How to use your Galaxy S Pen like a magic wand (and 2 other tricks you need to know)

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Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra with the S Pen beside it.

June Wan/ZDNET

Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra is one heck of a phone. It’s stacked with features and components like its 200-megapixel main camera, and its massive — and crystal clear — 6.8-inch display. 

Review: Galaxy S23 Ultra: Best smartphone of the year (so far) 

There’s another feature, however, that’s very likely new to Ultra owners — the S Pen stylus that’s tucked inside the bottom-left corner of the phone’s housing that’s not only a storage location, but it also charges the S Pen in as little as 40 seconds (crazy, right?!). 

There’s a lot you can do with the S Pen on the S23 Ultra; much more than just writing down some notes or drawing stick figures in Samsung’s Notes app. Below you’ll find three of my favorite uses for the S Pen on Samsung devices. 

How to get the most out of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra’s S Pen

The next time you’re watching a video on TikTok or YouTube and find the perfect clip for an animated image, take a few seconds to use the S Pen to turn it into a GIF. 

To start, remove the S Pen from the S23 Ultra’s housing and tap the Air Command button if the list of options doesn’t automatically show up. Next, tap Smart select followed by selecting the GIF tool in the toolbar that shows up at the bottom of the screen. 

A transparent box with handles in each corner will show up on your screen. Drag the corners of the box to fit the area you want to record and turn it into a GIF. Tap the Record button, then start playing your video. You can record clips up to 15 seconds long, in varying degrees of quality; press Stop when you’ve captured your clip. 

You’ll then see a preview of the GIF, with the option to edit, share or save the clip to your phone’s gallery. Neat, eh? 


Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

The S Pen isn’t only for touching and swiping across your S23 Ultra’s screen. It can also be used as a remote control of sorts to trigger different actions and features on your S23 Ultra from across the room. 

The easiest way to get a handle on Air Actions is to go into the Settings app on your S23 Ultra, then go to Advanced features > S Pen and select Air actions

On that page you’ll see a list of movements you’ll need to make with the S Pen while holding in the side button. The gestures look and feel a lot like you’re casting a spell at Hogwarts. 

Also: The best Samsung phones right now 

For instance, if you hold in the button on the pen and act as if you’re writing a “less than” sign in the air, you’ll trigger the S23 Ultra’s back action. That could be going back a page in Chrome, or going back a screen in an app. 

By default, if you long-press the S Pen’s button, the Camera app will open. Press the button again to act as a remote shutter and snap a photo. 

My advice? Take some time and go through the available apps and their respective actions to learn which ones you want to use. 

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra set on a table with the S Pen next to it.

June Wan/ZDNET

If you don’t always have a sticky note handy, you can use the S Pen to quickly write a note that’s saved to Samsung’s Notes app without even unlocking your phone. 

If the S Pen is in its silo, you can start a lock screen note just by removing the pen while the phone is still locked. Start writing on the screen — it’ll remain black, and your digital ink will be white — until you’re done. Make sure to tap Save in the top-right corner. 

If the S Pen is already out of your S23 Ultra, you can still take a lock screen note by picking up the stylus, pressing the button on it and then tapping your phone’s display with the tip of the pen. Again, you’ll want to make sure you tap Save in the top-right corner.


Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Can I use these S Pen features on older Samsung phones? 

Yes! In fact, the option to make a GIF should be possible on the Galaxy S21 Ultra, S22 Ultra and the S23 Ultra in addition to Samsung’s now retired Galaxy Note line. 

Using Air Actions, or converting the S Pen into a magic wand, is something you can do on the Galaxy Note 10 or newer, along with the S21 Ultra, S22 Ultra and the S23 Ultra. 

Finally, I can’t find a definitive list of when Samsung added lock screen notes to the Galaxy Note lineup, but from my recollection, it’s been awhile. You should be able to take notes on the lock screen on any of the newer Ultra devices, as well as the Galaxy Note line. 

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