Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Review: A phenomenal 5-star smartphone

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Review: A phenomenal 5-star smartphone

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is Samsung’s newest flagship, but it’s more representative of the Galaxy Note than it is of the Galaxy S lineup. In many ways, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is the device that any Galaxy Note fan has been waiting for as it combines the very best of Samsung’s traditional smartphone lineup into a device that has it all. And as Samsung has confirmed, moving forward, the Note line will be represented by the S Ultra line, and that makes a lot of sense.

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The Ultra range of the Galaxy S has always offered the best camera that Samsung has, yet the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra didn’t live up to this billing. Instead, Samsung opted to focus on productivity. With the Galaxy S22 Ultra, you now have the very best of Samsung in several areas such as performance, camera, display, battery, and even software, which was once the company’s weakness. Adding the S Pen to the Galaxy S series was a natural progression.

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The Galaxy S22 Ultra is the best phone for almost everybody and nothing else comes close.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra isn’t a phone for everyone, but it’s the best phone for almost everybody. It’s big and heavy, even though it does feel much lighter than the Galaxy S21 Ultra which weighs the same but is top-heavy, versus the even weight distribution in the Galaxy S22 Ultra. The curved screens aren’t for everyone, and if you’re in a region where you get the Exynos flavor, there are plenty of performance concerns that aren’t present in the Snapdragon version I’ve been testing.

These aside, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is quite easily the best traditional Samsung smartphone ever made and the camera is so good, I’m dropping my Galaxy Z Fold 3 in favor of it. If you choose to buy the Galaxy S22 Ultra, it’s definitely a decision you won’t regret, but if the size, weight, or heft aren’t for you, the Galaxy S22 Plus is easily the best alternative you can buy right now.

    The Galaxy S22 Ultra takes a very good phone from last year, and makes a few tweaks. The result is the best traditional smartphone that Samsung has ever made. It’s so good that everyone that can buy one should buy one.

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Galaxy S22 Ultra: Price & Availability

  • Starts at $1199 in the US for the version with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage
  • Free storage upgrade if you pre-ordered, otherwise $100 extra. Comes with 12GB of RAM
  • Available on all major carriers, with up to 1TB of storage

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is definitely going to be one of the most expensive phones launched in 2022, but it’s actually rather good value for money if you get the version with 12GB of RAM. The base model has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage which no one should buy, but the other versions come with 12GB of RAM and 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of storage. The sweet spot for most people is most likely 256GB storage, which costs $1299.

As has become the norm in the US over the last two years, there are an abundance of deals for the Galaxy S22 Ultra, offering up to $900 off if you trade in up to two phones when buying from Samsung direct, or offering up to $1,000 off with trade-in if you buy through the carriers. I definitely recommend spending the extra $100 on the version with 256GB of storage as it future proofs your purchase considerably more than buying the base version.


Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: Specs

S22 Ultra

Spec Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Software Android 12 with Samsung One UI 4.1
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Octa-core 3.0 GHz + 2.5GHz + 1.8GHz
4nm, Adreno 730 GPU
Display 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 3080 x 1440 Pixels, 500ppi
Infinity-O Edge-Display, 1-120 Hz Adaptive Refresh Rate
Gorilla Glass Victus
1750 nits peak brightness
Storage 8GB RAM, 128GB storage
12GB RAM, 256/512GB/1TB storage
no microSD expansion
Rear
Camera
Quad camera:
108 MP (main camera, 85°, f/1.8, 2PD, OIS)
12 MP (ultra wide angle, 120°, f/2.2, 13mm, 1/2.55″, 1.4 µm, 2PD, AF)
10 MP (Telephoto, 36°, f/2.4, 69mm, 1/3.52″, 1.12 µm, 2PD, OIS)
10 MP (Telephoto, 11°, f/4.9, 230mm, 1/3.52″, 1.12 µm, 2PD, OIS)
Laser autofocus
Front Camera 40 MP (f/2.2, 80°, 25mm, 1/2.8″, 0.7 µm, AF)
Sensors Accelerometer, Barometer, Ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor, Gyro sensor, Geomagnetic sensor, Hall sensor, Light sensor, Proximity sensor, Ultra-Wideband
Battery 5000 mAh
Up to 45W fast charging
15W Qi charging
4.5W reverse wireless charging
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.2, USB Typ C 3.2 Gen 1, NFC, Wi-Fi 6e (WLAN AX)
Cellular 2G (GPRS/EDGE), 3G (UMTS), 4G (LTE)
5G (mmWave + Sub6GHz)
Colors Widely available: Phantom Black, White, Burgundy, Green
Samsung exclusive: Graphite, Red, Sky Blue
Dimensions 163.3 x 77.9 x 8.9 mm
Weight 229 grams
Misc Waterproof according to IP68, dual SIM (2x Nano + E-SIM), GPS, face recognition, Wireless PowerShare, DeX, child mode, data security: KNOX, ODE, EAS, MDM, VPN

