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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Review – It’s big, it’s beautiful and very capable but hasn’t ticked every box

Let’s address the elephant in the room to start with, ignore the “official name” for a moment and you’re looking at a Galaxy Note 22. Putting that aside, there is so much to look at with the design, features, functionality and capabilities of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.

Make no mistake: The Galaxy S22 Ultra is a big phone both physically and from a market placement perspective for Samsung after discontinuing their Note range. Having had a number of Samsung devices over the years, I’m quite familiar with and fond of the look and feel of their devices including the Note options. So the S22 Ultra is a very tempting device for me, whether it remains that way is to be determined.

Hardware, Design and Performance

Specs get done to death in the countless leaks leading up to a product release these days. Added to this, given most player game the system, benchmarks don’t mean a lot either other than a theoretical number — aka bragging rights — your phone can hit. Little more needs to be said of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra than it ticks every single box to give users the maximum performance and peak experience that is currently available.

The display, in true Samsung form, is absolutely stunning. It’s bright, sharp, offers great resolution and a high refresh making it easy on the eyes. Specifically, it’s a QHD+ screen that runs a dynamically adjusted 120Hz refresh at 500PPI. The other need to know specs vary a little depending on the SKU you purchase. You can get 128GB storage with 8GB of RAM or 256GB/512GB/1TB storage with 12GB of RAM.

Unsurprisingly, as a bleeding-edge device, the S22 Ultra has a comprehensive connectivity suite including Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi 6, NFC and of course, 5G connectivity. All of this is on a device running Android 12 out of the box and powered by a 5,000mAh battery. I’ve never been a fan of curved edge displays and, while the S22 Ultra isn’t bad, it hasn’t abated that concern. False touches, a slightly slippery feel and as a result fear of dropping the device is a daily occurrence.

Like so many other devices now, the S22 Ultra has a number of quite viable options to unlock your device. Personally, I’m generally pretty comfortable with the reduction in security through face unlock for the speed and convenience offset. The face unlock is generally very effective and speedy, but clearly won’t work when you’re wearing a mask. In this instance, I set up the fingerprint sensor and found it to be very fast and accurate. While there are a few good examples of the in-screen fingerprint sensor, this is the best one I’ve used to date.

The S-Pen is where the S22 Ultra goes from the S range and becomes the Note of old. Thankfully, the S22 Ultra has a place for the S-Pen but I would rather it was on the right side of the device. As a right-handed user, it just feels clumsy to hold the device in a way that the S-Pen is easily accessible. Perhaps there’s a reason for this associated with the IP68 rating, or perhaps it was just an odd decision.

Regardless of the positioning, the S-Pen operates as you would expect with touch sensitivity, software integrations, note-taking and capacity for general controls over your device. This time around there are a couple of nifty inclusions like the warning that your pen isn’t in your phone if you start to move around and aren’t in range of the pen. The pen itself is able to control presentations you run from your phone and with a reasonable range as well. It’s an evolution of the Galaxy Note capabilities and it’s been done very well.

When it comes to the look of the device, it’s distinctly “Samsung” and rightly so, it’s the device of the year from them. There is a couple of problems with the design though if you don’t put the phone in a case in the camera bumps. The first is that the cameras will collect dust pretty quickly if you’re not conscious of cleaning it regularly. The second is that the camera setup makes it pretty awkward to use the S-Pen to take notes on a flat surface.

Battery life and charging

With every high-end Samsung device since the Note 7, I find myself repeating a theme… The battery has capacity but it doesn’t give the life that you’d expect. Samsung is clearly still playing the conservative game when it comes to battery capacity, optimisation and, in particular, charging. Even on quiet days, by late afternoon I was questioning whether I’d make it to bedtime without charging. On a high use day, I was plugging in by 4 pm for a quick top-up to get me to the end of the day – The bonus for me personally is if I’m on the road, the phone gets a little battery boost two or three times a day.

The problem though, if you’re not in this use case is that the phone (as is now the norm) doesn’t come with a charger in the box. So, if you want fast charging you’re either relying on existing chargers in your home or you’ll need to go out and purchase one for $69.95 for the 75W charger that — in our testing of a high capacity charger, not Samsung branded though — doesn’t seem to make a huge difference. The difference between a standard charger putting out 25 Watts and a 65W charger could be measured in mere minutes difference consistently.

