smartphones

Mid-range flagships like the Honor 20 Pro are giving premium phones a run for their money

Posted by | hardware, Honor, huawei, Mobile, smartphones | No Comments

Phone sales have been trending downward for some time now. There are a number of reasons for this — many of which you can read about in this piece I published last week. The creeping cost of premium handsets is pretty high on that list, with flagships now routinely topping $1,000 from many of the big names.

The big smartphone makers have begun to react to this, with budget flagship alternatives like the iPhone XR, Galaxy S10e and Pixel 3a. A new crop of mid-range flagships, however, are giving them a run for their money and serving as an important reminder that a quality handset doesn’t need to be priced in the four digits.

The Honor 20 Pro fits nicely in the latter camp, joining the likes of the recently announced OnePlus 7 Pro and Asus ZenFone 6 in demonstrating that premium specs can still be had for what was once considered a reasonable flagship price.

Of course, before we get into specifics of pricing with the newly announced handset, it bears mentioning whether Honor, a brand owned by Huawei, will actually ever make it to the States. That’s all pretty complicated — like Donald Trump in a trade war with with China complicated. The pricing on the London-launched Pro version is €599, putting it at around $670.

The phone’s got Huawei’s latest and greatest Kirin 980 processor, coupled with a 6.26-inch display with hole-punch cutout and a quartet of rear-facing cameras. Those include a wide angle with 117-degree shots, 48-megapixel main, telephoto and a macro, which is an interesting addition to the standard array. The Pro’s out at some point in the June or July time frame.

Huawei bans aside, it will be interesting to see how this new crop of more affordable premium devices impacts the rest of the big names up top.

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Adobe brings its Premiere Rush video editing app to Android

Posted by | Adobe, Adobe Creative Cloud, Android, Apps, mobile phones, OnePlus, PIXEL, samsung galaxy, samsung galaxy s9, smartphones, TC | No Comments

Adobe launched Premiere Rush, its newest all-in-one video editing tool that is essentially a pared-down version of its flagship Premiere Pro and Audition tools for professional video editors, in late 2018. At the time, it was only available on iOS, macOS and Windows. Now, however, it is also finally bringing it to Android.

There is a caveat here, though: it’ll only run on relatively new phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S10 series, Google’s Pixel 2 and 3 phones and the OnePlus 6T.

The idea behind Premiere Rush is to give enthusiasts — and the occasional YouTuber who needs to quickly get a video out — all of the necessary tools to create a video without having to know the ins and outs of a complex tool like Premiere Pro. It’s based on the same technologies as its professional counterpart, but it’s significantly easier to use. What you lose in flexibility, you gain in efficiency.

Premiere Rush is available for free for those who want to give it a try, though this “Starter Plan” only lets you export up to three projects. For full access, you either need to subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud or buy a $9.99/month plan to access Rush, with team and enterprise plans costing $19.99/month and $29.99/month respectively.

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Trump’s Huawei ban also causing tech shocks in Europe

Posted by | Android, China, Europe, european commission, finland, Google, Google Play, Government, huawei, Jolla, Mobile, Nokia, play store, Qwant, Sami Pienimäki, search engine, smartphone, smartphones, stmicroelectronics, Trade war, trump, United States | No Comments

The escalating U.S.-China trade war that’s seen Chinese tech giant Huawei slapped on a U.S. trade blacklist is causing ripples of shock across Europe too, as restrictions imposed on U.S. companies hit regional suppliers concerned they could face U.S. restrictions if they don’t ditch Huawei.

Reuters reports shares fell sharply today in three European chipmakers — Infineon Technologies, AMS and STMicroelectronics — after reports suggested some already had, or were about to, halt shipments to Huawei following the executive order barring U.S. firms from trading with the Chinese tech giant.

