Over the past month or so, I've had a lot to say about the state of Android tablets, flagship phones, and what the ecosystem looks like at this point in time. Most recently, I explained my reasoning behind why I ended up picking up the Galaxy S22 Ultra even after I originally canceled my pre-order. Much of that decision rested on the disappointment I found when the OnePlus 10 Pro was finally released here in the U.S.
Similar to my Tab S8 Ultra, I wanted to take a look at how well the Galaxy S22 Ultra performed in day-to-day life, as opposed to just a standard "review." So buckle, up because it's definitely a bumpy ride.
What I like about the Galaxy S22 Ultra
One of the primary reasons I upgraded from the Galaxy Z Fold 2 to the Galaxy Z Fold 3 was because of S Pen support. But before that, I have always been a big fan of the Galaxy Note lineup (RIP) because of the included S Pen. And while I did own the Galaxy S21 Ultra for a short period of time, there were too many times when I would want to use the S Pen only to not have it with me. So it was only natural for me to want to go back to having it with me all the time. And as you might expect, it hasn't disappointed.
It's not that I sit with the S22 Ultra next to me on a desk and take hand-written notes all day long, as that's what my actual notebook is for. But those times when I have an idea that comes to mind, or my wife asks me to remember to do something, I can just take the S Pen out, jot down what I need to remember, and go from there. It's just a quality of life thing that makes me happy to have, and I'm sure that many others feel the same, my wife included with her own S22 Ultra.
What stood out to me the most in my time with one of the year's best phones has nothing to do with software features or even the improved camera system. It's all about the design and the display. Even with its massive 6.8-inch display, the rounded edges make the Galaxy S22 Ultra MUCH more comfortable to hold and use daily, especially compared to my iPhone 13 Pro Max with its 6.7-inch screen size. The difference is in the details, and Apple's hard-cut edges just don't make for a very enjoyable experience, regardless of whether you're picking up the phone to reply to a message or to sit back and doom-scroll through Twitter or Reddit.
And the display is absolutely stunning. When Samsung announced the Ultra, I was skeptical about it actually being able to reach the advertised 1750 nits of peak brightness. Of course, it's not like I carry around a lux meter with me, but I can clearly see what's on the screen even when the sun is right behind me and I'm wearing sunglasses. There's not another phone out there (that I've used at least) that offers that kind of usability, and it's become almost invaluable to me.
There are still plenty of frustrations
My biggest frustration about the Galaxy S22 Ultra had nothing to do with the phone's performance. Instead, it was the fact that in order to get the best processor and RAM combination, you need to shell out an extra $100. Since I canceled my original pre-order, I missed out on the free storage upgrade promotion that Samsung was running, but you live and learn. Of course, not everyone will need or want 12GB of RAM or 256GB of storage, but this just felt like Samsung intentionally hindering its phone just to reach a specific price point.
Alright, with that out of the way, there were a few other frustrating things that I came across since I switched over to the Galaxy S22 Ultra. While I'm extremely happy that Samsung's Good Lock provides more than enough home screen customization options for the phone, it just doesn't match what you can do with a third-party launcher. There are a plethora of hoops you need to jump through just to make sure that all of your icons are properly themed when using different icon packs. Using a combination of Theme Park, Icon Pack Studio, and/or Shortcut Maker can solve this headache, but it's too cumbersome and frankly, annoying to use regularly.
So instead of sticking with Samsung's One UI launcher, I opted to make the switch over to Lawnchair Launcher, which is currently still in its Alpha stage. But then, I was presented with another series of issues, and this is more of an Android problem as opposed to being limited to Samsung. See, when you set a third-party launcher as the default, multi-tasking gestures are practically broken and impossible to use reliably. You could try and swipe up only to be met with nothing, as in nothing happens on your screen except for the multi-tasking handle moving at the bottom.
To Samsung's credit, there is a bit of a workaround available, and it's again thanks to Good Lock. One Hand Operation+ is another one of those modules that allows for more customization than is already available in the "stock" version of One UI. So I was able to customize the gestures so that I could actually switch view the app switcher as opposed to just being forced to use the included launcher.
But Samsung isn't out of the woods altogether here. Despite offering plenty of tools to make my phone actually usable, it means that you have to miss out on other features. For example, the new Smart Widgets feature introduced with the Galaxy S22 lineup is not available on third-party launchers. I definitely understand why this is the case, but if Samsung would just streamline the ability to set custom icon packs on your Home Screen, then I wouldn't feel the need to use a third-party launch. But here we are.
