The Samsung Galaxy S23 launch is looming, with just a couple months remaining before the most likely Galaxy S23 release date. And understandably, attention is turning toward Samsung's new phones and away from the flagships it released this past year.
And that's a shame if you ask me. Because the Galaxy S22 family ultimately gave us a trio of outstanding smartphones that deserve more appreciation for what they brought to the market.
I say that as someone who's never been a huge fan of Samsung's phones. Past models have lacked the iPhone's finesse or noteworthy features like the Pixel's terrific cameras or the fast-charging capabilities of OnePlus phones. But with the Galaxy S22 series, Samsung got a lot more things right than in the past. And, frankly, that's encouraging for what's coming with next year's Galaxy S23 releases.
But before those phones come along to grab all the headlines, it's worth another look back at the Galaxy S22 — especially if, like me, you think the current entry-level S22 sounds like a better buy right now than the rumored Galaxy S23 base model. Here are four ways the Galaxy 22 models made their mark this year.
The Galaxy S22 has great displays
No matter what model Galaxy S22 you get, you're going to be staring at a great display. A little while back, I ran a flagship phone display face-off involving the Galaxy S22, iPhone 14 and Pixel 7, and it was Samsung's phone that came out on top.
Brightness is a big reason why, as Samsung made sure that the screens on this year's flagships could be seen even in the brightest sunlight. The Galaxy S22 Ultra and Galaxy S22 Plus both promise a peak brightness of 1,750 nits, while the Galaxy S22 can hit 1,300. In our testing, we never quite got to those numbers with our light meter, but we did tally some remarkably bright results. We measured the S22 at 1,152 nits with HDR turned on and the S22 Ultra hit 1,359 nits in our tests.
Needless to say, you're not going to need to squint when you take your phone outdoors. For my display face-off, I went outside on a sunny, cloudless day and started dialing down display brightness for each phone — the Galaxy S22 got down to 70% before text became impossible to read. That beat both the iPhone 14 and Pixel 7.
Samsung's displays excel in other ways, particularly with refresh rate where the Galaxy S series has set the pace for other phone makers to match. In the case of the Galaxy S22, I appreciate how the entry-level model can ramp up to 120Hz. To get that kind of fast refresh rate on an iPhone or Pixel, you have to buy the more expensive models. The iPhone 14 remains stuck at 60Hz even though it costs the same price as the Galaxy S22. The Pixel 7 bumps things up to 90Hz, but that's not as fast as what every other S22 model offers.
The Galaxy S22 phones handle zooms the best
The top of our best camera phones rankings is a battle between Apple and Google, but don't think that means Samsung's current flagships are outclassed when it comes to photos. Even if they're not consistently up to iPhone/Pixel standards, the Galaxy S22's cameras still perform very well and actually outshine the competition in one key area — zoom shots.
The phone to get if you like to zoom in for a closer look is the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which comes with two telephoto lenses — one delivering a 3x optical zoom and the other to provide a 10x zoom. You can zoom in up to 100x with the digital space zoom feature, though you'll likely want a tripod to keep your phone stable.
The Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus don't offer the same Space Zoom capability, though they do magnify things up to 30x. And I'd note that Samsung's entry-level flagship contains a telephoto lens, something still missing from the iPhone 14 and Pixel 7. You'll need a Pro model from Apple or Google to get a dedicated telephoto lens.
Consider the above camera sample shot with a Galaxy S22 Ultra, showing a 10x zoom on the left and a 30x on right. The 10x zoom is a gorgeous, detailed shot that keeps its sharpness even at a great distance. You're not going to get something this clear from another smartphone. The 30x zoom admittedly looks more like a painting than a photo, but it's still very impressive that there's a minimum of noise in the shot and that the duck isn't marred by any noticeable blur.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra's built-in S Pen
The Galaxy S22 Ultra wasn't the first phone outside of the late lamented Note series to include S Pen support — Samsung added that feature to the Galaxy S21 Ultra as well as the Galaxy Z Fold 3 in 2021. But the S22 Ultra was the first phone since the Galaxy Note 20 to include a built-in slot for the stylus.
That slot delivers more than just convenience — it also makes the S Pen feel like a more essential part of the phone. It's a design decision we wish Samsung would adapt for the Galaxy Z Fold 4, where the S Pen continues to be optional and also requires a special case to tote around.
In a world where not a lot of phones include their own stylus, the S Pen helps the Galaxy S22 Ultra stand out from the crowd. The feature isn't for everyone, but for people who like to sketch, take notes and edit photos on the go, it's a welcome tool that's easier to access than ever on the S22 Ultra.
There are few better compact phones than the Galaxy S22
I've long given up the fight for small phones. I may prefer smaller-screen devices that fit neatly in my hand or slip easily into a pocket, but the rest of the smartphone market does not. They want big screens, and phone makers have responded in kind, with only a handful of devices offering displays that are 6 inches or smaller. (And with Apple not producing an iPhone mini model this year, look for those numbers to dwindle further.)
But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate it when phones with 6-inch-plus screen sizes keep things compact. And that's exactly what the Galaxy S22 does. The entry-level model may have a 6.1-inch display, but that's packed into a still relatively petit 5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3-inch frame.
Put another way, the Galaxy S22 and iPhone 14 have matching screen sizes, yet Samsung's phone is factionally smaller. The curved edges make it a little bit more pleasant to hold too, while the contour cut look of the S22 gives the phone a sleek frame.
Small phone fans may feel forgotten, but if you can't find a device that fits your exacting demands, the Galaxy S22 feels like it comes pretty close.
Galaxy S22 outlook
Those are just the four things that impressed me about the Galaxy S22 after trying out the different models this year. Perhaps you've got your own list of features you liked about Samsung's phones. But whether those reasons match mine or not, it should be no surprise to find so many S22 models among the best phones we're reviewed in 2022.
More importantly, the high quality of the Galaxy S22 gives Samsung something to build on with its upcoming phones. No one knows for certain what kind of phones Samsung will deliver when it showcases the Galaxy S23 models at its next Unpacked event. But given what the S22 brought to the table, my expectations are certainly high.
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