Samsung's new Galaxy S20 Ultra costs twice as much as Apple's iPhone 11 - and it feels out of touch at a time when smartphones are finally getting cheaper
Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
Samsung's Galaxy S20 Ultra.
- Samsung's Galaxy S20 Ultra, which launched on Friday, is among the most expensive phones on the market at $1,400.
- The launch comes as other industry giants like Apple and Google are making more affordable smartphones, like the less expensive iPhone 11 and Pixel 3a.
- Samsung also offers cheaper smartphones, but by pricing the high-end model of its newest Galaxy phone so high it's sending the message that you have to shell out top dollar for the latest cutting-edge technology.
- That differs from the strategy employed by Apple, which positioned its lower-end new iPhone as the main model for 2019. That phone, the iPhone 11, costs half the price of the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
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If 2019 was the year of the foldable phone, then 2020 may very well be the year cheap smartphones make a big comeback.
Unless you're eyeballing Samsung's Galaxy S20 Ultra, that is.
The recently launched smartphone went up for sale on Friday and costs $1,400, featuring a 108-megapixel camera sensor, a massive 6.9-inch screen, and a camera lens that can zoom in up to 100x. That price becomes even higher if you opt for the model with 512GB of storage instead of the base 128GB, hiking the cost up to $1,600.
Paying more than $1,000 for a new smartphone started to become the norm following the iPhone X's launch in 2017. But more recently, that trend has started to reverse, with companies like Apple and Google coming out with compelling new smartphones that cost hundreds of dollars less than $1,000.
Although Samsung does sell smartphones that are significantly cheaper than the S20 Ultra and even the standard S20, the company's Galaxy line is usually viewed as its main presence in the market. Its Galaxy phones provide a glimpse at what one of the world's largest smartphone makers sees as being the ideal smartphone experience, and provides an indication of where it believes the industry is heading. And if the S20 lineup, particularly the Ultra, is any indication - the future is looking pretty expensive.
That feels like the opposite approach of companies like Apple and Google, which have made new versions of phones in their major product lines that are more affordable than those of years past.
For example, Apple positioned its cheaper iPhone, the $700 iPhone 11, as its primary new device for 2019. The $1,000 iPhone 11 Pro and $1,100 iPhone 11 Pro, comparatively, have been marketed more toward camera enthusiasts. Google also released the Pixel 3a last May, a slightly stripped-down edition of its Pixel 3 that starts at only $400.
You could argue that like the iPhone 11 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra isn't meant for everyone. The massive 108-megapixel camera sensor is enough to convey that the phone should appeal to photographers. But even with that consideration taken into account, the S20 Ultra is still $300 more expensive than Apple's pro-level iPhone.
Looking ahead, Samsung is going to have to work harder to convince consumers to purchase a $1,400 smartphone as a wave of promising, less-expensive devices are expected to debut. Apple is rumored to be readying a $400 iPhone that would look like the iPhone 8 but with the same processor as the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro. A successor to Google's Pixel 3a, expected to be called the Pixel 4a, is also reportedly in the works.
Electronics maker TCL unveiled its TCL 10 Pro phone in January, which will cost less than $500 when it launches and has features commonly found on pricier phones like an in-screen fingerprint sensor and four camera lenses. And of course, Chinese startup OnePlus has been offering high-quality smartphones for hundreds of dollars less than companies like Apple and Samsung for years.
While these upcoming phones may not be as powerful as the S20 in some respects, devices like the $600 OnePlus 7T still check all of the important boxes that most people will care about. OnePlus' phone, for example, has a borderless screen with a higher refresh rate for smooth scrolling and a triple lens camera, two features that even slightly more expensive iPhone 11 lacks.
The new crop of less-expensive devices comes after global smartphone shipments have been in decline over the past two years. Throughout 2019, smartphone shipments declined year-over-year in almost every quarter, according to the International Data Corporation, as phone owners hold on to their devices for longer periods of time while they wait for 5G-enabled phones to hit the market. Back in April, IDC research manager Anthony Scarsella wrote that "higher priced models" offered "little incentive" to upgrade when referencing the decline in shipments the industry experienced during the first quarter of 2019.
There's a good reason companies like Apple and Google may be interested in releasing cheaper smartphones. The best selling phones from 2019 were all less-expensive devices like the iPhone XR and Samsung's Galaxy A10, not high-end devices like the iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy S10 Plus, according to Counterpoint Research.
If that's not evidence enough to prove there's interest in cheaper smartphones, an NPD survey from December indicates that just 10% of people are spending more than $1,000 on their smartphones.
Samsung, of course, knows this, too. That's why it offers the Galaxy A80, which costs just under $500 and comes with a 6.7-inch screen, a 48-megapixel camera, and an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, among other devices in its A-series. It also continues to sell the Galaxy S10 lineup starting at $600.
Samsung may not be completely turning its back on the cheaper smartphone trend, considering it offers several compelling choices for shoppers not willing to spend $1,000 or more. But by pricing its top-of-the-line new Galaxy phone at $1,400, Samsung is sending a message: You're going to have to pay top dollar to get the best technology and features.
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