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Samsung Galaxy S22 review: A solid step forward

Samsung doesn't shake things up with the Galaxy S22, but it doesn't really need to

Samsung Galaxy S22 review
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Tom's Guide Verdict

The Galaxy S22 features modest, if not earth-shattering improvements, from last year's Galaxy S21. It's the Samsung phone to get if you want premium features for less than $1,000.

Pros

  • +

    Most affordable Galaxy S22 model

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    Bright, colorful display

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    Improved zoom and low-light photos

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    Solid performance

Cons

  • -

    Below-average battery life

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    Cameras still trail Pixel 6, iPhone 13

Samsung Galaxy S22 specs

Starting price: $799
Screen size: 6.1-inch AMOLED (2340 x 1080)
Refresh rate: 48Hz - 120Hz (adaptive)
CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (US); Exynos 2200 (UK)
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB, 256GB
Rear cameras: 50MP wide (f/1.8); 12MP ultrawide (f/2.2); 10MP telephoto (f/2.4) with 3x optical zoom
Front camera: 10MP (f/2.2)
Battery size: 3.700 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 7:52
Size: 5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches
Weight: 5.9 ounces
Colors: Phantom Black, Phantom White, Green, Pink Gold

Overlook the Samsung Galaxy S22 at your peril. It's true that the entry-level phone in Samsung's new flagship lineup lacks the premium features of the Galaxy S22 Ultra and the larger screen of the Galaxy S22 Plus, but there's a danger in focusing too much on what the S22 doesn't have.

A better way to think about the Galaxy S22 is to consider the value it delivers. Opt for this model, and you'll get the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset that powers Samsung's flashier S22 options. You can also expect a bright display and the same impressive camera setup as the S22 Plus. And all this comes in package that starts at less than $800 — $200 cheaper than the next model in Samsung's lineup.

The Galaxy S22 won't be the model of choice for everyone, especially those who want every premium feature packed into a phone. But our Samsung Galaxy S22 review finds a phone with enough high-end features to impress as one of the best Samsung phones, especially at this price. If you've been holding out on updating your phone in part because of the rising cost of flagship devices, the Galaxy S22 will remind you that you don't have to part with big bucks to get a premium handset.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Price and availability

The Galaxy S22 has been on sale since the end of February. You'll find it at every major wireless carriers, as well as a few MVNOs like Google Fi, Xfinity Mobile and Visible. Retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy sell the phone, too, and you can buy it directly at Samsung.com, where the Galaxy S22 is available in four Samsung-exclusive colors.

The Galaxy S22 starts at $799 for a base model with 128GB of storage. You can bump that up to 256GB for another $50. (For this review, we ponied up for the 256GB Galaxy S22.) The best Galaxy S22 deals can help you lower that price tag, though you'll likely need to trade-in a current phone or sign up for an unlimited data plan (or do both) to reap substantial savings. And once you have it in your hand, make sure you check out our list of Samsung hidden features that will change the way you use your phone.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Design

After experimenting with a polycarbonate back for the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S22 sports an upgrade in materials, with an aluminum band around the middle and a glass back that's made out of Gorilla Glass Victus Plus. That should bolster durability, though dropping glass of any kind onto hard surfaces can lead to disastrous consequences — we'd recommend getting one of the best Galaxy S22 cases to protect your new phone. At least the new materials make the Galaxy S22 feel like a more sophisticated phone than the plastic Galaxy S21 FE, available for $100 less. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 review held in hand

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The materials may be different from last year's Galaxy S flagship, but the design is the same, right down to the contour cut look for the rear camera array, in which the three vertically stacked lenses on the back of the phone are contained in a bump that blends into the device's side. The difference here is that Galaxy S21's camera array was a different color from the rest of the phone's back; on the Galaxy S22, Samsung matches colors.

As for those colors, you get the same choices available to the Galaxy S22 Plus — Phantom Black, Phantom White, green and pink gold. Ordering directly from Samsung lets you also choose among graphite, cream, sky blue and violet options.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review contour cut design

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Though the Galaxy S22 houses a 6.1-inch display — smaller than the 6.2-inch panel on the S21 — I'm struck by how compact the phone feels. It's certainly easy to use with one hand and comfortably enough to slip into a pocket. If, like me, you've shied away from big phones because you've found them too unwieldy, that's certainly not a problem with the Galaxy S22.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Display

Samsung looked to improve display brightness across the board on the Galaxy S22 lineup. And while the Galaxy S22 Plus and S22 Ultra get the better end of the deal with a peak brightness of 1,750 nits, the S22's 1,300-nit peak brightness is nothing to sneeze at. In SDR, we used a light meter to measure peak brightness at 672 nits, though with HDR turned on, that reading reached 1,152 nits. To put those numbers in context, the iPhone 13 hit 795 nits of brightness when we tested that display.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review

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In practical terms, you won't struggle to see the Galaxy S22 screen in bright sunlight, though you may have to crank up the brightness all the way to get every detail. When you do, Samsung's Vision Booster technology not only adjusts brightness but also color contrast so that colors aren't washed out at the expense of a more visible screen. The feature certainly allowed me to double-check the sample photos I was snapping on a bright, sunny day without compromising color.

