12 hours with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra startup screen
(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Smartphones are pocket-friendly computers that have far more features and depth than the communications equipment your grandparents favored. One day isn’t enough time for a full assessment of the big, powerful Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G Android 12 smartphone. But first impressions count.

Here’s a diary of my early journey full of fun discoveries, tiny disappointments, and eye-popping capabilities.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra box

The slim Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra box (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

10:30 AM ET: It’s here! My Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 5G has arrived in a shockingly svelte black box.

10:32 AM ET: Unboxed! Gosh, there’s so little packaging in here. We have the cardboard box and the glued-in frame that holds the phone in place. Under the phone is a slim cardboard box that holds the USB-C Cable. Another cardboard band holds the cable in neat loops. That’s it.

There are no earphones (wired or unwired), and no charging brick. The phone itself has two ultra-thin pieces of plastic protecting the Corning Gorilla Glass Victus+ on the front and back of the phone.

I kind of love this minimalist approach. We don’t need reams of tiny paper manuals we’ll never read. Most of us probably already have our own favorite wireless earbuds, so I don’t really miss those, either. As for the missing charging brick, I’m torn. As a tech reviewer, I have boxes of these things, but average consumers? They might be frustrated at its omission.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra inside the box

There's not much inside Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra inside the box. (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

10:45 AM ET: Setup is unremarkable. It’s a combination of adding your Google credentials – I have two sets – and logging back into Samsung’s own account system and accepting various permissions. What I like about Samsung’s OneUI 4 is that the overall system feels increasingly like pure Android. Even so, I am looking forward to checking out Samsung Pay.

I can’t seem to log into my corporate Wi-Fi (an us problem, not a Samsung one). The good news is that this S22 Ultra already has a T-Mobile 5G SIM inside. The signal at my desk is pretty darn good.

11:00 AM ET: So many security choices, including Pin, Face Recognition, Fingerprints, Pattern, Password. Always interesting to me how Samsung really doesn’t recommend Face Recognition for maximum security. I start by registering my face. The set-up asks me to take off my glasses, and I immediately feel naked.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra face recognition

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra face recognition asks you to remove your glasses to complete the setup. (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

11:02 AM ET: The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra feels cool, slick, and substantial in my hand. I love how shiny it is and appreciate the satin back that does a decent job of hiding fingerprints. The black is killer.

Noticing how its 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display dwarfs my 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro. Later, I’ll compare it to the more comparable 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max.

It’s a weighty bugger but turns out to be slightly lighter than the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

The S22 Ultra is so slippery – the long-curved edges don’t help with grippiness. I really wish I had a case. 

11:56 AM ET: I always like to get a full charge before testing. So, I plug the phone into a USB-C cable. It’s currently at about 86%. Wishing I had a 45W fast-charging brick.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra battery life

I could charge faster if I had a 45W fast-charging brick. (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

12:38 PM ET: Fully charged!

12:47 PM ET: Realized I almost forgot that the S Pen now lives inside the Galaxy S22 Ultra (granted, it looks so much like a Galaxy Note device). Press the butt end of the pen until it clicks and then pops partially out. I removed the S Pen and held it. It’s quite thin and light. My hand almost feels too large to use it.

I got distracted and left the S-Pen out, sitting next to the phone. The Galaxy S22 Ultra noticed and displayed a message asking if I had inadvertently left the pen behind. That’s a nice little feature.

12:49 PM ET: Does the phone’s back feel a little warm? I swear I detect a bit of warmth on the back of the phone.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra taking a photo

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra taking a photo. (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

1:40 PM ET: Spent an hour outside taking photos. The zoom, especially 3x-to-10x optical, is impressive. The 30x to 100x space zoom is intriguing. It’s powerful and you can almost feel the stabilization kicking in, as the lens doesn’t really move with your hands - it tries to lock in. In 100X zoom, this can make it hard to fix on a subject without, say, a tripod. Even so, the results were so good I had to share them with you right away

I did use the 40MP front-facing camera (portrait and regular mode). The shots look good, but why am I starting to look so much like my father?

A Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra front camera portrait photo of the author.

A Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra front camera portrait photo of the author. (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

1:50 PM ET: Smartphones don’t arrive fully baked – at least on the software side. There were, I found, a handful of software updates. I took a moment to make sure everything was as fresh as could be. Thank goodness T-Mobile’s 5G network is solid here (not as fast as Verizon’s 5G UWB, but still decent) and I’m able to download the updates and, later, apps.

1:53 PM ET: I’m a little surprised to see the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s 5,000 mAh battery is already down to 81%. This is most likely because I’m relying entirely on power-hungry 5G.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra benchmarks

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra benchmarks. (Image credit: Future)

2:15 AM ET: Benchmark time! I installed Geekbench 5 to run some preliminary benchmarks. The app also gives me an opportunity to dig in a bit on the spec details. Samsung told me that they’re using a 4nm CPU that promises better base and graphics performance but didn’t tell us much else.

Geekbench tells me that the phone is running an ARM CPU with:

4Cores @ 1.79 GHz
3 Cores @ 2.50 GHz
1 Core @ 3.00 GHz

There’s a listed 9.94 GB of RAM, which is a bit confusing since Samsung lists the devices as starting with 8GB of RAM but also being offered in a 12GB of RAM variety.

On the graphics side, Geekbench 5 lists an Adreno 730 GPU.

