Samsung’s latest imaging sensors may rid smartphones of camera bumps

As Apple, Samsung and (perhaps, surprisingly) Google battle to claim the top spot in smartphone imaging, we’ve been left with lenses jutting out of the device, or in the case of the Note 8, a thicker phone. The iPhone 8 and Pixel 2 may be the latest offenders, but Samsung thinks its latest imaging sensor can keep things slim with its duo of new ISOCELL sensors: two different components with different selling points.

Its 12-megapixel Fast 2L9 sensor uses “Dual Pixel” tech to speed up its auto-focus, shrinking pixels to 1.28μm, down from 1.4μm in its predecessor. And what the heck does that mean? It should improve improve the speed it takes for future smartphones to focus, as well as the ability for the camera to keep locked-on and track moving objects. Samsung promises this is all possible in low light too, vowing that it’ll keep your next (presumably Galaxy-branded) smartphone bump-free, while also delivering ‘bokeh’ depth of focus effects with just a single lens.

The ISOCELL Slim 2X7, like its name suggests, will be able to slide itself into even more slender smartphone designs, despite its meatier 24-megapixel spec. It’s the first mobile image sensor to have a pixel size below 1.0μm — 0.9μm apparently, helping shrink that sensor size, but keeping color fidelity and low noise thanks to Samsung’s improvements with its ISOCELL tech and pixel isolation.The Slim is also built for improved low-light photography. It does so by combining four neighbouring pixels to work as one, increasing light sensitivity. It’ll still be able to tap into all 24 megapixels when lighting conditions are better. Samsung pitches it as a sensor that works at its best, regardless of how much light’s around.

Ben K. Hur, Vice President of System LSI Marketing at Samsung Electronics says in the release that the sensors are “highly versatile as they can be placed in both front and rear of a smartphone.” Better selfies too, then.

Source: Samsung

Engadget RSS Feed

Samsung’s chip business kept things looking up to start 2017

Samsung’s Q1 2017 earnings are in, showing the company’s highest quarterly profit since Q3 2013. That’s despite the Galaxy Note 7 recall, and a markdown in the price of its Galaxy Note 7, apparently because the company’s chip business (making memory, processors and camera sensors for phones) is booming. As a company, it brought home the $ 8.75 billion in operating profit expected, and looks forward to better results next quarter, since it will include sales of the new Galaxy S8 phones.

On a call with reporters, execs reaffirmed that reports of a reddish tint on some S8s are a “natural difference” in the OLED technology that it will let users tweak after a software update. Samsung also mentioned “the launch of a new flagship smartphone in the second half,” but didn’t tag the Galaxy Note name to whatever that presumably large-screened device will be. It also did not play into any expectations for an OLED iPhone that it could supply screens for, simply saying that “YoY revenue growth in the OLED business is forecast on the back of increased flexible panel shipments in the second half.”

Source: Samsung

Engadget RSS Feed

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 hits sales records despite the Note 7’s flameout

As Samsung was readying the Galaxy S8, everyone wondered if the company would be able to recover from the disastrous, exploding Note 7. From a pure quality of hardware perspective, the S8 appears to be a home run — as long as nothing unexpected happens. The other question is whether customers would reject Samsung after the hit it took last year, but it sounds like that hasn’t happened: Samsung says that pre-orders for the S8 and S8+ were the best it has ever seen.

Specifically, the company says that pre-sales for the two devices were up 30 percent compared to the Galaxy S7 pre-orders from 2016. Samsung said the S7 was the previous best launch it had, but now that title is held by the company’s latest smartphone. Of course, Samsung isn’t giving us any hard numbers so it’s hard to say just how well this launch went compared to how the iPhone 7 went last fall, for example. But in July, Samsung will report its quarterly financials — and we’ll get a better idea of how the S8’s launch affected the company’s bottom line then.

In the meantime, Galaxy S8 owners will have a software update to keep an eye out for. It’s a fix for the first little bug to plague the phone: a screen that looks to be more red-tinted than most would like. Samsung confirmed there’s nothing wrong with the phone’s screen and said that a software update adjusting the screen’s color calibration will be coming this week.

Engadget RSS Feed

Japan Display battles Samsung’s OLED with curved LCD screens

One of Apple’s main screen suppliers, Japan Display Inc. (JDI), has revealed a 5.5-inch LCD smartphone screen that can be bent like OLED displays from Samsung and LG. While not quite as flexible and thin as OLED, the “Full Active Flex” 1080p screen could be used in phones with curved screens like the Galaxy S7 Edge, the company told the Wall Street Journal. LCD is a lot cheaper than OLED, so you could see a lot more curved phone designs when it starts manufacturing the panels in 2018.

