Tag Archives | Samsung

With the Galaxy Tab S, Samsung Does Everything in Its Power to Build a Great Android Tablet

...but only Google can fix its weakest point.
Samsung's Ryan Bidan presides over the Galaxy Tab S launch event at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 12, 2014

Samsung’s Ryan Bidan presides over the Galaxy Tab S launch event at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 12, 2014

There are several different ways that a hardware maker can try to build a tablet that’s better than the model which defined the category and continues to lead it, Apple’s iPad. It can make one which is a lot cheaper, or a lot different. Or can build something that’s conceptually similar to the iPad, but attempt to make it better.

Samsung being Samsung, it’s tried all of these approaches with its Android tablets. And the Galaxy Tab S, which it announced at an event I attended at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, is that last sort of tablet: one which attempts to beat the iPad at its own game.

Starting in July, it’ll be available in two screen sizes, 10.5″ and 8.4″, which will start at the same prices as the 9.7″ iPad Air and 7.9″ iPad Mini With Retina Display–$499 and $399, respectively. That’s with Wi-Fi; versions which also pack LTE wireless broadband will arrive at a later date.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

The 10.5″ Samsung Galaxy Tab S

From an industrial-design standpoint, both Galaxy Tab S models have the same bedimpled plastic back as the the Galaxy S5 phone, in two color choices: white or bronze. By almost anybody’s standards, that isn’t as classy as the iPad’s aluminum chassis. But these new Samsungs are pleasing tablets to hold and use: They weigh about the same as their iPad equivalents even though they have bigger screens, which makes them among the lightest tablets on the market. And at about .29″ thick, they’re even thinner than iPads.

The Galaxy Tab S’s most notable feature–and its most striking selling point compared to the iPad–is its display. Instead of an LCD, both versions of the tablet sport Super AMOLED screens, a familiar technology on phones such as the Galaxy S5 but a rarity on tablets. The resolution is 2560-by-1600 at an aspect ratio of 16:9; these are the highest-resolution, largest-screen AMOLED tablets to date.

Samsung spent much of its presentation going over the virtues of Super AMOLED as the company has implemented it: vivid colors; a broader color gamut than LCD, resulting in greater color accuracy; better legibility in sunlight; and adaptive technology which dynamically tweaks the image for the lighting environment and for text, still images, photos, and other content types, even if more than one of them is on screen at a time.

I got to spend some up-close time with Galaxy Tab S units after the presentation, and the screen did look awfully good; as usual with Super AMOLED, the colors were so rich that if anything, I worried about the possibility of them being unrealistically intense. But it’s not tough at all to imagine someone comparing the Galaxy Tab S screens to those on the current iPads and preferring Samsung.

Both Galaxy Tab S models have one other significant hardware feature not available in any current iPad: a home button which doubles as a fingerprint scanner. Among other things, they use it to unlock privacy and multiuser modes which Samsung has added to Android’s stock functionality. I hope it works better than the scanner on the Galaxy S5, which is nowhere near as elegant as the iPhone 5s’s TouchID.

Neither Galaxy Tab S is an iPad-slaughtering Great Leap Forward, but they’re both really nice pieces of hardware. Which brings up the aspect of these tablets which Samsung has the least control over: software and services.

As usual, the company hasn’t been shy about reworking aspects of Android and slathering on its own features. The Tab S models can display two apps on screen at once. Scratching the same general itch as the Continuity features which Apple announced last week at WWDC, they have SideSync 3.0, which lets you use Wi-Fi to project a Galaxy S5’s screen onto the tablet’s display, make and receive calls, and transfer files back and forth; and a similar feature for tablet-PC integration called Remote PC.

Samsung also isn’t satisfied to offer Google’s content stores on its tablets and leave it at that. It has its own music service, Milk, which is powered by Slacker. And it’s introducing Pagegarden, a magazine store which offers interactive titles from publishers such as Conde Nast and National Geographic, customized for the Galaxy Tab S display.

Modifications and additions such as these are dangerous; even if they’re useful, as some of Samsung’s tweaks appear to be, they introduce the risk of bloat and inconsistency. But the thing is, no matter how capably Samsung customizes Android, it can’t do anything about the most glaring weak spot of any competent Android tablet: the paucity of third-party apps designed to work well on a tablet.

