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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Can we debate free will versus destiny in four pages?

Posted: 15 Feb 2020 01:59 PM PST

The informal TechCrunch book club (which is now a whole week off schedule thanks to the news cycle — let's see if we can catch up here shortly!) is now venturing into the very, very short story What's Expected of Us, the third piece in Ted Chiang's Exhalation collection. If you're one of those people that fall behind in book clubs, don't fret: you've had two weeks to read four pages. You can probably read the short story before finishing this post.

If you haven't already, be sure to check out the previous editions of this book club which explores the first two (larger) short stories in the collection, The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, a beautiful story exploring predestination and fate, and Exhalation, a vital yet subtle story about climate change, the connections between people and society, and so, so much more.

Next, we will read the lengthier story The Lifecycle of Software Objects — some reading questions are posted at the bottom of this article.

Some further quick notes:

  • Want to join the conversation? Feel free to email me your thoughts at danny+bookclub@techcrunch.com or join some of the discussions on Reddit or Twitter.
  • Follow these informal book club articles here: https://techcrunch.com/book-review/. That page also has a built-in RSS feed for posts exclusively in the Book Review category, which is very low volume.
  • Feel free to add your comments in our TechCrunch comments section below this post.

What's Expected of Us

We are only three stories into Exhalation, but already there are threads that are starting to connect these disparate stories, none more important than the meaning of fate in lives increasingly filled with technological determinism.

Chiang loves to presuppose these novel technologies that prove that our fates are fixed. In The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, he imagines these teleporting gates that allows users to move forward and backwards in time, while in this story, it is the Predictor that sends a light signal back in time by one second after the button is clicked, forcing the device's user to confront the fact that the future is already predetermined when the light burns bright.

While these two stories have certain symmetries, what's interesting to me is how different their conclusions are from each other. In The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, Chiang notes that while our destinies may be fixed, and even if we had a time machine, we couldn't change the past to affect our futures, he essentially argues that the journey itself is often its own reward. The past may indeed be immutable, but our understanding of the past is in fact quite malleable, and learning the context of our previous actions and those of others is in many ways the whole point of existence.

In What's Expected of Us though, the Predictor creates a dystopic world where lethargy among people runs supreme. Here's a simple device that transmits a basic signal across a short period of time, but provides overwhelming evidence that free will is essentially a myth. For many, that's enough for at least some people to become catatonic and just stop eating entirely.

Our occasional fiction review contributor on Extra Crunch Eliot Peper wrote in with his favorite passage and a thought, which gets at one of Chiang's solutions:

"Pretend that you have free will. It's essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don't. The reality isn't important; what's important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

As science reveals a clockwork determinism behind reality's veil, it becomes ever more important for us to believe the opposite in order to build a better future. A belief in free will is enfranchising. It is the spark of hope that inspires us to push back against the invisible systems that shape our lives — creating a chance for change.

Peper gets at the core message of this story, but frankly, self-deception isn't easy (as any less-than-perfectly-confident startup founder who has attempted to persuade investors about their product can tell you). It's one thing to say "pretend it all doesn't matter," but of course it does matter, and you intrinsically acknowledge and comprehend the deception. It's like that self-help dreck about setting artificial deadlines to get stuff done — yet their very artificiality is precisely why they are ineffective. As Chiang writes about the Predictor, "The person may appear to lose interest in it, but no one can forget what it means; over the following weeks, the implications of an immutable future sink in." Fate locks into our very souls.

Chiang notes though that people respond differently to this realization. Some become catatonic, but it is implied in the story that others find a different path. Of course, those paths are all laid out before the Predictor even arrived — no one can choose their destiny, even about how they will confront the knowledge of fate and destiny itself.

Yet, even without that choice, we must move on. Structurally, the story (similar again to The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate) is told retrospectively, with a future agent sending a note back in time warning about the consequences of the Predictor. Rhetorically asking whether anything would change by this note, the future agent says no, but then says that "Why did I do it? Because I had no choice."

