Архив метки: Mobile World Congress

Oppo shows first under-screen camera in bid to eliminated the hated notch

Ever since the notch was first added to smartphones, everyone in the world except the deeply deluded and my editor have wished it gone. Oppo has done it — or at least shown that it can be done — with a demonstration unit at Mobile World Congress in Shanghai. iPhone users can console themselves that Oppo kind of sounds like Apple.
Oppo and Xiaomi both teased their upcoming under-screen cameras in recent weeks, but it’s one thing to put out a video and quite another to show a working model to the public. And Oppo’s device was unmistakably present in Shanghai.

Unfortunately, if you were hoping that the first device would knock it out of the park… not quite. Eyes-on photos and impressions from Engadget China show that the transparent LCD used to cover the camera assembly is, or can be, noticeably different from its surroundings. Of course the team there was trying to capture it, and from straight on when you’re not looking for it this effect may not be particularly pronounced. But it’s there.
The camera itself, since it loses a lot of incoming light to the LCD layer, has a larger sensor with bigger pixels on it to better capture that light. This suggests a lower resolution for the unit than other front-facing cameras, and obviously shooting through an extra layer will reduce sharpness and increase artifacting. Oppo says it is working on reducing these in software, but there’s only so much you can do. The sample photos don’t look so hot.
It’s not going to set the world on fire, but Oppo’s less visible camera is a step towards a notchless future, and that I can support. No word on when it’ll actually be available for purchase, or in what models — perhaps Xiaomi will take the opportunity to announce its under-screen camera with a few more of the relevant details.

Oppo shows first under-screen camera in bid to eliminated the hated notch

Unfolding the Samsung Galaxy Fold

The Galaxy Fold is real. I’ve held it in my hands — a few of them, actually. Samsung’s briefing this morning was littered with the things, in different colors and different states of unfolded. A month or so ago, this was anything but a given.
After eight years of teasing a folding device, Samsung finally pulled the trigger at its developer’s conference late last year. But the device was shrouded in darkness. Then in February, it took the stage as the Galaxy Fold, but there was no phone waiting for us. Ditto for Mobile World Congress a week later, when the device was trapped like a carbonite Han Solo behind a glass display.
With preorders for the phone opening today, ahead of an expected April 26 sale, things were getting down to the wire for Samsung. But this morning, at an event in New York, the Galaxy Fold was on full display, ready to be put through its paces. We happily did just that in the hour or so we had with the product.
Once you get over the surprise that it’s real and about to ship, you find yourself pretty impressed with what Samsung’s done here. It’s easy to get frustrated about a product the company’s essentially been teasing since showing off its first flexible display at 2011, but a radically new form factor is an easy contender for first-generation woes. The fold, on the other hand, is a device that’s been run through the wringer.

Samsung’s already shown us what fold testing looks like in a promotion video that debuted a few weeks back. The handset was subject to 200,000 of those machine folds, which amounts to a lot more than the life of the product. And yes, before you ask, they were subjected to drop testing, the same sort of violent gadget abuse Samsung puts the rest of its gadgets through — both open and closed.
Ditto for the eight-point battery test it’s been subjecting all of its devices to since the Note 7. That’s doubly important given the fact that the Galaxy Fold sports twice the battery. All told, it has 4380mAh, split in two, on either side of the fold. That amounts to “all day battery life” according to Samsung. That’s the same claim you’ll get on most of these devices ahead of launch. Though the Fold apparently presents an extra layer of ambiguity, given that the company isn’t entirely sure how people are actually going to use the thing, once they get it in their hands.
The folding mechanism works well, snapping shut with a satisfying sound, thanks in part to some on-board magnets hidden near the edge. In fact, when the Fold is lying screen down, it has the tendency to attract pieces of metal around it. I found myself absent-mindedly opening and closing the thing. When not in use, it’s like an extremely expensive fidget spinner.

Samsung’s done a remarkable job maintaining the design language from the rest of the Galaxy line. But for the odd form factor, the Fold looks right at home alongside the S10 and the like. The rounded metallic corners, the camera array and, yes, the Bixby button are all on board here.
The edges are split in two, with each screen getting its own half. When the Fold is open, they sit next to each other, with a small gap between the two. When the phone is folded, they pull apart, coming together at a 90 degree angle from the hinge. It’s an elegant solution, with a series of interlocking gears that allow the system to fold and unfold for the life of the product.
Unsurprisingly, Samsung tested a variety of different form factors, but said this was the most “intuitive” for a first-gen product like this. Of course, numerous competing devices have already taken different approaches, so it’s going to be fascinating watching what the industry ultimately lands on when more of these products are out in the world.

