Samsung Galaxy Note. First Look
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Spillikins #115. W for Windows Ц first Nokias on WP7
I beg your pardon for the size of this issue of Spillikins. It is practically a two-parter since I added some material I have published earlier elsewhere. I did not want to do this in the beginning but later I decided that it is better to get a larger audience acquainted with the original and not with one of the reprints many of which misinterpreted me. So one of the Spillikins chapters is dedicated to how journalists often misinform you by testing prototypes.
Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to go deep into the Nokia situation; the company is about to release its income statement Ц I do not expect a dramatic fall: things are not that bad. However, Moody's has lowered Nokia's credit rating from A2 to A3 which means borrowing will become a bit trickier for Nokia, loans will cost a bit more. This is just one of the highlights of the situation around the company.
I remember one of the Nokia top managers boasting of 300.000 Symbian handsets sold daily. It was impressive in summer 2010 since Android sales were at about 200.000 a day. But by the end of Q1 2011 it is already 350.000 Androids per day including tablets which don't play a noticeable role Ц their share is too small so far. So, Google today is number one smartphone manufacturer Ц with those sales Google wins by a landslide. And the sales keep growing though their dynamics is not as impressive as before. Nevertheless, Android today is the leader while Symbian is quietly dying. And this is the high time we spoke about Nokia's strategy for Windows Phone smartphones.
You might have read either the Russian original of this text or a reprint. In the first case you can skip this chapter. In the second case I recommend that carefully you read all of it. The reason is: many western republished certain excerpts of the texts without grasping the essence of it and made a few wrong conclusions. For example, Windows Phone 7 Nokias may have different names by the time of their release, currently, the model index receives "W" (for Windows) followed by the phone index as usual e.g. W7-00; W7-01; W8-00 etc. The company wants to single out Windows Phone devices and there are now debates on how to do it best. Logically speaking, they need to keep the current classification like W8-00 as in N8-05 but then there will be some confusion. As of today, the final decision is not yet made and phone indices are subject to change. All in all, everything concerning Windows Phone 7 and Nokia is changing on a daily basis and all decisions are made very hastily in a race against the time. Meanwhile, check out the article and my new comments on the subject.
Friendship is dearer than money Ц the proverb goes. This has become my life motto and allows me to get my hands on certain gadgets when they are yet in development. An old friend of mine has visited Moscow and brought a bunch of news concerning Nokia and Windows Phone 7. He also had a prototype of one of these devices on hands. A disclaimer for Nokia lawyers: the device does not belong to me. I will take the risk of sharing my impressions and some extra info I learned from my friend.
Inside MS they use specs for WP7 devices Ц so called chassis. Today, all the devices running WP7 are very similar Ц they have the same functionality thanks to the lack of opportunity to customize WP7, same processors, same Qualcomm platform and as a result Ц they provide very similar user experience and performance. Currently, the manufacturing brand does not matter Ц all the phones are insanely same and the differences are insignificant (screen, battery, body materials and so on).
By the end of the year there will be the second wave of the WP7 on the market Ц so-called chassis 2 that cuts certain slack to the platform allowing slower processors to be used. Also chassis 2 allows different from factors like, for example, QWERTY candy bar phones so typical for Windows Mobile phones. All the major manufacturers are already developing such phones: HTC, Samsung, LG and a number of others even SE is looking into this matter.
For Nokia this is a completely new direction for many reasons the main being that for many years the company has being litigating with Qualcomm and the companies have become antagonists. The deal with MS and their demands made Nokia use Qualcomm chipsets and the current prototypes are based on them and do not use any other platforms (Nokia was reluctant to use Qualcomm but MS has a very firm stance on this issue).
Nokia received the freedom of deciding what exactly they will be putting on chassis 2 and the company rushed into creating prototypes even before the possibility of the deal with MS was officially announced. Elop wishes to see first products by Christmas 2011 but most likely they will be ready by the end of January or February 2012.
