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Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ review

Posted by | Bixby, galaxy note 10, hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Samsung, samsung galaxy note, samsung galaxy note 10, TC | No Comments

It’s true, you’ve got the Galaxy Note to thank for your big phone. When the device hit the scene at IFA 2011, large screens were still a punchline. That same year, Steve Jobs famously joked about phones with screens larger than four inches, telling a crowd of reporters, “nobody’s going to buy that.”

In 2019, the average screen size hovers around 5.5 inches. That’s a touch larger than the original Note’s 5.3 inches — a size that was pretty widely mocked by much of the industry press at the time. Of course, much of the mainstreaming of larger phones comes courtesy of a much improved screen to body ratio, another place where Samsung has continued to lead the way.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

In some sense, the Note has been doomed by its own success. As the rest of the industry caught up, the line blended into the background. Samsung didn’t do the product any favors by dropping the pretense of distinction between the Note and its Galaxy S line.

Ultimately, the two products served as an opportunity to have a six-month refresh cycle for its flagships. Samsung, of course, has been hit with the same sort of malaise as the rest of the industry. The smartphone market isn’t the unstoppable machine it appeared to be two or three years back.

Like the rest of the industry, the company painted itself into a corner with the smartphone race, creating flagships good enough to convince users to hold onto them for an extra year or two, greatly slowing the upgrade cycle in the process. Ever-inflating prices have also been a part of smartphone sales stagnation — something Samsung and the Note are as guilty of as any.

So what’s a poor smartphone manufacturer to do? The Note 10 represents baby steps. As it did with the S line recently, Samsung is now offering two models. The base Note 10 represents a rare step backward in terms of screen size, shrinking down slightly from 6.4 to 6.3 inches, while reducing resolution from Quad HD to Full HD.

The seemingly regressive step lets Samsung come in a bit under last year’s jaw dropping $1,000. The new Note is only $50 cheaper, but moving from four to three figures may have a positive psychological effect for wary buyers. While the slightly smaller screen coupled with a better screen to body ratio means a device that’s surprisingly slim.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

If anything, the Note 10+ feels like the true successor to the Note line. The baseline device could have just as well been labeled the Note 10 Lite. That’s something Samsung is keenly aware of, as it targets first-time Note users with the 10 and true believers with the 10+. In both cases, Samsung is faced with the same task as the rest of the industry: offering a compelling reason for users to upgrade.

Earlier this week, a Note 9 owner asked me whether the new device warrants an upgrade. The answer is, of course, no. The pace of smartphone innovation has slowed, even as prices have risen. Honestly, the 10 doesn’t really offer that many compelling reasons to upgrade from the Note 8.

That’s not a slight against Samsung or the Note, per se. If anything, it’s a reflection on the fact that these phones are quite good — and have been for a while. Anecdotally, industry excitement around these devices has been tapering for a while now, and the device’s launch in the midst of the doldrums of August likely didn’t help much.

The past few years have seen smartphones transform from coveted, bleeding-edge luxury to necessity. The good news to that end, however, is that the Note continues to be among the best devices out there.

The common refrain in the earliest days of the phablet was the inability to wrap one’s fingers around the device. It’s a pragmatic issue. Certainly you don’t want to use a phone day to day that’s impossible to hold. But Samsung’s remarkable job of improving screen to body ratio continues here. In fact, the 6.8-inch Note 10+ has roughly the same footprint as the 6.4-inch Note 9.

The issue will still persist for those with smaller hands — though thankfully Samsung’s got a solution for them in the Note 10. For the rest of us, the Note 10+ is easily held in one hand and slipped in and out of pants pockets. I realize these seem like weird things to say at this point, but I assure you they were legitimate concerns in the earliest days of the phablet, when these things were giant hunks of plastic and glass.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung’s curved display once again does much of the heavy lifting here, allowing the screen to stretch nearly from side to side with only a little bezel at the edge. Up top is a hole-punch camera — that’s “Infinity O” to you. Those with keen eyes no doubt immediately noticed that Samsung has dropped the dual selfie camera here, moving toward the more popular hole-punch camera.

The company’s reasoning for this was both aesthetic and, apparently, practical. The company moved back down to a single camera for the front (10 megapixel), using similar reasoning as Google’s single rear-facing camera on the Pixel: software has greatly improved what companies can do with a single lens. That’s certainly the case to a degree, and a strong case can be made for the selfie camera, which we generally require less of than the rear-facing array.

The company’s gone increasingly minimalist with the design language — something I appreciate. Over the years, as the smartphone has increasingly become a day to day utility, the product’s design has increasingly gotten out of its own way. The front and back are both made of a curved Gorilla Glass that butts up against a thin metal form with a total thickness of 7.9 millimeters.

On certain smooth surfaces like glass, you’ll occasionally find the device gliding slightly. I’d say the chances of dropping it are pretty decent with its frictionless design language, so you’re going to want to get a case for your $1,000 phone. Before you do, admire that color scheme on the back. There are four choices in all. Like the rest of the press, we ended up with Aura Glow.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

It features a lovely, prismatic effect when light hits it. It’s proven a bit tricky to photograph, honestly. It’s also a fingerprint magnet, but these are the prices we pay to have the prettiest phone on the block.

