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Samsung takes on Apple with $1,980 smartphone that unfolds into a tablet

DJ Koh
DJ Koh, CEO of IT and Mobile Communications, holds up the new Galaxy Fold smartphone during a Samsung event Feb. 20 in San Francisco.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
Bloomberg

Samsung Electronics debuted its most extensive new lineup of smartphones Wednesday, taking on Apple Inc. with new low-end and premium models — and a $1,980 model that opens up into a tablet.

At simultaneous U.S. and U.K. launch events, the South Korean technology giant introduced four new phones — the Galaxy S10, S10+, S10e and S10 5G — and livestreamed a demonstration of its hybrid Galaxy Fold from San Francisco.

The S10 and S10+ are direct successors to last year’s S9 and S9+, while the S10e and S10 5G are two new models for the company: a low-end phone aimed at Apple’s iPhone XR, and a high-end 5G version priced above $1,000.

The Fold device has a 4.6-inch screen when used as a phone and can open into a tablet with a 7.3-inch screen. The company said the new phone will be available April 26 and come in four colors: black, blue, silver and green. Users will also be able to customize the color of the folding hinge.

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Samsung’s device is not the first foldable-screen phone, but the company’s brand, reach and technological prowess make it the most advanced folding phone for the mass market. It’s a leap that rivals the category shifts not seen since smartphones took off with a broad audience more than a decade ago.

The larger screen means users can multitask and view three applications at once, the company demonstrated onstage. Users can display the Galaxy Fold like a phone, then open it up to see the larger view via a feature called App Continuity, Samsung said. The company said it’s working with Google on Android and third-party developers to optimize the software and their applications.

The Samsung device includes a new chip and 12 gigabytes of RAM, which is more memory than most laptops have. It also has 512 GB of storage, the same as the maximum for Apple Inc.’s latest iPhones. The phone includes two batteries — one below each screen — to enable the folding mechanism to function properly.

The Galaxy Fold has six cameras across the back and front and inside the fold of the phone.

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Samsung’s success with its latest gadgets will be a barometer for the global smartphone industry struggling to revive momentum after a decade of robust growth ground to a halt. Global smartphone shipments fell last year to 1.43 billion, marking the first time the figure had slid on a full-year basis, according to Strategy Analytics.

Consumers are holding on to their phones longer and spending less on upgrades, putting pressure on manufacturers to bolster innovation and justify the price tags on their products. With premium mobile phones that can cost well over $1,000 apiece, consumers have also been turning to lesser-known companies, which has given rise to Chinese companies such as Huawei Technologies, Xiaomi Corp. and Oppo.

In China, Samsung has been almost driven out of the phone market, and globally it faces losing the title of the world’s biggest handset maker to Huawei. Samsung sold 291 million smartphones last year while Huawei sold 206 million, according to Strategy Analytics.

Samsung will probably sell more than 40 million Galaxy S10 units in the first year of release, Counterpoint Research Inc. said in an email. That would be more than the Galaxy S9 for the same period but fewer than the Galaxy S7, Samsung’s bestselling S-series smartphone to date, it said.

The S10 and S10+ include 6.1-inch and 6.4-inch screens, respectively, up from 5.8 inches and 6.2 inches on last year’s models. The front-facing cameras sit inside holes cut into the display itself as an alternative to including them in a “notch,” as the iPhone does.

The displays also now have in-screen fingerprint scanners, a new approach that diverts from the 3-D facial recognition scanner employed by Apple in its latest devices. They also add a third back camera as a wide-angle lens. Those models start at $900 and $1,000, respectively.

Even with Apple’s strong market share in regions such as the U.S., the new Samsung line could pose a serious challenge to the iPhone maker. Samsung is beating Apple to the punch by about half a year with features such as triple-camera photography, and by at least a year and a half with features such as 5G and a rear-facing 3-D camera.

Samsung is also launching the low-end $750 S10e model, which has a 5.8-inch screen, lacks the in-screen fingerprint reader (it’s on the side of the phone instead), and has only two rear cameras. Its bezels are also slightly thicker, as is the case with the iPhone XR versus the high-end iPhone XS line.

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Samsung previewed a 5G model, which in addition to the faster web download speeds includes front and back 3-D depth cameras for more professional-looking photos and augmented reality, a larger battery and a 6.7-inch screen. Its overall footprint, however, is similar to that of the S10+ model.

The S10, S10+ and S10e will begin selling March 8, and the 5G variant will launch later in the first half of this year, Samsung said. In the U.S., it will debut as an exclusive to Verizon Wireless Inc., and it will later expand to other carriers. The 5G model will come to Europe after the U.S. and South Korea, with network partners expected to announce further details at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.

All of the phones will work with a new feature called Wireless PowerShare, which lets users charge a phone or wireless headphones by tapping them to the back of one of the new Samsung models. It also debuted new Galaxy Buds headphones, competitors to Apple’s popular AirPods.


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