Unfolded, the device is surprisingly thin — a hair under the iPhone XS. Folded, it’s a bit beefier than two iPhones, owing to a gap between the displays. While the edges of the device come into contact when closed, they form a long, isosceles triangle, with a gap that increases as you move toward the middle.
Unfolded, the seam in the middle of the display is, indeed, noticeable. It’s subtle, though. You’ll really only notice it as your finger drags across it or when the light hits it the right way. That’s just part of life in the age of the folding phone, so get used to it.

The inner display measures 7.3 inches. Compare that to, say, the iPad Mini’s 7.9. So, small for a tablet, but way too big to stick in your pocket without folding it up. The size of the interior display renders the notch conversation a bit moot. There’s actually a pretty sizable cutout in the upper-right corner for the front-facing camera.
Samsung’s been working with Google and a handful of developers, including WhatsApp and Spotify, to create a decent experience for users at launch. There are two key places this counts: app continuity and multi-app windows. The first lets you open an app on the small screen and pick up where you left off on the big one, once unfolded. The second makes it possible to have three apps open at once — something that’s become standard on tablets in the last couple of years.

Both work pretty seamlessly, though the functionality is limited to those companies that have enabled it. Samsung says it’s an easy addition, but the speed with which developers adopt it will depend largely on the success of these devices. Given that Samsung’s worked hand in hand with Google/Android on this, however, gives the company a big leg up on the competition.
All told, I’m pretty impressed with what amounts to a first-gen product. This thing was a long time in the making, and Samsung clearly wanted to get things right. The company admittedly had some of the wind taken out of its sails when Huawei announced its own folding device a few days later.
That product highlighted some of the Fold’s shortcomings, including the small front-facing screen and somewhat bulky design language. The Fold’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty solid first take at a new smartphone paradigm. And with a starting price of $1,980, it’s got a price to match. You’re essentially paying double for twice the screen.

Samsung, Huawei and the rest of the companies exploring the space know that they’re only going to sell so many of these things in the first go-round at this price point. Everyone’s still exploring aspects like folding mechanisms, essentially making early adopters guinea pigs this time out.
But while the fold doesn’t feel like a phone that’s achieved its final form, it’s a surprisingly well-realized first-generation phone.

Unfolding the Samsung Galaxy Fold

Oppo announces 5G and 10x lossless zoom handsets

Saturday afternoon is a rough time for a press conference — particularly with the official kickoff of Mobile World Congress still a few days away. That said, there are certain advantages to being an early bird. Chief among them is the ability to claim firsts — namely having the first 5G handset of the show.
That might not mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but in a week that’s expected to be dominated by 5G announcements, it’s a way to stand out from the crowd. Of course, like the rest of the promised 5G handsets we’ve heard about so far — with the noble exception of Samsung’s — details are still pretty scarce
What we do know is that the handset — along with so many others set to be announced this week — will be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855. Fitting, given that we can almost certainly expect some 5G news out of the chipmaker this week. Oppo also says the device will be on display on the show floor this week — actually firing it up and experiencing those next generation speeds in person, however, is a different thing entirely.
Another bit of news out of the event is the promise of 10x lossless zoom (16mm-160mm) for the company’s next flagship. If its works as advertised that’s a nice little distinguisher from the competition — though 10x zoom likely isn’t a day to day feature for most smartphone users. That device is due out at some point in Q2. 

Oppo announces 5G and 10x lossless zoom handsets

TCL leaks foretell a weird future for foldable phones

Foldables are going to get weird. And I’m here for it. Just check out these leaked TCL renders from CNET. All manner of strange and wonderful folding devices — two tablets and three smartphones, including one that flips all the way around into a Futurama-style bracelet. There are renders for tablets and phones that fold both in and out.
Granted, few if any will actually come to fruition, but if this first wave of foldables opens up smartphone design in new and interesting ways like these, the industry will be all the better for it. Of course, we’re still in the early stages of all of this — and the first wave of foldables have yet to prove themselves of interest to the smartphone-buying audience beyond simple novelties.
We’ll be seeing a fair bit more of the space week at Mobile World Congress, along with Wednesday’s Samsung event, which is expected to give us another peek at the upcoming Galaxy foldable. For now, however, the Royale FlexPai is the only device that’s actually come to market, and that one still feels like little more than a developer product.

