump that merges into the side rail of the phone, the S22 Ultra embraces disorder and avoids the camera bump completely. Four camera lenses (and a laser focusing sensor) protrude from the rear plate of the gadget encased in… nothing at all. More than one person on Twitter told me it looked like a spider. And it is odd at first, but I’ve learned to appreciate it. Maybe other phone manufacturers will follow Samsung’s example. Who knows? I’m here for it.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S22 ULTRA REVIEW

THE S22 ULTRA EMBRACES CHAOS AND SKIPS THE CAMERA BUMP ALTOGETHER

I was a bit apprehensive that the protruding lenses might grab on pockets, but that hasn’t been an issue. The crevices between the lenses, however, are severe dust and lint traps. I have trust that the IP68 sealing will keep dust out of the cameras, so it’s more of an aesthetic concern if you’re particular about keeping your phone dust-free. And if you can’t live your life at these sorts of speeds, Samsung has a case that will very neatly erase the troughs between lenses.

The back camera array is one way you can quickly tell the Ultra from the S22 and S22 Plus, but it also stands out with curved edges on the long sides of its screen, while the others have flat screens. It looks beautiful and makes the thin bezels on the edges all but vanish, but I ran my pen off the edge of the screen one too many times, expecting a flat surface when there wasn’t one. Personally, I could live with a little bit of bezel to avoid the entire problem.

The S22 Ultra supports 45W rapid wired charging, but you’ll need to purchase the $50 power brick separately. Spending $1,200 for a phone and having to spend another $50 on a charger is about as unpleasant as spending $12 for Wi-Fi on a $500 trip. If you preordered the Ultra, I hope you placed part of your Samsung store credit toward one. There’s also 15W wireless charging. I employed this frequently throughout my study, and it regularly charged the half-depleted battery back up to 100 percent in about two hours, which is perfect for me.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S22 ULTRA REVIEW

SAMSUNG S PEN

While the S21 Ultra technically supported the S Pen, it didn’t contain a built-in silo for storage, which is kind of… half supporting the S Pen. The S22 Ultra offers full support and stylus storage – the genuine stuff. There’s not a lot that’s new to the S Pen or pen functionality this time around, but Samsung says boast it has decreased latency by 70 percent. It’s impossible to determine whether that’s true given it’s a matter of milliseconds, but either way, writing with the S Pen feels smooth, and recognition is rapid.

Using the S Pen may be as easy as placing the digital pen to screen, jotting yourself a message, and calling it a day. Or, you can get extremely deep with the stylus functions, which I imagine a lot of Note hardcore users do. It took me a little bit to learn my way around exactly everything you can do with the stylus across the system, but notably in Samsung’s Notes app. I noticed at least three distinct methods to convert handwriting to text in the program, not considering the ability to utilize the keyboard in handwriting mode and go about it that way. It’s a bit overwhelming.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S22 ULTRA REVIEW

YOU CAN GO DEEP WITH THE STYLUS FEATURES OR STAY ON THE SURFACE LEVEL

There are additional ways to utilize the S Pen throughout the system beyond scribbling notes and witnessing them miraculously become human-readable text. It’s really helpful for picture editing or capturing a screenshot and circling crucial information. You can use it to sketch a form and clip anything out of an image, like a photo you snapped of your dishwasher model number (I can verify this is quite helpful). There are Air Actions, too, in which you use the S Pen as a type of remote control in select applications without touching the screen, which functions alright but doesn’t seem like they address a genuine issue.

You may go deep with the stylus features or remain on the surface level, but if you believe that you’re the sort of person who would use the stylus a few times and then forget about it, then the S22 Ultra definitely isn’t for you. I do believe it’s for someone who prefers to be able to scrawl off a short message without unlocking their phone or build a to-do list using a pen rather than a digital keyboard. I assume that digital artists would also make excellent use of the S Pen and its various digital brushstroke choices. It’s also more sensitive and adaptable for drawing than a standard passive stylus. Note enthusiasts will feel right at home, but unless you’re convinced you can embrace the stylus life, you’re likely better off with a normal old pen-free phone.

