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Samsung Galaxy S22 hands-on review by Tom's Guide

Samsung Galaxy S22 hands-on review by Tom's Guide

Categories: Review
Posted: February 11, 2022

Samsung has embraced the idea of evolution over revolution when it comes to the Samsung Galaxy S22. While the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra basically resurrects to Galaxy Note, the standard S22 very much follows in the footsteps of its predecessor. 

That’s no bad thing. In my Samsung Galaxy S21 review last year I was impressed by the phone's design, performance, display and cameras. It was my go-to Android smartphone for a while, until my preference for ColorOS had me swap to the Oppo Find X3 Pro

So it’s no surprise that Samsung has doubled down on the Contour Cut design the S21 introduced. Combine that with all the leaks that came out over the past six months, and there’s nothing unexpected from the standard Galaxy S22. But that doesn't mean it won't have a crack at a spot on our best Android phones list. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 release date and price 

The Samsung Galaxy S22 will start at $799 and come in 128GB and 256GB models. That’s the same starting price as its predecessor, which is a good start. I felt the Galaxy S21 hit the sweet spot of offering flagship specs for a reasonable price, and Samsung clearly seems to agree. 

However, it does mean the Galaxy S22 has to face off against the $799 iPhone 13. Cupertino’s phone has one less rear camera and a 60Hz display, but is nevertheless a fine phone. And the S22 is undercut by the $599 Google Pixel 6, which may have a lesser specs sheet but still offers impressive smartphone photography, plenty of performance and a sublime Android experience. 

 

Galaxy S22 pre-orders start February 9 with the phone going on sale February 25. And as a nice bonus, those who pre-order the Galaxy S22 will get a 25% off any Galaxy Tab S8 tablet. Those are just a handful of the early Galaxy S22 deals you'll find right now. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 design 

If you’ve seen the Galaxy S21, you’ve basically seen the Galaxy S22. Both phones use the same design, with the triple rear camera array using the Contour Cut design that wraps the module around the phone’s left edge. 

What’s different with the Galaxy S22 is the module loses the two-tone look of its predecessor; instead, it features the same color of the phone’s rear.The Galaxy S22 comes in Phantom Black, Phantom White, Pink Gold, and green, with the latter’s dark shade being the most appealing to me.  

I rather miss the two-tone look that was a little more distinct. Equally, the uniformity of single-color design looks neater and less ostentatious than that of the S21. 

There are some other minor tweaks, notably the display has dropped from 6.2 inches on the Galaxy S21 to the S22’s 6.1-inch panel. And measuring 5.74 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches and weighing 5.9 ounces, the Galaxy S22 is slimmer, lighter and more compact than its predecessor. As a result it’s a phone that’s easy to use one-handed, at least for me. And it's also a little thinner and lighter than the iPhone 13. 

Despite this, Samsung has gone back to using a glass back for the S22, rather than the plastic of the S21. I wasn’t against the so-called ‘glasstic’ of the S21, which felt nice and easy to grip. But the use of Gorilla Glass Victus on both the font and back of the Galaxy S22 is reassuring, as it will likely survive a butter-fingered drop. The metal edges of the S22 now use Samsung’s Armor Aluminum, which should also weather a drop without being chipped to heck. 

In some ways I’d have  liked Samsung to have been braver with the Galaxy S22’s design. But if Apple can get away with using the same design for generation upon generation, why shouldn’t Samsung? And there's no question that the Galaxy S22 is a rather lovely phone to hold and use. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 display

The Galaxy S22 might have a smaller display than its predecessor but it’s no less impressive. With a new LTPO panel, the display will go from 120Hz to a mere 10Hz, which should help preserve battery life when a high refresh rate isn’t needed; the S21 only dropped as low as 48Hz. 

Another upgrade is the Vision Booster feature, which will dynamically map the tone of the screen to tweak color and contrast to be best suited for what's being viewed and the environment it’s being viewed in. 

In practical terms, the Galaxy S22’s display is simply lovely. Colors and contrast are punchy, and the screen feels very responsive. This isn’t a surprise as Samsung has long made very good phone screens. Yet, without being able to compare the screen alongside the Galaxy S21, I’m not sure there’s a massive difference in the viewing experience. 

As ever, Samsung tends to lean quite hard into color saturation, but this can be tweaked in the display settings, though I'm rather partial to the bounty of colors the S22 offers. In short, the Galaxy S22 has a great screen from a user’s perspective, but we’ll need to put it through our lab tests before we come to any concrete conclusions. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 cameras

As mentioned earlier, the Galaxy S22 sticks with a triple rear camera array, but with a new suite of sensors. 

The main camera now sports a 50-megapixel sensor and uses “Tetra binning” technology to resolve large photos down to standard 12MP shots with more detail and light. The telephoto camera has dropped from 64MP to 10MP, but it now has the advantage of a proper 3x optical zoom rather than a hybrid 3x zoom. And the ultrawide sticks with a 12MP sensor but now has a larger 120-degree field of view as opposed to a 79-degree FOV. The front-facing camera remains at 10MP, but improved AI image processing should come into play here to deliver better selfies. 

While I’d need to do a lot more testing than my hands-on session afforded, my initial impression of the Galaxy S22 cameras are positive. The new main camera captures bright and color-rich shots, with plenty of detail — one caveat being I was viewing them on the S22 not an external display — and it certainly feels it sucks in more light than the S21’s main camera. 

