At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, Samsung unveiled their latest flagship phones, the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge. Gone are the days of design cues brazenly borrowed from Apple; enter the era of admirable fit and finish and improved attention to detail.
While Samsung has started to walk its own design path, I’m not sure I can say quite the same for Xiaomi. The just-announced Mi 5, seemingly kicks its predecessor’s iPhone influence to the curb in favor its more closely related OS cousin, the Galaxy S7. If you can get past the unoriginality and the limited availability, the Mi 5 is an incredible deal for a small package that packs a powerful punch.
Android manufacturers are known for the tech spec arms race and these new phones do not disappoint. Reportedly top-notch camera results, high-powered processors, and long lasting battery are great selling points in the ever demanding market for smartphones. I’m still personally well-entrenched in the iOS/Apple camp, but for those of you who are happy jumping back and forth or identify as Android 4-eva, it’s a great time to be alive.
Samsung’s new phones, featuring the ingeniously named Samsung Pay, can make payments at magnetic swipe credit card terminals, eliminating the need for newer NFC-enabled terminals to allow mobile payments. If the technology works and is as secure as reported, then it sounds like an interesting technology to increase mobile payment adoption during the transition to the newer payment terminals. Here’s a bit about how it works from The Verge:
To fix the problem of ensuring that more stores will take mobile payments, Samsung turned to a clever piece of technology that lets you pay at most any terminal where you can swipe a credit card. The trick comes thanks to a tiny coil that shoots out the same magnetic code that those readers normally get from your credit card. It’s called “Magnetic Secure Transmission,” or MST; it’s built into the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, and Note 5. As with other mobile wallets, Samsung Pay can also let you pay with NFC and it will store loyalty cards and gift cards.
MST features tokenization, which is the real the game changer technology for secure mobile payments. I still prefer the security and simplicity of TouchID for mobile payments, though.
Last week at their annual I/O developer conference, Google announced Photos, the long-rumored separation of Google+ and the great photos product held captive within. Along with the news came the big reveal that the service offers free, unlimited storage for everyone with only the slight caveat that you accept Google’s generous terms of a per-file cap of 16MB and acceptance of Google’s lossy but supposedly very good compression algorithm. Oh, and then there’s that license agreement thing, too.
I don’t personally fear the Google as much as I probably should, so I’m at least trying out the service with a small subset of my photos. Because I’m silly, I shoot primarily in RAW format with my almost 10 year old Nikon DSLR, so I won’t be using Google Photos as my primary photo backup service in the foreseeable future. It’s a compelling service, nonetheless, and a lot of people will justifiably jump on board and love it.
I’ve read a few times in the past that one of the big ideas Steve Jobs (or someone at Apple) had about the iPhone was to release it without ties to any carriers. In other words Apple, ever wary of depending on a third party for core technologies in their modern incarnation, reportedly considered launching their own cellular network. While that seems like an endeavor that only current Apple could afford (pre-iPhone Apple wasn’t quite as flush with cash), I’d easily believe they at least considered it.
Fast forward to this week and now Google is jumping into the carrier game, though not quite in the same way. This week they officially announced what has been rumored for a few weeks or months: Project Fi. Project Fi is really an MVNO, piggy backing off of Sprint and T-Mobile’s network along with wi-fi calling and some other pretty nifty features to optimize network speed and strength based on where you are. And to top it all off, the service offers a very Google-y pricing model: pay for what you use, no really, even if you thought you’d use more. Ron Amadeo, writing for Ars Technica, lays out a perfect scenario for Google’s pricing model:
Project Fi is great for people with fluctuating data usage though. Take me for instance: most days, at home and at work, I’m on Wi-Fi, with barely any data usage, but there are those months where I travel a lot, and then my data usage spikes. Project Fi would give me money back for the low-data months, while flexing to a larger plan when during busy months. For a person like me, it’s perfect. I don’t need data all the time, but when I do need it, I need it to be fast and plentiful.
Who knows if Project Fi will project fizzle like some of Google’s groundbreaking projects or if it will soar into success like so many others. One thing is for certain, I’m glad we have companies like Google and Apple as the forward thinking companies of our time. They couldn’t be more different in how they approach new technology and initiatives, but having one without the other certainly wouldn’t be very exciting.
This is undoubtedly the one that I want, but I’m fairly certain it’s not the one I can reasonably afford. For now, I plan to resist the temptation to even get the Apple Watch Sport; but man if that thing ever gets GPS, watch out, wallet.
Is the new Dell XPS 13 better than the MacBook Air? If you trust AnandTech or Ars Technica, then the answer is a resounding “yes”. The Verge isn’t ready to hand the ultrabook crown over to Dell just yet, but kudos to Dell for making the race a whole heckuva lot closer.
The Verge highlights three big reasons why the XPS 13 isn’t quite ready to take the throne – battery, touchpad and webcam placement. Interestingly, AnandTech and Ars Technica both claim superiority for the XPS 13 in battery and neither had anything particularly negative to say about the touchpad – highlighting the shift to Microsoft’s Precision touchpad standard as a mostly successful endeavor. I’ll talk about the webcam in just a second.
One standout feature of the XPS 13 is what Dell is calling their ‘infinity display’, a 13 inch display packed inside an 11 inch laptop frame, thanks to a 5.2mm bezel on three sides of the display. Based on the reviews, it sounds like the display delivers beautiful pixels in a coolly slick and svelte package. I don’t think this feature alone makes the laptop the envy of MacBook Air owners everywhere, but it’s certainly something I wouldn’t be disappointed to see come to Apple’s ultraportables. One caveat is webcam placement. It seems that 5.2mm bezel wasn’t quite enough space to pack in a webcam, so the next iteration either needs to trade some chin space for the forehead or some sort of new behind-the-screen camera technology needs to hit the mainstream to help prevent awkward up-nose or knuckle shots.
I’m undeniably biased in favor of Apple’s software and hardware, but I’ve long felt like Windows-based PCs could make major leaps forward in hardware equivalence by concentrating on the touchpad and the battery. I’ve never personally used Microsoft Precision touchpad hardware, and I’m suspicious of the audacious battery life claims from Anandtech and Ars Technica, though I normally trust both sources. Regardless, it looks like Windows-centric ultraportable fans have some great hardware coming their way. My day job is a Windows-centric environment (and, specifically a Dell-only shop) and I certainly wouldn’t mind getting my hands on the XPS 13. Predictably, that’s not in the cards as we tend to use the business-friendly Latitude line. If you get to spend some time with an XPS 13, hit me up on Twitter and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear how the battery and touchpad fare for you.