A lot of gadgets operate on a “tick-tock” development cycle, with the most well-known being past iPhones that sported fresh designs, only to be replaced 12 months later by more refined but similar-looking S variants. And after Samsung ticked the box with a fresh new design for last year’s S21, now the company has returned with the more polished Galaxy S22 and S22+. While they might look a lot like last year’s phones, there have been some notable upgrades, especially on the S22’s display, performance and camera.
Even though I’m still not sure how much I love Samsung’s Contour Cut camera design, the Galaxy S22 very much looks and feels like a high-end device. The outside of the phone features Samsung’s Armor Aluminum alloy that’s been polished to a near-mirror finish, with the S22 also being one of the first phones equipped with Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus+ to protect the phone from drops and scratches — both in front and in back.
To add a little spice to the mixture, the S22’s backside sports a lovely matte texture – which does a surprisingly good job of resisting fingerprints. And for 2022, Samsung also spruced up the S22’s color options with new shades of green, pink and white, along with good ole black.
Like previous Galaxy S phones, the S22 comes with an ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint reader, and after years of tweaking its algorithm and improving the tech, this time it feels seriously fast. In my experience, unlocking the phone was practically instant, and I never really ran into recognition issues unless my fingers were legit wet or greasy. (Keep your grubby hands away from my phone if you’re eating pizza, k thnx.)
The one thing avid movie watchers should be aware of though is the color-matched frames on the pink and white models. If you’re the kind of person that might be bothered by a glint or sparkle around the edge of the phone while watching videos, you may want to go with one of the darker color options.
And while it’s not really a surprise at this point, the S22 doesn’t feature a microSD card slot or a headphone jack. With the Galaxy S line now being three generations removed from the last device to include both of those features, it’s pretty clear they’re not coming back.
Samsung has had a lock on the crown when it comes to making the best mobile displays in the business for a while now. But on the S22, the company has outdone itself once again with displays that can hit a peak brightness of 1,300 nits on the S22, or an astounding 1,750 nits on the S22+. Suffice to say any fears of the S22’s screen being hard to read even in direct sunlight are unfounded.
Then, to make things look even better, Samsung created a new feature called Vision Booster designed to amp up things like contrast and color saturation in very bright or dim conditions. While there’s no indicator or pop-up that lets you know it’s working, I found the effect most pronounced when I used the phone outdoors, with more subtle changes in the dark when compared to phones like the Pixel 6 Pro. I found Vision Booster made dark scenes easier to parse, but even when viewed side-by-side, I basically had to press my face up against the phones to really see the differences.
But regardless of where you are, the end result is a display that lives in technicolor, pumping out vivid shades and hues, along with the perfectly dark inky blacks that make OLED screens so enthralling. Plus, thanks to a 2,340 x 1,080 resolution and a variable 120Hz refresh rate, everything from photos to gifs look sharp and crisp.
The Galaxy S22 line is one of the first phones to feature Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip, which when combined with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (or 256GB if you opt for the upgrade) results in a phone that feels blisteringly fast. In my experience, there isn’t really anything you can throw at the S22 that makes it even sweat, aside from stuff like hardcore multitasking when connected to an external monitor via Samsung Dex (which is still very much a thing).
And while some reports claim that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Gen 8 Gen 1 has a proclivity for running hot, S22’s built-in vapor chamber cooling system seems effective at keeping throttling to a minimum. Compared to the S21 FE, which features an older Snapdragon 888 chip, our S22+ posted scores in Geekbench 5’s Compute test around 25 percent higher (4,708 vs 5,999). And while the gap wasn’t quite as large in Geekbench 5’s CPU test, the S22+ still posted a significantly higher single-core score of 1,213 compared to 1,061 for the S21 FE.
As for wireless connectivity, all versions of the S22 and S22+ support all the important flavors of 5G, including Verizon and AT&T’s new C-band spectrum.
After recent advancements from competitors like the iPhone 13 and Pixel 6, Samsung is now playing catchup to Apple and Google in the camera department. And while Samsung is touting a bunch of new camera features for the S22 and S22+ like Adaptive Pixel and various “Nightography” improvements, the real upgrades are the S22’s new sensors — particularly the one for its 50MP main cam.
Thanks to that significantly higher resolution (up from 12MP on the S21), photos from the S22’s main wide-angle camera are just flat-out sharper than before. But more importantly, the S22’s primary camera offers wider dynamic range and big improvements for low-light photos. In darker scenes, the S22 uses a four-to-one pixel binning technique that combines four adjacent pixels into one big pixel, which allows for improved light sensitivity. The result is brighter photos with richer colors, especially at night. And even though Google’s Night Sight still has a slight advantage over Samsung’s Night Mode, the S22 has seriously narrowed the gap.
Elsewhere, you also get a solid 12MP ultra-wide camera with a 120-degree field of view, and a 10MP telephoto camera with a 3x optical zoom, the latter of which is important because neither the standard iPhone 13 or Pixel 6 comes with a dedicated zoom lens. So once again, the base S22 is the most well-rounded camera phone for the money. And in front, the 10MP selfie camera captured crisp pictures of my face including my many pores and blemishes, though you can always play around with Samsung’s beauty settings if you want to put on a smoother face for social media.
