Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ hands-on

Posted by | Android, galaxy tab s7, hardware, Reviews, Samsung | No Comments

During an Unpacked event that featured the announcement of five key new devices, the Galaxy Tab S7 didn’t get a ton of love. Understandable, perhaps. It doesn’t quite have the star power of the Note line, nor does it have the novelty of a new foldable or Bluetooth earbuds. Tablets in general just aren’t exciting the way they once were.

But Samsung’s continued to plug away. The company makes a lot of tablets. That’s just kind of its thing. Why make one when you can make a dozen, each with different price points and target audiences? It’s the Galaxy Tab line, however, that’s always been the one to watch, providing a premium slate experience designed to complement its Galaxy handsets.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

In fact, in a world where Android tablets are largely the realm of budget devices, Samsung remains one of the few out there still manufacturing a device that can go head-to-head with the iPad. The latest model brings a number of key features, though the biggest of all isn’t available on the Tab S7+ review unit the company sent along.

The device will be among the first tablets to receive 5G connectivity. Pricing and availability are still forthcoming on that SKU, though, honestly, I don’t imagine a ton of people are going to be demanding cellular connectivity on their tablets as long as so many people continue working from home. When travel finally starts up again, that might be a different story.

That said, the model Samsung sent along just after the Unpacked event is a beast. It’s the specced-up version of the Tab S7+, which starts at $849. The higher tier bumps the RAM up from 6GB to 8GB and the storage from 128GB to 256GB. Add in the bleeding-edge Snapdragon 865+, and you’ve got an extremely capable machine on your hands here.

The design matches the premium specs. Gone is the plasticky design of early models, traded up for a sleek and sturdy glass and aluminum design. It’s a tablet that looks and feels as premium as its price tag indicates. It’s a bit heavy, though, at 1.26 pounds for the 12.4-inch model, versus 1.41 pounds for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The truth about these devices is they’re no longer designed to be held up above your face as you lie in bed.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

They are, of course, intended to be real multitasking work/play machines. I should note that I’m writing this as someone who continues to use a laptop for all of his work, but I can certainly appreciate the advances the category has made in recent years. I also know a handful of people who have mostly successfully traded in their work machines for a tablet, be it an Android device, Surface or iPad.

A tablet’s worth as a work machine is, of course, only as good as its case — a statement you can’t reasonably make about most products. Along with the device itself, Samsung has upgraded the case in a couple of nice ways. The typing experience doesn’t quite match a devoted laptop keyboard, but it’s been pretty well refined. The keys have a decent amount of travel and a nice spring for a laptop cover. The leather case also detaches into two pieces, so the back can be used as a stand, without the keyboard present. Of course, the trade-off for this sort of case is the fact that it can’t really be used on one’s lap without things falling and pieces detaching.

It wouldn’t be a Samsung tablet without the S Pen, of course. The peripheral is, thankfully, included. There’s no slot for the stylus (something I keep asking for but never get; life’s hard sometimes), but it does snap magnetically to the top of the device, albeit a bit weakly. Samsung has certainly built up a nice little ecosystem for the input device, and I’m pretty consistently impressed that it’s able to recognize and convert my chicken scratch. Seriously, my already terrible penmanship has only atrophied over time.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Points, too, for a beautiful OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. Depending on what you’re looking to do with it, you might need to toggle that to save on battery life. Both models are pretty solid on that front, with 8,000 and 10,900 mAh, respectively, but the 5G models will no doubt take a hit.

Samsung is really pushing DeX hard — even harder than it has in the past. You can set it to automatically trigger the desktop approximation when you plug in the keyboard. The interface is an attempt to approximate something akin to the Windows desktop experience, but a number of apps still don’t support the interface and overall it still feels clunky. It’s easy to extrapolate a bit and imagine how it will improve things like multitasking, but it doesn’t feel like it’s quite all the way there.

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LivingPackets hopes to nurture a circular economy with its smart parcels

Posted by | E Ink, e paper, Europe, Gadgets, hardware, livingpackets, Logistics, Startups, TC | No Comments

More than ever before, people are getting life’s essentials delivered — good news for Amazon, but bad news for the environment, which must bear the consequences of the resulting waste. LivingPackets is a Berlin-based startup that aims to replace the familiar cardboard box with an alternative that’s smarter, more secure and possibly the building block of a new circular economy.

