Samsung needs a splashy product for its splashy product launch

Samsung needs a splashy product for its splashy product launch

The last big tech event I attended in person was Samsung’s launch of the Galaxy S20 line of smartphones. Now Samsung will join everybody else in tech by trying to capture some semblance of that experience and hype in a purely online event with the upcoming Unpacked event scheduled for August 5th.

We are, of course, expecting to see the Galaxy Note 20 lineup announced that day. Though the rumors initially waffled a bit on what exactly that lineup would entail, more recent leaks point to a Note 20, a Note 20 Plus (which will be bigger), and a Note 20 Ultra (which will be… “Ultra,” whatever that means).

In addition to the Note 20 line, there are plenty of other Samsung devices that are due for an imminent release. There’s the 5G version of the Galaxy Z Flip folding phone, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (rumors point to “Z” being Samsung’s brand for screens that bend), the Galaxy Watch 3 smartwatch, and also new earbuds that are bean-shaped (yes really).

If all of these devices get announced, then it will be obvious that Samsung is hoping to make a splash with this event. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the company is broadcasting that intention quite clearly with a literal metallic paint splash on the invite.

As is Tradition, I will now proceed to overanalyze the image provided in a tech invitation. But while the normal rules require me to guess what products this image portends, instead I think it speaks to the psychology behind those products. Is it a halo? The drooping crown of a deposed king? I’m just going to with saying it is what it looks like: a splash. Here’s what it means: if the rumors hold true, this summer’s Unpacked event will see Samsung throw a bunch of ideas into the water to see what floats.

I get the feeling that Samsung is casting about for a halo device (something else that image could resemble, maybe). A halo device needs to impress everybody and draw people to the store, but not necessarily be the thing those people buy and walk out with. Will that be the Note 20, the Z Flip, or the Z Fold 2? I doubt Samsung itself knows the answer to that.

Me neither — but my pessimistic take is “Fold 2 or bust.” Let’s just review the contenders.

The Note 20 will surely be fine, but it will be laden with two problems. First, the spec-chasers will know that it’s just a Galaxy S20 with a stylus. Second, Samsung’s big bet this year was on a new camera sensor that has been …fine at best and problematic at worst.

Samsung was hoping for a generational leap, but instead tripped and has been trying to recover ever since. Reportedly, the Note 20 won’t try to recreate the so-called 100X zoom but it will keep using that problematic 108-megapixel sensor. Even though Samsung has done much to improve it since the launch of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, it’s still worrisome.

The Galaxy Z Flip is genuinely better than any other clamshell folding phone (the main competitor being the new Razr), but the big issue I have with it is that it costs too much. I don’t know who’s clamoring for it to cost more. A 5G variant isn’t the splash Samsung needs.

The Galaxy Watch? It’ll be the best smartwatch for Android phones, which given the state of the competition means bupkis. As for the earbuds, all I want is for Samsung to have the self-confidence to actually call them “beans.” Tech is too self-serious these days. Give me Ear Beans.

But Ear Beans aren’t it either. Which leaves us with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (or whatever it will be called. I’m sure Samsung will throw a 5G in the name there in exchange for a carrier kickback).

I had a front-row seat to the disastrous Galaxy Fold launch in April of last year — anytime your phone breaks spontaneously in the hands of several reviewers, that’s bad. Samsung did eventually re-release the Fold (at its sky-high $1,980 price), but you wouldn’t blame the company if it decided to just pull back on that whole folding tablet thing for a year or two.

Nope. If the rumors are true, the Fold 2 is coming. Now that is confidence. Rumors on what it will or won’t be are a little more sparse than I’d normally expect for a Samsung phone at this stage — a larger outer screen, no stylus, and 5G. I also assume it’ll have that ultra-thin glass screen from the Z Flip. There will be more to the story, but that phone has a better shot at being a halo device than anything else.

Why does Samsung need a halo device? Because Chinese phone makers are nipping at its heels for marketshare (if not outright winning in lots of regions) and Samsung has staked its reputation on innovation. You can find a phone with 90 percent of what you get in a flagship Samsung phone while spending hundreds less — so Samsung really needs to wow you with the other 10 percent.