I happen to think that iOS has won the mobile app wars, but the selection of apps for Android smartphones, even if it’s in second place, is more than good enough. That’s not true for tablets: More than three years after Google first got serious about tablets with Android 3.0 Honeycomb, it’s not even in the league next door to the league inhabited by the iPad, which now has more than a half-million apps designed especially for it.

Samsung, of course, would never concede that. Still, I got the sense that the company understands it’s an issue. Its presentation on Thursday night emphasized that web browsing has long been the most popular tablet application, but that video has surged into a virtual tie for first place. For browsing the web and watching videos, both Galaxy Tab S models do look like they’d be outstanding.

But because of its massive third-party app advantage, the iPad retains a formidable advantage as an overall experience, over the Galaxy Tab S and every other Android model.

There’s never been any evidence that Google sees this situation as a crisis which demands an ambitious, ongoing response on its part. Too bad for Samsung; too bad for Android fans; too bad for the general state of tablet competition.


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The Galaxy Note Get Samsung’s Apple-Bashing Ad Treatment

Samsung’s Super Bowl commercial for the Galaxy Note, directed by a Farrelly brother, is like a fancier, less entertaining parody of its earlier Apple fan-bashing spots:

While the first ads featured the Galaxy S II phone, a direct competitor of the iPhone 4S, this one is for the Galaxy Note. With its huge screen and pen, it’s both an anti-iPhone and one of the most distinctive phones on the market. So the gag feels a little muffled, and the Note doesn’t get enough explanation.

I’m still curious how the Galaxy Note will do–it strikes me as neat, but a niche. But the fact that Samsung plowed money into a Super Bowl spot presumably means that it thinks the phone can be a mainstream hit.


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How One Little Android Update Caused a Big Headache

My Samsung Galaxy S II had been great to me. It’s a thin, light phone with a gorgeous Super AMOLED Plus display and a dual-core processor that handles Android with ease. When people asked me if I’d ever return to an iPhone–my previous handset was an iPhone 3GS–my answer was a cheery “nope!”

That was until last week, when AT&T delivered an Android 2.3.6 update to the Galaxy S II that destroyed its battery life. Before the update, the phone could easily last through a day of moderate use. After the update, the phone would lose about 8 percent of its battery per hour in standby. Even if I rarely touched the phone during the day, it was dead by bedtime.

I’m telling this story not just to rant–although I’m grateful for that opportunity–but to point out a risk that Android users face: An update that’s supposed to deliver nothing but good things could carry unforeseen consequences. Another example of this popped up this week, with users of Asus’ Transformer Prime reporting lock-ups and graphical glitches after updating to Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

I wasn’t alone in my battery drain problem. Similar complaints have appeared in forums on AT&T’s website, XDA-Developers forums and Android Central (where some T-Mobile users are reporting the same issue), but other users said they weren’t having any issues. This is both the best and worst kind of Android bug, because it’s less likely to merit immediate attention from the phone maker and wireless carriers when it doesn’t affect everyone.

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Samsung Stretches the Definition of Ultrabook

When Intel started talking about the concept of Ultrabooks last year, I thought the definition was pretty simple: Ultrabooks were MacBook Air knockoffs that had Intel processors and ran Windows 7.

It turned out to be more complicated than that. Ultrabooks do use Intel CPUs–they’re Intel’s idea, after all–and they do run Windows. But not all of them bear much resemblance at all to the Air. Really, as long as PC makers design Ultrabooks to be fairly thin, they have lots of latitude to build different sorts of portable computers at different price points.

Case in point: Samsung’s Series 5 Ultra systems, the company’s first official Ultrabooks, which it’s announcing here at CES. There’s a Series 5 Ultra with a 14″ display. (Most Ultrabooks to date have been 13-inchers.) There are ones with 500GB hard disks. (Most Ultrabooks use pricey flash storage and max out at 256GB.) There’s even an optical drive option. (I’d assumed that every Ultrabook would ditch the drive in order to achieve the maximum possible razor-thinness.) And while there’s certainly a dash of Air-like look-and-feel to the industrial design, they’re not clones.

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Samsung: TouchWiz Trumps Ice Cream Sandwich

Geez, Samsung says that it won’t update its Galaxy S smartphones–like my Verizon Fascinate–to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich:

The company’s argument is that they lack sufficient RAM and ROM to run the new OS alongside TouchWiz and other “experience-enhancing” software. This will come as a massive blow to the great many users of the Galaxy S, who would have rightly expected the 1GHz Hummingbird processor and accompanying memory to be able to handle ICS — it’s the same hardware as you’ll find inside the Nexus S, and that phone is receiving Android 4.0 over the air right now.

