Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: should you upgrade?

Like the rest of the Galaxy S22 family, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is all about refinements and iterative updates.

Samsung’s latest ultra-premium phone gives you everything — a vibrant display, versatile set of cameras and powerhouse performance, while fixing the one critical issue of the previous S21 and S20 Ultra. It has a distinct design and camera setup from the rest of the S22 family and — finally — an integrated S Pen.

At $1,199, the S22 Ultra is for a specific person that wants a physical stylus, a big screen and an advanced camera. I’ve spent a few weeks with this gargantuan phone and have been jotting down my notes with the S Pen in hand, so let’s unpack what Samsung’s cooked up this year.

Return of the integrated S Pen

If you’re craving a large phone with top-tier cameras, zippy performance and a stylus, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is an expensive answer. It’s a premium Android smartphone that can do it all.

The who, what and how

Who this is for: The S22 Ultra is for you if you’re willing to pay more for a massive, rich screen, Samsung’s best cameras and an integrated S Pen. Fans of the now-discontinued Galaxy Note will be exceptionally happy with the S22 Ultra.

What you need to know: The Galaxy S22 Ultra features an impressive 6.8-inch display that adds a pop to color, sports a zippy refresh rate and works surprisingly well in direct sunlight. The main camera array impresses with a crystal-clear 30x Space Zoom and great performance for everyday captures. Additionally, the return of an integrated S Pen breathes new life into a familiar form for a premium Android phone.

How it compares:  The Galaxy S22 Ultra feels more high-end than the Pixel 6 Pro with a stronger processor, more years of promised updates and more advanced cameras. If you want clean Android and don’t care about advanced camera features like Super Zoom, you should save the money and get the Pixel. It’s just as high-end as the iPhone 13 Pro or 13 Pro Max, with better zoom capabilities and a screen that gets brighter. For most tasks they offer the same fast performance, but the iPhone stretches the battery life by a healthy margin and is faster for creative tasks. Unlike last year’s S21 Ultra, which required you to buy an S Pen separately, Samsung’s latest highest-end phone has a fully integrated stylus out of the box.

A distinct look for a grand phone

Jacob Krol/CNN

Like its predecessors, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a massive smartphone. And it has some Galaxy Note DNA sprinkled throughout, in that it’s more square all around with less refined, softer edges. The result? A massive smartphone that undeniably requires two hands. It’s a bit taller than the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Pixel 6 Pro. And in your hand, the S22 Ultra is lighter than Apple’s largest and heavier than the Pixel.

The S22 Ultra features a metal frame with an aluminum glass back. Thankfully the rear is matte, which means it won’t attract fingerprints. My Phantom Black unit looks stark and dominant as a serious phone. They’re also offering the Ultra in various colors: Phantom Black, Phantom White, Burgundy or Green. The colors are nice, but they’re not as vibrant or trendy as last year’s S21 family or the Z Flip 3.

It’s a spotless look, though it’s not without its shortcomings. The camera layout ditches a bump for two rows of lenses, which can be a little jarring — especially in a sea of smartphones that all feature camera bumps.

The spaces between the lenses attract lint and dust — a tremendous amount of each if you’re rocking the S22 Ultra caseless. I’ve slid it in and out of pants countless times, and each occurrence comes with a fresh layer of particles in between the lenses. It doesn’t cause any performance or camera issues, but it’s an eyesore on my Phantom Black model. Adding a case does quickly resolve this, but it’s something to keep in mind when going Ultra. The entirety of Ultra (along with the S-Pen) is dust and water-resistant with IP68 protection.

While I don’t completely love the S22’s camera design, I’m very happy about the other big change to Samsung’s latest premium flagship. That’s, of course, the integrated S-Pen — push it in and you can easily slide it out of its silo. After Samsung decided not to release a new Galaxy Note, I can’t understate how great it is to have this stylus in a phone again. More on this later on.

The rest of the Galaxy S22 Ultra is fairly standard for a modern Android phone, with. a USB-C port on the bottom next to the SIM card slot and a power button and volume rocker on the left side. Samsung doesn’t include a wall plug in the box, but the S22 Ultra supports 45-watt wired charging which lets you charge to about 70% in just half an hour. You’ll need to purchase the Samsung made charger separately though.

