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Galaxy Alpha: Samsung's stealth flagship smartphone?
August 17, 2014, 12:11 pm

The Galaxy Alpha, one of two high-end smartphones that Samsung has been teasing this summer, made a quiet debut early Wednesday. Samsung announced the phone in a press release posted on its website.

While the Galaxy Alpha had the usual run-up of rumors and speculation befitting any high-profile smartphone, notably missing was any kind of fanfare from Samsung. There was no splashy launch event, no triumphant speech from a top-level exec, and no information on which carrier will sell the handset. The release was a far cry from the massive convention center Samsung rented out in Barcelona for its Galaxy S5 launch in February.

The metal-banded Galaxy Alpha is clearly designed to address the complaints that customers have expressed about the cheaper plastic feel of Samsung's smartphones. But it's a confusing product that doesn't cleanly fit into the Korean conglomerate's portfolio. Its metal construction suggests a flagship smartphone position, but its weaker specifications relative to the Galaxy S5 place it closer to the mid-tier category.

"It feels very much like an experiment to me, like so many other Samsung devices in the past," said Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson.

So is it a flagship product or not? This is still unclear.

A Samsung spokesman said the materials and feature are what can be found on a flagship Galaxy mobile device. He declined to comment on the price, although he confirmed it would be lower than the GS5.

Samsung can use the help. The company posted disappointing results for the second quarter on lighter smartphone sales and warned that the rest of the year would be weak as well. Credit rating agency Fitch Ratings said Tuesday that Samsung ispoised to lose market share next year due to competition in emerging markets. The company will face new competition in established markets as well, with Apple expected to unveil a new iPhone in September.

The Galaxy Alpha features a 4.7-inch display, smaller than the 5.1-inch display of the Galaxy S5. The resolution is a little less sharp too. The 12-megapixel camera is also inferior to the GS5's 16-megapixel shooter. It doesn't have an expandable microSD slot, relying solely on its internal 32 gigabytes of storage. Its battery is also weaker than the GS5's, and the new phone isn't water resistant. But it does have marquee features such as a fingerprint scanner and ultra-power-saving mode.

From an aesthetic point of view, the Galaxy Alpha is a step up from the Galaxy S5. The Galaxy Alpha's front and back features a dimpled texture -- it's unclear for now exactly what the material is. But it is clearly ringed by a metal band. Its chamfered edges -- beveled and polished -- and its bottom speaker holes look virtually identical to the design of the iPhone.

Samsung's quiet debut of the Galaxy Alpha may serve as the company's attempt to test the use of metal without the commitment of a full-blown flagship smartphone launch. The company has previously been reluctant to use metal because of interference issues, the high cost of material, and the inability to quickly mass produce such a device. The company said the smartphone would hit the market in September, but a spokesman declined to comment on US availability.

Meet the new, reversible USB

The USB 3.0 Promoter Group has announced that it has finalised its redesign of the USB. Called USB Type-C, the specification -- which was announced last December -- aims to solve several problems with current USB design; possibly the most exciting of which is the eradication of "right way up" with a reversible plug. Like Apple's Lightning connector, it can be plugged into its port either way.

The new USB is also designed both to be small enough to fit mobile devices, yet robust enough for laptops and tablets.

"Interest in the USB Type-C connector has not only been global, but cross-industry as well," said USB 3.0 Promoter Group chairman Brad Saunders. "Representatives from the PC, mobile, automotive and IoT industries have been knocking down our door anticipating this new standard. This specification is the culmination of an extensive, cooperative effort among industry leaders to standardize the next generation USB connector as a long-lasting, robust solution."

The USB is comparable in size with micro USB 2.0 Type-B connectors, with a port size of 8.4 by 2.6mm, yet will be compatible with SuperSpeed USB at 10Gbps (USB 3.1). It will also support USB Power Delivery up to 100W, with additional support for scalable power charging and future USB performance needs.

It won't, of course, be compatible with existing USB plugs and receptacles. While the industry begins the slow transition, USB Type-C ports will coexist with other USB ports on devices, and new-to-existing cables and adapters will be made available so that consumers will be able to use the new connector with their existing tech.




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