The interconnectedness of high-tech supply chains coupled with U.S. dominance of the sector and Huawei’s strong regional position as a supplier of cellular, IT and network kit in Europe suddenly makes political risk a fast-accelerating threat for EU technology companies, large and small.

On the small side is French startup Qwant, which competes with Google by offering a pro-privacy search engine. In recent months it has been hoping to leverage a European antitrust decision against Google  Android last year to get smartphones to market in Europe that preload its search engine, not Google’s.

Huawei was its intended first major partner for such devices. Though, prior to recent trade war developments, it was already facing difficulties related to price incentives Google included in reworked EU Android licensing terms.

Still, the U.S.-China trade war threatens to throw a far more existential spanner in European Commission efforts to reset the competitive planning field for smartphone services — certainly if Google’s response to Huawei’s blacklisting is to torch its supply of almost all Android-related services, per Reuters.

A key aim of the EU antitrust decision was intended to support the unbundling of popular Google services from Android so that device makers can try selling combinations that aren’t entirely Google-flavored — while still being able to offer enough “Google” to excite consumers (such as preloading the Play Store but with a different search and browser bundle instead of the usual Google + Chrome combo).

Yet if Google intends to limit Huawei’s access to such key services, there’s little chance of that.

(In a statement responding to the Reuters report Google suggested it’s still deciding how to proceed, with a spokesperson writing: “We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications. For users of our services, Google Play and the security protections from Google Play Protect will continue to function on existing Huawei devices.”)

Going on Google’s initial response, Qwant co-founder and CEO Eric Léandri told us he thinks Google has overreacted — even as he dubbed the U.S.-China trade war “world war III — economical war but it’s a world war for sure.”

“I really need to see exactly what President Trump has said about Huawei and how to work with them. Because I think maybe Google has overreacted. Because I haven’t [interpreted it] that way so I’m very surprised,” he told TechCrunch.

“If Huawei can be [blacklisted] what about the others?,” he added. “Because I would say 60% of the cell phone sales in Europe today are coming from China. Huawei or ZTE, OnePlus and the others — they are all under the same kind of risk.

“Even some of our European brands who are very small like Nokia… all of them are made in China, usually with partnership with these big cell phone manufacturers. So that means several things but one thing that I’m sure is we should not rely on one OS. It would be difficult to explain how the Play Store is not as important as the search in Android.”

Léandri also questioned whether Google’s response to the blacklisting will include instructing Huawei not to even use its search engine — a move that could impact its share of the smartphone search market.

“At the end of the day there is just one thing I can say because I’m just a search engine and a European one — I haven’t seen Google asking to not be by default in Huawei as search engine. If they can be in the Huawei by default as a search engine so I presume that everyone else can be there.”

Léandri said Qwant will be watching to see what Huawei’s next steps will be — such as whether it will decide to try offering devices with its own store baked in in Europe.

And indeed how China will react.

“We have to understand the result politically, globally, the European consequences. The European attitude. It’s not only American and China — the rest of the world exists,” he said.

“I have plan b, plan c, plan d, plan f. To be clear we are a startup — so we can have tonnes of plans, The only thing is right now is it’s too enormous.

“I know that they are the two giants in the tech field… but the rest of the world have some words today and let’s see how the European Commission will react, my government will react and some of us will react because it’s not only a small commercial problem right now. It’s a real political power demonstration and it’s global so I will not be more — I am nobody in all this. I do my job and I do my job well and I will use the maximum opportunity that I can find on the market.”

We’ve reached out to the Commission to ask how it intends to respond to escalating risks for European tech firms as Trump’s trade war steps up.

Also today, Reuters reports that the German Economy Minister is examining the impact of U.S. sanctions against Huawei on local companies.

But while a startup like Qwant waits to see what the next few months will bring — and how the landscape of the smartphone market might radically reconfigure in the face of sharply spiking political risk, a different European startup is hoping to catch some uplift: Finland-based Jolla steers development of a made-in-Europe Android alternative, called Sailfish OS.

