Samsung’s big phone for the first half of 2022 is the Galaxy S22 Ultra, and given how much tech and versatility is inside, “ultra” may well be the right name.
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We’ve been here before, or we feel like we have, anyway, because the S22 Ultra is quite reminiscent of another handset, and surprisingly, it’s not another Samsung from this year.
While the S22 focuses on firm edges and a flat screen, the S22 Ultra harks back more to what Samsung made in its “Note” phones a while back, and it has been some time since we saw one of those. Ignored in the previous year, the last time Samsung gave consumers a Galaxy Note phone to check out was 2020’s Galaxy Note 20 range, which we reviewed in the Note 20 Ultra.
It’s been a little under two years since that model, but the S22 Ultra continues from where that phone left off, with curved edges and screen, plus a traffic light style camera on the back of which the S21 and S22 have become known for.
In fact, while the name may say “S22” on the box, the design is clearly a Galaxy Note. It’s just that phone under a different name. Obviously, it’s a massive phone, but it’s basically a Galaxy Note in the guise of a what makes the S22 this year.
Despite the Note-like design, the specs and setup of the phone are more like what you can find in the S22 range this year, though there’s a little more grunt on the camera side of things.
In Australia, you’ll find the same chip lurking under the hood, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, paired with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage at a minimum, at least in our S22 Ultra review model.
Pretty much all of the wireless connection options expected on a high-end handset are here, covering 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, Near-Field Communication (NFC) for Google Pay, Ultra Wideband, GPS, and 5G (though 4G is also supported), while wired is handled through the USB Type C port at the bottom alone.
On the back are four cameras, covering a 108 megapixel standard wide, 12 megapixel ultra wide, and two 10 megapixel cameras for the zoom range over 3X and 10X, while the front facing camera sports a staggering 40 megapixels for those selfie shots.
All of this sits under a large 6.8 inch Quad HD+ display (3088×1440) running on AMOLED, or more specifically, Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology.
You’ll find a curved screen in the S22 Ultra, distinct from the flat screen throughout the rest of the S22 range, and there’s also an S-Pen included in the body, something the previous S21 didn’t have, yet did have support for.
It’s all encased in a metal and glass design that feels good in the hands, and boasts water resistance, wireless charging, and a 5000mAh battery you can’t remove, all in a phone that weighs 228 grams.
Easily one of the biggest phones you can find to date, the 6.8 inch Galaxy S22 Ultra is a phone you mightn’t easily grip if you’re not used to a big phone. And oh my, it’s big.
Even though the Galaxy Z Fold 3 technically has a larger screen when unfolded, the S22 Ultra feels bigger, thanks to the wider dimensions. It’s not quite as heavy as the 271 gram Z Fold 3, but the 228 gram S22 Ultra is clearly not small, weighing a good 33 grams more than the already 6.6 inch S22+.
That size can make using the S22 Ultra a little difficult for small hands, but bigger ones will be right at home here, and you have a few ways to get things done.
Of course, you’ll find the friendly user interface of One UI waiting for you here, an evolution of Samsung’s flavour of Android that’s now so easy, anyone should be okay for it.
There are also two ways to login from a personal security standpoint, whether it’s a using the fingerprint sensor up front or letting the facial security log you in. With both, the speed of logging in is fast, though as with previous Galaxy models, we’re finding the facial security is faster than the fingerprint sensor. The sensor does feel a little better here, but not by much, so make sure you set up both.
Samsung also offers the S-Pen for use in the Galaxy S22 Ultra, because even though this is an S-series Galaxy phone, Samsung has moved on from the Note moniker. And yet, it’s still kind of here, because with the inclusion of the S-Pen, you basically have a Note made for today, complete with all the features that made the Note noteworthy.
It means that aside for using your fingers on the phone, you can also click out the pen from the bottom of the handset, scribbling notes, drawing things, and basically turning the handset into the modern day equivalent of a pen and paper.
