ZDNet’s Editor-in Chief Larry Dignan and Associate Video Producer Beth Mauder and TechRepublic’s Editor-in-Chief Bill Detwiler discussed Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Unpacked event, which is taking place on Feb. 11, 2020, beginning at 11am PT in San Francisco. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Beth Mauder: With Samsung’s Unpacked event just around the corner, there’s already been a lot of rumors and leaks making headlines. I’m Beth Mauder with ZDNet’s Larry Dignan and TechRepublic’s Bill Detwiler. Larry, why don’t we just go ahead and start with you. What are you expecting to see from Unpacked?
Larry Dignan: Samsung events have gotten interesting in recent years in that a lot of stuff’s leaked ahead of time, and this year isn’t much different. On Feb. 11 at their Unpacked event, they’re going to roll out a whole new set of Galaxy devices. This is their flagship line, basically. They’re going to call it the Galaxy S20. The idea here is that they’re all going to be 5G, which is a big step because it’s sort of the beginning of the real 5G upgrade cycle. Last year there were 5G devices, but they weren’t necessarily gaining scale and mass and stuff like that. Not only that, but the carriers barely had their service going.
Now it’s much more real, which should prod an upgrade cycle. Basically, one way to think about it is Samsung’s rolling out three Galaxy S20 devices in three sizes, so it’ll be like small, medium, large, basically at different price points. The other wildcard here is that they’re going to launch a foldable/flip sort of device, and that’s been leaked a little bit. It kind of looks like Motorola’s Razr in some ways, but the wildcard there is just availability and when that will actually come out and whether it’s really ready for prime time because all these foldable devices are really first-gen. So that’s a wildcard, too.
Beth Mauder: Bill, I think that’s kind of the elephant in the room. Why don’t we talk a little more about what maybe we’ll see from foldable phones.
Bill Detwiler: It’s hard to tell when it comes to foldables what’s going to happen. You have the Galaxy Fold that came out last year, and that was a very high-priced, first-gen device. It had problems at launch–they actually had to delay the launch. I don’t see that as a mass-market device. Now, slowly you have other manufacturers coming out with their foldable phones. So you have, like Larry talked about, we have the Razr, which goes on sale this week actually. Then you’re going to have the rumored Samsung Flip or Galaxy Z Flip, something like that, whatever they’re going to call this thing, that’s going to fold a lot like the Razr does where it’s a clamshell along sort of the midpoint. It folds over like the old-school Razr.
Now, the thing with foldable phones is they’re very expensive. They’re still very fragile, and folding still doesn’t necessarily do anything incredibly useful. I wrote a piece on ZDNet just this week that talked about all three of those issues, and so the manufacturers really need to address those concerns. They have to make them more durable. They’re charging $2,000, $1,500, $1,600 for these devices. And yes, they charge that for a premium or high-end phone, but you also don’t expect to be able to put it in your pocket and keep it away from dust and lint, right? And that is the recommendation for some of these foldable phones. Keep it away from dust. It’s like, OK, what pocket doesn’t have lint in it? What purse, what bag doesn’t have dust in it? So when you’re paying a premium price, you expect a premium, durable product that’s not going to break.
There’s also the issue of the price. Prices need to come down so they’re in-line with regular phones, and then there just has to be a useful feature that folding somehow provides extra benefit, a real benefit more than just, “It’s neat.” The apps have to work seamlessly. They need to transition from when it’s closed to when it’s open. You need to be able to do something with the device when it’s closed, or folding the phone just needs to make it substantially smaller. So we’re still in the early days of foldable phones. Apple and Microsoft have dual-screen devices that it showed off at its Surface event last year, the Neo and the Duo, so we’ll see what happens with those. But you have everyone from LG and Huawei and all the major phone manufacturers getting into the foldable market. I expect that this will be a real thing and not just hype, but I do expect it’s going to take a few years before we get there.
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Beth Mauder: Something else that’s taken a few years, and Larry, you touched on it just a little bit: 5G. What can we expect Samsung to do with that here at Unpacked?