The primary product created by LivingPackets is called The Box, and it’s just that: a box. But not just any box. This one is reusable, durable, digitally locked and monitored, with a smartphone’s worth of sensors and gadgets that make it trackable and versatile, and an E-Ink screen so its destination or contents can be updated at will. A prototype shown at CES and a few other locations attracted some interest, but the company is now well into producing V2 of The Box, improved in many ways and ready to be deployed at the scale of hundreds of thousands.

Sure, it costs a lot more than a cardboard box. But once a LivingPackets Box has been used a couple hundred times for returns and local distribution purposes, it breaks even with its paper-based predecessor. Cardboard is cheap to make new, but it doesn’t last long — and that’s not its only problem.

The Box, pictured here with standard cardboard boxes on a conveyor belt, is meant to be compatible with lots of existing intrastructure. Image Credits: LivingPackets 

“If you think about it, online transactions are still risky,” said co-founder Sebastian Rumberg. “The physical transaction and financial transaction don’t happen in parallel: You pay up front, and the seller sends something into the void. You may not receive it, or maybe you do and you say you didn’t, so the company has to claim it with insurers.”

“The logistics system is over-capacity; there’s frustration with DHL and other carriers,” he said. “People in e-commerce and logistics know what they’re missing, what their problems are. Demand has grown, but there’s no innovation.”

And indeed, it does seem strange that although delivery has become much more important to practically everyone over the last decade and especially in recent months, it’s pretty much done the same way it’s been done for a century — except you might get an email when the package arrives. LivingPackets aims to upend this by completely reinventing the package, leaving things like theft, damage and missed connections in the past.

Apps let users track the location and status of their box. Image Credits: LivingPackets

“You’re in full control of everything involved,” he explained. “You know where the parcel is, what’s happening to it. You can look inside. You can say, I’m not at the location for delivery right now, I’m at my office, and just update the address. You don’t need filling material, you don’t need a paper label. You can tell when the seal is broken, when the item is removed.”

It all sounds great, but cardboard is simple and, while limited, proven. Why should anyone switch over to such a fancy device? The business model has to account for this, so it does — and then some.

To begin with, LivingPackets doesn’t actually sell The Box. It provides it to customers and charges per use — “packaging as a service,” as they call it. This prevents the possibility of a business balking at the upfront cost of a few thousand of these.

As a service, it simplifies a lot of existing pain points for merchants, consumers and logistics companies.

For merchants, among other things, tracking and insurance are much simpler. As co-founder Alexander Cotte explained, and as surely many reading this have experienced, it’s practically impossible to know what happened to a missing package, even if it’s something large or expensive. With better tracking, lossage can be mitigated to start, and the question of who’s responsible, where it was taken, and so on can be determined in a straightforward way.

For packaging and delivery companies, the standard form factor with adjustable interior makes these boxes easy to pack and difficult to meddle with or damage — tests with European online retail showed that handling time and costs can be reduced by more than half. LivingPackets also pays for pickup, so delivery companies can recoup costs without changing routes. And generally speaking, more data, more traceability, is a good thing.

For consumers, the most obvious improvement is returns; no need to print a label or for the company to pre-package one, just notify them and the return address appears on the box automatically. In addition there are opportunities once an essentially pre-paid box is in a consumer’s house: for instance, selling or donating an old phone or laptop. LivingPackets will be operating partnerships whereby you can just toss your old gear in the box and it will make its way to the right locations. Or a consumer can hang onto the box until the item they’re selling on eBay is bought and send it that way. Or a neighbor can — and yes, they’re working on the public health side of that, with antibiotic coatings and other protections against spreading COVID-19.

The Box locks securely but also folds down for storage when empty. Image Credits: LivingPackets

The idea underpinning all this, and which was wrapped up in this company from the start, is that of creating a real circular economy, building decentralized value and reducing waste. Even The Box itself is made of materials that can be reused, should it be damaged, in the creation of its replacement. In addition to the market efficiencies added by turning parcels into traveling IoT devices, reusing the boxes could reduce waste and carbon emissions — once you get past the first hundred uses or so, The Box pays for itself in more ways than one. Early pilots with carriers and retailers in France and Germany have borne this out.

That philosophy is embodied in LivingPackets’ unusual form of funding itself: a combination of bootstrapping and crowdsourced equity.

