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February’s flexible flip-phone fight: The Galaxy Z Flip vs the Moto Razr

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This month marks the start of a heavyweight fight between Motorola and Samsung for the crown of “best foldable-display flip phone.” Samsung and Motorola are both releasing normal-sized smartphones that fold in half, thanks to emerging flexible-display technology. The phones are releasing days apart, at similar price points, with different carriers backing each device.

So welcome to February’s foldable flip-phone fight! In this corner, weighing in at $1,499, we have the nostalgia-infused Moto Razr, which launched February 6 as a Verizon exclusive. And in this corner, we have the first glass-covered foldable smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Flip Z, which is launching a week later, February 14, as an AT&T and Sprint device for $1,380. FIGHT!

Both of these devices represent a second take on the foldable smartphone after the launch of the Galaxy Fold. Motorola takes the approach of doing away with a crease in the display, thanks to a collapsable hinge mechanism that folds the display into a gentle loop rather than a hard crease. Samsung, meanwhile, is the first to market with the holy grail for foldable smartphones: flexible glass. The Galaxy Z Flip’s glass display cover can be folded in half just like the plastic display covers on other phones, but it provides more protection from scratches and punctures, along with feeling a lot smoother and harder than bubbly plastic.

While we’re currently in the honeymoon period for the Galaxy Z Flip—it’s only hitting the market this week—this comparison isn’t looking good for the Moto Razr. First, despite selling the less expensive phone, Samsung absolutely crushes Motorola when it comes to the spec sheet. The Razr is only a mid-range phone, while the Z Flip spec sheet reads like a 2019 flagship.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Moto Razr (2020)
STARTING PRICE $1,380 $1,499
MAIN DISPLAY 6.7-inch, 2636×1080 OLED 6.2-inch, 2142×876 OLED
COVER DISPLAY 1.1-inch, 300×112 OLED 2.7-inch, 800×600
OS Android 10 Android 9 Pie
CPU Snapdragon 855+ Snapdragon 710
RAM 8GB 6GB
STORAGE 256GB 128GB
BATTERY 3300mAh 2510mAh
DIMENSIONS Open: 167.3 mm x 73.6 mm x 7.2 mm

Closed:  87.4 mm x 73.6 mm x 17.3 mm

Open: 172 mm x 72 mm x 6.9 mm

Closed: 94 mm x 72 mm x 14 mm

The Z Flip has a higher-end SoC, more RAM, more storage, a bigger main display, a bigger battery, a newer OS, and a lower price tag. Motorola tried to bring a new form factor to market, but Samsung is really showing the strengths of its industry-leading supply chain here, turning in a higher-end device for a lower price with more advanced technology like flexible glass.

The Razr only wins in a few areas, but they could turn out to be a big deal for the foldable form factor. First, there’s a bigger front display, which lets you see more text from notifications. As we found out with the Galaxy Fold, opening these foldable phones is more of a barrier than you might expect, at least when compared to the effortless act of checking a normal slab smartphone. When your phone beeps and you just want to see why, it’s nice to be able to glance at the front display and see what’s up, without having to go through the mechanics of opening the hinge. Both phones show notification text on the cover display, but the Razr display is big enough to actually triage some of these incoming notifications like replying to text messages or archiving emails. The Z flip cover display is so small, you can only see a line of text.

The other critical foldable-specific stat, as much as I don’t want to admit it, is thickness. While anorexic phones with minimal batteries are the worst, and I’ve always wanted thicker devices with more battery life, you are going to be folding these things in half to pocket them. That means doubling (and sometimes more-than-doubling) the thickness, and that can be a bit too much.

At 17.1mm thick when folded, the original Galaxy Fold was a pocket buster and thicker than I would like to carry around in a pocket. The Z Flip is slightly thicker than that, so it’s going to be a chunky brick in your pocket. The Razr is a bit thinner at 14mm, but you’re paying dearly for that with a terrible 2510mAh battery. This phone is not going to last all day. The battery technology for a thin, long-lasting smart flip phone is just not here yet.

Is a flip phone even a good idea?

I think there’s still a serious question as to whether these flip-phone designs are a good idea. First, there’s the issue of durability. All of these phones introduce the problem of giant moving parts, which is a significant complication over the solid-state slab smartphone. Manufacturers have to strike the right balance between hinge stiffness and durability, while also allowing for effortless opening and closing, and that can be tough. There’s also the issue of getting debris inside the phone, which can not only mess with the hinge mechanism, it can also damage the display from the underside.

The Galaxy Fold was a delicate flower that was so easy to break the first launch was cancelled. Even after the six months delay for reworking, things were not much better in the durability department for the Galaxy Fold. No one knows how the Galaxy Z Flip will hold up in the real world, since it isn’t out yet, but Samsung has already started to iterate on the problems present in the Galaxy Fold. Fibrous brushes inside the Z Flip hinge will try to keep debris out of the phone, hopefully protecting the interior of the device. The glass display will also help protect the phone against the outside world, hopefully surviving fingernails, sharp objects, and reinforcing the sides of the display, which are all areas where the plastic display of the Galaxy Fold struggled. The hard, flat glass should also be a lot nicer to swipe around on than the bumpy plastic.

