Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra initial review: Ultimate reinvention?

6 months ago 116
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(Pocket-lint) - For those who lamented the absence of Samsung's Note series in 2021, there's a new Galaxy to sate your appetite: the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Just one look at it and you'll likely be seeing double, for this top-tier handset looks a lot like the Note that never was.

Principal to the Galaxy S22 Ultra's design is the integration of an S Pen stylus. That's right: not only is this flagship compatible with the pen, it comes with one stowed right in its body - which the smaller and altogether differently designed S22 and S22+ models in the range lack - that can be quickly ejected for easy use.

Does that make the Galaxy S22 Ultra the ultimate reinvention for Samsung's series, or does it now feel misplaced within this particular line-up? We got to handle the Galaxy S22 Ultra at Samsung KX in London's Kings Cross ahead of its official Unpacked event. Here's our initial impressions of what's on offer.

Design

  • IP68 dust/weather resistance
  • Under display fingerprint scanner
  • Integrated S Pen stylus (2.8ms latency)
  • Colours: Phantom Black, White, Burgundy, Green
  • Dimensions: 77.9 x 163.3 x 8.9mm / Weight: 229g

To look at the Ultra is entirely different to its Galaxy S22 and S22+ cousins. First up, it's the largest model of the three, giving it significantly more stature. Its screen edges are also curved, unlike the other models in the range, giving it a distinctive style that really stands out.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review photo 2

In many regards it looks a lot like the earlier Galaxy Note 20 Ultra front-on. Flip the S22 Ultra over, however, and its rear design and camera arrangement is a totally different take for Samsung. The numerous lenses positioned towards the top corner portion of the handset are deeper set within the body design than before, ditching any sort of enclosure arrangement, allowing them to exist more freely.

All that helps the lenses avoid protruding to excess - a long-time complaint of earlier handsets - but they're certainly not flush to the body, so you can still expect some 'desk wobble' when the Ultra is laid flat on a desktop.

We think it's a neat-looking arrangement that allows the colour finish of choice to shine through between the lenses' positions. Our pictures show off the Phantom Black - probably the most subdued of the four available - but there's also a white, green or burgundy option to pick from. There's no pink gold option as you'll find in the S22 and S22+ though (not that we think it'll be missed all too much).

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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review photo 3

Unsurprisingly there's no 3.5mm headphone jack to be found in the Ultra, while storage capacity is selected at purchase rather than being expandable via microSD after the fact. That's pretty much the standard for any flagship these days, though, but at least there's both Corning Gorilla Glass Victus+ and IP68 dust-and-water-resistance to further add to the durability.

All in all, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra's design makes us reflect on the Note Ultra of old, which is a positive, but its refinement and individuality around the cameras design really helps it stand apart from the rest of the S22 series.

Display

  • 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel
  • QHD+ resolution (1440 x 3080)
  • 120Hz refresh rate (adaptive)
  • 1750 nits peak brightness
  • Edge curved design

That the Galaxy S22 and S22+ models' displays are approaching flat - they have rounded corners that cut into their screen real-estate a touch - the S22 Ultra's use of a properly curved edge panel continues this theme of it really standing apart from the crowd. It looks like an entirely different phone, as if it's cut from a different series imprint.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review photo 9

Whether you like the idea of a curved panel is a whole other matter, though, with most manufacturers going for flatter panels these days. The reasons are numerous: curved panels cause contrast and colour to fall off; are more prone to accidental touch; and with the use of a stylus there will be an inevitable lesser useful area towards the edge.

All that said, however, Samsung is really good at avoiding the accidental touch issue through intelligent software, so far as we've seen thus far the visual impact of this screen will catch many a buyers' eye - it just looks much more interesting. Besides, at this 6.8-inch scale, those softer edges are just more comfortable to hold overall.

The display as a whole has some additional eye-popping features, such as the 1750 nit maximum brightness. That's about as high as you'll find in any flagship phone, ensuring colours from the AMOLED panel are really punchy, whites extra bright and clean, yet blacks as deep and rich as you could want. There's ample resolution, too, with QHD+ giving a pixel density that's around the 500ppi mark - again, really high by any standard.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review photo 8

Samsung hasn't gone overboard when it comes to refresh rate, offering a dynamic 120Hz panel, so the device can automatically adjust whether the handset is refreshing what's on its screen once every second or 120 times every second - it all depends on whether the content needs that additional cycling to appear visually smoother. If the Korean company had busted out 144Hz or 165Hz refresh rate we suspect the benefit would be negligible and impact on battery life nothing but negative.

