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Bill Bennett

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Electronics giant Samsung sells more mobile phones than any other company and is the Android champion.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 review: Impressive, pricey, useful

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold2 is good enough to be the breakthrough taking folding phones in the mainstream.

Or at least it would be if not for the NZ$3500 asking price. Few people reading this can afford to pay that much for a phone. And few of those who can pay need the phone.

For almost everyone, it is a Ferrari option. That is: nice to look at, fun to own, hideously expensive and more show off than practical.

Even Samsung admits this is a luxury item. At last week’s product demonstration a company executive used the giveaway term: “status symbol”. That tells you everything you need to know.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2

Useful

There is a practial argument for buying the Fold2. The bigger screen means you can read more and do more work than on an everyday phone. It’s like an iPad mini that you can stick in your pocket. You can’t argue that this isn’t useful.

Whether it is NZ$3500 of useful is another question entirely.

At a pinch you can use the Fold2 as a laptop replacement. It works with Samsung’s DeX set-up.

Samsung stumbled with its first folding phone. The original Galaxy Fold showed what was possible. Then the stylish Galaxy Z Flip built on that.

We have seen three, more if you count the missteps, iterations of Samsung folding phones. The Galaxy Z Fold2 is the most impressive to date.

Galaxy Z Fold2 updates earlier Fold

The Fold2 brings three obvious advances over original Fold.

First, it feels far more robust in your hands. In particular, the screen can take more punishment. The Galaxy Z Fold2 is not a phone to take on a building site or anywhere the going gets tough, but it will take a lot more rough handling than the earlier Fold.

There is no longer a feeling that you are one small user error away from throwing $3,500 of non-functioning phone in the landfill.

The second advance is related. The hinge design is much improved. There’s a solid, positive feel when you open the phone. More snap when you close it. The original Fold could be open or shut, but positions somewhere between the two were not practical. You can keep the Fold2 part open, if that’s useful.

Advance number three is the much bigger front screen. You can now do many everyday phone things without unfolding the phone.

Bookish

In practice this front screen is like the cover of a small book. It has a 6.2-inch display with 2260 by 816 pixels in a long, thin 25:9 ratio. A thickish bezel runs down the left hand side, it’s part of the hinge. Otherwise the front screen runs edge to edge.

While a closed Fold2 is a lot like an everyday phone, it isn’t exactly like one. It is hard to type on the keyboard because the display is too narrow. I found myself giving up and opening the device if I needed to type more than a handful of characters.

This revealed one of the neatest aspects of the Fold2’s software. It depends on the specific application, not all do this, but often software on the inner screen can take you to the exact point you were on the outer screen before opening the case.

Inside the case is a 7.6-inch screen with 2208 by 1768 pixels. It is much squarer, in a 22.5:18 ratio. There are thin bezels around the edge. In the case of the review model, the edge is a metallic copper colour. Samsung calls this ’mystic bronze’.

When you fold out the phone, the screen can lay flat. You can see the fold, but it doesn’t get in the way at all. At first this looks like a big deal, but soon, you’ll find your brain ignores it.

It’s possible, with the right software to fold the phone to use it like a tiny clamshell laptop.

You need big pockets

Apart from the prestige and status, the big selling point of the Fold2 is that it can fold up and fit in a pocket. You need large pockets in both senses of that term. This fold and carry idea may not even work at all with the pockets on women’s clothing, although jackets should cope.

When folded it is a lot bigger than any other phone. And at 282g it is heavy by phone standards. It is not a comfortable to live with as a standard phone. Let’s put that another way: you’ll never carry one of these and forget that it is there.

Samsung packs five cameras in the Fold2. On the outside is a 10 megapixel ‘selfie’ camera. There’s a similar camera on the inside screen. The back has three 12 megapixel cameras. There’s an ultra-wide angle camera, a wide angle and a telephoto.

