How Samsung Renewed My Love
I have to admit that I just came from reading Vlad Savov's article on How Samsung Broke My Heart. To be honest, in ordinary circumstances, I would have read the editorial and moved on to the next one. However, since Samsung's recent unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy S III, I have not seen such disappointment and angst since (I'll just say it) the launch of the iPhone 4S. So, upon reading Mr. Savov's article, I thought I would respond in a sort of "counter-point" perspective, because I don't believe that what Samsung showed us yesterday is as bad as everyone makes it out to be.
First, let me also give a brief history of my experience with Samsung. The first Samsung product I ever owned was the Samsung Alias (SCH-U740). This flip phone hearkens back to the days of when the Motorola RAZR defined the popular mobile form-factor. It was a sleek and attractive design with a cool, dual-flip hinge, allowing you to view the display in either portrait or landscape mode. It had a full QWERTY keyboard and satisfied all of my text-messaging needs. No blown speakers here, or wobbly hinges begging for the device to be thrown into the waste bin. Since then, I have owned one of Samsung's great HDTVs and, in the mobile space, returned to them with a Galaxy Tab 10.1 and my daily driver, the Galaxy Nexus LTE. Each of those purchases were made with the cognizance that the Samsung name brought quality, innovation and leading-edge specifications.
Now, I'm not going to recant the time-line of the Galaxy S line and Samsung's rise to, not just the top of the Android mobile heap, but the top of all phone makers and, along with Apple, winning 99% of the profits. Each step of the way, Samsung has wowed the Android community and would-be smartphone adopters with their Galaxy S line. As Mr. Savov mentions, the other OEMs seemed to be struggling to appeal to the consumers while Samsung had no problems convincing them that standing out from the "sheep" meant adopting their class-leading technology. Case in point, who would ever want a 5" phablet (also known as, the Galaxy Note)? Apparently, a whole lot of people, silencing the naysayers. So, when Samsung was set to release the next in its Galaxy S line-up, the anticipation level was high and Samsung navigated each turning point with aplomb.
Delayed release dates. Last minute bail outs at conferences. The teasing. The careful leaks. And even with the leaks, not that much information. The manner in which they kept their flagship device a secret hadn't been done with such success outside of the fruit company found in Cupertino. So, when the Samsung Galaxy S III hit the front pages of our favorite tech sites, there was a round of applause, right? Nope. There wasn't the widespread embrace that you would have expected. Instead, the responses were completely polarizing; you'd think that Samsung just released the Samsung Galaxy Tebow III.
Maybe it was that the media embargo ended minutes before the presentation, so instead of the measured reveal of the device, tech sites already had renders, information, hands-on photos and videos. Maybe it was the manner in which Samsung presented the device. Nilay Patel tweeted:
The Galaxy S III looks nice, but my god, Samsung CANNOT learn how to give a coherent or rational presentation.
Sure, Samsung probably could have done a better job of presenting all the "S-Tech" that's found in their new flagship. But here's the real problem:
This is very much like the iPhone 4S launch. Let's take a brief trip down memory lane: the "iPhone 5" was going to have a 4" display. It'll lose the Home button. Joshua Topolsky even pranced around a tear-drop shaped, insanely thin, metal backed render of the iPhone 5 that admittedly looked incredibly sexy. So, when the 4S was revealed as a repackaged iPhone 4 with a better camera, faster chipset and Siri, some people were downright livid. Comment sections lit up ablaze, as Apple provided fodder to the Fandroid camp and angered some Fanbois that were looking to upgrade from their aging 3GSes.
Flash forward to yesterday. In the same way, everyone looking forward to the next Galaxy S had built up all these expectation of what Samsung's flagship device would be, look like and pack. Quad-core. Class-leading photographic optics. Super AMOLED Plus display, and, from the company that brought exciting form-factors like the Galaxy S II and Note, they had to be bringing something revelatory in design, right?
Samsung did what I fully expected them to do. They released a product with the marks of quality, innovation and leading-edge specifications I've come to love and adore from this company. You're probably thinking, "What a second! That's not what Mr. Savov said or what 90% of the comments in the comment section are saying!" Let me explain:
What Samsung produced was a full-to-the-hilt-of-technology masterpiece. Savov downplays the quad-core Exynos in the Galaxy S III because it was announced previously for the Meizu MX. However, to my knowledge, that device hasn't shipped yet. Secondly, the device is set to retail only in China. Being first to announce doesn't render technology obsolete. The quad-core Exynos 4412 chip shows incredible performance compared to its contemporaries and will fulfill part of Samsung's claim that the Galaxy S III will be best in class in this department. In the shooter department, Mr. Savov says Samsung ripped off HTC, but last time I checked, HTC doesn't own the patent on "burst mode" or "best shot" technology. Instead, it's very clear what Samsung was trying to do. They already have one of the best cameras on a mobile device, so they decided to increase and elaborate on their value proposition, by not just adding functional features, but social features, like face detection and recognition.
