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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Samsung Galaxy Unpacked Event 2020: What Went Down

At its second annual Galaxy Unpacked event of the year, Samsung has announced a spate of new devices, including new flagship smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and wireless earbuds. The media event, for the first time in its history, was an entirely virtual affair, and it was livestreamed directly from South Korea to eliminate the need for travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

The devices themselves? Clad in a shiny bronze (Samsung’s flagship color this time around) and very, very expensive. The abundance of new tech arrives during a remarkably sour global economic climate, but time keeps marching on, and Samsung can’t stop its cyclical machine of churning out lots of products. Here’s everything the company announced today.

Galaxy Note 20 & Note 20 Ultra

Samsung’s flagship phones have always hogged the limelight at its Unpacked events, and this year is no different. The newest devices are the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra ($1,300) and the Note 20 ($1,000), two phones that aren’t too different from the Galaxy S20 range the company released earlier this year. (Though they’re just as expensive!) The screen sizes are the same as the Galaxy S20+ and S20 Ultra (6.7 and 6.9 inches, respectively). There’s 5G support, and they share almost the same exact camera systems. The Note 20 Ultra skips the 64-megapixel telephoto sensor for a 12-megapixel one. It still keeps the same 108-megapixel main camera, which allows you to zoom up to 50 times closer to a subject and retain decent quality. The Note 20 has the same cameras as the S20+, except both Note phones have ditched the depth camera, which allowed for improved augmented-reality (AR) effects and a better portrait mode.

What’s new then? The Note 20 Ultra and Note 20 are boxier phones like the Note 10 from 2019, have matte glass backs (the bronze color is especially nice), and surprisingly, smaller battery capacities (4,500 mAh and 4,300 mAh, respectively) than the S20 range. They’re a little more powerful, though, because of a newer Snapdragon 865+ processor inside, but you likely won’t notice much of a difference. There’s a more robust Pro Video mode in the camera app that offers finer control when filming, even allowing you to choose which microphone on the phone you want to use for recording. One thing that’s a little strange is that only the Note 20 Ultra has a 120-Hz screen, a feature Samsung debuted on the S20 line. With the Note 20, you’re stuck with a traditional 60-Hz screen. The Ultra also has a curved screen, whereas the regular model has a flat panel.

The S Pen is what’s special about these phones, and Samsung says the precision and responsiveness of its bundled stylus has improved. The new pen-specific feature this year is called “Anywhere” actions: You can make five specific gestures with the S Pen to trigger customizable functions on the phone. For example, a swipe to the left in mid-air with the S Pen could launch an app.

Samsung also updated its Notes app, which now can auto-save notes and sync them across all of your devices. It can also convert your handwriting into text, and you can annotate and highlight PDFs in the app. Later this year, these notes will be able to sync to your Microsoft OneDrive and Outlook accounts. Speaking of Microsoft, the Note range now has tighter integration with Windows. With the Link to Windows app, you can create shortcuts on Windows to access your mobile apps quickly, and in the fall, you’ll be able to run multiple apps side by side on your PC.

Microsoft’s Game Pass will also be available on Note 20 devices, so you can stream Xbox titles wherever you are on the phones (you’ll need a very good internet connection).

The Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra are available for pre-orders tomorrow, and they’ll officially be available starting August 21.

Galaxy Tab S7 & S7+

Samsung’s newest tablets, the 11-inch Tab S7 and the 12.4-inch Tab S7+, are the first tablets that support 5G in the US—not that it means much, since the new network technology is still sparse and inaccessible for most people. Still, these are powerful slates. You get the same Snapdragon 865+ processor, just like the new Note 20 phones, a 120-Hz screen refresh rate, and four speakers with Dolby Atmos support. They’re not just different in size, though. The S7, for example, doesn’t come with an AMOLED screen but instead an LCD, whereas the S7+ sports an AMOLED panel.

Many of the Microsoft integrations are here too, and in the fall, Samsung says you’ll even be able to use the Tab S7 as a second screen with your Windows machine.

An S Pen stylus is included with each Tab, but if you want to add other accessories, like the keyboard with the trackpad, you’ll have to cough up more money. And these tablets are already quite pricey, starting at $650 for the 11-inch model and $850 for the 12.4-inch Tab S7+.

Galaxy Watch3

On the wearable front, the new Galaxy Watch3 succeeds the 2018 Galaxy Watch (there is no Galaxy Watch2), as well as the Galaxy Watch Active and Galaxy Watch Active2 that followed in 2019. Noteworthy changes include a smaller, thinner, and lighter profile than the original design, but a slightly bigger 1.4-inch round screen. It comes in 41-mm and 45-mm sizes, and Samsung says you can expect two-day battery life from both models.

The three big improvements are health-related. With the Watch3, you can measure your VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during exercise and a data point that’s commonly used to measure athletic endurance. You can also measure your SpO2, or blood-oxygen saturation level. Finally, Samsung is doubling down on sleep tracking with a new sleep scoring system. Sleep tracking has been available on Samsung’s watches before, but the company says it worked with a national institution to develop a five-step algorithm that analyzes more factors, and it will use that data to rate your overall sleep performance.

Other features include LTE connectivity, Samsung Pay, and a fall detection system similar to what’s found on the Apple Watch Series 5. The watch has an electrocardiogram and can track blood pressure too, but these features are only available in South Korea at the moment, as Samsung has received clearance from the country’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. The 41-mm and 45-mm versions of the Galaxy Watch3 go on sale August 6 for $400 and $430, respectively. The LTE models will cost $450 and $480, respectively.

Galaxy Buds Live

Then there are the wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds Live. They’re a successor of sorts to the Galaxy Buds+, which Samsung debuted earlier this year, but the Buds+ are likely not going anywhere. The Buds Live differentiate themselves by offering active noise canceling, allowing wearers to block out ambient sounds from the world around them. They also look very different, like beans, which Samsung claims will offer a more comfortable fit, but they don’t offer a seal like the Buds+. They also pack larger, 12-mm drivers, which should produce more robust sound (tuned by audio heavyweights AKG).

Samsung is also touting improved microphone quality for phone and video calls. There are three mics in the buds, and they use beam-forming tech to tune out background noise and focus on just your voice for improved clarity. It also enables Bixby, Samsung’s voice assistant, to be always on in the background, ready to do your bidding. Always-on Bixby and active noise canceling do come at a cost; the Buds Live will last around 5.5 hours with these features on, according to Samsung. With them off, they can hit 8 hours. But both of those battery life estimates are shorter than the 11 hours you can get from the Galaxy Buds+. The charging cradle, which can recharge wirelessly, stores an additional 21 hours of juice.

The Galaxy Buds Live go on sale August 6 for $170, undercutting Apple’s AirPods Pro by $80, which also feature noise canceling.

For an in-depth look at the Galaxy Z Fold 2, click here: Samsung unveils the Galaxy Z Fold 2, full reveal to be held in September

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