Since LCD displays usually have a glass backing, it’s been difficult to curve them until now. Japan Display got around that issue by using plastic for both side of the liquid crystal layer. That allows not only a flexible screen, but could also help “prevent cracking from occurring when the display is dropped,” the company said. It also hopes to adapt the screens for other products, including car displays and laptops.

Japan Display also told the WSJ that it has launch customers for the screens, though it wouldn’t say whether Apple or any other company was among those. Rumors of an OLED iPhone have been bubbling up recently, but some analysts think that all the OLED suppliers combined couldn’t meet Apple’s needs until at least 2018. If Cook and company decided to try curved screens, however, the LCD models from JDI now give them a future option besides OLED.

Source: Japan Display

Engadget RSS Feed

Samsung’s 2016 went up in smoke

Samsung’s year started well, all things considered. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge were bona fide hits. The company’s financials looked great. Its position as the global leader in the smartphone market was assured. And then the Galaxy Note 7 happened. After months of success, Samsung’s year started to unravel — quickly.

In hindsight, it’s a little shocking how quickly the situation unfolded. The phone was officially announced on August 2nd, and it launched on August 19th to critical acclaim and commercial success. Toward the end of that month, the first report of a Note 7 explosion emerged from South Korea, triggering a cascade of similar reports from around the world. Samsung’s new phablet was not only flawed but also actively dangerous. After a week, Samsung halted Note 7 shipments to Korean consumers, and just days after that the company issued its first widespread Note 7 recall. As you probably remember, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission helped facilitate a recall in the US shortly after that, which should’ve been the end of it.

It wasn’t. Some of the supposedly safe replacement devices Samsung delivered to customers kept overheating, and there was even one incident that grounded a Southwest Airlines flight. Enough was finally enough. On October 10th, Samsung officially halted global sales and exchanges of the Note 7. The next day, the production lines were stopped entirely. In less than two months, Samsung’s “finest phone yet,” to quote our own review, had become a black mark on the company’s track record.

Perhaps the worst part: We still don’t know what caused all this. At first, it looked like batteries made by Samsung SDI could be to blame. Then devices with batteries sourced from other suppliers, such as Japan’s TDK, began to overheat too. Now a new report from engineering firm Instrumental suggests the Note 7’s failures were due to the fact that the batteries themselves were too big to be squeezed into a smartphone so “aggressively” designed — that is, Samsung should have made allowances for the natural swelling batteries undergo over time. Beyond the potential for explosions, though, Anna Shedletsky, the author of the report, suggests the phone would have been doomed regardless.

“If the Galaxy Note 7 wasn’t recalled for exploding batteries,” the report reads, “I believe that a few years down the road these phones would be slowly pushed apart by mechanical battery swell. A smaller battery using standard manufacturing parameters would have solved the explosion issue and the swell issue. But, a smaller battery would have reduced the system’s battery life below the level of its predecessor, the Note 5, as well as its biggest competitor, the iPhone 7 Plus. Either way, it’s now clear to us that there was no competitive salvageable design.”

Samsung’s woes didn’t end with smartphones. Between March 2011 and April 2016, Samsung produced 34 top-loading washing machine models that, due to failures in design, could quite literally blow their tops. US regulators took notice of the trend and took action in September — great timing for Samsung. The company once again collaborated with the CPSC to get a recall going, but not before some 730 reports of washing machine explosions had rolled in.

Unlike with the Note 7, Samsung has at least explained what was going on with these washing machines. According to company statements, excessively strong vibrations can occur when bedding or other bulky items are washed at high speeds. Those vibrations can dislodge the lid, leading it to shoot off the washing machine and strike people nearby. All told, some 2.8 million top-loading washing machines had to be recalled, and reports of trouble from around the world are still surfacing. Earlier this month, a family in Sydney fled their home when their Samsung washing machine caught fire. Prior to that, nine injuries related to washing machine malfunctions were reported, including a broken jaw in one case. It’s difficult to say what kind of exploding consumer good is more unnerving: the one that we carry in our pocket everywhere we go or the one that sits quietly in a corner of our home until it violently remind us of its existence.

