This week on Too Embarrassed to Ask, Dieter Bohn, executive editor at The Verge, answered questions from Kara Swisher, Lauren Goode and the internet at large about the new Android phone hardware from manufacturers large and small. Does the Samsung Note8 have the same battery problems of the Note7? What’s with the camera on the Essential phone? Is a phone with a stylus worth the premium price? All these queries get addressed.
You can read some of the highlights from their discussion here, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.
Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, senior technology editor at The Verge.
KS: You’re listening to Too Embarrassed To Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media Podcast Network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.
LG: It could be anything, so send us all of your questions. We’ve spent the past few weeks talking to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs with wild ideas and I will be honest, I still have a lot of questions for them. Really, there are no bad questions.
KS: There are indeed bad questions, but let’s move on from that. You can find us on Twitter or tweet them to us @recode or to myself or Lauren with the #tooembarrassed.
LG: We also have an email address, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And a friendly reminder, embarrassed has two Rs and two Ss.
So it’s fall hardware season.
LG: This is the time of year ...
KS: Leaves are falling off the trees, and hardware is falling off the back of the whatever, back of the truck.
LG: Yes! IPhones falling from Apple trees. This is the time of year where gearheads get excited about new phones, tablets, wearables, all the stuff they might be buying soon, either because it’s time for an upgrade or because the holiday season is coming.
KS: It’s because they make us, they train us like netted fish.
LG: Right. They kind of make us think it’s time. It’s time, then your phone starts to mysteriously slow down.
LG: Conspiracy theories abound or your battery explodes — well, hopefully it doesn’t this year. But for the next couple of weeks we are going to be talking about two companies in particular that have just had or are about to have big product launches.
KS: Big ones.
LG: And that is Samsung and Apple.
KS: Those are the big ones in mobile, the big ones.
LG: They’re the big ones.
KS: They’re the big ones. So we’re bringing back Dieter Bohn to the studio.
Dieter Bohn: Hello.
KS: How you doing? Dieter is an executive editor of The Verge and really, this man reviews everything.
I do review a lot of stuff.
KS: That’s a nice way of saying you have no life. Almost everything, Dieter. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to be talking about what?
I think we’re going to be talking about the Note8?
LG: We are. We’re going to spend the first bit of the show talking about the Samsung Note8 and we are going to answer all your questions about the Note8, but I should also mention — I should also note — that Dieter just reviewed the Essential phone, which is a brand new piece of hardware from Andy Rubin, the co-founder of Android. We’re going to talk about that too, because that launch was a little dicey.
Dicey is a good word for it.
KS: Dicey is a nice word, that’s a disaster, right? That’s what it was, no?
LG: Is it like exploding phone, disaster? No, but ...
KS: It’s a low bar then if that’s the case. It’s called Essential, we want to find out if it’s essential, Dieter.
Why don’t we first start with the Galaxy Note8. Give us the particulars, and some ... It’s after the exploding phone.
Yeah, we can’t talk about the Note8 without talking about the exploding phone. I think Samsung’s No. 1 goal is to not have us do that every time we bring it up.
LG: That would be squad goals.
KS: Too bad.
If you like big phones, you’ve always known about the Note. The Note is the quintessential giant phone and so Samsung went ahead and made another giant phone. What’s interesting and unique about the Note8 this year is it’s coming after the exploding one and it’s not the only giant phone. There are lots and lots of really good massive phone. So the Note’s reason for existence is different than it used to be.
KS: So in the interim while it was exploding, people have come out with other phones. So the stakes very high.
LG: Including Samsung, by the way, Samsung had the S8 launch in the meantime.
KS: How important is this phone for Samsung?
I think this phone is important for Samsung in so far as it will cater to people who want the Note. They’re trying to say it’s for Note fans, and it’ll help put that exploding thing behind them, but I think in terms of their flagship phone that’s the S8 and the S9, the standard Galaxy phones. They have a big one and a small one now. There’s the regular S8 and the S8 Plus, and I don’t have the exact sales numbers, but it’s at least one if not two or three orders of magnitudes more sales go to the traditional Galaxy than to the Note.
This thing is more of a flagship brand kind of phone than it is a “we’re gonna sell as many as humanly possible and it’s the one to get no matter what” kind of phone. It’s the thing, the aspirational Samsung phone, the “we can prove that we can make a technically amazing device that everybody’s going to want” into the store and look at this thing and then they’ll end up buying the S8 instead because it’s smaller.
LG: How is the phone? Dan Seifert who works with us at The Verge called it “the best Note ever” but I feel like calling it the best Note is ... The bar wasn’t set super high from last year. You’ve used it, we both went to the briefing in San Francisco and got to play with for a little bit. What are your thoughts?
It’s an incredibly good Android phone. Samsung has reined itself in on software with the exception of Bixby which still has its own button, which you have to hit accidentally all the time.
LG: Explain Bixby?
Bixby is Samsung’s take on a personal assistant, but rather than try and take on Siri or even Alexa or Google Assistant directly, they claim that what Bixby is actually there for is to help you control your device with your voice. So instead of hitting the touchscreen and digging through menus, you can ask it and it’ll figure it out for you. In practice, it’s much more muddled. It’s a little bit of an assistant, it’s a little bit of a newsfeed, it’s a little bit of random ads for Samsung products and it’s a little bit of you can actually use your phone.
KS: You don’t like Bixby?
No, I’m not a big fan of Bixby at all.
KS: It’s still there. Bixby’s still there.
LG: It’s rolling out in phases too, which is interesting. When we first saw it, which I think was for the S8, and we first saw it, there was a dedicated phone button for it. It could do very, very limited things and it wasn’t so good at indexing, just indexing the web or pulling up results in the same way you say to “Okay, Google tell me some random thing.” Google, obviously, it’s a search company, so it’s so good at that in addition to being integrated with things on the phone. Bixby’s mostly integrated with things on the phone, right?
