The Galaxy Note is back in a big way, even if not by name. Samsung's Galaxy S22 Ultra (starting at $1,199.99) exhibits all the hallmark features of the Note lineup, with a big build, powerful hardware, long battery life, and, of course, a built-in S Pen stylus. The new model performs better than the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra from last year, as well as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (albeit slightly), and is an excellent choice if you want the most phone possible. That said, of the three Galaxy S22 models, the S22+ gets our top recommendation for delivering most of the same features as the Ultra at a lower price and in a more reasonably sized design.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra is available in several configurations, including 8GB RAM with 128GB storage ($1,199.99), or 12GB RAM with either 256GB ($1,299.99), 512GB ($1,399.99), or 1TB of storage ($1,599.99). Note that the 1TB model appears to be a Best Buy exclusive. The phone comes in matte black, burgundy, green, or white.Our Experts Have Tested 61 Products in the Mobile Phones Category in the Past YearSince 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. (See how we test.) Left to right: Galaxy S22+ (left), Galaxy S22 Ultra (right)(Photo: Molly Flores)
Despite its name, the Galaxy S22 Ultra takes its design cues from the Galaxy Note lineup. Whereas devices in the Galaxy S series have softer curves, Galaxy Note models typically sport squared-off top and bottom edges with curved, waterfall sides. At 6.43 by 3.07 by 0.35 inches (HWD) and 8.08 ounces, the S22 Ultra is wider than the 2.98-inch S21 Ultra (to accommodate the S pen), but it weighs the same.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Ultra both feature camera bumps on the back that house all of their lenses. The Galaxy S22 Ultra, on the other hand, opts for a bunch of sharp-edged lenses. I don't like this change, as it feels like they're prime to catch on or scratch things.
While the phone is rated IP68 for dust and water resistance, you should invest in a case for it—after leaving the S22 Ultra in my pocket with a few other phones for several days, I already see scratches on its matte black finish. My Galaxy S20+ also scratched easily, but the Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Ultra have held up much better thus far. I'm surprised by this damage, because Samsung says it's using a new, super-tough Gorilla Glass Victus+ here.The lines in the upper right here are scratches on the finish—something my S21 Ultra doesn't show after a full year(Photo: Sascha Segan)
The S22 Ultra's 6.8-inch screen has 3,088-by-1,440-pixel resolution, which you can reduce to 2,316 by 1,080 or even 1,544 by 720 to conserve battery. With a 1,200-nit maximum brightness rating and an algorithm that changes not only brightness but also screen contrast in sunlight, the panel is particularly suitable for outdoor use.
The screen has a variable frame rate that ranges from 1Hz to 120Hz to save battery life. You can manually set it to 60Hz, but the adaptive mode should be just as effective at reducing the refresh rate when possible. For comparison, the Galaxy S22 and S22+ models have 48Hz to 120Hz screens. As I discuss in the battery section below, that difference in minimum refresh rates likely gives the Ultra an advantage.
Like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the S22 Ultra has an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. The S21 Ultra used Qualcomm's 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2, which, in regular use, is a bit inconsistent. The S22 appears to use the same hardware, but the sensor works more reliably. When I tried to unlock the phone with 10 fingertip and side-of-finger touches, I had about a 50% success rate with the S21 Ultra, while the S22 Ultra correctly detected every attempt. The phone also supports unlocking via face recognition.
The S22 is the first US phone line with Qualcomm's X65 modem, though that hardware is likely to appear in the OnePlus 10 Pro and Apple's iPhone 14 lineup. We tested the X65 in low-signal areas and found that it has significantly better weak-signal reception than last year's models.
Samsung frustratingly holds the official list of frequency bands that the S22 Ultra supports like a confidential state secret. The phone reconfigures itself every time you insert a SIM, and shows only the bands each carrier wants to support.
However, we know that the phone supports all current 4G and 5G bands from US carriers. Samsung also confirmed to Cnet that this will be the first phone to support AT&T's upcoming 3.45GHz band that the carrier will use to bring faster, C-band-like speeds and coverage to more of the US later this year.A millimeter-wave antenna window joins the power and volume buttons on the side of the phone(Photo: Molly Flores)
There are also at least six global variants of the Galaxy S22 Ultra:
As usual, we suggest buying the right model for your region, as the different ones may support different frequency bands and features. (AT&T may not allow Wi-Fi calling on the non-"U" models, for instance.) Make sure to double-check the model number if you're buying from Amazon or B&H, as those retailers tend to mix up gray-market phones with US units.
