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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

In February I posted a short note about the then forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. This week I got my hands on one.

It is by far the best foldable phone I’ve seen to date. There’s a satisfying feel to the way it folds.

The way the screen copes with being folded again and again is also satisfying. When you hold and fold the Galaxy Z Flip you are not left wondering if you are dealing with classy engineering.

Impressive

The Flip is technically impressive, cool looking and fun to use. Sadly these three qualities do not necessarily make a great phone.

Mind you, no-one can accuse the Galaxy Z Flip of being boring.

Nor can you accuse it of being cheap.

You could spend the NZ$2400 Samsung asks for the Flip elsewhere, even with Samsung1, and get better value for your money.

The cost of folding

Samsung’s much vaunted foldability adds about NZ$1200 to the device price. Which would be fine. Yet it turns out being able to fold the Flip is not always a huge benefit.

Yes, the neatly folded square is about half the length of and the same width as other premium phones. It also happens to be twice the depth.

In other words, the Flip occupies the same volume of pocket space as any other phone. The difference is that Flip redistributes the volume.

It’s fine in the jacket pockets and loose trouser pockets that might otherwise contain a normal size phone. It’s a problem in the tighter pockets that would struggle with bigger phones.

So while folding could be helpful, it might not always be NZ$1200 worth of helpful.

Samsung Galaxy Flip shown with Apple IPhone 7 for size comparison

Flipping futuristic

Despite all of this, I find myself liking the Flip more and more. It feels right. It also feels futuristic.

Let’s not discount that emotive and subjective response. When you buy a phone you commit to spending a lot of time with the device, you don’t want it to not feel right.

One aspect of being able to open and shut a phone is the distance this activity puts between you and the device. This can be positive or negative.

Most of the time I like the fact that it requires more effect to respond to every incoming stimulus. On the other hand, you can’t surreptitiously glance at the screen without others noticing.

The Galaxy Z Flip has been around for months. You can find plenty of in depth reviews elsewhere. Look harder and you’ll find some long term test drives. For what it’s worth here are my observations:

Screen:

The display is tall and narrow. When you turn it sideways to watch a movie you get black bars unless you watch a widescreen version.

In everyday use the crease stays out of the way although I wouldn’t go as far as to say you don’t notice it. You will, but your eyes and brain adjust so it is less of an issue.

Yet, you constantly feel it with your fingers. There’s also a shallow dip at the top above the selfie camera.

External display:

When the phone is folded there is a tiny display on the outside. You can see the time and date without opening the phone. That turns out to be more useful than you might imagine if you don’t wear a watch.

The small screen will show remaining battery life. I’m not convinced that’s much help.

There are notifications on the small screen. They wizz past fast. Often before you can read them.

By double tapping the power button, you can take pictures with the camera without opening the phone. When you do this, the tiny external display works as a selfie viewfinder.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip closed showing small screen

Durability:

Open or shut, there’s a solid feel to the Galaxy Z Flip. It seems robust enough to take the kind of treatment we usually mete out to phones.

Unlike almost every other modern phone you can buy in 2020 there is no water or dust resistance. This could be a problem for many potential buyers.

I also found dirt, pocket fluff and even hair could get trapped in the fold. It’s not clear what that might mean over the long haul. In the short term it isn’t a problem.

Camera:

Phone makers usually make a great song and dance about the cameras on their phones. There’s a feeling in the industry that people choose cameras rather than phones. I’m not convinced of that. Some will. Others won’t.

Samsung has used the same camera technology as the Galaxy S10. It’s good, but not up there with, say, the iPhone 11. Few people will buy the Samsung Galaxy Flip for the camera.

Verdict

Samsung has got screen folding technology right with the Galaxy Z Flip. You get a phone that looks and feels a little ahead of its time. On paper you might not get a huge amount of phone for the price, in practice this matters less than you might expect.

After a few days with the Flip I found myself coming back to it again and again. Yep, I’d like one of these. But there is one problem that I’m saving for another post.


  1. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is $200 cheaper but does more. ↩︎

Vissles wireless charger

One of the earliest memories I have of school is our headmaster coming into our class on occasion and reading stories from his Rudyard Kipling book that must have been as old as he was.

My favourite to this day was “The Elephants Child” and I can still hear the headmaster’s perfect diction when saying words like Limpopo like it was the last thing he’d ever say.

What has that got to do with reviewing an accessory you might say? Well, other than adding a bit of colour to a pretty vanilla product, this review also has a pretty major elephant. We will get to that later.

The product in question is the Vissles Wireless Charger, which is unsurprisingly, a wireless charger.

