Monday, March 7, 2016

The Mobile World Congress Battle

Battle royale

At this point, it feels like the same old battle is going to happen once again. Samsung is poised to come up on top of their game and LG is going to gain some ground but not significantly and Sony is once again playing the curve ball again with their new smartphone. Mobile World Congress 2016 saw the debut of several key flagship smartphone that will determine what goes on this year and probably the most surprising one is from Xiaomi which is a first for them to have a big launch outside of China (and also India). Their new Xiaomi Mi 5 was announced on a global stage but you'll be forgiven if you're still yearning to get the rock bottom china prices outside of Asia.

Once again this year, it looks like there will be a pretty clear winner as to who will top the market and Samsung is poised to top the market with their new Galaxy S7 edge and Galaxy S7. I am not trying to be a Samsung fanboy here but in my opinion, Samsung does have the edge (no pun intended) to triumph over the LG G5 due to Samsung's massive market reach in various countries. Like take for example Malaysia, LG doesn't always launch their phones in a timely matter in the region but Samsung is (always) most certainly launching their flagship in our market. But, the technology industry is not that predictable and LG might (by a small chance) have better sales performance compared to Samsung.

Ugly or not ugly

Design is a key determining factor in choosing a smartphone today (besides the price) and that's mainly due to the hardware and software specification being so similar across the board. Every flagship will need to have the Snapdragon 820 SoC and at least 4GB of RAM in order to be competitive and most of them do, so design is the determining factor when choosing one phone over another. Samsung, Sony and Xiaomi decided to improve on their previous design efforts with their new flagship phone but LG in particular went ahead and introduced a new design with their new LG G5. A bold new one to say.

LG G5 Key Specifications

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 820 Processor
  • 5.3-inch Quad HD IPS Quantum Display (2560 x 1440 / 554ppi)
  • 4GB LPDDR4 RAM 
  • 32GB expandable memory (up to 2TB)
  • Rear: Standard 16MP, Wide 8MP / Front: 8MP
  • 2,800mAh (removable)
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 149.4 x 73.9 x 7.7mm (159g)
  • USB Type-C
  • Silver / Titan / Gold / Pink
  • Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0
  • Read full article here
This new design is actually the result of LG's new magic slot feature which enables the bottom of the device to become a expansion slot like how you have in big cameras. For the average user, this new magic slot feature on the LG G5 is merely just a way to have a replaceable battery but for power users (to say), this magic slot feature will be used to expand functionality. But the big problem here is that LG isn't yet revealing the prices of these modules and while LG claims that they are working with partners to create more modules for users, there is no definitive answer right now as to what these modules can do. Also, the thing with these kind of accessories is that if it's priced too steeply, it just won't work unless LG can assure that future flagship will be able to use it again, but that is fairly unlikely.

The LG G5's "friends"
So, the big question here is whether the design of the LG G5 is actually good or bad. It is hard for me to judge that as I have not seen the device in person yet. But, right now I am sitting on the fence about the design. The unfortunate leaked images a week before the LG G5 launch in MWC 2016 resulted in a reaction that LG did not want. Leaked photos showed the LG G5 as being a pretty ugly looking phone and during that time, nobody was optimistic about LG's decision to overhaul the design of the LG G4 which was pretty good already. But then came the official debut at MWC 2016 and people did eventually praise LG about the final design and I think the problem as to why people called it ugly before is that the leaks were poorly taken and the lack of that extra photoshopping to be-dazzle the crowd with the chamfered edges and striking colors likely made the LG G5 less desirable.

doesn't this just look fugly
But out of all the new designs being introduced with this first wave of flagship class smartphones, I think the Alcatel Idol 4S has the best design overall as it has a pretty striking balance of form over function. Just remember that the Alcatel is by no means a flagship device that can compete with the likes of Samsung or LG but it is a pretty nice looking device. The design is something like the Galaxy S7 but Alcatel made it look better by including color accents on the metal frame and the front of the Idol 4S looks nice and clean.

Alcatel Idol 4S Key Specifications

  • 5.5-inch 1440 x 2560 AMOLED display
  • Snapdragon 652 SoC
  • 3GB RAM
  • 13MP rear camera
  • 8MP front camera
  • 32GB memory
  • 3,00mAh battery
  • 153.9 x 75.4 x 6.99mm
  • Read full article here

Features

In the world we live today, speed is no longer an important feature especially with flagship phones just because in order for that device to be competitive in the flagship race, it'll need to have the best of the best. Xiaomi in particular thinks that speed is still very much an important feature and they even heavily promoted how they managed to fine tune the performance of the Snapdragon 820 SoC to get a marginally higher AnTuTu score than it's competitors. Whether benchmark scores mean anything at all depends on how you look at it. For me, all the processors these days are already pretty capable and it really doesn't matter much to me if one phone can get a higher benchmark score than the other. They're all going to perform pretty good.

