Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: A noteworthy flagship
The latest Ultra version of the Galaxy S-series is heavily stocked but slightly dull
The fact that Samsung didn't release a Galaxy Note handset in 2021 led to a lot of speculation about the range's apparent demise. In February, however, the South Korean giant offered up an unexpected plot twist by releasing a Galaxy S22 Ultra that looks suspiciously like a Note.
This is still the premium model of the S-series with top specs, extra cameras and a big beautiful screen - but it comes with lots of Note-like extras and business features. Oh, and there's a stylus, which is the clearest indication yet that the S22 Ultra has absorbed the Note, possibly for good.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Design
The death of the Note might actually just mean the name itself, because the design of the S22 Ultra has more in common with the Note than its fellow S-series devices. There's very little resemblance to last year's S21 Ultra beyond its size, and both the standard and plus models of the S22 look more traditional.
In fact, the S22 Ultra is very similar to 2020's Note 20 Ultra with the sides of the chassis curved so that the display blends with the back cover, while the top and bottom edges are both flat and squared off. Only the camera layout looks different, with a selection of lenses neatly dotted around the top corner, rather than housed in a bulky module.
Even without a protruding camera block for the lenses, however, the S22 Ultra is still a great big chunk of a handset. It's 8.9mm thick and 163.3mm tall, so it's very much a phablet that stays true to its predecessors. It's a device for those that want a massive screen, regardless of its weight or how it fits in the pocket. The problem here is that you're more likely to drop it, as we did, on a number of occasions. Thankfully it's encased with Gorilla Glass Victus+ and after a week of full use (and a couple of floor bounces), there wasn't a scratch or mark on it.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Display
This reinforced phone features a 6.8in WQHD+ AMOLED display with a 1,440 x 3,088 resolution, support for HDR10+ and a 120Hz refresh rate. There is a slight tweak compared to the S21 Ultra, with a smaller pixel density, but that hasn't affected the end result.
With the "Vivid" setting, the S22 scored 100% for sRGB colour coverage (including a colour volume of 148.4%) which is a smidge better than the 99.2% the S21 Ultra scored. Devices such as the OnePlus 9 Pro and Huawei P50 Pro can match this, but the Ultra leaves them in the dark when it comes to brightness scores. During HDR video playback, it reached a peak of 1,680cd/m2, which is blindingly good.
Unsurprisingly, we loved using the S22 Ultra's display; it's crisp and bright, with vivid colours and that high refresh rate gives you a silky smooth scrolling experience. What's more, the LTPO 2.0 technology helps to maintain the battery levels by switching between 1Hz and 120Hz depending on what you're using the screen for. We'll go into battery life in more detail later, but it feels like Samsung is so far the only vendor to get the right balance between refresh rates and power.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Specs and performance
When it comes to power, buying a Samsung S-Series in the US or Europe means different chipsets; American buyers get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 while punters in the UK can sample Samsung's own 4nm Exynos 2200 processor. Even though there's an ongoing issue with semiconductor supply, processing technology improves yearly. However, the actual experience for the average end-user might not feel much different.
In GeekBench 5, the Ultra produced lofty scores with 1,166 for single-core performance and 3,475 for multi-threaded. That's actually down compared to last year's Ultra, and quite a way off the iPhone 13's A15 Bionic chipset, but we can't say we noticed any significant differences in day-to-day performance between the three. They're all snappy devices, so there isn't much reason to choose one over the other based on processing power.
There have been split-screen modes on most large flagship smartphones for a number of years, and it was once a decent way to test processing power. With the S22 Ultra, we regularly used two apps at once, or multiple tabs, switching between each fast and seamlessly.
There was a brief issue with audio syncing though, which affected apps like Netflix, Disney Plus and YouTube. Samsung has said it will have an update to fix this, though we managed to sort it by switching the RAM Plus allocation, which allows you to increase the amount of virtual memory, from 4GB to 6GB. Our review unit goes up to 8GB of physical RAM - though a 12GB model is also available - and there are storage options for 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Battery
There's no year-on-year change in battery size, with the S22 Ultra packing the same 5,000 mAh battery as the S21 Ultra. However, as we mentioned earlier, the South Korean firm has found a successful way of optimising a power-hungry screen.
