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What to expect from Samsung's next Galaxy flagships

What to expect from Samsung's next Galaxy flagships
From TechCrunch - February 10, 2018

Its that time of year again. Samsung is getting ready to unpack some shiny new high end smartphones at the worlds biggest mobile confab. And Android fans are getting ready to cheer.

The TechCrunch team will be on the ground at MWC in Barcelona in two weeks time to bring you all the news. But if youre wondering what Sammys got cooking ahead of the official Galaxy unboxing, read on

S9 and S9+ unpacked

While most major Android smartphone handset makers are skipping a flagship launch at MWC 2018perhaps feeling the pinch from shrinkage in the Chinese smartphone market Samsung most definitely is not.Not this year.

The worlds biggest smartphone maker by marketshare is expected to unbox the Galaxy S9 and S9+ at the show.

Indeed theres a pretty gigantic clue to that in the invitation for its pre-MWC press eventin the shape of a purple-hued number 9

Samsungs timing means the S9 and its phablet-sized S9+ fellow are being outted about a month earlier than last years S8/S8+, when it switched to a post-MWC launch in New York.

Some have suggested Samsung felt the need to move up the S9s reveal by a month after Apple skipped an iPhone digit with its fall unboxing of the iPhone X(and iPhone 8/8Plus). Although that theory doesnt really hold water, given Samsung has debuted new Galaxy flagship(s) on the eve of the MWC conference for yearsand consistently so, until 2017.

Last year was the anomaly. And that beat-skip can be explained by itfalling behindits usual release schedule after the Note 7 recall and the subsequent pressing need to spend time making changes to its product safety processes after having such high profile problems with, er, exploding batteries.

Samsung is clearly hoping to put all that mess behind it now. And how better to project a business as usual message than by returning to its usual pre-MWC global stage for the S9 launch?

And things are looking pretty good for Samsung to hog the hardware limelight at MWC 2018: Huawei, its main Android phone challenger in global marketshare terms, isnt expected to launch much, having announced its own Paris-based press event for late March.

While the Nokia-branded upstart HMD cantsurelyhope to tug on the nostalgia heartstringstwice in a row and pull another retro mobile phone trick this year.

Camera capabilities in focus

Of course Samsung is hoping its new smartphones grab attention on their own merits. And its drawing explicit attention to the camera as the eye-catching upgrade here.

In many ways this is a curiously quaint kind of premium smartphone marketing message. And not just because of the subtle allusion to film photography in the shape of the graphic. But because of how much engineering attention has already been lavished on smartphone cameras over the past decade. And how high the premium bar has consequently gotten.

A truly reimagined smartphone camera would have to have real superpowerslike being able to shoot through walls. Which would also be horribly weird and disturbing. So happily no one is expecting the S9 to be able to do that.

Apples iPhone X is a better explanation for Samsungs teaser that the S9 camera will be reimagined, given Cupertinos top-of-the-range iPhone packs dedicated depth sensors forpowering augmented reality experiences via the camera lenssuch as face masks and animated emoji that can track facial expressions.

The iPhone X also features a new biometric authentication method which relies on capturing a facial biometric using the same TrueDepth camera unit.

So Samsung trying to do more with sensing hardware to chase Apples lead here seems probable.

That said, judging by leaked device imagesobtained by trusted smartphone leaker Evan Blass (see below)the S9/S9+ dont appear to be packing any additional sensor hardware up top vs last years S8/S8+.

Last monthSamsung did make some noise about its latest smartphone chipset, explicitly toutingthe potential for the silicon to power similar experiences to what Apple has done with the iPhone Xwriting that through depth sensing the chipset could be used to scan a users face in 3D for hybrid face detection. So, well, [insert thinking emoji face here].

Another possibility: Samsung could use an engineering workaround that combines multiple existing biometrics (i.e. the S8s face + iris scanning systems) to try to up its game vs Apples FaceID. This has been rumored.

And that approach might make most sense for the S9, given Apple has not yet pushed the TrueDepth camera across all iPhones. Indeed, the iPhone Xs sensor-packed notch remains iPhone X only. And so do associated iOS featureslike Animoji and FaceID.

Given that premium gating by Apple, Samsung could be spying an opportunity to build some animojish flashy and fun camera features that work across its S9 flagshipseven if its FaceID competitor isnt yet ready for the prime time.

(Anda little more fuelaBlass sourceclaims the S9 will include a selfie mode with animated avatars kinda like animoji.)

Apple also used the opportunity of a major sensor upgrade on the iPhone X to ditch the home button and switch to a more gesture-heavy user interface on the device. Which, in some ways, is unfortunate as it has bifurcated the iPhone UI. (Something Cupertino will presumably move to unify again in future.)

Samsung was ahead on killing the home button, having removed the physical key onlast years S8to maximize screen real estate. Though it didnt go all in on swipe-based navigation. Instead it added a virtual touch-sensitive button with haptic feedback at the bottom of its otherwise near-edge to edge display.

It will therefore be interesting to see whether Samsung decides to entirely remove that usability crutch on the S9. And, indeed, there have been a few rumors of a new, S9-only user interface incoming.

On the other hand, a major break with interface convention would really demand a more radical hardware upgrade than Samsung appears to have in the pipe here. So we wouldnt bank on any overly sweeping interface changes landing here.

Look, no notch!

Blass got his hands on the above leaked images of the S9 and S9+ late last month. Hes since posted a few more (see below).

An immediate takeaway from looking at these is theres no notch on the S9/S9+. The notch being the shaped sensor unit that takes an unfortunate bite out of the iPhone Xs screen.

Sticky fingers

Blur when you want it

Dont get too excitedyet

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