You're only as good as your last phone. And while phone makers like Apple, Samsung, Pixel and OnePlus certainly can point to some major highlights among the devices they released in the last 12 months, that's yesterday's news. Attention is already shifting to 2022, and which handsets in the pipeline have the potential to join the ranks of the best phones.
Fortunately, it sounds like phone makers are up to the task of launching new models that could surpass the phones that wowed us this year. And that's good news if you're in the market for a new phone, as the iPhone 13, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Pixel 6 Pro and OnePlus 9 Pro all impressed.
We're anticipating successors to those phones that will continue to push the envelope on what we can expect from mobile photography. We could see phones that charge faster and last longer. And we expect a trio of processors — Google's Tensor chip has now joined the Snapdragon 8 series and Apple's A series chipsets — to let our smartphones do even more in the coming year.
Here are the most anticipated phones that we'll be keeping an eye on as 2022 gets underway.
Samsung Galaxy S21 FE
Really, this seems like a phone that should have come out in 2021, but that's the global supply chain for you. Samsung reportedly ran into parts problems assembling this lower-cost take on the Galaxy S21 and so the launch was pushed back into 2022. In fact, some rumors suggest Samsung could make an announcement about the Galaxy S21 FE as soon as January 4.
The most intriguing question: Did Samsung wait too long? Having a discounted phone with lesser cameras than the standard Galaxy S21 seemed like an attractive proposition back in late summer, but now, right before the Galaxy S22 launches and Samsung releases new midrange models, the Galaxy S21 FE feels like a phone without an audience.
Still, we're expecting more colorful cases, the same Snapdragon 888 chipset as the regular S21 phones, and maybe a step-down in cameras, particularly the telephoto lens. If Samsung can beat the Galaxy S20 FE's original price of $699, this may be a phone to get excited about. Otherwise, expect a lot of shrugs.
- Samsung Galaxy S21 FE expected release date: January 2022
- Samsung Galaxy S21 FE expected price range: $699
- For more information: Read our Samsung Galaxy S21 FE hub
OnePlus 10 Pro
Samsung isn't the only phone maker looking to get a jump on the competition in 2022. OnePlus could also start out the year with a big phone reveal, showing off its latest flagship after skipping out on its traditional T release in the second half of 2021.
Of course, even if the OnePlus 10 Pro does appear in January, we may be in for a wait before we can get our hands on it. Rumors suggest the phone might launch in China first before it rolls out to other markets — including the U.S. — in the spring.
We already know a great deal about the OnePlus 10 Pro because co-founder Pete Lau keeps spilling the beans in interviews. Thanks to Lau, we already know this phone will run on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset and that its 6.7-inch display is going to feature LTPO 2.0 technology for smoother scrolling than before.
Other rumors about the OnePlus 10 Pro have come through more conventional leaks. The rear camera specs sound like they'll be the same as what the OnePlus 9 Pro featured — a 48MP main shooter along with a 60MP ultrawide angle lens and 8MP telephoto lens with 3x zoom. We're more interested in hearing about what new features OnePlus' partnership with lens specialist Hasselblad might yield — after all, improved cameras were one of the best things about the previous OnePlus flagship.
- OnePlus 10 Pro expected release date: January 2022
- OnePlus 10 Pro expected price range: Unknown
- For more information: Read our OnePlus 10 Pro hub
Samsung Galaxy S22
Now here's a Samsung phone worth getting excited about. Samsung's annual update to its Galaxy S lineup figures to introduce the first phone available in the U.S. that features Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 silicon (assuming OnePlus staggers the launch of its phone). The Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus could also get a big boost to their main cameras — rumor has it that both will feature a 50MP wide angle shooter — as well as their telephoto lenses, which are now expected to offer a pure optical zoom. Samsung could also shrink the sizes of those two phones' displays, making them a bit easier to handle.
The real treat could be the Galaxy S22 Ultra, especially if you're a fan of the Galaxy Note lineup. Early leaks have pointed to a different design for the largest S22 model, with flat edges instead of the curved sides we're expecting for the Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus. In addition, design leaks hint at the Galaxy S22 Ultra getting a built-in slot for the S Pen. To make the parallels to the Note even more obvious, we've heard that Samsung might even call this model the Galaxy S22 Note.
We're still not sure what Samsung's going to do about pricing, after cutting the cost of each of the Galaxy S21 models. The latest rumor suggests $50 price hikes for the S22 and S22 Plus while the Galaxy S22 Ultra/Note would cost $100 more than the Galaxy S21 Ultra. If true, we hope the new features justify to price bump.
- Samsung Galaxy S22 expected release date: February 2022
- Samsung Galaxy S22 expected price range: $849 - $1,299
- For more information: Read our Samsung Galaxy S22 hub
iPhone SE 3
Apple normally limits its phone releases to the fall, but it's reportedly changing things up in 2022. A new version of the iPhone SE is in the works, and Apple watchers expect this replacement for Apple's cheapest handset to show up around the end of March.
