I was lucky enough to get the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus on Monday on a time-limited loan for review purposes on Monday, which was just in time for me to have a good play with them before Tuesday night’s massive launch of Samsung’s new smartphones, new Tizen-powered watch and new VR headset.
Samsung’s new Notes are unquestionably the very best Android phones on the planet, despite the very excellent LG G3 phone that was first to bring premium Quad HD screens to the market, and which itself is still an excellent contender for anyone wanting one of the most premium Androids out there.
Stunningly large screens with Super AMOLED displays that trump even the awesome new displays of the two new iPhones, with Displaymate saying the Note 4’s 5.7-inch screen is the best it has ever seen, the Note 4 has a 5.7-inch display while the Note Edge has a 5.6-inch display with smoothly curved “edge” screen.
The Note 4, which will retail for $949 outright, finally has a metal rim around the frame, rather than plastic slapped with shiny chrome as was the case with the Galaxy S5, adding a bit of extra premium look to Samsung’s most premium Note 4 model.
Its stylus has 2048 pressure points promising the most natural “pen on paper” feel yet, and after having used endless numbers of pen-based Windows tablets since they were first launched, I can happily attest the Note 4 and Note Edge have the very best stylus input mechanisms I have ever seen.
Both run the very latest Android OS Kitkat 4.4.4, and both are due to get Android OS “L”, which might be 4.5 or could be 5.0, by the end of the year.
The Note 4 takes the Note 3 and simply upgrades it with the latest and greatest of everything, including fingerprint reader (but no waterproof capabilities as is the case with the Galaxy S5), and for Android fans represents a stunning Android phone you’ll find extremely hard to resist.
The Note Edge will be launched in Australia in November and will retail for $1249, with Australia one of the few countries Samsung is definitely launching the Edge into.
Exactly why every country on the planet isn’t going to get an Edge launch isn’t entirely clear aside from the fact it is Samsung’s most expensive phone yet, with Australians legendarily known for being early adopters of cutting edge technology, but whatever Samsung’s precise reasons are, Aussie who want an Edge, so to speak, are able to get one soon.
The Edge’s second screen, which is a curved section of the first screen, operates independently from the main screen interface. On this strip of a screen, you can have your most commonly used apps, you can have camera controls so there is nothing on the main screen obscured by icons, you can have SMS messages appearing on this strip, stock reports and other info, you can have the pause/play and other buttons when viewing digital media or listening to music along with the indicator showing how far you are into a particular file.
It’s really quite versatile and a genuine advance in giving a phone a useful yet minimal second screen that no other phone on the planet can match.
The second screen also has an SDK available to it so developers can use it to enhance their apps, with even games being made to be played on it.
The screen can be rubbed up and down like Aladdin’s Lamp when the phone is off, showing you the time and other details, with the screen also able to display information when placed into a case that otherwise covers the main screen when the case is closed.
Swiping your thumb left or right over the screen makes it cycle through a range of panels, and just the act of swiping this panel is absurdly fun – or at least it was when I was doing it again and again and again on the night whenever I came across one of the Edge phones on one of Samsung’s many demonstration tables.
Indeed, it makes you wonder when a future Galaxy Tab Edge will appear to give an added edge to Samsung’s tablet range – perhaps we’ll see it next year, especially if the Note Edge takes off and becomes truly popular.
Both phones also have Samsung’s famous multitasking capabilities for split screens and plenty more – they really are two excellent smartphones designed to not only give Apple as big a run for its money as Samsung can, but every other smartphone brand and maker on the planet.
Next up was Samsung’s Gear S watch, powered by its Tizen OS. The Gear S looks for all the world like a miniaturised 2-inch curved Galaxy S5 smartphone strapped to your wrist.
The curved display makes the phone much nicer to wear than had it been just a 2-inch rectangle and felt very nice on my wrist. The 3G sim slot lets you turn the smartwatch into an actual smartphone able to make and take its own calls and sms messages independently of any other phone, even though it is designed to work with Samsung’s Androids.
Incredibly the Gear S not only has its own highly functional and easy to use keyboard, which you can tap tap tap to get words and phrases out for emails and text messages, but you can even use the Swype-style method to slide out words with your fingers, a keyboard style I absolutely love (especially now that it is finally available for iOS 8), and which works incredibly well even on the 2-inch screen of a smartwatch.
A range of beautiful watch faces and fitness sensors are included, as are apps, although given my previous love of Casio’s calculator watches (I have owned dozens over the years), it was a tad surprising not to see any calculator apps installed as standard, although developers will quickly write any number of them in short order.