One of the interesting footnotes here is how much the design of the 10 will be defined by what the device lost. There are two missing pieces here — both of which are a kind of concession from Samsung for different reasons. And for different reasons, both feel inevitable.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The headphone jack is, of course, the biggie. Samsung kicked and screamed on that one, holding onto the 3.5mm with dear life and roundly mocking the competition (read: Apple) at every turn. The company must have known it was a matter of time, even before the iPhone dropped the port three years ago.

Courage.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung glossed over the end of the jack (and apparently unlisted its Apple-mocking ads in the process) during the Note’s launch event. It was a stark contrast from a briefing we got around the device’s announcement, where the company’s reps spent significantly more time justifying the move. They know us well enough to know that we’d spend a little time taking the piss out of the company after three years of it making the once ubiquitous port a feature. All’s fair in love and port. And honestly, it was mostly just some good-natured ribbing. Welcome to the club, Samsung.

As for why Samsung did it now, the answer seems to be two-fold. The first is a kind of critical mass in Bluetooth headset usage. Allow me to quote myself from a few weeks back:

The tipping point, it says, came when its internal metrics showed that a majority of users on its flagship devices (the S and Note lines) moved to Bluetooth streaming. The company says the number is now in excess of 70% of users.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Also, as we’re all abundantly aware, the company put its big battery ambitions on hold for a bit, as it dealt with…more burning problems. A couple of recalls, a humble press release and an eight-point battery check later, and batteries are getting bigger again. There’s a 3,500mAh on the Note 10 and a 4,300mAh on the 10+. I’m happy to report that the latter got me through a full day plus three hours on a charge. Not bad, given all of the music and videos I subjected it to in that time.

There’s no USB-C dongle in-box. The rumors got that one wrong. You can pick up a Samsung-branded adapter for $15, or get one for much cheaper elsewhere. There is, however, a pair of AKG USB-C headphones in-box. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Samsung doesn’t get enough credit for its free headphones. I’ve been known to use the pairs with other devices. They’re not the greatest the world, but they’re better sounding and more comfortable than what a lot of other companies offer in-box.

Obviously the standard no headphone jack things apply here. You can’t use the wired headphones and charge at the same time (unless you go wireless). You know the deal.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The other missing piece here is the Bixby button. I’m sure there are a handful of folks out there who will bemoan its loss, but that’s almost certainly a minority of the minority here. Since the button was first introduced, folks were asking for the ability to remap it. Samsung finally relented on that front, and with the Note 10, it drops the button altogether.

Thus far the smart assistant has been a disappointment. That’s due in no small part to a late launch compared to the likes of Siri, Alexa and Assistant, coupled with a general lack of capability at launch. In Samsung’s defense, the company’s been working to fix that with some pretty massive investment and a big push to court developers. There’s hope for Bixby yet, but a majority of users weren’t eager to have the assistant thrust upon them.

Instead, the power button has been shifted to the left of the device, just under the volume rocker. I preferred having it on the other side, especially for certain functions like screenshotting (something, granted, I do much more than the average user when reviewing a phone). That’s a pretty small quibble, of course.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Bixby can now be quickly accessed by holding down the power button. Handily, Samsung still lets you reassign the function there, if you really want Bixby out of your life. You can also hold down to get the power off menu or double press to launch Bixby or a third-party app (I opted for Spotify, probably my most used these days), though not a different assistant.

Imaging, meanwhile, is something Samsung’s been doing for a long time. The past several generations of S and Note devices have had great camera systems, and it continues to be the main point of improvement. It’s also one of few points of distinction between the 10 and 10+, aside from size.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The Note 10+ has four, count ’em, four rear-facing cameras. They are as follows:

  • Ultra Wide: 16 megapixel
  • Wide: 12 megapixel
  • Telephoto: 12 megapixel
  • DepthVision

Samsung Galaxy Note10

That last one is only on the plus. It’s comprised of two little circles to the right of the primary camera array and just below the flash. We’ll get to that in a second.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The main camera array continues to be one of the best in mobile. The inclusion of telephoto and ultra-wide lenses allow for a wide range of different shots, and the hardware coupled with machine learning makes it a lot more difficult to take a bad photo (though believe me, it’s still possible).

The live focus feature (Portrait mode, essentially) comes to video, with four different filters, including Color Point, which makes everything but the subject black and white.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Samsung’s also brought a very simple video editor into the mix here, which is nice on the fly. You can edit the length of clips, splice in other clips, add subtitles and captions and add filters and music. It’s pretty beefy for something baked directly into the camera app, and one of the better uses I’ve found for the S Pen.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Note 10+ with Super Steady (left), iPhone XS (right)

Ditto for the improved Super Steady offering, which smooths out shaky video, including Hyperlapse mode, where handshakes are a big issue. It works well, but you do lose access to other features, including zoom. For that reason, it’s off by default and should be used relatively sparingly.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Note 10+ (left), iPhone XS (right)

Zoom-on Mic is a clever addition, as well. While shooting video, pinch-zooming on something will amplify the noise from that area. I’ve been playing around with it in this cafe. It’s interesting, but less than perfect.

