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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: A Note in all but name

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,149
inc VAT

The S Pen is back, and the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is the right place for it

Pros 
Stunning display
S Pen is a great tool
Cameras impress yet again
Cons 
Expensive
Weaker battery life than S21 Ultra (but still good)
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If you’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the comings and goings of the smartphone world, you might have noticed that the Galaxy Note missed its regularly scheduled reappearance in 2021. And before you say anything, it wasn’t to do with Covid-affected supply problems, either.

With a fresh update usually arriving on an annual basis without question, Samsung’s Galaxy Note line has simply vanished without a trace. That was, however, until the Galaxy S22 Ultra made its first official appearance during Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event on 9 February – it looked remarkably familiar.

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A Note in all but name, this year’s top-end Samsung is vastly different from anything the S series has thrown at us thus far, and by merging both phone lines Samsung has a particularly versatile ultra-flagship on its hands for 2022.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: What you need to know

Let's discuss why Samsung has decided to consolidate its two flagship lines. Putting on my tinfoil hat for a second, my biggest guess is that Note sales weren’t all that great when the Note 20 launched in 2020 and Samsung had to make a tough decision about what to do with the Note moving forward.

It makes a lot of sense to cram the Note’s stylus-friendly features into the priciest S series flagship. Samsung’s previous launch strategy was to split the buying decision between the S and Note lines every single year, which meant that whichever phone you decided to buy would ultimately be superseded six months down the line by the other one.

Putting the focus on one flagship really ought to pay off for Samsung – and you’re now getting a lot more extra stuff if you go for the Ultra over the other S22 models.

For starters, you get a large 6.8in AMOLED display with a resolution of 3,088 x 1,440 and an adaptive refresh rate of 120Hz. The S22 Ultra shares the Exynos 2200 chipset of the other three models, but you get a choice of more RAM (12GB) and up to 1TB of internal storage – not to mention the bundled S Pen.

The cameras are completely different, too. This year, there’s a main 108MP sensor, complemented by a pair of 10MP zoom cameras (10x and 3x), as well as a 12MP ultrawide unit. The selfie camera is a 40MP affair, rather than the piddly 10MP sensor found on the S22 and S22 Plus.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Price and competition

Alas, all that extra stuff costs at least £1,149, which gets you the model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. If you want 12GB of RAM and 256GB, 512GB or 1TB of internal space, expect to pay £1,249, £1,329 or £1,499 for the privilege.

That SIM-free starting price puts the Galaxy S22 Ultra at £100 more than the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which is a very tough flagship to beat. At the time of writing this review ahead of the phone’s release, the best preorder contract costs £51 a month with an upfront cost of £99 on iD Mobile with 25GB of monthly data.

As for the rest of the range, the regular S22 starts at £769, with the S22 Plus coming in at £949. Aside from the iPhone, competition is scarce this high up the price bracket, with the Galaxy S22 Ultra butting heads with the Pixel 6 Pro, which starts at £849, as well as Samsung’s folding Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G (£949).

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Design and key features

Kicking things off, the S22 Ultra is a colossal-looking smartphone. It’s the biggest of the three phones, with a large 6.8in display that curves around the left and right edges with a flat top and bottom – just like the Note 20. It’s a heavy thing, too, tipping the scales at 229g, and at 163 x 78 x 8.9mm (HWD) it’s not the most pocketable of handsets, either.

But aside from its rather brutish size, the S22 Ultra looks as good as the premium price ought to suggest. Coming in a choice of seven colours – phantom black, phantom white, burgundy, green, graphite, sky blue and red – the S22 Ultra looks pretty swish with its frosted, glass-topped rear and reflective metal sides. It looks a bit like the Sony Xperia XZ Premium from the old days.

Unlike the Note 20 Ultra, there’s no obtrusive camera block. Flip the phone over and there’s simply a selection of lenses neatly dotted around the top-left of the phone’s rear panel. This has the added benefit of sitting more flush when placed on a flat surface.

It’s not just a looker, though. The Galaxy S22 Ultra – like the rest of the lineup – is fully IP68-certified against dust and water, and it’s also the first smartphone to benefit from Corning Gorilla Glass Victus Plus, which is a new protective layer that’s been applied to both the front and rear of the handset. According to Samsung, Victus Plus is 12.5% stronger than the Gorilla Glass Victus on last year’s model, and the S22’s new “Armour Aluminum” chassis is more durable, too.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: S Pen stylus

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the S22 Ultra’s S Pen stylus. Making its first appearance in the S series lineup, Samsung’s dinky stylus is located in the bottom left corner of the handset and is accessible by simply pushing it inwards. You can then use it to jot down notes, doodle for a brief spell and as a remote camera shutter button.

