Tag Archives: samsung

The biggest tech turkeys of 2015

The year’s most notable embarrassments in technology run the gamut from the industry’s inability to secure our personal data to the blunders of Airbnb, Twitter and Tinder.

Thanksgiving is almost here, but a look at this year’s list of tech turkeys may stir up memories of Halloween.

It’s scary just how vulnerable we are.

In 2015, hackers went to town with seemingly nonstop breaches. Anthem, the big health insurer, fell victim to the theft of personal information of 80 million customers and employees. That’s one out of every four Americans. Meanwhile, the identities of 30 million would-be adulterers were revealed after hackers got into Ashley Madison, the cheat-on-your-spouse website.

Companies also had a frightening habit of tripping over themselves. Airbnb insulted its hometown of San Franciscowith a billboard campaign that appeared to gripe about paying the taxes it owed for short-term rentals in the city. Sean Rad, CEO of dating-app maker Tinder, meanwhile, demonstrated surprisingly poor knowledge of the English language.

Volkswagen gets a special mention for gaming fuel-emission tests via the software in its cars. And BlackBerry, long proud of going its own way, finds itself pinning its comeback hopes on a phone that leans heavily on software from another company, Alphabet’s Google.

Lastly, all of Silicon Valley gets a turkey this year because the tech industry still can’t figure out how to hire, retain and promote more women and minorities.

Since innovation apparently can mean figuring out new ways to screw up, we’ve rounded up a supersized 17 examples of the most cringe-inducing tech turkeys for your holiday entertainment.

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Qualcomm formally launches the Snapdragon 820 SoC: Here’s what you need to know

Today, Qualcomm formally launched the Snapdragon 820, ending the slow drip of announcements of piecemeal revelations that we’ve received over the last few months. This SoC is arriving at a critical time for Qualcomm. From 2012 to 2014, the company rose to command a significant chunk of the smartphone SoC market. By Q3 2014, Qualcomm was measured as holding 42% of the market for personal mobile devices, as measured by Jon Peddie Research.

2015, however, brought fresh headwinds. The Snapdragon 810 was widely believed to have an overheating problem. The actual situation was more complex than that; at least some Snapdragon 810 devices weren’t profiled properly and didn’t manage their own thermals well as a result. Later point iterations on the chip may also have improved the situation. Either way, Qualcomm took a serious revenue hit when Samsung opted to use its own silicon in the Galaxy S6 family, even overall Galaxy sales failed to meet expectations.

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Details! Or not. Click to enlarge.

All of which is to say, Qualcomm needs this chip to be a hit. The “Kryo” CPU core is a custom chip built on Samsung’s second-generation 14nm technology (14 LPP). Qualcomm is advertising the CPU as offering up to 2x performance and 2x efficiency compared to previous generation parts, which is rather frustratingly vague. At a guess, this refers to the chip’s theoretical maximum burst performance for a very short period of time and its overall efficiency when measured at idle, or under specific workloads. Intel, AMD, and other vendors excel at this kind of particular argument — actual power consumption improvements and performance boosts tend to be highly workload dependent. Qualcomm is encouraging the use of its DSP and GPU as computation offloads to improve overall CPU efficiency.

Qualcomm does offer some additional color around overall power consumption, though they don’t disclose their test environments or conditions.

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Power consumption in “real-life” workloads.

While we don’t know the criteria that Qualcomm used to arrive at these conclusions, the 65% of Snapdragon 801 power metric makes sense given what we know about estimated improvements for 14nm compared to TSMC’s 28nm planar silicon. It’s still sobering to note that this improvement arrives roughly three years since Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon S4 family, which featured the then-new custom Krait CPU core. Even if we take Qualcomm at its word about the relative level of advancement in CPU performance and power consumption, it’s taken three years and two node shrinks to deliver the kind of improvements we used to see in 18 months and a single node shrink — and as we’ve already noted, we fully expect that Qualcomm’s improvement claims will be situational, just as AMD’s and Intel’s are. “Real-life” workloads simply vary too much to be easily captured in a single metric.

Qualcomm’s Tim McDonough took to Twitter to answer questions about the new chip, but he kept his answers light. Qualcomm claims more than 60 device wins for the new 820 SOC, including cameras, cars, and drones. Nvidia has been the SoC manufacturer making noise about the automotive business of late, so this could imply that QC wants to challenge NV on turf Team Green is hoping to stake out for itself.

