The Note is dead. After more than a decade, Samsung has officially closed the book on the transformative phablet. The brand will still exist, but only in a kind of liminal marketing capacity. “We’re thinking more and more of the Note as the experience,” a rep told me on a recent briefing call.
As the Note is laid to rest, a familiar figure emerged from the shadows of today’s Unpacked event. Like a well-worn soap opera plot where a character tragically dies, but the actor (still under contract) emerges — deus ex machina — as the identical twin the writers never cared to set up on previous seasons. This, friends, is the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
The premium end of the Galaxy S line could easily do the Lucille Ball/Harpo Marx mirror bit with its tragically departed sibling. In the lead up to today’s event, I had the opportunity to fiddle around with (and photograph) the new device. I wasn’t entirely sure from early images, but having now used the product a bit, I can confidently tell you that the Galaxy S22 Ultra is a Note in every sense but name.
It’s true that the company has spent the last several generations blurring the lines. The Galaxy S line kept creeping up in size, culminating with the addition of S Pen functionality last year on the Ultra model. Of course, S Pen compatibility without the S Pen slot is — to put it politely — inconvenient. So you go and add a stylus slot into the phone and bam, you’ve basically got another Note on your hands. In spite of the two lines’ shared DNA, the look and feel of this is 100% Note, right down to the rounded edges.
I’d have gone with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Note — or hell, just the Galaxy Note 22. My suspicion is that there’s stronger brand recognition with Galaxy Note than Galaxy S, but I’m no marketing expert. If I was, I would probably have a yacht with a name like “Top of the Funnel” or something. But alas, someone at Samsung decided the Galaxy S line was strong enough to absorb the Note brand into quiet oblivion. Well, aside from the aforementioned references to the “Note experience” as a sort of vague descriptor for the world of stylus-based notetaking.
Branding is complicated and Samsung makes a lot of phones. With its foldables graduating to flagship status, the company is opting to consolidate things a bit on that front, and ultimately absorbing the Note into the Galaxy S line made more sense than the other way around. It’s not a full Note takeover of the S devices, however. Stylus function is still Ultra-only, and the company tells me it’s likely to stay that way, in order to maintain a line between the models.
The Note line has been extremely effective in re-popularizing the stylus in a post-iPhone world — more so than I think most of us ever expected. But at the end, it’s still a relatively niche piece of the overall smartphone puzzle. And, among other things, adding the Wacom digitizer to the display panel and integrating the stylus adds to the cost of the product.
At $1,199, the S22 Ultra’s price sits between the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra ($100 closer to the former). Fittingly, so too does the 6.8-inch display. The QHD+ sports a 120Hz refresh rate — a nice feature found across the S22 line (with the S22+ and S22 running 6.1 and 6.6 inches, respectively). Spec-wise, this thing is robust — as one might hope for when paying a grand plus a couple hundred.
Here in the States, you’re getting the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor. That’s one of those deals that’s going to vary based on market, as will the generous 5,000mAh battery you’re getting here. That’s paired with 8GB of RAM and either 128 or 256GB of storage. The rear camera system is more than enough to set off your trypophobia.
There’s a 12-megapixel ultra-wide, a pair (right and left) of telephotos at 10-megapixels apiece — with one sporting 100x Space Zoom and a wide angle at 108-megapixels, which utilizaes non-binning to merge nine pixels into one. The camera can shoot 8K video at 24 frames a second or 4K at 60 FPS. The system features improved low-light shots and video, as well as a new depth map for improved portrait mode shots. The standard S22 and S22+, meanwhile, reduce the rear camera system down to three (ultra-wide, wide and a single tele with 30x space zoom). All three feature a 40-megapixel front-facing camera.
The phones sport Gorilla Glass Invictus for improved protection, coupled with an Armour Aluminum frame. The systems also utilize plastics made “partially” from repurposed fishing nets, as part of the company’s broader push toward more sustainable hardware production. Says Samsung:
These devices will reflect our ongoing effort to eliminate single-use plastics and expand the use of other eco-conscious materials, such as recycled post-consumer material (PCM) and recycled paper. With this transformation, the future of Galaxy technology will bring leading product design and deliver better environmental impact.
The new S22 models go up for preorder today and will be on sale February 22. In additional to the $1,119 Ultra, the S22 and S22+ start at $799 and $999, respectively. A trio of new tablets were also announced at today’s show. The Galaxy Tab S8, S8+ and S8+ are up for preorder today and will run $1,099., $899 and $699, respectively.