Four phones, but is that enough?
So, Samsung has fired its 2019 flagship salvo, and – as leaks had indicated over the past few weeks – the S10 range consists of three main phones and a 5G variant coming later in the year. Oh, and let’s not forget the Galaxy Fold, Samsung’s much-hyped take on the whole folding phone concept.
The range looks great; the S10E, S10 and S10 Plus feature top-line specs – they all have powerful processors, amazing screens and impressive camera setups. They’re likely to be the cream of the crop as far as Android phones are concerned this year; packing Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 855 chipset, these are sleek and potent smartphones and will sell millions, I don’t doubt.
However, I can’t see the S10 overcoming the slump that the smartphone sector currently finds itself in. People are holding onto their phones for longer as prices rise and innovations slow down; Apple is experiencing the exact same issue with its iPhone range, and I think Samsung will be no different. The S10 is obviously going to sell millions – it’s the flagship phone of the world’s biggest smartphone maker, after all – but I’m not sure it’s going to be enough to help Samsung’s market share grow and restore some forward momentum in the industry.
Sure, the S10 has some neat features – the Infinity O display is cool, the in-screen fingerprint scanner feels futuristic (and makes Apple look a bit silly after it went all-in with the less-than-perfect FaceID) and the three-camera setup (on the S10) looks interesting – but all of these elements are available elsewhere already. The Honor V20 has a similar screen and costs significantly less, while the OnePlus 6T has an in-screen fingerprint scanner (again for much less than the S10). And there are already phones out there with three camera setups – many of which do as good a job as the S10 when it comes to photography (if not better). Even the ability to charge other devices using the phone’s wirelessly charging tech isn’t new – Huawei got there first.
Of course, like Apple, Samsung’s talent is taking established ideas and making them sing all in the same piece of hardware. The Korean company is pulling in all of these amazing concepts and putting them in a single phone – and one that looks drop dead gorgeous, at that. It’s vital to not underestimate this skill; so many phone companies make the mistake of thinking a single idea is enough to ensure commercial success. Samsung knows that you have to score points in every area to make a best-seller. Even so, I don’t think the S10 is groundbreaking enough to change the current pattern of consumer apathy.
As phones become more and more expensive, consumers are voting with their wallets and sticking with their current device beyond the typical two-year cycle. It’s easy to see why; outside of processor speeds, the advancements made in the smartphone sphere have been painfully limited over the past few years. Screen tech has reduced bezels to practically nothing, but is that enough to convince you to part with almost £1000 when you’re perfectly happy with your S7? And if you already own the ‘big screen’ S8, there’s even less point in upgrading as it already has a pretty roomy screen.
Indeed, to someone who knows nothing about smartphones, a comparison of the S8 and S10 might lead some to suspect there’s little difference between the two. The S8 remains a solid device and none of the ‘improvements’ the S10 offers are life-changing – not in the same way that OLED panels, fingerprint scanners and dual-lens cameras were.
It’s almost as if Samsung knows this, as it has augmented its traditional two-phone lineup with three additional models this year. The S10E is the smaller, cheaper member of the Galaxy S10 family and loses some of the big-name features (no in-screen fingerprint scanner, fewer cameras) but will be perfect for those who crave smaller handsets. It also looks fantastic and shouldn’t be considered the ‘budget’ option; it has the same amazing build quality as the S10 and S10 Plus. I personally think the S10E could be the surprise seller of the entire range, giving the Pixel 3 and iPhone XR a serious rival.
At the other end of the scale is the S10 5G, which feels like Samsung really swinging for the fences. It offers 5G support – which could be 2019’s biggest innovation – and is utterly huge. The issue with this device is that 5G isn’t going to roll out everywhere this year so the potential market for the handset is limited. 5G is going to break in 2019, but it’s unlikely to hit its stride until next year, or perhaps even the year after that.
That leaves us with the Galaxy Fold, which – as we’ve already spoken about – is a gimmick. Folding phones are more about showing off what companies can do with folding screens than they are about offering any kind of advancement in the smartphone sector. Samsung even admits that the Galaxy Fold’s mechanism has built-in obsolescence – it’s good for 200,000 folds, which is around 100 folds a day for five years. That’s going to be long enough for most people, but when you consider that smartphones have a built-in timebomb thanks to their non-replaceable batteries, is this really a good idea?
2019 is going to be an interesting year for smartphones, there’s no doubt about that. The market needs something significant to break the downward cycle we’ve seen over the past 12 months. In the past, that means groundbreaking ideas and life-changing improvements – and beyond 5G support (something that other companies will have as well, of course) I don’t see any of the S10 handsets offering that – which means, like Apple, I suspect Samsung will be issuing conservative sale projections later this year.