Hardware

  • Samsung Exynos 2200 (UK, Europe, Asia) / Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (USA)
  • 8GB RAM & 128GB storage or 12GB RAM 256/512GB/1TB storage options
  • 5000mAh battery capacity, 45W fast-charging, 15W wireless charging

Speaking of battery, there's a 5,000mAh cell on board, which is the kind of capacity you'd expect for a flagship of this scale. There's also 45W fast-charging and less fast wireless charging (at 15W).

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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review photo 4

However, what you might not expect is what else is under the hood: Samsung has deployed its own Exynos 2200 processor in the S22 Ultra in more regions than is typical (including the UK and, we believe, other parts of Europe - the USA gets Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 instead).

At this stage, having not used the handset as our own, how all this will link together in terms of power, multi-tasking and battery life we'll have to wait and see.

However, our time spent thumbing between apps and tinkering with the S Pen's variety of options - including Notes, Smart Select, Screen Write, Pen Up, Translate - shows that Samsung's One UI 4.1 skin over the top of Google's Android operating system is a great success. It runs smoothly and the way the S Pen jumps straight into action impresses, as does its speed, providing a really fluid feel when interacting with the screen.

The S Pen does present the question as to whether most people will gravitate towards such a device though. In the Note we go it, the stylus defined the series. In the S series it's a tangent: we'd buy the S22 Ultra for its larger and different screen arrangement, and suspect many other buyers will be attracted by this aspect too, but you can't forego the S Pen being integrated within the design. Will it remain sat within the body most/all of the time for many buyers?

Cameras

  • Quad rear cameras
    • Main: 108-megapixels, f/1.8 aperture, dual pixel autofocus (PDAF), optical stabilisation (OIS)
    • Wide (120 degrees): 12MP, f/2.2
    • Zoom (3x): 10MP, f/2.4, PDAF, OIS
    • Zoom (10x): 10MP, f/4.9, PDAF, OIS
  • Front-facing camera: 40MP, f/2.2

We've detailed the rear camera design from a layout and visual perspective already, but what are the lenses here all about? Well, if you're an S21 Ultra user already then the first read might seem disappointing because all four camera sensors deliver the same resolution.

The key difference? The S22 Ultra's main sensor, at 108-megapixels, is 23 per cent larger than the outgoing model. Larger pixels means better light gathering properties, which ought to mean improved quality from the main sensor. There's also a new 'Super Clear Glass Lens' designed to reduce flare. Otherwise the core make-up of the S22 Ultra's camera doesn't advance forward, with no added resolution for the zoom lenses.

Where Samsung is keen to show-off the S22 series' advances is in various modes. There's Stereo Depth Map to improve software-derived background blur. There's 16-bit raw capture with a separate Expert Raw camera app to edit the files (DNG, which can be opened in various other software outfits). Auto Framing will detect faces and zoom in, adjusting as more enter the frame, including in video capture. There's even an updated Pet Portrait mode, again with better background blur.

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Having used the S22 Ultra's camera the big appeal is how straightforward and well integrated everything is. Sure, there's various Pro modes and settings to play with, but if you don't want to tweak such things you can just dive into the app, pinch to zoom with ease and get great results. There's optical stabilisation in the right places, decent autofocus, and a night mode that'll automatically kick in as needed without you needing to think.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review photo 18

Sure, the results may be largely similar to the earlier S21 Ultra, but when that camera setup was in such high regard, we can see why there's largely an echo of that repeated here - albeit in a neater design arrangement.

First Impressions

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra stands apart from the rest of the S22 series as something altogether different. Indeed, its integration of an S Pen stylus, not to mention its whole visual style, sort of makes it like the Note that never was.

Many will see that as a positive, especially if you're all about the pen, but others may want the larger screen real-estate and curved edge visual appeal and will never use the S Pen's skills at any point. So it's not necessarily going to be the device for all.

That said, we think the design - with a reduction in lens protrusion - is a really great visual evolution, while other key features - such as the moderate enhancements to the main camera, plus some shooting modes - show that this isn't a complete reinvention of the series, it's a well-considered refinement.

Writing by Mike Lowe.

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