Samsung needs a splashy product for its splashy product launch

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The last big tech event I attended in person was Samsung’s launch of the Galaxy S20 line of smartphones. Now Samsung will join everybody else in tech by trying to capture some semblance of that experience and hype in a purely online event with the upcoming Unpacked event scheduled for August 5th.

We are, of course, expecting to see the Galaxy Note 20 lineup announced that day. Though the rumors initially waffled a bit on what exactly that lineup would entail, more recent leaks point to a Note 20, a Note 20 Plus (which will be bigger), and a Note 20 Ultra (which will be… “Ultra,” whatever that means).

In addition to the Note 20 line, there are plenty of other Samsung devices that are due for an imminent release. There’s the 5G version of the Galaxy Z Flip folding phone, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (rumors point to “Z” being Samsung’s brand for screens that bend), the Galaxy Watch 3 smartwatch, and also new earbuds that are bean-shaped (yes really).

If all of these devices get announced, then it will be obvious that Samsung is hoping to make a splash with this event. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the company is broadcasting that intention quite clearly with a literal metallic paint splash on the invite.

As is Tradition, I will now proceed to overanalyze the image provided in a tech invitation. But while the normal rules require me to guess what products this image portends, instead I think it speaks to the psychology behind those products. Is it a halo? The drooping crown of a deposed king? I’m just going to with saying it is what it looks like: a splash. Here’s what it means: if the rumors hold true, this summer’s Unpacked event will see Samsung throw a bunch of ideas into the water to see what floats.

I get the feeling that Samsung is casting about for a halo device (something else that image could resemble, maybe). A halo device needs to impress everybody and draw people to the store, but not necessarily be the thing those people buy and walk out with. Will that be the Note 20, the Z Flip, or the Z Fold 2? I doubt Samsung itself knows the answer to that.

Me neither — but my pessimistic take is “Fold 2 or bust.” Let’s just review the contenders.

The Note 20 will surely be fine, but it will be laden with two problems. First, the spec-chasers will know that it’s just a Galaxy S20 with a stylus. Second, Samsung’s big bet this year was on a new camera sensor that has been …fine at best and problematic at worst.

Samsung was hoping for a generational leap, but instead tripped and has been trying to recover ever since. Reportedly, the Note 20 won’t try to recreate the so-called 100X zoom but it will keep using that problematic 108-megapixel sensor. Even though Samsung has done much to improve it since the launch of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, it’s still worrisome.

The Galaxy Z Flip is genuinely better than any other clamshell folding phone (the main competitor being the new Razr), but the big issue I have with it is that it costs too much. I don’t know who’s clamoring for it to cost more. A 5G variant isn’t the splash Samsung needs.

The Galaxy Watch? It’ll be the best smartwatch for Android phones, which given the state of the competition means bupkis. As for the earbuds, all I want is for Samsung to have the self-confidence to actually call them “beans.” Tech is too self-serious these days. Give me Ear Beans.

But Ear Beans aren’t it either. Which leaves us with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (or whatever it will be called. I’m sure Samsung will throw a 5G in the name there in exchange for a carrier kickback).

I had a front-row seat to the disastrous Galaxy Fold launch in April of last year — anytime your phone breaks spontaneously in the hands of several reviewers, that’s bad. Samsung did eventually re-release the Fold (at its sky-high $1,980 price), but you wouldn’t blame the company if it decided to just pull back on that whole folding tablet thing for a year or two.

Nope. If the rumors are true, the Fold 2 is coming. Now that is confidence. Rumors on what it will or won’t be are a little more sparse than I’d normally expect for a Samsung phone at this stage — a larger outer screen, no stylus, and 5G. I also assume it’ll have that ultra-thin glass screen from the Z Flip. There will be more to the story, but that phone has a better shot at being a halo device than anything else.

Why does Samsung need a halo device? Because Chinese phone makers are nipping at its heels for marketshare (if not outright winning in lots of regions) and Samsung has staked its reputation on innovation. You can find a phone with 90 percent of what you get in a flagship Samsung phone while spending hundreds less — so Samsung really needs to wow you with the other 10 percent.

Reviews and how-to

The best wireless earbuds to buy right now. I’m with Chris Welch on this one. After bouncing between five different BT headphones (AirPods Pro, Pixel Buds, Sony 1000XM3, OnePlus neckbuds, and the Galaxy Buds) for the past month, the Galaxy Buds are the ones I use the most now — and notably, I use them with my Mac, iPhone, and Android phone. Would I like noise cancellation? Sure, but it’s not as much of a priority for me now that I don’t commute by train. I’d also like these headphones to switch between devices more seamlessly, but at least they’re better than Sony (nearly everybody is better than Sony in that regard).

