I had the privilege of being introduced to Samsung’s new QLED range of Televisions a few days ago. These are due in the NZ market in May 2017 and continue the evolution of LED-LCD display technology, with colours and pictures that are strong, vibrant, bright and a joy to view. The current technology buzz in the TV display world is OLED, which is an early lifecycle technology that emits light (to assemble a display pictures) in a different fashion to the more mainstream LCD TV's.
While it’s fascinating to see the evolution of technology and the promises these improvements bring, I tend to focus on how these compare to the here and now. Television is a well penetrated product into most people’s lives, and you’ll find one in most homes and places of work around NZ and the world, and they continue to function day in and out without too much fuss. The switch from the older tube technology to Plasma and subsequently LCD came with the usual hallmarks of new methods; the old technology had better colours, was more fluid and better saturation (so pictures looked more natural and so on), while manufacturing quality of early technology often meant the lifespan of a TV was adjusted from 25 years down to 10, and even 5 for some types until common sense (and sales trends) kicked in.
In the range below, the Samsung panels are an evolution of LED technology and not OLED. While that’s interesting, how these panels perform and what they offer is more valuable than what's under the metal/plastic.
Declaration: I have 3 Samsung TV’s, acquired between 2007-10. A 27” that had it’s screen die 1 day before the end of the warranty (on boxing day no less), but which Noel Leeming had repaired and is still going strong 10 years later (disappointingly, when you see so many flash new models these days). A 37” with a bezel (the plastic edging around the screen) that has cracked from several house moves), and a little 22” doing duty in the bedroom. All the TV's operate fine, and for me (and I expect a great many people) they will only be replaced when they stop working… meaning the market for Samsung’s new models as always is somebody seeking a replacement for various reasons. The highpoint of features and functions for me is equipment that’s 7-10 years old, meaning anything new will certainly be appealing. I am a researcher and make considered purchases, meaning features, form, function and most importantly for such a major appliance, ability to elegantly mount and position in the house.
65” glory – Q8C $7,999 75” of curve and style – Q8C $13,999 55” of Smart Viewing – Q7F $5,199
In the pictures above are the mainstream models being shown, on a gloomy day in Te Papa in Wellington. I deliberately took photo’s of the TV’s against their bright background, so the performance of the display can be somewhat thought about. On display is a variation of flat-to-wall, and curved screen models. Retail pricing by model is typical of this type of new product, and I expect market pricing will differ somewhat by the end of the year (In the model distinction, F means Flat and C means Curved):
75” - $12,499
65" - $7,199
55" - $5,199
75" – $13,999
65" – $7,999
55" – $5,999
88" - $34,999
75" – $17,999
65" - $9,999
All panels are 4K displays with nearly no bezel at the edges, have superb clarity and brightness, downward firing speakers, beefed up user interface for control (with some good executions of control), a remote control that doesn’t have 200 buttons and some good thoughts for wall mounting. The control software is based on Tizen, a linux alternative with it’s roots in smartphone land, and has been driven by Samsung/Intel as an alternative to Android. A quick search of the web indicates it’s had an ignominious introduction, which you’d expect of anything new taking on established players, but on the TV's at least it functions smoothly and quickly.
As usual, the downward firing speakers have limited ability to shift air meaning all the TV’s would benefit from a separate speaker system just to have adequate sound; it’s a shame all manufacturers have gone this way on premium models, as it feels just a little cheaty to expect all consumers to have a ready made home theatre setup to support a beautiful panel: I can’t stand box speakers and their wires being on display just to support watching TV.
A significant point of interest for me was the connections on the back, and the very real questions around how to mount the TV nicely on a wall, connect the huge plethora of other devices one would reasonably expect to it, and keep it all nice and tidy. Samsung’s answer, first introduced in some premium models last year, is the control box. This unit connects to the TV via a bundled 5m fibre cable (the white cable above), and has connections for HDMI x4, USB2 x3, Gigabit Ethernet x1, Optical out x1. 1x UHF tuner (with F-Connector). The control box is the brains of the whole package, and the fibre cable allows for an elegant way of mounting the telly and hiding the wires. A 15M cable option will be available, circa RRP$400.
In the second picture, you can see a panel that pops off – on the whole range, this is where Samsung’s mounting bracket is installed, and allows the TV to be mounted flush to the wall (curved or flat TVs). The bracket cost is up to $300 for the 55/65” range, and $350 for the 75”. The third picture gives an indication of the panel.
Finally, the remote control is a neat little affair that is channeling other simplified silver remote controls, and operates on both Bluetooth and IR. The unit has voice control (hence the need for Bluetooth) as well as standard TV functions (IR), which is interesting… I would have thought going for full Bluetooth the more elegant step but there you go. It works fine and has a decent range and function. There are also the Samsung Smart View apps for Android and iOS, which act as soft remote controls, and can also be used as alternatives to an Apple TV or Chromecast to transmitting from your phone to the screen (I didn’t have a chance to try this out though, so not sure how well it works). Samsung also support Steamlink, meaning a PC can be connected over the home’s LAN with gaming happening on the TVs, something which sounds quite promising and no doubt has a few details in its setup.
