Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: The new Android flagship benchmark
No phone wears the Ultra tag better than the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Can we skip to the good part? No phone wears the Ultra tag better than the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, a phone which has, this year, married the best of the Galaxy S Ultra and the Galaxy Note Ultra to deliver something that checks off every conceivable box for power users. Even as it impressed in my initial first impressions, there was so much more to unpack about the device over the course of the past two weeks of use, some big wins and a few niggles all included. It’s time to find out what it is like to live with the S22 Ultra, in my full review of the device.
Needless to say, this top-tier Samsung does not come without its obligatory sticker shock, and the phone is available in a black, burgundy and white in a base 12GB memory/256GB storage variant for Rs. 109,999, and if you want to double the storage, you should be ready to shell out Rs. 9,000 more (Rs. 1,18,999), and Rs. 1,34,999 will get you the insanely capacious 1TB storage variant.
Folks who know me know I’ve been rocking the Samsung Note 20 Ultra for the better part of the past year and a half, which places me in a rather prime position to evaluate the design of the S22 Ultra. You see, despite the imaging prowess it’s inherited from the S21 Ultra, the S22 Ultra is the spiritual successor of the Note 20 Ultra. The S22 Ultra’s big dimensions and curved-edge screen, flat top and bottom edges and slim yet slippery hand-feel yield what is a dead ringer for the Note 20 Ultra, and if you had any doubt this was a Note in disguise, you need only to press that familiar nubbin on the base to pop out the all-too-familiar S Pen, stowed away this time inside the S22 Ultra (last year’s S21 Ultra was S Pen compatible but didn’t ship or stow one). No charger in the box, no 3.5mm headphone jack or expandable storage, but then you knew that about Samsung flagships by now.
Without question, it’s an undisputedly beautiful and premium-looking device (as it should be at the price), but the Armor Aluminum frame and Corning Gorilla Glass Victus+ glass sandwich works well to protect the otherwise jewel-like appearance, a fact I inadvertently happened to test during my use. On that occasion, the S22 Ultra slipped out of my shorts pocket as I was alighting from a car (I know, rookie mistake). The phone fell 3 feet and landed flat on the tarmac, and to make matters worse, my shoe landed right after directly on the front panel. Holding my head in my hand and fearing the worst, I picked up the phone and wiped off the shoeprint and loose gravel and, save for the tiniest of chinks on one of the metal ring surrounding the telephoto camera, the phone wasn’t worse for wear. Now I’m not advocating similar stress tests on your S22 Ultra, but it’s good to know it can take a bit of rough use. Even though it’s an unquestionably big device, I found the 228g weight evenly distributed, and while Samsung has avoided the bump that characterized both the Note 20 Ultra and the S21 Ultra, the lenses aren’t flush so you should expect some amount of desk wobble and dust gathering around the lens setup. Overall, it’s a cohesive look and it’s no stretch to say that this right here is among the best designed phones out there.
A quick diversion about the S Pen is in order, and that’s unquestionably a key element of the Note-ness of this device and a big part of the reason why you’d pay the big bucks for this unique device. All of what I liked in the S Pen from the Note 20 has made it over – so you can write notes, scribble, color, doodle or even just use it as remote shutter for the camera – only this time around, the latency has been reduced to 2.8 milliseconds, which makes the experience of using the S Pen feel instantaneous – the Note 20 Ultra’s S Pen had a 9ms latency, for comparison. How much you end up using the S Pen beyond the initial honeymoon period will come down to your use cases, but if you’re the stylus-loving type, this is the best it gets on a smartphone.
Hot damn, that display though…which to me is the highlight of the S22 Ultra. Sample this – it’s a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2x panel with quad HD+ (3088 x 1440 pixels) resolution and second-gen LTPO technology, the latter allowing the S22 Ultra to drop the refresh rate all the way from 120Hz down to 1Hz for even more battery savings. Big improvements come by way of increased peak brightness levels (best experienced while viewing HDR content) – this display can hit 1750 nits, which is a 400 nits increase on the already bright S21 Ultra! Everything, from games to videos and apps and photos, looks fantastic on this display, even in bright sunlight. It’s not hyperbole to say that this is the best viewing experience the smartphone segment has to offer. Complimenting the gorgeous is a good set of stereo speakers, and there’s even a usable equalizer feature to tune the audio profile to your liking. As for the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor built into the display, it’s super quick and accurate, offering faster unlocks than previous generation flagships.
Now traditionally Samsung has used its home-grown Exynos chips in its top-of-the-line Note and S series flagships, much to the chagrin of paying customers. This time, you get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip, which is as top-shelf as it gets with chips on an Android phone. Coupled with the 12GB of memory, the phone expectedly shrugged off just about any app, game or task you throw at it. Asphalt 9 and Genshin Impact played with absolutely no issues at the highest settings, and while multitasking was extremely smooth, heated gamely did get things a little…heated, and the phone was warm to the touch after 30 minutes of Genshin. Not having an SD card to expand storage is a bit of a letdown personally, as the photo hoarder in me struggled to move my 150GB+ collection of photos from the Note 20 Ultra onto the 256GB variant I was testing. The software experience is, as I have repeatedly stated, about as good as it gets on an Android phone – Samsung has really turned a corner here – and the commitment of four years of OS upgrades and five years of security patches for the S22 series is better than any other Android OEM. If anything, one aspect of the performance left me a little non-plussed – the vibration motor has been redesigned, which leaves the perceived vibration experience for notifications and calls a bit weaker than the exceptional one on last year’s S21 Ultra. Battery life was good, with the 5,000mAh battery lasting well past a day and then some, unless you’re using the camera a lot or gaming for long stretches. Charging speeds, on the other hand, see a bump up to a 45W fast charging pace, but no charger in the box to test this out. I used a StuffCool GaN charger and was able to top up the battery from empty in about an hour, which isn’t bad by any measure but doesn’t wow the way the 120W charging brigade does.
“If it aint broke, don’t fix it” is pretty much the mantra for the cameras on the S22 Ultra, and Samsung has packed in a 108MP primary, a 12MP ultra-wide and two 10MP zoom lenses, one 3X and the other 10X periscope-style. By dint of arguably the best zoom camera setup out there, the S22 Ultra is likely the most versatile camera setup that exists in the smartphone space. Samsung has subtly improved the 3x, 10x and 30x zoom performance from the S21 Ultra, and the 108MP camera is sharp and detailed, if a little oversaturated. But it’s low-light photos that see the biggest improvement, with the S22 Ultra bringing out the details in dimly lit shots without overdoing the ‘turn night into day’ type night shots. Take a peek at some of the shots – I doubt you’ll come across a scenario where the S22 Ultra won’t take a great shot, regardless of your own skill level!
While it could be argued that upgrading from a recent phone like the Note 20 Ultra or the S21 Ultra would be overkill, there isnt a doubt in my mind that the marriage of the Note and the S series has yielded the most well-rounded smartphone money can buy, and despite what the budget flagships deliver to the table, there’s real value in buying a phone as capable and as future proofed as this one, wallet permitting of course. It’s a big phone in average-sized hands, and it has a few niggles, but no Android flagships comes together in as refined a fashion as the S22 Ultra does.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Pros: Exceptional display, great performance, versatile cameras, excellent build, unique stylus, prompt software updates
Cons: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 runs warm under stress, bulky form factor, pricey, no SD card expansion, no charger
Price: Rs. 1,09,999 onwards
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar