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Samsung's folding phone

Samsung unveiled a highly anticipated smartphone with a foldable screen in an attempt to break the innovation funk that has beset the smartphone market.

But it's far from clear that consumers will embrace a device that retails for almost $2,000, or that it will provide the creative catalyst the smartphone market needs.

The Galaxy Fold, announced Wednesday in San Francisco, will sell for $1,980 when it is released April 26.

Consumers willing to pay that hefty price will get a device that can unfold like a wallet. It can work like a traditional smartphone with a 4.6 inch screen or morph into something more like a mini-tablet with a 7.3 inch screen.

When fully unfolded, the device will be able to simultaneously run three different apps on the screen. The Galaxy Fold will also boast six cameras: three in the back, two on the inside and one on the front.

After spending nearly five years developing the technology underlying its foldable-screen phone, Samsung is clearly hoping for a big payoff.

"Get ready for the dawn of a new era," declared DJ Koh, who oversees Samsung's smartphone division. The new phone, he said, "answers skeptics who said everything has already been done."

If Samsung is right, the Galaxy Fold will spur more people to upgrade their phones. Overall smartphones sales peaked in 2017 ; Samsung saw its smartphone sales fall 8 per cent last year, based on estimates from the research firm International Data Corp. Worldwide, smartphone sales dropped 4 per cent in 2018, according to IDC.

But most analysts see a limited market for foldable-screen phones, at least in the early going. Phones like the Galaxy Fold "are likely to sell to a very limited market of technology aficionados who like big screens and have big wallets," said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas.

Samsung also released new Galaxy S10 phones that boast fancy cameras, sleek screens covering the entire front of the devices and at least 128 gigabytes of storage — important features to consumers shopping for phones.

The new phones are able take wider-angle shots than previous models and can charge other devices, including wireless headphones and smartwatches. A fourth S10 model, due out this spring, will have faster wireless speeds through the emerging 5G cellular network.

With the pace of smartphone innovation seemingly locked in baby steps, consumers are holding on to their existing devices for longer periods than they have in the past. Compounding that reluctance to upgrade is smartphone sticker shock, which the Galaxy Fold seems unlikely to alleviate. Prices for some existing phones models have soared above $1,000.

Samsung is offering a slightly smaller S10 model for $750 in an attempt to make smartphones more affordable, but the higher-end models sell for $900 and $1,000.

The lowest-priced "essentials" model, the S10e, has most of the same features, but is 5 per cent smaller than the S10 in volume. The S10e also lacks curved edges, a signature feature for many Samsung phones.

All three S10 models will come out March 8, with pre-orders starting Thursday.



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