Diehard Note users may think otherwise, but Samsung made a good call in replacing the Galaxy Note with the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which is launching today along with the S22+ and S22 smartphones. Ten years is more than enough time to concede the inclusion of a stylus doesn’t necessitate a separate phone brand—and it’s also now debatable whether a stylus makes a modern phone any more useful.
Don’t get me wrong, the Note was necessary in its day. When Samsung launched the original Galaxy Note a bit more than a decade ago, the phone was innovative beyond its included S Pen. Indeed, that first Note launched with a then-mammoth 5.3-inch display—a nice piece of real estate on which to draw. Over the next few years, the Note’s display expanded to 5.7 inches (the Note 7), and then to 6.3 inches (the Note 8), and then to 6.9 inches (the Note 20 Ultra). The “phablet” phone era was not only introduced, but also embodied, by the Note. And today all competitors follow suit with massive phones.
But let’s consider what’s changed since the Note launched in 2011. When the first Note hit the market, users were still used to jotting down notes in journals and legal pads. These folks adopted the Note as an extension of their habits. But what we all now realize, explicitly or subconsciously, is that we’ve evolved beyond inking notes with a pen—electronically or otherwise—and have adopted other methods of archiving data. We’re adept at typing with our thumbs in cloud documents and email. We record our Zoom calls. We use voice recording and voice dictation. We all have our own methods of taking notes and keeping track of to-dos, and the wide variety of options has made inked notes less relevant than ever before.
Adam Patrick Murray / IDG
That’s not to say Samsung’s new Galaxy S22 Ultra doesn’t benefit from its integrated S Pen, which now fits within an integrated holster, just like in previous Notes. It’s a fine accessory, though I believe the S22 Ultra’s S Pen will be used more as a controller than a note-taking or drawing tool by most people. Beyond that, the S Pen gives Samsung an excuse to release a slightly taller S22 Ultra, with a slightly larger battery inside. The new Galaxy S22 and S22+ lack the integrated S Pen, and they’re slightly thinner and smaller than the Galaxy S21 and S21+ as a result.
By now, Note diehards should be chasing me with pitchforks. To them, I say use your S Pens on the new Galaxy Tab S8 tablet, also released today. Its inking experience is superb.
Galaxy S22 Ultra specs: Here’s what’s new
Samsung is releasing three new phones within the Galaxy S22 lineup: the 6.8-inch S22 Galaxy Ultra, the 6.6-inch Galaxy S22+, and the 6.1-inch Galaxy S22. Prices range from $799.99 for the base S22, to $999.99 to the S22+, to $1,199.99 for the S22 Ultra. Memory options on the Ultra range from 8GB to 12GB, and storage from 128GB to 1 TB. On the S8 and S8+ tablets, the choices are much simpler: 8GB of memory, with 128GB or 256GB of storage. Samsung also told us the Galaxy S22 series includes Qualcomm’s 4nm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor inside.
The phones come in a variety of colors, from Phantom Black, Phantom White, Green, and Burgundy, plus Pink Gold for the S22+ and S22 models.
If that all sounds too expensive, consider a number of ways to save: Through February 24, 2022, consumers who pre-order a device are eligible to upgrade to the next storage tier when purchasing 128GB or 256GB models. This offer also includes eligibility to redeem an additional Samsung Credit of up to $200 for Galaxy S22 Ultra, $150 for Galaxy S22+, or $100 for Galaxy S22. This credit can go toward the purchase of the new Samsung Freestyle projector or recently updated Galaxy Watch 4. Those who pre-order a Galaxy S22 device starting today can also receive up to 25 percent off any Galaxy Tab S8.
Adam Patrick Murray / IDG
Samsung’s S22 Ultra replaces the S21 Ultra 5G, essentially adding just the integrated S Pen to the S22 generation. (Note that the S21 Ultra was compatible with the S Pen, but the pen shipped separately.) Both the S21 Ultra and S22 Ultra offers what Samsung calls a “Dynamic AMOLED 2X adaptive 120Hz display,” (3200×1400) with the same 6.8-inch screen size. The S22 still uses in-display fingerprint recognition.
The S22 Ultra’s quad camera specifications haven’t changed as far as the number of lenses and their resolution. Its “space zoom” is still 100X (10X optical, 10X digital zoom). Samsung deserves credit for slightly shrinking the S22 Ultra from 165 mm to 163.5mm, while only widening the phone from 75.6mm to 77.9mm. The other notable improvement is in the battery capacity, as it’s increased from 4855mAh to 5,000mAh. The S22 Ultra and S22+ now has integrated WiFi 6E, up from WiFi 6 (802.11ax) in the S21 generation.
Specs notwithstanding, the camera’s AI has improved, as it can now track and focus on 10 different people, and even recognize the penumbra of pet hair for accurate portrait mode. Samsung says it uses depth maps to focus on even a single strand of hair. It also reportedly adjusts the zoom angle, though we’d have to test that to see the full impact.
The S22 boasts improved optical image stabilization (OIS), which Samsung calls Super Steady. And in low light, Samsung’s Adaptive Pixel technology will combine nine pixels into one shot with the phone’s multiple cameras, compositing them into a single pixel with an improved image. (The pixel sensor remains 2.4um, the same as in the S21 Ultra.) The Ultra cameras ship with Samsung’s Expert RAW app, offering controls like ISO, shutter speed, histogram control and more.
The idea is that you’ll be able to capture a 108-megapixel detail image plus a separate image optimized for lighting, then combine the two. Samsung says that these new cameras process four times more data than the previous generation thanks to the camera using uncompressed data internally. Night portrait mode is available on both the front and rear camera.
Adam Patrick Murray / IDG
Galaxy S22+ and S22 specs: Here’s what’s new
The S22 and S22+ physically offer only slight differences from the S21 generation: At 6.1-inches and 6.7-inches, both the S22 and S22+ are just 0.1 inches smaller. The S22+ is both slightly shorter and thinner as well, while the s22 is shorter, thinner, and narrower than the S21. Battery life has slightly decreased as a result. The display density remains unchanged, Samsung said. In terms of screen brightness, the S8 offers 1,300 nits, while the S8+ can put out 1,750 nits of brightness. (The S22 Ultra does as well.)
The cameras, though, differ more significantly. While the user-facing selfie cameras remain the same, the S21 and S21+ offered a 12Mpixel ultrawide camera, a 12MP wide-angle camera, and a 64MP telephoto. Both the S22 and S22+ offer a 12Mpixel ultrawide (F2.2), an 50Mpixel (F1.8) wide camera, and a 10Mpixel (F 2.4, 3X optical zoom) telephoto.
Adam Patrick Murray / IDG
Samsung’s new phones include a new Digital Wallet app, which will store digital IDs, payment, and even digital keys for cars, home and office. They’re stored within the Knox digital lockbox.
If you’d like to dive deeply into the full list of specifications, they’re listed below. You can open the image in a new tab to zoom in.
During a product briefing, I spent less than 60 minutes with the S22 line-up, and didn’t notice any obvious weak points. Note, though, how the S22’s form factor doesn’t allow you to scroll more than a few notes within the space allowed by the screen. Instead, it feels far more useful to use the S Pen as a way of navigating to utilities, or other controls.
We’ll have to test how the improved camera AI features play out in real life: Can we actually track 10 people during the waning (?) days of a pandemic? Will the processor prove to be faster and more responsive over daily use? And how long will the battery hold up? Samsung has promised performance leaps for its cameras, though they sound vaguely similar to the previous generation. All of these are questions the new S22 phones will have to answer during the course of a review. Stay tuned for coverage on PCWorld or sister site, Tech Advisor.