Without much concrete detail on Kryo, we’re forced to make some educated guesses about the core. Qualcomm has already revealed that the chip is targeting a 2.2GHz clock frequency. The Exynos 7420, built on Samsung’s 14nm LPE process, uses a 1.5GHz frequency base and a 2.1GHz boost clock. What’s interesting to me is that Qualcomm has walked back the 810’s commitment to a big.Little approach and instead opted for a single unified processor block. This suggests that the Kryo CPU may emphasize instructions-per-cycle efficiency over clock speed.

Our guess is that Qualcomm has staked out a midpoint between Apple’s A9 processor, which tends to pound the rest of the ARM family when it comes to single-thread performance, and scaling up to 8 or more cores, the way Samsung and companies like MediaTek plan to do. A higher-efficiency quad-core may represent the sweet spot between these two extremes. Presumably, Qualcomm is using DVFS to control its clock frequencies and power gating, though there’s always an outside chance that it adopted a technique like the AVFS AMD is using for Carrizo.

Putting it all together

Qualcomm’s comprehensive spec sheet on the Snapdragon 820 is shown below. The company is claiming a bevy of improvements for its Adreno 530 GPU (up to 40% more performance and 40% greater power efficiency than previous-generation hardware), new hardware decode and encode engines, an X12-class modem, and a variety of enhancements to image processing and security.

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The full spec sheet. Click to enlarge.

We’ve also heard tell that while Qualcomm’s SoC design for its upcoming server family is quite different from Snapdragon 820, the CPU may derive from Kryo. This makes sense, if true — building a common architecture and leveraging it across multiple contexts is how both AMD and Intel have historically done things, to good effect (Bulldozer notwithstanding). If Qualcomm is serious about competing in the server market, it will want to leverage economies of scale.

If the Snapdragon 820 does well, we’ll see that reflected in phone design wins at CES and Mobile World Congress in early 2016. The Snapdragon 810 may not have won the accolades that the Snapdragon 800 family received, but the 808 and 810 combined have sold well and shipped in a number of high-profile designs. At the same time, however, Qualcomm faces increased competition from mainland Chinese and lower-cost Taiwanese companies. It needs the Snapdragon 820 to sell well if it wants to retain its de facto leadership of the Android market — a position Samsung arguably usurped with its own Exynos 7420 in 2015.

Devices based on the Snapdragon 820 are expected to ship in the first half of next year, probably starting in March or April.

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Original video content will be key focus for Samsung’s Gear VR headset

Original and immersive videos will be an important part of Samsung’s Gear VR strategy, an executive has said

Samsung will launch its virtual reality headset, Gear VR, by the end of the year, with a focus on original video content, the company has confirmed.

The new headset, which is set to launch before Black Friday (November 27) in the US, and soon afterwards in the UK, will also ship with the new Oculus Social app.

The app aims to immerse the wearer in a virtual home theatre, allowing you them to watch Vimeo and Twitch videos with a group of friends from anywhere in the world participating as avatars.

“Some people think virtual reality (VR) will be isolating but I think it’s clear it’s going to be a social medium,” Nicholas DiCarlo, vice president of virtual reality at Samsung said.

Mr DiCarlo said the company had “focused specifically on cultivating VR video”. “If you want to take a medium mainstream, you have to get to video. Research says people watch about 150 hours of video a month,” he added.

The $99 Gear VR, developed in collaboration with Oculus Rift, is what Mr DiCarlo refers to as “Oculus’ mobile strategy.” The headset can plug directly into any new Samsung mobile phone, including the Galaxy S6, Edge, Edge + and Note 5 handsets.

Samsung has developed and launched its own VR video channel Samsung Milk VR in order to produce new and immersive videos.

“We have worked with the likes of Refinery29 and the NBA to commission and put up new videos every single day,” Mr DiCarlo said. “It isn’t available in Europe yet, but stay tuned for that.”

Alongside the Occulus Social app, around half of the new apps developed for the headset are games, while others include apps such as Facebook 360 videos, and Jaunt, which commission filmmakers to create their own original movies.

Samsung has also launched its own VR camera Project Beyond, a 360-degree 3D capture camera built ground-up to create videos for virtual reality. “It’s a professional grade camera with eight pairs of cameras, acting as eyes, and targets the filmmaker market,” Mr DiCarlo said.

When it launches in the UK, the Gear VR will be the first taste of an entirely new domain of mainstream entertainment, with video at its core. Mr DiCarlo said. “It’s the launch of consumer virtual reality.”

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Samsung Galaxy Note 5 vs. Nexus 6P: Phablet fight

For the last few years, Samsung has dominated the premium phablet space with its Galaxy Note devices. They had the best screens and the biggest batteries for those who wanted a large phone. Now Google has refined the Nexus lineup and is offering the Nexus 6P, a pure Android phablet with great hardware at a reasonable price. It doesn’t have the same productivity features Samsung touts in the Note 5, but let’s see how they stack up.

Design

Gone are the days of plastic Samsung flagship phones. Now it’s all about metal and glass, which forms the entirety of the Note 5’s body. It has an aluminum band around the edge and a glass panel on the back. The Note 5’s rear panel is curved a bit at the edges to make the larger phone easier to hold, but it is still made of slippery glass. The Nexus 6P is by far the most sturdy Nexus phone ever built. It has an aluminum unibody frame that wraps around the edges of the device. There’s a Gorilla Glass panel on the back that houses some antennas and the camera as well.

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The Note 5 and Nexus 6P have a similar feel in the hand as they have very similar sizes and weight. The Nexus is 7.3mm thick compared with the Note 5 at 7.6mm. The Nexus 6P weighs 179g, which is only a little heavier than the 171g Note 5. The Nexus 6Pa also has front-facing stereo speakers, but the Note 5 only has one speaker mounted on the bottom.

Because these are both sealed devices, the batteries aren’t intended to be swapped by the user. The Samsung device has a 3,000mAh cell, which is a little smaller than past Note devices. It’s a reasonable battery for a phablet, but plenty of enthusiast users are disappointed that you can’t swap batteries when that was a hallmark of past Notes. The Nexus 6P comes from a long line of devices without swappable batteries, so it’s more expected. Huawei also managed to cram in a larger 3,450mAh battery. In general, the Nexus gets better battery life than the Note 5, but that’s also thanks to the software, which we’ll get to later.

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On the front of the Note 5 is Samsung’s customary array of physical navigation buttons under the screen. The back and multitasking buttons are capacitive, and the home button clicks. That’s also where the fingerprint sensor is on this device. It’s fast and reliable, but it seems less special now that the Nexus 6P is available. There are no physical nav buttons on this phone, but it does have a fingerprint sensor on the back right where your index finger likes to sit. This makes it a snap to unlock the phone — just tap the sensor (called Nexus Imprint) and the phone wakes up and unlocks. It’s faster and more convenient than Samsung’s implementation.

Display and internals

Samsung has been the king of smartphone displays for years. That’s still true, but only because it made the panel on the Huawei-built Nexus 6P. Google and Huawei actually worked out a deal to get the latest generation AMOLED tech for the new Nexus phone, which has never happened before to my knowledge. Samsung usually only sells the last-gen technology to other manufacturers.

Both the Nexus 6P and Note 5 have a 5.7-inch 2560×1440 Super AMOLED (518 pixels per inch). They both look absolutely fantastic with very good clarity and high maximum brightness. They’re very usable outdoors, and the colors are vibrant without being blown out. Google has also added a more accurate optional sRGB color mode to the Nexus 6P, which is a nice touch. The Note 5’s screen might be calibrated a little better in the default mode, but the real difference is the included digitizer for Samsung’s S Pen.

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The S Pen docks in the bottom of the Note 5, allowing you to write on the screen almost like you would on paper. The S Pen has pressure sensitivity and quick access to a raft of Samsung productivity tools. The S Pen is the best stylus you can get on an Android phone right now, and the Nexus 6P doesn’t really have an equivalent feature.

On the inside, the Note 5 and Nexus 6P are simultaneously the same and quite different. Both have an octa-core 64-bit ARM chip, but the have different pedigrees. The Note 5 runs on the Samsung Exynos 7420 with a quad-core cluster of high-power Cortex-A57 CPUs and a second group of four highly efficient Cortex-A53 cores. It runs cooler and faster than the Snapdragon 810 in most other phones. The Nexus 6P has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 with the same core configuration, but this chip has been extremely warm in other devices, which has led to heavy thermal throttling. Interestingly, the Nexus 6P seems to avoid all that. It’s fast and it stays fast without overheating.

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The Nexus 6P also has 3GB of RAM and comes in 32, 64, and 128GB storage variants. The Note 5 has 4GB of RAM and only comes in 32GB and 64GB versions. Neither device has a microSD card slot for added storage, but Samsung’s UFS 2.0 NAND flash is much faster than the eMMC 5.0 used in the Nexus 6P. Not many activities will make use of that, but it might come up from time to time. It’s worth noting that Samsung’s memory management model in TouchWiz leans toward closing apps in the background rather than filling up all the available RAM first.

Cameras

Google has finally started taking the camera experience seriously with the Nexus 6P. This device has a 12.3MP sensor with large 1.55µm pixels and a f/2.0 aperture. That means it takes great low-light shots, and there’s laser-assisted autofocus to make sure you capture your subject. The Note 5 has a similarly excellent 16MP camera with an f/1.9 aperture. It doesn’t have laser autofocus, but it’s still very effective at finding the subject, though a little slower.

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Samsung’s camera adds optical image stabilization, which compensates for hand shakes while taking photos and video. The Nexus 6P doesn’t have that, but there’s electronic stabilization for video. It works well enough, and the still photos are usually captured fast enough that the lack of OIS isn’t a big deal.

HDR image capture is very good on both phones, but it’s substantially faster on the Note 5. Google’s HDR+ implementation produces very well-exposed images, but it takes longer to capture. That can cause some blurring with moving subjects.

Software and everything else

Here’s where things really get interesting — Samsung has always had great hardware features (eg, screens and cameras), but software has been an issue. Samsung’s AndroidUI is known as TouchWiz, and it’s been greatly despised in past years. The company started to turn things around with the Galaxy S5, and on the Note 5 things are vastly improved. The UI is more responsive and most of the half-finished features have been removed. The strange blue-green UI remains, but at least there’s even a theme store that can change it.

The Note 5 is running Android 5.1.1 right now, but the Nexus 6P is shipping with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Because this is stock Android running on a Nexus device, you get all the latest and greatest features with none of the carrier bloatware. In fact, Google has even reduced the number of pre-loaded apps it includes. The UI is just much more attractive and consistent than what Samsung is doing right now.

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The Nexus 6P has a ton of cool Marshmallow features like doze mode to reduce idle battery drain, more granular app permissions, and Google Now On Tap. On that last count, I’m not completely smitten with On Tap yet (it seems to miss a lot of stuff), but it has potential. The Note 5 will get an update to Android 6.0 in the coming months with many of these features, but it has all the stylus additions as well.

Samsung’s Air Command pop up is accessible at any time with the S Pen stylus — just tap the button. It offers quick access to the note taking and screen capture tools designed specifically for this input device. These are things you don’t get on the Nexus 6P, but you really only benefit if you’re a fan of styluses. If the S Pen never comes out of the holder, the Note 5 loses much of its distinctiveness.

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The Note 5 is available from all the major carriers, and you can get a GSM unlocked version if you don’t mind scrounging around in the gray market. The upshot is that you can buy a Note 5 on a payment plan with your carrier. The Nexus 6P is available only from Google, and isn’t expected to come to any carrier stores. It’s completely unlocked and has support for CDMA and GSM networks with a ton of LTE bands. Since Google sends out the updates to this phone, there will be no messy carrier delays for this phone.

The Note 5’s full price is upwards of $700 for the 32GB model. It’s a good thing carriers will let you finance that, because it’s a lot to drop on a phone. The Nexus 6P, however, retails at $500 for the 32GB. You have to pay that all upfront or you can finance it with a Project Fi line of service.

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Samsung smartphone sales show signs of recovery

Samsung appears to be putting its smartphone sales woes behind it.

The last two years have been rough on Samsung, which makes some of the most popular smartphones in the world but hasn’t managed lately to scoop up the same profits as competitor Apple, whose iPhones remain the benchmark for the industry.

Part of Samsung’s problem is that it faces tougher competition than just Apple. That’s because Samsung devices run Google’s Android mobile operating system, which is available on devices made by a host of hardware makers.

The prevalence of Android handsets means Samsung is fighting on two fronts. HTC and LG, as well as low-cost handset makersHuawei, Xiaomi and Micromax, battle for the Android customers. That means there’s more competition for first-time buyers, who are drawn by lower price points.

Meanwhile, Apple is grabbing the high end of the market, as well as angling for customers who want the big-screen phones Samsung had used to differentiate itself. Last year, Apple introduced the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which it recently updated. Those phones are powering Apple’s profits.

Samsung is trying to address the problem. In April, It introduced the high-end and well-reviewed Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, flagship handsets made of premium materials, something consumers have requested for years.

On Thursday, Samsung showed the process is ongoing. Samsung reported an 82 percent rise in operating profit, snapping a streak of seven consecutive quarterly profit declines, even though revenue from its mobile division was largely flat.

Samsung reported third-quarter operating profit of 7.39 trillion won, or $6.45 billion, on revenue of 51.68 trillion won. Samsung, which doesn’t release smartphone shipment numbers, said it saw a “significant increase” in smartphone shipments but that revenue was hurt by price cuts for its Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge and shipments of low- to midrange smartphones.

The mobile division’s profit increased by about 33 percent, providing about a third of total operating profit in the quarter but sharply lower than the two-thirds it’s provided in the past. Meanwhile, profits doubled at the division housing Samsung’s chip and display businesses.

Still, Samsung indicated the good times were unlikely to last. It forecast profits would fall in the fourth quarter and initiated a share buyback.

To get a leg up on its competition, Samsung has reportedly moved up the launch date of its next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S7, to January. The move would break Samsung’s tradition of introducing new flagship smartphones at major global tech conferences, such as Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. But it might also give it an opportunity to undercut sales of the iPhone 6S, which launched in August, by getting it into consumers’ hands sooner.

Samsung is also hoping to get a boost from Samsung Pay, its mobile payments service that went live last month in the US. The service lets customers pay for goods and services using their smartphones or Gear 2 smartwatch. As with Apple Pay, the competing service launched last year by Apple, the goal of the feature is to build customer loyalty amid the fierce fight for smartphone customers.

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Report claims Samsung could manufacture OLED screens for next-generation iPhone

A new report claims that Apple could tap Samsung’s manufacturing expertise for future generations of the iPhone. In and of itself, that’s nothing new, but instead of manufacturing an SoC with the Korean company, Apple might want to buy into Samsung’s OLED display technology. That would be a marked shift from several years ago, when Tim Cook blasted OLED technology as fundamentally inferior to the iPhone’s display.

Then again, at the time, Cook was right. OLED technology has continued to evolve in the nearly three years since Cook made his statements. The best way to evaluate the relative position of each technology is through the extensive database of information available at DisplayMate. While Dr. Soneira hasn’t directly compared the Galaxy Note 5 against the iPhone 6 / 6 Plus, he uses a standard series of tests that allow for some homegrown comparison between the two.

Scroll through each report, and you’ll find that each device has a few areas where it wins out over the other. OLED displays have excellent off-angle viewing, the iPhone’s image contrast is slightly better, but the Galaxy Note 5 has better color accuracy. Overall, the Note 5 takes home an A in this category, compared to the iPhone 6 Plus’s A-. The iPhone 6 family is much brighter (good for direct sunlight), and reflects very slightly less light.

iPhoneDisplayPower The iPhone family vs. the Galaxy Note

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Power consumption is where things get particularly interesting. According to Dr. Soneira’s data, the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 5 are fairly well matched. Note that the displays are of two different sizes — the Note 5’s total screen area is 13.7 sq. inches, compared to 12.9 sq. inches for the iPhone 6 Plus. Even so, the two compare well — the Galaxy Note 5 has an average power level far lower than that of the iPhone 6 Plus. True, Apple’s current LCD technology wins the maximum power comparison, but how many people regularly set their device to a blank white background? Not many.

We contacted Dr. Soneira for additional information on this potential match-up. He notes that “The OLED / LCD Power Efficiency Crossover is currently at 67 percent APL (Average Picture Level): The OLED display on the Galaxy Note 5 is more power efficient for APLs less than 67 percent, and the LCD display on the iPhone 6 Plus is more power efficient for APLs greater than 67 percent.” Power efficiency will also be different between the red, green, and blue primaries, which is why Dr. Soneira compares peak whiteness as opposed to a different color.

It’s interesting to note how the Note displays have evolved compared to the iPhone. The Note 5 uses 6% less power than the Note 4 at the same brightness level and 17% less power at maximum brightness. Overall efficiency is roughly 21% better at the same screen size. The iPhone 6 Plus, in contrast, was slightly less efficient than the iPhone 5 (relative to screen size).

Given that Apple already uses LTPS (low temperature polysilicon) for its iPhone displays, the company may well be looking for additional advances that can cut power consumption and improve overall display quality. Whether that will translate into tapping Samsung for future displays remains to be seen. Hypersatured backgrounds and vibrant colors are a hallmark of Samsung’s Galaxy and Note products, while Apple typically prefers a color balance that tilts slightly towards blue. We suspect that any agreement between the two would require that Apple not tune its LCDs to look overly much like Samsung’s hardware (not that Cupertino is likely to wish to do so in any case).

Of course, the flip side to this is that evaluating OLED technology is something that Apple likely does on a regular basis. Manufacturers regularly test new hardware developments as they become available, and with the iPhone 6S / 6S Plus having recently launched, the time is right for Apple to be investigating new technologies it could introduce in the next 12-24 months.

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This clear Galaxy Note 5 is awesome

Typically, if you want to personalize your smartphone, you’ve got two choices: download a cool wallpaper and / or buy some kind of case. Reddit user Skarface08, however, decided instead to take a razor blade and peel the plastic film off the back of his Galaxy Note 5.

Using a heat gun, suction cup, and the aforementioned razor, Skarface08 has turned the original Note 5 backing into a clear cover that shows off the smartphone’s internals (the Samsung and Galaxy Note 5 logo, amusingly, remains unharmed).

This probably voids the warranty, but then again, it’s probably worth it. And now a glimpse of the process, taken from a video Skarface08 posted in the comment thread:

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Samsung might include 3D Touch technology in its upcoming flagship Galaxy S7

Samsung and Apple have often locked horns when it comes to near-identical design and feature specifications. It’s been more than once when Apple accused Samsung of lifting substantial features from the iPhone and in turn infringing on existing patents. This time around, rumors suggest Samsung might be planning to lift a key feature from the iPhone 6s for the company’s upcoming Galaxy S7 flagship.

As many of you may have already guessed, the feature in question is 3D Touch. Although it’s just speculation for now, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Samsung pull off such an act. Earlier, Samsung introduced the Samsung Pay feature with the Galaxy S6, which was a direct response to Apple Pay that was introduced few months before it.

This time around, Apple’s 3D Touch technology is under the limelight. 3D Touch responds to the intensity of user’s touch and can differentiate between various kinds of pressure. A report on Weibo suggests Samsung might use Synaptic’s ClearForce technology, which is similar to 3D Touch for all intents and purposes. Huawei has already used ClearForce in its new Mate S smartphone.

Synaptic has been associated with Samsung for a while now; this is not the first time Samsung may employ that company’s technology in its smartphones, thanks to earlier Galaxy Note models. There’s no confirmation yet on whether Samsung will have a 3D Touch-like feature in its upcoming flagships, so it’s best to take this with a grain of salt.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ Note 5

Moreover, another report from Vietnam says that Samsung is only going to unveil a single smartphone under its Edge lineup next year; this device could be the Galaxy S7. Even so, the Galaxy S7 Edge might come in two display variants — 5.2-inch and 5.8-inch; the larger variant is most likely to sport the curved Edge screen.

Apple’s 3D Touch technology garnered much attention even before the iPhone 6s launch, and Samsung is not the only manufacturer who is trying to get its hands on a similar technology. Huawei went one step ahead in September and introduced an exclusive variant of the Mate S smartphone with 3D Touch-like technology for carrying out functions such as zooming the image and game controls. Huawei also got a leg up on Apple by introducing the handset before the iPhone 6s launch.

To date, reviews have been generally positive on Apple’s 3D Touch, with some praising it for its intuitive control and satisfying feel, and others saying it’ll be some time before enough apps support it. For its part, although Samsung is doing well overall, it certainly has some work to doto boost sales of its Galaxy lineup, so the next-generation Galaxy S7 can’t arrive soon enough.

