Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S3 is nice, but wait for the inevitable price drop

Two years after its last major refresh, Samsung is back with the Galaxy Tab S3. A lot has changed in tablet land in the past two years. Sales have slowed considerably, as consumers have stubbornly opted not to upgrade. Manufacturers, meanwhile, are cannibalizing sales from all sides, through larger phones and convertibles like the Galaxy Book, which was launched right alongside the new slate back at Mobile World Congress a few weeks ago.

Samsung’s got a lot of heavy lifting to do when it comes to reigniting consumer excitement around the space. It certainly didn’t do itself any favors by using the product’s launch event to announce the event for the Galaxy S8, further contributing to the notion that the device is something of a placeholder for the company. Nor will the premium $599 price point do much to win over consumers.

But Samsung has gone a ways toward justifying the price here, packing the slate full of all sorts of features, including an HDR screen, quad-speakers and an S-Pen that ships in the box. But is it all enough to help the company stem its slowing tide of tablet sales?

Slotting in

Tablet classification has gotten progressively trickier over the past few years. When it’s breaking down shipment numbers, analyst group IDC breaks the category into two distinct groups — the slates and the detachables. The new Tab S3 actually slots into the second category, as the company launched it alongside a keyboard case.

That means it sits in a category alongside Galaxy Tab S Pro and the Galaxy Book, filling up the more premium category attempting to bridge the gap between premium tablets and laptop. It’s all a little bit blurry, but it speaks to Samsung’s desire to make all-purpose devices without fear of stepping on its own toes.

For the sake of the company’s branding, however, the Tab S3 should be regarded as a standard multi-media consumer tablet — albeit one that you can write on and type with, if you need to fire off a quick email in-between Netflix episodes. If you’re looking to replace your laptop, on the other hand, keep moving right along. Perhaps the Samsung Galaxy Book, the new Samsung Chromebook or the Samsung Notebook 9 are more you speed.

The Tab S3 is aimed squarely at those looking for an iPad alternative, and who don’t mind paying a bit of a premium to get it.

Design language

The S3 borrows some design cues from its predecessor, but upgrades things a bit with a glass back along the lines of what you’ll find on the company’s handsets. In fact, much of the design language calls to mind the most recent generation of Galaxy phones, including the rounded metal band around the edge and the oval fingerprint-reading home button on the bottom. It’s a far cry from the company’s formerly plasticky designs and one that’s certainly in line with the device’s premium price tag.

It’s a solid and slim device that feels nice in the hands. It’s actually a touch thicker than the S2, likely owing, at least in part, to a bigger 6,000mAh battery that promises up to 12 hours of life by Samsung’s count, and was certainly able to get me through a day’s use, no problem.

Samsung’s done away with the two different size configurations this time out, which removes a little of the signal to noise from past versions, instead simply sticking with the 9.7-inch model — the better to compare itself to Apple with. It’s really the ideal size for a device like this. Anything larger would sacrifice portability and anything smaller (like the 8-inch version of the S2) is creeping into that fuzzy phablet territory.

Audio-visual

Like the new iPad, Samsung’s sticking with its predecessor’s resolution. Here that means 2,048 x 1,536 — but where the Apple just promised a brighter display, Samsung’s joining the growing chorus of companies pushing HDR video. It’s become a bit of a display buzzword, like 4K before it, but it makes a difference.

You’ll certainly notice the difference in a side by side comparison, with HDR displaying a wider and more vivid range of colors. Of course, like 4K before it, the technology is currently hampered by content availability. Though, given the potential two-year refresh cycle, it certainly makes sense from the standpoint of future-proofing the device.

All said, the biggest upgrade here from a media standpoint is the four-speaker system. Many companies have largely ignored audio, instead focusing on the resolution arms race. It’s a pretty massive oversight when building a device intended for movie watching. Here the company has positioned a speaker grille on all four corners.

This has the effect of spreading out the sound and works well with stereo. The speakers are positioned in such a way that I often found my hands covering up one or two when holding it, but that’s the beauty of having four speakers — you can’t cover them all at the same time.

The sound is solid and well-balanced, so far as tablets go. It still doesn’t compare to a decent Bluetooth speaker. If you’re planning on really listening to music or watching a full movie, I’d recommend relying on an external sound system.

Accessories

If I’m being totally honest, the keyboard case is what got me the most excited when trying out the Tab S3 back at Mobile World Congress. It’s got its drawbacks. It’s cramped and there’s no trackpack, so you need to move your finger up to the display to navigate. Also, sadly, it’s not included in the tablet’s $599 starting price.

That said, it has to be one of the best consumer tablet keyboards I’ve used on a non-Surface-style device. It’s really responsive and natural to type on. You’re not going to want to use the S3 for serious productivity, given the limitations of Android, but the magnetic case/stand is really great for firing off a couple of emails or jotting down notes.

The S-Pen, on the other hand, is included in the price. Oddly, there’s no docking slot on the tablet itself for the stylus, so you’ll have to find something to clip it to so you know where it is at all times. I found that I was able to clip it onto the side of the keyboard case with a little maneuvering. It’s not a deal breaker by any stretch, but it does seem like a strange oversight for a company that’s been pushing the technology since the launch of the original Note.