Mr. Savov downplayed all of the S-Tech found in Samsung's flagship because they were too numerous to count and keep straight. But to dismiss the technology because the presentation was unclear is to diminish some of the innovative things that Samsung is seeking to create for the end-user's benefit. "Smart Stay" is a simple, yet elegant solution for users to not have to wake their device up with a touch, if they're lingering on a page longer than the time-out setting. The enhancements to Android Beam, using NFC and Wi-Fi Direct, is a natural evolution of the technology and welcomed, if anyone's ever been frustrated by the slow transfer of data by NFC alone. Video of S-Voice's capability is already impressive and proves to be the strongest competitor yet to Apple's Siri (and perhaps, even better, leveraging the already good Android Voice capabilities). Picture-in-picture capability in the Galaxy S III is an extension of the Quick Apps found in Honeycomb for Samsung's tablets. We are getting closer to a windowed experience in Android in an intuitive, non-intrusive manner. Some of their touch and motion enabled enhancements are down-right ingenious. Texting someone, but now you feel like calling them? Just lift the phone up to your ear. Simple. Beautiful. Why didn't someone else think of that? Samsung did.
So, why the naysayers? Let's start with the biggest issue: the display. "Why isn't it Super AMOLED Plus like the Galaxy S II?" "The HTC One X has got the Galaxy S III beat in this department." First, let me say, the display on the One X is great. There's no diminishing how great that display is. However, let's get a couple of things straight: 1) AMOLED is, by most people's account, the best display technology out there. In terms of daylight performance, viewing angles, black level performance, power consumption and space considerations, AMOLED is the display technology of the future (and the present). At the same time, it's a technology that's still young and still evolving. The sAMOLED+ display on the Galaxy S II was no doubt stellar at 800x480. But let's be reasonable here: 2) 720p is the new industry standard and packing in that many pixels into a 4+" display is a technological feat. Samsung has made great strides in reducing pixel size of the AMOLED technology to accommodate 720p; by accounts of those who have experienced the 5" Galaxy Note or the 4.65" Galaxy Nexus, the graphics (text specifically) are crisp, clear and do not belie its 720p designation. 3) While most would denigrate the PenTile pixel substructure, it does provide the added benefit of costing less. However people fail to appreciate how new and young this technology is. It certain that Samsung is working on a "plus" version of the AMOLED display in this particular size. And when the technology is ready, we'll see it in future devices, just not at this time.
The next issue that comes up is in the design department. Let me first say, "Wait until you have it in your hands before you come to any conclusions." Secondly, from the photos, this is the first time a device looks better in its non-white variant. The details of the pebble blue graining, the application of a swooping metal trim and keeping an all-glass front-face, to me, communicate great quality, revealed in the minute details. Now, the biggest complaint is that the Galaxy S III fails to match up to the HTC One X in design. This is like comparing the HTC One X to a Nokia Lumia 800 or the iPhone 4. They're just different. Each design has its own distinct beauty. But here's why I think people can't see how beautiful and elegant the Galaxy S III is, particularly in comparison to the HTC One X.
Design disparity, within brand.
The HTC One X is a looker, no doubt. But we're primarily evaluating the design achievements of HTC based on a portfolio of essentially horrible looking devices. One doesn't have to look too far back to see some design "stinkers" from HTC (e.g. the Rezound, Thunderbolt, to name a couple). Some would say that not since the Nexus One has HTC done something legitimately striking. So, when HTC decides to "get back to its design roots," people were immensely pleased by the huge leap forward in design they've made (albeit with some compromise, like the lack of a removable battery). Flip over to Samsung for a moment. As Mr. Savov mentions, Samsung went from zero to hero with the Galaxy S and really haven't looked back. Each variant of the Galaxy S was a stunner -- a true counterpoint to the iPhone (in some cases, deserving legal attention). The Galaxy S II was an iterative jump, but again, borrowed much of the industrial design that led to the Galaxy S' success. So, what happened to the Galaxy S III? Well, the jump was perhaps too big. Gone are the small radius corners, opting for larger radius corners. For one Verge member, gone is some of the multiple lines of symmetry in the device, including in the button. Speaking of buttons, what's up with that Home button? But perhaps, the jump in design was too small. "It looks like a Galaxy Nexus." Several months ago, the Galaxy Nexus was lauded. Joshua Topolsky noted:
The Galaxy Nexus is a striking phone... Overall, the Galaxy Nexus is one of the better looking phones that's come across my desk... It still manages to come off as relatively unique.
The take-home message: People don't like change. The Galaxy S III represents a departure from the design aesthetic the S-line has carried on for the last two years. Instead of more of the same, Samsung opted to continue along the design route it forged with the Galaxy Nexus. And guess what? It's welcomed. Personally, I'm tired of the rectangular phones. I want large-radius corners that don't dig into my palm when I hold it. I want curves along the edges that convince me it's a thinner device than it really is. I like narrower bezels and a display that dominates the front face of the device. I don't want to see plastic anywhere when I look at my device. Look at it again... it's a beautiful phone.
Samsung didn't cater to the sheep-mentality. Earlier I said, it met all my expectations. I was wrong. It went beyond expectation. Samsung delivered gave the world a stand-out device. Packed with innovative software in an elegantly designed case, the Samsung Galaxy III renews my love for the brand. The trust that Mr. Savov indicates is being lost is untrue. The opposite is valid: Samsung continues to build trust among it's faithful, while earning and winning the trust of newcomers by pushing the boundaries in its latest flagship. Like most outrageously designed products (Bangle's BMW designs come to mind), at first, they startle, but over time, you come to appreciate how far-reaching the design perspective was. Samsung is looking ahead to what we will understand to love, once we dispense with the "sheepish" attitude that drawn to the same old rectangular slab that employs the same old tired heuristic. The Galaxy S III is the Android device to acquire.