First Sony, now Samsung — expect 2019 to be the year of 48-megapixel camera

samsung galaxy s9 plus new camera features aa (1 of 1)

  • Samsung has announced two new smartphone camera sensors.
  • The 48MP and 32MP sensors have a 0.8µm pixel size.
  • As well as higher resolution photography, the sensors could offer improved low-light performance.

Samsung has just revealed two new camera sensors — a 48MP one and a 32MP one — expected to be used in its upcoming phones. Samsung anticipates mass-production to begin in the fourth quarter of the year, meaning the senosrs could potentially be in line for use on the Galaxy S10.

As well as a device from Samsung, it wouldn’t be surprising if phones from other manufacturers end-up with a 48MP sensor in 2019. Samsung has upped its production capacity of camera sensors and is known to sell its camera sensors to other brands including Xiaomi. Additionally, Sony — the biggest supplier of camera sensors for smartphones — recently announced a 48MP sensor of its own.

When these sensors make it to phones next year, the cameras that use the sensors will have a larger megapixel count than any previous Android device — even the Huawei P20 Pro and its 40MP sensor. By comparison, both the Galaxy S9 Plus and the Galaxy Note 9 have dual 12MP cameras, while the Galaxy A9 has a 24MP sensor.

Samsung 48MP camera sensor

The recently unveiled camera sensors are also notable as the size of each pixel is only 0.8µm. The Galaxy S9 uses a sensor with a pixel size of 1.4µm.

A smaller pixel size allows manufacturers to fit more pixels on a sensor that is a similar size to existing ones. The Sony one, for example, is only 8mm in size. In turn, this means manufacturers can add higher-resolution cameras to their phones without increasing the size of the camera module.

This has plenty of advantages. Manufacturers won’t have to make space for the sensor by removing other tech, such as the headphone jack (which it has been rumored even Samsung is considering). The smaller size of the camera module will also make it easier for OEMs to include higher resolution sensors in multiple camera setups.

One difficulty with making sensors with a smaller pixel size is that — using existing pixel isolation tech — each individual pixel would be unable to capture as much light. Isolation tech is important as it stops light bleed between pixels.

The Sony Xperia XZ3.

However, Samsung says it has countered this with its Isocell Plus technology. This tech replaces the metal barriers which surround the pixels on its older sensors with a new material developed by Fujifilm. It says this material reduces light reflection and optical loss to deliver “higher color fidelity” and a “15 percent increase in light sensitivity.” This should ensure there is no loss in performance — despite the smaller pixel size.

Meanwhile, Sony promises that its 48MP sensor will use a Quad Bayer color filter array where adjacent 2×2 pixels come in the same color to ensure that — despite the small size — the pixels will still deliver high sensitivity.

Both Samsung and Sony says the sensors will include tech that should offer improved results in low-light conditions. They will do this by merging four pixels into one, producing an image with a resolution of either 12MP or 8MP — depending on the sensor used.

Editor’s Pick

Additionally, the Samsung 32MP sensor will get a real-time HDR feature which Samsung says could deliver improved HDR performance while recording or streaming video, even in low-light settings. The Sony sensor will allow 4K shooting at 90fps.

While this year we have seen smartphone makers improve their cameras by adding multiple lenses and fancy software tricks, next year could be all about phones with a high megapixel count.

Next up: All the exciting things phones could do with triple camera technology

Samsung lists its first 512GB microSD card, but it ain’t cheap

HTC U12 Life hybrid dual SIM and microSD card tray

  • Samsung is set to release its 512GB microSD memory card.
  • It’s not cheap, though. It is currently listed on the German version of its website for 289.90 euros (~$330.75).
  • Samsung is currently selling some of its other microSD cards at a heavily reduced price.

Those waiting for Samsung’s 512GB microSD card may not have to wait much longer as the company has listed the card on its official website in Germany. Spotted by AllAboutSamsung (via SamMobile), the listing suggests it will cost 289.90 euros when it goes up for sale.

