Samsung is betting on a souped-up camera and enhanced 5G capabilities — as well as a new flip phone — to fend off its competition for the global smartphone crown and convince users to upgrade their devices.
The world’s biggest smartphone maker unveiled its latest flagship device, the Galaxy S20, at its “Unpacked” event in San Francisco on Tuesday, boasting a new camera architecture it says is capable of taking “pro-grade” photos and videos. It’s also the first time Samsung is releasing a fully 5G lineup, with all versions touting support for the emerging mobile technology.
Samsung says its decision to jump straight from the S10 to the S20 is meant to signal its shift to a new generation of devices as 5G becomes increasingly available.
“As we enter this new decade, 5G will completely change how we communicate and how we experience the world around us,” said TM Roh, the company’s president and head of mobile communications, in a statement. “Samsung is providing a next-generation device for transforming people’s lives,” he added.
The name change, like many of the smartphone’s key features, was leaked well in advance.
Bigger screens, bigger batteries
The Galaxy S20 has three variants: the 6.2-inch S20 starting at $999.99; the 6.7-inch S20+ starting at $1199.99; and the 6.9-inch S20 Ultra, which Samsung says is aimed at users looking for a “maxed-out” performance and experience. That high-end model will start at $1399.99.
The phones are available in four colors — pink (only on the S20), blue (on the S20 and S20+), gray (on all three models) and black (on the S20+ and S20 Ultra). The phones will be available for pre-order online starting Friday, February 21, and are set to hit stores on March 6.
Samsung is giving its new phones an even bigger battery to support extra computing power. All three S20 devices have batteries about 10% larger than their predecessors in the S10 series, which already boasted 24 hours of battery life and the ability to charge other phones wirelessly.
Samsung is also amping up its AMOLED display to enable faster scrolling, clearer video and more responsive interaction with the screen than previous devices.
The S20 has a total of four camera lenses — three in the back and one in the front — while the S20+ and S20 Ultra have an additional 3D depth lens at the back for AR applications. The cameras are powered by a much larger sensor than previous models, allowing for sharper, brighter pictures. That translates to 64-megapixel photos on the S20 and S20+, while the S20 Ultra has an even bigger sensor that can take 108-megapixel photos.
That sensor also enables what Samsung is touting as one of the defining features of the S20 series: an incredibly powerful zoom. The biggest leap, naturally, is on the S20 Ultra, with a feature called “Space Zoom” that allows users to magnify an image up to 100x using a combination of optical zoom and AI-enabled enhancements. The S20 and S20+, meanwhile, top out at 30x zoom.
That also means all three smartphones can zoom in a lot closer (at least 10x) without compromising the quality of the image.
Other new camera features include one called Single Take, which captures a 10-second video of a particular moment and picks out the best frames, and the ability to shoot 8K ultra-high definition videos. The Galaxy S20 will also debut Quick Share, Samsung’s new feature similar to Apple’s Airdrop that allows users to send large files to each other.
Preparing for a 5G future
Samsung’s biggest edge in the smartphone market comes from its 5G capabilities. Last year, it introduced a 5G version of its Galaxy S10, making it the first mainstream device to get the new technology. It later introduced 5G versions of the Galaxy Note 10, Note 10+, A90 and Galaxy Fold. Now all three phones in the S20 series are 5G equipped by default. Although the next-generation mobile technology is far from ubiquitous yet, Samsung is betting 2020 will be the year when it hits the mainstream.
The first 5G-enabled iPhone, meanwhile, isn’t expected to come out until the end of 2020. Samsung sold close to 7 million 5G smartphones in 2019 and accounted for more than half the global market as of November, according to Counterpoint Research.
5G promises to power many technologies of the future, including self-driving cars and robotic surgeries. For smartphone users, the fifth-generation cellular technology means increased bandwidth and speeds that let you download a two hour movie in less than 10 seconds.
Samsung is laying the foundation for 5G applications by deepening its partnerships with big tech peers such as Google and Microsoft. Google Duo, the company’s video calling app, will be directly integrated into the dialer on Galaxy S20 phones, so that users can start a video chat just as they would a regular phone call. S20 users can also upload their 8K videos directly to Google-owned YouTube, and Samsung says 5G will allow “ultra-fast” upload speeds.
Samsung says the S20 and its 5G capabilities will also appeal to gamers, who it says are among the most avid users of its Galaxy devices. The smartphone maker is deepening a partnership with Microsoft that began with the Galaxy Note 10 smartphone last year, and the two companies are working together to create a mobile version of Microsoft’s popular racing game Forza Street.
The Galaxy S20 also aims to improve on the music-listening experience, and Samsung is doing that with another partnership. The company is integrating Spotify with Bixby Routines, its voice-enabled smartphone organizer for various tasks, so the phone can suggest curated playlists based on whether you’re working out, getting ready or commuting.
Samsung also wants to make it easier to play music in bigger groups. A new feature will allow S20 users to split their Bluetooth connection with another smartphone, which means two people can share DJ duties without having to disconnect and reconnect from the speaker.
Galaxy users also got another sound-focused hardware upgrade. Samsung released a new version of its Galaxy Buds wireless earphones on Tuesday. The Galaxy Buds+ offer a total of 22 hours of battery life, including 11 hours from a chargeable storage case, and will be available in red, blue, white and black. They will be available for sale online from February 14 for $149, and will hit stores along with the S20 lineup on March 6.
A new Flip phone
The Galaxy S20 wasn’t the only new phone Samsung announced on Tuesday. The company also showed off a new foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Z Flip.
The device is reminiscent of the flip phones of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but opens up into one large 6.7-inch screen, with a smaller window on the front cover to view notifications. Samsung had stayed largely tight-lipped about the folding smartphone leading up to the event, but unexpectedly teased it in an ad during the Oscars two days before “Unpacked.”
The phone comes in three colors — purple, black and gold — though only the first two will be available when it goes on sale in select stores and online on Friday February 14. There’s also a special limited edition that Samsung created in partnership with fashion brand Thom Browne.
The Galaxy Z Flip ($1,380) will compete with a handful of other folding smartphones on the market, including flip phone pioneer Motorola’s $1,500 reboot of its iconic Razr.
Samsung will be hoping the rollout of its newest folding smartphone will be better than its first. The Galaxy Fold, a 4.6 inch-smartphone that opens up into a 7.3-inch tablet, went on sale last fall after several months of delays, following early complaints of constantly flickering displays and an easily breakable folding screen.