It’s a very tiny player in a Google-dominated smartphone world. Yet could be positioned to make gains amid U.S. and Chinese tech clashes — which in turn risk making major platform pieces feel a whole lot less stable.

A made-in-Europe non-Google-led OS might gain more ground among risk averse governments and enterprises — as a sensible hedge against Trump-fueled global uncertainty.

“Sailfish OS, as a non-American, open-source based, secure mobile OS platform, is naturally an interesting option for different players — currently the interest is stronger among corporate and governmental customers and partners, as our product offering is clearly focused on this segment,” says Jolla co-founder and CEO Sami Pienimäki .

“Overall, there definitely has been increased interest towards Sailfish OS as a mobile OS platform in different parts of the world, partly triggered by the on-going political activity in many locations. We have also had clearly more discussions with e.g. Chinese device manufacturers, and Jolla has also recently started new corporate and governmental customer projects in Europe.”

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Asus’ $499 ZenFone 6 has a flip-up camera and a giant battery

Posted by | asus, hardware, Mobile, smartphones | No Comments

Premium smartphone manufacturers have moved the needle on pricing, but 2019 may well go down as a kind of golden age for budget flagships. Apple, Google and Samsung are all in that business now, and OnePlus has once again shown the world how to offer more for less. And then there’s the new ZenFone.

It’s a bit of an understatement to suggest that Asus has had trouble breaking into the smartphone space. And things aren’t likely to get any easier as the market further consolidates among the top five players. But you’ve got to hand it to the company for swinging for the fences with the $499 ZenFone 6.

First thing’s first. Like the excellent OnePlus 7 Pro, the phone (fone?) forgoes the notch and hole punch, instead opting for a clever pop-up that flips up from the back. That means one camera is doing double duty, toggling between the front and rear with the push of an on-screen button. Like the OnePlus, there’s built-in fall detection that retracts the camera if it slips from your hand.

5000 > 1+7+3700, so why choose ordinary when you can #DefyOrdinary? #ZenFone6 pic.twitter.com/x8R24953mS

ASUS (@ASUS) May 14, 2019

That whole dealie would be enough to help the phone stand out in a world of similar handsets, but this is a solid budget handset through and through. Inside is a bleeding-edge Snapdragon 855, coupled with a beefy 5,000 mAh battery. The new ZenFone also sports a headphone jack, because it’s 2019 and rules don’t apply to smartphones anymore.

Is that all enough to right the ship? Probably not, but it’s nice to see Asus stepping up with a compelling product at an even more compelling price point. More information on the phone’s U.S. release should be arriving soon.

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The Meizu 16s offers flagship features at a mid-range price

Posted by | Android, Gadgets, hardware, Meizu, mobile phones, Qualcomm, smartphone, smartphones, snapdragon 855, TC, United States | No Comments

Smartphones have gotten more expensive over the last few years even though there have only been a handful of recent innovations that really changed the way you interact with the phone. It’s maybe no surprise then that there is suddenly a lot more interest in mid-range, sub-$500 phones again. In the U.S., Google’s new Pixel 3a, with its superb camera, is bringing a lot of credibility to this segment. Outside the U.S., though, you can often get a flagship phone for less than $500 that makes none of the trade-offs typically associated with a mid-range phone. So when Meizu asked me to take a look at its new 16s flagship, which features (almost) everything you’d expect from a high-end Android phone, I couldn’t resist.

Meizu, of course, is essentially a total unknown in the U.S., even though it has a sizable global presence elsewhere. After a week with its latest flagship, which features Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 855 chip and under-screen fingerprint scanner, I’ve come away impressed by what the company delivers, especially given the price point. In the U.S. market, the $399 Pixel 3a may seem like a good deal, but that’s because a lot of brands like Meizu, Xiaomi, Huawei and others have been shut out.

