Why Samsung should watch out for China

Smartphones from China are generally cheap, and pack a great punch. The South-Korean based Samsung is still the world’s biggest manufacturer of smartphones however. But if they want to hold that throne in the future, they might have to step up their game.

The so-called Copy to China model – which describes how Chinese companies copy the practices of western businesses – is seemingly disappearing from the worldwide smartphone market. Take Oppo for instance: it was among the first companies that implemented a Full HD screen in its Oppo Find 5, and is one of the first that is going to implement a touchable area on the back of a smartphone, with its unannounced Oppo N1. They don’t just copy; they are among the innovators.

Because of that, these Oppo smartphones are a great example of the danger Chinese smartphones currently pose to the success of Samsung’s mobile endeavors. A simple comparison between the Oppo R819 and the Galaxy S4 Mini already shows this: you get a resolution of 720×1280 instead of 540×960 (on a slightly bigger screen), just a little less RAM (1GB instead of 1.5GB), a 1.2GHz quad-core instead of a 1.7GHz dual-core, and a 2000 mAh battery instead of one with 1900 mAh. They are quite alike, but Oppo’s alternative is quite cheaper.

The Oppo R819 costs you 269 Euros; add just over a 100 Euros to that total and you can get a Galaxy S4 Mini. The same price difference applies when you compare the Oppo Find 5 to the spec-wise comparable Samsung flagship Galaxy S4. Oppo isn’t even the cheapest smartphone maker on the market right now, but some models from other Chinese players – like those of Xiaomi – aren’t easy to get your hands on beyond the Great Wall of China.

So, a lot of bang for your buck for a smaller amount of bucks is the gist of it. What’s not to like? You get to touch the high-end range of the smartphone market and won’t even get shafted anymore, with mediocre hardware and/or materials. Phones like the Oppo R819 even let you operate on stock Android from the get-go, a big plus for some of the more die-hard Android aficionados.

There are always some downsides of course. China isn’t completely there yet. In some cases the translation of the software is lacking, to say the least, and some manufacturers are clearly trying to emulate Apple’s or Samsung’s look. Availability is also a sore spot. Most people still get their phones when they are looking for a new wireless plan, and don’t want to bother with eventual import fees and the hassle that comes with an imported smartphone.

However, these blemishes are easily fixed, and Samsung needs to be ready for the moment that happens. A simple price cut here and there would be a start, but Samsung has better weapons up its sleeve than that. It still has one of the most recognizable smartphone brands there is, with popular devices in almost every price range and for almost every niche. (I’m looking at you, Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.)

To add to that: Samsung’s TouchWiz is of one of the most user-friendly versions of Android around. It is also ‘westernized’ enough to have a wide appeal over here. The straightforward user interface and additional features TouchWiz provides aren’t exactly adored by all Samsung buyers, but apps like Samsung’s ChatON really show how Samsung is trying to provide its own, streamlined Android experience. You can’t say that about most Chinese smartphone makers, yet, with their sometimes shaky translations and unattractive Android experiences. (Hello to you too, Huawei.)

Like I said: China isn’t there yet, but definitely getting there. When all the Chinese up-and-comers really get their game on in the west – like Huawei is doing right now – it might be time for Samsung to brace itself. Luckily, the current king of the Android phone market has enough means at its disposal to keep itself ahead.

This post was written by AndroidPlanet, one of the biggest Dutch news blogs about Android.

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