Cotte and his father founded investment firm the Cotte Group, which provided a good starting point for said bootstrapping, but he noted that every employee is taking a less than competitive wage with the hope that the company’s profit-sharing plan will pan out. Even so, with 95 employees, that amounts to several million a year even by the most conservative estimate — this is no small operation.

CEO Alex Cotte sits with V2 of The Box. Image Credits: LivingPackets

Part of keeping the lights on, then, is the ongoing crowdfunding campaign, which has pulled in somewhere north of €6 million, from individuals contributing as little as €50 or as much as €20,000. This, Cotte said, is largely to finance the cost of production, while he and the founding team essentially funded the R&D period. Half of future profits are earmarked for paying back these contributors multiple times their investment — not exactly the sort of business model you see in Silicon Valley. But that’s kind of the point, they explained.

“Obviously all the people working for us believe deeply in what we’re doing,” Cotte said. “They’re willing to take a step back now to create value together and not just take value out of an existing system. And you need to share the value you create with the people who helped you create it.”

It’s hard to imagine a future where these newfangled boxes replace even a noticeable proportion of the truly astronomical number of cardboard boxes being used every day. But even so, getting them into a few key distribution channels could prove they work as intended — and improvements to the well-oiled machines (and deeply rutted paths) of logistics can spread like wildfire once the innumerable companies the industry touches see there’s a better way.

The aims and means of LivingPackets may be rather utopian, but that could be the moonshot thinking that’s necessary to dislodge the logistics business from its current, decidedly last-century methods.

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Google launches the final beta of Android 11

Posted by | Android, android 10, android studio, api, Bluetooth, computing, exposure notification, Google, mass surveillance, mobile operating system, operating system, operating systems, privacy, smartphones, spokesperson, TC | No Comments

With the launch of Android 11 getting closer, Google today launched the third and final beta of its mobile operating system ahead of its general availability. Google had previously delayed the beta program by about a month because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Image Credits: Google

Since Android 11 had already reached platform stability with Beta 2, most of the changes here are fixes and optimizations. As a Google spokesperson noted, “this beta is focused on helping developers put the finishing touches on their apps as they prepare for Android 11, including the official API 30 SDK and build tools for Android Studio.”

The one exception is some updates to the Exposure Notification System contact-tracing API, which users can now use without turning on device location settings. Exposure Notification is an exception here, as all other Android apps need to have location settings on (and user permission to access it) to perform the kind of Bluetooth scanning Google is using for this API.

Otherwise, there are no surprises here, given that this has already been a pretty lengthy preview cycle. Mostly, Google really wants developers to make sure their apps are ready for the new version, which includes quite a few changes.

If you are brave enough, you can get the latest beta over the air as part of the Android Beta program. It’s available for Pixel 2, 3, 3a, 4 and (soon) 4a users.

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Google discontinues the Pixel 4, nine months after release

Posted by | Google, Google Pixel, hardware, Mobile, PIXEL, Pixel 4 | No Comments

Days after announcing the Pixel 4a, Google has quietly discontinued sales of the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. The move, noted earlier by The Verge, represents an extremely truncated life cycle for a Google flagship — around half of the 18 months the company continued to sell its two predecessors.

Google already announced the imminent arrival of the Pixel 5, when it noted the forthcoming handset would be one of two Pixels devices to sport 5G, along with the Pixel 4a 5G.

“Google Store has sold through its inventory and completed sales of Pixel 4|4XL,” the company tells TechCrunch. “For people who are still interested in buying Pixel 4|4XL, the product is available from some partners while supplies last. Just like all Pixel devices, Pixel 4 will continue to get software and security updates for at least 3 years from when the device first became available on the Google Store in the U.S.”

The Pixel 4 was a largely well-received device, owing mostly to impressive camera work. But the handset was hampered by bad battery life — something Google has since addressed in the 4a. The new budget handset also sports an excellent camera for its price point, making the Pixel 4’s existence somewhat redundant. Though the end of the Pixel 4 XL does leave Google with a larger option.

The company has clearly been dealing with a kind of identity crisis with its smartphones. A recent management shakeup appears to point to a desire for a new direction for the line, which has long suffered from uneven sales. Among other things, Google entered an already saturated market and has had some trouble distinguishing its offerings from other Android handsets.

It remains to be seen whether the Pixel 5 will be the first device to benefit from the division’s new direction.