The Razr is already looking like it’s going to be another delicate foldable. Out of the box, the hinge squeaks and creaks, which doesn’t inspire confidence. A store-display demo is one of the harshest environments available for a phone, but it’s already proving too much for the Razr. Numerous reports have come in of dead display units with bad hinges and broken displays. Cnet put the phone through an admittedly rough phone-folding robot, but the phone only lasted 27,000 folds, when the Galaxy Fold survived the same machine for over 100,000 actuations.

Another big-point question—especially at this early stage of the foldable form factor—is: is this design something you’re willing to pay extra for? A device like the Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate X, which open up into a tablet-sized device, offers the promise of a real benefit. Tablet-style foldables offer a bigger display in a form factor that would otherwise be unpocketable, theoretically allowing for bigger videos, bigger apps, and better multitasking than your normal smartphone. That’s something I could justify paying extra for.

Vs. a normal smartphone

These flip-phone style devices are the size of a normal smartphone when open, so there’s no usability benefits over a normal smartphone. If these devices were noticeably thinner, there’s an argument that could be made for them being more pocketable as a square than a regular smartphone rectangle. However, when folded over, these devices are around twice as thick as a normal smartphone. So is a thicker square more comfortable than a slimmer rectangle? I’m not sure this is a great tradeoff.

Flip phones also aren’t necessarily upgrades. The need to always open the phone, every time you want to use it, is a negative. While I haven’t spent a lot of time with a good flip phone yet, I’m not sure I want to add that routine to my daily smartphone usage. Isn’t it easier to just turn on a slab phone and have the screen there, ready to use it, without having to flip it open every time?

Other than the potential pocketability, you’re primarily buying a folding flip phone because they’re just cool. If the flip and slab version of a phone were the same price, I could see picking the flip phone for the novelty, but are you willing to pay hundreds more for the privilege? The $1,499 Moto Razr is basically a $400-$500 mid-range smartphone with a tricked-out display and hinge mechanism. I think most people would agree that the $479 Pixel 3a XL is a better phone than the Razr, especially once it’s open. In Samsung land, the $1,380 Z Flip is not that different from the Galaxy Note 10+, which MSRP’d for $1,100 but is now regularly for sale at $950. If you’re out for high-end value, then the king of bang-for-your-buck is OnePlus, which sells the OnePlus 7T for just $600. By my math, you’re looking at anywhere from $400-$1,000 for that flip action, which is a tough sell, especially for unproven designs.

Listing image by Ron Amadeo

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Continuous scrolling comes to mobile Google Search

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Enlarge / See that spinny thing at the bottom of the page? It’s going to load more search results any second now…

Google

Google is rolling out a big update to mobile search today: continuous scrolling.

Now, instead of making you tap to load the next page after your usual 10 links of search results, Google will just load the next page.

The company hopes that continuous scrolling will get people to look at more search results and that a longer supply of results is better for more open-ended search questions. The blog post notes that “most people who want additional information tend to browse up to four pages of search results.” If you search on your phone, you’ll find that continuous scrolling lasts for exactly four pages before the familiar “show more” link pops up. When Google automatically loads the next page, it also sticks an ad before the next page of search results.

Google said that “this new Search experience is starting to gradually roll out today for most English searches on mobile in the US.” It seems to work on the Google Search app and the website.

Listing image by Sean Gallup | Getty Images

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Fixes for AMD Ryzen performance, other Windows 11 issues rolling out to testers now

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Enlarge / A PC running Windows 11.

Microsoft

Now that Windows 11 is out, the arduous process of fixing the new operating system’s bugs can begin. The OS got its first Patch Tuesday update earlier this week, and now another update is rolling out to Windows Insiders in the Beta and Release Preview channels. It fixes a long list of early problems with Windows 11.

The headliner here is a fix for a problem affecting L3 cache latency on AMD Ryzen processors. According to AMD, the bug can reduce performance by 3–5 percent. The Windows 11 update released earlier this week may have actually made the problem worse, but at least a fix is imminent.

The L3 latency bug is one of a pair of problems that AMD identified with Windows 11 earlier this month. The other Windows 11 problem AMD identified, which can prevent high-core-count, high-wattage Ryzen chips from correctly assigning work to the processor’s fastest individual cores, will be fixed via an AMD driver update.

The Release Preview Insider channel is usually a Windows update’s last stop before public distribution. A post shared on Reddit suggests that the Windows update is being targeted for release on Tuesday, October 19th, while the AMD driver update for the other problem should be released two days later, on the 21st.

Other bugs addressed in the Windows 11 update include one that prevented some upgraders from seeing the new Taskbar or using the Start menu, a PowerShell bug that can fill up a storage volume with “an infinite number of child directories” when you try to move a directory into its own child directory, and a number of problems that could cause freezes, crashes, and slowdowns.