The company has refined the S-Pen quite a bit over the years, and the suite of productivity apps has been ported over from the handset, making it pretty diverse. The technology isn’t quite as advanced as the version the company offers on the Windows-based Galaxy Book, nor is it any sort of Wacom competitor, but it does the trick for jotting down notes and casual drawing.

About that upgrade cycle

There’s no doubt Samsung’s built a premium device. The S3’s got a nice build, some solid multimedia features and zippy internals. But Samsung, like the rest of the tablet-building industry, have a refresh problem. Consumers just aren’t trading out their devices like the industry had hoped. There are some nice additions here over the S2, but unless your device is really on its last legs, it’s probably not worth putting that slate out to pasture.

The $599 price point already sounded like a tough sell — and that’s certainly come into even sharper focus as Apple has seemingly set an industry bellwether on high-end tablets by dropping the price on the new iPad. Don’t be too surprised to see Samsung follow suit in the near future — and maybe even toss in the keyboard for good measure.

It’s worth waiting it out a little bit if you can. But if the price tag doesn’t give you pause, the Tab S3 is certainly one of the most speced-out premium Android tablets around.

Samsung aims to conquer the memory market with HBM3

True advances in technology are rare. The expense and difficulty of launching brand-new initiatives means that companies tend to prefer iterative improvements. Every now and then, however, we get the best of both worlds — an iterative improvement that could deliver enormous gains to a wide slice of the consumer market. At Hot Chips, Samsung unveiled a pair of initiatives that could revolutionize computer memory by pushing High Bandwidth Memory further on the one hand, while cutting costs and introducing the technology to all-new markets on the other.

Let’s take them one at a time.

Low-cost HBM clears the path for less expensive devices

As we’ve discussed previously, HBM stacks memory chips on top of each other around a central core. The stacks are all connected by wires that run through each memory die (these are called through silicon vias, or TSVs) and the entire chip structure sits on an interposer layer. The resulting configuration is sometimes referred to as a 2.5D architecture. The advantage is vastly increased memory bandwidth and much lower power consumption compared with GDDR5. The disadvantage is cost. While HBM proved competitive with GDDR5 at high frequencies and loadouts, the technology is currently limited to the top of the graphics market. AMD’s upcoming Vega is expected to use HBM rather than GDDR5X, but that chip will target the $300+ segment.

LowCostHBM

Samsung is proposing a low-cost HBM that would reduce costs in multiple ways. The number of connects per-die would shrink, reducing the number of vias required for each chip. The company wants to replace the large silicon interposer with an organic layer, and believes it can cut costs by removing the on-die buffer as well (how this would impact the overall design remains uncertain). While the resulting HBM variant would have less overall bandwidth than HBM2, Samsung believes it can compensate by increasing the clock rate (presumably without compromising HBM’s overall design, which emphasizes low clock rates and extremely wide buses).

If successful, this low-cost HBM could drive the memory into markets where it can’t currently compete, including low-end graphics cards and the APU market. Right now, Intel has a potent GPU competitor with its Crystal Well, which puts 64-128MB of EDRAM on-package with the CPU. AMD doesn’t really have an answer to Crystal Well at present, and the company’s on-die graphics are already bandwidth-limited. One potential solution is to adopt HBM for APUs and offer a chip with a unified memory pool for CPU and GPU in a single package — but that can only happen if HBM prices drop enough to justify its inclusion. Any push to cut these costs could result in a much improved HBM technology deploying on APUs and other types of SoCs. But it’s not clear how power consumption would compare with other low-power technologies or whether or not we’d see the technology in 15-25W laptops.

HBM3: More capacity, more bandwidth

Samsung’s HBM3 is a straightforward improvement on HBM2 that would debut in 2019 or 2020 and offer higher densities, higher stacks (more RAM per chip, more chips per stack), and 2x the maximum bandwidth of HBM2. The goal is to reduce the core voltage (currently 1.2V) and the I/O signaling power, according to Ars Technica, while improving maximum performance.

SamsungHBM3

HBM3 could allow for 64GB of memory on-die and 512GB/s of memory bandwidth per stack. A four-way stack of HBM3 would offer 2048GB/s of memory bandwidth in aggregate, compared with 1024GB/s with HBM2 and 512GB/s of HBM (all figures assume a four-stack configuration). This kind of bandwidth increase would give graphics cards or other peripherals far more memory than even the highest-end cards offer today and could be critical to driving next-generation VR systems.

The memory industry, however, isn’t as unified on HBM as you might think. As Anandtech details, both Micron and Samsung unveiled proposals for next-generation graphics and desktop memory (DDR5 and GDDR6, respectively). Xilinx is more commonly associated with FPGAs, not RAM. But Samsung used its own presentation to discuss how proper cooling technology is essential to large-scale die stacking and to call for the development of materials that can operate well at higher temperatures.

