So the Indian market has become quite important for smartphones, that’s not a secret anymore. In case someone isn’t ready to believe that India (and other emerging markets) is where the next mobile wars will take place, you only need to point them to the fact that Samsung chose to launch both its first Tizen device and the entire new E series of Android phones in the world’s second most populous country. However, when you look at what the company is offering with these new devices, one can’t help but think they won’t be of much help in fixing Samsung’s problems in the smartphone market.
We’ve already written about how it will be hard for Tizen to take off, so I’m going to focus on the Galaxy E5 and Galaxy E7. At Rs. 19,300 (~ $305) and Rs. 23,000 (~ $363) respectively, the E5 and E7 offer some of the best hardware that Samsung has ever put on devices priced so low. Both have 720p Super AMOLED displays, quad-core processors, 5-megapixel front cameras, run Android 4.4.4 out of the box, and are set to receive an update to Android 5.0 in the coming months. But when you look at what the competition is currently offering at similar, lower, or slightly higher prices, the E5 and E7 start looking a lot less impressive.
Take the OnePlus One. Available exclusively from Amazon in India (with an invite-based system like everywhere else), the OnePlus One is a stunning device at the Rs. 22,000 price point, offering flagship specs like a Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, a Full HD display, giant battery, 64GB of on-board storage; apart from the high-end specs, the OnePlus One also has software that is way faster than what Samsung puts on its smartphones, with TouchWiz lagging on low-end and high-end phones alike in some cases.
Then there’s the HTC Desire 820. While nowhere near the OnePlus One in terms of features, the Desire 820 still offers a 64-bit octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor, a 5.5-inch HD display, dual SIM slots with both slots supporting 4G SIMs, a 13/5MP rear and front camera package, BoomSound speakers, and, like the E5 and E7, Android 4.4 KitKat with an update to Lollipop coming somewhere down the line (and KitKat on the phone is extremely fast.) All of this costs only Rs. 22,000 or so, once again making Samsung’s new phones look like poor deals in comparison.
Those are just two examples out of many. The new ZenFone 2 that ASUS announced at CES is set to launch at a $199 price point and will offer things like a 64-bit Intel processor, a whopping 4GB of RAM, a 1080p display, and Android 5.0 out of the box. Then there are devices from Xiaomi, like the Redmi 1S and the Redmi Note 4G, and the new Yu Yureka from Micromax, which is an official CyanogenMod phone and will come with a Snapdragon 615 processor (octa-core, 64-bit) at a sub Rs. 10,000 (~ $160) price point. If you are willing to add that amount to the price of the OnePlus One, you can get the Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro with similar specs but with a Quad HD display (that’s 2560×1440 pixels, on a phone that costs only around $520.)
A major corporation like Samsung can’t simply stop putting high profit margins on its products, as it has to make money in order to pay employees, do R&D, and market its devices. It can’t suddenly start matching the prices of new players like Xiaomi or OnePlus, nor go after the pricing model followed by companies like Motorola and Lenovo (which are one and the same now). But with the launch of the Galaxy E5 and E7, Samsung has shown once again that it is not willing to risk making big changes to its strategy for selling smartphones.
It might not affect them now – in fact, the E5 and E7 will probably do quite well given Samsung’s marketing might and popularity. However, these devices aren’t what Samsung needs to go back to its glory days. The company needs to go lower with its price points, optimize its software, improve the hardware users get for a particular price; it will be a while before Samsung is able to do all that, but it’s something it will have to do in order to keep its massive lead in the smartphone market.