Samsung Galaxy S22 and S22 Ultra review: Thoughtful, not exciting

Samsung Galaxy S22 and S22 Ultra review: Thoughtful, not exciting


If you’ve seen one flashy device ad, you’ve seen them all. They usually start with broad, upbeat updates from whoever is in charge. Then come the dramatic beauty shots of what’s being revealed, followed by too many details about all the new features and maybe a couple of illustrative skits.

Repeat the process for all the other new products, add some sustainability claims, and voila: another launch event for the books.

Living with the things that are advertised is a little different. The excitement lingers for a bit, then it wears off completely, and then you begin to see your new device for what it really is. And for Samsung’s new Galaxy S22 and S22 Ultra smartphones, that means living with devices that really aren’t that different from what we’ve seen before.

That’s not to say they’re bad phones, they’re not! But Samsung mostly stuck to by-the-book updates here, which can make it hard to know how useful the changes might be before you go out and grab one of the phones for yourself. To help minimize your chances of feeling any buyer’s remorse, I spent a week testing these phones for performance, camera quality, battery life, and more. Here are six things to know about the Samsung Galaxy S22 and S22 Ultra before you even think about buying one.

The flashiest new phone Samsung announced was the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but let’s be honest here: it’s a Galaxy Note. And if you were already a fan of Note, his decision became much easier. This is the phone for you.

For everyone else, the S22 Ultra only makes sense if there’s room in your life for a gigantic, super-smooth 6.8-inch screen and Samsung’s S Pen stylus.

You can use the S Pen instead of your finger to poke around, as well as jot down notes and doodle on this big screen. It also makes some mundane tasks, like selecting text to copy, a breeze.

However, in some cases, the S Pen works like a kind of magic wand. Are you trying to take a photo of yourself and your friends? Prop the Ultra up somewhere and click the S Pen button to take a photo. How about taking screenshots or opening your recent apps? Simply move the S Pen and go.

For me, these “air actions” make the S Pen more than just a gimmick; it’s another way to control your phone even when you’re not holding it. It is wonderful, but for many people it may seem completely strange.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is absolutely huge by smartphone standards: It’s a bit taller and a hair thicker than Apple’s already large iPhone 13 Pro Max. For some people, that size is the whole point, but unless you’re enamored with the idea of ​​doodling on your smartphone, the smaller S22, with its 6.1-inch screen, is much more comfortable to hang on. (Honestly, it’s the one I’d pick out of all the new Samsung devices.)

speed will not be a problem

All versions of the S22 in the US use Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset. That means these phones will be among the most powerful Android phones you’ll see this year.

I’ve used the S22 and S22 Ultra to play games including “Genshin Impact,” edit and share 4K video clips, and run up to three apps on screen at the same time. (I don’t recommend doing this, but it is possible.) And at no point did any of these phones stutter or wobble, though the Ultra’s body can get surprisingly hot when you really start to push it.

But here’s a question worth looking into: How much horsepower do you really need? What do you really use your phone for? We are long past the point where modern smartphones have become more powerful than most people really need them to be. Put another way, if you’re mostly just browsing the Web or flipping through TikToks or responding to group chats, these two phones are total overkill. How very Samsung.

All that said, here’s a speed boost that some of you will probably notice. All versions of the Galaxy S22 have built-in support for Verizon and AT&T’s new mid-band 5G that recently drove the Federal Aviation Administration crazy over fears of interference with frequencies used for aircraft communications. If you haven’t upgraded your phone in the last year, that means you could start seeing much faster data and download speeds without having to do anything at all.

And folks at T-Mobile, don’t worry: Your carrier has had mid-band 5G for a while, and these phones work just as well with it.

5G service is now faster for some people. This is why.

The cameras are fantastic.

Samsung likes to make a big fuss about cameras, and that’s still true this year.

The big change for the smaller S22 is that Samsung used a higher resolution sensor than before; it can capture 50-megapixels of the world in front of you, though it processes all that data in a way that spits out beautiful 12-megapixel photos. Beyond that, it has a perfectly serviceable ultra-wide camera and a purely passable telephoto camera; it can’t capture as much detail as found on last year’s model.

Meanwhile, the S22 Ultra offers the most flexibility I’ve seen in a smartphone camera system since last year’s model. The main camera uses a 108-megapixel sensor (which also produces 12-megapixel stills), along with the same ultra-wide camera as the S22 and a pair of telephoto cameras that let you zoom in up to 100x. Yes, the result is as cool – and potentially as creepy – as it sounds.

Both phones also take extremely nice photos in low light, thanks to their large main camera sensors and a few software tricks. A built-in “adaptive pixel” mode combines visual information from two photos into a single image that looks a little better than either of the originals.

Samsung phone cameras used to be famous for making things in photos look more vivid and colorful than in reality. These days, I’d say Apple has taken that crown, for better or worse. Meanwhile, Google’s Pixel phones use a lot of clever AI tricks to produce detailed photos, but they can sometimes look too pristine, a side effect of algorithms trying to correct more than they should.

If you’re really interested in photos, take some time and peruse the sample images of different phones online. That way you’ll have an idea of ​​what you like, what you don’t, and what the phones can offer you.

Will get more software updates

Our goal is to help you get the most out of your technology for as long as you can, and regular software updates play a big part in how long your phone can be used.

If you buy a Galaxy S22, Samsung says you’ll get four years of major Android software updates and five years of security updates. That’s about the best software promise you’ll find from any Android phone maker right now; it even beats what Google offers for its new Pixel phones. (Most other Android device manufacturers are pretty bad at this.)

In fact, Apple is the only company that does it better than Samsung. The iPhone 6s, a device that was released in the fall of 2015, is still getting new versions of iOS. That’s the standard that all other device manufacturers must meet, and Samsung is getting pretty close.

Battery life could be better

If there’s one reason you’d be hesitant to buy any of these phones right now, it’s battery life, the reason you couldn’t live with Samsung’s sleek Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Here’s my rule of thumb for batteries: If you use your phone for a full day, forget to charge it before bed and wake up to find some power in the tank, that’s good battery life. If your phone takes you deep into day two, battery life is excellent. None of the batteries in these phones come close to being excellent.

Ever since I started testing it, I haven’t been able to count on the Galaxy S22 to last a full work day without plugging it in at least once. That hasn’t been a deal breaker for me, as I still spend most of my time within the same four walls, but it doesn’t bode well for lives that are primarily lived outdoors. And while Samsung’s Ultra model typically lasted all night on a single charge, I was hoping for much better.

After all, it has an absolutely huge battery by smartphone standards; it can store more power than any of Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro models, but both – yes, even the smaller one – have outlasted the Ultra on a single charge.

iPhones, Pixels, Flips: What you need to know about the best smartphones of 2021

Never, ever buy a Samsung phone at full price

On paper, Samsung’s new phones aren’t exactly cheap: Prices range from $799 for the smaller S22 to $1,199 for the Ultra model. Here’s a tip from someone who’s seen more smartphone launches than they care to admit: never buy a new Samsung phone at full price.

Maybe it’s because its biggest rival, Apple, sells iPhones in mind-boggling numbers. Or maybe it’s because Samsung will have a new batch of phones to push later this year, so the window to sell its existing models is smaller than for other companies. Either way, new Samsung phones never stay at their list price for long. There is always some kind of sale or promotion going on, and they often offer a credit equal to a few hundred dollars of the selling price. (There are some of these offers even now).

Time (and the many Android blogs that keep tabs on prices) are your friends. Take advantage of them and don’t let anyone talk you into upgrading before you find a good deal.

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