Samsung Metal Phone ‘Galaxy Alpha’ May Be Limited Edition Device

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A man tries out Samsung Electronics' new Galaxy 5 smartphone at the company's headquarters in Seoul April 7, 2014.

Samsung Electronics Co.’s (KRX:005930) long-rumored metal smartphone, the Galaxy Alpha, could be close to release; however, reports indicate that the device may be in limited supply and available only in South Korea.

Rumors about Samsung releasing a metal smartphone called the Samsung Galaxy F have circulated for nearly a year and have yet to be confirmed. Prior to release, reports also suggested that the Samsung Galaxy S5 and its updated Galaxy S5 LTE-A model might have metal designs. These reports turned out to be untrue as both the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy S5 LTE-A have plastic exteriors. News recently surfaced that Samsung plans to call its first metal smartphone the “Galaxy Alpha” and that the device might release in August - with one caveat.

According to reports out of Korea, availability for the Galaxy Alpha may be limited because Samsung’s Chinese metal suppliers may not have the capacity to produce enough units for a major launch. With rival Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: APPL) already working with prominent Taiwanese metal suppliers like Foxconn and Castek Holdings, Samsung is left to negotiate with suppliers that can supposedly produce only about one million metal casings per month. Seeing as the Korean manufacturer usually ships at least 10 million units of a smartphone within the first month of a major launch, making the Galaxy Alpha widely available may simply not be possible.

If reports are accurate, this could suggest a slim chance of Samsung ever producing a metal device for international availability. Notably, other manufacturers that offer full-metal devices have much smaller sales demands than companies like Samsung or Apple. HTC Corp. (TPE: 2498) for example released itsHTC One (M8), which is 90 percent metal, in March. The device has reportedly sold half a million units as of May.

Reports in September 2013 indicated that Samsung was in talks with Taiwanese metal supplier Catcher as well as suppliers in South Korea and other countries; however, these reports were never confirmed. Additionally, the company has always argued that its use of plastic chassis encourages the quick and efficient manufacturing that enables it to release a new flagship device every year, each one selling better than its predecessor. With its most recent devices like the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung has focused on updating its polycarbonate design to something more appeling than glossy plastic, rather than incorporating metal.

Still, details about the Galaxy Alpha are already available, such as its possible Exynos 5 Octa chipset and 4.7-inch Super AMOLED display. The device may also be 6-mm thick (about 0.24 inch), similar to the recently released Samsung Galaxy Tab S tablet, which has a thickness comparable to a stack of five credit cards.

Another reason the Galaxy Alpha may be offered only in South Korea is that it is expected to be compatible with Samsung’s new broadband LTE-A mobile network. The LTE-A mobile communication standard connects electronic devices to the Internet wirelessly at faster speeds than most common networks allow, and broadband LTE-A, which was introduced on the Samsung Galaxy S5 LTE-A smartphone in June, supports upload and download speeds of up to 300 megabits per second.

Currently, South Korea is the only country providing broadband LTE-A Internet speeds.

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