In other words, maybe everything is indeed predetermined. Maybe everything in our lives can't be changed. And yet, we are still going to move forward in time, and we are still going to take the actions we are predetermined to make. Maybe that requires self-deception to muddle through it. Or maybe, we just need to vigorously commit to the actions in front of us — regardless of whether we had the ability to choose them in the first place.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects

The next short story in the collection is a bit more sprawling, touching on a huge numbers of topics around virtual worlds, the entities we raise in them, and what that means for us as humans. Here are some questions to think about as you read the story:

  • What's it mean to love something? We understand love in the context of (human) children, but can you love an AI? Can you love an inanimate object like a statue? Is there a line when our ability to love stops?
  • What makes an entity sentient? Does it take experience delivered from others, or can sentience be constructed out of thin air?
  • Chiang sometimes fast-forwards time in a variety of different circumstances: hothouses to accelerate AI learning, and for the human characters themselves in the plot. What is the meaning of time in the context of the story? How do the concepts of time and experience interact?
  • The author touches on but doesn't deeply explore the legal questions around "human rights" in the context of sentient AI beings. How should we think about what rights these entities have? Which characters' views best represented your own?
  • How can we define concepts like consciousness, sentience, and independence? What elements of the story seem to indicate where Chiang defines the boundaries between those definitions?
  • One of the central under-tones of the plot is the challenge of money and the profitability of AI. Should AI be judged in terms of the utility it provides humans, or the ability of AI to create their own worlds and cultures? How do we think about "success" (very broadly conceived) in the context of what these computer programs can do?
  • How will human empathy change in the coming years as we surpass the uncanny valley and more and more technologies connect with our emotional heartstrings? Is this ultimately an evolution for humanity or just another challenge to overcome in the years ahead?

This Week in Apps: YouTube TV cancels Apple’s rev share, more bad news for mobile voting, WhatsApp hits 2B users

Posted: 15 Feb 2020 11:33 AM PST

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads in 2019 and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie's recently released "State of Mobile" annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren't just a way to pass idle hours — they're a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week, we look at YouTube TV’s decision to stop revenue-sharing with Apple, another mobile voting app with serious flaws, new Apple launches in coding and AR, Microsoft’s game-streaming service Project xCloud arrival on iOS and other notable app news and trends, including WhatsApp’s big 2 billion user milestone, and more.

Headlines

YouTube TV fights back against Apple’s cut of in-app subscription revenue

This week, YouTube emailed customers subscribed to its YouTube TV service by way of Apple’s in-app purchases to let them know that this subscription offering will be discontinued starting on March 13, 2020. Current subscribers will have their subscription canceled automatically on their billing date after March 13, the letter said.

This is a pretty severe way for Google to end its subscription revenue-sharing with Apple, however. Most companies that decide to shut off in-app subscriptions still continue to honor those from existing subscribers — they just stop selling to new customers. In YouTube TV’s case, it’s actually ending its relationship with all its customers on Apple devices with the hope they’ll return and resubscribe. That’s quite a risk, given that YouTube TV is not the only streaming TV service out there, and customers getting their subscription canceled may take this opportunity to shop around. The timing is also poorly thought-out, given that YouTube TV just picked up new subs following Sony’s PlayStation Vue shutdown — and now it’s kicking them out.

The move makes Google the latest company to rebel against Apple’s 30% cut of all in-app payments (which drops to 15% in year two). A growing number of app publishers are refusing to share a cut of their revenue with Apple — even saying that Apple’s decision to charge this fee is anti-competitive. For example, Spotify believes Apple’s fee makes it more difficult to compete with Apple’s built-in music service, and has raised the issue repeatedly to regulators. Netflix also stopped paying the “Apple tax” over a year ago.

