This summer’s Galaxy Unpacked event was the usual great fun. We got a new Galaxy Z Fold 5 with an improved hinge and more powerful chip, plus the Galaxy Z Flip 5 with a cover screen that’s large enough to see what’s going on. These were joined by the return of a much-loved design in the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic, with some refinements to make it even more classy, plus a standard Galaxy Watch 6 and a full new lineup of Samsung tablets.
However, Samsung’s latest product lineup also confirms the road I’ve feared the South Korean gadget maker has been on for at least a few months now. Samsung is getting more serious and less fun and whimsical in its product designs, especially when it comes to color choices.
I’m hoping that 2023 is simply an aberration and Samsung has chosen to be a bit conservative in its color choices. However, there’s no arguing that the entire year has been about subtler and more muted colors across its smartphone, tablet, and wearable lineups. And it’s been pretty disappointing to see.
The first hint of this came with the February launch of the Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23 Plus, and Galaxy S23 Ultra. Samsung packed a lot of powerful technology under the hood of its latest flagships, including an amazingly powerful bespoke Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip, but the outer shells lost a bit of their wow factor.
The 2022 Galaxy S22 lineup had come in a series of dark, bold, and saturated finishes. The standard options were Phantom Black, Phantom White, green, and burgundy, and while I’ll be the first to admit that Phantom Black isn’t much to write home about, the others were quite fetching.
The Phantom White was bright and pure, the green was deep and rich, and the burgundy was one of the loveliest colors I’ve ever seen on a smartphone. Samsung also offered three exclusive colors — graphite, Sky Blue, and red — and while one could argue the red leaned a bit more toward orange, both it and the Sky Blue had a certain depth to them, accented by a bit of a nice metallic sheen.
By contrast, this year’s Galaxy S23 Ultra color selection was a bit of a disappointment. Obviously, Samsung was trying to go for serious colors for a serious smartphone, but I don’t think anybody would have accused the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s array of richer colors to be in any way unprofessional.
Nevertheless, February saw only Phantom Black return for a proper encore. The other off-the-shelf colors were green, lavender, and cream. However, the green was nowhere near the same as we saw on the S22. It was drab and uninspired by comparison, perhaps suitable only for those looking to take their S23 out on a military field exercise.
Similarly, lavender was pale enough to be mistaken for dusty pink, while cream was exactly what you’d expect from a color with that name; less stark than the Phantom White and a nice neutral, inoffensive alternative to Phantom Black.
Samsung also carried over the Sky Blue and red from the Galaxy S22 Ultra but toned those down to more of a matte finish, which leaned the red even farther toward a coral hue. These were arguably the two most attractive options for those who wanted a splash of color on their Galaxy S23 Ultra, but they were only available to those willing to order their phone directly from Samsung.
No reasonable person would have expected the Galaxy S23 Ultra to follow in the footsteps of a fun phone like the Galaxy Z Flip 4, but now it seems even the Galaxy Z Flip 5 isn’t living up to the reputation set by its predecessor.
As standard off-the-shelf colors, you could pick up a Galaxy Z Flip 4 in Bora Purple, Pink Gold, and a very sleek blue that had just the right level of vibrance. It was an excellent selection of colors that fit the style of the Flip 4 beautifully, but Samsung went a big step further with its Bespoke Studio to let you flex your creative muscles to create your own unique style.
While this required a custom order from Samsung, the Bespoke Studio let you mix up your own colors for the rear panel, the glass portion of the upper half, and the frame. All in all, there were 75 combinations to choose from, so you could truly turn your Z Flip 4 into your own unique flip phone.
At the time, Samsung made quite a big deal of this, and the best part was that it didn’t cost extra. Although you might have to wait a bit longer for your customized phone, Samsung also provided a selection of the most popular Galaxy Bespoke Edition styles with faster shipping.
For whatever reason, the Bespoke Edition seems to have been a one-off. It hasn’t carried over to the Galaxy Z Flip 5, nor has fun colors like Bora Purple. Instead, you get to choose from mint, graphite, cream, and lavender — plus exclusive gray, blue, green, and yellow shades directly from Samsung. Sadly, these colors are about as dull as the names suggest. That’s not to say that the exclusive blue, green, and yellow aren’t colorful, but they’re precisely the basic primary colors you’d expect from these shades without any real vibrancy or punch to them.
Since the Galaxy Z Flip 5 seems like it’s supposed to be the most fun and most colorful smartphone in Samsung’s lineup, it’s probably not surprising that the rest of Samsung’s newer products ended up even worse off when it came to creative splashes of color — or the lack thereof.
Like the Galaxy S23 Ultra, the Galaxy Z Fold is a more serious smartphone, but even that one had a nice Graygreen and Samsung-exclusive burgundy on offer last year. This year with the Galaxy Z Fold 5, we get the usual Phantom Black joined by Icy Blue and cream, with a rather pedestrian gray and blue as Samsung exclusives.
While the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic offers few surprises — black and silver are classic watch colors that fit its classic design — the Galaxy Watch 6 loses the sapphire version and replaces pink gold with a more generic gold. While that remains exclusive to the smaller 40mm version, it’s also now your only option other than graphite, as silver is now only available on the larger 44mm model.
The Galaxy Tab S9 lineup has become downright boring, with the only available colors now limited to graphite and beige. That’s a step forward for the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra, as its predecessor only came in graphite, but the Pink Gold and silver of the Tab S8 and Tab S8 Plus are gone in favor of the more neutral beige. It’s a warmer color than the spartan and metallic silver, but it’s not what I’d call exciting.
It’s also an even farther cry from the Galaxy Tab S7, which offered colors that not only looked deep and rich but even had whimsical names like “Mystic Navy,” and it shows how Samsung has been trending toward more “serious” colors for a while now.
This is clearly a conscious decision by Samsung, but it’s a disappointing departure from the colorful and vibrant colors the company used to put out. To make matters worse, it’s also a stark contrast to one of Samsung’s biggest competitors, which has been moving in the opposite direction.
We’re talking about Apple, of course. At one time, the very idea of a colorful iPhone or iPad would have seemed crazy. While Apple toyed with the idea with the iPhone 5c in 2013, it was remarkably short-lived and would take four more years before an iPhone appeared in any real colors beyond the typical shades of black, white, and gold. Even its longstanding partnership with (RED), which kicked off with a special edition (PRODUCT)RED iPod nano in 2006, didn’t lead to a similarly-adorned iPhone until early 2017.
However, it was late 2018 when Apple opened the floodgates with the iPhone XR, and by the following year, even Apple’s more serious iPhone Pro models were getting a uniquely deep and rich finish each year. By 2020, the fourth-generation iPad Air and Apple Watch Series 6 had joined the rainbow.
While the iPhone maker is perhaps the most prominent example of a sea change in colorful design, Apple is far from the only smartphone maker embracing color. Motorola has added some exciting and vibrant colors to the Motorola Razr Plus, and while OnePlus is a bit of a one-trick color pony, it manages to turn out unique and inspiring shades of green year after year — most recently with the lovely OnePlus 11.
Sadly, 2023 has been a far less colorful year for Samsung. The muted and drab dark finishes and washed-out pastels don’t compare to the rich, bold, and saturated colors that have adorned previous models. I’m hopeful this trend won’t continue and that the Galaxy S24 lineup will prove that 2023 was just a bump in the road. But as with all things in the tech world, we’ll just have to wait and see.
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