Jacob Krol/CNN

If you’re considering the S22 Ultra, you likely want a big, bold display — and that’s what you’ll get here. The 6.8-inch screen is not just terrific to view but isn’t as overly saturated as we’ve seen from Samsung phones in the past. When taking in the trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home, Peter Parker’s suit pops with a vibrant red, and the many blues of the ocean contrasted nicely in the latest trailer for Uncharted.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra also raises the bar when it comes to brightness, as it can hit up to 1,750 nits. That means viewing a social feed or watching a movie outdoors in direct sunlight doesn’t result in a blurry, skewed mess. When comparing the S22 Ultra side by side with a Pixel 6 Pro or iPhone 13 Pro Max, Samsung’s phone bests them both when using them outdoors and doesn’t derail the details.

To be specific, the S22 Ultra features a 6.8-inch,Dynamic AMOLED 2X QHD+ display with an adaptive refresh rate that hits 120Hz. An LTPO display allows the S22 Ultra to intelligently adapt the refresh rate to as low as 1Hz. This avoids killing battery life by keeping the refresh rate low for a basic app like Maps, while speeding it up for a game to provide a smoother experience.

My main qualm with the display is that like the older Galaxy S6 Edge+ (or even the Note Edge), the left and right sides of the S22 Ultra slope down. I found it annoying during the first days of use, especially with text spilling over the sides a bit when reading a story or email. I’d much rather have a flat-screened Ultra device like the S22 or S22+.

Jacob Krol/CNN

The display has a pinhole notch centered at the top with a 40-megapixel lens inside and using dark mode all but hides it. I’m also super pleased to see Samsung kept the impressive ultrasonic fingerprint sensor embedded into the bottom of the screen. It’s the best in-display sensor I’ve ever tested and gets you into the phone in well under a second.

Jacob Krol/CNN

The Galaxy S series has officially absorbed the Galaxy Note — The S21 Ultra introduced support, but it didn’t really catch on because the stylus was an optional $39.99 purchase. The S22 Ultra completes the transition and finally integrates the S Pen. Samsung’s latest and greatest is basically a Galaxy Note 22, and that’s not a bad thing.

I’ve been a big fan of the S Pen for a while — it was easy for quickly jotting down notes and when the idea of a “phablet” was still commonplace, it made good use of a larger-screened smartphone While listening to briefings or team meetings, I had plenty of space for bullet notes on the S22 Ultra. It’s also an excellent surface for doodles (aka what I would do) and also for some larger art projects.

You can use the S Pen as a classic stylus to navigate Android 12 with Samsung’s custom user interface on top, but air gestures are also a useful option. Holding the S Pen above the display will pull up a quick menu that gives you easy access to a clean note, capturing a screenshot or even marking up the display. You can even use the S Pen to kick off a timer to capture a selfie. The S Pen is deeply integrated into the operating system and many applications let you take advantage of it.

Jacob Krol/CNN

What I’ve been using the most, though, is the handwriting-to text conversion. It happens really fast — no doubt thanks to the zippy processor inside — and it’s trained pretty well, even with the keen ability to read my sometimes-not-so-great handwriting. If I have a quick idea, I can jot them down, convert them to bullets and then email them to a colleague. Heck, I even wrote this paragraph using handwriting conversion on the S Pen.

Using the S Pen on the Galaxy S22 Ultra feels much more like writing on actual paper than the Z Fold 3, the S21 Ultra or even the last Galaxy Note. It’s quicker to put down digital ink and triggering actions feels more instant. Using the S Pen also doesn’t result in a massive hit in battery life.

Neither the 6.1-inch or 6.6-inch S22 or S22 Plus supports the S Pen, but I believe a smaller, more pocketable version of the Ultra would be ideal. I wouldn’t mind a thicker device that ditches the camera bump (or bumps) either.

The S22 Ultra is nimble, swift and rapid

Jacob Krol/CNN

Not once during my testing did the Galaxy S22 Ultra blip or even stutter. It’s a blazing fast phone that can easily juggle multiple apps, zippily scroll through a long feed or sheet and tackle intense tasks with ease. A quick match in Real Racing or COD: Mobile and even photo editing in Afterlight or Lightroom feels instant with no extra rendering time.

