This week, after months of leaks and speculation, Samsung launched the Galaxy S20 line of phones -- all boasting the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processors, upgraded 120Hz displays, improved camera hardware, and built-in 5G capability. As an added surprise, we also got a new foldable model in the form of the Galaxy Z Flip, which according to my ZDNet colleague, Chris Matyszczyk, is the phone to be "seen with."
Stake in the ground
Now, I'm not going to downplay thein terms of their strategic importance to Samsung. The company needed to do a refresh this year because you can't go a year without doing a device or tech refresh in the consumer electronics industry, especially when you are talking about something as visible as smartphones.
This year, it was important for Samsung to put a stake in the ground about its commitment to 5G and to reassure its customers about continuing to make investments in folding screen technology. Those two technologies are key to the Korean tech giant retaining their No. 1 mobile device manufacturer status on a worldwide basis while also maintaining leadership in the mobile industry as a whole.
Not practical choices
That being said, if you are up for a mobile device upgrade because your phone is several years old and are looking across multiple vendors for a top contender, the S20 series and the Z Flip are not practical choices. As my Jason Squared co-host, Jason Cipriani, has noted, 5G coverage in the US is currently abysmal, and it will likely take two years or more for the major telcos to achieve comprehensive coverage for both Sub-6 and mmWave 5G networks.
Unless you are buying the top-end S20 Plus or S20 Ultra, you're not buying a phone with mmWave capabilities anyway; you can only use the more extended range, slower Sub-6 networks on the regular S20, and Verizon will not even offer the standard model for the time being due to lack of Sub-6 coverage on its network.
And folding screens? I'm not confident after Samsung's last fiasco that this folding screen phone is going to be any more resilient to wear and tear than last year's Tech Turkey. And while Motorola isn't Samsung, its first-generation phone using this tech doesn't seem to be living up to the 100,000 fold MTBF it was supposed to have -- it failed at 27,000 folds on a test performed by our network sister publication, CNET. So, the technology for this is far from baked. In a few years, these issues may very well work themselves out, and I am confident in Samsung and Motorola as engineering firms. But, at these prices, I'm not going to be an early adopter.
Oh, yeah... If you do buy one of these things? They start at $1,000 for the base S20 and almost $1,400 for the Z Flip. Yeah, that.
Yes, there are also the sweet 40MP and 108MP cameras on the new phones. But, unless you're aiming to take professional style photos using RAW, then intend to show them on native resolution devices such as 4K and 8K displays, and print them with costly boutique art reproduction quality printers, you're not going to enjoy the full capabilities of the cameras on those phones. By default, when you take photos, they are going to be stepped down to a much lower resolution and file size to put less strain on mobile networks and eat less onboard storage. Can you get more sharpness out of an extreme crop? Yes, but that's not something people typically do.
Even if you do sync these at native resolution to a service like Google Photos (which, you can't, unless you pay extra for it with a storage plan), services like Instagram and Facebook will heavily compress everything you upload, so you're going to get digital artifacts, and they will not look nearly as sharp as the originals. Most people take casual photos of things -- selfies, friends, candid family shots, pets, food. You don't need a 40MP -- let alone a 108MP camera sensor. Most of this type of photography benefits much higher from image processing than sensor quality, and Samsung so far hasn't invested in this in the same way that Apple and Google have.
Sounds like a bummer, right? Well, not so fast.
Samsung did announce something that should make everyone very happy: A significant price drop on last year's S10 models, which are very lovely phones indeed.
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Samsung dropped the prices for the unlocked Galaxy S10e, Galaxy S10, and Galaxy S10 Plus with 128GB of storage down to $599.99, $749.99, and $849.99, respectively, in the US. That's at least a $200 price cut from the original launch price for these devices, and that is not reflecting final trade-in price with a qualifying Samsung, Apple, or Google device. As of this writing, most of the major retailers have not yet followed suit with discounts -- although the current price is reflected at Amazon and Best Buy.
I expect there to be additional promotions in the next month or two, as Apple is expected to launch its iPhone 9, and Google is expected to announce the Pixel 4A and drop the price of its flagship phones, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL.
As a refresher, the S10 uses the Qualcomm 855 processor (the flagship SoC from last year) with 8GB RAM and 128GB of flash storage. It has a 550ppi pixel density display at 1440x3040 resolution with a 60Hz refresh rate. In addition to a 12MP selfie -- which is the same as the Galaxy S20 -- the phone has three cameras: A 12MP wide, a 12MP telephoto, and 16MP ultrawide. And it can take a high-definition video at 2160p. The phone recently received its Android 10 upgrade, as well.
In every area that is practically meaningful to the average end-user, the S10 is as good as a phone the S20 is -- for a lot less money.
Are there cheaper Qualcomm 855 phones on the market? There sure are, such as OnePlus and ZTE, which have some genuinely excellent devices in the $500 price range. The ZTE Axon 10 Pro is now $469, and the OnePlus 7 Pro is $499, and we highly recommend both of those excellent devices. But I expect that, with this increased pressure from Samsung (and Apple in the next few months), we will see these phones drop in price even more, as well.
But if you want to go with a phone that will be well-supported and is a no-brainer purchase if you need to upgrade from an existing Samsung, Google, or Apple device? Pick up an S10.
Are you planning to upgrade to the Samsung Galaxy S10 after the recent price drops? Talk Back and Let Me Know.