It's crazy how we're in 2022 and the determining factor for the most important flagship smartphone is the camera. Designators like Plus, Pro, Ultra or even their combinations have been mostly about photography. Sure, you get more connectivity, better displays and faster refresh rates, but a lot of it has to do with the most powerful chip being included, which along with those capabilities, also brings a better ISP that enables, you guessed it, the photos.
Now Android flagships follow a very different paradigm to iPhones. Here it's always about more megapixels, pixel binning, extra lenses, periscopic cameras, and obviously the more materials you add to the bill, the higher the price tag, right? Well, not necessarily. It turns out that there's one Android OEM that believes in the kitchen sink approach, and there's another that is almost as capable, but for a lot less money.
In one corner we have the Galaxy S22 Ultra, Samsung's king of photography and probably one of the most powerful conventional smartphones money can buy… and yeah, it's a lot of money. On the other we have the Pixel 6 Pro, Google's first incursion into giving you more for your money, and I say more because it's not priced anywhere close to the Galaxy. Yes, the price alone is enough of a reason for this comparison to not make sense, but what if it's only proof that sometimes you don't need to pay more?
Yes, the price difference between these two phones is enough for you to buy a smartwatch or even a tablet. Thing is, it's no secret that if you're looking at phones in this bracket, then price is not necessarily your most important reason to buy, and especially if the more expensive phone is not as conventional.
Visually, they're actually not that much different. It's no secret this S22 Ultra is whatever the Note 21 wasn't, and Google's approach follows on some of that DNA. Squared off corners even if less aggressive, with curves on the front and back, though the materials vary a slight bit. The S22 Ultra brings Gorilla Glass Victus+ on both sides while all the Pixel could launch with last fall was standard Victus on the front and back. Some of you might prefer the matte glass on the Galaxy, but I'd say the Pixel's flat gloss does even better with fingerprints and smudges. It also does better at not wobbling on a table given the visor approach to the camera module, even if each approach is just as elegant in my book. Dimensions-wise the Pixel is a hair taller, but then both are exactly as thick, and then the Galaxy is 2mm wider and 18 grams heavier, though what's interesting is that I feel Samsung does a better job at weight distribution than Google.
Internals are a mixed bag that don't necessarily tip in any direction. While in the U.S. Samsung sports the new and more advanced 4nm Snapdragon 8 Gen-1, the Pixel came up with its own 5nm Tensor chip, which, fun fact, are both manufactured by Samsung. Both base models have the same storage but then the Pixel has more RAM. They then have the latest Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, all flavors of 5G, IP rating and even battery size, but with Samsung offering faster charging speeds, even if neither company ships their phones with a charger in the box.
Flip them around and in most elements things remain fairly similar. The Galaxy's display is only a hair larger, but then both devices offer similar OLED technology, pixel density and aspect ratios. They both offer variable refresh rates up to 120Hz, which even allow for very power-efficient always-on capabilities. If anything, the panel on the Galaxy can get significantly brighter and does remain the gold-standard in so many ways, but which you won't be able to tell much when stacked next to the Pixel. Samsung does a better job at balancing out both speakers than Google though, but which won't bother most people in typical use.
Now where things start tipping in favor of Samsung in my book is in how the company is able to maximize the use of such a large canvas. While the Pixel 6 Pro is just a very large phone, all you need to do is pop up the S Pen from the bottom of the Galaxy and find purpose to its size. The WACOM digitizer on the S22 Ultra allows for so much added value, from giving you notepad functionality, to helping you navigate the UI as if you were using a mouse. Some like it as a remote shutter for the camera, some for signing documents, others for doing some digital art, or highlighting this script on Microsoft OneNote like I do. Even if it's not something you'll use all the time, all you need is a few minutes to realize that size on this phone actually comes in handy.
And then there's the fact that even if One UI 4.1 is nowhere near stock Android, I feel it's built for a larger canvas so much better than Google's Material You. Samsung's denser grid of icons allows you to make use of the entire canvas with far more widgets than Google, which is more arbitrary about the size of its icons. Yes Google does have persistent special features like At-A-Glance or the search bar at the bottom, but that also means that even if you tried to disable them, they'll always be there. You also can't create shortcuts to your favorite multi-tasking pairs like you can on One UI on the side menu, nor can you set your favorite contacts, and it's not like in One UI you haven't been able to select color palettes for your theme since a couple of years ago. Call me biased all you want, but I prefer one step to enable Wi-Fi instead of the three Google forces you to. I prefer the benefits of a separate secure environment with Secure Folder. If you prefer buttons over gestures, Samsung gives you both. And yes, I prefer the option to have DeX if I want to turn my phone into a computer as well. So far I think it's clear that even if One UI is not your cup of tea, Samsung has found ways to do more with Android than even Google has.
