Here’s a pop quiz: what’s the best phone of the year? Is it the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, our phone of the year? Or is it the Apple iPhone 14 Pro, the phone at the top of our list of best phones? Both of these are great phones, easy for a phone reviewer to recommend to readers. The one that wins may have more to do with timing than any feature on the phone.
If you ask me right now what is the best phone, I assume you are looking to buy one. I am a tech enthusiast and I love to be enthusiastic about new advances in technology. I’m also a phone reviewer, and it’s more important to me that I’m helping you spend $1,000 in the right way. The best phone right now is the one that is worth what you pay for it.
The iPhone 14 Pro is a brand new phone, with Apple’s best current technology on board. The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is nine months old. We already have a good idea from leaks of what will be improved when the Galaxy S23 Ultra launches, presumably in three months.
As an enthusiast, it’s easy for me to tell you why the Galaxy S22 Ultra is amazing. If you’ve been disappointed by promises of ultrazoom on a smartphone for years, the Galaxy S22 Ultra will finally blow you away with results you can otherwise only get from a serious camera lens.
I’m even a fan of the S Pen. I once closed on a house sale using only a Galaxy Note 7 to review and sign every document. The pen can be a superpower when you need it. I’m glad that Samsung didn’t drop the pen when it dropped the Note line.
As a reviewer, it’s hard for me to recommend that you buy such an old device. There is new stuff on the way. It's coming soon enough that you may still be getting the feel of your new phone when you start to wish you were feeling something better.
That something better will also come preloaded with the latest Android software. The Galaxy S22 family has seen a major OS upgrade, but there are a limited number of upgrades coming to every device family. When you buy the Galaxy S22 Ultra, you are already coming late to the Android 13 party, and you’ll be left out of parties the Galaxy S23 will attend. A bit of patience now may pay off later when Android 14 shows up to play.
When is the best phone of the year?
Media makes definitive lists of the best phones of the year at the end of the year, and Samsung has always launched its best phone at the beginning of the year, while Apple has always owned the latter half. Because of its own launch calendar, Samsung is keeping its best phone from the top of the Top Ten lists.
Don’t just take my word for it (though I edited our most recent list of best smartphones here at TechRadar). Check out our friends at Tom's Guide, who put the iPhone 14 Pro Max at the top of their list, just above the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Or head to The Verge, where they recommend the iPhone 14 Pro first as well.
At Engadget the best iOS phone, the iPhone 14 Pro, is listed above the best Android phone, the Galaxy S22 Ultra. If the Galaxy S22 Ultra were the newest, hottest phone you could buy right now, is there any doubt it would be listed above the iOS device? It’s not, so it makes sense for editorial reasons to place the iPhone first.
What if Samsung launched the Galaxy S23 later?
In 2011, Samsung did something new. It launched the Galaxy S2 in February on schedule, then dropped the massive surprise that was the Galaxy Note in the second half of the year. It wasn’t a best seller. It didn’t get great reviews. Nobody put the Galaxy Note at the top of a best phone list.
Instead, the Galaxy Note put a flag in the ground and the flag stood for Samsung innovation. The first Galaxy S phone came out in 2010, when the iPhone 4 was launched. Samsung could compete directly against Apple with its flagship phones, but instead it has always tried counterprogramming.
When the iPhone was small, Samsung gave us huge Galaxy Note phones. When the iPhone got bigger, Samsung gave us wild camera innovations that came first to the Galaxy Note. When the iPhone matched Samsung cameras, Samsung started to fold the phones in half and the second half of the year became a foldable event.
The theme has been innovation that Apple will not match. Samsung has always used the second event of the year as a battle against Apple. Unfortunately, that is the wrong battle to win the war.
The war ends every year, at the end of the year when the final lists of best phones are announced. Our list of the best phones is an ongoing list, but it ends at a point. We can tell you the best phone to buy in 2022 at any point in the year. Once we get to 2023, the question of the best phone of 2022 is settled. It’s whatever phone was on top at the end.
When you've seen every phone, you have a better view
Actually, we hope to be a bit smarter than that. Our chief phones editor Alex Walker-Todd has rightfully declared the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra our Phone of the Year. There have been fun advances in phones this year. Google took machine learning to a new level with the Pixel 7 and the Tensor G2 chip. Apple has given us true professional imaging with the 48MP sensor on the iPhone 14 Pro.
Looking at the phone landscape from our birds-eye view, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is the best. It is the mountain that peaks above the clouds. That’s just the problem. Most buyers on the ground don’t get the same view, they only read the guidebooks.
Samsung has been afraid to launch the Galaxy S family directly against the iPhone, and for good reason, but if there was ever a time to do so, it should be now. Samsung has pushed close to the top of the lists, but needs something extra to break through. That something is simply timing.
The phone market has been fun this year, but not fast-moving. Samsung has time. If it launched the Galaxy S23 in August instead of February, it could polish the phone and get it ready for the latest OS. No other improvements are necessary, judging by how well the Galaxy S22 Ultra held up throughout the year.
We don’t need a new phone yet, we need to save money
Instead of a new phone in February, give us a serious price cut across the board. There’s a global cost of living crisis. The expensive phones have been on sale for months, now the rest of us are looking for a bargain. Start selling those folding Galaxy Z Flip 4 and those older Galaxy S22 phones cheap.
Get more Samsung devices in hand before the next phone hits. Then, offer to buy back all of those phones on trade for the new one. Samsung has always been generous with trades, taking more phones in worse condition than Apple and other competitors.
The truth is, making a list of best phones is hard because no phone is the best for everyone. If Samsung wants to ensure its spot at the top of every best phone list, beating the iPhone, it needs to realize that timing is everything. If you want to be the best phone of the year, it may be best to be the last phone of the year, as well.
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Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.
Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.