Samsung to throw everything at the wall with Galaxy Unpacked, but will anything stick?

What are you doing in three weeks’ time? Samsung hopes that on Wednesday 11 August you’ll be tuned in to the company’s live stream for the next Galaxy Unpacked event

Actually, given Samsung has scheduled the event for 2am the next day NZST, it’s probably fair to say that the company has given much thought as to whether New Zealanders are watching or not. Sorry.

Still, speaking as someone who has to watch these events for professional reasons, I can’t say that you’ll be missing much by not seeing the event live, unless you enjoy a new smartphone being treated as the second coming of Christ. And there’s always the Apple event in September if, for some reason, that’s your bag.

In any case, the products have all been widely revealed in advance anyway thanks to prolific leaker Evan Blass. The main headliners are set to be the company’s new foldable phones: the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 – something all but confirmed by the not-so-cryptic use of the word “unfold” in the press release. “Join Samsung Electronics this August 11 for a Galaxy Unpacked event to unfold the next chapter in mobile innovations,” the company writes with all the subtlety of a neon brick to the face.  

For those unfamiliar, both handsets have bendable screens, but for different purposes. The Galaxy Z Fold opens up into a larger tablet, while the Galaxy Z Flip is closer to an old fashioned flip phone where you have to open it up before you can do anything. In other words, the former is practical, while the latter is largely aesthetic.

A rumour has been doing the rounds that this is the year Samsung intends to make foldables go mainstream with a 20% price cut. That would be extremely welcome, but try not to get too excited, given it would only mean that the $3,399 Galaxy Z Fold 2 becomes the $2,719 Galaxy Z Fold 3. It’s still silly money for a phone, no matter how flexible.

But the event isn’t just those who have no problem blowing over $2,000 on a smartphone! There’s also the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, which is a cut down version of the company’s previous flagship. There was a rumour that this was going to be cancelled to funnel limited chips towards the foldables, but I guess Samsung found some more Qualcomm Snapdragon 888s lying down the back of the sofa, and it’s apparently back on.

“FE” stands for “Fan Edition” by the way. It’s not clear why fans of a phone would buy a slightly inferior version eight months down the line – I guess PSCE (“Price Sensitive Consumer Edition”) doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. 

Samsung is also keen for you to have an easily accessible screen for when your phone is in your pocket or, heaven forbid, out of battery. For that reason, it’ll be introducing two new Galaxy Watch smartwatches.

While the basic Galaxy Watch 4 looks a bit like the Galaxy Watch Active range, the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic will include a rotating bezel for navigation. These will likely be very good, as Samsung has come a long way from its first smartwatch, which looked like it belonged on the ankle of a prisoner enjoying all the freedoms of probation.

Finally, there’s the Galaxy Buds 2. Sadly, ‘buds’ stands for ‘earbuds’ rather than ‘buddies’ and these are bog-standard true wireless earbuds in the vein of Apple’s all conquering AirPods.

It’s a lot of products to announce all at once, but given the smartphone market has been stagnating since 2015 it feels like the company has to throw a lot at the wall to see what will stick. Foldables, despite the crazy-high price of entry, feel like the best bet, on account of few other players actually having anything similar just yet. 

For me, though, I doubt I’ll feel compelled to buy anything, happy enough with the two-year-old Samsung Galaxy S10e in my pocket. And that very much sums up the problem for the company: if it can’t entice tech nerds like me to upgrade from a phone that wasn’t even the best in 2019, then what chance does it have with the sensibly aloof remainder of the population?

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