Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Samsung introduces at IFA 2013

Today at IFA (Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin, International radio exhibition Berlin, aka 'Berlin Radio Show') 2013 Samsung, as well as other consumer electronic manufacturers, introduced many new products for their respective companies. Without a doubt, the mobile technology world is more a buzz for day one because Samsung is host their "Unpacking event, episode 2". As expected through internet and media leaks, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note 3, a follow up to last years huge success the Galaxy Note 2 and Samsung Galaxy Gear, Samsung's first foray into the mobile wearable technology market. They also introduced the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 2014 edition, a newer version of their 10 inch table, but the world wide focus was definitely the Note 3 and Galaxy Gear.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Samsung's made an annual tradition of introducing a new Galaxy Note at Berlin's IFA trade show and this year's no different. The Galaxy Note 3 sticks close to the winning formula: it enlarges the Super AMOLED display of the Note II to 5.7 inches, adds 3GB of RAM and a 2.3GHz quad-core processor, raises the camera resolution to 13 megapixels, and simultaneously trims the fat so it can be a millimeter thinner at 8.3mm and a shade lighter at 168g. Those incremental upgrades all point to a better device, but only marginally so — Samsung's hopes for attracting new buyers to its Note platform rest on a suite of new stylus-friendly software features and a physical redesign aimed at making the Note 3 look that extra bit more glamorous.

The big novelty on the software front is called Air Command. This menu pops up any time you extract the S Pen from its silo, and can also be brought up by hovering the stylus above the display and clicking its built-in button. The latter method is thoroughly unintuitive, but once you get over the initial awkwardness and figure it out, it works pretty well. From the Air Command launcher, you can access all the central S Pen features — dubbed Action Memos, Pen Window, S Finder, and Scrapbook.

Action Memos turn your handwritten scribbles into actionable items. For example, if you jot down someone's phone number, you'll be able to call it directly from the note. Alternatively, any legible address you put down can be discovered in Google Maps, again without having to copy and paste anything or leave the note. S Finder expands the Note 3's reliance on good handwriting recognition by making it possible for you to search through the content of written notes, not merely their titles — my time with the Note 3 showed these features working with good accuracy, which is testament to Samsung's growing competence on the software front.

The Note 3 also introduces a new My Magazine interface for "content snacking." It's Samsung's own take on the same sort of news aggregation you'll get from Flipboard or HTC's BlinkFeed. It's accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the home screen, though it looks very much like an unnecessary gimmick that's been tacked on. There had to be one, right?

More useful improvements include a wider range of apps compatible with Samsung's Multi Window functionality — allowing you to have, for example, Google Maps and a browser window open at the same time — plus the new ability to run two separate instances of the same app side by side. This makes dual-wielding apps a more attractive option than before, and is further enhanced by the Pen Window option. The latter allows you to draw a little area on your screen where you can float a mini-app atop your screen. The list of compatible apps is limited, but you can have a YouTube video or a calculator just tucked into a corner somewhere for fast access. They can, furthermore, be minimized into a small little circle that hangs out on your screen like one of Facebook's Chat Heads or maximized to fill the whole screen.

Another feature is called “Multivision,” and it lets you use two Galaxy Note 3 devices next to one another to expand the landscape of the screen for showing video, for example, across multiple displays.

Although at first glance the Note 3 looks much like its predecessors, Samsung has made a number of subtle and almost universally positive changes. Firstly, the S Pen is now symmetrical, so you can tuck it into its slot without having to have it "the right way up." Also, Samsung has made their S Pens backward compatible so that you can use the S Pen form a Note 2 or Note 1 on the Note 3 and vice versa. This interchangeability between S Pens is truly handy to have, whereas the other Samsung tweaks are mostly cosmetic.

The back cover is now made up of faux leather on the outside but is still the exact same thin plastic as before on the inside. It really has no right to work, but Samsung has actually pulled off its design very well. Even the false stitching detail doesn't look too bad. The sides of the Note 3 have been given a metallic look, though they too are plastic, while their lined appearance is intended to emulate the profile of a closed notebook. Taken as a whole, the redesign makes sense for the Note 3 and feels cohesive and well thought-out. Ergonomics for such a large device remain very good.

Taking the new physical shape and S Pen together with the software tweaks, the Galaxy Note 3 is Samsung's best attempt yet at making touch input optional on a mobile device. The S Pen quickly starts to feel like a natural way to interact with the large screen.
During this announcement it was revealed that KNOX, the company’s security suite that’s built into smartphones is now commercially available.

KNOX itself isn’t new – it allows IT departments more granular control over Samsung’s smartphones, and allows users to take advantage of both work and play capabilities on their devices. Samsung’s hope is that this is one way it will be able to sell its devices to the enterprise. Now, with a global commercially available roll-out, that goal is more in reach than ever.

