Galaxy Note 10

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 -- both of them -- are at last upon us. The Galaxy Note has always been a fan favorite, and is often seen as the technical pinnacle of what Samsung can achieve in any given year. Often, the Note has emerged as the most technically impressive handset of its year of launch. But increasingly in recent years, the competition has started to bite. The jewel in Samsung's crown no longer shines quite so bright.

That's more evident than ever in the European market, where Huawei (despite ongoing difficulties with the U.S. government) and new entrant Oppo beat Samsung's flagships in camera quality, with impressive night mode features and up to 5X optical zoom. Meanwhile Google's Pixel line, arguably a hobby project compared to the firm's other endeavors, dominates in terms of computational photography.

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With its current triple-camera setup, Samsung meets the table stakes for a high-end smartphone. I'd be crazy to try and tell you that the Galaxy S10 series, for instance, has a bad camera. Yet it's also clear Samsung is being outmaneuvered by its Chinese rivals. Huawei may struggle when it comes to software, but its P30 Pro can boast up to 10X zoom without loss in detail, an order of magnitude beyond Samsung's 2X.

At the same time Huawei, Google, OnePlus and others have pioneered handheld night modes in their premium smartphones, leaving the Korean giant in the dust. (That's to say nothing of Huawei's excellent low light performance outside of its dedicated night mode.) Samsung eventually rolled out a similar (and very capable) night mode for its Galaxy S10 series and some older phones, but only several months after the S10's launch.

And so if Samsung is to push its way back into the number two or one spot in 2020, photography is an obvious place to start. The company's imaging arm has already shown off its own 5X zoom camera component, and looks set to showcase a 64MP ISOCELL sensor in the coming days. The combination of these two features could see the Galaxy S11 push Samsung back to the position it once enjoyed as the king of Android photography -- if not smartphone photography in general.

At the very least, the much-needed addition of a superzoom camera and a larger image sensor will see the company finally bringing some heat to Huawei and Oppo. Meanwhile, it'd provide a clear point of differentiation between its own flagships and cheaper offerings from the likes of OnePlus.

Samsung has innovated in other areas over the past couple of years. Its Dynamic AMOLED screens are the best out there. And with the Note 10+, it's managed to ship a large capacity battery that can also charge faster than most of the competition. But smartphone photography is one of the few fields where there's plenty of room for incumbents to be challenged, whether through new hardware and optics, or post-processing. And so as next year's release cycle approaches, this key area is an important opportunity. Will the Galaxy S11 have the best phone camera of 2020? That remains to be seen, but it's the target towards which Samsung should be aiming.

  • Don't expect Huawei's Harmony OS to make waves anytime soon. This is clearly a long play from the Chinese company, part of which is as an insurance policy should it ever be permanently cut off from Android. At its first developer conference in Dongguan, China today, the company laid out all the various parts of its vision for vertically integrated products -- potentially even including phones. But it's going to be a long, hard slog to get this anywhere close to being competitive in the Western market.

  • That HTC stopped selling phones in the UK this week due to legal difficulties and basically nobody noticed is a sign of how far down the drain the firm's smartphone business has swirled. It's also a sobering lesson to others in how quickly fortunes can change.

  • The final Android Q beta is out, and the gestures are still a major point of contention for some, including me. I've already touched on why Q's new back gesture in particular is bad, but what's more concerning is the lack of consistency between apps, and even individual devices running the final Q preview. The back gesture on the Pixel 3? Pretty much unusable. On the Pixel 3a? Much better. It's concerning that things are so inconsistent with just a few weeks left until the public launch of Q.

That's it for a few more weeks. I'll see you in early September with some pre-IFA thoughts. Tschüss!