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Most of the major phone makers announce their latest models, Google now predicts flight delays and shows you how bad “basic economy” fares really are, and ride-sharing companies do all the things.
News, news, and more news this month!
Google Flights Predicts Delays, Shames Basic Economy Fares
Unlike many of its products, Google seems pretty committed to regularly updating its Flights service. The latest changes aren’t going to set the world alight, but they’re mildly useful all the same.
To start with, when you’re scanning through an endless range of potential flights, it’s not always obvious which services are included in an economy fare. Rather than having to click through to each one to find out you don’t get food, checked bags, actual seats, or whatever, you’ll now be told up front what’s missing. It’s restricted to a few US carriers at the moment, but will likely be expanded over time.
While known flight delays have been shown in Google Flights for a while, you’ll now be told the reason why you’re still sitting in the departure lounge. Based on historical data and a fancy algorithm, the site will also try to predict potential delays ahead of time, even if the airline itself hasn’t yet announced it. Just Google your flight details to find out.
Ride-Sharing Services Do All the Things
It feels like I’m writing about updates in the world of ride-sharing all the time, and this month is no exception. I guess when Uber alone is worth something like $50 billion, the fact it’s a competitive industry isn’t exactly shocking.
Speaking of Uber, rumours are swirling that the company is looking to sell its Southeast Asian operations to Grab, its biggest competitor. I’m in Thailand at the moment, and every time I open up the two apps, there are noticeably more Grab drivers on the road than Uber ones. Assuming it happens, the loss of competition will almost certainly push prices up — but given I took a 15-minute ride for about three bucks the other day, most tourists are unlikely to notice the difference.
In San Francisco, Uber’s jumping on the bike-sharing bandwagon, partnering with a company called Jump. It’s a limited trial at this stage, but if you’re part of it, you’ll be able to see nearby Jump e-bikes and reserve one for your use from within the Uber app. I’m sure Uber would love to be the default app for any kind of transportation need, so expect to see a lot more of this kind of thing in the future.
Finally, Indian operator Ola is looking to expand outside its home market for the first time, starting to recruit drivers in Australia to take on Uber. There’s no timeline for when the service will start, but given the high cost of taxis in the country, additional competition will definitely be welcomed by customers.
Samsung Announces Its Latest Fancy Smartphone
Around this time every year, the tech press whips itself into a frenzy about Mobile World Congress. A huge trade show held in Barcelona this week, it’s where most of the major phone companies announce their latest and greatest devices. Apple, being Apple, doesn’t show up there, but it’s one of the biggest events of the year for everyone else.
The only thing more predictable than a new Samsung phone is several months of leaks about a new Samsung phone, and so as usual, we already knew pretty much everything about the Galaxy S9 before it was announced.
Design-wise, it’s pretty similar to the game-changing Galaxy S8, although thankfully Samsung moved the stupidly-placed fingerprint sensor on the back, from beside the camera to below it like everyone else.
Some of the internals have had the standard spec increase, but it’s the camera that’s changed the most, so that’s what Samsung is focusing on. It’s the first dual-aperture phone, with an adjustable lens that gives you either a wider f/1.5 aperture for more light, or a narrower f/2.4 with deeper depth of field.
There’s also a new sensor, which should allow for better noise reduction in low-light situations, and higher frame rates for video recording. The larger, more-expensive S9+ model has a separate 2x telephoto, so people with larger hands (and larger bank balances) can get better photos. Everyone else? Sorry, you’re out of luck.
Other changes worth noting are the speakers (they’re 40% louder than those in the S8, so you can annoy everyone around you more effectively), and an update to the fancy DeX docking system that lets you plug in a keyboard and monitor to use your phone more like a fully-featured computer. This time around the dock lies completely flat, and you use the phone’s screen as a touchpad. Smart.
If you’re interested in Samsung’s flagship phone, expect to pay $720 direct from Samsung for the S9, and $840 for the S9+. Pre-orders start today, with the phones shipping out from mid-month.
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And So Does Everyone Else
Not to be left out, Nokia, Asus, and others all announced their 2018 phone models as well.
Nokia’s nailing nostalgia at the moment, first with the 3310, and now with the 8110. If you remember the first Matrix movie, you’ll remember the banana phone that Neo uses. Now, it can be all yours again, complete with a 2MP camera and very few apps, for just €79.
If you’re not excited by the reboot of a phone model from two decades ago, the company has plenty of all-new options for you instead. The Nokia 6, which could arguably be the mid-range phone of the year, is getting a wider release — you’ll be able to buy it in Europe for a sharp €279.
There’s also a very nice-looking Nokia 7+, a large-screen version of the well-regarded 7 model, for €399, along with the Nokia 8 Sirocco, a high-end phone with an equally high-end price tag. At €749, Nokia is competing head-on with Samsung, Google, and to some extent, Apple.
Finally, there’s also a cheap, kinda-but-not-totally crappy model, the Nokia 1. It’ll be under $100, running the slimmed-down Android Go, and would make a useful travel device for people who just want a basic smartphone for maps and staying in touch. The 5MP camera will most likely suck, but that’s not exactly unusual with cheap phones.
It’ll be interesting to see the reviews roll in once most of the devices start shipping in April.
Asus is updating its Zenfone range with three flavours of the Zenfone 5, two of which have a notch at the top of the screen that totally isn’t in any way copying the iPhone X. No, not at all.
Still, if you can overlook the blatant design rip-off, the Zenfone 5 and higher-end 5Z are decent phones. Especially with the latter, camera quality and other specifications are good, there are dual SIMs and some mildly-useful “AI” features around charging and photo enhancing, and unlike so many other manufacturers, you even still get a headphone jack.
Pricing looks like it could be quite sharp — the 5Z is predicted to cost $499, so the Zenfone 5 should be noticeably cheaper. If you’d like something mediocre at an even lower price, there’ll be the 5 Lite, which looks so unexciting I’m not going to say any more about it.
Images via Samsung, Google, Ola, Samsung, Nokia