Samsung Unpacked 2015: The story’s in the software

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Korean electronics giant Samsung today unveiled the latest iteration of its phablet-with-a-stylus handset, the Galaxy Note 5 and the enlarged version of it’s S6 Edge device, the S6 Edge+, at a flashy event in New York City’s Lincoln Centre. That’s another point to the rumour mill, which was (as we’ve come to expect) spot on in its predictions. But today’s announcements, despite the fanfare, weren’t really about hardware. The real story lies in the accompanying software.

The official story

As expected, the Note 5 takes its design cues from the S6 and S6 Edge, with a metal unibody design that ditches the microSD card slot and removable battery in favour of 32GB, 64GB and 128GB variants and a 3 000mAh battery. The S6 Edge+, meanwhile, appears to be Samsung’s answer to Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus — a larger version of its flagship device for those who want the extra screen real estate but don’t necessarily want the Note’s included stylus.

The S6 Edge+ comes in the same storage sizes as the Note 5, and includes the same 3 000mAh battery. Both devices include 4GB of RAM, 5.7-inch Quad-HD displays and the same, outstanding 16-megapixel camera found on the S6 and S6 Edge. Both devices shoot 4K video and include VDIS — a new software-based stabilisation system that augments the optical image stabilisation (IOS) of its predecessors.

Both devices also get a new, and novel accessory: the Keyboard Cover, which is exactly what it sounds like. Clip the cover onto the front of an S6 Edge+ or Note 5 and you can relive the glory days of your BlackBerry Bold with a physical keyboard, complete with physical buttons for back, home and options. When you don’t need it, the cover clips to the rear of the device.Samsung Unpacked S6 Edge+ Note 5 (09)We found the Keyboard Cover a little strange to use, but then, we’re pretty acclimatised to touch by now. Nonetheless, the haptic feedback each button press initiates is pleasing and we’re sure there are some (strange) people out there who still yearn for physical keyboards.

Minor hardware improvements aside, the S6 Edge+ is really a super-sized S6 Edge, making the Note 5 the more interesting of the pair, to us at least. Key to the Note 5 is the S Pen, which Samsung says is to the Note “what the mouse is to the PC”. We use trackpads at Stuff Towers, but we know what they mean. In addition to claimed improvements in precision and sensitivity, a software update to Air Command opens S Pen-related features by hovering the stylus over the screen.

And that, in many ways, is the story from today: software updates.

The real story

Note 5 users will be able to capture screenshots of long webpages (rather than scrolling and capturing multiple images), and a new feature lets users jot down notes on the lock screen, that are saved when the user hits the home button. S6 Edge+ users, meanwhile, gets an addition to the People Edge feature on the S6 Edge that lets you access five contacts by tapping the edge of the display called — you guessed it — Apps Edge. Now users can swipe on their contact shortcuts and access five shortcuts to apps of their choosing. Snazzy.

Potentially the biggest takeaway from Samsung’s event, however, is Live Broadcast — Samsung’s streaming video solution and Periscope and Meerkat equivalent that puts paid to the need for a standalone app by streaming directly to the biggest online video platform on earth, Google’s YouTube.Samsung Unpacked S6 Edge+ Note 5 (05)The other big story of the day — if you live in the US or Europe — is Samsung Pay. The service launches in the Korea on 20 August and in the US and Canada on 28 September, with the UK and other European markets expected to follow soon. Samsung Pay will allows users to load bank cards, store-branded credit cards, membership or loyalty cards and gift cards. No more forgetting the Woolies or eBucks card at home and missing out on points/a chance to give retailers info on your complete buying history (hurrah!).

Craige Fleischer, director of mobile at Samsung Electronics South Africa says Samsung has “already started working with the local partner ecosystem and Samsung HQ” around Samsung Pay. “It will take time for us to bring that entire ecosystem to fruition in South Africa, but we’ve started the process,” he adds.

The post script

Pricing for the new devices is unconfirmed, but expect it to be higher than that of the Note 4 and S6 Edge when they launched, given the dismal performance of the rand in recent months and the fact that neither device manufacturers nor operators are in the habit of absorbing the effects of currency fluctuations. Sorry for you (and for us).

Fleischer says the S6 Edge+ will be available in South Africa in the first week of September while the Note 5 will land in November.

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