Galaxy S23
Samsung Electronics’ flagship smartphone Galaxy S23 is seen on display at an unveiling ceremony in Seoul, South Korea. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Samsung Electronics unveiled its latest Qualcomm-powered premium smartphones on Wednesday, in a test of its brand power as the market for mobiles undergoes unprecedented contraction.

The Galaxy S23 smartphone series has better cameras and faster chips than its predecessor, but analysts said early sales would face weak demand as consumers spent less on discretionary goods amid surging inflation.

The top-of-the-line S23 Ultra has Samsung’s first-ever 200-megapixel camera sensor, offering clearer photos after enlargement, and the series has adopted San Diego-based Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile processor, which is faster than chips used in the S22.

The S23 is the first Samsung phone to use Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 4070 graphics card for games with heavy processor demands and for live-streaming playability. Many consumers judge a phone’s quality based on those functions.

Samsung is working with companies such as Epic Games to optimise gaming experience on the phone.

In the United States, the base Galaxy S23 will be priced from $799 and two higher-specification versions, the S23 Plus and S23 Ultra, from $999 and $1,199, respectively. Samsung kept the prices at the same level as for last year’s model despite rises in component costs.

But global smartphone shipments showed the largest-ever decline in a single quarter in the October-December period, when they were down 18.3% on a year earlier at 300.3 million units, according to data issued by research firm IDC last month. The figures cast doubt on forecasts for modest recovery in the market for mobiles this year.

In that tough environment, analysts said Samsung’s mobile strategy would centre on profitability through premium offerings, including the S series and foldables.

“Samsung can’t afford to focus on expanding volume anymore,” said Liz Lee, associate director at research firm Counterpoint.

“It must boldly simplify low- and mid-range products, the parts of the market where Chinese competitors have caught up a lot.”

Samsung said on Tuesday that a decline in low- and mid-range smartphone sales in the fourth quarter had been greater than expected.

With the launch of the S23, the company is also improving interconnectivity of its devices to lock customers into using Samsung products rather than deserting to devices from Apple and other rivals. Analysts say Samsung has far to go in interconnectivity, however.

The company said that, in an industry first, the mouse cursor of its recent Galaxy Book laptop could move directly into a Samsung phone screen to click on things. Users would have to upgrade their phone’s software to use that feature, it said.