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Review: Samsung phones impress, but new apps key

Published on NewsOK Modified: September 4, 2014 at 1:37 am •  Published: September 4, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — After years of promoting its phones as "the next big thing," Samsung is realizing that bigger isn't necessarily better.

Two new Galaxy Note smartphones from Samsung are about the same size as last year's Note 3. What's different: A side screen on one of them and sharper cameras on both. Samsung also unveiled new wearable devices, including a virtual-reality headset, as part of its holiday lineup. The devices won't start selling until October or later, and prices for most haven't been announced yet.

Based on about an hour with these new gadgets at a Samsung event in New York, I find them impressive. But whether that's enough to win over potential iPhone customers will depend on what app developers do with these new features.

There's speculation Apple will unveil the iPhone 6 in two sizes next week, with the larger one at 5.5 inches. If that's the case, Samsung loses much of its size advantage and will have to make a compelling case for these other features.

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— GALAXY NOTE PHONES:

Samsung's Galaxy Note phones have always been too big for me, but I know some people prefer larger screens because text is easier to read and video is easier to watch.

The new Note 4 is a successor to last year's Note 3 and retains its 5.7-inch screen. The Note Edge's screen is 5.6 inches and extends over the right edge and curves toward the back, creating a second display on the side.

The side display is my favorite of the new phone features. It can show weather and time while the phone is laid on a table or nightstand. You can add icons for quick access to apps you use frequently, such as Gmail or Netflix. You also get a panel of tools such as the flashlight. This panel is something Apple's iPhones have had for a year, and I'm glad to finally see it on an Android phone.

But it's too early to tell whether this side screen will ultimately be essential or merely a gimmick. Seeing weather and time on the side while in bed is neat, but I could simply grab the phone and check the home screen. I do that all the time when texts come in and the alarm clock rings.

It will take app developers — at Samsung and elsewhere — to invent new uses for that side screen. Their willingness to spend time on that could depend on how many people buy Edge phones, and how many people buy Edge phones could depend on what app developers do with it. See the quandary?

Both phones have 16-megapixel rear cameras to match that in the 5.1-inch Galaxy S5. The front cameras offer 3.7 megapixels, better than most phones. Software will help more people fit into selfies by stitching together a few side-by-side images. I'm not a big taker of selfies as I look awful in them, but those who take a lot might appreciate this feature and the better front camera.

The Note phones also borrow some concepts from personal computers. The button on the included stylus will act like the mouse button on PCs. There are new ways to resize windows and have multiple apps run side by side on the same screen. This won't work with every app, so its usefulness will depend on how many bother to adopt the feature.

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