One charger to power them all

Its main point of difference is that it does something that Apple can’t; it allows you to charge your AirPods, Apple Watch and iPhone with the one accessory. The party piece for this charger is that it only requires one external power connection to charge all three devices.

The actual device is about the size and shape of an iPhone 11 Max if the designer had recently discovered rounded corners and decided to go all in. It’s finished with a futurist white plastic gloss, which should fit in with most decors, if that is your thing.

There is no actual charger supplied, so I’m assuming Vissles decided you’d use your existing Apple Watch charger, which is fair.

The Vissles charger also requires you to insert your Apple Watch cable into its housing. This is also fine, but in my case my Apple Watch cable was about 1 meter too long, so I couldn’t use it. Just be aware of this if you have a long Apple Watch charging cable.

As far as using the charger goes, it does what it says on the box. Charging three devices on something that looks like a surfboard from Star Wars is genuinely gratifying and potentially space saving as well.

Fumble-free

I particularly enjoyed not having to fumble around looking for a charge cable to poke into the bottom on my phone, and being able to have somewhere for my AirPods to “dock” permanently while charging. I can’t fault the Vissles Wireless Charger at all from a form and function point of view.

However, I promised an elephant and here it is: I just can’t workout who this accessory is for?

Sure it’s slightly annoying fumbling around for the free charge cable that came with my phone or headphones. It’s great having a central charging station, but is it something you really need? I guess that’s not for me to decide. If you think you do, then this accessory will fulfil your brief very well.

This review was written by Timaru-based James Sugrue. Who describes himself as coder, author, hardware tinkerer, father, husband and geek. James does a bit of motorsport too.

A survey conducted by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner found that two-third of New Zealanders want more privacy regulation.

Less than a third of those surveyed are happy with things as they stand. Six percent of New Zealanders would like to see less regulation.

Women are more likely to want more privacy than men. The survey found Māori are more likely to be very concerned about individual privacy than others.

Business sharing private data

In general, New Zealanders are most concerned about businesses sharing personal information without permission. Three quarters of the sample worry about this. Almost as many, 72 percent, have concerns about theft of banking details. The same number has fears about the security of online personal information.

The use of facial recognition and closed circuit TV technology is of concern to 41 percent.

UMR Research conducted the survey earlier this year. It interviewed 1,398 New Zealanders.

The survey results appeared a week after Parliament passed the 2020 Privacy Act. They show the public is in broad support of the way New Zealand regulates privacy.

Most of the changes to the Privacy Act bring it up to date. Parliament passed the previous Act in 1993 as the internet moved into the mainstream. There have been huge technology changes since then.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says the legislation introduces mechanisms to promote early intervention and risk management by agencies rather than relying on people making complaints after a privacy breach has already happened.

Mandatory notification

An important part of the new Act is mandatory privacy breach notification.

If an organisation or company has a breach that poses a risk, they are now required by law to notify the Privacy Commissioner and tell anyone affected.

The new Act also strengthens the role of the Privacy Commissioner.

The commissioner can issue a compliance notice telling data users to get their act together and comply with the Act. If they don’t, the commissioner can fine them up to $10,000.

Another update is when a business or organisation deals with a New Zealander’s private data overseas. They must ensure whoever gets that information has the same level of  protection as New Zealand.

The rules apply to anyone. They don’t need to have a New Zealand physical presence. Yes, that means companies like Facebook.

There are also new criminal offences. It’s now a crime to destroy personal information if someone makes a request for it.

quibi

Quibi is the blockbuster streaming video service that you probably never heard of.

There is one big idea behind Quibi: that you want to watch small up-to–10 minute video shows on your phone.

Yeah, me neither.

And as it turns out, that’s most people’s reaction.

The weird name is a contraction of Quick Bites.

Like Netflix only shorter

Quibi’s founders hoped it would be to short form video what Netflix is to video. Early on in the project the founders suggested Quibi would become a verb, the way Google is sometimes used.

It exists as a phone app, the kind that you load and then start paying a monthly subscription. The official price in the US is on a par with the cost of Netflix. You can pay less and get ads served up with your video clips. I’m amazed anyone would pay US$5 for such a service with advertising. But… Americans.

There’s a gimmick or special feature: You can watch everything in portrait or landscape mode on your phone, the app moves seamlessly between the two.

Well the people behind Quibi think that will pull in the punters.

There are dramas, documentaries, talk shows even movies served up in small ten minute segments.

Wall-to-wall celebrities

One of the keys is that almost everything features famous actors or other well known performers. It comes with high production values and wall-to-wall celebrities.

Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman started Quibi. Katzenberg is a film producer and was a founder of Dreamworks. Whitman was the former Hewlett-Packard CEO.

So far Quibi has spectacularly missed its targets. The goal was to get 7.5 million subscribers in the first year. At the moment it looks like it will get around 2 million at the end of its first year.