Speaking of colors, they're pretty vivid on the Galaxy S22's AMOLED panel. When set to Natural mode, the S22's display shows off 110% of the sRGB color spectrum, matching the iPhone 13's output. You can get even more colors on the S22 screen by opting for Vivid mode, though that will come at the expense of color accuracy. As it stands, the S22's 0.25 Delta-E rating in Natural mode edges ahead of the iPhone 13's 0.26 score. (Numbers closer to zero are more accurate.)

You certainly won't be disappointed when watching videos on the Galaxy S22's screen, which proved more than capable handling the shifting tones of Steven Spielberg's West Side Story remake. Likewise, even the more shadowy scenes from the Cyrano trailer on YouTube were highly detailed, thanks to the way the S22 panel handled inky blanks and stylized lighting.

Samsung Galaxy s22 review 6.1-inch display with 120Hz scrolling

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The Galaxy S22 holds one other edge over phones in its price range, such as the $799 iPhone 13 and $599 Pixel 6. Samsung has opted for a 120Hz refresh rate, which means smoother scrolling when compared to phones like the iPhone 13, which is fixed at 60Hz. Even the Pixel 6's 90Hz refresh rate doesn't measure up to what the Galaxy S22 offers. And the S22 can scale all the way down to 48Hz when the on-screen action is static as a way to preserve battery life.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Cameras

The Galaxy S22 features the same basic camera setup that Samsung used for the Galaxy S21, but with some notable improvements to the hardware. The main camera now has a 50MP rating instead of the 12MP wide-angle shooter used in last year's phone. The sensor is 23% larger, too, to let in more light, as Samsung makes a push to improve camera performance in low light.

To see just how well the Galaxy S22's cameras performed, I put Samsung's new phone up against the Google Pixel 6 and iPhone 13. (For more photo comparisons, plus an overall look at how these phones compare, you can read our Galaxy S22 vs. Pixel 6 and Galaxy S22 vs. iPhone 13 face-offs.

The Galaxy S22 certainly managed to capture a lot of detail in this photo of some Star Wars tiki mugs in a darkened corner of my kitchen. You can really spot the holes in the black slotted spoon I have stored in the Jawa mug — a detail the iPhone 13's camera wasn't able to pick up. However, there's a problem with color in the S22 shot that I'd chalk up to white balance issues; though it's not as detailed, the iPhone 13 shot has a better balance to it with more realistic colors.

The Galaxy S22 fared a little bit better when I tested it against the Pixel 6, a top Android option among the best camera phones. This fruit stand proved to be a challenging shot with the covered stand in the foreground being backlit by a bright, sunny day in the outside world. The Pixel 6 struggles to balance that light streaming in from behind, and the result is a shadowy image where the apples and melons fail to stand out. Those fruits are much more vivid in the Galaxy S22 photo, and the sunlight-bathed background provides a good contrast to the shot.

The Galaxy S22's focus on what Samsung calls "Nightography" extends to the night mode, which managed a fairly detailed shot of some stuffed animals sitting on a bench, with only a nearby porch light illuminating the scene. You can make out each stuffed animal in this poorly-lit trio, with even the black bear managing to emerge from the darkness in the Galaxy S22 shot. The Pixel 6's effort leaves the bear in shadows. That said, the Galaxy S22 struggles with color — the house in the background is too muddled in Samsung's photo, and the green on Kermit's legs has a too bright sheen that the Pixel 6 manages to avoid.

I'm generally pleased with how the Galaxy S22 cameras perform in low-light and no-light. But the photos aren't notably better than what other camera phones produce, and Samsung's well-documented issues with over-exposed colors remain with the S22.

As an example, check out this photo of a frog statue that I shot in broad daylight. Both the S22 and iPhone 13 efforts are solid enough — but the iPhone 13 does just a little bit better handling the different colors. The tone of the green ice plants surrounding the frog isn't as saturated, and the purple flowers are a touch brighter. The frog also looks a little washed-out in the Galaxy S22's shot compared to the deeper colors the iPhone 13 managed to capture.

