The Samsung Galaxy Note series is one of Samsung’s most successful series of devices. During the phablet era, it led the charge, was the only successful smartphone with a built-in stylus, and for years had the highest-end specs and feature list of any smartphone. Strategically, Samsung consolidated its smartphone portfolio, making the 2019 Galaxy Note 20 the last Galaxy Note released. I covered Samsung’s Unpacked event where I talked about Samsung’s strategy in consolidating its smartphones which you can read about here. In it, and like most of the tech industry, I mentioned that the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is practically a Note device “rebranded” as Samsung’s Galaxy S Ultra device. With that in mind, let’s dive into my review of the Galaxy S22 Ultra and how it carries the Note Ultra’s legacy of the best smartphone of the year.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra has a different design than last year’s Galaxy S21 Ultra. While both the Galaxy S22 Ultra and S21 Ultra carry the same naming schema, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is more followed by the Galaxy S22+. The Galaxy S22 Ultra has the same squared-off design with curved edges as the Galaxy Note 20. This design is nostalgic for most people as it is the same curved squared-off design as the Note 10 series and Note 20 series. Interestingly, Samsung was able to keep the same size display and battery of the S21 Ultra within the S22 Ultra while making room for the S Pen. Isn’t miniaturization grand?
The rounded edges of the S21 Ultra and the S22 devices make the devices easier to hold in hand, but the boxy design of the Galaxy S22 Ultra preserves precious space and is supplemented by the curved edges and curved display. However, the curved display is not my favorite. While Samsung’s curved display had its day, and some people may like it, I do not think it is very useful with the stylus and leaves the device more prone to accidental touches. Although the curve is less than its “predecessor”, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I would have preferred even less curve.
My first impression of the device in my hands was that the volume rocker and the power button are fairly small. The same is true for the other Galaxy S22 devices, and I think it is odd that the buttons are small. I believe if Samsung made the buttons slightly wider, the buttons would be better, but that is my opinion. Button size is subjective, considering hands come in all shapes and sizes. Other than that, the device feels very premium in hand, and for being a large phone and coming from the Surface Duo 2 and Galaxy Z Fold 3, which are both large devices, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a very balanced weight and size. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is also a very slippery device and with the slight camera bump that rocks when on a table, I do not recommend using it without a case. The great thing is that there are many high-quality, inexpensive ones available. I am using and like the Spigen Liquid Air Armor for $15.99.
The display is the best display on any phone, which we expect from Samsung. It has a 6.8-inch Infinity-O QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED display with Samsung’s new Vision Booster technology. Vision Booster boosts the Galaxy S22 Ultra display brightness up to 1750 nits while maintaining accurate colors and details in the content. Bright environments are a weakness for OLED panels. Samsung gets around this weakness with intelligent algorithms that analyze the histogram of the content, identify the less bright areas through tone mapping, and then boost the brightness of those areas. The display of the Galaxy S22 Ultra also has an adaptive 120HZ refresh rate that adjusts down to 1Hz. Previous adaptive displays on Galaxy S devices and the iPhone 13 Pro Max refresh down to 10Hz, and although 10Hz does not seem like much of an improvement, it matters when the display is large and sucking up battery life.
Samsung sets the bar when it comes to smartphone displays, and I believe the display on the Galaxy S22 Ultra is just as good in person as it is in its specs. I have not been in a situation where I had trouble seeing the display. Out of the box, Samsung sets FHD+ as the default for the display and keeps the refresh rate at 60Hz. One of the first changes I made to the device was to set it to Adaptive and change the screen resolution to WQHD+ or 3088 x 1440. The Galaxy S22 Ultra’s 6.8-inch WQHD+ 120Hz to 1Hz adaptive display with Vision Booster is the best display I have seen on a smartphone.
One instance where you can tell how great the display is of the Galaxy S22 Ultra is when writing with the S Pen. There is so much detail in the pen and the color pallete that Samsung uses on its Note app is crisp and vibrant. I also believe one of the reasons I love taking pictures with the Galaxy S22 Ultra is that viewing the pictures after the shot looks amazing.
The S Pen is back
The major change for this year’s Ultra is the new integrated S Pen. As I mentioned in my Unpacked coverage, Samsung has consolidated its premium devices to make way for its foldable lineup, and the result is putting its Note Ultra device in the place of the S Ultra.
The S Pen on the Galaxy S22 Ultra has a 2.8ms response rate over the last generation’s integrated S Pen on the Note20 Ultra of 9ms. Samsung has a predictive algorithm for getting the response so low that it predicts the direction of the S Pen. The S Pen also has many of the great wireless features and gestures that come from the Note family. For example, I can take a picture by pressing the button on the S Pen, or I can hold down the button on the S Pen and swipe up, and it will change cameras. I believe these features are very useful and unique to Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra, and the more I find myself using these S Pen features, the more I want to use the S Pen. It goes to show that the S Pen is more than a feature for signing documents and doodling in a meeting. It still amazes me that you could screen share a presentation on the Galaxy S 22 Ultra and use the S Pen as a remote. There is no other device with this capability, and it is one of my favorite S Pen features.