Well, right. It’s also, it doesn’t hit everything but it works with a few dozen apps beyond what Samsung has. It’s just a big mistake to launch something that is that integral to the identity of the phone but doesn’t work well. We learned from Siri that if you use it three times and it’s bad each of the three times, you learn to ignore it. You’re going to ignore this button, but if you do ignore this button, it’s a stupendously good, big phone. It has the best specs, the fastest processor, really big beautiful screen — but a lot of big phones have all that stuff now. So the thing that is supposed to set the Note apart are a new dual camera system and the stylus.
The dual camera system is not that wildly impressive. They’ve done a couple of neat things and we can get into the nerdy bits of it. Basically it’s about on par with an iPhone 7 Plus in terms of what you can do with having two lenses there. Beyond that, it’s the same as what you can get on an S8. The reason to get this phone isn’t the cameras; the only reason to buy a Note instead of some other big phone is if you really like the physical design or more importantly if you really, really like to use a stylus. They’ve added a few stylus features here too.
LG: What are those? Talk to us about the S Pen.
I just refuse to call it the S Pen.
LG: What do you call it? Do you call it a stylus?
I just call it a stylus, that’s what it is. It does all the same stuff it’s done before. You pull the thing out, a little menu pops up and you can chose all these different options. There’s some clever things, like you can use it to highlight text more easily, then it will translate it for you. It will let you take notes without turning the phone on, on the lock screen. Then you can pin one of them and you can take a hundred pages of notes.
LG: I really like that feature.
Yeah! 100 pages. It is a really useful feature, you just pull the thing out, jot a note down and you’re done. My favorite new feature though, they kind of copied something from iMessage where you can write a little message out with sparkles or sparks or something and then send that thing out and the person you sent it to can see it written out. What’s clever about it is, with iMessage it only works with iMessage; with Samsung’s little live message thing, it’ll work with any messaging app you use.
LG: So you can get confetti?
You can get confetti, you can put it on Twitter, you can send it in Google chat — if that still exists on your phone, congratulations to you.
LG: Sent with lasers.
KS: So the stylus, what else?
It’s just stylus stuff. If you’re playing a video, you can draw a square over a certain part of the screen, you can record that and turn that into an animated gif and send it. You can use it to just navigate the phone if you prefer tapping with a stylus instead of with your finger. To be honest, I used styluses on PDAs, on Palm Pilots way back in the day, and on TriOS. Once I moved to a proper touchscreen that worked with your finger, I stopped thinking about what I would use a stylus with a phone for.
KS: Note-taking would be it, right?
KS: Personal note-taking.
There are people who are really into it, they like making art with it and so on and so on and so on. I don’t know how truly large the market is for people who must have a stylus with a phone. If you are that person, there’s literally no other option.
KS: Why are they keeping it then?
There’s enough of a market there for them to sell to. More importantly, it’s a technically impressive phone. It looks great, it has the stylus thing, they can pound their chest and say we made a phone with the most features, everything you could possibly do with a phone. You can stick it in a dock and it turns into a whole damn computer, which it can do.
It’s called DeX and they put more RAM in it so it can do more computer stuff. Nobody does that, but maybe a few people do. Samsung can say that it’s possible, which means you’re going to pay attention to Samsung and then you’ll end up buying an S8 instead of a Note. It’s as much a phone about marketing as it about being a phone they want to sell a lot of.
LG: Let’s talk about the downsides. Dan mentioned in his review that it’s so big that it felt a little awkward to use. Do you agree with that?
KS: How much bigger than the iPhone?
Man, I’d have to look at the exact dimensions but we’re talking about in the same par as the big iPhone.
KS: A little too big.
But it’s all screen, whereas the current iPhone has massive bezels on the top and the bottom. It’s a big phone, and you’re not going to use this with one hand. The real problem with it being so big, you can accept that a phone is big but you can’t accept that it’s very difficult to just unlock the damn thing.
LG: Because the fingerprint sensor’s on the back?
They stuck the fingerprint sensor way up at the top next to the cameras ’cause it looks nicer, and I don’t know it fits their battery better, whatever. That means it’s very hard to reach and then your alternatives are a PIN, or a slide-to-unlock or an iris scanner, which is fairly accurate but doesn’t work with sunglasses so you would hate it Kara.
KS: Why would I put my phone up to my eye?
Then there’s a facial recognition but that’s very insecure.
KS: Who designs these things?
At least the way Samsung’s implemented it, it’s very insecure. It’ll work, but it’ll also work if someone puts a picture of you in front of it.
LG: Mm-hmm, and when you’re famous like Kara Swisher, anyone can do that.
KS: That’s the plot of a spy movie ...
LG: It’s also expensive.
KS: Sounds like “Mission Impossible.” Find the picture of Lauren, I’m gonna break into her house. Oh my God.
LG: You’re going to find all kinds of cat pictures in there.
KS: Wow, yeah. I bet I am.
It’s 930 bucks.
LG: It’s expensive.
Yep, that’s expensive.
LG: We are entering an era of expensive phones.
KS: Expensive. Expensive phones.
LG: We don’t know that for a fact yet, because there are some rumors that Apple’s phone, one of the Apple phones that will launch next week, may be a more expensive model than usual, and they’re already pretty expensive.
LG: I don’t know if these devices justify the cost yet.
KS: When you think about the price.
Here’s my take on that. When you go and buy a MacBook Pro or some high-end Windows laptop and it cost $1,500, nobody’s confused why you spent the extra money for that fancy laptop. You get to make videos or do photo editing or whatever, play games.
Is there a world in which what you can do on a $1,000 phone that’s clear and obvious compared to a $600 phone? I don’t know if we know the answer to that yet.
KS: I do mostly everything on my phone now. I can’t write and edit, very easily. It’s not, you gotta put it in a laptop cradle or whatever, but pretty much everything else I can do.
