Next month, Samsung will use the massive IFA exhibition in Berlin to unveil the Note 4, a top-spec device that is likely to be the most impressive announcement at the show, and possibly one of the most significant releases of the year.
But before then, it is expected Samsung will also unveil a phone to ‘counter’ the threat from Apple’s long-awaited iPhone 6, possibly announced just days after IFA kicks off (September 9th).
The Galaxy Alpha, as multiple leaks suggest will be its name, is a smartphone that will be quite a bump in production values for Samsung, featuring metal and chamfered edges to make it look a lot more ‘Apple’.
Inside the slim shell is a 4.7-inch 720p display, Samsung’s fingerprint ID system, plus either Samsung’s own octo-core chipset or possible Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 – making it one of the first on the market if true.
Samsung seemingly isn’t pitching this as a flagship, but merely a device to hopefully sell in large numbers to all those that dislike plastic phones, or fancy something a bit different. I doubt Apple is too concerned, given the attention it will be guaranteed whatever day it chooses to unveil its new model(s).
Trying hard to copy its rival
Besides a 720p display, the phone loses a memory expansion slot now pretty much standard on Android smartphones (even Motorola opted to include one on the 4G version of the Moto G), but perhaps Samsung thought it shouldn’t get one because, well, Apple doesn’t? Whatever the reason, it means a higher cost to get more storage.
If the price is right, the rest of the specs look acceptable – such as a 12-megapixel camera (but for selfie-fans, just 2MP at the front could be a mistake), 2GB RAM, plus almost certainly a promise of an update to the next version of Android OS – Android L.
So all is good then, yes?
Well, I’m not so convinced the Alpha has got everything right. While some people will latch on to the lack of memory expansion, or the low screen resolution, the biggest problem for me is the battery. And that’s a big problem these days.
1,860mAh as suggested on the leaked slide below, or even as low as 1,500mAh from an earlier spy shot of the battery itself, is – frankly – ridiculous. Even if this is similar to what Apple might have in its new phone.
And let me try and explain…
The iPhone 5s only has a 1,560mAh battery, but with such tight control of the OS, and the apps allowed through to the App Store, the iPhone always does well well in the battery department, with a more dependable and reliable performance.
Even Microsoft manages things pretty well on Windows Phone too.
And, although Google is always getting better, there’s still no shortage of problems that can lead to unnecessary battery drain – often without rhyme or reason.
It’s far too common to have issues that prevent a phone going into deep sleep, while poorly written apps can drain power quickly one day even when they don’t the next. Even Google can release a new Play Services update that causes chaos until the next patch a few days later.
The more technically literate users can mitigate the problems in a number of ways, and a manufacturer shouldn’t have to think of when things go wrong at the design stages, but that still doesn’t mean it’s okay to ship a phone with such a small battery that merely exacerbates the problem.
Design for what you will do, not what you won’t
Especially a phone with a powerful CPU and GPU that, when used, will suck down the power regardless of any clever power saving features designed primarily for when the phone isn’t being used.
Saying it’s to keep the size and weight down just doesn’t cut it anymore, and having a swappable battery doesn’t really help as much as you might think.
People don’t generally want to carry a spare battery, and in most cases it’s a pain to keep two batteries charged unless you invest in a secondary dock/charger.
Given people are now glued to their smartphone almost 24/7, long battery life is a must and without the need to swap batteries or even plug in portable battery chargers.
Reassurance not guaranteed
Put in a bigger battery and many people will find that they can enjoy 18-24 hours of usage reliably all the time, with anything from 3 to 7 hours of screen on time. That’s an entire day, and then some. It’s possible to return home after a day at work and a night out, to still not have a low battery warning.
And that’s what people want. Far better to be able to use a phone however you want, than have to start disabling loads of functions to get to the end of the day.
The new Note 4 will come with a huge battery, just like many handsets released this year (like the LG G3 and Sony’s Xperia Z2). Personally, I think 3,000mAh should be the minimum for any device with powerful hardware that will suck power when used.
I have no doubt this phone is going to look gorgeous. It’s going to get loads of positive press, look wonderful in every photo and video, be advertised heavily and pushed hard in stores, but then as time goes on, and the honeymoon period comes to an end, people will wish they’d bought something with a bigger battery.
No doubt Samsung will even prove me right in time by releasing a new version with a bigger battery in the new year. Just wait and see.