Samsung’s Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus are the default Android phones to buy

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The Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus is the high-end Android phone most shoppers in the US should buy in 2022. The Plus, and the smaller-but-similar standard S22, aren’t perfect. Battery life, for one, is a weak point, and that’s something to consider seriously. There are better options if you’re looking for something a little more stylish or with a few more bells and whistles. But the vast majority of people who are just looking for a fast, reliable Android device to hold on to for the next few years need to look no further than the S22 duo.

They’re also two of a precious few options we have Stateside, which makes this recommendation sound like a backhanded compliment. But they also happen to be really good phones capable of handling just about any task you can throw at them, with top-notch cameras and the best support policy you can get for an Android phone on this continent.

It’s also worth stressing that these are iterative updates to the S21. There are some welcome improvements to the camera capabilities, the latest Qualcomm chipset, and… that’s kind of it. They’re nice upgrades but nothing that should compel an S21 owner to trade in their current phone.

The standard S22 is small by modern Android standards.

The S22 and S22 Plus offer flat displays with modest bezels and slightly curved rails. The glass back panel has returned after the S21’s stint with a “glasstic” rear, and both phones are IP68 rated. The whole thing feels solid, understated, and a little fancy. Last year’s design was a little bolder, with metal camera bumps blending seamlessly into the rails, but I like this toned-down approach. I’m also a fan of the handsome green color option, which I didn’t expect to like so much.

The S22 Plus has a bigger 6.6-inch screen, while the S22 feels downright petite in comparison with its 6.1-inch display. (Don’t read that as the S22 being “small,” but it’s about as small as you can get in the Android world at this point.) Both are 1080p OLED screens with up to 120Hz refresh rate, but the S22 Plus’ features a peak outdoor brightness of 1750 nits versus the S22’s 1300 nits. Both are bright enough to use comfortably in direct sunlight.

In any conditions, they’re very good screens. The fast refresh rate makes the experience of using the phone to scroll through social media and flip through menu screens smooth and polished. Samsung knows how to make a good OLED, with rich blacks and vivid colors, and it has outfitted both phones with such a display.

The S21’s “glasstic” back panel is gone, replaced with Gorilla Glass Victus Plus.

I’m less positive on battery life. When I tested the S22 Ultra, the battery drained faster than I expected, though I was able to get through even a day of heavy use. The S22 and S22 Plus seem to draw power even faster. The little S22 also gets a smaller 3,700mAh battery versus the Plus model’s 4,500mAh cell.

I saw the S22 battery take an alarming plunge from 30 percent to 20 percent over half an hour of downloading apps and logging into accounts, and in a day of typical use, the S22 was down to 58 percent by 3PM. That’s without even really trying to push the battery in any challenging way, like streaming video or playing a game. Downloading and playing Genshin Impact for about 30 minutes brought that percentage right down to the low single digits. The S22 Plus doesn’t fare much better. Though it has a bigger battery, there’s also a bigger screen to power, so stamina feels about the same.

If seeing a number lower than 20 percent on your battery level indicator makes you break out in hives, then the S22 may not be for you. Generally speaking, both the S22 and S22 Plus will get through a day of use, but even a moderate user might be coasting on fumes at the end of the day. Gaming takes a big toll on the already-shaky battery life, too, making a midday recharge or a backup battery a necessity.

The Plus model offers a bigger battery as well as a bigger, power-hungry display.

The better news is that both phones support fast charging: 45W in the S22 Plus and 25W for the S22. The S22 Plus charges from 0 to 100 percent in just over an hour with Samsung’s 45W charger (sold separately). Both support 15W wireless charging, and no matter how you plan to power up the phone, you’ll need to bring your own adapter because you won’t find a charger of any kind in the box.

The S22 and S22 Plus use the Snapdragon 8 gen 1 chipset in the US, which is Qualcomm’s latest and greatest processor for Android phones. Both devices come with 8GB of RAM, and performance overall is excellent. If I really push it, I can spot a slight stutter occasionally jumping quickly between apps. But in daily use, I don’t see any lag that would bother me.

I did notice the S22 getting surprisingly warm with moderate tasks that I wouldn’t expect to be taxing on the processor, but if there was any performance throttling as a result, I couldn’t see it. The standard S22 runs Genshin Impact well, with some slight stuttering here and there. After playing for 30 minutes, the phone was very warm, though not uncomfortable to hold, and I couldn’t see any difference in performance.

Samsung’s One UI 4.1 is customizable, but it remains somewhat cluttered the way it’s configured out of the box.

The S22 and S22 Plus ship with One UI 4.1, which adds some nice customization options to the interface. You can’t take it quite as far as with the Pixel 6, but you can choose a color palette based on your phone wallpaper and apply it to system controls and app icons. I like the colors it suggested for me, and the overall effect does make it feel more personal.