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Special raises $2.26M to build a subscription platform for online creators

Posted by | Apps, funding, Fundings & Exits, Media, Mobile, next frontier capital, Recent Funding, special, Startups | No Comments

Special is a new startup offering online video creators a way to move beyond advertising for their income.

The service was created by the team behind tech consulting and development firm Triple Tree Software. Special’s co-founder and CEO Sam Lucas told me that the team had already “scrapped our way from nothing to a seven-figure annual revenue,” but when the founders met with Next Frontier Capital (Next Frontier, like Special, is based in Bozeman, Montana) they pitched a bigger idea — an app where creators charge a subscription fee for access to premium content.

While Triple Tree started in the service business, Lucas explained the goal was always to create “a product company that we could sell for $100 million.” Now Special is announcing it has raised $2.26 million in seed funding from Next Frontier and other investors.

It’s also built an initial version of the product that’s being tested by friends, family and a handful of creators, with plans for a broader beta release in October.

With online advertising slowing dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, YouTube recently highlighted the fact that 80,000 of its channels are earning money from non-ad sources, and that the number of creators who receive the majority of their income from those sources grew 40% between January and May.

One of the main ways that creators can ask their viewers for money is through Patreon. Lucas acknowledged Patreon as a “very big inspiration” for Special, but he said that conversations with creators pointed to a few key ways that the service falls short.

Special

Image Credits: Special

For one thing, he argued while contributions on Patreon are framed as “donations” or “support,” Special allows creators to emphasize the value of their premium content by putting it behind a subscription paywall. Patreon supports paywalls as well, but that leads to Lucas’ next point — it was built for creators of all kinds, while Special is focused specifically on video, and it has built a high-quality video player into the experience.

In fact, Lucas described Special’s spin on the idea of a white-labeled product as “silver label.” The goal is to create “the perfect balance between a platform and a custom app” — creators get their own customizable channels that emphasize their brand identity (rather than Special’s), while still getting the distribution and exposure benefits of being part of a larger platform, with their content searchable and viewable on web, mobile and smart TVs.

Creators also retain ownership of their content, and they get to decide how much they want to charge subscribers — Lucas said it can be anywhere between “$1 or $999” per month, with Special taking a 10% fee. He added that the team has plans to build a bundling option that would allow creators to team up and offer a joint subscription.

Lucas’ pitch reminded me of startups like Vessel (acquired and shut down by TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon in 2016), which previously hoped to bring online creators together for a subscription offering. In Lucas’ view, Vessel was similar to newer apps like Quibi, in that they directly funded creators to produce exclusive content.

“It’s a billion-dollar arms race, with what used to be a technology play but is now a production studio play,” he said. Special doesn’t have the funding to compete at that level, but Lucas suggested that a studio model also provides the wrong incentives to creators, who say “Hell yeah, keep those checks coming in,” but disappear “the moment the checks stop.”

“I almost think it’s an egotistical play,” Lucas added. “The company thinks they know best what a creator should produce for an audience that doesn’t exist yet. We say: Let them do it on Special. Do whatever you want, as long as you follow our terms of service, and own your creative vision.”

It might also seem like a big challenge to recruit creators while based in Montana, but Lucas replied that Special has more access than you might think, especially since the town has become “such a hotspot for extremely wealthy people to buy their third home.”

More broadly, he suggested that the distance from Hollywood and Silicon Valley “allows us to not follow the trends of every new streaming platform and [instead] truly find those independent creators underneath the woodworks.”

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Twitter says Android security bug gave access to direct messages

Posted by | Android, computing, department of justice, Google Allo, HackerOne, Kik Messenger, operating systems, Security, smartphones, Software, spokesperson, TC, Twitter | No Comments

Twitter says a security bug may have exposed the private direct messages of its Android app users, but said that there was no evidence that the vulnerability was ever exploited.

The bug could have allowed a malicious Android app running on the same device to siphon off a user’s direct messages stored in the Twitter app by bypassing Android’s built-in data permissions. But, Twitter said that the bug, patched in October 2018, only worked on Android 8 (Oreo) and Android 9 (Pie), and has since been fixed.

A Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch that the bug was reported by a security researcher “a few weeks ago” through HackerOne, which Twitter uses for its bug bounty program.

“Since then, we have been working to keep accounts secure,” said the spokesperson. “Now that the issue has been fixed, we’re letting people know.” Twitter said it waited to let its users know in order to prevent someone from learning about the issue and taking advantage of it before it was fixed.

