aNewDomain — Early in the week at MWC 2015, Samsung and HTC both rolled out their hotly anticipated Android 5.0 (Lollipop)-enabled flagship smartphones. There were no flagships immediately in sight, though, for rivals LG, Sony and Microsoft. Meanwhile, LG, Huawei and HTC all sported sleek new wearables.
“Today is an exciting day! No more Internet rumors,” said Samsung Co-CEO JK Shin. But the Samsung Unpacked 2015 event on Sunday packed no major surprises.
Just as rumored, the new Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge represent a sharp departure from the Galaxy S5, with their iPhone 6-esque form. The design features a metal frame with front and rear panels made of Gorilla Glass 4. The S6 Edge adds a display reminiscent of the Galaxy Note Edge, but is curved more subtly.
The two Galaxy S6 phones also feature a new swipe-free fingerprint sensor in the home button, built-in support for Qi and PMA wireless charging and an infrared heart-rate monitor, which supposedly helps the camera to get accurate white balance while also keeping track of your heartbeat.
Other specs for the new Galaxies include a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED display, a Samsung Exynos processor, 3 GB of RAM and 32, 64, or 128 GB of internal storage. Charging is touted as 1.5 faster than the S5’s, and the speaker as 1.5 times louder.
Starting this summer, a few months after their release in April, both phones are also supposed to get support for Samsung Pay. This new mobile payment system integrates technology obtained through Samsung’s LoopPay acquisition to work with ordinary credit card swipers in any retail store. Samsung Pay also supports NFC tap-to-pay systems, but these are still few and far between in the U.S.
HTC’s new flagship phone, the HTC One M9, improves on the highly acclaimed HTC One (M8) in a myriad of ways. Like earlier HTC flagship devices, the M9 features a tapered one-piece body, but the side material is now in a slightly contrasting metallic color, which provides a two-tone finish.
We are able to — for the first time in the industry — create this dual-tone finish on a single metal unibody design,” said HTC Chairman Peter Chou, at HTC’s press conference on Sunday.
The power button is now conveniently on the side. The dual stereo BoomSound speakers are still there, but HTC now supports Dolby 5:1 sound along with previous audio options.
HTC has moved the 4 MP Ultra Pixel Camera to the front of the device, and placed a 20 MP camera in the back of the phone. Internal memory has been raised to 3GB. Other specs include a 2.2 GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor and 32GB of built-in storage. The phone will come in gold, grey, silver and pink.
LG, on the other hand, did not live up to rumored predictions of a new flagship G4 phone. They instead stuck with the pre-announced high-end G Flex2 and Magna, Spirit, Leon, and Joy midrange phones. All will ship with Android 5.0 Lollipop, except that the Joy will run Android 4.4 KitKat in certain overseas markets. Maybe LG is just waiting for the fanfare over its competitors’ wares to wane a bit before rolling out the G4?
Maybe, too, the market is riper for midmarket phones.
There’s still some level of growth in the high-end smartphone market, but the reality is that the vast majority [of growth] will be at the lower end in emerging markets,” said Bob O’Donnell, president, founder and chief analyst at Technalysis, in an interview with us.
Yet many smartphones introduced at MWC never even make it to U.S. shores because they’re designed for other parts of the world, the analyst pointed out.
Microsoft and Blackberry
Microsoft, too, held off on debuting a new flagship phone. But then again, Windows 10 isn’t ready yet. At a press event on Monday, Stephen Elop, executive VP of Microsoft’s Devices Division, formally announced the 5-inch Lumia 630 and 5.7-inch Lumia 630XL, each to be initially outfitted with Windows 8.1.
But Microsoft plans to issue Windows 10 updates for the two new Lumia smartphones, as well as announce new Windows 10 phones later this year, including those “in the flagship tier,” Elop said. The event also featured demos of forthcoming Microsoft Office Universal apps.
BlackBerry, of course, showed its already released Classic and Passport phones. But according to Richard Edwards, an analyst at Ovum, many enterprise customers are as happy (or happier) with Microsoft Lumia phones than with BlackBerry phones, iPhones or Android phones.
Anecdotal evidence from Ovum’s enterprise clients suggests that Windows Phone is being seriously considered, and in some cases also selected, as a replacement for BlackBerry devices,” said Edwards, who is principal analyst in Ovum’s Enterprise Mobility & Productivity Group, in an email to me.
Customer satisfaction surveys generally show that users of Lumia (Windows Phone) smartphones are no less content with their choice than those using Android and Apple phones. Indeed, some reports suggest that Lumia owners are more satisfied than [with] some Android brands. So, getting more units into the hands of users via the commercial market could help Microsoft improve its position in the consumer market, albeit still in a very distant third position.”
A demo at Microsoft’s press event by Julia White, general manager of Microsoft’s Office Division, got noisily interrupted by Sony folks next door. “I think you’d have to admit that no amount of noise could overcome the incomparable Julia White,” Elop joked.
Sony isn’t introducing a new flagship phone at MWC 2015 either, instead introducing a midrange Android Lollipop phone called the Xperia M4 Aqua.
Where Samsung has moved its flagship Galaxy phone from plastic to a metal casing in the S6, Sony has taken the OmniBalance design of its current Xperia Z3 flagship and wrapped it in plastic for the M4 Aqua. The device weighs only 136 grams and is 7.3 millimeters thin, but it contains an IPS front panel protected by tempered glass, a Snapdragon 615 processor, 2 GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 615 processor, a 2,400mAh battery with up to two days of battery life, a 13 MP Exmor RS camera on the back and a 5 MP camera on the front.
Sony has been known for launching a new smartphone every six months. Why not this time? Smartphones don’t seem to be at the top of Sony’s list of priorities right now. During a strategy session a couple of weeks ago, Sony CEO Kazuo Hirii reportedly said that Sony will no longer pursue sales growth in areas like smartphones, where it has faced competition from industry kingpins such as Apple and Samsung, as well as from less pricey products from other Asian companies.
Instead, Sony intends to spend money on more profitable areas of the company such as camera sensors, videogames and entertainment, according to a report in Reuters.
Wearables from LG, Huawei and HTC
Like LG, Huawei showed off a new Android Wear smart watch at MWC, called the Huawei Watch. Huawei’s first smartwatch looks particularly like a real watch, complete with a circular frame and lugs for interchangeable straps.
HTC also made a first step into wearables. Developed in partnership with fitness specialist Under Armour, the HTC Grip is a fitness band with features that include water resistance and support for multiple sport modes such as treadmill and outdoor biking.
The HTC Grip syncs with both iPhones and Android phones, and it’s capable of displaying incoming phone calls and texts. Set for availability this spring at $199, The Grip will be offered in a lime and dark teal color scheme.
Stay tuned for more coverage from MWC 2015.
All Screenshots Courtesy of Respective Companies: Samsung, HTC, LG, Microsoft, Sony
Featured Image Credit: Ant Pruitt