Despite not giving us a Galaxy Note smartphone in 2021, Samsung did bring the Galaxy Note back in everything but name. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is basically a Galaxy Note, without the Note name. It has the iconic Note design, and now the S Pen is included inside the phone. Instead of it being an extra purchase like it was with the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
It’s a bit of a strange move for Samsung, as the Galaxy S22 Ultra looks completely different from the rest of the Galaxy S22 series. Samsung should have launched the Galaxy S22, Galaxy S22 Plus and Galaxy S22 Note. Which would have made more sense. However, they needed to use the “Ultra” name because that’s been their branding for the past few years.
Now, the real question is, whether the Galaxy S22 Ultra lives up to the hype. Is it really the best smartphone Samsung has put out in years, as many are saying. Or is it a dud? Let’s find out in our full review.
The iconic Galaxy Note design is back and updated for 2022
The iconic design that Samsung has used on the Galaxy Note smartphones, is finally back and it’s been updated for 2022 design aesthetics. That means you have rounded sides, and flat top and bottom. Making it distinctly a Galaxy Note smartphone, though “Note” isn’t even in the name of the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
After having the rounded design of the Galaxy S21 series for well over a year now, this design is quite refreshing. Of course, because the Galaxy S22 Ultra has the flat top and bottom, it had to change up the camera module too. So the backside doesn’t have the contour cut design, and instead has five rings for the cameras. Which, honestly looks way better in person than it did in the renders we got ahead of Unpacked.
Don’t get me wrong, I would definitely love to have a flush camera, or even flush with the camera bump. Like it is on the regular S22 and S22 Plus. As these camera rings do attract a lot of dust. Some cases will fix that, but not all of them.
The S Pen is now included in the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which isn’t surprising. But Samsung making a big deal out of this, is. Samsung’s been putting a stylus in its phones for almost a decade, so it couldn’t have been that hard to add a silo to the Galaxy S22 Ultra. The S Pen did get a few improvements, like drastically lower latency. However, all S Pens are black this year. Only the cap matches the color of the Galaxy S22 Ultra that you purchased.
Samsung’s best display ever, which will surprise no one
Once again, Samsung has launched its newest flagship with the best display it has ever made. This isn’t a surprise, because it happens every year like clockwork. Samsung makes its own displays – and the displays for most other smartphones – so it can hold onto the latest and greatest for its own smartphones. So it’s no surprise that this is the case again this year.
This new display on the Galaxy S22 Ultra is really impressive. It’s a 6.8-inch QHD+ 120Hz HDR AMOLED display, but the impressive part is the brightness. It can reach 1750nits of brightness. To put that in perspective, the Galaxy S21 Ultra was already the brightest display on the market, with a peak of 1500nits of brightness. This screen is about 15% brighter. Which means it’s going to look great in direct sunlight.
Unfortunately, I live in a place that gets different seasons, and where it is currently winter, I was unable to test this out in direct sunlight, as there really isn’t any until around late-March or early-April. But knowing how good the Galaxy S21 Ultra was in direct sunlight, the S22 Ultra should have no problem. The thing I’d be worried about though, is battery life with such a bright display. Since it is the same size battery as last year’s model.
The display itself looks absolutely stunning. Throw on a really colorful wallpaper and you can really see how great this display is. It’s great for watching movies on Netflix, videos on YouTube and more. Especially with Dolby Atmos being available too.
The S Pen is back!
As we’ve eluded to already in this review, the S Pen is back on the Galaxy S22 Ultra this year, and it’s included in that price. Which is something that really stung last year. Spending $1,200 on a new phone, and then almost another hundred for the S Pen and case to actually carry it around.
Those that love the S Pen will be happy to it back, but those that are like me and barely use it, won’t really care. Every time I review a Galaxy Note smartphone, I try my best to use the S Pen, but I never really use it other than when I’m forced too. It just doesn’t fit in with how I use my smartphone. But it is great for signing documents, doing some drawing and even taking notes. So there’s that.
The latency has brought down even further on the S Pen this year, now down to 2.8ms. Meaning that is it almost immediate between when you start moving the pen on the screen and it actually reacting. It was already quite good with the Note 20 Ultra back in 2020, but now it’s even faster.
