All posts in “smartphone”

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 is the way to wean yourself off of DSLRs

Samsung has a new smartphone out, the Galaxy S9 (and S9+). It’s the latest flagship from one of the top smartphone makers in the world, but this year’s version has a lot in common with last year’s model, at least on the surface. The big focus (lol) this year was on the camera, and for good reason: Samsung stepped up its game significantly in this department with this update, and it comes closest to any smartphone camera I’ve tried yet to replicating some of the aspects of traditional photography that I love.

Arguably, other smartphone cameras, and the Pixel 2 in particular, can produce better photos. The Samsung Galaxy S9 is basically on par with that industry leader when it comes to quality of photos when shot in automatic mode – in some situations, including a lot of low-light scenarios, the S9 is better, but in others, like when there are big lightning differences across the scene, Google’s smartphone edges the Samsung. But either device (and the latest iPhones, if you’re going beyond Android) is going to be a fantastic photographic choice for most smartphone buyers, and that shouldn’t be a major concern when making a buying decision.

Where the Samsung Galaxy S9 really takes a leap forward is in bringing some of what has been so appealing about manual-friendly retro camera designs like those favoured by Fujifilm to the mobile realm. There are plenty of manual photography apps that do similar things, but the Galaxy S9 has its crucial dual aperture camera lens, which can manually switch from F/1.5 to F/2.4 in pro shooting mode. This gives you a noticeable degree of control over depth of field, or the effect of subtly blurring either background or foreground details depending on where you want to draw attention in the frame.

It’s this small, but crucial detail that really drives the appeal of the S9 for me. Without it, it’d be difficult to roundly recommend it as a major upgrade from last year’s model, and hard to say that it can stand apart from the rest of the crowd, most of which now feature magnificent cameras.

The Galaxy S9 also produces pretty fantastic results with full-light photos outdoors, as you can see from the gallery, with vibrant, rich color that might be a bit artificial, but ultimately comes off looking like it includes the kind of minor boosts and tweaks I’d do while editing in post anyway. The video shooting is good, as well, though it lacks the degree of stabilization that Google’s Pixel 2 can provide when filming while in motion.

On the Galaxy S9+ (which I didn’t test, but spent a bit of time with ahead of launch), the dual-camera design provides even more balm for DSLR and mirrorless addicts, since it gives you access to that 2x manual zoom. But the standard S9 strikes a great balance in terms of portability, design and features, and honestly most people won’t often use the zoom lens anyway.

Another key feature of the S9 is its new super slow motion mode, which captures brief clips at 960 fps at 720p resolution. I had fun with this, but found its automatic mode frustrating (it rarely detected motion when I wanted it to, and often went either too early or too late to get the moment). Turning that to manual was again more fun, for many of the reasons described above, and more interesting in terms of results produced, like the clip below.

Other new features, including the AR Emoji, are less well-executed and will probably enter the dustbin of history with a lot of other Samsung exclusive features. That’s not necessarily a criticism however: Samsung trying a bunch of stuff and then introducing it into the wild for hundreds of millions of customers isn’t hurting anyone (though mode switching on the S9 is super sensitive to casual left and right swipes, meaning AR emoji could come up accidentally) and sometimes crazy stuff they try actually works. AR emojis is not one of those.

John Chen to stay on as BlackBerry CEO through 2023

BlackBerry today announced it reached an agreement to keep CEO John Chen in his current position through 2023. Chen joined the company in 2013 and is responsible for leading the company’s recovery as it left smartphones and embraced services.

When Chen took over the company, the company was struggling on all fronts. Its time as the smartphone leader was done but it still had a strong brand in key markets. Chen lead the company to a modest turn around and has seemingly found its footing. The company stock is up 89.9% over the last 12 months and nearly level with the stock price when Chen took over during its decline five years ago.

