Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs Galaxy Z Fold 3: Which S Pen experience is better?

galaxy s22 ultra and galaxy z fold 3 laying side by side on table with s pens out
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The S Pen is the premier stylus experience on Android, small as that market may be. Samsung practically pioneered the "smart" stylus with the Galaxy Note series, and there hasn't been a worthy Android competitor since. (The Apple Pencil might come close, but that device only works with some of Apple's iPads.)

Right now, there are two options for a current phone with S Pen support, the Galaxy S22 Ultra and the Galaxy Z Fold 3. The former is basically a Galaxy Note in all but name, while the latter is the flagship foldable from Samsung. The S22 Ultra happens to feature its S Pen built into the phone, while the Fold 3's is a separate accessory altogether.

Since I have both devices and their respective S Pens with me, I wanted to take a look how the two experiences compare. In the Galaxy Z Fold 3's case, the stylus requires storage and it's also a separate purchase from the phone (another $50 on top of the $1,799 you'll pay for the foldable device). 

Let's take a look at how the Galaxy S22 Ultra and Galaxy Z Fold 3 S Pen experiences stack up across different categories.

S Pen face-off: Convenience and features

a photo of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and S Pen

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Starting off with the most basic of benchmarks, the convenience of the S Pen is paramount. The Galaxy S22 Ultra wins this section hands down because its S Pen rests in a silo built into the phone. 

The Galaxy Z Fold 3's stylus sits loose, becoming easily lost unless you buy a storage case for it. That bulks up the already large Fold 3 considerably.

Venturing into subjective territory, I think the smaller footprint for the Galaxy S22 Ultra's S Pen is also more convenient, provided you don't lose it. The Galaxy Z Fold 3's pen is much larger, both in girth and length. As such, the button is bigger and thus easier to press. I should also note that you can't use the Galaxy Z Fold 3's S Pen on the exterior cover display — it only works on the Z Fold's 7.6-inch foldable screen.

Both phones share the same suite of basic features — like notes, screenwriting, smart select, live messages, AR doodles, translations, and art sketching to name a few — but the Galaxy S22 Ultra supports Air Actions out of the box. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 only has this feature with the more expensive S Pen Pro. The Air Actions are useful shortcuts, including navigation and quick actions in apps like the camera, Gallery, Office, and more.

With all of that in mind, I think the Galaxy S22 Ultra's S Pen is far more convenient with its richer feature set.

Winner: Galaxy S22 Ultra

S Pen face-off: Activation

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra S Pen on back of phone

(Image credit: Future)

Here's perhaps the briefest section. The Galaxy S22 Ultra turns on from a sleep state to a quick note action when you remove the S Pen from its silo — this note closes when you replace the S Pen and you get the regular lock screen. 

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 has no such means of activation, requiring you to press the button on the stylus and tap on the inner screen to open the notes app.

That's related to convenience, but I think this difference warrants its own section. Simply put, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is ready for note-taking, markups, and sketching much quicker than the Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Winner: Galaxy S22 Ultra

S Pen face-off: Note-taking

galaxy s22 ultra and galaxy z fold 3 laying on table with a note that says hi toms guide

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We've come to the crux of this S Pen comparison. How is the note-taking experience on these two phones? Part of my evaluation comes down to ergonomics. I think the Galaxy S22 Ultra earns the win here because I feel more secure jotting down notes on it versus a sense of nervousness when doing so on the Galaxy Z Fold 3.

I can grip the Galaxy S22 Ultra firmly in my off hand while I use the S Pen in my dominant one. I have to balance the Galaxy Z Fold 3 on my palm, or use my pinky as a stabilizer (which grows very fatiguing very quickly). 

As for taking notes, I had some learning hiccups as I tend to have light handwriting. I don't press my writing utensil down more than absolutely necessary, which led to a lot of missed inputs on both phones. However, I noticed fewer misses with the Galaxy S22 Ultra. My lightning quick notes made a lot more sense on the phone than they did on the foldable.

But the Galaxy Z Fold 3 enjoys significantly more screen real estate, meaning you can write larger or longer notes. I don't think this is enough to counter the foldable's ergonomics issue, but I do like that I have more room for my handwriting.

Winner: Galaxy S22 Ultra

S Pen face-off: Sketching

Galaxy Z Fold 3 and S Pen

This is not my art, but it's better than anything I could do. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It goes without saying that I am no artist, so the sketching capabilities of these two phones is a bit lost on me. That said, I think the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the more pleasant artistic device. Not only because of the big tablet-size inner displays, but because of the larger S Pen.

I found the Galaxy S22 Ultra's S Pen a bit small for my hands to draw and color as accurately as I could with the Galaxy Z Fold 3. I didn't have any input issues with either S Pen in this area, with any errors in my attempts at art being user-related.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 had the advantage here from the start, and thanks to the larger S Pen Fold Edition, I think the foldable has the advantage in artistic endeavors.

Winner: Galaxy Z Fold 3

S Pen face-off: Responsiveness

galaxy s22 ultra s pen and galaxy z fold 3 s pen side by side

Galaxy S22 Ultra S Pen (top), Galaxy Z Fold 3 S Pen (bottom) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I need to qualify this section with the caveat that responsiveness is probably the most subjective due to the fact that I don't have any means of measuring the response time for either S Pen. That said, I do find one stylus a bit responsive than the other.

The Galaxy S22 Ultra's S Pen overall feels smoother to write and draw with. I'm not saying that the Galaxy Z Fold 3's stylus is sluggish by any means, but to my eye, the S22 Ultra followed my handwriting a hair faster than the Fold 3. In fact, it's such a close comparison that I might have imagined it.

So I won't crown a winner for this section simply because I can't say for sure which one is more responsive. However, from the hours I spent on this project, I thought that the Galaxy S22 Ultra's S Pen has an edge over the Z Fold's. Your mileage may vary, though.

Winner: Draw

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Galaxy Z Fold 3 S Pen: Outlook

galaxy s22 ultra and galaxy z fold 3 face down on a table with s pens out

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

While I think that both S Pen experiences are great and welcome additions to their respective phones, the Galaxy S22 Ultra pulls out ahead with its convenience and feature set. Having the stylus stored right in the phone outweighs how small it is, even if you have big hands.

Then again, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 has much more screen real estate, which is ideal for more artistic endeavors and marking up large documents and spreadsheets. But if you're considering the Galaxy Z Fold 3 as your phone, or you already have one, you know that.

While I'm not really that sold on the whole stylus thing, I definitely enjoyed using the Galaxy S22 Ultra more for this purpose than the Galaxy Z Fold 3, even if I prefer the large S Pen Fold Edition. However, it's not ideal that the Fold 3's S Pen is an extra purchase on top of an already exceedingly expensive phone, and you need to pay more for the Pro stylus to get access to Air Actions.

I think the Galaxy S22 Ultra is the best of both worlds, giving you a beautiful and powerful phone that sports a built-in stylus. It's generally easier to handle (not to mention that's more durable overall), so I think if you're looking for the best S Pen experience, go with the Galaxy S22 Ultra over the Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.