The new iPhone is here and it’s amazing. The new Moto X is here and it’s brilliant. But where’s Samsung? The Korean company that still sells the most smartphones worldwide seems to be off in the corner, doodling on its Galaxy Note 4 and muttering under its breath about how it invented the big-screen smartphone. Samsung can feel justifiably proud for showing the way, but its lead has been undermined by its American competitors who can now claim to have the two best phones on the market. A response is called for, and it must be something more substantial than sharp-tongued ads, it should be something corporeal that people can buy. A Galaxy S6, perhaps.
Update: Read the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge review.
Samsung is alone among Android phone manufacturers in being able to turn a consistent and reliable profit from the venture. Motorola makes awesome handsets, but keeps bleeding money. Sony just put a $1.7 billion price on its failure to develop a legitimate mid-range phone portfolio, and HTC is reeling so badly that breaking even is now considered a financial success. LG is doing merely okay. The point about Samsung is that this company has figured out how to make the most out of a very tricky market and deserves credit for a series of correct decisions that have earned it its current position.
The problem now is that faster-moving competitors are making Samsung’s offerings appear inadequate, disjointed, and behind the times. At the moment, the most attractive Samsung phone is the Galaxy Alpha, the most durable and versatile Samsung phone is still the flagship S5, and the most advanced and capable Samsung phone is the incoming Note 4 (or its near-identical sibling, the Note Edge). So if I walk into a store today and say, give me Samsung’s answer to the iPhone 6, which of the three would you offer me? There’s no obvious and satisfying answer. Granted, the Note 4 matches up well against the iPhone 6 Plus, but for all the praise both devices have received, they will not be either company’s best selling device. Samsung needs a Note 4 mini to go up against the iPhone 6 regular.
No one will mourn the Galaxy S5 if it meets with a premature end
The 4.7-inch Galaxy Alpha is intended to play the role of iPhone 6 party spoiler. It’s as well designed and good looking a Samsung phone as there’s ever been, but is compromised on the inside. Its battery is almost a third smaller than that of Sony’s Xperia Z3 Compact (which is roughly the same size), and the Galaxy S5’s waterproofing and microSD memory expansion are both lost in the translation to a smaller and thinner device. The Galaxy Alpha also can’t record video at 240fps like the iPhone 6 can. The new super slow motion video in the upgraded iPhones is just part of an excellent new camera system that sees Apple grabbing the spec lead in a way that makes a real difference.
Beyond the imperative to respond to refreshed high-end competition, Samsung would also do well to simply shift its annual upgrade cycle. Every year, the next big Galaxy handset is introduced around March and on sale sometime in April or May. Every year, the biggest sales and revenues from electronics are made in November and December in the buildup to the gift-giving season. As good as Samsung’s mobile strategy has been so far — and as many Galaxy S devices as the company has sold — it’s never been optimal to have a half-year-old flagship phone competing with newer and shinier competition. And now things are even more muddled thanks to the existence of the prettier Alpha and the upgraded Note.
I want an iPhone 6 running Android and I’m not ashamed to admit it
I want the beautifully crafted 4.7-inch body of the Alpha together with the new camera, long-lasting battery, and display excellence of the Note 4. To put it another way, I want an iPhone 6 running Android and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Sony comes closest with the Xperia Z3 Compact, the Moto X is in the vicinity but has grown too large without improving its camera enough, and LG and HTC refuse to sincerely compete at this size. For all the scorn Samsung has received for copying the iPhone, a great deal of its success has actually been built on being a technological leader — whether it be in chipsets, displays, or battery technology. All I’m asking of the company now is to bring them all together into one reasonably sized device. It’s okay to follow Apple’s lead if that means an awesome and uncompromised phone for those of us who prefer using Android.
It’s been a long time since a Samsung flagship phone could be shown to be unequivocally better than the competition. With the big Android L update coming up and the new iPhone threat already here, isn’t now the perfect time for Korea’s foremost electronics maker to reassert itself as the king of Android?