Not content with being the world’s biggest seller of smartphones, Korean tech giant Samsung has now come up with an ingenious plan to sell a huge amount more of them.
Taking the premium look and feel of its sought after flagship phones, approximating it into devices made from cheaper components and selling them at a more attainable price point.
Thanks to a strong cocktail of innovation, trade disputes, material scarcity and the always popular past time of conspicuous consumption, the cost of flagship smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S series has been going up in recent years.
At the same time, the smartphone market is nearing maturity.
The device’s destiny to become the ultimate piece of technology displacing all others, coupled with a lack of worthwhile new features has consumers holding on to their increasingly expensive phones longer than ever before.
Spotting the splintering of the smartphone market on the horizon, Samsung has now moved to a strategy of two separate product categories, the premium tier of smartphones priced well in excess of $1000, and the budget tier that ranges from around $250 to $750.
The difference between the two is like a fun digital update to the differentiation between “luxury” and “economy” vehicles.
Both are designed to get you from A to B (and on weekends, C).
One will do it quicker and look better doing it.
The other, if nothing else, is cheaper.
Swedish furniture maker IKEA famously sets the prices of its products before designing them, letting this inform its designers about what materials they should use.
Samsung may have done the same thing with its A-Series.
Presumably given a mood board consisting of the last few iterations of the Galaxy S line, the designers have managed to make the top of the range A70 into something of a looker.
In an attempt to dazzle, the rear of the phone provides a shimmering, almost holographic finish, throwing off various colours from different angles.
This back is not glass or ceramic like you find on the back of the S10 or other premium phones, but what Samsung optimistically calls “3D glasstic”.
This plastic back really just serves as a reminder of the phone’s budget status but at least it looks good doing it, fooling any onlooker into thinking the user is in possession of a premium phone, which one could argue is the point.
The A70 does manage to include some metal with an aluminum casing around the edge.
The A70 and A50 both get an under-screen fingerprint sensor, while lower end phones in the A-series make do with one on the rear of the phone, which I prefer.
The under-screen fingerprint sensor often had problems with reliably reading an accurate scan, resulting in what should be a time saving feature instead throwing up frequent and frustrating No Match errors.
Given recent embarrassments related to the removal of supplied protective films from Samsung phones, one could be forgiven for being reluctant to remove the included screen protector.
Like the intrepid reporter I am I bravely peeled away this protector to find a much more reliable fingerprint sensor lurking underneath but it seems a shame to risk scratches and cracks just to unlock your phone a bit faster.
Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen is one worth protecting, and well ahead of similarly priced competition.
When it came time to switch to the similarly priced Xiaomi Mi9T (sizzle sizzle: review coming soon!), the difference between the two displays was immediately noticeable.
The full-screen display (waterdrop) is a massive 6.7-inches, helping satisfy Samsung’s courtship of the content consuming millennial.
Finding something to complain about as I so love to do, this huge screen size also makes the phone quite lengthy, ticking just over the border in to too long for my liking.
Samsung has designed its One UI skin and its stock apps to try and compensate for this length by putting the things you want to read at the top of the display and the bits you want to touch at the bottom, but these software improvements don’t make the A70 any easier to fit in your pocket.
One UI also uses less intuitive gestures for navigating around Android, but gesture support is still frustratingly inconsistent across Android devices as a whole.
Value focused phones have frequently suffered from poor cameras, especially when compared to their more refined siblings.
Half of the A-series target market is content hungry young millennials, for whom camera quality is of huge importance.
So it thrills me to be the one to report Samsung has delivered on imaging.
The A70’s rear triple-camera array features a 5MP F/2.2 depth camera, 32MP f/1.7 main camera, and 8MP ultra-wide.
The front-facing camera is also 32MP.
The camera is further enhanced by Samsung’s AI Scene Optimiser, enlisting dedicated cores on the phone’s processor to pick between 20 modes including food, sunset and night view.
One disappointing facet of the camera on the A70 is the exclusion of support for RAW image capture.
Many third party apps will allow you to save images in JPG and RAW, but without the Samsung supplied app doing so, you don’t get (reliable) support for the triple-camera array, and you don’t get to take advantage of the otherwise good features such as the aforementioned scene optimiser.
The supplied camera app on the Samsung S10 does support RAW image capture, but it’s not like it would cost Samsung anything to include it on the A70 as well.
Removing the RAW support strikes me as a cynical attempt to entice users to “step-up” to the S10.
You’d have to be a fool to spend the several hundred dollars it would take to do so when for far less than that you could buy a point-and-shoot camera with a bigger sensor that will do a better job of RAW image capture anyway, if it means that much to you.
It’s unlikely it means that much to you, or indeed the vast majority of the A70’s target market, and so unfortunately Samsung and other companies will continue getting away with artificial software limitations like this.
As the flagship, the A70 gets the extra power of the octa-core Snapdragon 675 processor while the rest of the A-series use Samsung’s own Exynos chips.
Battery life on the A70 is pretty decent, while not as good as some other phones that make endurance their core specialty.
As I’ve previously stated, if battery life is your main and dominant concern go buy a Moto G7 Power, but those looking for a more balanced (and better) experience will be happier with the A70.
The 4,500 mAh battery has enough stamina to get you through around a day and a half of normal use, and support for 25W super fast charging means you’re unlikely to be sitting around waiting for your phone to charge too long.
As the most expensive of Samsung’s budget phones, the A70 may raise a few eyebrows among “bargain shoppers”.
While its $649 price tag makes it more than half the price of an S10, it also makes it significantly more expensive than other “budget premium” phones such as the Motorola One Vision, Huawei P30 Lite, and Samsung’s own A50.
That S10 and the years of high-quality Galaxy S flagship phones that preceded it have given Samsung the ability to charge a little more than their rivals thanks to high brand recognition and reputation.
The A70 is definitely a lot of phone for $649.
But creating value is all about providing as much benefit for as little cost.
It’s hard to say the A70 is as good a value as it could be given Samsung deliberately disables some features (such as Camera support for RAW) that wouldn’t increase the cost of the phone but could cannibalise sales of its higher-end flagships.
Samsung is hoping the A-series appeals to young and old, the customer segment who either think they don’t need one of Samsung’s “luxury” Galaxy phones, or desperately want one but can’t afford it.
In pursuit of this market Samsung’s A70 is a compelling offer, even if some things are (deliberately) not as good as they could be.
Those who think a flagship Galaxy S is more phone than they need will be well served by the A70.
The more price conscious customer could save themselves a not insignificant chunk of change by simply buying a $500 phone that performs much the same.
Luckily for Samsung, it also makes one of those.