IFA Goes (A Bit More) Mobile

IFA is often considered to be the CES tradeshow of Europe, where global consumer electronics vendors would showcase the commercialized products they previously previewed at CES. Held in Berlin every year in early September, the show would get little attention from the mobile world but that has been changing lately as smartphone vendors shift their focus from overly mature markets like the U.S. to EMEA markets where there are still growth opportunities (as Apple and Samsung’s duopoly/hegemony in the US market losses quite a bit of steam on the other side of the Atlantic). Here is a quick look at the major mobile highlights from the show:

TCL, a key mobile device manufacturer is known very little as a mobile brand due its ODM model operating under the Alcatel, BlackBerry and Palm brands. However, the company has been enjoying a significant success in its TV business, with U.S. shipments surpassing the shipments of market leader Samsung. The growing awareness of its TCL brand has finally pushed the OEM to make a bold move and release its first self-branded smartphone, the TCL Plex. The TCL Plex has two differentiating features that somewhat fails in setting the phone apart from the competition. The device doubles as a remote control for TCL TVs, though with voice-controlled TV applications growing in adoption, a smartphone doubling as a remote may not be that appealing for tech customers. The Plex also boasts a TCL-made screen with advanced image processing capabilities, but such techy features typically fail in attracting customers looking for an affordable mid-range device. The Plex is competitively priced at 329 Euros, and if/when it makes its way to the U.S. market, TCL’s already strong distribution at U.S. retailers and carriers should help the device enjoy shelf space right off the bat.

Samsung, has long been using IFA as a major launch platform for its latest smartwatch and tablet products. This year was different as the OEM introduced its third 5G-powered device, the Galaxy A90 5G, which joins the Galaxy S10 5G and Note 10+ 5G. The Galaxy A90 5G will likely be a top seller 5G device in the markets it debuts at due to its relatively competitive price point with respect to other 5G devices in the market. The A90 5G will carry a 749 Euro price tag in the European markets; once it comes to the US, we will likely see the U.S. operators pushing this phone at around $799 before incentives. It is noteworthy to mention that despite boasting 5G support, the A90 5G is still a mid-range device; consumer who are not interested in the phone’s 5G feature, can possibly get similar functionality from rival brands with a 30% to 40% discount depending on the brand they choose.

The bigger story from Samsung was the re-debut of the Galaxy Fold, which was previously recalled due to screen malfunctions seen on the tester units distributed to media. The OEM postponed the commercial debut of the much-awaited device, and ended up reimbursing the early adopters in the U.S. who pre-ordered the Galaxy Fold. At IFA, Samsung showcased the fixed Galaxy Fold, which features reinforced screen with plastics endcaps added to the hinges, which previously had gaps allowing dust and particles entering between the display and screen. Samsung has also placed the protective screen layer underneath the frame to ensure that users would not try to peel it off as they did with the earlier version. The device felt much sturdier compared to the original version during our hands-on time with it at the show. Samsung has also announced that those customers who previously pre-ordered the Fold from Samsung are offered a $250 gift card that can be used for any purchase made through Samsung channels. The phone is now commercially launched in South Korea, and the U.S. availability is expected to be in the coming weeks.

LG typically does not announce mobile products at IFA, but this year was an exception. The OEM launched an update to its latest G8 flagship, and called it the G8X. In essence, the G8X is essentially the same as the initial G8 except support for a dual-screen case, which turns the phone into a “foldable” device like the V50 model launched earlier in February. LG’s flagship innovation like the modular G4 or the curved G5 or the touch-less control G8 are simply not resonating with consumers, and the OEM’s declining market share, particularly in the U.S. postpaid market tells it all. The new G8X and its dual screen add-on display is just another design statement that will not help LG remedy its struggling handset business.

Sony’s mobile business has been in the decline for the past several years as its innovative features around display such as native 4K support or 21:9 ratio are not considered as critically important by consumers. At IFA, Sony launched an upgrade to its flagship Xperia 1 model, and has decided to call it the Xperia 5. Skipping from 1 to 5 with the branding was probably the only noteworthy aspect of this debut as the new Xperia 5 is a simply a more compact version of the Xperia 1 launched earlier this year. The launch will have little to no impact in the US market as Sony has been out of the carrier lineups for a while, and it’s has been heavily challenged by brands like Motorola in the unlocked space.

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