Galaxy S23 Ultra — I still think most people don’t need the S Pen

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review
(Image credit: Future)

Go looking in any Android community and you will find ardent fans of Samsung's S Pen stylus. The accessory has been around for a really long time now, and it's only gotten better with age. It is one of the most advanced styli around, offering unparalleled levels of productivity for a smartphone, foldable, and tablet.

And yet, after a year with the Galaxy S22 Ultra, I remain unconvinced that the S Pen is a must-have feature for the vast majority of people out there, including so-called powerusers. And as we look forward to the Galaxy S23 Ultra in just over a week, my skepticism has me wondering what the true utility of a stylus on a smartphone actually is.

Samsung, and to a lesser extent Motorola, would have you believe that a stylus is required to get the most out of your big phone, such as the Galaxy S22 Ultra — a narrative that I imagine will continue with the Galaxy S23 Ultra. I don't think that's true. The S Pen is, to me, just shy of a gimmick. 

For the vast majority of smartphone usage, the S Pen is a hindrance rather than an aid. Sure, it's great for artwork and precise photo edits, I don't dispute that. I am no way saying that the S Pen is useless; I'm saying that is unnecessary for most of the time I use a smartphone.

In fact, using the S Pen on the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a worse user experience than a helpful one. Contrast that with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 that I have, where the S Pen proves extremely useful on the 7.6-inch unfolded display. And therein lies a key distinction: I find that the S Pen is useful on larger screens, not on a phone. Apple seems to agree, given its strategy with the Apple Pencil.

Samsung seems to be all-in on Note-ifying the Galaxy S Ultra, which is why it pushed the S Pen's utility so hard last year. The Galaxy Note series had it hardcore fans, but they proved too small to convince Samsung to keep that lineup of devices. Though they were obviously vocal enough to get the Ultra to take on the Note's mantle. Whether they actually had an impact or Samsung simply realized that the Note concept set it apart from other smartphones doesn't matter.

The S Pen has its uses, but I ultimately think it's better served on a tablet or tablet-like display, like the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra or Galaxy Z Fold 4. Until the paradigm shifts, I do not think that Samsung will ever come up with a use case on a smartphone that requires the S Pen. Sure, there are some that the S Pen makes easier, but I have yet to see one where it's necessary.

The S Pen is neat, it's nifty, and it's handy, but most of the time, it's just that. That describes the word "gimmick." Is that bad? Not at all. I just won't believe Samsung when it inevitably hypes up the stylus in February.

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.

  • Samsons88
    I really love the pen, it's really enjoyable to use especially during meetings where I forgot to bring a laptop or paper notes or when I need to write something. in fact, I choose the s23 ultra over iPhone because of that, it transcends a boring phone to something more unique, enjoyable, and useful
  • TomLondon
    For me the pen is the USP, and without it, I had moved to Apple long ago. That is because I can quickly pull it out and jot down a shopping list. I can also use it for mark-up when reading a PDF file. Why would I use it for photo editing, if I have a laptop with a high-res OLED screen (connecting to an 8K monitor at home)?

    The cameras up to the 3x "Zoom" are useful, because I can use the phone as a visual notebook when I do not have a "proper" camera with me, or because I am in a place where I am not allowed to carry my equipment. The 10x lens is nearly useless - how often do you take pictures with a 250mm telephoto lens on your DSLR? - but the reviews will focus on that and show crops of pictures of number plates taken across lakes. A feature only designed for reviewers, at the cost of utility - a shorter 6 or 7x lens would have had less of a gap to the 3x, hence less "digital zoom" in real-live pictures. And the benefit of a sensor with more than 100 MPix in a smartphone is beyond me anyway. They are integrated nevertheless.

    All the other features - faster processor, higher screen resolution, high refresh rates - are useless for me, as my most-used apps are Outlook, Audible, web browser and camera. A battery lasting for a week would be cool, but if the trade-off is a brick in my pocket, I can do without.

    We all have different preferences and needs - so please stop patronizing us what we need and what not. If there is a feature of which enough people believe it is useful enough to choose a phone over another, which is unique in the market, and probably costs much less to implement than many other gimmicks which are much less differentiating, it's probably a good idea for Samsung to stick with it.
  • EMalvin
    Tom London gets it. There are plenty of features and capabilities built in to my phone that I neither need nor use. The S Pen isn't one of them. True, I don't use it every day but, like the heated seats in my car, it's there when I need it. I use it to create action item lists, draw floor plans, edit photos, entertain my kids or to do whatever phone-related action requires more pinpoint accuracy than my finger tip.

    But I have an easy solution that will satisfy the non-user. They can buy the Ultra, pop the S Pen out, throw it away and fill the hole with a long, thin piece of plastic shaped exactly like the thing they just threw away. After that, they never have to worry about the oppressive S Pen. :)
    admin said:
    The S Pen is a hallmark feature of the Galaxy S22 Ultra, and likely will remain that way for the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Our phones editor remains skeptical that most people need it.

    Galaxy S23 Ultra — I still think most people don’t need the S Pen : Read more
    Of Course we need the S Pen and now the Note didn't go away cause of a lack of went away so Samsung could focus on Way overpriced and fragile they can gouge on the profit margin. Stop lying!!!....and we see the Fold and Flop have some excitement where Samsung was the guinea pig...but lots of people have had trouble with both and many have broken cover by worthless warranties that aren't honored.....the Ultra is a smaller screen but using Samsung Notes the writing schools down and sideways and you can cast your phone to your TV easily and quicken...plenty of people not bright enough to sit though 10 min videos but then ask what it was about....or don't ask how many updates they ll get and when given in a link are too lazy to look...but for the majority it is very important along with gestures....just like with 1 hand etc and hoodlock
  • BradT
    I use the Write on Screen function when playing Wordle. I think Samsung totally missed an advertising opportunity when the S22 Ultra came out and Wordle was also the hot thing. I also use it when playing Jackbox drawing games. Rarely will I use it for anything productive but for the most part my phone is an entertainment device