Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: triumphant return of the Note superphone – The Guardian

With the Galaxy S22 Ultra superphone, Samsung has brought back its popular Note line in all but name, equipping it with a built-in stylus and the competition-beating camera with both 3x and 10x optical zoom from last year’s S21 Ultra.

Costing £1,149 ($1,200/A$1,849) it is one of the most expensive non-folding phones you can buy but it offers features you simply can’t get on other phones and will receive at least five years of software updates – longer than any other Android.

The S22 Ultra looks nothing like the S22+ or other models in the “S-line”. Instead, the new superphone updates the design of the Note 20 Ultra from 2020 complete with an “S Pen” stylus that neatly slots into the bottom for storage and charging.

The smooth matt glass back and aluminium frame are available in a range of colours but look particularly monolithic in black. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The top and bottom are flat metal, while the glass back and front curve at the sides to meet an aluminium band. It is a really big and imposing phone but one that is relatively easy to hold and use. I can just about wield it one-handed without an an accessory but would likely resort to a Popsocket or similar on the back for the long term.

The 6.8in screen is stunning: sharp, smooth with up to a 120Hz refresh rate, and with an extremely high peak brightness of 1,750nits (a standard measure of screen brightness), which makes it easier to read in direct sunlight than rivals.

Specifications

  • Main screen: 6.8in QHD+ Dynamic Amoled 2X (500ppi) 120Hz

  • Processor: Samsung Exynos 2200 (EU) or Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (US)

  • RAM: 8 or 12GB of RAM

  • Storage: 128, 256, 512GB or 1TB

  • Operating system: One UI 4.1 based on Android 12

  • Camera: Quad rear camera: 108MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, 10MP 3x and 10x telephoto; 40MP front-facing

  • Connectivity: 5G, USB-C, wifi 6E, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2, UWB and GNSS

  • Water resistance: IP68 (1.5m for 30 mins)

  • Dimensions: 163.3 x 77.9 x 8.9mm

  • Weight: 228g

Long battery life

The phone fully charges in 63 minutes, hitting 50% in 22 minutes using a 45W USB-C PPS charger (power adaptor not included). Fast (15W) wireless charging and reverse wireless charging are available. The S Pen slots into the bottom right of the phone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

In the US the S22 Ultra has the standard top Android chip for 2022 from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, while in the EU it has a Samsung Exynos 2200. General performance was excellent – it handled multiple apps on screen at any one time with no slowdown, although it was not perceptibly faster than the already snappy models of last year. Gaming performance of the Exynos 2200 was more variable than rivals fitted with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1.

The battery life is great. The S22 Ultra lasts in excess of 40 hours between charges, including three hours on 5G, with the screen set to FHD+ resolution and actively used for more than 6.5 hours with a variety of chap apps, the camera, Chrome, Spotify, 2.5 hours of Netflix and a light bit of gaming. Increasing the resolution of the display to its maximum QHD+ reduced the screen-on time by about an hour. The phone should easily make it through the heaviest of days, or two if used more frugally, which is longer than most rivals except the 48-hour-plus iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Sustainability

The under-display fingerprint sensor is fast and responsive, making unlocking the device or authenticating payments easy. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Samsung does not provide an expected lifespan for the battery. Those in similar devices typically maintain at least 80% of their original capacity for at least 500 full charge cycles.

The phone is generally repairable. Screen repairs cost £229, while the battery is replaceable by authorised service centres. But the phone only scores a three out of 10 on iFixit’s repairability ranking.

Several internal components are made from 20% recycled nylon or plastic. Samsung offers trade-in and recycling schemes for old devices. The company publishes annual sustainability reports but not impact assessments for individual products.

OneUI 4.1

OneUI has various added features on top of regular Android to support the S Pen, including helpful tips on how to use its more advanced features. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The S22 Ultra ships with OneUI 4.1, which is based on the latest version of Android 12 and receives prompt updates unlike some competitors. The Ultra has several customisations to the software to accommodate the S Pen stylus.

These include handwriting recognition, various screen-writing and screenshot tools, translation and gesture support, including using the S Pen as a remote or magic wand to perform actions. For quickly jotting down notes, marking up documents or screenshots, or doodles, the S Pen is unrivalled.

The S22 Ultra will receive at least five years of software updates from release, including four major Android version updates and monthly security patches, making it one of the longest-lasting Android devices available and just behind Apple’s six-year-plus support for its iPhones.

Camera

The camera app offers point-and-shoot simplicity with various automatic modes but also has full manual control and the ability to save RAW files as well as Jpegs. The S Pen can be used as a remote shutter button, too. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The S22 Ultra has the same quad-camera set up as 2021’s S21 Ultra with not one but two optical zoom cameras producing equally impressive results.

The main 108MP camera produces 12MP images by default and is one of the best available, shooting highly detailed, well-balanced images, with improved low light performance over last year’s model, although sometimes faces can be overly brightened at night. The 12MP ultra-wide is good, too, with better low light performance and generally improved image clarity.

The 3x and 10x 12MP cameras are still the stars of the show. They are both better on detail, producing clearer and sharper images with less obvious image processing than last year. The 3x zoom is great for shooting people or nearby objects, while the 10x zoom provides meaningful magnification for closing the distance on things you can’t physically move toward. Planes in the sky, boats at sea or distant landmarks are now all within reach.

Unlike most smartphones, the five modules of the camera system simply poke out of the frosted glass back without a surrounding lump or bulge. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

You can continue with digital zoom on top of the 10x optical zoom. Shots up to 30x are very good with less grain and better colour than last year, while up to 100x zoom has improved detail and more accurate outlines of objects. It still looks like an oil painting but you’d be able to make out a car numberplate at maximum zoom during the day if you’re steady enough.

The macro mode for closeup photography works well, while the selfie camera is one of the best in the business, producing excellent shots in a range of light levels.

Some rival cameras are better at individual things but as a package there’s no other phone that can beat the adaptability and killer zoom of the S22 Ultra’s camera system.

Price

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra costs from £1,149 ($1,199.99/A$1,849) with 128GB of storage.

For comparison, the Galaxy S22 costs £769, the S22+ costs £949, the Z Flip 3 costs £949, the Z Fold 3 costs £1,599, the Google Pixel 6 Pro costs £849 and the iPhone 13 Pro Max costs £1,049

Verdict

The S22 Ultra should really be called a Galaxy Note. It’s a giant phone for power users, offering unrivalled features, from the fantastic camera with more optical zoom than any other to the long battery life, stunning display and powerful built-in S Pen stylus.

However, it is the stylus that may render the phone a bit of a niche product. Samsung’s most devoted fans were Note buyers who will be very happy, as the S22 Ultra provides a best-in-class writing and drawing experience. But many people will probably never remove the stylus from its dock.

It is really good to see Samsung using recycled material in a phone for the first time, and providing at least five years of software updates from release, making it the longest-lasting Android available.

It is not quite as exciting as some of the new breed of folding phones. But the S22 Ultra is the best Android superphone money can buy and will take some beating this year.

Pros: huge 120Hz screen, fantastic and flexible camera with 3x and 10x optical zoom, One UI, S Pen stylus, good performance, long battery, five years of software support, contains recycled materials.

Cons: huge, heavy, very expensive, S Pen may be superfluous feature for many, gaming performance variable for EU model.

The S22 Ultra stands out from the crowd with a design unlike others and at a scale few attempt. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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Source: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/mar/14/samsung-galaxy-s22-ultra-review