In terms of its importance in your life, it’s surely worth a thousand bucks, I think for a lot of people.
KS: I guess.
But is it worth a thousand bucks compared to what you could get done with a $600 phone?
Is there a difference between a MacBook and a MacBook Pro equivalent for being an iPhone or an iPhone pro or a Samsung, Samsung Pro.
LG: The thing with phones is that I think there’s an actual physical price to things. We’ll see teardowns of these phones. We’ve seen teardowns of the phones already, and we look at things like OLED displays, or we look at fast, what it cost to make faster processors. You say maybe okay the price is going up because of that, and there will be all kinds of analysis and justifications.
Then there’s the conceptual price of it, which we haven’t determined yet. If someone carries around a Note8 or someone carries around a giant fancy iPhone that happens to be $300 more than a regular iPhone, what kind of market does that create and what does it say about its users?
KS: I think a lot of people need to use these things, and that’s the latest one, so you get the best stuff out of it, right?
I mean, not for nothing, but these are public companies that have investors who get persnickety if they don’t a high margin and high sales numbers. If you can get both then great, and Apple knows that people buy the best thing that Apple can put out. They can easily justify a $1,000 phone, I’m sure. With a Samsung phone, $1,000 or the $200-$300 if you’re going to spend more to get a Note, it comes down to the stylus and having a bigger phone, a little bit. I don’t know if that’s worth it.
LG: Yeah, because it doesn’t necessarily translate to the services either.
KS: What does the smaller one cost?
The smaller one, you can get an S8 Plus for ... It’s weird, because Samsung phones get more heavily discounted more quickly than others, like the iPhones and even than the Note, so you can get a deal on an S8 Plus for probably $650-$700 right now. It’s also weird because buying a phone is more complicated than picking a cable package because you can either buy it straight unlocked or you can go to your carrier and there’s like 15 different pricing plans.
There’s buying it outright, there’s buying it on this monthly plan, there’s buying it on that monthly plan. It’s a mystery to even talk about pricing right now with phones. We try and default to talking about the unlocked price to buy it flat out, because that is the real price to people no matter how it gets obfuscated by a bunch of carrier plans. That doesn’t mean that when people go to the store to get a phone that they don’t end up looking at the $24.73 a month price and go like, “Yeah, sure whatever.” It’s a mess.
LG: It’s a mess.
KS: Let’s talk about the exploding, the battery check and safety.
Samsung, they got over the hump of everybody not trusting them with the S8, because that came out after the Note.
KS: I still don’t trust them.
Well, I mean, neither do I.
KS: I don’t have the phone, it doesn’t matter.
LG: I would at this point.
They have an eight-point check.
KS: Nobody’s going to trust them enough.
Whatever. They run it through a bunch of tests and make sure. The other thing is, they chose to put, I think, a smaller battery into the Note8 than they probably otherwise could have if they wanted to be a little bit more aggressive. It still should last a full day, but they could have gone in with a much more powerful, bigger battery and I think they chose not to.
I’m not in particular worried about this phone exploding. What’s interesting is this angle that Samsung has been taking that this is a ... “We made this thing because people want the stylus so bad, we had to, the fans made us do it,” is a really clever way to have the exploding in the background and not try to completely pretend that didn’t happen, but say that even though this thing exploded we had to do it for the fans. That’s not totally wrong. People do love the stylus for various, strange reasons that are arcane to me.
LG: I think at this point, your concerns have to be less technical. It doesn’t seem — knock on wood — as though there’re going to be exploding battery issues this time around, so far. More about whether or not you care that the company really resisted the idea of the recall last year even after this became a known problem and really dragged its feet in addressing this and had to implement a battery safety check that clearly was not in place beforehand. If you take issue with that as a consumer in general, then that’s your choice. Now I feel like I’m gonna just eat my foot when something goes wrong, but we haven’t seen any issues yet with the Note8 or the S8 as far as we know.
KS: Right. Well, but nothing can go wrong pretty much. Nothing can go wrong with this phone.
If anything goes wrong with this phone, they are deeply, deeply in trouble.
KS: So it’s an important phone for them, talk about why it’s important. They have different product lines, they’ve got TVs, home appliances, all kinds of things. How important is the mobile part of it?
That makes them the most money out of all their divisions. Samsung’s got — they make boats, right? They make literally everything — but this is the thing that makes them the most money. It’s also the thing they do a really good job of pushing their divisions forward technically by having successful phones. Samsung makes all the OLED for most phones, LG’s gonna make a bunch soon, and they wouldn’t be as good at making OLED screens if they didn’t sell a lot of phones.
KS: Have their phones?
Have their own phones.
KS: They make all these phones in Korea, is that correct?
KS: Is there any ... I hate to bring in international affairs but with all this tension on that peninsula it’s ...
Not to mention their executives being arrested.
KS: Getting arrested.
LG: Corruption issues.
KS: Yeah. Their top executive. Let’s be clear.
This phone is important as a people, if they can make this phone, not necessarily sell a ton, but be respected and not explode then it’s a little bit of a build of their brand moment and distract from other problems.
KS: Because there’s so many. Yeah, they’re so many of them.
Again, I don’t expect that this thing is gonna outsell Samsung’s other phones. I think that the S8 is still gonna sell way more.
KS: What do they think they’re gonna sell of these?
I have no idea.
KS: No idea. Do you know how many they sold of the other before ...?
Not off the top of my head.
LG: What’s interesting is that after the Note7 exploded, Samsung started giving those customers S7s. So they actually, they inadvertently expanded their footprint for S7s quite a bit, because they had to use it as a replacement phone.
Yeah, they claim the vast majority of people who came in to turn in their old Notes got S7s instead of switching to iPhone.
KS: They’re different phones. Let’s talk about the other Android phones you’ve reviewed. The Pixel, Essential and let’s talk a little about the Essential phone launch. First let’s talk about Pixel and the others, how they’re doing.
