Samsung has been leading up to this moment since the introduction of the Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which just so happened to be the final in that series. They’ve worked to separate the “Ultra” line of devices from others in the family, in hopes to sell them as a separate, far greater experience. With the Galaxy S22 Ultra, Samsung has completed the story, where you now choose a standard Galaxy S22 or you go Ultra and get a wildly different device.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra is not really a Galaxy S phone. Sure, it is in name, but as everyone in the world who has touched this phone has pointed out, it’s really just a Galaxy Note. And that’s fine! The Note line was loved and it makes a lot of sense for Samsung to carry on its heritage, even if it is under a different name. The Galaxy Note line was always sort of the ultra version of the Galaxy S anyways, so this all makes a lot of sense.
I’ve had the pleasure of testing the Galaxy S22 Ultra for the past couple of weeks and can tell you whether or not this move from Ultra to a mash-up of Galaxy S and Note line was correct. The short answer: yeah, it works depending on what you want. The long is…well, let’s talk about it.
This is our Galaxy S22 Ultra review.
What do I like about the Galaxy S22 Ultra?
Display. When you think about a display on Samsung’s best phone, what comes to your mind? You assume it’ll be great, right? That’s good, because the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s display is once again great. Big shocker, I know, but the 6.8″ AMOLED panel is very nice.
Sooooo, what else do I say about? Ummm, it gets super bright! It also gets quite dim during those bedtime sessions of the WORDLE archive. Colors look great and accurate without that old school OLED punch. Samsung has this thing so dialed in. Viewing angles, yeah, they are excellent. Touch sensitivity is too. I’m not sure what to say, in case you can’t tell. It’s a freakin’ Samsung AMOLED on their $1,200 phone – of course it rocks.
Need a complaint? I still don’t love curved displays and never will. This has a curved display, although it’s not as offensive as some. It’s less of a pain to use than Google’s Pixel 6 Pro display, unless you have the S Pen out and try to activate the “back” navigation gesture, then yeah, that sucks.
But you’ll find a solid dark mode, adaptive brightness that actually works correctly, 120Hz refresh rate for the smoothness, controls over the color profile, and even an adaptive eye comfort shield that will adjust warmth throughout the day. Everything is there and the display looks awesome. Yay.
Performance. Leading up to the launch of this phone, we saw a bunch of devices launch in China running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. The initial reaction was that the 8 Gen 1 was a bust and overheated easily, so that had me worried about how the Galaxy S22 line would run. During these past couple of weeks, I haven’t run into any issues with overheating or performance drops.
Samsung sent us the model with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage to review, by the way. In other words, we have the lowest model of S22 Ultra to test here with the least amount of RAM.
Now, I do not consider myself a super power user. I use the typical apps all day like Twitter and Instagram and Telegram and Chrome, but your boy isn’t out here crushing hours of CoD: Mobile or anything like that. If you are a gamer, please go find a gamer review and report back what they say, but for general usage, this phone handles it all just fine.
I can’t tell you that I saw a single stutter during daily use. The touch sensitivity, which I mentioned above, is phenomenal on this phone. There is little delay in your finger sliding and interactions on screen happening. For years, Apple was the king of touch sensitivity, but I think Android phone makers have closed that gap.
The fingerprint reader is actually pretty quick for an in-display unit, apps load instantly even after a heavy usage session, and once you turn down all of the awful animations, the phone feels even speedier. Really, no complaints here in performance.
S Pen. Alright, S Pen time. I’ve tested plenty of Galaxy Note phones throughout my time running Droid Life, so I feel like I know my way around Samsung’s stylus. For the Galaxy S22 Ultra, what you get is a Galaxy Note stylus on a Galaxy S phone, embedded within, with all the features like Bluetooth actions, doodling abilities, and the fun clicking action of a pen that will never not be both addicting and obnoxious.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve always loved the S Pen and can’t see life without it, but that’s just not the case. I do force myself to use it when testing a Note phone, like this one, and my reports back are typically the same – it does what it’s supposed to do. It is indeed very handy to be able to take a note at any time, grab a full or partial screenshot for markup, or spend hours in a digital coloring book. I also just like using it to navigate the phone in casual settings. Just be aware that the back gesture navigation really struggles to work with the S Pen out, which I’m still wondering if that’s a bug or by design.
Generally speaking, the S Pen is an excellent tool. If your day-to-day involves a lot of handwriting or doodling or capturing and editing images or using remote functions, it makes absolute sense to consider this phone. It’s embedded within so you shouldn’t lose it (as easy), it works as seamlessly as any accessory you’ll ever find, and it’s just kind of cool to know that it’s there.
