Flashy new features almost always arrive on the most expensive smartphones first, but Samsung may start taking a different approach. DJ Koh, head of Samsung’s mobile division, tells CNBCthat the company is now focused on differentiating mid-range phones ahead of flagship phones, as sales lag on higher-end models.
“In the past, I brought the new technology and differentiation to the flagship model and then moved to the mid-end. But I have changed my strategy from this year to bring technology and differentiation points starting from the mid-end,” Koh told CNBC.
Koh reportedly said that he had reorganized Samsung’s mobile development team to prepare for the strategy shift. The first phone to follow this new design approach is supposed to be this year’s Galaxy A series phone. Those phones are priced around $400, which puts them far below flagships like the S9 and Note 9, but still well above the type of budget phones that are popular in many markets.
Samsung’s mobile revenues have been sliding over the past couple years, and the smartphone market is changing: while high-end phones play well in the US, other markets are far more price sensitive while still looking for higher-end specs and features.
There are plenty of phones that will offer that balance. Barely a month goes by before exciting new features and designs make their way from flagships to cheaper phones designed for those markets, making it hard for companies stuck in a more traditional product cycle to stand out.
Samsung hasn’t avoided bringing higher-end features to mid-range phones — this year’s Galaxy A series, for instance, included an 18:9 screen and dual front-facing cameras. But it was going up against phones that offered screens with notches, the clear symbol of a 2018 device. That kind of difference makes it harder to compete with companies like OnePlus, which are quicker to bring these features to mid-range phones.
That all said, Koh told CNBC the changes are really just about “focusing on millennials who cannot afford the flagship.”
Samsung has introduced a portable X-series NVMe SSD with support for Thunderbolt 3. The new Samsung Portable SSD X5, with its 40Gbps bandwidth, can hit read speeds of 2,800 MB/s, which is several times faster than SATA-based portable SSDs. The Portable SSD X5 costs $399.99 for the 500GB model, $699.99 for the 1TB model, and $1,399.99 for the 2TB premium version. It ships beginning September 3rd.
But since this is specifically a Thunderbolt 3 drive, laptops that only support USB won’t be compatible. You’ll definitely need a recent, high-end machine to use the X5 and take advantage of what it can do.
The SSD is meant to handle 4K video editing, real-time 3D rendering, and high-resolution RAW files. You can transfer files at up to 2,300 MB/s, meaning a 20GB file could be moved in just 12 seconds.
The metal, shock-resistant frame is supposed to be able to take a fall of up to two meters. It’s got a glossy look, but includes a non-slip bottom mat to prevent accidents. Samsung backs the drive with a three-year limited warranty. At 4.7 inches tall, 2.4 inches wide, and 0.8 inches thick, it’s a bit smaller (albeit thicker) than most flagship smartphones.
Samsung has a new dual wireless charger that seems designed for its new Note 9 and Galaxy Watch. The Wireless Charger Duo has two charging pads, with a flat area meant for the new Galaxy smartwatch and a propped up charging spot for keeping a phone display visible during a charge.
Each charging pad has 12W of charging power, so both pads will support fast charging from Samsung or any other phone vendor. Together, the two pads resemble one of Samsung’s propped up charging pads glued together with one of its flat charging pads. While Samsung already sells another dual wireless charger, that one has two flat charging pads. This is the first dual wireless charger that lets you watch shows or check texts while charging your phone, which is more convenient.
The dual wireless charger was announced today at Samsung’s Unpacked 2018 event alongside the new smartwatch. But it was first accidentally leaked at an Amazon holiday preview event last week, when it was featured among new products, without a label or name. Astute event attendees were able to spot that the charger looked a lot like the rumored Wireless Charger Duo.
A couple of years ago, Samsung launched its first 4TB solid state drives, which might as well not have existed given their $1,499 asking price. Today, the company announces the commencement of mass production of a more — though it’s too early to know exactly how much more — affordable variant with its 4TB QLC SSDs. The knock on QLC NAND storage has traditionally been that it sacrifices speed for an increased density, however Samsung promises the same 540MBps read and 520MBps write speeds for its new SSDs as it offers on its existing SATA SSD drives.
Describing this new family of storage drives, which will also include 1TB and 2TB variants, as consumer class, Samsung will obviously aim to price them at a level where quibbles about performance will be overwhelmed by the sheer advantage of having terabytes of space. Any concerns about the reliability of these drives should also be allayed by the three-year warranty promised by Samsung. The launch of the first drives built around these new storage chips is slated for later this year.
An intriguing side note in Samsung’s press release also indicates that the company will use the same technology “to efficiently produce a 128GB memory card for smartphones that will lead the charge toward higher capacities for high-performance memory storage.” Given the anticipated launch of a 512GB Galaxy Note 9 from Samsung, which is joining a growing cadre of half-terabyte phones, you might think the need for additional storage cards would be diminishing. But the other way to look at things is that those phones now exist precisely because we want ever more storage on our phones.
