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January 15, 2021
☕ Good morning! We’re in for a very cold stretch here, so send warm thoughts!
Samsung Galaxy everything
Samsung Galaxy S21 side camera macro 1
David Imel / Android Authority

The Galaxy S21 series, featuring the S21, S21 Plus and S21 Ultra, plus new Galaxy SmartTags, and the new Galaxy Buds Pro.

It was a huge launch; Samsung spent nearly two hours running through its new products (more on at least one strange part below), and the new S21 smartphones, in particular, do look pretty great.

To jump straight in, you can read the Galaxy S21 series first impressions, but full reviews are some time away yet

What you need to know:

  • Powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 in the US, or the Exynos 2100 in most other places, the S21 series should see great performance.
  • All come with a 120Hz refresh rate screen, with dynamic refresh rate. The displays on all models can now drop as low as 10Hz, so you get that nice fluid, smooth display when you need it, and less battery life consumption when you don’t.
  • On the camera front, the S21 and the S21 Plus have the same camera system, meaning no change in specs in that area between the two, a change from the S20 series. 
  • While the cameras have been improved with more capabilities such as now being able to use the three image signal processors in the Snapdragon 888, the Ultra has the major upgrades from the S20, which include a second-gen 108MP sensor, and two 10MP telephoto lenses at 3x zoom and 10x zoom, faster night modes, and more. Autofocus features should now be improved in the Ultra with a new laser autofocus like the Galaxy Note 20.
  • Yes, the S21 Ultra supports the S-Pen, too, but that’s pretty low on the excitement level for me.
  • There’s a focus on durability now, too. Instead of a glass camera bump, the cameras are integrated into the metal frame — meaning the metal frame extends over to protect the cameras. Add in flat displays on the S21 and S21 Plus, and things are a little more sturdy, that is, if you’re crazy enough to go without a case these days.

Points of note:

  • The early launch of the S21 series takes the fight to the iPhone 12 series faster than ever, and that battle across camera setup and battery life will be fascinating.
  • The S21 series is cheaper than ever despite the added tech and performance: they’re $200 cheaper than previous versions which is really great news, even if they start at $800, the S21 Plus at $1,000, and the S21 Ultra at $1200.
  • In terms of 5G support, all now come with mmWave access in the US. And it’s worth noting the new phones support the C-band spectrum in the US, like the iPhone 12. The C-Band spectrum is currently being auctioned by the FCC and is super valuable for networks hoping to offer wideband 5G at blistering speeds. It’ll hopefully start appearing in network coverage by early 2022.
  • None of the Galaxy S21 phones have MicroSD card slots, which is disappointing.
  • The S21 is using the just-announced second-generation Qualcomm fingerprint sensor, the 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2.
  • And there is no charger in the box, as widely predicted once Apple unplugged. Samsung does include a USB-C cable, and has cut the prices on USB-C chargers if you need.

Pricing:

  • If you do pre-order, Samsung.com is offering a bunch upfront. You earn up to $200 credit for buying other stuff (like the just-announced Galaxy Buds Pro) on Samsung.com, and you can also trade in your old phone at Samsung.com to earn up to $700 towards the cost of a Galaxy S21 device. Plus, a free Samsung SmartTag.
  • That said, with Samsung holding significant sway with carriers across the globe, there are promotional benefits too, and pretty aggressive ones. 
  • With Verizon, for example, that starts at $33.33 for 24 months plus trade-in value; AT&T offers trade-in credit on your old phone for a 30-month installment plan; T-Mobile has a similar deal to Verizon, too. The point is, carriers are going harder than usual, which at least indicates confidence in the S21 performing well.
The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro in purple, silver, and black, against a pink book and background.
Samsung

Galaxy Buds Pro

  • Moving away from the bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live are the more conventional-looking $200 Galaxy Buds Pro, the first to feature an IPX7 rating, so they can now withstand a splash of water, rain, or snow.
  • There are some nice new features here although a few are implemented only if you have an S21 phone. For example, more immersive audio is now offered through Dolby Atmos supported content, if you watch on a new Galaxy, which is basically the same idea as Spatial Audio in Apple’s AirPods Pro.
  • Samsung is promising better ANC with more smarts, like activating Ambient Sound mode when you start talking, meaning you don’t have to whip out the buds from your ears to talk to someone.
  • Reviews will drop soon and I can’t wait to find out if these are the new high-end default buy for Android devices.
  • Or, if it just makes the previous Galaxy Buds Plus a great deal, now they’re at about half the price.
samsung galaxy smarttag item tracker
David Imel / Android Authority