The limited time frame made it necessary to use the ready designs including the prototype I had a chance to try out Ц a different revision of Nokia X7 with WVGA screen and QSD8250 chipset. The use of the same chipset as in many other products already on the market seems dubious to me. Why not try something new from Qualcomm? The answer is simple Ц they had to start from somewhere and this chipset was already available so the company took it on the go. Currently this model and respectively the prototype is the most accomplished allowing us to see what WP7 plus Nokia equals to.
We joked that X7 was chosen simply because MS needed a seven in the name.
It has the Nokia X7 body, the screen is from a new supplier (not Samsung and the screen is not AMOLED but it is subject to change Ц nevertheless the screen is nice and I liked it). The phone design is nice and memorable. I must add that this prototype was necessary to quickly obtain a working sample to lead the way in the development.
And it comes as no surprise that my impressions from it reminded me of HTC Mozart Ц it has basically the same functionality. The camera is an 8MPix module with autofocus and a flash. All WP7 Nokias except the cheapest ones will have cameras with autofocus Ц this is a deliberate move to drive WP7 phones apart from Symbian products.
This model is scheduled to enter the market first. Basically, it is already complete to a certain extent so it can be released as early as the fall 2011. And this is where the big question arises: will MS allow Nokia to customize the software? Currently their stance is simple Ц there will be no special privileges for Nokia, and if customizing is allowed it will be allowed to everyone.
That is why the company is using W7 as the test subject Ц the company's engineers are having their growing pains with it. All in all, according to my friend they need to amass a great deal of experience, solve a zillion of minor problems that consume a lot of time Ц they simply learn by trial and error and experimenting works best on well known subjects.
I haven't seen these three and I could have confused a few things because I was really inundated with information. But I will try to tell you what I got.
Nokia N8 with WP7. Nokia logically presumed that a 12 MPix camera (or a similar module) will give them a market advantage since there are no photo solutions on WP7 Ц it will be interesting for a certain audience. The design will be based on N8 with the goal to reduce the resemblance as much as possible (currently there is no design Ц the model is on a very early stage of development). The second strategy principle is to make it the most powerful WP7 smartphone by the time it is released i.e. late Q1 early Q2 2012. This means using the new Qualcomm platform, a dual-core processor and Adreno 320 graphical accelerator. So far it remains an issue of TBD since so far there is no understanding in Nokia which Qualcomm products and in what terms they will be able to use. There is a big chance that they will have to finish this phone hastily on the old chipset and then release a different revision. Enough to say that the phone specs are changing weekly depending on the news on many issues. It is a completely new field for Nokia.
Anyway, the top priority is the camera for WP7 and the work is a go. That is, regardless of the final product the N8 camera will be used anyway which will give Nokia an actual advantage.
QWERTY touchscreen candy bar phone. Another phone which is being developed from the prerequisite of Nokia E72 and the whole series being popular on the market with an easily convertible to the new product audience. Touchscreen, QWERTY keypad and metal body. The design is yet unknown but it will probably be one of the models initially designed for Symbian.
Nokia cannot add any features to the OS so they have to think up something new, make up a lot of marketing mojoes that would promote already existing technologies Nokia style. This, by the way, will become the key strategy in WP7 marketing of Nokia products (with the exception of W8 which will have an actual advantage of the camera).
The company is actively developing a service for corporate users with a system of subscriptions. This will probably become the key feature of the phone (I do not know whether it will be available everywhere and I don't get the point of it as well as my interlocutor who also was not yet getting the picture). What I know is this mythical service must become a USP Ц unique selling point. Taking into account that it cannot be an app store it will probably be something like a cloud service or mail service or else. I am not really sure.
The accent of this phone is made on the price. Most likely it will be the same W7 hardware but with cheaper body materials and with a leaser price tag on it. The phone will have to compete with the first generation of WP7 phones as well as with the second gen phones in its price range. It will be a very affordable WP7 phone. They are going to save on the camera most likely leaving it with a fixed focus.
This phone should be released very promptly Ц early next year and for reasonable money. This is all I know so far.
