Samsung unveiled three new devices during a press conference at the IFA 2014 conference in Berlin, a powerful new phablet and two of its most unusual products to date.
The Galaxy Note 4 is Samsung’s new smartphone, but it is the Galaxy VR headset and Galaxy Note Edge phone which had pundits both excited and scratching their heads. Samsung has released unusual products in the past (it’s Galaxy Zoom camera/phone hybrid is one example) but we’d argue this new duo takes the cake.
The Galaxy VR is a headset with space to clip in the new Galaxy Note 4 — apparently it isn’t compatible with any older models. You then wear it over your eyes and it displays what you’re looking at in 3D. Software is designed so that if you move your head, what you see moves in the same way, giving you the impression that you are ‘inside’ the game or movie you are watching.
The idea is similar to the Oculus Rift, a 3D gaming headset which was recently acquired by Facebook. Oculus Rift creators, including game design legend John Carmack, are credited with helping Samsung bring the Galaxy VR to life. This partnership offers Samsung’s experiment a bump in credibility, especially among its targeted gamer market.
First impressions of the headset by tech press attending the IFA conference have been extremely positive, with many putting to how easily you feel immersed into the experience. Journalists with glasses aren't as glowing, as the headset is unable to accommodate a pair of specs.
It is difficult to say how this will translate to sales once released. Gaming and movie experiences will be limited at launch and there is no guarantee Samsung can encourage ongoing support from third-party developers after the Galaxy VR hits stores.
Crucially, it is hard to imagine anyone beyond devoted technology first adopters forking over hard-earned cash for the Galaxy VR. Samsung did managed to sell 800,000 of its flawed Galaxy Gear smartwatch, but it is easy to assume that smart watches have more broad appeal than a hefty pair of goggles suitable only for wearing at home.
Take it to the Edge
Deciding one phablet-sized phone just isn’t enough, Samsung lifted the curtain on the Galaxy Note Edge: a phone with two screens — the one you’d expect it to have, and a second tall, skinny screen which runs along the right-hand edge.
Samsung uses curved glass to give the appearance of one continuous display, but in action it behaves like two screens with completely different purposes. In most of Samsung’s demonstrations, the smaller screen is used like a context-sensitive toolbar, with options to enhance the tools you’re using.
For example, if you are scrawling on screen with the stylus, the side-panel shows brush selection options. In the camera, all settings and controls move to this space. If you don't have a task for the panel, it will occupy itself displaying local weather, sports scores and other tidbits of information.
At night, you can lay the Edge on its back and the side-panel will act like an alarm clock, with the time facing outwards rather than upwards.
It will be interesting to see whether smartphone lovers enjoy using the Edge, but from a distance it seems like its design will get in the way we typically use our phones. If you hold the Edge in your left-hand, we imagine it will be difficult to avoid accidentally touching the side-panel with your fingers.
What makes this such a strange release from Samsung is that it will be released almost like an option for Galaxy Note customers. Samsung uses the same high-end components in both the Note 4 and Note Edge — the same qHD screen and fast processor — so when you go into your local phone shop it is likely you will choose between the one with the weird screen or the ‘normal’ one. Without more to differentiate these models, and assuming they are about the same price, Samsung is risking splitting its Note 4 sales with the Edge, rather than winning new fans from its various competitors.