So, yes, Samsung had a bad year. That doesn’t mean the company is doomed. Despite its recent failures, it would take a lot more than this to kill a corporate octopus flush with so much money and influence. Consider the following: The most recent estimates we could find suggested the Note 7 recall would cost at least $ 5.3 billion. That might sound like a lot (and it is!), but as far as Samsung is concerned, that’s chump change. As laid out in a long-term plan published in late November, the conglomerate wants to keep no more than 70 trillion Korean won in its cash reserves: That works out to just shy of $ 60 billion. That’s $ 60 billion Samsung is keeping handy for rough spells (though some of that treasure trove was probably tapped for that Harman acquisition last month).

That’s not to say Samsung was completely unaffected by the events of the past few months. Samsung’s most recent earnings release, from October, showed its mobile division tanking, with operating profit down 96 percent from the year before. No matter, though: Continued growth in the conglomerate’s chip and display business helped absorb the financial blow from the mobile side. We’re not sure how the numbers will shake out the next time earnings are released (especially in light of a potential structural shakeup), but for now Samsung’s money-making machinery still works fine. The bigger question centers on Samsung’s reputation and the trust it built with its customers. The path forward would benefit from clarity and contrition, but the truth is that rich companies can afford to muddle along until consumers forget about their past failures.

Samsung won’t forget about its troubled turn this year, but with luck the company will use it as a sobering reminder to do better in the future. After all, another pivotal moment in Samsung’s history was also forged in fire. It, too, involved phones, coincidentally enough, but none nearly as complex as the Note 7.

In early 1995, Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee gave out cell phones as gifts to celebrate the new year, and for one reason or another they didn’t work. Lee was incensed. The phones’ failure to function properly not only reflected poorly on him personally but also highlighted the slow progress of Lee’s plan to make Samsung synonymous with quality around the world. Two years prior, Lee — fed up with Samsung’s cheap, often slipshod work — bellowed at his senior managers to “change everything except your wife and children.” If Samsung was to achieve its potential, it had to change, and it wasn’t happening fast enough.

In March 1995, Lee had those phones gathered in the courtyard of Samsung’s Gumi factory, in the heart of one of Korea’s many industrial centers. Thousands of devices lay there, surrounded by some 2,000 Samsung workers with headbands that said “quality first” lashed to their foreheads. As Lee and his board of directors looked on, the phones, along with monitors and fax machines, were battered with hammers and heaved into a fire. The message was clear: Poor quality would no longer be tolerated.

Samsung has transcended its humble origins, but the message delivered that day over 20 years ago bears repeating. Company mythology points to the fire in Gumi as an act of cleansing, signaling a new era for a revitalized Samsung. Every company has bad years. What’s more important is how the company carries itself in the weeks, months and years that follow. Samsung turned things around for itself in 1995, and it can rebound now too.

Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.

Engadget RSS Feed

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 may ditch the headphone jack

With Apple, Motorola and others releasing phones without 3.5mm headphone jacks this year, there’s been a looming question: will Samsung follow suit? Like it or not, SamMobile sources claim the answer is yes. Reportedly, the Galaxy S8 will rely solely on its USB-C port for sound — if you want to use your own headphones, you’ll likely either need to use an adapter (no guarantee that you’ll get one in the box) or go wireless. But why make the move, outside of being trendy?

The tipsters don’t have an official explanation, but there are a few advantages that might come with ditching the legacy port. It would create more room for a larger battery, more sensors, stereo speakers and other upgrades that aren’t as practical right now. Alternately, it could let Samsung slim the S8 without having to make significant compromises on other features. That’s not much consolation if you like to listen to music while you charge your phone, but you may well get something in return for this sacrifice.

You might not have too much longer to learn whether or not the rumor is true. In recent years, Samsung has introduced new Galaxy S models at or near the Mobile World Congress trade show, which kicks off February 27th in 2017. SamMobile is confident that the S8 will show up there, although it’s not an absolute lock given the possibility of delays. Whenever it arrives, it’s safe to say there will be an uproar if there’s no 3.5mm jack. Some people swore off the iPhone 7 precisely because it didn’t have a native headphone port — what happens if their main alternative doesn’t have that hole, either? They may have to either buy from brands they previously hadn’t considered, or accept that conventional audio jacks are a dying breed in mobile.

Via: The Verge

Source: SamMobile

Engadget RSS Feed

Samsung’s highest profit in two years comes thanks to the S7

Samsung just had a great quarter, and it’s all because people are snapping up Galaxy S7s. The Korean chaebol has revealed that it’s expecting its second quarter operating profit to reach 8.1 trillion won ($ 7 billion), thanks to its smartphone business. That might be far from the 8.84 trillion won ($ 7.6 billion) operating profit it posted in January 2013, but it’s still around 17 percent higher than last year’s. It’s also the highest in two years since it notched a profit of 8.5 trillion won ($ 7.4 billion) back in the first quarter of 2014. The company expects its revenue to be up by three percent, from 48.5 trillion won ($ 42 billion) to 50 trillion ($ 43 billion), as well.

