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February 4, 2018

From the Editor’s Desk: Galaxy S9 Minus

by John_A

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If the latest rumors are to be believed, buyers of the smaller Galaxy S9 are in for a boring upgrade cycle.

Ever since the introduction of the Galaxy S6 edge, we’ve been slowly drifting towards the larger of the two Samsung Galaxy S phones being the real flagship in any given year — with bigger batteries, flashier designs and, naturally, even higher price tags. If you wanted the best of Samsung in a smartphone, you’d go for the “edge” or “Plus” model. In part, this is a result of the growing preference towards larger screens in phones. And engineering limitations also play a role — there’s just less room to fit stuff into a small phone compared to a “phablet” style device.

At the very least, though, the base model Galaxy S gave you the full experience — including key specs and hardware features. Until now.

The latest Galaxy S9 rumors and leaks point to a couple of high-profile compromises in the smaller model: One camera, not two. A third less RAM compared to the Plus. In the single main camera of the S9, the biggest change from the S8 appears to be the aperture — a change most likely focused on portrait mode. All of which could add up to owners of the regular S9 being offered a rather tepid upgrade package, even coming from the two-year-old Galaxy S7.

The regular Galaxy S9 looks weaker still compared to the S9 Plus, with its twin cameras and 6GB of RAM. Some of that, surely, will come down to the challenges of fitting all this stuff into a 5.8-inch, 18.5:9 smartphone body. More space for cameras equals less space for battery, and Samsung is already toeing the line with the smaller S9 by keeping the same capacity cell as last year’s S8. But it’s hard to read the reduction in RAM as anything other than a cost-cutting measure, with the effect of making the smaller model appear less premium by comparison.

Samsung isn’t the only smartphone manufacturer struggling with the challenges of fitting all the technology consumers expect into a smaller form factor — case in point: iPhone 8 versus 8 Plus, and Pixel 2 versus Pixel 2 XL. Nevertheless, for consumers, it might seem their choice this year is between a Galaxy S9 Plus and a Galaxy S9 Minus.

Some other notables this weekend:

  • I agree with Jerry here that many of us are a little too willing to jump to conclusions about OnePlus, in the wake of recent security and privacy missteps. On the one hand, OnePlus desperately needs to avoid any future screwups if it’s to establish itself as a reliable, grown-up, trustworthy smartphone manufacturer. On the other hand, folks need to stop assuming the worst every unexpected app that shows up in an over-the-air update.
  • Trust will be key to the messaging around a possible OnePlus 6 later this year. Show me why should I trust you with my money and my personal data after the past year of blunders? (With that in mind, an additional problem for OnePlus is the sheer number of very public f*ck-ups they’ve managed over the past four years. We’ve heard “trust us, we’ll get it right this time” many times before.)
  • I already have thoughts on the Galaxy Note 9. If you haven’t already, check out this video on how Samsung might be able to differentiate the Note line when it also has to indirectly compete with a plus-model Galaxy S phone.
  • And it’ll be interesting to see if Project Treble helps with the next round of Samsung updates. We’re looking at late February, at best, for the S8 and S8+ getting Oreo — a version Samsung had access to well ahead of the public code drop in August. This is not easy work, not least when you have Gear VR and DeX support to figure out. But when your update schedule is being outpaced by Huawei, Honor, OnePlus, LG, HTC, Sony and many others, perhaps it’s time for a rethink.
  • We now know that the Huawei P20 will land a full month after the Galaxy S9, at a standalone event in Paris on March 27. (We’ll be there, of course.) With rumors of a bezelless, notched display in at least one model, as well as triple cameras building on the already solid foundations of the Mate 10, it already sounds like a fascinating addition to Huawei’s lineup.
  • Unfortunately for the Chinese firm, this news around Verizon and the Mate 10 Pro essentially sinks any chance of Huawei getting a major American carrier deal (Verizon and AT&T are out, and T-Mobile was embroiled in legal disputes with Huawei recently, so that leaves only Sprint.) Unless they can pull off a miracle through direct sales at Best Buy and other retailers, there’s basically zero chance of the brand making it big in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back with more thoughts right around MWC time.

-Alex

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