Samsung Galaxy S22, S22+, S22 Ultra Review: Expensive Excellence

The Pixel and iPhone photos are generally a bit sharper with more natural tones—and often better high dynamic range—but Samsung holds its own. Its Night mode produced images with far less grain, and its Portrait mode is also significantly better than before. I did run into a few issues: there’s a small delay sometimes when you tap the shutter, which can introduce some blur; the 10X optical zoom is quite blurry when paired with Samsung’s Night mode; and there was one time where 10X zoom took some bizarre-looking photos of traffic and street lights (which I haven’t been able to replicate since). Still, I’ve been quite happy overall.

I could go on and on about the minute details about the cameras, but I’ll spare you. There’s just one last thing I want to mention. Samsung has stuffed in so many camera features that its camera app is turning into a bloated, confusing mess.

For example, the new Adaptive Pixel feature Samsung is touting everywhere isn’t even enabled by default. It supposedly lets you take advantage of those high-megapixel-count cameras and still get bright low-light photos, but it will work only when you enter 108- or 50-megapixel mode. And even then it will work only in specific lighting conditions, so it’s really hard to test. You can use Night mode with Adaptive Pixel, but not in the actual Night mode tab—if you switch over to that tab in the camera app, you’re kicked out of the 108- or 50-megapixel mode. When you enter this high megapixel mode, your access to the phone’s other cameras disappears in favor of different digital zoom levels, which is frankly going to confuse a lot of people. I also initially had no guidance on whether I was supposed to rely on Adaptive Pixel or stick with the normal Night mode. After running some tests, I recommend the latter. It usually produced a sharper image with less grain.

And if you want to take RAW photos with some of Samsung’s image processing thrown in there, you need to use a completely different Expert RAW app from the Galaxy Store. Contrast that with Apple’s approach, where you can toggle on ProRaw mode in the settings and use it in the same camera app. (Did I mention that in the main Samsung camera app, there are separate modes for Pro, Pro Video, and Director’s View?)  

And Samsung’s Super Steady mode, which adds even better stabilization for videos, feels a bit redundant now that stabilization improvements have been made to the standard video mode—especially since you’re limited to 1080p in Super Steady and the quality is quite poor in any condition other than a bright, sunny day. Stick to 4K at 60 frames per second (and yes, 8K video capture is still overrated at the moment).

There’s a lot of choice and control here, but Samsung just needs to figure out a better way to present it all that makes it easier to use. 

Galactic Phones

Samsung Galaxy S22

Photograph: Samsung

Of the three Galaxy S22 phones, you should probably buy the standard S22. It offers the most features for the least money, and its smaller size makes it the easiest to handle. If you don’t care for the 10X zoom camera or the S Pen but want the larger screen, then there’s a place for the S22+. But if those features do speak to you, then the Ultra won’t disappoint. 

All three of these phones will get four Android operating system upgrades and up to five years of security updates from Samsung. That software policy is even better than what you’ll find on Pixel phones from Google, the company that manages Android. These phones will get some love for a long time, which is better for your wallet and better for the planet.

You might be just as happy (and can save more money) by sticking with a phone like the Google Pixel 6 ($599). Google’s phones come with some notable software features I’ve missed during my time testing the Galaxy phones—like Hold for Me, which I would have loved to use when I had to wait nearly two hours to speak to a Delta Airlines customer service rep. Still, these Samsung phones are polished and feature-packed, and they are some of the best Android phones on the market.  

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