It’s odd that this is now a differentiating feature, but the first thing you’ll notice when you get started is the notchless screen. The dual-sim 16s must have one of the smallest selfie cameras currently on the market, and the actual bezels, especially when compared to something like the Pixel 3a, are minimal. That trade-off works for me. I’ll take a tiny bezel over a notch any day. The 6.2-inch AMOLED screen, which is protected by Gorilla Glass, is crisp and bright, though maybe a bit more saturated than necessary.

The in-display fingerprint reader works just fine, though it’s a bit more finicky that the dedicated readers I’ve used in the past.

With its 855 chip and 6GB of RAM, it’s no surprise the phone feels snappy. To be honest, that’s true for every phone, though, even in the mid-range. Unless you are a gamer, it’s really hard to push any modern phone to its limits. The real test is how this speed holds up over time, and that’s not something we can judge right now.

The overall build quality is excellent, yet while the plastic back is very pretty, it’s also a) weird to see a plastic back to begin with and b) slippery enough to just glide over your desk and drop on the floor if it’s at even a slight angle.

Meizu’s Flyme skin does the job, and adds some useful features like a built-in screen recorder. I’m partial to Google’s Pixel launcher, and a Flyme feels a bit limited in comparison to that and other third-party launchers. There is no app drawer, for example, so all of your apps have to live on the home screen. Personally, I went to the Microsoft Launcher pretty quickly, since that’s closer to the ecosystem I live in anyway. Being able to do that is one of the advantages of Android, after all.

Meizu also offers a number of proprietary gesture controls that replace the standard Android buttons. These may or may not work for you, depending on how you feel about gesture-based interfaces.

I haven’t done any formal battery tests, but the battery easily lasted me through a day of regular usage.

These days, though, phones are really about the cameras. Meizu opted for Sony’s latest 48-megapixel sensor here for its main camera and a 20-megapixel sensor for its telephoto lens that provides up to 3x optical zoom. The camera features optical image stabilization, which, when combined with the software stabilization, makes it easier to take low-light pictures and record shake-free video (though 4K video does not feature Meizu’s anti-shake system).

While you can set the camera to actually produce a 48-megapixel image, the standard setting combines four pixels’ worth of light into a single pixel. That makes for a better image, though you do have the option to go for the full 48 megapixels if you really want to. The camera’s daytime performance is very good, though maybe not quite up to par with some other flagship phones. It really shines when the light dims, though. At night, the camera is highly competitive and Meizu knows that, so the company even added two distinct night modes: one for handheld shooting and one for when you set the phone down or use a tripod. There is also a pro mode with manual controls.

Otherwise, the camera app provides all the usual portrait mode features you’d expect today. The 2x zoom works great, but at 3x, everything starts feeling a bit artificial and slightly washed out. It’ll do in a pinch, but you’re better off getting closer to your subject.

In looking at these features, it’s worth remembering the phone’s price. You’re not making a lot of trade-offs at less than $500, and it’d be nice to see more phones of this caliber on sale in the U.S. Right now, it looks like the OnePlus 7 Pro at $669 is your best bet if you are in the U.S. and looking for a flagship phone without the flagship price.

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Samsung’s 5G phone hits Verizon, Sprint getting two 5G devices this month

Posted by | hardware, HTC, LG, Mobile, Samsung, smartphones, sprint, TC, Verizon | No Comments

With 5G, when it rains, it pours. A few hours after Verizon officially started selling the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Sprint announced that it will be offering two 5G devices for its network by the end of the month.

For now, it still feels like manufacturers are putting the cart before the horse here. There’s little question that 5G will become ubiquitous in the next few years, but actual opportunities to access the technology are still pretty scarce.

Among U.S. carriers, Verizon (our parent company’s parent company) has been the most aggressive. Fitting then, that the company is first to market with the Galaxy S10 5G. Of course, all of these devices will default to 4G when there’s no 5G to be found, which is going to be the case more often than not for a while.

