Samsung Electronics Co. is starting a new decade with a new chief in charge of its mobile business, but it’s doing it in the same old fashion: by leaning into its semiconductor advantage to overwhelm consumers with unmatched specs on its latest Galaxy devices.
Announced at simultaneous events in San Francisco and London on Tuesday, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 family of Android phones has a 6.9-inch Ultra model with four cameras on the rear — which include a 108-megapixel sensor as well as 100x zoom — 16GB of memory, a huge battery and an eye-watering US$1,399.99 starting price. At a time when Apple Inc. is looking to make iPhones more affordable, the cheapest Galaxy S20 costs US$999.99 and still has 12GB of RAM and 5G wireless networking.
At the same Galaxy Unpacked galas, Samsung also made official its Galaxy Z Flip foldable phone, which represents the company’s more compact and attainable offering from its future-facing foldable device portfolio.
The S20 series come in three sizes, with the Galaxy S20 measuring in at 6.2 inches, the S20+ at 6.7 inches and the S20 Ultra at a sliver under 7 inches diagonally. All have 5G and 120Hz displays, which — like Apple’s iPad Pro — means they’re capable of smoother and prettier animations. The two specs complement one another, as 5G promises to bring more and better streaming content and the display will take full advantage by making it look as good as possible, whether it’s for gaming or movies.
The non-Ultra models step the cameras down to 64 megapixels of maximum resolution and 30x max zoom, which are still vastly higher numbers than anything Apple or most other smartphone rivals are able to offer.
Samsung’s continuing with the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor tech in its S20 generation that proved problematic in 2019 when it was shown it could create a security vulnerability, which the company had to quickly fix.
“I think Samsung is ahead of the smartphone competition when it comes to certain types of hardware innovation,” said Cliff Maldonado, a senior analyst at BayStreet Research in San Francisco. Still, Samsung “lacks ownership of its own software” and “struggles to match the user experience” of Apple’s products, he said.
Rather than building up a closed ecosystem like Apple’s iOS, Samsung is looking to collaborate with partners. Its Bixby voice assistant will integrate Spotify into its morning routines, the YouTube app will support 8K video uploads from S20 devices, Netflix Inc. is integrating its service more deeply into Samsung’s interface, and Microsoft Corp. will debut its Forza Street game on mobile inside Samsung’s Galaxy Store.
Alongside the S20 update, Samsung is releasing its upgraded Galaxy Buds+ wireless earphones, whose biggest improvement is an 11-hour battery life in the earpieces with another 11 hours in the provided carry case. They’ll be part of what Samsung calls curated bundles with the new phones, and pre-order customers in the U.S. will get between US$100 and US$200 of credit toward building their own ecosystem of Galaxy devices. Pre-orders open on Feb. 21 and run through Mar. 6, the Galaxy S20 series’ release date in the country.
Ahead of Samsung’s unveiling, Counterpoint Research projected that shipments of the S20 series will rise to more than 40 million units for the year, improving on the predecessor S10 family’s 36 million units thanks to the headline camera and 5G upgrades. For the foldable phone, shipments of the Galaxy Z Flip are expected to be around 2 million this year, the researchers said.
“Foldable phones have a lot of merit that consumers don’t realize yet,” said Sujeong Lim, analyst at Counterpoint in Seoul. “We have done focus group interviews and more than 70 per cent of users who were indifferent changed their opinion once they used one for a day or two."
Samsung’s effort to develop new categories and spur demand in the plateaued smartphone industry will be driven by Taemoon Roh, a person who’s engineered the Galaxy empire behind the scenes from its outset. “It’s our responsibility and opportunity to shape the next ten years of mobile innovation, starting right now at Unpacked,” Roh wrote in a blog post ahead of the event. “No company is better suited to take on this massive challenge than Samsung.”