Wi-Fi performance is similar to that of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Both devices use Qualcomm's FastConnect 6900 Wi-Fi chipset that supports Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E. I noticed faster speeds on the Galaxy S22 Ultra than the S21 Ultra in some conditions, and the opposite in others.The expansive screen is enjoyable for watching videos(Photo: Molly Flores)
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset doesn't offer a huge performance advantage over last year's Snapdragon 888 processor. Our benchmarks show 9% to 13% better CPU performance and about 20% better GPU performance compared with last year's model. That's a measurable improvement, but outside of snappier S Pen performance (which I discuss below), the phone doesn't feel livelier than the S21, or, for that matter, the Note 20 Ultra. It also falls behind the iPhone 13 lineup in a number of benchmark tests.
Thermal issues might be limiting the performance. The S22 Ultra throttled faster and harder under heavy use than the S21 Ultra, which helps expain the relatively small gap between the two. That said, I didn't experience dropped frames in intense games like Genshin Impact, and the phone is notably much more capable than a Galaxy S9 or S10 model.
Battery life from the big 5,000mAh cell is very good. On a video rundown test, I got 12 hours and 14 minutes with the screen at 100% brightness. At 75% brightness, the phone lasted 13 hours and 35 minutes, which is an hour longer than the Galaxy S21 Ultra and as long as the Galaxy Note S20 Ultra. It's also an hour and a half ahead of the Galaxy S22+. Again, I think that the screen refresh rate is at least partially responsible for this advantage.
However, no recent Android phone performs as well as any of the iPhone 13 models—the iPhone 13 Pro Max lasted 18 hours, for comparison. Now, I don't really think the iPhone 13 Pro Max has 50% more battery life than the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Instead, I believe that the discrepancy stems from the different testing apps we use for Android and iOS; the Android one might drain more power. As a result, I include only other Samsung phones in the battery chart below.
I didn't notice too much of an improvement with the highly accelerated charging rate that Samsung promises. The phone charged fully in 75 minutes on a Samsung 45W charger and in 84 minutes on a Samsung 22W charger. That rate is a little faster, but not nearly as impressive as the OnePlus 9 Pro, which charges completely in under an hour. Samsung seems to be very conservative about not overcharging the phone, which could explain things—the phone charges to 24% in the first 15 minutes, but takes 15 minutes to get from 92% to 100% at the end. In addition to wired charging, it supports 15W wireless charging and reverse charging.
As for actually talking on the phone, the call quality of premium devices like the S22 Ultra hasn't changed for years. All top-of-the-line smartphones support the EVS codec for the best call quality and have loud-enough speakers.
The phone does offer several settings to help people with minor hearing loss, however. As with previous Samsung phones, the S22 Ultra features both a Personal Audio Test setting that works with wired or Bluetooth headphones to boost frequencies you have trouble hearing, as well as an Ambient Sound Amplification mode that captures sound through the phone's mic and pipes it to your headphones.
Hearing aid compatibility may take a while. Major hearing aid manufacturers are still struggling with Android 12 software, and they need time to test and certify their products. Don't upgrade immediately if this compatibility is important to you.
The phone ships with Android 12 and Samsung's One UI overlay, and Samsung promises upgrades to Android 16 (with security updates through the Android 17 cycle). That's a nice perk, but just remember that updates sometimes arrive slowly because Samsung does everything through the wireless carriers.
One new change I appreciate: The phone now defaults to Google Messages rather than Samsung Messages, and on my test phone, RCS chat features are on by default. If the carriers don't screw this up, that gets Samsung owners the read receipts and typing indicators that iMessage users have loved for years.
Otherwise, Samsung's integration with Microsoft's Your Phone app on Windows PCs is worth a mention; I've been enjoying it for months. It lets you respond to text messages, drag and drop files, and mirror apps on your PC. It's essentially the Windows version of Apple's Continuity feature.
The S Pen is a niche feature. Artists love it, for example. While you can get add-on styli for other devices, the S Pen tucks right into the body of the S22 Ultra, which makes it much harder to lose and always ready to use. The integrated stylus is a big part of why the S22 Ultra is bigger than the S21 Ultra though. And if you don't use it, that extra bulk may be difficult to overlook.
The new S Pen is the same size and shape as the Note 20's S Pen. It's flat on the sides, has a single button in the middle, and uses a pointy, flexible tip. But the body material is different—the Note 20 Ultra's S Pen was hard and shiny, while this one uses a matte, more rubbery material.
Samsung says it reduced the S Pen's latency from 9ms on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra to 2.8ms on this model. I was initially skeptical that I would be able to tell a difference, but the stylus does feel more responsive on the S22 Ultra. Samsung says it uses an AI algorithm to predict where you're going to draw before you do, so whereas the Note 20's ink follows your pen, the S22 Ultra's ink almost precedes it.(Photo: Molly Flores)
The Galaxy S22 Ultra offers the same imaging options as last year's model. For reference, that's a 12MP ultra-wide camera; a 108MP main camera that mostly shoots 12MP photos with nine-pixel binning; a 10MP 3x zoom; and a 10MP 10x zoom on the back. There's also a 40MP front-facing camera that mostly shoots 10MP photos using four-pixel binning. The phone captures up to 8K video through the primary camera, and 4K video through the front camera.
Samsung says it improved the low-light imaging capabilities so much that it now refers to the experience as "nightography." I think that's overstating the case in a big way. The S22 is better than the S21 in low light, but not dramatically so.
Low-light shots from the S22 show better depth of field, more saturated colors, and less lens flare than from the S21 Ultra. But the night mode doesn't work any more quickly—it still takes between two and three seconds to capture a shot—and the 10x zoom lens still produces extremely dark results at night. It uses an f/4.9 lens after all, which lets in much less light than the f/1.8 main lens or f/2.4 3x lens.A night shot taken with the S22 Ultra (right) shows better depth of field and sharpness than on the S21 Ultra (left)
In daylight, Samsung's tendency to pump up colors is even more noticeable here than with models in the S21 series. You may prefer that look, but otherwise, iPhone 13 models produce images with more natural colors. The S22 handles shadows better than the S21, however.Colors on the S22 Ultra in 10x mode (right) are a bit more vibrant than on the S21 Ultra (left)
To my non-photographer eyes, all of these changes are relatively subtle, and don't push imaging capabilities as far forward as new phone generations did in the past. Moving from the S10 to the S20 Ultra got you a real night mode that made a noticeable difference, while moving from the S20 Ultra to the S21 Ultra saw dramatic improvements in focus quality and a usable 10x zoom lens. I'm just not seeing as much of an improvement this time. That said, you're going to get a big zoom jump if you upgrade from a Note 20 Ultra, which has only a single 5x zoom.Left to right: Daylight shots with the Pixel 6 Pro, Galaxy S21 Ultra, and Galaxy S22 Ultra
I've carried around a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra for most of the last year as my primary phone. If you have a Galaxy S21 Ultra or a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I don't see a need to drop $1,200 or more right now on the S22 Ultra. Yes, you get a lot of incremental improvements with the new model, but there are no breakthrough features here.Left to right: Galaxy S22 Ultra, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, iPhone 13 Pro Max(Photo: Molly Flores)
Earlier Galaxy Note owners who have been hanging around for a while, or anyone else looking for either the S Pen or the 10x zoom camera, can buy the S22 Ultra with more confidence. The S Pen is as enjoyable as ever, and the 10x camera works at least as well as the one on the S21 Ultra.
The $799 Galaxy S22 sits on the opposite end of the Galaxy S spectrum in terms of size and price, but I think most folks will prefer the $999 Galaxy S22+. The S22+ offers some of the best features of the S22 Ultra, including superior connectivity, long battery life, and a super-bright screen, just without the S Pen and 10x zoom. Ultimately, it's likely better suited for more people than the small S22 or the maximalist S22 Ultra.
The S22 Ultra is the true successor to the Galaxy Note line, delivering all the excellent Samsung phone features while making no concessions for size, weight, or price.
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