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Samsung’s first 5G smartphone under $300 could be a game changer

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When people think of Samsung smartphones, it’s normally Galaxy S devices, Notes and foldables. Now, the unsung heroes of the portfolio are getting a chance to shine.

The company announced Wednesday that it’s doubling down on its mid-range Galaxy A Series smartphone line in the United States — an effort that includes its first 5G device under $300.

Samsung’s Galaxy and Note flagship smartphones have long overshadowed its A Series devices. But amid the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the more price-friendly line made up 70% of the company’s total smartphone shipments — and 60% in the United States — in 2020, according to data from IDC Research.

Samsung told reporters ahead of its US launch that the line grew 169% last year, leading it to do a bigger push this year. Last month, it held an Unpacked event — typically reserved for its Galaxy and Note devices — in South Korea to drum up excitement.

Now, the same devices are launching in the United States: three new 5G devices — the Galaxy A52 5G ($499), A42 5G ($399) and A32 5G ($279) — and two 4G models, the A12 ($179) and A02s ($109). The Galaxy A42 5G will be available in the US starting April 8 and the others launch on April 9.

While price is a major selling point, the specs are solid, too: edge-to-edge screens, feature-packed cameras, powerful processors, a sleek design and, on some models, 5G. As IDC Research analyst Ramon Llamas puts it, “It’s a high-end phone masquerading as a mass-market device.”

“This is not going to be the one that brings all the recent bells and whistles because that’s what the Galaxy S is all about,” he added. “But if you’re comfortable with having a ‘good enough’ phone that will do what you need it to do, then this is something to look at.”

Perhaps the most intriguing device in the new lineup is the 6.5-inch A32 5G ($279), one of the most affordable 5G phones in the United States. Pricing the model this low is a big win for the 5G industry, which has suffered from slow user adoption due to network challenges and costly devices needed to run on it. For example, the 5G-enabled iPhone 12 and the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G start at $799.

The A32 essentially removes the pricing barrier from a 5G-capable device, allowing users to focus more on the specs they want than the connectivity. The device also features an HD display with a battery that promises to last all day, 64 GB of internal storage and support for a micro SD card.

Samsung’s A Series expansion in the United States is a way for it to dive deeper into the budget-conscious smartphone category. Apple now offers several tiers for the iPhone 12 and continues to build out its more affordable iPhone SE line, whch starts at $399. The move also primes customers to upgrade to flagship devices later on, according to Llamas.

The timing for Samsung’s expansion is fortuitous, too. Earlier this week, LG announced it is exiting the mobile market after years of losses, marking the end of an era for a trailblazer in the Android world.

“With the expected demise of LG, which is the third largest vendor in the US, Samsung will no doubt fill the void it leaves behind in the mid-range,” said David McQueen, a research director at ABI Research. “I doubt Apple will hit the same price points — plus it’s not Android.”

The new 5G models let users grab high-resolution still photos straight from 4K videos; provide a scene optimizer to automatically detect what’s in frame and enhance exposure, contrast and color; and tout a built-in augmented reality lenses from Snapchat.

A step up from the A32 is the 6.6-inch A42 5G, which offers a fingerprint scanner for security and artificial intelligence baked into the camera — a feature brought down to the A Series from its flagship devices, providing a variety of styles, angles, and formats, such as GIFs and filter effects, in one shot.

At the top of the lineup is the A52 5G, which has a 64 megapixel high-resolution camera, tools such as the new pro video mode to adjust details in videos, and a high refresh rate to make gaming, browsing and social feeds look smoother.

CNN

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