Features

Phablet Wars Episode 1: Galaxy Note 5

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There’s a certain cadence to tech reporting, a routine if you will, milestones and destinations that are plotted on a calendar like red letter days. Like holidays more than special events, affairs that you know will take place, come hell or high water.

And sure enough, as it has come to pass every year since the original large screen smartphone was invented back 2011, a new Samsung Galaxy Note is unveiled.

I’m here on my third year running, and there’s a comforting familiarity about things, but something is not quite right, something is messing up the expected sense of déjà vu.

The date and place are different.

Normally this event takes places in September, in Berlin, right before the start of a technology trade show called IFA. Instead we’re at the Lincoln Center in the Big Apple, in the middle of August.

Almost ironically, you have Apple to blame for messing up this rhythm.

JK Shin Unpacked 2015

Back in 2011, Steve Jobs mocked the original Note predicting that no one would want to buy a phone with a large screen. But Samsung was laughing all the way to the bank, and so last year, behest their departed founder’s wishes, Apple released the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus.

That super sized iPhone goes head-to-head with the Note, and Apple being Apple, can afford to be 3 years late, and still make a competitive dent in this growing space of smartphones that are larger than your usual phone and smaller than your usual tablets.

Each move now, is a play in these “phablet” wars. And that’s why we are here early.

Samsung wants a head start, away from any noise that Apple can generate. The Korean tech giant needs to wow the world like its never done before, and it needs to get the Note 5 to stores before Apple can say iPhone 6S Plus.

GLORIOUS

Note 5 in NYC

Behold the Note 5 in all its glory. The demo phone I’m given to take around town is gold, and it glistens under the New York sun, more prestigious than any Note I’ve previously had the privilege of using.

Its front panel is unmistakably Samsung with rounded corners and a glass face, as always a large Samsung logo is plastered just below the ear piece, and on the bottom center of the device, the capsule shaped home button.

The screen on this phone is as glorious as ever, similar to last year’s model, the resolution is twice that of a high-def display, with more pixels than the eye can see. Colors have the usual saturation and vibrance Samsung Super AMOLED displays are known for, and so far, its been holding its own against North America’s over zealous sun.

The only thing noticeably different about this screen is its bezel. One this phone, that border in between the display and the phone’s aluminum trim is reduced slightly, so the phone is not just thinner, but also a tiny bit shorter and slimmer.

But it is the phone’s back side that’s left me infatuated. 

Earlier this year, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S6 Edge – one of the most, I wanna say, fashion forward phones of the year, but in technological terms. Its edge display is curved on both sides, tapering down to fractions of a millimeter on both sides. This stunning specimen of a smartphone feels like the future.

In New York, Samsung unveiled a phablet version of the S6 Edge calling it the S6 Edge+ and I know it sounds like i’ve digressed, but if you can imagine what the screen of the S6 Edge+ looks like (I’ll make it easy for you, I’ve got a photo) that’s exactly how the back of the Note 5 is.

Curves on Note 5 & S6 Edge+

Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but this curvature adds to the phones “grippability,” matching the normal arc of one’s palms. After two years of experimenting with materials, I’m happy to see things come to this.

There’s a level of coldness associated with glass construction, it doesn’t embrace you, feeling more like a Porsche than a high-end mini van, but the Note 5 is the Porsche of smartphones, and in this case it hits the mark.   

EVERYONE HAPPY

It’s about time. I’ve complained about Samsung’s plasticky build for many years now, they’ve finally delivered on premium looking phones this year. Of course premium construction has come at the cost of waterproof features, expandable storage and replaceable batteries.

The first two, Sony with its Xperia line, has managed to accomplish so I see no reason why this can’t be done.

But I expect the latter to piss off some loyalists. I know of many Note users who carry around a spare battery, and even with fast charging as an option, swapping a fresh battery for a depleted one sure beats having to use a power bank.

And while I don’t feel the urge to complain about this as much, it’s one area of innovation I wish Samsung would look into. How to maintain premium construction, while providing this flexibility some users demand. Maybe something to look into next year.

Apple doesn’t get the same amount of flack, even when iPhones have never been water proof, have never offered expandable storage options, and have never let users replace batteries. Perhaps it comes with the territory, Android users demand more options, even though we don’t always end up using them

I for one have used a Note for many years, and don’t remember if I really needed more storage. I sure didn’t ever have an extra battery, even if that would have been a great idea.

NOTE TAKING

samsung-galaxy-note-5-stylus

I also din’t use my S-Pen much. Which is an aweful admission, considering this bundled stylus is how the Note gets its name.

This year, many will speak about how the S-Pen got a face lift, and how its new spring loading mechanism ensures that the pen stays inside the phone when not in use. But it’s really the innovations built around S-Pen software that are huge for the Note.