You wouldn’t buy a Fold2 for the cameras. They are not as good as the options on other high-end Samsung phones. In practice I found them harder to use, thanks to the physical form of the folding device.

Is it worth it?

You can buy a lot of technology elsewhere for $3500. That is enough for a great phone and a great laptop. There are people who like the idea of owning a head-turning phone. It would be, in effect, like buying jewellery.

When opened, a tablet-format Fold2 is roughly the size of an iPad mini. It’s a useful product to compare. The iPad mini has a large 7.9-inch display and at 2048 by 1536, about 20 percent fewer pixels. It is a touch harder to carry, few pockets can take an iPad Mini. And yet, you can buy five iPad Minis for the cost of a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2.

There’s a lot to like about the Galaxy Z Fold2. It’s impressive and has that living in the future feel that you no longer get from other phone models. From a strictly impractical personal point of view I love this device, but I can’t justify buying one. Nor can I recommend it to you, but you should try to get a closer look at one.

Phone sales stay ugly in second quarter

Gartner says phone sales were down 20 percent in the second quarter of 2020. These numbers mirror the first quarter as the pandemic rages on.

Phone makers shipped a total of 295 million phones world wide in the second quarter. This compares with 370 million phones in the same period a year earlier.

Samsung and Huawei are neck and neck for first place. Both companies sold a fraction under 55 million phones. Apple remains third.

Shifting shares

The relative positions hide a huge shift in performance. Samsung saw a 27 percent decline in units sold during the quarter. Huawei’s numbers dropped almost seven percent. Meanwhile Apple sales were flat. AWhich means the market shares have moved around with Apple being the winner.

Lesser phone brand Xiaomi, which we don’t often see in New Zealand had a 21 percent drop in sales. Oppo, which we do see in New Zealand, but not much, experienced a 16 percent drop in sales.

Gartner says Samsung’s new S Series phones did nothing to revive its business. Huawei did OK in China, it has a 42 percent market share in its home country. Without a strong performance there, it would have seen a Samsung-like drop.

Apple did best

In relative numbers Apple did better than its rivals in both the first and second quarter. Part of the reason for that was the lower cost iPhone SE which attracted upgraders from old iPhones.

There’s a lot of talk and analysis linking the sales drop to Covid-19. It’s true lockdowns and precautions are behind a shift from mobility to home working. Yet phone sales were already in decline.

Some analysts believed the arrival of 5G networks would trigger a fresh wave of phone buying. The faster mobile technology has its charms, but there is no incentive to buy a phone to download data faster. 4G is more than enough for every popular practical mobile application.

NZ Tech Podcast: New kit, Huawei chip woes, TCF report

I’m back on the NZ Tech Podcast with Paul Spain. We discuss the latest tech news including current geopolitical matters impacting Chinese firms and share thoughts on new devices including the Samsung Note 20 Ultra, Jabra Evolve2 65 bluetooth headset, Jabra Panacast conferencing camera, Microsoft Surface Go 2 – and a prerelease first look at Huawei’s newest laptop; the MateBook 13.

New tech – Samsung, Jabra, Microsoft and Huawei – NZ Tech Podcast

Huawei handset sales pass Samsung

Huawei phonesReuters reports: Huawei overtakes Samsung as top handset maker thanks to robust China sales

China’s Huawei Technologies snatched the title of biggest smartphone seller from Samsung Electronics in the second quarter, underscoring the resilience of the China market even as global demand for phones plunged amid the pandemic.

Huawei shipped 55.8 million devices in the April-June period, trumping Samsung’s 53.7 million, according to data from research firm Canalys.

There’s not much in it and phone companies can, sometimes do,  manipulate ‘shipping’ data. Numbers for China are notoriously rubbery.

Yet Huawei snatching the phone sales crown from Samsung marks an important turning point. Five years ago at the Huawei P8 phone launch in Singapore, consumer business group CEO Richard Yu told me his goal was to beat Samsung.

