Samsung Galaxy S22 — the real reason Samsung won't catch iPhone 13

Samsung Galaxy S22
(Image credit: LetsGoDigital)

Did you hear? Samsung just announced its secret weapon to fight the iPhone. Well, sort of. If you live in the U.S. you likely won’t be able to experience it.

Why? Because Samsung’s new Exynos 2200 chip is likely destined for the International versions of the Samsung Galaxy S22, Galaxy S22 Plus and Galaxy S22 Ultra. And the U.S. version of these phones will almost certainly be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen-1 chip.

Samsung is reportedly expected to reveal more about the Exynos 2200 at its Samsung Unpacked 2022 event that's rumored to be taking place early next month. But it would be awkward for Samsung to tout its own silicon too much if it only applies to part of the target audience for its new flagships.

"Part of the issue around using Qualcomm in the U.S. is the complexity of the modems that Qualcomm integrates into the products and their acceptance by U.S. carriers," said Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst for Techsponential. 

Apple would never launch a new mobile chip separately from its new iPhone. Both were all part of the same big iPhone 13 announcement last fall, because Apple wanted to show the world that it has an unbeatable combo of hardware, silicon and software.

But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let's take a look at the Exynos 2220 itself, which seems like an absolute beast. For starters, Samsung says this processor is “game changing” because it packs a new Xclipse GPU powered by AMD RDNA 2 architecture. This actually beats Apple by offering hardware-accelerated ray tracing abilities on a phone for the first time along with variable rate shading, at least according to some benchmarks.

So what about Galaxy S22 models powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen-1? Would you get the 'almost ultimate' gaming experience?

We’re talking about graphics might that was formerly reserved for the PS5, Xbox Series X and the best gaming laptops and best gaming PCs — all shrunk down and optimized for the phone experience. So there's every reason to believe the Galaxy S22 will be the best gaming phone yet — but where exactly?

Samsung claims that this chip will enable the “ultimate mobile phone gaming experience” while also enhancing social media apps and photography. That’s nice, so what about Galaxy S22 models powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen-1? Would you get the “almost ultimate” gaming experience?

"Samsung’s Exynos pushing the envelope on GPU is definitely putting pressure on Qualcomm to compete effectively on that front as well," said Greengart.

There’s some other really compelling features that Exynos 2200 enables, including capturing images up to 200MP (though the S22 Ultra is rumored to max out at 108MP) and shooting at 20 frames per second in 108MP mode.

I’m most intrigued by the Exynos 2200’s ISP and neural processing unit, which combine to offer an “advanced content-aware AI camera for more refined and realistic results.” In our camera face-offs, the Galaxy S21 Ultra fell behind the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Google Pixel 6 Pro for overall image quality, which is why Samsung has not been able to top our list for the best camera phones

Unfortunately, U.S. Galaxy S22 shoppers won’t get to experience these perks, though the Snapdragon 8 Gen-1 chip has plenty of its own selling points. Qualcomm also promises big gains in cameras, gaming and AI. 

For example, the Snapdragon 8 Gen-1 includes a new 18-bit ISP that’s faster, supports 8K HDR video capture and offers a low-power mode for the front camera for unlocking the device. And there’s new gaming features like Adreno Frame Motion for churning out more fps in games without zapping overall power.

It doesn’t feel like Samsung is a company that’s fully in control of its own destiny.

The challenge for Samsung is that it’s forced to distill the best features of these chips for its Galaxy S22 series so that everyone has a similarly good experience. And this can result in compromising or capping what’s possible. Even if Samsung does fully take advantage of the new GPU in the Exynos 2200, that means someone in Europe will likely have a better gaming phone with the Galaxy S22 than someone in the U.S.

I get why Samsung likes the option of sourcing from multiple companies for phone processors. It allows them to keep prices for components competitive. But at a time Google is making waves with its own new Tensor chip and what it enables, it doesn’t feel like Samsung is a company that’s fully in control of its own destiny. 

In order to truly compete with Apple, Samsung needs to build its own silicon and use it in every single flagship phone it creates — regardless of the region. Only then can it truly push the envelope in terms of its smartphones can deliver. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.