Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: One ‘ultra’ phone to rule them all

This is the best phone that Samsung makes as of today.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review
Galaxy S22 Ultra price in India starts at Rs 1,09,999 (12GB/256GB). (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Smartphones go by all sorts of names these days—lite, pro, pro plus, pro max, ultra, and the likes. When a big brand like Samsung launches an “ultra” phone, you’d naturally think that that would be the absolute best thing coming out of it at any given point of time, even more so when you talk about a high-end flagship. You’d probably think the same thing about a “pro max” iPhone, too. You wouldn’t expect Samsung to launch two ultra-phones in the same year (or Apple to launch two pro maxes, either). But that’s exactly what Samsung was doing –albeit briefly— not long ago. The S and Note, in 2020, both had an ultra-version and even though the two catered to two very different kinds of people, in the end, it seemed far-fetched to imagine the strategy would continue, for too long. I mean, c’mon, two ultras. Really? One of them was bound to get the axe sooner rather than later. The pandemic only expedited the process.

Also Read | Samsung Galaxy S22, Galaxy S22+ review: The best Android phones you can buy today

But the thing is, the S and Note, aren’t run-off-the-mill product lines. They are, both, so iconic that choosing one over the other is easier said than done which is probably why the Galaxy S is more Note-like, this year. We don’t know what the future holds but for now at least, the Note—even though it’s technically dead— lives by another name, the Galaxy S22 Ultra. As you’d expect, this is the best phone that Samsung makes as of today. It’s got a premium design, big, beautiful screen, the latest top-of-the-line Qualcomm processor, powerful cameras, quick charging, and stylus baked-in. The big difference—from the last few generations – is that it does not have to compete with anything else. It is, for all intents and purposes, the one and only ultra-phone to rule them all.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra design, build quality

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review
The back has a nice, satin finish. The frame is glossy. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

If you were to take the S22 Ultra simply at face value, putting the naming aside for a bit, you won’t be able to easily tell it apart from a Note 20 Ultra, at least on first look. What it also means is that it looks nothing like the S22 and S22+ (or the S21 Ultra). It does make use of some of the same build materials (Corning Gorilla Glass Victus+ on the front and back, armour aluminium on the sides) but the similarities end there. The back has a nice, satin finish. The frame is glossy.

The S22 Ultra is equal parts Note 20 Ultra and S21 Ultra. Even though it is as big and bulky—228g, 8.9mm—as the S21 Ultra, the front is much boxier—like the Note 20 Ultra—so it feels bigger, and bulkier. But it does not have that sharp Note-like aesthetic on the sides, either. It is much more rounded, so once you get used to the weight, the S22 Ultra is actually quite easy to get along with on a day-to-day basis (had it been like the S22 or S22+, well, that would be a different conversation). Samsung has done well with the weight distribution, too, so that balances out a lot of things also. The S22 Ultra can be a little slippery, sometimes, but it’s not an issue per se.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review
The sides are rounded. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The build, expectedly, is solid. The fit and finish, very premium. The button layout is same as the Note 20 Ultra. The stylus silo is also in the same exact place at the bottom. The phone and the stylus, both, are IP68-rated.

I am not every impressed with the camera styling on the S22 Ultra though. The contour-cut from last year is gone completely and the individual lenses have been basically left to fend for themselves. Not only do you have to be more careful with them, now, so as not to nick them accidently, but they also tend to accumulate dust over time. A case is an absolute necessity with this phone.       

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra screen, performance, cameras

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review
The panel can top a “ridiculously high” 1750nits. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

On the front you get a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X LTPO display with a 1440p resolution (3080x1440p) and variable 1Hz-120Hz refresh rate. The panel can top a “ridiculously high” 1750nits and supports up to 240Hz touch sampling (in game mode). There is a punch hole cut-out at the centre of the display. Biometrics are handled by an ultrasonic fingerprint reader—this is blazing fast and very accurate. It is a great display, no two ways about it. Samsung does it so well, year after year, it’s hardly a surprise anymore.

