Samsung Galaxy S22 initial review: Small and refined

4 months ago 94
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(Pocket-lint) - The Samsung Galaxy range of smartphones attracts a lot of attention. It is, after all, among the premiere flagship line-ups in the Android market. With such success, however, how can the Korean manufacturer evolve the series into something even more attractive?

In truth the Samsung Galaxy S22's answer isn't especially bold: the 2022 flagship is all about refinement, moderately shrinking the handset's screen size and overall scale compared to its S21 predecessor, while tweaking the camera arrangement too.

Do such nips and tucks add up to the Galaxy S22 being the best small-scale Android handset you can get your hands on? Or, given its release so near after the S21 Fan Edition model, does it lack any killer new feature to truly appeal to the masses?

Design

  • IP68 dust/weather resistance
  • Under display fingerprint scanner
  • Dimensions: 70.6 x 146 x 7.6mm / Weight: 168g
  • Colours: Phantom Black, White, Green, Pink Gold

There was a time when handsets would grow year on year, spanning to new extremes of thumb-stretching scale. Those days, it would seem, are now over: with the Galaxy S22 Samsung has followed in the footsteps of other makers (Apple included) in releasing a smaller-scale 'entry' handset to the range. Because, well, not everyone wants a humungous phone in their hand, nor pocket or purse.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 review photo 9

We're not talking ultra-tiny though: the S22's headline 6.1-inch screen isn't dramatically smaller than the 6.2-inch panel in the one-year-older S21. But it's enough, complete with its rounded corners, to present a phone that both looks and feels even smaller than that.

Moreso than that reduction, however, is a curtailment of the physical dimensions by a few millimetres here and there, which, in turn, has squeezed the battery capacity down (by close to eight per cent compared to its predecessor). That might well raise a few eyebrows for those hoping for optimal longevity - although Samsung is convinced that its software advances and screen technology will counter any concerns.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 review photo 1

Otherwise, in terms of design, you could look at the S22 and assume it was the S21, albeit a whisker smaller. That means the same plastic rear and aluminium frame make-up behind the scenes, but it dresses the phone up in an attractive style, which is available in four colour options (the black photographed here, perhaps the least interesting of the lot).

Display

  • 6.1-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel
  • FHD+ resolution (1080 x 2340)
  • 120Hz refresh rate (adaptive)

Samsung has spanned pretty much all diagonal measurement possibilities with the S series, this entry model being the smallest of the S22 trio at 6.1-inches. A possible issue with that, however, is the S21 Fan Edition arrived around a month prior to the S22's Unpacked reveal event, complete with 6.4-inch screen - a scale that, we suspect, would better serve many in terms of all-roundedness.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 review photo 2

Want bigger still? The S22+ is 6.6-inches, the S22 Ultra even larger at 6.8-inches. Interestingly it's only the latter of those which opts for a curved edge display (not to mention integrated S Pen stylus), whereas the S22 is all about its flat front. That seems largely on trend, as curved displays can cause issues with accidental touch, contrast and colour fall-off towards those extremities.

Flat isn't a word that we'd use to describe the visual experience offered by the Galaxy S22 though. Even at this smaller scale, the use of AMOLED display technology and a decent resolution ensure delivery of punchy colours and crisp detail.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 review photo 3

Samsung hasn't gone overboard when it comes to refresh rate, offering a dynamic 120Hz panel, so the device can automatically adjust whether the handset is refreshing what's on its screen 10 times or up to 120 times every second - it all depends on whether the content needs that additional cycling to appear visually smoother. If the Korean company had busted out 144Hz or 165Hz refresh rate we suspect the benefit would be negligible and impact on battery life nothing but negative.

