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Samsung’s newest device may not be coming out until April, but that doesn’t mean you can’t the look of the Galaxy S5 right now on your current device with some new wallpapers.
These leaked wallpapers are the same colorful wallpapers seen on the device as it was unveiled at Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona this past week. Below is the colorful rainbow-ish wallpaper, and a more subtle blue. Click the photo below for the full resolution.
Sometimes a new wallpaper is just want you need to get that new device feeling without having to spend a penny. This is as far as we can help you to get that look. If you want that dimpled back, you may have to get a bit creative, perhaps with some bandaids or something.
The post Get the Samsung Galaxy S5 look with these wallpapers appeared first on AndroidGuys.
If you find yourself living in the San Francisco area saying, “boy, I could really go for a new Chromecast this weekend”, we’ve got a deal for you. Head over to Google’s Shopping Express website and add one to your cart. Google will shave some money off the order if this is your first time making a purchase. Add promo code “costco25″ to the order and you’re going to walk away with a Chromecast for $13.33. Indeed, this is roughly one-third the price of a normal Chromecast.
Hurry, there’s no indication as to how long this deal will last!
The post Bay Area residents can score a Chromecast for as low as $13.33 appeared first on AndroidGuys.
Now that Mobile World Congress is behind us and we’ve left the sunny Mediterranean to go back to our rainy or snowy abodes, it’s time to reflect on the show that was. We walked through miles and miles of hallways and battled thousands of roller bags and suits to find the show’s best and worst. There were Nokia phones running Android, 7-inch phones, new wearables with curved displays and even a couple connected toothbrushes. We also saw zero Windows Phones, very little Tizen and a whole lot of Firefox OS.
You’ll be able to find the fruits of our labor through our Events page, but we wanted to take a quick look back at some of the biggest companies that we covered throughout the past week. How well did they do at the most important smartphone show in the world? Who was the big winner of MWC, and how good was the show itself? We’ve put together a report card that discusses the overall performance of each major company, so read on to get our take on the week that was.
The Grading Scale
Below are our criteria for grading the top mobile companies and operating systems shown off at MWC. (Editor’s note: Fortunately none of the companies we followed earned an F, but we’ve included it here for good measure.)
- A – Groundbreaking products, best-in-class design or features
- B – Exceeded expectations with impressive products or services
- C – Average products, design and lineup
- D – Performed below expectations, poorly executed products and services
- F – Would’ve been better off not coming
SAMSUNG – MWC VALEDICTORIAN
Samsung had a slight advantage over the competition this year. It tweaked its new flagship where it counted, and it stood out by unveiling an entire trio of new smartwatches in the hopes of addressing multiple demographics. What’s more, Samsung earned our top marks this time because it was able to quickly address complaints, come out with much-improved hardware within five months, and introduce a trio of watches to appeal to more people.
Even though the Galaxy S5 is just an iterative improvement over previous versions, this one felt much more different than the spec sheet implies: Samsung added a fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor, made sweeping improvements to its imaging features and made it water-resistant. Meanwhile, it elected to fine-tune and scale back TouchWiz UI instead of adding heaps of gimmicky S-branded features. It’s almost as if Samsung was really taking some of our feedback into consideration for once.
Samsung’s “consumer first” mantra is even more evident in the pair of Tizen-branded Gear 2 watches, which fix a large number of the concerns we expressed in our review of their predecessor. The company improved battery life, added swappable straps, opened the software up to developers and made the design more attractive. There’s also the Gear Fit, which is a sleek, good-looking device that adds more variety to Samsung’s watch lineup; given its attractive design, curved AMOLED display and simple emphasis on fitness and notifications, we have a feeling it will be a success.
It’s strange that we just went through an MWC event where Stephen Elop announced more Android phones than Windows Phones, but Nokia is keeping us on our toes. If the rumors hadn’t already spoiled the surprise, Nokia’s trio of Android-based X phones would’ve been just as mind-blowing (if not more so) than the time it revealed the 41MP sensor on the 808 PureView. But frankly there are more intriguing things about the X beyond the fact that it actually exists. These devices, which run a tile-based launcher and Asha’s notification system atop the Android Open Source Project, represent an interesting change in Microsoft’s strategy: Get users in “growth markets” to embrace Microsoft-branded services like OneDrive, Outlook and Skype at a lower price, in hopes they’ll eventually upgrade to a higher-end smartphone (in this case, Windows Phone) that offers the same services.
Whether or not this strategy will pay off in the end for either Microsoft or Nokia is impossible to predict at the moment, but we admire both companies for being flexible enough to try new approaches to gain market share in developing countries, especially in a pricing tier that Windows Phone may not have penetrated yet. And it may have an even deeper impact on emerging markets than we expect. This completely new approach to an untouched segment of the market is very intriguing, and it’s exciting enough to get a solid grade.
Nothing Sony announced this year would be considered a groundbreaking achievement, but the company came to MWC with a powerful trio of devices: the new flagship Xperia Z2, which comes with the best specs you can get in an Android phone; the waterproof Xperia Z2 tablet, which is actually thinner and lighter than the iPad Air; and the Xperia M2, which is a decent 4.8-inch mid-range smartphone for $300. It was a solid showing and we can’t wait to get our hands on the Z2 devices, but we can’t shake the feeling that we didn’t see a whole lot new here.
There were no surprises from LG, which likes to announce all of its devices before the show even begins, but we did see a couple of quality smartphones, along with a whole batch of L-series budget phones. The most notable of the bunch is the G Pro 2, which beefs up the display size and processor, while bumping up to KitKat, the latest version of Android. It didn’t necessarily blow any minds in the specs department, but we liked the company’s new Knock Code feature and a few other software tricks.
Additionally, there’s the G2 mini, which doesn’t really impress on overall specs, but hopefully will awe us with its sticker price and software when it comes out. All told, LG had a decent showing at MWC, but we didn’t see anything impressive outside of the G Pro 2.
We have mixed feelings about HTC’s showing at MWC. Its next flagship device will be announced in less than a month, meaning its booth was devoid of a freshly announced top-of-the-line product. Instead, the company used MWC to announce a pair of LTE-enabled Desire phones: the Desire 816 (one of our favorite mid-range phones this week) and the less expensive 610. Neither phone is a game changer, but we like their design and HTC’s plans to push out a greater number of smartphones at various price points to more markets.
Aside from a couple decent devices, HTC also introduced an inspiring initiative called Power to Give. It’s a clever idea: There isn’t a lot of processing power being used when your phone’s idle, so you can contribute the leftover power to research great and noble causes like curing diseases, searching for extraterrestrial life and making sure kids have clean water. It may not be a profitable idea for HTC, but we love that it’s come up with clever new ways to help make life better for people all over the world. That creativity along with two new mid-range devices earns HTC an above-average grade.
ZTE’s lineup was pretty light this year, as the company featured only two new phones: a follow-up to last year’s Grand Memo and a new Firefox OS phone. The former isn’t much of an iterative improvement over its predecessor, featuring a 6-inch 720p display and Snapdragon 400 processor, but we were happy to see that it’s impressively thin, has a respectable battery and runs on Android 4.4. If this is the best the company’s got for the show, however, it’s not enough.
Of all the major companies represented at the event, Huawei brought what was arguably the most varied product lineup of them all. At the show, the company introduced the MediaPad X1 (a fantastic 7-inch phone/tablet hybrid for $300), the affordable Ascend G6 (which comes with superfast LTE), the cleverly designed TalkBand wearable, the MediaPad M1 8-inch tablet and the company’s very first Firefox OS phone. There’s certainly a lot of new stuff to digest here, but we came away more impressed with Huawei’s spread than we originally expected. Since we saw a few creative ideas and a respectable lineup of new devices, Huawei gets a good grade.
BlackBerry wasn’t expected to make much of an appearance in Barcelona this year. So, we were pleasantly surprised not only when the company announced two new smartphones (the Indonesia-bound Z3 Jakarta and the upcoming Q20 Classic), but also when we got to see one of them make a brief physical appearance. This was certainly more than we expected, but we would’ve loved more details about each device, such as features, in-depth specs and — in the case of the Q20 — photos. Overall, we saw a spark of life from the company we weren’t expecting at this year’s show, but we needed to see a whole lot more; that’s why we’re giving BlackBerry just a smidge below an average grade.
Mozilla’s Firefox OS appeared at last year’s show and received mixed reviews. It was hard to tell exactly how well the concept of an open-source operating system based on HTML5 would fare in a competitive industry, but it’s shown some progress in the last year. This week, we got to play with a large number of new devices, including the very first Firefox OS device running LTE. There were new options from Alcatel, Huawei and ZTE, as well as a new version of the OS; but the most important announcement from Mozilla was a prototype that shows that a $25 smartphone may very well be within reach in the near future, thanks to a chip from Spreadtrum. A total of five new phones isn’t too bad for the year-old OS, but we still haven’t seen much that convinces us that it can stand the threat of competition from low-cost Android phones and Windows Phones in emerging markets. It seems like the company’s off to a reasonable start, but its showing didn’t give us any reason to get too excited, which is why we gave it a slightly better-than-decent score.
