Opinion post by
C. Scott Brown
Way back in January (which feels like a lifetime ago), I wrote an article titled “Will the Samsung Galaxy S10e go down as just a one-off experiment?” You can give it a read if you missed it, but I’ll give a quick summary for you: We realized that Samsung wasn’t going to launch a Galaxy S20e alongside the rest of the Galaxy S20 series and it made me sad because the Samsung Galaxy S10e was such a terrific phone.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday. That was when we saw Apple launch the iPhone 12 series, which included the first-of-its-kind iPhone 12 Mini. During the launch, Apple summed up the phone succinctly: “With its compact size, the iPhone 12 Mini has the exact same features as iPhone 12. You’re just choosing between two great sizes.”
I’m sure many people watching that live stream were already taking out their wallets when Kaiann Drance finished that second sentence. However, I’m also sure Samsung executives were hanging their heads. After all, the Galaxy S10e was essentially the Android equivalent of an iPhone 12 Mini — but Samsung abandoned the line before it even had a chance to take hold.
It’s too late now, of course, but the Mini is more proof that Samsung made a huge mistake by skipping the Galaxy S20e.
Also read: What Android could learn from Apple’s iPhone 12
iPhone 12 Mini vs Galaxy S10e: Similar but distinct
If you reread that quote in the previous section from the Apple launch, you’ll probably notice that it doesn’t accurately describe the Galaxy S10e. While the S10e did carry over a lot of the same features as the larger Galaxy S10, it was a weaker device in multiple respects. It had less RAM, no in-display fingerprint sensor, a weaker camera, and a few other downgrades.
The iPhone 12 Mini, though, is literally as Apple described it. The only specs that don’t carry over to the smaller phone are battery capacity and display resolution, which makes perfect sense because the phone is physically smaller. Everything else, though, both phones share equally.
Related: iPhone 12 series comparison: Which should you buy?
This probably was Samsung’s big mistake with the Galaxy S10e. Instead of trying to exclusively appeal to customers who want a smaller phone with no compromises, Samsung tried to hit that potential base while simultaneously going after the budget shopper. That’s clearly not Apple’s ambition with the iPhone 12 Mini. Apple knows that there are a lot of people out there who want smaller phones but don’t want a budget device like an iPhone SE. The Mini gives those customers what they want without needing to sacrifice anything else.
Samsung could have gone in this direction with the Galaxy S20e. It could have solidified the (admittedly confusing) “e” branding and worked harder to show why higher-end consumers should give it attention. Instead, it abandoned the line completely and went in the total opposite direction, delivering a ginormous super-premium monster in the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
Judging from the alleged sales data of the S20 line, this might have been an incredibly costly mistake for Samsung.
Remember that Apple has it easier than Samsung
We’ll never have the pleasure of seeing a Galaxy S20e. We can imagine that it would have been very similar to the Galaxy S10e but built off the Galaxy S20 series. It likely would have had a Snapdragon 865 but cut lots of corners in other areas to keep the price down.
Any descriptions of the theoretical device would just be wishful thinking, though. Whatever it might have been, it certainly wouldn’t have been totally analogous to an iPhone 12 Mini, however. There are two very significant reasons why Apple can create something like the Mini much easier than Samsung could.
Related: How much does the RAM and storage in your phone actually cost?
The first reason is the biggest: Apple makes almost all the hardware inside the iPhone. Since Apple controls the design and production of the majority of iPhone parts, it doesn’t need to spend as much money getting those parts from other companies. This allows it to have more leeway when it comes to keeping pricing low but still earning a tidy profit.
As an example of what I mean, rumors abound that Qualcomm priced the Snapdragon 865 significantly higher than the Snapdragon 855. That alone might have been the biggest reason Samsung balked at a Galaxy S20e. It just might not have been feasible to produce a Galaxy S-caliber phone with that chipset at a decent consumer price. This is a problem Apple didn’t have since it makes the chips inside iPhones.
Related: History of the Qualcomm 800-series
The second reason Apple can more easily make a Mini is that the specs of its non-Pro iPhones have historically been weaker than what we see in the Galaxy S line. If you think about it, the Galaxy S20 starts at $999, and the iPhone 12 Pro — not the iPhone 12 — starts at that same price. In essence, the iPhone 12 Mini doesn’t need to be a smaller version of the Pro, whereas the Galaxy S20e would need to be a smaller version of the Samsung equivalent.
The bottom line here is that Samsung can’t meet Apple’s standard the way things currently stand.
I hate to say it, but Samsung should copy the iPhone 12 Mini
From what we know, the Galaxy S20 line isn’t selling well by any metric, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra isn’t finding a wide audience. Meanwhile, some of the most critically-lauded phones of the year are small, cheap, or both, such as the Google Pixel 4a, the iPhone SE, and the OnePlus Nord.
Related: Samsung Galaxy S series: A history of the biggest name in Android
Samsung shot for the moon with the initial Galaxy S20 series and missed — badly. In a way, Samsung tried to correct this by launching the Galaxy S20 FE to cater to an audience on a tighter budget. However, while Samsung fans are absolutely loving that phone, it’s likely confusing for the general consumer. What does “FE” mean? Why did it launch six months after the other phones? Remember: the general smartphone buyer doesn’t read Android Authority every day, so these are questions they would likely have. Also, the Galaxy S20 FE is much larger than the iPhone 12 Mini, so it’s not the right device for small phone fans.
Imagine, if you will, that Samsung made things simpler and debuted a new product lineup for the Galaxy S30 series. You have a Samsung Galaxy S30 that is more in-line with the specs and price of the Galaxy S20 FE (but with the Snapdragon 875 onboard). Next to it, you have a Samsung Galaxy S30 Mini, which is the same phone, but smaller. Then, you have a Galaxy S30 Plus that is more in-line with a Galaxy S20 Ultra, but a bit more compact. Then, you have the Galaxy S30 Ultra which has the same specs as the S30 Plus, but in a larger body with a few extras.
If Samsung did that, it would hit every consumer. Every single buyer who wants a Galaxy S phone would have an option that suits them all at the same time. All the phones would be great, but slightly different to cater to different buyers. Meanwhile, truly budget-minded consumers have cheaper options too. The Galaxy A line is doing a great job at delivering mid-range experiences, and the Galaxy FE line — if required — can fill in any gaps.
Oh, and one more thing: remember that Samsung had “Mini” phones well before Apple did. In a way, this could be seen as a return to form rather than copying Apple. If you go back far enough, Apple is actually copying Samsung.
Would you like to see Samsung copy the iPhone 12 Mini and bring back a smaller S series phone? Cast your vote in the poll above and hit the comments to let us know your thoughts!