When it does arrive, the iPhone SE 3 could look a lot like the current iPhone SE that debuted in 2020, at least according to rumors about the updated phone. We're expecting the same 4.7-inch screen housed in the same iPhone 8-like frame as before.
The difference this time around is that this iPhone SE will offer 5G compatibility, giving Apple a 5G phone that costs around $400 (assuming the current iPhone SE's price remains in place). With 5G comes a new processor — presumably the same A15 Bionic that debuted in this fall's iPhone 13 models.
We're not sure about other changes coming with the iPhone SE 3. It sounds as if the phone will keep the single camera lens the current model offers, as a way to differentiate itself from the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13. We just hope Apple finally adds Night Mode support to its cheapest iPhone.
- iPhone SE 3 expected release date: March/April 2022
- iPhone SE 3 expected price range: $400
- For more information: Read our iPhone SE 3 hub
Google Pixel 6a
While Apple only releases the occasional budget phone, Google has gotten into the habit of rolling out a new A series model of its Pixel devices every year. We're expecting that to continue with the Pixel 6a, which would presumably pick up some of the features introduced with this fall's Pixel 6 flagships.
We're not sure if that means the Tensor processor that powers both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. While that AI-focused chipset certainly helps Google's phones stand out, it's also a premium bit of silicon. Google might opt for a system-on-chip from Qualcomm's 7 series instead to keep the cost of the Pixel 6a down.
Dual cameras have only recently become standard on the A series, so you'd imagine that to continue with the Pixel 6a. Google's upcoming budget phone also stands to benefit from any new software-powered camera features Google has cooked up. There's also the possibility that the Pixel 6a adds wireless charging, though again, that may be something Google limits to its flagship phones.
The Pixel 3a arrived in spring 2019, but subsequent phones in that series have launched toward the end of summer. Until we hear otherwise, we'd look for Google to continue that approach.
- Google Pixel 6a expected release date: Summer 2022
- Google Pixel 6a expected price range: $400 to $500
- For more information: Read our Google Pixel 6a hub
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4
Samsung's foldable phones sold better than anyone had anticipated — even Samsung. So it's likely we'll see new versions of both the Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip in the second half of the year. For now, most of the rumors have focused on the Galaxy Z Fold 4, so that's what we'll focus on here.
At least one rumor claims that Samsung will look to improve one of the biggest flaws with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 — the lackluster images produced by the under-display camera. We had better hope that's the case because another Galaxy Z Fold 4 rumor suggests that a second under-display camera will come to the phone's external cover display.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 added support for Samsung's S Pen, but no built-in slot for holding the stylus. We hope that changes with the Galaxy Z Fold 4, as Samsung's foldable phone was tailor-made for a companion stylus. Sadly, early designs that have leaked don't seem to include any space for the S Pen in contrast to, say, the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
- Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 expected release date: Late summer 2022
- Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 expected price range: $1,599 to $1,799
- For more information: Read our Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 hub
Pity the other phone makers who spend a lot of time and effort coming up with flashy new features only to be overshadowed by Apple's annual iPhone update. Expect history to repeat itself with the iPhone 14, which is already generating more than its share of rumors.
It looks like Apple will be coming out with four new phones in the fall, though one will be a different size than before. Instead of an iPhone 14 mini, Apple is expected to instead produce an iPhone 14 Max — a 6.7-inch device that doesn't cost as much as the Pro models. We're hoping that the iPhone 14 Max and the iPhone 14 join the Pro models in adding fast-refreshing displays, though rumors suggest we may be out of luck. At least signs look good that the notch will be removed from at least one iPhone 14 model.
As usual, expect a new chip to power the iPhone 14 — most likely the A16 Bionic. And Apple's iPhone Pro cameras could be in line for an upgrade with the Pro model rumored to be switching to a 48MP main camera. But there's one must-have change as far as we're concerned — the iPhone 14 needs to bring back some sort of Touch ID sensor, whether it's under the display or baked into the power button.
- iPhone 14 expected release date: September 2022
- iPhone 14 expected price range: $699 to $1,099
- For more information: Read our iPhone 14 hub
Google Pixel 7
We'll be honest — there aren't a lot of Google Pixel 7 rumors to go by right now, given how new the Pixel 6 is. But that phone's Tensor silicon has reignited interest in Google's handsets, so we'd be remiss if we didn't include next year's flagships in a round-up of anticipated phones for 2022.
A second generation of the Tensor chipset is all but certain to power the Pixel 7, with Google likely focusing on more AI-centric tasks and experiences that its system-on-chip can enable. We've heard rumors that Google might opt for an under-display selfie cam to keep the Pixel 7's screen unobstructed as well.
Whatever Google adds, we hope the phone maker takes the time to address some flaws with the Pixel 6 like that phone's pokey, inconsistent fingerprint reader. The display on the Pixel could stand to be brighter, too, and we're always on the lookout for longer battery life. Finally, we hope the Pixel 7 opts for a more recent modem so that 5G performance is much faster than what we've experienced with the Pixel 6.
- Google Pixel 7 expected release date: October 2022
- Google Pixel 7 expected price range: $699 to $899
- For more information: Read our Google Pixel 7 hub
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.