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January 31, 2021

⚡ Welcome back to The Weekly Authority, the Android Authority series that recaps the top Android and tech news from the week. This week: multiple writers!

📸 Tristan Rayner on deck with news and views, while Robert Triggs takes a deeper look at OnePlus' camera problems and some potential fixes for the upcoming OnePlus 9 series.

Popular news
  • The Xiaomi Mi Air Charger (shown in the gif above) purports to wirelessly charge devices from a considerable distance. Xiaomi claims its range is “several meters” and can even charge through physical objects. But the whole thing feels super early: Xiaomi didn’t even commit to a 2021 release. Not to mention the Mi Air Charger is absolutely huge while only delivering a 5W charge. Lenovo has also shown off a lab version of Motorola’s wireless charging tech but it also looked a long way off from coming to our homes. Far-field charging solutions like Mi Air may be more vaporware than hardware right now, but they’re worth keeping an eye on.
  • OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s new venture is called… Nothing. As Pei explains, all technology should “feel like nothing” and be in the background of our lives. In keeping with the theme, nothing beyond the name was announced; not a single product, or even a category of products. Later, Pei did tease a speaker-looking thing, so we can probably expect the familiar drip-tease. Pei also took a few thinly veiled shots at OnePlus, with carefully worded complaints spicing up the new brand’s launch.
  • OnePlus 9 leaks: A teardown of the OnePlus Camera app code has revealed work-in-progress features including moon mode, starburst mode, and focus peaking. On the hardware side of the OnePlus 9 camera, tipsters are suggesting the OnePlus 9 series won’t go for an extended zoom camera. More on what we hope for from the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro below.
  • Sony Xperia 1 III details: What is being reported now is a much better zoom lens, while retaining largely the same looking device.
  • Also from Sony: the $2,500 Sony Xperia Pro is a crazy-priced 4K smartphone that is targeted at a very specific niche. It’s arguably untouchable for normal smartphone enthusiasts, but Sony is going after a particular niche: videographers, YouTubers, or directors that want to use their smartphone as a 4K OLED field monitor for their other camera.
  • A good Speed Test G this week: Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Note 20 Ultra, which gave us an unsurprising winner and even more proof of just how big a leap forward the Snapdragon 888 is.
  • You can’t have missed the GameStop—Robinhood—r/WallStreetBets events of the week. One odd wrinkle: Google rescued Robinhood from a flood of negative Play Store reviews after it halted open trading on the hot stocks of the moment, including GameStop and AMC, leading to “false” negative reviews.
  • I thought this told us a lot about OnePlus right now: A Gcam dev wrote a long post stating: “I no longer recommend OnePlus” (celsoazevedo.com). The question is: Why is OnePlus hurting its enthusiast community who make use of the Google Camera mod, many of whom are rusted-on fans?
  • And just for fun: These are the highest resolution photos ever taken of snowflakes (Smithsonian).
Reviews

It’s wearables review season right now, not that anyone has that marked on the calendar. Here’s a couple of wrist accessories put through their paces, plus fresh Bose earbuds:

  • Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review: Bulky buds that do it all
  • Skagen Jorn Hybrid HR review: A lovely looking hybrid smartwatch with long-lasting e-ink display. The on-device software seems a bit weak and Fossil’s own HR Collider (with e-ink display) is so similar that it looks like a rebadge.
  • Garmin Lily review: This wearable for women has all the basics, but only basics.
  • Realme Watch S Pro review: More fitness tracker than a watch; this may work if you really want the watch look.
  • Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: This one is aimed at triathletes! Anyone else should look elsewhere. But triathletes may not get enough out of it. A good line from the review pointing out inaccuracies: “Either the Rival was playing up, or I seriously need to see a doctor.”

Features & Opinion

Instant Authority: The OnePlus 9 camera problem, and its potential

(Written by Robert Triggs)

OnePlus Nord N100 close up of the camera
Ryan-Thomas Shaw / Android Authority

The upcoming OnePlus 9 series is likely to launch within months. Many will have high hopes for the phone’s photography capabilities. Despite taking some decent photos, previous OnePlus phones haven’t kept pace with the best camera phones in the market. The OnePlus 9, and especially the expected OnePlus 9 Pro model, will have their work cut out to up their game and compete with 2021’s flagships.

It’s not really surprising that OnePlus has fallen behind the competition. OnePlus plays fast and loose with cropping to extend zoom capabilities and spent valuable time developing silly color filter cameras rather than more universally useful features.

To turn things around — which the company has loudly committed to do — the OnePlus 9 series must focus on tried-and-tested camera arrangements that cater to a wide range of shooting environments.

Here are a few things we’d want to see from the OnePlus 9’s camera to make it more competitive:

  • Our experience with past OnePlus phones reveals they are overly reliant on sharpening and image clean-up compared with their competitors. Cleaner images, with the help of better hardware, would improve OnePlus’ pictures.
  • The brand still has some way to go to close in on the Night shooting and HDR quality advantages held by industry leaders like Apple, Google, and Huawei. Improved computational photography techniques wouldn’t hurt either, as this is the direction the rest of the industry is heading.
  • OnePlus’ wide-angle lenses highlight some more fundamental issues. The OnePlus 8’s lack of variable focus and high amounts of lens distortion around the edges results in a lack of detail. Perhaps the company’s rumored partnership with Leica will yield improved results this time around.
  • High-quality lenses and appropriate focal lengths would help the company compete in the zoom arms race too.

What’s interesting about OnePlus is that it, in theory, doesn’t have to head back to the drawing board to improve its photography game.

  • Fellow BBK Electronics subsidiary, Oppo, has some excellent camera phone pedigree. Perhaps it’s time to pinch Oppo’s periscope camera design?
  • The Oppo Find X2 Pro was one of 2020’s better camera phones, boasting image quality, zoom, and low light capabilities that are right near the top of the pack.
  • OnePlus could lean on Oppo to catch up with the best in the business, and we’re already seeing some signs of that in R&D, even if it will take time to reach actual devices.

Building excellent cameras requires solid end-to-end solutions. One weak link in the hardware, processing, or camera app can undermine the whole experience. Historically, OnePlus has struggled with these elements and the camera experience has suffered.

Bottom line: The OnePlus 9 will need some major changes if it’s to compete with the latest and greatest camera phones.

Deals

If you’re shopping for tech right now, check out these popular deals:

Tech Calendar
  • February 8: Xiaomi Mi 11 and MIUI 12.5 global launch date.
  • Also coming up in February: We’d also expect more and more Android 12 rumors to start emerging, as code starts getting committed. The first developer preview build of Android 11 was released on February 19, 2020.

Tech Tweet of the Week


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