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Do you really need a 4K smartphone screen?

Posted by Nuttapon_S On February - 19 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

See those two screens up there? Pretty soon the smartphone will have the same resolution as the much bigger panel (a 27-inch Dell U2711 monitor with 2,560 x 1,440 pixels). While the snappiest CPUs, more RAM, better cameras and other frills are a must for the latest handsets, the current marketing pièce de résistance is a higher-resolution screen. In four years, we’ve passed from a norm of 800 x 480 to 960 x 540 and up to 720p, 1080p and soon — likely on Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S5 — 2,560 x 1,440 Quad HD (QHD). That works out to a borderline-insane 500-plus pixels per inch (depending on screen size) and manufacturers aren’t stopping there. But is more resolution worth the extra expense if you can’t even see the difference? Well, it’s complicated.

Are higher pixel counts worth the manufacturing cost and effort?

The first smartphone with Quad HD, the 6-inch Vivo Xplay 3S (pictured above), has already been announced. Others that could have that pixel count, like Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and the Oppo Find 7 are rumored to be launching at Mobile World Congress next week. As a reality check, that’s the maximum supported by most 27-inch and larger pro monitors, apart from several recently announced 4K models. While such screens pack a pixel density of about 110 ppi, the Vivo Xplay 3S handset clocks in at a whopping 490 ppi, more than four times as much. Most people (according to Apple) hold their phones about 10 inches from their eyes, but sit only a touch more than twice that distance from their monitor — around 24 inches on average.

Are higher pixel counts worth the manufacturing cost and effort? In justifying the Retina display on the original iPhone 4, Apple famously said that the human eye could only resolve about 300 ppi from 10 inches. That seems to have merit considering that most glossy magazines are (effectively) printed at 300 ppi, and no one complains about the resolution of magazines. Others have said that it’s possible to distinguish pixels up to about 480 ppi or even more, but that requirescloser viewing distances and perfect, youthful eyesight. Most of us fall somewhere between those extremes, depending on our age and the state of our orbs.

You might be sacrificing a lot of your smartphone’s other capabilities in exchange for pixels that are (arguably) imperceptible.

If you’re willing to allow that 480 ppi or so is the maximum resolution the best of us can see, then guess what? We’re already there, pretty much. LG’s Nexus 5 (above) for example, has 1,920 x 1,080 pixels jammed into its relatively petite 4.95-inch screen. That works out to 445 ppi, far in excess of Apple’s first Retina display and, for this editor, completely artifact-free at eight to 10 inches, even on fine fonts. You could make the case that Vivo’s much larger 6-inch phone is deserving of its 490-ppi Quad HD screen. But then again, six inches is pushing into tablet territory, and you’d probably hold such a phone farther from your eyes — Apple figures on 15 inches for an 8-inch iPad mini with Retina, for example. From that distance your eyes will resolve less (again, assuming you can even see that close), negating the need for more pixels.

At about 3.7 megapixels, a Quad HD screen has nearly twice the resolution of a 1080p model (2.1 megapixels). Those extra pixels aren’t going to push themselves around, meaning you’ll need beefier graphics if you want to keep the whole “butter” thing going. Of course, Samsung’s upcoming flagship will likely be powered by a state-of-the-art Snapdragon 805 or Exynos 6 CPU if the rumors pan out. However, with the extra resolution, you may not get a corresponding performance boost. On top of that, unless the Korean company’s pulled off some coup, battery life may be the same or worse than the current Galaxy S4. All that means you might be sacrificing a lot of your smartphone’s other capabilities in exchange for pixels that are (arguably) imperceptible.

Despite our reservations, pixel progress marches on.

Despite our reservations, pixel progress marches on. Japan Display announced 5.4- and 6.2-inch Quad HD panels; LG has at least a 5.5-inch screen incoming (above); and Qualcomm showed off a 5.1-inch 2,560 x 1,440 model. Along with Vivo’s 6-inch display, that covers a wide gamut of screen sizes, most of which are bound to show up in new models this year. And if the rumors are true about Samsung’s Galaxy S5, it’ll be QHD with a 5.2-inch screen size — that’s 560 ppi, if you’re keeping score at home.