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Apple responds to battery life concerns with its A9 SoCs

Yesterday, we covered reports from concerned iPhone 6s and 6s Plus owners, who have seen markedly different results between those devices built on Samsung’s 14nm node and those using TSMC’s 16nm. Apple has since released a statement covering these concerns in greater detail than we initially alluded to yesterday, and it’s worth considering how the company’s statements fit into the overall picture. Apple’s statement is reprinted below:

With the Apple-designed A9 chip in your iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus, you are getting the most advanced smartphone chip in the world. Every chip we ship meets Apple’s highest standards for providing incredible performance and deliver great battery life, regardless of iPhone 6s capacity, color, or model.

Certain manufactured lab tests which run the processors with a continuous heavy workload until the battery depletes are not representative of real-world usage, since they spend an unrealistic amount of time at the highest CPU performance state. It’s a misleading way to measure real-world battery life. Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other.

Of benchmarks and battery life

Apple has a point when it says that benchmarks don’t often track the real-world experience of actually using a device. The primary purpose of most benchmarks is to gather performancedata, and the advent of modern benchmarking has its roots firmly in the pre-smartphone era, when battery life wasn’t relevant to desktops and workstations. Even now, many battery life tests amount to “Repeat this workload until the phone dies.”

Whether you use a light or heavy workload on a phone can have a profound impact on its battery life — and, by extension, on how the phone tests in comparison to other devices. Anandtech made this point in their own investigation:

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Compare the iPhone 5s against the iPhone 6. The iPhone 6’s battery is 16% larger than the iPhone 5s’s, but the iPhone 6’s light usage run-time is almost 30% longer than the iPhone 5s. Clearly, the later silicon is more power efficient. Under heavy load, however, the iPhone 6’s larger battery only manages to equal the iPhone 5s’s total run-time — not exceed it. Meanwhile, the iPhone 6 Plus’s heavy run time is worse than the Galaxy Note 5’s, but more than 90 minutes better in light usage.

This is why it’s impossible to dismiss Apple’s response as “You’re holding it wrong,” despite the tone-deaf way the company communicated its statement. If a battery test doesn’t accurately capture the way people use the phone, it’s a bad benchmark. It may accurately measure power consumption between two devices in a stated workload, but the entire point of such workloads is to actually capture real-world conditions.

Thus far, the battery tests that have been floated have involved looping a JavaScript test and Geekbench’s fixed-load test, which apparently stresses the iPhone 6 Plus at a fairly constant 30%. Neither of these are particularly representative of real-world conditions. In fact, in the one test we’ve seen where real-world loading was performed (a video playback test for 60 minutes), both of the iPhones lost the same amount of battery life. This implies that in at least some conditions, power consumption between the two devices is basically identical.

Heat and variability

There are two potential factors that could be causing Samsung devices to exhibit poor performance under load as compared to TSMC equivalents. The first, which we alluded to in our initial article, is heat. Transistors that are packed together more tightly naturally concentrate more heat into smaller areas. There’s a clear and known relationship between heat and power consumption, and while the exact relationship varies from chip to chip and node to node, it’s well-known that temperature has a significant impact.

Image by Anandtech forum user idontcare

The second factor that comes into play here is variability. It’s important to understand that while we talk about Apple building an A9 processor in the same way that we might discuss Ford building an engine, there are some critical differences between the two. When TSMC, Intel, or Samsung builds a wafer of chips, they don’t automatically “know” what kind of chips they have. Each company will test their silicon to determine how good (or bad) the wafer is. Good chips are those that can run at the target voltage and clock speeds with desired power consumption levels. Great chips are those that can run at dramatically lower power consumption, or hit higher clock speeds, while bad chips are those that consume too much power or simply can’t reach target frequencies.

Each company has different methods of recovering useful dies from poor samples, whether that means disabling some of the cache, one of the cores, or using the chip in a desktop system where battery power isn’t such a concern. The important thing to understand is that variability has been getting steadily worse with every product generation. To understand why, consider a hypothetical scenario in which a “good” transistor contains between 100-200 atoms of a material, a “great” transistor contains between 140-160 atoms, and a bad transistor (that won’t meet desired specifications) has either less than 100 or more than 200. In this example, these numbers correspond to an older process node — say, 45nm.