Software: OneUI is getting better with each generation

Before we get into OneUI proper, I’d like to acknowledge what feels like a very smart decision by Samsung to team with Google and provide Messages and Duo as the default options on the S22 Ultra. There is still a bit of a Samsung flavour to Messages, but not as clear as it was with the S21 messaging app. This makes sense and I would hazard a guess, there would likely be data showing the number of users who stick with Samsung messages is dwindling.

The One UI software though is very good these days. It’s without a doubt tuned to mainstream wants and needs, given Samsung “are” in many people’s eyes, Android. The merging into a more stock Android experience is happening slowly though, even some of the Material You options are akin to the Pixel 6 Pro. It would be nice if that would just happen though because the Samsung launcher still has some issues that annoy me, as well as some software issues that seem to prevent third-party launchers from working correctly.

Impressively, the S22 Ultra handled some decent games for a good chunk of time without heat-related issues, unfortunately, there were some performance issues with frame drop, pauses and lag in gameplay and often at critical moments. This really surprised and frankly disappointed me given the ramp-up of performance the device would have completed to play Fortnight, Call of Duty or Asphalt. But I suspect we’re back to the Note 7 issue of heat etc, and Samsung is understandably playing it safe.

The camera is so close to brilliant but has one consistent fault

It is a very impressive lens array you’re carrying if you’re rocking the S22 Ultra. The main camera setup comprises a 108MP F/1.8 wide-angle, 10MP f/4.9 periscope telephoto (including 10 x optical zoom), a 10MP f/2.4 telephoto and a 12MP f/2.2 ultrawide lens. For the average user, this results in a very capable camera setup that can take photos close up, far away in a variety of light and capture some stunning photos.

The selfie cam, a 40 MP, f/2.2 setup produces great quality photos too, with crisp detail and great colour reproduction even under artificial and low light conditions.

Don’t be fooled by the numbers though because Megapixels don’t make or break a camera, it’s just a contributing factor to the end results. Samsung has, through combining quality hardware with its capture and processing software continues its long history of delivering great results and they continue with the S22 Ultra.

In the past, I’ve been critical of Samsung’s post-processing, how it affects shadows and at times significantly over-saturates colours. Most of that has been resolved in the last generational shift of Samsung devices. While the multi-lens setup on the S22 Ultra does have so many good features and capabilities, one thing that seems to consistently fail is the autofocus on moving targets.

If you primarily take portrait or landscape style photography, this isn’t an issue you’re likely to notice. If you’re trying to capture a sporting event, animals or kids (these little things are quick!) you’ll want to take a few photos or even consider using the Pro mode so you have more control over the camera.

The ultimate result of the physical technology and software wizardry is some very impressive photos. There are very few photos where the colour looks anything other than vibrant and — mostly — very natural. The clarity of images is very good, with crisp focus and (mode dependant) a really nice, almost professional style focus on your target.

One area I have particularly noticed is the lighting not being overprocessed after a photo is taken. While this can be a good result for your photos, it doesn’t reflect natural lighting and can feel a little artificial. This time around, shadows are present and look quite natural.

Should you buy one?

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is an excellent phone, but it’s not perfect. The screen is stunning, the performance is excellent and you’ve got great long term backup with software updates. When it comes to the S-Pen, this is a winning point for anyone who loves and wants a Galaxy Note device and the fact it is housed in the device so well is a great result for buyers.

The issues that are going to potentially deter users are:

  • The cost: $1,849.00 for the 128GB, $1,999.00 for the 256GB, $2,149.99 for the 512GB or a whopping $2,499.00 for the 1TB storage option
  • The battery life isn’t great, heavy users will struggle to get a full day out of it
  • The camera being inconsistent with fast moving targets
  • The fact there isn’t a fast charger in the box

While I personally don’t like curved edge displays, others do – just be aware it’s there and it is quite obvious in the design. Speaking of design, the look is unmistakable and it’s Samsung all over which is a winning formula for them so why change it?

One UI isn’t a stock Android experience but it has absolutely evolved to a point where most users are going to be pretty comfortable with it. It’s easy to navigate, and understand and perhaps most importantly it’s consistent across generations in presentation and menu navigation.

Provided you’re not a heavy user who will stress the battery heavily, that isn’t going to be an issue for you. The device does support fast charging, but in our testing, it’s not dramatically faster than a standard charger.

The upshot of all of this is that the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is a very good phone, with some annoyances that will stop some users from buying it. After having had it in my pocket for a few weeks, I can honestly say it’s a really good experience. Whether or not it’s an experience worth $2,000 or not I’m not sure; in honesty, I don’t see any phone being worth two grand…

If you’re keen though, you can get your hands on one through carriers and retail channels either online or in-store.