It’s hard to get a good read on Tizen and its future, but it’s never a good sign when the chairman stands up at a company event and admits that the OS hasn’t progressed quite as fast as he expected. Admittedly, we didn’t know what to expect out of Tizen this week, since most of the rumors about an upcoming Samsung phone dried up and companies like NTT Docomo and Orange were said to have backed out of the OS’ supporting Tizen Association. About the only good piece of news for Tizen at this year’s show was the fact that Samsung is still making use of the OS in its Gear 2 series of smartwatches. Fortunately, the company released an open SDK for developers to create Gear apps, which may offer a bit of a boost for the Tizen ecosystem, but let’s face it — when it comes to smartphones, Tizen is sputtering. Since its appearance (or lack thereof) at this year’s show failed to inspire much confidence, we’re giving it a less-than-adequate grade for its performance.
The previous two years have been rather boring shows with very little major news of interest. This year was a revival of sorts, as we saw a few flagship devices, new wearables, connected cars and even a handful of notable things we never would’ve expected to see in 2013 (hello, Android-based Nokia phone). It was certainly better than previous years, but it’s still not quite A+ material.
(image credit: Getty Images)
Crowdfunding has been a boon to companies that are bringing some of the most exciting and innovative devices to market. But sometimes things go wrong. Last March, the first of a two-part Switched On discussed some of the foibles about crowdfunding in the wake of Kickstarter proclaiming that it was not a store. The column highlighted three products, two of which (the Syre Bluetooth iPod nano watchband and the Jorno folding keyboard) had seen long delays, but still seemed to have hope of shipping.
Nearly a year later, neither has. And there is no telling when or if either will. To the credit of Scott Starrett, the creator of the Jorno, he has kept posting updates about his product, although perhaps not as frequently as backers would like. The last one came earlier this month and contained auspicious news about several critical problems with the prototype being fixed. The Syre update page, on the other hand, has gone dark; the last update was in August 2013. A genuine Apple watch is likely to appear before the Syre.
When a company files its S-1 form to go public, it must include a section called Risk Factors…
The second part of that two-part column discussed two new sites that were trying to build in more protection for consumers. Unfortunately, though, the flow of steady projects at Christie Street failed to materialize. And so we are back to Kickstarter. It’s attempted to more accurately represent the chance that contributions might not result in expected outcomes by requiring a Risks and Challenges section on each campaign page. That section acts as a bit of a reality check to the ebullience of the rest of the campaign page.
But in this case, the inmates are running the asylum.
The level of responsibility that a reward-based crowdfunding campaign has to its backers may not be as high as that of a company seeking to raise equity. Nonetheless, it helps to look at examples from the latter world. When a company files its S-1 form to go public, it must include a section called Risk Factors that gives potential investors an idea of what might go wrong.
A look at the sections from Facebook’s and Twitter’s filings reveals warnings that are typical of the genre — multiple pages designed to sound as though they were authored by Rachel Dratch’s Debbie Downer. The company might experience harm from competition, lawsuits, users leaving, innovation failing, personnel leaving, financial losses, unproven business models, a limited history, ad market downturns, internet service disruptions, mobile ecosystem tyranny, spam, mismanagement, government regulation, brand damage and on and on — this from companies that have been operating high-growth businesses and serving millions of users for years.
Let’s contrast that to the Risks and Challenges section of the Auris Wily project.
“We have an amazing team with a lot of experience in making things and delivering them. We have de-risked this campaign by building a few functional prototypes and testing all of its key technologies.
“We have already established contracts with an experienced manufacturer and are ready to begin manufacturing the first run of auris wily: The Smarter Speaker.
What, me worry? Backers of the Wily were lucky.
“Our promise to deliver on schedule will be challenged many times as we go through manufacturing, certifications and logistics. However we will do our best to minimize the impact and keep our backers in the loop.”