Mobile voting app Voatz, used by several states, was filled with security flaws

Above: Voatz, via The NYT

Last week, we looked at how a smartphone app meant to tabulate votes from the caucuses really screwed things up in Iowa. This week, MIT researchers took a look at mobile voting app Voatz, which has been used to tally votes for federal elections in parts of West Virginia, Oregon, Utah and Washington as part of various mobile voting pilot programs. The researchers found the app was riddled with security flaws that would let attackers monitor votes or even change ballots or block them without users’ knowledge. Attackers could also create a tainted paper trail, making a reliable audit impossible — despite Voatz’s promise of using blockchain technology to increase security. One security expert, speaking to VICE, called the app “sloppy” and filled with “elementary” mistakes.

Coming on the heels of the Iowa caucus mobile voting disaster, this latest news delivers another huge blow to the promise of mobile voting in the U.S.

Startups Weekly: A pre-IPO list of unicorn companies that also generate lots of revenue(!)

Posted: 15 Feb 2020 10:35 AM PST

[Editor's note: Want to get this weekly review of news that startups can use by email? Just subscribe here.] 

My colleague Alex Wilhelm has been researching the companies that are both getting impressive valuations and also generating annual recurring revenues of around $100 million on more. These are the sorts of companies that any savvy public-market tech investor might want to take a closer look at, particularly the sort of investor who is comfortable digesting modern online subscription metrics. That is, the startup-oriented types who read this kinda newsletter….

The following is not investment advice, but this week Alex added SeismicThoughtSpotNoomRiskified and Moveable Ink to the club, based on their funding histories, growth metrics and his own interviews with the teams. “Perhaps we're really just compiling an IPO watchlist, a grouping of firms that will probably go (or should go) public in the next 18 months,” he mused along the way.

He then assembled a list of the dozen existing companies he’s covered in the last few months, that form “The $100M ARR Club.” Read the full thing on Extra Crunch, and get ready for more coverage as the hundreds of unicorns produced in this era continue running the public gauntlet.

Raising a seed round? You have more options in 2020

You have more options than ever if you want to raise a seed round today. But you have to know how to pitch the right investors at the right time.

In recent years investors have come up with more ways to back companies that are still finding product-market fit or still figuring out how to grow. But there are approximately six stages of seed today — and each investor who writes these sorts of checks has their own preferences within the stages. Some are fine with just a big idea, some want to see the start of long-term traction.

So! Our resident former VC, Danny Crichton, has put together the latest tips that he’s hearing from founders and early-stage investors for Extra Crunch about the following stages of young companies:

0. Team – deck: This might be dubbed the "hello world" stage of a startup's journey. There is at least one person looking to build some form of company, but the full team, product, market and target aren't fleshed out at all.

1. Team + deck: In this stage, there is leadership for the startup and the founder(s) have identified a working hypothesis for a product or at least a market they want to tackle. Because there is no product, there is obviously no product-market fit (PMF).

2. On course to product-market fit: There is a real product, there are users, maybe even a bit of revenue, but everything is sort of ambiguous and the team is still actively experimenting and testing ideas around the product.

3. Product-market fit, pre-scaling: The startup has identified and developed a product that has clear signs of product-market fit, which might come in the form of high NPS scores, strong word-of-mouth marketing, excited feedback from users or some other data that says users of the product love it.

4. On course to scalable growth: There is a product people love, but now the company needs to prove it knows how to spend money to buy growth. This means setting up marketing channels, handling growth marketing within the product itself (on-boarding, sharing tools, etc.) and, if relevant, building out a sales team. Many of these functions haven't been fully tested by the startup yet.

5. Proven, if early growth: Growth channels have real and positive data that's comparable with other startups.

This list is focused on funding for venture-oriented companies — he’ll be exploring the booming world of alternative finance in the coming weeks. On that note, don’t miss Alex Wilhelm’s coverage on TechCrunch this week about the rise of venture debt.

Where top investors are putting money in construction robotics

With our 2020 Robotics + AI sessions event on the horizon in early March, we're going deeper into some of the most dynamic real-life uses through our regular investor survey series.

