Android phone makers try to stand out
NEW YORK — It’s getting rarer for phone launches to generate excitement these days — especially in the Android world, where all models use the same underlying Google software.
Every year, phones get routine refreshes such as faster processors, better cameras and longer battery life.
But Android phone makers haven’t given up trying to stand out.
Samsung, for instance, hopes to encourage upgrades by giving its new Galaxy Note 7 phone an eye scanner for identification and related security features. Other manufacturers are looking beyond the phone entirely, pinning their hopes on innovative accessories. Motorola offers mix-and-match modules that let you upgrade your phone on the fly, while Alcatel is focused on adding virtual-reality features, including a headset. Just look ... for security
Fingerprint scanners are now standard in high-end phones, following their big debut in the 2013 iphone 5S. In the Note 7, Samsung takes the notion of such “biometric” security a step further, adding an iris scanner that detects patterns in your eyes to confirm your identity.
The feature is easy to set up, and the iris detection works well — as long as you’re not in direct sunlight or wearing glasses (much less sunglasses). Samsung even warns that contact lenses might mess things up, although the scanner worked fine when this reviewer wore them. To unlock the phone, you need to turn on the screen and swipe; then you just stare at the screen. The fingerprint scanner works even with the screen off and glasses on, making it the far better choice unless your fingers are wet.
Many Android phones offer a face-detection feature for unlocking phones, but that’s all it does. With the Note 7, the iris or fingerprint can also unlock a secure folder where you can stash sensitive photos, documents and email accounts you might want to keep away from friends who borrow your phone to look at baby pictures.
It’s a good concept, although in practice it can feel like you’re using two separate phones. When browsing photos in the “secure” gallery, all your other photos are invisible. You need to go back out to the “unsecure” gallery to view those. And there’s no way to move text messaging to the Secure Folder.
Beyond that, the Note 7 has a more resilient screen, more storage and more ways to use the stylus — for instance, you can translate a phrase just by holding the pen over a word. Samsung also brings water resistance and its excellent Galaxy S7 camera to the jumbo Note 7, while offering easier access to camera settings using swipes.
Nothing is radically new, but the improvements are great if you’re already looking to upgrade. The Note 7 comes out Friday in the US, depending on the carrier. It’s more expensive than what last year’s Note cost at launch, but all models now have a screen that curves over the sides of the phone, something previously reserved for a more expensive “Edge” version. — AFP