New Patent Hints Samsung Could Ditch Physical Buttons on a Future Galaxy Fold

Illustration for article titled New Patent Hints Samsung Could Ditch Physical Buttons on a Future Galaxy Fold

Photo: Sam Rutherford

While device makers continue to refine the design of today’s foldable phones, a new patent recently granted to Samsung suggests that it could ax the physical buttons on a future Galaxy Z Fold and go with touch controls instead.

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First spotted by Let’s Go Digital, Samsung’s plans for touch-based gesture controls are detailed in a patent that was filed with the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) late last year before being published recently on May 20.

Samsung’s goal with the patent is to swap out the traditional side-mounted physical buttons found on most phones today with touch sensors that support gestures controls, allowing you to do things like lock your phone and adjust the volume by simply touching the side of the phone, while also supporting more sophisticated gesture controls for pause, play, skip, and others.

Here’s an illustration from Samsung’s patent filing depicting how its patent for touch controls on a future foldable phone might work.

Here’s an illustration from Samsung’s patent filing depicting how its patent for touch controls on a future foldable phone might work.
Graphic: Samsung via WIPO

Going forward, one of the big issues for foldable phones is that as device makers continue to slim down these devices, there’s less and less room along the edges of these devices for installing physical buttons, to the point that continuing to rely on discrete buttons could jeopardize a device’s structural integrity. Not only could the use of physical buttons create a weak spot on the edge of the phone, but the force required to push those buttons could also put extra pressure on a foldable phone’s hinge, which could result in reduced durability or longevity down the line.

According to the patent, one interesting benefit of touch controls is that they would allow a foldable phone’s virtual buttons to span both sides of the phone when closed, unlike the physical buttons on the Galaxy Z Fold 2, whose buttons had to be shoehorned onto just one edge. Furthermore, in addition to touch controls, the patent also mentions support for pressure sensors, which would add squeeze gestures to the mix.

Illustration for article titled New Patent Hints Samsung Could Ditch Physical Buttons on a Future Galaxy Fold

Illustration: Samsung via WIPO

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That said, the big hurdle Samsung will need to overcome is that this isn’t the first time a company has tried to replace a phone’s physical buttons with touch controls, and up until now, no company has really managed to do it right. One of the first phones to test out virtual buttons was HTC’s U12+ back in 2018, which traded discrete buttons for touch sensors, but strangely, still left an awkward button-like protrusion on the side of the phone, ostensibly to mark the location of the phone’s virtual button. Unfortunately, while it was a very forward-thinking move, the move to touch controls on the U12+ never worked, and the unit suffered from weak sales.

On more recent phones with touch controls on their sides, companies have started to leave the side of the device bare with the expectation that users will learn where the buttons are over time via muscle memory, which is a small improvement but still requires a learning curve that most people don’t want to deal with. So before Samsung can make the switch to touch buttons on a future Galaxy Fold, it will need to perfect the way touch controls are presented to the user.

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While the patent doesn’t specifically mention which Samsung device will be the first to feature the touch controls described in the patent, with Samsung expected to release its next Galaxy Fold device sometime in August, it’s somewhat unlikely that Samsung would have these touch controls ready to put in a retail device that soon. But who knows, Samsung usually has a few surprises planned for its marquee devices, and even if these touch controls don’t appear on a device this year, there’s always the generation after that.

Google Is Bringing Digital Car Keys to Android 12

Illustration for article titled Google Is Bringing Digital Car Keys to Android 12

Image: Google

Google wants to replace the humble car key and make it easier to pair all of your gadgets together.

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The company announced expanded support for Fast Pair during its Google I/O keynote today. Fast Pair is Google’s way to speed up the process of pairing other Bluetooth devices with your phone. Originally, Fast Pair was used primarily as a one-tap solution to connect your mobile device with Bluetooth headphones, including the 2020 Pixel Buds, Harman Kardon’s Fly wireless earbuds, and more. Google said Fair Pair has already been used more than 36 million times since launch.

Now, Google says that in the coming months it’s planning to expand support for Fast Pair to even more devices, including upcoming Beats headphones and even cars from both Ford and BMW.

