Since the launch of the first “Ultra” phone in Samsung’s lineup, the moniker has stood for the best-of-the-best. When you see that word in a product name from the South Korean giant, you know you are getting the most advanced device in its class available right now.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, as its name suggests, is the premier phone from Samsung in 2022 so far. When it comes to internal specs, camera hardware, and software support, it is the top dog. We said as much in our original review of the phone, which you should absolutely check out.

However, is that all it takes? Does Samsung simply need to cram as many specs into a phone as possible, slap an “Ultra” on the name, and sell it for $1,200? I’d like to think that’s not the case, but I kept coming back to one question after spending some time with it myself: I know I should love this phone, but do I really?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra rear on table

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

S22 Ultra vs Note 20 Ultra rear

In 2020, Apple launched the iPhone 12 series. The designs of the phones merged the modern look of the iPhone 11 series with the boxy, flat-sided look of the iPhone 4 series, giving the line a fresh coat of paint while simultaneously being a callback. In 2021, Apple launched the iPhone 13 series, and the phones looked nearly identical to the iPhone 12 series. That’s not really moving the needle forward, but Apple is Apple, right?

Well, Samsung decided to give this strategy a shot for its 2022 flagships. The Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus are nearly identical design-wise to the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus. Sure, there are differences, such as the addition of a glass back to the Galaxy S22. However, it’s very hard to tell the phones apart at a glance because the essential design language is the same.

Check out: Galaxy S22 review | Galaxy S22 Plus review

Interestingly, this is not at all the case for the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. It doesn’t look anything like its predecessor, the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Instead, it borrows heavily from the design of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. If you covered up the rear camera module, anyone would be hard-pressed to tell them apart — even me, and knowing smartphones on sight is a big aspect of my job.

Since I’ve used the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra a lot over the past year-and-a-half, I felt no excitement upon first holding the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It didn’t look or feel new. It seemed like I was holding a Note 20 Ultra in a killer matte black. Of course, that’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s certainly not an exciting thing.

Like it or not, the Galaxy S22 Ultra looks just like a phone from 2020.

Don’t get me wrong: the design of the Galaxy S22 Ultra is terrific. The aluminum sides and Gorilla Glass Victus Plus panels on the front and back make for an incredibly premium feel. The Phantom Black model I tested looks classy and elegant, and the back isn’t a fingerprint magnet, which is always welcome to see.

See also: The best Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra cases

I also very much appreciate the revamped rear camera module. The chonker on the back of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is an eyesore, not to mention a serious impediment to having the phone lay face up on a table. The more subdued lens-by-lens look on the Galaxy S22 Ultra is far better, no question.

But the subtle refinements here just aren’t exciting to me. Really, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is one of 2020’s best smartphone chassis filled with 2022 internals. That’s cool and all, but it’s hard to be that passionate about a reheated design.

The most powerful Android…or is it?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra S Pen in hand

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

As is the case every year, the Galaxy S22 series features the year’s best Android silicon: the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (US, India, others) or the Exynos 2200 (UK, rest of Europe, others). Although each chip has its strength over the other, they are both incredibly powerful processors.

Let them fight: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 vs Exynos 2200

Unsurprisingly, during the testing for our original Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review, we had no issues at all with performance. We flew around the phone’s software lag-free and everything we did was smooth as silk.

Of course, our review happened well before Samsung’s Game Optimization Service (GOS) controversy. If you weren’t following along, Samsung put software into the Galaxy S22 series that throttles certain apps. This “optimization” is intended to nerf the processor in order to conserve battery life in situations where extra power is not necessary. For example, if an app only shows static text, it shouldn’t need all the power of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 or Exynos 2200. So the software would limit that app’s access to CPU power to keep battery consumption in check.

As with the similar controversy for OnePlus in 2021, this system is a fine idea in principle but has two major problems. The first is that Samsung didn’t tell anyone this was happening and gave no way for users to control it. The second (which is much worse) is that benchmarking apps were not “optimized,” so they saw the full power of the phone’s CPU. In other words, benchmarking apps would say one thing while real-world usage would say another.

Related: There’s a good reason why Samsung is throttling your apps and games

Samsung eventually apologized for this and issued an update to give users control over GOS. The damage is done, though. We now know that the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is powerful, yes, but Samsung knows that power comes at a significant expense to battery life. Otherwise, why would the GOS controversy have even happened?

