A Curved Screen Skeptic Takes a Closer Look

Sometimes it can be helpful to make a snap judgement on a particular innovation, just to keep from getting overwhelmed in today’s tech frenzy. For me, it was the curved screen that earned my instant skepticism. Cool? Sure. But I didn’t see the urgency; the flat screen still felt modern, delivered a wonderful picture and the joy of extra space gained from tossing the old box was still reasonably fresh in my mind. The curved screen struck me more as innovation for innovation’s sake, an upgrade designed for the upgrade-obsessed, and left me pondering if it was possible to run out of great ideas.
Then, when I realized the natural moment for my next phone upgrade was approaching, I found myself face-to-face with the Samsung Galaxy Edge. Lo, the curved screen was calling! But, before I could answer, I had to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. (And, yes, drop a few puns.)
This modern innovation—gimmick? innovation?—went beyond mobile phones, so I decided to start with large screens. When it came to curved televisions, it was easy to see that I wasn’t alone in my skepticism. Numerous reviews panned the “immersive” curved television display as a gimmick, while others pointed out that the curve could compromise viewing from certain angles. It’s not hard to imagine that if your reclining chair is over in that far corner, to the side of the TV, that curve is going to get in the way, but Casey Johnston of Ars Technica offered a rather detailed analysis of the field of view. It seemed that the curve most benefited from theater-style seating and, according to fellow skeptic Scott Kramer of Forbes, “You’d need a very large model — at least 70 inches — to really make the concept even work. Anything smaller and the vibrancy and immersion just aren’t compelling factors.” Cue Roy Schieder: “We’re going to need a bigger apartment.”
So my initial doubts about the curve seemed validated where TVs were concerned. Monitors, however, were a different story. The “immersive” benefits of curved screens fared better in the one-person-per-screen scenario, where you were less likely to be sitting off to the side while playing games and streaming.  As noted in this article, “the natural presentation and field of view supplied by these devices reduce neck and eye strain”, so there would be productivity benefits for the business environment as well. (Though both points make sense to me, as someone who is attached to the web for the better part of her waking hours, the thought of the telltale screen curving in closer and closer struck me as horror movie material.) But general receptivity to curved monitors aside, the fact that monitor sales, in general, are dipping along with PC sales means that they won’t likely be the driving force behind the curved revolution.
That led me back to mobile devices. Despite the buzz, curved mobile phones aren’t actually that common. Samsung was (ahem) ahead of the curve, with LG not far behind. And sure, it was a clear differentiator in a sea of iPhones, but could the curve do anything? Early curvers, Samsung Galaxy Round and LG Flex, opted for opposite approaches (side to side and head to toe body curves, respectively) and promised – yes – an immersive experience. The curved body also performed better in pocket, because it aligned better with the curve of the human form. The Edge had a different approach, with the display wrapping around the sides of the device. My first (skeptical) take was that the Edge chose style over function, but then I discovered that the extra real estate served a few functions beyond aesthetics, including a colored light indicator that could tell you who is calling when the phone is face down. Meanwhile, Cool? Sure. Urgent? Well…
At this point, I had reached the limits of online product research. The claim of the curve clearly went beyond specs, so I brought my skepticism to in-store, imagining the satisfaction of telling the Best Buy clerk that I was only doing research—I wasn’t someone who was taken in by innovation for innovation’s sake. Except that, when I reached the curved screen TVs and stood in front of their promotional solar system graphics, I couldn’t help myself: I nodded my head and my lips formed the word: “Immersive.” I was getting sucked in. By the time I reached the mobile section and plucked the Samsung Edge from its display podium, it struck me as mobile’s equivalent of an infinity pool. Cool. Serene. Desirable.
And this is where the aforementioned snap judgements come in handy. There is, simply, an incredible range of products to pine over today but, if you decide out of the gate that a particular innovation is a gimmick, it’s a lot easier to avoid that whispering want. As of the writing of this article, I have not (yet) upgraded my phone, and my television is still flat. But, I confess, I do see the appeal for the curved screen. Features and functions aside, its real strength is that it is a delight to view. And while “delight” doesn’t necessarily translate to urgency, that ever-important factor needed to drive up sales right this minute, isn’t that exactly what you want from something that’s designed to be viewed?

Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge: A new look for Samsung and a new wallet

We were expecting a major reboot of the Galaxy S line, and that’s what Samsung gave us Sunday night at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, in the form of the S6 and S6 Edge. The two new phones represent a major and stunning redesign of the Samsung line, but the changes weren’t just cosmetic. The biggest new technical feature to arrive in this Galaxy reboot was the much-anticipated mobile wallet Samsung Pay, which uses two different contactless transaction technologies to expand its reach far beyond that of any other mobile payment service.

Samsung has done away from the plastic cases that always characterized its phones and adopted Gorilla Glass front and back panels, which are then encased with a metal band. Also gone are Samsung’s removable battery and micro-SD card slot. The biggest cosmetic difference between the S6 and the S6 Edge is that the Edge has curved edges on both the front and back sides of the device.

Otherwise the two phones have almost identical specs. They both sport 5.1-inch Super AMOLED screens with 577 pixels per inch of resolution. They have an F1.9 lens in their 16-megapixel rear and 5-MP front cameras. They come with 3GB of RAM, and since they have no expandable memory slot, Samsung is selling the phones in three storage configurations ranging from 32 to 128GB.

The device Samsung unveiled at MWC in Barcelona used eight-core Exynos chip, but Samsung didn’t reveal any details about whether it would make a variant for the U.S. market. Qualcomm has supplied its Snapdragon processors to Galaxies in the past, but this Samsung may be making a switch. Qualcomm recently reported a key smartphone customer has dropped Snapdragon from its designs and Samsung has developed its own integrated LTE radio-application processor technology.

The S6 and SG Edge will be the first smartphones to use Samsung Pay, a contactless payments technology that’s intended to match [company]Apple[/company] Pay, but in reality will probably surpass it. That’s because Samsung isn’t just using near-field communications (NFC), which only works on newer terminals, but a special LoopPay-developed chip that generates a magnetic field that can be read by any point-of-sale terminal with a mag stripe reader.

Samsung also announced deals with Visa and MasterCard to support tokenized transactions the way Apple Pay does, as well specific partnerships with card-issuing banks like [company]Chase[/company], [company]Citi[/company], [company]Bank of America[/company] and [company]US Bank[/company] to support their plastic in Samsung Pay. The wallet will initially be available to customers in Korea and the U.S. this summer, shortly after the Galaxy S6es debut on April 10, but Samsung said it will expand to other regions.

Finally, the S6 and S6 Edge will be the first Galaxy smartphones with wireless charging build directly in, replacing the Qi charge covers Samsung used in the S5. These new devices won’t just support Qi, but chargers using from Power Matters Alliance technology as well.

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Algorithms that know when your phone is borked so your carrier can help

A company called Carrier IQ is trying to help mobile carriers serve their customers better by using machine learning algorithms to diagnose problems with their smartphone, such as poor battery performance or call quality. A smart use of the technology would be for carriers to get proactive in helping customers resolve their problems before they get annoyed enough to call customer service or, in an increasingly non-contractual industry, just go elsewhere without letting a carrier know they’re leaving. The holy grail of big data, after all, is to actually be able to be proactive.

Nokia loses mobile top spot. What does it have left?

After 14 years as the world’s biggest mobile phone maker, Nokia has lost the top spot to Korean rival Samsung. The question facing the Finnish company’s bosses now is whether they can ever regain the momentum they’ve lost.

E-books for smart kids on ‘dumb’ phones

Worldreader has already distributed over 75,000 e-books to students in sub-Saharan Africa. Now the literary nonprofit is launching an e-reading app designed for basic mobile phones.