As the hype train inexorably gathers pace around the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and its upcoming reveal, it’s not surprising that its rumored S Pen is getting a lot of attention. That’s because when the tipped built-in stylus and blockier rectangular design are taken into consideration, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is basically a spiritual successor to the seemingly dead Galaxy Note line.
The Note was one of the first so-called phablets, offering an expansive screen and capabilities that almost bridged the gap between smartphones and tablets. And the S Pen was a vital part of the Note series. It not only made life easier for people who like to make handwritten notes or sketch digital art, but it also enabled precision navigation that was just better for being productive on the move than one’s fleshy fingers. Rumored improved latency for the S Pen in the Galaxy S22 Ultra would be the icing on the productivity cake.
But as excited as I am to see a new form of Note phone, it’s the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s rumored camera array that has really got my attention.
Galaxy S22 Ultra: Compelling camera capabilities
Samsung phones have long delivered impressive phone photography, sometimes beating equivalent iPhones in the eyes of some. In my Samsung Galaxy S21 review, I was suitably impressed by the trio of rear cameras that the rather gorgeous phone sported.
But despite this, for several generations of Galaxy phones, I’ve felt Samsung has been stuck in third place, behind the latest iPhones and Pixel phones.
Google’s phones have long been photography kings, only really getting a major challenge when the iPhone 11 range came along with Apple's Semantic rendering (think extra fancy computational photography). But the Google Pixel 6 Pro delivers some stunning shots, often beating my new everyday phone, the iPhone 13 Pro. Apple’s latest phone delivers excellent photos in a very consistent manner across all three of its cameras. So it’s no surprise the iPhone 13 Pro tops our best camera phones list.
Comparatively, the Galaxy S21 arguably lags a little behind, with some over-saturation, less adept night time shots, and over processing of faces in portrait shots. And going by our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review, it’s a similar situation. The phone is the zooming king, but its other photography results can't quite reach those of the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Pixel 6 Pro. Obviously, there’s a degree of subjectivity in this, and the flexibility of the S21 Ultra’s four rear cameras are great. But for my money, I’d reach for the iPhone 13 or Pixel 6 Pro.
That could all change with the Galaxy S22 Ultra. On paper, it’s rumored rear camera specs are basically the same as its predecessor’s; a 108MP main camera, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP telephoto with a 3x zoom and a 10MP telephoto camera with a 10x zoom. These snappers are supported by a laser auto-focus sensor. But the improvements are tipped to come in for form of improved sensors rather than boosted megapixel counts, and that could be a big deal.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra’s cameras were a big step up form the somewhat lackluster Galaxy S20 Ultra’s photography performance. So with new sensors I’m expecting the Galaxy S22 Ultra to deliver a notable step up in pure photo quality. And with the aforementioned rivalry from Apple and Google phones, Samsung really will need to up its game if it wants to command a hefty $1,299 for the base Galaxy S22 Ultra.
This could be achieved with dramatically improved computational photography. The Galaxy S22 Ultra will supposedly get an AI enhancement mode for the 108MP camera. Specifics for that are thin, but it’s expected to deliver more detail and brightness in shots; Samsung hasn’t exactly struggled with this in the past, but one could argue that there’s scope of more texture in shadow and highlights form Galaxy phones. One area where Samsung is hoping to make ground is in low-light photography, as it's teasing a new "night-breaking" camera for the Ultra.
There's also the rumored Super Clear Lens; ironically, what this is hasn’t been made clear. But it’s been posited that it will help reduce glare and reflections in photos. As someone who loves to snap photos of landscapes lit by an exuberant sun or drenched in the burnt hues of a setting celestial body, I find the iPhone 13 Pro has a healthy appetite for lens flare. So if the Galaxy S22 Ultra can nix this, it would definitely have my attention.
The complete phone photography package
Overall, from generation-to-generation of Galaxy phones, Samsung has made rather notable camera improvements, arguably more so than its rivals. With the option for the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 or Exynos 2200 chips, I’d expect the Galaxy S22 Ultra will have more AI processing power to play with than its predecessor. And thus it could have the scope to really lean hard on refined computational photography. In short, I expect to be impressed.
And now we can loop the S Pen back into the conversation. If it gets a suite of improved capabilities over the stylus seen in the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, then we could be looking at a perfect partner for the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s potential photography chops.
Not only can the S Pen be used for controlling the camera remotely, it makes editing photos on a phone so much easier. So improved photography, better control via the S Pen, and a Note-like design that I feel is the best for getting stuff done on a phone — if we don’t count the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and its excellent productivity chops — and Samsung may just have a phone that's the complete package for mobile photography. That could pull me away from the Pixel 6 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro.
With the Galaxy S22 range looking set for a February 9 launch, there’s not long to wait before we see if these rumors come to fruition. if so, the Galaxy S22 Ultra may not only have a shot at being the phone photography champion, but also earn a top spot on our best phones list.