However, while TCL’s not a household name here in the space, the Chinese company certainly has experience in the display department, both through its TV business of the same name and smartphone brands like Alcatel, Palm and BlackBerry.
These sorts of renders are probably pretty standard for all companies currently experimenting with a flexible form factor. If there’s one thing all of the announced devices have proven, it’s that the industry is still a ways away from settling on a consistent design language for these devices. And it’s certainly possible that the industry will never settle on a consistent form factor.

TCL leaks foretell a weird future for foldable phones

Smartphones are about to get more interesting, but is it enough to drive growth?

Smartphone numbers are down. In 2018, global shipments dropped 3 percent, and while the long-promised arrival of 5G will help numbers get back into the black, IDC predicts that even then growth will be in the low-single digits.
With a few exceptions, handset makers are starting to feel the pain of stagnation, due to a confluence of different forces. There’s slowed economic growth in China and internationally, prolonged upgrade cycles and price hikes as tariffs are levied amid a looming trade war.
For many consumers, however, it comes down to one simple thing: most phones today are already quite good and manufacturers are offering fewer compelling reasons to upgrade every one to two years. Unlike many of the aforementioned external factors, this is something phone makers can actually do something about.
Of course, this could be the year that changes that. After years of minor upgrades, far-off concept designs and being backed into a corner by diminishing returns, handset makers are coming out swinging. Less than a month in, 2019 is already shaping up to be one of the most innovative years for smartphones in recent memory.
Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi and Royole all have folding phones in the works, and Motorola may be joining their ranks with a new Razr. Google, meanwhile, has promised to support the new wave of foldables with updates to Android. 5G phones are set to start trickling in this year, as well.
This week we saw a pair of handsets from Meizu and Vivo that take advantage of a handful of trends (wireless charging, Bluetooth headphones, etc.) to offer handsets fully devoid of ports. And then there’s whatever this LG thing is.

Not all are great or guaranteed hits, but with Mobile World Congress just over a month out, it already seems safe to declare that 2019 will be a good year for intriguing devices and concepts. Sales have been flagging, so companies are scrambling to stand out — heck, even HTC is going all-in on crypto with the Exodus One.
All of this should serve to make my job more interesting. But will far out concepts really drive growth? Foldables are already proving to be something of a mixed bag. Take Royole, which contorted its way into the spotlight by being the first company to make the long-promised folding screen a reality. The product ultimately left something to be desired. Early glimpses at devices like the dual-folding Xiaomi, however, have offered hope for the space’s potential.
5G, meanwhile, is going to have trouble living up to its own prolonged hype cycle. Those who pay attention to the industry have been hearing about its unlimited potential for years. The mainstream media has picked up on it in the intervening months, courtesy of CES and promises from handset makers and carriers alike.
But carriers have already done a lot to cloud the definition of 5G — take AT&T’s 5G Evolution. The carrier calls it its “first step on the road to 5G,” when really it’s more of a souped-up LTE. It has led to a whole lot of snipping between carriers, further muddying the waters for an already nebulous technology. There will be a number of 5G devices on the market before year’s end, but actually getting 5G coverage with your carrier in your city is another issue entirely.

Price will also be major a factor. Companies like OnePlus have shown just how good inexpensive handsets can be, all while prices have continued to rise on flagships. Models from Samsung and Apple now regularly start around $1,000, and the average price for a foldable looks like it will be more in the neighborhood of $1,500. At that price, it’s going to be difficult to attract anyone beyond early adopters with money to burn. Real mainstream adoption is going to require lower price points and a genuinely useful feature set that expands the products beyond sheer novelty.
The mobile industry is at a crossroads. It has hit maturation and, in some markets, saturation. 2019 will be a key year in determining the fate of the smartphone going forward, whether this space continues to have life in it, or if the stagnation will continue while we wait for the next big thing in consumer electronics.

Smartphones are about to get more interesting, but is it enough to drive growth?