|Excellent Super AMOLED display||Disappointing battery life|
|Brilliant camera with outstanding zoom potential||Note-like design feels somewhat regressive|
|Integrated S Pen unique among flagship phones||Software a little laggy|
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra sports an excellent display, class-leading telephoto cameras, and the welcome return (for some) of the S Pen. However, its battery life is mediocre, there are some software quirks, and the overall design feels curiously regressive and disconnected from the rest of the range. It’s an excellent phone, but perhaps not the all-conquering great that fans of the Galaxy S21 Ultra might have hoped for.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is the latest super-flagship phone from the world’s biggest smartphone maker, but it’s also a bit of an oddity.
Despite its name, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra has less in common with either the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or the Samsung Galaxy S22, and much more in common with the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra from 2020.
With SIM-free prices starting from £1,149, this is another luxurious effort from Samsung. But has the South Korean giant lost some of the laser-like focus that helped make the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra into the phone of 2021?
Samsung is the undisputed master of mobile AMOLED display technology, and produces screens for even its bitterest rivals. It’s no surprise, then, to find that the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Display is top of the line.
It’s a 6.8-inch Super AMOLED with a maximum 3088 x 1440 (QHD+) resolution, though annoyingly you’ll have to activate this in the Settings menu. It also outputs at up to a 120Hz refresh rate, scaling down to 1Hz where appropriate.
The colours are supremely balanced and accurate (at least in the Natural display mode), blacks are deep, and the whole thing can crank up to a scarcely believable 1750 nits of brightness. By contrast, the iPhone 13 Pro Max and the Oppo Find X5 Pro will hit a claimed 1300 nits.
The edges of this display are ever so slightly curved, but it doesn’t prove too distracting.
All in all, this is one of the finest, if not the finest smartphone display on the market.
Samsung’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensor technology has come a long way in just a couple of years, and the one stowed below the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s screen is fast, accurate, and even more secure than mainstream optical solutions.
This is where we discuss why the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is a bit of a weird phone. Compare it to the rest of the Galaxy S22 range, and there’s practically no family resemblance whatsoever.
Now compare it to the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra from way back in 2020, and the phone’s true lineage becomes apparent. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is a Note phone in all but name.
This is apparent in its boxy body, flat top and bottom edges, and curved edges. Its camera module isn’t much like either family, neither resembling the giant mesa-like module of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra nor the swooping, melting ‘Contour Cut’ module of the Galaxy S22.
Instead, each of the four camera sensors gets its own metal ring-like protuberance. It arguably looks uglier than either of the above alternatives, but at least it only wobbles a little when you set it down on a table.
At 163.3 x 77.9 x 8.9mm and 228g, this isn’t an understated phone, nor a particularly easy one to carry around. But you don’t buy such a phone if you’re interested in subtlety.
It’s tough, with an Armour Aluminium frame and Gorilla Glass Victus+ glass, and it gets the usual IP68 water and dust resistance rating.
Samsung has equipped the global model of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra (which is the one that ships in the UK) with an Exynos 2200 chip. This marks the first chip collaboration between Samsung and graphics card specialist AMD, with a GPU that shares properties with the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
In light of that, the performance figures are decent, but ever so slightly disappointing. It’s not a massive increase over last years Galaxy S21 range, and it falls short of the very fastest phones on the market with Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 or Apple A15 Bionic power when it comes to the GPU.
The Geekbench 5 scores I obtained were curiously erratic, ranging from very impressive to barely flagship level in consecutive tests. GPU tests, meanwhile, generally fell well short of Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phones like the Oppo Find X5 Pro.
In the hand it’s generally smooth, but we did notice a few instances of lag when moving between the menus and home screens. It’s generally fine, but not quite the flawless experience we had hoped for.
This would seem to be an issue with Samsung’s One UI rather than the hardware, though, and you can bet that Samsung will iron these kinks out in time.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra gets an extremely capable quad-camera system, led by a large 108MP wide sensor, and backed by a 12MP ultra-wide and two 10MP telephoto lenses – one for a 3x optical zoom, and another for 10x optical zoom.
It’s one of the finest camera systems on the market, capturing detailed, high-contrast snaps in a range of conditions. Low light performance has taken a step forward, and with some of the comparative night time shots we took it was a toss up between this and the iPhone 13 Pro.