Where things get frustrating is that some of the S22’s new camera features are often hard to use, or even tell when they’re working — with the main offender being Samsung’s Adaptive Pixel feature. Adaptive Pixel uses multi-frame image capture to shoot pics using the main sensor’s full resolution along with lower-res pixel-binned shots, before merging them together to create a higher-quality composite final image. The issue is that Adaptive Pixel isn’t turned on by default, and searching the phone’s settings for it doesn’t return any matches.
To even activate this, you need to first make sure Samsung’s scene optimizer is on, then you have to turn on the camera app’s full 50MP capture mode, make sure the Detail Enhancer setting is disabled, and then point the S22 at a dark scene and hope Adaptive Pixel kicks in. And I do mean hope, because there’s no pop-up or notification that lets you know when the feature is activated. Even when you do get it to work, while the pictures are a bit sharper and feature a more neutral color profile (which is better for anyone who wants to edit their pics later), Adaptive Pixel doesn’t really produce magically superior images like Samsung’s marketing may have led you to believe.
That’s kind of a shame after all the attention Adaptive Pixel got during the S22’s debut at Samsung’s recent Unpacked event. Thankfully, other new camera features like Auto Framing work as advertised, allowing the phone to track up to 10 people’s faces when capturing video, while Samsung’s Advanced OIS ensures that your clips look smooth and shake-free. The company’s AI Stereo Depth Map technique also makes the phone a bit better at differentiating between your subject’s face and the background in portrait mode, though you may have to do some serious zooming in to really see the difference.
In short, I like a lot of the changes Samsung has made to the S22’s camera setup, raising its general photo prowess, even if some of the phone’s new software don’t quite live up to expectations.
The Galaxy S22 line comes with Samsung’s One UI 4.0, which is based on Android 12. That means because it has long supported features like scrolling screenshots, the main upgrades in Samsung’s latest Android skin are the new Privacy Dashboard and customization options for your home screen, app icons and the phone’s UI. Similar to what’s available in Google’s Pixel phones, the customizations allow you to set a consistent color palette across your phone’s menu, while new mic and camera notifications make sure you know when apps are accessing critical hardware components.
Other software upgrades include Live Sharing in Google Duo, which is a Samsung-exclusive feature that lets you share your screen during video chats. It’s simple and effective, even if it’s not quite as full-featured as Apple’s SharePlay in iOS 15. And for those looking to keep better track of digital documents like your ID, credit cards, and even digital car keys, Samsung also made a new Digital Wallet that can securely store all those things in one place.
Featuring 3,700 and 4,500 mAh batteries respectively, both the S22 and S22+ have respectable longevity. But if lasting a long time between charges is really important for you, the S22+ is definitely the better pick as it lasted 17 hours and 33 minutes on our local video rundown test, compared to just 14 hours and 47 minutes for the standard S22. And thanks to its 45W wired charging (up from 25W charging on the S22), the S22+ juices up way faster too. In both cases though, you’ll need to make sure you have the proper power brick, as neither phone comes with a charging adapter in the box.
S22 vs S22+
Aside from the obvious differences in screen size (6.1 inches vs. 6.6 inches) and overall dimensions (5.8 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches and 5.9 ounces vs. 6.2 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches and 6.9 ounces), there are a few other features that separate the S22 and S22+. The S22 is limited to 25-watt wired charging while the S22+ gets 45-watt wired charging, with both phones also featuring 15W Qi wireless charging and 4.5W reverse wireless charging (aka wireless power share).
Other differences include slightly faster WiFi speeds on the S22+ thanks to support for WiFi 6E (compared to standard WiFi 6 for the S22). The S22+ also has built-in UWB connectivity, which isn’t available on the S22. UWB is one of many protocols used to send files to other devices wirelessly via Nearby Share, though that’s not really a big deal since Nearby Share still works, albeit less swiftly, over WiFi and Bluetooth. The other consideration is that for people looking to use digital car keys from automakers like BMW and others, those often work better and have longer ranges using UWB compared to NFC, which might make the S22+ a better choice for more tech-savvy new car buyers.
The Galaxy S22 isn’t a huge improvement or departure from last year’s phone, but just like an “S-year” iPhone, Samsung has tweaked and elevated all the phone’s most critical components. You’re getting a more refined design, improved performance, a sharper main cam with better low-light photography and an even brighter screen. And that’s saying something from the king of mobile displays.
Sure, some features like Vision Booster and Adaptive Pixel are more subtle or harder to use than I’d like, but putting all this in a chassis sporting excellent build quality and other premium features like IP68 dust and water resistance, reverse wireless charging and more is a formula that’s hard not to like. And with a starting price of $800 for the standard S22, you’re getting more phone for the money than anything you can buy from Apple or Google.