Samsung did a very admirable ‘Galaxy Unpacked 2020’ virtual event to unveil two new Note 20 smartphones, the foldable Galaxy Z Fold 2, two Galaxy Tab S7 series tablets, the Galaxy Watch 3 and Galaxy Buds Live. But even during live, onsite events, it is really difficult to predict the future successes of new devices, having only used them a few minutes on the showroom floor or, in the best case, a few days for testing. Therefore, it is trickier making these assessments after watching the announcements during a virtual event. The problems can be compounded by non-availability of some key specs. But still Samsung again put together a successful ‘Unpacked’ event which garnered excitement for the new hardware on offer.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 series
The main event of the day was the unveiling of updated Samsung Note series. Last year’s version, the Note 10 series, has sold over 12.5 million devices to date. The Galaxy Note’s launch has become more important for Samsung as it is needed to keep consumer mindshare and momentum through both the high-profile Apple launch season and other Android OEM launches. This year, two variants were announced —the Note 20 and the Note 20 Ultra. Samsung Electronics smartphone division CEO Roh Tae-moon described the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 as the base model targeted at users new to Note or who want a premium smartphone. The Note 20 Ultra is targeted at power users who want the leading, cutting edge specs.
Display and camera remain the centerpiece specs of flagships. No disappointments here. The Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra come in 6.7 and 6.9 inches, support 21:9 aspect ratios and 24fps recording. The Ultra received a significant upgrade to a 120Hz LTPO (low temperature polycrystalline oxide) OLED display, supporting WQHD/1440p. The Note 20 supports 60Hz and 1080p. Both use Corning’s latest Gorilla Glass 6 on the front and rear of the devices. But the feel in hand may be slightly different as the Note 20 has a ‘flat Infinity-O’ display and the Note 20 Ultra has an ‘edge Infinity-O’ display, which will have a more curved feel in hand.
The three rear cameras feature a telephoto, wide and ultra-wide-angle lenses, and it seems some of the software issues from the S20 family have been cleaned up. The layout is similar to the S20 with a 108MPix main camera, 12MPix telephoto and a 12Mpix ultrawide camera with a laser focus system ditching time-of-flight. For some, the camera bump will appear huge. But for most, who simply want a best-in-class camera, probably it won’t be an issue.
Qualcomm is a big supplier winner. In select regions, both Note 20 smartphones are powered by the newest and highest spec Snapdragon — the Snapdragon 865 Plus application processor. Qualcomm’s X55 5G modem RF system is also designed in. The multimode modem-to-antenna 5G solution brags peak speed of 7.5Gbps. We write that Qualcomm is the big supplier winner because the Snapdragon 865 Plus 5G mobile platform is designed into both the Note 20 smartphones, the Galaxy Z Fold2, and the Galaxy Tab S7 and S7+.
Another key selling point is the improved integration with Microsoft. ‘Your phone companion – Link to Window’ makes it easier to reply to text messages on the phone, access favorite smartphone apps on a PC, transfer calls between devices, access photos on phone from PC, drag files between PC and phone, and more. Maybe made most important during the COVID-19 pandemic is the seamless syncing of Windows applications, including Teams, which has seen an over 700% increase in usage. For gamers, Xbox games library of over 100 games will be available for cloud gaming via Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in September.
In the early days of the S Pen, it may have only been Samsung marketing folks using it. But it has come a long way since then. The S Pen continues to be a clear differentiator of the Note series. It is now housed along the left side of the device, showing clear redesign of the Note 20. The S Pen has more precision and latency has been reduced from about 60ms to 9ms. One interesting use case with the S Pen is the ability to ‘hover’ over a word and either get its meaning or a translation.
Other key specs:
- Pricing! The Note 20 starts at $999 and Note 20 Ultra starts at $1,299. Depending on where upcoming Android 5G flagships and iPhone 5G pricing lands, this may be high on the street pricing. However, there are already buy-one-get-one offers at major operators and promotional buyback offers from Samsung. So, point-of-sale pricing may vary wildly.
- UWB added. Share music, videos and photos with Samsung devices nearby.
- Premium design with the color of the year — mystic bronze. The durable outer edge of the device is either ultra-etched metal on the Note 20 Ultra or metal with reinforced polycarbonate on the Note 20.
- Battery size saw a significant leap for the Galaxy Note 20 to 4300mAh (Galaxy Note 10 at 3500mAh). The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra saw a small increase to 4500mAh (Galaxy Note 10+ at 4300mAh).
- Sub6 and mmWave is supported in regions where carriers are implementing it. There will also be a less cost LTE version for markets where 5G is still down the road.
Outlook: Pricing at $999 and $1,299 is on expected lines. In the US, major carriers are already marketing a buy-one-get-one scheme for the Note series. Samsung is offering the Note 20 5G for $349 with a trade-in. Therefore, discounts will be available for those looking for them. The larger dilemma for Samsung is that the Note series has now blended into the almost identical specs of the Galaxy S20 series with the exception of the S Pen. The S20 series, which has been in the market since March, could cannibalize some Note-series volumes as its cost erodes.
Galaxy Z Fold 2
The device has shifted to a ‘book-fold’ design. A good move to take advantage of display real estate, increase closed state usability, and strengthen the hinge. The full cover front display is 6.2 inches. It uses the UTG (ultra-thin glass) technology and supports 120Hz refresh rate. Samsung explains that the display has improved strength and flexibility due to the display layers being re-arranged between hard and soft layers. Much attention was paid to improving the hinge, bringing in a ‘sweeper’ technology from the vacuum industry for the gap of the hinge (this is true!).
As stated, the device is powered by the Snapdragon 865 Plus and also features Qualcomm FastConnect 6900 mobile connectivity system. This technology enhances Wi-Fi and Bluetooth performance in conjunction with 5G. Wi-Fi 6 performance is enhanced with the 4-stream dual and simultaneous (DBS) technology, which helps speed and latency performance.
For the ‘notch’ haters, there will be a delight in that the front-facing camera has an ‘infinity-O’ ‘hole’ design. Full camera and device specs coming September 1.
Galaxy Watch 3
Power improvements have helped the Galaxy Watch 3 to better monitor overall fitness — a key focus for the device. Since sleep analysis, blood oxygen analysis and ECG/blood pressure analysis need the device on the body and not on a charger, the leaps in power management are vital. This is not a medical device, but it is certainly helpful for monitoring and improving overall fitness. The focus each year turns more towards health and wellness. However, the Galaxy Watch 3 looks much larger/thicker than high-end fitness watches from Garmin and Suunto.
Galaxy Buds Live
New, compact design which fits in the curve of the ear, with no stem hanging out of the ear. Other improvements are six hours of usage and 21 hours of charging in the case. Better noise cancellation, sound quality and customizable controls were advertised.
Galaxy Tab S7/S7+
11 inches and 12.4 inches tablets were unveiled. The displays are vibrant with the smaller version using a TTPS LCD display and the larger a super AMOLED. The new tablets are thin, elegant and full metal, yet light. They can attach to a keyboard and have a stand for changing the angle for video/media consumption.
The two tablets are priced at $199 and $229, S Pen included. There are Wi-Fi-only variants and cellular versions supporting both Sub6 and mmWave, making these tablets the first to support 5G in the US market.