I’d gladly give up TouchWiz for Ice Cream Sandwich. In a heartbeat. Would you?


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Netbooks: The Beginning of the End

Back in 2008 and 2009, I spent a lot of time defending netbooks. (At the time, PC makers were selling them by the boatload–but also kept saying they were lousy products which would surely go away soon.) Netbooks are still with us, and still have their place. But it looks like one big manufacturer–Samsung–might be giving up on them, at least if you define netbooks as laptops that have low-end processors and screens that are no bigger than 11″ or thereabouts.


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Samsung Taunts Apple

Behold Samsung’s new commercial for the Galaxy S II:  
 
 
 
It’s a pretty clever ad–certainly more so than most that make fun of Apple, and even if its claims about 4G are questionable–and if it ticks off iPhone owners, that’s apparently OK. In an interview with Steve Kovach of the Business Insider, Samsung marketing honcho Brian Wallace says that the company isn’t actually trying to convince iPhone owners to switch to Galaxy phones. It’s addressing users of other Android handsets, and using Apple fans as a target of satire.  
Side note: All ads that mock Apple do so based on the notion that the company’s customers are style-obsessed young people. I’ve come to think of this as the Unicorn Tears theory. And I don’t think it bears much resemblance to the reality of Apple’s user base.  
 
I’ve stood in lines to buy new Apple products. I’ve waited at the Apple Store to talk to a Genius. I’ve done a lot of observing of Apple customers, and while it’s possible that the company’s customers include more style-obsessed young people than average, I don’t think such folks dominate. Mostly, the Apple customers I’ve seen look like America. They’re young, old, hip, square, smart, clueless, pretty, ugly, admirable, alarming, and–like people in general–what former New York City Mayor David Dinkins used to call a gorgeous tapestry…


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Samsung’s Boneheaded PR Mistake

File this one under “So Stupid You Can’t Believe It’s True.” With all the legal hubbub between Apple and Samsung at the moment, you would think both companies would be walking on eggshells. But one of them apparently isn’t paying attention. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber was tipped on Monday that promotional materials for the upcoming Galaxy Player include a very interesting screenshot.

Nestled within the list of features is a section on the Galaxy Player’s Google capabilities. The screenshot is not of the Android OS Google app, though: instead, it is a shot of the Maps app in iOS. Yes, really.

Some enterprising investigative reporting has tracked down the image to female-centric technology blog BlogHer, in a 2008 post about “game changing” iOS apps. How the PR department didn’t notice this when lifting the image is beyond me. Doesn’t Google Image Search tell you where it comes from?

The errant screenshot sat on Samsung’s own website for an unknown amount of time here, but has since been removed. See the image after the jump, you have to see this to believe it!

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Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7.7: Now You See It, Now You Don’t

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On Friday morning here in Berlin, I headed to the IFA electronics show. My first stop was Samsung’ ginormous exhibition, where one of the biggest sections was devoted to the upcoming Galaxy Tab 7.7. I played with one, admired the amazingly vivid Super AMOLED Plus screen, and snapped the photo above. Then I left.

Turns out that I was lucky. Samsung later removed all the Tab 7.7s from the show, presumably for reasons relating to Apple’s ongoing patent case over the Galaxy Tab. Here’s FOSS Patents’ Florian Mueller with some details. (In Germany, Apple has an injunction against Samsung that prevents it from selling the Tab 10.1 here.)

Samsung apparently doesn’t plan to sell the 7.7 in the U.S., a move that Mueller speculates could be spurred by the Galaxy Tab line’s legal woes. I’m not a patent lawyer and am not taking a stance on the case, but I’ll be sorry if the 7.7 can’t make it into the market. From a hardware standpoint, at least, it’s the nicest 7″ (or thereabouts) tablet I’ve seen. I’d like to see consumers get the chance to embrace it or reject it as they see fit.

[Full disclosure: I spoke on a panel at IFA, and the conference organizers covered my travel costs.]


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Samsung’s Galaxy Note: The Return of the PDA

“If you see a stylus,” Steve Jobs famously said at the original iPhone launch, “they blew it.” Here at the IFA show in Berlin, Samsung just announced the Galaxy Note, a new device that’s got a stylus–and which revels in that fact. Samsung is calling it “a new category of device,” but to me, it feels like a 2011 take on an old idea: the PalmPilot-style Personal Digital Assistant.
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