The S Pen has seen a handful of big improvements, too. To start with, Samsung says that the writing latency has been decreased from 9ms on the Note 20 to just 2.8ms on the S22 Ultra. A new AI-based coordinate prediction technology now anticipates the direction you’ll draw, too, which is pretty neat.

What these improvements mean is that both writing and doodling feels much more natural and responsive this time around. Converting handwritten notes to text is also much faster than before, with an extra 12 languages added to the text recognition software.

The Samsung Notes app also gets two new features. Quick Note allows you to attach or link directly to external content in a pop-up note when sharing your notes. A new Collaboration View enables on-the-fly syncing between the S22 Ultra and Samsung’s new Tab S8 tablet, allowing you to change tool settings, such as pen thickness and type, on your phone without obscuring the canvas on your tablet.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Display

As for the screen, the S22’s display is yet another Dynamic AMOLED 2X affair, with a maximum WQHD+ (3,088 x 1,440) resolution and an adaptive refresh rate of 120Hz. According to Samsung, the screen’s minimum starting refresh rate has been adjusted from 10Hz down to 1Hz, which should let the S22 Ultra save a bit more energy when performing actions such as reading ebooks.

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Quality-wise, you can’t do much better. With two display modes to choose from in the phone’s settings, the Natural screen profile recorded an sRGB colour gamut coverage of 93.7%, with a total volume of 95.3%. This, paired with a practically flawless average Delta E of 1.07, makes for a remarkably colour-accurate display – and one of the best I’ve ever used.

It’s also the brightest panel on a Galaxy yet, with a measured peak luminance of 1,740cd/m² while displaying HDR content, according to our display colorimeter. Predictably, contrast is effectively perfect, too.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Performance and battery life

Inside, Samsung’s homebrew Exynos 2200 powers things in the UK, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 making an appearance in US models. Both are built using a 4nm fabrication process and are “the most powerful processors ever on a Galaxy device”. We certainly hope so – we don’t want it to be slower than last year’s Exynos 2100.

Announced in January, the Exynos 2200 has a few tricks up its sleeves. The biggest of these is that the embedded GPU has been built with RDNA 2 graphics tech, courtesy of a partnership with AMD. According to Samsung, this new “Xclipse” GPU supports Variable Rate Shading (VRS), which tweaks GPU workload by applying lower-quality shaders in selected areas of the frame, theoretically boosting overall graphics rendering performance.

Xclipse is also one of the first mobile GPUs to support hardware-accelerated ray tracing. Simply put, this is an advanced method of simulating the way in which light travels around the environment, with more realistic reflections and shadows rendered in real time. However, while this might look pretty great, as we’ve seen with full-fat games consoles and desktop graphics cards, there’s a strong chance that this feature will have a negative impact on frame rate.

Elsewhere, the Galaxy S22 Ultra comes in four flavours. To start with, there’s the “cheapest” model, which comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The further three models all come with 12GB of RAM, with your storage choices being 256GB, 512GB or 1TB. The S22 Ultra doesn’t allow for microSD expansion, so choose wisely.

The good news is that the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s Exynos 2200 performed admirably in our CPU-heavy benchmarks. In the Geekbench 5 single and multicore tests, the S22 Ultra achieved speeds of 1,116 and 3,736 respectively, which is a performance improvement of up to 22% compared to last year’s model. It’s still no match for the raw power of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, but the gap is finally closing.

Gaming performance is much the same as last year, though. The GFXBench Manhattan 3 onscreen and off-screen tests recorded average frame rates of 96fps and 162fps, which isn’t much of an improvement (if at all) over the S21 Ultra. This test was performed at native resolution, however: drop down to FHD+ and the frame rate jumps to 119fps.

I’m also yet to test the new graphics rendering features that the Xclipse GPU supports, since there doesn’t seem to be a single game on the Google Play store that currently utilises ray tracing and VRS.

The phone’s 5,000mAh battery supports 45W wired USB-C charging, which can charge the S22 Ultra from flat to 50% in less than 20 minutes. If you’ve got a bit more time to spare or have cut the cords, you can also charge the phone wirelessly up to 15W.

And sadly, you’ll be charging the S22 Ultra more frequently than the previous model, too. Running for a total of 19hrs 41mins in our video test at native resolution – which is still very good, mind you – the S21 Ultra outperformed the 2022 model by over three hours in the same conditions. Dropping the resolution down to FHD+ didn’t help much, either.

