The largest story within the Android universe this week is the pending arrival of Samsung’s newest and best Galaxy flagships — the Galaxy S21 and its numerous cousins, anticipated to be unveiled at a digital occasion later this morning. The telephones will nearly actually be the de facto customary bearers of the high-end Android expertise for the months forward, they usually’re all however sure to be among the many top-selling premium Android gadgets of 2021.
In some ways, it isn’t stunning. In relation to high-end Android telephones, Samsung does lots of issues proper — from its smooth, eye-catching hardware designs to its distinctive construct high quality and often top-of-the-line elements. And that is to say nothing of the equally or even perhaps extra necessary no-holds-barred advertising technique that is helped Samsung acquire and preserve its dominant place throughout the Android ranks.
And but, as somebody who carefully research the Android ecosystem and goals to supply recommendation about essentially the most advisable experiences out there inside it, I discover myself struggling to wholeheartedly suggest Samsung’s Android merchandise — particularly for critical enterprise customers — extra so with each passing 12 months. And it isn’t due to any method of subjective evaluation; it is due to some evident, foundational flaws with the real-world expertise Samsung supplies on its Android-based Galaxy gadgets.
They’re points that not solely affect what it is like to make use of Samsung’s telephones over your entire time that you simply personal ’em but in addition affect the all-important areas of privateness and safety because it pertains to your private and/or company-connected knowledge. And whereas I am all too conscious that I am prone to get a good quantity of pushback for specializing in these usually underemphasized areas — hey, model loyalty is a robust factor today! — now particularly, these things desperately must be dropped at the forefront.
Right here, particularly, are 4 causes I might encourage anybody to assume twice earlier than committing to a Samsung Android cellphone.
1. The out-of-place promoting
Adverts are a largely unavoidable a part of up to date life, particularly when expertise is concerned. However whereas Google implements advertisements into in any other case free on-line providers — an association that is properly publicized and that enables these providers to stay free for common use — Samsung goes a step additional and really places advertisements into the center of its high-cost cell merchandise. And it does so in a means that is excessive and unacceptably invasive.
It is one thing we have talked about earlier than — from the advertisements prominently built into Samsung’s system-level Phone app to the endless in-your-face notification nudges pushing all the pieces from new Samsung gadgets to fee-requiring Samsung apps and providers — and it is a problem that solely continues to increase and develop ever extra troubling over time.
Simply final week, Samsung reportedly began to send automated background updates to its U.S. Galaxy gadgets with the obvious sole function of monitoring phone-owners’ location, sensing once they’re in a retailer that sells Samsung merchandise, after which utilizing their notifications to push them advertisements for these gadgets. As I wrote in my newsletter on Friday, it is cheesy, it is abusive, and it is obnoxious — and it makes for an disagreeable and albeit unacceptable person expertise, whether or not we’re speaking a few $2,000 cellphone or perhaps a $200 one.
And that, sadly, is barely the beginning.
2. The shady-seeming knowledge promoting
This is the place the actually disconcerting half comes into play: Along with baking these over-the-top promoting methods into its smartphone expertise, Samsung additionally has mechanisms in place to share your data with external agencies — to double-dip, as I’ve put it before, and directly profit off the info you assume is protected.
We’ve seen this in the form of a tucked-away setting within the system-level Samsung Pay app that, unless dug up and disabled, allows your financial information to be shared with “Samsung Pay partners.” That discovery last year shocked me enough that I decided to comb through Samsung’s various privacy policies, the place I discovered much more unsettling positive print. For example:
- As a Galaxy cellphone proprietor, Samsung might enable “sure third events (equivalent to promoting companions)” to “acquire your private data” in unspecified venues and methods.
- Samsung “might have” beforehand offered a bunch of delicate information to undisclosed third events — all the pieces starting from “distinctive private identifiers” related along with your machine to “information of services or products bought, obtained, or thought of”; “different buying or consuming histories or tendencies”; “web and different digital community exercise data, together with, however not restricted to, looking historical past, search historical past, and data concerning your interplay with web sites, functions, or ads”; and “inferences drawn from any of the knowledge recognized above to create a profile about you reflecting your preferences, traits, psychological traits, predispositions, habits, attitudes, intelligence, skills, and aptitudes” (!).
- Samsung might have additionally “disclosed” much more private information to “distributors” for “a enterprise function.” Uh, no biggie — simply information like, y’know, your title, tackle, cellphone quantity, signature, checking account quantity, bank card quantity, buy historical past, looking historical past, search historical past, geolocation knowledge, and as soon as once more that lovely-sounding assortment of “inferences drawn” from all that information. Proper.
And even that remains to be just the start.
Critically, as I’ve identified beforehand, none of that is even near what Google does with the promoting related to its numerous free providers. First and most importantly, Google never sells user data or shares it with any third events, even when stated information is used to assist decide what advertisements you see across the net by way of Google’s advert networks. And past that, Google’s use of knowledge for advert personalization is a widely known, core a part of its enterprise — one which exists to offset the free nature of providers equivalent to Search, Maps, and the non-Workspace variations of Gmail, Docs, and Drive.