Samsung 512GB memory card Samsung

The 289.90 euro price tag in Germany is quite a step up from the price of the 256BG version of the card. This currently costs only 99 euros in Germany or $109.99 in the U.S, making double the capacity close to three times the cost. The card is also listed on the U.S. version of the Samsung website, but as yet we haven’t seen a price, or an indication as to when it will be on sale.

The card will be part of Samsung’s Evo Plus range of expandable storage, boasting read speeds of up to 100MB per second and a write speed of up to 90MB per second. If Samsung’s other Evo Plus microSD cards are any indication, it will also have a 10-year warranty and be water resistant.

Editor’s Pick

If you are in the market for a new microSD card and don’t mind getting one with smaller storage, Samsung has reduced the price of some of its other Evo Plus memory cards. The 256GB version of the card is available with $70 off for $109.99, the 128GB version is available with $62 off for $37.99, and the 64GB and 32GB versions are available for $21.99 and $13.99 respectively.

Next up: Best microSD cards — here are our top picks for adding storage

Bluetooth headphones are popular, but science confirms: mostly terrible

Look, we get it: Bluetooth headphones are convenient. Popular models like Apple’s AirPods are for all intents and purposes the K-cup coffee machines of audio. Just like those liquid sadness brewers, Bluetooth offers a disappointing, expensive facsimile of the real deal — but many enjoy it all the same.

Testing done for our sister site SoundGuys confirmed it’ll get you 90 percent of the way there — but not everybody is willing to accept the excuses behind ditching the headphone jack. Since USB Type-C headphones aren’t where they need to be, we have to examine the consumer audio technology’s performance in a world where the headphone jack is disappearing.

A photo of the Bluetooth toggle on the Android dropdown menu.

Bluetooth is extremely convenient, but at a cost.

The findings

A more in-depth description of the testing process and findings can be found here, but here are the broad strokes:

  1. Every single Bluetooth codec has measurable quality issues, though not all significant.
  2. Not a single codec or set of Bluetooth headphones available can meet wired signal quality.

Bluetooth audio has come a long way since its noisy beginnings, but it’s still not ready to replace the headphone jack. However, most people won’t be able to hear the difference if they’re older than 24, have some form of noise-induced hearing loss, or are in the presence of outside noise. For this reason, Bluetooth headphones are best for those commuting, or in noisy situations. If you’re listening primarily at home — or in a quiet area — get a set of wired headphones.

Also read: AAC has limited bandwidth, AirPods not ideal on Android

By using an aggressive psychoacoustic model of compression like MP3 compression, AAC seeks to cut data where you wouldn’t normally be able to hear it anyway, but it’s sometimes a little too aggressive.

Pictured: The Apple AirPods in the hand.

AirPods may be trendy, but they have significant sound quality problems.

AAC has some advantages when it comes to latency, but we recommend avoiding this on Android phones if you care about audio quality. SoundGuys found high levels of noise, and lower than average frequency cutoffs — both unacceptable to audiophiles and younger listeners. Though the sound isn’t as bad as some may say, the shortcomings are noticeable to the human ear at normal listening volumes. In this light, wireless earbuds using AAC like the Apple AirPods aren’t ideal for Android phone use.

Pay close attention to what codec your true wireless earbuds use, as well.

AAC Bluetooth Noise Floor when playing back from an AAC source file, showing high noise in the audible range. This is why Apple AirPods are a bad pair with Android devices.

The noise for Android devices near 100Hz will audibly affect voice sounds, music.

Unlike with other codecs, AAC test signals from Android phones like the Huawei P20 Pro, LG V30, and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 all vary wildly. Though we can’t definitively say why each Android device seems to handle AAC encoding differently, we suspect some of the power saving features baked into the Android ecosystem’s varying hardware affect audio playback. Nowhere is this more apparent than Huawei’s power-sipping P20 Pro, which seems to cut out at around 14.25kHz. Our best guess is Android phones differ in how they handle task scheduling in the CPU, which has consequences for battery life and also fixes audio skipping problems with Bluetooth. AAC doesn’t hit the maximum range of audibility in any of the phones tested.

