By Stephen Schenck | September 4, 2013 1:10 PM
Samsung and Sony are throwing today’s big IFA press events, and while Sony’s conference had a bit of the air let out on it thanks to full details on the Xperia Z1 and Cyber-shot QX-series cameras leaking, Samsung still has some surprises up its sleeve. For all we’ve seen of Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear leaks, there have still been a whole lot of unknowns, but that’s exactly why we came to Berlin in the first place: to get answers about new hardware.
Sure enough, Samsung got things underway with CEO JK Shin introducing the Galaxy Note 3. He started getting into specs a little, talking about the handset’s thinness, and exceptional LTE band support, but before getting into too many nuts and bolts, he switched gears (no pun intended) to announce the Galaxy Gear smartwatch.
Shin only had the opportunity to touch so very briefly on what Galaxy Gear will do, mentioning things like its voice control capabilities, before once again introducing a new device – Samsung is NOT wasting any time at this event – announcing the new Galaxy Note 10.1.
This one was probably the most unexpected of the product launches, or at least the one that managed to skate by without contributing to leaks bringing it attention. The tablet follows up the first Galaxy Note 10.1, which launched all the way back at MWC 2012 in Barcelona.
With the announcements out of the way, Samsung returned its focus to the Note III to delve into details a little more. The Note 3 will be available in three colors, just like we heard rumored, launching in black, white, and pink. For a larger color selection, you can turn to Samsung’s official cases, including some new S View covers with larger front cut-outs than last year’s Note II.
The S Pen stylus is the heart of the Note series, and it evolves with the Note 3, offering new functionality. Air command lets you use hover gestures to give you quick access to S Pen apps, pulling up programs like Action Memo. That one quickly lets you convert your text input into something you can use with app, identifying things like phone numbers and letting you easily call or add them to your contacts. Other tools accessible in this manner include a scrapbook, letting you archive content that catches your eye, and a full-device search. The new S Note features Evernote integration, helping keep your messages accessible from the cloud even when you don’t have your Note 3 handy.
Multi-window mode gets a tweak, like running two copies of the same app at once. You can also drag-and-drop content between these instances, sharing data. Pen Windows lets you specify what size window you’d like an app to launch in, drawing a box on-screen with the stylus to outline the dimensions it should take. Multi Vision is an expansion on the audio sharing features Samsung already developed for the GS4, letting you combine multiple Note 3s to form even larger virtual screens.
The Galaxy Gear smartwatch will be available in six different colors. The touchscreen controls place a heavy emphasis on gesture interactions, swiping from edge-to-edge to navigate through the watch’s UI.
Smart Relay is Samsung system for managing what your accessing between devices – if you pull up a message on your Galaxy Gear, and decide to view it on your Note 3 instead, the same message will be ready for display on the handset’s screen as you pick it up.
Galaxy Gear gesture commands extend beyond simple screen interactions. The watch’s sensors let you use your body to control it, raising your hand to your ear to answer calls. Built-in mics and speakers let you take a call as if you were holding a phone in your hand, when all you really have is the watch.
Samsung has placed a camera in the Gear’s wristband, letting you quickly snap pics by just raising your arm and giving the screen a swipe. Apps will expand on what you can do with that imagery, quickly doing OCR and translating foreign text or offering augmented reality possibilities.
Unfortunately, Galaxy Gear isn’t just going to work with any Smartphone. New Samsung models like the Note 3 will work with it out of the box, but older devices like the Note II or Galaxy S 3 will have to wait for software updates next month.
The hardware also isn’t quite what we heard rumored. The Gear features a 1.63-inch 320 x 320 OLED display, but only an 800MHz single-core SoC. Samsung says users can expect more than a day of usage on a single charge.
The Galaxy Gear will sell for about $300.
Once again changing directions, but still on that hardware kick, Samsung got to talking about some Note III specs. It confirmed a 13-megapixel main camera (with 1.9MP front-facer), supporting 1080p video recording at 60FPS and even the rumored 4K video (though only on certain models – presumably the LTE, Snapdragon 800 ones).
Samsung has confirmed that the Note 3 will ship with a full 3GB of RAM, the first smartphone to do so. Like the LG G2, the Note 3 supports 24-bit 192kHz audio playback. The phablet will pack a 3200 mAh battery.
Sales of both the Note 3 and Galaxy Gear will begin in much of the world this month, though Japan and the US will have to wait until October. The LTE Note 3 will run a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800, while the 3G version packs a 1.9GHz octa-core Exynos 5.
Finally, we get some details on the new Galaxy Note 10.1. This year’s version gets 3GB RAM, just like the Note 3, and what look like the same SoC options, with an Exynos 5 Octa behind the 3G version, and a Snapdragon 800 for LTE models.
Resolution sees a major bump over last year’s model, moving from that disappointing 1280 x 800 display to a 2560 x 1600 panel that we’re going to have hard time complaining about. The tablet gets an 8200mAh battery and features revamped software, like a new Samsung Hub for tablets.
That’s it for Samsung’s IFA Unpacked event. Check back with us shortly for some hands-on videos.