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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: Battle of the giant phones

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Camera Module Closeup
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Camera Module Closeup (Image credit: Android Central)

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in Phantom Black

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It's only a year old and it's definitely not obsolete thanks to another three years of promised major Android updates from Samsung — plus a killer camera system that could be better for some folks. At nearly half the price of the Galaxy S22 Ultra, it's hard to argue against buying one.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

A great bargain buy

More comfortable to hold
Can be bought for a bargain price
Great cameras
S Pen support
Software updates until 2025
Better battery life
No S Pen dock
One less year of updates than the S22

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Official Render Green Front Back

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There's no doubt the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a more capable phone in some ways than the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but its less comfortable design, worse battery life, and softer photos from the main camera make the considerably higher price hard to justify.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Superior S Pen skills

S Pen built right in
Even better camera zoom quality
Will be updated to Android 16 through 2026
The brightest display yet
The fastest mobile processor available
More expensive than last year
Less comfortable to hold
Worse battery life

Most years, it's hard not to recommend the latest and greatest. But this year, that decision is a little more complicated to make, especially if you already own a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra or a Galaxy S21 Ultra. For most people, the upgrade probably isn't worth the additional money you'll have to put down.

Even for new buyers looking to upgrade from some other phone model, Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra is just such a good value that it's hard not to argue in its favor. From the big, beautiful, and bright screen to the gorgeous design that's a joy to hold, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is just such an excellent phone.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: Older doesn't mean old

When looking at the spec list below, it's pretty easy to see that, in many ways, the Galaxy S22 Ultra isn't a massive upgrade over the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Aside from the processor — which can be up to 25% faster in certain situations — the rest of the package isn't a huge step up.

Galaxy S22 UltraGalaxy S21 Ultra
ProcessorSnapdragon 8 Gen 1 or Exynos 2200Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100
Display6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Display
3088x1440
120Hz refresh rate (1-120Hz) with 240Hz touch sampling
6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Display
3200x1440
120Hz refresh rate (10-120Hz)
S PenBuilt-inAdd-on accessory
S Pen latency2.8ms9ms
Memory8/12GB12/16GB
Storage128/256/512GB or 1TB128/256/512GB
microSD card slot🚫🚫
Rear Camera108MP, ƒ/2.2, 0.8μm (main)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4μm (120-degree ultra-wide)
10MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.0μm, 3x optical zoom (telephoto)
10MP, ƒ/4.9, 1.12μm, 10x optical zoom (telephoto 2)
108MP, ƒ/1.8, 0.8μm (main)
12MP, ƒ/2.2, 1.4μm (ultra-wide)
10MP, ƒ/2.4, 1.22μm, 3x optical zoom (telephoto)
10MP, ƒ/4.9, 1.22μm, 10x optical zoom (telephoto 2)
Front Camera40MP, ƒ/2.2, 80-degree wide-angle40MP, ƒ/2.2, 0.7μm, 80-degree wide-angle
Battery5,000mAh
45W Fast Charging
15W Wireless Charging
4.5W reverse-wireless charging
4,500mAh
25W Fast Charging
15W Fast Wireless Charging 2.0
4.5W reverse-wireless charging
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6E
sub-6 and mmWave 5G
UWB
Wi-Fi 6E
sub-6 and mmWave 5G
UWB
3.5mm headphone jack🚫🚫
UpdatesUp to Android 16
Security through 2027
Up to Android 15
Security through 2026
Dimensions163.3 mm x 77.9 mm x 8.9 mm165.1 mm x 75.6 mm x 8.9 mm
Weight229g227g
ProtectionIP68
Gorilla Glass Victus+
IP68
Gorilla Glass Victus
MaterialsGlass & metalGlass & metal
SecurityUltrasonic in-screen fingerprint sensorUltrasonic in-screen fingerprint sensor
ColorsPhantom Black, Phantom White, Green, Pink Gold, Graphite, Sky Blue, Cream, VioletPhantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Violet, Phantom Pink, Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Navy, Phantom Brown

The display differences can be noticeable in some situations — especially the brightness, which tops out at 1,700 nits on the Galaxy S22 Ultra and 1,500 nits on the Galaxy S21 Ultra — but the ability for the display to drop to 1Hz when nothing on the screen is moving doesn't seem to have positively affected battery life as we expected it would. And speaking of 'drop', you'll probably want to put one of the best screen protectors on your S22 Ultra if you do decide on that option.

The decrease in battery life is probably the biggest disappointment when comparing generations, as the Galaxy S21 Ultra handily beat the S22 Ultra in battery life tests across the board. In tests conducted by our parent company, Future Labs, the S21 Ultra lasted more than an hour longer than the S22 Ultra. In real-world usage, that will translate into several hours' longer battery life.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra handily beat the S22 Ultra in battery life tests across the board.

Samsung also downgraded the amount of RAM in the Galaxy S22 Ultra to ensure it could hit the same launch price point as the Galaxy S21 Ultra. At $1,200, the Galaxy S21 Ultra sported 12GB of RAM while the S22 Ultra only has 8GB of RAM.

Some users may not notice much of a difference here, but the S22 Ultra is a power user's phone through and through. You want as much RAM as possible and Samsung knows it. Samsung even ran a promotion during the S22 Ultra's pre-order phase that gave customers an automatic upgrade for free, ensuring that the 8GB model didn't make it into the hands of early adopters.

Part of the reason for this is that the S22 Ultra features a more powerful processor that appears to be not nearly as power-efficient as previous processor upgrade cycles. While this means games and other processing-intensive apps will run a bit better when compared to the S21 Ultra, it also means you'll get worse battery life because of it.