With global housing, material and labor shortages, and new technologies becoming commercially available, construction robotics has become a major subcategory of investment. Arman Tabatabai, our in-house research analyst, identified 16 of the investors most ready to write checks for startups in the space this year, and got nearly 6000 words of detailed responses on what they are looking for. Click through to Extra Crunch for more. 

Married founders are making it work

Speaking of newly popular ways to build a company, Anna Escher identifies a striking number of married couples who also have founded successful startups together over on TechCrunch.

"We got into a momentum of talking about work all the time” explains Lidia Yan of logistics startup NEXT Trucking. “Not only at the office but at home.” The solution that she and her husband Elton Chung developed is a simple rule enforced by an iPhone alarm: All work-related talk must cease after 8pm every day after the alarm goes off. They use the time for shared side passions, like exploring local restaurants.

Earlier couple-founder success like Eventbrite and VMware have helped break the ice for investors. NEXT, for example, has raised nearly $100 million from top investors.

However, the couples that Escher talked to were clear about the risks (from chronic disharmony to divorce) and the trade-offs (from less travel to later starts on a family).

Across the week

TechCrunch:

Mike Volpi on the art of board membership

Portfolio bloat: What's happening to thousands of startups going nowhere fast

FTC votes to review influencer marketing rules & penalties

Catching up on China's tech influence operations in America

Peru’s startup scene is ready for more

Extra Crunch:

Understanding Airbnb's new, stubborn lack of profits

4 factors to consider before entering international markets

How to advertise a podcast in 2020

Meet 5 cybersecurity unicorns that could IPO in 2020

This co-op wants to put money back into patients' hands

#EquityPod

Alex and Danny sat down with Elliot Robinson, a growth-focused partner at Bessemer. Key topics this week included funding rounds from Headspace and Nova Credit, Battery’s new capital vehicles, why some firms need more capital for the same number of checks, and much more.

The drunken HQ Trivia finale before it shut down was insane

Posted: 15 Feb 2020 09:55 AM PST

“Not gonna lie. This f*cking sucks. This is the last HQ ever!” yelled host Matt Richards . And it just got crazier from there.The farewell game of HQ Trivia before it shut down last night was a beautiful disaster. The hosts cursed, sprayed champagne, threatened to defecate on the homes of trolls in the chat window, and begged for new jobs. Imagine Jeopardy but Trebek is hyped-up and blacked-out.

Yesterday HQ Trivia ran out of money, laid off its 25 employees, and shut down. It was in talks to be acquired, but the buyer pulled out last minute and investors weren’t willing to pour any money into the sagging game show. It had paid out $6 million in prizes from its $15 million-plus in venture capital since launching in late 2017.

But HQ was in steady decline since February 2018 when it peaked at over 2.3 million concurrent players to just tens of thousands recently. The games grew repetitive, prize money was split between too many winners, co-founder Colin Kroll passed away, original host and quiz daddy Scott Rogowsky was let go, the startup’s staff failed in an attempt to mutiny and oust the CEO, and layoffs ensued. You can read how it all went down here.

But rather than wither away, the momentary cultural phenemenon went out with a bang. “Should HQ trivia shut down? No? Yes? Or f*ck no!” Richards cackled.

You can watch the final show here, and we’ve laid out some of Richards’ and co-host Anna Roisman’s choicest quotes from HQ’s last game:

  • “If you just got here, this is HQ Trivia. It’s a live mobile gameshow. We’re gonna read about 34 questions and then you’re gonna win about 2 cents and you’re gonna fucking loooooove it” -Roisman
  • “This $5 prize is coming out of my own pocket. We ran out of money. We just kept giving it away. We gave it all to the players, to you, you loyal HQties” -Richards
  • “Take this time now to buy some extra lives. You never know when you’re going to need them. I wish we had an extra life for the company. I’m sorry. I f*cking can’t. I’m gonna cry. My dogs eat $200 worth of food a day. My dogs are gonna starve” -Richards
  • “Why are we shutting down? I don’t know. Ask our investors. What am I going to do with my fish tank? I think our investors ran out of money” -Richards
  • “Who likes healthy snacks! That’s why the investors stopped giving us money, because there wasn’t any f*cking snacks in this b*tch. We were snackless. Who the fuck can work in a place without snacks!” -Richards
  • “I met a couple who told me HQ is part of their foreplay” -Richards
  • “Who’s going to miss the HQ chat? I’m going to miss all those people telling me I don’t have eyebrows or to do the Carlton” -Richards
  • “Maybe we should close every night. These are the nicest f*cking comments I’ve ever seen. Wow, you’re finally telling me I look hot. I tried for a year and a half -Roisman
  • [Reading comments] “‘Won’t miss you at all, good riddance'” -Roisman. “Who said that? Let’s find that mothef*cker and sh*t on his porch” -Richards
  • “Hire everyone! All the people who don’t have jobs they f*cking rock!” -Richards
  • [While doing a headstand] “Someone hire me! I’m f*cking talented” -Roisman
  • “We should have unionized a long time ago” -Richards
  • [To his girlfriend] “Hello baby! I don’t got a job, you still love me?” -Richards
  • “We bought this giant bottle of champagne for when we hit 3 million players” -Richards (HQ never got there)
  • [Shakening up the champagne and opening it to a disappointing trickle] “It wasn’t as big as I thought it was gonna be” -Richards.That’s what she said. It was anti-climactic” -Roisman. “Much like this episode” -Richards. “Much like this app” -Roisman
  • “They gave me like two double shots of tequila” -Richards, on why he was drunk

Then things really went off the rails at 41 minutes in, cued up here:

  • [Upon a bunch of people getting a question wrong] “Y’all fucking fucked up!  You are dumb! I’m kidding, you’re not dumb. You fucked up. It happens” -Richards
  • [Reading the final question together] “What does Subway call it’s employees? Ham hands, sandwich artists, or beef sculptors?”
  • “520 people are splitting $5. Send me your Venmo requests and I’ll send you your fraction of a penny” -Richards

Farewell, HQ Trivia, you glorious beast.

 

Silicon Valley Community Foundation challenges donors to address local problems

Posted: 15 Feb 2020 09:48 AM PST

Over the last decade, Silicon Valley Community Foundation has become one of the favorite destinations for tech philanthropy.

Counting Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Reed Hastings among its donors, SVCF has quietly become a philanthropic powerhouse. As a community foundation, it made $126 million in grants in 2018 in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties (the latest year for which numbers were available), but its true power comes from the nearly $9 billion in donor-advised funds (also known as DAFs) it oversees.

DAFs have become popular among wealthy donors in recent years because they carry the tax benefits of a donation without requiring that an immediate donation be made. They also courted controversy, with critics accusing them of being a vehicle for tax sheltering.

Not so, says Nicole Taylor, SVCF's CEO and president. Appointed a year ago after her predecessor was ousted in scandal, Taylor is working to change the image of DAFs while challenging her donors to take on the Bay Area's unique challenges, like housing, inequality and transportation. I spoke to Taylor about how the tech sector can do better with its giving.

TechCrunch: Let's start by explaining how a community foundation works?

Nicole Taylor: Community foundations are a vehicle for people who want to give that come with a far better tax advantage and advising advantage than setting up private foundations [whose] overhead is costly. Most people don’t want to go there; they want a place that helps them with their giving and they want to have that connection back to their local community.

Community foundations were started in the Midwest and are over 100 years old. There are over 800 of us. We serve particular geographic areas. Our core focus [at SVCF] is the Silicon Valley region, the two counties here – Santa Clara and San Mateo.