While Samsung won’t be releasing its detailed earnings until the end of July, Reuters believes the top earner this quarter is none other than the mobile division, which also topped the last one. The news source says the division’s profit could be up 54.5 percent from the same period last year. According to Yonhap News, Samsung shipped out around 15 million S7 and S7 edge units from April to June, with the latter beating out the basic S7 despite being more expensive.

The company hasn’t revealed the total number of phones it sold from April to June yet. Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Mehdi Hosseini told The Wall Street Journal, however, that Samsung might have shipped out around 78 million units. To note, it sold 81.18 million phones in all in the first quarter, mostly because it released the S7 in late March. Clearly, Samsung’s latest flagship device got its smartphone business out of the slump it experienced last year brought about by the iPhone 6. This time around, it’s Cupertino that’s hit a bump on the road, announcing the first ever year-over-year iPhone sales decline in April.

Source: Reuters, Yonhap News, The Wall Street Journal, Samsung

Engadget RSS Feed

The Gear Fit 2 is Samsung’s best wearable yet

Samsung has made plenty of wearables over the years, but few were as immediately impressive as the Gear Fit. Its curved screen and relatively slim design almost made us forget the company’s early, clunky Gear smartwatches. Now with the $ 179 Gear Fit 2, Samsung has refined its original design to make it a lot more useful for athletes. It has built-in GPS, a slightly larger screen and smarter activity tracking. It’s Samsung’s best fitness wearable yet, but it’s still a tough sell compared to competing devices from the likes of Fitbit.

Review: Samsung Gear Fit 2

Hardware

The Gear Fit 2 is an evolution of the original Fit’s design in all of the right ways. Its 1.58-inch curved touchscreen display is now flush with the band so that it no longer sticks out awkwardly. It reminds me of Microsoft’s Band 2, which also benefited from having a curved display sitting right alongside the wristband. The screen is also slightly wider now, which makes it more useful for actually reading information, and there’s less of a bezel around the sides so it’s almost like an edge-to-edge display.

Beyond that screen, the Gear Fit 2 looks restrained. The top half of the device is made from some fetching-looking metal while the bottom is more of a subdued plastic. There are only two buttons on the side of the device, which serve as home and power buttons. On the bottom there’s a heart rate sensor and two small connectors for its charging stand. The relatively minimalist design is a stark cry from the overly complex wearables we used to see from Samsung.

For the wristband, it looks like Samsung is using the same plastic material from the last model, which remains flexible yet sturdy without feeling too stiff. You can disconnect the wristbands easily from the sides of the device, which will be useful if you ever feel the need for a new look down the line.

Under the hood, the Gear Fit 2 now runs a dual-core 1GHz Exynos 3250 processor and 512MB of RAM. (As someone who remembers being very excited when I got 512MB of RAM on a desktop, I find that latter stat hard to fathom.) Both of those specs are significant upgrades from the first Fit, which had a measly 160MHz processor and 8MB of RAM. It’s no wonder we found the original to be underpowered. There’s also GPS onboard the Fit 2, along with 4GB of storage for music and a barometer sensor for stair-tracking.

Software

Samsung is using its homegrown Tizen OS to power the Gear Fit 2, something it also uses in TVs and other wearables like the Galaxy Gear 2. And instead of being tied to Samsung’s phones, the Fit 2 is now compatible with any Android phone running 4.4 or above. There’s no word about iOS support yet, though. (Is it even worth the effort?)

Thanks to Tizen, the Fit 2 is much more capable than its predecessor. You’ve got multiple watch faces to choose from (and more can be downloaded through the Gear app), some of which will show fitness stats alongside the time. You can also customize the screens you see as you swipe through the Fit’s interface. I have it set up to show the number calories I’ve burned, the number of steps and stairs I’ve taken, and my heart rate. Naturally, there’s also a screen for quickly logging a workout.

The Fit 2 supports 15 different workout types, including common things like running and cycling, and more specific activities like yoga and pilates. It’s now smart enough to automatically detect five different types of workouts, something competing health trackers from Fitbit and Jawbone have been able to do for years.

Thanks to its onboard storage (and vastly more functional OS), the Gear Fit 2 can also send locally stored music right to your wireless headphones. It can also control music stored on your phone, and it can tap into Spotify through your phone as well. Basically, if you prefer to run completely unencumbered, or with your phone, the Fit 2 has you covered.

