BERLIN -- Despite its stunning legal defeat at the hands of Apple (AAPL), Samsung is marching forward with new products, including two interesting Android devices that I got to play with at the IFA tech show, taking place through Wednesday in Berlin.
Its Galaxy Note 2, which will be released later this year in Europe and early next year in the U.S., has a giant 5.5-inch screen. Some call it a "phablet," as in a hybrid between a phone and tablet.
Like the current Galaxy Note, it comes with a stylus that makes it easier to draw and write, though you can also use your fingers. It has the new Jelly Bean version of Google's (GOOG) Android operating system and a quad-core CPU, an 8 megapixel camera, and a 3100 milliamp hour battery, which is heftier than most smartphone batteries. Much of that extra power will be used by the larger display and faster CPU, but it's likely to have a longer battery life than most other smartphones. Although I was given time with the phone, I wasn't able to keep it long enough to test the battery life.
For some users, a phone this large can take the place of a tablet or even a notebook PC and since people
The phone's stylus is called the "S pen," and according to tech analyst Avi Greengart, it "allows you to write small enough on the screen that it feels and looks more like regular handwriting." To make it smoother when writing on glass, Samsung added a rubber tip to the end of the stylus.
While I can't comment on the legal implications, the phone certainly didn't strike me as an attempt to copy the iPhone. The look, feel and shape are quite different and there is plenty of unique Samsung software. "The pen input,'' said Greengart, ''is something that Apple has openly disdained." A Samsung representative in Berlin refused to comment about the Apple litigation, but in response to my question, said the phone does not have any features that the jury found to infringe on Apple patents.
Many years ago, when cellphone cameras first came out, they were highly compromised cameras built into state-of-the-art phones. Today's phone cameras are a lot better, but there are still plenty of compromises, including the lack of an optical zoom. At IFA, Samsung announced something I've long wanted -- a good camera with a built-in cellular data connection and excellent software.
The just-announced Samsung Galaxy Camera has 3G and 4G cellular connectivity as well as Wi-Fi. It runs the Android operating system, which is not only used to enable some cool software on the phone, but can also be used for running other Android apps as well as Web browsers, email and even Voice over Internet calling. If you press the camera's home button you get to an Android desktop on its 4.8-inch screen, which looks pretty much like Android on a smartphone. Only it's a relatively high-end camera.
The new camera is optimized for photo sharing by making it possible to snap a picture, edit it on the camera's screen and immediately upload it to services like Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram or email it to a friend. Of course you can now do that with just about any smartphone camera, but this is a serious camera with good optics, a 21 x optical zoom and a 23 mm lens that lets you take very wide-angle pictures. It has a 16-megapixel sensor and, according to Samsung, is optimized to work well in low-light conditions. There is also software that enables the phone to recognize the faces of your friends and editing software designed to help improve the look of people's faces.
As far as I know, the press briefing I attended was Samsung's first media appearance since its defeat at the hands of Apple's lawyers, but what I saw wasn't a company shrinking or backing away, but one that is committed to bringing out cutting-edge products based on its own designs. That may not have been true when it allegedly -- in Apple's words -- "slavishly copied" the iPhone, but there's nothing slavish about what I saw in Berlin. Sure, Samsung couldn't have done this alone. It stands on Google's shoulders in its use of the Android operating system for its new phone and its new camera, but it added plenty of value in both the hardware and software, proving that there is still plenty of opportunity for innovation and creativity.
Contact Larry Magid at email@example.com. Listen for his technology chats on KCBS-AM (740) weekdays at 3:50 p.m.