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Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra — 5 biggest surprises based on my testing

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra with S Pen
(Image credit: Future)

I've now finalized my Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review, and there's a lot to like about this phone, but this story isn't about the device's overall pros and cons. It's about the things that surprised me about the Galaxy S22 Ultra during my week of testing thus far — and most of them are good.

At a starting price of $1,199 (opens in new tab), the surprises had better be pleasant. And the good news is that the Galaxy S22 Ultra has landed near the very top of our best phones list. The display, cameras and S Pen all deliver on what Samsung promised. But sometimes you really need to live with a phone for certain things to be revealed, and that's what I'd like to share.

Update Feb. 20: Here's another surprise. Some Galaxy S22 Ultra models are already delayed all the way to May (opens in new tab) due to high demand so we would get your Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra pre-order in ASAP. 

1. The Galaxy S22 Ultra feels faster than the iPhone (really)

Now bear with me for one second. Yes, the A15 Bionic chip inside the iPhone 13 Pro Max is technically faster than the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 that powers the Galaxy S22 Ultra based on our Galaxy S22 Ultra benchmarks. But when using Samsung's phone, it just feels swifter when performing everyday tasks.

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Take switching between apps and closing them in the S22 Ultra's app switcher window. I've never experienced a phone that makes this process feel as fluid and fast. It's so responsive it's almost like the phone is anticipating my finger flicks. 

Here's another thing that's fast: the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. Not only is it great to have when wearing a mask, it makes the sensor in the Pixel 6 Pro look like it's working in slow motion. 

2. The front-facing camera is great for video calls

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra front camera

(Image credit: Future)

When testing the Galaxy S22 Ultra's front-facing camera over Google Duo with my colleague Richard Priday in the U.K, I was very impressed with the image quality. I could make out all the stripes in my orange and blue shirt and my face looked a lot clearer then when video chatting on the MacBook Pro 14-inch.

I also tested out the ability to screen share in Google Duo, it was neat being able to watch YouTube clips with someone else while commenting on the action. 

3. The S22 Ultra's curved display looks slick but there's a catch

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra curved display

(Image credit: Future)

I admit that the curved display on the Galaxy S22 Ultra looks sleek as heck, and it's also the brightest and most colorful phone display we've ever tested. But the curve has a gotcha attached to it that I discovered while trying to correct a typo with the keyboard.

Positioning the cursor can be tricky when a word is on the extreme left or right side of the display, as the display's curved slope makes the task more difficult than it would be on a flat panel. 

4. The bigger sensor on the Galaxy S22 Ultra makes a big difference

While many of us focus on the megapixel count of a camera or the aperture, there's another important number: the size of the pixels themselves. In the case of the main wide 108MP camera on the S22 Ultra, it uses a 2.4 micrometer (um) pixel sensor, compared to 0.8 um for the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

The end result is that the S22 Ultra's main camera can capture more light without having to resort to Night mode (which also works great on the new phone). As you can see in the side-by-side comparison of Star Wars figurines above, the S22 Ultra offers a brighter image of Darth Vader and Han Solo, and the artificial plant in the background is much more visible. 

It's also worth remembering that the Scene Optimizer mode, which is is turned on by default in the camera settings, is now so good in the Galaxy S22 Ultra that you can keep it on.

5. The S Pen is so smooth, it's nuts

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra S Pen note

(Image credit: Future)

I was skeptical that I would be able to tell the difference in the S Pen performance on the Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. the Galaxy S21 Ultra, even though Samsung claims that it has reduced the latency by 70%. But when taking notes on both displays I immediately noticed how much more responsive the S22 Ultra's S Pen experience is.

When writing on the S21 Ultra with an S Pen, it felt like it was doing a good job keeping up with my scribbles but there was slight lag. With the S22 Ultra, it felt like what I was writing was appearing in real time, and this could be partially because the phone leverage AI to anticipate your hand movements. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra: Bottom line

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra definitely isn't for everyone, but overall I'm really impressed with what this phone can do. We'll be updating our Galaxy S22 Ultra review over time as we continue to test this phone and compare it with other top handsets. 

And if $1,200 is too much for you, check out our roundup of the best Galaxy S22 Ultra deals, or check out our Galaxy S22 Plus review, as the Plus model costs $200 less than the Ultra. 

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.