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Get ready for Galaxy S20 5G confusion – the carrier conundrum [UPDATE]

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Samsung is counting on 2020 to be the year of 5G, and the Galaxy S20 family to ride that high-speed wireless wave, but don’t expect it to be entirely confusion-free. For the first time, all versions of the flagship Galaxy series will be 5G out of the gate; problem is, not all 5G is created equal.

Indeed, what’s behind the 5G badge is different, depending on which version of the S20 family you opt for. All three – the Galaxy S20 5G, Galaxy S20+ 5G, and Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G – will have Sub-6 support. Only the larger (and more expensive) Galaxy S20+ 5G and Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G will have mmWave support, however.

The reasons for that are unclear, though the basic practical limitations of the hardware involved may very well be to blame. mmWave antennae have to be a certain size, and so far have come in fairly blocky shapes. That presents a packaging issue on a smaller phone, especially when Samsung is already squeezing a sizable 4,000 mAh battery and a whole bevy of cameras into the entry-level Galaxy S20.

The drawbacks of missing mmWave

Does the absence of mmWave support impact you? As you might have guessed, that all comes down to which network you’re on.

In the US, each carrier has a different interpretation and implementation of 5G. While it might sound straightforward, 5G can actually be deployed in a number of different ways. There’s low-band 5G, also known as a Sub-6; mid-band 5G; and high-band 5G, or mmWave.

Sub-6 has proponents not least because it’s relatively straightforward to deploy. With longer range, it means carriers need fewer cell towers to blanket an area in 5G coverage. The downside is that its speed increase over 4G LTE is fairly conservative. Think along the lines of roughly 20-percent faster.

At the other extreme, mmWave can be much faster: speedy enough to download movies in seconds. The problem is that range is low, and so it’s expensive to roll out. Even the carriers leading mmWave deployment typically only have a couple of areas with service, generally limited to sections of dense cities.

So which carriers are best for the Galaxy S20?

If you’re on Verizon in the US, and you want 5G, you should skip the Galaxy S20 and go for its bigger siblings. Verizon is focused on mmWave for 5G, and since the cheapest S20 doesn’t have support for that, you’re going to top out at 4G LTE.

UPDATE: Verizon will start their Galaxy S20 release process without the S20. Instead, they’ve opted to release the Galaxy S20+ and S20 Ultra first, with a February 21 preorder date, then in Q2 2020, they’ll have an S20 that’ll have support for mmWave, like the others. Per Samsung, “All three phones will work on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network AND our 5G low-band network that we will be launching later this year.”

T-Mobile, meanwhile, has been vocal about its Sub-6 5G network. That’s far more pervasive, but the speed improvements are marginal; indeed, in our early testing there were times that 4G LTE networks were the same or even better. T-Mobile does have a handful of mmWave service areas, which the Galaxy S20 won’t work on, but currently only in around six cities.

AT&T has more mmWave, but it’s focusing on business use for that. For consumers, it’s looking to Sub-6 initially. As for Sprint, it’s focusing on mid-range 5G, though the upcoming merger with T-Mobile – assuming that actually goes ahead – will create a far more cohesive network. Whether that happens in time to make the most of it with early 2020 smartphones remains to be seen.

UPDATE: At launch, The S20, 20+, and S20 Ultra will all have sub-6GHz 5G access. AT&T will be opening their mmWave network (they call it 5G and 5G+) to consumers for the first time this year with the S20+ and S20 Ultra. The standard S20 will not have access to mmWave with AT&T.

The unlocked 5G question

All of the carriers likely have high hopes for the Galaxy S20 family. Though we’re likely to see them focusing on different models in the range according to the nature of the 5G they’re building out, the reality is that they all want to see a return on their deployment investment, and preferably sooner rather than later.

Ironically, given that deployment is still patchy, there’s a reasonable chance that Galaxy S20 buyers could well go some time before they actually see 5G service on their phones.

Then there are unlocked devices. So far we’ve not seen much movement there, with individual carriers working with device-makers to tune handsets according to the vagaries of their own networks. Samsung, though, intends to sell the Galaxy S20 5G, Galaxy S20+ 5G, and Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G SIM-free and unlocked, directly through its own store and via other retailers.