What, me worry? Backers of the Wily were lucky. The company’s falling out with its manufacturer happened before the completion of the campaign where the sponsoring company would be on the hook for delivering the product. In that case, we would certainly have seen the product miss its expected availability in the coming months and crossed our fingers that it did not turn into another Syre. Fortunately for Auris and its backers, it will likely return with another campaign as many canceled campaigns do.
The next Switched On will discuss some of the risks that affect virtually all new hardware endeavors and showcase one campaign that is laying out at least a few potential problems for backers.
Filed under: Misc
Back in 2012, Beats unveiled its diminutive Pill wireless speaker in a bid to steal the Jambox’s thunder. Since then, its main rival hasn’t exactly been standing still: Jawbone has released two more Bluetooth speakers, including the well-received Big Jambox. Not to be outdone, Dr. Dre & co. recently began selling a super-sized version of their own: the $300 Beats Pill XL. As the name suggests, it is indeed a larger version of the original and it packs a much larger punch in the sound department as well. The list of features is nearly identical too, with NFC, dual 3.5mm jacks, a heavy dose of bass and more than a day’s worth of battery life. Heck, you can even use the speakers to charge your phone, should the need arise.
But let’s be honest: Bluetooth speakers come a dime a dozen these days. It’s not uncommon for press releases on six, seven, eight models to hit our inboxes in the course of a week. Given that the market’s so saturated, has Beats done enough to stand apart? And what of this new form factor? Does the increased bulk make the Pill XL too big for its britches? Let’s find out.
When comparing the Beats Pill XL to the original, the difference in size is obvious. But just how much bigger is it? The device measures 13 x 3.75 x 3.75 inches and comes in at 3.3 pounds. That’s 5.5 inches wider and nearly two inches deeper/taller than the standard model, not to mention more than two pounds heavier. While the added stature makes it more difficult to stuff the speaker into the side pocket of a rucksack, the increased size doesn’t make it any less portable. It’s still compact enough to tote along on picnic or a day at the beach.
With its all-black digs, the XL generally bears a close resemblance to the smaller unit. If you were hoping for one of the original six color schemes, though, you’re in for some disappointment; black is the only option for now. Taking a tour of the device, the XL has a single button on the front bearing the company’s iconic logo. This glossy circle not only controls play/pause and track skipping, but it also pulses when it’s in pairing mode and glows solid once it’s connected. As a side note, you’ll enjoy some nice tactile feedback with that button, and it makes very little noise when pressed. Also like the Pill, the XL’s front half is all speaker grille, while the back is fashioned out of plain plastic.
Around back, there’s a molded handle that houses the rest of the Pill XL’s controls and ports. Power, volume controls and battery indicator LEDs are on the right, with the power jack, a pair of 3.5mm input/output sockets, a USB socket and a Bluetooth LED light over on the left. Save for the power plug, those jacks are covered with a rubber flap to keep the dust out. Just to the right of the power switch, another “b” logo marks the NFC area used for pairing two Pill XLs together (more on that later). All of the buttons here are of the soft-touch sort, so there’s not much travel.
There are two glossy, smudge-prone panels surrounding the handle, along with a small speaker grille underneath. During our time with the speaker, we didn’t make much use of the handle as we preferred to rest the unit on a desk or bookshelf. Speaking of resting, a set of four tiny rubber feet keeps the unit from rolling over and points the speakers slightly upward for improved audio. This allows the XL to project its sound outward a bit better than the Big Jambox does. On both ends, there are two circular receptacles that appear to be buttons, but aren’t. These are built-in to accommodate a shoulder strap that can be purchased separately for $30. Inside the box, a power adapter and 3.5mm aux cable are included, but there’s no carrying case this time around.
With the added heft, we’d expect a significant bump in battery life. Beats delivers. The Pill XL touts up to 15 hours of continuous play with its lithium-ion battery — almost double the runtime of the regular Pill. Of course, if you’re using the speaker to recharge your phone or tablet, the battery life is going to take a hit. Happily, though, the speaker automatically powers off when it doesn’t detect a signal for 10 minutes, which should go a long way in conserving juice. All told, we found the battery life was right in line with the company’s claim, and those LED indicators did indeed prove handy for tracking remaining power. As far as the rest of the internals go, Beats isn’t offering any details — trust us, we asked. That said, if you take a close look at the front side, you can see four speakers through the grille: two large ones in the center and two smaller ones on the outside. That’s all we know since, for whatever reason, Beats isn’t disclosing wattage or other specs.
