Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: A Note by Any Other Name Still Smells as Sweet

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: A Note by Any Other Name Still Smells as Sweet
Image: Alice Clarke

It’s the most wonderful time of the year (until the next time): flagship phones have begun to drop from electronics giants and we have our first peek at what the year has in store for us.

Samsung has played things fairly safely so far this year. Once Samsung’s vehicle for smartphone innovation, the Galaxy S range has been stuck on incremental improvements for a few years, with the big innovations saved for the folding phones later in the year. That is, except for the top of the range Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra model that finally does something new (by doing something old).

This year’s top of the line Galaxy S model can boast all the usual “best cameras ever in a Samsung phone” and “fastest processor ever in an S series phone” stuff, but it also has a secret weapon: it’s got the best of the Galaxy S series and the Note series. That’s right, the S Pen is back, recessed in the phone for all your productivity needs, just in case the Z Fold3 isn’t your jam.

This comes a little under 18 months since we supposedly saw the last ever Note. At the time, it looked like the Fold range would be the natural successor to this productivity machine. But not everyone wants to Fold (or pay the premium to fold). It makes sense – the Note always used to have a lot in common with the Galaxy S range, just with a much faster processor and less good cameras. A Note with a better camera would be basically unstoppable.

Performance and productivity on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

A photo of some boats on water on a clear day
Taken with the 3X lens on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Photo credit: Alice Clarke

Samsung claims this is the fastest, bestest Galaxy S phone ever, and it is. I don’t have an S21 on hand to compare, but it’s the second fastest Android phone I’ve tested (even if it is still a long way behind the power of the iPhone 13 Pro Max). It doesn’t *quite* pack the same punch as the Z Fold3, but it gets so close that no mere mortal could tell the difference (though they would enjoy the roughly $700 saving).

These are my multi-core CPU Geekbench 5 results for a variety of phones:

  • iPhone 13 Pro Max: 4618
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3: 3447
  • Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: 3336
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G: 2680
  • Google Pixel 6 Pro: 2590

The S Pen is also noticeably improved over both the Z Fold3 and Note 20 Ultra 5G. Writing and drawing feels more natural, and it’s much more likely to recognise my handwriting, which is impressive, because I can’t read it half the time.

Studies show that you’re more likely to take in information when you make handwritten notes as opposed to typed notes, so just being able to scribble something down from even the locked phone screen is a huge productivity win.

The business-related needs for the Note-like features have been reduced now that we’re no longer going into the office as much or having as much business travel. But I’ve been using it more for quick ideas, adding to a shopping list and keeping score in games of Magic the Gathering. I find that I’m more likely to actually make a note on the S22 Ultra than on the Fold3 because it just feels a bit more natural to take out the recessed S Pen than to take it out from the side of the case, open the cover of the case/phone and then make the note. But to each their own.

Design and screen

The back of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
The back of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Photo credit: Alice Clarke

Here is where things start to get a bit mixed.

First, the good. I really like that they’ve done away with the massive camera protuberance of the Note 20 Ultra 5G. For a phone where the cameras were pretty underwhelming, they sure did take up a lot of space. The S22 Ultra has much more subtle cameras (four of them) that still stick out a bit, but individually rather than as a group, making the phone look more streamlined.

I also really love the look of the Infinity O Display. It’s a great screen, and on a table that endless display with the curved edges is stunning.

The screen of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
The screen of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Photo credit: Alice Clarke

Here’s the thing, though: I hold my phone in my hand and use it like a normal person, not by resting it on a desk, and Infinity O Displays continue to be unpleasant to hold. Not only do the rounded edges mean passive bits of hand accidentally press things, but it leads to cramping.

You adjust eventually, sure. But a phone that’s nearly $2,000 should be designed to be held without difficulty. This isn’t a new problem for Samsung, nor is it unique to them. But please, I am begging the design team at Samsung to pay more attention to ergonomics and comfort. If someone if going to drop that amount of cash on a phone designed for productivity, it also needs to be comfortable and work with the hand, rather than against it.