Pricing is expected to be the same – so $1,000 for the S20 5G, ramping up to a heady $1,400 for the S20 Ultra 5G – but you’ll have the freedom to take your phone onto any of the networks. Even so, the absence of mmWave support on the entry-level S20 is going to make it less welcome on some carriers’ 5G, so it’s best to plan ahead before you open your wallet.

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NFL Sunday Ticket games may be coming to Apple’s streaming platform

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As the NFL’s 8-year Sunday Ticket deal with DirecTV nears its end, the football league is looking to Apple as its ideal replacement, according to a new report. Multiple companies are said to be prospective destinations for the League’s Sunday games, including Amazon (which is already home to Thursday Night Football), as well as Disney for ESPN.

The claim comes from sources speaking with The Athletic, which claims that the NFL wants Apple to be the new company behind its Sunday Ticket. The package is set to expire after nearly a decade with DirecTV, the league’s long-term partner. An Apple package may be a bit different than what DirecTV has, as well.

The insiders claim that an NFL Sunday Ticket under Apple may include some notable changes, including the potential for football fans to purchase a standalone game or even purchase all of the out-of-market games for one particular team. A more tailored approach like that would arguably be better for sports fans who may only be interested in select games.

The report cites a source who alleged that “everything is on the table,” but the NFL hasn’t confirmed any of the details and the report claims that nothing has been finalized at this time. It is possible the Sunday Ticket package won’t ultimately go to Apple, which likewise has remained quiet about the rumor.

The NFL is reportedly looking to get another $2 billion per year on top of the existing contract price, which is said to be around $1.5 billion yearly on average for DirecTV. It doesn’t look like AT&T will pen a new deal with the League to keep the Sunday Ticket. Amazon has already scored Thursday Night Football and it remains possible it may get the Sunday Ticket, as well.

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With iPhone 13 in hand, I miss Touch ID more than ever

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I’ve been traveling this past week, and the iPhone 13 Pro Max has been my trusty sidekick. Whether it’s boarding passes, camera duties, messaging, or keeping me occupied with ebooks and music, I’ve found myself staring at the excellent 120Hz ProMotion display a whole lot. Problem is, when the sensors above that screen stare back, they’re not seeing what they want to.

Face unlock – Face ID in Apple-world – has been a side victim of the coronavirus pandemic. Consistently wearing masks (along with regularly washing your hands, and being vaccinated) is one of the CDC’s big recommendations for avoiding COVID-19, and it’s a legal requirement when you’re in airports and on trains.

Having half your face obscured isn’t especially helpful to a system which relies on scanning it in order to unlock your iPhone. And, with how much I’ve been using the iPhone 13 Pro Max this week – and enjoying it, too, particularly the excellent cameras – its a hurdle I’ve been running into hundreds of times a day, if not more.

Apple’s workaround, of course, is a singularly Apple-y way of dealing with half-masked faces: you need to have an iPhone and and Apple Watch. The feature, launched earlier this year as an iOS 14 update, allows you to bypass security on the iPhone just as long as your Apple Watch is on your wrist and unlocked.

Now, leaving aside the fact that clearly not everyone who has an iPhone also has Apple’s smartwatch, this workaround actually held up pretty well. I’ve been using it on an iPhone 12 Pro Max since it was released, and while there were times it simply didn’t actually unlock, or would unlock without my intending it, it did make using iOS while masked more streamlined. Unfortunately, it’s not working any more.

Since switching to iOS 15 and the iPhone 13 Pro Max, I’ve lost the ability to unlock with Apple Watch. Trying to turn the feature on in the iOS settings simply gets me a “can’t create a secure connection with the Apple Watch” message. A quick search online confirms I’m not alone.

It looks to be an iOS 15 issue, not an iPhone 13 one, but since Apple’s latest version comes preloaded and you can’t downgrade it, anybody in the same situation as I am will probably find that distinction little comfort. I’ve tried all the “fixes” and suggestions listed online – rebooting the phone and the watch; updating to the latest software version of each; even unpairing the Apple Watch and then repairing it from scratch – and nothing works.