#Mi5 - I've discovered that specs are the key to becoming insanely fast…the odds (and cups) were stacked against me, but...
Posted by Hugo Barra on Friday, February 19, 2016

Xiaomi Mi 5 Key Specifications

  • 5.15-inch 1080P IPS LCD display
  • Snapdragon 820 SoC
  • 3/4GB RAM
  • 32/64/128GB UFS 2.0 memory
  • 16MP f2.0 rear camera with OIS
  • 4MP f2.0 front camera 
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow with MIUI 7.0
  • 3,00mAh battery
  • USB Type-C port
  • 144.6 x 69.2 x 7.3mm
  • 129/139g
  • Dual SIM
  • Read full article here
Probably the highlight feature of all the smartphones unveiled at Mobile World Congress is the VR headset phone box of the Alcatel Idol 4S. The LG G5's magic slot functionality sounds cool but straight out of the box, the sub-$400 Alcatel Idol 4S can become a VR ready device. It goes to show how important virtual reality is right now and Samsung is still reusing their $99 Gear VR introduced with the Galaxy Note5 for the Galaxy S7 and LG is getting into the game with their sleek looking LG 360 VR headset and just like the LG G5 friends (modules), the VR headset is still not priced yet.

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Key Specifications

  • 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 sAMOLED display
  • 64-bit octa core Exynos or Snapdragon 820 SoC
  • 4GB RAM
  • 32/64GB expandable memory
  • 12MP f1.7 Dual pixel rear camera with OIS
  • 5MP f1.7 front camera
  • IP68 certification
  • 3,600mAh battery with wireless charging
  • LTE
  • 150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7mm (157g)
  • Fingerprint scanner with Samsung Pay
  • Read full article here
Speaking of the Galaxy S7 and Gear VR, the only reason why the older Gear VR which works with the Galaxy S6 still works with the new Galaxy S7 series is because Samsung kept the non-reversible microUSB port on the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge. While flagships in the last year started implementing USB C on devices, Samsung is still keen on keeping this legacy port for the time being for backwards compatibility with accessories like the Gear VR. As to whether USB Type C is necessary on a flagship smartphone is yet to be known.

Generally speaking, there isn't really that much advantage to have a USB Type C port other than having the bragging rights of having a future-proof design and also the reversible design. Beyond that, USB C is still a lot like how Thunderbolt is, the supported hardware is still limited and often costs a little bit more and you can't just use any cheap o' cable you find on ebay as what a Google Engineer has discovered unless you want to fry your phone. Also, the average price of a well-branded USB C cable is higher than a microUSB cable, the price you have to pay to be an early adopter. But then again, if you are extra careful, the included USB C cable should last you long enough.

Virtual Reality is all cool and everything but I was somehow expecting at least one flagship android phone to have a pressure sensitive display. Surprisingly, none of them feature such a display but I am expecting phones in the 2H of 2016 to implement such a technology. Probably phones like the Galaxy Note6 and other flagships being unveiled during IFA 2016.

Conclusion

I am going to start off the end of this article by saying how disappointed I am about Sony's decision to replace the Xperia Z series with this new Xperia X series. Sony's impressive camera technology is still here to stay but the legacy of the Xperia Z series seem to be lost with this new smartphone series from Sony. The camera and signature omnibalance is still present with the new Xperia X series but Sony totally killed one of the best features of their Xperia Z series which was the IP water/dust certification. With the Xperia X series, only the high end Xperia X Performance will inherit the IP68 certification. It is still unclear is Sony plans to refresh their flagship series 2 times a year but we will be able to confirm that soon enough.

Xperia X Performance Key Specifications

  • 5-inch 1080P IPS LCD display
  • Snapdragon 820 SoC
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB expandable memory
  • 23MP f2.0 rear camera
  • 12MP f2.0 front camera
  • 2,700mAh battery
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • 144.8 x 71.1 x 7.6mm
  • 165g
  • IP68 certification
  • Read full article here 
The new Xperia X series which includes the XA, X and X Premium is by no means a slouch in terms of the hardware but unlike the Xperia Z series starting with the Xperia Z3 series which basically came with the same flagship grade hardware in different screen sizes. And talk about the death of the ludicrous 4k display of the Xperia Z5 Premium. The 4k display is probably going to come back to a Sony smartphone in the future when the market finally reaches that point. But one thing that Sony did improve on with the Xperia X series is that the back is no longer glass as Sony has swapped it for a metal back.

Moving back to the conclusion of this article, the first wave of flagships this year look impressive enough for an upgrade over it's predecessor but none of them justify any groundbreaking innovations. Maybe LG's dual camera system and magic slot expansion can be counted as groundbreaking but I personally think It will end up just being a cool little gimmick to increase sales. The Galaxy S7's IP68 certification in the other hand sounds like a slippery mess in the making. Just think about it, metal + glass + water is a recipe for the phone to slip right off your hands.


Interestingly, HTC has only quietly announced a couple of new midrange smartphones at MWC 2016 and the new HTC flagship for 2016 is expected to be announced only in April. I think HTC took the right move by not unveiling their flagship alongside Samsung and LG. They will probably have better luck at getting the attention of users when both the LG G5 and Galaxy S7 officially hit the market.

But overall, companies like Samsung and LG has got to keep up the pace if the iPhone 7 does indeed come with that dual camera setup and water resistivity. It's like the combination of the LG G5 and the Galaxy S7 with the added bonus of a pressure sensitive display.

Insider Talk

This post definitely took longer than expected. Lots of delays in the last two weeks. I was initially expecting this to go live right after the Xiaomi Mi 5 launch but I was totally caught it with a ton of school work and also the fact I somehow lost a little inspiration to write about tech. I can seriously say that I was actually very dissatisfied with writing this article but I pulled through and the final piece reflects why I love blogging.