“The BlackBerry Board of Directors has tremendous confidence in John Chen . John engineered a successful turnaround and has the company repositioned to apply its strengths and assets to the Enterprise of Things, an emerging category with massive potential,” said Prem Watsa, Lead Director and Chair of the Compensation, Nomination and Governance Committee of the BlackBerry Board, in a released statement. “John’s leadership is critical and the Board has determined that it is in the best of interests of BlackBerry and its shareholders to continue his service through November 2023.”

Going forward Chen’s compensation is weighted towards longterm goals. His salary will stay the same. He will be award 5 million restricted share units vested over five years if and when the company’s share price amounts from USD $16 to $20. A performance-based cash award will vest and become available if the company’s share price hits $30, resulting in BlackBerry’s market capitalization hitting $16.1 billion, an increase of 134% from current levels.

It’s painful to watch iconic companies die. BlackBerry was dying and Chen managed to keep the boat afloat through cuts and redirection. If there’s anyone who’s able to keep the company moving forward, it’s John Chen and BlackBerry’s board clearly felt he was the right person for the job.

Insta360 teases new ‘FlowState’ stabilization tech for 360 cameras

360-degree camera maker Insta360 just released a video that shows off a new feature it’s calling “FlowState,” which stabilizes a ‘flat,’ traditional HD video frame by extracting it from a 360 capture. This might be a familiar technique if you’ve followed what GoPro and Rylo are doing with their own 360 cameras, but Insta360’s take looks powerful and feature-rich, based on this clip.

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As you can see, the stabilization tech not only produces video that looks like it’s shot on a gimbal, even for fast, bumpy action like from a camera mounted on a dog’s back, but also allows for interesting effects like following even very small moving objects (butterflies) and doing dramatic time dilation effects combined with cinematic pans.

Insta360 has noticed that a lot of action camera and smartphone gimbal users are interested in its line of 360-degree cameras, and has been working on easy in which its 360-degree footage can be translated into more interesting traditional clips and movies.

The company’s Insta360 ONE already features automatic framing, free capture for HD resolution flat cropping and six-axis stabilization, so it seems like with FlowState Insta360 is hoping to up its game in these areas by easier to use and more effective. This clip doesn’t mention anything about new hardware, so it’s possible that whatever Insta360 is planning could come to existing devices, including the $299 Insta360 ONE.

We’ll know more on March 20, when the company details its latest feature in full, but it should have GoPro a bit worried if it works as advertised and comes in at a more attractive price point than the expensive GoPro Fusion.

The new Light Phone 2 keeps things basic but adds e-ink and ‘essentials’

Light is back with a new twist on its anti-smartphone phone. But this time, instead of doing just one thing, the Light Phone 2 does a few, and exists somewhere between the original Light and your overwrought iPhone – though still far closer to the first-generation Light phone overall.

The new design features a matte finish e-ink display, which occupies most fo the front face of the device and can show text, act as a virtual keyboard for sending messages, show your contacts and alarms and more. The phone uses Light’s own proprietary operating system, which is heavy on the text and limited on the total number of options and features, and you use physical keys on the side of the phone to navigate through menu options.

The Light Phone 2 has 4G LTE connectivity and, since it’s not yet finalized but is instead kicking off its Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign, could add features including directions, ride-sharing specific apps, playlists, weather reports, and voice commands according to the company’s founders, on top of the basic call, messaging, contact book, alarm and auto-reply features that are definitely going in. Whether those other add-on features make the cut will depend in some part on backer feedback.

But with those potential additions, plus the larger, device-commanding active display, the Light Phone 2 is starting to sound a lot more smartphone-y and a lot less “Just a phone.” But LIght’s creators say that it’s definitely not, under any circumstances, going to add social media, advertising, email or news features to the phone.

Really, those are the things that truly turn our mobile companions into huge time sucks and mood altering devices. Light Phone 2 is definitely more of a compromise than a purist dumbphone like the original, but it still also sounds like it fits the company’s chosen tagline of being “a phone for humans” better than your average flagship smartphone does today.