The camera is awkward
When I say the camera is awkward, I'm not talking about the hardware itself. Samsung is the best in the business when it comes to pure camera hardware on the Android side of the world. And in a lot of cases, the Galaxy S22 Ultra can easily outmaneuver the iPhone 13 Pro Max simply because of the inclusion of two extra cameras. We've already touched on how well the S22 Ultra can perform, especially when compared to the Pixel 6 Pro and where Google's software prowess poses a different type of competition.
It's already been established that the camera hardware is incredible, so what's my issue?
Holy crap, is the stock Samsung app awful to use. If you're trying to take a picture of an object that isn't moving, while you, yourself isn't moving, it's fine. It's superb. It's great. It's phenomenal. But good luck trying to capture something, anything, that's moving in the slightest. Samsung's shutter lag is an abomination that needs to be solved like ASAP. I mean, like yesterday. It's incredibly frustrating to try and snap a quick picture, only to have the subject or even something in the background, move. The end result is a picture that is absolutely unusable, and despite Samsung's repeated "improvements to the camera" updates, nothing has changed. It's the same experience today that it was when the phone was originally released.
Next up is Space Zoom and using the 100x software zoom. Don't use it. Well, don't try and use it on anything other than the move where the software can't try and impose a picture that makes it look like you took a picture of the moon from your phone. I've tried using this in different scenarios, and the end result is a picture that looks like a really bad watercolor painting. Of course, it's not essential to the overall experience of using the S22 Ultra, but it's definitely something that you might think is cool only to find the pictures to be unusable. Plus, it's still really creepy.
Odds, ends, and final thoughts
Over the course of my time with the Galaxy S22 Ultra, there were a few things that were going to make their way into this piece in a negative connotation, but have since been remedied. We'll start off with the battery, which is just frustrating, but I'll put an asterisk on this because I've been spoiled by the multi-day battery offered by the S22 Ultra. The day before writing this, I started my day with the Galaxy S22 Ultra waking me up at 7:30 a.m., and ended the day around 11:30 p.m. before I hit the hay. Screen on time came in at less than 3 hours, but the phone still had 20% juice left, so I definitely could have pushed that a bit higher if I needed to.
But there's a secret to the battery life on the Galaxy S22 Ultra, and pretty much any Android phone that you might be considering. Turn off 5G. Seriously. Even if you're connected to Wi-Fi all day long, the battery will still drain much quicker. In another example, I started the day around 9 a.m., and spent some time with friends traveling to a semi-local ice cream shop during the day.
By 4 p.m., my battery had drained to 30% and it was because the S22 Ultra was constantly looking for a 5G signal. Meanwhile, even if I use Google Maps to traverse the two hours between my house and Baltimore, my iPhone 13 Pro Max still easily makes it to the end of the day. I don't know if any Android phone maker can do something to even get close to what Apple is doing, but it looks like the iPhone will remain the battery king for quite awhile.
Finally, I wanted to talk a bit about software updates. Samsung has largely overtaken Google in this department, as there are not nearly as many bugs found with Galaxy S22 Ultra as we have seen with the Pixel 6 Pro. But there was one bug that almost made me throw my phone into a drawer never to be seen again. I was using the S Pen to try and customize my home screen (dragging widgets with fat fingers isn't easy). But the S Pen would just stop working altogether.
It was recognized by the phone, as the little Air Command icon was still there, but actually using the S Pen to interact with the screen was so inconsistent that I just gave up using it altogether. Low and behold, there was a software update available that I didn't see which fixed those problems that seemed to crop up out of nowhere. This is just one of the reasons why it's so easy to recommend a Galaxy S22 or even the Galaxy S21 to anyone, as Samsung continues to impress when it comes to software updates and bug fixes.
Overall, I've thoroughly enjoyed using the Galaxy S22 Ultra as my daily driver. There are plenty of reasons why you might not want to get one yourself, but if you really want the best that an Android phone has to offer, then this is the way to go. It might be expensive, but Samsung is offering some pretty incredible trade-in deals that knock $1,000 off the price if you're trading in a Galaxy Z Fold 3 or Galaxy S21 Ultra. But chances are, your carrier of choice is also offering some type of trade-in promotion if you want to go the subsidized route.
Samsung is doing a fantastic job of making it extremely difficult for other phone makers to compete and contend here in the States. And while that still grinds my gears to no end, the truth is that Samsung is pulling all of the right strings to try and make everyone happy.
If you want the best that Android has to offer, the Galaxy S22 Ultra truly offers the "kitchen sink" approach. The combination of incredible hardware with Samsung's vastly-improved software makes for a wonderful experience.
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Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.