Last week, Samsung unveiled its latest Galaxy hardware. In addition to refreshing its Tab line of Android tablets, it introduced the S22, S22 Plus, and S22 Ultra. It's tempting to think of those three devices as a low-end, mid-range, and high-end S-series lineup, except, the S22 Ultra is really something different.
For years, Samsung made two different lines of flagship smartphones: the Galaxy S series and the Note. The two models were on different upgrade cycles, which meant that Samsung's highest-end devices often had competing features.
The Galaxy was focused more on consumers and had, at the high end, better cameras and better battery life. The Note was the premier Android device for people who cared first and foremost about productivity. It had a boxier form factor, which allowed Samsung to include an S-pen stylus that slid into the bottom of the phone.
Now, Samsung basically brought back the Note, positioned it at the high end of the S lineup, and called it the S22 Ultra. It has the boxier form factor, but with the cameras you'd expect from a flagship consumer device. Oh, and it has the S-pen.
It's a little confusing, but it's actually good news if what you want is an Android device that can do, well, everything. No more tradeoffs between better cameras and more productivity. A lot of that comes down to the S-pen. For people who use their phones primarily for work, the S-pen is fantastic.
Look, I'm not advocating that every smartphone should have a stylus. I'm not even arguing that any other smartphone should have one. But the fact that Samsung has now included it in what it considers its top-of-the-line device is a good thing. It means that people who want the best productivity device running Android no longer have to compromise on other features, like cameras.
I get that a stylus on a smartphone is controversial. Steve Jobs famously dunked on the idea of using a stylus as barbaric when he introduced the iPhone. Even after Apple made the Apple Pencil for the iPad, you still can't use it on an iPhone.
Partly, I think that's because one of the selling features of the Apple Pencil is that it magnetically attaches to the side of the iPad. Even the largest iPhones are still too small for that to be an elegant solution.
It's also because Apple fundamentally doesn't think of the iPhone as a device where you would use a stylus. It's not built into iOS on the iPhone, the way it is on iPadOS. A stylus makes interacting with the device a little more removed. The iPhone is more personal than that. As a result, the iPhone is never going to get a stylus, and I don't think it ever should.
For Samsung, however, that's an opportunity. For a lot of people, the S-pen is a sort of productivity superhero. On a productivity device, the benefit of a stylus outweighs that loss of intimacy. Besides, you could use an S22 Ultra for years and never once use the S-Pen.
More importantly, Samsung doesn't make iPhones. It makes the iPhone's biggest competitor. It makes the not-iPhone. As a result, it needs to make something different than the iPhone. The S-pen is definitely that. It's a reason to buy a phone made by someone other than Apple. For that reason, it's brilliant.