Verizon’s 5G is currently available in select markets, including Chicago and Minneapolis. That number is set to balloon to 20 locales before year’s end, including, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Phoenix, Providence, San Diego, Salt Lake City and Washington, DC.

Sprint, meanwhile, has promised to flip on 5G in nine markets “in the coming weeks.” The list includes parts of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City, and then locations in Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

To celebrate, the network will be offering two 5G devices this month. The LG V50 ThinQ and HTC 5G Hub will hit Sprint stores on May 31.

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OnePlus redefines premium with the 7 Pro

Posted by | hardware, Mobile, OnePlus, Reviews, smartphones | No Comments

OnePlus has never been particularly beholden to industry trends. Nowhere is that better demonstrated than with the 7 Pro. In the face of a stagnated smartphone market, Apple, Samsung and Google all went budget, releasing lower-tier takes on their pricey flagships to appeal to consumers looking for something akin to a premium experience without having to shell out four figures.

The 7 Pro, on the other hand, is OnePlus’ most premium device to date. But while the shift marks a break from much of the industry, it’s a very logical step for the company’s current trajectory. OnePlus made a name for itself creating low-cost flagship devices with features that were just slightly behind the bleeding edge.

In recent years, however, the company has looked to change that perception, becoming one of the first Android phones with an in-display fingerprint sensor and promising to be among the first to deliver 5G. The 7 Pro, however, marks a new era for the company. The existing six-month release strategy is still in place here (fittingly, given that Google has recently adopted something similar with its Pixel line), but the language OnePlus is using has shifted.

In a meeting ahead of launch, a rep for the company told TechCrunch OnePlus considers its twice-yearly phones to all be “flagships,” but the new model introduces the paradigm of “premium flagship” and “ultra-premium flagship.”

That’s a markety speak way of saying the company doesn’t compromise — which I think is a fair point. Oftentimes the concept of a “budget flagship” is heavily weighted toward the budget side of things. But OnePlus long ago established its knack for providing well-rounded, high-end smartphone experiences at well below the price of premium handsets.

The 7 Pro’s $669 starting price hedges much closer to the iPhone XR and Samsung Galaxy S10e’s $749 than the Pixel 3a’s $399. It’s also a pretty significant bump over the OnePlus 6T’s $549 starting point. It’s likely enough to make longtime fans of the service do a double take, but the sizable increase does come with a truly premium handset.

That starts with the design (though it’s certainly more than skin deep). This is immediately apparent with the 6.67-inch display. If curved sides of the edge to edge design are familiar, it’s because it was built custom for OnePlus by Samsung. And while it’s similar, it is, in fact, a custom design for the line, meaning that it’s still distinguished from the Galaxy line — namely the 516ppi density and a 90Hz refresh rate.

What’s really notable, however, is the complete absence of a notch or a pinhole. The 7 Pro takes another key step toward a world of uninterrupted screen time. Open the camera app, flip to front-facing and wait just under a second, as it mechanically extends on top of the device.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen the technology — fellow Chinese manufacturers Oppo and Vivo have already introduced us to pop-up cameras. But given OnePlus’ ongoing T-Mobile partnership, this is arguably the first time this technology has really been available to mainstream U.S. consumers.

The execution is quite good. As someone who almost never takes selfies, I’ve come to appreciate the semblance of privacy of a hidden front-facing camera. If I need it, it’s just a tap of the screen away. There are some safety features built in, as well. Should it slip from your grip while the camera is out, the phone uses the accelerometer to automatically retract it. It will also automatically return home if the phone goes to sleep with it out.

OnePlus won’t say what this specifically means for things like water resistance. In fact, the company’s a little cagey on the subject — even recently taking to Twitter to brag that it didn’t submit for an IP rating, in order to lower the cost of the devices for the end user. Here’s a video of it dropping the new phone in a bucket:

Do with that what you will. It’s certainly clear why OnePlus would decide to skip elements it deemed unnecessary, but there is a certain peace of mind in knowing that a product has been submitted to rigorous testing by outside parties. The closest we got to a definitive answer was a recommendation against attempting to take an underwater selfie with the phone. So take that as you will.