If anything, the S22 Ultra is more about letting you take control of how you use a phone today than really anything else out there. While there are plenty of tablets with pens and a stylus, the S22 Ultra is one of only a handful of handsets that brings the same concept to your pocket, meaning you can use this phone with finger or pen, and get stuck in however you want.
Once in, you should find the solid combination of processor and memory make this phone just an absolute winner as far as performance goes.
Much like the Galaxy S22+ we checked out earlier in the year, Australians will miss out on the Exynos variation in Australia, but instead get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which is certainly no slouch.
Benchmarks show the system handles itself quite well, matching the performance of its sibling in the S22+, while the real-world performance handles the day to day nicely, as well.
5G is in a similar bucket, and while Samsung has declined to bring the future-proof tech of mmWave to this phone like Google has in the Pixel 6 Pro, you should still find some fairly solid speeds on Australia's 5G networks.
Next up is the camera, though you mightn't see too much of a change in design compared against the S21 Ultra from last year.
Again, we're with that traffic-light style design that goes down the length of the left side, but this time, it's a mostly blended design, with no block that comes out of the body.
It's a sleeker look, for sure, though the lenses still aren't pressed into the chassis, and kind of extrude by themselves. Good looking all the same, mind you.
More than the looks, however, there's the tech and capability, and there is quite a bit to work with. You'll find four cameras in the Galaxy S22 Ultra, ranging from a 108 megapixel F1.8 standard wide, a 12 megapixel F2.2 ultra-wide, a 10 megapixel F2.4 3X telephoto, and a 10 megapixel F4.9 10X telephoto, kind of covering off a rough range of 0.5 to 10X in the camera system, which is about as long a focal length as smartphone cameras get.
And most of the time, the shots from this system are quite lovely.
While the up-close macro capabilities aren't as strong as what either the iPhone 13 Pro Max or Oppo Find X5 Pro can achieve, the images in daylight and night are still quite nice, even if the lenses aren't as crystal clear as we always like.
Some images can turn out a little softer than some of the competition, but it is a versatile camera system to be sure.
That 3X to 10X capability is one of the more interesting parts, and not just because of how far it stretches, but rather because of how it employs AI.
There's a good dose of machine learning in the Samsung camera, and so when you get close to the Moon using the S22 Ultra, you'll end up seeing a pretty spectacular shot of the thing that seems almost impossible for a phone camera.
In fact, when you compare the image from inside the camera app (above) to the image you actually get (below), the S22 Ultra doesn't make any sense: how has it gone from a soft and blotchy voyage of our moon to something that's actually detailed?
The answer may well be a form of AI, with Samsung training its camera to recognise the Moon in the sky, and upsample the imagery from blotchy pixels to something far more useful.
That is, provided you've shot the image the way the camera has identified it in the past.
We tried the Moon shot in a different way, with dark tree branches in front, and the S22 Ultra exhibited far more issues trying to get a 100X digitally zoomed image, producing less detail and more dotty pixelated portions as it tried to understand the photo it was improving.
Through the in-camera app, a 100X zoom of the Moon with branches in front looks like it'll have issues (above), and that seems to be the case when you see the result.
The section of the Moon Samsung's AI can identify clearly is at the bottom, and it handles that nicely, but when you zoom in for a 100 percent crop (below right), you can see the AI struggles with what to do around the branches, dotting and pixelating things, and not so much building a branch in front of a nice picture of our moon. Rather, it's a result that looks clunky, and throws the camera a curveball it can't seem to properly account for.
That's seemingly a bit of proof that Samsung's space zoom is only amazing with subject matter Samsung has trained it for, and while the Moon is one of those things, covering it with a silhouette of a shape is not.
It means that while the Moon captured through the Galaxy S22 Ultra can indeed be impressive, and let you flex that 10X optical zoom with more range in the digital equivalent, your mileage may very. Rather than getting seriously solid photos every time regardless of the subject you capture, you'll probably find the Ultra's zoom range only delivers some of the time, particularly when you've captured something it understands.
That includes the Moon by itself for sure, but not really the Moon when there's something ahead, or anything else. This will likely get better, for sure, but being blown away by impressive Moon shots when it doesn't know how to use its extraordinary zoom capabilities the same way for everything certainly allowed us to temper our expectations to be more within reason.
