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Samsung unveils Galaxy S20, seeking head start in 5G race

Coronavirus hangs over event that featured medical masks and prevention tips

Samsung has a unique opportunity to jump ahead in the next-gen phone race as Huawei remains on a U.S. blacklist and Apple has yet to launch 5G iPhones. (Photo courtesy of Samsung)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Samsung Electronics unveiled its 5G-compatible S20 series of flagship phones at a launch event on Feb. 11, while also introducing a pocket-size folding phone that analysts expect to appeal to a broader customer base than most foldable products in the market.

Samsung said the entire S20 series -- the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 Plus, and Galaxy S20 Ultra -- will support 5G in the U.S. and other select markets. The new phones range in price from $999 to $1,399, and will hit shelves on March 6.

"As we enter this new decade, 5G will completely change how we communicate and how we experience the world around us," said T.M. Roh, president and head of mobile communications business at Samsung Electronics. "As all three Galaxy S20 variants come with 5G connectivity, Samsung is providing a next-generation device for transforming people's lives."

The support for 5G across the S20 line-up is a crucial feature for Samsung to compete with its peers, according to Geoff Blaber, vice president of research at market research company CCS Insight.

"It ensures customers are getting a future-proof purchase," Blaber said.

This year is widely viewed as the official beginning of the 5G era while handset makers race to roll out 5G compatible products to win over customers looking for better connectivity.

As its rival, Chinese telecom company Huawei Technologies, is still encumbered by being on the U.S. entity list and Apple lacks a 5G variant of the iPhone, "Samsung has a unique window of opportunity with these new products," Blaber said.

"It can position the Galaxy S20 family as the ultimate Android smartphone that also delivers a future-proof purchase given the support for 5G, 8K video, and an advanced camera. At a time when people are typically keeping their smartphones for three years or more, it is a strong marketing message," he added.

Tips on how to prevent the coronavirus were posted at the venue of Samsung's new product launch event in San Francisco. (Photo by Yifan Yu)

While Samsung held its annual launch event in San Francisco as it usually does, this year the coronavirus outbreak loomed large. The company posted tips on coronavirus prevention around the venue and medical masks along with hand sanitizers were provided to attendees.

Major tech companies, including Samsung, have decided to scale back their presence at the upcoming Mobile World Congress 2020 in Barcelona, Spain, due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. LG Electronics said it will be withdrawing from the event, and canceled a planned new product launch at the trade show.

The new Samsung foldable phone will be available on Feb.14. (Photo by Yifan Yu)

The coronavirus outbreak could potentially affect more than just one event. Industry experts have warned the ongoing pandemic could disrupt the tech industry supply chain in Asia, particularly in China, which could lead to a drop smartphone shipments.

As the South Korean company is less dependent on China for manufacturing than its competitors, "Samsung might have less of an impact on finished products," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at market researcher Creative Strategies.

However, it might not give Samsung much off a head start in the 5G race. "The race is only getting started, so unless the impact of the coronavirus extends into several months, I am not sure Samsung will necessarily capitalize long term," Milanesi said.

Samsung also introduced a new folding phone -- Z Flip -- that can fit into a pocket.

Despite the whopping price tag of $1,380, analysts expect the product will appeal to consumers who are looking for smaller size phones while other products in the market tout large screens.

"It is a true folding smartphone, rather than a smartphone with a mini-tablet hidden inside... I'm pretty confident the Flip is destined to be a hit in the foldable niche despite its high price tag. The product feels like it has a more universal appeal than its predecessor, the Galaxy Fold," Blaber said.

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