And building off the expansion of Fast Pair to cars, Google also says that it’s working with several car makers to enable digital car keys in Android 12, using either UWB (ultra-wideband) tech or NFC, depending on the model. Google says BMW will be one of the first manufacturers to adopt its digital key feature, and that in addition to locking and unlocking your vehicle, you may also be able to start your car remotely using your phone.

The main difference between NFC and UWB when it comes to Android’s digital car keys is that due to NFC’s much lower range, you may need to physically tap your phone (or at least get within a couple inches) to a specific spot on your car, while UWB should let you perform the same functions from a much longer distance (upwards of 10 feet or more).

Currently, only a handful of Android phones have support for UWB, including Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra and S21+ (but not the standard S21). However, Google says support for digital car keys will arrive sometime later this year on “select Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones,” which suggests that Google may be planning to include UWB on the Pixel 6.

Digital car keys are coming to Android 12, which is available today as a public beta, but won’t be available as a final release until closer to the fall.

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Samsung’s Next Batch of Futuristic Displays Can Flex, Fold, and Slide

Samsung’s new S-foldable concept features an innovative multi-folding design that can bend both inwards and outwards depending on the device.

Samsung’s new S-foldable concept features an innovative multi-folding design that can bend both inwards and outwards depending on the device.
Image: Samsung

While other companies continue to play catchup, at Samsung’s annual display conference, the Korean tech giant just showed off its next batch of futuristic screens that can do a lot more than bend and flex.

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Now it’s still too early to say when these prototypes might turn into actual retail devices, but at SID 2021 Samsung Display showed off a range of next-gen display tech designed for various devices including both phones and laptops.

First, there’s Samsung’s S-foldable prototype, which unlike the bendy screens Samsung used in the Z Fold or Z Flip lines features a multi-fold design that can be fully unfurled to reveal a large 7.2-inch flexible OLED display. Samsung says that with the S-foldable concept, the goal is to create something similar to the Galaxy Z Fold 2 that can transform into both a phone and a tablet while being even more compact when collapsed.

Samsung’s slider concept looks to swap out a bulky hinge for a slimmer and more elegant design that allows a device’s screen to extend out from the side.

Samsung’s slider concept looks to swap out a bulky hinge for a slimmer and more elegant design that allows a device’s screen to extend out from the side.
Image: Samsung

Alternatively, instead of bending inwards or outwards, Samsung also teased a slider concept using a display that can extend horizontally while maintaining the same general shape. While Samsung only showed its sliding screen extending an inch or two in its photo, Samsung’s slider concept could represent another avenue to create a screen that can change sizes depending on the situation while also cutting down on thickness and the need for a complicated hinge.

Additionally, for people who want a truly large foldable display, Samsung also teased a 17-inch flexible OLED screen built into a laptop, allowing the device to be propped up when you want maximum screen real estate or folded in half to become a more compact clamshell with a touchscreen that spans both halves of its chassis. We’ve seen similar designs in devices like Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold, though with a display that tops out at 13.3 inches across, Lenovo’s take (which is based around a flexible LG OLED panel) is significantly smaller.

Samsung’s 17-inch foldable concept could be a preview of where laptop design is headed.

Samsung’s 17-inch foldable concept could be a preview of where laptop design is headed.
Image: Samsung

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And in what might be the most long-awaited piece of tech, Samsung also teased a laptop with an Under Panel Camera (UPC) that eliminates the need for a visible camera lens/sensor by hiding it behind a traditional OLED screen. This tech would have several implications for both phones and laptops, allowing OEMs to eliminate the notches or punch-hole selfie cams seen on today’s phones, while also ditching the need for a top bezel on laptops where a webcam might otherwise go.

On its own, it might not seem like much, but Under Panel Cameras are sort of the last step in removing obstructions or distractions from modern displays. However, the hard part with UPCs is implementing them in a way that doesn’t significantly degrade a camera’s image quality, which up until recently has been the major hurdle preventing UPCs from gaining wider adoption.

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Still, while flexible displays and UPCs remain rather niche technology, it’s nice to see the tech continue to evolve, and who knows, some of these innovations might be featured in devices in the not-too-distant future.

With its Under Panel Camera, Samsung is trying to finally get rid of any distractions that take away from a device’s screen.

