Samsung Galaxy S22 review: A short king
Quick verdict: We were prepared to hate on the Samsung Galaxy S22, but its small frame is misleading. While not perfect, this powerful mini beast proves that good things can come in small packages.
- Excellent camera, especially for a baseline model
- Lovely small size
- Doesn’t compromise on power despite being smaller
- Great display
- Battery life isn’t the best
- Incremental upgrade over the S21
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
From the moment the Samsung Galaxy S22 was announced I was suspicious. I found myself asking, why does the baseline flagship have almost identical specs to its larger sibling? And what's the point of it when the price tag is higher than arguably better Android competitors.
Don't get me wrong, I wanted it to be good. At the very least because of the size. I'm a long-time advocate for smaller devices. I truly wanted a Samsung handset that was both powerful and didn't need 2 hands to comfortably operate. But I just didn't expect that outcome.
And then I actually got my grabby hands on it. And while it's far from perfect, it forced me to rethink my position.
Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Design
If you're familiar with the S21 design, you won't find any surprises here. The S22 is almost a carbon copy of the previous generation, up to and including the camera bump.
If you're looking for a complete redesign, you'll want to take a peek at the S22 Ultra instead. It's the hybrid love child of the S and Note series and truly reimagines what the S can be.
Unfortunately, there are slightly less interesting colourways this year, unless you snap up an online exclusive from Samsung directly. Speaking of which, the lavender with rose gold bump is still hot. As for the regular colours, you'll find phantom black, phantom gold, green and pink gold.
The display is, like last year, a big drawcard. Even at just 6.1 inches, it packs a punch. This is thanks to the gorgeous 120Hz dynamic refresh rate, which is simply delicious to use. But it comes at a cost.
In terms of durability, the chassis contains Gorilla Glass Victus+ at the front and rear of the device. But I'd still highly recommend getting a case. The Samsung Galaxy S22 is not immune to scratches, especially considering how slippery it is. I've seen it slide off many a surface, which has caused several moments of utter terror.
The most significant change between generations is that the S22 is a touch smaller. This is a godsend for those of us with small hands.
For the past few years, I've personally been screaming into the void about the proclivity for phones to get bigger year on year. Sure, big screens are nice for a lot of things – video, gaming, work. But they can also be incredibly uncomfortable. I've gotten hand cramps when using some of the biggest handsets in the market as my daily drivers and it's not pleasant.
Of course, there have been plenty of other smaller phone options the entire time, but not at this flagship level. Users had to compromise on specs, battery life, camera and power if they didn't want a monstrous phone.
But the S22 proves that perhaps this dark chapter is coming to an end.
Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Performance
One of the most exciting aspects of the entire Samsung Galaxy S22 range is its eighth-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon processors. Aussie enthusiasts and reviewers alike are pumped because it's a rarity. In the past, Samsung flagships Down Under have been powered by the company's proprietary Exynos processors. And the performance has suffered, but not this time around.
As I admitted earlier, I questioned the existence of this phone in my original first look. This was largely due to the spec similarities between it and the S22+. And I still stand by those reservations.
But I have to admit, the vanilla S22 does a good job on performance despite its slight frame. While it's not best-in-class (and as the entry-level offering, why would it be?), it is not that far off in the benchmarks.
On the CPU side, the S22 was just 1 point off tying the Ultra on single-core benchmarks. The gap was larger for multi-core, but not by much. This places the S22 firmly in the middle of the pack compared to similar devices in the market.
The same can also be said for the graphics performance. It was just a slither behind the big boy S22 Ultra.
In fact, out of the 3, the S22+ did the best in both CPU and GPU performance, which is wild.
But what does this mean in the real world? I didn't notice a great deal of difference between the S22 and S22 Ultra during daily use. From a regular user perspective, the S22 handled gaming, streaming, work and social media beautifully.
This was complemented by the 120Hz refresh rate. Sure, plenty of phones have it these days but it's still lovely to use. Its quick response rate was the perfect fit for the speedy CPU and GPU. And it's lovely to see this in a small chassis.
In general, the performance of the S22 was deeply refreshing. I'm sick of small devices being a performance-compromising choice. The S22 doesn't ask you to do that, proving that powerful things can come in small packages.
Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Battery
Sadly, this notion didn't extend to the battery performance. And this is something I've been concerned about ever since clocking that it's smaller this year. That's right, it's just 3,700mAh compared to the 4,000mAH battery found in the S21.
Unfortunately for Samsung, software optimisation and AI weren't able to save this one. With a 120Hz variable refresh rate and 5G functionality, now was not the time for a downgrade, which was evidenced by our battery test results.
This involved streaming content for 1 hour at 100% brightness and volume. If your phone is 90% or above it tends to indicate that it will last all day.
The S22 came it at 91%, a full percent better than the power-sucking Ultra. While neither of these scores are downright terrible, they're not ideal for flagships.
Comparatively, the iPhone 13 came in at 93% and the Google Pixel 6 at 97%. The former also has a 120Hz variable refresh rate and 5G functionality.
It's worth noting that from a real-world perspective, the S22 could get me to the end of the day without dying. But it got lower than I would have liked and overall it's a deeply average performance for such a premium phone.
I expect that we'll see improvements in this space over the coming generations as beefy performance is balanced better. Still, I want it now.
Samsung Galaxy S22 review: Camera
I was very skeptical of the S22 camera going into this review. And this was for a couple of reasons.
First, I wasn't thrilled about the complete lack of difference between the S22 and S22+ lenses. To be honest, it's not that weird that they're the same, but I was already on tilt from the extremely similar specs found elsewhere in the phones. I was left wondering what's the point of having these 2 devices was when they're so similar. And considering how much importance customers place on phone cameras, why get the S22+ when you can get the same lenses for $300 cheaper in the regular S22?
Now, thanks to the benchmarking process, we know that the S22+ dominates range on raw power, even outperforming the Ultra. So there's a strong point of difference there.
However, I still wasn't happy that the S21 and S21+ had a 64MP primary lens last year, but the S22/S22+ was been downgraded to 50MP.
I was left asking whether the AI and software are enough to do the heavy lifting here.
I hate to admit it, but in some ways, they are. After spending more time with the vanilla S22, I came to the conclusion that the camera is better than it has any right to be. While it's still trailing behind the likes of the Google Pixel 6 and iPhone 13, it's still excellent, especially for the size.
While the S22 Ultra and its extra bag of goodies is a superior camera phone, the regular S22 has slightly watered-down versions of its strengths and weaknesses.
Point and click shots are lovely, though venture into the realm of over-saturation and smoothing. This is a personal preference, so if you like the hyper-colour look, you'll probably love it. If not, you can mute it in post or perhaps consider one of the aforementioned competitors instead.
Similarly, the portrait modes offered by the front and rear cameras are gorgeous. My only complaint here is that in certain lighting the bokeh could be a touch aggressive, but that is something that can be played with in the settings and even more so if you're using Pro mode.
I was also impressed at how well the S22 could shoot in low-light considering it doesn't have the same hardware as the Ultra. Again, it's not best-in-class by any means but I didn't expect it to even be able to pick up this much.
The main downfall of the S22 camera is the zoom, which is absolutely not worth bothering with. It falls over once you go beyond 5x. If this feature is important to you, I recommend opting for the Ultra, which hits up to 100x zoom and does an alarmingly great job.
Please enjoy this photo dump:
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy S22?
- Buy it if you've been begging for a compact phone that is also powerful and has a great camera.
- Don't buy it if you want the best battery life possible.
From my perspective, the sweet spot in the Samsung Galaxy S22 range is the S22+. It outpaces the Ultra in most tests and still has a great camera. It's also that little bit bigger if the S22 is too small for your hands.
That being said, if you want to save some coin (although it still starts at $1,249) and love a small handset, the S22 may be a great solution. While I want to see battery improvements, I'm not too proud to admit that it charmed me.
And at the end of the day, we stan a short king.
Pricing and availability
Compare Samsung Galaxy S22 plans
You can also purchase the Samsung Galaxy S22 on a handset repayment plan from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone or Woolworths. This will split the cost of your new phone over 12, 24 or 36 months. You'll get a mobile plan with it too.
Power, storage and battery
How we tested
The Samsung Galaxy S22 was tested extensively over a 1-week period as the author's daily driver. She has been testing and reviewing phones for over 5 years and won best reviewer at the 2021 Australian IT Journalism Awards.