Related reading: Lossless audio only exists with LDAC 990kbps, but only sorta

LDAC is the only codec that truly attempts the hi-res thing, but it has perplexing issues with common phones. The bitrate defaults differ wildly from model to model. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and LG V30 both default to 660kbps, and the Google Pixel 3 defaults to the lesser 330kbps. However, you can change this in developer settings.

A photo of the Sony WH-1000XM3 sitting on a stone wall.

The new Sony WH-1000XM3 uses LDAC as its main Bluetooth codec, but you might not be getting the best they have to offer.

Despite big promises from Bluetooth’s only Hi-res codec, the standard doesn’t really deliver, and it falls short with its basic 330kbps setting. Both the 660kbps and 990kbps connections offer decent quality, but the 330kbps setting has a lot of noise, and a comparatively poor frequency response with higher-def content — you probably won’t hear it, though. We recommend using 660kbps as a good middle ground between quality and connection quality.

Graph of Bluetooth codec signal strength vs dropped seconds of audio

Pocket-to-ear signal strength hovers around -45dB, but can vary when your arms or other objects get in the way.

See also: Most of Bluetooth’s issues are inaudible to older listeners

If you’re over the age of 24, Bluetooth headphones are more than likely good enough for you. Most people older than that cannot hear the audible effects of Bluetooth — outside of AAC’s shortcomings, and a certain level of noise.

LDAC 990kbps Bluetooth vs LG V30 Wired audio

Blue: LDAC 990kbps. Yellow: LG V30+ Hi-Res output. Data collected by Robert Triggs.

Every single Bluetooth codec out there exhibits a higher level of noise than wired audio, though only AAC, SBC, and LDAC 330kbps exhibit audible noise. Where wired audio can handle CD audio and 24-bit music, Bluetooth headphones simply can’t, though 24-bit is dramatic overkill anyways. If you like your music loud, Bluetooth will be noisier than wired listening, depending on how high you crank it.

More: aptX and aptX HD get close to CD-quality, but not quite as advertised

Of the tested codecs we met, aptX and aptX HD fared the best out of all our candidates. While that may seem strange to say, on the whole their results were right where they needed to stand in for a wire for commuters and listeners over 40. You’ll really only run into issues at high volumes (more than 90dB), so while aptX can’t quite keep up with CD quality, aptX HD gets extremely close to the mark with a little processing creativity. Both codecs fall short in the highest frequencies a human could potentially hear, but the vast majority of people can’t hear sounds over 18kHz anyway.

A photo of a phone supporting aptX and aptX HD playing music.

Audio connoisseurs will probably gravitate towards aptX and aptX HD, as it provides almost CD-quality dynamic range.

However, that software processing can’t fix noise issues in high notes. For best results you should listen at volumes below 90dB. Any higher and you’ll hear noise above 1kHz.

Before you ask: no, that’s not very quiet.

Good enough for most people, but not for everyone

Bluetooth headphones and earphones like the Apple AirPods may be good enough for most people, but it’s not good enough for everyone, and that’s a problem. While the benefits of high-bitrate music are largely academic, some flaws with Bluetooth audio prevent it from replacing the 3.5mm TRRS plug in all contexts. It’s a more expensive, less effective solution.

If you’re looking for commuting headphones, they’re great. Music lovers listening in a quiet environment will want something with a wire. Not only will it be cheaper, but it’ll work better too.

Google Play Pass could offer ‘hundreds of dollars’ worth of paid apps for a monthly fee

Google Play Pass

  • Google may be planning to introduce a Play Store app subscription service.
  • The service could deliver loads of paid apps and games for a monthly fee.
  • It could be tricky for Google to implement such a service, however.

Google could be planning an app subscription service for the Play Store, according to some compelling evidence gathered by XDA Developers.

The first sign of the service was when prominent developer Kieron Quinn found a potential feature called Play Pass in a Play Store APK teardown back in June. At the time, Quinn suggested that the feature could be a subscription service.

This week, one of Quinn’s friends tipped him off to a Google survey about a subscription service for apps (see the screenshot below). The survey asked how well they thought the name “Pass” described a service that offers hundreds of dollars worth of paid apps and games for a monthly fee.