Being able to scribble and draw on your phone is the value proposition of the Note. And in a sea of smartphones above 5.5 inches, it’s the first, and one of a handful, that actually bundle a digital pen — getting this right is justifying the phone’s existence.

Let me give you some concrete examples. Since the last two iterations, when you pull out the S-Pen it brings up a menu called Air Command. Do you want to scribble down a note, make a clipping from the current screen? All these options are a tap away from this pop-up menu.

But say you’ve moved on to other things, pen still in hand, summoning Air Command for another task isn’t as easy. It’s a meticulous process that entails pointing at the screen, close enough but without touching, and then a press of a button on the S-Pen.

Samsung’s fixed that on the Note 5. Air Command is now a small bubble that floats on your screen,  you can position it anywhere you want, so it won’t get in the way of business. Retracting the pen still enables it, but it stays there, awaiting your next command. It took just a few minutes with the device, before I got that aha moment, it makes perfect sense. Just with that small adjustment, I have a feeling I’ll be using my S-Pen more now.

Samsung has also made the note taking experience more seamless. Even if the phone is off, you can pull out the pen, scribble a note and save it for later. The whole time the screen remains dark,  giving you the impression that its still off. You can also save notes as minimized stickies that resemble app icons on your home screen.

I also think I’ll be using a feature called Scroll Capture. It saves you from having to take multiple screen shots of a webpage, or a lengthy chat conversation. When enabled, all you have to do is tap and it will scroll up one page. You can tap and scroll up to 22 times, on any app, and when you’re done it will save the screen grabs as one long image.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S BEST FRIEND

With all that the Note 5 has going for it, the camera feels like an aside, but traditionally all Notes have had some of the best smartphone cameras each year, and this one is no different. Although unlike previous years, this one doesn’t get an upgrade from last February’s Galaxy S6. It’s the exact same camera, and that really isn’t a bad thing – 8 months into the year, its still one of the best cameras we’ve seen on a smartphone this 2015.

Like the S6 you can double press on the home button to launch the camera, from any window, even with the display turned off. If you don’t have an S6, I promise you this will change your life, or at least give you the ability to capture even the most fleeting of moments.

So that the camera feels fresh, the Note 5 gets some nice-to-have features, but nothing really ground breaking. There’s an expanded “Beauty Face” mode for selfie-holics, a video collage mode that’ll elevate your Instagram or Vine posts, and for content creators the ability to livestream on YouTube from within the camera app.   

Here are a few sample photos taken with the Note 5.

Time Square by Note 5

New York Streets by Note 5

20150111_111044

PHABLET WARS

In a few hours I’ve got a plane to catch back to Manila, for the first time since I started covering these events I have a phone to take back with me and use for a couple of weeks, which should be enough time to let the hype die down, and see how the phone performs in the real world. My feelings may or may not change then. By that time also, Apple will be ready with its own iPhone announcements, at which point we shall continue this Phablet War, and maybe even, declare a winner.

[irp posts=”913″ name=”Galaxy Note 5: BenCab Edition Unboxing”]

Explainers

All filters: Article 13 of the EUCD explained

Is this the end for memes everywhere?

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If you haven’t been on the web often lately, this may be something that has slipped past your radar. On September 12, 2018, the European Parliament voted to pass a directive that could change the way we approach the internet for years to come. But, consider first that it’s only the initial review, with a final vote happening next year.

What is this directive, and why is the internet involved? Why are people suddenly seeing #Article13 trend on Twitter a few hours after the decision was passed? What’s with this #SaveTheInternet nonsense?

Understanding the copyright directive

The directive at the forefront of this entire debacle is known as the European Union Copyright Directive, or EUCD. The EUCD hopes to streamline effective regulations towards the protection of intellectual property in the EU. It was first adopted in 2001, following the ruling during the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty. Earlier this year, another version of the directive was drafted with added articles and stipulations.

Basically, the EUCD seeks to create measures to protect one’s copyright on created content. The range of intellectual property that should be protected include music, videos, images, algorithms/codes, and even software. The directive calls for member countries to enact and implement laws that protect copyright owners. Eventually, such stipulations also reach big companies that operate within the EU.

You might be thinking why there is an outcry over it in the first place, especially when the directive’s purpose is clear. Well, there’s one particular part of the EUCD that a lot of people disagree on: Article 13.

The unlucky Article 13

Article 13 of the EUCD isn’t a lengthy piece of reading. The whole article contains three provisions for the implementation of copyright protection on websites that host user-generated content. The directive makes a note that these websites store large amounts of user-generated content, with the main purpose, if not one of its main purposes, of earning profit. Basically, any website that allows you to upload your own content and allows you to earn money from it is affected by the directive.