The tech giant has a habit of leaking its own product releases early and this time is no different. The preorder page appears to be part of the newsletter Samsung sends out to customers in New Zealand. If you click on the preorder button, it leads you to an error page, as Note 9 preorders are likely still a few weeks away.
The photo confirms what we suspect from the many other leaks we’ve seen of the Note 9. It resembles the Note 8 very closely, with a headphone jack, a USB-C port, dual rear cameras, and a rear fingerprint sensor. We can only see the rear of the phone, pictured in blue, alongside a yellow stylus.
Just a week ago, Samsung leaked a new Galaxy Watch product on its website. While it appeared accidental, as Samsung pulled the listing after a media outlet reported it, this has happened very often to Samsung. In February, the entire launch video for the Samsung Galaxy S9 leaked out, which ran us through all of the phone’s new features, a day before the launch event.
Samsung’s not the only company prone to overzealous promotion of its own products that lead to leaks. Apple once announced the iPhone 7 on Twitter just as the keynote for its event was starting, including precise preorder information and essentially stealing its own thunder.
At a small press gathering in Manhattan today, just one week before the company heads over to Brooklyn for its big Galaxy Note 9 event, Samsung announced the new Galaxy Tab S4 tablet. The Tab S4 is being pitched as delivering “tablet mobility and PC power.” Unable to match the iPad’s selection of tablet-optimized apps, Samsung is going in the opposite direction: it’s positioning the Tab S4 as being able to offer legitimate productivity on the go. “Nobody’s quite cracked the nut when it comes to tablet 2-in-1 productivity,” is the line the company used to start off its presentation.
The Tab S4 features a 10.5-inch Super AMOLED display (2560×1600) with a 16:10 aspect ratio. Its bezels are much slimmer than Samsung’s prior Android tablets, which means there’s no longer a home button. (Iris and face scanning are available as authentication options in addition to the usual passcode.)
It’s available with either 64GB ($650) or 256GB ($750) of built-in storage. An S Pen comes included in the box. Like Apple’s iPad Pro, it includes four speakers; Samsung says they’ve been tuned by AKG. The company is promising up to 16 hours of battery life. The Tab S4 will ship beginning on August 10th. Models with LTE connectivity will also be available. Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular will be offering the device. It comes in (very glossy) black and white options, with preorders kicking off today.
Samsung’s DeX, which transforms the user experience into a desktop PC-like environment, is built directly into the tablet’s software. “We can support up to 20 windows open simultaneously,” said one of Samsung’s executives during the product briefing. DeX can be used either with Samsung’s sold-separately $150 keyboard case or any Bluetooth keyboard and mouse you’ve already got.
DeX conveniently puts your recent apps right in the toolbar for quick access and lets you resize and move apps around as you’d like. DeX is actually a separate “mode” from regular Android and can be toggled on from the quick settings pulldown. It also automatically comes up when you dock the Tab S4 in Samsung’s keyboard.
Speaking of which, that keyboard is a little cramped — similar to the iPad Pro 10.5’s Smart Keyboard — with a small backspace key, but it’s workable. It’s well built and magnetically latches to the Tab S4’s screen, and there’s a detachable holster for the S Pen.
The Tab S4 runs Android 8.1 Oreo, includes 4GB of RAM, and is powered by a last-gen Snapdragon 835 processor. Its battery capacity is 7,300mAh. It’s also got 13-megapixel cameras on both the front and back. There’s a USB-C port, headphone jack, microSD slot, and a pin-connector for the keyboard, which draws its power from the tablet.
Samsung went over numerous use cases for the Tab S4, covering everything from having it act as a POS system at retail to being used in health care and business scenarios. But it does still include the usual S Pen tricks like screen off memo, live messages, air command, and translating text that you hover over. Samsung has integrated far-field microphones into the device so that it can be controlled from a distance through Google Assistant. The company was oddly quiet about Bixby’s capabilities on the Tab S4, however, and there’s no dedicated Bixby button to be found.
While it doesn’t have any serious Android competition, the Tab S4 will be squaring off against Apple’s upcoming, redesigned iPad Pro on the premium end, and more affordable Chrome OS tablets beneath it. There’s also now the Surface Go to factor into the tablet equation, as it’s another compelling alternative to what Samsung has put together here. Is DeX’s flexibility and resemblance to a traditional desktop enough for Samsung’s latest flagship tablet to make a dent?
My early take is that Samsung should’ve upped the specs here for the price it’s asking. A Snapdragon 845 and 6GB of RAM would’ve been nice to have inside a device that’s designed around multitasking. From a sheer power perspective, the iPad Pro already smokes this thing. But stay tuned for the full review to see if the Tab S4 can manage to stand out for the right reasons.