To control the Gear Fit 2, you’ll have to rely on Samsung’s Gear app for Android. And to track your workouts, there’s Samsung’s S Health app. More on those in a moment.

In use

In day-to-day use, the Gear Fit 2 felt just as comfortable to wear as the Apple Watch Sport and Jawbone’s Up24 (which are among my favorite wearables). It sits well on your wrist; most of the time you’ll forget it’s even there. I’d still like to see Samsung make it even thinner, so that it doesn’t rise above your wrist as much, but the Fit 2 is nonetheless on par with competing wearables in terms of thickness.

I also had no problem putting it on — and keeping it stable — throughout the day. The Fit 2 has a simple clasp design that makes it easy to slip on while you’re on the go. That’s a good thing, because I’ve fought with plenty of wearables (especially from Fitbit) that are simply a chore to secure. And even though it’s easy to wear, I also had no trouble with the Fit 2 falling off (which was a killer issue with the Jawbone Up3).

When it comes to tracking basic things like your steps and stairs climbed, the Gear Fit 2 seemed just as accurate as most other modern wearables. Its heart-rate tracking was also solid, delivering readings in line with what I’ve been seeing from the Apple Watch and recent Fitbit gear. But really, if you’re buying this you’re probably more interested in its GPS tracking, and in that regard it didn’t disappoint. It accurately mapped several of my runs through Brooklyn’s Prospect Park (I have a two-mile stretch that I cover regularly). It was also on par with RunKeeper’s location tracking, which I normally use on my iPhone during workouts.

Setting up a manual workout takes a lot of swiping and menu pressing if you’re moving between a variety of exercise types. But if you mainly do the same sort of workout, it’s pretty easy to just get up and go. The Fit 2’s touchscreen response is fast for such a small wearable, but even so, it’s not something you’d want to deal with much in the middle of an intense session.

The Fit 2 also surprised me several times by accurately tracking how long I walked during my work commute. That’s something other wearables have been doing for a while, but it’s still a useful addition for Samsung fans. It’s also the sort of thing wearables will have to get smarter about moving forward, so hopefully Samsung will be able to add automatic tracking support for more than just five workout types.

While you can view some basic post-workout details on the Gear Fit 2, you’ll have to turn to Samsung’s S Health app for a more detailed view. It’s a fairly clean-looking app: The home screen highlights your most recent workouts, heart-rate readings and steps. Tapping into a workout lays out everything you’ve done that day, and you can also step backward to previous days pretty easily. Despite its minimalist look, I still had some trouble navigating around S Health. And it wasn’t always obvious how to access more detailed information about workouts. But perhaps I’ve just been spoiled by better health apps from Fitbit and Jawbone.

As a smartwatch-like device, the Gear Fit 2 fares well. It can display notifications from your phone, and even though it has a tiny screen, there’s enough room to read short text messages and tweets. It’s not a screen where you’d ever want to read long emails, but that’s true of dedicated smartwatches too. You can also have the Fit 2 open up apps on your phone from its notifications, which helped me quickly reply to Hangout messages and texts on several occasions.

Samsung claims the Gear Fit 2 gets around three to four days of battery life from its 200mAh battery. In my testing, which involved constantly wearing it throughout the day and doing a few runs, it usually lasted around two and a half days before needing a trip to the outlet. Speaking of recharging, I was pleased to find that Samsung moved towards a larger charging cradle for the Fit 2. That may sound paradoxical, but the original Fit’s cradle was so small that I ended up losing it pretty quickly. This new version is better suited to staying in one place on your desk.

The competition

The Fitbit Surge.

Since it’s a GPS-enabled fitness wearable, the Gear Fit 2 is best compared to the likes of the Fitbit Surge ($ 229) and the Microsoft Band 2 ($ 175). Aesthetically, it has a lot more in common with the Band 2, but if you can get past its looks, the Fitbit Surge is probably a better buy for fitness junkies. Fitbit has a much more robust fitness platform, as well as better integration with third-party services. As with all wearables, aesthetics play a big part in the purchasing decision, though, so it’s understandable if you’d rather have a better-looking tracker instead of a more functional one.

Wrap-up

With the Gear Fit 2, Samsung has succeeded in making a capable and stylish fitness tracker. But it also doesn’t do anything significantly better or differently than the competition. It feels like a fitness tracker meant for people who really want something to match their Samsung phones, rather than something every consumer would desire. It’s ultimately unremarkable, but that’s mainly because there are so many decent alternatives out there.

Engadget RSS Feed