With its Under Panel Camera, Samsung is trying to finally get rid of any distractions that take away from a device’s screen.
Image: Samsung

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Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro 360 Is the 2-in-1 Laptop You Need

Illustration for article titled Samsung's Galaxy Book Pro 360 Is the 2-in-1 Laptop You Need

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

For those of us who need to get work done on the go, there’s always one dilemma when it comes to choosing your mobile machine: Do you skimp on screen size and go with a lighter 13-inch laptop, or do you risk putting your back or shoulders in jeopardy by opting for a larger 15-inch system? And for those who value flexibility, do you dare tack on even more added weight with a 2-in-1?

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It’s a hard choice, and one that Samsung is looking to eliminate with the new Galaxy Book Pro 360. The new 2-in-1 combines a deliciously thin design and a gorgeous AMOLED display with excellent battery life and solid performance, putting everything you need in a single machine. 

The Epitome of Sleekness

Devices get thinner all the time, but the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s dimensions still seem impossibly sleek. Measuring 14 x 9 x 0.46 inches and weighing just three pounds, the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 is significantly thinner and lighter than an XPS 15 (13.57 x 9.1 x 0.71). And the XPS 15 is a standard clamshell, while the Galaxy Book Pro 360 is a 2-in-1 with a rotating hinge.

But it gets even better when you remember that the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 is actually the biggest and heaviest model in the new Galaxy Book Pro lineup, with the 13-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 weighing just 2.3 pounds, and the clamshell 13-inch standard Galaxy Book Pro tipping the scales at a sprightly 1.9 pounds. All told, the lightness of Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pros means you can upgrade to a bigger system without breaking your back, which is a win for anyone who has ever wanted more screen to work or play with while traveling.

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The entire 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 is thinner than the deck of an XPS 15. That’s seriously slim.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

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Additionally, despite being extremely thin, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 still offers great build quality, with a sturdy anodized aluminum chassis that only features a little bit of flexing in the middle keyboard, which given its dimensions, seems pretty reasonable. And while you could nitpick the Galaxy Book Pro 360 for having a slightly enlarged chin, that feels like an incredibly minor complaint.

Technicolor Dream Screen

Next, we move onto the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s display, which is where Samsung really flexes on the competition. Sporting a gorgeous 1920 x 1080 Super AMOLED panel, the Galaxy Book Pro line is one of the only laptop families that features an OLED screen as standard, while still remaining relatively affordable. Colors are deep and vivid, and with brightness being a strength of OLED displays, Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro laptops are equally at home indoors as they are outdoors, even in bright sunlight.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

This display is so good, it makes you want to find new things to view just to see how pretty they look. For more color-sensitive situations like editing photos or simply shopping online, Samsung provides multiple color profiles to make sure colors are accurate and not overly saturated. My only small gripe with the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 is that I wish Samsung had an optional 4K OLED panel, because with a lower overall pixel density compared to its 13-inch siblings, a little extra sharpness would go a long way.

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More Than Enough Power to Get Work Done

Both the 13-inch and 15-inch models feature Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPUs and Intel Iris Xe graphics as standard, so the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s performance is pretty much as good as you can get without tacking on a discrete GPU. As expected, in Geekbench 5 our 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 review unit pumped out similar numbers as other premium notebooks like the Razer Book 13, though systems with access to AMD CPUs like the Surface Laptop 4 do perform better when it comes to rendering videos. In Handbrake, our Galaxy Book Pro took 12 minutes and 29 seconds to convert a 4K movie to 1080p, compared to just under 9 minutes for the Surface Laptop 4.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

And even without a discrete GPU, the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s Iris Xe graphics is still good enough to play less demanding games like League of Legends or Overwatch, though you might have to play with settings depending on the specific title.

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Keyboard, Ports, and Stylus Support

For such a thin system, Samsung still provides a comfortable typing experience. The Galaxy Book Pro 360 balances out a relatively shallow 1mm of key travel with a crisp keystroke and a good bounce when you bottom out. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s touchpad is absolutely massive, with Samsung still finding room to include a numpad on the right on 15-inch models, which I think is a nice inclusion considering Samsung’s focus on mobile productivity. And in the very top right, there’s also a power button with a built-in fingerprint sensor that works with Windows Hello.

