Samsung's Galaxy S22 Ultra doesn't have a standout feature, but it doesn't need one

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
(Image credit: TechRadar / Stephen Lambrechts)

With each new numbered iteration of a premium smartphone that arrives on the scene, there's usually at least one big selling point that marketing departments will latch onto in order to make consumers want to upgrade their handset.

Usually, it's a radically updated camera with a suite of new photographic features. Other times, manufacturers will bring drastic improvements to display resolutions and refresh rates.

However, that isn't the case with Samsung's newly announced Galaxy S22 Ultra. For the first time in recent memory, the South Korean electronics giant's latest flagship doesn't have a standout new feature. 

In fact, the S22 Ultra's biggest selling point this time around seems to be that it isn't really an S-series phone at all – at least not in the way we've come to define it in the past. Despite Samsung's messaging on the matter, the S22 Ultra is essentially a Samsung Galaxy Note in everything but name. 

So while the S22 Ultra lacks a game-changing new feature for me to harp on about, as a long-time Note user who's gotten his hands on the device, I'm here to say that it honestly doesn't need one.

Smartphones have more or less reached their limit

It's no secret that advancements on the traditional smartphone front have basically plateaued in the last few years, with manufacturers now looking for other ways to make users excited about buying phones again. Foldable devices like Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the rumored Google Pixel Fold are a direct result of this.

Of course, foldable phones are still in their infancy and, for now at least, most people still want a tried and true smartphone with no moving parts.

This is where the Galaxy S22 Ultra comes in. It's a phone that isn't looking to win awards for innovation – it simply wants to be the best possible Samsung smartphone it can be at this point in time, and by this metric, it absolutely succeeds.

On paper, the S22 Ultra's specs look very similar to that of last year's S21 Ultra. Its camera array is practically identical, as are its battery size, screen resolution and refresh rates. You'll also remember that the S21 Ultra even supported Samsung's S Pen – a first for an S-series device.

And yet, despite these inherent similarities, the S22 Ultra does everything a little bit better. It boasts improved photo and video-taking functionality, reduced S Pen latency, faster 45W charging capability and is also the first handset powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset.

Its camera is mostly the same, but its photos are better

From a megapixel standpoint, the S22 Ultra's camera seems nearly identical to last year's model: like the S21 Ultra, it sports a 108MP primary sensor, which is once again backed up by a trio (10MP+10MP+12MP) of supplementary lenses. 

That said, a drastic improvement has been made with the inclusion of Samsung's new 2.4um pixel sensor – the largest ever used on a Samsung smartphone. This allows the S22 Ultra's camera to capture more light and data than any of its predecessors.

Additionally, the S22 Ultra has also made advancements in image processing and stabilization which were immediately apparent in every one of the test photos we took during our hands-on time.

Autofocus was faster and more accurate than my Galaxy Z Fold 3, and photos taken in portrait mode exhibited better distinction between foreground and background elements, with less blurring around edges.

In terms of stabilization, we found the S22 Ultra was able to maintain a steadier image than last year's model when using its (admittedly gimmicky) 100x digital zoom feature. And, thanks to those post-processing improvements we mentioned earlier, the final result looked better than anything we were able to achieve on an S21 Ultra.

Unfortunately, due to the daytime nature of my hands-on session, I was unable to test out the S22 Ultra's 'Advanced Nightography' claims. In spite of that, the device's larger 2.4um pixel sensor should result in improved nighttime shots, while the addition of what Samsung is calling Super Clear Lens should, in theory, result in reduced glare.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra is the Note I've been waiting for

As someone who's used a Note as his primary device every year since Samsung's Galaxy Note 5 was released, I was more than a little disappointed by the company's decision to skip last year's model. In my eyes, it signalled the end of what I'd come to consider as the ultimate phone for power users.

Sure, Samsung did bring S Pen functionality to the S1 Ultra and Galaxy Z Fold 3 in the Note's absence, but its implementation was nowhere near as elegant. Neither device had a dedicated slot to hide the S Pen when not in use, resulting in the need for bulky phone cases to hold the stylus. 

Its S Pen didn't offer Bluetooth functionality either, meaning you could no longer use the stylus as a remote photo snapper or to click through slides in a presentation.

Given Samsung's desire to now focus on foldable devices in the latter half of the each year, it's no surprise that the company's release calendar no longer has room for a third premium handset line. 

Thankfully, Samsung had other plans for its classic Note design, as evidenced by the S22 Ultra, which sports the Note line's signature squared corners and curved glass, along with a dedicated, Bluetooth-supported S Pen slot. 

While we have no doubt that Samsung will eventually sunset the Note name, it's fair to say that its decision to essentially rebrand the Note as an S-series device is the best possible outcome for fans.

In truth, ever since the S21 Ultra introduced S Pen support, there was no longer any real difference between the two devices other than form factor. With the S22 Ultra, we now have the best of both worlds: a device that combines the S-series' superior camera with the Note series' superior functionality. That it took this long to finally happen is a story for another time.

Stephen Lambrechts
Senior Journalist, Phones and Entertainment

Stephen primarily covers phones and entertainment for TechRadar's Australian team, and has written professionally across the categories of tech, film, television and gaming in both print and online for over a decade. He's obsessed with smartphones, televisions, consoles and gaming PCs, and has a deep-seated desire to consume all forms of media at the highest quality possible. 

He's also likely to talk a person’s ear off at the mere mention of Android, cats, retro sneaker releases, travelling and physical media, such as vinyl and boutique Blu-ray releases. Right now, he's most excited about QD-OLED technology, The Batman and Hellblade 2: Senua's Saga.