It seems incredible to think that two years have passed since I last sorted out a mobile phone contract. Wait... I'm getting some serious déjà vu here!
Samsung, who might be known better right now for imploding management and exploding batteries, put my faith back into Android with the S5 Mini. I mean, I am never going to be an iPhone user (overpriced and goes out of its way to only be compatible with it's own ecosystem) but I always thought Android was a bit, well, meh. I really didn't understand why Apple was getting stressy over Samsung.
Then I got a Samsung phone and it all made sense. So, as you can tell, I was a satisfied S5 Mini owner. Satisfied enough to cough up some banknotes for the S7 come renewal time. There just was no other option.
The phone isn't actually that much larger than the S5 Mini, and is an interesting construction with a big-ass screen behind a glass panel on the front, and another glass panel on the back. There are subtle curves and the whole thing just looks good. Far better than the crappy faux-leather-but-is-really-just-plastic of the S5 Mini. With all this glass, god only knows what will happen if it is dropped, so I decided it might be wise to take out the additional €13/month insurance. After all, replacing this phone would cost over €600!
With all this glass you'd imagine it to be slippery. It's a total fingerprint magnet, but somehow shiny smooth glass feels less likely to skip out of my hand than the S5 Mini that I was always dropping.
I got myself a screen protector. It doesn't cover the entire size of the screen as for some reason they're made out of tempered glass instead of stick-on plastic. When did that innovation happen? This special toughened glass came with a load of blurb on the back regarding it's special toughness, absorbing an impact of 0.2 joules. What is that, a Malteser dropped from a height of a metre? Still, I'd rather mess up something I can chuck out 'cos you know no matter how tough the glass claims to be, there'll be scratches.
I stuck with the same contract. The Play contracts now are 20GB and 30GB, much larger than my 3GB, however he Orange information suggests that the 20GB does not have free international calls. Frankly, 3GB is plenty, so I can keep the free calls instead of more GBs than I know what to do with. Still don't get Deezer as standard, it's a paid extra. So I guess I'll still be listening to The Eagle and ripping J-pop off YouTube. ☺
I didn't get suckered for the "installation and setup fee". The woman in the shop, who also understood English, handed me the phone, so I did the initial setup for myself and opted out of all of Google's data grabbing. I hadn't even paid for the phone and it had been activated. Gotta hand it to Orange, no more of this "activated in n days" rubbish.
Samsung's SmartSwitch was pretty oool. I basically put the phones side by side and could transfer data. I left them copying my music while mom had a McMeal and I had the coke. I'd eaten a kebab thingy earlier so I wasn't hungry. SmartSwitch isn't perfect - there's a load of stuff it doesn't transfer. It seemed to copy apps, but not app data, so I had to reinstall Firefox's add-ons and don't have bookmarks or passwords on the new phone. And no, I'm not using Firefox Sync as this could do something clever like pushing information locally via Bluetooth or WiFi Direct, but instead it wants to bounce all of my private data (all my passwords, for instance) off a cloud server hosted in the US. You gotta be joking.
Ditto for my emails. It wasn't hard setting up the email clients again, it was just... these are the sorts of things a tool ought to do. Transferring the data is half the story, transferring the settings is the other half.
The European (well, non-American) models of the S7 come with Samsung's own Exynos 8890 SoC, a high performer (that needs a water-assisted cooling system (basically a tiny copper pipe with some water inside!)) that is often quoted as running eight 64 bit cores at up to 2.4GHz. The cores are not equal, they are the big.LITTLE which means there are four low power cores and four high power cores. Basic system tasks can run on the low power cores, and processor intensive stuff can use the high power cores. More technically, there are four A53 processors that run at up to 1.586GHz. A fair bit short of the 2.4GHz oft quoted, but I would imagine running that much flat out at 2.4GHz would burn up the chip. Remember, there are four cores, so it's already got twice the oomph of a dual core device. Add to this four extra cores, the Exynos M1. These run at 2.6GHz is one or two cores are active, or at 2.29GHz if three are four are active. These connect to a memory controller running just shy of 1.8GHz, and a Mali GPU clocking 650MHz. It's worth pointing out that the M1 cores are Samsung's own design which is said to have many improvements over ARM's own M1 core. Perhaps this is why they can clock up to 2.6GHz with light loading?
Quite a few benchmarks show that the Mali GPU just can't quite keep up with the iPhone 6 Plus in terms of graphics. Actually the Mali is wiping the floor with the iPhone, so don't let simplistic bar charts fool you. The resolution of the iPhone 6 Plus is 1920×1080, while the Galaxy S7 is a mere 2560×1440 pixels; so if it lags a little bit while pushing a little under twice as many pixels around, you know what that means. Both are highly capable processors, let's agree on that.
Yes. This screen, some five inches diagonal, has as many pixels in its about two inch width as my monitor has in it's two foot width! With a resolution of 577 pixels per inch, the Super AMOLED feels like it's better resolution than traditional printed documents. Here's a close-up of the screen with my camera on macro mode and using a magnifying glass. We still can't quite make out the individual pixels:
The display is bright, clear, and the blacks are deep. The only quirk that I have noticed is that greens in photos (grass, for example) tend to be rather vivid, and that's with the regular default settings, not the vivid or cinema modes.
I have knocked the system resolution back to 1920×1080. Less data to push around, while making roughly zero difference to the "visual experience", but ought to make the system more power efficient.
Because, sadly, the battery is fixed inside this phone. There's no replacement opportunity. Though, on the other hand, with the SIM/SD slot fixed in place, the device is rated IP68. That means water and dust are no big deal. It's rated something like a metre and a half deep for up to thirty minutes. Something like that. Certainly, gone are the days when a light rain would destroy your phone.
With 4GB RAM and 32GB Flash (about 8 claimed for the OS, and some extra for the bundled rubbish), this is certainly a well specified device. There's just loads of memory.
The primary camera is a marvel. It is capable of UHD video (3840×2160 (twice FullHD is both dimensions)). I tried an upload of a short test to YouTube, not sure if it actually made it as far as supporting the 4K format? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iR7nuWiermg. The camera is a lower pixel count than expected, at only 12Mpix (4032×3024). I use the camera at 9Mpix (4032×2268) as I prefer the 16:9 ratio. But there are secrets lurking here. Every pixel sensor, all 12 million of them, has a companion sensor to aid in rapid focusing. Also, the larger sensor elements (1.4µm) along with a larger (f/1.7) lens allow for impressive night photographs. Remember those late nights out with friends and endless blurry photos and flash mishaps? Well, with this phone you probably won't need the flash for normal conditions like restaurants and such, allowing better capture of the ambience of the situation. A simple switch to the "Pro" mode means you can tweak as many things as you have on a typical handheld digital camera.
Here's an example. It's a ten second exposure. That powerful floodlight that looks like the mothership coming in to land? It's a 60W bulb.
Here's another I took just now. This is a ten second exposure of the moon. I can't wait to take this out and have a crack at astrophotography. I have some clip-on lenses that might help overcome the lack of actual zoom lens, but this is a smartphone not a DSLR! That said, it features an optically stabilised lens, and the ability to record HD video at 240fps for super smooth slow motion. Enquiring minds really don't want to contemplate how many teenage boys are likely to have had a slo-mo pee.
One final thing about the camera, for the ultimate Blair Witch experience, the device can record video from the rear camera while inlaying video from the selfie camera into the recording (choice of frame styles). So you can now run around in circles in the woods at night and have all those panic reaction shots at the same time. How cool is that for rolling your own ultra low budget zombie flick? I'd do it myself if I thought I could rustle up a few dozen dead people...
My first panic came when I discovered that there was no music player on the phone, other than Google Play Music, that I don't like much. I really liked how the player on my S5 worked. Well, it turns out that the player is available from Samsung's own app store. A few simple taps and I could ignore Google Play Music and stick with what I like, including customising the audio for my headphones and hearing. Bass response sounds nice. The four-way grid has been replaced with twiddle knobs, one for bass and one for treble. Got to say, it makes more sense like that. Anyway, if I'm listening to Nightwish epic rocking, I want to hear all of the music. That's why I have big headphones (€7,99 from Lidl and way better than most things I've had in decades). Maybe it isn't perfect, some reviews mention (minimal) crosstalk, but hey, I grew up with cassette tapes, then CDs on domestic 1 bit DACs, then MP3 players with 128kbit joint-stereo. So I'm not an audiophile, I just think tinny symphonic metal through ear buds ought to be a form of torture used by the three-letters.
