Samsung made big changes this year.
Instead of releasing phones made of flimsy plastic like it has for years, it opted to use premium designs and materials in its newest devices. In March, we got the Galaxy S6, which has a unibody design made of all metal and glass. There’s also a curved screen version of the S6, the S6 Edge. Both phones are eye-poppingly gorgeous.
These were the devices that were supposed to reverse Samsung’s fortunes and get people excited about Galaxy phones again. After an incredible two-year run, Samsung’s phone sales tanked last year following steep competition from cheaper Android devices from companies like Xiaomi.
The S6 was supposed to bring Samsung back to its glory days.
But it didn’t work. Even though the Galaxy S6 got great reviews, it didn’t sell well enough to turn things around for Samsung. Profits from the company’s mobile division continued to fall. Samsung not only had to compete with low-end Android phones, but also the new big-screen iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which reportedly caused record numbers of people to switch over from Android.
Samsung’s two newest phones, the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+, are more of the same. They’re essentially jumbo versions of the two phones we saw in March. They have big, beautiful screens and they look and feel great. They have some of the best cameras and fastest processors you’ll find in a smartphone today.
They’re also really expensive, starting at $US740 for the 32GB model of the Note 5. Those are prices iPhone owners are used to paying, but things are different in the world of Android. There are several really nice, premium phones that cost about half as much as Samsung’s newest phones.
For example, Motorola’s upcoming Moto X style has all the premium specs and features you’d expect to find in a high-end phone, but costs just $US399. For the last few days I’ve been using a phone called the OnePlus 2, which is made by a Chinese startup. It has a sharp 5.5-inch screen, fingerprint sensor, a fast processor, and only costs $US389 for the 64GB version. It’s an incredible device for the price.
No matter what kind of special tricks you try to pack into an Android phone, it’s still just that: an Android phone. It’s almost impossible to differentiate one premium Android device from another in any significant way, which is why you’re seeing so many people gravitate towards the cheaper devices, leaving Samsung struggling relative to where it was just two years ago.
Android phones are racing to the bottom, but Samsung is still trying to play at the high end. There’s no compelling reason to buy a $US700+ Samsung device when a $US400 phone from Motorola or OnePlus will work just as well.
Does that mean Samsung’s newest phones are bad?
I’ve only used them for a short time, but I liked what I saw. They’re easily two of the best smartphones you can buy today. But I don’t see why anyone would choose them over the several other cheaper options that are just as good. If you’re going to spend $US600 or $US700 on a phone, you’re better off going for the iPhone, which gives you access to a better ecosystem of apps, software updates, customer support, and a ton of other benefits most Android makers can’t offer.
As good as Samsung’s 2015 lineup of phones is, the biggest thing holding it back is the price.