Camera

I love this camera. While I wasn’t super impressed with the S22+’s cameras, the telephoto camera in the S22 Ultra is now my favourite for taking photos of random birds and things in the distance. Using it was an absolute joy. Look at the details on the feathers of that duckling in the comparison photos, not to mention the little bubbles in the water. I love a phone that makes it easy to take great photos. You have to go to great effort to take a bad photo with these cameras.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

The 3X lens on the Samsung Galaxy S22+.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

The 3X lens on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

The 10X camera on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

The 2X camera on the Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

The 4X camera on the Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max telephoto lens.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

The telephoto lens on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3.

As always with Samsung photos, if you zoom in too much on any of the other photos, all you see is noise because there’s so much processing going on in the images. But, if you don’t zoom in or crop too much, they look fantastic.

This Food Mode portrait of a sushi platter looks otherworldly. I love the effect that makes it look like a small toy instead of an absurd amount of food we accidentally ordered for two people (there are multiple layers).

A large platter of sushi on a wooden floor
Taken with the phone’s food photography mode. Photo credit: Alice Clarke

I really like having the four different options of distance, because each layer gives you such a different view of an area, allowing for so many different ways to tell a story or capture the moment.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

A full view of what’s going on in Williamstown.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

What a lovely day out on the water.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Still such a nice scene.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

There it is.

Nightography is the big thing they’re pushing for the S22 range, and I really expected more impressive and consistent results. In the monstera test, it kind of looks like a horror movie, and the guesses of the AI on the Ultra were surprisingly less impressive than on the S22+.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra without night mode.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Samsung Galaxy S22+.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

iPhone 13 Pro Max.

But then on the Nightography test with the cactus, this cactus looks like it’s having a great time. They’re having a great party hanging out with the shoes, looking warm and inviting.

An African milk plan near some shoes with a closed curtain
This looks much better. Photo credit: Alice Clarke

On the selfie front, I was really happy with it. In the past, some Samsung phones have tried to do some touchups in the processing, and I’m pleased (and horrified) that the S22 Ultra doesn’t do that. All the little details in my shirt show up, as do more pores and fine lines, reminding me that I need a better skincare routine. It’s night and day compared to the S22 Ultra’s main rival, the Z Fold3.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra selfie portrait.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Selfie camera on the Google Pixel 6 Pro.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Selfie camera on the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Selfie camera on the Samsung Galaxy S22+.

 Image: Alice Clarke.

Image: Alice Clarke.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 selfie.

I was disappointed by the S22 Ultra’s inability to capture the sheer beauty and vibrancy of the colours on this sunset, but that’s a pretty difficult thing for any phone to capture.

A sunset over a city
I swear this sunset looked really cool in person. Photo credit: Alice Clarke

This is all on top of the handy Samsung photography features, like being able to erase unwanted photobombers, and Single Take mode (which allows you to capture 20 seconds of footage and then it gives you a variety of videos, photos and boomerangs).

All up, the S22 Ultra camera is one of my favourite phone cameras because of all the features. I’m still not the biggest fan of how Samsung phones tend to over process photos, but that’s a personal preference, so your mileage may vary.

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra?

A duck stands on a rock near some glittering water
Behold, a duck. 10X lens. Photo credit: Alice Clarke

That depends a lot on what you’re upgrading from and why. If you’re sitting on a Note 10, or an S10 or older, and have been needing an upgrade, then this is a great choice. There’s a lot to recommend it given it’s the best of what the S series and the Note series have to offer. The cameras are almost enough of a leap over the Note 20 Ultra to potentially justify an upgrade, but it’s a close call, given how recent it is.

I still wish it offered bigger improvements and more justifications for the nearly $2,000 price tag. It’s hard to tell whether Samsung has hit an innovation ceiling on the S range, or if the supply chain issues are biting them on any better or more exciting features they might have wanted to include.

That said, the killer feature here is the S Pen, and you’re not going to get that on any other non-folding phone. If you think you’ll take advantage of that, then this is a great buy, especially given some of the insanely good value pre-order offers out there.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is available from $1,859 in stores, through carriers and from Samsung online from March 4.