We’d probably still give the edge to the iPhone 13 Pro in general shooting, for its more natural and consistent shots. The Galaxy S22 Ultra still seems to whiff the odd snap, especially in lower lighting conditions. But it’s really nip and tuck in many situations.
The 12MP ultra-wide does remarkably well to match the tone of the main sensor, which isn’t something you can always say, even with surprisingly expensive hardware.
Where the Galaxy S22 Ultra clearly blitzes the opposition, though, is with its zoom potential. Being able to zoom in on distant subjects at 3x and then 10x (show below), with no massive drop off in image quality and a generally consistent tone, can be revelatory.
Take the beach scene featured in our gallery, where a fairly bland beach scene suddenly morphs into dramatic castle shot, all thanks to the provision of that 10x lens. You can zoom in beyond this up to 100x using a hybrid zoom system, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
Portrait shots are similarly accomplished, both with the main cameras and the selfie camera. Samsung’s getting really good at that defocused background effect.
We’ve already mentioned that the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra emulates the Galaxy Note series, and specifically the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, with its design. That extends to the provision of an S Pen stylus, which is housed within the frame of the phone on the bottom edge.
Samsung has reduced latency by 70%, which means that it writes almost like a real pen on paper. If you’re someone who likes to whip out a notebook and scribble a memo or a sketch, this could be the phone for you.
Penup is a particularly great pre-installed app for budding artists, as it provides interactive drawing lessons and all the tools you need to create a pocket masterpiece – talent permitting, of course.
For the more literary minded, it’s easy to whip out the S Pen and jot down a note without waking the phone, while Samsung Notes does a great job transcribing scrawled notes into digital text. We did find that it would confuse edge inputs with out preferred gesture navigation system activated, though.
There’s no denying that the S Pen is a decidedly niche tool, and only a a certain percentage of users will use it with any kind of regularity. But this is the best implementation yet of a stylus in a phone, regardless.
One UI 4.1 still isn’t our absolute favourite Android OS, though opinion varies on this one. It’s come a long way, but it’s still very busy, a little laggy and buggy (as discussed above), and a little heavy-handed with its app provision. Samsung’s Calendar app seems to constantly butt in over our preferred Google Calendar, for example.
Still, Samsung has gone above and beyond with its update guarantee, promising five years of security update support and four years of major OS updates. It also makes use of Android 12’s underlying ability to let you theme your menus according to your chosen wallpaper, which is neat.
One area where the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra doesn’t particularly distinguish itself is battery life. At 5000 mAh, it reaches par for a modern Android flagship in terms of capacity.
But we found that the battery would sap a little lower than we might have liked come the end of the day. A 14 hour day of light usage, with less than 2 hours of screen-on time, sapped more than half a tank.
A slightly longer and more intensive 17 hour 30 minute day with 3 hours of screen on time (barely what we’d term ‘moderate usage’) dropped the battery to an alarmingly low 13%.
We should note that we activated the full WQHD+ resolution throughout our time with the phone, but this really shouldn’t be a massive issue.
Thankfully, Samsung has upped its charging game with 45W wired support – though you’ll need to supply the fast charger yourself.
In terms of storage, Samsung offers the full range of 128, 256, 512, or 1TB as standard. The entry 128GB model comes with 8GB of RAM, while the rest give you 12GB.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is 5G-ready out of the box, as you’d expect.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is more of a successor to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra than the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which leaves us with mixed feelings. It’s both a welcome return to one of the best phones of 2020 and a regrettable deviation from what was arguably the best phone of 2021.
There’s no doubting the sheer quality of the hardware, though, with a class-leading Super AMOLED display, decent (but not class-leading) performance, and an excellent camera system. Samsung’s way with a telephoto lens, in particular, is unmatched.
Fans of the Note line’s S Pen will find its return here welcome, though we suspect this is a relatively niche contingent. The majority may have preferred Samsung commit that space to more battery capacity, as the Galaxy S22 Ultra underwhelms on the stamina front.
Ultimately this feels like a year of consolidation, and while the final product is of a high standard, we hope that the Galaxy S23 Ultra brings some refinement and direction to this new Ultra–Note amalgam.