If you frequently have trouble staying connected to your carrier’s network, the Samsung Galaxy S22 series might be the solution. In testing, Samsung’s Galaxy S22+ and S22 Ultra phones significantly outperformed their predecessors (as well Google’s latest Pixel phones) in low-signal situations.
The phones in the S22 lineup are the first on the US market with Qualcomm’s X65 modem-RF system, which according to Qualcomm has two features that should improve low-signal performance: a new envelope tracker and “AI-enhanced signal boost.” Both innovations optimize radio power to squeeze the best possible results out of tough situations. These features may appear in other Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phones, but the S22 models are currently the only handsets that use the chipset stateside.
The results are striking. In extremely low-signal conditions (below -120dBm LTE signal), the S22 units consistently reported better signal strength than comparable S21 models that use Qualcomm’s previous-generation X60 modem. (All the models in the iPhone 13 lineup also use the X60, for reference.) This advantage holds as long as the signal is lower than -110dBm.
In environments with a stronger signal, the older models often showed better signal-strength results, but that doesn’t matter so much. For speed tests over a signal in the medium to good range, the newer models consistently outpaced the older ones.
The upshot is that the S22 is more likely to maintain a connection than other phones if you frequently see one or no bars of coverage.
Tuning the Channel
If you have a phone that’s even just a few years old, the entries in the S22 line promise drastic improvements. Carriers have recently spun up huge new networks that older phones can’t touch.
T-Mobile uses its low-band n71 5G network to extend range, for example. If you have a non-5G phone on T-Mobile, you’re missing out on that coverage. Recently, the carrier started combining two 5G channels for better range and performance—any phone from more than a year ago can’t reap those benefits.
Verizon and AT&T are both rolling out C-band 5G networks that dramatically improve performance, and once again, they aren’t available on any phones older than the S21. AT&T expects to launch another, similar network on 3.45GHz “Andromeda” spectrum later this year. It hasn’t announced which phones will support that network, but suggested the S22 might be the first one to do so.
How We Tested Connectivity
To test the low-signal performance on the Galaxy S22 phones, we used Vitaly Vologdin’s $5.99 Net Monitor app and the free Ookla Speedtest app to gather data, then combined the results in Excel. (Note: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag.com’s parent company.) I looked on CellMapper.net for a place with poor coverage near me, settling on the leafy suburb of Kings Point, NY, which according to the site doesn’t have any towers from the three US carriers.
We tested in Kings Point, which doesn’t have many cell towers
I had two SIM cards per carrier at my disposal, so I performed side-by-side tests with one other phone. I tested the Galaxy S22 Ultra against a Galaxy S21 Ultra on T-Mobile, and the Galaxy S22+ against a Galaxy S21 FE on Verizon.
In an earlier test, we established that the S21 Ultra has superior radio performance to the Google Pixel 6 Pro, which uses a Samsung 5123b modem. So, the US model of the S22, which is even better than the S21, should also have better performance than the Pixel 6 Pro. We can’t say anything with confidence about non-US models of the S22 series, because those sport Samsung modems.
Test Results: Life On the (Cellular) Edge
Our first chart shows the percentage of tests each phone won in the side-by-side comparisons. In this context, the phone with the stronger LTE RSSI (received signal strength indicator) wins. As mentioned, the S21 models showed stronger signal when it didn’t really matter, while the S22 models performed better in the more important weak-signal conditions.
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On T-Mobile, the phones dropped into low-band standalone 5G mode for part of my walk. The signal strength story there for 5G was pretty much the same as with 4G; the S22 did better, comparatively, as the signal got weaker. This is great news if you live at the edge of your cell network’s coverage zone.
So how does that translate into speeds? I ran 20 Ookla Speedtests in a range of good (>-100dBm), medium (-100 to -110), and poor (<-110dBm) signal scenarios on both T-Mobile and Verizon. The S22 models, once again, almost always got better speeds in weak-signal scenarios. Oddly, the S22 Ultra’s better signal performance resulted in slower speeds.
When I looked at the results from Net Monitor during certain tests, the S22 Ultra was connected to a higher-frequency primary band than the S21, presumably because it can eke a little more distance out of that band than the S21. But that wasn’t always the best choice from a performance perspective. In one key test, the S22 used only band 41 LTE, while the S21 combined band 2 LTE with low-band 71 5G; because it used more channels, the S21 performed better here.
These outliers are likely due to network management and firmware issues that I expect the carriers will work out by the time the phones officially launch (February 25). I think T-Mobile’s network just needs to be more aware of how the phones in the S22 lineup behave, so it can feed those devices the best channels. But that doesn’t change the fact that the S22 handsets can hear things just a little sharper than the S21.
We’re working on our reviews of the Galaxy S21 lineup, so check back soon for more test results.
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