Noteworthy design in many ways

  • Polished matte rear with color-matched S-Pen tip
  • Embedded S-Pen housed in the bottom of the phone
  • Available in eight colors including a gorgeous burgundy and beautiful white

Look at the Galaxy S22 Ultra, and you’ll quickly recognize that it looks very different from the rest of the Galaxy S22 family. While the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus feature the same contour-cut design and raised camera bezel as the Galaxy S21 range, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is more Note-like in its design. It features the same squared top and bottom frame, the smooth finish with a less-noticeable camera bump, and the large display that dominates the front of the phone.

Beyond this, it also houses the S-Pen in the same location as on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. If you were to take the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and combine them (and trim down the massive camera bumps), the result would look a lot like the Galaxy S22 Ultra. The result is one of the most complete smartphone designs you’ll find right now; the layout is gorgeous and two weeks in, I’m still absolutely in love with this phone.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is an Ultra in every meaning of the word, especially as the word Ultra has come to symbolize Samsung’s “throw-it-all-in-one-phone” philosophy. In many ways, the Ultra is the grandchild of the original Note philosophy of representing the very best that Samsung has to offer, except it now provides the very best that Samsung has to offer in a non-folding smartphone.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is a large, heavy device that you'll feel in your pocket.

All this tech comes at a price, though, both literal and physical. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is a heavy and large device. At 229 grams, it’s heavy in every sense of the word. But despite it weighing the same as the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the weight is more evenly distributed resulting in a phone that feels far more svelte than the number suggests. A large part of this is down to the camera bump – by removing most of the camera bump of the S21 Ultra and distributing the weight better, Samsung has made the Galaxy S22 Ultra feel sleeker than it might seem. When you use one of Samsung’s official Galaxy S22 Ultra cases, the bump disappears entirely.

There are four widely available Galaxy S22 Ultra colors at launch – Phantom Black, Phantom White, Burgundy, and Green and another three that are exclusive to Samsung.com in the US (and are being dubbed as custom colors): Graphite, Red, and Sky Blue. All of them feature a beautiful almost-satin-like finish, but while the Black, Burgundy, and Green do attract fingerprints, the white version is more satin-like than the others and is arguably one of the nicest white phones ever made.

Once again, a Samsung launch comes with colors that are exclusive to its own online shop. Each of the three colors has a five-week lead time and comes with a black frame, which is quite odd given the full color-matched frame on the regular colors. Also strange is that while the regular colors come with a black S-Pen with a color-matched tip, the custom colors come with full color-matched S-Pens. I guess Samsung has to do something to make these standout, and while the Red looks gorgeous from the photos, I’m more than happy with the Burgundy one I purchased. That said, I have some buyer remorse and do wish I’d bought the White one, although it’s going to stay in a case, so it won’t exactly matter too much.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra also comes with curved edges around the sides of the display, which makes it easier to hold and is welcome given the large size. That said, curved edges do represent a potential weaker impact point. While we have no qualms about the durability of any of Samsung’s recent smartphones – including both of last year’s foldables which have had no issues several months in – it’ll be interesting to see how the Galaxy S22 Ultra fares. Thankfully, Gorilla Glass Victus Plus on the back and the front, as well as an armor aluminum frame, mean the Galaxy S22 Ultra will likely handle what you throw at it. When you throw on Samsung’s official silicon case, it adds a lot of very welcome grip so if you’re concerned about damage, so you should definitely buy a case.