Zooming into something doesn’t exactly cancel out ambient noise from outside of the frame. Everything still gets amplified in the process and, like digital picture zoom, a lot of noise gets added in the process. Those hoping for a kind of spy microphone, I’m sorry/happy to report that this definitely is not that.

Screen Shot 2019 08 16 at 5.43.43 PM 2

The DepthVision Camera is also pretty limited as I write this. If anything, it’s Samsung’s attempt to brace for a future when things like augmented reality will (theoretically) play a much larger role in our mobile computing. In a conversation I had with the company ahead of launch, they suggested that a lot of the camera’s AR functions will fall in the hands of developers.

For now, Quick Measure is the one practical use. The app is a lot like Apple’s more simply titled Measure. Fire it up, move the camera around to get a lay of the land and it will measure nearby objects for you. An interesting showcase for AR potential? Sure. Earth shattering? Naw. It also seems to be a bit of a battery drain, sucking up the last few bits of juice as I was running it down.

3D Scanner, on the other hand, got by far the biggest applause line of the Note event. And, indeed, it’s impressive. In the stage demo, a Samsung employee scanned a stuffed pink beaver (I’m not making this up), created a 3D image and animated it using an associate’ movements. Practical? Not really. Cool? Definitely.

It was, however, not available at press time. Hopefully it proves to be more than vaporware, especially if that demo helped push some viewers over to the 10+. Without it, there’s just not a lot of use for the depth camera at the moment.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

There’s also AR Doodle, which fills a similar spot as much of the company’s AR offerings. It’s kind of fun, but again, not particularly useful. You’ll likely end up playing with it for a few minutes and forget about it entirely. Such is life.

The feature is built into the camera app, using depth sensing to orient live drawings. With the stylus you can draw in space or doodle on people’s faces. It’s neat, the AR works okay and I was bored with it in about three minutes. Like Quick Measure, the feature is as much a proof of concept as anything. But that’s always been a part of Samsung’s kitchen-sink approach — some combination of useful and silly.

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That said, points to Samsung for continuing to de-creepify AR Emojis. Those have moved firmly away from the uncanny valley into something more cartoony/adorable. Less ironic usage will surely follow.

Asked about the key differences between the S and Note lines, Samsung’s response was simple: the S Pen. Otherwise, the lines are relatively interchangeable.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung’s return of the stylus didn’t catch on for handsets quite like the phablet form factor. They’ve made a pretty significant comeback for tablets, but the Note remains fairly singular when it comes to the S Pen. I’ve never been a big user myself, but those who like it swear by it. It’s one of those things like the ThinkPad pointing stick or BlackBerry scroll wheel.

Like the phone itself, the peripheral has been streamlined with a unibody design. Samsung also continues to add capabilities. It can be used to control music, advance slideshows and snap photos. None of that is likely to convince S Pen skeptics (I prefer using the buttons on the included headphones for music control, for example), but more versatility is generally a good thing.

If anything is going to convince people to pick up the S Pen this time out, it’s the improved handwriting recognition. That’s pretty impressive. It was even able to decipher my awful chicken scratch.

Note 10

You get the same sort of bleeding-edge specs here you’ve come to expect from Samsung’s flagships. The 10+ gets you a baseline 256GB of storage (upgradable to 512), coupled with a beefy 12GB of RAM (the regular Note is a still good 8GB/256GB). The 5G version sports the same numbers and battery (likely making its total life a bit shorter per charge). That’s a shift from the S10, whose 5G version was specced out like crazy. Likely Samsung is bracing for 5G to become less of a novelty in the next year or so.

The new Note also benefits from other recent additions, like the in-display fingerprint reader and wireless power sharing. Both are nice additions, but neither is likely enough to warrant an immediate upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Once again, that’s not an indictment of Samsung, so much as a reflection of where we are in the life cycle of a mature smartphone industry. The Note 10+ is another good addition to one of the leading smartphone lines. It succeeds as both a productivity device (thanks to additions like DeX and added cross-platform functionality with Windows 10) and an everyday handset.

There’s not enough on-board to really recommend an upgrade from the Note 8 or 9 — especially at that $1,099 price. People are holding onto their devices for longer, and for good reason (as detailed above). But if you need a new phone, are looking for something big and flashy and are willing to splurge, the Note continues to be the one to beat.

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Huawei pushes back launch of 5G foldable, the Mate X

Posted by | Android, Asia, foldable smartphone, huawei, huawei mate x, Mobile, Samsung, samsung galaxy fold, shenzhen, smartphone, tablet computer | No Comments

If you were desperately ripping days off of your calendar until you could get your hands on Huawei’s $2,600 5G foldable, the Mate X — which was originally slated to launch next month — it sounds like you’re going to have to wait a bit longer, per TechRadar which attended a press event at Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters today. 