It seems that’s not enough, because Samsung has already said that it’ll have 3,840 x 2,160 (4K) screens out by 2015 with 700 to 800 ppi, depending on screen size. Even the most ardent pixel-lovers would have to agree that’s crazy, passing the limits of human acuity and matching 110-inch 4K home theater panels pixel-for-pixel. Naturally, we want our tech dripping from the bleeding edge and we love us some 4K. But after Quad HD becomes the gold standard later this year, manufacturers should focus on more important things like battery life, user experience and design. Don’t hold your breath, though, because smartphone marketers love bigger numbers — even if, like the emperor’s clothes, you can’t actually see the extra pixels.

According to the latest IDC figures provided to Engadget, Samsung continued to perform well in Greater China — as in mainland China and Taiwan combined — in terms of smartphone shipments. In mainland China last quarter, the Korean giant topped the chart with a 19 percent market share, followed by Lenovo at 13 percent and Coolpad at 11 percent. IDC’s Senior Research Manager Melissa Chau pointed out that compared to a year ago, the top three vendors remained in the same positions, but ZTE has since slipped from fourth place to out of top five, thus letting Huawei and Apple move up one place. Chau added that Apple’s shipment was also boosted by the full rollout of the iPhone 5s and 5c to its other channels in China since late Q3.

While Xiaomi is nowhere to be seen in mainland China’s top five, it’s managed to nab 3 percent of the Taiwanese market to secure fifth place last quarter. This is no doubt thanks to the recent launch of the Redmi, aka Hongmi, budget phone there, with help from local carrier Far EasTone. But Chau cautioned that it’s still early days for Xiaomi, for it “just barely edged out LG” in Taiwan, plus it’s a long way behind HTC in fourth place. What’s more worrying is that Acer isn’t even in the top six in its hometown, which is just one of the many signs showing how it desperately needed the restructuring.

With the full rollout of TD-LTE plus Lenovo bringing Motorola back into mainland China, it’ll be interesting to see how the landscape changes again a year from now.

What Samsung is saying about the Galaxy S5

Posted by Nuttapon_S On February - 13 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Samsung isn’t going to make a big song-and-dance when it finally reveals its next flagship smartphone, at least not literally. When it announced last year’s Galaxy S 4, the company put on a pretty grand show in New York. However, that isn’t to say the current darling of Android is keeping everything a secret when it comes to theGalaxy S5. In fact, the company has shared a surprising amount about what to expect, without us even getting close to the rumor mill. And, because Samsung makes the majority of its smartphone components in-house (processor, screen and battery) many of these announcements are made from the sidelines, months in advance, then not-so-miraculously appear (eventually) in the company’s mobile devices.

Last year’s Samsung flagship didn’t scream that it was truly a new phone in its own right … something that Samsung’s Mobile EVP, Lee Young Hee even admitted.

Broadly, Samsung’s said that it’s had a “back to basics” rethink on its next smartphone — a good idea given that the GS 4 really didn’t fall far from the Galaxy S tree. Slimmer, faster and sharper are all good, but last year’s flagship didn’t scream that it was truly a new phone in its own right. It’s even something that Samsung’s Mobile EVP Lee Young Hee, admitted in an interview withBloomberg. “It’s partly true that consumers couldn’t really feel much difference between the two products from the physical perspective.” With this year’s model, she added, “mostly it’s about the display and the feel of the cover.” So that’s the front and back, right? At its most asinine, it could simply mean the GS5 will pillage the faux leather effect that’s now the standard on both Samsung Android tablets and its Note 3 series. Samsung’s already transplanted the look to a limited-runGalaxy S 4, but it’s the mention of changes to the screen that’s got us a little more enthused than last year.

Samsung’s Galaxy Round was the first curved-screen phone, but it felt more like a proof-of-concept than a must-have smartphone. Software utilization of the odd curvature didn’t really sell the concept, and (especially compared to LG’s G Flex) distribution outside of Korea was (and still is) a rarity. Will the next smartphone follow up on the Galaxy Round’s shape or take the curved-screen notion somewhere that’s a little more, well, useful? When Samsung first introduced its smartphone-centered curved-screen technology, it was with a new concept family:Youm.

Will the next smartphone follow up on the Galaxy Round’s shape or take the curved-screen notion somewhere that’s a little more, well, useful?

This family of devices with wraparound (even folding screens) was very much a conceptual, fuzzy future-facing promotion, but the devices looked nothing like the Galaxy Round. The in-the-flesh demo model shown after the CES announcement offered a more realistic, handy way of utilizing curved-screen technology, scrolling notifications subtly along the edge of the device. Samsung is heavily invested in curved screens, and it could be the best weapon it has to differentiate from (most of) the Android pack — it just needs a better reason to exist in a smartphone.