LG: ’Cause you’re saying ... how does this compare?
KS: Whose is the best? They make the best Android phones, Samsung.
Pixel is coming up on a year old now. We are expecting that Google is going to announce a couple of new Pixels in October. The rumors say there will be a Pixel XL, Pixel XL2, which will be a big phone, then a smaller Pixel that will be more like last year’s Pixel.
I guess I should say. We’ve been talking about the Note, we’re gonna talk about the Pixels here in a minute. There’s the Essential phone and the iPhones are coming. Do not buy a phone right now. Just super don’t. Wait until you’ve seen everything, the rest of these announcements coming.
At least Apple and Google and then you can probably be out. The other phone that’s around is, LG has a new flagship phone called the V30, which is another one of these bezeled phones but it has a headphone jack with a really high-quality audio processor.
KS: An old headphone jack.
Yeah. Proper headphone jack.
LG: Aww, retro.
KS: And I have headphones.
All these Android phones have basically the same internals. They all have basically the same processors, they basically do the same things. There’s some software bits to differentiate them but they really don’t differentiate it that much for most people who end up using the basic software stuff. We’ll see if the Pixel, the new Pixels that are coming out will have some kind of special thing to them beyond just that there’s less crap on them like there is on an LG phone or a Samsung phone. Basically if you, again, wait until everything’s been announced, if you can walk into a store and just look at these and pick the one that seems nicest to you, you’re going to be fine. If you’re buying a quote unquote “flagship” phone you’re going to be fine.
You get into some weird nuances. For example, this Essential phone. I really like it, I think it has incredibly great, beautiful hardware, the aesthetic of it, I don’t know, they feel like they fit my personality really well, which is maybe a weird thing to say about a phone, but the cameras are disappointing, it’s not that great of a camera. So I actually don’t think it’s worth the money, it’s a $700 phone and I don’t know that if you’re going to spend $700 on a phone you should assume that is has just a killer top-tier camera. The Essential phone doesn’t quite reach that, but the best stuff from LG, HTC, Samsung and Google all will.
KS: All right, so talk about the Essential, which turns out to be not so.
LG: Tell people what the Essential phone is first, since it is a new enter into the market.
Yeah, you mentioned at the top, Andy Rubin has a new startup that’s been funded to the tune of a billion dollars, the creator of Android. He thinks it should be possible to create premium-quality consumer products without having a massive, giant company infrastructure behind ’em.
KS: Is this true?
Mostly. At least, if the Essential phone is any indication. It was a little bit delayed since he announced it at the Code Conference. Like I said, the camera isn’t quite as great as I think it ought to be, but also they’re a relatively tiny startup and they had some problems launching. One of them was with customer service, they had some customers that they didn’t know if they were real or fraud, so they did the thing that small companies do, which is, “Hey, prove you’re real, send me a picture of your driver’s license.” That’s not a great thing to do customer service-wise but it’s not wildly unheard of. What is wildly unheard of is, the email that they had everybody reply to turned out to be a group email, so something around 70 people ended up sending pictures of their driver’s licenses to each other.
KS: Oh dear. Oh dear.
It’s the most ridiculous thing.
KS: You can’t take that back.
No, you know, he posted an apology.
KS: You still can’t take that back.
I was also not a fan of the apology. The apology started with a paragraph of him talking about life is hard as a startup founder.
KS: Too bad, you rich Andy Rubin. Andy, nobody feels bad for you, even for a second.
In the same way that the Note8 is marketing for the rest of what Samsung is doing, I feel like the Essential phone is marketing, make a little money in the meantime for the rest of what Andy Rubin is trying to do, which is create the abstract layer on top of all the other crap in your house. All the smart home stuff in your house all speaks different languages and getting them to work together is a huge pain. He thinks he can — with his Essential Home, which is a smart speaker thing with a big giant round display on it — create a way for all that stuff to intercommunicate through his Essential Home.
KS: That’s a hill many have died on having ...
KS: It’s true.
He also thinks he’s going to get multiple.
KS: It’s true! It’s like Heartbreak Ridge. Heartbreak home organizational Ridge.
LG: Heartbreak OS.
KS: OS, I’m telling you. I’m old and I’ve seen it a hundred times.
KS: It’s real sad. Ooh no.
KS: Mowed down by the machine gun nest once again.
He’s also trying to get both Alexa and Cortana and I don’t know Google Assistant and maybe even Siri all to run on the speaker.
KS: And they don’t want that.
LG: Sonos has been trying that for a while.
Yeah. Sonos is also saying they’re going to do that.
KS: I like those Sonos.
LG: Sonos has been around for a while too.
KS: Yeah, they have. They’ve stuck it out.
LG: They’ll eventually prove themselves as a hardware startup. They’ve been around for at least a decade.
KS: Yeah, they’ve pushed it.
Well, and Sonos has a new speaker with a microphone coming pretty soon.
KS: Oh wow. Everyone has one.
LG: Yeah, it’s fall hardware season! I was not exaggerating.
Google Home. They’re all fine.
KS: They’re all fine.
LG: Didn’t you tweet this the other day? Dieter tweeted the other day something about how it’s actually harder to say “Okay, Google” than it is to say “Alexa.”
KS: It is.
LG: “Alexa” is melodious and it feels nice when you say it.
KS: “Okay, Google” is a pain. I kept yelling at it.
LG: “Okay, Google” is ...
If you say Google 15 times, by the time you get to the end, you’ve swallowed your tongue.
KS: I just kept yelling at it, “Google!” and I realized I had to say “okay.”
You can also say, “Hey.”
KS: I don’t want to say that.
LG: Hey, Google.
KS: I want to say what I want to say.
LG: Just say Alexa. Alexa flows.
KS: I don’t know.
They can’t let you say what you want to say because they need to tune the microphones to listen to the particular syllables of the key word in that particular order.