During setup, you can opt out of adding Samsung’s many proprietary apps to your home screen, which helps tame the clutter the company’s software can sometimes tend toward. Samsung has also mercifully removed the ads that once sullied the top of the weather app. But then there are the hallmarks of a Samsung phone, like having two app stores and two digital assistants and sometimes seeing a Samsung Pay offer slide across your screen when you’re just trying to open up Hulu and doom-watch Handmaid’s Tale. Samsung gonna Samsung.

In any case, Samsung offers one of the best support policies among Android device makers and says the S22 series will get “up to” four generations of Android OS updates. That’s one year better than even Google promises for its devices. It’s a great policy, and the company seems to be speeding up the rate at which it provides OS version upgrades, which we truly love to see.

The S22 and S22 Plus include standard wide, ultrawide, and 3x telephoto cameras.

The S22 and S22 Plus feature a 50-megapixel f/1.8 main camera with stabilization, a 10-megapixel stabilized 3x telephoto, a 12-megapixel ultrawide, and a 10-megapixel selfie camera. Samsung’s 10x optical zoom and giant 108-megapixel sensors are reserved for the Ultra. Video specs are on par with last year: up to 8K / 24p recording from the main camera, and 4K at 30 or 60p from the front-facing camera. There’s not a whole lot that’s new and exciting about the hardware — this year’s camera improvements are mostly software-based, and they’re subtle but worthwhile.

Portrait mode is better this time, with improved subject detection that can isolate even smaller fine details like strands of hair. Wide-angle portraits still have a bit of a cardboard cutout look to them, but portraits with the 3x zoom look darn good. Subject detection still gets tripped up on things like beards, and you do have to look close to see the improvements compared to the S21’s portrait mode. It’s not something to go out and buy this phone for, but it’s a nice update that takes portrait mode ever closer to looking like the real deal.

The Expert RAW app that debuted on the Galaxy S21 Ultra in beta is now fully launched and available for all three S22 phones. This app, which must be downloaded from the Galaxy Store, allows you to capture computational RAW files that combine data from multiple frames into one flexible DNG file. The resulting RAW image is less noisy than a traditional single-frame RAW file, with more data available for post-processing. Apple has offered a version of this called ProRAW for a couple of years, and it’s great to see Samsung getting on board, too.

The S22 and S22 Plus can combine their full 50-megapixel high-res shooting mode with night mode, which could only be used separately in the past. This can’t be triggered manually; you’ll need to be shooting in high-res mode in really dark conditions, and then you’ll see a little moon icon appear, enabling the feature. The result is an image with a bit better detail and color than if you’d shot it without night mode enabled. It’s nice and could be useful for night landscape photos, but it’s a relatively niche feature.

Battery life isn’t the best, but the S22 and S22 Plus are reliable devices with snappy performance.

The S22 and S22 Plus will more than satisfy the needs of most mainstream users who want a high-end slab-style Android phone that will get them through their daily tasks reliably. They’re fast, well-built, and include high-end features like bright 120Hz displays and a good 3x telephoto camera.

The standard S22, in particular, is the smallest Android phone I’ve tested in a long time, and it is refreshing. It fits all the way into the side pocket of my yoga pants, and more than once, I actually checked to see if it was there because it’s so light that I didn’t feel it. It’s not iPhone Mini small, but it is one of the smallest high-spec’d Android phones out there, and it was deeply appreciated by this small phone fan.

Battery life is a significant weak point on both models, though. If high-powered tasks like streaming video and playing games make up any significant portion of your daily use, then I wouldn’t recommend the S22. If you only occasionally stream an episode of a 30-minute show and seeing your battery percentage under 20 percent at the end of the day doesn’t freak you out, then you’ll be just fine.

The Pixel 6 Pro is an obvious competitor here, and it sits between the standard S22 models in price at $900. It’s an excellent phone with cleaner software, better battery life, and some novel Google additions like a feature that transcribes the automated phone tree options you’re presented with when calling a business. It’s a bigger, bulkier device than the S22 Plus, but if you prefer a less cluttered interface and battery is a major consideration, go with the Pixel.

The S22 and S22 Plus feel like a good fit for the mainstream, though. There’s the Ultra above the standard S22 models, but it’s pricey at $1,200 and feels like an enthusiast device with its stylus and multitude of cameras. The midrange class isn’t far behind, including Samsung’s very good Galaxy A52 5G, with better battery life but less robust performance.

The S22 and S22 Plus occupy a comfortable spot in the middle, one that will please a lot of people. The phones’ solid support policy will see them through many years of use, day-to-day performance is excellent, and the versatile camera system handles most photographic needs well. As long as you don’t ask too much of the phone’s battery — or you don’t mind a midday recharge — the S22 is a very good middle ground.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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