Google Pixel: a smart step for a smartphone

Jerry Hildenbrand on AndroidCentral:

Morgan Stanley analysts think the Pixel and Pixel XL are going to be really good for Alphabet’s bottom line with over eight million units sold and $6 billion in revenue.

Many consumers complained about the change course and the departure from the now almost legend-wait for it-dary Nexus family, but that affordable family now makes less and less sense.

Competing in the low spectrum of the smartphone market is getting more and more difficult, but the guys at Google know they can differenciate themselves from the rest of Android phone makers by integrating software with hardware better than anyone, à la Apple.

Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL seem to perform really well and their cameras are probably the best on the market right now. They’re on par at least with the ones found on the Galaxy S7/Edge and iPhone 7/Plus, but the inclusion of Google Assistant (still a little bit inmature) could mean a real new start from the hardware division at Google.

It’s weird: Microsoft and Google seemed to making some hardware products just for fun. Now they have showed they can make better (high end) products than the majority of their partners/rivals.

Galaxy Note 7: two chances are too much

When we first learned about the Galaxy Note 7 issues with batteries we thought Samsung had acted the right way: they acknowledge the problem and initiated a massive recall.

The problem seemed to be clear, so the solution was pretty easy: replace the battery, that’s it. Or is it?

Recent events have proven that this was not the case. Several replacement units are defective too and in some cases new explosive/incendiary Galaxy Note 7 smartphones have been reported. This second time carriers all over the world don’t seem confident about Samsung fixing the problem once and for all:

With wireless carriers pulling the plug on sales of replacement units, questions now turn to what’s next for Samsung.

Some analysts are suggesting that Samsung “should scrap the Note 7 altogether and move on“, and it seems certainly the right way to manage this from the outside. From the inside, though, how do you cope with millions of expensive devices ready to sell? How do you fix that disaster and try to recover yourself?

Oscar Wilde once said “to lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness“. That’s what could be applied to this case, and although many people gave Samsung a second chance on the Note 7, I don’t think anybody will give a third one to this device. I suspect Samsung is thinking about halting production for good and focusing on the Galaxy S8.

That would be the right move for us as users, but I don’t know if losing that much money would be acceptable for a company like this. They’ve invested a lot in this device: they need to have to get something else (besides scorched phones) in exchange.

Update (10/13/16): Samsung has stopped sales of the Galaxy Note 7 and issued a second recall of the devices. This seems the end for this device.

VR has too much to prove

Lucas Matney on TechCrunch:

At a company event today in San Francisco, Samsung President & Chief Strategy Officer Young Sohn detailed that the company is actively pursuing both smartphone-focused VR headsets and standalone solutions. The decision to market and ship a dedicated all-in-one device would rely largely on where the VR market goes in the upcoming months and years, he says, and whether the clunky headsets can gain wider adoption.

That seems a smart decision. VR was going to change the world and at the moment both Oculus and HTC have not convinced much people of the revolution that this technology was bringing us.

I see Sony and its PlayStation VR as a much more compelling offer for most users. They’ll have to spend some serious money besides the PS4/Pro itself (the PlayStation VR bundle costs $500 and comes with the headset, PlayStation Camera and two PlayStation Move controllers), but the offer is quite good for a solution that is not that far from what Oculus and HTC give -and I’ve tested all of them-.

Virtual Reality got us excited, but it hasn’t brought that revolution it promised… yet. We’ll see if future titles really show us what this tech is capable of, but as of now, it’s too expensive to exit its niche market.

Apple is the new Samsung

According to recent reports, Apple won’t have just two new iPhones launching in September. They will in fact launch three of them. The iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus will be the natural heirs of the current iPhone 6s/Plus, but there seems to be another model waiting.

It’s the iPhone 7 Pro, which will be the only one with the also rumored dual-camera system. The miserly Apple, at its best.

There won’t be many new features: Apple is saving the best for next year’s iPhone 8, which apparently will be the real thing and will be used to celebrate the iPhone 10th anniversary.

The real news here is how Apple has become a company with a product portfolio that isn’t simple anymore. A few years ago we had just one new iPhone per year. If the rumors are right, in 2016 we will have 4 new models of the iPhone (including the SE).

This Apple is starting to remind me more and more of Samsung. One size doesn’t fit all, and that’s true for Apple too, it seems.