The weather app no longer shows the nifty weather pictures. It's a shame to lose that. My backdrop is quite vivid (it's cherry blossom), so it can be hard to read the weather and also the alarm information, because the widget background is either transparent or mostly transparent.
An interesting feature is that the phone can dimly display something on the screen when the phone is in standby. This is usually a clock, and maybe some notifications. It will show the track name when you're listening to an MP3 - and a really nice touch is that double-tapping on the track name will open up basic controls to play/pause and change tracks. So you can control the music without waking the phone, which is not only better for power saving, it's better for you as a half-asleep zombie. Or is that just me?
The interface is Samsung's TouchWiz on top of Android, so it is a fairly consistent user interface. The only problem is that Google are blindly following in the Apple tradition of huge areas of white. Please, Google, understand that this sucks hairy donkey balls at night. You know, I have installed the Google keyboard. The Samsung one is better, but the Google one allows me to set the keyboard colour to black. So, Google, if you are going to continue to be obsessed with these great amounts of whitespace, then please allow us to choose if it's black or white, okay?
Here, look, case in point:
But, there's something kind of cool lurking in Android... There's finally the ability to do two things at once, like computers in the '80s:
You can only interact with one app at a time, obviously, but to have two things on the go at once may make things easier. Like, say, a forum post at the bottom and a PDF viewer at the top.
If this looks like being too tight a squeeze, then fear not - double-tapping the square-box button (the one that changes function every other Android release) will switch between the two most recent apps. That's a good feature, actually. I can see using that a lot.
The Android permission system is slowly improving. A freaky number of apps want the permission to make and manage phone calls. An equal amount simply bomb out when they're denied the permission. This is because for an eternity, the ability to tell if a call is in place is part of the same permission. This sort of permission is necessary for, say, a music or video player that can pause itself when a phone call is in progress. But as a side effect, the app with that permission can read your device's IDs and the number of who you're talking to, etc. I can understand why "call in progress" is there, but it was an utterly idiotic permission.
Now, to one-up iOS, Android has broken down the permissions as: Body sensors, Calendar, Camera, Contacts, Location, Microphone, SMS, Storage, Telephone, Car info, and Read/Write instant messages. These can be toggled.
If an app wants a permission it doesn't have, you'll be asked if you want to allow or deny the request. Sometimes denying works. Frequently the app will bomb. But, hey, it's a start. At long least.
I got myself some cheap 3D goggles from Noz, so I'm playing with 3D photos on Google Maps and the like. My phone isn't compatible with Google's VR Services, for some reason. But it can run Cardboard and Cardboard Camera so long as I dismiss the annoying "where's VR services" whinge. I took a couple of 360 photos here. Not proper 3D, but not bad.
The phone also, nicely, supports USG OTG. There's a little adaptor that presents a USB socket, so I tried plugging in a card reader with an SD card inserted. It was mounted and a doddle to copy across files. Dismounting was not straightforward, go to the storage settings and pick the device to dismount. Maybe there's an easier way I didn't notice? But, hey, it's not a big problem over the benefit of being able to directly plug stuff in.
Hmmm... I ought to try plugging a mouse in, see what that does...
Along the way I found a video editor (download from Galaxy store). It's actually pretty good for a phone app, and may offer more possibilities than anything I have on the PC. I'll need to play with it.
Now, finally, one of the things I liked was that Samsung offered me (irregular) updates. More than Sony or Motorola ever did. Well, I came home, I asked the phone to look for updates, and it started downloading a gigabyte. Took ages. And when that was done, my Android 6.something became Android 7.0 running a kernel built a month ago. Perhaps the most recent Android I've ever used? And thanks to Samsung's TouchWiz, apart from even more white, everything looks and feels much the same, only with some additional features to enjoy.
Oh, it's late and I should have uploaded this hours ago but got caught up looking around Echizen with the VR goggles. It's... pretty impressive to stand at the gateway to a shrine (the big torii) and just move your head to look around, it's the closest thing yet to "being there". I also found a video on YouTube of the train line from Fukui to Mikuni-minato.
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Last read at 18:40 on 2018/02/19.
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