The S22 Ultra is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, an all-new chipset that delivers a boost in performance (especially with gaming or intense multitasking) while keeping the device from getting too hot. The S22 Ultra pairs that fancy chip with either 8GB or 12GB of RAM — my unit has the latter. To put that in perspective, that’s double the RAM that comes in the M1 MacBook Air. That’s overkill and I couldn’t make the Ultra slow down. Chances are, 8GB of RAM will be just fine for most people.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra runs Android 12 with Samsung’s One UI 4.0 interface. It’s by no-means clean Android, but Samsung’s doubled down on removing bloatware and lighting the interface on top. You won’t find a separate Samsung messaging app here. Instead, it’s the Google Messages app with some Samsung touches, namely in the design space. It’s refreshing to find this on a Galaxy phone.

Like Android 12’s “Material You” on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, you can choose a theme in Settings to make the S22 Ultra better match your wallpaper. Like iOS on the iPhone, Samsung’s also making privacy more apparent and user-facing. There’s a new privacy center in Settings for brushing up, but you’ll also find indicators at the top of the screen if a camera or microphone was recently used.

Jacob Krol/CNN

And unlike the iPhone, you can easily split the screen to use two apps at once — this way, you can have a PDF on the top and compose an email on the bottom, for example. I especially liked using the S Pen for tasks like this.

Samsung also promises four years of Android updates, which surpasses the three years that Google promises for Pixel phones. That’s truly excellent news since it extends the lifespan of the S22 Ultra.

I also ran the premium flagship through Geekbench 5, which runs. This phones through a series of tasks to measure general performance.. The S22 Ultra got 1,122 on single and 3,489 on multi-core which passed the Pixel 6 Pro by a good maring in both tests. It does however lag behind the iPhone 13 Pro Max which is a top performer. These results place the S22 Ultra and the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 as the Android devices to beat for 2022 smartphones.


GeekBench 5 Single-Core

GeekBench 5 Multi-Core

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 1,219 3,434
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor 1,122 3,489
Google Pixel 6 Pro Google Tensor 993 2,662
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max A15 Bionic 1,739 4,675

The Galaxy S22 Ultra features a 5,000mAh battery inside, the same cell as in the S21 Ultra. The difference is the processor and a display that gets seriously brighter. It usually lasted for about a day and a half of use with many apps, plenty of camera captures and lots of S Pen notes.

I also ran the Galaxy S22 Ultra through the CNN Underscored battery test, in which we loop a 4K video in the VLC with the device set to airplane mode and the brightness set to 50% The Galaxy S22 Ultra lasted for 14 hours and 27 minutes which is nearly four hours less than the iPhone 13 Pro Max (18 hours) and over an hour shorter than the S21 Ultra. While you likely won’t have battery life issues on the S22 Ultra this shorter result might be due to the newer processor or the addition of the S Pen.

In terms of connectivity, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is equipped for the present and the future with support for the following standards:

  • mmWave 5G: Super fast speeds that are hard to find and require unblocked line of sight with a cell tower.
  • sub-6Ghz 5G: This standard offers more capacity for connected devices but speeds closer to 4G LTE.

This is all well and good on paper, but 5G still isn’t the wild experience it was promised — mileage really does vary on where you live and the carrier you’re on. Additionally, the Ultra supports Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2.

Jacob Krol/CNN

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is nearly identical on paper to the S21 Ultra in terms of camera hardware. It’s all about refinement, and now, two years down the line, the original S20 Ultra’s slow processing and frequently blurry shots are a thing of the past.

30x Space Zoom shots of the moon on a clear night deliver crazily good photos, even while shooting freehand. 100x images are still harder to capture, but the results speak for themselves. I can confidently say that Space Zoom is less of a gimmick and more of a neat photo trick for the first time. Shooting at 10x or 30x delivers crisp, blurry free shots that shame the iPhone and Pixel’s zoom capabilities.