The ironies actually then extend to things like the user experience. Google's more in your face approach means a lot more juggling with one hand, or more steps for everything. Sure, you get software updates earlier on the Pixel, but you and I know that's been a mess on every release, where Samsung takes longer but is more reliable. And sure, both of these devices struggled with battery life at first, but I feel those updates benefited the Galaxy's endurance so much more than they have on the Pixel. They also did a very good job in improving data reliability and phone calls, which honestly the Galaxy never really struggled with.
Now, the most important claim to fame for the Ultra or Pro titles has everything to do with the cameras, and this is where things get even more interesting. We all know Samsung baked as much hardware as it could on this Galaxy, tilting that scale dramatically in its direction, but then we all know Google has been beating the pants off most Ultras for years thanks to its advancements in computational photography, and this is the first time where a Pixel is not shy of camera sensors or specs.
As for results, well the king of contrast is still the Pixel, while the Galaxy favors a less dramatic approach to its color science. They are both a matter of taste, and since I like a bit of both, I'll let you be the judge. I can't say one is more accurate than the other cause both make the sky look a bit more blue than it is. If anything the Galaxy handles detail better given the added megapixels in the sensor, and also the added optical capabilities in its focal lengths. Google doesn't even try to give you a photo I can't produce well, capping its zoom at 20x, but where the Galaxy Can even push 30X in optical quality.
Night shots are pretty comparable, with the Galaxy doing a better job at handling color in my opinion, and where lens flares are not as much of a problem as with the Pixel which continues to create this sunflower effect around lights. You'll also see the Ultra handling detail better, but clearly the camera overall is so close or subjective in most cases that it's hard to call a winner.
That said in selfie night performance, I think the Galaxy fights for more of a natural result, even if the Pixel is trying to stay true to the environment, and yet loses in the fact that the Ultra pulls in a lot more detail.
I also feel the king of contrast in selfies is actually the Galaxy, giving you an extra punch in separation and detail than the Pixel, even if the latter isn't necessarily bad by any means.
Now the video department is one where I did not think the Pixel would win, but it does. Neither is iPhone territory yet, but the Pixel punches in more dynamic range and color than the Galaxy, all while producing far less grain though it's something you won't be able to tell unless you see the footage in a 4K monitor.
I even notice the Pixel handles selfie video the same way, providing a lot more dynamic range and less grain to the footage, even if yes, I do notice the Galaxy is punching in a bit more detail. I do wish Android phones did better in this department, but this is one case where even if the Galaxy wins in capability, the Pixel wins in quality and that's what you care about.
To conclude, let's just say this comparison is as complicated as it is simple, which I know can be confusing. Hardware is almost a tie, up until you talk advancements and S Pen, which makes this a win for Samsung. Software is surely a matter of taste, but which I consider to be better handled by Samsung, even if this should be the other way around if Google owns Android. The cameras are then this mix where the Galaxy can do more of certain things while the Pixel can do more of other things, up until the lens flares of the Pixel have me picking the S22 Ultra.
Point is the Galaxy is a better phone, but of course it better be, it's so much more expensive than the Pixel, and yet once you see just how close this comparison is, this also makes you question if you should pay more money or not. Obviously if you’re in an area where Google doesn't sell this phone then your options were selected for you, and I'd even argue I wouldn't pick the Galaxy on Exynos territory.
That said, even if both devices are easy to recommend, I have to pick a winner and if it were my money, I'd rather pay a little extra for a phone that can do more of the stuff I care about. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is so far the best conventional flagship money can buy, so much so that the amount of benefits you get even make it so hard to be compared. Google puts on a very good fight though, so I'd say don't worry if you go Pixel 6 Pro. You'll save some good money, which might come in handy now that Google continues to extend its ecosystem. I wouldn't blame you for realizing that the S Pen and an extra camera sensor might not be things you'll use often enough to cost you that smartwatch or tablet you always wanted.
Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
The Galaxy S22 Ultra comes with a larger 6.8" QHD+ 120Hz AMOLED display, a versatile camera setup, and a large battery that will keep you going through a whole day! Check out the deals available on this smartphone via the links given below.
Google Pixel 6 Pro
The Pixel 6 Pro is the more premium Pixel flagship. It has a 50MP main camera, a telephoto with 4x optical zoom, and a useful ultrawide sensor. It supports 120Hz and both the Pixel 6 and Pro come with 5 years of support by Google.