The main lens isn't the only one to see changes with the Galaxy S22. Samsung also changed things up with the telephoto lens, downgrading the sensor from 64MP to 10MP but opting for a 3x optical zoom instead of the hybrid zoom it used on the Galaxy S21. The result is sharper, more detailed shots when you zoom in for a closer look.

Consider this photo of the Oakland skyline taken at the maximum 3x optical zoom for the Galaxy S22 and using a digital zoom for the Pixel 6, since Google's phone isn't equipped with a telephoto lens. Indeed, the zoom capability on the Galaxy S22 is its best feature, as you won't find many phones with a telephoto lens at this price.

The Galaxy S22 photo is understandably sharper, while the Pixel 6 can only manage to keep the boats in the foreground in focus. Everything else is a little fuzzy.

But the differences really stand out as you zoom further in. The Pixel 6 maxes out a 7x zoom and while it's a decent photo, you have to live with a lot of noise and a lack of definition. The Galaxy S22 is once again more detailed — you can make out the letter on the Tribune building, for example — and the blue sky isn't as grainy as it is in the Pixel 6 shot.

Samsung Galaxy S22 30x zoom shot

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If you want, you can keep going on the Galaxy S22, zooming all the way to 30x with the help of the phone's Super Resolution Zoom feature. You'll want to use a tripod for a steady shot, as this close-up of Tribune Tower turned pretty jittery as I struggled to keep everything in focus.

The 12MP ultrawide camera on the Galaxy S22 appears to be unchanged, but you won't hear me complaining if photos like this one taken at my local decommissioned naval air station are the result. The jet stands out nicely against the blue sky — I think this is the rare example where the Galaxy S22 does a better job with color than the iPhone 13, which darkens the blue a little too much. It's just a well-balanced shot that makes perfect use of the ultrawide angle lens' 120-degree field of view.

Samsung touts an AI Stereo Depth Map feature for Portrait mode shots in which artificial intelligence better separates subject from background. We put the Galaxy S22's Portrait capabilities to the test in a Portrait mode face-off featuring several rival phones, but this photo of my daughter is illustrative of what Samsung brings to my table. She seems to pop out from the orange tree she's standing in front of in the S22's photo, which also lacks the slight halo effect that's visible around her headband in the iPhone 13 portrait. That said, I appreciate the warmer skin tones in the iPhone's shot.

I kept the portrait effect turned on when testing a selfie taken by the Galaxy S22's 10MP front camera. Again, Samsung's camera phone does a good job separating me from the background, but the picture is more washed out than what the Pixel 6 produced. Perhaps my skin isn't as ruddy as what Google's phone captured, but the shot is certainly warmer and the one I'd be incline to share.

The cameras have clearly improved on the Galaxy S22, particularly when it comes to low-light shots and portrait pictures. The trouble for Samsung is that its leading competitors on the camera phone front — Apple and Google — haven't stood still, either. As good as the cameras on the Galaxy S22 are, Samsung still has some catching up to do in terms of color if it wants to overtake its rivals.

Samsung Galaxy s22 camera app

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I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Galaxy S22's video capture capabilities. The phone can capture 8K video recording at 24 frames per second and 4K video at 60 FPS. Video Digital Image Stabilization promises steady footage with minimal shake, and an Auto Framing capability can detect and track up to 10 people, automatically shifting focus.

One interesting thing to note about the Galaxy S22's photography is that it differs slightly between countries due to the different chipsets Samsung uses. You can read more about that in our report on some recent Galaxy S22 Ultra camera testing.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Performance

Because I'm testing the Galaxy S22 in the U.S., my version of Samsung's phone is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, the same chipset found in other S22 models. In other parts of the world, Samsung uses its own Exynos 2200 chipset, though our Galaxy S22 Plus benchmarks indicate similar performance regardless of the silicon.

That's good news in one sense, as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 powers some of the best performance we've seen from an Android phone. On Geekbench 5, which measures general performance, our Galaxy S22 produced single- and multicore scores of 1,204 and 3,348, respectively. That's better than the Tensor-powered Pixel 6 and its 1,029 and 2,696 results on those same tests. Last year's Snapdragon 888-powered OnePlus 9 does produce a better multicore score at 3,618, but OnePlus packs its phones full of RAM.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review held in hand

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The problem for Samsung — and indeed for all Android phone makers — is that Apple's mobile silicon remains the better performer. On Geekbench, the iPhone 13 posted a 1,684 single-core score and a 4,129 multicore result, blowing the Galaxy S22 away.