Google Play Pass XDA Developers

This evidence is certainly not a confirmation that Google will introduce an app subscription service. However, taken together, it does suggest that Google is at least thinking about introducing one.

Why would Google introduce a Play Pass?

Despite recording billions of app downloads every quarter, the Play Store has long stood behind the Apple App Store when it comes to the amount of money actually spent on apps. A subscription service could potentially encourage more users to part with their money.

Furthermore, while some popular apps do rake in a lot of money directly from the Play Store, only a very small percentage of the overall number of apps make a lot of money this way. A subscription service would likely encourage people to use more apps and, therefore, spread the profits around a bit.

If developers begin to make more money from apps, it could reduce their dependence on advertising and spammy in-app purchases. This would be a big benefit to consumers and it could help raise the perceived value of apps in general.

Last year, only 1,697 apps made more than $1 million from the Google Play Store.

There are plenty of hurdles Google would have to overcome before introducing such a service, however.

Perhaps the biggest one would be ensuring the terms and conditions of the service are attractive to a wide range of developers. There are millions of apps available on the Play Store with many different developers and publishers. It will likely be a major challenge for Google to come up with a service that keeps all these people happy.

Additionally, a subscription service would only have real value if some of the most popular apps are available. However, many of these apps already make a lot of money. Unless Google can guarantee a much higher number of users, it seems unlikely that these apps would make as much money from a Google subscription service as they would by going it alone.

Editor’s Pick

A subscription service wouldn’t be the first change to the Play Store that appears to be aimed at encouraging people to spend more on apps.

Google recently introduced a Google Play Points reward scheme in Japan whereby users receive points for making purchases on the Play Store. Meanwhile, in August it introduced a way for users to try paid games before they buy them.

However, a subscription service would potentially be a much bigger change than either of these schemes.

Up next: 10 facts about Google Play to celebrate 10 years of downloads

Xiaomi reveals list of phones to receive Android Oreo or Pie in Q4 2018

The Xiaomi Redmi 5A.

  • Xiaomi has revealed a list of phones that will receive updates in Q4 2018.
  • These system updates will be beta releases at the very least.
  • The company is delivering a mix of Android Oreo and Android Pie updates.

It’s been several months since Android Pie first launched, so we’re happy to see Xiaomi reveal a list of phones that will receive the update in some capacity in Q4 2018.

The company used its Chinese-language forum (h/t: GSMArena and MyDrivers) to publish a table of devices that have either received Android Oreo and Pie, or shall receive a beta update at the very least during Q4 2018. Naturally, we’re more interested in devices set to receive the updates…

A table, showing Xiaomi's updates for Q4 2018. Xiaomi

The table shows that the Redmi 5, Redmi 5A, Redmi 5 Plus, and Mi 5X are all set to receive a bump to Oreo. It’s disappointing that these phones aren’t being upgraded to Pie, but hopefully the brand skips Pie when Android Q is launched…

Meanwhile, devices set to receive a Pie-based update this quarter are the Mi 8 Screen Fingerprint Edition (known as the Pro model outside China), Mi 8 SE, and the Mi Max 3.

Xiaomi’s table also notes that the Mi 5S Plus’s Oreo update was suspended due to an unspecified issue. Don’t see your phone on the list though? Well, the forum post cautions that old phones and devices that have already received two updates are unlikely to receive another update.

Up next: MIUI info hub — Everything you should know about Xiaomi’s Android skin

Dual-screen Nubia X might support charging over Wi-Fi, retail for over $1400

The Nubia Z18S, complete with rear display. Slashleaks

  • Nubia has listed several features for its dual-screen Nubia X smartphone.
  • The company has listed “Wi-Fi wireless charge technology” as well.
  • Nubia has mooted a 10,000 yuan price, which would be more expensive than big-name flagships.

The Nubia X (formerly known as the Nubia Z18S) has one of the more interesting designs of the year. Featuring an LCD screen on the front and an OLED display on the back, it certainly stands out from traditional flagships.