In our looped video test, the S22 Ultra lasted 20hrs 15mins, which is admittedly less than the S21 Ultra but only by a mere hour. In the context of premium smartphones with high refresh rates, there isn't much else on the market that can match this; the OnePlus 9 Pro, Huawei P50 Pro and the Google Pixel 6 Pro all failed to get beyond 18hrs in the same test. The iPhone 13, meanwhile, offered up 16hrs 5mins with just a 90Hz refresh rate.
Battery life could well be the biggest 'pro' of the S22 Ultra. We absolutely hammered it with work and play and still had upwards of 15% at the end of most days. When you do need to top it up, the 45W fast charger can take it from flat to full in just over 50 minutes and it also comes with 15W of wireless charging capabilities, as well as reverse charging.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Features
For the first time on the S-series, we have a built-in S-Pen stylus, which is housed at the bottom left of the chassis. Push it in and the pen pops out ready for doodling and notetaking or even to use as a remote camera shutter button. Compared to the Note 20 Ultra and the Galaxy Z Fold3, the writing latency is shorter. Samsung claims this has decreased from 9 milliseconds on the Note to just 2.8 on the S22 Ultra, and it does certainly feel sharper.
Beyond that, the One UI software feels a little too similar to the S21 Ultra, though the retractable sidebar helps to offer up your most popular apps. This is also the place to access split-screen modes and make the most of that S-pen inclusion. This arguably works best on the Fold, but it is passable on the Ultra's large 6.8in screen. It does depend on the app to a certain extent; a YouTube video fits quite well on half a screen, for instance, whereas a Google Doc is just too difficult to use.
Elsewhere, the S22 Ultra is filled with the usual fare, such as an IP68 dust and water resistance rating, Wi-Fi 6e and Bluetooth 5.2. There's also an under-display finger sensor and facial recognition, both of which are as fast as one would expect with Samsung.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Camera(s)
When it comes to camera technology, Samsung's Ultra really does come up trumps. It features a 108MP f/1.8 wide lens, a 12MP f/2.3 ultrawide one and a pair of 10MP telephoto lenses, one of which has 3x optical zoom. Once again there is a "Space Zoom" function, which is Samsung's name for the AI-enhancing tech that clears up images taken at full zoom. The company claims that its neural processing unit works twice as fast as the S21 Ultra and that does appear true from our use of the telephoto lenses. Images were very clean, no matter the distance.
Samsung has implemented AI to great effect across the whole system and a new sensor that works with the 108MP lens is a great example of that with its "nona-binning" process. Here multiple images are taken at full resolution and then merged to create a sharper image. This was also the case for the portrait mode, with smooth finishes thanks to a combination of these AI enhancements and the 40MP front camera.
Video is also of high quality with the S22 Ultra capable of shooting up to 4K with 60fps or 8K with 24fps. The Super Steady mode, which is another AI-based feature, is also good for removing camera shake, though it doesn't work well with the higher resolution.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Verdict
The S22 Ultra is as good as it's ever been, but that doesn't necessarily make it better than the S21 Ultra. It has a lot of great features, fantastic cameras and a deliciously good screen, but there's a distinct lack of pizazz with this update. That might be down to the resurgence of quality in the iPhone and the very fun Pixel 6, both of which make the S22 seem a little dull by comparison.
It is also ultra-pricy at £1,149. However, the argument here is that you don't get these specs anywhere else; only the Fold3 is bigger and that hasn't got the same battery power or anywhere near the camera quality found here. What's more, this is the closest you'll get to a Galaxy Note anytime soon. If you want the very best then this is, by any measure, a truly noteworthy Ultra.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra specifications
Exynos 2200 (4nm)
8GB or 12GB
1440 x 3088
AMOLED, HDR 10+
40MP, f/2.2 wide
108MP, f/1.8 wide, 10MP periscope telephoto, f/4.9, 10MP, f/2.4 telephoto, 12MP, f/2.3 ultrawide
Dust and water resistance
3.5mm headphone jack
128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Memory card slot
163.3 x 77.9 x 8.9 mm
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