Nokia's going to make a flagship based on W7, that's for sure, with a different design and a fair camera but this will be the second wave (but in case they fail to switch on to a different chipset things get ambiguous Ц they want to but their chances are currently 50/50). Same applies to the camera phone Ц they are planning to do it on a new chipset but there is no certainty. If they manage it there will be only one phone Ц if not there will be a series of revisions with better hardware.
Altogether, 12 phones are in development for 2012 besides those I have just mentioned. The development has not yet started and currently they are creating the model range adjusting it to the Symbian phones range. WP7 phones are the priority and the company is still researching Android (the company is still considering this possibility and all depends on the sales of WP7 in the first half of 2012).
Nokia's main goal today is to find ways to make their WP7 phones different from other manufacturers' since this is the only way to succeed. So far they have only the camera. I can't tell anything about the mysterious service because I do not understand what this is and how it works Ц spherical cow in a vacuum.
There will be a lot of efforts on marketing and promotion of already existing technologies under names that will be associated exclusively with Nokia. This is their solution.
Unfortunately, Symbian has been condemned. We have seen a surge of this platform earlier this year (in terms of the number of models, their potential etc.), from this time on all the phones will be derivatives while most of the development will fall on WP7 and other platforms. Around six thousand Symbian/Maemo developers will be given notice within one year Ц this will be the most massive lay off in the history of the company. There are three serious updates scheduled for Symbian^3 till the end of its life time. In July PR2.0 will be released for some countries, then by the end of fall there will be an intermediate version and PR3.0 by mid 2012 Ц the terms are subject to change. The company is not planning any critical changes to Symbian ^3 Ц they believe the low prices will ensure sales. And WP7 phones will quite logically have a higher price tag than their Symbian counterparts.
I want to highlight the fact that besides just one model Nokia does not have working prototypes of any other future phone Ц the development is in a very early stage. The limited time frame is pushing the developers to use ready designs, configure it a notch to make a superficial difference. Also, the company keeps changing the plans depending on what they learn about new products, their compatibility and so on. Terms, price, positioning and phone specs are may vary greatly. But I believe you can get the picture from this article of how the company thinks and where it wants to be.
As I have promised I will further comment on this issue. Firstly, I would like to comment on the future support of Symbian smartphones. This summer PR 2.0 update for Symbian^3 smartphones will be released becoming the most important news in this field till October. By October the company will try to release the second generation of Symbian^3 smartphones with minor but noticeable changes: more system memory, faster processors and other changes in hardware. In my opinion, these are merely superficial changes since there will be no dramatic performance boost as in case with Galaxy S and Galaxy SII (double performance according to synthetic tests). In this case the performance gains are about 15-20% - noticeable but not dramatic. It is rather an attempt to up Symbian smartphones in the higher price ranges since the sales have plummeted after the announcement of transition to WP7.
Another point I want to mention is that many people believe that Nokia is doing the right thing and that the competitors will immediately drop their Windows Phone 7 development programs. I am afraid this is not going to happen. The American market is the main market for WP7 and so far it is dominated by Samsung, LG, HTC and there is little room for Nokia. Nokia must turn to Europe in pursuit of good sales and the only question left is how good will the actual sales be? I do not think they will fulfill the company's expectations which are way too high right now. But we must just wait and see.
And here is an example of one of such products Ц a future HTC camera phone.
In May developers will get tools for creating applications, which will be used with WP7 update codenamed Mango. Users will get hold of new improvements in autumn and second generation WP7 will hit the shelves at the same time.
The first and foremost addition will be represented by true multitasking. During switching between apps the phone will remember the status of an app and "freeze" it. On one hand, RAM and other resources will be saved, while you could also quickly return to the status prior to "freezing". This technology was named Fast App Switching. Applications, which require the code to be executed even in the background (mail client, IM, etc) will receive such a capability. Microsoft introduced the term Live Agents, which refers to the system's components, which will be active at all times, including live update of Tiles, sending alerts and messages to network resources and so on. Live Agents will include Background Agents too. In fact, the multitasking will be implemented similarly to that of Android. When the update becomes available we will be able to assess its performance and usefulness.
