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.


China launches rover for first far side of the moon landing

Updated 08 December 2018
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China launches rover for first far side of the moon landing

  • The blast-off marked the start of a long journey to the far side of the moon for the Chang’e-4 mission, expected to land around the New Year to carry out experiments and survey the untrodden terrain
  • Beijing is pouring billions into its military-run space program, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022

BEIJING: China launched a rover early Saturday destined to land on the far side of the moon, a global first that would boost Beijing’s ambitions to become a space superpower, state media said.
The Chang’e-4 lunar probe mission — named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology — launched on a Long March 3B rocket from the southwestern Xichang launch center at 2:23 am (1823 GMT), according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The blast-off marked the start of a long journey to the far side of the moon for the Chang’e-4 mission, expected to land around the New Year to carry out experiments and survey the untrodden terrain.
“Chang’e-4 is humanity’s first probe to land on and explore the far side of the moon,” said the mission’s chief commander He Rongwei of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the main state-owned space contractor.
“This mission is also the most meaningful deep space exploration research project in the world in 2018,” He said, according to state-run Global Times.
Unlike the near side of the moon that is “tidally locked” and always faces the earth, and offers many flat areas to touch down on, the far side is mountainous and rugged.
It was not until 1959 that the Soviet Union captured the first images of the heavily cratered surface, uncloaking some of the mystery of the moon’s “dark side.”
No lander or rover has ever touched the surface there, positioning China as the first nation to explore the area.
“China over the past 10 or 20 years has been systematically ticking off the various firsts that America and the Soviet Union did in the 1960s and 1970s in space exploration,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“This is one of the first times they’ve done something that no one else has done before.”

It is no easy technological feat — China has been preparing for this moment for years.
A major challenge for such a mission is communicating with the robotic lander: as the far side of the moon always points away from earth, there is no direct “line of sight” for signals.
As a solution, China in May blasted the Queqiao (“Magpie Bridge“) satellite into the moon’s orbit, positioning it so that it can relay data and commands between the lander and earth.
Adding to the difficulties, Chang’e-4 is being sent to the Aitken Basin in the lunar south pole region — known for its craggy and complex terrain — state media has said.
The probe is carrying six experiments from China and four from abroad.
They include low-frequency radio astronomical studies — aiming to take advantage of the lack of interference on the far side — as well as mineral and radiation tests, Xinhua cited the China National Space Administration as saying.
The experiments also involve planting potato and other seeds, according to Chinese media reports.
Beijing is pouring billions into its military-run space program, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022, and of eventually sending humans to the moon.
The Chang’e 4 mission is a step in that direction, significant for the engineering expertise needed to explore and settle the moon, McDowell said.
“The main thing about this mission is not science, this is a technology mission,” he said.

Chang’e-4 will be the second Chinese probe to land on the moon, following the Yutu (“Jade Rabbit“) rover mission in 2013.
Once on the moon’s surface, the rover faces an array of extreme challenges.
During the lunar night — which lasts 14 earth days — temperatures will drop as low as minus 173 degrees Celsius (minus 279 Fahrenheit). During the lunar day, also lasting 14 earth days, temperatures soar as high as 127 C (261 F).
The rover’s instruments must withstand those fluctuations and it must generate enough energy to sustain it during the long night.
Yutu conquered those challenges and, after initial setbacks, ultimately surveyed the moon’s surface for 31 months. Its success provided a major boost to China’s space program.
Beijing is planning to send another lunar lander, Chang’e-5, next year to collect samples and bring them back to earth.
It is among a slew of ambitious Chinese targets, which include a reusable launcher by 2021, a super-powerful rocket capable of delivering payloads heavier than those NASA and private rocket firm SpaceX can handle, a moon base, a permanently crewed space station, and a Mars rover.
“Our country’s successful lunar exploration project not only vaults us to the top of the world’s space power ranks, it also allows the exploration of the far side of the moon,” said Niu Min, an expert on China’s space program.
The project, he said in an interview with local website Netease, “greatly inspires everyone’s national pride and self-confidence.”