All posts in “Smartphones”

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.

PUBG soft-launches on mobile in Canada with Android release

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, the ‘battle royale’ style game where everyone tries to be the last player standing while scrounging for supplies to keep them alive, has launched on Android in Canada MobileSyrup reports, which could presage a future release in the U.S.

The arrival of the mobile version of the game more generally known as PUBG coincides with it reaching the 5 million player milestone on Xbox, where it’s been available since late last year after debuting on the PC in early access earlier in 2017. It’s not cross-play compatible, unlike Fortnite, however, so if you’re playing the Android version you’ll be matched up against others with the app, which is published by Chinese Internet giant Tencent.

This Android port wasn’t developed by original PUBG studio Bluehole, but they say they oversaw the creation of this mobile version. Based on early testing with a Pixel 2 XL, it looks and feels a lot like the original.

PUBG doesn’t have quite the hype of Fortnite right now, since that’s begun a cross-platform play mobile beta and also Drake just played a session with one of the most popular professional esports players in the world. But a mobile version close at hand (and available now, if you’re Canadian) is reason to get excited.

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.

Samsung Galaxy S9+ teardown reveals that it’s nicely symmetrical on the inside

Samsung’s new pair of flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+, feel more like evolution than revolution. Still, they do have a few interesting new features, such as animated emojis and, in the case of the S9+, a dual camera on the back. 

Now, the folks at iFixit have torn down the bigger of the two phones to bits, exposing the inner workings of Samsung’s camera magic.

In the case of the animated emoji, there is no magic, really. Unlike Apple’s iPhone X, which uses its TrueDepth camera to create a 3D image of the user’s face, the Galaxy S9+ has pretty much the same setup as last year’s S8: an iris scanner, a regular camera, an IR blaster and a proximity sensor. The lack of true 3D imaging tech likely explains why Samsung’s animated emoji can be sort of glitchy and odd-looking at times. 

On the back, the situation is far more interesting. The S9+’s dual rear camera can switch between a f/1.5 aperture in low light situations and f/2.4 in well-lit scenarios, but the question was how did Samsung manage to cram this tech into a sensor small enough to fit on the back of a smartphones. The company did it by using just two aperture blades (instead of five, which is typical for standard camera lenses). 



Image: ifixit

To me, the most striking feature of the Galaxy S9+ innards is how neat it all looks. With the two rear cameras vertically aligned with the fingerprint sensor on the back, the phone has a nice symmetrical look both inside and out. 

Check out the full teardown here

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Android beats iOS in smartphone loyalty, study finds

Samsung’s new Galaxy S9 may not quite live up to the iPhone X when it comes to Samsung’s implementation of a Face ID-style system or its odd take on AR emoji. But that’s not going to matter much to Samsung device owners — not only because the S9 is a good smartphone overall, but because Android users just aren’t switching to iPhone anymore. In fact, Android users have higher loyalty than iOS users do, according to a new report today from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP).

The research firm found that Android brand loyalty has been remaining steadily high since early 2016, and remains at the highest levels ever seen.

Today, Android has a 91 percent loyalty rate, compared with 86 percent for iOS, measured as the percentage of U.S. customers who stayed with their operating system when they upgraded their phone in 2017.

From January 2016 through December 2017, Android loyalty ranged from 89 to 91 percent (ending at 91 percent), while iOS loyalty was several percentage points lower, ranging from 85 to 88 percent.

Explains Mike Levin, partner and co-founder of CIRP, users have pretty much settled on their brand of choice at this point.

“With only two mobile operating systems at this point, it appears users now pick one, learn it, invest in apps and storage, and stick with it. Now, Apple and Google need to figure out how to
sell products and services to these loyal customer bases,” he said.

That’s also why both companies have increasingly become focused on services, as they try to extract larger revenues from their respective user bases. For Apple, that’s been a win, financially speaking — it saw record revenue from services in November, suggesting growth in things like Apple Music, Apple Pay, iCloud, AppleCare and App Store.

For Android users, the higher brand loyalty could be chalked up to their ability to switch to different styles of new phones, without having to leave Android — thanks to its distribution across a variety of handsets. That gives users the freedom to try out new experiences, without giving up their investments in purchased apps, or the time they’ve spent learning their way around Android, for that matter.

It’s worth noting that Android hasn’t always led in user loyalty as it does now. CIRP has been tracking these metrics for years, and things used to be the other way around.

In 2013, for example, iPhone owners were found to be more loyal than Android users. But that shifted the following year, and Android has risen ever since. (By the way, if you click through to read the comments on that linked AllThingsD article from 2013, it’s a quite a trip. Remember when people cared so much about their choice of smartphone it led to commenting wars? Ah, the good ol’ days.)

All that being said, the rate of switching is different from the total number of people switching, the firm also pointed out. And looking at the numbers from that perspective changes things.

“We know Android has a larger base of users than iOS, and because of that larger base, the
absolute number of users that switch to iOS from Android is as large or larger than the
absolute number of users that switch to Android from iOS,” said Levin.”Looking at absolute number of users in this way tends to support claims that iOS gains more former Android users,
than Android does former iOS users.”