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MacBook Pros, an “M1X” chip, and other stuff to expect at Apple’s October event

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Enlarge / Apple could be getting ready to show us the next stage of the MacBook Pro’s development.

Another month, another Apple event. Fresh off a September event that delivered new updates for the entire iPhone lineup, some new iPads, and a gently tweaked Apple Watch, Apple is preparing for another event on Monday, October 18. And this time, we’re expecting the company to focus on the Mac, which is still in the middle of a transition from Intel chips to the Apple Silicon chips that are making new Macs feel exciting and important in a way they haven’t in years.

We’ll be following along live starting at 10 am Pacific on Monday, but in the meantime, we’ve gathered all the current rumors and put together a list of things we’re most likely to see (as well as one or two things that aren’t as likely). The short version is that Apple should finally be gearing up to show us high-performance Apple Silicon chips.

The “M1X” chip, or whatever it’s called

Just as the MacBook Air, the newest 13-inch MacBook Pro, the Mac mini, and the 24-inch iMac all use the same M1 chip, we expect the next round of Macs to share the same silicon as well. Commonly referred to as the “M1X,” the chip’s exact specifications are a bit of a mystery, since Apple’s chip designs are among its best-kept secrets. But it’s not hard to guess the general gist of what we’ll be getting—new chips that improve upon the performance of the Intel processors they’re replacing while also enabling a dramatic increase in battery life. Recent Intel MacBook refreshes have struggled to provide one or the other of these things, but the M1 Macs managed to do both.

To replace the higher-end Intel Macs, the M1X will need to have just a bit more of everything compared to the M1: more processor cores, more GPU cores, and support for more monitors and Thunderbolt and USB ports. Without adapters or docks, the M1 can drive only two screens at once, including the computer’s internal display. We’d also expect configurations with more than 16 GB of RAM, the current maximum for M1 Macs.

A report from late last year suggested that a higher-performance chip destined for the MacBook Pros could include as many as 16 of Apple’s performance cores, though more recent reporting suggests we could be looking at a chip with eight performance cores and two low-power efficiency cores. Even eight performance cores should be able to outpace the 4-, 6-, 8-, and 10-core processors in today’s Intel Macs. The M1X will also reportedly be available with either 16 or 32 GPU cores, compared to the seven or eight GPU cores included in the standard M1 (Apple could also improve graphics performance by increasing memory bandwidth, as it has done in some older iPad processors, but we haven’t heard anything specific about that).

New MacBook Pros

New MacBook Pros that replace the four-port 13-inch MacBook Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro are the thing we’re most likely to get out of Monday’s event.

Apple’s first few Apple Silicon Macs were very conservative from a design standpoint—the MacBook Air, two-port MacBook Pro, and Mac mini all put new guts into computers that looked identical to the ones they were replacing. But the new MacBook Pros could be a bit more adventurous, in the vein of the 24-inch iMac.

For example, persistent rumors claim that the 13-inch MacBook Pro could become a 14-inch MacBook Pro. And breadcrumbs left in some macOS betas suggest that Apple is working on laptops with higher-resolution screens that could obviate the need for the scaled, non-native resolution that all current MacBooks use out of the box. With a more efficient chip, Apple could also take the opportunity to shrink the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s huge 100 WHr battery, reducing the 4.3-pound laptop’s size and weight. Other improvements could include more energy-efficient mini LED backlighting for the displays and possibly even a 120 Hz refresh rate (the reporting for the 120 Hz refresh rate is thin, but it would dovetail nicely with macOS Monterey’s support for external monitors with variable refresh rates).

Other rumors suggest that Apple will walk back some of the more controversial changes made to the MacBook Pro back in 2016, the last time the laptops got a comprehensive overhaul. Alleged schematics from earlier this year suggest that the MagSafe power connector could make a return, along with a full-size HDMI port and an SD card slot. These changes would reduce the number of Thunderbolt ports to three, but having a few kinds of ports would still make the laptops more convenient to use, on balance, for people who frequently use external displays or SD cards. The Touch Bar may also be removed in favor of a physical row of function keys.

A faster Mac mini

The 2020, M1-equipped Apple Mac mini.

The 2020, M1-equipped Apple Mac mini.

Samuel Axon

We’d say the new MacBook Pros are pretty much a sure thing, but there are a couple of less-likely-but-still-possible Mac refreshes Apple could introduce.

Apple already has an Apple Silicon Mac mini, but you may have noticed that the company continues to sell a version of the 2018 Intel Mac mini with more ports and up to 64GB of RAM. Recent rumors suggest that Apple could replace this machine with a sort of “Mac mini Pro,” which would leverage the M1X’s improved performance and expanded connectivity. The current Apple Silicon Mac mini is great for basic use or even light photo and video editing, but an M1X Mac mini would be a better workstation for code compilation or professional video editing, tasks that generally take advantage of all of the processing performance they can get.

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