“Buckle your seatbelt, the future is about to begin.”

Those were the words of Samsung’s CEO DJ Koh on stage at Samsung Unpacked, the launch event for a phone that’s going to shape the way we use smartphones for the next decade.

Koh was actually talking about the new Galaxy S10 range when he said the above, but it’s far more pertinent to today’s real showstopper: the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

It might sound overzealous, but the Fold is going to be one of the iconic devices of the next 10 years, something that sets the tone for not just phones but portable electronics in general. 

Koh alluded to the problem on stage tonight: that there’s a belief there’s nothing left in the smartphone world to inspire users. That’s probably true with the current form factor.

There’s no magical, pinch-and-zoom interface that the iPhone brought. There’s no incredible battery life or awe-inspiring camera. Everything is the much-maligned black rectangle.

But what we saw on stage tonight in the Galaxy Fold, a handset that folds outwards to show a large 7.3-inch screen, was the Promethean phone that we’ll look back on in years to come, a device that sparked a change in the desires of phone buyers.

There’s a hankering for something new, something innovative, the next ‘big thing’ that’s never satisfied in phone buyers – and a handset that folds out, that’s both a smartphone and a tablet in one, is just the thing for that. 

This claim sounds like jumping the gun a little bit, and that’s understandable. The Galaxy Fold is an ugly device when folded down in ‘phone mode’, after all – the 4.7-inch screen sits between two huge bezels, which are even more pronounced given most phone manufacturers are trying to remove them altogether, Samsung included. 

The thin screen dimensions make the phone look longer than it really is, but it has to be that way to accommodate the large screen inside, the thing that really sets this Galaxy Fold apart. 

The main draw is being able to start a task on the ‘phone’ screen and seamlessly open up the phone to continue on the large ‘tablet’ portion – it looks so impressive, but that doesn’t mean design compromises weren’t made. It looks thick when folded down, in a world of thin smartphones.

Bezel-haters, look away now…

We’re talking about a phone that no member of the media got to touch or test – while the handset on stage looked slick and fluid, it could still be full of bugs. That would make sense given you’ll have to wait at least two months to own one, and the demonstrator might have been under strict instructions to only show certain, working elements. 

Were that to be true though, it would draw an interesting parallel with the first demo of the iPhone, where Jobs reportedly had to press buttons in a very specific order to stop the phone from crashing.

Perhaps you’re wondering why Samsung is being given the credit for changing the way smartphones. After all, it’s offered a very restricted demo of a too-thick phone with an ugly front.

It’s not the first to bring out a flexible smartphone, and in a month it’ll be joined by a host of other smartphone manufacturers in showing off a foldable phone. 

But Samsung has been working on flexible displays for years now, and was the first to demo the technology on stage last year (albeit in a weird, silhouetted fashion).

It’s also got the reputation – if the biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world brings out a radical new concept, people outside of early technology adopters are going to sit up and take notice. 

The flexible phone concept needs to be drip-fed into the mainstream, and only brands like Apple and Samsung are capable of doing that at the moment (although it will be interesting to see the impact Huawei has when it shows off its flexible phone next month).

Ouch.

It’s a bold claim to say the Galaxy Fold will be the genesis for the next wave of smartphones, but it seems inevitable that in the future we’ll all be sporting these flexible devices.

Not today though. Not this year. Probably not for half a decade, really. The Samsung Galaxy Fold seems likely to get a limited release worldwide, given the brand didn’t outline big plans for a global release on stage.

What it did say was that the Samsung Galaxy Fold price would start at an eye-watering $1,980 (around £1,500 / AU$2,700). That’s too expensive, and one wonders if it’s on purpose, a way to ward off the masses from buying – and then decrying – a new form factor that needs a few kinks worked out. Early adopters are usually far more forgiving because they have what they want: the new thing.

Even if it was slightly staged, that demo was impressive. The speed of the device was night and day compared to the buggy experience of the world’s first foldable phone, the Royole Flexpai

That was a phone that folded outwards, only had one screen, and got confused easily between open and closed modes. It’s also expensive, and it’s certainly not going to be a mainstream device. 