‘Capitalism generates a lot of wealth depending on the situation’

Posted: 15 Feb 2020 07:15 AM PST

Ben Tarnoff is a columnist at The Guardian, a co-founder of tech ethics magazine Logic and arguably one of the world's top experts on the intersection of tech and socialism.

But what I think you really need to know by way of introduction to the interview below is that reading Tarnoff and his wife Moira Weigel might be the closest you can get today to following the young Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in real time.

In September, Tarnoff published a Guardian piece, “To decarbonize we must decomputerize,” in which he argued for a modern Luddism. I've casually called myself a Luddite online for many years now:

But I wouldn't previously have considered writing much about it online, because who in this orbit could possibly identify? Turns out Tarnoff, a leading tech world advocate for Bernie Sanders, does. Which made me wonder: Could Luddism ever become the next trend in Silicon Valley culture?

Of course, I then reviewed exactly who the Luddites actually were and thought, “aha.” Maybe I’ve finally found the topic and the interview that really truly will get me fired from my role as TechCrunch's ethicist-in-residence; talking to a contemporary tech socialist about the people who famously destroyed machinery because they didn’t feel that it was ethical, humane or in service of their well-being doesn't necessarily scream "TechCrunch," does it?

So I began my interview by praising not only his piece on Luddism but several other related pieces he's written and by asking (with tongue only semi-in-cheek) to please confirm that at least it's a peaceful Luddism for which he is calling.

Ben Tarnoff (Photo by Richard McBlane/Getty Images for SXSW)

Tarnoff: Thanks for reading the pieces. I really appreciate it.

Living with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Posted: 14 Feb 2020 05:33 PM PST

The Galaxy Z Flip ships with the same "Care Instructions" as the Fold. It's a five-item list with the following basic points:

  • Don't scratch the screen with a pen or fingernail
  • Don't stick stuff between the screens when folding
  • Don't get it dusty, wet or feed it after midnight
  • Don't stick stickers to the screen
  • Don't get it near credit cards or your pacemaker

Unlike the last time around, however, these warnings seem to have been included out of an (understandable) abundance of caution. As stated in my hands-on the other day, the Flip feels more solid than the Fold in just about every way, from the folding mechanism to the display, which now sports foldable protective glass.

A couple of notes before we start here. First, and most importantly, this is a rare 24-hour device loan. Short loan times are not entirely uncommon with high-end products, but a single day is a bit extreme. I'm being upfront about this because:

  1. You can only go into so much depth with limited time.
  2. It's worth noting what appears to be a bit of caution on Samsung's part.

This isn't a case of an early product in limited supply. The Z Flip went on sale today (happy Valentine's/Sonic the Hedgehog Day to you and yours). If I had to venture a guess, it would be that Samsung is still reeling a bit from fallout from the Fold, which found a number of review devices breaking prior to the product hitting the market.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

For all of the downside, however, I would argue that coverage that pushed the company to reinforce the product before actually selling it for $2,000 a pop was ultimately a good things. Besides, as was pointed out to me, most if not all of the faulty Folds went sideways before the 24-hour mark.

See also: the Moto Razr. Reviews of the product have started filtering in a week or so after the product hit the market. Seems the company opted not to give out review units until the product was already available (full transparency: I still haven't gotten my hands on a review unit). The analogy I keep coming back to is movie reviews. If you don't see any professional reviews by the time a movie hits theaters, that probably doesn't bode well for spending $10 of your hard-earned cash.

None of this is an indictment of the Galaxy Z Flip, which so far is proving to be a pretty solid device. It's more a comment on the optics of it all. Give than the handset is roughly the same price as 150 movies, reviews are all that much more valuable to consumers — many of whom are understandably wary after the category's rocky start.

It's a shame, because I've been enjoying my time with the Galaxy Z Flip. In many ways, this is exactly the device Samsung's original foldable should have been. For starters, the form factor just makes more sense. The "why" of the Fold was significantly more difficult to explain to those outside the industry (and frankly, many of those inside it, as well).

