It was easy to dismiss foldable phones as science fiction, even after they became a reality two years ago. They were too expensive, too big, too compromised to make sense to most. A couple of flips flopped right away. But in 2021, a clamshell phone seems to have just killed Samsung’s long-running Galaxy Note — and I wonder if they’ll destroy the flagship Galaxy S as well.
That’s because Samsung pledged last month to make foldable mainstream. And at $999, with fewer compromises than ever before, Samsung’s new Z Flip 3 sounds dangerously close to being a full replacement for Samsung’s $999 Galaxy S21 Plus. For the same price, they both have 6.7-inch 120Hz AMOLED displays, the latest Snapdragon 888 processors, the same memory and storage options, the same water resistance, and roughly the same dimensions, just with a slightly lighter frame and battery, and a camera.
Has The Flip Reached Parity With Flagship?
Except that one of these phones folds up to half its size and the other doesn’t. Assuming Samsung’s new durability improvements aren’t all talking and the plastic-coated screen doesn’t feel weird, I know which one I’d pick!
However, would Samsung really ditch its Galaxy S flat screen in favor of foldable? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think – because, after two years of selling a ridiculous number of ‘flagship’ phones, the Galaxy S handsets are cramped on all sides.
In 2019, the company attempted to sell up to 10 different flagship phones around the world, including four different Galaxy S10s and four different Galaxy Notes with largely identical core specs. 2020 brought 11 different flagships if you count the Galaxy S10 Lite and Note 10 Lite. Five flagship phones could be too many in 2021 if three of them don’t sell particularly well.
SAMSUNG GALAXY FLAGSHIPS, 2019-2021
|Z Fold 3
|Z Flip 3
|Note 10 Plus
|Note 20 Ultra
|Note 10 Plus 5G
|Note 10 Lite
|Note 10 KlaytnPhone
|Z Flip 5G
It’s not like Samsung would kill its best-selling phones by dropping the Galaxy S, by the way. The company’s mid-range A-series phones are actually the sales champions after Samsung said it would prioritize these phones in 2018. Meanwhile, sales of Samsung’s Galaxy S phones have fallen 47 percent over the past two generations, with the Galaxy S21 on track, even more, disappointing than the Galaxy S20 the year before.
Fold Replace Note, Flip Replace S?
Does Samsung need the Galaxy S more than the Galaxy Note? For smartphone enthusiasts who want the best of everything – now including the ability to fold out into a tablet – the Z Fold already replaces the Note. In the next year, with a few camera upgrades, it could theoretically dethrone Samsung’s “Ultra” cell phones. That could leave room for the cover to become Samsung’s new default flagship, collapsible as the “Next Big Thing” that Apple isn’t offering its customers (at least not yet). For everyone else, there’s Samsung’s increasingly powerful Galaxy A series, which is likely to get even more aggressive after Xiaomi overtakes Samsung in Europe.
If so, I’d expect a transition period: The flagship phone category still starts at $700, not the $1,000 Samsung is charging for the Flip 3, so the company would probably keep at least one Galaxy S22 FE. (The Galaxy S21 FE is still pending.)
And even if Samsung chooses to put less emphasis on flat-screen flagships, that doesn’t mean the Galaxy S name will necessarily go away. It could someday become what Samsung calls its flip-top phones. Galaxy S is the brand that has put Samsung in the spotlight over the past decade. So it has value and precedent to carrying the name over to a new design: when Samsung started experimenting with curved glass screens, it started as the Galaxy Note Edge, then Edge versions of Galaxy S phones, and those curves became with the Galaxy S8 sets the standard. If Samsung makes foldable the new normal, we could see the same.
All I know for sure: Samsung’s bloated flagship range got pretty ridiculous – remember the Grade 10 blockchain specifically? – and you don’t have to.