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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: The biggest differences

A split image with a green Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra on the left, resting on an orange book, and a black Galaxy S21 Ultra on the right, held in a hand
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra comparison shows that Samsung's new phone is more than just an iterative upgrade. That's because the S22 Ultra is essentially a Galaxy Note in disguise, complete with built-in S Pen. 

The Galaxy S22 Ultra offers a number of other upgrades over the Galaxy S21 Ultra, including more capable cameras, a faster processor, a brighter display and faster charging. It's definitely gunning for the top spot in our best phones list.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is still a good phone, and it offers the same size display, battery and camera resolution as the newer flagship. It also comes with more RAM than the S22 Ultra to start. But now that Samsung has discontinued the S21 Ultra (at least through Samsung.com), it's clear that the S22 Ultra is now taking the lead.

Read on to see all the big Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Galaxy S21 Ultra differences. And be sure to check out our Galaxy S22 Ultra benchmark results to see how the two phones compare in terms of performance. 

Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: specs

Galaxy S22 UltraGalaxy S21 Ultra
Price$1,199$1,199
Android versionAndroid 12, One UI 4Android 11, One UI 3 (upgradeable to Android 12)
Display6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED QHD6.8 inches AMOLED QHD
Refresh rate1-120Hz10 - 120Hz
CPUSnapdragon 8 Gen 1Snapdragon 888
RAM8GB, 12GB12GB, 16GB
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Rear cameras108MP (f/2.2) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 10MP (f/2.4) 10x telephoto, 10MP (f/2.4) 3x telephoto 8MP (f/2.2) main, 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 10MP (f/2.4) 10x telephoto, 10MP (f/2.4) 3x telephoto
Front camera40MP (f/2.2)40MP (f/2.2)
Battery5,000 mAh5,000 mAh
Charging45W wired, 15W wireless25W wired, 15W wireless
Size3.1 x 6.4 x 0.4 inches6.5 x 2.97 x 0.35 inches
Weight8.1 ounces8.08 ounces
ConnectivityEmbedded S Pen, Wi-Fi 6E, UWB, 5G (mmWave/sub6)Separate S Pen, Wi-Fi 6E, UWB, 5G (mmWave/sub6)
ColorsPhantom Black, Phantom White, Green, BurgundyPhantom Black, Phantom Silver

Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: price and availability

Starting at $1,199 for the Galaxy S22 Ultra in its 8GB/128GB configuration, pricing for Samsung's new Ultra phone is unchanged from last year's handset. 

Available to buy now, the Galaxy S22 Ultra comes in black, white, green, but also has a burgundy option. Online you can get the larger phone in Graphite, Sky Blue and red.

Check out our Samsung Galaxy S22 deals page to get the best discounts on Samsung's new phone. 

Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: design

Samsung's made it easy to tell the phones apart from the back. The Galaxy S21 Ultra features a large camera bump that overflows onto the edge of the phone, while the S22 Ultra has all its camera lenses arranged separately, and directly on the back of the phone. Both look good in their own way though.

a photo of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra back

(Image credit: Future)

From the front, it's hard to see any difference. Both phones have curved displays and central punch-hole selfie cameras. However, you can just about make out a difference in the corners. The S21 Ultra's corners are rounded, whereas the S22 Ultra's are right-angles, hinting at its Galaxy Note DNA.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

(Image credit: Future)

You'll find a slot for an S Pen stylus on the Galaxy S22 Ultra's bottom edge. There's no such silo present on the S21 Ultra. You have to get a separate case to store the S Pen for that phone. 

For colors, there were only two default choices for the Galaxy S21 Ultra: black and silver. Buying one from certain retailers would also give you the options of navy blue, titanium or brown. The Galaxy S22 Ultra has four options: black, white, green and burgundy, with graphite, red and sky blue being options exclusive to Samsung's online store.

Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: display

The Galaxy S22 Ultra and S21 Ultra's screens are similar at first glance, but there are some key differences. Both displays are 6.8 inches, both offer a QHD resolution, and both offer a 120Hz maximum refresh rate. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra display

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy S21 Ultra's display uses a scaleable refresh rate to save battery, changing between 10Hz and the maximum 120Hz depending on the user's activity. The S22 Ultra has upgraded this to scale from 1Hz to 120Hz, allowing for even greater power savings.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

(Image credit: Future)

The S22 Ultra also has the benefit of an impressive 1,750 nits peak brightness, making it easier to see the screen in bright light than the S21 Ultra's screen, which is rated for 1,500 nits. The S22 Ultra also gets Vision Booster, which adjusts the colors of the display as the light level around you changes to make sure your content still looks right even in bright sunlight. 

Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: cameras

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra camera close up

(Image credit: Future)

At first glance, the cameras on the S22 Ultra and S21 Ultra seem identical. On the back there are 108MP main, 12MP ultrawide, two 10MP telephoto cameras, plus a laser autofocus. On the front it's a 40MP single selfie camera.

However, the wide camera in the Galaxy S22 Ultra now has a larger 2.4 micrometer sensor to capture more light; that's up from 0.8 μm on the S21 Ultra. There's also a new anti-reflective coating to reduce light flares. Other S22 Ultra camera highlights include AI Stereo Depth Map functionality for improved portrait photos and auto framing in video for detecting and tracking up to 10 people. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

(Image credit: Future)

For pros, the Galaxy S22 Ultra has a new Expert RAW app available to use if you want to take shots with greater control over the settings and to save them in a more editable RAW format.

It's also worth remembering that the Scene Optimizer mode is turned on by default in the Galaxy S22 Ultra's camera settings. This mode aims to smartly enhance photos by tweaking white balance, colors, brightness and more. Usually, it would be best to switch this feature off, as it can overcook photos, but Scene Optimizer is now so good in the Galaxy S22 Ultra that you can keep it on.

Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: S Pen

Both the Galaxy S22 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Ultra support S Pen input. However, the key difference is that the Galaxy S22 Ultra comes with the stylus and a holster for it in the phone. The Galaxy S21 Ultra's compatible S Pen is sold separately, and has to be stored separately, or in a handful of compatible Galaxy S21 Ultra cases.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra S Pen note

(Image credit: Future)

Both phones let you scribble and doodle to your heart's content with the S Pen, including writing notes without turning on the phone with Off Screen Memo or signing documents. The S22 Ultra does however boast a lower 2.8-millisecond latency for a more natural writing experience and improved handwriting-to-text conversion. The S21 Ultra has a 9 ms latency. 

Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: performance

Inside the Galaxy S21 Ultra, you'll find either a Snapdragon 888 or Exynos 2100 chipset, plus 12GB or 16GB of RAM. That's then joined by 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of storage capacity.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra offers a chipset upgrade, using either the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 in the U.S. and Exynos 2200 elsewhere. For RAM, you have either 8GB or 12GB as your choices, a step down from last year. For storage you also get 128GB, 256GB or 512GB options, but also a 1TB option if you need the maximum amount of space possible on your phone.

Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: battery and charging

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra has a large 5,000 mAh battery and managed 10 hours and 18 minutes over T-Mobile's network with the 60Hz mode turned on. But this falls falls short of the 11 hours and 25 minutes we saw from the S21 Ultra, which has spot on our best phone battery life page. 

For charging, the S21 Ultra offers a maximum wired speed of 25W, while the S22 Ultra can charge up to 45W. Neither phone comes with a charger though, so getting these speeds relies on buying a compatible power brick. Both phones' wireless and reverse wireless speeds are the same, at 15W and 4.5W respectively.

Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: software

Samsung offers Android 12 and One UI 4.1 on both these Ultra phones. However, it ships as default on the S22 Ultra. The S21 Ultra, which started out with Android 11 and One UI 3, can update to it.

In terms of future updates, Samsung is guaranteeing four years of Android updates for both the Galaxy S22 Ultra and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. However, since it's older, that effectively means one less year of updates for the S21. 

Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy S21 Ultra: outlook

If you're trying to decide whether to buy the latest Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra phone or save some money and buy the year-old equivalent, you're probably better off going for an S22 Ultra since it's a lot easier to find at its basic price. You get better cameras, a brighter and more versatile display and an S Pen built in. 

However, spending another $1,200 just a year after paying for an S21 Ultra seems like a lot even with a trade-in, given the S21 Ultra still offers excellent performance, photography abilities and a great display, plus the option of a separate stylus if you want one.

The S22 Ultra is really best for those who have an older phone and are looking to upgrade. You might be able to find the S21 Ultra for less, but overall we'd go for the S22 Ultra. 

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.