Samsung finally did it: it shipped an S Pen with a phone. The company hasn’t done that since 2020 with the Galaxy Note 20 series, and anyone who’s been waiting for a device similar to that will find exactly what they’ve been missing in the S22 Ultra.
Priced at $1,199 and up to $1,599 for the highest-end specs, the new Galaxy S22 Ultra is a return to form for Samsung who, up until last year, shipped a phone with an included stylus every year. Gone is the rounded, more friendly design of the S21 Ultra in favor of a boxy brick with a dedicated stylus sylo at the bottom.
Paired with the latest flagship specs, a camera system that’s impressively versatile, and a display that sits easily at the top of the industry, you really can’t go wrong with the S22 Ultra.
This makes the phone incredibly easy to not recommend, by the way. Sure, it truly is one of the best phones you can get, but only those who will take advantage of the staggering feature set and performance under the hood will find a true appreciation for it. Everyone else will likely find that something cheaper like a regular S22 or a Google Pixel 6 will suit their needs just fine.
But if you value a powerful smartphone, one that can zoom in farther than any other phone in North America that comes with a built-in stylus and a huge display, this is the Note Galaxy S you’ve been waiting for.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
The most Note-worthy phone ever
If you've been waiting for a new Galaxy Note phone, this is the device for you. In exchange, you'll get a beautiful screen, excellent cameras, great performance, and so-so battery life.
You can’t take a side-eye glance at the S22 Ultra without noticing just how similar it is to a Galaxy Note. The device gets a boxy form factor that’s extremely reminiscent of the Note 20 Ultra, with the S Pen slot returning in the same location as before (on the left side, which is the wrong side for people like me). There’s nothing that suggests this is a member of the Galaxy S family; instead, it feels like what a Note 22 Ultra would’ve/could’ve been if Samsung stuck with the Note line.
This is also one of the biggest phones I’ve ever reviewed. The 6.8-inch screen is huge and spacious, but it makes the entire phone almost uncomfortably big. It’s also quite hefty at 229 grams.
The back is made of a frosted glass that makes it abundantly more slippery. I used the phone completely naked during my review period, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t extremely nervous doing so. The S22 Ultra demands to be in a case or have a skim applied to its back, anything to add extra grip.
If there’s a plus side to carrying it naked, it’s showing off the Sky Blue colorway my unit came in. This is a really nice pastel blue that’s gentle and contrasts nicely with the black aluminum frame. Even the S Pen got a unique look, something that can’t be said with the non-exclusive colors Samsung offers.
The infamous camera bump from last year’s S21 family is gone on the S22 Ultra in favor of separate camera lenses that stick out slightly. This makes the phone one of the most unpleasant to use while it lies on your desk, and it means any small molecules like lint and dirt will eventually get stuck and build up around the silver rings of the sensors. Constant polishing is what I found myself doing each time I sat down at my desk and pulled the phone out of my pocket. I’m really not sure I could recommend a case anymore than I am for this phone.
Display & S Pen
Obviously, the best part of the design is the display. Samsung’s big Super AMOLED 2X panel on the S22 Ultra is bright, beautiful, and blissfully swift thanks to the 120Hz refresh rate. Everything is pin-sharp with the 3088×1440 resolution, and you’ll be able to see it in the most direct sunlight with its whopping 1,750 nits of peak brightness. For comparison’s sake, the iPhone 13 Pro can reach up to 1,200 nits, so it’s safe to say this is one of the brightest screens you can get. This is the kind of phone screen that demands you watch a movie on. Colors are rich and vibrant thanks to HDR 10 support, blacks are inky, and nothing about it feels cramped.
Out of the box, Samsung didn’t have the sharpest resolution enabled, instead limiting it to 1080p to save battery life. I, of course, cranked it up to 1440p and didn’t notice any major hit on endurance. You can always turn it back down if you think you’ll need the extra power, but I much prefer a sharper screen to look at, not just for content but also the S Pen.
Yes folks, it’s time to talk about the S Pen, the primary reason anyone would actually buy the S22 Ultra instead of something cheaper. You pop it out of the device with the same clicking mechanism we’re all familiar with, and it slides out with an audible sound effect that’s both cool and kinda corny.