What the Flexpai did do is bring that buzz, that feeling of something new and groundbreaking. Seeing a display curve and fold was simply incredible, and Samsung possesses the marketing clout and reputation to get the world to take notice.

So sure, the Samsung Galaxy Fold isn’t going to sell in the millions. Perhaps it won’t even sell in the tens of thousands – but that doesn’t matter. In a decade, when we’re all using flexible electronics as part of our daily lives, it was days like today that put us on that path.

The ‘three app’ multi-tasking does seem too much for a smartphone

There’s no reason to believe that just because it’s created the Galaxy Fold, Samsung will ‘win’ the foldable war. Apple will certainly have something to say when the technology is mature enough, and there are reams of technologically-capable Chinese brands who will want to bring out something even more impressive.

That doesn’t stop the notion of a phone that opens up to a tablet being super cool right now. You might not buy a foldable smartphone today, but today’s launch could well be the reason you own one in the future.

All image credit: Samsung

Last August, Motorola announced what might still wind up being the world’s first true 5G phone — the Verizon-exclusive Moto Z3 with an optional 5G Moto Mod. It’s a snap-on module that the company promised would give you an insanely fast 5Gbps cellular connection, faster than most landlines these days. But Moto Z3 buyers had to take the company’s word for that, because the 5G Mod wouldn’t be available until “early 2019,” when Verizon’s 5G NR network is due to launch in the United States.

Well, the 5G Moto Mod just crossed the FCC today, and it came with a surprise in tow — a document that has more details about how it’ll work than I thought the company would ever publicly reveal.

And one of those details is sure to surprise some people, even if it’s not necessarily something anyone should actually worry about. Namely, the 5G Moto Mod will feature proximity sensors that shut off any of its four millimeter wave 5G antennas if your fingers get too close.

Here’s a portion of Motorola’s description:

As mentioned in the device description, capacitive and proximity sensors are used to disable transmission from a given mm-wave antenna array module when a user may be located in close proximity to the module and in a direction in which the module may transmit. The control mechanism is a simple one in which, if proximity detectors indicate the potential presence of the user within a roughly conical region in front of the module where power density may approach the MPE limit, that module is disabled from use by the modem. This terminates and prevents transmission from the module in question until the condition is cleared.

Before you react to that, a few things you should know:

  • Millimeter wave radiation is considered non-ionizing — it doesn’t have enough energy to tear apart living tissue.
  • You’ve probably already encountered millimeter wave radiation if you’ve gone through an airport body scanner. The FDA says there are “no known adverse health effects” from that kind of dose.
  • The FCC has millimeter wave exposure limits already, and that’s what Motorola’s system is complying with.
  • Motorola goes on to say that the proximity sensors aren’t the only way that it’s shutting off these antennas — the Mod will also automatically pick an antenna with better signal strength if your fingers are blocking others.

But it’s pretty interesting that Motorola felt the need to include such a system, and I’m curious if other 5G devices will have one as well.

We’d previously learned that the 5G Moto Mod contains practically all the guts of a high-end smartphone inside, including its own Snapdragon 855 processor, X50 5G modem, 10 antennas, and its own 2,000mAh battery so it doesn’t need to drain your connected phone, but the FCC filing reveals one less-exciting spec as well: the Mod appears to be 7mm thick at its thickest point, meaning it’ll more than double the thickness of your admittedly fairly thin 6.75mm Moto Z3 phone.

 FCC
13.75mm total – 6.75mm phone = 7mm. Looks like the Mod tapers down to 5.97mm at the edges, though.

We still don’t know how much the 5G Mod will cost, or quite how fast a connection you’ll be able to get in Verizon’s first 5G-equipped cities at launch — our early hands-on was hamstrung — but it’s worth noting that Motorola’s now only advertising a conservative estimate of 300 to 500Mbps, compared to the 5Gbps it’s theoretically capable of.

