samsung on Wednesday launched its latest lineup of flagship Galaxy smartphones, touting a better camera and enhanced gaming features as the South Korean tech giant tries to tempt people to upgrade amid weak macroeconomic conditions and waning consumer demand.
The Galaxy S23 smartphone lineup features three new models: the standard S23, a slightly more expensive S23+ and the top-of-the-line S23 Ultra.
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The S23 series will go head-to-head with Apple’s iPhone 14, which launched last September. Samsung typically releases its flagship Galaxy S models in the first half of the year and its Galaxy Z line of folding phones in the second half.
Samsung mostly made subtle improvements to its new premium handset, including improved camera capabilities.
The most expensive of the three models, the Galaxy S23 Ultra, features a 200-megapixel “adaptive pixel” sensor that combines 16 pixels into one larger pixel for brighter, more detailed shots in low light situations, Samsung said.
Samsung added users’ low-light photography with the device would be assisted by much faster processing speeds from its internal chipset, which was developed in partnership with Qualcomm, as well as artificial intelligence.
There’s also a video feature on the device called “astro hyperlapse” which lets users take time-lapsed motion shots — for example, of star movements — without any special equipment.
Samsung also touted the gaming capabilities of its new device, saying users will be able to play for longer thanks to a more powerful battery. The S23 Ultra houses a huge 5,000 mAh, or milliampere hour, battery.
The S23 Plus and S23 come with 4,700 mAh and 3,900 mAh batteries, respectively.
The company also unveiled its new Galaxy Book3 laptop lineup Wednesday, which includes a third Ultra model with a 16-inch AMOLED display. Samsung’s Galaxy Book2 came in only two options. Samsung hopes the new laptops will make a splash in the premium PC market.
The firm showed off software that lets users drag and drop files between its laptops and smartphones. Users can also pair the Book3 with Samsung tablets to use the latter as a second screen, Samsung said.
Tough times for smartphone market
The company is launching its new products at a particularly tough time for the consumer tech space. Demand for premium smartphones in particular has softened, with people opting to spend less on big-ticket gadgets due to climbing price pressures and tighter budgets.
Global smartphone shipments plunged 18.3% to 300.3 million units in the fourth quarter of 2022 — usually a big holiday shopping period — marking the largest decline in a single quarter on record, according to market research firm IDC.
A total of 1.21 billion smartphones were shipped in 2022, which represents the lowest annual shipment total since 2013, IDC said.
“Everything is heading in the wrong direction for consumer electronic providers,” Paolo Pescatore from PP Foresight told CNBC via email.
On Tuesday, Samsung recorded its worst quarterly profit since the third quarter of 2014. The firm reported operating profit of 4.31 trillion won ($3.4 billion), down 69% from the same period a year ago. Samsung said its performance was hampered by weak demand for smartphones and memory chips.
Meantime, many people are also suffering from smartphone fatigue whereby, not quite satisfied with improvements promised by newer models, they’re holding onto their current phones for longer.
“As has been the case with most flagship launches in recent years, the customers who will feel the most benefit from Samsung’s latest devices will be those upgrading from older models or from a mid-range device,” said Leo Gebbie, principal analyst for connected devices at CCS Insight.
“Customers who have bought a premium-tier mobile in the last year or two will see little difference between the device they already have and the new Galaxy S23 family.”
In that context, Samsung has consolidated its smartphone portfolio to simplify its offering to customers. The firm incorporated its S Pen stylus into last year’s Galaxy S22, marking the symbolic end of its high-end Note phone series.
It’s also tried to boost consumer appetite for new premium phones with its folding devices. Samsung last year launched two new foldable models, the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Galaxy Z Fold 4.