I was also sent a Vodafone 5G SIM as part of my review. Speeds still vary wildly, of course, but in Marylebone, Central London, I achieved a peak download speed of 222Mbits/sec (which is the best I’ve ever seen), with 5.38Mbits/sec upload.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Cameras

A lot has changed when it comes to the S22 Ultra’s cameras. Featuring a completely redesigned camera module, the S22 Ultra comes with four lenses on the rear: the primary 108MP unit, a 12MP ultrawide with a 120-degree field of view and a pair of 10MP telephoto cameras, with one at 3x optical zoom and the other at a maximum of 10x. A 40MP selfie camera is on the front of the phone.

As before, the S22 Ultra supports a maximum hybrid zoom of 100x. This “Space Zoom”, as Samsung still insists on calling it, is much improved this year. During my time with the handset, I captured a bunch of pictures at maximum zoom range on both the S22 Ultra and the S21, with the former offering a much cleaner image, especially after the phone’s AI tweaks were applied. Just look at this image of the tip of Canary Wharf’s One Canada Square – impressive, isn’t it?

Samsung says that the phone’s neural processing unit (NPU) is 2x faster than the previous version, which does a better job at sharpening details and reducing visual noise in low-light conditions. In practice, the S22 Ultra’s night-time images looked sublime and were a significant step up from my comparison handset, the iPhone 12 Pro.

The S22’s AI-based autofocus, Super Steady electronic stabilisation system and Super HDR captures have all been improved as well. Stabilisation tops out at 4K 60fps, however, and while the 8K 24fps mode returns with detail-packed footage, you’re going to have to shoot using a tripod or gimbal to get the best results.

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The new 108MP camera is the star of the show. Featuring a brand-new sensor, the S22 Ultra’s primary camera captures images at full resolution and then combines the data into a sharper, more detail-rich image through a process called “nona-binning”.

We’ve seen systems like this from other manufacturers, but it’s clear that this detail-packing approach to the S22 Ultra’s cameras has really paid off: images looked absolutely phenomenal, even when lighting conditions weren’t ideal. I spent a rainy afternoon photographing various paintings in the Wallace Collection in London and the S22 Ultra captured every detail, even the craquelure on some of the older pieces.

Portrait mode has also been updated, using a more sophisticated AI algorithm to enhance soft details on your subject while more effectively blurring everything else around them. Studio lighting effects can now be applied in selfies, too, and a new Night Portrait mode can be enabled on both the front and back cameras.

A dedicated camera app, Expert RAW, is available to download from the Galaxy Store, and this allows you to fine-tune all sorts of camera controls, such as ISO shutter speed, white balance, EV and focus, as well as switch between the various camera lenses. You can also capture in both JPEG and DNG formats simultaneously. It’s great to have access to a list of granular controls, but for simple shooting, the basic camera app is still your best bet.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Verdict

As you can probably tell from the length of this review, there’s a heck of a lot to talk about when it comes to the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Samsung’s Note but not a Note, this year’s top-end S-series flagship stands well apart from its cheaper siblings, and it’s clear that you’re getting an awful lot more for the added cost.

But, of course, that cost is a particularly potent pain point. Starting at £1,149 for the 128GB model and running all the way up to £1,499 for 1TB of storage, the S22 Ultra is the priciest (non-folding) flagship on the market. It’s £100 more than the already expensive iPhone 13 Pro Max, after all, so it really ought to be practically flawless to justify the increased expense.

Except it does stumble a little along the way. The performance improvements aren’t quite as big as I would have liked and the battery life decrease is a bit worrisome. If you’ve still got last year’s S21 Ultra in your hands, you might want to hold on to it for at least a little while longer. However, if you’re looking for the very best that Android can muster and are blessed with deep pockets, you can’t do any better than the S22 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra specifications
ProcessorOcta-core Samsung Exynos 2200 (1x2.8GHz, 3x2.5GHz, 4x1.8GHz)
RAM8GB or 12GB
Screen size6.8in
Screen resolution3,088 x 1,440
Pixel density500ppi
Screen typeDynamic AMOLED 2X
Screen refresh rate120Hz
Front camera40MP (f/2.2)
Rear camera108MP (f/1.8), 10MP (f/4.9) 10x zoom, 10MP (f/2.4) 3x zoom, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide
FlashLED
Dust and water resistanceIP68
3.5mm headphone jackNo
Wireless chargingYes (15W)
USB connection typeUSB-C (45W)
Storage options128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Memory card slot (supplied)No
Wi-FiWi-Fi 6e
Bluetooth5.2
NFCYes
Cellular data5G, 4G
Dual SIMYes
Dimensions (WDH)163 x 78 x 8.9mm
Weight228g
Operating systemAndroid 12 One UI 4.1
Battery size5,000mAh

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