While the Gear S watch is a lot bigger than Apple’s Watch, the Gear S will have the advantage of coming out months in advance of Apple’s and at $449 (due November) will be of definite appear to those who want something more advanced than Google’s current crop of wrist vibration devices also known as Android Wear watches.
I was definitely impressed by Samsung’s Gear S watch, much more than I had thought I would have been, and I cannot wait (as with the Apple Watch) to wear one in daily use to see what it is really like.
Finally there was the $249 Samsung Gear VR headset, due November.
I originally thought after watching Samsung’s very recent keynote speech at the IFA conference in Berlin that the Gear VR headset would work with both the Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge.
I was a bit surprised and slightly disappointed that the Gear VR headset ONLY works with the $949 Note 4 and NOT the $1249 Note Edge, which is a bit of a brain snap on Samsung’s and Oculus’s part, with Oculus (famed for its Oculus Rift VR headset that was purchased by Facebook for a whopping $2 billion earlier this year) being the go-to VR company Samsung has chosen to work with.
Although both the Note 4 and Note Edge have screens in excess of 500 PPI (pixels per inch), which is vastly higher than you can get from any iPhone and ensure the pixels are completely invisible to the naked eye when looking at either screen, you can clearly see the pixels on the Note 4 when it is placed into the Gear VR headset.
This was surprising as the very high PPI would make you think you’ll never see pixels again, but with the VR headset putting the screen so incredibly close to your eyes coupled with whatever lenses are in use to make the wide angle view happen, you surprisingly see the pixels that make up the image.
Of course you do relatively quickly ignore this and just enjoy what you’re seeing, but it did make me remark to the Samsung demonstrators that we’d need 1000 PPI screens or even 2000 PPI screens so that Samsung and Oculus-powered VR headsets would be pixel free.
I put several headsets on, one was showing 360 degree imagery underwater of actual recorded footage, with schools of fish swimming around, sharks swimming closely by and the shimmering water really giving you the feel of being an underwater diver, but without a breathing tube stuck in your mouth.
Looking up I could see the outline of the boat the camera person who recorded the footage would have jumped from, and you could look all the way down into the depths. It was a nicely immersive experience that was extremely cool.
Another demo had Cirque de Soleil performers doing their thing. Putting the headset on, several clownish types came towards me and then sat to my left and my right. Two men then appeared and got onto a descending rope which then went up, with the two men doing acrobatic feats and spins.
Looking to my left and right I saw the other clowns enjoying the show, with one or two of them looking at me and making motions of happiness and to look back at the main performance. Looking down I could see I was sitting on a bench, and behind me was a giant theatre with seats stretching up and up.
The headset has a touch pad on the right hand side allowing you to tap like a left click on your mouse, but instead of using that to move a cursor around the screen, you simply move your head instead – very simple and cool.
I also watched a couple of movie trailers – one was Godzilla. I was in a huge theatre, but alone. Sadly there was no popcorn strewn on the floor, no empty packets of Jaffas and no lost smartphones or wallets. Turning right around I could see the back of my chair, and looking up I could see ceiling panels. Directly behind me and up on the wall was the projection window.
I could just see the edges of the giant screen the movie was being projected onto – a 96 degree angle field of view. I think this should be expanded a little further for the Gear VR 2 whenever it is released, but it was a cool experience.
I don’t know if I’d ever bother to watch a full movie with the headset on, as it’s just more comfortable not to have a headset, headphones and screen strapped to my face for two hours, but it could easily revolutionise various aspects of gaming, with the whole headset experience a lot of fun and a true step forward for the world of affordable virtual reality.
You would never, ever use this headset walking down the street, you would never use it sitting while waiting for a bus or in the park or at the beach or anywhere other than at home, because you would look truly stupid moving around with a visor strapped to your face.
You would also be a prime target for getting a whack to the back of the head and having your shiny VR headset and Note 4 quickly stolen if that was the case and you weren’t with friends, but as a home entertainment device that is a $249 extra purchase on top of your existing Note 4 purchase, it will be a very tempting purchase for any Note 4 owner.
We’re yet to get proper review units of any of these new Samsung devices, with Samsung sadly launching them weeks or months after Apple has launched its new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models, but true Android aficionados won’t care, they’ll just wait a few weeks longer and will make their purchases then.
As for those who defected to larger Samsung or other large Android smartphones from the world of iPhone because there simply were no larger iPhones at the time, the choice is a lot harder if they’re wondering which platform to stick with.
Those who love their iPhones will absolutely adore the big screen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, while those who have gotten used to Android and who are unsure whether they want to stay with Android or go back to iPhone have a much harder decision to make, and will probably want to see a Note 4 and/or Note Edge to compare with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus before they make their final decisions.