Setup and general use
Pairing the Beats Pill XL with a phone, tablet or laptop is a breeze. Once Bluetooth is switched on, all you have to do is select the speaker from the device list and start streaming music from the source or service of your choice. If you have an NFC-enabled mobile device, you can tap it against the speaker to pair the two a bit quicker. If you splurge for two XLs, or happen to invite over a friend who also has one, you can tap two of the speakers together to pair them up. Tap them twice to enable stereo mode. All in all, this two-speaker tapping is a bit tougher to pull off, and I was never able to get it right on my first try. Perhaps I just need to practice my technique. Beats lists a range of 30 feet for the wireless speaker, which seems pretty accurate. I was even able to venture into the next room without any interference, but once I put multiple walls between my phone and the device, I began to lose signal. No surprise there.
I’ve lent my ears to quite a few Bluetooth speakers, all with varying degrees of sound quality. Most of my experience, though, has been with Jawbone’s Big Jambox and regular Jambox — neither of which is particularly stellar in the overall tone department. When I first powered up the Pill XL, I expected Beats would be pretty heavy-handed with the bass. If you’ve tried its headphones, you know what I’m talking about. Indeed, there’s quite a bit of low end here, but the mids and highs stay clear, so the sound thankfully isn’t muffled. All told, the XL seemed to be at its best when playing hip-hop (again, no surprise), with bass on Kendrick Lamar’s “m.A.A.d city” hitting harder than on any other portable wireless speaker I’ve tested. When I cranked the speaker up to full blast I hardly noticed any distortion, even in close proximity to the unit. And it should be noted: When you’re sitting up close, the XL can get painfully loud. If you’re across the room, though, it won’t make your ears bleed. Needless to say, at comfortable volumes, you won’t notice sound degradation.
Once I tried other genres, though, things started to change. Don’t get me wrong, the overall sound quality is great, but when I queued up bluegrass (Punch Brothers, to be specific), the upright bass overpowered the rest of the instruments. This meant the folksy tones were blanketed in a driving bass line that killed the vibe. With metal and other heavy selections, it was more of the same. If your favorite Grindcore outfit mixes their albums with a lot of low end, you’ll notice muffled sounds. For example, Thrice’s The Artist in the Ambulance — an album that gives preference to driving bass — sounded muddy when I played it back on the Beats XL. However, Russian Circles’ “Memorial” stayed fairly balanced, even in the heavier sections, with crisp snare hits throughout. All of which is to say: The speaker handles nearly hip-hop well, but your mileage will vary with other genres.
When I tested the 3.5mm aux jack, the sound got doused with even more bass. I listened to Phantogram’s “Celebrating Nothing” on one unit wirelessly and the other with a cable at the same time, flipping back and forth. The added bass was enough to rattle items on the same shelf as the XL, whereas the Bluetooth option did not. Because of the added low end, the overall sound quality takes a hit when connecting directly. Anything other than hip-hop sounded too boomy for my taste. The Beats Pill XL is also capable of sorting speakerphone calls, and I found the feature to be quite serviceable. I could hear just fine, and those on the receiving end of test calls didn’t have any qualms with clarity. When I hopped on the other end, though, the sound from the XL was a little muffled, but still good enough for hands-free or conference calls.
I’ve already mentioned Jawbone several times during the course of this review, so let’s start there. The Big Jambox is the Beats Pill XL’s direct competitor and to us, it’s no contest. I listened to the same tracks on both $300 speakers and there’s a huge difference in sound quality. First, the Pill has a lot more clarity, allowing individual instruments and elements to stand on their own. With the Jambox, there’s a more distorted, muffled sound, and it’s pretty obvious in a side-by-side comparison. The XL can also reach louder volumes before distorting and features a more balanced EQ. This means the ambient noise frustrations we had with the smaller Jamboxes definitely won’t be a problem here.
If portability isn’t a concern, you might also consider Sonos. The Play:1 and Play:3 wireless speakers are priced at $199 and $299, respectively. Keep in mind, though, that these units have to remain plugged in on a desktop or shelf. You also can’t stream content from just any app on your phone as support for the key players like Spotify, Rdio and Pandora comes through the Sonos app. We found the Play:3 favored the bass a bit too much — a tactic sometimes used to mask lackluster sound quality. The key perk here: infinite expandability. With the Sonos Bridge ($49), you can add on as many Play:1, Play:3, Play:5, Playbar and Sub speakers as you want — or that your budget will allow. You may recall the company’s TV commercial with one unit in each room all blasting the same tune.
