Arik Hesseldahl

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Samsung Galaxy S4 Costs $237 to Build, Teardown Analysis Shows

samsungs4_exploded-featureA look inside Samung’s new high-profile smartphone, the Galaxy S4, shows that the South Korean electronics giant is using numerous components produced by its various internally owned subsidiaries.

A teardown analysis conducted by the market research firm IHS, due to be released tomorrow, has pegged Samsung’s cost of materials and manufacturing to produce the U.S. version of the 32 gigabyte model of the S4 at slightly above $237 per unit. Without a contract subsidy, the entry-level 16GB version of the phone costs $639 when sold by AT&T Wireless.

The cost is somewhat higher than that of Apple’s iPhone 5, the base model of which costs $205 to build for a 16GB version, according to an IHS analysis conducted last fall. It’s also well above the cost of Nokia’s Lumia 900, which costs $209 to build, IHS found at the time.

The S4 cost is not far below the cost of Samsung’s larger Galaxy Note tablet, the cost of which IHS estimated last year to be $270.

Most phone manufacturers source their components from many different suppliers. But Samsung, a large, diversified manufacturer of many different kinds of electronic components, has used its significant capabilities to supply itself with many of the key parts inside most versions of the S4 phone sold around the world.

“Samsung’s strength is this ability to in-source to itself,” IHS analyst Vincent Leung said in an interview. “They just keep adding to the list of components that they can supply to themselves.”

One key component that Samsung did not supply to itself for versions of the phone being sold in the U.S. was the main applications processor. U.S. versions of the phone contain a Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, which contributes $20 to the overall cost.

Versions of the phone sold in Korea and other markets around the world contain a Samsung-made chip called the Exynos 5 Octa that costs $28. Samsung is known to be manufacturing at least four variations of the phone for different market geographies around the world, including at least two being sold in the U.S., one going to AT&T and T-Mobile, and another going to Verizon Wireless and Sprint, said Andrew Rassweiler, another IHS analyst.

“Samsung is demonstrating its ability to suit the tastes of carriers in different regions of the world,” Rassweiler said. “It comes down to what the market is willing to spend on the features offered.”

The fact that Samsung used the Qualcomm-made chip is a testament to the U.S. chipmaker’s prowess. “Even with all the vertical integration it’s doing, it’s not like Samsung has given up on Qualcomm,” Rassweiler said.

One interesting difference between the U.S. and Korean versions resulted from the difference in the choice of processor. U.S. versions of the phone contain an image-processing chip made by Japan’s Fujitsu that added $1.50 to the total cost. Leung says that in the Korean versions, some of the image processing is handed off to Samsung’s Exynos chip.

Samsung also supplied the flash memory used to store data on the device. IHS estimates that 16GB of memory added $28 to the cost of the device.

The Korean giant also supplied itself with a display and touchscreen parts, which added $75 to the cost of components. The combined display package also includes Gorilla Glass, a strong glass material made by U.S.-based Corning.

Samsung is also thought to have supplied itself with several unlabeled components, including the camera module and some wireless baseband chips.

A few non-Samsung suppliers include Broadcom, which provided Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips; Maxim, which provided a power-management chip; and Triquint Semiconductor, which provided some wireless chips.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald