Here’s your daily tech digest, by way of the DGiT Daily newsletter, for Thursday, May 9, 2019!

1. The 64 million pixel problem: Samsung’s new approach

Pixel 3a 2019

The battles in the smartphone camera world are being waged across many different components: lenses for optical zoom or wide angles, various types of sensors and filters, and software processing behind it all that’s just as crucial as the hardware.

Today the sensor battle is getting more attention, and there are some interesting things to talk about. Samsung has just announced new hardware: the ISOCELL Bright GW1 camera sensor, offering a 64 megapixel (MP) resolution, just as 48MP sensors become mainstream across the full range of smartphones, from flagship to midrange to even some value devices.

Here’s why the race to best is confounding:

  • Sony has arguably made the world’s best image sensors for many years with its IMX range – the latest being the 48MP IMX536 sensor.
  • Ironically, Sony smartphones that use its own sensors have never had the best cameras, because it hasn’t invested in software. (That’s because Sony’s had to rely on the B-team in mobile: its Mirrorless camera division takes all the resources and hasn’t been helping, until very recently, as we discovered.)
  • Apple’s iPhones have used Sony IMX sensors for years. Meanwhile, new devices including the OnePlus 7 Pro will use 48MP sensors, according to leaks, likely to be the Sony chip.
  • Why 48MP? Most phones that use 48MP cameras use a technique called pixel-binning (explained here) to take data from 4 pixels and combine it into one – so 48MP becomes a high-definition 12MP image. Why? Better all-around performance, including low-light.
  • But not everyone agrees on this approach.
  • The Pixel 3 and 3a range stick with one lens, and one lower megapixel sensor.
  • Google is relying on the 12MP Sony IMX363 camera sensor for its single rear camera shooter, which is considered more or less the best camera experience for most people.

Samsung GW1 64MP sensor

What now from Samsung? Will it work?

  • In short, Samsung doesn’t want to be left behind in the megapixel race (at least as a supplier). That doesn’t mean it’s the right race to be in, though.
  • Hadlee Simons explains the good parts of the new Samsung sensor: “the ISOCELL Bright GW1 sensor offers a higher resolution than existing mobile cameras on the market, but maintains the same pixel size (0.8 microns) as current 48MP sensors.”
  • Samsung is touting pixel-binning technology here, bringing the full resolution down to a refined 16MP 1.6-micron pixel snap.
  • The sensor size comes in at 1/1.72-inch, bigger than the 1/2-inch sensor size of 48MP sensor. Bigger should mean better: no compromise in pixel size on the sensor, letting in more light and detail, but space is always at a premium in smartphones.
  • Samsung is also talking up better high dynamic range (HDR) performance and claiming plenty of other technical improvements including 480fps video recording for those ultra slow-mo videos.
  • But part of the problem is that a single 64MP image may be as large as 100MB in an uncompressed JPEG, and much bigger as a RAW file.
  • That’s going to rapidly eat phone storage which indicates another changing technical requirement: bigger default storage, or at least room for expansion storage.

The short version:

  • A 64MP camera doesn’t automatically mean that a smartphone will take fantastic snaps. Again, image processing often stands out as a differentiating factor among manufacturers. Brands with mediocre processing capabilities (hint: cheaper phones, where limited money is invested into photography) are still likely to serve-up disappointing photos.
  • That again makes the Google Pixel 3a such an important device at the $400 range – rivals will be taking notice.

2. Here’s something I didn’t expect to read today: Samsung CEO confirms it will reveal a new launch date tomorrow for “fixed” Galaxy Fold (The Korea Herald). Koh said, “We will not be too late,” which is interesting wording.

3. “Google Fights Back”: Matthew Thompson explains how Google I/O set out to prove that Google’s technology is a good thing, and that it really does serve everyone in the way a company like Apple does not (Stratechery).

4. ZTE Axon 10 Pro series hits Europe: Snapdragon 855, triple rear camera for 600 euros (AA).

5. Huawei announces its first phone with a pop-up selfie camera (AA).

6. Sharp Aquos R3 announced: A flagship with 120Hz display, two notches, probably only in Japan (AA).

7. What could the ‘A’ stand for in Pixel 3A? Pixel 3Affordable, Pixel 3Aux? (The Verge).

8. Intel promises Project Athena laptops will have nine hours of real-world battery life (Engadget).

9. Germany opens first electric highway that lets trucks draw power from overhead cables (Business Insider).

10. Amazon’s cashless, cashierless store now accepts cash, has cashiers (Gizmodo).

11. How Beat Saber beat the odds: VR’s biggest success is a startup that has sold 1 million copies of a $20 game, without funding (TechCrunch).

12. ‘Avengers: Endgame’ will stream on Disney+ starting December 11th (Deadline).

13. “You run an inconvenience store. What do you sell?” (r/askreddit).

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