On the count of four

BitDepth#960 for October 28

Samsung’s Gear S marries the smartwatch features of the original model with the fitness focus of the Gear Fit with a larger screen and more phoneless features. Photo courtesy Samsung.
Samsung’s Gear S marries the smartwatch features of the original model with the fitness focus of the Gear Fit with a larger screen and more phoneless features. Photo courtesy Samsung.

A week ago, Samsung introduced their four flagship smart devices for the local market to a small group of influencers and journalists at the Hyatt Regency in T&T.

Over the last few years, the company’s touring events have fluctuated in size, but this year’s seemed unusually cozy, with just a dozen people in the hotel’s boardroom space gathered to hear the pitch for the four products that will be officially launched to the public on November 01 at the Samsung Experience Store at Gulf City Mall.

Of the four, only one is pushing aggressively into a new market space. Samsung’s new Gear S is a beefier version of their wearable computer that seeks to liberate the smartwatch from being a satellite to a smartphone. 

The Gear S, running Tizen, has specifications that would have been acceptable on the smartphones of five years ago, with 512MB of memory, 4GB of solid state storage, a SIM slot and its own 3G and WiFi radios. When paired with a smartphone, users can finally channel their inner Dick Tracy and make and receive calls directly from their wrist.

Samsung uses the 360 x 480 pixel screen to show off dazzling graphics that mimic the look of high-end phones, but this is a screen, curved and sharp, that looks usable for doing something beyond checking the time, health stats and e-mails.

The Note 4 is an evolutionary upgrade to the company’s market-defining line of larger smartphones, and it’s one that’s surprisingly small, tidy and neat for its physical specifications. At least part of the reason for that is Samsung’s thinner bezel, which pushes the screen much closer to the edges of the device, creating the illusion of a smaller box.

Samsung has invested significant design work in making the phone feel lighter, slimmer and smaller generally while preserving the large screen that’s always been the device’s big draw.

The new Galaxy Tab S is an evolutionary upgrade to the company’s underrated line of tablets. The 10.5 inch screen is sharp and crisp, packing in 2,560 x 1,600 pixels and the processor is crisp and responsive.

The company has mercifully dropped the faux leather of the previous version in favour of a sleek finish and profile that’s likely to get dropped into an appropriate protective case at the first opportunity by any serious user.

The Galaxy Alpha is the curiosity of the bunch. A slightly smaller device than the flagship Galaxy S5, the Alpha is an almost perfect first smartphone, but it’s also a no compromise device with specifications that place it close to the S5 Mini with a price to match. 

Final local pricing is likely to decide the positioning of this device in the T&T market, but Samsung could do more to improve its pricing and feature differentiation among its midrange devices.

The smartphones and tablet all run Android 4.4.4 with a refreshed TouchWiz (Nature UX3.0) interface that’s fashionably flatter and more colourful that previous versions.

Beyond those cosmetic touches, improved device specifications and shaving down of the physical size of the devices comes the decision to replace the long-standing “menu” button that’s lived next to the home button on Samsung’s smartphone and tablet devices for, well, forever, with a “window” button.

This one small change is likely to cause all kinds of muscle memory spasms for long time Samsung device users who are used to accessing additional app features using that feature.

By putting multi-window access just to the left of front and centre on these new devices Samsung is sending a not so subtle message that its efforts at building differentiation through more convenient multi-tasking will be a core of its future feature set for TouchWiz which is evolving from a desktop metaphor to a more aggressively touch driven interface that makes more use of icons for visual cues.