KS: I don’t care for their problems. I don’t care what their problems are, you see? They have to put the doors on the ceiling because it’s easier for the designers. I don’t care. Like, geez! You’ve lived too long, and I don’t like that. I would like them to change it.
It’s nice that a startup does phones, though, instead of these big ... We’re going to see two behemoths come out with phones. What are the chances for the Essential? How many have they sold or are they not saying?
They have been talking about selling a million phones a year, I think that is wildly optimistic. I think that if we’re ...
KS: To be a Palm, like, correct?
Right, I mean. Palm managed to sell that in a year.
LG: You just went straight to Dieter’s heart.
KS: Oh does he love his Palm?
LG: He loves Palm.
KS: Remember when Roger McNamee made that dumb mirror and got in that fight onstage? All thanks to the “ladies can use the mirror.”
The Palm Print is coming back, apparently.
LG: Well it’s webOS.
WebOS, that’s on LG TVs now and that’s gone.
LG: The actual Palm, who owns that?
A company called TCL that also makes BlackBerry phones, they also make Alcatel phones, they make TVs, they bought the Palm brand in some random auction and then they put up a website ...
LG: It’s like the Polaroid brand.
And they asked people, “What do you want us to do?” and people were like, “Make a phone,” and they were like, “Okay, we’ll come back to you later.” Apparently they’re going to do it.
KS: I feel like that ship should sail and just keep sailing, the ghost ship of Roger McNamee. Who was the other guy involved in that? Oh, John.
LG: By Rubin, Rubinstein.
KS: John Rubinstein. I remember them on that stage.
Yep. Ed Colligan.
KS: They had a big launch at CES. Do you remember? They had that big thing? He and Rogers wearing his crazy hair.
My favorite terrible Palm launch story when they announced their last stuff. The TouchPad and the Pre3 and the Veer.
KS: Veer! I think I have it in a box.
They had this event in San Francisco in some giant warehouse called Fort Mason. I got there early and heard them rehearsing. I was able to scoop the name of the TouchPad because I was standing outside the door while they were rehearsing a few hours before the event.
KS: What was the name?
It was called the TouchPad. Just terrible.
KS: Wow, that was a great scoop.
LG: What year was that?
LG: Wait, this was the HP TouchPad?
LG: Oh yes.
KS: Were you frantic when you got that? When you typed that in?
It crashed our website.
KS: Did it?
Because we had too much traffic on the UCMS.
KS: You’re kidding.
I had to blog the rest of the day using AOL Instant Messenger, sending messages back.
KS: What do you think would crash your website right now? If you have the iPhone 8, right?
LG: Probably, I don’t know.
Our website would never crash. Vox Media has the best ...
KS: All fine! If you have the iPhone 8 and were playing with it, probably that would be quite of interest.
That would be a good day.
I found it in a bar.
KS: Yeah, and stole it. It’s nice to have a startup trying.
It’s nice to have a startup trying. It’s pretty impressive that they were able to make a phone as good as it is. It almost is a little depressing that there aren’t more companies trying.
KS: There aren’t.
Because honestly, like I was saying before, if you get all parts right on the inside, and Android phone is an Android phone is an Android phone. So the original dream that Andy Rubin had for Android was that there would be lots and lots of companies making lots and lots of phones that were really good.
That basically happened except that Samsung rolled in like a juggernaut and sucked all the air up. Somehow when you talk about Android phone, there’s only a handful that really matter. If there was a better, cleaner ecosystem for it, you should be able to go buy lots of phones that are all just as good. That’s not really the case.
KS: It’s certainly not the Tesla of phones, the Essential.
LG: And none of them have the same kind of power, too. They all end up with a lot of bloatware or they end up just making sacrifices in some way because they can’t command the same market attention that the high-end ones do.
KS: Well there are a lot. Would you buy the Note?
I think the Note is probably a little bit too big for me. Also, the stylus isn’t worth the price premium, to me.
KS: Right, right.
I’m much more likely to get a slightly smaller phone. I was using the tiny little iPhone SE for a while, I really liked it.
KS: Wow, don’t go back to tiny.
KS: All right, in a minute we’re going to take some questions about the Galaxy Note8 from our readers. It just came out, and listeners, Dieter is going to answer them. But first we’re going to take a quick break for a word from one of our sponsors.
LG: Ka-ching, which is the price of the phone. It’s a ka-ching, it’s many ka-chings.
KS: All right, enough with the ka-chings. Now I’m going to read the sponsor’s situation.
We’re back with Dieter Bohn from The Verge, talking about the Samsung Galaxy Note8, now we’re going to take some questions from our readers and listeners. Lauren, would you like to ask the first question?
LG: I would like to because it’s an obvious one. It’s obvious because Greg says it’s obvious. @Supersetgreg said, “I’ll ask the obvious. How’s the battery life?”
It is better than I expected given that they were not aggressive with the battery. Dan gave it the full review, he said he was able to get a day, maybe just a little bit over a day if he’s careful. It also has 15 different ways to charge it whereas wireless charging does fast charging through their USBC port. It’s not going to give you two days, it’s not gonna wildly impress you, but it seems like every phone maker just targets “we’ll make a day” and every phone maker is basically getting there. I would like to see a phone that lasts way longer, but apparently that’s never gonna happen for me.
KS: Never. Never. You’ll be long gone. Your children will enjoy it, though.
KS: Yeah. Zachary, I’m not gonna read @something: “Maybe too soon to ask, but how does the LG V30 compare to the Note8?” And related, hold on, Rick Simpson: “Is an edge-to-edge display enough to bring back users Samsung lost last year after the spontaneous combustion fiasco?” I like that better than the explosion. The spontaneous combustion.