Beat Samsung, challenge Apple

Yu also said Huawei plans to challenge Apple. Samsung may have been the best selling phone brand, but Apple is the one that makes all the money and is recognised by its rivals as the leader. That’s another story.

What’s remarkable about Huawei passing Samsung this year is the company can’t sell a thing in the US, one of the largest markets. It is also hamstrung by US sanctions that mean it can’t use new American-made technology from companies like Google or Microsoft. Most important of all, this means Android.

The pandemic could have been another barrier between Huawei and its phone sales ambition. Covid-19 hit China hard early on and disrupted the country’s supply chains.

Huawei made it to the top rank on the back of dominating sales in China, the world’s biggest phone market.

It’s not all good news for Huawei. The company’s phone sales were down five percent when compared with the same period a year ago. Meanwhile Samsung sales fell 30 percent. Huawei’s non-China sales fell by almost as much: 27 percent.

It’s likely normal service will be resumed when markets recover from the pandemic. Samsung can press home its Android advantage. The company has moved closer to Google since the US pushed its main rival away from the search giant.

There’s a possibility the lack of Android and Google services has yet to sink in with Huawei’s non-China customers.

Yet for now, we can let Huawei enjoy reaching its long-held goal.

 

Above Avalon on Apple pulling away from competitors

Apple Installed Base (Number of Users)
Apple Installed Base (Number of Users)

For the second year in a row, Apple held a developers conference that should frighten its competitors. Relying on a nearly maniacal obsession with the user experience, Apple is removing oxygen from every market that it plays in.

At the same time, the tech landscape is riddled with increasingly bad bets, indifference, and a lack of vision. Apple is pulling away from the competition to a degree that we haven’t ever seen before.

Source: Above Avalon: Apple Is Pulling Away From the Competition

Above Avalon analyst Neil Cybart says Apple is stealing a march on other technology companies. He says the company has made long-term decisions that mean its rivals will struggle to catch up.

The story needs to be read through a careful filter. Cybart writes about the company both from an investment point of view and from a Silicon Valley perspective.

This doesn’t necessarily make his analysis biased or wrong, it isn’t,  but it can lack broader context.

Coherence

Cybart’s main idea is that Apple has pulled now all its strands together. The range of products and services has a new coherence and a clear direction.

This, according to Cybart, comes at a time when rivals are weakening.

Together these two trends have set up conditions that will move the company even further ahead of rivals over the next decade.

He makes a good case. Yet there are flaws in this line of thinking. Maybe flaw is too strong. Let’s say questions.

Samsung lack of vision

In the middle of the web post Cybart lists the ways Apple is beating key rival technology companies. He, rightly, notes that Samsung “remains rudderless from a product vision perspective.”

While that’s true, Samsung is a major component supplier to Apple and other hardware companies. If you look closely at Samsung’s financials, it’s clear the areas that compete with Apple are not central to Samsung’s profits.

The areas where the two companies co-operate are more important to Samsung.

Cybart correctly dismisses Google and Amazon as direct rivals. In the greater scheme of things their hardware products are inconsequential. Yet both remain on growth trajectories that could yet pose a threat to Apple.

Microsoft hardware

Microsoft’s hardware move has failed to alter the balance of power between Macs or iPads and Windows hardware. Cybart is right on the money when he says Surface mainly takes business away from Microsoft’s Windows partners.

Yet like Amazon and, to a lesser degree Google, Microsoft is powering ahead with cloud computing. These companies are building a significant digital world where Apple doesn’t play.

This is not a criticism of Cybart’s story. He is on the money as far as personal computer hardware and its immediate successor technologies are concerned. Apple does look set to dominate.

Beyond this there are parallel markets where Apple is, at best a bit player. These markets interact with Apple’s market. In the future they may interact in ways that are not yet clear.

Shorn of context, Apple is powering ahead. But let’s not forget Amazon and Microsoft are also powering ahead. Technology is not a simple zero-sum game.