Samsung Galaxy S21: Can it be the Flagship Samsung Needs in Europe?

Samsung Galaxy S21: Can it be the Flagship Samsung Needs in Europe?

On January 14, one month earlier than expected, Samsung launched its latest flagship smartphone series – the Galaxy S21. Featuring the latest processors (some will use Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon 888 chip), a sleeker design and an enhanced camera system, the Galaxy S21 is expected to perform better than last year’s Galaxy S20, which was launched in a market full of uncertainty and worry due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sales of the Galaxy S20 never really took off – it was regularly outsold in Europe by Samsung’s own mid-range Galaxy A51 and A71 models, as well as devices from Apple and Android competitor Xiaomi (like the Redmi 8/Note 8 and Redmi 9/Note 9 series).

So, will the S21 fare differently? Unfortunately for Samsung, it is facing significant challenges from all directions.

Apple joins the 5G fight

The Galaxy S21’s price – the basic model will start at €849 ($1,030) – puts it firmly in the premium category, which is Apple’s home turf. In Q3 2020, Apple accounted for 45% of European smartphone sales in the premium segment (>$500 wholesale), followed by Samsung with 39%. But in November,  the first full month of iPhone 12 sales, Apple accounted for 74% (Samsung had 16%).

A key concern for Samsung is that Apple’s latest offering – the iPhone 12 – is (finally) 5G enabled, which means Samsung’s near monopoly of the premium 5G segment is over. In Q3 2020, Samsung accounted for 65% of European premium 5G smartphone sales; in November, Apple took 73%.

The fact that Samsung’s early launch was only 12 weeks after the iPhone 12 arrived won’t help matters. The iPhone 12 is proving to be a huge success in Europe, and is taking the wind out of competitors’ sails by dominating promotions, shelf space and the online visibility. By launching the Galaxy S21 so soon, Samsung is risking getting lost in Apple’s wake.

Android competition is heating up

Of course, it is not ideal to compare Android with iOS offerings, but Samsung is also facing increasing competition from fellow Android vendors.

For the last few years, Samsung has been by far the most popular Android brand, with Huawei being the only real alternative. However, Huawei’s market share has dropped drastically (from a high of 27% of European smartphone sales in April 2019 to 4% in November 2020), and a number of vendors are looking to take advantage.

A key driver here is that operators, a particularly important channel in the European market, need to have a diverse portfolio, without over-relying on Samsung as the dominant Android vendor. Therefore, a strong second Android player, a position previously held by Huawei, is up for grabs.

Relatively new entrants into the European market such as Xiaomi and OPPO, along with sub-brands Redmi, OnePlus and Realme, have set sights on capturing market share once held by Huawei, and not just in the mid-tier (Huawei’s sweet spot). All of these brands have launched premium devices, like the Xiaomi Mi 10 series, OPPO Find X2 series and OnePlus 8 series, boasting specifications comparable with Samsung’s but at a more favourable price. Competition in this segment has never been greater.

This may be one reason why Samsung has reduced the starting price of the basic S21 (and S21 Plus) compared to the S20, at the expense of hardware specifications (RAM remains the same in base models, displays are of lower density, camera upgrades are minor, and there are various build material compromises). Samsung has also followed Apple in removing the charging cable from the box.

Having said that, Samsung has pulled all the stops out with the S21 Ultra, which is arguably the best Android smartphone yet. Its screen and camera system are particularly impressive.

So, perhaps Samsung has hedged its bets, positioning the S21 and S21 Plus to compete with the new Chinese vendors, while the S21 Ultra is the ‘bells and whistles’, top-of-the-range flagship that aims to regain Samsung’s title as the king of premium Android.

Samsung to regain premium Android crown

Sales of the Galaxy S21 series will begin in early February, and we expect it to sell marginally better than the Galaxy S20 but fall significantly short of the Galaxy S10. Component shortages may hamper supply (even if demand is strong), and the ongoing pandemic will likely continue to affect consumer discretionary spending. However, some tempting trade-in offers will help. Vodafone UK, for example, is currently offering a total saving of £455 (€515/$625) over the length of the contract when pre-ordering a Galaxy S21 and trading in a Galaxy S9/10.

We, therefore, expect that by mid-2021, the Galaxy S21 will be the leading Android premium smartphone in Europe. But it won’t be able to crash Apple’s party, even as it struggles against a rising tide of Chinese competitors.


Jan is an Associate Director with Counterpoint Research, based in London, and leads the company’s research in Europe. He is a seasoned analyst with over 13 years’ experience in the TMT sector, most recently with GSMA Intelligence where he was responsible for key research deliverables and led a team of analysts producing highly impactful regional insights. Before that, Jan held strategy and analyst positions at Vodafone and Qualcomm, and started his career with research firm TNS (now Kantar).

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