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Anyone who's ever used a clamshell phone, on the other hand, will immediately get the Flip. You've got a roomy 6.7-inch screen that you can snap shut and stick in your pocket. It's pretty much as simple as that — it's just that there was a lot of innovation that had to happen in order to get us back to square one with a larger, uninterrupted touchscreen display.

Also of note is the price. Of course, $1,380 isn't cheap by practically any measure, but that's a pretty big drop down from the $2,000 Galaxy Fold. The argument that Fold users should have been extra careful with the device given its price point have always struck me as somewhat counter-intuitive. If anything, a device that price ought to have added safeguards built-in.

The Flip has implemented a number of learnings from the earlier product, namely a glass covering, edges hidden beneath (sizable) bezels and an advanced folding mechanism designed to keep dust and debris out. In fact, this time out, the folding mechanism itself is considered a marquee feature. Per Samsung's press material:

Inspired by a lotus blossom, the Hideaway Hinge is precisely articulated for a satisfying folding motion — even allowing you to adjust the folding angle. Sweeper technology helps repel dirt and dust to keep your folds as smooth as your style.

That's a marketing way of saying that it's a lot harder to get crap trapped behind the screen, which could eventually break it. The folding mechanism is, indeed, a nice step up. It feels more robust than the sometimes floppy Fold. You can keep it open at different configurations, like a 90 degree "L" shape for watching videos.

The biggest downside of the more robust mechanism is that it's harder to flip open with a single hand, owing to resistance, and it doesn't have as satisfying a snap shut. Those all seem like pretty minor quibbles, to be honest — especially if it means a more robust product. Samsung rates the Z Flip at 200,000 folds — same as the Fold. Of course, in CNET's testing, the Fold lasted about 120,000 mechanical folds.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Not terrible, and definitely better than the 27,000 or so the Razr made it through. Also, unlike Motorola's device, the Flip doesn't make a troubling creaking sound when it opens and shuts. The Razr really does seem awash in first-generation problems. Motorola can't be pleased that Samsung introduced a competing device with the same form factor soon after its own product and was able to bring it to market roughly a week after the Razr.

I can't imagine either of these devices will prove huge sellers for their respective manufactures, but if I was Motorola, the Flip would be cause for concern. The Razr went from an exciting new entry in the foldable category to another strike against it when it was released and both consumer and professional reviews began trickling in.

A little bit of the novelty has worn off for Samsung. That's honestly not a bad thing. By the second generation, the product should no longer be reviewed as a sort of oddity. Instead, it should be regarded as a, you know, phone. And as such, should be subject to the same sort of regular wear any smartphones go through.

In other words, it's reasonable to expect that it can withstand, say, a hard press from a finger but not necessarily a five-foot drop onto concrete. Again, this is only after a day of use, but so far, so good on that front, at least.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

The 21.9×9 aspect ratio is an odd one. The phone is really tall and skinny. Also, the crease is still very noticeable — that much hasn't changed. But the Flip looks mostly unremarkable when open. I was using it open on the subway ride home and no one seemed to notice (New Yorkers, amiright?). The Fold, on the other hand, drew curious looks every time I used it. If having strangers notice your expensive new phone is an incentive for spending $1,400, then that's a downside, I suppose.

There haven't been too many updates to the Android UI to accommodate the new screen paradigm. The biggest change is the ability to have two windows open in a vertical configuration. There's also Flex model, which is currently limited to a select number of applications. Open, say, the camera app, bend the phone so it holds at a 90-degree angle and the app will adapt. In this case, the view finder moves up, occupying the top half of the screens while the controls take up the bottom. It's a cool feature, with the device essentially serving as its own kickstand for things like taking selfies or reading the news.

Utilizing it more broadly is going to require more work on Google's part — and more adoption from app developers. The latter especially is going to depend quite a lot on how many of these devices are actually sold. For now, YouTube is the one pure video app that utilizes it.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

That's fine, honestly, as turning the device to landscape mode and opening it to about 130 degrees is actually an even better way to watch widescreen video. There are a smattering of other tricks here and there. Holding up a palm in selfie-mode, for instance, let's you snap a photo without touching a button or using voice.