I’m an advocate of optical zoom on telephotos cameras, so the decision to go for that over a higher megapixel sensor felt right to me. And I also feel the 30x Space Zoom is a little clearer and usable than it was on the Galaxy S21. What’s more, the ultrawide camera can capture more in its frame. 

However, unlike my experience with the Google Pixel 6 Pro, I didn’t feel like any of the S22’s shots really grabbed me in terms of contrast, detail or just presentation. Nor did I feel there was the consistency across the lenses I get from an iPhone 13 Pro. Still, the variation in dark and light areas in the Samsung’s King’s Cross store were handled well by the Galaxy S22, clearly showing that the extra light a 50MP camera lets in pays dividends. 

Samsung touted improved portrait photo capabilities thanks to its new AI Stereo Depth Map, which can supposedly pick out the smallest of details like a strand of hair. While I’d need to compare the Galaxy S22 against the S21 for the differences to be made clearer, the portrait shots I snapped were definitely pleasing — I felt there was less fringing between the edges of the subject and its background. 

Having snapped a quick selfie with the 10MP front camera, I reckon Samsung has improved in reigning in the over-smoothing and processing the S21 fell foul of. The pores on my forehead were visible when I zoomed in, and my dead-eyed thousand yard stare was clearly captured. 

Video seems to have been an area Samsung has focused on with the Galaxy S22. Video capture goes up to 8K at 24 frames per second, like it did with the Galaxy S21. But the new Auto Framing feature can detect and track up to 10 people in a frame and automatically adjust the camera’s focus to record them all clearly. It also tracks individuals in a frame to center the camera on them, which is almost hypnotic to watch. Where this sits between gimmick and an actually useful feature isn't clear to me yet, but it’s certainly cool. 

Simply pointing and shooting video felt a little smoother with the Galaxy S22 than it did with the S21. But I would need to test the S22 against the iPhone 13 Pro, which makes capturing good videos dead-easy, before I draw any conclusions here. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 performance, battery life and charging

At the heart of the Galaxy S22 sits a 4-nanometer chipset, supported by 8GB of RAM. This is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 in the U.S. and Chinese models. But Samsung has yet to say which chips power models in the U.K. and other regions; I suspect it’s the Exynos 2200

Either way, Samsung says processor performance is up 5%, graphics performance has seen a 40% jump, and the performance of the neural processing unit has leaped by a healthy 133%. In a practical sense, this means the Galaxy S22 is faster and smarter than the S21.

I encountered nothing that brought the Galaxy S21 with its Snapdragon 888/Exynos 2100 to its knees. So I’m not convinced the performance uptick the S22 offers will be hugely noticeable. In my time with the S22, it felt sharp and responsive, equal to that of any other Android flagship phone I've used recently. More in-depth testing could be more telling, but I can’t see the Galaxy S22 falling short in CPU or GPU clout. 

Samsung says the extra dose of smart processing power will better analyze network usage and behavior, as well as streamline app performance, especially in games so that the software and user experience feels smooth but won’t guzzle battery life. I’ve heard such claims made plenty of times with Samsung and other phones, but have mostly found that battery life still only lasts a day. 

I hope that’s not the case as the Galaxy S22 has a smaller battery than the S21, with a 3,700 mAh cell compared to the S21’s 4,000 mAh battery. In our testing, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of screen brightness over 5G, the Galaxy S21 managed 9 hours and 53 minutes. That’s not bad, but it’s a far cry from making it on the Tom’s Guide best phone battery life list, and we got that time only by turning off the S21’s dynamic refresh rate. I hope Samsung has indeed brought proper smart processing to bear on battery optimization, as otherwise the S22 could be a bit of a letdown in that department. 

Speaking of disappointments, The Galaxy S22 has stuck with 25W wired charging and 15W wireless charging. The rumored 45W charging only features on the Galaxy S22 Plus and S22 Ultra. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 software 

The Galaxy S22 comes with Android 12 and One UI 4.1 out of the box. I’m a fan of Android 12, but Google's Material You design language has been toned down here in favor of Samsung’s on UI skin. Over the past few years One UI has been tweaked and honed to become cleaner and less fussy than it was when it debuted with the Galaxy S8. 

And I'm happy to say One UI 4.1 is the cleanest iteration yet. It also allows for some in-depth customisation, notably with widgets, which now offer more information. There’s also a new privacy dashboard, which integrates features from Android 12, so you can get things like alerts when an app has used your microphone or camera. 

Samsung apps that basically double up on what Google offers are still present, meaning there’s the email app alongside Gmail. But it’s a minor thing and easy to quickly swap around apps. 

Samsung also worked with Google on the latter’s Duo so users can now watch videos live on a group call. Not my thing, but someone might love this. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 outlook 

With the caveat that Tom’s Guide will need to do a full review of the Galaxy S22 before we come to any definitive conclusions, if I were to summarize the phone in one word it would be dull. That's not to say it’s a bad phone — far from it. 

From my experience with the Galaxy S22, it’s a good looking, comfortable, capable and seemingly powerful Android phone. If you are looking to upgrade from a Galaxy S20 or another older phone, the Galaxy S22 could be well worth a look. 

But if you have a Galaxy S21, I can't help but feel the S22 won’t be the phone for you. Small camera upgrades are great, but the S21 was no slouch there. Nor did I feel it was lacking in the performance stakes. So the upgrades the Galaxy S22 is offering aren't going to shift the needle; maybe hold fire for the Galaxy S23 next year. 

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