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Samsung unveils foldable phone and 5G Galaxy S

The Galaxy Z Flip starts as a large square when closed and unfolds to look like most smartphones.

San Francisco

SAMSUNG Electronics on Tuesday unveiled a foldable smartphone shaped like a large makeup compact, and put 5G mobile network capabilities into all of its other flagship devices as it strives to retain the mantle of biggest global phone company.

Samsung's second attempt at a folding phone after a delayed rollout last year comes as the South Korean firm fends off its traditional rival in the premium smartphone market, Apple, along with ascendant Chinese makers such as Huawei, which has eaten into its sales in China and Europe.

Huawei has only released its own folding phones in China, and Apple has yet to release a 5G iPhone of any kind. Analysts see the folding screen as a nod to fashion-focused consumers; the 5G phones, on the other hand, aim to give Samsung technology bragging rights over Apple.

The Galaxy Z Flip, with folding glass, starts as a large square when closed and expands to look like most smartphones. It will start at US$1,380 and be available from Friday in purple, gold and black, executives said in San Francisco.

Last year's Galaxy Fold, a larger unit that folds like a book and was panned for its construction, had a plastic screen.

Both phones may have creases at the center of the folding screens. Samsung has called the crease a "natural characteristic" of the technology.

Samsung also announced a Galaxy S20 phone, starting at US$999 and available in March. This will have a 5G option. The Z Flip, however, is a 4G phone.

Of the Z Flip's lack of 5G, Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy said: "Everybody wants it to have 5G, but with the segment they're targeting - style-conscious younger folks - right now, I think they are going to be OK."

Samsung was the No. 1 smart phone company overall last year, with 21.6 per cent of the global market, said International Data Corporation (IDC). But in the December quarter, it lost that title to Apple, powered by the new lower prices for the iPhone 11 launched in the fall, which helped the US firm mark its best growth since 2015.

Globally, Samsung also faces stiff competition from Huawei, which was a close third in market share in the fourth quarter, although the Chinese company is caught in a US-China battle over security and technology.

The new S20 devices will come equipped with chips that can handle the multiple kinds of 5G networks being built by different carriers, the first for a phone sold in the United States.

Cristiano Amon, president of Qualcomm, which supplied the chips for many of devices unveiled on Tuesday, said: "It's really about delivering the full potential of 5G."

Samsung has moved rear camera lenses of the new Galaxy S20 devices, which compete head-to-head with iPhones, into a squarish black panel, bringing cameras closer to the design of the iPhone 11 series.

It also showed off two other Galaxy S phones. The device also shoots 8K video, the highest resolution video now commonly available.

Samsung also showed how 8K video on its phones could be sent to its televisions. Bob O'Donnell of TECHnalysis Research said: "The camera battles in smartphones are absolutely back."

Neil Mawston, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, said: "Foldables are expensive and very hard to manufacture. It will take time for foldables to become mass-market products."

He expects a mass-market takeoff by 2022 or 2023.

"For now, foldables are a super-premium product that can drive profits or a halo effect for the Samsung brand." Limited foldable display productivity will constrain Samsung, industry officials and analysts say. REUTERS