Samsung has pledged four years of Android updates for both the Galaxy S22 Ultra and S21 Ultra.

But the Galaxy S21 Ultra is no slouch when it comes to performance. There's little doubt that it can run anything you want it to, be it the latest Call of Duty Mobile update or a live stream of your gaming session over 5G.

Samsung has also pledged four years of Android updates for both the Galaxy S22 Ultra and S21 Ultra. That means the Galaxy S22 Ultra will get updated to Android 16, while the Galaxy S21 Ultra will see up to Android 15. That means you'll be getting the latest and greatest software features for years to come, no matter which phone you choose.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: Notable additions

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra S Pen Notes

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

If you put them side-by-side, the Galaxy S21 Ultra and Galaxy S22 Ultra clearly look very different from each other. That's because Samsung utilized the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra's design for the Galaxy S22 Ultra in order to fit the S Pen inside the phone.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy S21 Ultra looks like a larger version of a Galaxy S21 or S22 phone, albeit with a few more camera modules on the back.

Being able to have an S Pen docked inside is invaluable for folks who loved all the features of the Galaxy Note phones of the past. Not only is it convenient to have an S Pen safely stowed away for use at the drop of a hat, but it means Samsung was able to bake more features into the S Pen because it can charge while docked inside the Galaxy S22 Ultra's body.

Being able to have an S Pen docked inside is invaluable for folks who loved the the Galaxy Note phones of the past.

So what can you do with an "active" S Pen? The charge held inside it allows the S22 Ultra's S Pen to be operated as a remote camera shutter for the phone since it can connect to the S22 Ultra via Bluetooth. You can have the S22 Ultra start a new note any time you eject the pen from its dock, or you can even draw gestures in mid-air to perform actions or quick-launch apps. It's pretty cool stuff, but not everyone will find these concepts useful.

Instead, if you're anything like me, you prefer a larger S Pen. Sure, you can still buy one of the larger S Pen models and use it on a Galaxy S22 Ultra, but the presence of the S Pen inside that phone means it took on the less comfortable Note 20 Ultra's form factor.

That form factor has 90-degree angle corners that just don't feel comfortable when trying to hold the phone in one hand. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has curved edges and corners all around, making it a far more comfortable device to use every day.

Plus, some of the best Galaxy S21 Ultra cases have a spot for you to dock that big, beautiful pen right inside the case. This solves the problem of where to keep the pen without it getting lost and it also means you have a much larger, more comfortable S Pen to use. For me, the tradeoff of having a slightly bulkier case pays off, but you may think differently.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: Are you a zoomer or a roomer?

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Camera Lenses

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

With the Galaxy S22 Ultra, Samsung put all of its effort into making sure the phone had the best zoom capabilities of any device on the market. While the specs don't appear to be wildly different from the Galaxy S21 — both phones feature a main 108MP sensor and two telephoto cameras at 3x and 10x, respectively — Samsung upgraded all the camera sensors in the Galaxy S22 Ultra.

If you don't find yourself constantly zooming in past 20x, you will almost assuredly prefer the look of the photos taken by the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

The result is a phone that can cleanly zoom into objects up to 50x before image quality starts to drop. On the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you will notice an image quality drop somewhere around the 20x zoom mark. Even still, shots taken at the same zoom level will almost always look better on the Galaxy S22 Ultra because of a number of hardware and software changes Samsung made. But if you don't find yourself constantly zooming in past 20x, you will almost assuredly prefer the look of the photos taken by the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

While this could change in a software update down the road, the current look of photos taken from the main and ultra-wide cameras on the Galaxy S22 Ultra are decidedly softer-looking than the same ones taken on a Galaxy S21 Ultra. Our own Michael Fisher, aka Mr. Mobile, agreed in his review of the Galaxy S22 Ultra.

The low light performance of the zoom cameras on the Galaxy S22 Ultra was also a bit disappointing in our tests, as the phone tends to have a hard time stabilizing the image when zoomed far in. The result is an image that's regularly blurry or lacking detail when compared to the same image taken in broad daylight.

If you're someone who more often finds themselves just taking photos of their surroundings, be it the people in the room with you or something similar, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is probably a better pick.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra: Which should you buy?

Galaxy S21 Ultra

Source: Samsung (Image credit: Source: Samsung)

You might be surprised by the choice here, but it's hard to argue with the price. The Galaxy S21 Ultra can be found for around half the price of a Galaxy S22 Ultra and that could make or break a purchase for most people right now. Sure, carrier deals will significantly reduce the price of a Galaxy S22 Ultra, but it's nice to get a phone for that price without having to sign a contract or commit to payments over the next few years.

On the spec front, the Galaxy S22 Ultra isn't a knock-down-drag-out upgrade over the S21 Ultra by any means. Sure, it's got a faster processer and a brighter display, but the S21 Ultra's display was the brightest one on the market beforehand. The Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100 inside the S21 Ultra also isn't a slouch by any means and can still handle anything you throw at it.

Even the cameras aren't the massive upgrade we thought they would be when Samsung announced the S22 Ultra. Zoom capabilities are definitely significantly improved in some circumstances, but the main and ultra-wide cameras produce softer, less well-defined images than what the Galaxy S21 Ultra captures.

And lastly, I certainly prefer the design of the Galaxy S21 Ultra over the boxier S22 Ultra. It's much more comfortable to use every day and doesn't have those sharp corners of the S22 Ultra, which really aren't pleasant to palm. The only trade-off is the S Pen, which is housed right inside the Galaxy S22 Ultra and will surely make Galaxy Note fans jump for joy.