I went into this review thinking that if nothing else, the Beats Pill XL would be a good choice for playing music at a higher volume than my MacBook Air is capable of. I fully expected it to lean heavy on the bass (which it does) and not much else. After spending a few weeks with it, though, I’m pleasantly surprised by how well it performs. For the money, it blows the Big Jambox out of the water, despite costing the same. Of course, those looking for maximum portability will want to invest elsewhere, as the 3.3-pound unit isn’t easy to tuck away.
Ultimately, for me, it came down to sound quality. Even more than the bass, it was the reliable, all-around clarity that charmed me most. Aside from a finicky tap-to-pair option for connecting two speakers, my qualms with the XL are minor. The real question is this: Are you willing to spend $300 for a solid audio option on the go? A few weeks ago, I would’ve said no, but now, I think it’s definitely worth considering.
Filed under: Portable Audio/Video
Of all the phone manufacturers out there, Samsung seems to have a particular talent for creating an anticlimax. Our first thought when holding the Galaxy S5 was that we’d been through all this before a year ago, with the equally underwhelming launch of the GS4. Our disappointment jibed with the reactions of other bloggers around us at Mobile World Congress and with many readers’ comments on our hands-on article. Folks seemed to forget about the phone after five minutes and switch their attention to Samsung’s new smartwatches, especially the delectable Gear Fit.
First impressions aren’t everything, however. A phone’s charm can take a while to sink in, and you only have to look at the Galaxy S3 for proof of that. (I reviewed that handset many moons ago, and must admit that I never expected it to do as well as it did.) As add-ons go, the swipe-based fingerprint scanner and heart rate monitor may not be astounding now that we’ve had the HTC One Max and fitness gadgets like the Withings Pulse, but they might prove their utility in time. Even if they don’t, the GS5 has other redeeming features, such as its 1080p AMOLED display, phase-detection autofocus and basic water resistance, and it comes at just the right time to win over GS3 owners whose contracts are coming to an end.
But the anticlimax is there nonetheless, and it most likely stems from a suspicion that Samsung’s vast scale and manufacturing strength isn’t being fully exploited. Like Apple, but unlike most other phone makers, Samsung has control over many different technologies that go into a smartphone, including the memory, display and — most importantly — the processor. It showed us glimpses of this cross-discipline expertise with the global versions of the Galaxy S2 and S3, whose in-house Exynos processors brought extra speed and graphics just when Android needed it, and it did something similar with the big-screened, stylus-equipped Galaxy Note series. But the GS5, like the GS4, seems much less distinctive, and so perhaps what we should be asking is this: Why isn’t Samsung able to muster its in-house resources to create something truly different? And that, at least, is a question we can begin to answer.
Not everyone believes in fate, but I do, at least in terms of smartphones. I think that every handset’s destiny is fundamentally determined by its processor. If its processor is unique, a phone can be smarter than any other. But if the processor is shared with rival products, then a phone must come with convincing peripheral features if it’s to have any shot at greatness.
Neither Sony nor Nokia have the capability to create unique processors, so they’ve wisely thrown their weight behind useful extras, such as class-leading camera modules and standout design. These companies are limited in the technologies they can create, but the threat of extinction has forced them to integrate their departments and gather together every bit of technology at their disposal.
Apple, meanwhile, has spent years working on its A7 chip. This allowed it to make core improvements to all areas of the iPhone 5S: a new 64-bit architecture to boost overall performance with no cost to battery life; a new image signal processor to aid the autofocus and multi-exposure performance of the camera; and a new coprocessor that allows the 5S to work as an effective fitness tracker with no need for a separate accessory. Even when Apple has absorbed inventions from outside, it has either acquired the inventor (as in the case of AuthenTec and its fingerprint scanner) or it has established long-term contracts that give it the freedom to tailor a product to its precise needs (as in the case of Imagination Technologies and its GPU).
In the case of the Galaxy S5′s processor, however, Samsung simply went shopping. It made sure to buy the best, in the form of a highly overclocked version of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 chip (called the MSM8974AC or Snapdragon 801), but ultimately this is just a marginally faster version of the chip inside Sony’s Xperia Z2 (the MSM8974AB). In turn, the Z2′s chip is just an overclocked version of the original Snapdragon 800 (MSM8974) found in the Galaxy Note 3, Xperia Z1 and Nexus 5.
