The Samsung Galaxy S22 has a tough act to follow after the Galaxy S21 Ultra launched with the most versatile camera array of any flagship phone on the market ranging from an ultra-wide to a 10x telephoto. However, Samsung's top flagship is missing one key feature found on the iPhone 12 Pro models and even the new iPad Pros.
That feature is a LiDAR sensor. Samsung eliminated even its more rudimentary time-of-flight (ToF) sensor from its flagship lineup starting with the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy S21, and according to a new rumor from South Korean news outlet ETNews, it won’t be coming back for the Galaxy S22 (via TechRadar).
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A LiDAR sensor and, to a lesser degree, a ToF sensor offer a phone the ability to read depth. This has value in a number of different areas for mobile photography and AR.
It is one of the key components to excellent portrait mode photos as depth data informs the phone what subjects in the photo are on the same plane and should therefore be in focus versus blurred by bokeh. Low-light photography benefits from LiDAR as well; it doesn't have the dependence on light that the other sensors have and can give a clearer picture of the subjects in an image for a night mode to work from.
Finally, the lack of either LiDAR or ToF has an impact on the AR capabilities of a phone. Sure, many of the iPhone AR features currently available are just frivolous and fun, there are legitimately useful AR apps as well. We also know this is a market that Apple is going to keep pushing with its long-rumored Apple AR glasses expected sometime in the next year or two. Samsung is functionally ceding this market by not including the camera hardware, which could prove to be a long-term mistake.
I wouldn't characterize this as some kind of crushing blow for the Galaxy S22, assuming it is true, but with Apple working on a periscope zoom lens, it certainly isn't giving up on competing with that rear camera array from Samsung. Hopefully, as we hear more rumors and leaks regarding the Galaxy S22, we can get a clearer picture of what Samsung has in mind for its 2022 flagship.