Samsung is apparently planning to release its 2019 flagship phone, the Galaxy S10, in separate 4G and 5G versions — a move designed to keep pricing down for customers without nearby 5G network access. According to South Korean publication The Bell (translated), only the larger version of the S10 will include a 5G option, and the company will produce “a small number of 5G models,” due to the nascent state of 5G networks.
Because Samsung typically debuts new Galaxy S-series phones at the Barcelona Mobile World Congress in February and then releases them in March, the company faces the challenge of debuting products early on for a wireless networking standard that will be still be in the rollout stages throughout 2019. Rivals are expected to show off their first 5G phones at CES in early January, and the Bell claims that Samsung will break with tradition and announce the Galaxy S10 series there.
It remains to be seen whether that’s the actual plan. Samsung said last month that its first 5G phone won’t be the Galaxy S10, leaving open the possibility that a different 5G device will debut at CES in January, followed by the standard Mobile World Congress reveal of the Galaxy S10 series in February. There’s some precedent for this ambiguity: The Galaxy S9 was originally expected to debut at the 2018 CES but instead became official in Barcelona one month later.
Samsung’s 2019 phone launch decisions are being impacted by competitive pressures, including its longstanding desire to be “first” with important technology innovations. It’s clear at this stage that almost all of the earliest 5G phones will be powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon chips, which dozens of companies have been actively testing throughout 2018. Qualcomm recently said that 5G devices with its Snapdragon chips will likely become broadly available in April 2019, and though Samsung could use its own Exynos 5G-ready components to debut products before then, demand will likely be restricted to early adopters in specific geographies — a small but non-trivial market.
To meet global demand of around 40 million units per year for the Galaxy S series, Samsung will reportedly introduce multiple versions of the S10, including an entry-level Galaxy S10, a regular S10, and a regular S10+ (S10 Plus), all with 4G LTE support. Only the S10+ will be offered with the option of a 5G system, which will come at a higher price and require four to five additional antennas. The company apparently expects to sell 2 million 5G phones in 2019, though it’s not clear whether that number is solely for the Galaxy S10+ or includes other models.
Since 5G chips and antennas come in both “millimeter wave” and “sub-6 GHz” variants, which may or may not consume additional space inside a phone’s housing, it’s also uncertain whether the 5G version of the S10+ will be larger, impact battery life, or compromise on dual-mode 5G support to add the new functionality. Rival Huawei, which developed its own 5G chipset, is expecting 5G chips to guzzle power and require substantial heatsinks. Samsung may be engineering the S10+ chassis specifically with all of the 5G components in mind, leaving the 4G version with additional space inside that could be filled by a battery.
Apart from its 4G and 5G options, the Galaxy S10+ is expected to have a roughly 6.5-inch screen, as well as Samsung’s latest camera and processor technology. It will compete directly with Apple’s 6.5-inch version of the iPhone Xs, which yesterday was tipped to be called the iPhone Xs Max and which will almost certainly not include a 5G option.