Samsung has set a date for its next Galaxy Unpacked event. Now the only task remaining for the phone maker is to get people excited about the new Galaxy S22 lineup that's expected to be the main focus of the February 9 product launch.
It's a tougher task than you might think. After all, many of the details about the phone have already leaked to the point where most of us could probably paint a detailed picture of the Galaxy S22 even though we're still more than a week away from Samsung officially revealing specs, features and pricing.
There's also the little matter of the smartphone market becoming ever more mature and the flagship products a little bit more predictable than they were a decade ago. The Galaxy S22 will be the 13th generation of Samsung's flagship phone — coming up with surprises at this point is a tall order.
"Smartphones are mature technology, so most phone updates are iterative," said Avi Greengart, lead analyst for Techsponential. "However, people use their phones more than ever before, so cumulative iterative updates are quite meaningful."
That means people will at least be paying attention to Samsung for the anticipated Galaxy S22 reveal on February 9. It helps that outside of Apple, there's no bigger name in the smartphone world, even as other phone makers are trying to crash the current mobile phone duopoly.
"Despite competition from Google and various Chinese brands, Samsung is still the standard bearer for Android smartphones in much of the world. Changes to Samsung flagships are always going to be significant," Greengart said.
So the pressure's on Samsung to convince us that the Galaxy S22 is a worthy update to last year's flagship phones and deserving of the top spot on the list of the best phones. Here's how Samsung could approach things.
Bringing back the Galaxy Note
Based on rumors thus far, it seems like a big part of Samsung's strategy for rolling out the Galaxy S22 is to draw on its other flagship phone for inspiration. After not updating the Galaxy Note series at all in 2021, Samsung looks like it's kicking off this year by essentially turning its high-end S22 model into a successor for the Note.
That would be the Galaxy S22 Ultra, a phone that's rumored to be so Note-like that at one point Samsung observers wondered if it might not be called the Galaxy S22 Note. Based on leaked images of the phone, the S22 Ultra looks to have the squared-off edges of the Note series. It's also expected to include a built-in slot for the S Pen, after last year's Galaxy S21 Ultra only supported the stylus as an optional accessory.
Samsung isn't being particularly coy about invoking the Galaxy Note's legacy. A blog post teasing the Galaxy S22 launch (opens in new tab) from Samsung president TM Roh. "You loved the unparalleled creativity and efficiency of the Galaxy Note series, which enabled you to switch from gaming nirvana to high-octane productivity in the blink of an eye," Roh wrote. "You raved about the lifelike S Pen, which many say rivals putting ink to paper. And we haven’t forgotten about these experiences you love."
That's as sure a sign as any that the Galaxy S22 Ultra is going to draw heavily on the Note for its feature set — Roh's blog post also urges people to "get ready for the ultimate Ultra experience" — and that could be a smart move for generating excitement about the upcoming phone launch.
"The Note line was popular for leading edge components, large screens, and the S Pen. Samsung has been providing plenty of smartphone innovation with its Galaxy Z line of foldables – including optional S Pen support on the Galaxy Z Fold 3," Greengart said. "However, there are still people who want a bar phone with the latest specs and an S Pen, and it looks like Samsung is ready to give them one."
Tuong Nguyen, senior principal analyst with Gartner, wonders if bringing elements of the Note into the Galaxy S lineup isn't the start of a larger trend at Samsung. "This feels like a convergence of their top-of-the-line devices," Nguyen said, pointing out that Samsung has multiple flagships between the S series, the Note and its various foldables.
"I don’t know what the future will bring, but this may be an evolution towards paring down all these options," Nguyen added.
Cameras remain key
Even as Samsung seemingly merges its Galaxy S and Galaxy Note lineups, there's one element to the Galaxy S22 launch that's not going to change from past flagship rollouts. Camera improvements will be at the center of any new features Samsung highlights.
Besides fast refreshing displays — the Galaxy S series already has those — and a long lasting battery, cameras are where phone makers can distinguish their different products. While past updates have introduced more lenses to the backs of phones, recent updates have been as much about the software phones use to produce memorable photos.
"I think that the S Pen will get the most attention, but I’m eager to see what improvements Samsung can make to the camera and display," Techsponential's Greengart said.
Thanks to leaks, we already have some idea of what Samsung has planned for the Galaxy S22. The standard S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus are expected to get significant upgrades to their camera hardware. The main shooter on both phones will reportedly be boosted to a 50MP sensor, up from 12MP in the Galaxy S21. Meanwhile, the telephoto lens is supposed to feature a 3x optical zoom instead of the hybrid zoom you got with last year's phones.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra's camera hardware doesn't sound like it's changing much from the Galaxy S21 Ultra, though the 108MP main camera may see improvements to its sensor aimed at boosting colors and image brightness. Rumors talk about a Super Clear Lens, which suggests that reducing glare will be a focus with the S22 Ultra, though details about this expected feature are pretty thin at this point. Samsung has also hinted that improving low-light photography will be a focus with its upcoming release.
While we have a broad idea of what changes are coming to the cameras in the S22 lineup, we expect Samsung to spend more time at Galaxy Unpacked highlighting just what the cameras are capable of doing. At this point, it certainly sounds like the S22 models will contend for a spot among the best camera phones.
AI in the age of Tensor
As the top dog in the Android world, Samsung has little reason to worry much about what other phone makers are doing. Still, the Galaxy S22 will be Samsung's first phone to launch after Google released the Pixel 6, which was powered by its own Tensor chips.
Tensor has proven noteworthy not necessarily for its performance but because of its emphasis on artificial intelligence and the experiences that the chipset's dedicated Tensor engine helps power like real-time dictation and incoming call management.
Tensor could raise the stakes for Samsung down the road, Greengart said, though he downplayed the Google chip's significance to Samsung at the moment. "For now, the Tensor does not outperform the Snapdragon and Exynos chips that Samsung has been using, and Tensor is actually a bit behind Qualcomm on modem tech in the U.S.," Greengart said. "However, Google has done a good job advertising the Magic Erase feature. Samsung actually had this feature first, so there are clearly areas where Samsung needs to tell a better story."
To Nguyen, Tensor's arrival does shine more of a spotlight on how critical AI features are becoming for smartphones. And that may be something Samsung and other phone makers start emphasizing with their smartphone releases.
"I think the Tensor chip inspires smartphone OEMs to rethink the importance of ML and in turn AI-applications on mobile devices," Nguyen said. "It’s an indicator of how smartphones will evolve, potentially ushering in a new era of shorter replacement cycles."
To that end, Samsung may have something to say about the Galaxy S22 and its AI capabilities. Versions of the phone released in the U.S. are expected to be powered by Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 system-on-chip, and one of the big features in that chipset is a 7th-generation AI engine that promises to be 4x faster than its predecessor. That could bolster features like real-time photo filters and natural language processing. It will be interesting to see if Samsung's Snapdragon-powered devices can take advantage of that.