Samsung’s most powerful flagship costs a lot but has everything you could want. The question is: Do you really need it?
Samsung wants us to call this phone the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but really, it’s a Galaxy Note. Everything about this device’s DNA can be traced back to that exciting and confusing era of phablets, from its enormous screen to the S Pen built in next to its charging port. It is the ultimate Samsung flagship. But does anyone really need this much phone?
I was overwhelmed getting to know the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. There’s so much it can do, and everything from its quadruple-lens rear system to its lengthy battery life to its incredible screen attempts to justify that sky-high starting price. The Ultra handles everything with ease, from getting work done to watching videos to managing all your group chats—you could make the case that it consolidates a computer, a tablet, and a smartphone into one. At least, that’s what it promises for the low, low price of $1,200.
Look, It’s a Note
I did a double-take when I first saw the Galaxy S22 Ultra. The look of the Ultra is a complete departure from last year’s Galaxy S21 Ultra. While that device looked like it came off the same conveyor belt as the rest of the Galaxy S21 family, the S22 Ultra is a complete departure from the other Galaxy S22 models. The Ultra zigs where the S22 and S22+ zag, with sharper angles and a uniquely designed back.
If you want one of the largest Android smartphones around, this is it. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is bigger and narrower than even the iPhone 13 Pro Max, and it’s shorter than the Google Pixel 6 Pro. My smaller hands had an easier time cradling the Ultra than those other phones, and I can appreciate the relative accessibility of such a giant phone. I still bought a cheap case with an external finger hook to better grasp this device, and while it didn’t add much bulk, I had a hard time popping out the S Pen with my long nails.
Speaking of which, the S Pen is back, and for me, it’s like it never went away—hence why I can’t stop calling this thing the Note. However, I hardly remember that it’s there sometimes, and if you think you might fall into the same camp, then definitely consider whether this phone should be in the running at all. We’ll cover what the S Pen is for and some of the new things you can do with it a little later, but it’s pretty much the same it’s always been: You can draw on the screen, write out your thoughts, and tap around the interface with the stylus.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra comes in four colors, including Phantom White, a too-gorgeous-for-words burgundy, and a chic-looking green. I reviewed the plain-looking Phantom Black, which is boring, and I would encourage you to find any of the three other colors before considering this one, especially if you’re planning to drop the full amount on the Ultra.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra’s 6.8-inch dynamic AMOLED display is what makes this phone worth carrying around. The 120Hz display and 1440 x 3088 resolution make images and text appear smooth and high res. The Ultra has the kind of screen that’s capable of serious photo editing and comfortably dozing off to an ebook. But my favorite thing to use this display for was snuggling up with a heated blanket and consuming video, both 720p vintage titles and 1080p premiere dramas. I later watched some of the Olympics coverage on YouTube TV with the Ultra propped up on my desk underneath my monitor. Big phones like this are meant for binge-watching anything and everything, and the Ultra is perfect for that.
Mobile games are also smooth sailing on the Ultra, and it makes popular ones like Pokémon Go especially fun to play. The Ultra’s big screen is a nice runway for launching Pokéballs, and since it has a maximum brightness of 1750 nits, it helps when catching Pokémon out in bright light. You don’t have to worry about that high brightness eating away at the battery without your consent, either, as it’s only available when you’re out in direct sunlight. The Ultra automatically adjusts the screen by default, depending on your environment.
Why So Many Cameras?
Using the Ultra, I often asked myself why the hell anyone would need four lenses on the back of a smartphone. I can understand the three-camera array, with an ultra-wide, a wide, and a macro or zoom lens. But why does anyone need two telephoto lenses?
The Ultra sports four rear cameras, including a primary 108-MP camera with the largest aperture of the four, a 12-MP ultra-wide camera with a 120-degree field-of-view, and two telephoto lenses—one with a 3x optical zoom and one with 10x. That second telephoto lens enables the Ultra’s 100x digital Space Zoom feature.