The article also cites that such websites should create measures such as “effective content recognition technologies,” complaint management systems, and tracking solutions. These measures should be readily available the moment users upload content on the website itself. With such measures taken into account, it allows content creators and service providers to properly engage in discussions should there be a dispute. It’s basically what YouTube Creators is all about.

Websites like YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as streaming apps such as Spotify, Apple Music, and IGTV (when monetization is available) are most likely the article’s main targets. The directive also explicitly states that non-profit service providers and online marketplaces will not be affected. So, Wikipedia and Shopee aren’t affected, don’t worry.

The ongoing debate towards copyright protection

For some people, the EUCD is inherently good for intellectual property protection. They argue that the primary goal of the directive is to protect users from piracy and copyright infringement. Through the EUCD, there will be systems in place that protect music labels, content creators, and publishers from any illegal use of their content online. For these people, users should be held liable for infringement of any kind (memes, remixes, and parodies are a few examples).

Furthermore, the directive not only affects users but also the companies that run these websites. It basically mandates companies to create better content recognition systems, or change their already existing system for stricter copyright protection. If they don’t make adjustments, they will be held liable for any infringement-related issues. What Article 13 does, for those who are for the EUCD, is simply a suggested improvement.

However, there are others who believe that the directive is a little too extreme and could potentially do more harm than good. Leading institutions and companies in the tech industry think that the provisions are too vague, leaving it open for interpretation. This has the potential for companies to abuse copyright claims without effective ways of intervention. Furthermore, any significant changes to already-existing systems would require heavy costs to implement.

The bigger picture here is how the directive affects the internet as a whole. Big names in the tech industry argue that it’s an attack on the creative freedom of users. Instead of allowing the internet to be an open space for the right way of creativity, it simply adds more filters and restrictions in the process. Basically, you can’t put up an Avengers meme without having the approval of Disney and Marvel Studios first.

So, what happens now?

The EUCD was put in place to protect copyright — a simple and basic goal. There is recognition that there are measures that must be in place to uphold copyright. There is no denying that big companies have to abide by intellectual property rules, or suffer severe consequences for infringement. However, a lot of people are clamoring that these measures are both vague and sound extreme. Not only does the directive infringe one’s creative freedom in providing quality content, but it also makes the whole process costly and rigid.

At the end of the day, everybody wants to protect copyright. The argument for or against the EUCD is already past the debate on whether protecting copyright is right or wrong. The debate now is whether or not a open source like the internet should be kept that way or be strictly protected at all costs.

All of these will come into play in January 2019, when the European Parliament casts its vote for or against the directive. If you have the time to read the EUCD, you can access the full document here.

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How Chinese vendors have taken over the Indian market

Market share has been grabbed but can they sustain it?

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A few years back, the most prominent smartphone companies in India included Micromax, Karbonn, Sony, HTC, and obviously, Samsung. It was a healthy mix of a few homegrown companies along with a blend of various manufacturers from diverse backgrounds. Each had its unique selling point and the market was at a nascent stage.

Fast forward to 2018, the dynamics have completely changed. Except for Samsung, all other companies listed above are almost non-existent and the complete business has been taken over by Chinese makers. According to Counterpoint Research’s Q2 2018 report, Xiaomi, Vivo, OPPO, and Honor (Huawei’s sub-brand) have a combined market share of 53 percent.

Domestic companies like Micromax have a very unstable presence in the region now, and all other vendors like Karbonn, Intex, and Spice have packed up. The only brand that has been able to survive this long is Samsung. But, considering the recent two quarters, even Samsung has lost a substantial share to the Chinese.

How did the newcomers manage to take over the market so rapidly, and successfully?

The base strategy is pretty similar to that of Samsung. Back in 2010, when Nokia and BlackBerry had their superiority, Samsung Mobile was a fledgling in the country. Samsung came in and filled the market with next-generation trendy products at a nominal rate. When Nokia and BlackBerry were busy competing with their QWERTY phones, Samsung was selling touchscreen phones like the Corby and Champ.

These phones appealed to the younger audience, and while Apple was busy knocking down everyone in design, Samsung was busy scaling their production. Soon, we saw their brief stint with Windows OS via the Omnia series, followed by entry into the Android ecosystem. Even with Android, Samsung continued releasing phones in every price segment: The Galaxy Star was a top-selling budget phone, the S-series had just taken off, and new devices were being launched almost every month.

In short, they filled the market with options and every type of user was targeted. The gamble paid off massively. Within a few years, the old behemoths were gone and Samsung had established a brand with trust among users. The company focused on grabbing market share via the budget and midrange segment and simultaneously managing the top-tier S and Note series for higher margins.

