The Samsung Galaxy S23: Probably the best Android smartphone, but that is still not good enough

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The Samsung Galaxy S23: Probably the best Android smartphone, but that is still not good enough
It might be just the beginning of the year, but the battle for the title of “Best Android flagship of 2023” has already begun and one of the most serious contenders has entered the fray. I am of course referring to the Samsung Galaxy S23 lineup.

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This S series has long been a staple in the Korean tech giant’s smartphone portfolio, and for a good reason. Traditionally, the latter has always embodied the best of what Android and Samsung have to offer, naturally at a steep price.

For a long time, this was largely a successful formula. However, in recent years, Samsung’s S series has increasingly lost ground in the premium and ultra-premium market segments ($800+ and $1000+ respectively). With the S23, the company hopes to reverse this negative trend.

Currently, the odds are not entirely in its favor. A global economic downturn looks increasingly likely, and the smartphone market as a whole will invariably be taking a blow due to stifled consumer demand.

But there is another major reason why I believe the Galaxy S23 family will fail to deliver the commercial performance Samsung is counting on after a series of underwhelming fiscal quarters. Regardless of how exceptional the Galaxy S23 is, there are simply too many problems that stand in its way.

The End of Flawed Galaxies

But before I explain this in detail, I would like to point out that the Galaxy S23’s commercial failure (or possible success for that matter) has nothing to do with the merits of the device itself. I personally believe this year’s model is one of the most impressive iterations in years.

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While most average users probably care little for hardware specifications, historically, one of the biggest issues of the S series has been the chipset. This year we have finally bid farewell to Exynos, which means two things, both of which are incredibly good for the Galaxy S23 and Samsung as a whole.

Firstly, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is sure to deliver stellar and consistent performance, something no Exynos chipset has managed to do before. Secondly, no longer will users in specific markets get the short end of the stick, because of Samsung’s questionable business decisions.

Previously, users in some markets were stuck with Exynos, while others received the same device, but with a Snapdragon processor. Unfortunately, buyers had no agency in this matter, as it all came down to where they were based. While Samsung promised similar performance, the Snapdragon variant was always superior to some extent.

Finally, all users will be getting the same Galaxy S experience, regardless of where they live. While this might not seem like much of a big deal for some, I assure you, this will make a world of a difference. As a user that was once stuck with an Exynos Samsung flagship, I have first-hand knowledge of how detrimental said experience was to how I view Samsung as a brand.

Having an inferior device, with worse battery life and thermal issues, leaves a bad taste in your mouth, when you know you have paid as much as any other user in another market. There is no way to measure the extent of the damage this business decision has done in the long term. However, the new consistency across markets is likely to improve the perception of the Galaxy S lineup and help with sales.

Additionally, the fact that the Snapdragon chipset inside of the Galaxy S23 is more powerful than the default version looks even more promising. In a nutshell, Samsung has single-handedly addressed one of the key issues that has plagued its lineup over the past years. The benefits will take time to fully materialize, but this is a definite step in the right direction.

Exceptional, but not Unique

I have no doubt that, performance-wise, the Galaxy S23 will be one of the most exceptional smartphones of 2023. The aforementioned changes in the chipset, coupled with the plethora of other incremental upgrades like the improved cooling, will translate to some impressive benchmarks and impeccable real-life performance.

However, that is about it. The Galaxy S23 might have one of the most impressive spec sheets of any Android smartphone on the market, but that no longer means as much as it did 10 years ago. Currently, almost every smartphone can offer decent performance.

The divide between flagships and lower-end handsets has narrowed down significantly, as the price of the former has skyrocketed. Whether a premium device will succeed now increasingly depends on user perceptions and brand loyalty. This is where, in my view, Samsung is failing.

Firstly, based on the marketing thus far, it seems Samsung is placing a huge emphasis on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. This is only natural, considering that the latter is the “flagship of the flagship lineup”, but there are two big (pun intended) problems with this approach.

The Galaxy S23 Ultra is huge, even by Android standards. A 6.8” smartphone will never be for everyone, considering some users will literally struggle to use it. Additionally, limiting some features to the largest model will likely drive away some users that are more attracted to the smaller variants. After all, everybody wants the best there is.

We can juxtapose this strategy with how Apple does things. The Cupertino company also tends to prioritize its high-end Pro iPhone models, with the vanilla ones often being left overlooked. But there are always at least two size options which give different users the same access to the latest and greatest features. You do not have to risk a muscle cramp to get the best experience. Based on recent rumors, this could change in 2023 with the iPhone 15 Ultra, but, for the time being, Apple’s approach is much more inclusive.

Besides the fact that the footprint of the Ultra precludes it from being as mainstream as Samsung wants, there is another obvious problem. The Galaxy S23 Ultra is expensive… very expensive. For some reason, Apple can get away with ridiculous price tags, but I doubt Samsung has the same clout and enjoys the same amount of loyal following to replicate said success. Speaking of which…

Galaxy S vs Galaxy Z: Which is Samsung’s true flagship?

The last reason why I think Samsung’s S series will continue to underperform has to do with the company’s general focus on foldables. The Korean tech giant has made it obvious that it believes that foldables are the future of mobile technology. In fact, Galaxy Z Fold and the Galaxy Z Flip have come to define how users and the general public perceive Samsung.

For many, foldables are synonymous with Samsung and vice versa. Strictly speaking, this is not truly the case, as more and more manufacturers, especially in China, are experimenting with the form factor. However, the reality does not change the fact that the Z lineup increasingly looks like Samsung’s true flagship series.

Thus, many of those that are drawn to Samsung devices and are looking to splurge could be in the market for the company’s flagship of the future, as opposed to the one of the past. Samsung has successfully developed a niche and has managed to convince many people of the merits of foldables. This has come at a price, however, as now some high-end users are simply not interested in a conventional flagship smartphone.

This creates an interesting predicament. Within Samsung’s portfolio, the S series is waging war with the company’s foldable flagships, while outside of it, the lineup is trying to differentiate itself in a sea of exceptionally good Android devices. And that is before you take into account Apple’s hegemony in the premium and ultra-premium market segments.

Conclusions: Excellence does not equal (commercial) success

Once again, I would like to assert that the Galaxy S23 is the first non-foldable smartphone from Samsung in years that I am genuinely excited about. It addresses my biggest pet peeve with the S series, as a person that lives in a country that was previously stuck with Exynos Galaxies.

However, I still believe that there are three main challenges ahead of the Samsung Galaxy S23. Firstly, good performance is no longer a unique selling point of expensive flagship devices. Secondly, the fact that the model on which Samsung is placing the most hopes on will simply never be for everyone.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the flagship status of the Galaxy S is under threat by the company’s own Galaxy Z series. A wildly expensive non-foldable smartphone is a tough sell, when you have made a habit of berating non-foldable smartphones from other brands.

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