With all that in mind, why should I get excited about the “extra” power in the Galaxy S22 Ultra as compared to the Galaxy S21 Ultra? It seems to me that gaining some slightly better performance isn’t really a net positive with the GOS controversy and the negative effect on battery life. It’s still among the best performance you can get from any Android phone, but there are such things as diminishing returns.

These camera specs sure seem familiar

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra camera module close up angled

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Without question, the camera array on the back of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is the best from Samsung — and right now, arguably the very best camera phone money can buy. It has a 108MP main lens paired with two telephotos, one of which has 10x optical periscope zoom. There’s also an ultrawide lens and a laser autofocus system for good measure. What a module!

However, this is pretty much the same module we saw on the back of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Yes, Samsung made some improvements — notably the Adaptive Pixel technology that merges 108MP and 12MP pixel-binned data and its new “Nightography” modes for improved low-light photography and video — but they are very minor compared to the jump from the Galaxy S20 Ultra to the Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example. Plus, with One UI 4.1 landing on older Samsung phones now, the Galaxy S21 Ultra provides nearly the same photography and video results as the Galaxy S22 Ultra.

Of course, those results are absolutely terrific. Check out some sample images below:

As good as this camera setup is, it’s not significantly better than last year. In fact, aside from the secondary telephoto lens, the camera array on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra — which also now has One UI 4.1 — is almost as good.

Obviously, if you are on a significantly older smartphone, you’re probably going to see massive gains in your photo/video output with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. But you’d also see those same gains with Samsung’s best from 2020 or 2021. If that’s the case, what’s the draw to the Galaxy S22 Ultra if we’re strictly talking about the camera?

Camera shootout: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Pixel 6 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max

They’re the same picture

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra black vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra black rear on carpet

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

We’ve looked at some specific examples, but the reality is that with only a few exceptions, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra has the innards of a Galaxy S21 Ultra crammed into the chassis of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The table below will illuminate just how similar the phones are:

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Display

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED
Edge display (curved)
19.3:9 aspect ratio
QHD+ resolution (3,088 x 1,440)
120Hz adaptive refresh rate (10Hz to 120Hz)
240Hz touch sampling rate

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED
Edge display (curved)
20:9 aspect ratio
QHD+ resolution (3,200 x 1,440)
120Hz adaptive refresh rate (10Hz to 120Hz)
240Hz touch sampling rate

Processor

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

US, India: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Global: Exynos 2200

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

US: Snapdragon 888
Global: Exynos 2100

RAM

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

8GB or 12GB

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

12GB or 16GB

Storage

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

128GB, 256GB, or 512GB with additional 1TB option
No microSD card support

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

128GB, 256GB, or 512GB
No microSD card support

Power

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

5,000mAh battery
45W wired charging
15W wireless charging
No charger in box

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

5,000mAh battery
25W wired charging
15W wireless charging
No charger in box

Cameras

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

REAR:
– 108MP wide (0.8μm, ƒ2.2, 23mm, 85-degree FoV)
– 12MP ultrawide (1.4μm, ƒ2.2, 13mm, 120-degree FoV)
– 10MP telephoto (1.12μm, ƒ4.9, 230mm, 11-degree FoV, 10x optical zoom)
– 10MP telephoto (1.12μm, ƒ2.4, 69mm, 36-degree FoV, 3x optical zoom)
– Laser autofocus

FRONT:
– 40MP wide (0.7μm, ƒ2.2, 23mm, 80-degree FoV)

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

REAR:
– 108MP wide (0.8μm, ƒ1.8, 24mm, 83-degree FoV)
– 12MP ultrawide (1.4μm, ƒ2.2, 13mm, 120-degree FoV)
– 10MP telephoto (1.22μm, ƒ4.9, 240mm, 10-degree FoV, 10x optical zoom)
– 10MP telephoto (1.22μm, ƒ2.4, 72mm, 35-degree FoV, 3x optical zoom)
– Laser autofocus

FRONT:
– 40MP wide (, ƒ2.2, 23mm, 80-degree FoV)

Video

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

REAR:
– 8K at 24fps (main lens only)
– 4K at 60fps (all lenses)

FRONT:
– 4K at 60fps

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

REAR:
– 8K at 24fps (main lens only)
– 4K at 60fps (all lenses)