Light’s been out of stock of its current generation device for a while now, which was probably because it was looking forward to this launch. The phone’s Indiegogo campaign has $225 as the early bird price fo the device, with $400 as the target retail cost, and estimated shipping is April of next year (yes, over a year away) so the company also seems to have learned a lesson or two about manufacturing and shipping hardware, and is giving itself ample buffer for this redesign.

Nokia is relaunching its ‘Matrix’ slider phone and other high-concept simple phones like the Punkt MP01 are out there trying to wean people away from their smartphone habits. It’s an appealing dream, but it’s hard to tell if it’s just a brief hiccup due to information ennui, or a real movement in the early offing. How Light Phone 2’s campaign does overall might be another indicator as to which it ends up being.

Gartner reports first ever global decline in smartphone sales

Global smartphone sales have not been firing on all cylinders for several years now but Gartner’s latest figures record the first ever decline since the analyst began tracking the market all the way back in 2004. (Though it’s not the first analyst to call a decline.)

Gartner’s figures peg sales of smartphones to end users in Q4 2017 at nearly 408 million units — a 5.6 per cent decline over its Q4 2016 figure.

It says No.1 ranked smartphone maker Samsung saw a year-on-year unit decline of 3.6 per cent in Q4, while sales of Apple’s iPhones fell 5 per cent in the holiday quarter, though it says Cupertino stabilized its second-place marketshare.

Gartner says two main factors led to the Q4 sales drop: A slowing of upgrades from feature phones to smartphones due to a lack of quality “ultra-low-cost” smartphones; and existing smartphone owners selecting quality models and keeping them for longer, lengthening the replacement cycle.

Apple’s performance in Q4 was also impacted by the later availability of its new top-of-the-range iPhone X, which drove slower upgrades of its other two new smartphones, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. While component shortages and manufacturing capacity constraints also contributed to a long delivery cycle for the iPhone X.

Gartner says it’s expecting a delayed sales boost for Apple in the first quarter of 2018, now that the flagship’s delivery cycle has returned to normal.

It’s also expecting a boost for Samsung in Q1 as it unpacks its successor Galaxy flagships.

For full year 2017, Samsung carved out a 20.9 per cent marketshare to Apple’s 14.0 per cent.

Far East

Last month analyst Canalys reported a first annual decline in smartphone shipments in China — which for years took up the baton on smartphone growth from saturated Western markets. But even Chinese buyers appear to be getting tapped out.

It’s still a growth story for Chinese OEMs, though. And Gartner says the combined market share of Chinese vendors in the top five increased by 4.2 percentage points in 2017, while the market share of the top two, Samsung and Apple, remained unchanged.

China’s Huawei and Xiaomi were the only smartphone vendors to actively increase their market shares in Q4, according to Gartner, with year-on-year unit growth in the holiday quarter of 7.6 and 79 per cent, respectively.

The analyst credits Huawei’s uplift to broadening the appeal of its portfolio with new handset launches in the quarter. It also says Xiaomi’s “competitive” portfolio accelerating its growth in the emerging APAC market and helped it win back lost share in China.

Huawei remained in third place in the global smartphone vendor rankings, taking a 9.8 per cent share in full year 2017 and shrinking the gap with Apple and Samsung.

Overall, Gartner says total smartphone sales exceeded 1.5 billion units in 2017 — a year-on-year increase of 2.7 per cent.

On the OS front, Google’s Android platform extended its lead in 2017, taking an 86 per cent share of the total market, up 1.1 percentage points from a year ago. While iOS took 14 per cent. (The “other OS” category shriveled to a nearly non-existent 0.1 per cent.)

And as the world’s biggest mobile tradeshow, MWC, rolls around again, there will be some fresh Android-powered handsets being unboxed in the coming days — including from Samsung, Nokia-branded HMD and others.