First impressions of the Samsung Galaxy 5,- David Gilinsky

 

samsung galaxy s5 hands on
 
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The Samsung Galaxy S5 probably isn’t the reinvention of the smartphone. But unlike last year’s Galaxy S4, there’s a good chance some of the new features announced could be of actual use to normal human beings.

Of course, a few minutes with the Galaxy S5 wasn’t enough time to reach a full verdict on the phone, but it was enough to get a basic feel for what Samsung’s (SSNLF) latest offering can and can’t do.

 

Display 
The 5.1 inch display has the same 1080p resolution as last year’s 5-inch screen, but due to some new technology, it’s definitely brighter, which at the very least, makes everything look nicer. And according to Samsung, the special technology which makes that screen brighter also improves performance in direct sunlight. At the expense of your battery, of course.

Fingerprint Scanner 
Like the iPhone 5S, the fingerprint scanner is probably the most eye-catching of the new features, which adds an extra level of security and/or convenience to the device. While it does require you to swipe your whole finger pad over the sensor (unlike the iPhone, which simply lets you place it on the sensor), it worked smoothly the few times I was able to use it.

Power Saver 
Battery life matters! Samsung put a slightly bigger battery in the Galaxy S5, but the more important thing was to offer up a useful power saver feature which lets you know what parts of the phone to turn off, and how much battery life that will gain you. It’s most extreme mode will actually shut down LTE, cut you off from the vast majority of your apps, and turn the screen grey scale, apparently allowing it to last for days without a charge

Related: 5 ways to fix the Samsung Galaxy S

Camera 
Samsung’s new phase detection auto-focus means that the camera is now capable of a nice blur effect in the background when you photograph an object up close. The shutter was reasonably fast with bright indoor light, though it did seem to have trouble handling a couple of weird lighting situations and slowed down considerably. How much the image quality has or hasn’t improved over the S4 is still to be determined, however.

Samsung’s new bendable TVs
 

Weatherproofing 
There was no way to really test how worthy the water and dust-resistant features were (save for dumping a bottle of water on it?), but if the weatherproofing is half as good as Samsung claims it is, everyone wins.

Hardware Design 
The hardware design of the phone isn’t much better, or even different, than it has been in years’ past. If you like it, you like it. (I don’t.) The texture and material used on the back is much improved and makes the phone feel less cheap when you’re holding it, but the colors to choose from are mildly depressing. And when it comes to size and pocketability, at this point, everyone should already know what they’re getting into when they buy a 5-inch phone. The Galaxy S5 is big, but it’s not completely unwieldy.

Software Design 
Samsung’s TouchWiz UI is back in its same fundamental form, but it does look better, visually speaking. Fonts and icons generally look cleaner, but everything is still organized in the same manner as past TouchWiz iterations. That said, it doesn’t seem like a huge improvement over anything offered up by the likes of Google (GOOG, Fortune 500),Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500), Nokia (NOK), or even HTC. And Samsung still hasn’t done much to improve the experience running two apps side-by-side.

Heart Rate Monitor 
I mean, I guess it’s cool Samsung put this on the phone? It doesn’t detract from anything at all, but this sensor definitely seems more useful in its new Gear Fit wearable.

At the very least, many of the features included in the Galaxy S5 have more potential than the new features included in last year’s model. To what extent that potential is realized will take a little more hands-on time however.

-David Gilinsky

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Apple’s ludicrous demand in next trial: Samsung must pay $40 per smartphone – David Gilinsky

drew_dslr / flickr

Smartphone giants Apple and Samsung are hurtling towards a second patent showdown. Another trial, covering newer products like the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III, is scheduled to start March 31.

In 2012, Apple won a $1 billion patent and trademark verdict against Samsung, although that sum was reduced to less than $900 million after a re-trial on damages. In the upcoming trial, newly revealed documents indicate that Apple is looking for a patent royalty rate that would allow it to collect billion-dollar sums from Samsung every year—for just five patents. According to patent blogger Florian Mueller, the five patents at issue cover Apple’s phone tapping number feature, unified search, data synchronization, slide-to-unlock, and autocomplete.

Yesterday, Mueller published a hearing transcript from Feb. 10, which featured each side’s lawyers arguing to limit or throw out the other side’s expert report.

We already know the result of that hearing. On Feb. 25, US District Judge Lucy Koh issued anorder throwing out much of Samsung’s expert report while allowing Apple’s. The massive damage numbers are in, and the $40-per-phone demand, or something close to it, will go to the jury.

During the hearing, Apple’s lawyer argued that Samsung should be stopped from presenting certain licensing data to the jury. Samsung’s lawyer argued that was key evidence to show out out-of-whack Apple’s demand was.