Where is the future of wearables and smartwatches? 

 

This week we’ve been able to see a lot of new products and projects at the Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona. The smartphone is showing its age and the evolution of the latest high-end devices has not been demonstrated on the devices themselves, but on the accesories we can use with them.

Virtual Reality has been the star of the show, but these accesories must prove that they really can work out for users. Last year smartwatches and wearables were clearly getting a lot of headlines, but not this year: this year the MWC hasn’t payed attention to them.

The latest numbers from IDC show how the market for this devices has grown: every company involved has shown double digit growths -Xiaomi multiplied its unit shipments by 12x- and Apple has become the greatest smartwatch vendor out there currently. There’s another confirmation in these numbers: the smartwatch isn’t killing the activity trackers. Far from it.

So if the growth has been so nice, what has happened at the MWC? Why not showing them some love? The reason is clear: there’s currently little room for innovation in current models, but that could change in the next coming months.

First, with the launch of new versions of watchOS and Android Wear before summer. And second, with the arrival of the eSIM, the technology that will transform the smartwatch into an autonomous, independent device that no longer has to rely on the smartphone.

We’re getting there, and I suspect MWC17 will give us a lot of reasons to talk about smartwatches again.

Samsung Upgrade Program: you’ll have the latest and greatest with this subscription model

Apple introduced its upgrade program last year and according to previous data a nice share of iPhone users would be really interested in that kind of subscription model. According to Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, as much as 50% of iPhone 6S buyers would choose the new program. The real results are still not that great, but we’ll probably see them next September, when the new iPhones are announced.

The idea could make a lot of sense for Apple and other big makers, and some sources are pointing out that Samsung is planning to launch a similar subscription model for its high-end phones. Customers will pay a monthly fee that will vary depending on the device, and will be able to get the latests phones -exchanging their current ones- as soon as they’re available. The model is pretty similar to what car companies do with leasing programs that allow to get newer models each year, for example.

Samsung’s upgrade program could be launched at its MWC 2016 event, but according to the current information the deployment of that program will be limited to South Korea initially. It’s unclear if that program will be associated to the integration of an embedded SIM (eSIM) that would make more comfortable for users to manage their devices and their data and voice plans -this has been discussed too with Apple’s Upgrade Program, but it seems unlikely at the present moment: carriers aren’t welcoming this kind of option and they are a key part of the current distribution strategy at Samsung.

This is what we expect from the Samsung Galaxy S7

Expectations are dangerous. They indeed were before Galaxy S6 launch a year ago, because we had been talking for months about the company’s Project Zero and its ambitious plan to reveal devices that really pushed the boundaries that previous models had reach.

Those expectations are again really high this year. Next February 21st we’ll know finally what Samsung is planning to maintain the high-end throne in the Android market. According to several leaks and rumors, Samsung will be present at the Mobile World Congress to launch two new smartphones: the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge, which will be based in Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

This will be, according to famous @evleaks the final design of the new Samsung Galaxy S7 / Edge / Edge+.

Both of them will maintain the QHD (1440p) 5.1-inch display we saw on last year models, but the S7 Edge will feature a curved display. Those curves will be present too (and more pronounced according to recent leaked renders and images) on the edges. There have been some suggestions about it being IP68 certified -a feature that was available on the S5 generation- but that feature hasn’t been so appealing since Sony itself had problems managing expectations on this area. It looks like Samsung could surprise us with a rival to Apple’s Force Touch technology -maybe with a license to use Synaptic’s ClearForce– on those devices as well, but the fact that Google must support this throughout Android makes that feature difficult and risky to implement right now.

One of the biggest changes we’ll see comes from S7’s camera. According to several leakers, Samsung will take advantage of a BRITECELL 12 megapixels sensor with an impressive f/1.7 aperture. The new sensor promises better pictures on low light conditions, and we really hope it can at least match what Samsung did on the S6/Edge and their 16 megapixels sensors. The integration of the new sensor will have another collateral effect: the hump will go from 1.7mm (S6) to 0.8mm according to latest sources.

galaxy-s7-live

There will be also variants in the processor area: the devices will be offered with both the Exynos 8890 and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 depending on the region, and will be accompanied by 4GB of RAM. The battery could see a little bump and reach a capacity of 3,000 mAh and could also be specially efficient according to Eldar Murtazin, who published a screenshot showing two days of battery life on a Galaxy S7. By the way: a USB-C port will be used for the first time on the Galaxy S family of smartphones, according to The Wall Street Journal, but we’ll have to wait for the confirmation to get more info on what’s behind this port (USB 3.0 Gen 1, maybe Gen 2?).