The spontaneous combustion fiasco? So, I haven’t seen the two screens side by side, they are different. The LG has a flat screen and the Note curves, though not as much as the S8 curves. It’s a subtler curve at the edges. I don’t think an edge-to-edge screen is gonna be impressive to anybody, at all ever again, in like two months. We’ve seen them on Samsung phones, we’ve seen them on this LG phone, we’ve seen it on the Essential phone, we’re gonna probably see it one of the new Google phones and iPhone, I don’t know. Every phone is going to do have either literally an edge-to-edge screen or something very, very close to it. That’s not going to be a differentiating thing anymore. That won’t bring anybody back.
I think that if you’re making the decision between the V30 and the Note based on the tech specs of the screen and which one is slightly more beautiful, you’re probably doing it wrong. You’re gonna have a much bigger impact on your life and the quality of the cameras, whether or not you have a headphone jack, whether or not you care about the stylus.
KS: Headphone jack. Interesting. I like the edge to edge, and supposedly the iPhone’s going to have that, right?
Yep. One of them.
Allegedly there’s going to be updates to the current iPhones and then there’s going to be a new fancy super iPhone.
KS: Yeah, I’m probably going to get that. What’s that, $3 million?
We’re expecting it to start at a thousand bucks.
LG: It’s gonna be ... What’s the phrase that I think John Gruber used with the watch? “Get out the fainting couch”? Seventeen thousand dollar gold Apple watch. It’s gonna be like that. No, it’s really not, but ...
KS: Ugh. I wonder how many people, we should find those people. To see how they feel about their ...
LG: Laurene Powell Jobs was just seen wearing one.
KS: Oh really. She probably got it free.
LG: There were pictures of her — I think she was on a vacation or something — in the tabloids and she’s got a gold Apple watch.
KS: She got it free. Don’t you think she got it free?
LG: I think she knew someone.
KS: I think she knows someone.
KS: By the way, everyone please go see her ad that she did on DACA.
LG: Yes, with Ronald Reagan.
KS: She’s very clever. She’s done a lot of clever things in that genre of protest. Very clever.
LG: She has indeed. She’s spoke at Code Conference about it, too.
KS: And she’s got the gold watch. She did. She did. And she has the gold watch, she wasn’t wearing a gold iPhone watch there, was she?
LG: No, she wasn’t. These were like tabloid photos and I think it might have been a British publication. You know how the Brits, the tabloids they really get in there.
KS: Anyway, they’ll be cool. Next question, Lauren.
LG: Next question is from Max Buondonno, his handle is @LegendaryScoop. “How come smartphone manufacturers don’t realize their bloatware and junkware situations are so bad?” I think they do realize it, I think we all realize it, but they continue to do it. Then Max retweeted Dan Seifert who tweeted the other day: “The LG V30’s garbage bloatware includes lockscreen ads. Awesome to see on a $750 phone.” Obviously Dan was being sarcastic about that. So Dieter, talk about bloatware.
LG: Kara hates it too.
I think the last time I was on this podcast I brought the evil god of ARPU, average revenue per user. They get lots of money. Carriers get lots of money by putting crap around these things. So does Samsung. If it can have them make an extra 5, 10, 15, 50, 100 bucks on a phone to put a bunch of crap around there, they’re gonna do it. That’s just the long and the short of it.
KS: Imagine being an ad on a Louis Vuitton bag.
KS: Think about it.
LG: But it’s the low cost of ... Amazon is also selling pretty cheap Android phones through amazon.com.
KS: I don’t mind if it’s cheap.
LG: If you only get them, I think you can get them for $50 to $100, but you’re going to see Amazon ads on the phone.
KS: But I just paid for premium Spotify because I was sick of the ads. That’s how it should go. You pay?
Yeah, the places where you can trust you’re gonna get a phone without a ton of crapware are Apple phone, buying a phone directly from Google, this Essential phone doesn’t have anything on it. You sometimes can get lucky if you buy a phone unlocked directly from the manufacturer. You’ll still get some stuff, especially from a company like Samsung but it’s usually less stuff. If it matters to you, you do have options to avoid it. It’s just not as easy as it should be.
KS: No class.
KS: No class, Samsung, I give you a zero on that one.
Next question, Daniel Hanna, @DanielHana: “Why not collaborate on Google on stock apps instead? Complete the great hardware, excellent support and reliability.” I think it’s compete with Google.
Yeah. They tried that once. There used to be this thing called Google Play Edition of phones. Samsung and HTC both made it. I think they sold precisely six of them, so they didn’t do it again. That’s kind of it. They can’t differentiate enough, there’s not enough sales channels and Samsung wants people to believe that Samsung has a software ecosystem. That’s why they’ve made this Bixby little yappy dog version of an intelligent assistant.
KS: Yappy dog. Bixby is ...
Bixby sounds like a little yappy dog.
KS: Bixby is a British butler. Or a kid that you don’t play with. “I don’t want to play with Bixby.”
KS: Bixby doesn’t smell, Bixby has other issues but not smell.
If they just make a quote unquote stock Android phone, why would you buy that instead of a Pixel is kind of their attitude. They want to differentiate. Also they didn’t sell well, so why’d they put in the effort?
LG: Personally, I love Samsung Milk.
KS: “Bixby” is probably a name that San Francisco parents are gonna like now.
KS: Do not name your child Bixby. Doesn’t it feel like that?
LG: I don’t know. I haven’t seen those stories yet. Were there stories about people naming their kids Siri after Siri?
KS: No, but Bixby is ...
Did you see the story about the woman whose name is literally Alexa Siri?
LG: Stop it.
No, she called her life a waking nightmare.
LG: I shouldn’t laugh, I feel bad for this woman. No virtual assistants in their home.
KS: Okay, explain this tweetstorm we got, Lauren.
LG: Okay, tweetstorm from Samantha Yammine, I’m just gonna summarize it here. The first thing she said is, “Is the Google Pixel 2 going to have fixes to its huge shortcomings that no tech reviewers has called it out on yet?” She says the camera on the Google Pixel sucks when use in Snapchat and Instagram because the camera is software-based and she actually sent us a side-by-side comparison of taking a photo in one of those apps versus the native Pixel cam and asks, “Which new fall phone actually has the best camera?”
