Samsung has dominated the Android phone market for the past few years, often seeming to do so effortlessly. In the U.S., Samsung's high-end Android competition is basically nonexistent -- local rival LG is hanging in there, but their product lineup last year was less than stellar. The likes of Motorola and Google are left fighting over table scraps. And in Europe, Samsung benefitted from a reprieve in late 2019 thanks to Huawei's ongoing difficulties with the U.S. government. Without Google Mobile Services support, the Huawei P40 looks unlikely to woo European carriers, to the benefit of Samsung's new models.
However Samsung's real competition doesn't come from Seoul or Shenzhen, but, of course, Cupertino. Apple has enjoyed what can easily be called a bumper year, thanks to the success of the iPhone 11.
That's why there's little sign of complacency from the company in 2020. With its latest round of smartphones, Samsung is focusing on the two areas where there's still plenty of room for growth in modern smartphones: camera and battery. And in addition, Samsung looks set to score a major win over Apple by beating it to a 120Hz display — a smoother display that's an easy selling point when you see it side-by-side with a current-gen iPhone.
A relatively conservative Samsung still managed to deliver two of the best Android phones of 2019: The Galaxy S10+ and Galaxy Note 10+. And while externally, the Galaxy S20 isn't a million miles away from the company's established design language, the phone's innards — and in particular, the specs of the top-tier S20 Ultra — show Samsung bringing some serious heat to its major rival.
Outside of Chinese manufacturers, most of whom don't sell in the U.S., phone buyers are accustomed to 2X optical zoom. Samsung's top-end model promises 5X optical zoom, with up to 100X hybrid digital zoom. Meanwhile the main sensor jumps from 12MP up to a whopping 108MP, allowing pixel binning technology to be used for improved low-light captures. Other bells and whistles like 8K video and ultrawide selfies
And following a year where Apple raised the stakes in terms of smartphone battery life, Samsung's latest models are said to max out at 5,000mAh. Some of that juice is surely intended to power the phone's power-hungry 120Hz panel, but Galaxy S20 owners will also have the choice of staying at 60Hz and enjoying some of the best battery life in any Android flagship.
And so the combination of reduced competition in Europe and a fresh influx of camera, display and battery technology could see Samsung dominate in the first half of 2020.
Samsung's newfound technological prowess has been a long time coming. The Korean firm has almost always offered the best smartphone displays, but in recent years has lagged behind the likes of Huawei and Google in computational photography, and in many countries failed to deliver top-tier battery life. That all changes with the S20 series, which looks likely to bring some of the most competitive Samsung phones in years.
Samsung's latest hardware, if the leaks are to be believed, is ready to leapfrog Apple and leave many Android rivals in the dust. And if the company's software can deliver, the Korean firm will surely solidify its position as the default iPhone alternative in the West.
So could this be the best year ever for Samsung flagships? We already know a great deal thanks to numerous S20 leaks over the past month. But we'll find out for sure when the new phones drop on February 11.
Other odds and ends for a semi-working weekend:
- Not surprising to see Huawei walking back an overzealous executive statement on Google Mobile Services. To be blunt, of course Huawei would use GMS if it was able to. Google services support is the difference between carriers being willing to range its products or not — the difference between tens of millions of P40 sales in Europe, or effectively zero. That said, the combative attitude suggests the company isn't holding out much hope for a timely resolution to the current impasse.
- The Galaxy Z Flip could wind up being the most compelling foldable phone of 2020. That said, it's also a device which looks set to demonstrate the limitations of its unique form factor. A clamshell device leaves less internal space for a big battery. And the longer lead times required for foldables like this result in less impressive specs than to traditional high-end flagships.
- Eventually, sub-6GHz and millimeter wave 5G will work in harmony to give us consistent 5G speeds everywhere. In the early days of 5G, though, I agree with Samuel Contreras that sub-6 makes more sense. It won't give you 1Gbps+ speeds yet, but early European rollouts show that it can deliver consistently faster speeds than LTE over wide areas, something mmWave struggles with.
- Finally, we're already rapidly approaching Mobile World Congress 2020. This'll be my ninth MWC, and even though Samsung's going early with its February 11 event in the U.S., there's still plenty of Android goodness to look forward to from the Barcelona-based show.
That's all for now. See you in a few weeks with some post-MWC thoughts!