The real surprise is the choice of the underlying chip. The S22 Ultra is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip in India and not an Exynos-equivalent, for the fist time. You get 12GB RAM and up to a 1TB storage—this is non-expandable. Compared to the S22 and S22+, the S22 Ultra has a much bigger footprint and surface area to work around with and so cooling is not as difficult. This means it can also push the 8 Gen 1, higher, which is very evident in the benchmark scores. While the S22+ and S22 scored 8,75,087 and 8,22,780 on AnTuTu, respectively, the S22 Ultra achieved a score of 9,02,602. The phone was able to complete its 45-minute stress test without any major red flags, too. Throttling was never a concern during our review period.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review
The bundled S-Pen has a latency of 2.8ms. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The S22 Ultra packs lots of power, clearly, but it’s the bundled S-Pen that makes it a productivity powerhouse. Those who know, would know. The thing becomes habit, instantly, and because Samsung has been doing it for so long—and the only brand doing it at such scale— it’s been crafted to near perfection. While feature set remains largely the same as the Note 20 Ultra—from general notetaking to being a handy camera shutter—Samsung has improved latency, even further, to 2.8ms (this was 9ms in the Note 20 Ultra) which brings the whole experience extremely close to that of writing on an actual sheet of paper. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Essentially, the S22 Ultra is the best performing phone in this year’s S22-series striking the best balance of power and efficiency. It’s the most feature packed, too. The phone runs Android 12-based One UI 4.1 and will get four major OS updates and five years of security updates. You can read more about the experience bit here.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review
Powering the phone is a 5,000mAh battery. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Battery life, also, is surprisingly good though your mileage may vary depending on your use case. The phone lasted 11 hours and 29 minutes in our video loop test with screen set to 1440p, which is a respectable figure. Most users should get at least a day’s worth of usage out of this phone. There is support for 45W fast wired and 15W wireless charging. There is no charger in the box, though, just a USB C to USB C cable. Wireless powershare is also available for charging other compatible devices wirelessly.

For photography, the S22 ultra has four cameras on the back—a 108MP main sensor that sits behind an optically stabilised f/1.8 lens, a 12MP sensor behind an ultrawide-angle lens with f/2.2 aperture and 120-degree field-of-view, a 10MP sensor behind an optically stabilised f/2.4 aperture 3x telephoto lens, and another 10MP periscope-style 10x zoom camera. That’s exactly the same setup as the S21 Ultra. In this generation, Samsung has made more under-the-hood changes (rather than putting new sensors and lenses) to improve two aspects—low light photography and videos. Its ultra-phones have always been one of the most versatile with the best possible zoom cameras available on any smartphone and while that stays true about the S22 Ultra, too, I am more impressed with the S22 Ultra’s HDR performance and night mode and that is across all the cameras, not just the primary.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review
S22 ultra has four cameras on the back. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

All the four cameras on the back (and the 40MP f/2.2 front camera) can shoot at up to 4K@60fps (the main sensor can shoot at up to 8K@24fps) and you can switch between any of them on the fly. These are some of the best videos you can get out of a smartphone, also giving the latest iPhones some stiff competition especially in low light.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra| Should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review
S22 Ultra lives up to the hype. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The Galaxy S22 Ultra price in India is set at Rs 1,09,999 for 12GB/256GB while a version with 12GB/512GB configuration will set you back by Rs 1,18,999. You can also get it with 1TB storage for Rs 1,34,999.

It’s a bit pricier than the S21 Ultra but not by much. When you factor in all the hardware upgrades plus the “noteworthy” crossover and the fact that hardware like this does not exist in any other phone, period, it becomes abundantly clear that it’s all worth it. The only competition will be within Samsung. You also have the Fold 3 that many people would have their eyes on making the decision of picking one over the other, more a matter of preference than anything else. There will be a Fold 4 coming later this year, too, hopefully raising the stakes further.  

As for the S22 Ultra, it lives up to the hype with a package that, even though it feels familiar on so many levels, is still miles ahead of competition when it comes to giving you the most premium value.   

Also Read | Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: Best of both worlds, now in the palm of your hand

Premium fit and finishBig and bulky
Fantastic displayBit pricey
Fast performance
Great cameras
Good battery life
Extended software support
Loud speakers, Excellent haptics

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First published on: 01-04-2022 at 19:28 IST