A smartphone, suffice it to say, will not be a free service. You are paying good cash for the privilege to personal such a product, with the expectation of knowledgeable atmosphere that is free from spammy distractions and questionable built-in connections.
And but, right here we’re.
three. The subpar software program help
If you happen to’ve adopted my musings for lengthy, you understand I am adamant about the truth that Android upgrades completely matter — and for extra than simply the surface-level options and interface refinements. Working system upgrades constantly present consequential under-the-hood enhancements in areas like efficiency, privateness, and safety, as we have seen with the present Android 11 launch in addition to with different current releases earlier than it.
And Samsung has made it painfully clear, 12 months after 12 months, that offering these updates to its clients in a well timed and dependable matter merely is not a precedence. My data-driven Android Improve Report Playing cards — equivalent to the latest one, during which Samsung bought an embarrassing D+ rating for its lackluster Android 10 improve efforts — let you know all the pieces it’s worthwhile to know.
To Samsung’s credit score, the corporate has been getting higher at improve deliveries over the previous couple years — however while you really take a look at the big-picture knowledge, you notice its enhancements aren’t all that spectacular. Within the grand scheme of issues, the corporate remains to be working near 100 days delayed, in a best-case state of affairs, and usually taking even longer in the case of supporting its previous-gen, simply one-year-old top-tier gadgets.
As an organization of its measurement and with its huge array of sources, Samsung actually may do higher. It may get present software program into the palms of its highest-paying clients inside a matter of days of its launch, if it actually needed to. It merely would not select to deal with that non-revenue-generating type of help as a precedence. And for enterprise customers particularly, that is an more and more robust asterisk to justify, particularly when commendable near-instant-upgrade choices are available elsewhere on the platform.
four. The not-so-optimal general person expertise
Final however not least is essentially the most summary motive for my Samsung suggestion hesitation, but it surely’s an impossibly necessary a part of the image. It is the general person expertise — or what it is really prefer to use a tool in day-to-day life.
As somebody who owns each a current Google Pixel cellphone and a current Samsung Galaxy cellphone, let me let you know: The distinction in person expertise between these gadgets is astounding. It is a distinction I’ve heard bolstered by quite a few individuals who have reached out to me after taking the Galaxy-to-Pixel plunge over time as properly.
One among my favourite analogies, provided up by my buddy and fellow tech thinker Jared Newman, is that utilizing a Samsung cellphone is form of like visiting Vegas: You’ve bought numerous flashy lights, eye-catching bells and whistles, and issues that lure individuals in off the road and make ’em need to come verify all of it out. After you have been in that atmosphere for some time, although, you simply begin to really feel simply form of…soiled. It is sensory overload and an terrible lot of muddle that actively will get in the way in which of consolation and effectivity. Going to a Pixel-like setup, in distinction, looks like going again residence — to a spot that is likely to be much less thrilling, on the skin, however that has all of the stuff you really want and an atmosphere that is made for long-term habitation.
Interface points apart, Samsung telephones are simply overflowing with confusingly competing parts and built-in bloatware. You’ve got bought issues just like the prominently featured Galaxy Retailer, which pings you endlessly and tries to get you to consider it as your main app market even supposing the Play Retailer is immeasurably extra stocked and updated with present, fascinating titles. You’ve got bought Samsung’s personal Contacts app, which syncs with Samsung solely by default and thus makes it troublesome to entry your information on different gadgets or switch it to future telephones not made by Samsung (a pointy distinction to Google’s superior setup, which you’d must learn about and actively search for those who needed to embrace it — one thing most common phone-owners would not assume to do).
And along with all of the bloat, Samsung concurrently omits invaluable parts of the core Android working system for no obvious motive. Galaxy cellphone homeowners will not get the extremely helpful (and impressively expandable) new connected-device command heart that is constructed into the Android 11 energy menu, for example, nor can they benefit from Android’s privacy-enhancing Visitor Mode or possibility-packed multiuser help system for telephones. They cannot even benefit from the seamless, interruption-free replace course of Google has provided inside Android since 2016, since Samsung one way or the other nonetheless sticks with the antiquated, time-wasting system that preceded it.
Now, look: If you end up enamored with Samsung’s strategy and see this all as a lot ado about nothing, that is completely positive! Android is all about alternative, in spite of everything, and there is definitely nothing mistaken with selecting no matter path and method of product you like. But it surely’s time we begin speaking about these things brazenly and as a outstanding a part of the Samsung machine dialogue. That means, anybody dealing with a buying alternative can not less than arm themselves with the entire information and make a totally educated resolution about what kind of setup makes essentially the most sense for them.
Join my weekly newsletter to get extra sensible ideas, private suggestions, and plain-English perspective on the information that issues.
[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]