SAMSUNG S22 ULTRA PERFORMANCE

SAMSUNG S22 ULTRA PERFORMANCE

In regular usage, the S22 Ultra functions like the $1,200 flagship that it is. Jumping from app to app is snappy, graphics-intensive games run quickly, and everything appears buttery smooth on the 120Hz display. In my testing, it was a very unusual event to see the screen stutter as I scrolled, and in the situations when it happened, I don’t believe it was the phone’s fault (I’m looking at you, Twitter for Android).

The phone does become visibly warm with strenuous operations like gaming and using the Expert RAW app. I never observed slowdowns as a consequence when playing Genshin Impact for nearly half an hour, but Samsung’s Expert RAW software does take increasingly longer to process (very huge) RAW file after RAW file if you simply keep pushing the shutter. You can’t snap another picture until the previous one is done processing, so there’s nothing to do but wait.


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THE POWER USERS WHO ARE CERTAINLY THE ULTRA’S TARGET AUDIENCE WILL HAVE TO KEEP AN EYE ON BATTERY LIFE

The more major bad news is that the Ultra’s 5,000mAh battery doesn’t perform nearly as well. On days of lighter usage with a lot of time on Wi-Fi, lots of social media browsing but not much video or games, I got through with approximately 50 percent charge remaining by the evening. It doesn’t take a lot of work, however, to deplete the battery significantly lower in a single day.

With screen brightness turned up, the always-on display always (not sometimes) on, and roughly an hour of video play and gaming, I was down below the 20 percent level at the end of the day. That’s not exactly a torture test, so the power users who are obviously the Ultra’s target demographic will probably have to keep an eye on battery life more than they’d want to. That’s disappointing from a flagship phone with a large battery.

SAMSUNG S22 ULTRA CAMERA

SAMSUNG S22 ULTRA CAMERA

There are a few tiny alterations in the S22 Ultra’s camera hardware compared to last year’s — the telephoto lenses are just a touch wider, for example — but it’s mostly the same arrangement. Here’s what you get:

  • 108-megapixel f/1.8 standard wide with OIS
  • 10-megapixel f/2.4 3x telephoto with OIS
  • 10-megapixel f/4.9 10x telephoto with OIS
  • 12-megapixel f/2.2 ultrawide
  • 40-megapixel f/2.2 selfie

Since the technology is essentially unaltered, what was true of last year’s model is also true this year: it’s a wonderful camera system overall, with a number of peculiarities. The 10x optical zoom continues to be pretty remarkable, Samsung is still ramping up the blue sky and the saturation to 11, and 100x “Space Zoom” is still a gimmick.

Video capabilities are much the same, too. There’s a new auto framing option, which will detect up to 10 individuals and adapt automatically when people move in and out of frame. There’s also an auto frame rate capability to modify frame rate on the fly to cater to brighter or darker surroundings. Video recording resolution still max out at 8K/24p for the primary camera and 4K/60p for the selfie cam.

This year’s picture upgrades are primarily software-based, which makes them seem uninteresting, but they’re not. Portrait mode images have been upgraded with richer, more realistic depth mapping (and, notably, official support for pet portraits) (and, importantly, official support for pet portraits). The phone is better able to discern minor features on a topic like individual hairs and maintain them clearly rather than fading them into the backdrop.


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This adjustment has resulted in some of the most amazing portrait mode photographs I’ve seen on a smartphone yet. Portraits from the wide lens still aren’t fully convincing – even though the depth mapping is improved, things in the foreground are sharp where they shouldn’t be. But images with the 3x zoom-in favorable lighting look amazing – dogs and people alike. It can still get tangled up on certain aspects, but it gets a lot correct, including wispy hair and spectacles.

I’m a bit less enthused about the night photography enhancements – they’re great, but not as stunning. You may now utilize night mode and snap a 108-megapixel, full-res photograph at the same time when before you could do one or the other. This is only feasible in extremely dark situations when a miniature moon symbol will display on-screen to activate night mode. Without night mode, a high-res photograph in these situations looks rather horrible, so the bar is kind of low to start with. You receive a somewhat better 108-megapixel photograph rather than an extremely noisy one.

It’s also possible to apply night mode to the selfie camera, and similarly, it needs to be incredibly dark for the choice to emerge. I’m astonished that the camera can locate enough light to create *any* usable shot of me sitting extremely still in near-total darkness, but the results are so unattractive that I believe I’d prefer simply to have no photo at all.