Now, Nubia has published an infographic on Weibo (h/t: GSMArena), purportedly detailing a few Nubia X features ahead of its launch. Unfortunately, the infographic isn’t available in English, but the Google Translate mobile app should come in handy…

Read: The one thing Android OEMs can learn from iPhone XR

We say “should” because the translations are still very murky. Nevertheless, we’re able to make out eye comfort mode, “Wi-Fi wireless charge technology,” and a high screen/body ratio. We also see references to notches (the dual screen design could mean no display cutout is needed on the front), flexible displays/designs, and PUBG.

The eye comfort mode, high screen/body ratio, and notch references are mostly self-explanatory. But the references to Wi-Fi wireless charge technology and flexible designs give us pause for thought.

Editor’s Pick

It’s more likely that we’re looking at standard Qi wireless charging rather than charging via Wi-Fi, but I’d gladly take the latter in the event that it’s on the phone (and works well). In fact, at least two companies were reportedly aiming to have Wi-Fi charging solutions ready in 2018. One of the companies, Energous, already received FCC certification in December 2017, going on to reveal smart underwear. So the technology is clearly more than just a pipe dream at the moment.

Meanwhile, the references to flexibility might not mean much, as it could merely suggest they’re using a curved OLED screen. These screens could deliver curved sides or even a G Flex 2-style fully curved display.

Finally, the infographic suggests a 10,000 yuan (~$1441) price tag, which would make it more expensive than the Galaxy Note 9 and LG V40 ThinQ. If the phone indeed has Wi-Fi charging, it might be worth it for the cool factor. But much like in-display fingerprint sensors, you could probably wait a while for others to adopt the tech.

Up next: Xiaomi Black Shark Helo announced, serving up to 10GB of RAM

OnePlus says it will launch a 5G phone next year, hopes to be part of first wave

OnePlus-6-Camera-Review-1

  • Carl Pei has confirmed OnePlus will release a 5G phone next year.
  • The executive says OnePlus will be among the first companies to release a 5G device.
  • This suggests the phone will be released early in the year.

OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei has confirmed the company will release a 5G phone next year. Speaking at the Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong, Pei said he expects OnePlus to be either the first or one of the first companies to release a 5G device, reports Engadget.

This comes soon after Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon reportedly said he expects at least two major flagships to arrive with Qualcomm’s 5G radio next year: one in the first half of the year, and one in the holiday season.

At the moment, it is thought OEMs will begin to release 5G devices in early 2019.

In recent years, OnePlus has launched phones in May or June and October or November. Should the company stick to its twice-yearly release schedule and still be one of the first to release a 5G phone, it is likely that the May release would have to be the one that includes a version with 5G support.

Alternatively, the company could be working on a separate 5G model. This would allow it to release a 5G device even earlier in the year while sticking to May and November for its regular releases.

Editor’s Pick

The list of manufacturers thought to be working on 5G devices appears to be growing by the day. LG has confirmed it will release a device with Sprint, while Huawei has said it is working on a foldable phone with 5G support.

ZTE and Samsung are also thought to be working on devices that will be released next year, while Xiaomi has said it will launch the Mi Mix 3 with 5G support on October 25.

Next up: 5G: When will your smartphone get it?

Deal: Xiaomi Mi Box S and Google Home Mini for $85 ($24-off)

It might not be the best Android TV box available, but the Xiaomi Mi Box S is still one of the better options available. Pair that with the Google Home Mini, and you actually have an affordable way to use your voice to play movies and TV shows. You can spend even less if you look at Walmart, where the Mi Box S and Home Mini are currently going for $85.

That is a $24 discount compared to the $109 you would normally pay if you bought the Mi Box S and Home Mini separately. It might not sound like a significant amount, but you can put the $24 toward a Chromecast or even a second Home Mini.

You can pick up the Home Mini in either Charcoal or Chalk, but the Coral option is currently unavailable. We do not know when the promotion will end.

Editor’s Pick

Announced earlier in October, the Mi Box S is an updated version of the original Mi Box that debuted back in 2016. The Mi Box S lets you stream content in 4K and runs the latest version of Android TV that is based on Android 8.1 Oreo. The remote features a dedicated Google Assistant button that gives you quick access to voice commands. The remote also features dedicated Netflix and live TV buttons.