Oh, and I’ll leave you with one final tidbit I spotted in the FCC filing, though you might want to take this with a grain of salt: A sentence that reads “It functions only when it is snapped onto a 5G Mod-compatible smartphone device, such as the Moto Z3 Pro.”

The rest of the filing is pretty clear that the Mod was only tested with the existing Moto Z3 — I cross-referenced all the numbers to confirm — but I have to admit it was weird to see Motorola avoid launching a new high-end flagship phone last year. It wouldn’t be completely surprising if a “Pro” version of the phone arrives alongside the Mod when it shows up for real. Maybe we’ll hear something at Mobile World Congress next week?

Nike’s been teasing a new evolution in basketball sneakers for a while, but now the world’s largest shoe maker has unveiled ‘the future of the game’ with Nike Adapt BB – high-tech shoes which are not only self-lacing and app-controlled, but will also automatically adjust to the foot.

“We picked basketball as the first sport for Nike Adapt intentionally because of the demands that athletes put on their shoes,” says Eric Avar, Nike VP Creative Director of Innovation in the company’s announcement.

He continued, “During a normal basketball game the athlete’s foot changes and the ability to quickly change your fit by loosening your shoe to increase blood flow and then tighten again for performance is a key element that we believe will improve the athlete’s experience.”

According to Nike, the Adapt BB uses a custom motor and tension-sensing gears to automatically adjust the snugness of each sneaker on a player’s feet. 

Using the Nike Adapt app, players can also manually input different settings and tensile strength, with the laces capable of pulling 32 pounds of force, which Nike says is roughly equivalent to “that of a standard parachute cord”.

Nike’s FitAdapt technology will also be receiving regular firmware updates which players can opt into, making Adapt BB the company’s “first continually updated performance product” with a precision fit that will get better over time.

In keeping with the high-tech nature of the shoes, Nike Adapt BB will ship with a Qi wireless charging mat (pictured above) in the box, and wearers will also have full control of the LED lights in the shoes’ soles, allowing them to change lighting colors on the fly. 

Nike Adapt BB will be available from Nike’s online store from 10AM (EST) on February 17 and will be priced at $350 (around £272 / AU$486).

These days, it’s impossible to look anywhere in the tech world without seeing Google’s fingerprints. This was definitely still true throughout 2018 – even Microsoft conceded to Chrome’s web browser dominance

However, with all the news that’s constantly flying around the internet about Google, it can be hard to pinpoint the year’s most pivotal moments. That’s why we’ve decided to dive into Google’s biggest moves throughout 2018 – with a bit of a look at the future, as well.

Google in 2018

Project Fi: all the networks

It was only a matter of time before Google launched its own cellular service – it’s been running Google Fiber, an internet service provider, in select cities for years now. Google Project Fi has technically been running since way back in 2015, but it blew up in a big way this past year. 

The way Project Fi works is that you’ll basically pay a flat $20 (about £15, AU$28) a month for all your regular cellular activities, like talking and texting. Then, you’re charged an extra $10 (about £8, AU$14) a month for each gigabyte of data you use. Heavy data users might notice that this would get expensive very fast, but Google put a cap on users’ bills in January, ensuring that users don’t have to pay more than $80 (about £62, AU$113) in a month.

It’s also reliable, as it essentially borrows signal from traditional carrier’s cell towers, like Sprint, T-Mobile and others. 

One of the things that has been holding Project Fi back over the last couple years has been the lack of compatible smartphones. Which is why it was such great news when, in November 2018, Project Fi opened up compatibility with Samsung and OnePlus smartphones – oh, and iPhones, too

Google in 2018

But, what about Google Fuchsia?

We’ve been on the edge of our seats anticipating Google Fuchsia for years now, and, well, it’s still not out yet. That doesn’t mean we didn’t get closer to a possible release date for the one OS to unite them all. 