Larry Dignan: I think the big thing I expect from Unpacked here is that all the devices are going to have 5G, and they’re all going to run the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon chip sets, which really integrated 5G in a way that makes it I guess “normal” so to speak. It mainstreams it a bit. Last year there were 5G devices, but it was sort of like a tack-on. Motorola had this thing where you could get 5G, but you had to attach a mod onto the device.
What I think this really will usher in is just sort of, it’ll make 5G mainstream. I think the other thing that Samsung is going to have to do is give a range of pricing, too. The price is really going to matter, especially for the premium version of the S20. But Samsung in basically the last three or four months has revised its pricing strategy to where they hit all price points. They did that with the Note 10, where they rolled out a less-expensive version, a light version because they know that people are cost-conscious.
I think the other thing that Samsung has to do here is take 5G and just explain to me what I’m going to do with it, because folks are hanging onto their devices longer than ever. They’re basically catching up to the PC upgrade cycle. If you’re holding onto a device for three years, Samsung needs to show that you can invest in this device and not be outdated quickly, which I think was a big issue for smartphones last year. I had a couple of rants about that. Why would I buy a 4G device when 5G’s really going to be here in 2020? I think 5G’s a big thing in the background here, and it’s going to be up to Samsung, the carriers, the whole ecosystem to show me what I’m supposed to do with 5G because right now it’s faster, but I don’t know. I’m sure there’ll be great use cases for it–I’m just not sure what for yet.
Beth Mauder: That’s interesting, that investment point. I think that’s really kind of where it hits with the enterprise cycle. You’ve got to include pricing, you’ve got to think about features. What can Samsung do for the enterprise here at this go round?
Larry Dignan: At Unpacked, they’ve spoken to the B2B audience a lot, and they’ve rolled out rugged devices that are actually kind of thin. But the main thing there is that they’ve covered their price points, and as long as they do that with the S20, I think they’ll be able to probably upgrade the upgrade cycle for enterprises a bit more because in the enterprise it’s really Samsung and Apple.
Bill Detwiler: Yeah, and then the other thing that I think Samsung is trying to do, having covered them for a while, is in the enterprise with DeX. This is their desktop experience that they have on their enterprise phones. They push this a lot with their enterprise phones. We’ve talked about it before and shown DeX off, and it works. It’s this system that is designed to allow you to use your phone on a large monitor or through basically a virtual machine on a laptop. We saw this with the Note 10 last year, a big push into DeX.
I like DeX. I still don’t think it’s ready for prime time just yet in terms of replacing a laptop. I’ve found it very good for some tasks, but I have a very nice widescreen, curved Samsung monitor in my office, and I use it on a regular basis. But the performance between the monitor using my laptop, using a mouse and keyboard is still a little laggy. There’s still some more work to do on DeX before I think you’ll see the enterprise really sort of jump on board with it, and knowledge workers can say, “This can be my only device.” For more than do field work or people who are working in sales or people who are public safety professionals–these were the big use cases that they put out for the Note 10 last year. I think there is a lot of potential there. I really want to just have one device for work and for personal use as well. I think they’re almost there with DeX, but they still have a little bit of ways to go.
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Beth Mauder: Larry, lastly, speaking of technology that needs a little bit of work, let’s talk about the camera technology. What can Samsung do to improve that this go around?
Larry Dignan: I think it’s critical for Samsung to come out with some really interesting camera features and whether that means megapixels, algorithms, however they do it, because I would say three years ago Samsung was a clear leader in camera technology. I would say the iPhone 11‘s basically caught up to it and passed it in many cases. When you look at why, it’s a little different for corporations, but not that different. Generally speaking, if you’re looking to buy a new phone, the camera is the real feature–it’s the thing that gets you to upgrade probably as much as 5G will. So, that’s what Samsung really has to do–they have to outline how their cameras have taken this huge leap from the last generation. I think that’s critical because they’ll always throw in their AR stuff and Samsung throws the kitchen sink or features at you, but a lot of them are kind of half-baked or you may not use them or whatever. I think the camera features are going to be critical for Unpacked.