Battery life is surprisingly good
Combined with a brighter display, and a chipset that supposedly runs hotter than its predecessor, we were a bit worried about battery life on the Galaxy S22 Ultra. That is because it has the same size battery as its predecessor, the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Which offered pretty good battery life. So it’s good to see that we’re experiencing something similar on the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
During our review period with the Galaxy S22 Ultra, we were able to hit 6-7 hours of screen on time a few times. Which is where we would say battery life is good, not great, but good. That’s going to get most people through a day of use, if not a bit longer. Keep in mind that everyone uses their phone differently – has different apps installed, uses different apps, etc – so your mileage may vary here.
This year, the Galaxy S22 Ultra does support 45W charging, which was taken away last year on the Galaxy S21 Ultra after debuting on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. It’s nice to have, but we were unable to test it out, as we do not have a 45W charger that utilizes USB-C PD and PPS. So we were stuck with 25W charging, which performed just fine. Able to charge the full battery of the Galaxy S22 Ultra in around 45 minutes.
Android 12 on-board, plus four years of guaranteed updates!
Surprising no one, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is launching with Android 12 pre-installed along with One UI 4.1. But the big surprise from Samsung was actually the fact that it is promising four years of updates for the Galaxy S22 series. That actually is more than what Google promises for the Pixel.
Samsung is now beating Google in basically every area of software on its smartphones, which is rather insane. Samsung has also been killing it with its software as of late. Launching Android 12 onto almost all of its devices within six months of it being launched by Google. Meanwhile, Google took two months to push out a security update to the Pixel 6. Bravo Samsung.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra’s software is quite nice. It is pretty snappy, and never slowed down while we were using it. Additionally, it does have Material You, but it is about as limited as it is on the Pixel. So basically, you can set a wallpaper and choose which accent colors to use for app icons, and your quick settings. But most apps don’t work with this – and surprisingly, Google apps that work with Material You on the Pixel, do not work with it on the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Like YouTube Music.
Software is no longer a sore spot for Samsung smartphones, and it’s been a long time coming.
Those cameras & Nightography
New this year, Samsung announced Nightography. Which is the company’s new term for night or low-light photography. It’s a bit catchy, but none of us will say it, of course. With the cameras this year, Samsung is claiming that you’re able to get more details out of your images. This is thanks to nona binning. Basically, not only is the camera taking a 12-megapixel image from the 108-megapixel sensor, binning nine megapixels into one. But it is also layering on a 108-megapixel image onto that 12-megapixel image. Giving you some incredible detail from that 12-megapixel image which won’t be super massive in size.
This sounds amazing, right? And it appears to be true. In our testing of the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s camera, we were able to get some really great pictures that were very well detailed, especially at night. Honestly, the biggest change with night mode on the Galaxy S22 Ultra is that it is no longer super bright, when it’s pitch black at night. So it actually looks like it was taken at night. But the details are still there, with less noise.
A mode that Samsung did not talk about at all, is Macro. It’s here, and while not a dedicated mode unfortunately, it is available and works well. The only caveat is that you can’t get as close to objects as you can with the iPhone 13 Pro (Max). But that’s okay. The images are still very sharp, and much sharper than they were on the Galaxy S21 Ultra last year. This is also likely thanks to the nonna binning that Samsung is doing here.
Portrait mode has gotten better, but it’s still not going to replace a DSLR, unfortunately. I took a portrait mode selfie of myself, and it still cuts off the corner of my glasses – like most phones do these days. That’s not a surprise, but Samsung was claiming that it was better and can identify individual strains of hair, but that doesn’t seem to be accurate across the board. As it did blur out some of my hair, but not all of it. It might work better on some other people, or in different lighting conditions, but it’s not perfect, as Samsung wanted you to think it was.
Overall, the camera is quite good. Those that love Samsung’s over-saturated pictures are going to love this new upgraded camera module on the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Luckily, Samsung does still have its Pro mode for video and photos, so you can adjust these to your liking. And you can also shoot in RAW so you can make your own adjustments later on in Photoshop or Lightroom.
Here are some other camera samples from our review period with the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Should I buy the Galaxy S22 Ultra?
If you’re a Note user, and was waiting for a phone with an S Pen to come out, then yes, upgrade to the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It’s likely going to be the only smartphone with an S Pen included to launch this year – we don’t think the Galaxy Z Fold 4 will add a silo for it. If you want the best of the best, and not ready for a foldable, then yes, buy the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
However, if you don’t want a large phone, don’t care about the S Pen or want a camera that puts out less saturated pictures, then you may want to look elsewhere. Like the Pixel 6 Pro.
Overall, the Galaxy S22 Ultra looks like a boring upgrade on paper, but it is actually quite an exciting upgrade.