Two new Samsung phones, but should you upgrade?
On Thursday, Samsung unveiled the two newest installations to its smartphone line: the Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge Plus.
Mary Altaffer/AP Photo
Samsung has unveiled two new Android smartphones with jumbo screens as it seeks to recapture some of the sales lost to Apple after larger iPhones came out last year.
Samsung said Thursday that the new Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge Plus will start shipping Aug. 21 in the U.S. and Canada. Usually, Note phones don't come out until well after Apple's new iPhone models in September.
The timing reflects a shift in fortunes for a company that pioneered jumbo phones with the original Note in 2011. Now, Samsung needs to beat Apple to the punch, or risk seeing its products drowned out by all the attention on the iPhone, IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said.
The new phones from Samsung have screens measuring 5.7 inches diagonally, the same as last year's Note 4, yet both are lighter and thinner. They are comparable to Apple's 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, the larger of the two new iPhones. Samsung's Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge phones, which are closer in size to the regular iPhone 6, came out in April.
The Note 5 will cost $696 to $740 without a contract, depending on the carrier. The Edge Plus will cost about $75 more. The iPhone 6 Plus sells for about $750. T-Mobile is throwing in a year of Netflix with both phones, while Sprint is giving away a low-end Samsung tablet with a two-year contract. Advance orders begin in the U.S. on Thursday.
Samsung Electronics Co. also said its Samsung Pay mobile payment service will debut in its home country of South Korea on Aug. 20. Testing in the U.S. will begin Aug. 25, with a formal launch on Sept. 28.
Although there's competition from Apple Pay and Google's upcoming Android Pay, Samsung is hoping its payments system will catch on with the inclusion of a technology that mimics the old-school, magnetic signals from credit-card swipes. That allows it to work with a wider range of merchants, though it still won't work everywhere cards are accepted.
Samsung also teased an upcoming smartwatch, the Gear S2. It will have a round face, rather than the rectangular design in Apple Watch and previous Samsung watches. A video from Samsung suggests snazzy graphics to rival Apple Watch. More details will come at the IFA tech show in Berlin next month.
As for the phones, Samsung is looking to play to its strengths.
GALAXY NOTE 5
Though it appeals to a niche audience, the Note is popular for including a stylus to take notes and annotate images on the screen. The update provides quicker access to apps and features that use the stylus. A clicking mechanism makes the stylus easier to pull out.
One new feature ends the need to print out and rescan electronic forms to sign or fill out. Just write on the PDF document directly before saving and sending.
Screenshots can get annoying when you're just snapping what's visible on the screen. An article or list of directions you're trying to save might take four or five shots. A new feature called scroll capture combines all those shots into one image, though you still need to snap them one section at a time.
GALAXY S6 EDGE PLUS
The screens on Samsung's Edge phones are curved on both sides. The feature proved popular in this spring's S6 Edge, which used one of those sides for quick access to friends and other frequent contacts. Now, you can use it for quick access to favorite apps, too.
There won't be a stylus, though, as last year's Note Edge phone had.
COMMON TO BOTH PHONES
The new phones incorporate the improved camera technology found in this spring's S6 phones. Added is live streaming of video you're capturing, a practice made popular by Meerkat and Twitter's Periscope apps. Samsung's video will appear on YouTube. The front cameras take sharper selfies, at 5 megapixels rather than 3.7.
The new phones also borrow design elements from the S6. They sport aluminum frames and glass backs rather than plastic. The back of the Note 5 is slightly curved for a better grip, while the Edge gets its curve on the front. Either way, it doesn't feel as boxy as the regular S6.
Borrowing another page from Apple's playbook, the phones are coming out just a week after they are announced. It used to take Samsung a month or longer.
After the larger iPhones came out, Samsung could no longer proclaim to have "The Next Big Thing."
The S6 phones this spring emphasized design instead, but sales fell below expectations, as Apple dominated the high-end market. Meanwhile, rival Android phone makers have been able to offer decent cameras, displays and speeds for less money than Samsung phones. Although it's still the leading smartphone maker, Samsung has reported five consecutive quarters of profit decline.
"There's an urgency to show that Samsung can still stand up to the challenge that is Apple and everybody else out there," Llamas said. "For a while, Samsung was the 'be all and end all' of Android devices. Now, it's a different market."