VoIP apps on WP7 will appear soon, because the developers received access to Sockets. API for the gyroscope, compass and live camera operation were also added.
Browser will get an update to IE9 and this version will be a complete copy of the desktop version featuring a fully functional html5 support.
You cannot feel anything but happiness looking at the number of updates, but they are not too dramatic. WP7 will gradually receive more features, which is obviously positive. On the other hand the rivals do not stay back and in autumn we will see and updated version of Android and we will be able to judge who can boast more features. I am also anxious to see iPhone5, because iOS should get a thorough update. Apple was always good at offering new tricks in their OS.
This week brought us two events associated with RIM top management, which not only attracted media attention, but made me ask the question you see in the headline. What is happening in the company?
The first incident was connected with the interview of RIM Co-CEO Michael Lazaridis for BBC. During the interview on BBC Click, where the new Blackberry tablet had to be discussed, one of the questions dealt with problems RIM had in India and several other Asian countries. If you remember, Indian authorities were not happy with data encryption system in Blackberry devices. The local government decided that without the full access to encryption codes RIM services cannot proliferate in the country. First questions were asked in the summer of 2010 and alongside India bans were proposed in Indonesia and the UAE.
In Russia the state wanted to intercept all traffic and WiFi is inactive in Blackberry devices there, while all data is transferred via VPN and intelligence has access to all messages circulated through RIM devices.
Last week Indian officials started the second attack on RIM and other companies, including the Gmail service from Google. The main issue is that the government wants to get the full access to all encrypted data, including mail messages, so Blackberry handsets will not be spared too. The federal Home Secretary Gopal K. Pillai mentioned in his speech that "It's not a question of their giving access. Under law, they have to give access, everybody has to give access. Whoever gives access will be allowed to operate. Whoever does not give access will not be allowed to operate." The position is quite clear and straightforward.
Indian authorities allowed Blackberry to launch their network and get involved in the local market by investing into it. An international company was lured to the country, while its possible withdrawal can hit RIM hard and it will have to concede one way or another. It is very painful for Blackberry as it can open the Pandora box. By retreating from India the company may set a precedent for others, who can follow suit and ban the service on their territories. At the same time it is impossible to give code keys to the Indian government, as the service is also used by civil servants in Canada, USA and UK. The service may lose its main appeal this way. May be I believe in conspiracy theories, but the National Security Agency would never allow RIM working in the US, including governmental institutions, without releasing codes to intercept the traffic among other things. Taking into account the alliance between intelligence organizations in Canada, Australia, UK and USA you can easily imagine the consequences. It is not surprising that governments of other countries do not want to be discriminated against. It is a stalemate for RIM, which can emerge victorious only if it creates two networks Ц one for the USA and Canada and another for the rest of the world, which is unlikely to be attractive from the financial side. It would look as a political project only.
Being aware of the background we could better understand why Michael Lazaridis reacted emotionally to the question of a BBC journalist about problems in India and said the following:
"You implied that we have a security problem; we don't have a security problem. We've just been singled out, right, because we're so successful around the world. It's an iconic product, used by business, it's used by leaders, it's used by celebrities, it's used by consumers, it's used by teenagers. I mean we're just singled out. And that's just because of our success".
He also labeled the question as unfair and walked out of the interview. I do not remember other cases when top managers of high profile companies would behave this way. It is a scandal, which asks more questions than provides answers. Why the CO-CEO of RIM gave such an outrageous answer to a standard question? What is going on inside the company?
A week ago Lazaridis blamed a journalist from New York Times for "not valuing the success of the company". It is an unusual soundbite, which shows that the head of RIM cannot understand the nature of journalism and what journalists should really value. Until the spring of 2011 the management of RIM did not afford similar reactions. Something has happened during the last weeks.
We could have said that life is tough for Mike Lazaridis at the moment and the interview means nothing more, but the second Co-CEO of the company Jim Balsillie spoke similarly of late.