It reports being told there is no possibility of a September launch. Instead Huawei is now aiming for November. But the company would only profess itself certain its first smartphone that folds out to a (square) tablet will launch before 2020. So it seems Mate X buyers may need to wait until circa Christmas to fondle this foldable.

It’s not clear exactly why the launch is being delayed. But — speculating wildly — we imagine it’s something to do with the fact that the screen, er, folds.

We’ve reached out to Huawei for official comment on the delay.

Huawei’s Mate X date slippage suggests Samsung will still be first to market with its (previously) delayed Galaxy Fold — which was itself delayed after a bunch of review units broke (because, well, did we tell you the screen folds?).

Last we heard, the Galaxy Fold is slated for a September release — Samsung seemingly confident it’s fixed the problem of how to make a foldable phone survive actual use.

Of course survival in the wild very much remains to be seen with any of these foldable. So expect TC’s in house hardware guru, Brian Heater, to put all of these expensively hinged touchscreens through their paces.

Returning to Huawei’s Mate X, potential buyers may not be entirely reassured to learn the company appeared to dangle rather more information about a planned sequel in front of reporters at the press event.

A sequel which may or may not have even more screens, as Huawei is apparently considering putting glass on the back. Yes, glass. (The gen-one Mate X will have a steel back.) Glass panels which it says could double as touchscreens. On the back. As well as the front. We have no idea if that means the price-tag will double too.

This theoretical quad (?) screen foldable follow-up to the still unreleased Mate X might even be released as soon as next year, according to TechRadar’s reportage. Or — again speculating wildly — it might never be released. Because, frankly, it sounds mental. But that’s the wacky world of foldables for ya.

There may be method in this madness too. Because, since smartphones turned into all-screen devices — making it almost impossible to tell one touch-sensitive slab from another — plucky Android device makers are trying to find a way to put more screen on the slab so you can see more.

If they can pull that off it might be great. However sticking a hinge right through the middle of a smartphone’s primary feature and function without that simultaneously causing problems is certainly a major engineering challenge.

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Xiaomi tops Indian smartphone market for eighth straight quarter

Posted by | Apple, Asia, Gadgets, hardware, india, Mobile, OnePlus, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, smartphones, vivo, Xiaomi | No Comments

Xiaomi has now been India’s top smartphone seller for eight straight quarters. The company has become a constant headache for Samsung in the world’s second largest smartphone market as sales have slowed pretty much everywhere else in the world.

The Chinese electronics giant shipped 10.4 million handsets in the quarter that ended in June, commanding 28.3% of the market, research firm IDC reported Tuesday. Its closest rival, Samsung — which once held the top spot in India — shipped 9.3 million handsets in the nation during the same period, settling for a 25.3% market share.

Overall, 36.9 million handsets were shipped in India during the second quarter of this year, up 9.9% from the same period last year, IDC reported. This was the highest volume of handsets ever shipped in India for Q2, the research firm said.

As smartphone shipments slow or decline in most of the world, India has emerged as an outlier that continues to show strong momentum as tens of millions of people purchase their first handset in the country each quarter.

Research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch that there are about 450 million smartphone users in India, up from about 350 million late last year and 300 million in late 2017. This growth has made India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, the fastest growing market worldwide.

Globally, meanwhile, smartphone shipments declined by 2.3% year-over-year in Q2 2019, according to IDC.

Chinese phone makers Vivo and Oppo, both of which spent lavishly in marketing during the recent local favorite cricket season in India, also expanded their base in the country. Vivo had 15.1% of the local market share, up from 12.6% in Q2 2018, while Oppo’s share grew from 7.6% to 9.7% during the same period. The market share of Realme, which has gained following after it started to replicate some of Xiaomi’s early models, also shot up, moving from 1.2% in Q2 2018 to 7.7% in Q2 2019.

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Samsung showroom demonstrator seen showing the features of new S10 Smartphone during the launching ceremony (Photo by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The key to gaining market share in India has remained unchanged over the years: better specs at lower prices. The average selling price of a handset during Q2 was $159 in the quarter that ended in June this year. Seventy-eight percent of the 36.9 million phones that shipped in India during this period sported a sticker price below $200, IDC said.

That’s not to say that phones priced above $200 don’t have a market in India. Per IDC, the fastest growing smartphone segment in the nation was priced between $200 to $300, witnessing a 105.2% growth over the same period last year.

Smartphones priced between $400 and $600 were the second-fastest growing segment in the country, with a 16.1% growth since the same period last year. Chinese phone maker OnePlus assumed 63.6% of this premium segment, followed by Apple (which has less than 2% of the overall local market share) and Samsung.

Feature phones that have maintained a crucial position in India’s handsets market continue to maintain their significant footprint, though their popularity is beginning to wane — 32.4 million feature phones shipped in India during Q2 this year, down 26.3% since the same period last year.

Xiaomi versus Samsung

India has become Xiaomi’s biggest market. It entered the country five years ago, and for the first two, relied mostly on selling handsets online to cut overhead. But the company has since established and expanded its presence in the brick and mortar market, which continues to account for much of the sales in the country.

