Teardown: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Image credit: Samsung
With great power comes great responsibility... for heat.
Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S22 Ultra, has the muscle to justify its £1,149 price. The engine room is the latest 4nm in-house Exynos 2200 processor (replaced by the equally powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 outside Europe and Africa).
The chip’s eight-core configuration combines one 2.80GHz core based on the ARM Cortex-X2, three 2.50GHz Cortex-A710s and four 1.80GHz Cortex-A510s. Most notably, the S22 Ultra leverages this for photography and the display.
The rear four-camera array combines a massive 108MP main wide-angle unit with a 12MP ultra-wide-angle one, and two 10MP telephoto cameras with respectively 3x and 10x optical zoom. Further AI enhancements help bring the zoom potential up to 100x. Samsung has made further hardware and software improvements, packaged together as Nightography, for shooting stills and video in low-light.
The 6.7in display has a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate and 1,750nits brightness. The extra processing power has, Samsung says, allowed it to implement an AI-based technique, Vision Booster, where images can adapt when the power of the sunlight exceeds that of the screen.
“Simply making the screen brighter isn’t enough, and it can sometimes result in a loss of details,” a technical video explains. “Vision Booster... significantly improves display visibility by considering the light intensity of the surroundings and its influence on the display.
“Vision Booster’s algorithm analyses the histogram data of all content appearing on the display, inspecting each pixel’s value. Then it performs tone mapping to adjust the display, making dark areas brighter and colours richer, maximising colour contrast for a sharper picture.”
The presence of 5G, the latest Corning Gorilla Glass for toughness, and an in-built S Pen almost feel like afterthoughts.
From a design point of view, all this power has made Samsung think innovatively about heat dissipation, particularly given the company’s history with phones running too hot. Here, the S22 Ultra combines an approach that leans heavily on materials as well as layout.
It begins with two new thermal-interface materials (TIMs). A Gel TIM sits on top of the processor. This uses a thicker gel than earlier versions for, the company says, 3.5 times more efficient heat transfer. Next follows a Nano TIM made from a flexible nano-fibre to also shield electromagnetic interference from the Exynos or Snapdragon.
As the TIMs channel heat out of the main chip assembly, a vapour chamber (VC) takes over as a thermal spreader. VCs used to sit on a PCB but Samsung has moved its version to compensate for the fact that motherboards have been getting smaller while batteries have been getting bigger.
The Ultra S22 implementation now sits in a dog-leg configuration covering the top of the TIM/processor stack across to the battery. Samsung has also moved from using copper as the VC material to double-bonded stainless steel. This has allowed it to keep the VC thickness down to 4mm within the tightly packed smartphone layout (the configuration of the VC is best seen on an iFixit teardown video, available on the company’s YouTube channel).
Finally, a graphite sheet sits on top of these enhanced features, while there has been further innovation across the energy management platform. The iFixit teardown team also found “some serious thermal paste” inside the smartphone.
So far, reviews of the device agree that you can push the Ultra S22 to its limits without heat becoming a noticeable issue.
It’s not all good news. For repairability, iFixit scores the Ultra S22 at just 3 out of 10. For example, the handset has a powerful 18.83Wh battery, but given that users are encouraged to push it to the max, replacement remains an issue.
“Getting these batteries out is easy thanks to pull tabs – just kidding. These batteries require the usual tedious combo of isopropyl alcohol, suction cup lifting force, and patience,” noted iFixit content advisor Sam Goldheart.
The glass back and main display also remain difficult to remove and, as other companies look to increase support for repair, Samsung was still to issue a free service manual as this article went to press.
These may be comparatively minor issues given Samsung’s large customer base, and the S22 Ultra is an extremely well-featured phone, a worthy flagship in that regard. But as pressure grows to make these handsets easier to fix, there is still scope for innovation in accessibility.
Samsung Galaxy Ultra S22: key components
Samsung S22 Ultra Motherboard
1. Digitiser controller, Wacom
2. and 3. RF transceiver, AMD/Valve
4. Flash memory, Samsung
5. Applications processor, Qualcomm (shown) or Samsung
6. Power management, Maxim Integrated Circuit
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