Samsung unveils 10th generation Galaxy S lineup

Wayne Lam/IHS Markit
22 Feb 2019

At its Unpacked event in San Francisco yesterday, Samsung unveiled the 10th anniversary Galaxy S flagship smartphone models. The Galaxy S10, S10+ and S10e represent a new design language moving into the next decade of smartphone designs, which undoubtedly will include 5G and foldable phones. Coupled with the new simplified OneUI software, the Galaxy S10 series aims at Samsung’s ambition for the next decade of Galaxy smartphones.

Did Samsung do enough to fend off the aggressive drive from Huawei to replace it as the global smartphone leader? The answer will be borne out in the coming months, as the market responds to Samsung’s latest product offering. Samsung faces stiff competition, not only from rival Apple, but also from an increasingly competitive field of Chinese manufacturers. This increased competition has squeezed Samsung’s Chinese market share to single-digits. Samsung will have to out-innovate itself out of this competitive bind, but with 5G, foldable form factors, and other design platform changes the Korean giant will enjoy great opportunities, as the industry moves into the next decade.

Here are some of the highlights of the new Galaxy S10 series announced today:

  • Three variants – Galaxy S10e (5.8-inch), S10 (6.1-inch) and S10+ (6.4-inch) – all in 19:9 aspect ratio.
  • Galaxy S10 and S10+ both feature an in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor – not only a first for Samsung, but also a first for the smartphone industry. Galaxy S10e has a side power-button fingerprint sensor that is very similar to past Sony designs.
  • Samsung Infinity-O display with front facing camera cut-out -- Galaxy S10 and S10+ feature the traditional curved edge, while the S10e has a flat version of the Infinity-O display, with a bezel that is reminiscent of the Apple iPhone Xr (which also sells at the same $750 price point.)
  • All S10 models are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 with LTE CAT-20 and up to seven carrier aggregation
  • Galaxy S10 and S10+ feature a triple camera design for the primary camera, while S10e maintains the previous generation’s dual camera design. All models feature a 10 megapixel (MP) front facing camera cut into the top-right corner of the display. However, the S10+ includes an additional 8MP front facing camera.
  • All S10 models feature wireless Qi charging and a new reverse-Qi charging capability – a feature previously seen on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
  • Both the 8GB/512GB and 12GB/1TB options for S10+ feature a ceramic back, instead of glass.
  • A 5G variant of the Galaxy S10 will feature a 6.7-inch display with an additional fourth primary camera (i.e., time-of-flight sensor), which could enable augmented reality (AR) and other new experiences.

New design language

The Samsung Galaxy S10 redesign follows the trend of full-display evolution, which has taken hold in the industry. While in 2018, notched displays were the norm, this year’s full-display smartphones have shifted to a “hole-punch” design, led by competitive Chinese manufacturers.

The Samsung Infinity-O display includes complexities beyond its hole-punched camera. Other sensors, such as ambient light and proximity sensors, are also embedded behind the OLED display pixels. Likewise, the in-display fingerprint sensor is another design trend Samsung adopted in the S10. Unlike the Chinese manufacturer solutions that rely on optical sensors, the new Galaxy S10 series uses Qualcomm’s ultrasonic solution, which will improve the false-positive performance of existing optical solutions on the market.

The full display design and integration of fingerprint sensors largely follow a design trend set by Chinese manufacturers. It is no surprise that Samsung had the Chinese market in mind, when developing the 10th anniversary Galaxy series. The domestic Chinese market is dominated Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo and other local brands. Samsung’s fortune in China may very well rest on the revitalized Galaxy S10 product line.

The biggest surprise of the new Galaxy S product line is the extension of the platform to three models. In past years, Samsung introduced a “plus” model, which added more premium features, like larger display and dual cameras, which ultimately increased the price. However, the introduction of the Galaxy S10e is likely a response to the premium-price fatigue now plaguing the industry.

The S10e offers a similar display diagonal as the previous product series, but it has a smaller footprint, because of its full-display design. Unlike the higher-premium S10 and S10+ models, the S10e does not have a dual-curved side-bezel display. Instead, in an effort to contain cost, Samsung used a flat OLED panel that produces a defined bezel and display framing that is reminiscent of the recent Apple iPhone XR. This design is by no means a coincidence, as Samsung priced the Galaxy S10e at the same price as iPhone XR. Adding the S10e model highlights the fact that consumers are pushing back on premium-price increases on smartphones, and they are willing to compromise on features, in order to buy into Samsung’s extensive hardware ecosystem.

Embedded ultrasonic fingerprint sensor

Samsung has introduced the industry’s first display-embedded ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. However, an embedded fingerprint sensor is not a new idea. In fact, Chinese manufacturers have been pushing this design for well over a year now. This implementation will likely solve many of the significant drawbacks experienced with existing optical solutions – not the least of which is the reliability of authentication and adding friction to the overall user experience.

Ultrasonic fingerprint sensors have been proposed for use in smartphones for several years now. Initially, the technology provided an alternative to capacitive-touch solutions available at the time. However, limitations with manufacturing – and specifically the difficulty of reading ultrasound through air gaps – delayed the technology. Qualcomm was able to work with the display supply chain, to optimize its ultrasonic sensor so it would work with displays. Samsung is the first global manufacturer to adopt this technology in scale.

The change in fingerprint sensors is not the only change to biometrics in the new Galaxy S line. Samsung also removed the legacy iris-scanning infrared (IR) front-facing camera it used for many years. Iris scanning ensured a higher level of authentication, to enable services like Samsung Pay. The many biometric modes have now been reduced to just the fingerprint sensor and an optional two-dimensional face recognition. This user interface simplification is in keeping with the overall Samsung smartphone software, as OneUI replaces the Samsung Android customization, which was largely panned by critics.

Here comes the first wave of 5G smartphones

Samsung also highlighted a yet-to-release fourth Galaxy S model, called the Galaxy S10 5G. As its first 5G smartphone, Samsung has opted to use the “kitchen-sink” design – outfitting the S10 5G with a large 6.7-inch display, which ultimately opens up battery cell capacity to 4500mAh). It also added a time-of-flight (ToF) sensor as the fourth camera in the back of the S10 5G. ToF sensors are especially useful in augmented reality (AR) applications. Coupled with artificial intelligence (AI), this new design will bring forth new experiences that are made possible by 5G speeds.

As a first generation 5G smartphone, the S10 5G will be powered by the Snapdragon X50. This chipset is coupled with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC. As in first-generation LTE devices, there are cost and design penalties for being the first to market, especially the prolific use of costly first-generation silicon to enable 5G. The Galaxy S10 5G will be followed up by a more efficient design later this year, as Samsung is slated to adopt Qualcomm’s second-generation, single-chip Snapdragon X55 5G modem.

Wayne Lam is a principal analyst for mobile devices and networks at IHS Markit

This article originally appeared on IHS Markit website and can be found here

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