While many of these proposals are just that — proposals — they point the way to a potential revolution in gaming and high-end applications, while reduced cost and lower power options could extend those revolutions into form factors and power envelopes they currently can’t touch.

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) Spotted on Certification Site With Specs

The yet-to-be-launched Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016) smartphone after reportedly passing through the US FCC, has this time passed Tenaa the Chinese telecommunications certification website. The product listing reveals the smartphone’s specifications, most of which match with preliminary leaks.

The Galaxy A5 (2016) or SM-A5100 as per the Tenaa listing features a 5.2-inch full-HD (1080×1920 pixels) resolution display and is powered by an octa-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz, clubbed with 2GB RAM. It is also seen housing 16GB inbuilt storage, which can be further expanded via a microSD card (up to 128GB).

The handset might include either an 8-megapixel or a 13-megapixel rear camera along with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. It measures 144.7×70.8×6.9mm and will weigh 145 grams as indicated by the listing. The Galaxy A5 (2016) will arrive in Gold colour variant and will run Android 5.1.1 Lollipop out-of-the-box.

These specifications however, contradict the ones that were tipped by its recently revealed user agent profile. As per the UAP, the Galaxy A5 (2016) will sport an HD (720×1080 pixels) resolution screen along with an ARMv11 64-bit processor clocked at 1.5GHz.

Samsung on Thursday made its Galaxy A9 smartphone official on the company’s Iran website. As per the listing, the Samsung Galaxy A9 or the SM-A900F would launch in three colours – Gold, Black, and White – and will support dual-SIM (Nano-SIM card) functionality. For specifications, it features a 5.5-inch full-HD (1080×1920 pixels) resolution Super Amoled display with pixel density of 401ppi; an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 620 (MSM8976) processor with four Cortex-A72 cores clocked at 1.8GHz and four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.4GHz; 3GB RAM; Android 5.1.1 Lollipop; 16-megapixel autofocus rear camera with LED flash; a 5-megapixel front-facing camera; 32GB of inbuilt storage; further expandable via microSD card (up to 128GB), and 4G LTE support.

Samsung Galaxy A9 To Launch December 1st

Samsung Galaxy A9

We have been hearing more and more rumors about the new Samsung Galaxy A9 recently and now it looks like we may have a release date for the handset.

The Samsung Galaxy A9 has apparently appeared on the official Samsung Iran website, this can bee seen in the screenshot below and the device is listed with a release date of the 1st of December.

The handset recently appeared in the Bluetooth SIG and then turned up in some benchmarks, which revealed some specifications for the handset.

The Samsung Galaxy A9 will come with a 5.5 inch display with a Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and it will feature a Qualcomm Snapdragon 620 processor and will come with 3GB of RAM.

The handset will also come with 32GB of included storage and a microSD card slot which will support cards up to 128GB in size.

The device will feature Android 5.1.1 Lollipop and will come with a 5 megapixel front facing camera and a 16 megapixel rear camera with auto focus and HDR, it will also feature Bluetooth 4.0 LE, NFC and GPS.

As soon as we get some more details on the new Galaxy A9 smartphone from Samsung and some decent photos of the handset, we will let you guys know.

Samsung Gear VR Sold Out In South Korea On First Day

Samsung Gear VR

The new consumer version of the Samsung Gear VR recently went on sale in South Korea and the device sold out on the first day.

Samsung only made 2,000 units of their Gear VR available in South Korea on launch day, so it is hardly a surprise that the device sold out quickly.

The device is also launching in the US and Europe later this month and it is already available to pre-order in some countries.

It is compatible with Samsung’s latest smartphones, this include the Samsung Galaxy S6, the Galaxy S6 Edge and the S6 Plus as well as the Galaxy Note 5.

The Samsung Gear VR retails for 129,800 won in South Korea, this is about $110 at the current exchange rate, the previous developer version of the device was available for twice the price of the new consumer version.

We suspect that this could end up being a popular device for Samsung, it will be made available in more countries before the end of the month.

Samsung Galaxy A5 To Feature 5.2 Inch HD Display

Samsung Galaxy A5

We have heard a number of rumored specifications for the new Samsung Galaxy A5 smartphone and now it looks like we have some more information in the handset.

It looks like the Samsung Galaxy A5 will come with a 5.2 inch display with a HD resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, this was recently confirmed by a UAProf on one of Samsung’s websites.

The handset is rumored to feature an octa core 1.8GHz processor and a Mali T72- GPU, the device will also come with 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM.

The device will also feature dual cameras, on the front of the handset there will be a 5 megapixel camera for Selfies and video calls and on the back there will be a 13 megapixel camera for photos and videos.

The Samsung Galaxy A5 is expected to come with Android Lollipop and the device will come with NFC, WiFi and Bluetooth and there is a possibility that it may come with a fingerprint scanner.

Samsung will launch three new models in their updated Galaxy A range, this will include the Galaxy A5, Galaxy A7 and the Galaxy A9. We are epxecting some sort of official announcement from Samsung on these new handsets shortly, as soon as we get some more information, we will let you guys know.