There will be good news for lots of users who complained last year about some features missing from the S5. Besides the chance to see a dust and waterproof smartphone, the most important will be the comeback of the microSD slot, which will allow users to expand storage with up to 200GB.

This are devices that again generate great expectations: we’ll see if they can live up to the hype.

 

 

The smarwatch declaration of independence

iphone1

I’ve been writing about smartwatches since Pebble surprised us with a device that hinted at a revolution. As of now, smartwatches are the revolution that never was, but maybe they were just too early to the party. Maybe they’re waiting their moment.

Walt Mossberg talks about his experience with the Apple Watch on his last column at The Verge, and there are some interesting thoughts there. The first one: he wouln’t miss the device that much in case he lost it. The second: smartwatches aren’t smart enough. The third:

I don’t think the smartwatch needs one “killer app”, but I do believe it needs a capability more compelling than what’s out there so far. It needs to do something, all on its own, that’s useful, quick, secure and cool.

What I do think smartwatches need to do is to be able to work all by themselves. They need a declaration of independence from our smartphones.

This will be the killer app they need.

 

Samsung Gear VR vs Google Cardboard: the differences are night and day

As an owner of a Google Cardboard model, I had doubts about how Samsung Gear VR could really make a difference when the experience should depend more on the mobile phone than on the mobile VR glasses themselves.

In fact, to me the Samsung Gear VR weren’t nothing else than a expensive, pretty version of the Google Cardboard, by I was wrong. On a recent poll in Reddit, some users pointed out the big differences:

  • Better optics
  • Better field of view
  • Better head orientation / tracking (custom sensor vs under-optimized phone sensors when you use Cardboard)
  • Low persistence (reduced blur)
  • Low latency (OS level changes in Samsung phones made by Oculus)
  • High quality lenses
  • Inbuilt ventilation ducts to prevent lens fogging
  • More content
  • A proximity sensor between the lenses so it waits for it to be on your head to begin (and when you take it off, it pauses)
  • Built-in controls (at the right side of the goggles)

The difference is clear according to one of those users:

Cardboard is a toy, Gear VR is real virtual reality

And the recent The Verge’s review confirms that Gear VR’s experience is much more suited for VR fans. We’ll see how Oculus Rift performs -it should nicer, but also more expensive and you’ll need a powerful PC- but it seems Samsung has made a compelling case for affordable* VR here.

*Not that affordable considering that you’ve got to be owner of one of the “2015 Samsung GALAXY flagship smartphones” :/

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Pro is another testimony on why 4K is mostly useless on a laptop

We don’t need latops with 4K UHD screens. At least not yet. The benefits are minimal for most users, because you’ll end using scaled resolutions. That happens on Retina MacBooks since their launch, and for example the 15-inch Retina models have 2800×1800 native resolution, but you end using 1680×1050 or 1280×800 scaled resolutions.

With a UHD screen (3840×2160) you’ll end using 1920×1080 as the scaled resolution -unless you’ve got a really incredible eyesight. You’ll see beautiful detail and definition there, but the impact on battery is clear. The Toshiba Satellite P50T lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes on PCMark 8 Battery Life benchmark -3.5 hours on the Toshiba Radius 12 4K tested by Mossberg-, and although Samsung says this model lasts 6.5 hours, we’ll what’s the real number here. There’s an impact on performance too, although that is well managed by the GeForce GTX 950M included in the package.

The $1,599 price tag isn’t that bad for what Samsung offers in terms of specs, but if you value battery life, 4K laptops are not the way to go. In fact, the interesting one here is his little brother, the ATIV Book 9 Spin:

The $1,399 Samsung ATIV Book 9 Spin has a 13-inch QHD+ display that can rotate 360 degrees, turning this notebook into a tablet.

Not bad for a convertible laptop that offers the same specs minus the discrete GPU and that gimmicky screen. The resolution here (3.200 x 1.800) is nice and the format, with a 13.3 inches diagonal, is much more interesting for users that demand more portability.

Source: Samsung Enters 2-in-1 Fray with ATIV Book 9 Spin