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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review: writing off the Note

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra smartphone is for enthusiasts willing to pay a premium for the best technology a company has to offer. Should you buy it?

A Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G smartphone ahead of the Samsung Unpacked event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. (Bloomberg)

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Over the past three years, each new “Ultra” device in Samsung’s flagship lineup has come with the same conundrum. Why does the phone exist? Are its features enough to justify the premium you pay for the flagship S line?

But those years have really been leading up to the Galaxy S22 Ultra, the official replacement for Samsung’s Note line. With the S-Pen stylus slotted at the bottom and almost exactly the same design as 2020’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, this is the official replacement for the device that introduced us to the word “phablet”.

Also read: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: Still another novelty device

Needless to say, then, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra—launched in India in February—is for the die-hard Note fans Samsung claims to have. And enthusiasts are usually fine with paying a premium for the best technology a company has to offer. In this case, it is the stylus—the S-Pen.

Unlike earlier, Samsung isn’t shipping the India version of this device with its own Exynos processors. It is instead using the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chips on its entire S22 line here. Lab tests have shown its Exynos processors aren’t always as fast as Qualcomm’s flagship chips.

But what if you bought a Galaxy S21 Ultra last year?

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is unique, marking a new era in Samsung’s journey. But it changes little for the consumer.

If you bought a Galaxy S21 Ultra, this year’s device is still an update, not an upgrade. The two phones have similar displays, the same camera specifications, and almost the same dimensions and weight. There’s a slight difference in how it feels in your hand, though.

The S22 Ultra has a sharper design than the S21’s rounded corners. It’s more boxy, and noticeably wider than the S21, which can be uncomfortable for those who have small hands. The four camera sensors and laser autofocus sensor protrude from the back now, instead of being placed in a separate rectangular module, as on the S21 Ultra. Aesthetics is really a matter of personal preference.

A Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G smartphone and S Pen. The S-Pen also retains Samsung’s Air Actions feature, which effectively turns it into a remote for some apps.
A Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G smartphone and S Pen. The S-Pen also retains Samsung’s Air Actions feature, which effectively turns it into a remote for some apps. (Bloomberg)

Does the S-Pen feel the same as on the Note?

I have personally never enjoyed Samsung’s S-Pen experience, and that’s less because of the pen itself and more because I don’t find much use for it. I have used the Apple Pencil and Microsoft’s Surface Pen to take down notes and the S-Pen feels almost as fluid. However, I don’t think the 6.8-inch screen fits electronic handwriting the way iPads and Surface tablets do.

That said, the millions of Galaxy Note phones Samsung used to sell every year is proof that I might be the outlier here. This S-Pen brings everything Samsung’s styluses always brought.

The company says the latency has been lowered significantly on this one, but at a millisecond scale it’s hard to notice a difference. Latency is the time taken for a pattern, drawing, etc., to appear on screen as you move the pen across it with your hand. The S-Pen on the Note 20 Ultra offered 2.8 millisecond latencies, and this new one feels as much like a real pen as that one did.

The S-Pen also retains Samsung’s Air Actions feature, which effectively turns it into a remote for some apps, albeit with limited control options. It can also be used for editing photographs, taking down notes without turning the screen on, and more.

It’s worth mentioning here that the Galaxy S21 Ultra also supports the S-Pen but you will have to carry it around separately, unlike the S22 Ultra.

Performance and everything else

The entire Galaxy S22 line now has 120Hz displays, with variable refresh rates, meaning they can adapt to almost any kind of content. The Galaxy S22 Ultra, though, has a low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (or LTPO) display, which is a tad more flexible.

Refresh rate is the number of times a screen can display an image per second, and it plays a big role in how smooth user interface (UI) transitions, animation and even videos feel. However, UI transitions may not need the same refresh rate as gaming, or watching a football match. Since higher refresh rates use more battery, the ability to vary it automatically is not only good for improving user experience, it’s also good for the phone’s battery life.

Without LTPO displays, the screen has to vary the refresh rate in steps—30Hz, 48Hz, 60Hz, 90Hz, and so on. However, an LTPO display offers more flexibility by offering a wider scale of 10Hz to 120Hz, which means it can adapt to more types of content and save more battery. LTPO panels are also used in Apple’s iPhone 13 series. Most industry estimates say these displays can reduce power consumption by almost 20%.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra has a low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (or LTPO) display, which is a tad more flexible.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra has a low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (or LTPO) display, which is a tad more flexible. (Bloomberg)

I switched to the S22 Ultra from its predecessor, and I daresay all this has made the new phone feel smoother and faster. However, it has the same one-workday battery life.

The display is also brighter but the difference is apparent only because I can compare the two phones side-by-side. Outdoor performance, under direct sunlight, is pretty much the same as before.

Similarly, the cameras on this phone are the same as last year’s device. The phone has two 10MP telephoto cameras on the back, along with a 12MP ultrawide camera and a 108MP wide camera. All these, except for the ultrawide camera, support optical image stabilisation.

The difference in cameras is mostly in terms of software. Samsung has improved its portrait-mode algorithms, which does make a difference in certain conditions. This phone is better at resolving hair details (pictures clicked in portrait mode often tend to blur out the subject’s hair ends) than the S21 Ultra, and it picks up objects in the scene better.

Should you buy it?

The Galaxy S22 Ultra clearly defines how Samsung’s flagship class phones differ from each other. If you believe foldable phones are yet to mature and haven’t bought a phone since the last Galaxy Note, you could consider this one. For everyone else, however, the other two Galaxy S22 devices would suffice.

Also read: Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G review: Less jazz, a bit more K-pop

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