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Port selection is also sufficient, with Samsung including one Thunderbolt 4 port along with two additional USB-C ports, a headphone jack, and a microSD card reader. With this system only featuring USB-C ports, I kind of wish Samsung had tossed in a USB-C to USB-A for help connecting legacy accessories, but you can’t get everything I guess. On the flip side, even though there’s no place to store a stylus in a system this thin, Samsung does include an S-Pen in the box.

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A More Seamless Galaxy Experience

It’s easy to overlook this part, but Samsung has put a lot of work into a number of pre-installed apps designed to make other Galaxy devices play nice with the Galaxy Book Pro family. There’s Quick Share to help you share files between the laptop and your Galaxy phone a cinch, while Samsung’s Second Screen feature lets you turn a Galaxy tablet into a portable extended display. And of course there are all the S-Pen apps to help you quickly sketch or jot notes before syncing your scribbles across all your Galaxy devices.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Samsung even created a new version of its Smart Switch app, so you can transfer all of your existing files and Windows Store apps from your previous system to the Galaxy Book Pro 360 with ease. (Though strangely, it seems you can’t send over traditional standalone programs that you’ve installed manually.)

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Look, it’s still not quite the experience you get from Apple’s family of devices, but it’s a big improvement compared to your typical Windows 10 fare, and for people who already own other Galaxy devices, these apps are something you’ll definitely appreciate. Annoying, there’s also a fair bit of bloatware pre-installed on here too, like apps for Amazon and Facebook Messenger, which detracts a bit from the notebook’s normal luxury vibe.

A Truly Awful Webcam

The one is a real head-scratcher, because it’s not like Samsung doesn’t already have extensive experience equipping and tuning cameras on mobile devices. But there’s no getting around it: The Galaxy Book Pro 360’s webcam is bad, or barely passable at best if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care about showing their face on video calls.

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Not only is the webcam’s 1280 x 720 resolution just ok, it captures content that looks grainier, blurrier, and just lower quality than what you get from an XPS 15. There aren’t really any excuses to have a webcam this bad on a premium laptop, and what makes things even worse is that aside from the webcam, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 doesn’t really suffer from any other major demerits, which makes the webcam feel like even more of an albatross.

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Impressive Battery Life

Posting a time of 14 hours and 46 minutes on our video rundown test, the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 churned out one of the best battery life marks we’ve seen in years, easily beating out the XPS 15 (8:28), the Surface Laptop 4 (12:21), and others. Now it’s important to note that part of the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s longevity is due in large part to its OLED display, but even when playing games untethered, I was still impressed by its overall runtime.

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One other nice bonus is that because the Galaxy Book Pro 360 supports charging over USB-C, you can also use Samsung’s 65-watt power brick to power up your other USB-C devices, which is a handy bonus when trying to pack light.

Which Laptop Should You Buy?

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Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

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If you already have a couple Galaxy devices and you’re looking for a work machine to round out your kit, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 has to be at the top of your list. Not only does its OLED screen ensure you get the same jaw-droppingly good viewing experience across all of your devices, Samsung has delivered some honest to goodness synergy to help everything play nice together.

But even if you haven’t dipped your toes into Samsung’s ecosystem before, there’s still a lot to like. Between its super sleek design, best-in-class battery life, and the flexibility you get from its 2-in-1 design, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 is more than ready to handle traditional productivity tasks with aplomb. And when compared to other top competitors like Dell’s XPS 15, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 is even more portable and arguably better looking. With the Galaxy Book Pro 360, Samsung has taken the pursuit of lightness to greater heights.

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Don’t Expect More Software Updates for the Samsung Galaxy S8

The Galaxy S8, an impressive device when it was released in 2017, will no longer receive security updates from Samsung.

The Galaxy S8, an impressive device when it was released in 2017, will no longer receive security updates from Samsung.
Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

It’s always a sad day in Androidland when a popular smartphone officially reaches its end of life. Samsung will no longer push software updates to its Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ smartphones.

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Samsung warned users of the eventual end when it switched the Galaxy S8 and S8+ to quarterly security updates last year. The Galaxy S8 Active will still receive quarterly updates, along with the S8 Lite, which is now on a biannual update schedule. Both of those models launched later in the S8 lifecycle and thus have a bit more runway. If you’re a Galaxy user, be sure to bookmark the company’s mobile updates page for reference.