There are a million different ways to use the S Pen whether you want it to sign a document, create digital art, or take a note during a meeting. Samsung bundles the same software features as the Note 20 with selective screenshots, Live messages, AR Doodle, and more on board. You also get the ability to take notes while your phone is locked, which is probably my favorite feature given its convenience.
New on the S22 Ultra is improved latency, with Samsung touting as little as 2.8 milliseconds compared to nine milliseconds on previous devices. That’s pretty cool, but it’s unlikely you’ll notice that difference given how granular the improvement is.
Samsung also includes the ability to write out a note and convert it to text using AI. I found that it worked pretty well, but you’ll want to be a bit extra careful with your chicken scratch if you plan to be converting a lot of your notes to avoid misspellings.
If you’re a heavy S Pen user, you’ll feel right at home. There’s little about this generation that’s significantly different from past iterations. That also means there isn’t a compelling reason for someone to switch to the S22 Ultra simply for the S Pen. If you weren’t a fan of the stylus before, you probably won’t be now.
I’ll be perfectly honest: I’m not a huge stylus user. I’ve been reluctant to buy an Apple Pencil for my iPad Pro for fear of not using it enough, and I’ve felt the same way using the S22 Ultra. For the extra money I’d have to pay to get a phone equipped with an S Pen, I don’t think I could justify it. But if you are a diehard S Pen fan, the S22 Ultra is the phone you’ve been waiting for.
Performance, Battery, & One UI
Performance on the Galaxy S22 Ultra has been incredibly solid. Everything flies as you’d expect it to with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and 12GB of RAM. Early in my review process, I had some really weird performance problems where my memory was being eaten up by mystery apps (a.k.a. Apps that the health section of the Settings app didn’t highlight), but a software update eventually resolved those issues and I was back to having a phone flying through everything I threw at it.
If you do a lot of heavy things on your phone (maybe all at once), you’ll likely notice the phone getting hot at times. I felt the back of the device warm up while taking photos and listening to music on its speakers, as well as when running heavy games like Asphalt 9 for extended periods of time. Other reviewers have said that it’s a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 issue, but I can’t prove that since I haven’t reviewed any other 8 Gen 1-equipped devices. I’ll update this review if other phones with that chip suffer the same problem.
What’s probably let me down the most during my testing is battery life. Samsung put a 5,000mAh battery inside this phone, and it clearly didn’t do it to boast huge battery life claims like you used to be able to do with 5,000mAh cells. I’m assuming it’s a mix of the big display and spotty 5G connections I’m regularly in that drain it because I’m always near 10-15 percent at the end of the day. (Notably, you can always ratchet down the display resolution and opt for a more energy-efficient performance mode to eek out extra juice, but unless you’re in dire need, I don’t know why anyone would do that on a $1,200+ phone.)
Recharge times are plenty fast, with the S22 Ultra sporting 45W power over USB-C. If you don’t have a 45W charger on hand, you’ll need to buy one. Samsung will happily sell you one for $50 which is by no means a great deal, but it’s unfortunately the cost of admission. (I was going to mention a cheaper alternative, but there really isn’t one.)
Wired charging remains the quickest and most convenient way of juicing the big battery inside the S22 Ultra back up. Wireless charging is lame since it’s capped at 15W, and charging other devices with reverse wireless charging is even slower at 5W. Samsung also isn’t making any proprietary wireless chargers for the S22 Ultra that can speed things up like OnePlus and Google have. That’s a bummer, especially considering how high-end this phone is.
Samsung’s latest edition of One UI, One UI 4.1, is probably the best Android skin around (outside of the Pixel, of course). It’s cohesive, it’s unintrusive, and it doesn’t bog the system down. Of course, it hasn’t done any of that in years, and the tradition carries on with the S22 series.
Since One UI 4.1 is based on Android 12, you get all the Android 12 goodies like Material You theming options and improved notification handling. It’s a really solid system, and it all plays nicely with added touches like the floating menu button for the S Pen and custom UI for the Messages app.
Samsung is also promising up to four major Android upgrades for the S22 series, which is a really big deal. It’s right at the top of the industry in terms of software support, and it even slightly closes the gap between Android phones and iPhones which famously get software updates for six or seven years after they’re released. Samsung’s making excellent progress in this regard, and I’m thrilled to see it.