“In the case of the Galaxy S5′s processor, Samsung simply went shopping”
We should therefore expect the GS5 to have great performance and battery life, just like these other Snapdragon-equipped phones, but with no real scope for deep-level integration that could make it stand out from its competitors. As one Qualcomm representative whispered to me: The GS5 has a regular off-the-shelf Snapdragon, largely the same as anybody else’s, except with more “bragging rights.”
Samsung’s reliance on Qualcomm made sense with the Galaxy S4 and American versions of the GS3, because these handsets came in the midst of the disruption caused by LTE. The Snapdragon line quickly gained a reputation as the best value, most reliable and most efficient chip for 4G, and the rest of the mobile silicon industry was caught napping by Qualcomm’s adroitness, so it seemed unfair to pick on Samsung’s semiconductor business in particular. But as time has gone on, and other silicon players like MediaTek and Intel have started to catch up with their LTE support, Samsung’s tardiness has become harder to understand; the only way to find out more is to talk to the Exynos people themselves.
The other Samsung
Far away from the clamor of Samsung Mobile’s main stall at MWC, I came across a quiet section that had been reserved for the component side of Samsung’s business, which incorporates Exynos. There I met VP Kyushik Hong, from a department called System LSI (LSI stands for “Large Scale Integration”), who gave me a rundown of his team’s latest creation: the Exynos 5422, which will power Asian variants of the GS5.
I should mention that I’ve developed a soft spot for Exynos chips over the years, because they have strong gaming performance and they’ve tended to be accompanied by audio circuitry that does good things for music playback. But the new Exynos takes things further, by adding features that are ripe for integration. The 5422 supports something called “active hibernation,” for example, which can reduce a smartphone’s power consumption by 10 percent by not refreshing pixels on the display except when they need to change — something that only works when the chip is paired with a Samsung-made display panel. For a phone that probably lasts around 10 hours on a charge, even an extra hour of battery life represents a huge improvement, but it’s one that will be absent from Western versions of the GS5.
“An extra hour of battery life represents a huge improvement, but it’s one that will be absent from Western versions of the GS5″
Hong did his best to explain this predicament without getting himself or his colleagues into trouble. He told me that it’s a “misconception” that Exynos-based smartphones are inefficient when it comes to LTE. Instead, the reason Samsung Mobile uses Qualcomm’s chips rather than Samsung ones has more to do with price: Snapdragons merge the LTE modem with the main processor, which reduces costs, but also — Hong believes — results in “de-featured” chips. Conversely, Exynos is a “high-end premium” chip that deliberately keeps the modem and processor separate for the sake of performance, even if the higher price is a turnoff to Samsung Mobile.
When I asked why Samsung doesn’t enforce cooperation between its mobile and processor arms, for the sake of developing a more integrated device, the head of marketing for Samsung Semiconductor, Thomas Arenz, stepped into the conversation to remind me of a crucial fact: Samsung’s component business can’t engage in any sort of special relationship with Samsung Mobile for fear of losing the trust of other companies that buy Exynos chips or other parts. In other words, it’s about as far as you can get from way Apple’s various departments work together.
“There’s no mechanism to ensure an Exynos chip ends up in a Galaxy phone”
“It’s not up to us which hardware ends up in which phone,” Arenz said. “There’s no guaranteed mechanism to ensure an Exynos chip ends up in a Galaxy phone. It’s not always a price issue; sometimes it’s an availability issue, but the contract goes to the one who makes the best offer.
“Our friends [inside Samsung] are some of the fiercest customers we have to deal with.”
So, why did Samsung play it safe with the Galaxy S5? The first and most obvious answer is that it was incapable of doing anything else, because the entity we call “Samsung” still sees itself as a component maker as much as a phone maker; a conglomerate rather than a unified force. Put differently, the GS5 is made not by Samsung, but by Samsung Mobile: a much smaller organization that is tasked with making the best phone it can using off-the-shelf components. This subsidiary lacks special access to Samsung’s other areas of R&D, which means it has no more clout or control than HTC, Nokia or Sony. According to this view, there’s little scope for change and we should simply temper our expectations before the next phone launch.
Another, more speculative answer is that Samsung is working toward better integration, but it needs to solve problems with Exynos first. Work may be in progress to improve yields or reduce costs in its semiconductor business, and perhaps this will lead to a more joined-up, homegrown device at a later date, in the form of the Note 4, GS6 or maybe even the rumored premium edition “Galaxy F.” As to what such a device might offer, beyond what’s currently available, we’re certainly not asking for anything gimmicky, like a beyond-HD panel or 4K video recording. On the contrary, it would just be nice if Samsung could gather up its expertise and produce a subtle but fundamental improvement in battery life, or equally some other useful feature that we didn’t expect and that no other Android manufacturer could have accomplished.
