The latest Galaxy S20 leaks don't paint an affordable picture: a €999 starting price for the Galaxy S20 (with 5G), up to €1349 for the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Typically those Euro prices translate roughly directly to the U.S. prices, so that would point to $999-$1349 stateside. That's a tough pill to swallow when the Galaxy S10e started at $750 this time last year, and the S10+ was $1000 — which is now the new starting price.
Given how much people balked at the $1100 starting price of the Note 10+ late last year, and the reality that very few people chose to pull the trigger on a $1300 Galaxy S10 5G or Note 10+ 5G in 2019, Samsung could be in for a good share of pushback when people see these Galaxy S20 prices. Even with carrier financing plans, that's $41 to $56 per month for one of these phones. Not to mention that those are just starting prices, with additional storage and RAM likely to add another $100-200 each.
Samsung gets first-mover advantage every year when it launches its Galaxy S phones in February before anyone else, but in this case being first to market with a full range of 5G-only flagships is going to hurt them a bit. It's going to get the brunt of the pushback for the price of the Galaxy S20 series, even though 2020 will eventually show that this is the new normal for flagship 5G phone pricing.
The biggest driver of these higher prices is the addition of 5G. The new modem, radios and chipsets to support 5G networking — particularly both Sub-6 and mmWave in one phone — is very expensive right now. We've talked about it before, we've warned people, but it will hit home when you see that price up on the store page. Look at the prices of last-generation 5G phones versus their 4G counterparts — they made no changes whatsoever in the hardware or features, added 5G, and marked up prices about $200. So it should come as little surprise that the Galaxy S20 line is rumored to be about $200 more than their predecessors.
On some level we can all understand that getting a phone with a new networking technology inside is going to be expensive. The first LTE phones were incredibly "overpriced" at the time, and also had far more compromises in their operation than early 5G phones do. But even if you understand that 5G is driving the higher prices, that doesn't mean you agree with the value proposition — particularly if you live in the large swaths of the U.S. where 5G isn't available yet. And even if you live somewhere with 5G, you'll likely be falling back to LTE regularly.
And indications are that in the U.S., there's not going to be a less-expensive 4G version of any of the S20s to offer a cheaper alternative. That trend, too, will continue — every Snapdragon 865-powered phone will pay the 5G tax, whether you use it or not. We're all going to be paying top-dollar 5G prices even if we don't care about 5G or expect to use it. It'll level out over time, and cheaper mid-range phones with 5G are coming. But in this transition period, while 5G is still fresh and new, get ready to spend big for flaghship phones.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.