Several days before the launch of the first RIM tablet newspapers released their reviews based on samples provided by the manufacturer. Journalists tried to give an impartial feedback by mentioning the potential and highlighting the drawbacks. For example, to use mail one needs to have a Blackberry phone. The approach is a bit questionable. I do not like restrictions and view the tablet as a separate device and not an appendix to the phone. For Blackberry users it offers another experience and the product targets Canadian and American consumers first of all. The interface is pleasant, but it is far from groundbreaking. After the launch of iPad2 the glitter of Playbook became less impressive. Watch my video about the device. It is quite illustrative.
One of Co-CEO of RIM Jim Balsillie said in his interview to Bloomberg that first reviews of Playbook are not just. He believes that the product will find its customers and critics ignore the nature of RIM and its services. To my mind it is the public confrontation with the majority of journalists. They will not answer openly, but will remember these words. Shares of RIM went down after restrained reviews of the tablet and the reaction of Jim Balsillie is an attempt to arrest this freefall. However, it is not a good way to treat journalists, which will lead to further losses in the future.
Taken separately these events do not impress, but together they have a special meaning. The pressure on RIM increased and it is clearly seen in the public sphere, but what has happened inside is not obvious. Why two Co-CEOs of RIM broke all rules of PR and communication with the press? We will get the answers this summer when during Blackberry World the company will reveal its vision of market tendencies and its own place there. We will surely cover this news.
We usually write reviews based on true to life features and verify commercial samples even if the work starts with the prototype. Manufacturers often do not have final versions to give to the press and the final software is nowhere to be found at that stage. That is why preliminary reviews appear before products go on sale. It is always a compromise and we should be aware of it. In any case we do not offer preliminary reviews as materials on commercial samples as it is silly, unprofessional and outright senseless.
Even before the announcement of Sony Ericsson Xperia Play I had two samples on my hands, but the number of unclear issues was so overwhelming that I could not write an article anyway. Another example is SE Arc. Its prototype had a better screen than that of commercial samples. Unfortunately, there is often quite a gap between a prototype and a commercial version. In the majority of cases changes are positive, but sometimes the developments can bring more downsides than improvement and recent cases of Sony Ericsson and Nokia serve as good examples.
During the last week I have been playing with a sample of Samsung Galaxy SII, which offers final hardware and software versions. Consumers will get hold of the same version in May. The phone has numerous changes in comparison with the prototype, though many wrote reviews on the "final" hardware incarnation and added many silly things. Everybody has different quality standards and limits they can or cannot cross.
Exynos is a dual core processor of 1.2 GHz instead of initially planned 1 GHz, which is a serious difference influencing performance and operation time. Despite the same SuperAMOLED name the screen was changed in two respects: there is now a mode of onscreen picture analysis when during video playback flashy colors can be made more natural and you can start enjoying the process. The matrix itself was changed (we get the same generation component, but settings, brightness and other parameters were changed, and the main difference is in power consumption).
The prototype had a battery labeled 1650 mAh, but it was only 1500 mAh in reality and we checked it on the test machine. In the final version there are no discrepancies. Moreover, all dedicated energy saving modes are fully operational. On average, the phone is working one light day with my standard load, which is twice longer than the original Galaxy S. This week our review will add many measurements of operation time. It was one of the most intriguing moments and Samsung did a really good job to turn this phone into one of the most energy efficient in its class.
The camera module was changed and the pictures can be finally assessed in earnest without any assumptions and projections.
The performance was increased and broke a 3000 barrier in Quadrant. Moreover, we did not disable any application, so the test was carried out on a working sample. If you are more cunning the results can reach 3500 against 2000 delivered by the prototype.
I can mention a hundred of changes, but the main point is that prototypes are always more "raw" than final samples, which is normal. Just bear in mind that if you read a preliminary review on our website or if the project is codenamed then the article is based on the prototype and later on the material will be significantly altered. The review of Samsung Galaxy SII will be expanded and changed a lot this week as the model is ready to be described in full detail. The resulting review will be quite long as I am passionate about the model. I am pretty sure it will be one of the best in 2011.
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Published 18 April 2011
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