Xiaomi 12S Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: Battle of the 2022 Ultras
Xiaomi may not publicly confess it, but its Ultra series is clearly aimed to take on Samsung’s own line with the same namesake, and it’s a worthy comparison every year. I say this not just because of the “Ultra” signifier. Heck, ZTE has an Ultra phone too and I would not consider that phone a true competitor to the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. To earn the comparison against Android’s top dog, the new phone must bring the latest cutting-edge tech and back it up with polished software for an overall high-end experience. You have to walk the talk to be Ultra, and the Xiaomi 12S Ultra does so.
I know this comparison can’t be considered a real buyer’s guide for most readers because Xiaomi’s phone is only sold in China — for now. But I have a feeling the 12S Ultra will see a global debut eventually. And even if the 12S Ultra isn’t widely available, it’s still worth a comparison for the sake of curiosity, because in terms of slab phones, the Xiaomi 12S Ultra and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra offer the best and “most” hardware right now. I’ve been using both phones heavily, and I have a lot of thoughts, including a very detailed camera section with dozens of samples. Let’s dive in.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Xiaomi 12S Ultra: Specifications
|Specifications||Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra||Xiaomi 12S Ultra|
|Dimensions & Weight||
||Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1|
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Ultrasonic in-display fingerprint scanner||Optical in-display fingerprint scanner|
|Software||OneUI 4.1 over Android 12||MIUI 13 over Android 12|
|Other Features||Dual physical SIM
|Dual physical SIM|
About this comparison: This comparison was done after months and weeks of testing a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Xiaomi 12S Ultra respectively. Each phone was provided by the company for review purposes, but neither Samsung nor Xiaomi had any input in this article.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: Hardware and Design
The two Ultra phones actually have a lot in common in terms of camera philosophy and software features, so the biggest areas in which the two devices deviate may actually be here in the design. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is boxy, with hard corners and a minimalistic camera system design without a camera island — the lenses just sit on the phone’s body. Xiaomi’s 12S Ultra, meanwhile, is curvy with rounded corners and a gigantic camera module that screams for attention.
The back material is different too, obviously. Samsung uses a matte glass panel that’s cold to the touch. Xiaomi uses a faux-leather finish that feels textured, grippy, and warm to the touch. Personally, I like the look of the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s boxy design more, as it gives the device an imposing, mature, monolith slab vibe over the sort of dime-a-dozen rounded shape. But I find the in-hand feel of the boxy design uncomfortable, as the corners dig into my palm. Using a case, however, mostly eliminates the problem.
The other major differentiating factor: the Galaxy S22 Ultra has a stylus included with the device, stored inside the device via a silo at bottom of the device. Xiaomi’s Ultra has no such offering, so it loses out on all of those functions too, naturally.
Other than that, the two phones are beginning to share a lot of similarities. The display panels, for example, are relatively similar in tech despite having different shapes. They’re both WQHD+ 120Hz AMOLED developed by Samsung, and both are absolutely gorgeous panels. To nitpick: the Galaxy S22 Ultra does get slightly brighter, but this is only noticeable if I’m using the phone under scorching sunlight without any covering, like at a beach. In Hong Kong with lots of tall buildings constantly providing some shade, I almost never needed either phone display to go full brightness.
The Xiaomi 12S Ultra runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, the best processor available in the Android space right now. Samsung’s phone, because it’s several months older, runs on either the older Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 or Samsung’s own Exynos 2200, depending on the region of purchase. I have not used the Exynos 2200 at all, but according to my colleague Adam Conway and other media peers, the Exynos 2200 is a problematic SoC that is quite inferior to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip. So if your region only has access to the Exynos 2200, there is likely a big gap in performance and efficiency between the Xiaomi 12S Ultra and the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.
If you have access to the Snapdragon version of the Galaxy S22 Ultra, then the performance between the two phones is closer. The Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 apparently brings a small improvement in CPU performance, but you’d only notice this in benchmarks. Real-world usage for 99% of people simply won’t ever push the machines hard enough. Where the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 is noticeably better than the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is battery efficiency. I’ve used two phones with the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chip now, and both phones offer noticeably better battery life than previous Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 or Snapdragon 888 phones. My usage habits are consistent, all these phones are 120Hz OLED screens, so I believe my conclusion holds weight.
