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Samsung tests the health of the global phone market with expensive new devices

August 5, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC

Samsung released several new high-end 5G mobile devices on Wednesday, even as the global phone market has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The new Galaxy Note 20 comes with a 6.7-inch screen, connects to super-fast 5G wireless networks, and starts at $1,000. A larger version with a 6.9-inch screen, dubbed the Note 20 Ultra, starts at $1,300. Like prior models of the Note, the new devices include a stylus that slips into the case.

The phones will be available for preorder starting on Friday and go on sale Aug. 21. Perhaps in a nod to the economic reality of the times, Samsung is offering a slight discount of $100 and $150, respectively, on preorders of the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra and a trade-in offer of up to $650 for customers who trade in a recent device.

Also on Wednesday, Samsung introduced its first 5G-compatible tablets, the Galaxy Tab S7 with an 11-inch screen for $650 and the 12.4-inch Galaxy Tab S7+ priced at $850.

The global smartphone market was crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with sales dropping 25% in the second quarter from a year ago, according to market tracker Counterpoint Research. Sales of Samsung’s flagship S20 phone line, introduced in February, trailed sales of the company’s 2019 flagship. But many countries are recovering from the virus and reopening their economies, so sales of the new Note 20 may indicate the strength of the phone market. Still, Samsung is forgoing Apple’s successful strategy of releasing a highly-capable low-end phone like the iPhone SE for $400.

The addition of 5G, which allows downloads at 10 to 100 times the speed of an average 4G LTE connection, to the Note 20 comes even as the U.S. carriers are still working to build reliable and widespread 5G networks. AT&T and T-Mobile currently offer a type of 5G that is not much faster than 4G in most of the country. And Verizon has rolled out a super-fast version of the technology that is available to only 0.4% of people in the U.S. according to one recent study.

The Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra also have screens that refresh at 120 Hz, twice the rate of typical phones, meaning video and graphics appear smoother. Both phones have a single front-facing camera and three cameras on the back. The zoom lens on the Note 20 can magnify an image 3X optically while the Note 20 Ultra has a 5X zoom.

Samsung also rolled out several other updated gadgets on Wednesday. The Galaxy Watch 3 comes in two sizes and starts at $400. A version with 4G connectivity starts at $450. New earbuds called the Galaxy Buds Live include active noise cancellation and cost $170.