Another feature that I find useful is writing with the S Pen into any text box and converting the handwriting into text. Not only is this a fun feature to have and a convenient feature when the S Pen is already in use, but it is also accurate. Jacob Freyman, Junior Analysts at Moor Insights & Strategy, has a great demo on Twitter of the accuracy of the handwriting to text here, even with sloppy handwriting.
Performance and battery life
My expectations for the Galaxy S22 Ultra was that the Snapdragon 8 Mobile Gen 1 would get hotter than last year’s Snapdragon 888 running heaver applications. There were many signs pointing that way. For example, Samsung redesigned its vapor chamber to go over the battery, meaning it would need to dissipate more heat and consequently drain the battery faster. I ran the Galaxy S22 Ultra through some benchmarks like Geekbench 5 and Minecraft Pocket Edition, where I created a new world and maxed out the render distance. The device proceeded to get a little warm on the back, but where I noticed some thermal bleeding was on the Armour Aluminum frame. I believe this is to be expected considering the back of the device is glass, and once the vapor chamber hits its limit on heat dissipation, the next best option is the metal around it. It was not an alarming amount of warmness but just enough to check how much the battery percentage.
I use Microsoft Office Suite, Google Workspace apps, Outlook, Teams, Otter.ai, and countless other productivity and business apps daily. While my smartphone workload does not consist of mobile games, these applications are what run my battery down and many others with similar business workflows.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra has a 5000mAh battery, the same as last year’s Galaxy S21 Ultra and the daily phone I had driven before switching over. After a couple of weeks of use, I can confidently say that the Galaxy S22 Ultra has reliable all-day battery life even with its upgrade to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and brighter display. I am also not worried about the charging speed of the 5000mAh battery with Super Fast Charging nor do I need to hug an outlet when traveling and out of the office. It provides optimal battery life for hybrid and mobile workflows.
While I am not a professional photographer, it’s not difficult to appreciate how well the Galaxy S22 Ultra captures pictures and video. Much like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Galaxy S22 Ultra has a four-camera system with a 12MP Ultra-Wide, 108MP Wide, and two 10MP Telephoto with 3x and 10x optical zoom. It also has a 40MP front camera which I have found to be really great for video calls.
In these days of smartphone cameras, the differences between camera and video quality are practically arbitrary unless you are a professional photographer or videographer. With that being said, there is a significant difference between shooting a picture at 10x on the Galaxy S22 Ultra and the iPhone 13 Pro Max or other competitors. The pictures look truly incredible because it is all-optical rather than digital.
Samsung emphasized the “nightography” capabilities of the Galaxy S22 Ultra at its Unpacked event and I was excited to test out its enhanced night mode. I took some photos from overlooking the Austin city skyline that you can see here and I was impressed. The Galaxy S22 Ultra took stunning shots with clarity without making it look unnatural. It kept the details of the scene like the reflective parts of the building and accurately portrayed the lights on top of the buildings, even each individual light within the rooms of the buildings on the second picture.
Junior Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy Jacob Freyman also has a great picture taken with the Galaxy S22 Ultra but this time of the night sky. Keep in mind that the moon was edited into the picture from a separate picture using the 10 optical zoom on the Galaxy S22 Ultra but the rest of the shot is all-natural. With only the moonlight, the Galaxy S22 Ultra was able to capture the details of the clouds behind the branches of the tree without overexposure. There is some blurry portions towards the right of the photo where there is less light. However, the Galaxy S22 Ultra was able to maintain the overall exposure of the scene.
Editing with the S Pen and Samsung’s photo editor is also a lot easier. From a business perspective, It is easy to take a picture of a document and extract the text accurately. This is incredibly useful for consolidating content from paper, and I see many other convenient use cases with Samsung’s Extracted Text feature.
Samsung has yet again packed the best of the best into its Galaxy S Ultra device, and this time, it has brought back a familiar feature. It has the best display and now the brightest display. It is the most feature-packed with its S Pen writing and gestures. It has some of the best cameras with an incredible 10x optical zoom. It has the fastest processor in an Android device with a new vapor chamber and a great battery.
I believe there are very few scenarios where the iPhone 13 Pro Max “wins” in terms of features and capabilities. The iconic Note-like design of the Galaxy S22 Ultra feels better in the hand compared to the boxy design of the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The Galaxy S22 Ultra has an incredible display that is bright and vibrant compared to the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s outdated chin design. On top of the raw specifications, Samsung’s One UI 4 and S Pen features simply let you do more with your smartphone and I think that is a win for Samsung over the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
For those who have Samsung’s last Note device, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the looming question is whether the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a worthy upgrade. For some, I believe it is if the goal is to have the best of the best. However, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a transitional device as Samsung consolidates its flagship lineup and there are still many similarities between it and the Note20 Ultra. I do believe it is the king of smartphones for 2022 and will be surprised if it is not at the top of my list at the end of the year.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy Junior Analyst Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.