The best display gets even better

Front screen of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

  • 8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with HDR10+ and 1750 nits peak brightness
  • VisionBooster technology to boost colors and contrast in extreme lighting
  • Corning Gorilla Glass Victus+ display protection

Samsung is known for making the best smartphone displays on smartphones, and while the company has been ahead for years, it has, almost inexplicably, made its displays even better. The difference is barely noticeable but it’s there, and the few tweaks made to the Galaxy S22 Ultra display make the overall experience even better.

First, there’s the peak brightness. We’re still in the process of doing a detailed display test on Samsung’s new displays, but the Galaxy S22 Ultra definitely seems to be brighter than the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Under direct sunlight, the screen seems to be able to more legible than any other display I’ve tested, and there’s a new toggle under Display settings called “Extra Brightness” that lets you punch up the brightness, likely to simulate this boost in brightness.

The big new feature on the Galaxy S22 Ultra display – and the rest of the Galaxy S22 series – is VisionBooster, a technology that Samsung claims measures the ambient brightness and adjusts not only the brightness but also the color and contrast. The company says this is to ensure that in bright light, or in pitch-black darkness, things like movies with extremely dark scenes remain legible.

During the past two weeks, I’ve had zero issues with brightness, contrast, or color in a variety of lighting conditions. Most displays struggle to be legible when the sunlight is reflecting off days-old snow on the ground, but the Galaxy S22 Ultra doesn’t. The peak brightness boost is very noticeable, but the actual changes in the contrast and color are less so. That could be by design, but we’ll know exactly how good this is after we complete our display testing. Stay tuned for a comprehensive display review, and we’ll update this review as well.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra has the most immersive experience you’ll find on a smartphone.

Beyond these headline features, the Galaxy S22 Ultra comes with the same display features we’ve come to expect from Samsung’s flagships. There’s the Dynamic AMOLED 2x display that comes with WQHD+ resolution, although it’s set to FHD+ out of the box. There’s also an adaptive refresh rate allowing the phone to automatically change the refresh rate from 1Hz to 120Hz depending on what’s on display and the effect is profound.

Like every Samsung smartphone before it, the display features rich, vibrant colors with deep blacks. The result of all the features is that the best display experience has become even better, and whether you’re scrolling social media, watching movies, or playing a game, this is the most immersive smartphone experience you’ll find.


Finally, a proper S-Pen in the Galaxy S

  • Housed inside the phone
  • Reduced latency by 70%, from 9ms to 2.8ms
  • Full suite of S-Pen features including new optimizations

The Galaxy Note is dead, long live the Galaxy S22 Ultra. After Samsung dropped the Galaxy Note range last year in favor of the Galaxy Z Fold 3, the company’s most ardent fans wondered what this meant for the future of the series that heralded the big screens that are so ubiquitous with smartphones today.

When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S22 Ultra, it answered this not just with a new phone but with a key statement that the Galaxy Note was an experience, not specific hardware. What does this mean? It’s quite simple – the Galaxy Note was always best symbolized by the S-Pen that was housed inside the phone, and the company plans to bring the Galaxy Note experience to its other phones. This should mean that the S Ultra devices going forward have an S-Pen that’s housed inside the phone, and presumably, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and beyond will also support this.

S-Pen in action

Now that we have an S-Pen inside a Galaxy S for the first time, is it really that revolutionary? On its own, there is very little chance that the S-Pen would have been enough to sell a phone, especially as it is so mature from both a software and hardware perspective that there are very few innovations Samsung can actually add to the S-Pen going forward. However, combined with the rest of the Galaxy S22 Ultra, it’s another value addition that helps Samsung’s best phone stand out from the competition and it’s actually a great experience overall.