The notice sent to affected Twitter users. Image Credits: TechCrunch

Twitter said the vast majority of users had updated their Twitter for Android app and were no longer vulnerable. But the company said about 4% of users are still running an old and vulnerable version of its app, and users will be notified to update the app as soon as possible.

Many users began noticing in-app pop-ups notifying them of the issue.

News of the security issue comes just weeks after the company was hit by a hacker, who gained access to an internal “admin” tool, which along with two other accomplices hijacked high-profile Twitter accounts to spread a cryptocurrency scam that promised to “double your money.” The hack and subsequent scam netted over $100,000 in scammed funds.

The Justice Department charged three people — including one minor — allegedly responsible for the incident.

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Here are all the things Samsung announced at today’s Unpacked event

Posted by | 5g, galaxy fold, galaxy tab, hardware, Mobile, Samsung, Samsung Unpacked 2020, Wearables | No Comments

Samsung’s first virtual Unpacked ranked somewhere between Microsoft and Apple’s recent events in terms of overall presentation and general awkwardness. The show kicked off seven minutes late, and a number of on-screen presenters certainly tended toward the more…awkward side of things, but overall, it was a decent first virtual event as the company embraces what it’s branded as “The Next Normal.”

Toward the end of the show, mobile head TM Roh noted, “Going forward, 5G and foldable will be the major pillars of Samsung’s future.” 5G is certainly a no-brainer. The event saw the company taking a step toward standardizing the next-gen wireless technology across its flagship mobile devices — as well as making its first appearance on the company’s tablets.

Image Credits: Samsung

As expected, the big news is the latest version of Samsung’s perennial favorite phablet line. The Note 20 gets 5G for both models and now comes in 6.7 and 6.9-inch models. The Ultra version gets a 120Hz refresh rate along with a hybridized 50x super zoom, using the same technology introduced with the Galaxy S20 earlier this year.

The most unsung addition might be UWB (ultra-wideband), which will enable a number of new features, including close proximity file sharing, a future unlock feature (with partner Assa Abloy) and a find my phone-style feature with an AR element. Xbox head Phil Spencer also made a brief remote cameo to announce Game Pass access, bringing more than 100 streaming titles to the device.

The models start at  $1,000 and $1,300, respectively. They’ll start shipping August 21.

New to the 5G game is the Galaxy Tab series. Samsung says the line includes “the first tablets that support 5G available in the United States.” The S7 and S7+ sport an 11 and 12.4-inch display, respectively, and start at $650 and $850, respectively. No word yet on pricing for the 5G versions.

Image Credits: Samsung

The event included a pair of new wearables. The more exciting of the two is probably the Galaxy Buds Live. Samsung has made consistently solid wireless earbuds, and the latest version finally introduce active noise canceling, along with some cool features like the ability to double as a mic for a connected Note device. The bean Buds are available today for $170.

Image Credits: Samsung

I’d be lying if I said the most exciting part of the Galaxy Watch 3 wasn’t the return of the physical bezel — long the best thing about Samsung’s smartwatches. Also notable is the addition of improved sleep and fitness tracking, along with an ECG monitor, which Samsung announced has just received FDA clearance. The Galaxy Watch 3 runs $400 and $430 for the 41mm and 45mm, respectively. There will also be LTE models, priced at $50 more.

Image Credits: Samsung

As for the foldable side of things, the event also found Samsung announcing its latest foldable, the Galaxy Z Fold 2, with help from superstar boy band, BTS. The focus on the new version mostly revolves around fixing the numerous problems surrounding its predecessor. That includes a new glass reinforcement for the screen and a hinge that sweeps away debris that can fall in and break the screen in the process. More information on the foldable will be announced September 1.

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Google updates G Suite for mobile with dark mode support, Smart Compose for Docs and more

Posted by | Android, artificial intelligence, G Suite, Google, google sheets, Google Slides, google-docs, Mobile, smartphones | No Comments

Google today announced a major update to its mobile G Suite productivity apps.

Among these updates are the addition of a dark theme for Docs, Sheets and Slides, as well as the addition of Google’s Smart Compose technology to Docs on mobile and the ability to edit Microsoft Office documents without having to covert them. Other updates include a new vertically scrollable slide-viewing experience in Slides, link previews and a new user interface for comments and action items. You can now also respond to comments on your documents directly from Gmail.

