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Samsung’s marvelous Olympic-edition Note 8 is worthy of a gold medal

If you like Samsung’s smartphones, you’ll wish you were an Olympian. The South Korean company last month unveiled a special edition Galaxy Note 8 for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics; it looks beautiful in renders, but we can tell you for certain it looks even better in real life. Samsung supplied 4,000 of these special Note 8 phones to all Olympians, International Olympic Committee (IOC), and PyeongChang 2018 Organizing Committee (POCOG) staff.

The company is hoping the massive 6.3-inch screen and included S Pen will allow everyone involved in the Olympic Games to “do bigger things,” and the incredible dual-sensor camera will help document this marvelous experience. Much to our dismay, you can’t buy this special edition model. The new design celebrates the Winter Olympics with an all-new shiny white glass back overlaid with the Olympic logo: Five interconnected gold rings that symbolize the unity of the five continents, the world, and the Olympic Torch.

A collection of PyeongChang 2018-themed wallpapers are also included, and each device comes with pre-installed Olympic apps that Samsung hopes will be useful to each of the recipients. The user interface is also accented with Olympic colors. For example, the Android navigation buttons are color blue, green, and red; the system tray has blue accents, and so does the pattern unlock in the lock screen.

This splash of color helps make the special edition Galaxy Note 8 feel all the more unique.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

“We’re proud to provide the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games Limited Edition to all athletes in an effort to help them to stay connected, capture and share one of the most memorable moments of their lives,” Samsung Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President Younghee Lee said in a statement. The Paralympians taking part in the Winter Paralympic Games haven’t been left out, either, and Samsung will also be supplying all of them with the same special edition Note 8, with an additional Paralympics-themed case to commemorate the role smart devices have played in assisting those with disabilities. This isn’t the first time that Samsung has gotten involved in the Olympic Games.

The company began sponsoring the games way back in 1988, when it entered as a local sponsor during the Seoul Olympic Games. Since then, Samsung has become a Worldwide Olympic Partner. It handed out 12,000 special edition Galaxy S7 Edge devices to Olympians during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

With Samsung also involved in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, you can be sure it has something planned for those games as well — so if you want to get your hands on a limited-edition Samsung device, it’s best to hit the track.

Updated on February 13: We added our own photos and hands-on impressions of the Galaxy Note 8 Olympic Edition.

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Samsung’s new sensor mixes hardware and software, enabling cheaper dual cameras

The bokeh effects and low light capabilities of dual camera smartphones will soon be easier to find — and without spending so much. On Tuesday, February 6, Samsung announced an Isocell Dual image sensor designed specifically for midrange and budget smartphones. Dual camera designs are typically included in the pricier smartphones because two cameras means twice as much to implement into not just hardware, but the software as well.

Samsung explains that, in order to implement dual cameras, the manufacturer of the device needs to optimize not just the cameras, but the software, and also must work with different vendors in order to make those two cameras a reality. Samsung’s latest dual-camera sensor, however, attempts to address the difficulty of implementing dual lenses — because it’s not just a sensor. The latest Isocell Dual is an entire camera module that has both the necessary hardware and the software already optimized for those cameras.

Samsung says the new option is an industry first for combining both hardware and software into a single solution and should help manufacturers spend fewer resources to implement the dual lenses. The new complete Isocell Dual options include a 13-megapixel and five-megapixel pair with the refocusing algorithms that create that stronger bokeh or out-of-focus effect in the background. Samsung’s low-light algorithm is being paired with a set of eight-megapixel dual cameras.

Samsung is now selling the complete camera modules to manufacturers — which means it’s too early to tell just how much of a price difference the complete camera module will create for consumers. Samsung says the new option will make it easier for manufacturers to add the feature to mid- and entry-level devices. “Dual cameras are delivering new and exciting photo-taking experiences on mobile devices,” Ben K.

Hur, vice president of System LSI marketing at Samsung Electronics, said in a press release. “Samsung’s total solution for Isocell Dual will make our customers’ product development process easier, allowing them to bring the most optimized dual camera features to a wider range of consumers.”

The camera combo comes a few months after Samsung also created a dual pixel sensor that uses two sides of the pixel, rather than two lenses, to create similar dual lens effects.