This is the same strategy that the new Chinese vendors are applying. First, fill the market with trendy phones that are reasonably priced, and then expand their portfolio. A notch and glass backing are the current trends, and everyone quickly jumped on the bandwagon.

From gradients to patterns, there are multiple options available. Want a performance-centric phone? Huawei and Xiaomi brought in high-end processors for just INR 20,000 (US$ 276). Like iPhone’s Face ID? Almost every phone comes with face unlock.

Vivo brought in the in-display fingerprint scanner before everyone else and it’s exactly the kind of innovation the end user wants. While these companies are busy expanding their portfolio, they are also careful to consider long-term goals. Huawei’s Mate and P series have been mind-boggling, and with the P20 Pro, it has managed to establish itself as a premium player.

OPPO, Vivo, and OnePlus belong to the same holding company — BBK Mobile. OnePlus leads the premium segment while OPPO and Vivo act as test beds for new concepts, like the sliding camera. Ultimately, anything earned by either of them goes to the same pocket. Xiaomi has avoided the top-tier segment until now, but with the POCO F1, it still remains unclear how they intend to establish a premium brand.

Apples and oranges

I haven’t considered Apple in this equation because the company has completely different expectations from the market. It doesn’t care about market share as long as it grabs the top one percent audience. Every week we see new launches happening in the country with each new product trying to take on the competitors offerings.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that the Chinese domination in the country will be short-lived but the statistics suggest a different story. Each of them has also confidently invested in growing their presence; this includes the operation of service centers and exclusive stores. In fact, all of them have joined the Make in India initiative to avoid import duty.

We haven’t seen Samsung get aggressive to the competition yet; they are still trying to make it through at their own pace. It will also be interesting to see how HMD Global is able to make a mark with their Nokia branded offerings in the country.

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Sony’s PlayStation is back, Xiaomi outs new Mi 8 variants: Weekend Rewind

Ending the week with nostalgic feels

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Here are this week’s top stories on GadgetMatch.

1. The iconic PlayStation is back!

Let’s kick things off by taking a trip down memory lane. Almost 25 years after its debut, Sony is bringing back the iconic first-gen PlayStation and it will come as the PlayStation Classic.

It’s basically a miniaturized version complete with a pair of original controller replicas. What’s even more exciting is that fans of the original PlayStation will be able to relive 20 legendary titles including Final Fantasy VII and Tekken 3!

2. Razer Phone 2 gets a launch date

Razer officially confirms the arrival of its second gaming smartphone — the Razer Phone 2. It succeeds the Razer Phone that was launched last November and based on earlier leaks, it’ll be a familiar-looking product.

The phone should sport the same body as its predecessor including the display with a buttery-smooth 120Hz refresh rate. Of course, the internals will have beefier specs as well. We’ll know more real soon during its special event at California this October 10.

3. Apple has the lead!

While it may be true that Apple didn’t sell the most number of smartphones, they still earned more than their competitors. According to the latest data from Counterpoint Research, Apple had the biggest share of industry profits during the second quarter of 2018.

For comparison, Apple earned 62 percent of the second-quarter smartphone profits. Samsung, which is the top-selling smartphone vendor, is responsible for just 17 percent of smartphone profits in the quarter. Huawei takes the third spot with eight percent of the profits.

4. A complete but affordable smartwatch

Huami, Xiaomi’s sub-brand in China, has a smartwatch that offers tremendous bang for your buck. The company just unveiled the Amazfit Verge and it’s got everything you could ask for in a wearable without the high price tag.

The Amazfit Verge has a GPS, heart-rate sensor, and full-circle AMOLED display. It’s also equipped with a microphone and loudspeaker that allow voice calls through the smartwatch.

5. Xiaomi outs Mi 8 Pro and Mi 8 Lite

On a related note, Xiaomi also held a quick event to announce a few things including two new Mi 8 variants — the Mi 8 Pro and Mi 8 Lite.

In a nutshell, these are additions to the flagship Mi 8 family. The Mi 8 Pro is similar to the Mi 8 with the same specs like its Snapdragon 845 processor, up to 8GB of memory, and 128GB of expandable storage. Although, this model comes with an in-display fingerprint sensor.

As the name suggests, the Mi 8 Lite is a toned-down Mi 8 and comes with a midrange Snapdragon 660 chipset, dual rear cameras, and a 24-megapixel front camera. Both phones are initially available in China, and international availability is yet to be announced.


Weekend Rewind is our roundup of top news and features you might have missed for the week. We know the world of technology can be overwhelming and not everyone has the time to get up to speed with everything — and that includes us. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the rewind.

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