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Samsung S10 in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Google announces its ‘Netflix for gaming’

The new gaming platform, Stadia, promises high-definition gaming on TVs, computers, and mobile devices, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Google has announced that it has moved into the gaming space, and it focuses on two big aspects of gaming: streaming of games for gamers, which will allow gamers to game anywhere with a fast, low-latency Internet connection; and audiences that watch gamers in-game.

This is a big move in making gaming accessible to more gamers, as it reduces hardware costs, by utilising the benefits of low-latency cloud computing. This will be achieved by using a globally connected network of Google data centres. Gamers who stream games are most likely already using a high-speed, low-latency Internet connection, so access to the Stadia platform will be an added expense.

Through the Stadia platform, gamers will be able to access a large library of games at all times, with no installation time, on virtually any screen. Scaling of hardware like CPU, GPU, memory, and storage is also possible, as one would for cloud server resources.

Google will be leveraging its other platforms, like YouTube, with Stadia streaming. It claims that 200-million people are watching game-related content daily on YouTube. This allows, for example, Stadia players to jump in with other Stadia players – no downloads, no updates, no patches, and no installs.

For console players, Google has designed a custom controller.

The controller was designed to establish a direct connection from the Stadia controller to Google’s data centre through Wi-Fi for the best possible gaming performance. The controller also includes a button for instant capture, saving, and sharing gameplay in 4K resolution. It sports a Google Assistant button and built-in microphone, as many Google products do, for voice control. 

The device is expected to be released later this year, pending FCC approval.

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Nintendo announces Stranger Things 3 game

The Netflix Original show is set to launch a retro-style game on the Nintendo Switch.

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In collaboration with Netflix, developer BonusXP has created Stranger Things 3: The Game. It is the official companion game to Season 3 of the hit original series. The game and latest season are expected to launch on US Independence Day, the 4th of July, a date that will, of course, stick in American gamers’ memories.

This adventure game blends a distinctively retro 16-bit art style, reminiscent of games from the time when the series was set. It is claimed to have modern gameplay mechanics to deliver nostalgic fun with a fresh new twist. Players will be able to experience their favourite show through a mix of exploration, puzzles, and combat.

Just ad in the show, teamwork is at the heart of Stranger Things 3: The Game. Players can team up in a two-player local co-operative, or in single player mode alongside an AI partner. Players can choose to play as one of twelve characters from the show, each with different abilities and attributes. Together, they’ll play through familiar events from the series, while also uncovering never-before-seen Stranger Things secrets, ensuring a fun experience for those new to the world of Stranger Things as well as for those familiar with the series.

Key Features:

  • Experience the show in a new way, exploring the eerie world of Hawkins to uncover new mysteries beyond what’s seen in Season 3.
  • Jump right into the action of this pick-up-and-play adventure: gameplay mechanics that allow players from beginner to advanced skill levels to get in on the fun.
  • Take your game to a higher level by trying out different character combinations and collecting all the secrets the expansive world of Hawkins has to offer.
  • Team up with a friend, leveraging drop-in/drop-out local co-op to take on the mysterious monsters of Hawkins together. While playing solo, use a collection of “buddy commands” to control both characters and still experience all the fun.
  • Choose from 12 playable characters, each with their own unique talents and stats.

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