For the most part, these new features are now available on Android (or will be in the next few weeks) and then coming to iOS later, though Smart Compose is immediately available for both, while link previews are actually making their debut on iOS, with Android coming later.

Most of these additions simply bring existing desktop features to mobile, which has generally been the way Google has been rolling out new G Suite tools.

The new dark theme will surely get some attention, given that it has been a long time coming and that users now essentially expect this in their mobile apps. Google argues that it won’t just be easier on your eyes but that it can also “keep your battery alive longer” (though only phones with an OLED display will really see a difference there).

Image Credits: Google

You’re likely familiar with Smart Compose at this time, which is already available in Gmail and Docs on the web. Like everywhere else, it’ll try to finish your sentence for you, though given that typing is still more of a hassle on mobile, it’s surely a welcome addition for those who regularly have to write or edit documents on the go.

Even if your business is fully betting on G Suite, chances are somebody will still send you an Office document. On the web, G Suite could already handle these documents without any conversion. This same technology is now coming to mobile as well. It’s a handy feature, though I’m mostly surprised this wasn’t available on mobile before.

As for the rest of the new features, the one worth calling out is the ability to respond to comments directly from Gmail. Last year, Google rolled out dynamic email on the web. I’m not sure I’ve really seen too many of these dynamic emails — which use AMP to bring dynamic content to your inbox — in the wild, but Google is now using this feature for Docs. “Instead of receiving individual email notifications when you’re mentioned in a comment in Docs, Sheets, or Slides, you’ll now see an up-to-date comment thread in Gmail, and you’ll be able to reply or resolve the comment, directly within the message,” the company explains.

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The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 features a reinforced screen, upgraded hinge and larger front screen

Posted by | foldable, galaxy fold, hardware, Mobile, Samsung | No Comments

Samsung promised five “power devices” for its virtually-only Unpacked event. We already know about the Note 20, Galaxy Watch 3, Tab S7 and Buds Live — so what’s left? We speculated based on earlier news that the company would debuting a new foldable — the biggest question, however, is whether it would be a rehash of the recently announced Galaxy Z Flip 5G or something else entirely.

Turns out the company is releasing the sequel to its first foldable, the…troubled Galaxy Fold. After a false start or two, the company says it sold one million units of the innovative but overly fragile handset. Announced earlier this year, however, the clamshell-styled Flip was better received, and frankly the foldable Samsung ought to have released in the first place.

With all of that in mind, what lessons has the company applied to the new version of the Fold? For starters, the front displays seemed like something of an afterthought on the original Fold. For the Galaxy Z Fold 2, it expands significantly to 6.2 inches, in addition to the main (foldable) 7.6-inch screen.

Image Credits: Samsung

The colors will match the new Notes (and the rest of the devices announced today), available in Mystic Black and Mystic Bronze.

The company notes in the press material, “After releasing two foldable devices and listening to user feedback on the most requested upgrades and new features, Samsung unveils the Galaxy Z Fold 2 with meaningful innovations that offer users enhanced refinements and unique foldable user experiences.”

Image Credits: Samsung

The event ended with an appearance by the wildly popular boy band, BTS, which appeared in a brief unboxing video. In fact, the company spent a significant amount of time talking about the box itself. The new model is thinner and features a smaller gap between screens. Samsung says, thankfully, the screen is more reinforced than previous models and has a redesigned hinge — all good news after the last version.

Image Credits: Samsung

The front of the screen features flexible glass — Ultra Thin Glass (UTG), per Samsung’s branding. The new hinge features 60 parts and is capable of remaining open in a variety of different angles (similar to the Flip). There’s also a “sweeper” brush inside in an attempt to limit the amount of debris that can sneak in — one of the major failure points for the previous Fold.

The company appears to not quite be ready to talk about the new foldable beyond these first few details. Instead, it’s promising additional information next month — likely at the press event it has planned in lieu of an appearance at IFA in September. The full unveil goes down September 1. Pre-orders will open then, too. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to play around it then, too. We’ll try to be gentle this time.

 

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Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 ships August 21, starting at $1,000

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

Samsung promised a lot of gadgets for today’s big Unpacked event — five in all, as a matter of fact. As expected, the big headliners — both figuratively and literally — are the latest additions to the popular Note line.

