Samsung has announced new wireless earbuds, three new flagship phones, and further fuelled speculation that it will kill off one of its most beloved devices.
It looks like the newly announced Galaxy S21 Ultra will fill the hole left by the Note device the company is expected to be doing away with.
Like the old Note, the new S21 Ultra has a huge screen and supports the S Pen stylus (which is sold separately, but if you’re a Note devotee the one you already have should work with the newer phone too).
Samsung describes the Ultra as targeting “people who demand the best of the best flagship experience that maxes out on innovation”, which was previously the domain of the Note.
Along with innovation the Ultra might also max out on your credit card if you use one to pay the $1849 Samsung want for the base model 128GB variant.
The Ultra is one of three Samsung announced at its Unpacked event on Friday morning.
RELATED: ‘Torturous’: The rudest text habit
There were no surprises with the name this year: The new range of phones are called the Galaxy S21, following on from the S20 some expected to be called the S11 when it replaced the S10 in 2020, launching just a few weeks before the world went into a lockdown we are yet to fully emerge from.
But that’s not to say nothing has changed this year.
Samsung reckon the new 5nm Exynos chip in the S21 is the most powerful of those chips ever put in a Samsung device, and to be honest it would only be newsworthy if it wasn’t — we expect these devices to get more powerful every time companies bring a new one out.
Still, Samsung claim the new processor is 20 per cent faster, the GPU 35 per cent faster, and the AI capabilities double that of the Exynos chip in the S20.
New to the Samsung phones is an AI-powered “eye comfort shield” that reduces the amount of blue light your phone displays as the day wears on — the hope is to make it easier for you to sleep at night after a long day of staring into your phone’s display.
This is a welcome feature and worth trying out if you pick up one of the new phones.
Soon you won’t even notice it’s on, but you sure will be able to tell if you turn it off.
There are also apps available on the Google Play Store that do this sort of thing if you don’t want to buy a whole new phone for it.
Other features of the screens include higher frequency 120Hz displays, often talked about for their ability to show higher frame rates in video games and make them render more smoothly, although in Friday morning’s presentation Samsung notes it also allows for “super smooth scrolling” as you try and get to the bottom of Instagram or TikTok.
As expected, the camera is a big focus on the new Galaxy S21, as it has been on the previous phones.
The cameras shoot 8K video (perfect for the 8K TV you’ll buy in about a decade) and also have a new 8K Video Snap mode to capture screengrabs of your video for high resolution photos.
Single Take has been improved and the camera’s Portrait Mode has also been enhanced.
The new S21 has another pretty cool new video feature called “Director’s View” that lets you pick different angles and control your shot.
You can now do things like shoot video on your rear and front facing camera at the same time in “Vlogger View”.
“Live Thumbnails” overlay your main camera display with tiles showing other perspectives you could capture with the ever-growing number of cameras found in smartphones and allows you to switch between them like you’re in a broadcast control room.
In recent years it’s become a bit of a joke and a trend to make fun of how companies go about fitting all of these cameras in, with much mocking of the blockish “arrays” of lenses that now dot the back of your phone.
The verdict is still out on how people will react to the design of Samsung’s new “contour cut” design that blends into the metal frame of the S21.
The company has also introduced a new purple colour available on the S21 and S21+.
The smaller device features a 6.2-inch screen (perhaps somewhat petty in its ever so slight 0.1-inch increase over its chief rival the iPhone) while the S21+ measures 6.7-inch and the S21 Ultra slightly bigger at 6.8-inch.
The S21 (starting at $1249) also has pink, grey, and white models while the larger S21+ ($1549 and up) will have black and silver in addition to the purple.
The S21 Ultra is limited to black and silver.
The phones are available to pre-order on Saturday.
The company also announced the new Galaxy Buds Pro wireless earbuds, boasting an “energetic yet detailed” sound character and undercutting Apple’s AirPods Pro by $50, hitting stores from Saturday priced at $349.
The Buds Pro are fitted with three microphones and an accelerometer to help filter out unwanted noise and minimise background sounds when you’re on a phone call.
Adjustable active noise cancellation can turn off the outside world, while ambient modes do the opposite, letting you listen to music or podcasts while still maintaining awareness of your surroundings so you can hear announcements on the train or cars approaching down the street.
One feature Samsung describes as a “game changer” is the ability of the Buds Pro to switch back and forth between the two, such as turning off active noise cancellation when you speak to someone so you can hear them respond.
Like Apple’s AirPods, Samsung’s Buds Pro are designed to function best in the tech company’s own “ecosystem”, which it describes as “seamless” and “opens up your experience”.
Samsung would absolutely love it if you went out and bought one of its new Galaxy smartphones, and a tablet, and a pair of earbuds to go with them — and if you do that it will reward you by allowing the Buds Pro to intelligently switch back and forth between devices as you do.
The idea is that if you’re watching a video on your tablet and get a call on your phone you can just answer the call and the Buds Pro will be smart enough to switch over.
Another thing the Buds Pro share with AirPods Pro and Max devices from Apple is the ability to simulate surround sound, a feature Samsung calls “360 audio” (Apple calls it Spatial Audio, on Sony’s PlayStation 5 it’s called 3D Audio, Dolby calls it Atmos — they all do pretty much the same thing).
Samsung claims an 18 hour battery life, with the buds and the charging case. Like the AirPods Pro you get an hour of battery off around five minutes in the case.
Losing your expensive new wireless earbuds is a fear for many new adopters but Samsung has announced a new way to keep track of all your things too, with the Samsung SmartThing Find function.
It uses Bluetooth Low Energy and Ultra Wideband wireless technology to locate things, without requiring internet access.
A new “Galaxy SmartTag”, similar to the location trackers made by Tile that everyone has been predicting Apple will replicate but hasn’t yet, was also shown off during Unpacked.
The idea is to fit a tag to non-electronic things so they can also be found, like your keys or even your dog.
The Ultra Wideband technology has other smart applications in the pipeline, including through the improvements Samsung has made with its Android Auto integration.
The company said soon you’ll be able to use your UWB equipped smartphone as your car key (if it’s from one of Samsung’s “global automotive partners”), while you’ll also be able to set up SmartThings commands to open your garage door and turn on your house lights automatically when you pull into the driveway.