The Zimbabwean Perspective

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Samsung’s new Galaxy devices are the company’s attempt to penetrate the luxury market.

A risky move that we’re not sure we like…

Last Wednesday Samsung held its second Galaxy Unpacked event this year, mostly aimed around it’s Galaxy Note 20 devices as well as the new Galaxy Z Fold foldable device. Despite the specs and pictures of these devices having been leaked literally up to months in advance, there’s one thing that everyone who watched the event noticed that couldn’t exactly be shown by leaks: Samsung wasn’t just trying to sell a bunch of devices with attractive specs for tech geeks to marvel over, instead Samsung seems to be trying to corner a completely different market  and type of consumer, the luxury market and the elite.

Samsung’s new devices, both the much anticipated Note 20 phones and the new Z Fold, along with the Galaxy Watch 3 smartwatch , Tab S7 tablets and new Galaxy Buds Live wireless headphones cover essentially every bit of the mobile tech market, and likely appeal to multiple people in need of different devices, but they all seemed to share a common theme as well. Just a year ago, Samsung had a similar Unpacked event where it revealed the first Galaxy Fold, along with the S10 and first Galaxy Buds. In this event Samsung seemed to mainly showcase what Samsung’s always showcases: specs, power, capability and the general “cool factor” of their devices. We’ve actually mentioned this before when we talked about the S20 Ultra, Samsung has always embraced the “cool and edgy” side of the smartphone business, pushing the envelope on almost all of its devices and often hailed as a spec king company especially with their Note series devices. Yet on Wednesday it was clear to see that while Samsung definitely still makes powerful phones with the Note 20 Ultra, they’re also seemingly past showing off exact power or a spec sheet and instead trying to zero in on some quality of life features, and with that are selling these new devices not on the promise of specs, but the experience of life they’ll give you and how exclusive it is. And exclusivity has always been loved by the luxury-focused and elitist of consumers, which is exactly who Samsung seems to be targeting now. The primary “mystic bronze” colour scheme of all these devices seems to be a big sign of this too. Sure, for spec geeks it’s just a color, but considering how much it adds to the look, presence and appeal of every device Samsung showed off, it definitely shows that it’s meant to make these gadgets appear to be more than what they are.  The Note 20 phones and Z Fold are the biggest showcase of this too, with neither of them being more than a dollar less than US $1000 and the Note 20 Ultra starting at $1300. This is cheaper than the $1600 S20 Ultra but it’s also $200 more expensive than the starting price of the Note 20 Plus last year, which is still an impressive and pricey phone to this day in its own right. But the Ultra can get away with this because it’s supposedly more than a phone, it’s a luxury item closer in line to jewelry, or at least Samsung wants you to see it that way, and at the very least feel special when you buy such a device. The Z Fold takes this even a step further by of course being well, a foldable, with the same bronze trim, a much better design than the first Galaxy Fold both in aesthetics and durability, and of course combines bleeding edge folding technology with tried and true Samsung mainstays such as the cameras and reverse wireless charging. It’s essentially a formula that writes itself.
Is it weird that an iPhone of all things is offering up more value than the normal Note 20?
Yet Samsung’s approach isn’t exactly foolproof either. Because while the Z Fold and Note 20 Ultra definitely warrant their prices and more exclusive approach, the normal Note 20 kind of falls apart following the same aspirational approach. After all this is a phone that goes for $1000 , yet has a 60Hz display(that’s inferior to 90Hz displays on even phones half the price) , a non-expandable 128GB of storage and an embarrassing plastic body which is honestly laughable considering again, phones less then half the price come in better materials now(i.e. the iPhone SE). Simply put, the normal Note 20 seems like a worse deal than not only the Galaxy S20 phones, but even last year’s Note 10 phones as well. And that’s obviously part of the risk that comes with selling this image, being a luxury brand or elitist product means you have to sell the brand not necessarily the product. Apple does this all the time, selling the most minor revisions of iPhones for up to 4 years until finally offering users something significantly different or better, and while it manages that better, it also attracts a lot of flak even from Apple users who often feel the diminishing returns on buying a new iPhone every year or even sometimes every two years. So if one of the strongest brands in the world faces this issue, you can imagine how Samsung will manage having a brand that can mean a lot of things, from spec heavy tech marvels to exploding phones and breaking folding screens. This is what makes their new direction interesting, and definitely risky to say the least, but we’re sure at the very least, Samsung will put their best foot forward with it. The company isn’t known for holding back after all, and for all intents and purposes all their new devices seem intriguing and attractive. If they do mark Samsung needlessly increasing prices though, they might draw some ire from us sooner than they would like.

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