Battery, memory, other hardware bits
The Galaxy S22 Ultra has a larger 5000 mAh battery than the 12S Ultra’s 4,860 mAh, but for me, the Xiaomi phone offers better battery life because the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 is more efficient than the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. RAM is the same for both phones, either 8GB or 12GB of RAM, but Samsung offers a higher storage option up to 1TB in addition to the now flagship standard 256GB/512GB variants. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra only comes in the latter two.
Haptics are speakers are great on both phones. I’d say the Galaxy S22 Ultra has slightly better haptics (just a bit more precise) but the 12S Ultra has a slightly better speaker system (just a bit fuller audio).
Okay, the part deserves its own section, and it’s a long one, because the camera system are the biggest selling point of both phones in my opinion.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: Cameras
Samsung’s lead shooter is a 108MP camera using the company’s own ISOCELL HM3 sensor. It’s got a reasonably large 1/1.33-inch size which, coupled with the nona-binning technology (combining nine pixels worth of data into one for a 12MP image) makes for a very capable shooter that grabs a lot of light while keeping contrast.
Xiaomi’s main camera, however, is technically more impressive: it’s a 50MP SonyIMX 989 camera with a 1-inch image sensor that is 86% larger than Samsung’s 1/1.33–inches. It, too, uses pixel binning technology (just four-in-one compared to Samsung’s nine-in-one) to produce a 12.5MP shot. The camera is also covered by an eight-layer lens that (at least according to company marketing) was developed by Leica specifically for this camera.
I’ve snapped over 100 photos with both phones side by side in all lighting conditions in the past two weeks and I’ve noticed two key differences between the two main sensors.
- Xiaomi’s larger sensor produces an even narrower plane of focus, resulting in noticeably stronger focus dropoff, aka the bokeh effect
- Xiaomi’s color science consistently keeps shadows darker, which is apparently done on purpose to achieve the Leica look. This is jarring compared to Samsung’s processing which tries to pump more light into scenes
I should explain what a larger image sensor means for readers who may be unfamiliar: in digital imaging, the sensor size is arguably the most important hardware factor, more than megapixels or aperture. A larger image sensor takes in more light information, which allows for shots with more details and dynamic range. A larger sensor usually means stronger bokeh too and this is evident in the first set of samples below. Note that Xiaomi’s shot not only exhibits bokeh between the camera and the plant behind but also between the camera lens and the camera body. Samsung’s image only has bokeh for the background, with the camera body and lens looking entirely in focus. Neither shot is wrong per se, but Xiaomi’s image feels like it has more depth, while Samsung’s image feels a bit flat.
It’s the same story with the below set, taken in low light conditions. Notice the subtle focus dropoff in Xiaomi’s shots — there are layers to the bokeh. The plastic shelf behind the orange water bottle is slightly blurred, then further back in the room shows stronger bokeh. Samsung’s focus pane is much wider, keeping things up to five feet away in focus too. You may notice so far that Samsung’s images seem a bit brighter, with colors that pop a bit more. That’s because the 12S Ultra has two color profiles: Leica authentic or Leica vibrant. Authentic keeps colors a bit closer to real life, but with shadows deeper than usual for that contrasty Leica look. Leica vibrant will punch up the colors and brighten the scene a bit, the way Samsung does in every shot. I mostly shot with Leica authentic and so far all Xiaomi samples are in Leica authentic.
Moving to more general main camera samples, we can see the differing color science on display.
But if we zoom in to 100% crops to pixel peep, you can see the Galaxy S22 Ultra does a lot of digital sharpening, to the point it doesn’t look natural. This obviously has to do with the smaller image sensor, but also the fact that 108 million pixels packed into a smaller sensor means an individual pixel in a S22 Ultra image is lower quality than the 12S Ultra’s pixels. Samsung uses binning tech to work around this, but it’s still not enough. If you look at the 100% crops below, Xiaomi’s images exhibit superior details.
By the way, I am aware of many readers who want to view full-sized samples and pixel peep themselves. Don’t worry I got you. I have uploaded original full-sized versions of all photos in this article in the Flickr album below.
So far most of the samples have been very easy shots, captured under ample lighting facing the right direction. Let’s try more challenging shots. Here, I purposely shot against very harsh sunlight
Samsung takes the clear win here in my opinion, as its HDR was able to at least find the shape of the scorching sun while keeping the shadowed areas still somewhat visible. Xiaomi’s image blows out the sky, and the shadowed areas are much darker. I pixel peeped both shots at 100% size too. Details and sharpness are a virtual tie.