On a completely separate note, Samsung’s keyboard is trash. I don’t know how anyone survives with its subpar autocorrect and terrible word suggestions. It’s been awful for years and it hasn’t gotten any better. Maybe one day it’ll reach Google Gboard’s level of greatness or, better yet, be put out to pasture in favor of Gboard.
A guy can dream, can’t he
Despite the redesigned layout, Samsung carried over the same cameras as the S21 Ultra to the S22 Ultra. That means the 108MP f/1.8 main sensor has made a return, as well as 10MP periscope telephoto lens that’s responsible for Space Zoom.
Taking photos with the S22 Ultra will feel all too familiar among those who have used an S21 Ultra because of that. Of course, if you’re upgrading to the S22 Ultra, it’s likely that your current phone isn’t an S21 Ultra, and I think anyone would be happy with the results Samsung produces regardless of the device they upgrade from.
Photos are generally bright and vivid, with Samsung continuing to apply different layers of processing that make some photos seem artificial. Most Galaxy phones I’ve tested over the years don’t fair well with vibrant red and pink hues, as they typically oversaturate them. I noticed the same issue on the S22 Ultra, while other phones like the iPhone 13 Pro and Pixel 6 Pro keep things a bit more natural.
Of course, you can always tune down saturation in post-editing, but it’d be nice to get a more natural-feeling shot straight out of the camera.
Compared to those two alternative flagships, Samsung definitely puts up a fight, as it always has. While standard images remain top-tier, shots from the 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide lens are also crisp, as are regular telephoto pictures taken with the 10MP f/2.4 lens.
Where Samsung has the biggest edge over the competition is in zoom quality. The company’s 100x Space Zoom makes its return thanks to that periscope lens, allowing you to get extremely close to a subject without losing a ton of detail. The shots below demonstrate this capability incredibly well. I’m impressed every time I look at them.
Obviously, you won’t be using 100x zoom all the time. Things tend to fall apart after you get above 30x as details and general crispness starts to soften and melt together. However, you’ll maintain a lot of detail so long as you stay under 30x, which is still a much longer zoom level than what you’ll get on the latest iPhones or Pixels.
New with the Galaxy S22 Ultra is something called Adaptive Pixel. It uses the extra detail the 108MP sensor can pick up and bins together multiple images to add better lighting and contrast to your photos, even at night. As I don’t have an S21 to compare it to, I can’t say how effective it is.
What I did notice the effectiveness of were the improvements Samsung made to portrait mode. The S22 Ultar is much better at identifying individual strands of hair and other minute details of a subject than past Galaxy flagships, and I can honestly say it’s in the running for the best portrait mode you can get on a phone. I’d position it neck-and-neck with the iPhone which only edges it out in some areas such as color accuracy and the quality of the blurry background.
Nighttime photography was also improved with the S22 line, with Samsung branding the improvements as “Nightography.” In all honesty, it’s not much more than a glorified night mode, and my testing shows that it barely qualifies to be in the running with the iPhone 13 and Pixel 6 for the best low-light photography. While shots are generally acceptable in dark conditions, Samsung can get pretty aggressive with bringing up shadows and adding artificial light that makes the whole image feel altered and ingenuine.
Video quality remains subpar compared to the iPhone, but things are generally better than previous Galaxy phones. Samsung includes 8K shooting if you’re into that, and brightness and contrast remain well balanced. Once again, colors tend to sway a bit too far up the saturation scale, but I guess that’s Samsung for ya.
This is a Galaxy Note phone. There’s no getting around it, from the big-bad specs to the unapologetic inclusion of the S Pen. Rest in peace Galaxy Note, long live the Galaxy S Ultra.
If what you’ve been waiting for is a new Note phone with all the bells and whistles you’ve come to expect, the S22 Ultra is the phone for you. While it’s expensive, big, and needs some improvements in the battery life area, there’s no question that this is one of Samsung’s best phones to date.
If none of that appeals to you, there’s always the S22 or S22 Plus.
Disclosure: Matridox has affiliate partnerships with some retailers and may earn commissions through affiliate links. This does not influence editorial content in any way.