Okay, so Dieter, what do you think about the Google Pixel as it is now, the camera? How is it going to improve? Is it going to improve? And then she’s asking generally what the best camera is. We know it’s not Essential. This is a loaded question.
Well, there’s actually a lot of interesting things embedded in those questions. Android has not traditionally been as good at cameras as the iPhone up until basically a year and a half, two years ago. A lot of that is, they don’t have as tightly integrated a software and hardware solution as Apple does.
Relatively recently, Samsung, then Google, and LG, all kind of figured it out, but that integrated solution that they figured out doesn’t necessarily apply to other third-party apps like Snapchat. And we all know that, also, a bunch of third-party apps like Snapchat pay more attention to the quality and their performance on the iPhone then they do on Android, even though Android is extensively a bigger addressable market. There’s just more money on the iPhone then there is on Android right now, even though there’s millions and millions more Android phones than iPhones.
Wrap all that up and you end up in a situation where even though you can get a camera on an Android phone that is as good if not better than what you can get on an iPhone, that doesn’t mean that the support for that camera in third-party software is going to be as good. That’s just the way of the world.
KS: They make everything for the iPhone.
What’s the best camera of the fall? I don’t know, talk to me in late October after we’ve reviewed all of them.
KS: They’re all pretty good, though. Boy, they’re all pretty good.
They’re all pretty good.
LG: They’re all getting pretty good.
At the top end they are.
LG: Can we just say, though, that the front-facing cameras should stop being so good? We just have these front-facing cameras where everyone takes selfies and they apply filter after filter after filter to actually reduce the resolution of the front-facing cameras. We should just start out with a low-resolution, low-level front-facing camera for vanity’s sake.
You should put a piece of scotch tape over it.
KS: Yeah, put a piece of scotch tape over it. This is a bad idea.
LG: Well, I don’t have a Lumee case on like Kara.
KS: I do, it’s a gift from my friend, Kim Kardashian. A gift.
LG: I know.
KS: I have the letter. “Here you go Kara, enjoy.”
LG: I was with someone this weekend who had a Lumee case, legit using the Lumee case, and very excited by it.
KS: It works. You look amazing using it. She’s 100 percent correct, you look 400 times better using the Lumee case.
I wouldn’t. The less you see, the better.
KS: Well, okay, all right.
LG: See, low-resolution front-facing cameras.
KS: Marco Lodola: “The Note8 barely keeps up with the aged iPhone Plus, especially in video editing. Shouldn’t we wait for the S9?” Marco is concerned about that.
I don’t know, if you think the S9 is going to magically change all problems of Android, then sure go ahead and wait. But if you’re gonna wait for something slightly better in the future, then you’re never going to buy a phone. When you need a phone, you’ll get a phone — unless it is July, August or September, then you should wait till the new phones come out.
LG: All right. Why wait until it’s going to be March, April 2018? Marco, live your life now. Live life for today.
KS: Pay another thousand in three months.
LG: We don’t know what will happen. Who knows?
All right, next question is from @zduboss, who asks, “How’s the pen on the Note8? I love to doodle and this sounds like a great mobile sketchpad.” I think a good way to address this is not only how’s the pen — because you talked about it a little bit earlier — but is the pen better than earlier styluses.
It’s waterproof now.
LG: So that’s good.
They added more levels of sensitivity compared to the Note5, but it’s the same as the Note6. I’ve found that the pen feel when you’re writing on the screen is slightly better than it was on previous Notes. It didn’t quite glide quite as slickly. There’s a little bit more traction there.
KS: How about losing the pen? Is there anymore ...
Yeah, you’re on your own there.
LG: Yeah. Or putting it in the wrong way, too, that was a thing for a while where people would put it ...
KS: That was a thing where people would put it in and it would break or get caught in there. That’s not a thing now. It’s fine now.
LG: Honestly, there’s a built-in spot for the pen, if you lose it. It’s not like the iPad pen, pencil, whatever, you lose it. Well, there’s nothing magnetic keeping it to the main device. This is ... literally, it has a slot for you.
It’s got a silo.
LG: Silo, that’s not what I was, sleeve.
All right, last question from this guy, he’s retired and is such a pain in the ass, nothing to do but smoke cigars and send us obnoxious notes. Here we go. @WaltMossberg.
KS: I don’t know, he was a one-time tech reviewer I think at some point of some note. All right: “Dear @baclon.” He can’t even address you by your full name.
That is my name.
KS: I know, I get that, but still. He could have said, “Hello Dieter, how are you doing?”
“Why are none of the new fall smartphones using webOS? Please explain in detail why it would be better if they did. Thanks.” He’s trolling you.
Yeah. I have an answer, Walt. It’s because life is suffering.
KS: No, it’s @WaltMossberg. Why aren’t they doing this?
Life is pain and nothing will ever be good. That’s why.
LG: What would a webOS phone look like today?
Man, I don’t know. It would be weird. HP would screw it up inevitably. The design and direction they were going for was more angled. There was lots of funny, weird, sharp corners and stuff, but they probably would have moved away from that again by now. I think it would basically look like a Zune.
Probably just go back to Zune.
KS: Those were the days, my friend. I have one of those somewhere. Do you have yours?
I don’t have mine.
LG: Should have never thrown it out.
Did you have the brown one?
KS: I had the brown one.
It’s the best one.
KS: Yeah, it’s the best one. Every time I look at it, I open a box and there it is and I’m like [laughs] then I close the box. It’s next to the Palm Pilot, next to one of the BlackBerrys. I don’t know, they’re all in there.
LG: I have a lot of old BlackBerrys, I’m not sure I had a Palm Pilot. I think I have a Palm Pilot somewhere.
Before we let you go, give us a quick preview of what we can expect next week at the Apple event because that’s what we’re going to be talking about on next week’s podcast.
