Samsung has launched its Galaxy Note 10 lineup, and the device has a lot riding on it for the company's smartphone business, gauging demand in the sector and stoking interest in a flagship device when tech buyers are showing some serious fatigue.
It is unlikely that Samsung is going to instantly erase doubts about its prospects with Galaxy Note 10. And guess what? Apple's latest iPhone is going to have the same conundrum. It's a tweener year for premium devices straddling that 4G to 5G transition.
Perhaps the best we can do is frame the questions that'll determine the demand for Galaxy Note 10. Here's a look at five big ones following Samsung's Unpacked event.
Pricing for Galaxy Note 10 is expected to be in line with Note 9. Samsung is planning to segment the Note line to hit multiple levels of business users.
Samsung executives said on the company's second-quarter conference call that they were expecting a volume pop related to Galaxy Note 10. These same executives talked up 5G.
The catch is that smartphone makers have been asking for a premium price to get a 5G device. This higher price point is a bit galling. First, you're asking me to spend $1,100 or so on a smartphone tethered to what may be a pokey 4G network in a year. Then you're asking me to pay a sizeable chunk more for a 5G version that offers futureproofing. It doesn't seem fair. In fact, the 5G enabled phones should be the default.
But since 5G is a premium spec at this point, Samsung is in the same bind as Apple. Why would you buy the current line when you know 5G networks will be a 2020 event?
The answers: The Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G is available as an exclusive on Verizon, but there are some serious nuances to know. For starters, the Verizon version will start at $1,300. That's a lot to pay for a device without a 5G network to use in many areas. There are also issues with the Qualcomm X50 chip when T-Mobile and AT&T will get the X55. Without getting into too much 5G mumbo jumbo the primary thing to know is that you get some futureproofing with the 5G version of the Galaxy Note 10, but not enough to last two years. More:
Samsung typically outlines its DeX remote desktop utility that makes the Note a PC. The concept makes a ton of sense for remote workers and business users but hasn't caught on.
The apps have come along, but still need work, and there isn't a way into the Mac. Perhaps Samsung's more cozy relationship with Microsoft can make DeX more of a realistic work companion with the Galaxy Note 10.
The answers: DeX got a decent amount of play at Unpacked and and appearance by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella didn't hurt either. With the combination of Microsoft apps, connectors between the Samsung Galaxy universe and Microsoft and an ARM-based laptop running on Windows 10 there's a chance DeX becomes more relevant. See:
Based on various leaks, the headphone jack, something that Samsung has repeatedly talked up as an example that it is responsive to its customers, is going away in the Galaxy Note 10 lineup.
I get the appeal of the headphone jack, and most of it revolves around needs when you must talk for a while on the phone. With wi-fi calling, Bluetooth and other interference, wireless headsets often crap out during conversations. The headset jack can be handy.
The other alarming (to me at least) is that Samsung will reportedly offer a dongle to use the USB-C as an audio jack. That's nice of Samsung, but very Apple. The world doesn't need yet another friggin dongle.
More alarming are the conflicting reports about the microSD card disappearing. Previous launches with Samsung made a big deal about the potential of carrying 1TB in your pocket. Now the 1TB thing is a bit absurd, but also kind of neat. Take away the microSD card you also eliminate that 1TB dream.
Answers: Samsung made no mention of the headphone jack going away. We'll see whether it matters or not. However, I dropped in an out of calls today with a bluetooth ear buds (two different pairs) so my guess is I'll want that headphone jack back. The microSD card crisis was averted by Samsung's decision to keep it on higher end Note 10 models.
Based on what has been revealed, which is basically everything, Galaxy Note 10 will offer a few minor improvements to the S Pen, but not much. Camera features are also incremental and rhyme with the Galaxy S10 Plus.
The dimensions on Galaxy Note 10 are like Note 9. And if you want the microSD card and the headphone jack, Note 9 may be a better deal. And there will be deals on the Note 9.
Answers: The Note 9 vs. Note 10 debate is more than academic. And given the price points, you could argue that the Galaxy Tab 6 could be an option for S Pen and note taking fans as they wait for 5G to become more real.
Samsung's turnaround in its mobile business depends on the Galaxy Note 10 reception as well as the Galaxy Fold. With competition from above and below in the smartphone market and component and memory struggles--not to mention South Korea's trade war with Japan--Samsung is in a bind. Galaxy Note 10 may offer a boost, but it will more likely be a stabilizer at best. Another big risk: Samsung's Galaxy Note 10 may be upstaged by the return of the Galaxy Fold a month from now.
The biggest issue with the smartphone is that we're in the age of the incremental. Sans more 5G infrastructure, there's little reason to ponder a new smartphone unless you need one.