Going on Samsung’s prior track record, screen changes are more likely to result in another increase in resolution. At Samsung’s own Analyst Day back in November (a rare event for the company), it detailed a wide-ranging roadmap of where its components business is heading, including what it’ll be bringing to its mobile devices in 2014. Let’s temper these points though: new features and upgrades mentioned could well appear in another device that’s not the GS5. (Gotta hold back something for the Note series too, right?)

Samsung’s President of Device Solutions Stephen Woo said that Samsung’s first (and less easy-to-understand) WQHD screen will appear in mobile devices this year. It’s not 4K — although that’s on the roadmap for 2015 — but it’s still a substantial resolution bump. At 2,560 x 1,440, that’s nearly twice as many pixels as a 1080p panel found on the Galaxy S 4. A resolution bump like this, however, could well be imperceptible to most eyes on a screen less than six inches across. As mentioned earlier, the company presented these slides without a definitive model in mind. It would, however, make sense when it comes to Samsung’s useful Multi Window feature, which allows the ability to “float” an app in a window above another app, or even split the screen between two apps (e.g., full 1080p video and space enough to write an email while you watch.)

The presentation didn’t stop there, however. It also touched on a new camera sensor, promising a 16-megapixel ISOCELL sensor inside a mobile device sometime this year. Samsung’s detailed its cheaper 8-megapixel cameras with the same technology, with the new technology promising to enhance light collection and reduce noise, improving color reproduction on the way. If the Galaxy S5 came with this incoming sensor, not only would it be an upgrade from the GS 4’s 13MP camera, it would even match the photography-centric Galaxy S4 Zoom, at least on pixel-count.

We’ve heard a lot about the hardware, and not so much about the software. As Samsung continues to rein in its ever-growing lineup of Galaxy tablets and phones into a more cohesive unit, the Galaxy S5 will likely fit right in the center of that. It gets vaguer as to what that user experience will encompass, however. Samsung’s latest Galaxy Tab Pro and Note Pro tablets showed off a new Flipboard-ishMagazine UX, which coexists alongside the more standard, icon-heavy Android home screen.

However, Google has been pushing against such divergent design and UI choices for a while. A substantial patent deal between the makers of Android and Samsung, as well as those reportedly “broad agreements” done alongside it, mean we’re not sure what we’re going to see on the Galaxy S5’s home screen.

The company said in a statement concerning its relationship with Android that it would continue to “provide differentiated and innovative service and content offerings.” Here’s hoping incoming software additions are more like Multi Windowand less like Smart Pause… and that Samsung’s got something on its new phone more surprising than some redesigned icons. Less than two weeks to go until thereveal.

We’ve seen the Galaxy Note series get larger and larger as time passes, but this is the first time we’ve seen the Note actually get smaller. The Galaxy Note 3 Neo has now been officially unveiled by Samsung Poland and will come in two flavors — 3G and “LTE+,” and the latter offers connectivity on higher-speed Category 4 networks (up to 150 Mbps down/50 Mbps up). The two share a lot of similarities, but there are a couple key differences as well: As you might expect, the LTE+ model is the more specced-out of the pair and offers a hexa-core processor consisting of two 1.7GHz Cortex-A15 cores and four 1.3GHz Cortex-A7 cores. The 3G (HSPA+ 21 Mbps) version, on the other hand, will enjoy a quad-core 1.6GHz processor of unknown make.

So what’s important about the new Neos? Both versions of the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean device feature a 5.5-inch 720p Super AMOLED panel with full S Pen capability, which means you’ll be able to take advantage of Air Command, S Note, Multi-Window and other pen-related functions; in other words, it’ll be a less-expensive version of the Note 3 for those who want the functionality without the absolute top-of-the-line features. It even comes with the same leatherlike back cover as its flagship counterpart (shown below).

The 162.5g Neo is 8.6mm thick, is compatible with Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch and comes with a pretty decent array of specs: You’re looking at a 3,100mAh battery, 8MP rear camera/2MP front-facing camera, 2GB of RAM, IR, NFC, WiFi 802.11a/ac/b/g/n, 16GB internal storage and microSDXC capacity up to 64GB. Not too shabby for a “Note 3 mini” of sorts, although we’re not sure what the price is at present time. Samsung says we should expect a global rollout next month (except the US and the UK, if the company hasn’t changed its mind) in our choice of black, white or green.