Earlier this month, the Chinese phone maker said it had set up its 2,000th Mi Home store in India. It is on track to have a presence in 10,000 physical stores in the country by the end of the year, and expects to see half of its sales come from the offline market by that time frame.

Samsung has stepped up its game in India in the last two years, as well. The company, which opened the world’s largest phone factory in the country last year, has ramped up productions of its Galaxy A series of smartphones that are aimed at budget-conscious customers and conceptualized a similar series that includes Galaxy M10, M20 and M30 smartphone models for the Indian market. The Galaxy A series handsets drove much of the growth for the company, IDC said.

Even as it lags behind Xiaomi, Samsung shipped more handsets in Q2 2019 compared to Q2 2018 (9.3 million versus 8 million) and its market share grew from 23.9% to 25.3% during the same period.

“The vendor was also offering attractive channel schemes to clear the stocks of Galaxy J series. Galaxy M series (exclusive online till the end of 2Q19) saw price reductions, which helped retain the 13.5% market share in the online channel in 2Q19 for Samsung,” IDC said.

But the South Korean giant continues to have a tough time passing Xiaomi, which continues to maintain low profit margins (Xiaomi says it only makes 5% profit on any hardware it sells). Xiaomi has also expanded its local production efforts in India and created more than 10,000 jobs in the country, more than 90% of which have been filled by women.

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Samsung’s Note 10 game streaming arrives in early September

Posted by | galaxy note 10, Gaming, Mobile, parsec, Samsung | No Comments

PlayGalaxy Link got fleetingly little stage time at last week’s Unpacked event. It’s true that Samsung had a lot of information to jam into the hour-long press conference, but the offering was glazed over during a brief segment on mobile gaming — a surprising choice given how big of an industry the category has become.

We got a little more information from the company by way of a quick “hands-on” video served through Samsung’s Korean video channel, but that’s about all we’ve heard. Here’s what we know to date: GamePlay Live is a streaming service that makes it possible to stream PC games to the Note 10.

We can now add that the service will be available as a downloadable app (for Android and Windows 10) at some point during the first two weeks of September. The service is free and leverages technology created by Parsec, a New York-based cloud gaming startup that we covered way back in late 2017. The company’s technology is being used in the PlayGalaxy app, allowing users to stream titles from a Windows PC with limited latency.

“It’s humbling and exciting to us to be the chosen partner to provide the low latency streaming technology that powers the PlayGalaxy Link application,” Parsec’s CEO and co-founder Benjy Boxer says in a release. “This further demonstrates that our market leading technology can form the core of any game streaming product. Providing our ultra low latency high frame rate streaming software and our proprietary networking to other companies furthers our mission to democratize access to games.”

Parsec Artwork

The offering arrives as some of tech’s most prominent names are taking more active — although often distinct — interests in mobile gaming. Apple will be launching its arcade mobile gaming subscription service, while Google is offering full-on remote game streaming through Stadia. Microsoft, which recently announced a major partnership with Samsung, will provide similar console-to-mobile streaming with the Xbox.

Parsec, meanwhile, will be offering developer tools through a newly released SDK.

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Samsung is bringing PC game streaming to the Note 10

Posted by | Gaming, PlayGalaxy Link, Samsung, samsung galaxy note 10 | No Comments

One of the more interesting news tidbits from yesterday’s Unpacked event got a bit drowned out in all of the noise. Understandably so — Samsung jammed a lot into an event that ran just over an hour, virtually sprinting through a handful of gaming announcements.

The below video is the best demonstration we have of PlayGalaxy Link, a new feature that makes it possible to stream games directly from a PC to the Galaxy Note 10. Why the company didn’t make a bigger deal of the feature is beyond me, but when Apple and Google are really starting to get involved in gaming in earnest, Samsung really ought to have shone a bigger light on the new offering.

From the sound of it, the feature will be similar to one that Microsoft has been working on for the Xbox, letting users stream games from their PC onto the mobile device, whether or not they’re on a shared Wi-Fi.

The video showcases the connection, as a user links a Samsung Odyssey gaming laptop to a Note nestled inside a gamepad controller. Things are initiated by signing in on the desktop, opening the PlayGalaxy Link app on the Note and clicking “Start.” In the video, at least, game play happens simultaneously on both machines.

PlayGalaxy is Samsung’s latest shot at getting more heavily involved in mobile gaming, arriving on the heels of the Apple Arcade and Google Stadia announcements. And while the new Note offers a number of hardware features optimized for gaming, it does appear that, as with Microsoft and Google’s offering, the PC is doing the heavy lifting here.

The offering seems to be linked to Samsung’s recently announced partnership with Microsoft — itself a clear shot across the bow against Apple’s ecosystem offering. There are still a lot of questions here, including how bad that lag is going to be. More coming soon, no doubt. 

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Daily Crunch: Samsung unveils the Galaxy Note 10

Posted by | Daily Crunch, galaxy note 10, hardware, Mobile, Samsung | No Comments

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. This is Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 and 10+

The landscape has changed dramatically since the Galaxy Note was first unveiled in 2011, with Samsung pulling the rest of the industry into a world of bigger screens.