Welcome to Feedback Loop, a weekly roundup of the most interesting discussions happening within the Engadget community. There’s so much technology to talk about and so little time to enjoy it, but you have a lot of great ideas and opinions that need to be shared! Join us every Saturday as we highlight some of the most interesting discussions that happened during the past week.
This week, we discussed our favorite messaging apps, rooting Amazonian tablets, the games we’re playing and whether 3D movies are coming to next-gen consoles. Head on past the break and join the conversation.
Favorite messaging apps
Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp highlighted how popular and valuable (evidently) messaging applications are. Assuming your friends and family haven’t made the choice for you: How do you pick which service to use? Head over to the Engadget forums and let us know how you keep in contact with the loved and loathed ones in your life.
Rooting a Kindle Fire HD
The Kindle Fire HD is quite a capable slate, and it’s cheap too. Engadget reader bkowalski3000 isn’t so fond of being restricted to the Amazon ecosystem however, and wants to know how to root it. Got the knowledge to help him out? Head on over to the forums and let him know what you do.
Operation Finish All The Games
Engadget’s product database wizard Kris is on a mission to finish all the games. Every single one of them. In her most recent post in the Engadget forums, she gives us an update on her progress. Check it out and let us know which games you’ve been playing recently.
3D movie support for Xbox One and PS4?
With the abundance of 3D televisions and Blu-ray content on the market, CAThornhill is wondering why next-gen consoles don’t let us watch movies in three dee. What do you think the issue is? Our forums are the perfect place to indulge in speculation as to whether we’ll ever be able to watch films in the third dimension on our gaming consoles.
That’s all this week! Do you want to talk about your favorite gadget or have a burning question about technology? Register for an Engadget account today, visit the Engadget forums and start a new discussion!
Recommended Reading highlights the best long-form writing on technology in print and on the web. Some weeks, you’ll also find short reviews of books dealing with the subject of technology that we think are worth your time. We hope you enjoy the read.
Tim Schafer Is Happier Now
by Stephen Totilo, Kotaku
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Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo caught up with Tim Schafer of Double Fine (formerly of LucasArts) to chat about his nearly 25 years of making video games, Broken Age and what’s on tap for the immediate future. Of course, there’s a bit of Grim Fandango chatter too, in the conversation with the game developer that remains “focused on coming up with original ideas and trying to get them made.”
The 14 Synthesizers that Shaped Modern Music
We’re not shy about our love of synthesizers here at Engadget, and the folks over at Fact Magazine share our fascination. This week, they compiled a list of the 14 sound machines that help shape modern music as we’ve come to know it. Highlights include the Moog Minimoog, ARP Odyssey and Roland TB-303. If you’ve ever wondered where some of those iconic synth sounds came from, this is a nice crash course to bring you up to speed.
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Jon’s Basketball Game: Creating a Sports Video Game Has Proven to be Rather Difficult
Jon Bois (of Breaking Madden fame) decided that he’d take a crack at making a basketball video game. Inspired by NBA 2K14 and the like, Bois bypassed forming the team he needed: a coder, code checker, “assistant for random things,” and a boss — along with the requisite $1,000 budget. Instead, he opted for the $10 Garry’s Mod from the Steam store. As you might expect, awesomeness ensued.
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The Blood Harvest
Horsehoe crabs are ancient animals. Every year though, around half a million of the creatures are rounded up and bled alive. Why? Well, their sky blue-hued blood cells’ coagulogen is used in a test by pharmaceutical companies to detect contamination. The PBS Nature documentary notes: “Every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using LAL, as do surgical implants such as pacemakers and prosthetic devices.”
Sex! Drugs! Apps! SXSW Interactive at 20
2014 marks the 20th anniversary of South by Southwest in Austin. From modest beginnings back in ’94, the event has bloomed into one of the year’s most popular gatherings that combines “nerds, rock-and-roll hippie freaks, and business suits.” After interviewing over 100 people, Fast Company has compiled its e-book SXSWi Uncensored: The Complete Oral History as Told by the Entrepreneurs, Geeks, and Dreamers Who Remade the Web. This entry is an excerpt from that book that’s available March 3rd.
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