But moving to another set of difficult contrasty scenes and the results are flipped. This time, it’s the Xiaomi that managed the difficult exposure, handling the light coming through the window and the various lights emitting from the Nothing Phone 1 and my screens.
And if we zoom in to 100% size, Xiaomi’s image is noticeably sharper and less grainy.
Moving to low-light images, the first thing to note is Xiaomi 12S Ultra doesn’t use night mode nearly as often as Samsung’s, because, again, the larger sensor can take in more light naturally. For example, in the trio of low light samples below, only in the last set did Xiaomi turn on night mode, the first two sets were just captured normally. Samsung, however, used night mode for all three photos.
The benefit of night mode is apparent in some of these shots. In the first sample, while Xiaomi’s shot is still “brighter” despite not using night mode, Samsung’s processing produced a more visually appealing shot in my opinion. The colors at this park was much more closer in real life to Xiaomi’s shot, but it’s a bit too yellow due to the heavy fluorescent light. Samsung’s image processing cooled the shot, which makes the scene look better. The water in the pond actually looks like water instead of looking like a yellow sheet of glass in Xiaomi’s shot.
This second set below was taken in a relatively dark alley, and again, the 12S Ultra just snapped the photo straight away while the Galaxy S22 Ultra required a one-and-half second night mode. I have pixel peeped this set and honestly, it’s very close in quality. There are some subtle color science differences (Samsung again cools the shot) but it’s a virtual tie. However, keep in mind that night mode only looks good if you are shooting still subjects like a wall, because it takes over one full second to grab the shot.
Xiaomi finally needed night mode in this last set, taken in my apartment at 2am with lights turned off. We can see Xiaomi’s shot is a bit brighter.
Pixel peeping a night mode image captured in a dark room is a bit pointless, but if we do, we can see Samsung’s image is noiser, but you can see the contents on my work desk a bit better.
Finally, I present one last low-light sample. Below, the 12S Ultra again did not use night mode, while the Galaxy S22 Ultra did. We can see Xiaomi’s shot is darker overall, but exposes the bright lights from the food stall accurately.
More damningly for Samsung, if we pixel peep, Samsung’s image is noisy and grainy, while Xiaomi’s image is darker, but cleaner.
Going by these samples plus the dozen more I’ve snapped, I’d have to give the main camera category win to the Xiaomi 12S Ultra for consistently producing images that are less noisy, with stronger depth-of-field. It’s just a more organic shot, compared to Samsung’s heavily processed images. This isn’t to say the Galaxy S22 Ultra camera is bad, by the way. It’s still a top-tier shooter. Trust me, I also snapped these same shots with the iPhone 13 Pro and it consistently finished a distant third. But it’s hard to beat a sensor that’s 86% larger unless your software processing is significantly ahead, and Samsung’s isn’t.
The Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s ultra-wide camera is a 48MP shooter with f/2.2 aperture, while Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra packs a 12MP camera also with f/2.2 aperture. This means Xiaomi’s ultra-wide will use binning tech, while Samsung’s ultra-wide will just shoot normally.
The first thing to check is whether the ultra-wide camera produces colors that are consistent with the main camera, and in the below set we can see the Galaxy S22 Ultra does a better job. There’s a noticeable color shift in reds and yellows in Xiaomi’s main and ultra-wide cameras.
There really isn’t much point in pixel-peeping ultra-wide shots because the point of shooting ultra-wides is to view a sweeping image, but just for sake of nitpicking we’ll do one set. When viewed at 100%, I can see that the center of Xiaomi’s ultra-wide shot is much cleaner looking than Samsung’s, which is again showing that heavily processed, digitally sharpened look. But move to the edges of the photo to the four corners, and the S22 Ultra’s ultra-wide loses less detail than Xiaomi’s. All ultra-wide cameras will be sharper in the middle than in the corners, but Xiaomi’s particularly more so.
Low light scenes are where ultra-wide cameras generally suffer because they usually are not backed by the large sensors that the main cameras get. From afar, these shots are sort of even. I think Xiaomi’s ultra-wide looks better in the first set of the food stall, while Samsung’s ultra-wide looks better in the park with the pagoda-type structure. But if you pixel peep, the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s ultra-wide is significantly noisier and softer on details.
But again, as I said, there’s really no point in zooming into an ultra-wide and nitpick, so the point is mostly moot. Any of these shots are way better than what most other phones’ ultra-wide can do.