Battery is another area where the S22 Ultra might see you lower those expectations slightly, especially pitched in serious competition to where it's pitched against its obvious competitor in the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
In one test, we found one a working day was the life you could hit, needing a charge when you were going to bed, while another test showed a day and a half was possible, but didn't seem likely.
As with all phone reviews, the Galaxy S22 Ultra will provide different results depending on how you use it, but we'll feel pretty safe in saying you can largely expect this massive phone to need a charge nightly, and that's not all that impressive.
The price is where things can get really awkward, because the Galaxy S22 Ultra isn't a cheap phone.
Starting at $1849 for a 128GB phone, the S22 Ultra is pitched pretty much directly at the iPhone 13 Pro, which sees the two models priced fairly evenly. That same amount of money will get you the 128GB iPhone 13 Pro Max, and if you spend similar amount of money between them, you'll snag the 256GB model of each, or maybe even the 512GB model. It's pretty easy to see what Samsung is doing here.
Priced pretty much just like its equal in the world of the iPhone, Samsung sees the S22 Ultra pitched at someone who wants that, but with an Android. And while we can see much of that argument, we're not quite sure it hits it, partially because after reviewing both, it feels like Apple nails the package better overall than Samsung.
Do you get a lot of features in the Galaxy S22 Ultra? For sure, but collectively, we feel Apple might be doing it all just a little bit better, except in one way, because the S22U has something no iPhone offers.
What needs work?
While that high price is seriously high, it's not the only issue to affect our admiration for what should be Samsung's best phone of the year.
There are other issues plaguing the phone, issues like the camera speed, which help to make the S22 Ultra feel much slower than it should. It's not the 2 or 3 seconds Iike Motorola's mid-range Edge 20 Fusion, but it's also not the immediacy you expect on a high-end phone. Press either the on-screen shutter or the volume button to fire a shot, and wait a beat... and then it fires.
For the record, we had the exact sort of camera speed issues in the S22+ that we're having here, suggesting that somewhere between Samsung's hardware and software, the camera is just not doing all that well with regards to performance. Unfortunately, that means that images you attempt to capture may sometimes be blurrier than expected, because this camera just doesn't perform the best it can at all times.
Using the phone can also be a little troublesome at times, thanks in part to the screen choice Samsung used in the S22 Ultra.
It's not that you're getting a low res screen -- far from it -- but more that the company opted for a curved display, something that can pick up on the odd hand ticks every so often. We've accidentally archived a few random emails throughout our S22 Ultra review period, and we think the phone is to blame.
There's also the matter of what this is, because aside for predictable -- we're fairly sure we mentioned the S21 Ultra could have been like this last year -- there's no other way to put this: the S22 Ultra may say "S22" on the box, but it's a Note inside and out. The curved design, the S-Pen at the bottom; Samsung may have done away with the "Note" brand, but this is for all intents and purposes a Note, plain and simple.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, but just that -- a thing -- and something to be aware of. The S22 Ultra is the premium Galaxy model to buy this year before the foldable "Z" models get refreshed later in the year, and it's the one that gets all the fancy specs, the great screen, and the better camera set missing on the S22 and S22+. But if you don't want or need the S-Pen, it's more a case of "too bad", because the Galaxy S22 Ultra is also a Galaxy Note 22, just without the fancy box and name.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Practically epitomising premium, the S22 Ultra stands out with features in so many ways.
Battery, unfortunately, isn't among them, and neither is the price, but if you can live near a charger and don't mind the spend, you get nearly everything else. A capable camera system with some very interesting AI, solid performance, wireless charging, water resistance, and a beautiful screen, plus more ways to control the phone than anything else out there.
It's not going to be for everyone mind you, and there are clear reasons why you'd pick a competitor, such as a less AI-heavy camera or a battery that makes it past a day without fail, but if versatility is what you're after, the S22 Ultra could well be suited. It's a very versatile choice for the modern worker. Recommended.