Mobile World Congress began today in Spain, but Samsung Electronics Ltd (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) stole a step on most of the other smartphone manufacturers by holding its Unpacked 2015 event on Sunday. There it unveiled the new Galaxy S6 — the flagship smartphone it needs to kick-start its struggling mobile business — but also upstaged itself with the Galaxy S6 Edge.
The event also saw the introduction of Samsung Pay, a mobile payment service that takes on Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Apple Pay.
As Galaxy sales go, so does Samsung’s fortunes. When the Galaxy S4 exploded with the combination of a big display and Android, Samsung was the only company besides Apple making money on smartphones — and it made a lot.
But 2014’s Galaxy S5 was a disappointment, criticized for its low-rent plastic case, and Samsung profits were hit hard. The company responded by pledging to revamp its mobile phone strategy, but a big part of any recovery is the Galaxy S6.
Samsung has a lot riding on this new flagship smartphone.
The Galaxy S6 Samsung revealed is definitely a big visual improvement over its predecessor. The plastic has been banished, replaced by an glass and metal design that is very reminiscent of the iPhone 6. The resemblance is especially noticeable from the bottom and side views, where the rounded metal edges and even the speaker grill and port cutouts look almost identical.
Key features include:
- 5.1-inch QuadHD (2560 x 1440) Super AMOLED display
- 64-bit Exynos octa-core CPU with 3GB RAM
- 32/64/128 GB storage
- 16MP primary camera with optical image stabilization, 5MP wide angle, HDR “selfie” cam
- Fingerprint sensor, NFC and support for magnetic strip mobile payment
- Fast charge with optional wireless charging
- Runs Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG,NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android 5.0 (Lollipop) with Touchwiz
Of note, Samsung ditched a few features this time, including the waterproof rating of the Galaxy S5, the ability to upgrade storage for cheap using microSD cards and the user replaceable battery.
I wrote about Samsung’s purchase of LoopPay several days ago. And at the Unpacked 2015 event the company confirmed it’s going after Apple with its own Samsung Pay, using that LoopPay technology.
In a nutshell, Samsung hopes to overcome Apple Pay’s big lead by incorporating magnetic strip technology in the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. This will let Samsung users have secure mobile payment (using the fingerprint sensor for security) while retailers can use their existing magnetic strip terminals — no equipment upgrade is required on the POS side.
Galaxy S6 Edge
However, both the Galaxy S6 and Samsung Pay were eclipsed by Samsung’s second flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S6 Edge.
It has the same basic specs as the Galaxy S6 (it’s just a hair thicker), but its display wraps down around both side edges. Not only is there no side bezel — it’s all display — but that edge can be run as an independent display. For example, it has a bedside clock feature that keeps the main display off (to save power and prevent lighting up the room) while displaying information such as the time, weather forecast and battery level in a horizontal strip along one of the sides.
The Galaxy Note Edge — the phablet with a display that curved down over just one side — was flawed (especially if you were left-handed) and slightly odd-looking. With the Galaxy S6 Edge, Samsung nailed the design.
This smartphone looks premium, and reports are that the curved glass display makes it feel premium in the hand. While accusations will be flying that the Galaxy S6 rips off Apple’s iPhone 6 design, no one can say Samsung didn’t come up with an original look for the Galaxy S6 Edge.
Both the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge will be released worldwide in the second quarter. Specific dates and pricing weren’t announced but expect the Galaxy S6 to stick close to the magic $649 ($199 on contract) price where flagships such as the iPhone 6 tend to land. The Galaxy 6S Edge is going to command a premium, but we don’t know how much. Samsung says Samsung Pay should begin rolling out in the U.S. this summer.
All eyes are going to be on Samsung on launch weekend. The new Galaxy S6 (and especially the Galaxy 6S Edge) are completely redesigned to address complaints about the Galaxy S5 — there’s not much more that can be done to win over critics.
If Samsung doesn’t hit numbers at least in the ballpark of what Apple managed with the record iPhone 6/iPhone 6 Plus launch weekend, 2015 could be a long year for the company.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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