People who love the S Pen will love this S Pen experience. One day I hope to be one of you.
Camera. Samsung once again put a super advanced camera system in its top tier phone, so that means you get a main 108MP camera that’s joined by 12MP ultra-wide and dual 10MP telephoto lenses. Samsung is selling the shit out of this system too, with more buzz words than I can keep track of. There’s talk of big pixel sensors, Super HDR, “Super Clear Glass,” and an “Auto Framerate intelligent light detection [with] Super Night Solution’s next-level noise reduction.” Someone try to explain that nonsense to your average consumer.
Or maybe you are the guy who needs buzzwords and allllllll of the features. This phone is for you. You can shoot in RAW or various formats, zoom at various levels, adjust each shot with full manual controls, and take high-quality night and video shots. The future influencer in you can thrive with the S22 Ultra.
If you aren’t Mr. Advanced, well, then you are like me. You just need a camera system that you can whip out of your JNCO’s that are big enough to hold this phone and snap pictures that look good. For the most part, this camera does that too.
Here’s what I can tell you about the Galaxy S22 Ultra camera system in the most straight-forward terms. It’s not that fast, unfortunately, and there is very odd shutter leg between the time you snap a pic and it actually takes it. That’s been frustrating, especially since you don’t know then if you moved and lost focus or if the shot is fine. I’d imagine Samsung can speed this up with a software update.
That said, most shots I took were very good. This camera provides unlimited versatility with wide shots from the main and ultra-wide sensors, plus the telephotos doing that super-res zoom thing are kind of fun to play with. You can zoom in on so much stuff in both creepy and exciting ways. Whether indoors or out, Samsung’s image processing takes care of you, assuming you are fine with a touch of extra sharpening. It’s also super aggressive at firing up night mode if the light lowers inside at all.
As a $1,200 camera, the Galaxy S22 Ultra camera delivers. Did you think it wouldn’t? I know keep saying that about this phone’s features (display, performance, etc.), but this is Samsung we’re talking about. They don’t sell more phones than anyone because they haven’t got this all figured out. They made another excellent camera system thats bloated if you need features, yet can also give you what you need without getting in your way. What else could you ask for?
Enjoy the samples.
Software. Back in the days of the Galaxy S20, my favorite Samsung phone of the past several years, I was a big fan of One UI. At the time, Google’s Pixel experience had grown old and Samsung freshened up the industry with a major revamp of its own skin, one that we couldn’t get enough of. Fast forward to today and I don’t exactly feel the same. Google’s experience is now the best in Android, while Samsung has continued to push One UI. Look, One UI is still good, it’s just kind of boring now. Boring is OK, though!
For One UI 4.1 on the Galaxy S22 Ultra (with Android 12 underneath), I don’t think I could point you to one huge new feature to sell you on. Maybe it’s that Samsung adopted some cool stuff from Android 12, like the dynamic wallpaper theming. Samsung is also still very good at offering you all of the software features, from multi-account messenger setups to robust lock screen clock options. They are still doing advanced features, letting you test out “Labs” ideas, giving you tons of customization in sound and vibrations, and showcasing a built-in theme store. Everything and then some is here, I’m just not sure what to tell you to get excited about if you are coming from another Samsung phone. If you aren’t coming from a Samsung phone, well, enjoy the massive feature list.
I do have some issues with One UI, and if I’m being honest, they tend to fall into nit-picky territory, with things like the way notifications expand or all of the awful and excessive animations you need to turn off in developer settings. I don’t like how Samsung organizes folders either or this f*cking horizontal app drawer they won’t get rid of. But these are all personal preference situations that I can mask when using a device full time or that you might love. So try not to get too mad at what I just said there.
The point – and this is me coming back around to praising them – is that Samsung offers so much in its software skin that it can kind of work for everyone, assuming you know how to work it. And that, my friends, is a big deal.
Software updates. On a somewhat related note, and an area that Samsung deserves massive praise for, we need to talk about software updates. Samsung has committed to 4 (four!) Android OS version updates for this phone and 5 (!) years worth of security patches. Since this phone launched with Android 12, it should see updates all of the way through Android 16, assuming Google keeps going with yearly number releases. For security patches, you should see support through to 2027. That’s completely bonkers to type out, especially knowing we are talking about Samsung and not Google, who should be the one making this news.
