New Samsung phone: Nicer camera, static design, higher price

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This Wednesday Feb, 21, 2018, photo shows the camera lens of a Samsung Galaxy S9 mobile phone. (AP)
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In this Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, photo, the Bixby virtual assistant software of a Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus mobile phone translates a foreign language sign during a product preview in New York. (AP)
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In this Feb. 21, 2018, photo, the dual camera lens of the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus mobile phone is shown in this photo during a product preview in New York. (AP)
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In this Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, photo, the Bixby virtual assistant software of a Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus mobile phone translates a foreign language sign during a product preview in New York. (AP)
Updated 25 February 2018
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New Samsung phone: Nicer camera, static design, higher price

NEW YORK: Samsung unveiled new smartphones with largely unchanged designs and incremental improvements such as a better camera — accompanied by a second annual price increase for many customers.
The static design of the new Galaxy S9 underscores both the slowing pace of smartphone innovation and the extent to which other manufacturers, particularly Apple, have caught up with Samsung features that once stood out. That includes everything from edge-to-edge screens to facial recognition to a water-resistant body.
The new phone’s biggest selling point is a collection of minor improvements to its camera, which is already among the best in the smartphone business . The S9 promises even better low-light shots, while offering a video mode that appears to freeze fast-moving objects, matching a feature in some Sony phones. The S9 can automatically detect when there’s high-speed motion to record, such as a cork popping off a bottle of champagne. A fifth of a second of video gets stretched out into six seconds.
While single features like this aren’t likely to drive buying decisions, the slow-motion effect could be “the kind of thing that will get a lot of attention,” said Bob O’Donnell of the research firm Technalysis.
For the first time in a major phone, the S9 will let you change the camera’s aperture to let in more light, making for better images in dark settings.
But analyst Carolina Milanesi of Creative Strategies warns that despite the improvements, the new camera is competing with already good cameras in earlier Samsung phones.
Nonetheless, you may have to pay more, though nothing quite at the level of last year’s $100 price hikes for the Galaxy S8. For instance, AT&T is raising prices of the base model by $40 to $790. As people hold onto phones longer before upgrading, manufacturers and carriers often hike prices to make up for lost revenue. Some of the increases will be offset with promotions. And T-Mobile will cut prices from last year’s models.
The new phones were unveiled Sunday in Barcelona, Spain, and will be available March 16. Advance orders begin this Friday. Unlike Apple, Samsung lets carriers set their own prices and typically doesn’t make an unlocked version available right away.
Here are some additional things to know:
UNCHANGED: The S9 features the same screen, same virtual home button and same battery capacity as the S8. Samsung did move the fingerprint sensor on the back to reduce smears on the camera lens.
A SECOND LENS: The camera on the Plus model now has a second lens with twice the magnification, a feature already available in Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 and some iPhones. This means sharper close-ups.
FUN WITH SELFIES: Snap a selfie, and Samsung’s software will turn that into an emoji version of you for sharing. It’s usually a static image, though you can produce an animated version — much like the iPhone X’s Animoji feature.
VISUAL ASSISTANT: Samsung’s Bixby digital assistant mimics a similar Google feature that pulls up information on landmarks or other items you’ve just photographed. New Bixby capabilities let it instantly translate signs (point the camera, and the phone replaces the sign’s text in a matching color and font) and provide nutritional info for that restaurant meal you’re splurging on.


Amazon aims to make Alexa assistant bigger part of users’ lives

An overhauled Echo Dot smart speaker boasts much-improved sound and design while keeping the $50 price tag of the original. (Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 21 September 2018
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Amazon aims to make Alexa assistant bigger part of users’ lives

  • Alexa has gotten smarter, more conversational and even intuitive during the past year as teams at Amazon work hard on getting the digital assistant to better understand people
  • Alexa uses artificial intelligence to identify patterns in the lives of users, factoring in habits, weather, time of year and more

SEATTLE: From the kitchen to the car, Amazon on Thursday sought to make its Alexa digital assistant and online services a bigger part of people’s lives with an array of new products and partnerships.
Updates to the Internet giant’s Alexa-infused Echo smart speakers will allow them to tend to microwave cooking and even have “hunches” regarding what users may want or have forgotten.
When Alexa is told “corn on the cob,” a digital Echo speaker starts an AmazonBasics microwave oven in a faux home demonstration room, setting the preferred time and voicing what it is doing.
But when asked to add 30 seconds, Alexa paused and then started to play songs by the band “Thirty Seconds to Mars.”
Such misunderstandings are routine enough with smart speakers that they have become fodder for humor, and even cropped up while Amazon devices and services senior vice president David Limp showed off new devices in a nearby building a short time earlier.
Alexa has gotten smarter, more conversational and even intuitive during the past year as teams at Amazon work hard on getting the digital assistant to better understand people, according to Limp.Alexa is even developing a personality, complete with a favorite pet or beer.
It has also learned to understand whispers, responding in equally hushed tones in a feature to be rolled out in the coming weeks.
Amazon on Thursday teased a coming feature called Alexa Hunches that is designed to infuse the digital assistant with intuition. For example, when a user bids Alexa a good night, it might respond by mentioning they forgot to lock a door.
Alexa uses artificial intelligence to identify patterns in the lives of users, factoring in habits, weather, time of year and more. To know what is happening with other smart devices in a home, the Echo speaker needs to be connected to them.
Amazon recently passed the 20,000 mark for smart home devices made by the Seattle-based company or partners.
“We are really at a tipping point for the smart home,” Limp said while unveiling a cornucopia of new devices.
An overhauled Echo Dot smart speaker boasts much-improved sound and design while keeping the $50 price tag of the original.
Amazon added Echo equivalents of stereo components for home sound systems, along with improvements to its online music service, with partners including Spotify, Pandora, and Deezer.
Limp unveiled a “frustration free setup” platform intended to grow into a framework that any smart device maker can use to make getting gadgets to talk to Alexa as easy as plugging them into an outlet.
“That is not going to happen overnight,” Limp said. “As we imagine a future that has thousands of these devices in your home, this is going to become absolutely essential.”
And, of course, there was the $60 microwave, which Limp contended was a strong test because of how much microwaves interfere with wireless connectivity used by devices to communicate.
A freshly announced Alexa Guard service synchronizes with Echo speakers in the home and security cameras from Amazon-owned smart doorbell maker Ring.
When Echo speakers are set to guard mode, they listen for breaking glass or the sound of alarms from smoke or carbon dioxide detectors and send alerts to smartphones or even security companies.
Ring cameras can also be connected to Echo devices with screens, letting people see who has come calling, demonstrations showed.
A new Echo Show device boasted twice the screen display area as its predecessor, and Fire TV Recast that acts as a digital recorder for traditional television broadcasts.
Not satisfied with being built into new cars, Alexa will be able to work in older models with an Echo Auto device that can be affixed to dashboards and reach the Internet through smartphones.
“Amazon launched today what I believe is the industry’s largest assortment of home automation products and added meaningful improvements to its services,” said analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy.
“The company once again separated itself again in the smart home space from both Google and Apple by adding new devices and capabilities.”