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Unpacked reminded me of the iPhone 15 event, but Samsung can right Apple's wrongs

From choice of materials to price bumps, Samsung has every opportunity to do things better with the Galaxy S24 series.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Camera
June Wan/ZDNET

We're switching to titanium! The most premium model is getting a $100 price bump! We're putting a stop to leather cases! 

Whether I was referring to Apple's iPhone 15 event from last September or this week's Samsung Unpacked, the above conditions would still apply. 

Also: Every product Samsung announced at Unpacked 2024

That's not a bad thing per se; I'm actually a fan of Samsung's similar thinking of material choice and care for the planet's wellbeing, and I expect other phone makers to follow suit in 2024. The problem is that we've seen this story before, and the ending was not the happiest. Let me explain.

Coat-gate and FineWoven case

When Apple launched the iPhone 15 Pro with its titanium frame, it was first met with hurrahs, followed by puzzlement when users began to realize how easily the physical vapor deposition or PVD coating scratched off. If you used any iPhone not colored in Natural Titanium without a case, it was basically guaranteed that the coating would quickly show wear and tear, revealing the lighter titanium material underneath. At one point, users only considered the Natural colorway as a means to avoid any cosmetic issues.

Of course, the PVD layering is not completely at fault here. It's a highly scratch-prone substance to begin with. Instead, I'd also blame the darker-colored frames that Apple opted for. Remember that.

Review: iPhone 15 Pro: Coming from iPhone 12 Pro or earlier? This upgrade will wow you

Then there's the FineWoven case, Apple's alternative to its leather accessories, made with sustainable materials but similarly priced at $59 a pop. The problem here was not so much the idea or meaning behind the product but rather the execution. ZDNET's Jason Hiner went hands-on with the case shortly after the iPhone 15 keynote and was left wanting more. 

Apple FineWoven Case for iPhone 15 Pro Max (showing wear and tear)
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

"The back of the case felt like it was made of inexpensive upholstery fabric and the sides weren't as grippy as I'd like to keep the phone from slipping out of my hand," he remarked. Things escalated when Jason unboxed the case on camera and realized that it was easy to leave scratch marks on the accessory (pictured above) and it was nearly impossible to restore or rub them off.

Scratching off Apple's problems

All that is to say, with the Galaxy S24 Ultra, Samsung can right Apple's wrongs -- and it's already gotten off on the right foot. One thing I noticed during my pre-Unpacked demo was the company's choice of frame colors. Besides Titanium Black, every other colorway was suited with a light-toned side frame. That includes the hero color, Titanium Violet, pictured below.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Even on the darker Titanium Violet color, Samsung opted for a gold trim on the sides. Coincidence or pure genius?

June Wan/ZDNET

By applying a lighter paint over the titanium material, I'm hopeful that scratches will be less distinctive on the Galaxy S24 Ultra than on the iPhone 15 Pro. Of course, only time will tell, and Jason Hiner will be kicking the tires with the phone over the coming weeks, so stay tuned for the review.

Lastly, instead of replacing its genuine leather cases with something that's the polar opposite, Samsung is now offering a new vegan leather case for the Galaxy S24 series. While it's likely not as sustainable to produce as Apple's FineWoven accessory, the company does note that every vegan leather case is made with at least 30% post-consumer recycled content and they're built to last.

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