Living with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Some people will look at the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra phone and say it’s overkill. After using it a lot over the past few weeks, it just turned out to do more than any other smartphone I’ve tried.

It improves on the camera system used in last year’s model by improving the 108-megapixel main camera along with a 10x optical zoom; then adds a built-in stylus and features from the company’s older Galaxy Note phones, and tops it off with a variety of productivity features.

Make no mistake about it. The S22 Ultra is a big phone. Measuring 6.43 x 3.07 x 0.35 inches (HWD) and weighing 8.08 ounces, it’s one of the biggest phones out there. The design has a more rectangular profile than the regular S22, and the five cameras each bump into the back separately, instead of being in a single block like on the S22. It looks good, but it’s definitely more blocking than other models in the line.

The size accommodates a 6.8-inch 3088 x 1440 pixel display, although it defaults to 2316 x 1080 for faster performance. Usually it’s hard to tell the difference until you look very closely. As usual for Samsung, it sports a very bright AMOLED display, and as with all S-series phones over the past couple of years, it has an adaptive display, which kicks up to 120Hz for scrolling more fluid. It also adds adaptive brightness which changes the brightness and contrast of the phone depending on the environment. It looks great even in direct sunlight.

One area where it really stands out, however, is its built-in S-Pen and the software to run it, which had long only been part of the Note range. In fact, you should consider the S22 Ultra to be as much of a successor to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra as last year’s S21 Ultra. Last year’s model had an S-pen Support, but not a built-in stylus; this year the pen is nicely integrated into the left side of the base.

When you pull it out, you get a menu that lets you quickly create a note, select part of the screen, write on the screen, translate, and more. New features include the ability to save notes directly to Microsoft Office or via email. Samsung says this year’s stylus has lower latency than the Note 20, and it worked pretty well.

I find taking notes and capturing part of the screen to be the most useful features, but I’m not an artist. As with previous Note designs, I can see where this would be particularly useful for someone who needs to annotate diagrams or drawings, or needs to do a quick sketch on the go, in areas such as architecture or real estate. This is perhaps the most special feature of the S22 Ultra, and I can imagine it being the main attraction of this phone.

Of course, the other big attraction of the S22 Ultra is the camera system. Specs are similar to the S21 Ultra, with a 108-megapixel main camera, 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera; 10-megapixel 3x zoom; and 10-megapixel 10x zoom on the back. (It also has a laser for autofocus and a flash on the back.) Samsung says improvements to sensors, processor and software will result in faster shots and better pictures.

The main camera uses “nona-binning” – it combines 9 pixels into one to make sure it gets all the brightness, then the software combines it with the 108 megapixels for extra detail to create a single 12 megapixel image. Samsung says the main sensor now has 23% larger pixels and the phone includes an improved portrait mode that works at night. New features include an Expert Raw mode that gives professionals more control over the image and can export directly to Adobe Lightroom. I thought the night mode images were significantly better than last year.

Still, the feature that stands out the most is the 10x optical zoom, which Samsung says enables up to 100x “Space Zoom” combining optical and digital zoom. I find 100x images to be a little blurry (at least when taken with my shaky hand), but I’m particularly impressed with zoom images at shorter focal lengths. They still shook a bit, but it seems the image stabilization has improved, and overall I found the footage to be better than last year.

For example, at a recent concert, I was able to get some pretty impressive photos of the performer, even though I was far away. Got a pretty good 30x from the spire of the Empire State Building several blocks away. For some people, that will be reason enough to choose the S22 Ultra.

The S22 also has a 40-megapixel front camera that primarily takes 10-megapixel photos using quad-pixel binning, and now supports an improved night portrait mode.

The phone captures up to 8K 24fps via the main camera, with options for UHD 4K or FHD video at 60 or 30fps and up to 4K via the front camera. In general, I thought the videos looked pretty good, although in practice I rarely found the need for 8K video.

As on previous models, Samsung offers plenty of software options, including Single Take (which takes a number of photos and videos from multiple cameras at once) and Director’s View, which takes video from both front cameras. and back, which is especially good for when you want to showcase what you’re shooting.

The US version of the phone I tested uses a Qualcomm octa-core Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, manufactured using Samsung’s 4nm process. (In other markets, Samsung offers versions with its own Exynos 2200 processor). The Snapdragon 8 has a “Prime Core” based on an ARM Cortex – which can run up to 3 GHz, three Cortex-A710 performance cores, which can run up to 2.5 GHz, and four Cortex efficiency cores -A510 which operate at up to 1.8 GHz; as well as Adreno 730 graphics. Samsung says this should be faster and more efficient than previous chips, especially in a graphics-centric application. (PCMag’s benchmarks show it above previous Android phones, but not as fast as the most recent iPhone.) In practice, I found the phone to be quite snappy.

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It uses Qualcomm’s X65 modem. I’ve used it on T-Mobile’s network and got LTE speeds between 75 and 100 Mbps down and about 40 Mbps up, and I’ve generally seen 5G speeds between 125 and 265 Mbps down and 40-80 Mbps up. In a few cases, however, SpeedTest reported very slow download speeds – less than 4 Mpbs – on 5G, which may have more to do with the network than the phone. In general, it worked pretty well in most places.

The S22 Ultra uses an in-screen fingerprint reader. I found it worked better than in last year’s model; this has almost always worked for me, unless my finger got wet.

Battery life seemed pretty good, but maybe not as good as the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Finally, there’s the productivity software that Samsung has included in the Galaxy lineup for some time now, including the unique DeX app, which lets you plug the phone into a USB-C dock and then use it as you would a PC, with an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. This makes the device more flexible and for some workers it can replace a PC.

In short, the Galaxy S22 Ultra simply does more than any other phone I’ve used. The S-Pen and accompanying software make it a good tool for annotating documents and taking quick notes, while the 10X optical zoom lets you snap photos you can’t take with almost any other phone.

With a list price of $1,199, the S22 Ultra isn’t a phone for everyone. But if you’re looking for the high end, there’s nothing like it.

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