I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had a Galaxy Note in my pocket for the past ten years. Fine, 9 if we are to consider that I laughed at the first one, but you know you did too. It was hard to even consider such a large phone, at a time when one-handed use dominated smartphone design. And yet, have you noticed how that quickly faded away?
Thing is, ever since Generation 2, and even through the fiery times of the Galaxy Note 7, this lineup quickly went from mockery, to the one product I would always go back to, regardless of what phone I was reviewing. I know for some, the appeal of this phone was its size and for others the endurance, but for me it was actually what it could do. See, even if stylus input wasn’t new, most companies got it all wrong before the Note. For Palm and Pocket PC it was all about navigation, while Samsung followed on WACOM’s idea of a pen that could either blend with existing content, or help you create it.
Now, what’s ironic is that this isn’t a video about a Galaxy Note. Sadly it seems that lineup is officially dead. Samsung has spent a good deal of time exporting its Note DNA to its other assets, all while turning a different phone into a more powerful Note. This is the Galaxy S22 Ultra, what Samsung calls a Note-Worthy new look, and what I’m going to call my favorite Galaxy Note ever, but for reasons that really contradict its purpose.
The demise of the Note
I honestly think that the product that began to kill the Galaxy Note was generation 5. It was my favorite in looks, but this is when it stopped being Samsung’s vanguard phone. It almost became this rehash of the Galaxy S, but with a stylus, instead of being the phone that showcased all of Samsung’s best ideas. Instead, all that push sort of drifted into Foldables or the Ultra, but with the problem that the S Pen integration never was as seamless.
This is the first phone to actually blend all formulas so well, that I seriously think this was the Note 21 Ultra Samsung never launched. Squared corners, flat extremities, pronounced curves, and an S Pen tucked in. So sure, you don’t just spare yourself the need for a case to hold it, but the Bluetooth functionality returns for Air Command and its Remote operation.
The result is a Galaxy Note that finally returns to its roots of cramming the best of Samsung into one package, without the need to wait for a fall rehash. You get the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 depending on your region, plenty of RAM and Storage, a sizable battery with tons of faster ways to charge it, and all the latest ways to stay connected.
Its execution is probably one of the best I’ve seen as well. A two-toned blend of matte and shiny even up to the rings on the camera module, all protected by the toughest glass and armor aluminum. Sure it won’t save you from a wobble here and there but gone is the massive camera hump, which can then be balanced by pretty much any case if you want to go flush.
Obviously the software is one of the biggest stories, and yet, the one I would call the least pretentious. One UI 4.x on top of Android 12 is probably Samsung’s most subtle update. Sure we get Google’s theme-based color palettes, and all the privacy updates we praised earlier, but maybe what you’ll notice most is speed improvements. Navigating around this UI has gotten so much faster, even if animations are still there.
And yet, software is really what has always differentiated a Galaxy Note-like device. Remove the stylus to write on a blank screen, or call on your favorites if the screen is on. I can’t really say I use most of these services, but S Pen integration with Microsoft’s Office Suite continues to be my primary reason to love it. Also, yes the sharpy-like feel of the tip on the screen remains, but what you’ll also notice is absolutely zero latency, giving it the most natural feel I’ve experienced.
A lot of it has to do with this new display. Even if it still is a Samsung Dynamic AMOLED 2X, the company has added a few silent perks like even more contrast ratio, extra peak brightness, and even more variability in its refresh rate. Pair this with great palm rejection while using the S Pen, or its dual firing speakers for great content consumption.
So far my testing has extended to a couple of weeks between New York, Los Angeles and even roaming in Barcelona and I have to say this is probably the best experience I’ve had with a Galaxy phone. Endurance can go beyond a day, connectivity is second to none, and phone calls remain just as good as expected. You might notice subtle changes in things like the vibrating motor which I feel is far less annoying than before, and you’ll also notice things that didn’t change like the Ultra-Sonic fingerprint scanner for better or worse.
And actually that feeling extends to my thoughts on the camera system. Last year’s Galaxy S21 Ultra was pretty much close to amazing, but if you were here because you thought this phone was going to be dramatically better, I’m not sure that’ll be the case, and the near lack of change on the spec sheet should help in pointing out what to expect.
See, the S21 Ultra came to fix a lot of what the S20 Ultra got wrong, but it seems there was not much to fix here. The S21 Ultra was already nearly the best camera on a phone last year, and this phone builds on that. If anything I notice improvements in color science. I have a couple of day shots I took with the A7 IV, that this phone matches pretty well, or throws the advantage of higher dynamic range thanks to its computational photography. Even up to 30X photos are perfectly usable, making this one of the most versatile cameras you can buy.
Samsung made a big deal out of its Nightography, and well, I will tell you it is faster at taking the shot than the S21, with a ton of detail in almost every focal length you pick, plus very little issues with light glare. It can delay the shutter in darker scenarios, but I can tell it does a far better job than even the S22 +.
Maybe one area where I’m not too satisfied is selfies. Not sure if a software update is pending, but I do notice skin tones to be a tad washed out, and detail being soft, something previous Galaxy phones didn’t struggle with, though I will praise most portraits for their separation.
Now as for video, I wish I could tell you this is the Android phone that finally gets it right, but it only does so most of the time. Detail is good, but then the jitter or the rolling shutter as you move gets in the way of this being a true B Camera, and I feel it has to do with just how many pixels the processor is trying to read out of such a massive sensor. Same case for selfie 4K where again, the quality is good, and probably better than most Android phones, but still not in iPhone territory, which I feel benefits from the non-pixel binning approach for sensor readout.
To conclude, I think it’s important to clarify who this phone is for. At its price, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is made for anyone willing to spend lots of money to have the best experience on a conventional flagship smartphone, and where the camera and S Pen integration are the main differentiating factors.
It’s definitely made for people like me, who are nostalgic about a lineup that one was, and who wouldn’t think twice about reliving some of that experience, but with the added perks of a camera the previous Galaxy Notes would always fall short on.
I say all this because even if it’s a fantastic phone, It’s not really what I’d call a trend setter anymore. That honor now belongs to the foldables that Samsung used to displace the Note during its Fall product showcase. If you’re in the market for a great camera packed into one of the most powerful experiences you can get on a conventional smartphone, than this should be your phone. Here’s to hoping that regardless of the name change, the Ultra continues to be that Galaxy Note some of us always wanted over years to come.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
The Galaxy S22 Ultra comes with a larger 6.8 “QHD + 120Hz AMOLED display, a versatile camera setup, and a large battery that will keep you going through a whole day! Check out all the deals on the device using the links given below.