The 7.5 million target was fairly modest. Netflix has more than 180 million subscribers.

Now the US media is already writing Quibi’s obituary.

Quibi says it failed to meet targets because of the pandemic. But that’s odd because sales of other streaming video services have surged in that time.

Quibi crowded out

It is more likely that the quick bite format isn’t enough to grab audiences. Attention spans may be dropping, but it seems few people are willing to pay a Netflix-like price to fill in the odd spare moments of their lives with yet more video content.

There is an abundance of free, short-form video content. YouTube has more than you could ever watch. That doesn’t help Quibi.

The most likely way out of the dead end that Quibi has found itself in is for the service to switch to a more Netflix-style format. That means longer shows and putting the app on devices other than cellphones.

Although that is now a crowded space, there is still potential for a service with the right content.

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg

From yesterday 400 high profile brands including Coca-Cola and Starbucks pulled advertising from Facebook.

The month-long Stop hate for profit campaign wants Facebook to do a better job of dealing with hate speech, bigotry, racism, anti-semitism and calls for violence.

Some of the advertisers are also worried about Facebook’s promotion of wild conspiracy theories.

Facebook pushback

Other social media sites have faced similar advertiser pushback. But the focus a the moment is very much on Facebook which seems unwilling to tackle hate speech and far right extremism.

Stop hate for profit is a response to calls from civil right groups. Campaigners and members of the public have contacted brands when their advertising appears next to extremist material asking if they endorse the content.

Things moved up a gear following the George Floyd killing, the subsequent protests and the fast growth of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Among others things the advertisers want Facebook to give refunds to companies whose ads show up next to hate speech and other offensive comment.

Responsibility

They also want Facebook to take responsibility when people experience severe harassment online. This includes letting them speak to a Facebook employee. At the moment Facebook makes it hard for victims to contact the company.

According to media reports there were last minute talks between Facebook and large advertisers taking part in the campaign.

It turns our Facebook refused to budge, all the company would do was point at its recent press statements.

Now the boycott is underway there are calls for a new meeting. Apparently the advertisers have asked for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to face up to the meeting. It is clear that he calls the shots on these matters.

Facebook says Zuckerberg will attend a meeting next week.

It may not be conciliatory.

In a leaked address to Facebook staff Zuckerberg says: “We’re not going to change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue.”

He went on to say: “…my guess is all of these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough”.

Policy

Facebook has made some recent changes in policy. It says it plans to label content in the same way that Twitter has started doing. But it hasn’t said when it will do this.

It also says it uses artificial intelligence to remove hate speech. The implication in this language is that the AI is already working. Yet there seems little has changed in practice.

Zuckerberg’s confidence that Facebook can ride out the boycott isn’t just chest thumping. Social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are now the preferred route for big advertisers to reach mass markets. It has replaced TV advertising.

Dependency

Some of the biggest advertisers use Facebook to build their brand. Little long-term harm is done if branding stops for a month. Others sell direct. If they don’t advertise, their revenue dries up. A month of low revenue during a global pandemic that is already depressing sales would be hard to stomach.

What about Zuckerberg’s claim the boycott only affects a small percent of revenue?

Last year Facebook took $70 billion in advertising. About 20 percent of that comes from the top 100 advertisers. This group doesn’t necessarily align with the boycotters.

It turns out that only three of Facebooks biggest advertisers have joined the boycott. The company says if all the top 100 advertisers joined, revenue would only drop 6 percent. There are around 400 boycotters, so a ballpark estimate says revenue will be down around 10 percent for one month. That’s likely to be around one percent of annual revenue.

On that basis Zuckerberg’s claim is probably right.

And yet there’s more to this than a small one-off revenue drop.

Turning point?

Some in the advertising sector see the campaign as a turning point. It hits Facebook where it hurts most. There could be more to come.

In the past Facebook has dealt with criticism of its failure to deal with extreme content in two ways. First, it issues press releases outlining the action it is taking. As we can see, this approach no longer cuts it with many critics. There’s been a lot of talk but little evidence of real change.

The other tactic has been to zero in on the most visible and offensive recent outrage and mop it out. That gets headlines and creates the impression the company is doing something.

This week it banned 220 members of the Boogaloo movement who advocate violence. The group overlaps with neo-nazis and white supremacists, but some members are gun lobbyists.

With anything involving business, it helps to follow the money trail. It turns out Facebook’s investors are relaxed about the boycott. On Friday the company’s share price dropped eight percent when the news first broke.

Earlier today the price had recovered. It was down about one percent on Thursday. Given the price fluctuates anyway, that indicates no one at Facebook anticipates much change.