Samsung is hip to be square

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Above: Samsung’s Z Flip folding smartphone. Photo courtesy Samsung.

BitDepth#1239 for March 05, 2020

On February 11, Samsung held its annual Unpacked event in San Francisco.

The company’s local PR has been unusually quiet about the announcements, though I’d initially thought that was because it was unlikely to drown out the roar of 2020 soca.

It turns out their muteness might have more to do with the nature of the announcements, which were, in summary, the announcement of two new phones and a deep commitment to support for 5G telephony.

On 5G

The company has drawn a line in the sand, declaring 2020 “The Year of Galaxy 5G,” with a declared commitment to supporting the communication standard in the coming decade on its mobile devices and on the back-end with its telecommunications hardware.

That has a direct impact on the cost of devices at this stage of the technology’s development, because the addition of 5G radios leads to a price hike, which leads directly into one of the other announcements, of a successor to the S10.

The Galaxy S20

Samsung’s S20 lineup. Photo courtesy Samsung.

The new Galaxy S20 sports several improvements, but the most relevant one is that the new line of three devices, the S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra all ship with 5G capability.

The new devices cost US$999, $1,199 and $1,399 respectively.

Samsung announced immediate reductions in pricing on the 4G capable S10 line, making them the preferred bargain for users who have no option to connect on a 5G network and might prefer not to pay for a radio they won’t be using.

Unfortunately, that means that S10 users who have been promised some S20 series features via software updates, won’t get the benefit of the company’s refreshed design of the cameras in its new Galaxy devices.

Videographers will appreciate a breathtaking capacity of up to 1.5TB of storage with compatible SD cards in the new devices and new AI driven motion analysis for stabilisation and anti-rolling technology, along with the ability to capture 8K video on the new camera system.

Samsung also touted a new periscope style folded zoom lens that delivers a 10x hybrid zoom (up to 100x digital zoom.

Drew Blackard, Head of US Product Development for Samsung also touted a new periscope style folded zoom lens that delivers a 10x hybrid zoom (up to 100x digital zoom) and a 108MP camera on the Ultra model of the new S20.

Huawei introduced a similar zoom almost two years ago, but got no traction when their troubles with the US stalled product distribution.

Introducing these new capabilities, Blackard noted that the company’s research into user needs revealed that “Our smartphones need one thing, a good camera.”

Along with these new technologies, software-driven improvements promise to capture multiple different kinds of images (think: short video, boomerang, still photo) with a single capture and improved multi-frame merging to improve captures in difficult lighting situations.

But that wasn’t what Samsung led off their presentation. Their big lead-in was a flip phone.

Yes, a flip phone, the Galaxy Z Flip

Samsung’s Z Flip.

According to UK Product and Marketing Manager Rebecca Hirst, the new Galaxy Z Flip is “a statement smartphone.”

The biggest statement though, is the price, US$1,380.

It’s Samsung’s second stab at a folding smart phone after the troubled launch of the Galaxy Fold a year ago.

The new device folds out to deliver a 6.7 inch screen with a slim, though not rounded bezel.

There is no effort at a second facing screen, though the folded device offers a small status LCD that notifies users of messages and calls.

The new ultra-thin glass of the opened screen is rated for 200,000 folds and much was made of a brush system Samsung created to keep dust out of the folding mechanism, which it described as a ‘hideaway hinge.’

Google’s SVP for Platforms and Ecosystems Hiroshi Lockheimer took the stage to underline the cozy relationship between Google and Samsung and declared that “We [Google] think foldables will change the way we work with our smartphones.”

Google re-engineered its software to work with the fussier Fold device and introduces a new split-screen mode that puts controls on the lower half of the screen and display on the upper-half when it’s half-opened, laptop style.

Unpacked messages

We are all in on 5G.

Our top-end phones will be 5G capable.

We real good with Google, unlike, y’know, other companies.

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