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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Galaxy S6 is a major disappointment.

I have been a fan of the Samsung Galaxy since the beginning.  I still have my original Samsung Galaxy S, although it's in a drawer now, having been replaced several times by its subsequent iterations.  I currently enjoy by Galaxy S5.  I am very happy with it.

I am in a fortunate position in that my employer pays for my phones.  I have both a Galaxy S5 and an iPhone 6 as I need to know how to support both inside and out to help company employees with their phones.  Since employees have a choice of either phone, I must be an expert in both.

The iPhone is fine for what it is.  But my preference for every day use it absolutely the Galaxy S5.  I have long been a big fan of the Android OS.  The iPhone is fine for users who are willing to pay through the nose for apps and hardware accessories, and for people who don't care to tinker with their phones and use them in new and creative ways.  But for those of us who see the phone purchase as a starting point for us to come up with new an interesting ways to use it, the iPhone simply does not allow the flexibility we crave.

As someone who is tasked with keeping phones running for many users, I am also focused on the ease of repairing phones or recovering data.  Apple has always been good at presenting a product that looks wonderful out of the box, but if you ever have any problem with it, repair is rarely an option.  Typically, your only solution is to buy a new one.  Most Android phones allow for some repairs or upgrades, which I find attractive in a phone that rarely looks pristine after its planned two year life span.

My next phone will almost certainly run Android OS.  However, it likely will not be a Samsung Galaxy.  Samsung has decided to become an echo of the iPhone 6.  If they continue down this path, they will likely lose their position as the preeminent Android phone.

The S6 has taken away several of the most important features that distinguish it from the iPhone.  The fact that the new model is no longer water proof does not concern me much.  But the loss of two other basic features are the main reason I've decided to end my relationship with Samsung.

I am very disappointed by the fact that, like the iPhone you cannot replace the battery in the S6. Batteries run down over time.  They simply don't hold a charge for as long, no matter how well you treat them.  After a year or two, you need to get a new battery if you want the length of charge to remain high.  You may also want to get a third party battery that can handle a larger capacity, giving you even more time between charges.  Many of us also like to carry a spare battery for those heavy use days when leaving the phone in a charger is not an option.  The S6, however, has decided to make the same mistake as the iPhone, sealing the battery into the body, making it impossible to replace.  This is pure and simple a step backward with no obvious benefit to the user.

An even greater disappointment is the removal of the MicroSD card reader.  This is what allows you to add extra memory to your phone when you need it, so you can keep your media with you at all times.  Samsung again has followed the path of the iPhone in taking away this option.  Instead, you can purchase a phone with more memory built in. If it were just the fact that users had to pay more for the extra memory, as opposed to buying a cheap MicroSD card, I might be able to accept that.  But the removable card offers so much more benefit:

  • First, I have had a number of phones where the USB charging port became damaged.  That made it virtually impossible to extract data from the phone other than by putting the data on a card and transferring it.  That option is now impossible.
  • Second, I have been able to use multiple cards holding different data in the past, such as different movies.  Since I could not possibly store my entire video collection on one drive, the ability to swap cards made transfers easy.  That also is now impossible.
  • Third, I have a genealogy project which I regularly update and like to have on my phone to show people.  The sync tool I use to sync changes requires I sync between two letter drives on my Windows computer.  Because I cannot assign a drive letter to my phone when connected to as USB cable, the easiest way to sync is to remove the card and plug it into my computer.  That option also disappears with the S6.
  • Fourth, there is data I sometimes want to access on my phone, but other times on my tablet.  I MicroSD card means it's just a quick swap of the card.  Again, I lose that ability.
  • Fifth, when I upgrade my phone, moving my media is as easy as popping out the card and into the new phone.  There will be no popping into the S6.
  • Sixth, I don't need to buy extra memory until I need it.  I was great with an 8 GB chip for years.  But when I needed a 32 GB chip a few years ago, it was no problem to upgrade.  Since memory costs fall over time, it was much cheaper to buy the memory when I needed it, not to have to buy it at the time I purchase the phone at a much higher price.  Money aside, I may not even know how much memory I will want or need a year or two from now. With the S6, keeping my options open is, well, no longer an option.

Some of these issues could be addressed by cloud storage or wireless transfers.  But options are more expensive and also much slower.  So while I could find ways to adapt, why must we take a step backward with no obvious countervailing benefit?

Where will I go next?  I remain a die hard Android fan.  I liked the Galaxy line, not only because it was a pretty good phone, but also because it had become a standard.  That made it easy to replace broken screens or buy cases.  Getting a non-standard phone makes getting accessories more difficult and usually more expensive.  So part of my choice will probably be defined by what other phone gives Galaxy a serious challenge for the top spot.

I suspect this will be the HTC One.  It seems to beat the Galaxy in many specs that I like.  It has long had a reputation for a better camera, which is something that has always been a disappointment to me in the Galaxy.  Low light pictures are just not an option with the Galaxy.  The HTC One has been runner up for many years now.  The Samsung's latest stumble, this could be the opportunity for HTC to take the lead.

This stumble is a serious one.  People who want an iPhone-like phone will buy an iPhone.  The only way to compete with the iPhone as an iPhone knock off is to be cheaper than the iPhone.  From what I have read, the S6 without a contract will actually be more expensive than an iPhone.  I just can't see the market for this: people who want an iPhone-like phone, but want to pay extra to get an iPhone knock off rather than the real thing?

Because the Galaxy uses Android, the same OS available to dozens of other phone makers, people can make the switch much more easily.  Moving from a different OS means learning a whole new system and having to repurchase all your apps.  Moving from one Android phone to another, is much easier and relatively seamless.  Many people will make the switch in droves.  Once Galaxy loses its lead in the Android market, it will find it very hard to get back.  For reasons already expressed, people have good reason to go with the industry leader.  Once another company has the lead, it remains their until they stumble.

Getting more manufacturers into the mix will ultimately be a good thing for consumers.  Phones need more competition.  A new phone out of contract will cost me more than my laptop.  It's also more than double what I would pay for a similarly built tablet.  Prices outside the US are considerably lower for smart phones that are almost as good.  Perhaps the Samsung stumble will lead to greater competition and a price war that should benefit us all.

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