And it really can zoom into space. The Ultra managed to capture this Cessna plane flying across the sky outside my window, and I even captured this epic shot of the full moon without being propped on a tripod. The final product looks like I captured it with a hobbyist’s telescope, not a phone. I didn’t even have to get up from where I was sitting to take these shots, which I guess is why you’d want this powerful of a zoom on a phone.
The point of the Ultra is to be the “ultimate” device in your arsenal—that’s how you justify the price yourself. If you’re a nature buff or a bird watcher, you might like to have these many lenses on you for archival purposes or to serve as a pair of binoculars to look at something far away. Of course, there are some privacy implications—this is the first smartphone I’ve ever reviewed that could snap a photo of the inside of a stranger’s window over a mile away. But having access to this much zoom at any moment is like carting around different camera lenses for any occasion.
The Ultra’s other major selling point is that it can take brighter shots with its 108-MP camera, though its full resolution is not always in use. By default, the Ultra’s 108-MP rear-facing camera shoots at the equivalent of a 12-MP camera to help maintain size. It uses nona-binning to facilitate this, another type of pixel binning, essentially combining the data from the different pixels shooting the scene to produce one well-rounded picture. The “nona” moniker refers to Samsung’s use of nine pixels in a 3×3 array, and that’s how it manages to capture so much detail without noise.
You can shoot in the full 108-MP resolution by selecting it from the aspect ratio menu. As I caveated in the Ultra camera preview, the images shot in this mode will produce large files. You’ll also top out at 6x digital zoom. This particular mode is best if you’re a cropper. But if what you want are photos to edit in Adobe Lightroom, you can download Samsung’s optional Expert RAW mode through its Galaxy Apps store to get the DNG file for every shot.
Nighttime photography has significantly improved on the Ultra, from portraits to landscape, helped in part by all that binning and the bigger sensors. The Pixel 6 Pro is still the best at lighting up a darkened photo, however, and it will keep the shutter open when necessary. There is a shutter speed option when the Ultra detects you’re shooting at night to help get brighter shots, but it’s a waste of time if the focus point isn’t there.
It took me well over a week to understand how to use Samsung’s camera system. I thought swapping between cameras would be as intuitive as on the Pixel 6 Pro or even the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max, which I also tested against the Ultra Four rear cameras is a lot for a phone, and I felt like I had to take advantage of each whenever I was launching the camera app. I couldn’t leave a scene without taking at least four shots of the same thing to have different perspectives. Maybe most people will stick with the standard wide-angle lens and pick one of the telephotos as a go-to. Either way, there are plenty of (maybe too many) choices.
I haven’t even mentioned the 40-MP front-facing camera, which features an optional full-resolution mode that you can tap into from the aspect ratio menu. I took a few selfies and filmed myself unpacking wooden trains as a tribute to the unboxing pioneers of TikTok, and they were all good.
The Ultra’s video capabilities are impressive, too, though I feel vastly underqualified to bump up the camera to its full 8K resolution. For the rest of us regular folks, know that the Ultra is capable enough. It managed to keep all faces in focus as we were singing “happy birthday” to my kid, even with my frenetic panning and zooming. An optional Auto Framing feature tracks up to 10 people in a video to keep as many bodies as possible in the frame, though it can be overly aggressive if you have, say, a squirmy toddler zipping in and out of frame.
Where Samsung has typically fallen behind Google and Apple is in its photo-processing software. Apple’s images tend to look more true to life, while Google’s phones have advanced photography tricks thanks to AI. Not to be left out, Samsung added two new tools to the Galaxy S22 series: a Google Pixel-like Object Eraser and a Photo Remaster feature that lets you scan physical photos into digital ones. I tried the Object Eraser, and while it’s fine for eliminating specks here and there, it’s not as good as filling in the bigger picture as the Magic Eraser on the Pixel 6 Pro. You can use Google’s version of Magic Eraser by simply logging into Google Photos, so nothing lost on that front.
The Galaxy S22 lineup runs on the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor. The main difference between all three models is whether you get 8GB or 12GB of RAM. The Ultra is available with up to 1TB of storage. The review unit I tested came with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which I filled up halfway for testing.
