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Samsung Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus hands-on: All-new on the inside

If you just take a quick glance at the new Samsung Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus announced during the company’s Unpacked event, you might think they’re very similar to the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Plus. You certainly do have to look closely to see the differences in design as Samsung has been very subtle in updating these two phones, but the changes inside are more meaningful, and after a short time with both phones, the small Galaxy S22 is looking like the real winner. Here’s what the new Galaxy S22 phones are like.

Changing the look

Those familiar with the S21 and S21 Plus will immediately notice the S22 has become a tiny bit bigger, while the S22 Plus has become a little smaller. There are only a few millimeters between them, but the S22 Plus does feel surprisingly compact for a phone with a 6.6-inch screen. On paper, the screen is a little smaller on both phones this time around, with the S22 having a 6.1-inch screen compared to the S21’s 6.2-inch screen, and a 6.6-inch screen on the S22 Plus rather than the 6.7-inch screen of the S21 Plus.

The back of the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I didn’t get to compare the two side by side with their predecessors, but I’d imagine the small alteration won’t be noticed, and may even be down to the way Samsung measures screen size. The weight of each phone has barely changed, but both are a sliver thinner. The sides of the phone are almost sheer, so actually feel like quite a handful. Samsung has also repeated the S21 series’ integrated camera module design feature, but changed it up by making the camera module the same color as the rear panel. As I said, you really do have to look for the design differences.

I’m not a fan of the decision to use a flat screen on both phones. I like more of a curve on a larger phone like the S22 Plus, as it can feel a little cheap otherwise, and here it’s dangerously close to reminding me of massive, low-cost phones like the Nokia X20. Both the S22 and S22 Plus have Gorilla Glass Victus on the back and a chassis made from Samsung’s super-tough Armor Aluminum for added durability, along with IP68 water resistance.

Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus screens side by side.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There are four colors to choose from, and I love the new green hue. It’s dark under normal lighting conditions, but takes on a lighter, more vibrant tone under brighter lights. It’s joined by a Phantom Black, Phantom White, and a Pink Gold version. The S22 in our photos is in this unusual color, and you can see it’s subtle rather than in-your-face in some pictures, while in others it’s far more pink. It really does react well to different lighting conditions.

Samsung was onto a winner with the S21 design, and it’s definitely still fresh enough to continue through another year with the small alterations made to produce the S22. The S22 in particular, with its diminutive size, glass rear panel, and identical tech to the S22 Plus, is lovely and I continued thinking about it after my time with the phones was up. After the disappointment of the Pixel 6’s large size, this could be a great alternative for someone who wants a small, high-performance phone.

More meaningful hardware upgrades

Things on the outside may not have changed much, but inside the S22 and S22 Plus, there are more significant upgrades. The processor used in each will vary depending on where the phone is purchased, so expect a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 in the U.S., and Samsung’s own Exynos 2200 in the U.K. and other regions. Both phones come with 8GB RAM and a choice of 128GB or 256GB storage space.

The S22 and S22 Plus felt really fast, with smooth animations, snappy apps, and a slick camera app. Even better is a promise of four Android OS updates in the future, making the S22 one of the best-supported smartphones available. One-hand use is easy regardless of which one you choose, but the smaller S22 nestled very comfortably in my hand, and the more I used it, the more I warmed to the littlest S22 phone.

Galaxy S22 Plus browser view.
Galaxy S22 Plus Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Samsung has sensibly added the same camera systems to both phones, and also added a 3x optical zoom from a 10-megapixel telephoto camera for greater versatility. I took a few photos with the S22 Plus and liked the colorful, sharp shots it produced, but it’s in lowlight that they need to be tested more. The main 50MP sensor is 23% larger than the S21’s camera, and there are new night photo features to try, along with some new portrait modes and features that use A.I. Sadly, I couldn’t try Pet Mode, as no pets were provided during my hands-on time.

Galaxy S22 held in hand and seen from the side.
Galaxy S22 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Frustratingly, Samsung hasn’t given the S22 the same 45-watt battery charging system as the S22 Plus, and the 3,700mAh battery may struggle compared to the S22 Plus’ much bigger 4,500mAh battery. But these are the only major differences between them, as both have dynamic 120Hz AMOLED screens, Samsung’s Vision Booster feature for higher brightness in sunlight, plus an in-display fingerprint sensor and 15W wireless charging.

The Galaxy S22 is looking good

After spending a short time with both phones, I came away thinking the Galaxy S22 is going to be a winner. The combination of a premium build (thank you, Samsung), the same spec camera as the larger S22 Plus, four years of Android updates, and a properly pocketable size perfectly position it to make up for the lack of a small Pixel 6. The $800 starting price is steep but expected, and the same as the S21, plus Samsung regularly discounts its prices and offers decent trade-ins at launch to sweeten the deal. The S22 Plus starts at $1,000.

However, the battery size does give me pause, and waiting to see how it performs in reviews may be wise if you really require more than a day on a single charge. The larger, more expensive Galaxy S22 Plus will likely perform better this way, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that the smaller phone was the one I’d rather use regularly, as the software experience was the same. This is where the frustration may set in, as those who want the smallest Galaxy S22 shouldn’t have to compromise on battery life.

Although Samsung hasn’t dramatically changed the look of the S22 and S22 Plus, it has done the right thing and provided better specs, so early impressions of both phones are very positive. The battery life remains unknown, particularly for the Galaxy S22, and it’s somewhat unfortunate there’s a flat screen on both. The Galaxy S22 phones will be available to pre-order on February 9, and be released on February 25.

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