“The only reason Apple is bringing this motion is because the licensing data is completely inconsistent with the idea that anyone would pay $40 for five smartphone patents per unit,” said Samsung lawyer Scott Watson, according to the transcript. “Apple shouldn’t be permitted to just throw up a huge number and then sit down and we’ve got our hands tied and we can’t even show the jury that it’s totally disproportionate to what actually happens in the marketplace.” 

In a case against Motorola involving one of the same patents, Apple said it was worth 60 cents, pointed out Watson. “In this case, they’re asking for $12.49 for it,” he noted. “And I submit there’s simply no Federal Circuit case, or even a district court case, where a court has excluded a license on the exact patents at issue… and the jury is not permitted to see that, and the defendant has to go to trial with no licensing evidence to show the jury at all.”

Samsung also wanted to show licensing deals with HTC as a comparison. But Apple lawyer Rachel Krevans pointed out that Apple wouldn’t have been willing to accept HTC-like rates from Samsung, which is now one of just two huge players in the smartphone business. Between them, Apple and Samsung earn most of the profits in smartphones worldwide.

“HTC is not one of the horses in the two-horse race,” Krevans said. “There is no showing that has been made that any of these terms would have been terms that would have been acceptable in a hypothetical negotiation.”

Part of the reason the Apple numbers are so high is that Apple is being allowed to incorporate data about what it believes are its “lost profits” into the royalty rate. Koh agreed with that approach in her order, saying it’s squarely in line with Federal Circuit precedent.

The big picture

Samsung sold almost 320 million smartphones last year. If Samsung had to pay Apple’s desired royalty rate on just 10 percent of those phones, that would be a $1.28 billion annual payment.

Microsoft patent licenses to Android phone makers have reportedly been in the $7.50 to $15 per phone range, with lower estimates hanging around $5 per phone. As Mueller points out in his post on the royalty demands, those fees are for a license to a wide portfolio of patents, not just five patents being hotly litigated in court.

Eventually, Apple and Samsung are going to have to settle their dispute. At the end of the day, Apple likely won’t get what it’s asking for, and the never-ending court battles are very likely to cost more than they’re worth. But there’s a steadfast belief in Cupertino, still seemingly cemented by Steve Jobs’ statements, that Android unfairly copied Apple.

Apple wants judicial “facts on the ground”—signposts that it has won victories in the patent war and could keep winning them if it so chooses. It wants to negotiate a deal from the strategic high ground. Actually kicking Samsung phones off the market appears to be a distant-looking dream. Just last week, Koh rejected the idea of an injunction for the second time. Not to mention, the trials will continue to inevitably be over old products, as the pace of litigation just can’t keep up with the engineering. (The new trial isn’t going to cover the Galaxy S IV, as much as Apple would like that, nor the iPhone 5S.) Still, if another trial ends with an eye-popping, headline-grabbing verdict, Apple will feel it can label Samsung in the public mind as a copyist and a knockoff artist; and it could negotiate a licensing regime that will put its chief competitor at a permanent disadvantage. 

It’s also possible to earn a lot of money by convincing Android OEMs to pay patent royalties, as Microsoft has shown. One analyst estimates Microsoft is getting $2 billion per year in patent payments over Android.

Refinements, additions, and un-breaking stuff: iOS 7.1 reviewed – David Gilinsky

Time to update! iOS 7.1 is here, and it fixes a lot of iOS 7.0’s biggest problems.
Aurich Lawson

There were about six months between the ouster of Scott Forstall from Apple in late October of 2012 and the unveiling of iOS 7.0 in June of 2013. Jony Ive and his team redesigned the software from the ground up in that interval, a short amount of time given that pretty much everything in the operating system was overhauled and that it was being done under new management. The design was tweaked between that first beta in June and the final release in mid-September, but the biggest elements were locked in place in short order.

iOS 7.1’s version number implies a much smaller update, but it has spent a considerable amount of time in development. Apple has issued five betas to developers since November of 2013, and almost every one of them has tweaked the user interface in small but significant ways. It feels like Apple has been taking its time with this one, weighing different options and attempting to address the harshest criticism of the new design without the deadline pressure that comes with a major release.

We’ve spent a few months with iOS 7.1 as it has progressed, and as usual we’re here to pick through the minutiae so you don’t have to. iOS 7.1 isn’t a drastic change, but it brings enough new design elements, performance improvements, and additional stability to the platform that it might just win over the remaining iOS 6 holdouts.