The Galaxy Note 3 will be available globally by the end of this year, with all the main US carriers getting some version of it: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular are all on Samsung's list of agreed partners. It will also come in 3 colors, white, black, and blush pink. The processor inside will vary with territory 
but Samsung will use its own Exynos chip in certain markets.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

The Galaxy Gear, Samsung's latest foray into the smartwatch category, is now official and it's quite unlike anything you've seen before. Yes, it's a smartphone accessory that can pick up notifications, control music playback, and keep time with a rich variety of watch faces, but Samsung takes it a few steps further by integrating a 1.9-megapixel camera, a speaker, and two microphones — allowing you to shoot short 720p movies and even conduct phone calls with the Galaxy Gear.  The Galaxy Gear is equipped with a 1.6-inch Super AMOLED screen with a 320 x 320-pixel resolution, an 800MHz Exyos processor, Bluetooth 4.0, a 1.9-megapixel camera, a watered-down version of Android Jelly Bean, two noise-canceling microphones, a loud speakerphone and more. 


Importantly, the Galaxy Gear is not a phone in its own right — it relies on a Bluetooth connection to your Samsung Galaxy device in order to do most of its connected work. When it goes on sale later this month, the Gear will be compatible with the freshly announced Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition, while software updates for the Galaxy S4, Galaxy S III, and Galaxy Note II are in the works to introduce compatibility there as well. That new software should begin rolling out from October, depending on local carriers. Given that Samsung's new Galaxy slates run Android 4.3, which supports the Bluetooth Low Energy standard, Samsung may well have just tipped its hand about when it intends to distribute the 4.3 upgrade to its older Galaxy handsets.

Returning to the star of the show, the Gear, you'll find a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display with a thrifty 320 x 320 resolution, a single-core 800MHz Exynos processor, a metal face and buckle, and a selection of six different shades of adjustable wrist band, 
black, gray, rose gold, beige, orange and green. Samsung is using the colors to emphasize the role of the Galaxy Gear as a lifestyle device: the Wild Orange is aimed at sporty types while the Rose Gold targets a more feminine audience (as stated in a press release). The Korean company also claims the bands are very ergonomic, but in looking them, they seem less supple and flexible than the strap on the Pebble. Additionally, with all of its extra integrated tech, the Galaxy Gear is a fair bit bulkier than the Pebble, though Samsung is saying its watch is lighter than it appears.

As usual with Samsung, the Galaxy Gear is a feature-rich device. Basic onboard apps include a pedometer and the ability to find your Galaxy (or, alternatively, an option to find your Gear via your Galaxy handset), but most impressive of all is the number of compatible apps. Samsung says there's over 70 to choose from — which can be installed via the Galaxy Gear Manager app on your phone — and I spotted some popular names like Pocket, Path, Evernote, RunKeeper, and Runtastic Pro. Samsung's S Voice is also accessible via the Gear, but got no direct mention in the company's presentation. It's either becoming a standard feature or is being deemphasized as a major selling point.

A few significant downside that temper my enthusiasm for the new Gear.  I find it hard to justify spending the $299 asking price on an accessory like the Galaxy Gear. It's too dependent on its parent device for functionality — which will cost you a fair amount too — and, like all other smartwatches, fails to truly live up to the "smart" part of its name.  With that price point, yes people have paid $300 for a fashion watch but it is usually for a watch that has a timeless feel to it. This will be an item will get upgraded every year with better specs to be pair with phones that get upgraded every year with more powerful specs.  At best, each iteration of a watch will last two, maybe three years, before you will need to upgrade the Gear.  Another is is a little along the lines of the dependency in that it is only compatible with the Note 3 at first, but even when the updates to allow Note 2, S3, and S4 users to use it, that is still a very small segment of smartphones in the US, let alone the world.

Also important will be the Galaxy Gear's battery life. It does use the Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy standard to communicate, but at 315mAh its battery is decidedly small. Samsung promises "about a day" of endurance from the Gear, but by the end of our briefing with the company, the cameras on most of its demo units were refusing to turn on due to the watches running low on power.

On the plus side, the camera built into the Galaxy Gear produces surprisingly decent pictures and there's 4GB of onboard storage to stash them on if you're away from your smartphone. Samsung has intentionally made it impossible to disable the shutter release sound, so you won't be able to sneak any improper spy shots, but the camera's definitely a fun little feature to play around with. That's the thing about the Galaxy Gear — if you think of it as a toy and a fun accessory, it can definitely be enjoyed, however Samsung just isn't pricing it like such a device. The Galaxy Gear will launch globally in late September and will be available in the United States for $299 in early October.

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