Now, the question is how to make the latest updates compelling. With the Note 10 and 10+ (available August 23 at a starting price of $950), Samsung is splitting the line into two distinct devices, and it’s getting rid of the headphone jack.

2. Google launches ‘Live View’ AR walking directions for Google Maps

The Live View feature isn’t designed with the idea that you’ll hold up your phone continually as you walk. Instead, in provides quick, easy and super-useful orientation by showing you arrows and big, readable street markers overlaid on the real scene in front of you.

3. Lyft’s stock is a roller coaster after its Q2 earnings release

Despite big losses, what made Wall Street happy was Lyft’s optimism for Q3, as well as the full-year 2019.

Netflix app icon iOS

Photo: TechCrunch

4. Netflix signs multi-year deal with ‘Game of Thrones’ showrunners

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the deal is worth $200 million. This follows expensive Netflix pacts with other high-profile showrunners, including Ryan Murphy ($300 million) and Shonda Rhimes ($100 million).

5. Instagram ad partner secretly sucked up and tracked millions of users’ locations and stories

Hyp3r, an apparently trusted marketing partner of Facebook and Instagram, has been secretly collecting and storing location and other data on millions of users, violating the policies of the social networks, according to Business Insider.

6. Sperm storage startups are raising millions

Both Dadi and Legacy recently raised funding, hoping to leverage venture capital dollars to become the dominant men’s fertility brand.

7. How to fundraise in August

Danny Crichton argues that although August is generally considered a black hole for VC, using it effectively for fundraising is perhaps the single most important factor for success in the coming season. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

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Africa’s top mobile phone seller Transsion to list in Chinese IPO

Posted by | africa, Beijing, chairman, China, Companies, e-commerce, Egypt, ethiopia, huawei, india, initial public offering, kenya, Mobile, mobile phone, Nigeria, Opera, Samsung, secretary, shanghai, Shanghai Stock Exchange, shenzhen, smartphone, smartphones, South Africa, spokesperson, Startup company, Tanzania, TC, technology, telecommunications, Transsion | No Comments

Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion will list in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market,  Transsion confirmed to TechCrunch. 

The company—which has a robust Africa sales network—could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).

“The company’s listing-related work is running smoothly. The registration application and issuance process is still underway, with the specific timetable yet to be confirmed by the CSRC and Shanghai Stock Exchange,” a spokesperson for Transsion’s Office of the Secretary to the Chairman told TechCrunch via email.

Transsion’s IPO prospectus was downloadable (in Chinese) and its STAR Market listing application available on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.

STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that also went live in July with some 25 companies going public. 

Headquartered in Shenzhen—where African e-commerce unicorn Jumia also has a logistics supply-chain facility—Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand.

The company has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and recently expanded its presence in India.

Transsion plans to spend the bulk of its STAR Market raise (1.6 billion yuan or $227 million) on building more phone assembly hubs and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development,  including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai—a company spokesperson said. 

Transsion recently announced a larger commitment to capturing market share in India, including building an industrial park in the country for manufacture of phones to Africa.

The IPO comes after Transsion announced its intent to go public and filed its first docs with the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April. 

Listing on the STAR Market will put Transsion on the freshly minted exchange seen as an extension of Beijing’s ambition to become a hub for high-potential tech startups to raise public capital. Chinese regulators lowered profitability requirements, for the exchange, which means pre-profit ventures can list.

Transsion’s IPO process comes when the company is actually in the black. The firm generated 22.6 billion yuan ($3.29 billion) in revenue in 2018, up from 20 billion yuan from a year earlier. Net profit for the year slid to 654 million yuan, down from 677 million yuan in 2017, according to the firm’s prospectus.

Transsion sold 124 million phones globally in 2018, per company data. In Africa, Transsion holds 54% of the feature phone market—through its brands Tecno, Infinix, and Itel—and in smartphone sales is second to Samsung and before Huawei, according to International Data Corporation stats.

Transsion has R&D centers in Nigeria and Kenya and its sales network in Africa includes retail shops in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt. The company also attracted attention for being one of the first known device makers to optimize its camera phones for African complexions.

On a recent research trip to Addis Ababa, TechCrunch learned the top entry-level Tecno smartphone was the W3, which lists for 3600 Ethiopian Birr, or roughly $125.

In Africa, Transsion’s ability to build market share and find a sweet spot with consumers on price and features gives it prominence in the continent’s booming tech scene.

Africa already has strong mobile-phone penetration, but continues to undergo a conversion from basic USSD phones, to feature phones, to smartphones.

Smartphone adoption on the continent is low, at 34 percent, but expected to grow to 67 percent by 2025, according to GSMA.

This, added to an improving internet profile, is key to Africa’s tech scene. In top markets for VC and startup origination—such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa—thousands of ventures are building business models around mobile-based products and digital applications.

If Transsion’s IPO enables higher smartphone conversion on the continent that could enable more startups and startup opportunities—from fintech to VOD apps.

Another interesting facet to Transsion’s IPO is its potential to create greater influence from China in African tech, in particular if the Shenzhen company moves strongly toward venture investing.