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Samsung Galaxy X: the story of Samsung’s foldable phone so far

Update: Samsung has mentioned foldable phones in its latest financial statement, adding to the evidence that we might see one soon.

Foldable phones are coming – it’s only a matter of time – and it’s looking increasingly like Samsung could be the first company to commercially launch one, possibly as soon as this year.

We may even know what it’s called, with the mysterious Samsung Galaxy X being the subject of several bendable leaks, foldable patents and flexible rumors.

But whether X marks the spot or not, we’re clearly entering a foldable future. To see how we got here and where we’re going, here’s the story of Samsung’s foldable phone so far.

Seven years in the making

The idea of a foldable phone isn’t new to Samsung, in fact way back in 2011 the company showed off[1] a prototype of exactly that.

The device looked chunky and awkward, but even back then it somewhat worked, remaining intact after 100,000 folds, with only a 6% drop in brightness at the center, where all the folding action happened.

This clearly wasn’t a commercial product, but later that year Samsung launched a concept video[2] of a fully bendable (and transparent) mobile device, that could fold out from a phone-sized screen to a tablet-sized one, showing Samsung’s ambitions for the technology.

[embedded content]

Production problems

While a device like the one in the video above is likely still years away even now, by 2012 Samsung was already hard at work trying to launch the first generation of flexible or foldable phones, but a report[3] late in the year claimed that problems with the production of flexible screens would hold the first bendy display back until at least 2013.

That didn’t stop Samsung showing off another video[4] of a foldable future though, highlighting all sorts of transparent screens, made from plastic that’s thin, light and flexible enough to fully fold or roll.

And as 2012 came to a close it seemed Samsung might be overcoming its production problems, with another report[5] claiming that its flexible plastic screens were in the final stage of development, with the first phones sporting them likely to land in mid-2013.

Samsung’s bendy plastic screens got a more real-world debut at CES 2013[6], along with a name – they were now called ‘Youm’, though it was clear from the flexible prototype on show that Samsung was still far from putting a Youm display on a commercial device.

That was made even more clear when the tech was reportedly hit[7] with new manufacturing issues in April 2013. Supposedly the previous problems had been solved, but now Samsung was apparently struggling with the encapsulation technology, which protects the screen from moisture and air damage.

Round the Edge

The closest thing we actually got to a foldable phone from Samsung in 2013 was the Samsung Galaxy Round[8]. This was far from the prototypes and concepts we’d seen, but as the world’s first curved screen smartphone it was a big step in the right direction.

That was followed up by the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge[9], which curved in a now more familiar direction, one which Samsung has since fully embraced with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge[10] and other phones with curved edges.

These are still far from being foldable, and while a Samsung executive did promise[11] a truly bendable device by the end of 2014, whatever he was referring to never appeared.

Project Valley

Talk of foldable phones went a bit quiet until mid-2015, when it was rumored that an upcoming phone codenamed Project Valley[12] could be foldable.

At this point little was known about the device, which would apparently have two screens, but it was said to be in early development, so was unlikely to arrive for a while, if at all.

In September 2015 an “insider” claimed[13] that we’d see a bendable phone in January 2016. It wasn’t clear whether this was Project Valley or not, but apparently it would come in both mid-range and high-end flavors. Though, of course, it didn’t arrive at all.

Samsung Galaxy X

In May 2016 Project Valley got a new name – the Samsung Galaxy X, which was believed to be the name it would release under.

According to reports[14] at the time it would be ready for release in 2017 and would have a foldable 4K display, so that the resolution would remain high even when the phone was folded.

We were sceptical about that launch date at the time, and were right to be, as we’re now in 2018 with no sign of it.

But that’s not quite the full story so far. At SID 2016 Samsung showed off a roll-out display[15] – but one which didn’t have a touchscreen layer, which would be pretty vital for a smartphone.

Then in June 2017 “people familiar with the matter” reported[16] that we might see two foldable phones from Samsung in 2017 – backing up those previous Galaxy X reports.

Supposedly one would fold out from a 5-inch handset to an 8-inch tablet, much like the concept video Samsung showed back at the beginning of our story, while the other would fold in half like a cosmetic compact, along the lines of a folding phone patent[17] we’d already seen.