The screens perform beautifully, display and function is very good (as you would expect at this price range), sound is ok, there has been some decent thinking into wall mounting and addressing the explosion connecting different devices brings to the modern viewing experience.
The interesting comment from me was on the evolution of apps; Netflix, Lightbox, Neon, Hulu, Amazon all had apps available. Notable absence was TV3 and TVNZ, to which the response was that these folks weren’t developing for Smart TV anymore, focusing instead in channeling their effort into Freeview Plus and making their content available that way (which is a shrewd move: Having witnessed first-hand the level of work required to directly support Smart TV’s with a media app, the investment in human power vs benefit is horrendously skewed. Far more productive to focus on one source). The Smart interface had some genuinely neat tricks around source handling (elegant swapping between an Xbox, Blu-ray player, streaming content from a connected USB stick and so on), and performance never felt like the unit was chugging along or working hard.
I’ve never been a fan of Smart TV’s, historically because of the commitment of the manufacturers to keeping the OS supported, enhanced and feature rich, and I hope the launch of this range is a commitment from Samsung to keep supporting what they build for the reasonable life of the TV; after all, I expect my next TV to last another 10 years, and I would be disappointed with any brand that dropped support of its software quickly for the next big thing.
I’m keen to see where this range is at around October/November in the market, pricing and performance wise. Samsung have a real opportunity here to make some inroads, and judging by the Boxing Day sales in Dec 2016 have absolutely cleared the warehouses to support this new range.
2007 called and asked for it's technology back. My BlackBerry was forcibly retired.
For those who sneer at BlackBerry and it's users, dismissing them as relics of an age gone by, all I can say is Ignoramus. No-one who has ever used BlackBerry in anger would dismiss other users for being relics or diehards. Just like the Psion 3 and 5, which surrendered to the PDA in 2001, which eventually was surpassed by the connected smartphone before the age of the iPhone, it was a product of it's time and reflected that age.
But boy, did it do it with a style that no-one has replicated well. The pretenders to the throne have gotten close in building a mobile email capability for corporates. They have not built an elegant, easy to use, well integrated communications app that extends the desktop to a mobile device, so well optimised and polished out of the box that using it becomes second nature.
I could compose an email without ever looking at the device. I knew exactly where the keys were, the right sequence, how to drive the address book from within an email, compose and send.
Without ever looking at the screen, like an experienced touch typist on a QWERTY keyboard. And it worked.
I found managing via this device just worked. One handed operation - sorted. The User Interface was massively intuitive and instinctive, the functions were driven to operate as real humans think, and not the technologists.
Oddly enough, Windows Phone 8 is starting to approach the levels of capability that BlackBerry offers. But it's not there yet. The iPhone is good... But it's not there yet. And so on.
So I've been spoiled. Blackberry did what it was supposed to. The voice quality - for those who go old school and actually talk to people - was absolutely sublime compared to current widgets, and the battery life was good. Of course, it didn't keep up with the best that the others could offer, and then RIM got horribly confused about who the competition was and what strategy they were executing to. Looking back I find it amusing Microsoft focused on RIM as the king to be taken down, when the real usurper Apple was toiling away to lead the revolution - which no-one ever believed possible (I first started getting notice of an Apple phone around 2003 while at O2). And of course, away in their secret volcano lair the Google minions created the monster that is Android, repeating the messy experience of Microsoft Windows (many vendors, inconsistent experiences, underpowered phones)
All offer 'corporate mobile email'. And ALL have a compromised experience - it's there, but none comes close to being anywhere near the ease of RIM, and therein is the rub. If mobile email is only passable, will mobile email be used?
It's pleasing to see large preorders for the new Blackberry 10 range - long overdue - and I sincerely hope this will put pressure on the device vendors to improve their onboard applications in the way only they can. I also hope they will focus on what made their solution so very powerful - excellent corporate IT management tools, the real secret jewel in a world of identical smartphones.
Ok, perhaps it is a little bit of a whinge from a spoiled ex-user. I do like my smartphones and what they offer, but they aren't for emailing anything other than 3 word answers - just unusable.
So I've gone back to a much, much more powerful way of communicating. I know it's radical, and it might just catch on.
I call it MAKING A PHONE CALL AND TALKING TO PEOPLE. No read receipts are required. You always know whether the other end got the message, but like everything in life not whether they understood it.
I agree with many observers that the onboard maps app is utter rubbish compared to Google - I'm guessing the USA has got a nice service but the rest of the world? I'm stunned the NZ maps look like low-res ones circa 2004. Good potential there I guess, but shameful. The shot of my place looks like there is dirt on the lens.
