Updated: August 12, 2021 3:23:02 pm
Big tech product launches also set the tone of the brand’s strategy that might not be visible immediately but gives enough clues about what to expect from the future lineup. Wednesday’s Samsung “Galaxy Unpacked” event — a pre-recorded video watched by millions of users — established one thing very early: foldable phones are going to be the big focus for the South Korean behemoth going forward.
Samsung launched two new foldable phones, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G and Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G, with big improvements over their predecessors. They don’t feature just a bump in specifications but also fix niggling issues that had plagued previous generations. Both the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 are more durable and can withstand splashes of water, thanks to their IPX8 ratings. The durability of foldable phones has long concerned consumers and adding water and dust resistance to its foldables boosts the confidence of users in this smartphone form factor. The Galaxy Z Fold 3, the crème de la crème of foldable smartphones, is not only slimmer but also sturdier and tougher than the Z Fold 2. The Galaxy Z Flip 3, too, is getting the same rough-and-tough treatment.
Foldables are the new thing in the consumer tech space, and Samsung wants to dominate this segment. The launch of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 underlines Samsung’s approach to making foldable phones mainstream. To do that, Samsung had two options: bring popular features from its other popular smartphone lineup to foldables and make them affordable. Starting at $1800, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 sits at the top-end of the smartphone spectrum and caters to those who don’t really worry much about the price tags of products.
This marquee smartphone is not for the masses, but is still critical for Samsung and the future of foldable devices. It appears to be a normal phone from the outside, with a 6.2-inch screen on the front. Open it up like a book and it transforms into a tablet with a 7.6-inch screen. What’s new, however, is the new under-screen camera technology, which allows a selfie camera to be placed under the display, thus eliminating the need for a notch. Although this next-gen technology is still untested, Samsung putting an under-screen selfie camera into a foldable phone over the Galaxy S flagship tells a lot about the importance of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 for the brand.
Besides the under-screen selfie camera, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is also getting S Pen support. Although optional, the S Pen gives users the ability to use a stylus with the top-end foldable smartphone. That means Z Fold 3 customers will soon be able to use the S Pen to jot notes, sign documents, or sketch on the go. The way Samsung is gradually expanding the S Pen support to more devices (the Galaxy S21 Ultra also works with the stylus) creates the impression that Samsung does not see the need to have a dedicated Galaxy Note series which once had a large number of fans. No new Galaxy Note device this year possibly hints at changes being made at the product level, a clear indication that Samsung sees the Galaxy Z Fold 3 taking the place of the flagship Note device that was once regarded as the best smartphone for business professionals.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a cutting-edge smartphone, an ambitious device that might put Samsung ahead of the competition in the years to come. But is it worth $1800? That’s another question and the subject of debate.
The current problem with foldable phones is the price. An average user is not ready to pay a hefty premium for a foldable phone, not yet. Samsung knows the reality and going beyond the $1000 price territory means, it might lose the chance of becoming the market leader in foldables. A foldable phone needs one big enticing feature, and in the case of the Z Flip 3, it is the price. Functionality-wise this device may seem less ambitious than the Z Fold 3 but its success guarantees Samsung opening the market for new phone types with a folding screen way before Apple launches its foldable iPhone, which many believe could arrive in 2023.
The $1000 Galaxy Z Flip 3 will help Samsung pitch its flip-style folding phone against more traditional handsets belonging to the premium segment, including the iPhone 12 Pro and Galaxy S21 Plus. For most consumers, $1380 was too steep for the Galaxy Z Flip, which featured a 6.7-inch screen but then folds in half like a classic flip phone. A thousand dollars for a smartphone isn’t exactly cheap, but on a physiological level, that price point may sound “accessible” for a fully-loaded foldable phone.
The Z Flip 3 is more polished than its predecessor, though it retains the same physical design —its larger cover screen is a welcome change. Samsung, in a way, wants to normalise the $1000 foldable phone. If Samsung succeeds with the Z Flip 3 and the $1000 price point, it might give the company a better idea to test foldable phones at an even lower price. Who knows Samsung surprises consumers with the “budget” alternative to the Flip 3 at $750 in the future? For now, the company took a chance to launch the $1000 foldable phone and it’s a good thing for this form factor to succeed.
Samsung needs a hit flagship smartphone soon, and even though these new foldables might not sell like crazy, they have the potential to change the narrative around the phone of the future. Other smartphone manufacturers will follow suit and try to undercut Samsung with cheaper offerings. For Samsung, the increased competition in the foldable category eventually means a way to create a new smartphone product category, profiting from ultra-high-end phones before the competition catches on, less dependency on the Galaxy S series in the future, and more money to be made through the foldable screens.