Also unsurprising is the company’s positioning the Note 20 — along with the rest of today’s new hardware — as  “devices […] that seamlessly integrate to empower consumers navigating a rapidly changing world.” It’s mostly a bit of hyperbole as the company looks to position a pair of pricey flagship phones in the midst of an extraordinarily unprecedented year.

Like the Galaxy S20 before it, Samsung’s skipping 10 full numbers here for the sake of consistency. On a whole, nothing here jumps out as a huge leap in progress, a fact due in no small part to the company’s six-month flagship cycle. There are, however, a number of notable upgrades on-board here, as the company works to retain its position among the bleeding edge of smartphone advances.

Image Credits: Samsung

Samsung was, of course, one of the first company’s to embrace 5G, employing the next-gen technology well before achieving any sort of saturation point. The company has also embraced the budget side of the spectrum with the Galaxy A71 5G. It follows then, the Note line is the company’s “first fully 5G-capable Note,” meaning that the technology is no longer just the realm of the more premium model — and that it utilizes both the Sub-6 and mmWave versions of 5G technology.

Once again, the Note line is divided into two distinct models: this time out, the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra, starting at $1,000 and $1,300, respectively. Much has been made of Samsung’s attempts to move the devices at a — less than opportune time. The fact of the matter is people aren’t really buying handsets these days. For one thing, lots of people just don’t have the sort of disposable income they did just a year ago. And what money is going to technology is generally being spent on things like PCs, as remote becomes the new norm for office workers.

Image Credits: Samsung

Handsets costing $1,000+ had already become a tough sell in recent years, with an overall market slow down — and recent figures from third-party analysts show that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been kind to Samsung’s sales bottom line.

All of that said, the Note is still very much the standard by which all other phablets are judged. Plenty of other companies have tried and failed to launch competitive pocket productivity devices, and for its nearly decade-long existence, no one has been able to come close to the Galaxy Note.

As is its custom, Samsung continues to press the bounds of screen size on the line. The Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra sport 6.7 and 6.9-inch displays, respectively. Both are up from the 10, which sported a 6.3 and 6.8-inch screen. The Ultra also sports a 120Hz refresh rate.

For the first Samsung launch in recent memory, I can’t tell you what kind of job the company has done keeping the footprint down in spite of an ever-enlarging screen — for reasons that are probably obvious, I haven’t seen or touched the device in person yet. Soon, I’m told.

Image Credits: Samsung

What I can say is that the dimensions have increased, but only by a millimeter or so. And both models have added somewhere between 10-30 grams apiece. The device retains the familiar three-camera array, albeit with a redesigned enclosure. The Note Ultra borrows some key cues from the S20 Ultra. The biggest additions are the 108-megapixel wide-angle and the Space Zoom technology, which brings up to 50x super zoom (only 5x optical) on the Ultra and 30x (3x hybrid optical) on the 20. The Ultra also sports laser auto focus for quicker shots, while the 20 sports a 64-megapixel telephoto. Both models can now shoot video in 8K, as well.

The fan favorite S Pen gets a bunch of updates, including increased precision and responsiveness, along with gesture controls that do things like shoot screenshots or return to the home screen. The stylus can be used as a remote control as well, up to 30 feet, courtesy of Bluetooth Low Energy. The associated Notes app features better cloud syncing and a new recording feature, which associates time stamps with written notes (there’s no live transcription à la Google Recorder, however).

Samsung and Microsoft have broadened their partnership here. That includes the ability to access Samsung notes and mirror the mobile device on a Windows 10 PC. And mid-next month, the Note 20 will be getting Xbox Game Pass access, with 100+ games, as Samsung looks to position its high-end handsets as more serious mobile gaming devices.

There is, as ever, DeX support, letting users mirror the system to a connected smart TV. In spite of rumors around Samsung’s waning interest with Bixby, the company tells me that the smart assistant “remains consistent” with what has been offered on previous devices. A fun addition also worth pointing out is the ability to pair the new Galaxy Buds Live as microphones for when you’re shooting a subject talking. UWB (ultra-wideband) is another new addition that lets users share files when in close proximity and will double as a digital key at some point down the road.

Image Credits: Samsung

The models are powered by the new Snapdragon 865+. The Ultra ships with 12GB of RAM and either 128GB or 512GB of storage. The Note 20 has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Their batteries are 4,500mAh and 4,300mAh, respectively. Pre-orders open tomorrow, and they’ll start shipping August 21.

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