Samsung SmartTag and SmartTag Plus

  • Samsung did announce competitors to Tile trackers. The SmartTag will be $30, and track your stuff with a fob design, with a button that can perform a function too.
  • More interesting is the SmartTag Plus option coming in later 2021, which adds ultra-wideband (UWB) wireless technology. That will help users can find the tracker almost precisely with their phones via a Samsung app.
Samsung Galaxy S21 back in hand 1
David Imel / Android Authority

Black is really important?

Samsung also spent a full three minutes of its presentation talking about the latest innovation, with a chair-gripping Apple-style production voiceover sequence full of detail …about the latest color, black. Phantom Black, to be precise.

  • Samsung said in this “Untold Stories” video that its new Phantom Black was “its boldest color ever”. 
  • It was completely over the top. It still is, you can rewatch if you didn’t catch it yesterday
  • …I have to be honest though, it sort of worked? I’m at least intrigued about the color and matte glass, but it seemed supremely excessive given how unlikely it is that a black “color” can really enthrall on a phone without real texture.
  • I asked our own Dhruv Bhutani what to make of it all, given he has the S21 Ultra in Phantom Black in his hands right now (and that you can see above)
  • “Honestly, it’s black. The matte finish on the back is nice, but there’s nothing about the shade that really stands out as something unique? I wouldn’t even think it was at all significant if Samsung hadn’t made such a big deal out of it.”
  • So, I don’t know, that sounds like a letdown?
  • Maybe we’ve just been spoiled by the depths of Vantablack, which, by the way, MIT beat in 2019 with blacker black.
Roundup

🔌 Samsung might gradually remove in-box chargers from all of its smartphone boxes, and, has taken us a bit further towards using our phones as car keys (Android Authority).

⛔ The Trump Administration has, last-minute, added Xiaomi to a blacklist for Chinese military connections, but the key detail here is that this prevents US companies investing in the Chinese firm from November 2021. This isn’t excluding the likes of Google and Qualcomm from offering services like Android, Google Mobile Services, and chipsets, as per the Huawei blacklisting. But it may force Qualcomm Ventures to divest its stake in Xiaomi, a Hong Kong listed entity (Reuters)

📚 Today marks 20 years of Wikipedia! (BBC)

Google announced it had “completed” its Fitbit acquisition, although regulators haven’t yet fully approved the deal: “We’re confident the combination of Fitbit’s leading technology, product expertise and health and wellness innovation with the best of Google’s AI, software and hardware will drive more competition in wearables and make the next generation of devices better and more affordable,” wrote VP Rick Osterloh (blog.google).

🌌 So long EA exclusivity: Lucasfilm Games’ new partnerships in gaming mean the galaxy’s the limit: a new Star Wars title coming from Ubisoft and an Indiana Jones game from Bethesda are just the start (Wired).

📺 WandaVision is now out on Disney Plus: the first two episodes can be streamed, and it’s on a weekly release schedule, which may make it a little bit of a slow burn (Android Authority).

🛰 The megascale structures that humans could one day build (BBC).

💡 Philips makes a type of LED bulbs exclusively for Dubai, called Dubai Lamps. But why? Well,  there’s a roaring debate: is that’s because Dubai asked Philips to make it better, longer-lasting LEDs, or does Dubai’s unique climate just need cooler LED filaments running at lower voltages. Join in if you like, starting with a good YouTube vid (r/videos).

Friday Fun
blue origin
Blue Origin

The Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin flew its 14th mission to space and back (liftoff in the link is just after 51:05), flying its new upgrades to its space tourism rocket New Shepard and broadcast live.

  • The rocket landed successfully but its flight/rocket/guidance computers seemed like they had to do some last-second adjustments to successfully land, given the tilt we could see for a few moments before touchdown.
  • And what was fun was the way the flight is deliberately structured for the best possible views and experience for paying customers: 10-minutes of zero-gee flight, big windows in the capsule for maximum views, and a 360-degree spin during takeoff so people can see everything.

Thanks,

Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor.

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