Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra: stylus over substance?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs S21 Ultra
(Image credit: Samsung / TechRadar)
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After countless leaks and rumors, Samsung has finally announced its 2022 flagship smartphone range, and the most exciting of the three is the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.

This is a top-spec'd phone that combines the attributes of two of the best phones Samsung has made over the past two years. It’s a bit of a monster.

So how does it compare to its immediate predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra? We rated the Galaxy S21 Ultra as the best phone of 2021, so the Galaxy S22 Ultra has quite a fight on its hands here.

We haven’t had a chance to fully put the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra through its paces just yet, but here’s how the two phones compare on paper.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra was unveiled on February 9, 2022. There are going to be four variants, with prices starting from $1,199.99 / £1,149 / AU$1,849 for the 8GB of RAM/128GB of storage model, moving up to $1,299.99 / £1,249 / AU$1,999 for 12GB/256GB, $1,399.99 / £1,329 / AU$2,149 for 12GB/512GB, and topping out at $1,599.99 / £1,499 / AU$2,449 for the 12GB/1TB top dog.

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra landed on January 29, 2021. Prices started at $1,199 / £1,149 / AU$1,849 for the 128GB model. The 256GB model costed $200 / £200 / AU$300 more, and the 512GB model increased the price again by the same amount.

So the starting price hasn't changed, but for more storage you're saving money with the newer version.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

A Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

Design

If we’re talking cold hard measurements, then the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra are pretty similar. The Galaxy S22 Ultra measures 163 x 77.9 x 8.9mm, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra is just a tiny bit taller and narrower at 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm.

The weights are similar, too, at 229g for the Galaxy S22 Ultra and 228g for the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Both have an IP68 rating, so they’re just as water and dust resistant as one another. But the designs of both phones are fundamentally different.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra takes far more from the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra than it does the Galaxy S21 Ultra. It’s got the same boxy shape, with abruptly curved-off sides, sharp corners, and flat top and bottom edges. Conversely, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is all curves and swoops.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

That extends to the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s camera module, which melds directly into the frame of the phone whilst standing well above the rear panel. The Galaxy S22 Ultra, by contrast, has an unusually flat camera module.

While we like the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s design a lot, we’re glad that Samsung hasn’t left one of its most iconic smartphone designs to wither. Of course, we’ll have to go hands-on with both together to know which we prefer.

Display

There’s very little between the two displays on offer here. Both are 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X panels with QHD+ resolutions and 120Hz refresh rates.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

(Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

Some of the fine details favor the Galaxy S22 Ultra, however. The newer phone applies a more adaptable form of LTPO technology, meaning it can scale its refresh rate right now to 1Hz. The Galaxy S21 Ultra can only drop to 10Hz.

This isn’t an image quality issue, of course, but it does mean that the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s screen is the more efficient of the two.

Another advantage for the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra's display is that it gets brighter to the tune of 1,750 nits, whereas the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra can only manage 1,500 nits.

We say ‘only,’ but both are incredibly bright by modern standards, so it’s hardly a massive win for the newer phone.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

All in all, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra had one of the very finest displays of 2021, and we’re expecting the Galaxy S22 Ultra to have one of the very finest displays of 2022.

Camera

As with the display, there appears to be very little between the camera systems of these two phones.

Both phones lead with a 108MP main sensor and an f/1.8 aperture. Both also have 12MP ultra-wides with f/2.2 apertures.

Completing the sense of déjà vu, both Ultra phones pack 10MP telephoto sensors, one for a 3x optical zoom and the other for a 10x optical zoom.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

A Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

Wouldn’t you know it, even the selfie cameras seem to be the same 40MP sensor with an f/2.2 aperture.

This lack of obvious advancement might be a bit of a disappointment. Given how much the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra impressed us in 2021 though, particularly with its excellent zoomed shots, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Especially given that there have been some major advancements in the AI department. If there’s been one area where Samsung’s camera department has fallen behind Apple’s and Google’s, it’s with its algorithms, so this could be a good thing.

We're also seeing other advances in the software here, with new features like Advanced Nightography for improved low light performance. It remains to be seen how much of a difference these software updates will make in practice though.

Specs and performance

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra will come powered by either a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 or Samsung’s new Exynos 2200 chip, depending on your region. Both are 4nm chips, and we’re expecting both to provide more or less the same level of power.

This is something we’ll have to test for ourselves, but early signs are that neither of these chips provide a huge step forward in performance over their 5nm predecessors used in the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Those chips are the Snapdragon 888 (in the US and China) and the Exynos 2100 (everywhere else). Early benchmarks suggest that CPU performance is broadly similar, while GPU performance is the biggest advance.

One that front, the most interesting point is that the Exynos 2200’s AMD GPU shares the same RDNA2 architecture as the PS5 and the Xbox Series X. It could provide some advanced effects in games, if developers choose to implement them. That’s quite a big ‘if’ at this point though.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

All of this means that you probably won’t notice much of a performance difference between the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Galaxy S22 Ultra. They’re both fast, smooth operators.

One interesting spec that actually goes in the older Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s favor is RAM. While both phones treat 12GB as the standard, the entry-level Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra only gives you 8GB. Meanwhile, the top Galaxy S21 Ultra option lays on 16GB.

The newer phone strikes back with the offer of 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and now 1TB internal storage options. There’s no 1TB option with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Another win for the Galaxy S22 Ultra comes with its S Pen offering. While both phones technically support Samsung’s stylus, only the Galaxy S22 Ultra integrates it as tightly as the old Galaxy Note range, even going so far as to house a compact stylus within its body.

Battery

Both phones give you large 5,000mAh batteries. But then, they need a chunky cell with such power-hogging components.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

A Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (Image credit: Future)

We found the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s battery performance to be solid during our test period, with a full charge sufficient to get us through a full day and change. That was with the screen settings scaled back, however. We emptied the tank much more quickly when we pushed that 120Hz screen refresh rate to the max and cranked up the resolution to QHD+.

Hopefully the fact that the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra can scale its display right down to 1Hz, in addition to a more efficient processor (on paper) will improve things for the newer phone.

One area in which the Galaxy S22 Ultra is quite clearly an improvement over its predecessor is charging speed. At 45W, it’s finally befitting of a flagship phone after the 25W Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

This still falls short of the OnePlus 10 Pro with its 80W charging and the Xiaomi 12 with its 67W charging, but it should provide an improvement nonetheless. Unlike those aforementioned rivals though, Samsung doesn’t bundle a charger in the box with either of its Ultra phones.

Both phones offer 15W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

Takeaway

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra promises to be a fascinating evolution of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra concept. Or rather, a splicing.

With its design and its built-in S Pen stylus, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is shaping up to be as much a successor to the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra as its immediate predecessor.

We’re fascinated to see just how much better than the S21 Ultra the Galaxy S22 Ultra will be given how similar its display, camera, and even performance appear to be on paper.

Could it really all come down to that built-in S Pen? And will the brilliant Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra prove to be the better bet if you can pick up a good deal?

Rest assured that we’ll be putting this new phone through a full review to find out the answers very soon.