Comparatively, China’s engagement with African startups has been light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities—further boosted in recent years as Beijing pushes its Belt and Road plan.

Transsion’s IPO move is the second recent event—after Chinese owned Opera’s big venture spending in Nigeria—to reflect greater Chinese influence and investment in the continent’s digital scene.

So in coming years, China could be less known for building roads, bridges, and buildings in Africa and more for selling smartphones and providing VC for African startups.

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The Note’s most impressive new feature is only available on the 10+

Posted by | augmented reality, galaxy note 10, Mobile, Samsung | No Comments

The new Note’s 3D scanning feature got what may well have been the loudest applause line of today’s big Samsung event. It’s an impressive feature for sure, but it’s the kind with little real-world value at the moment — and it’s only available on the pricier Note 10+. Understandable on the latter, at least.

After all, Samsung needs some ways to distinguish the more expensive unit. Aside from size and pricing, the 10+ also features a time of flight sensor missing on the standard Note. That brings an extra level of depth sensing. For now, uses for the feature are pretty limited. Take AR Doodle — that’s available on both versions of the device.

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3D scanning is an impressive differentiator, and the demo rightfully got some cheers as a Samsung employee walked a circle around a stuffed beaver toy named “Billy” (I dunno, man). The phone did a solid job capturing the image in 3D and pulled it out of its background. From there, a user can sync its movements to their own and animate it, AR/Animoji-style.

Again, a neat demo, but pretty limited real-world use for most of us. Though that’s pretty standard for these sorts of features. It’s as much about showing that the company is thinking about AR and offering the hardware to do it. Making it truly useful, however, will be in the hands of developers.

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Samsung’s Galaxy Note gets even larger (and smaller)

Posted by | hardware, Mobile, Samsung, samsung galaxy note, samsung galaxy note 10, smartphones | No Comments

The first Note was a spectacle. It wasn’t just the reintroduction of the stylus. In 2011, the idea of a 5.3-inch phone was laughable. Around the same time, Steve Jobs famously mocked a push toward 4-inch-plus phones, telling a press conference, “no one’s going to buy that.”

With the average phone size hovering about 5.5 inches these days, Samsung clearly won that round. Of course, the push has been helped considerably by an ever-improving screen-to-body ratio. Jobs’ concerns about not being able to get one’s hand around a device no longer apply to a majority of these handsets.

Today in Brooklyn, Samsung is pushing things even further, with the introduction of a new subset of Galaxy Note devices. The Note 10+ is a 6.8-inch device. Among other things, the introduction of a new model differentiates the line slightly from Samsung’s other flagship line. The earlier arrival of an S Plus model meant that the S Pen was essentially the only distinguishing factor here.

Having spent some time with both Note 10 models, I can say I’m impressed with what the company has managed to do from a design perspective. The 10+ impressively has roughly the same footprint as the 6.4-inch Note 9, making carrying around such a massive device that much less absurd.

What’s really interesting here, however, is that the company took the rare action of actually shrinking down the standard Note from 6.4 to 6.3 inches. Weird, right? Yeah, well, these are weird times, friend.

The thinking behind the smaller screen was apparently to make the device more accessible to first-time buyers. That seems a bit silly when talking about a literal fraction of an inch, but the improved screen-to-body ratio makes it that much smaller.

Here are the main distinctions between the two models:

  • Note 10: Display 6.3-inch FHD+ AMOLED, 2280×1080 (401ppi); Note 10+: 6.8-inch Quad HD+ AMOLED 040×1440 (498ppi)
  • Note 10: 3,500mAh battery; Note 10+: 4,300mAh battery
  • Note 10: 8GB RAM, 256GB storage; Note 10+: 12GB RAM, 256GB storage (with 512GB option)
  • The Note 10+ also has an additional TOF sensor on the rear-camera array for depth sensing and an optional 5G model
  • Note 10: Starts at $949 ; Note 10+: Starts at $1,100

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This is Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 and 10+

Posted by | hardware, Mobile, Samsung, samsung galaxy note 10, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Eight years later, the Galaxy Note is undeniable. The original device, unveiled at IFA 2011, seemed unfathomably massive for a handset — all 5.3 inches of it. Nearly a decade and hundreds of millions of handsets later, the line has transformed the way we think about mobile devices.

Sure the stylus hasn’t become a mainstream element on handsets outside of Note devices, but much the rest of the industry has come around to Samsung’s way of thinking about big screens and productivity. Even foot-dragging Apple ultimately gave in. These days, the average screen size hovers about the 5.5-inch mark.

With the battle of screen sizes long since won, Samsung has an entirely different battle on its hands. With the smartphone market plateauing — and even receding — for the first time ever, companies have a difficult task on their hands. How can they make continually compelling offerings every six months?

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The truth is that companies have painted themselves into a corner. Smartphones have gotten so good that users don’t need to upgrade nearly as frequently. The good ones have also gotten extremely expensive, regularly starting north of $1,000. Between the S and Note series, Samsung has moved to a six-month release cycle, with the respective phones being used to funnel new features to both lines every half a year. In the process, the company has blurred the lines between the two, with the S Pen remaining the one true differentiator between devices.

