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.