This 2017 launch didn’t happen, but Samsung was clearly on the right track, with another patent[18] looking to solve one of the biggest problems with folding phones – the ability to fold without damaging any internal components.

The patent described an “artificial muscle”, which would move in time with the screen bending to protect other components.

We’ve seen plenty of early glimpses that claim to show off the Samsung Galaxy X. One came from a patent spotted by GalaxyClub[19], highlighting a long device, with a shape more like a remote control than a smartphone, but one which could fold down to half the size.

The shape doesn’t seem particularly practical, so we doubt this is the form the Galaxy X will take, but it’s vaguely along the lines of the phone-to-tablet convertible we’ve been hearing about, and a similar design[20] has popped up since.

Credit: LetsGoDigital

One of the more recent bits of information that may point to the foldable X looks different than previous info. Much like the ZTE Axon M that came out in 2017, images from the patent filing (shown above) show off a bezel-licious device that folds in a clamshell design. 

According to some sources[21], more than 100,000 units were going to roll out in the third quarter 2017 – though they added that plans for a 2017 launch could apparently be changed, which has clearly happened if any such plans ever existed.

That gelled with a tweet from tipster @mmddj_china[23], who claimed the Galaxy X would land in Q3 of 2017 – which again, obviously, did not happen.

Elsewhere we were hearing[24] that Samsung would only have a prototype ready by then, and supply chain sources speaking to DigiTimes[25] said that a small production of foldable handsets would be made in the fourth quarter of the year, but technical issues may mean we wouldn’t see mass production before mid-2018 – something which now looks optimistic.

Other sources[26] similarly said that several thousand dual-screen prototypes might land in 2017, but that a commercially available product wouldn’t.

Most damningly of all, one of Samsung Display’s own engineers has claimed[27] we won’t see a foldable phone for a while, saying:  “Because the bezel-free display currently sells well, we still have enough time to develop foldable display. The technology is expected to be mature around 2019.”

Although more recent news comes direct from Samsung’s mobile boss, and is a little better, as he claimed the company was aiming for a 2018 launch[28], assuming it could overcome certain unspecified problems. Though he’s since slightly backtracked[29] on those claims.

A phone with a model number linked to the Galaxy X[30] also showed up on Samsung’s site, but it’s since been revealed that this is an unrelated handset[31].

The Galaxy X could essentially have two screens instead of one. Credit: KIPRIS

In November 2017 we finally had a look at the possible interface[32] of the Galaxy X, revealing a familiarly Samsung UI, but where each half of the display shows a different screen, rather than just making everything bigger or smaller.

This interface was shown in a patent, which also gave us another look at the possible design of the phone, showing something with a laptop-like design, but a second screen where the keyboard would be.

And in early 2018 an industry source claimed[33] Samsung will likely start producing the phone – which will apparently have a 7.3-inch display – in November 2018, with a launch likely in December or early 2019. However, they added that it’s likely to have an ultra-premium price tag.

But apparently prototypes of the folding phone have already been shown off[34] behind closed doors at CES 2018, which took place in January, while Samsung’s Q4 2017 financial results included claims[35] that foldable OLED panels and phones could be a big money-maker for Samsung in 2018 and beyond – which is yet more evidence that the Galaxy X is coming soon.

The shape of things to come

That brings us up to today, and while Samsung has made some commercial progress towards a flexible phone, with curved screens on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8[36], on the surface it doesn’t seem much closer overall to a truly foldable display than it did way back in 2011.

There’s lots of talk of a 2018 launch, but that’s not the first time a questionably close launch has been rumored.

If anything, it may arrive later, since a Samsung employee has said not to expect the Galaxy X before 2019.

But behind the scenes promising progress does seem to have been made. Over the years several key problems in development appear to have been solved – from making a screen that can be folded thousands of times without breaking, to avoiding damage to internal components.

So we still see folding phones in our future, and maybe even the not too distant future.