On the rear of the device is a three-camera system that pairs a beefy 48-megapixel lens with a 78mm telephoto and 117-degree ultra-wide angle. I’ve had some opportunity to play with the phone, and this really does seem to be the most utilitarian set up for a three-camera system, and the camera software does a nice job transitioning between lenses as you zoom in.

This is a premium device inside, as well. The Snapdragon 855 is coupled with 6-12GB of RAM and either 128 or 256GB of storage. The battery is a beefy 4,000 mAh, which will get you through more than a day on a single charge, no problem. The “Warp Charge” maintains the company’s fast-charging tradition, letting you fill up around half the battery in 20 minutes using the included adapter.

OnePlus has really outdone itself here, once again proving that a truly premium device doesn’t require a four-digit investment. Other companies have explored a similar price point with varying degrees of success. For OnePlus fans not ready to take the step up, the company will continue to provide a more more affordable line going forward. For now, however, the 7 Pro is easily one of the best ways to get a truly premium smartphone experience without paying an arm and leg.

The 7 Pro will be available online May 17 through OnePlus’ site and T-Mobile.

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Smartphone shipments hit a five-year low in North America

Posted by | Apple, canalys, hardware, Mobile, Samsung, smartphones | No Comments

More dismal news from the smartphone number crunchers. New figures out of Canalys put the North American smartphone market at five-year low for the first quarter of 2019. That’s…bad. But also, pretty inline with what we’ve been seeing globally. The market has stagnated, and while manufacturers aren’t in full-on panic mode, there’s certainly cause for concern.

Shipments dropped from 44.4 million down to 36.4 million, marking an 18% drop year over year for the first quarter. Canalys says it’s the steepest drop it’s recorded for the category, chalking up some of the issues to “a lackluster performance by Apple and the absence of ZTE.”

Apple is still the top of the heap, commanding 40% of the North American market with help from the sale of older discounted units. But Samsung managed to tighten the gap on the back of a successful Galaxy S10 launch. The company grew by 3% for the year, up to 29.3% of the market.

LG, Lenovo and TCL rounded out the top five, with the latter two making pretty solid market-share strides. The remainder of the market took a massive hit, however, with a 65% drop in shipments. Analysts seem confident that 5G’s imminent arrival will help give the market a boost in coming quarters, but it’s going to be hard for manufacturers to maintain that momentum.

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Samsung’s CEO says Galaxy Fold launch news is arriving soon

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

Samsung has been understandably silent about the Galaxy Fold for the last couple of weeks. The company’s been reassessing issues with the foldable’s display after initially chalking up problems with review units to small sample sizes and user error. It’s tough to say how difficult and expensive a fix will be, but this surely isn’t the sort of press it was hoping for with its first-to-market device.

CEO DJ Koh is finally ready to talk about the Fold — or at least offer news that there will soon be news. The exec told The Korea Herald that Samsung, “has reviewed the defect caused from substances (that entered the device), and we will reach a conclusion in a couple of days (on the launch).”

What Koh appears to be referring to specifically are the gaps in the fold mechanism that allowed material to get behind the display, damaging it when pressure was applied to the touchscreen.

From the sound of things, Samsung is hoping to have an update on timing at some point this week or early next, at the latest. Koh added, “We will not be too late,” which the paper took to be a suggestion that the Fold will begin shipping earlier than expected.

Samsung no doubt is hoping to have it out sooner than later, but the Note debacle’s two recalls should serve as a reminder that these things ought not be rushed.