FRONT:
– 4K at 60fps

Audio

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Stereo speakers
Dolby Atmos support

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Stereo speakers
Dolby Atmos support

Connectivity

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

5G (mmWave + sub-6GHz)
Wi-Fi 6E (6GHz)
Bluetooth 5.2
NFC support
Ultra-wideband support (UWB)

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

5G (mmWave + sub-6GHz)
Wi-Fi 6E (6GHz)
Bluetooth 5.2
NFC support
Ultra-wideband support (UWB)

Security

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Ultrasonic under-display fingerprint sensor

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Ultrasonic under-display fingerprint sensor

Software

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Android 12
One UI 4.1

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Shipped: Android 11
Current: Android 12, One UI 4.1

S Pen support

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Yes, with storage slot

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Yes, without storage slot

Materials

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Gorilla Glass Victus Plus front and back
Armour Aluminum frame

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Gorilla Glass Victus front and back
Aluminum frame

Durability

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

IP68 certified

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

IP68 certified

Dimensions and weight

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

163.3 x 77.9 x 8.9mm
229g

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm
229g

Colors

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Phantom Black, Phantom White, Green, Burgundy

Online exclusives: Graphite, Sky Blue, Red

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Phantom Black, Phantom Silver

Online exclusives: Phantom Titanium, Phantom Navy, Phantom Brown

There are certainly some differences in that table. The more advanced processor, slightly more advanced camera specs, and, perhaps most significantly, the return of the S Pen and slot, make the Galaxy S22 Ultra definitively a better phone, at least on paper. But the Galaxy S21 Ultra is very much comparable and even offers a higher RAM count (although that won’t make much of a difference).

You might be thinking that I’ve neglected to mention the faster-charging speeds of the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Well, our research shows that this “faster” system doesn’t result in much of a real-world gain. We’re talking a paltry seven minutes shaved off the charging time, so that’s hardly anything to write home about.

Regardless, all things being equal, a buyer interested in these two phones would probably want to go with the Galaxy S22 Ultra just because it’s newer. However, one can’t ignore that judged on specs alone, there aren’t too many advancements from 2021 to 2022 that are game-changing — something you might reasonably expect from an “Ultra” phone.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review second opinion: Play it again, Sam-sung

Galaxy S22 Ultra Noted Wallpaper 1

Zarif Ali / Android Authority

This second opinion review might make it seem as if I dislike the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. I really want to send home that that is not the case. It’s a beautiful, powerful, and incredibly capable phone. It’s going to get a whopping four Android versions and five years of security patches — better than Android’s owner provides on its phones. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is great today and will continue to be great years from now. It earns the “Ultra” moniker, and all the praise and acclaim it received in our original review was thoroughly deserved. Likewise, if you’ve never owned a top Samsung flagship before, this absolutely represents the best of the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S in a single, stunning package.

However, for those that are intimately familiar with Samsung’s last few top dogs, it’s a bit… boring. It’s barely an upgrade over last year’s model and its overall design is borrowed from a phone that’s about to reach its second birthday. If you own a Galaxy S21 Ultra — or even a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra — upgrading to the Galaxy S22 Ultra likely won’t give you any of that “new phone excitement.” It’s all very familiar, and while it represents the current pinnacle of smartphone design, camera performance, Android software support, and more, by relying so much on its past success, it feels like Samsung has left the door at least slightly open for another contender to steal its crown later in 2022.

Continued reading: Is it still worth buying the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra one year later?

One also can’t help but wonder what Samsung is going to do now. From where I’m sitting, all the exciting things are happening in the Galaxy Z series, which is where Samsung launches its foldable devices. Even the Galaxy A series — Samsung’s budget and mid-range line — is exciting, as we watch more advanced tech trickle down to cheaper phones. The Galaxy S series, though, is in a holding pattern. There’s no question Samsung is making some of the best phones in the Android world, but even in its “Ultra” guise, it seems content to let its most iconic series ride the wave rather than paddle ahead of it.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is a throwback to the days of the Galaxy Note.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra looks like a Galaxy Note phone. It has an S Pen just like a Note, a boxy shape just like a Note, and…well, you get the picture. It is by far the top dog in the Galaxy S22 lineup with the best display, biggest battery, best cameras, and most options for RAM and storage counts.



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