With the introduction of the Note 10 and Note 10+, however, Samsung is attempting to broaden the appeal of its secondary flagship. Like the S line, the Note has been split into two distinct devices (well, three, when you factor in 5G — more on that later). The standard Note 10 marks a rare step down in screen size — though only slightly.

The base-level Note downgrades from 6.4 to 6.3 inches. Why? Samsung believes a move to a slightly smaller form factor makes the device that much more accessible. It’s a small concession, a literal fraction of an inch. But when you consider the fact that the newly introduced Note 10+ has roughly the same footprint as the Note 9, you begin to realize how much more compact the Note 10 is.

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That’s one thing Samsung has progressively gotten better at, year in, year out. The screen to body ratio on the new Notes is impressive. I’ve read a fair amount of critical hindsight recently about how the first Note was received as being “too large.” The fact of the matter is that it was massive, even by today’s standard. Sure, 5.3-inch is nothing in terms of screen size in 2019, but back then that required a lot more phone.

You’ve likely seen plenty of renders of the device before now — and they’ve basically all proven to be true. It’s a nice-looking phone. Samsung’s leaned in further on the curves, leaving little to no bezel on the thing. The cutout camera on the S10+ has been ditched in favor of a single small hole punch floating in the center (Samsung tells me it’s ditched the dual-selfies in favor of improving the single one via software, machine learning and the like).

Also notably missing is the headphone jack. After years of mocking Apple and its ilk, the company’s inevitably eating a bit of crow on this one. The tipping point is two-fold. First, big batteries are back, at 3,500mAh on the 10 and 4,300mAh on the 10+. For reasons you know but we won’t get into here, Samsung put the larger battery on hold for a bit, in favor of additional safety precautions.

The other big factor is the Bluetooth tipping point. The company says a majority of flagship owners are now listening to music through a wireless connection (anecdotally around 70+%). Obviously that figure drops when dealing with less expensive handsets — people buying mid- and low-tier devices are still less inclined to shell out for Bluetooth headphones. Expect Samsung to blow through this bit of news pretty quickly at today’s event.

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To help ease the shift, Samsung is including a pair of USB-C AKG headphones in the box. No dongle in-box, though. That’ll cost you.

Also gone is the standalone Bixby button. Instead, the power button summons Bixby with a long press. You can still remap that function, as well. Samsung is still pumping money into its smart assistant, but has generally acknowledged the lukewarm presence.

But enough of what we’re missing, right?

The back of the device (which sports some lovely new prism color schemes) sports a triple-camera area. There’s a 16 megapixel ultra wide, 12 megapixel standard wide angle and 12 megapixel telephoto. The 10+, meanwhile, brings a time of flight sensor, for added depth detection. It’s one of a small handful of distinctions between the models, including screen and battery size.

There are some nice software additions here, as well, including the ability to add a bokeh-style focus effect to video. Using the gyroscope and machine learning, the system dramatically reduces shake in photos.

The TOF sensor brings a 3D scanner feature to the camera, so users can scan an object and turn it into a moveable render. Honestly, that one still feels pretty niche. The company adds that there are some additional potential AR features there, though those will be in the hands of developers.

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Zoom-In Mic is a cool addition to video, which uses the mic array to direct sound recordings to the spot where you’ve focused the camera. That will be a cool one to test out when we get more time with the phone in the near future. Night Mode, meanwhile, has been added to the 10 megapixel front-facing camera for all of those low-light selfies.

AR Doodle is one of the neater camera software add-ons, letting users scribble on spots in space with the S Pen or add images and masks to faces. Move the phone around the room and they maintain their position. Add that one to the fun-but-not-particularly-useful list of AR applications.

The S Pen itself has shifted to a more solid unibody design. Samsung has also added the ability to create custom gestures with the input device On the software front the main addition is better handwriting recognition. I tried it out and it did a pretty solid job with my horrible chicken scratch.

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DeX continues to be a a key piece of the puzzle for Amazon. Here that includes new drag and drop capabilities between the Note and a connected Mac or PC. The company says the feature is much improved over past attempts at Android/desktop functionality. Honestly, the DeX branding is getting a bit cloudy at this point — that’s only made more murky by the addition of a non-DeX Link to Windows feature that brings notifications and messages straight to a connected Windows 10 PC.

That’s more of a minor branding quibble, though.

Inside you’re getting the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 (not plus, mind), coupled with 8GB of RAM on the 10 and 12GB on the 10+. Both versions feature a base 256GB of storage (no microSD), while the 10+ also has a 512GB version.

As usual, nothing too major to complain about here. The Note 10 feels like a pretty small upgrade in the grand scheme of things. The biggest news this time out is the addition of a second, XL size.

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Pre-orders open tomorrow, August 8th for both. They’ll be in stores on the 23rd. The 10 starts at $950 and the 10+ starts at $1,100. Pre-order deals include accessories like the Charging Duo pad and Galaxy Watch Active.

There’s a 5G version of the Note 10+ available, as well, at the same time. That’s going to be a Verizon exclusive at launch, however, with pricing still TBD.

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