As for the scores, on the CPU side:

Single Core: 1236
Multi-Core: 3417

On the graphics side:

OpenCL Score: 5866

For kicks, I quickly compared this to my Apple iPhone 13 Pro running Apple’s A15 Bionic. On pure CPU scores, Apple’s silicon still wins:

1681 Single Core
4551 multi-core

The picture is slightly less clear on the graphics side because Geekbench returns a Metal score for the iPhone:

Metal score 14283

My early takeaway here is that Apple still maintains the mobile CPU lead over what is likely a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip.

2:28 PM ET: I finally added a fingerprint. Samsung told me the under-the-screen fingerprint reader is larger, thereby making it easier to use. Registration was fast and, yes, it’s pretty effective, fast,-- and even easy to reach on this big-screen phone.

2:50 PM ET: Almost all the images and video that I’ve captured thus far on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra looks great. The colors pop and the action is smooth – most of it. It looks like the 8K video might have a tiny frame-rate stutter. It just doesn’t look as silky as the 1080 and 4K video I shot of Bryant Park ice skaters.

3:50 PM ET: I spend some time installing utility, social, and entertainment apps. I still remember older Android phones that made me search for Google Play (and the ones before that, which didn’t even have Google Play). Now it’s right on the home screen. Added Twitter, Instagram, and some games, like Asphalt 9, that I hope to try later.

4:43 PM ET: Oh, look, I’m down to 71% battery life. I think 5G might be eating up the battery.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra New York City photo

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra zoom photo of the Empire State Building. (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

5:20 PM ET: Racing through the city to catch the train, but I’m carrying the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra in one hand in case I want to snap a photo. I’m also gripped with fear that I might drop it – it’s so slippery. I pause on 34th Street to capture some photos of the Empire State Building. Once again, the zoom is blowing my mind.

Did I mention that Battery life is now at 68%?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra screen off memo mode

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra screen off memo mode includes a very realistic sound. (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

5:45 PM ET: Sitting in on the train, I pop out the S Pen without unlocking the device. This enables the Screen Off Memo mode where I’m writing in a thin white line on a black background. As I’m scribbling, I hear a sound coming from the phone. It sounds like pencil on paper. Yup, each stoke is accompanied by the pencil-to-paper sound. How cool is that?

Next, I unlock the phone and start drawing in Sketchbook. The S Pen glides across the screen with every single stroke and motion captured. It’s recognizing my pressure (which is light). Not a fan of styli with physical buttons because I keep inadvertently hitting it when using the S Pen. I also wish the back end was a digital eraser, but not even Apple does that with its Apple Pencil.

The S Pen is almost too thin and light for me to comfortably draw, but then I have big hands.

I spend a little time checking and responding to email. Even with a larger virtual keyboard, I’m still a terrible thumb typist.

It also occurs to me that I’ve been using the phone with two hands. Is it really that big or am I just nervous I’ll drop it?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra drawing with S pen in Sketchbook

Drawing on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

6:06 PM ET: Wow, the left side of the phone is noticeably warm. Sure, I’m working the phone hard -- but isn’t the new vapor chamber and heat-dissipation system supposed to keep the whole thing cool? Maybe it’s really about protecting the CPU and battery from the heat as it shunts it to the body of the Samsung Gallery S22 Ultra.

6:15 PM ET: I run a cellular speed test. The 5G performance is good: I’m getting 120 Mbps down and 67.2 Mbps upload speeds. Nice job, T-Mobile.

6:45 PM ET: It’s dark when I get home and a partial moon is directly overhead. Inspiration strikes and I snap 30x and 100x space zoom photos of the moon. The 30 in particular is kind of amazing; the 100 reminds me that digital tricks are pulling our lunar neighbor closer.

Naturally, I used the phone to post the 30x Space Zoom image on Instagram.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 30x and 100x Space Zoom moon shots

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra 30x and 100x Space Zoom moon shots (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

7:55 PM ET: I’m playing Wordle because, how could I not? The big screen is nice for games.

8:15PM ET: Discover that pressing the button on the S Pen wakes up the phone.

8:39 PM ET: I realize that there’s no macro lens and wonder why. Of course, I haven’t checked the macro capabilities of the existing 12MP Ultra-wide, 10 MP (left and right), and 108MP Wide. I’m sure a couple of those lenses can work together to give me some macro-like capabilities.

8:50 PM ET: I’m watching Elon Musk’s SpaceX spacecraft starship update on YouTube. I love the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra's big screen and also how I can have the picture-in-picture play on top of other apps. It made it easy to keep watching the presentation while I live-tweeted it on the same screen.

Yes, I connected a pair of Bluetooth headphones (OnePlus Buds) to spare my family.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Nightography

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra "Nightography" in action. (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

9:56 PM ET: Been watching the live stream for the last hour. Now the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra’s power is down to 25% power.

10:14 PM ET: Bedtime, but first a few “Nightography” shots! I step outside, select “Night” from under the Camera App’s “More” menu and aim the phone at the night sky. I hold still as the long exposure captures the photos. The result is that the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra turned night into day. Shame there were so many clouds.

10:30 PM ET: Bedtime and the phone is ending the night with 20% battery life.

Day 1 Verdict

This was a good first day. The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is a peppy and capable device that feels more like a Note than it does an S series handset. The cameras are already a highlight. Concerns remain over battery life, heat, and how easily it might slip from my hands. More to come.

Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.