To revive interest in smartphones, Samsung and
LG are improving their cameras and embracing
the nascent world of virtual reality.
And Samsung is being backed by Facebook’s
Mark Zuckerberg, who said Sunday the
companies are teaming up to push VR in mobile
phones and social networking.
“Together this is by far the best mobile VR
experience you can offer,” Zuckerberg said
at Samsung’s unveiling of their new flagship
phones in Barcelona.
Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge promise
better photos under low-light conditions, in part
with sensors that capture more light. The main
camera on LG’s upcoming G5 smartphone will
have two lenses - one for standard shots and
another with a wider angle so you can capture
more of what’s in front of you without having to
Both companies will also release several camerarelated
accessories. Samsung, which unveiled a
virtual-reality device for consumers last fall, will
now make a 360-degree camera for everyday
folks to capture and share VR images. The
company will also make smartphone cases with
a hole to screw in special lenses, such as wide
angle and fisheye views.
LG will have its own VR headset - a lighter
version of Samsung’s Gear VR - as well as a
smartphone attachment that functions as a
camera grip with physical buttons to take shots
and control video recording. The attachment is
part of LG’s new modular approach to design;
you’ll be able to pop out the phone’s bottom
and swap in new hardware features.
The announcements at the Mobile World
Congress wireless show in Barcelona, Spain,
come as worldwide smartphone growth has
slowed, particularly for high-end devices such as
Samsung’s S and LG’s G series. Many consumers
have turned to lower-cost Android devices that
sport features considered top of the line just a
few years ago.
“Today we stand at that beginning of new
era,” said Samsung president of mobile
communications business, DJ Koh. “Here
at the beginning of 2016 who doesn’t take
smartphones for granted? Having seen
everything the smartphone can deliver, at
Samsung we have other ideas.”
To underscore Samsung’s emphasis on VR,
Zuckerberg made an appearance at the
Samsung event to announce a partnership
between the two companies to push their
“(VR) is now mainly used for gaming, but that is
quickly changing,” Zuckerberg said. “That is why
Facebook is investing so much in VR, so we can
deliver these social experiences. And that is why
we are working with Samsung.”
Analysts said VR was critical for the industry to
get customers to part with old phones that they
are still happy with and buy new ones.
“All the smartphone makers are now competing
with themselves from two-to-three years
ago, their problem is that phones from twoto-
three years ago are still in use,” Ian Fogg,
head of mobile analysis at IHS Technology,
told The Associated Press. “VR is essential. It
is a smartphone industry initiative to drive
consumers to upgrade.”
Phone makers used to guarantee upgrades by
making phones bigger and bigger - but phones
can’t get much bigger for one-handed use. In
fact, the new LG phone is shrinking to 5.3 inches,
from 5.5 inches last year. Samsung’s Edge is
getting bigger, at 5.5 inches, but because the
sides curve, the phone won’t be much wider. The
main S7 model is staying constant at 5.1 inches.
With size out of the equation, phone makers
have to innovate elsewhere.
That’s been crucial for Samsung, in particular, as
its chief rival, Apple, largely matched Samsung on
size, while boosting the iPhone camera’s resolution
to 12 megapixels from 8. The iPhone has also
gotten better at low-light shots, even surpassing
some stand-alone, point-and-shoot cameras.
Realizing that the megapixel count alone doesn’t
necessarily translate to quality images, Samsung
is reducing resolution in the new phones to
12 megapixels from 18. That allows individual
pixels on the sensors to be larger, thus capturing
more light. The new cameras also allow the
camera’s aperture to open wider, letting in more
light. Together, the shutter needs to stay open
for a shorter time, reducing the blurring that
sometimes mars indoor and night shots.
Samsung also says its new phones will have
a faster focus, which it says will improve
performance at low light.
And for the selfie camera, Samsung is turning
the screen into a flash, similar to what Apple
introduced last fall.
Samsung is restoring the ability to add storage,
but the battery won’t be replaceable by users.
Instead, Samsung is increasing the battery
capacity in both models, though the Edge’s
larger screen and other new features in both
models, including an always-on mode, will sip
The new phones will start shipping March 11,
with advance orders to begin this week. In
some markets, including the U.S., Samsung is
including a Gear VR headset for free to those
who order ahead of time.
Prices will vary by carrier and region. In the
U.S., AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are offering the
regular version for $650 to $695 and the Edge
version for about $100 more. Verizon hasn’t
announced prices yet.
In a few months, Samsung will start selling its
Gear 360 camera, a device with front and back
lenses to stitch together 360-degree videos
for VR devices and apps. Samsung phones will
come with apps for viewing those videos on the
Gear VR and sharing them with friends.
VR is still in its early days, with much of the
interest coming from hard-core gamers and tech
pioneers. Samsung wants to make it easier for
everyday people to create VR videos - so that
their friends will buy VR headsets to view them.
LG, meanwhile, designed the LG 360 VR
headset to work with an LG smartphone that’s
attached by a cable. With Samsung’s VR device,
the smartphone is inserted at eye level and
becomes the headset’s display, increasing the
weight on the head. LG’s version has built-in,
lighter displays in the headset’s eyepieces. LG
is also making a 360-degree camera similar
Prices and release dates for the LG phone and
accessories from both companies have yet to be
announced, though the LG phone is expected in
the U.S. in April.
Neither VR system will be as powerful as fullfledged
VR devices coming this year. HTC said
Sunday that a consumer version of the Vive
will start selling in early April for $799, with
ordering to begin Feb. 29. A personal computer
is required and sold separately.
VR isn’t limited to high-end devices: On Saturday,
Alcatel announced a mid-range Idol 4S - with
packaging that can be folded into VR headset.
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