Right at the beginning of the year, Google was testing the experimental OS on the Google Pixelbook, with a build that anyone could download and run. It was definitely an early version of the operating system, but it did give users an idea of what Fuchsia would look like, should it ever release. 

But, things kind of got complicated from there. Back in July, we got a report that Google was on track to launch Google Fuchsia within the next five years. But, there was a catch: neither Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Chrome and Android lead Hiroshi Lockheimer had signed off on any road map for Fuchsia’s release. Instead, the Google executives referred to Fuchsia as an “open source experiment” rather than an official project

But, because Fuchsia is an open source experiment, we kept hearing about advances made in the OS throughout the year from security implementations to the search-centric interface. Here’s to hoping all of this leads to something more concrete in 2019. 

Google in 2018

Some assistance, please

Smart speakers are everywhere these days, with Google, Amazon, Apple and more in a race to deliver the smart assistant for you and your home. In 2018, Google Assistant made waves. Google’s digital assistant was already capable of quite a lot, but after an update in October it’s capable of more than ever. 

That’s good news, because the Google Assistant is virtually on everything right now. Beyond every Android phone, it’s on everything from new smart speakers, like Marshall’s Stanmore II and Acton II to Samsung’s next line of smart TVs.

Google is launching plenty of its own devices with its AI software, too, including the Google Home Hub, which goes head to head with Amazon’s Echo Show.

Google obviously has big plans for Google Assistant, and it wants the software running on as many devices as possible. And, if we keep hearing news about plans to bring personalized news feeds to smart speakers, we can’t wait to see what Google Assistant is capable of in 2019.

Google in 2018

Pixel dense

Google doesn’t just make money by harvesting your browsing data and turning it into targeted advertisements, it also launches mobile and computing hardware. This year, we got two fantastic phones and a tablet. 

Back at its Made by Google event in October, the tech giant launched the Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL and the Google Pixel Slate

The Google Pixel 3 and its bigger cousin were the stars of the show, even if it didn’t look like a lot on paper. But, the Google Pixel 3 is more than the sum of its spec sheet, bringing an even better camera – when the Google Pixel 2 was already one of the best cameras in a smartphone. But, that’s not all – Google massively improved the camera software this time around, bringing around OLED displays, even if you’ll have to deal with a notch this time around.

Then there’s the Google Pixel Slate, Google’s answer to the Microsoft Surface Pro – but with much weaker hardware. It’s one of the first Chrome OS tablets on the market, with an optional keyboard cover that’ll set you back a whopping $199 (£189, about AU$280). Starting out with an Intel Celeron Processor, it’s by no means a powerhouse, but is does have its appeal as a media device for Google fans. We would have rather seen the Google Pixelbook 2, but, hey there’s always next year, right?

Google in 2018

Conclusions

Google isn’t the easiest tech company to sum up at the end of the year, as a lot of its major moves are drawn out over time, rather than the product releases. However, Google kind of got a lot done this year, even if it’s not as tangible as Apple or Microsoft. 

The search engine, long the core of its business, keeps getting better and better, and is more mobile friendly than ever. And, with its expansion into ostensibly being a cellular carrier, Google has a lot to be proud of, and we can’t wait to see where Google is going to expand next. Because, 2018 went to further prove that Google’s movements aren’t as predictable as their peers. 

And, while there wasn’t much in the way of new hardware, the new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are genuinely some of the best phones to come out in 2018. We just wish the Google Pixel Slate could have been more impressive. There is plenty of potential for a great Chrome OS tablet, we’re just not there yet. 

Maybe in 2019 we’ll see a true follow-up to the Google Pixelbook that redefines what the best Chromebooks are capable of. We’ve been rooting for the Chromebook from the sidelines for a while now, and with the problems Microsoft is having with the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, we think there’s room for Chrome OS to steal some of the spotlight. 

This year seemed to see Google laying out a lot of groundwork for future work, and we think it’s going to cash in on this work throughout the next couple of years. We know we’re on the edge of our seats to see what becomes of Google Fuchsia.