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Samsung Galaxy S22 Review: Pocket-Friendly Phone Has Great Cameras, Mediocre Battery Life

The Galaxy S22's design is great for people who prefer smaller devices if you're willing to compromise on battery life.

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Samsung's Galaxy S22.
Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

At a time when phones are getting bigger, Samsung is going smaller. The Galaxy S22, which starts at $800 and launches on Feb. 25, is the tiniest (and cheapest) phone in Samsung's new lineup. It has a 6.1-inch screen, making it slightly smaller than last year's Galaxy S21, and is otherwise identical to the Galaxy S22 Plus.

It's best to think of the Galaxy S22 as a moderate improvement over the Galaxy S21. It has a refreshed design and a new processor, but it's really the camera update that's the star of the show. The Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus both have a 50-megapixel main sensor that brings general improvements to color and clarity. All three of Samsung's new Galaxy phones are also better at taking photos in the dark.

Like

  • Improved camera with better low-light photography
  • Elegant design
  • Great size for people who prefer smaller phones

Don't Like

  • Battery life could be better

These are welcome improvements that have made the Galaxy S22 enjoyable to use for the most part. But they also aren't game-changing updates that bring substantially new features to the Galaxy S22. They just make Samsung's phones a bit better at most of the things they were able to do before, particularly photography. 

Between the Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus, I think the Plus has the right balance of screen size and battery life for most people. The Galaxy S22 is great for those who want a phone that's easy to use with one hand or squeeze in a tight pocket. But be warned that you'll have to sacrifice some battery life. 

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The right size for people who prefer smaller phones

Samsung Galaxy S22

The Galaxy S22 is the smallest phone in Samsung's new lineup.

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The Galaxy S22 is slightly more compact than last year's Galaxy S21 and noticeably smaller than the Galaxy S22 Plus and S22 Ultra. Its 6.1-inch screen also makes it around the same size as the iPhone 13, although it's technically just a hair slimmer.

It reminds me of a combination of the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10E in terms of design. Its display is the same size as the Galaxy S10's, but its flat edges are reminiscent of the smaller Galaxy S10E's. The Galaxy S22 feels a bit cramped for me personally after switching from the 6.6-inch Galaxy S22 Plus, especially when typing text messages or email responses. 

But I imagine people who usually prefer smaller phones would feel at home using the Galaxy S22. After all, there aren't many smaller phones out there for Android fans to choose from. Most high-end phones from Google, Motorola and OnePlus come with larger screens that measure around 6.4 inches or larger.

The Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus have also gotten a makeover in general. Both phones have an eye-catching glass and metal design that feels like a step up compared to last year's devices. It also feels much more premium than the $700 Galaxy S21 FE, which just seems bland in comparison. 

You might not really care about the design if you just plan to put a case over your device. But a phone that's almost $1,000 should live up to that in terms of build quality and aesthetics, and the Galaxy S22 definitely delivers on that front. 

Not much has changed when it comes to overall display quality. Similar to the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 FE, the Galaxy S22 comes with a flat 2,340-by-1,080-pixel AMOLED display, which feels bright and crisp enough for watching videos, reading and playing games. Samsung has also added a new feature called Vision Booster, which is meant to adjust the screen to the lighting around you. But this didn't make much of a difference in my experience.

The camera is better, especially at nighttime photos

Samsung Galaxy S22

The Galaxy S22 is better at taking photos in the dark.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus have both gotten a noticeable camera upgrade. Both phones now have a 50-megapixel main camera, compared to the Galaxy S21's 12-megapixel main camera. That puts it on more equal footing with the Google Pixel 6 Pro, which also has a 50-megapixel main camera. 

Both phones have excellent cameras that provide colorful and sharp images. In many circumstances, particularly when shooting in sunlight outdoors, it was hard to decide which one took better photos. But there were a couple of circumstances in which one phone upstaged the other. Take this photo of a flower bouquet, for example. Samsung did a better job at keeping the petals in focus, making them appear sharper than in Google's photo. The Pixel 6 Pro's photo is brighter, however.

Galaxy S22

galaxy-s22-flowers

This photo was taken on the Galaxy S22.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Pixel 6 Pro

pixel-6-pro-flowers-yellow

This photo was taken on the Pixel 6 Pro.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

But I preferred the Pixel 6 Pro's Portrait Mode photo over the Galaxy S22's in this case. The perspective is closer, and I thought Google did a better job of preserving detail, especially in the face. But they're both still high-quality photos.

Galaxy S22

galaxy-s22-dan-portrait

A Portrait Mode photo taken on the Galaxy S22. 

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Pixel 6 Pro

pixel-6-pro-portrait-dan

This Portrait Mode photo was taken on the Pixel 6 Pro.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

What is certain, though, is that the Galaxy S22's camera represents a step up from the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 FE. The Galaxy S22 produced photos that generally had better contrast, more sharpness and richer color in most cases. I also didn't notice much of a difference when taking photos with the telephoto lens. That's surprising considering the Galaxy S21 has a higher-resolution 64-megapixel zoom lens compared to the S22's 10-megapixel zoom lens.

Galaxy S21

galaxy-s21-flowers-yellow

This photo was taken on the Galaxy S21. 

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Galaxy S21 FE

galaxy-s21-fe-flowers

This photo was taken on the Galaxy S21 FE

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Galaxy S22

galaxy-s22-flowers

This photo was taken on the Galaxy S22.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Galaxy S22 also takes better photos at night, just like the S22 Plus and S22 Ultra. Take a look at the portrait below, which was taken in my apartment with all of the lights turned off. You'll notice that the Galaxy S22's photo is much brighter and more colorful than those taken on the Galaxy S21 and Pixel 6 Pro. 

