Samsung's new Galaxy S10 and Note 10 Lite editions muddy its premium Android lines

samsung s10 note 10 liteImage: Samsung

With just weeks to go until we get a look at the first premium Galaxy handsets of 2020, Samsung has one more variation of its 2019 phones to show us. Ahead of next week’s CES conference, Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy S10 Lite and Note 10 Lite that bring “key premium features,” (unannounced) lower price tags, and a healthy dose of confusion.

The two phones have a similar look, with a 6.7-inch Full HD OLED screen, skinny but visible bezels all around, and a centered hole-punch display. Both phones also have a Pixel 4-esque bump in the top left corner that house triple-camera arrays, though the phones are actually quite different:

Galaxy S10 Lite

Display: 6.7-inch Full HD+ OLED, 2400×1080 (394ppi)Processor: Snapdragon 855RAM: 6GB/8GBStorage: 128GBFront camera: 32MP, f/2.2Rear camera:  5MP, f/2.4 Macro + 48MP, f/2.0, OIS, Wide + 12MP, f/2.2 Ultra WideBattery: 4,500mAh

Galaxy Note 10 Lite

Display: 6.7-inch Full HD+ OLED, 2400×1080 (394ppi)Processor: Exynos 8895RAM: 6GB/8GBStorage: 128GBFront camera: 32MP, f/2.2Rear camera:  12MP, F/2.2 Ultra Wide (123-degree FOV) + 12MP, f/1.7, OIS Wide + 12MP, F/2.4, OIS TelephotoBattery: 4,500mAh

Further separating the devices is the S Pen, which is available on the Galaxy Note 10 Lite but not the Galaxy S10 Lite. The S Pen appears to be the same as the one on the premium Note, with Bluetooth support for longish-range commands. Additionally, the Galaxy S10 Lite features Samsung’s new Super Steady OIS, which “provides higher stability for action-focused photos and videos,” while the Note 10 Lite’s main camera has regular OIS. However, both phones run Android 10 out of the box, which is the earliest I can remember a Samsung phone shipping with the newest version of Android.

A Galaxy of choice

While Samsung hasn’t announced pricing or availability for these new phones, it’s clear from their names that they will cost less than their premium counterparts. Whether they will be replacing the current entry-level models (the S10e and Note 10) is unclear, but Samsung obviously wants to expand its base for its most well-known smartphone lines.

galaxy s10 s10e Christopher Hebert/IDG

The Galaxy line is growing even more.

However, based on the spec sheet, it’s hard to tell where these phones will land in the product tree. With a bigger screen and a better camera than the S10e, along with the same processor, RAM, and storage, it stands to reason that the Galaxy S10 Lite will replace the S10e, but the new phone also has a bigger screen and battery than the Galaxy S10 and S10+. And the camera specs are superior as well. Even if the S10+ takes better pictures than the S10 Lite in practice, it’s going to be very difficult for buyers to see the benefit of buying the higher-priced Galaxy S.

The same is true for the Galaxy Note 10 Lite. While it’s powered by a lesser processor in the Exynos 8895 (versus the Snapdragon 855 in the Note 10), the Note 10 Lite has a bigger display and battery, as well as better camera specs as compared to the $950 Note 10. And like the S10 Lite, even if Samsung replaces the entry Note 10 with the Note 10 Lite, the benefits of upgrading to the Note 10+ are less than clear, especially if hundreds of dollars separate the two phones.

But regardless of cannibalization and confusion, it’s great to see Samsung bringing premium features to lower-priced phones. With the launch of the Galaxy S11 (or S20) just a couple of months away, it’ll be interesting to see how the lineup shakes out, especially in light of the $399 Pixel 3a and $699 iPhone 11. The proof will be in the price, of course, but these new models could signal a breaking point in the premium smartphone pricing trends. 

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