“Controversially, the Galaxy S21 is using a plastic back — yes, on an $800 phone.”
This quote is taken from our Samsung Galaxy S21 review, and I really don’t want to see it repeated when we review the Galaxy S22. The underlying reason for the plastic back was a noble one: it helped lower the price, but it was a decision that smacked of one being made by accountants with limited to no understanding of what people want or deserve from the smallest S Series.
There’s nothing wrong with phones with a plastic back, and it is an effective way of minimizing the final cost of a phone, especially when used alongside other cost-cutting measures. Most smartphones around the $200 to $400 price have a plastic back, with Samsung’s own mid-range Galaxy A52 5G being a great example of where it really works.
From a distance, the A52 5G’s back looks a lot like glass, and on a $400 phone, this is a desirable feature. The texture is pleasing too, and it makes the phone feel more expensive than it actually is. Put this visual and tactile appeal together with the reasonable price, along with the great performance of the phone itself, and no one will care about the plastic.
The presence of plastic is also somewhat expected. If our budget is below $500, we know there will have to be compromises, and the biggest will be in materials and overall performance. Most of us will take a plastic-that-looks-like-glass rear panel like on the Galaxy A52 or a thoughtfully made metal-but-really-polycarbonate affair like the Nokia X20, if it means a slightly newer processor or a better camera on a mid-range phone.
What no one wants, except the accountants, is any such compromise on a flagship phone that costs $800 or more.
The Galaxy S Series is Samsung’s crown jewel. It has represented the pinnacle of its design and ability since its introduction in 2010, and even with the rise of the Galaxy Note series and the introduction of the Galaxy Z Fold range, it’s still the one a lot of people will think of when asked to name the best or most desirable Android smartphone.
Putting a plastic back on the Galaxy S21 bordered on sacrilege, just as it did on the Galaxy Note 20, and it absolutely must not happen on the Galaxy S22. Yes, the S21 was the cheapest model in the range, but it’s absolutely not a cheap phone and therefore should not employ the same price-obfuscating tactics as an actual cheap phone. I also don’t think people were always driven to buy the S21 because it was the cheapest; I think they bought it because it’s the smallest. Why should they get short-changed just because of that?
What’s more annoying is that Samsung has a host of phones suited to the price-conscious consumer. Aside from the excellent Galaxy A Series, the Galaxy S20 FE came a short time after the S21, and even today, just a few weeks ahead of the Galaxy S22 reveal, it released the $699 Galaxy S21 FE. While it’s too expensive (a separate issue all of its own), it also has a plastic back. These are the phones accountants can safely interfere with.
Sullying the Galaxy S Series’ name with a similar cost-cutting measure and still charging $800 didn’t make sense from a marketing or customer-pleasing perspective, only from an accounting one. In an effort to squeeze out more profit, or as a shady way to push buyers toward the more expensive S21+ or S21 Ultra, Samsung’s accountants showed the humble S21 no respect, condemning it to being remembered as the “one made of plastic.”
The Galaxy S22 will not be a cheap or a mid-range smartphone, so Samsung needs to keep the penny-pinching accountants away from the final spec sheet. They’ve got the A Series and FE models to play with. What the S22 will be is the smallest member of the new S Series, and that should really be the primary differentiating factor between it and the Galaxy S21+.
It managed to do so with the Galaxy S20 and S20+, which had Gorilla Glass 5 on the back. The difference between them was the size of the screen, the amount of internal storage space, a slightly larger capacity battery, and a small difference in camera ability. Yes, they were both $200 more than the S21 and S21+, but times have moved on, and if OnePlus can use Gorilla Glass 5 on the back of the Nord 2, then so can Samsung on a phone that costs twice as much.
I do accept the argument plastic backs can be more durable than glass, but Samsung’s development of Armor Aluminum for the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3, should we get something similar on the S22 range, could offset some of that concern. And really, anyone who wants a truly durable phone won’t be looking at one that costs $800-plus anyway.
But what if accountants have already forced a plastic back on the Galaxy S22, and we’re too late? It’ll just have to permanently live in a case, I suppose.
Samsung will announce the Galaxy S22 range February 9 at its first Unpacked event of the year, and we’ll be covering its launch extensively, so it won’t be long before we find out where the chips fall.