But as for the everything else? well, I rather like it. Allow me to explain.
My Ipad2 has been deteriorating over the last 6 months, getting slower and slower, as if an app had a memory leak somewhere. I've always been suspicious of devices which have non-volatile ram in them, as my experience has been that they get slower over time and less responsive. Indeed, I managed to utterly destroy an early Nokia 7650 when I pushed it's onboard email to the limit, filling the memory and killing any opportunity to perform a hard restore - at a time when I worked for O2 and they had the Nokia tools to reflash the phone.
So, I downloaded iOS6 direct to widget - took 4 attempts as the download kept stalling because the huge demand globally had a huge impact on Apples' akamai feeds - but 2GB later it was installing merrily away. And my iPad was restored to factory fresh performance, but with all my content onboard safe. Not one dropped file, not one misconfigured app. This is backup and restore as it should be.
Have I got any other new capabilities? none that really drive me - but I have noticed the WIFI performance and responsiveness of the applications is more inline with the advertising. Visit a URL and it comes up pretty quickly - there is no lag between user action and device reaction. Of course TelstraClear Cable Internet helps.
If maps is important - don't upgrade.
But overall - I've seen nothing but upside in installation.
Of course, the missing YouTube app leaves a LOT to be desired and smacks of the pettiness others have commented on regarding Apple vs Google. The app was actually rather good - and I have found nothing similar yet for an iPad that replicates it.
Last week Apple launched the updated version of the Airport Express, updating the original model launched about 3-4 years ago. I've been waiting for this for a while now, and ordered one as soon as I could. Available immediately from Sydney, it shipped quickly but also was damaged in transit by TNT Couriers - which I only discovered because I hit the 'Track Shipment' button in the email I received confirming the order. One quick call to Apple - and a 5 minute wait - and the lovely girl in the contact centre not only dispatched another toot suite, but she also called me back 3 times to let me the replacement was coming, when it would arrive (which is important - I am not always the same place every day, so need to know when packages are arriving) and was I happy when it had arrived. Pretty cool - may not sound like much, or that every consumer company should do that. but the reality is they don't.
I use TelstraClear Cable Internet at home, and for a while have been using an Apple Airport Extreme, with a couple of Airport Express v1 range extenders, to try and provide some semblance of coverage in the house, to all the widgets that need it. This meant that there were more wires, more power bricks and more awkwardly placed devices in the house, all connected together using wireless bridging - which came at the cost of overall performance, and made wireless VOIP a bit more clunkier than it needed to be (the best experience for anything wireless is your device to the wireless router, then out to internet modem. Going device to wireless to wireless to internet modem means performance is affected - things run that much slower.
The new Airport Express is class - it looks like the older Airport Extreme model, except it's shrunk by about 40%, and has amazing range and performance compared to it's bigger brother. Admittedly the Extreme is an older model and has a poorer performing wireless chip, but even so the wider surface area of the older unit led me to reasonably expect it would have better performance. The aerial is bigger I thought - shows what I know. The new unit gives me the same range and performance that required the use of extenders on the older model.
Picture one: Airport Express v2 just above the black Apple TV. The older Airport Express model is to the right of the Apple TV.
The Airport Extreme is the big unit to the left of everything, along with it's power brick
The new Express has a simple power cable, separate 10/100 WAN and LAN ports, simultaneous dual-band Wifi (up to 802.11n), a USB port for attaching a printer and a 3.5mm headphone jack for connection to a sound system, for streaming audio over AirPlay. I have no idea how much power it draws - but the Extreme draws 20w when running, whereas I suspect this new device draws about 6w, the same as Apple TV, about a quarter of an energy efficient lightbulb. It may not sound like much, but every little helps.
This unit perfectly suits the Cable Internet world and the forthcoming Ultra Fast Broadband network - both of those technologies supply an Ethernet connection into the home, so will plug straight into this great router. Those on DSL connections will need to bridge the router into their modems and do some jiggering around with DHCP settings - the Airport software is pretty good at leading you through what you need to do, but you do need to be familiar with the terminology it uses. This new device reportedly supports up to 50 connected devices - performance seems pretty good, although this sort of test is a bit misleading:
And that's as much as I've experienced so far. The lack of a Gigabit WAN port is interesting but not really that limiting for the next 3 years, and I do wish the Apple software would allow you to configure QOS and other Application level settings, but on the whole it looks good.
I'm still an ardent believer that wireless is the way to providing the better inhome and inpremises experience, and avoiding the need to haul wiring through the building, and as the turnover of WIFI chipsets continued to increase - the next round is 802.11ac, which eventually will be able to hit gigabit speeds - combined with improving aerial design mean that wireless really is a great way to go.