Yeah. Like I said earlier, I think three models of iPhone updates for the 7 and 7 Plus will be updates.
KS: Mind blowing!
Mind blowing. I don’t know, I think they’ll have some great cameras that will work really well with the ARKit.
KS: Who’s the celebrity?
Who’s the celebrity? Oh man.
LG: I don’t know. Who’s going to play the event? It’s in the new Steve Jobs Theater, which is on the new campus, which very few people have been to. It’s a new auditorium, which I believe is based on floor plans that we’ve seen is actually underground.
LG: Is that good for Wi-Fi and acoustics or bad? We shall see.
KS: They’ll have Wi-Fi. Steve, handle the Wi-Fi for the people of the press.
LG: I do wonder who’s the celebrity person going to be? It was Sia last year.
KS: Who is the celebrity? Guess the celebrity?
LG: I think, the Weeknd was a couple years ago.
But he already did, he already did it once too.
LG: Oh he did?
KS: Who else?
LG: Remember when the Weeknd came out and people were like, “Who?”
People didn’t know who the Weeknd was.
LG: Now he’s a big deal.
KS: Travis Kalanick with a new Uber. Geofencing.
LG: Now he’s with Selener.
I am stumped.
KS: Who would it be?
I hope it’s not like the Chainsmokers.
KS: It’s Beyonce. I’m calling it right here. Beyonce.
LG: Is it Beyonce?
If they get Beyonce, I mean I’m the guy that leaves during the concert so I can go be first in line to take pictures but if it’s Beyonce, I’m never leaving that theater. I’m just going to sit there in my seat in the hopes that maybe someday.
KS: Are you a Bee? Are you one of the Bees? What is it called, the Bee Keeper? What do they call themselves? The Bee ...
LG: I don’t know.
KS: It’s a group, they swarm people when they’re mean to Beyonce online.
LG: That sounds good.
LG: I’ll be a Bee.
In addition to the iPhones, two updates plus the new iPhone 8, iPhone Pro whatever you’re gonna call it, it’ll be fancy and it won’t have a home button. You’ll unlock it with your face.
LG: Which one?
The iPhone 8, the iPhone Pro. We don’t know what it’s going to be called yet. But it’s the bezel-less super iPhone. OLED screen and unlock with your face and all the details of it, all the big ones have leaked.
KS: A picture of my face.
No, because it has 3-D scanning so a picture won’t work, but if someone took a mold of your face, that could potentially work.
KS: They do that. My fans do that. Yes.
LG: You know what the thing is with the fingerprint sensors, or unlocking on the back is when you’re driving. I feel like there’s this ...
KS: Why are you driving and opening your phone?
LG: Because sometimes when you’re driving if you have an old car ...
KS: Nay. Nay.
LG: Or you like old cars and you happen to have some type of dock or after-market solution and you need to reach over and just press the home button because you just need the thing to light up.
KS: Do you know what I do? I change the ... It doesn’t go off when I’m in the phone before I start the car. Then it just stays open.
If you have an Android phone, you just turn on Android Auto and the screen stays on.
LG: Well Android, see, I like Android Auto. Apple’s coming out with some version of a limited iOS capabilities for when people are driving, but I think Android Auto is a great solution. Anyway, I just went off on a tangent. What else can we expect to see if anything else?
I think we’re going to see an updated version of the Apple TV that’ll support HDR and Dolby and hopefully 4K. We’re also expecting an Apple Watch that will have LTE built in so that you can have your battery drain even faster.
KS: Oh good. Over and under, and how many women will be onstage? Two, right? They usually get to two.
I think they’re gonna get to three.
KS: Three? Crazy.
LG: Who do you think it’ll be? So Bozoma Saint John?
KS: No. She’s out.
LG: She went to Uber. Jennifer Bailey runs Apple Pay.
KS: Oh, true.
LG: She sometimes makes appearances at these kinds of events. Although is she backstage? I’m trying to think. I always see ... she and Angela Ahrendts are always around.
They just had Lisa Jackson on last time, but they could bring her out again.
LG: Oh yeah.
KS: So you’re going with three?
I’m going with three.
KS: I’m going with one. I’m gonna say that, okay? I’m interviewing Bozoma next week at Code Commerce.
LG: Oh, you are?
KS: The Code Commerce conference, yes.
LG: That’s great. There’s a great line up for that conference.
KS: I know, my friends. Bozoma and I are gonna work it out.
LG: It’s kind of crazy.
KS: I’m not gonna be quite as nice as the New York Times has been to her, but I’m gonna ask her some tough questions. I have some questions for Boz.
Is your first question, “Really? Uber? Really?”
KS: No. I just ... No. Yes. I’m just gonna do that. “Really?” and she’s gonna answer ...
That would be my technique.
KS: And I’m gonna go, “Really?”
LG: You can say what you said last time. “Enron wasn’t available?” Isn’t that what you asked Frances Frei?
KS: Yes I did. That’s good. I think I’ll do that. Boz will smack me hard. Frances is real nice.
LG: You know what else we’re gonna see at the Apple — we don’t know if we’re gonna see at the Apple event, but will be rolling out shortly, which actually matters to people who are not going to be upgrading to new hardware – is the software releases.
LG: We’ve heard about iOS 11, we’ve heard about Mac OS High Sierra, we’ve heard about the new Watch software. If you’re not planning on getting new hardware this fall and you have I-devices, you can still expect to see some changes.
Some of the updates on the iOS 11 are going to drive people crazy.
KS: So you guys will be busy. I will be in New York at Code Commerce but you will be busy. Very good.
LG: And I’m going to wake you up really early to tape a podcast with me, so you’re welcome.
KS: Oh, you are? No, we’re not going to do that. We’ll figure it out. Anyway, this has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. Dieter, even though Walt doesn’t call you that, thank you so much.
You’re welcome. Thank you for having me on.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.