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  • Post published:12/02/2022
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Galaxy S22 Ultra review: Samsung’s new Note is pretty awesome so far
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ZDNet / Matt Miller

It’s been just over 18 months since we last held a new  Samsung Galaxy Note  and it turns out that was apparently the final in the Note series. Since then, we have seen Samsung add S Pen functionality to the S21 Ultra  and Z Fold 3 , but neither of those devices came with an S Pen , neither supported Air Actions, and neither had an integrated silo to store and carry the S Pen.

With this week’s announcement of the Galaxy S22 Ultra  Samsung has shown that the Note is now back in the form of a flagship S series device. The S Pen is included, it supports Bluetooth Air Actions, it has that more traditional Note squared-off design, and I now have one in hand for the next month.

Also: Best Samsung phone: Explore a new Galaxy

I’ve only had the chance to spend about 12 hours with the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but I will be putting it through its paces and updating this article with pros, cons, rating, and more details as I use it with my primary T-Mobile SIM card. If there is anything specific you want me to test out, please leave a comment below.

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S22 Ultra vs S21 Ultra

ZDNet / Matt Miller

If you are likely to upgrade to the S22 Ultra, then I highly recommend you consider ordering during this pre-order period since that is when Samsung offers the most generous trade-in offers and additional offers (free storage upgrade and/or credit to spend on accessories). 

The S22 Ultra starts at $1,1199.99 (get the 256GB one for the same price as a 128GB one), with the 1TB model priced at $1,599.99. There are four standard colors available (Burgundy, Phantom Black, Phantom White, and Green) that may arrive by February 25 with Samsung.com exclusive colors of Graphite, Sky Blue, and Red that are showing a three to four-week shipping date. I am testing a 256GB Phantom Black model with 12GB of RAM.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
  • Main display: 6.8 inches, 3088 x 1440 pixels resolution (500PPI), Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O with adaptive 120Hz refresh rate
  • Operating system: Android 12 with OneUI 4.1
  • RAM: 12GB/16GB LPDDR5
  • Storage: 128/256/512GB/1TB internal storage options
  • Cameras: 10MP rear f/4.9 telephoto with 10x optical zoom and a second 10MP f/2.4 telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom, 108MP f/1.8 wide-angle camera, and 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera (120 degrees field-of-view). 40MP f/2.2 front-facing under-display camera.
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, GPS/Galileo/GLONASS/Beidou, NFC, UWB
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Barometer, Ultrasonic Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB Light Sensor
  • Dust/water resistance: IP68 rating
  • Battery: 5000mAh non-removable with fast wireless charging. Wireless PowerShare is also available.
  • Dimensions: 163.3 x 77.9 x 8.9mm and 228 grams
  • Colors: Phantom Black, Phantom White, Green, Burgundy, Graphite, Sky Blue, Red

When you look at the S21 Ultra in comparison, the only things that are obviously different, in terms of specifications, is the newer Qualcomm processor, colors, and better integration of the S Pen. The display, RAM, storage (except for the 1TB option), connectivity, camera hardware, battery capacity, and the rest are all the same. The cameras have been enhanced with software improvements, but the focus here is clearly on the slightly different form factor and S Pen support.

Hardware

Last year’s S21 Ultra incorporated Samsung’s Contour Cut camera housing that extends the metal frame out from the right side and around the back. The S22 and S22 Plus look to have a similar design as last year’s S21 models while the S22 Ultra has a simple, minimalistic rear camera layout with five raised circles protruding out the back of the phone on a field of matte Gorilla Glass Victus Plus. It will take more time for me to determine if I like this design and layout or not, but I imagine since most people use cases with their phones, it may not matter much.

One other hardware difference that I did not notice for the first couple of hours is that the 40MP front-facing camera is not a traditional center hole punch camera as it appears. The camera is actually positioned under the glass display, so the glass over the camera is smooth with no cutout for the camera. Given I have seen rather poor performance for shooting still images from the under-display camera on the Z Fold 3, this is definitely one aspect I will be checking out more during our review.

The major change here with the S22 Ultra is the inclusion of the S Pen and a silo to store and charge it. Since it is a Bluetooth stylus, it is charged in the silo and supports wireless Air Actions. Samsung also reduced the S Pen latency to just 2.8 milliseconds (from 9 milliseconds), so your pen will flow flawlessly across the display. The S Pen in the four standard phone colors is matte black, while the Samsung exclusive colors have colorful S Pens to match.

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ZDNet / Matt Miller

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is a gorgeous piece of hardware with minimal top and bottom bezels and no side bezels, with the sides of the display curved down into a rounded side design. The top and bottom are flat, so the design elements of the old Note series are clearly present here. The power/Bixby and volume buttons are on the right side, with nothing on the left side. The SIM card slot, USB port, and bottom-firing speaker are on the bottom. A mic opening is just a couple of millimeters away from the SIM card release opening so be careful not to jam the SIM card tool into the bottom microphone opening.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: Room for improvement

I plan to further investigate camera performance, battery life, S Pen functionality, display performance, speaker quality, and cellular reception when it comes to hardware.

Software

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra launches with Android 12 and Samsung One UI 4.1. The January 1, 2022, Android security update is present on our review unit. I may receive more updates on these evaluation units prior to public availability later this month.

The color palette features from Android 12 are present, as you can clearly see when you go through the phone setup process. It’s great to have Android 12 out of the box, and I will further explore how this version of Android works on a new Samsung phone.

I personally find value in some Samsung apps, such as the Internet, Calendar, Gallery, Samsung Notes, and Samsung Health. However, I am tired of seeing some other duplicate apps like Messages (Samsung and Google use the exact same name for the text messaging apps) and Bixby.

After briefly using a Google Pixel 6  and then an iPhone 13 Pro Max , I don’t understand why manufacturers like Samsung continue to make core functions difficult for the consumer. One example that drives me bonkers is visual voicemail. Google and Apple have support for visual voicemail natively in the phone app. At the same time, Samsung devices on T-Mobile require you to download and install a separate T-Mobile visual voicemail app. Hence, voicemail is separate from the phone, which is also not very reliable. It’s the little things like this that I hope to see resolved someday on Samsung phones.

I plan to further explore Android 12 and OneUI 4.1 on the S22 Ultra to see what has been improved from the S21 Ultra. At first glance, the camera software looks the same as before, but I’ll check it out in more detail since Samsung spent time optimizing the cameras on the S22 Ultra.

Buy it now: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

View now at Samsung

First impressions

I still have a Note 10 Plus in my smartphone collection, and the S22 Ultra clearly builds on the Note line. The S Pen is one of my favorite mobile accessories, and I am thrilled to see it integrated into the S22 Ultra in 2022, especially with Bluetooth Air Actions and improved latency.

Time will tell if I like the new camera array design, but Samsung is clearly advertising the camera performance so testing the cameras is one of my full review priorities.

As a mobile reviewer, I have the opportunity to test out many phones and am pretty operating system agnostic, with most of last year spent with a Z Fold 3 and iPhone 12 Pro Max. The iPhone 13 Pro Max has been in my hands for just over a month, but there is a chance the S22 Ultra with the S Pen may sway me back to the Android world.

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