Last quarter, the world’s biggest smartphone brand sold about 700,000 smartphones in the world’s largest smartphone market.

That gave Samsung a whopping… 1% of China’s smartphone market, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. In that same period, Huawei and Apple sold 36 million and 6.6 million phones respectively. 

If Samsung is hoping to change things for the better in China, it could well depend on the Korean giants’ latest flagships. Freshly unveiled and set to hit the shelves later this month, the Galaxy Note 10 series might just show how much favor Samsung still has in a market it once dominated.

The Galaxy Note 10 and 10+ are slated to go on sale in late August. (Picture: Samsung)

But initial reactions on Chinese social media seem average at best. 

“Forgive me for my honesty, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus is as strong as ever, and it looks as good as before. But I still feel like it’s not good enough, that it lacks surprises, “said one Weibo commenter. “Maybe it’s because I’m influenced by the pace of Huawei and other domestic manufacturers in recent years.”

“Woke up early and read news about the Note 10 on Weibo,” said another commenter. “I  feel that there isn’t much worth mentioning.” 

“The Samsung Note 10 series has officially arrived, but frankly it didn’t dazzle me,” a blogger wrote. “This isn’t to say it’s no good. On the contrary, I think the Note 10 series could be the one product in the Samsung Note line in recent years that meets standards in both looks and specs.”

Updates like the removal of the headphone jack and shifting the hole-punch selfie camera from the side to the center don’t seem to attract as much attention. And if there’s one culprit for the lukewarm reaction to the Galaxy Note 10, it could be China’s increasingly cut-throat smartphone market.

Circulating on Chinese social media: A picture mocking the Galaxy Note 10’s hole-punch camera. It’s a play on a previous campaign from Samsung ridiculing the iPhone’s notch. (Picture: Weibo)

Once known as copycats, homegrown companies are now considered innovators. Huawei garnered praise for the camera on its P30 Pro. Vivo pioneered a pop-up phone camera. Xiaomi and Oppo are both experimenting with selfie cameras that hide underneath the screen. And nearly all of them are releasing 5G phones this year. 

Spoiled by a wealth of choices, Chinese consumers are becoming harder than ever to please -- at a time when people just aren’t buying as many phones as they used to

Samsung’s downfall in China hasn’t been abrupt. For several years now, it’s been accused of digging its own grave. Besides a growing rivalry with Chinese brands, Samsung has also been blamed for mishandling the Galaxy Note 7 battery crisis and ignoring consumers in smaller cities.

Recent efforts to improve its image were a string of hits and misses. While the Samsung Galaxy S10 phones were better received in China than expected, a launch of the Galaxy A8 was ridiculed for its partnership with a knockoff streetwear brand. Then in an extraordinary marketing attempt, Samsung’s chip unit decided to give away a free Huawei phone. The free phone was was meant to promote the Samsung chipset inside, but many Chinese netizens were still baffled.

Even with the Note 10 release, some users in China still aren’t convinced that Samsung can win back the hearts of Chinese consumers.

“Samsung used to have too much of a sense of superiority in China,” wrote one Weibo user. “It was earning the money of our people, yet it didn’t pay attention to their feelings. It was slowly being abandoned. It’s difficult to change this feeling, whether its products are good or not!”