Under the hood is a quad-core CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 8GB of expandable storage. The back of the Mi Box S features one HDMI 2.0A port, one audio-out port, and one USB 2.0 port. Finally, the Mi Box S is notable for being one of the few Xiaomi products officially sold in the U.S.

You can either have the Mi Box S and Home Mini shipped to your or your closest Walmart store. You can grab the deal at the link below.

First OnePlus 6T camera sample appears via CEO: Is it a low-light champ?

OnePlus 6T teaser Twitter

  • OnePlus CEO Pete Lau has posted a photo taken with the OnePlus 6T.
  • The photo shows a city at dusk, but it’s unclear if this was taken in auto or night mode.
  • Little else is known about the camera experience, but we’ll find out more on October 29.

The Oneplus 6T launch event is around the corner, and we already have a good idea of what to expect from the phone. How its camera will handle is less certain, but OnePlus CEO Pete Lau has dished out a tantalizing glimpse of its capabilities on social media.

The executive published a photo sample on Weibo (h/t: GSMArena), showing a city at dusk/night. We don’t know if the photo was edited, while EXIF information isn’t available either. Nevertheless, the clouds and buildings seem well-realized. The sky isn’t noise-free though but, all in all, it seems like a good low-light snap. Check it out below (we’ve resized the image to fit the page):

A OnePlus 6T camera sample by Pete Lau. weibo.com/liuzuohu

It’s unclear whether this is the phone’s normal mode or a night mode as seen on the likes of Huawei‘s phones. In Huawei’s case, the night mode intelligently stacks and aligns multiple frames in order to reduce noise and simulate a long shutter speed. If this were taken via a normal/auto mode, however, it would make for a great demonstration of the setup’s light-gathering capabilities. But we won’t complain if this photo is the result of a night mode.

Editor’s Pick

The OnePlus 6T is set for an October 29 reveal, and we already have a few confirmed details. The new phone will ship with Android Pie and an in-display fingerprint sensor, but will lack a headphone jack. Other expected features include a Snapdragon 845 chipset, dual-camera setup, and an OLED screen with a tiny notch.

The new phone would also mark the latest device to arrive in October, following in the footsteps of the LG V40 ThinQ, Google Pixel 3, Huawei Mate 20, and Razer Phone 2.

What do you think of the sample snap? Give us your thoughts in the comments.

NEXT: Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro hands-on — Cameras, cubed

Gboard’s new floating keyboard is a blessing for multitasking

Gboard floating keyboard

  • The latest Gboard update sees the addition of a floating keyboard feature.
  • This can be useful when multitasking or typing with one hand.
  • Gboard isn’t the first keyboard to get this feature.

Google has introduced a floating keyboard to Gboard and it makes multitasking significantly more convenient. Google added the feature to Gboard version 7.6 and it went live on October 19, according to 9to5 Google.

You can find the new feature by tapping on Gboard’s Google icon and then tapping the overflow menu. From here, you can turn the floating keyboard on and off or, if you think you will use it a lot, add it to Gboard’s easy access bar.

Once the floating keyboard is enabled, you can drag it around your screen and resize it as you see fit. Exiting the mode is achieved in exactly the same way as turning it on.

Multitasking without Gboard floating keyboard
Multitasking with Gboard floating keyboard

This is particularly useful for split-screen multitasking. Before the update, when you had two windows open and wanted to type something, the keyboard would show up in its usual place at the bottom of the screen. This would either cover up most of the bottom window or — as in the picture above — push the bottom window into the top window.

Both scenarios could be pretty annoying if you wanted to copy some information from one window into another. For example, when typing bank details into a payments app. The new floating keyboard means you can instead position the keyboard as you see fit, ensuring you can see the important info.

Editor’s Pick

As well as multitasking, the floating keyboard could make one-handed typing much easier as you can make the keyboard smaller and position it in a way that is comfortable for you.

Gboard isn’t the first keyboard to implement a floating feature. SwiftKey has offered the feature for years now. However, the Gboard addition is likely to be welcomed by users who want to use the floating feature without having to switch keyboards.

Next up: 10 best Android keyboards