The S22 Ultra is just an all-around confident shooter that lets you pick from four physical lenses and three shooting modes. Here’s how the four cameras break down:

  • 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens: Whether you want to capture a skyline, a group of folks, or shoot with a unique angle, this 120-degree lens fits the bill. For 2022, the software is better about not blurring the edges and working to avoid fisheye effects.
  • 108-megapixel wide-camera: As the primary lens on the S22 Ultra, the 108-megapixel camera delivers crisp, rich images. You can choose to get 12-megapixel images from this camera or massive 108-megapixel full-size shots. Here on the S22 Ultra, it creates a natural bokeh effect, takes social-worthy shots and excels in lower lighting conditions.
  • Dual 10-megapixel telephoto lenses: Like last year, these dueling lenses are the most impressive to shoot with. You can shoot at 3x or 10x optically while also shooting at up to 100x Space Zoom, which uses software to enhance clarity. 100x isn’t the most practical, but 10x up to 30x lets you capture considerable details for a blurry free zoom shot.

The hardware is the same, but Samsung’s improved the software side of the house for focusing and quickly setting auto modes. Additionally, processing times are improved for how fast an image is ready to view. The usual camera modes — portrait, night mode, hyper-lapse, slow-mo and various others — perform pretty well and are still relatively easy to find. Portrait Mode makes some noteworthy improvements, especially when taking photos at night. It’s better at identifying the entire subject and is better capable of catching wild hairs and separating a busy background. Just take a look at these shots of my colleague Michael at night in NYC — it can clearly keep him in focus, but also doesn’t go overboard with a crazy amount of blur. Not to mention, it doesn’t overtly brighten the scene like Samsung’s typical night mode for standard images. Night mode shots do take a bit longer to process, with sometimes blurry results.

And like Apple’s iPhones, Samsung will now let you shoot and edit photos in a RAW format. It’s not as deeply integrated as Apple’s approach, as you need to download the “Expert Raw” app. I like them not adding another menu, but it’s also clunky to download an entire app for shooting mode. Still for photo editors, you’ll have more customizations over the final image and this format plays nicely with professional apps. Similarly, Samsung lets you delete objects — a photo bomber or a poorly placed tree from a shoot — similar to “Magic Eraser” on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro. There’s also a new function for remastering photos that seeks to make the shot look sharper and make the vibrance a bit more neutral.

Over on the front, Samsung tucked a 40-megapixel selfie lens into the center pinhole notch at the top of the display. It’s a delight to take selfies, and I’m pretty happy that it doesn’t auto smooth my skin by default. You can also shoot in a standard wide ratio or switch on the fly to ultrawide to capture more in a shot.

If you want an Android phone with a big screen and an S Pen, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is for you. Samsung’s latest ultra-premium smartphone has come a long way in terms of the overall build, camera performance and software experience. It’s not a night-and-day improvement over the S21 Ultra, and if you have that phone, you don’t need to upgrade. But if you’ve been sticking with an S20 Ultra, a Note 20 Ultra or an older device, the S22 Ultra is the new high-end option to get.

If you’re not craving an S-Pen, but still want a big display, the $999 S22+ is more affordable and delivers a similar experience. Smaller-handed individuals will likely appreciate the 6.1-inch S22 — it’s also better on your wallet at a starting price of $799.

At $1,199, the Galaxy Note 22 Ultra (sorry) S22 Ultra isn’t cheap, but it’s the ultimate smartphone for power users who want a stylus, a huge screen and lots of powerful cameras.

Display 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Storage 128GB 256GB / 512GB / 1TB
Cameras 12 megapixel ultra wide, 108 megapixel wide and dual 10 megapixel telephoto with flash(rear); 40 megapixel (front) 12 megapixel ultra wide, 108 megapixel wide and dual 10 megapixel telephoto with flash(rear); 40 megapixel (front)
Battery 5,000mAh 5,000mAh
Size and weight 3.06 x 6.42 x 0.35 inches; 0.50 pounds 3.06 x 6.42 x 0.35 inches; 0.50 pounds
Colors Phantom Black, Phantom White, Green or Burgundy Phantom Black, Phantom White, Green or Burgundy


Starting at $1,299

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