References

  1. ^ showed off (www.techradar.com)
  2. ^ a concept video (www.techradar.com)
  3. ^ a report (www.techradar.com)
  4. ^ another video (www.techradar.com)
  5. ^ another report (www.techradar.com)
  6. ^ CES 2013 (www.techradar.com)
  7. ^ reportedly hit (www.techradar.com)
  8. ^ Samsung Galaxy Round (www.techradar.com)
  9. ^ Samsung Galaxy Note Edge (www.techradar.com)
  10. ^ Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (www.techradar.com)
  11. ^ promise (www.techradar.com)
  12. ^ Project Valley (www.techradar.com)
  13. ^ claimed (www.techradar.com)
  14. ^ reports (www.techradar.com)
  15. ^ a roll-out display (www.techradar.com)
  16. ^ reported (www.techradar.com)
  17. ^ folding phone patent (www.techradar.com)
  18. ^ another patent (www.techradar.com)
  19. ^ GalaxyClub (www.galaxyclub.nl)
  20. ^ similar design (www.techradar.com)
  21. ^ some sources (www.techradar.com)
  22. ^ 29 March 2017 (twitter.com)
  23. ^ @mmddj_china (twitter.com)
  24. ^ hearing (www.techradar.com)
  25. ^ DigiTimes (www.digitimes.com)
  26. ^ sources (www.techradar.com)
  27. ^ has claimed (www.techradar.com)
  28. ^ aiming for a 2018 launch (www.techradar.com)
  29. ^ slightly backtracked (www.techradar.com)
  30. ^ a model number linked to the Galaxy X (www.techradar.com)
  31. ^ unrelated handset (www.techradar.com)
  32. ^ possible interface (www.techradar.com)
  33. ^ claimed (www.techradar.com)
  34. ^ been shown off (www.techradar.com)
  35. ^ included claims (www.techradar.com)
  36. ^ Samsung Galaxy S8 (www.techradar.com)
  37. ^ LG is working on foldable screens too (www.techradar.com)

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Samsung’s Isocell sensors promise slo-mo, one-shot HDR, or bezel-free design

Samsung’s semiconductor division will soon allow smartphone cameras to prioritize speed, low light or a bezel-free design. Announced with a new product page on Monday, January.

22, Samsung’s new Isocell series of camera sensors each has a different priority. With a handful of options in each category with different resolutions, Samsung’s Isocell Fast focuses on speed, Isocell Bright on low-light performance and Isocell Slim on eliminating that camera bump, while Isocell Dual is designed for two lens devices. The Isocell Fast uses a three-layer sensor design. (Samsung’s stacked sensor announcement comes almost a year after Sony announced a similar stacked design, the first time a stacked DRAM was designed for a smartphone.) Stacked sensors use a traditional layer of pixels mixed with another layer dedicated entirely to processing all that information and a third layer of temporary memory to store the data.

The design allows the sensor to process data faster and for Samsung’s Isocell Fast, that means at least the 480 fps Samsung is teasing in the product graphics. The three-stack sensor allows for high-speed video which can be used to create some serious slow-motion effects. Along with the faster frame rate, Samsung says the Phase Detection Auto Focus, which uses a Dual Pixel design, is also better at focusing on quick subjects, including when recording in challenging low-light scenes.

Speed is the focus for the Isocell Fast — while size is a priority for the Isocell Slim. The sensor on this option is small enough to allow for a bezel-free design, Samsung says, measuring at 0.9um. Samsung says the Isocell Slim sensor “offers the highest quality images ever built on a smaller camera module.”

The IsocellBright focuses instead on improving low-light technology. With this sensor, Samsung merges four pixels into a larger photo site that is more sensitive to light. Powered by Tetracell technology, the sensor also allows for wide dynamic range exposures with one photo, rather than merging multiple photos with the more common high dynamic range technique.

While Samsung has already launched Dual Pixel sensors that will allow for some of the same dual lens effects from a single camera, the Isocell Dual offers a stacked sensor duo. Samsung says the Dual allows for optical zoom and background blur effects. The company says the dual lens option will also enhance the camera’s performance in low light.

Samsung has not said where the sensors will wind up, but the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S9 seems like a likely destination for one of those sensor types.

Each sensor also comes in different resolution and sizes, with the smaller options likely for front-facing cameras.

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