17 March 2018
A Samsung Galaxy S9 is displayed with an AR emoji at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month.  Photo: Reuters
A Samsung Galaxy S9 is displayed with an AR emoji at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month. Photo: Reuters

Can Samsung Galaxy S9 convince smartphone users to upgrade?

Samsung Electronics has high hopes for its latest smartphone, the Galaxy S9 series. But while the South Korean company calls its new product a game changer, particularly its camera, fans may be a bit disappointed because its design is barely changed and its features are not so special.

Anyway, the truth will be revealed when the S9 hits the streets on March 16th. First-day pre-order performance in South Korea is not very cheerful: only about 70 percent of the figures set by the S8 family.

Industry reports said 180,000 units were distributed through the country’s three mobile carriers last Friday, lower than the 260,000 for the S8 series. That could be a reflection of the market’s weaker-than-expected response to the new product.

In Hong Kong, Samsung organized an event at City Plaza shopping mall in Tai Koo to give a preview of the S9 devices and their features, including virtual reality. Interestingly, only the counter giving a demonstration of the phone’s VR technology had a long queue; the other counters, which showcase the S9′s other unique functionalities, including its camera features, got a lukewarm response from the shoppers.

Few showed interest in buying the device even though they had the chance to test the smartphone at the show.

Local mobile operators also started taking S9 orders from their subscribers, but they had little to show to convince customers to upgrade their handsets. They could have focused on the phone’s 800Mbps data transmission speed, which is one of the fastest among smartphones.

Why did the market respond cooly to the S9? The simple answer: It’s boooring. Some industry watchers argue that Samsung is trying to build on the success of the S8 series so it is understandable for the company not to change much of the design and functions of the S9.

But for most smartphone users, it’s the design and appearance that determine whether they would buy a phone. So for these people, if a smartphone looks and feels like the old model, why upgrade?

Still, the S9 has a few tricks up its sleeve to draw the people’s attention. It features a rear camera with a variable aperture that can be automatically or manually switched between F1.5 and F2.4. Users can also turn their selfies into emojis.

But aside from these features, the new device offers no surprise. This could affect the users’ judgment on whether to upgrade to the new model at a higher price.

The specifications are hardly surprising: Qualcomm’s fastest processor, 6GB or 8GB RAM, 64 or 128 GB storage, and 6-inch screen. Basically, all flagship Android phones offer the same features.

The difference will be mostly on the look and the camera as well as the user interface. The S9 has done a good work at camera innovation, but we’re not sure if that’s enough for fans to snap up the phone.

The main setback for the S9 is that it is arriving after the S8, which was highly successful. Now if people cannot find much difference between the new smartphone and its predecessor, they probably won’t pay more for just a better camera.

The S9 may not have a wow factor, but its camera features are solid achievements in the continuing refinement of the phone. It would be the market focus before Apple launches a new iPhone later this year.

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EJ Insight writer

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