Samsung Galaxy S22 — wait or buy Galaxy S21 now?

Renders allegedly of the Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus phone, on a white background
(Image credit: OnLeaks/91Mobiles.com)

For fans of Samsung's flagship phones, any of the three Galaxy S21 models would be a worthwhile purchase — especially at the end of the year when people are on the hunt for potential gifts and holiday treats. Pick the best Samsung phone out there — right now, it's the Galaxy S21 Ultra — and you're pretty much set.

Or you would be, if another Samsung phone launch wasn't looming over the horizon.

The smartphone rumor mill is pretty convinced that we're maybe two months removed from yet another major Samsung phone event, with the Galaxy S22 lurking in the wings. The moment that new handset arrives, all of Samsung's current models — the affordable Galaxy S21, the big screen Galaxy S21 Plus and that Ultra model we think so highly of — will be yesterday's news. And for that reason, buying the latest Samsung flagship phone isn't the slam dunk decision it normally would be.

Instead of asking yourself "Which Galaxy S21 model should I buy?" the more appropriate question right now is "Should I buy the Galaxy S21 or wait for the Galaxy S22?" Our Samsung Galaxy S22 vs. Galaxy S21 comparison can help you see what new features are expected and how they compare to what's out there. But the buy-now-or-wait question really hinges upon a few critical features and how important they are to you personally.

Here's a closer look at why you might want to hold out for the Galaxy S22 — and why getting the Galaxy S21 right now still might make sense for some people.

Galaxy S22 camera improvements

One of the most important features for any smartphone is how well it takes photos. Knowing about planned camera changes will help you decide whether the Galaxy S22 is worth waiting for. The answer could ultimately hinge on which model you're eyeballing.

galaxy s22 leaked photo showing the phone in a clear case with a lavender finish

(Image credit: Ice Universe)

The Galaxy S21 Ultra remains one of the best camera phones, which might explain why rumors have Samsung making very few changes to the Galaxy S22 Ultra's camera setup. In fact, the megapixel ratings for all four rear cameras — 108MP main, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP optical telephoto (with 3x zoom) and 10MP periscope telephoto (with 10x zoom) — all sound like they'll be the same. Samsung could change up some of the sensors, particularly with the telephoto lens, and make computational photography improvements, but it doesn't sound like a radical reinvention of the Ultra model's camera.

More substantial changes are rumored for the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus. Those phones are expected to get 50MP main cameras — an upgrade from the 12MP sensor used on the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus. The telephoto lens could see an upgrade from a 3x hybrid zoom to a 3x optical zoom on those phones as well.

Based on those rumors, the Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus could be significant upgrades over their current counterparts. The improvement from the S21 Ultra to the S22 Ultra may be more modest, so photo enthusiasts could get away with buying the current Ultra model now.

Galaxy S22 processor improvements

One of the worst kept secrets surrounding the Galaxy S22 family is which chipset will power the phone, at least for versions released in the U.S. The likely candidate is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 that Qualcomm just previewed. And thanks to some early benchmarks, we have a good idea of the speed improvements the new silicon offers.

Snapdragon 8 Gen 1

(Image credit: Qualcomm)

Those Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 benchmarks suggest modest, if not eye-popping, gains over the Snapdragon 888 that powers the Galaxy S21 lineup. While we'll have to wait to see how Samsung optimizes the Snapdragon 8 for its new flagships, you can expect a decent bump in performance from the new chipset expected to power the S22 (though it looks like Apple's A15 Bionic silicon will remain the speed king).

There's more to performance than just benchmark results. The changes Qualcomm touts for the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 include improvements to the chipset's image signal processor and a faster AI engine, as well as enhancements for mobile gaming. Early benchmarks won't reflect those expected improvements. Still, it seems safe to say that the Galaxy S22 isn't going to be a radically different phone from what you'd get with a Galaxy S21.

Galaxy S22 battery life improvements

The Galaxy S21 models didn't exactly set a new standard for battery life, as Samsung has struggled with accommodating the demands of both 5G and displays with adaptive refresh rates. The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers better than average battery life, but the S21 and S21 Plus fall short of that.

We're not sure if that's going to change with the Galaxy S22. Regulatory listings indicate that Samsung plans to use smaller batteries across the board for its Galaxy S22 models. That may not necessarily translate to less battery life for the new phones, as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is supposed to be more power efficient than its predecessor. 

Furthermore, the screen sizes on the Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus are rumored to be slightly smaller than what Samsung offers with the comparable S21 models. That means less screen space to keep powered up, which could also improve battery life on the new models.

What about the S Pen?

If you're a fan of Samsung's S Pen, you may want to pay extra attention to rumors surrounding the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Like its predecessor, the S22 Ultra is likely to feature support for Samsung's stylus. 

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra renders

(Image credit: LetsGoDigital / Giuseppe Spinelli)

However, with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, the S Pen was an optional accessory that required an extra case to hold the add-on. Supposed S22 Ultra photos suggest that the S Pen will be included with the phone — there might even be a built-in slot to house the S Pen as there was on the Galaxy Note lineup.

In other words, if you've been pining for Samsung to come out with a successor to 2020's Galaxy Note 20, it sounds like the Galaxy S22 Ultra may be the answer to your prayers. (And one rumor has Samsung calling the new phone the Galaxy S22 Note, making it an even more on-the-nose choice for Note fans.)

Look for Galaxy S21 deals

One last factor when considering whether to get the Galaxy S21 now or wait for the Galaxy S22 coming in a month or two hinges on price. At least one rumor claims the Galaxy S22 will have the same $799 starting price as the Galaxy S21 did, though a dueling rumor suggests a slight price bump to $849 for the new phone. It seems possible that the Galaxy S22 Ultra could debut at a higher price than the $1,199 Galaxy S21 Ultra did, especially if there's a built-in S Pen.

Of course, the Galaxy S21 models don't cost what they used to. Thanks to the best Samsung Galaxy S21 deals, you can get all three phones for significant discounts from their launch price, though that generally requires a trade-in. At the moment, you can save $550 on the Galaxy S21 with an eligible trade-in (opens in new tab) at Samsung. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile offer significant discounts with trade-ins as well, though you'll also have to commit to an unlimited plan from either one of those three carriers.

Galaxy S22 vs. Galaxy S21 outlook

The best time to buy any smartphone is the moment when you need one. That said, if you can wait a month or two, the changes coming with the Galaxy S22 could prove too tempting to pass up.

Photo enthusiasts in particular might appreciate the rumored camera improvements coming to both the Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus, while the idea of an included S Pen makes the Galaxy S22 Ultra a more compelling choice over the S21 Ultra. Again though, if you need a phone right now, the Galaxy S21 models are terrific options — especially if you can get a discount from one of the many aggressive deals available for Samsung's current phones.

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.