There’s no one set of earbuds that is perfect at everything. For general everyday listening, the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus are the best wireless earbuds. Got an iPhone? Nothing beats the AirPods Pro.

How I hosted my first charity stream, and how you can host one, too. Great walkthrough from Bijan Stephen:

If you’re planning for your stream to be slightly more elaborate, I think the most important features to consider are length, guests, and a donation thermometer.

A portable display can make working from your dining room table easier. Dan Seifert:

Right now, the Ananta is available through a Kickstarter campaign, with deliveries promised for September of this year. As of this writing, the lowest price you can get the display for is $359, and it is expected to retail for a rather steep $599 when it hits general availability. If you go for the Kickstarter deal, the price is reasonable for how large, versatile, and well the Ananta works. But at full price, it may cost nearly as much as the laptop you’re plugging it into, at which point you have to wonder if it’s worth it.

LG Gram 17 review: lighter than it looks. Monica Chin:

It’s very unusual to see a 17-inch laptop under four pounds — let alone under three. Couple that with a $1,499 starting price (our model currently goes for $1,699), and you’re looking at a pretty niche target demographic. For that niche, though, this laptop tracks.

I built my own camera with a Raspberry Pi 4. This video from Becca Farsace is a treat. And it will encourage you to go try something weird and new during lockdown. Watch!

How to convert a PDF file for your Kindle.


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Sports bubbles are good places to study COVID-19. Nicole Wetsman:

If the virus starts to spread within the isolation zones, though, it should be relatively easy to trace the path it traveled. In the outside world, it’s hard for people to remember where they go and who they interact with, says Angela Rasmussen, a research scientist at the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. If you’re on a tight schedule and living in a central location, like athletes in these environments are, that information is easy to access. “You can work out, not only the number of contacts you’ve had, but the types of interactions you have with those people.”

Tracing the link between your phone and the next pandemic. Justine Calma on how everything is connected. Mining for the minerals needed to make your phone puts people in situations that may cause “spill over” of viruses from animals to humans:

Ultimately, the way humans interact with animals and the environment can have grave consequences for our own well-being. That’s why scientists and public health experts have developed a strategy for addressing the ways in which the health of the environment and all of the people and wildlife living in it are connected. It’s an approach called “one health.”

Tech News

Microsoft announces new Windows 10 Start menu design and updated Alt-Tab. Tom Warren:

Essentially, the reduction in the color of the blocky tiled interface on the Start menu will simplify it slightly and make it easier to scan for the apps you use on a daily basis. It’s a subtle change, but it certainly makes the Start menu look a little less chaotic and avoids many tiles sharing a similar blue color.

Microsoft announces Xbox Series X games event for July 23rd. How many times can you announce a new console?

Mmhmm turns your boring Zoom call into a Weekend Update-style TV show. If, like me, you briefly thought “Oh I could probably pull all this off with OBS and a little work,” you’re missing the point. The whole key to this software is the ease of the UI, which could democratize different ways of presenting and having video conversations. I can’t wait to try it out.

Google discontinues the Pixel 3A and 3A XL.

BMW is going all-in on in-car microtransactions. Well, I hate this! Sean O’Kane:

BMW now wants to take this to a far more specific level. The German automaker announced on Wednesday that all cars equipped with its newest “Operating System 7” software will soon receive an update that makes it possible for the company to tinker with all sorts of functions in the car, like access to heated seats and driving assist features like automatic high beams or adaptive cruise control. And the company unsurprisingly plans to use this ability to make money.

Uber acquires meal delivery service Postmates for $2.65 billion.

More from The Verge

Fading Light: the story of Magic Leap’s lost mixed reality magnum opus. Adi Robertson:

Inside the company, though, a few dozen developers were building what they describe as one of Magic Leap’s most exciting projects. It’s called The Last Light: an interactive story about a young woman dealing with the death of her grandmother, designed to show the storytelling potential of mixed reality. And crucially, its creators say it’s finished — but they aren’t sure if anyone will ever see it.

There’s no quick fix for climate change. We’re so bad at understanding delayed results, as Justine Calma explains:

“There is this fundamental misunderstanding of the climate system by non climate scientists trying to use trends on a 10 year time scale for climate change, when [with] climate change a 100 or 200-year timescale is relevant,” explains Natalie Mahowald, a climate scientist at Cornell University who was not involved in the study. “All our hard work today, we will not be able to see for 20 or 30 years — this is the crux of the problem,” Mahowald says. “Humans have a really hard time doing something for future generations.”

Quibi is flailing because no one at Quibi understands what Quibi is. Julia Alexander looks at the moves Quibi could make to survive as everybody’s free trial runs out.

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