Samsung has also officially graduated its Expert RAW software out of beta with the S22 Ultra, a multi-frame RAW capture program akin to Apple’s program. Expert RAW takes numerous frames and combines them into a single DNG file, combining the advantages of computational photography with the post-processing flexibility of a RAW file. To utilize the function, you need to download the Expert RAW software from the Galaxy app store – it’s a totally distinct camera program, and it’s not installed on the phone. It enables access to manual exposure adjustments, and you may use it with any of the back cameras.

The resultant RAW files are big, but they’re more adaptable than a regular, single-frame RAW file from the ordinary camera app. Pushing shadows all the way up on a normal RAW shot displays some nasty banding. The multi-frame RAW is noisy but tolerates the edit better since it has that much more information to work with. Is this a chance you’re going to notice on an Instagram-sized image? Probably not. But if you’re a picture geek who loves to dabble with post-processing, it’s a very lovely tool to have on hand for the situations that call for it.

One logistical point – there’s a button in the Expert RAW app to take your shot right into Lightroom for Samsung to enhance it. This is a version of Lightroom Mobile that you need to download from — you guessed it — the Galaxy app store. Samsung will offer you a two-month free trial of the software, but after that, you’ll need an Adobe subscription, which will cost you a minimum of $120 for a year. Or, you know, just get Snapseed for free – Expert RAW gives you a standard DNG file you can take to any picture editing program that supports it.

SAMSUNG S22 ULTRA SOFTWARE

SAMSUNG S22 ULTRA SOFTWARE

The Galaxy S22 Ultra arrives with One UI 4.1, Samsung’s version on Android 12. I enjoy it, for the most part. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the whole “match the UX to your wallpaper” thing, but it’s quite great. This is a key new feature of Android 12, and while Samsung’s implementation doesn’t go quite as far as Google’s version for Pixel phones, it’s just enough to make the phone seem a bit more personal to me.

Samsung has also, fortunately, eliminated the advertising that formerly stood at the top of the page on the weather app. But just when I feel like the business is cutting down its sometimes in-your-face pre-downloads and commercials, I receive a push message promoting a discount for Samsung Credit if I purchase an S22. On this S22 Ultra. Or a Samsung Pay cashback offer runs over my screen when I access Hulu. This seems very irritating and out of place on a $1,200 phone, and I do not care for it.

As much as I loathe some of Samsung’s UI decisions, the business comes through when it matters with a very strong service program. The S22 series will receive “up to” four generations of Android OS updates, which is one more year than Google guarantees for its own devices and just about the finest policy you’ll find for an Android phone – assuming the manufacturer does make good on four OS upgrades. I’m not a climate scientist, but I’m ready to wager that not forcing people to purchase a new phone every two years has a greater environmental effect than recycling fishing nets into the phone chassis or whatever it’s doing.

It’s hard to come up with things that the Galaxy S22 Ultra can’t accomplish. Can I build a GIF from a video I recorded and put it into a note that’s pinned to my home screen? Yes. Can I snap a clean shot of the top of Seattle’s Smith Tower while standing several blocks away at street level? Yes. Can I snap a photo of my dishwasher’s model number, turn it to text, then put it into Google while I hunt for a component that magically disappeared into thin air? Also yeah.

It can do just about whatever you may reasonably expect a slab-style phone in 2022 to accomplish. But the S22 Ultra is not a phone for just anybody. Do you truly want to embrace the stylus life, or are you just stylus-curious? Will you truly use that 10x lens again and again, or will you simply capture a few photographs with it and forget that it’s there? Do you intend to capture and edit 40-plus-MB RAW files on your phone more than once or twice? Take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself these questions before you spend $1,200 on this phone (and maybe another $50 on a charger).


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IF YOU’RE SOMEONE WHO WOULD GET THE MOST OUT OF THE ULTRA, YOU PROBABLY ALREADY KNOW IT

Really, Samsung has already done the job of evaluating if this phone is for you. If you’re someone who would get the most out of the Ultra, you probably already know it. If you’re asking whether it would be worth it, then you’d probably be just fine with the S22 Plus.

For someone who does intend to make frequent use of its strong but fairly narrow capabilities, the S22 Ultra will be a phone like no other on the market. Some UI glitches persist, and battery life is dismal. But if you can live with these flaws and manage the sometimes steep learning curve of the S Pen life, then you’ll be amply rewarded with a gadget that’s really one of a kind.


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