Samsung deserves props for keeping the ultra-wide color consistent with the main camera, but Xiaomi’s ultra-wide handles dynamic range a bit better. We can call this one a tie?
This is where Samsung should take the win. Not only does the Galaxy S22 Ultra have two zoom lenses (both 10MP), but its periscope is also a 10X optical zoom lens that has consistently dropped my jaw over the past half a year of use. Xiaomi’s sole periscope zoom lens is a 48MP shooter with a 5X optical zoom range.
The samples do indeed give the win to Samsung. It may be hard to see if you’re just viewing the images in this article on a phone, but if you view the full-sized images on a screen, you can see the Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s 10X zoom features the digital sharpening and heavier processing. The same advantages carry over to low light. What’s more, Samsung’s software has a very intelligent automatic subject lock that allows the viewfinder to remain steadier than usual, even when zoomed in 20X or more.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s periscope zoom lens is really good, but the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s periscope zoom is the best in the business.
As mentioned, the Galaxy S22 Ultra also has a shorter 3X telephoto zoom lens, while the 12S Ultra does not. This means the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a bit more versatile too.
Because Xiaomi’s 5X zoom lens is far too long for portrait shots, the phone will snap portraits with main camera, but digitally cropped in to resemble a 50mm focal length. The Galaxy S22 Ultra, meanwhile, can snap portraits with either its 3X telephoto or main camera.
I think the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s portraits are consistently a bit more aesthetically pleasing, with slightly more accurate edge detection as well. Particularly in the below set, we can see that the Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s artificial bokeh is really wonky, messing up the blur around the second lion statue. In fact, the second lion statue should not be so in focus due to its positioning behind the first lion. Samsung’s portrait shot has a much more realistic focus drop-off. So if you’re keeping score at home: the Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s natural bokeh is better than Samsung’s, but Samsung’s artificial bokeh is much better than Xiaomi’s.
Both phones can record video clips at up to 8K resolution, but I stuck to 4K/30 because that’s the best overall format. During the day, I find the footage to be neck and neck ending in a virtual tie, but at night, the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s stabilization seems a bit more susceptible to micro-jitters with each step I take. However, the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s audio is better, capturing my voice while isolating background noise a bit better. See for yourself.
Ah, my least favorite category to test, but alas, one that must be done. The Xiaomi 12S Ultra’s 32MP camera is, in a word, underwhelming. It consistently grabs images with blown-out highlights and random smoothening of my skin, even when I thought I turned it off. Samsung’s 40MP selfie shooter will also apply a heavy beauty filter (Asian brands, please stop this), but at least it’s consistently there. I know what I’m getting with a Galaxy S22 Ultra selfie. Xiaomi 12S Ultra selfies quality varies from shot to shot.
When you consider that the 12S Ultra also can’t shoot 4K selfie videos but the Galaxy S22 Ultra can, then this category is a clear win for Samsung.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: Which camera is better?
By my count, I had Xiaomi winning the main camera battle, while ultra-wide is a tie. Samsung wins the zoom lens, portrait shots, and selfies. Video performance is close, but I’d give the edge to Xiaomi for having creamier, stronger bokeh. Technically, Samsung won three categories to Xiaomi’s two, but I’d argue the main category holds the most weight and is the most important win.
Both of these cameras are really, really good — and in my top four smartphone cameras overall (along with the Vivo X80 Pro and Google Pixel 6 Pro). While Samsung’s zoom lens has proven very useful for me, I am just mesmerized by that 1-inch sensor in the Xiaomi 12S Ultra. The natural bokeh is so good, in fact, I’ve snapped some product shots with the 12S Ultra instead of my usual camera. For example, in this Xiaomi 12 Lite review I wrote last week, most of the product shots in it were captured by the 12S Ultra.
Xiaomi 12S Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: Software and Performance
Both phones run Android 12 with each brand’s Android skin on top: OneUI for Samsung, MIUI for Xiaomi. Both sets of software are not too far apart in aesthetics, colorful icons, more than a few brand-specific “bloatware” apps (Samsung and Xiaomi each want you to use their own browser, for example), and generally behave the same as far as what a swipe down will do, etc. Both Android skins are great at multi-tasking, allowing for apps to run in split-screen and floating window mode. For the most part, both MIUI and OneUI offer enough bonus features and customization options over stock Android without getting in the way.