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The Weekly Authority: Most important phones, Samsung Galaxy S21 confirmed, more
Welcome back to The Weekly Authority, the Android Authority series that recaps the top Android and tech news from the week. We’re starting to run out of days in the 2020 calendar but Tristan Rayner here again, and with a warm cup of cocoa on hand to keep you company.
- The biggest smartphone news of the week came from our own Adamya Sharma who scooped the mobile world after Samsung’s largest store in India spilled the beans on the Galaxy S21 series. The store confirmed the Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra devices will be coming within about a month, plus a bunch more details. We now know just about everything other than price, including the global date for launch: January 14th. No doubt Samsung will be unhappy, but every year we see leaked launch information for Samsung’s flagship series. Maybe only Google is worse at keeping its Pixel secrets?
- The Galaxy S21 passed FCC certification too, confirming the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC in the US.
- Apple’s new AirPods Max headphones were announced this week at an eye-popping $549, coming December 15th.
- Disney showed it is all in on Disney Plus at its big Investor Day 2020, announcing nearly 50 new shows and films. This includes massive expansions in the Marvel and Star Wars universes. With all that came a $1 per month price hike, starting March 2021.
- OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei has an audio company, with products coming next year. Pei once sold white-labeled MP3 players in China, so his first post-OnePlus venture marks a return to his roots of sorts.
- Facebook had a bad week: it was targeted by three antitrust suits from the FTC, 48 states, and Germany. The last one came for its Oculus headset requiring a Facebook login, a “feature” of the latest Oculus Quest 2(The Verge).
- And Cyberpunk 2077 launched, likely the biggest game of the year, although Animal Crossing fans might disagree. It’s been a super-mixed launch, a gem of a game stuck waiting for patches, especially on console. But hey: Cyberpunk 2077 has already recouped its development costs(Polygon).
There are a few leaks and rumors floating around as well:
- A leaked slide showed Samsung is working on 600MP smartphone cameras as a future goal. That’s not going to be easy without making the camera bump three times thicker than we’re used to seeing from Samsung phones.
- This could be our best look yet at what the OnePlus 9 looks like in real life, from a pre-production unit.
- Sony PlayStation 5 review: A beautiful, speedy upgrade from last-gen, and yet more praise for the DualSense controller — by Sarah Chaney.
- Samsung Q950T soundbar review: at $1,800, this would want to be good, but thankfully it is —by Chris Thomas.
Features & opinion
- Did you know: The most popular music streaming platform isn’t Spotify — by Eric Zeman.
- QuantumScape may have solved a 40-year-old battery problem? — Daniel Oberhaus, Wired.
- Cybersecurity giant FireEye got hacked. Now what? (VICE).
Instant Authority: Most important smartphones of 2020
As we say goodbye to 2020, and all its faults, there is some good to be found in the devices and products released across the year.
Android Authority will be publishing plenty of end-of-year content in the coming weeks, including our award for the best smartphone of 2020. Ahead of that, I wanted to highlight some of the phones that I think we’ll look back on as being something more significant than just another product after 2020 comes to a close.
The novel phone with a swiveling display offered something truly different from LG’s usual flagships. The LG Wing showed that LG can create what we called an engineering marvel in our review, with brilliant hardware and capable software.
Plenty of phone makers are willing to show off prototypes that never see the light of day. LG went for it. At $999, it was far cheaper than other first innovations from others, too.
I didn’t buy one in 2020, but it’s possible LG’s Explorer Project lineup can shake up smartphone design in the same way that Samsung is trying with its foldables. Speaking of…
Samsung: Galaxy S20 FE
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 confirmed that Samsung really can make outstanding innovations that last. After a mixed reception for the original Galaxy Fold, its impressive follow-up sets the stage for the series to be a big part of Samsung’s future.
But the future often takes longer to arrive than we might think. The Galaxy S20 FE, though, is right here and now. It wowed reviewers, and buyers snapped it up. The Galaxy S20 FE returned Samsung to its winning Galaxy S10e formula. It took all the important bits from the Galaxy S20, made a few minor compromises, and dropped the price to compete with OnePlus and more in the affordable flagship segment.
That refreshing approach came as both the Galaxy S and the Note series struggled to differentiate themselves from each other, while moving even further out of reach for buyers unwilling to stretch to that $1,000 mark.
Google: Pixel 4a
The Pixel 4a arguably represents the strongest Pixel product Google has ever put forward. The price tag at $350 made it super attractive, and amazingly, went on sale with better specs and a cheaper price than the Pixel 3a. The flagship camera and Google’s software easily made up for some missing features.
Personally, I bought the Pixel 4a 5G, because I was happy to pay a little more for some of those higher-end features including the better processor, 5G, and the additional wide-angle camera. But the Pixel 4a was even on sale for as little as $299 this year at time.
What a bargain, and what a no-brainer for those looking for the best of Google on a budget.
Apple: iPhone SE (2020)
Apple cramming flagship speed and top-notch features — including IP rating and wireless charging — into an iPhone SE at $400 changed smartphones in 2020. At that low price, this became a default upgrade for many Apple-friendly consumers, and even Android fans were quick to appreciate what was on offer. Apple’s 2020 edition of the iPhone SE sold well all year, but it was especially relevant during the early pandemic period back in April.
Also: It alone may have been a catalyst for Google’s attractive Pixel 4a price, and may have driven OnePlus to debut its OnePlus Nord line at under ~$400 in Europe and other markets. But I’m only giving it a side-mention because the Nord didn’t hit the US. Instead, OnePlus kneecapped it , and brought out the almost bad Nord N10 in North America instead, leaving the true Nord for everyone else.
Microsoft Surface Duo
Here’s one that was important for almost all the wrong reasons.
The Microsoft Surface Duo was a super interesting device from Microsoft. The dual-screen smartphone/tablet/tiny workstation showed a lot of ambition, and potential around a new kind of way to work. It was also priced at $1,399 as part of a presumed branding strategy to make this feel like a premium device.
But, it fell completely flat. The hinge and innovations around dual-screen usage were great, but disastrous software bugs at launch, the $1,399 price tag for yesteryear’s specs, a roundly bad camera, fragile USB-C port, and performance issues made it a must-avoid.
Microsoft can take these lessons and do better — I’ve read long-term reviews that have sounded encouraging for smoothing out the software issues at least. But why release it with those bogs? Microsoft will have to learn a lot if it wants to keep its Surface phone dreams alive. And I really hope it does, because competition and innovation are vital for Android.
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Tech tweet of the week
has to be my favourite shakespeare quote pic.twitter.com/dSXZ2EsOGg— three wise pams 👑 (@alexandrakuri) December 8, 2020
This month, we’re giving away three prize packs! Enter the December giveaway for your chance to win.
- First prize: An Xbox Series X and an AA hoodie
- Second prize: A Google Pixel 4a 5G and an AA hoodie
- Third prize: A Garmin vivoactive 4 and an AA t-shirt