The Galaxy S8 and S8+ launched in 2017 to great fanfare and great drama. It was Samsung’s first flagship model following the battery-exploding fiasco of the Galaxy Note 7. It was also one of the leading smartphones in terms of design at the time, helping usher in the new era of unibody, bezel-less Android phones. Samsung went on to sell 20 million units of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ in its first year.

It’s not clear how many current users of the Galaxy S8 the end-of-life news will affect, though recent stats show people tend to hold on to their smartphones for up to three years. Samsung promised up to four years of software support to its legacy devices, and Google and Qualcomm have pledged four years of updates for Pixel devices going forward.

Meanwhile, Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 14, supports devices dating back to the iPhone 6S, which debuted in 2015, and those users get incremental iOS updates that fix security issues. Consistent software updates have always been the Achilles heel of being an Android user, even with the numerous attempts to unify the vast and fragmented mobile platform. Using an Android device without the appropriate security patches is like riding a motorcycle without a helmet. You might be OK getting from one point to another, but when disaster strikes, there’s nothing there to cushion the blow—unless you’re one of the many tinkerers who decide to take Android updates into your own hands.

Regardless, the idea of expected and consistent software updates is always good to hear as an Android user. It’s also an opportunity for a manufacturer like Samsung to push its users towards upgrading models. So much has changed since the Galaxy S8 launched, and with the transition to 5G becoming a core focus, it’s not a bad idea to get a device that’s future-proofed.

It does beg the question of whether we’ll ever slow down the rat race of smartphone upgrades. After all, even a pandemic didn’t stop Samsung from launching a barrage of new smartphones this year. And there are more coming.

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Samsung’s Galaxy A52 5G Gives You the Most Phone for Your Money

Samsung Galaxy A52 lead photo

Photo: Sam Rutherford

Samsung’s Galaxy A52 5G has a lot to live up to. Not only is it the successor to last year’s top-selling Android phone, but it’s also the star of Samsung’s new mid-range A-Series (the slightly more premium Galaxy A72 isn’t coming to the U.S). With people holding onto their phones for longer, there’s a good chance a new handset purchased today won’t get replaced for another three or four years. But even with all the pressure, the Galaxy A52 5G still manages to impress, offering a great mix of specs and features for a great price with only a few minor quirks and oddities.

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Here’s What You Get for $500

The Galaxy A52 combines a mix of premium components with a sturdy (though not terribly exciting) design, and even a few components you don’t even get on Samsung’s more expensive Galaxy S devices. Built around a 6.5-inch 90Hz AMOLED display with a 2400 x 1080 resolution, the A52 offers a large display with rich colors and strong brightness upwards of 750 nits. It’s a great display for a phone in this price range, bridging the gap between the 120Hz OLED panels on Samsung’s premium Galaxy S handsets and the less colorful and cheaper LCD panels you typically see on mid-range devices.

From there, Samsung also includes a 32-MP hole-punch selfie camera in the A52’s display, along with an in-screen fingerprint reader. It’s important to note that the A52 features an optical fingerprint reader instead of the more sophisticated ultrasonic sensors found on the A52’s more expensive siblings. At first, I felt like the A52’s sensor was a bit finicky and not quite as fast as I’d hoped, but the more I used the phone, I found that while the A52 seems to be more sensitive to oil and gunk on your fingers, in normal use, it’s still quite speedy and reliable.

The A52 also features your standard set of buttons, including a volume rocker and lock button on the right side. But even more importantly, unlike its pricier siblings, the A52 still features a microSD card slot for expandable storage and a dedicated headphone jack, in case the A52’s otherwise quite strong stereo speakers aren’t cutting it. So even though I wish Samsung hadn’t axed these components on its premium phones, I’m really happy to see them alive and well on this year’s A-series handsets.

Finally, rounding out the A52’s design, Samsung includes an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance (down to three feet for 30 minutes). My only gripe is that I wish Samsung had added just one more thing to provide some visual appeal to an otherwise plain device. In the U.S., the A52 only comes in black, missing out on the flashy colors seen on other Samsung phones, leaving you with one of Samsung’s “glasstic” (aka polycarbonate plastic) in back, plastic that’s been painted to look like metal around its sides, and Gorilla Glass 5 in front.