Hardware

  • Samsung Exynos 2200 (UK, Europe, Asia) / Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (USA, China)
  • 3700mAh battery capacity, 25W charging, 15W wireless charging
  • 8GB RAM, 128GB/256GB storage options

Speaking of battery, it's difficult not to focus on the 3,700mAh one that's on board here - being less than the previous S21's 4,000mAh cell means it's a slightly lower capacity than you'd expect for such a flagship. The charging speed is also reduced to 25W, so is less impressive than the Plus or Ultra variants' 45W. Fortunately there's still wireless charging available here, if you prefer to skip the wires altogether.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 review photo 5

Another thing you might not expect is what's under the hood: Samsung has deployed its own Exynos 2200 processor in the S22 series in more regions than typical (including Europe - the USA gets Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 instead). At this stage, however, having not used the handset as our own, how this will link together in terms of power and battery life results we'll just have to wait and see.

In terms of software you'll find Google's Android 12 operating system with Samsung's One UI 4.1 interface over it. Samsung is also promising four generations of updates for the software, so you can buy the S22 safe in the knowledge that it'll serve you for at least its expected term with all the latest security and features through updates.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 review photo 7

But if you want a little extra screen real-estate, more battery life and faster-charging to boot then the S22+ might be the option to plump for instead. It's still got a flat screen and isn't massive to handle, which could make it that sweet spot S series model for 2022.

Cameras

  • Quad rear cameras
    • Main: 50-megapixels, f/1.8 aperture, dual pixel autofocus (PDAF), optical stabilisation (OIS)
    • Wide (120 degrees): 12MP, f/2.2
    • Zoom (3x): 10MP, f/2.4, PDAF, OIS
  • Front-facing camera: 10MP, f/2.2

One area that really helps the S22 series assert its flagship nature is in the cameras department. There's no throw-away stuff to be found here; no nonsense low-resolution macro or depth sensors to try and up the sell.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 review photo 8

Instead, Samsung keeps it fairly straightforward by offering a main camera, ultra-wide, and zoom lens. It's the last of this trio that really helps the handset stand apart from mid-level devices which typically don't pack in such variety - and we find that a proper optical zoom is really helpful in a phone's camera context.

The cameras arrangement - which is identical in both S22 and S22+ models, it only differs in the S22 Ultra - is a subtle change for the series, shifting about which resolution goes to which lens and what modes are available too.

The S22's use of a 50-megapixel main sensor is a significant resolution increase over the S21 before it (which had all the resolution in its zoom lens, oddly enough), opting for the ultra-wide and 3x zoom lenses to take a step down in the resolution stakes, at 12MP and 10MP respectively.

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Samsung Galaxy S22 review photo 4

But how does this all really change the S22's actual camera operation? Not dramatically, really. Where Samsung is keen to show-off the S22 series' advances is with its various modes. There's Stereo Depth Map to improve software-derived background blur. There's 16-bit raw capture with a separate Expert Raw camera app to edit the files (DNG, which can be opened in various other software outfits). Auto Framing will detect faces and zoom in, adjusting as more enter the frame, including in video capture. There's even an updated Pet Portrait mode, again with better background blur.

Having used the S22's cameras the big appeal for us is how straightforward everything is. Pick it up, quickly load the camera app, point, pinch, tap, just shoot how you want. There's optical stabilisation in the right places, decent autofocus, and a night mode that'll automatically kick in as needed without you needing to think. It's just more cohesive than many out there - although the likes of Google's Pixel 6 will more than put Samsung to task.

First Impressions

The Samsung Galaxy S22 is all about refining what came before: it's a handset that's banking everything on going smaller scale, delivering the smallest screen of the S22 trio, but also the smallest battery - and that part might raise some eyebrows.

As refined Android flagships go, this 'entry' S22 model builds on the S21 that came before, so if you're after a flat screen and avoiding anything too massive then it could hold appeal. That said, with the S21 Fan Edition barely a month old and delivering many of these features for less cash, all in a 6.4-inch device, there's certainly question marks surrounding Samsung's launch calendar of late.

Writing by Mike Lowe.

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