Galaxy S22

galaxy-s22-dan-low-light

This photo was taken with the lights turned off in my apartment.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Galaxy S21 FE

galaxy-s21-fe-dan-low-light

This photo was taken on the Galaxy S21 FE in a very dark room.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Galaxy S21

galaxy-s21-low-light

This photo was taken in my apartment in the dark on the Galaxy S21. 

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Galaxy S22 sometimes had issues focusing on still objects when shooting in very dark circumstances, like the S22 Plus and S22 Ultra. But in my experience so far, it's been able to focus a bit faster than its pricier siblings in these circumstances. 

Check out the gallery below to see more photos taken with the Galaxy S22.

Performance is solid, battery life could be better

Samsung Galaxy S22

The Galaxy S22 has a fresh design and a better camera, but the battery life was unimpressive.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Galaxy S22 lineup runs on Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor. Everyday tasks like playing games, swiping through screens and launching apps feel as fast as you'd expect from a high-end phone. All three of Samsung's new phones can also crank their refresh rates up to 120Hz, another factor that makes these phones feel fluid.

Check out the results below to see how the Galaxy S22 handled benchmark tests that measure general computing (Geekbench 5) and graphics performance (3DMark).

Geekbench 5 Single Core

Galaxy S22
1,179
Galaxy S21 FE
1,086
Galaxy S21
1,084

Note:

Higher scores are better.

Geekbench 5 Multicore

Galaxy S22
3,233
Galaxy S21 FE
3,137
Galaxy S21
3,282

Note:

Higher scores are better.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Galaxy S22
8,511
Galaxy S21 FE
8,227
Galaxy S21
10070

Note:

Higher scores are better.

But I only wish the Galaxy S22 had better battery life. The Galaxy S22 has a 3,700-mAh battery, which is substantially less than the 4,500 mAh and 5,000 mAh offered on the S22 Plus and Ultra, respectively. I was able to get through a full day with the screen's refresh rate set to the adaptive 120Hz setting, but just barely. With this setting turned off, I'm able to get about a day and a half. But that's the same longevity I'd normally get from the Galaxy S22 Plus or Ultra with the adaptive refresh rate turned on. I also didn't spend much time on video calls or streaming media -- both tasks that are sure to drain the battery faster -- when anecdotally testing the S22's battery. 

The Galaxy S22 also had the lowest score in CNET's battery test compared to the Galaxy S22 Plus, Galaxy S22 Ultra and Galaxy S21 FE. It lasted for 15 hours and 21 minutes, whereas the Galaxy S21 FE lasted for 15 hours and 46 minutes. The Galaxy S22 Plus and S22 Ultra each lasted for more than 18 hours. To compare to the similarly priced iPhone 13 Mini, Apple's phone ran for 18 hours and 19 minutes on our test, but it's worth noting that the iPhone 13 Mini does not have a high refresh rate screen. CNET's battery test consists of continuously playing video with the screen brightness set to 50% and airplane mode turned on.

The Galaxy S22 supports 25-watt fast charging, unlike the S22 Plus and S22 Ultra, which both support 45-watt quick charging. But thankfully the compatible charging adapter, which must be purchased separately, is priced at a much more reasonable $35 via Samsung's website compared to the $50 45-watt charger. Other USB-C power adapters will likely charge the phone as well, but speeds could vary.

Samsung's newest software and four years of Android updates

Samsung Galaxy S22

The Galaxy S22 runs on Android 12 and Samsung's One UI 4.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

All of Samsung's Galaxy S22 phones run on Android 12 and the latest version of Samsung's One UI 4 software. Samsung launched One UI 4 in late 2021, and the software brings a bunch of new features like more control over app permissions, new color palettes and a cleaner look for widgets. 

I'm personally loving the new camera app interface, which is much easier to navigate since it shows the specific zoom level with numbers rather than symbols. The software isn't exclusive to the Galaxy S22 lineup, but it's great that Galaxy S22 buyers won't have to wait for the new software. 

But perhaps most importantly, Samsung has committed to supporting up to four generations of Android updates on the Galaxy S22 lineup and other recent phones. That's great news for anyone who plans to keep their device for several years before upgrading. It even outdoes Google's Pixel 6 line, which is committing to three years of software updates and five years of security updates.

Samsung is also working more closely with Google on certain features, particularly in the search giant's Duo video chatting app. Galaxy S22 owners can share content from their screen, like a virtual whiteboard, with the other person on the call when using Google Duo. It seems like an attempt to rival Apple's SharePlay feature for FaceTime, which debuted in iOS 15. But Google still reserves many of its software features, like the ability to see wait time predictions for toll free business when making a call, for its Pixel devices.

Should you buy it?

samsung-galaxy-s22-and-s22-plus-and-s22-ultra-compared-006

The Galaxy S22 (left), Galaxy S22 Plus (middle) and Galaxy S22 Ultra (right).

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The $800 Galaxy S22 feels like a near-perfect device for people who prefer smaller phones. If the shorter battery life doesn't bother you, I'd only recommend buying the Galaxy S22 if you have an Android phone that's at least two years old and prefer smaller phones. 

The Galaxy S22 Plus provides a better balance of screen size and battery life that I imagine would suit most people. But it's also $200 more expensive than the Galaxy S22. Other than its screen size, faster charging (for a price) and longer battery life, the only difference is that the Plus model supports ultra-wideband technology

There's also the $700 Galaxy S21 FE, which has a larger screen but a less capable camera and a bland design. It's battery life is longer than the Galaxy S22's in my testing, but not by much. 

Overall, the Galaxy S22's improved camera and new design make it feel like an upgrade compared to the Galaxy S21, albeit a modest one. But its short battery life holds it back from being as great as it could be.