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Now, imagine this same situation, but with very different numbers. In our second example, a good transistor contains between 20 and 40 atoms of a doping material, a great transistor has between 28 – 32 atoms, and a bad transistor is any transistor with less than 20 or more than 40. It’s much, much harder to control the distribution of 20 atoms than it is to control the distribution of 100 atoms. Remember, that since 14nm chips have much more transistors than 45nm chips, it’s not just a question of tighter control — you have to be more perfect to keep fail rates under control. This is why modern chips are sometimes designed with built-in logic redundancy — if one component of a chip doesn’t pass muster, you’ve got duplicate units ready to go.

Here’s what this means, in aggregate: While we are certain that Apple still strictly targets certain ranges for its parts, we’d expect to see greater variation in run-time and battery life between TSMC and Samsung hardware because even a company has legendarily strict as Apple has to accept the laws of physics.

What does this mean for TSMC vs. Samsung?

Thus far, Apple’s official position is that there is no difference between TSMC and Samsung devices. We suspect that if the company breaks from this stance, it will be because of heat differences between the two devices, rather than performance metrics. There are subtle ways to adjust performance to cut down on skin temperature, and it may be possible to create power rules for the Samsung devices that are different than those used for TSMC.

The one thing we’ll stick to is that this variation is almost certainly why Apple was forced to dual source its hardware in the first place. What will be interesting is seeing whether or not this issue continues with later iterations of the phone. Samsung and TSMC are both consistently improving yield on 16/14nm, which means we’ll see those improvements reflected in devices — even if Apple never announces that its later products have better power consumption or lower temperatures compared with the newer ones.

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Nvidia dealt blow in bid to block Samsung shipments into US

An administrative law judge for the US International Trade Commission sides with Samsung on a patent dispute with Nvidia.

Nvidia was handed a major setback Friday in its lawsuit with Samsung over the improper use of its graphics technology.

Thomas B. Pender, an administrative law judge for the US International Trade Commission, wrote that Samsung didn’t infringe on Nvidia’s graphics patents. He also determined one of Nvidia’s three patents is invalid because the technology had already been covered in previously known patents.

The decision deals a blow to Nvidia’s efforts to prove that Samsung illegally used its technology. If found guilty, Samsung, the largest smartphone maker in the world, could face a ban on US shipments of certain products, including the Galaxy Note Edge, Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy S5. But the judge’s decision is an early recommendation, and the ITC still has to make a formal decision.

“Today’s initial determination is one more step in the ITC’s legal process,” Nvidia said Friday in a statement. “We remain confident in our case.”

Samsung declined to comment.

Nvidia, which is best known for making graphics chips for PCs, filed lawsuitswith the ITC and US District Court in Delaware in September 2014 involving seven of its patents. At the time, Nvidia said it asked the ITC to block shipments of several Samsung smartphones and tablets to the US and requested the district court award damages for the alleged infringement.

Nvidia’s specialty in graphics is the focal point of the dispute. Samsung has tended to use Qualcomm’s processors in its high-end devices. The Note 4, for instance, uses a Snapdragon 805 chip. Samsung also uses its own Exynos chips in some models, particularly those sold in Korea and its newest products, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note 5. The devices mentioned in the suit involve Qualcomm’s Adreno graphics, ARM Holdings’ Mali technology and Imagination’s PowerVR graphics architecture, which are three of Nvidia’s main competitors in mobile graphics.

Beyond the smartphone, several Samsung tablet computers, including the Galaxy Tab S, Tab 2 andNote Pro, were listed as well.

Nvidia’s suit was only the latest in a series of lawsuits in the hot mobile sector. Samsung has been battling Apple for the past several years over technology used in its smartphones and tablets. The two companies a year ago agreed to settle all disputes outside the US, but their lawsuits continue in the country. Microsoft also has sued Samsung, saying it didn’t live up to its patent licensing agreement for technology used in Android tablets and smartphones.

Companies have tended to file lawsuits with the ITC to speed up the process of addressing the dispute. Civil suits could take years to go to trial, and they’re often held up for even longer in the appeals process. An ITC sales ban, however, could severely hurt a company’s profits or force the two sides to negotiate a settlement.

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