I can confirm the Ultra is blazing fast, but so is every other brand new smartphone right out of the box. In our benchmarks, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 proves to be the most powerful mobile processor available for Android users, and it performed exceptionally well against the Pixel 6 Pro (which runs on Google’s custom Tensor chip). Apple’s latest A15 Bionic chip, found in the iPhone 13 lineup, continues to be the top-performing smartphone CPU. The 13 scored higher than the Ultra on every single one of our benchmarks.
But what you really need to know is that the Ultra is the kind of smartphone you’ll be able to multitask on for a few years, provided you’re diligent about maintenance. It’s the kind of phone that enables you to watch Paramount+ in a picture-in-picture window while tapping through your daily goals on Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp—a thing I do at night in bed to wind down—or engage in a video chat where you’re browsing on the other half of the screen.
Of course, being capable of this much ability is not great for battery life, which is why Samsung stuffed a 5,000 mAh battery pack into the Ultra. It’s enough for at least a moderate day of use, provided you don’t have a lot of screen time. In our full battery rundown test, the Ultra lasted a little more than 16 hours. With a maximum wired charging speed of 45W, it powers up pretty quickly, and I could get the battery to total capacity well within two hours on a 30W charger. As an aside, there is no charger in the box, so you’ll need to track one down before buying.
Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra runs the latest version of Android 12 right out of the box with Samsung’s One UI 4.1 on top of it, so it’s a different look than what you’ll see on a Pixel device. This new version of Samsung’s interface includes Android’s Material You color customization, which extracts hues based on your wallpaper. However, I was disappointed by the lack of customization within Dark mode.
I bought a few themes from the Galaxy Apps store because I was curious to see the kind of experience I’d get for $2. I love the heck out of Sanrio themes I picked out, though the custom icons are limited to Samsung’s apps and services. If you want to theme up the rest of the interface, you’re out of luck. But it does look cool when paired with the Ultra’s new Smart Widgets, which stock Android doesn’t natively offer yet. Samsung’s version lets you stack multiple widgets as you need them, which appears more organized than widgets splaying out all over the screen.
My favorite feature of Samsung’s One UI is the deep integration with Microsoft’s Your Phone app. My daily machine is a Windows 10 laptop, and I love the seamlessness of dumping photos and links onto the desktop without having to tether the device physically. You can mirror the Ultra to your Windows PC, which is handy when I need to check in on an Android app and I don’t want to bother with picking up the phone. It’s easier to fire up an Android app this way than to emulate it separately through an app like Bluestacks.
Now it’s time to talk about the S Pen, the built-in stylus that made the Note famous throughout its decade run, making its return as the Ultra’s marquee feature.
The S Pen is really useful for a screen this size. I subscribe to a few publications in Romanian and receive them digitally as PDFs. Since I’m not proficient in reading the language, I rely on the highlight-and-translate trick to get through advanced grammar. It’s so much easier to do with the S Pen than dragging on the screen with my finger—especially when I’m long-clawed.
The stylus makes editing photos and cropping blocks of text a little easier, too, as long as you don’t have to deal with going all the way to Ultra’s curved edges.
When it’s not in use, the S Pen stays snug inside its little slot—just like it did when the phone was called the Note. The S Pen has all its signature features, including Air Commands and the ability to “write” on the lock screen.
The Ultra also has improved handwriting conversion. While I was impressed with how it parsed my messy penmanship, it’s way too literal about formatting, making shorter messages more complicated than it’s worth. Despite all the utility of the S Pen, I still prefer to dictate my notes rather than write them by hand and have them converted.
How Much Phone Do You Need?
Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra is the smartphone to consider if you can swallow the exorbitant $1,200 starting price tag.
As Samsung shifts part of its focus toward making foldables more mainstream, the Ultra will become the release that caters to power users and show-offs alike. It’s the most full-featured phone you can buy from the company if its smaller two offerings aren’t powerful enough for you. And for paying the extra cash, you get the benefit of all the cameras you can stuff into a smartphone, a screen that’s large enough to binge through your favorite shows, and a stylus that’s as powerful as if it came with a tablet. But it’s not a phone meant for everyone. For most folks, in fact, this is probably too much phone. But so was the Note, and I’m glad it’s back.