So to recap that, Samsung remains the king of updates on Android and has promised to further their lead with the Galaxy S22 line. Buying a phone like this should give you confidence in knowing that the company who sold it to you is standing behind it.
Design. For most phones this size, I would take this opportunity to complain, call it a whale, and wish the world would continue to make phones for people like me, who want a device that can easily be used with a single hand. But you know what? This phone is designed quite well. It’s almost exactly the same size as the Google Pixel 6 Pro, a phone I complained heavily about, yet the size here doesn’t offend me.
I don’t know why that is. It’s actually heavier than the Pixel 6 Pro and the camera setup makes it super annoying to use on a desk, but there’s this really nice balance to it, as well as the most seamless curve from front to back that makes it somewhat easy to hold. Now, don’t get me wrong, this phone is too big for me and I won’t use it going forward, it’s just that for a big phone, it kind of works.
The only thing I want to make clear is that this is very much a Galaxy Note design. I held it next to my wife’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, a phone from 2020, and couldn’t tell you what the difference is outside of the SIM card placement. It’s identical in shape, layout, ports, curve, and S Pen location. There is zero new here, unless you consider the camera housing change from a big box to individual lens coverings to be new.
Overall, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is Samsung showing off how good it is at manufacturing a device from top to bottom, even if it is in a familiar, somewhat old design. If a big phone doesn’t bother you, this is a big phone that gets it all right.
What don’t I like about it?
Battery life. It’s a big phone with a big battery, but that also means a big screen, big performance, and big juice sucking. The battery life on the Galaxy S22 Ultra isn’t awful and will get you through a day of moderate to heavy use. Do I wish it would last longer? Do I wish all phones would last longer? Yes and yes.
During my testing, I was averaging around 4 hours of screen on time and going to bed with 15-20% battery remaining. My usage includes a mix of Twitter, Chrome, Instagram, Google News, Duo, and Telegram, with a sprinkling of word games here and there. I’m not the heaviest user around, but I do use my phone quite a bit. Again, I was getting through most days, I would just feel more comfortable if at 9PM on the couch, I wasn’t wondering if I need to find a charger for that last hour or so before calling it a night.
In the charging department, you can always plug in at up to 45W speeds (with a supported charger) to get a quick boost when the battery is low. You can also wirelessly charge throughout a day at your desk too, so it’s not like this phone can’t be managed and then never leave you in a bad spot. However, I know not everyone has chargers handy all day, and often times those folks are super heavy users.
It’s nothing new. OK, to wrap this up, we need to talk about my general feeling for this phone and how it comes off like it’s barely moving the needle from the last Galaxy Note phone. I hate to go at Samsung for this, and maybe this isn’t review material, but this phone comes off like the perfect example of peak smartphones being hit long ago, probably more so than any other phone.
For example, my wife was dead set on swapping her Note 20 Ultra for this and I pretty easily talked her out of it because there isn’t enough here to justify the upgrade. The Note 20 Ultra is 1.5 years old and when set next to this new device, I couldn’t tell her what she’d get that would greatly improve upon the phone she already has. We’re talking minor screen or camera improvements, with a chipset that we aren’t sure is any better, a design that is identical, and an S Pen that is still good but the same.
Samsung is reviving the Galaxy Note line here and that’s pretty great. The Note line was awesome. My worry, though, is that if Samsung is having this much trouble advancing the scene, then can anyone? Where do we go from here? Because we’ve seen this before.
Unboxing and tour
First 10 Things To Do
Should you buy the Galaxy S22 Ultra?
There isn’t an easy answer for this question, sorry. I talked in the opening about whether or not this mash-up of the Note and Galaxy S lines worked and there isn’t a clear answer.
I imagine there are Galaxy S purists who might not be happy that the best Galaxy S phone is now just the rebirth of the Galaxy Note. Maybe they preferred the Galaxy S styling and lack of a dedicated S Pen, where you get a touch more simplicity in a still quite-advanced package. Then on the flipside, there will be Note lovers who have got to be so happy that their favorite line of phones is back after a year of being pushed into foldables only.
And so that’s where this becomes a conversation starter. Do you want a Galaxy Note device? If you do and feel it’s time to upgrade, then hell yeah, this phone will take you so far into the future. This is an excellent phone with a good camera, excellent display, great performance, best-in-class software support, a software skin that has so many features, and that added bonus of an S Pen.
Do you not want a Galaxy Note device? Well, Samsung has a Galaxy S22+ waiting for you with most of the features, a sexier design, and no dedicated S Pen.