I’ve been traveling this week, so wearing a mask a whole lot, and it’s been a reminder of just how many times you need to unlock your phone. Even just checking the latest notifications, if you have iOS’ privacy feature which only reveals their content on the lock screen when iOS is unlocked, requires a PIN now. The iPhone 13’s screen notch may be smaller this generation, but that doesn’t really matter when Face ID can’t see enough of you to do its thing.

Meanwhile, I’m looking enviously over at devices like the new iPad mini, and its Touch ID sensor built into the power button. I can understand why Apple shifted away from a fingerprint scanner in the iPhone, and – when unmasked – I’m a big fan of Face ID. I particularly enjoy how it makes logging into apps, and unlocking payments, simple. Honestly, it took a global pandemic to get frustrated by it.

Rumors of a return of Touch ID to the iPhone have given plenty of people – myself included – a glimmer of hope about striking that balance of security and convenience again. Unlock with Apple Watch was generally functional, but still could be clunky in the same way that anything wirelessly-dependent (I’m looking at you, AirDrop) can periodically leave you longing for a physical alternative. Just as even that took its time arriving in iOS, however, it always seemed a fact of reality that if Apple really was intending to return a fingerprint sensor to its phones, that wouldn’t be in time for 2021.

SEE TOO: The iPhone 13 Pro Max’s 120Hz ProMotion Display is the real deal

As it stands, for a variety of reasons – not least vaccine holdouts – it looks like we’ll be masked-up well into 2022 and probably beyond. An iPhone 14 with a built-in Touch ID sensor probably will be just as relevant as an iPhone 13 would’ve been with that today. Talk about disheartening.

Security is, of course, one thing you should never compromise on. Tempting as it is to change the settings on my iPhone so that it waits a little longer to unlock, or shows the content of my notifications for anyone who glances at them on the lock screen, I know that’s a foolhardy thing to do. Instead, I’ll wait (semi) patiently for the inevitable iOS update which hopefully fixes iPhone unlock with Apple Watch, and punch in my regular PIN until that arrives.

All the same, I can’t help but wonder whether, as we rush to embrace new technology, being equally quick to leave behind what came before it might be a missed opportunity. I’m not someone who particularly mourns the loss of the headphone jack, but these past few days have certainly left me more sympathetic to those who discovered the tech world changed and, in the process, decided something that was important to them could actually be left behind.

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Peak Design Mobile modular magnetic accessory line launches in time for iPhone 13

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Peak Design released their full mobile ecosystem of magnetic and protective accessories today, coordinated with the launch of Apple’s iPhone 13. This collection was part of a Kickstarter back in December of 2020 and rolled out for general availability for the first time today. The mobile line starts with the “Everyday Case”, available for iPhone 11, 12, 13, and Samsung Galaxy S21.

Peak Design has a brand for name for the magnetic system they use with their smartphone case and accessories: SlimLink. SlimLink is a ceramic zirconia insert surrounded by custom tuned magnets that are inserted into each Peak Design Everyday Case.

This SlimLink system does not prohibit Qi standard wireless charging – so users will not need to remove their case in order to use a wireless charging pad. The Everyday Case is thin enough that wireless charging will work, and thick enough that it’ll protect a smartphone from harm.

Included in the launch collection of accessories are the Everyday Case, the Everyday Loop Case, and a wide variety of connecting peripherals. There is also a Universal Adapter that can be attached to third-party phone cases.

In the Peak Design Mobile collection at launch, there is a Car Mount, Motorocycle Bar Mount, Motorcycle Stem Mount, Out Front Bike Mount, Universal Bar Mount, and a Wall Mount. You’ll also find a Creator Kit, Mobile Tripod, Mobile Wallet, and a Wireless Charging Stand, right out the gate.

Take a peek at our previous features with Peak Design and let us know if you’re planning on attaching this series of accessories to your brand new device. We’ll be back with reviews of the lot once we get up close and personal with the cases and the accessories of all sorts!

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