The Flip is the first Samsung device to bake Google's Duo video calling directly into the UI. It's a nice choice, too, since the Flex mode is basically built for video calling. Oh, and to answer the question I've been asked the most since the Flip was announced: yes, you can end a call by closing the phone. And yes, it is satisfying to give the person on the other end a tactile snap.

The feature is on by default and can be disabled in the settings menu. It won't work if you have earbuds in, however, because in many cases you'll want to be using them to chat while the phone is closed in your pocket.

As for the outside, Samsung's gone decidedly minimalist. The inclusion of an exterior screen was a big selling point on the Fold, but honestly it was too skinny with too small an aspect ratio to do much. The outside of the device has a glossy mirror finish — black in my case. And yeah, it's a complete fingerprint magnet.

There's a one-inch display of sorts on the outside of the Flip, but it's only large enough for small at-a-glance information like battery life and time. It can also show off notifications, but it's too small to accomplish much without scrolling. If you've ever attempted to read a notification on a hybrid smartwatch, the experience is fairly similar.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

The little window is actually a touchscreen. A double tap will turn it on, and from there a swipe with show off information like the music you're listening to. Attempting to click into an app icon for more information on a notification, however, will prompt you to open the phone for more information. Interestingly, the tiny screen also serves as a view finder. Double-clicking the fingerprint reader/power button will fire it up. It's okay for getting a rough approximation of what you're shooting (likely yourself), but is pretty useless beyond that.

And honestly, I think that's fine. In fact, I would even go so far as to say I think that's actually a strength. In an era when so many of us are grappling with smartphone use, there's something to be said for the ability to snap the device shut and disconnect for a bit. You can keep streaming music or listening to podcasts, but when the phone is closed, it's time to engage with the world around you.

Or not. I'm not going to tell you how to live.

Hey, it's your $1,400. There are plenty of other ways to spend that much money, of course. You could also pick up the Galaxy S20 Ultra — the mega premium version of Samsung's latest flagship. For that price, you get the same-old boring form factor, coupled with some crazy high-end specs, including a 5,000 mAh battery, 12GB of RAM and the latest Snapdragon 865, versus the Flip's 3,300 mAh, 8GB and Snapdragon 855+.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

The Ultra also has an extreme edge on cameras, including a 108-megapixel wide angel, 48-megapixel telephoto, 12-megapixel ultra-wide and a time-of-fight sensor for depth. The Flip, meanwhile, sports a 12-megapixel zoom lens and 12-megapixel super-wide. There's no competition, but Samsung's breadth of imaging experience makes for a solid experience regardless.

Again, my time with the device has been limited, but so far I'm pretty satisfied with the combination of hardware an software options. The shots look good and have a nice color balance even in low light. I can't see myself using Single Take too often, but the ability to get multiple different shot options with a single press could certainly prove useful for amateur photographers.

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Perhaps the most notable omission of all is 5G. While it's true that a number of other companies (*cough* Apple) don't even offer the option, Samsung introduced a 5G version of the Fold last year (in select markets) and went all in on 5G with the S20 line. It's clear that the company took feedback over pricing concerns to heart with the Flip. The device is only available in a single configuration, highlighting the gulf between it and the Fold.

Which is to say, it's still expensive, but that $500 or so makes a difference. So, too, does more robust build and new form factor. I’m recommending you buy the Flip. We’re still very much in the early stages of foldables here. That said, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Flip over the Fold. And while I haven’t really spent time with the Moto Razr, well, that seems like a slam dunk, too. 

Again, if I was Motorola, I would be considering, at very least, a significant price drop. While the Flip likely won’t convince the skeptical that foldables are the future, it should, at very least, be a heartening indication that Samsung is headed in the right direction.

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