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What Pixel 3a tells us about the state of the smartphone — and Google

Posted by | Google, Google I/O 2019, hardware, Mobile, PIXEL, pixel 3a, smartphones | No Comments

Announced yesterday at Google’s opening I/O keynote, the Pixel 3a arrives at a tenuous time for the smartphone industry. Sales figures have stagnated for most of the major players in the industry — a phenomenon from which Google certainly isn’t immune.

CEO Sundar Pichai discussed exactly that on the company’s Q1 earnings call last week. “While the first quarter results reflect pressure in the premium smartphone industry,” he explained, “we are pleased with the ongoing momentum of Assistant-enabled Home devices, particularly the Home Hub and Mini devices, and look forward to our May 7 announcement at I/O from our hardware team.”

That last bit was a clear reference to the arrival of the new budget tier of Google’s flagship offering. The 3a is a clear push to address one of the biggest drivers of slowing smartphone sales. With a starting price of $399, it’s a fraction of the price of top handsets from competitors like Apple and Samsung.

There’s been a fairly rapid creep in flagship prices in recent years. Handsets starting at north of $1,000 hardly warrant a second glance anymore, while many forthcoming foldables are hovering around double that.

As Google VP of Product Management Mario Queiroz told me ahead of launch, “The smartphone market has started to flatten. We think one of the reasons is because, you know, the premium segment of the market is a very large segment, but premium phones have gotten more and more expensive, you know, three, four years ago, you could buy a premium phone for $500.”

Inflated prices have certainly made device purchases more burdensome for buyers. That, coupled with a relative lack of compelling new features has gone a ways toward slowing down upgrade cycles, hurting sales in the process.

I’ve enjoyed my early hands-on time with the 3a — more to come on that later. It’s important to note the different factors that have allowed Google to get to this stage. A key driver is, of course, Google’s purchase of massive R&D resources from HTC. That result of HTC’s dip into sub-replacement level hardware manufacturer has resulted in the ability to develop hardware in house, on the relatively cheap at a new campus in Taipei.

Also important is Google’s ongoing quest to further uncouple the importance of hardware from smartphone upgrades. The company’s big investments in machine learning and artificial intelligence particularly are driving many of the innovations best demonstrated on the imaging side of things. Devin captured this sentiment in this piece written in the wake of the iPhone XS announcement.

Notably, the Pixel 3a has essentially the same camera hardware as the pricier 3. Google cut some corners here, but that wasn’t one. There are still and will continue to be some limitations to what the 3a is able to do, based on processing power, but the line between what the two devices can do is already pretty blurry when it comes to taking photos.

There’s another factor that’s been looming over Pixel sales in all of this — but for several reasons, Pichai wasn’t ready to discuss it on the call. For years, the line has been hampered by carrier exclusivity, something that feels like it ought to be relegated to the smartphone past.

Certainly that sort of arrangement makes sense for young companies like OnePlus or Palm, which are looking for a way into a market, while seeking to maintain manageable growth. But Google certainly has the resources to grow outside of a single carrier deal. And the fact of the matter (as Huawei has discovered the hard way) is that carrier distribution and contracts as still key drivers of smartphone distribution here in the States, even as most manufacturers also offer unlocked devices. I suspect those upfront costs are enough to make many consumers do a double take — even though we all know in our hearts the contract is ultimately where they get you.

Thankfully, Google announced that it will be making the Pixel 3 and 3a available on a lot more carriers, starting this week. That move ought to have a marked impact on the Pixel’s sales figures going forward. The addition of Sprint and T-Mobile among others means a lot more retail shelf space and ad dollars across the U.S. Devices are a harder sell when your average consumer has to go out of their way to find them — not to mention the difficulty of convincing users to switch carriers for a new device.

I’d caution against using Q2 results as a direct measure of the 3a’s appeal and Google’s move toward a six-month device release cycle. At this early stage it’s too early to uncouple that from new customers who are coming on board courtesy of those carrier additions. Even so, the device is an interesting litmus test for the current state of the smartphone, right down to the return of the headphone jack.

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