All the familiar S-Pen features we’re used to are present. There’s the ability to scribble on a screenshot of the screen with Screen Write, take quick notes with Screen Off Memo, a whole suite of actions one click of the S Pen button away with Air Command and there are several ways to control apps like the Gallery and Music Player using Bluetooth and gestures.

The ever-growing Microsoft and Samsung collaboration lead to new features such as being able to write a note and save it directly to an outlook email or office document, which emulates the experience of scribbling on a piece of paper or letter you’ve received. The Quick Note app also gets new functions as you can now use the S Pen to copy info from a website, message, or gallery directly into a pop-up note, which is then saved in the Quick Note app.

The big hardware difference this year is that using some slight hardware tweaks and AI prediction, the S-Pen latency has been reduced by almost 70%. What this actually means, in reality, is that it is the closest we’ve ever been to simulating the pen on paper feeling, and it’s glorious. It’s also fairly likely that Samsung will find it difficult – if not impossible – to reduce the latency below the current 2.8ms, which makes the reasoning behind not launching a whole new phone just for the S Pen even more sound.

Is the S Pen absolutely essential? That’s hard to say. I’m a big fan of it and love having it on both the Galaxy S22 Ultra and the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra that I also have. Yet, I barely used it on my Galaxy Z Fold 3 as it was cumbersome to carry. The best answer is that while it’s not essential, it’s a very nice feature to have and it’s already been useful in signing contracts on the go. Now that it’s built into the Galaxy S22 Ultra, it’s very likely that I’ll use it a whole lot more. If you are someone who doesn’t use an S Pen, you can either choose to leave it alone in its enclosure and use the rest of the device, or pick up the Galaxy S22 Plus instead. Granted, Samsung does not have a product option anymore for people who want an overkill camera but don’t want an S Pen (and the structural changes that incorporating it within a phone brings with it) — but the very definition of overkill is “excessive”, and we’d much rather keep the stylus within the phone.


Incredible cameras that are almost flawless

  • 108MP primary sensor with f/1.8 aperture and Adaptive Pixel
  • Two 10MP telephoto sensors with 10X and 3X optical zoom
  • 100X space zoom for outstanding long-range shots
  • 12MP ultra-wide camera with dual pixel PDAF and Super Steady video

Going into this review, I had my doubts about how good the Galaxy S22 Ultra camera was going to be. The reason was that I’ve built up my hype around Samsung’s camera promises before, only to be let down. I fully expected that the camera wouldn’t live up to its promise, and I am so very glad that I was sorely mistaken; simply put, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is better than anything else I’ve tried and is going to take some beating.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra camera sets a very high standard, and it’s basically flawless.

The last time I was blown away like this by a camera was the Huawei P20 Pro. It had fantastic “hybrid zoom” capabilities and represented a technological leap forward. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is up there in terms of camera leaps forward, not because of its hardware, but because of the post-processing which results in seriously impressive photos, even when shooting at 100X zoom out of the window of a moving airplane.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Ultra both had near-identical hardware but the zoom was nearly unusable (although a little better on the Galaxy S21 Ultra). They say the third time is the charm and so it seems as the Galaxy S22 Ultra camera is quick to stabilize at the 100X zoom, and while the image doesn’t appear that detailed in the viewfinder, the image after post-processing packs a ton of detail. I’ve spent two weeks trying to take camera shots at 100X where the phone fails and I’ve been unable to do so – the camera is that good that I now expect every image to be nearly flawless at the full zoom.

Here are several examples of the zoom capabilities – each row contains 5 images: wide, 3x, 10x, and 100x

When I first started using the Galaxy S22 Ultra, the 30X zoom was puzzling. While the 100X and 10X were fantastic, the phone really struggled at 30X but after a few days, even that zoom improved significantly. There were a couple of updates promising experience improvements during this time and Samsung has definitely made it so the zoom is amazing at all levels. It’s so good that I can’t help but take zoom shots at every interval when I’m taking a picture, even when there’s no reason to take a zoom shot.

The zoom has proven to be incredibly stable regardless of night or day. Here are some more examples – as you can probably tell, everything is about this zoom and honestly, it’s the reason I’ve had so much fun with this camera.