With flagship Galaxy S20 Ultra, Samsung is testing consumer tolerance for overpriced phones

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Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G Factory Unlocked New Android Cell Phone

$1,399 USD.

That’s how much you’ll need to spend (finance?) to buy Samsung’s new flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G.

Consumers in 2019 were already demonstrating reluctance to fork out massive amounts for upgrades when they’re existing three-year-old phone were chugging along just fine, with enough power to do the everyday — email, web browsing, social networking, health apps, streaming music, etc.

And even if you did want to upgrade your phone to get a little more speed and maybe a better quality screen you could just opt for a mid-range phone and save hundreds in the process. Google figured this out a while. Pixel phones are now offered across a range or price points. Many buyers interested in Android now opt for the “a” models, such as the Pixel 3a. These are lower priced versions of their more feature laden counterparts, but don’t sacrifice the stuff everyday users need — typically the camera is the most compromised feature, but even then not significant.

Want a discount S20?

Samsung does have one. The “regular” S20 retails for $999 USD. Still… a thousand dollars… for a phone?!

I think the timing could not be worse.

With coronavirus COVID-19 putting people out of work, and slamming the economy, I’m not so sure we’re prioritizing premium phone upgrades in our quests to survive.

Obviously Samsung (and others) didn’t see this pandemic coming, so perhaps this was a sane strategy seen under normal circumstances. But, I wouldn’t be too surprised if these new S20 phones (which absolutely do look great on paper) get big discounts almost immediately out of the gate.

These days just about anything but a Samsung or iPhone or Pixel upgrade are seen as a necessity: food; paying rent; toilet paper; getting exercise during shelter-in-place orders; looking after family; etc.

According to one commenter on the Ars Technica review of the S20 line-up, the flagship smartphone has doubled in price in the past 5 years. A quick check on the history of  iPhone pricing does reveal that in 2015 the flagship iPhone 6s did retail at launch for $749. A year earlier the iPhone 5s debuted at $649. So that does seem like an accurate assessment. I recall at the time those prices seemed massive — I hesitated to spend more than about $300 or so on a phone back then (I still feel pretty much the same way, though trade-ins do help ease the upgrade pain).

My suggestion for those wanting to upgrade their Samsungs… look for refurbished or used Samsung Notes. You can find good buys for these well-reviewed phones. Also, Pixel 3a is a good choice. And on the Apple side, it’s hard not to see decent value (it’s all relative) in the iPhone XR.

Meantime, I’ll be interested to follow the timeline of the S20 and see if and how Samsung adjusts to a market that seems to be passing them by — or is that vice versa?