Performance

 

iOS 7.1 doesn’t improve benchmark scores relative to iOS 7, but it still introduces a small but significant change that will make all iOS devices feel much faster. The animation durations that we complained about in the original release have all been significantly shortened, and that by itself is enough to relieve much of iOS 7’s sluggishness. Some of the slower iOS devices used these animations to mask application load times, but on faster hardware, the animations almost always took longer to complete than the app took to start up.

 

iOS 7.0.3 was a first step toward fixing this issue for people who knew which settings to tweak. Going into the Accessibility Options and toggling “reduce motion” originally just disabled the parallax effect used on the home screen and throughout the operating system, but version 7.0.3 also disabled the sweeping animations used to transition from app to app. In its place was a crossfade effect that was less flashy but demonstrably faster.

 
 
iOS 7.0.6 and iOS 7.1 on the iPhone 5. The faster animations make the OS feel zippier. Music credit: “Pinball Spring” by Kevin MacLeod.

 
 
iOS 7.0.6 and iOS 7.1 on a first-generation iPad mini. Notice both the faster animations and the revised, cleaner pinch-to-Home animation. Music credit: “Show Your Moves” by Kevin MacLeod.

iOS 7.1 solves this problem for people who don’t tweak their devices’ settings or for people who like the way the animations look but not how they feel. The “reduce motion” setting still kills these animations in iOS 7.1, but the change is now purely cosmetic and offers no performance benefit.

Otherwise, iOS 7.1 remains fluid and usable even on older Apple A5-based devices like the iPhone 4S, fifth-generation iPod Touch, and the original iPad Mini. There are some actions that consistently produce stutters or dropped frames, and you’ll notice a big step up if you move from something with an A5 in it to something with an A7 in it. Still, the experience is significantly better than it is on the iPhone 4 (though even the iPhone 4 behaves better under iOS 7.1, as we’ve examined in this separate post).

Battery life

Note: these scores are not comparable to the scores in the iOS 7.0 review. The test has been modified since then.

In the move from iOS 6.1 to iOS 7.0, we observed a statistically significant drop in battery life—the iPhone 5 was the biggest loser, while everything else was down just a little bit. The move from iOS 7.0 to 7.1 doesn’t make as much of a difference. Our Wi-Fi browsing test measured both small gains and small losses, but most of these scores are different by just two or three percent, which we’d consider to be within the margin of error.

The first-generation iPad mini is the only one to lose a significant amount of runtime in our test—it gets about 10 percent less life out of a single charge. We’ll be running the test again to verify this particular data and will update this article if we see different results. In the meantime, it’s probably safe to say that unless something is wrong with your hardware, you’ll get about the same battery life out of iOS 7.1 that you got from 7.0.

Stability improvements

Apple’s release notes say that iOS 7.1 fixes crashing problems for iPhone 5S users, the same crashes that the company commented on way back in January. It’s rare for Apple to acknowledge these kinds of problems beforehand or to promise fixes ahead of time, so the company must be confident that the problem has been fixed.

What Apple doesn’t mention is that similar crashes have also affected both the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini. The common factor here is the new 64-bit A7 chip, which on these three devices runs a 64-bit build of iOS and 64-bit versions of all of Apple’s built-in apps (and a small-but-growing number of third-party ones). These 64-bit apps can be expected to consume around 20 or 30 percent more memory than their 32-bit counterparts, but the iPhone 5S and both 64-bit iPads both ship with the same 1GB of RAM that their predecessors did.

The results were predictable: crashes on both the iPhone 5S and the 64-bit iPads are almost always associated with low memory errors. Pulling the logs from any given 64-bit iOS 7.0 device reveals at least a few of these crashes—below is the error list from Senior Reviews Editor Lee Hutchinson’s iPhone 5S and a Retina iPad mini on loan from Apple. Both are running iOS 7.0.6.

-David Gilinsky

 

The maker of Candy Crush could be the most profitable tech company to go public since Facebook – David Gilinsky

Addictive. Reuters/Carlo Allegri

 

King, the Swedish company behind the insanely addictive Candy Crush mobile game, is firming up its IPO plans. This morning it released an updated regulatory filing, setting the price range for the offering, which implies a valuation of up to $7.6 billion for the business.

But before jumping to conclusions about what this says about the increasingly frothy-looking valuations among new tech companies, it’s worth pointing out that King is not just profitable; it’s highly profitable. The company made $568 million in real money last year.

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 9.32.42 AM

By way of comparison, Zynga, the company behind Farmville and Words with Friends, whose share price has struggled since its 2011 IPO, lost $37 million in 2013, while EA Sports, which makes the video games Madden NFL and FIFA, made $98 million in the 12 months prior to March 2013. Among recent high-profile tech IPOs, Twitter and Groupon remain in loss-making mode and LinkedIneked out a $15-million profit the year before it went public. You have to go back to Facebook (which made $1 billion in 2011) to find a more profitable tech company than King before going public, in nominal dollar terms, according to a list provided to Quartz by Dealogic.

How does King make money? Its addictive games are free to download and use, but it generates revenue by selling “virtual items” to players who are seeking to “enhance their entertainment experience”—for example, if a player gets stuck on a certain level, she can buy boosters to progress or unlock new episodes. Only about 5% of its user base choose this option, but it had more than 400 million monthly active users last month.

King’s profit last year was dramatic increase from the $7.8 million it made in 2012. Which goes some way toward highlighting the real risk facing the company. Candy Crush Saga, released in November of that year, was an enormous hit. But will the company be able to replace it?

As of today, three of the company’s apps (Candy Crush, Farm Heroes Saga and Pet Rescue Saga) are listed in the top-10 high-grossing iOS apps by App Annie, which suggests that it is developing a track record. King argues in its filing that it has an “unparalleled” development process for new games, which involves testing with its most engaged users on its desktop site before new games are rolled out on Facebook and mobile. This, it says, helps the company “develop games faster, at lower risk and at lower cost than our competitor.”

Will the company be able to keep churning out hits? The market will be the ultimate judge.

Watch out, world: The Americans are coming back – David Gilinsky

If you’ve noticed a dearth of the usual loud-mouthed American tourists in London’s Trafalgar Square, Florence’s Ponte Vecchio, or Tokyo’s Shibuya crossing, you’ve seen the trend. US travel overseas is down sharply from its peak in 2009. However, after slow growth last year, the US is poised to send more Americans overseas in 2014 than it has in four years.

US-overseas-travelers-previous-12-months-toatl_chartbuilder

Increased international travel is a boon for airlines, and a reflection of an improving American and international economy. US airlines will carry nearly a million more passengers abroad in 2014 than in 2013—a 5.6% increase—according to Airlines for America, the main industry group. Domestic routes are expected to see no increase.

UK-France-Italy-Dominican-Rep-Spain-India-Philippines_chartbuilderIf trends from previous years continue, the number of Americans traveling to France, Italy, and the UK will continue to increase, reversing the declines during the late 2000s.

Travel to the Dominican Republic and the Philippines has also increased quite a bit in recent years and could continue into 2014. In 2012, more Americans traveled to the Caribbean nation than to France or Italy.

In 2013, the largest increases in overseas travel were to Europe, the Caribbean, and Central America. (Statistics by country aren’t yet available.)

How Starbucks’ new mobile payments feature gets around the guilt-tipping problem – David Gilinsky

Who knows, you might even tip more when you’re relaxing in an easy chair. Reuters/Andrew Winning

 

Remarkably, though paying with your mobile phone has been possible for years at Starbucks, tipping with it hasn’t. The coffee giant is finally rectifying that, with an update to its mobile payment service that includes the ability to add a tip; it will roll out on iPhones in the US next week.

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The change, says Linda Mills, a company spokeswoman, will apply to Starbucks’ own mobile app, which lets customers pay using the balance on a Starbucks loyalty card, but not to the wallet app from online-payments firm Square, which handles credit and debit-card payments for various retailers, Starbucks among them.

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In some ways, the tipping feature will work like it does on other payment services, like Square: Users will be prompted to tip either nothing, $0.50, $1, or $2, at the push of a button. But Starbucks is also doing things a bit differently. Rather than prompting for a tip when you pay, it will instead nudge you with a mobile notification after the fact. “Once you leave, you’ll receive a push notification—or not, if you’ve already disabled that feature,” company spokeswoman Linda Mills told Quartz. There’ll be a two-hour window for adding a tip to the transaction. (Square Wallet already offers a similar window at other retailers.)

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Starbucks tipping

This dodges some of the manipulative subtleties inherent in many other services—namely, it doesn’t guilt customers into tipping in front of a server or cashier. That could make tipping more merit-based. It also helps speed things up; customers won’t linger at the counter while contemplating whether to tip or not to tip.

If there’s any worry, it’s that this could lead to a drop-off in tipping. Customers will be able to put off forking over an extra dollar or two until the two-hour window is up, and it’s no longer an option.

Unlike many restaurants, however Starbucks pays its employees more than the minimum wage, which means they aren’t as dependent on tips. That gives Starbucks the leeway to experiment. “This is new for us. It will be interesting to see how customers respond,” Mills said. And Starbucks will, at the very least, have a hefty sample size to cull from. More than 10 million people use its mobile app, which accounts for over 11% of its weekly transactions.