The results are much better in graphics testing where the Galaxy S22 produced a 60 FPS result in 3DMark's Wild Life Unlimited test. That's better than the iPhone 13's 56 FPS result and well ahead of the 34 FPS the Pixel 6 produced.

Samsung phones have traditionally struggled with one of our real world tests in which we use Adobe Premiere Rush to transcode a 4K video into 1080p. It took last year's Galaxy S21 more than 1 minute to finish the task, but the Galaxy S22 improves that time to 47 seconds. That's still longer than the iPhone 13's 26-second time, but faster than the 49-second result the Pixel 6 turned in.

Samsung is all in on 5G, with the Galaxy S22 able to connect to both mmWave and sub-6GHz networks. The Galaxy S22 uses a Snapdragon X65 modem, which is Qualcomm's top-of-the-line modem until the X70 starts shipping toward the end of 2022.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Battery life and charging

The size of the screen isn't the only thing to shrink from the Galaxy S21 to the Galaxy S22. There's also a smaller battery in this year's model — a 3,700 mAh power pack instead of a 4,000 mAh one. Perhaps Samsung was hoping that a more efficient chipset and another year of an adaptive display would improve battery life on the Galaxy S22. If so, it was a big miscalculation.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review charging port

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Like every phone we test, we set the Galaxy S22's screen to 150 nits and had it surf the web over cellular — 5G, in this case — until it ran out of power. The results did not impress, as the Galaxy S22 managed 7 hours and 51 minutes of battery life — a little more than two hours worse than the average smartphone. Turning off adaptive refresh rate improved matters a little, with an average time of 8 hours and 2 minutes, though that's still short of what we'd expect from a premium phone like the Galaxy S22.

In terms of everyday use, the Galaxy S22 will get your through the day. An intensive couple of hours of testing that involved gaming, video streaming and other activities that tested the phone's refresh rate, dropped the battery from 97% to 77%. That's all right, though Apple's phones last longer. (The iPhone 13 held out for 10.5 hours on our battery test.)

The Galaxy S22 misses out on the big improvements enjoyed by the S22 Plus. That larger phone supports 45W wired charging, while the Galaxy S22 makes do with 25W. Consequently, a drained Galaxy S22 can get to a 60% charge after half-an-hour, while the S22 Plus is already at 70%, even with a bigger battery to fill. That's still faster than the iPhone, which can get to a 51% charge after 30 minutes.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Software and special features

The Galaxy S22 debuts with Samsung's One UI 4.1 interface for Android 12. If you like previous iterations of Samsung's One UI, this edition will suit you just fine, particularly as Samsung has added customization and privacy features. You can see which apps are requesting permissions, and managing those permissions is a bit more streamlined. With the Galaxy S22 series, Samsung and Google are bringing a live sharing feature to Google Duo that lets you view photos and take notes with the people on a video call — kind of like what Apple added via iOS 15's Share Play feature.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review software update

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The real story here is Samsung's increased software support starting with the Galaxy S22. The phone maker now promises four years of Android software updates in addition to five years of security support. That brings the Galaxy S22 closer to Apple's level of lengthy support than any other Android phone maker. Even better, Samsung is extending those four years of Android updates to last year's flagships (which, perhaps ironically, will make Galaxy S21 owners even less willing to upgrade to this year's model).

One other thing to take note of is the fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy S22, which is right under the display as it is on previous Samsung models. I found the sensor very responsive and easy to locate — there's no delay or frequent misreads like the kind I have to endure when using the Pixel 6. And you won't find a fingerprint reader at all on iPhones of recent vintage, so Samsung really enjoys an edge here.

Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Verdict

No one would consider the Galaxy S22 a big leap forward for Samsung's phones, though I'm not sure it really needs to be. The fact that Samsung is extending software support for an extra year suggests the phone maker knows people are holding on to phones longer and that anyone with last year's Galaxy S21 is unlikely to be eyeing an upgrade.

Instead, the Galaxy S22 seems aimed at people who have older phones — at least two years old, though people still using a phone from 2019 or earlier will see the biggest improvements when they upgrade to the Galaxy S22. This is a solid step ahead for Samsung, with the improvements to the display and the camera particularly noticeable.

As to Samsung's claim on the title of best phone, I think you can make a better case for Galaxy S22 Ultra and its higher-end features (and Apple still might have something to say about that with its iPhone 13 Pro models). The Galaxy S22 is a flagship phone for people who don't want to spend $1,000 or more on their next handset, but still want a premium device. On that front, Samsung more than delivers what you're asking for.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.

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