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Good Enough Performance

Sporting a Snapdragon 720G processor, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of base storage, the A52 is well equipped for almost anything you can throw at it. In benchmarks, it performed about the same as its biggest rival—the Pixel 4a 5G—on a number of tests, including Geekbench 5, 3DMark, and others. The only area where it might fall a bit short is gaming, because while I didn’t notice any lag in more casual games like Gunbound, more resource-intensive titles like PUBG or Call of Duty Mobile can stress out the A52 a bit, especially if you enable some of their optional graphics settings. A little extra RAM may have helped the A52 overcome stuff like this, but it’s not essential.

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The in-screen fingerprint reader on the A52.

Photo: Sam Rutherford

However, while the A52 does support sub-6Ghz 5G, it doesn’t support mmWave 5G regardless of which carrier or retailer you get it from. To me this is a small knock against the A52, because it means it might not age as well as phones that support both sub-6Ghz and mmWave 5G a year or two down the road. That means if you want better 5G compatibility, you either have to downgrade to the Galaxy A42, or upgrade to the S20 FE or another more premium device like the S21 or OnePlus 9.

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Surprisingly Strong Cameras With One Downside

The rear camera module on the Galaxy A52.

Photo: Sam Rutherford

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Compared to previous generations, the A52’s biggest improvement might be the quality of its photos, because even though it has a very similar set of cameras (64-MP main, 12-MP ultrawide, 5-MP macro, 5-MP depth), Samsung’s image processing and main camera sensor have gotten noticeably better. Now in most conditions, the A52 can keep pace with the overall image quality you get from a Pixel 4a 5G, while offering a wider range of lenses and features to choose from.

In a shot of a mural in NYC, aside from having a slightly brighter exposure resulting in colors that look just a bit less saturated, the A52’s shot wasn’t far off from what I got from a Pixel 5 (which features the same main cam as the Pixel 4a 5G). And when I snapped a shot of a sunny cobblestone street, the A52 did even better, capturing great dynamic range and details that might be even sharper than what I got from the Pixel 5.

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The main area where the A52 falls a bit short is in very low-light environments, where Samsung’s Night Mode just isn’t quite as powerful as Google’s Night Sight mode. For example, in a shootout between the A52 and Pixel 5 at a skatepark at night, Pixel 5 produced a more well-exposed and colorful image without the over-sharpened artifacts I got from the A52’s pic. Also, while neither the A52 nor the Pixel 5 sports a true zoom cam, I found that Google’s Super Res zoom often captured digital zoom shots that were slightly sharper and more detailed than shots from the A52. In short, while it can’t take the crown from Google, the A52’s camera can still hang with the best phone cameras in its price range.

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Charging Could Be Faster

Powered by a 4,500 mAh battery, the Galaxy A52 lasted just shy of 13 hours on our battery test (12:53 to be exact), which is almost half an hour better than current smartphone average (12:25) and the standard Galaxy S21 (12:36). That ain’t bad, though I should note that the Pixel 4a 5G fared even better on the same test with a time of 13:57.

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The side of the Galaxy A52.

Photo: Sam Rutherford

However, even though the A52’s battery life isn’t quite as good as the Pixel 4a 5G’s, my bigger gripe is its relatively slow charging speeds. That’s because while the A52 can technically handle up to 25-watt wired charging, Samsung only includes a 15-watt power brick in the box, which is fine, but not what I’d call quick. And because the A52 doesn’t have support for wireless charging, this means you may have to be a little more proactive about keeping your phone topped up.

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Galaxy A52 vs. Pixel 4a 5G

The A52’s main rival is the Pixel 4a 5G, which has the same $500 price tag but takes a very different approach when it comes to making a good mid-range phone. Google puts a premium on simplicity, opting to concentrate on a handful of core features like image quality, battery life, and software while the rest of the phone sports a streamlined design with just two rear cameras, no official rating for water resistance, and no microSD card slot. That said, on some carriers (most notably Verizon), the Pixel 4a 5G does support both sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G.

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Meanwhile, the Galaxy A52 5G is more of a maximalist’s take on a mid-range phone, with Samsung throwing a lot of everything into the phone’s kit The A52 has a bigger 6.5-inch display with a 90Hz refresh rate (the Pixel 4a 5G is capped at 60Hz), four rear cams, a micro SD card slot, better speakers, an in-screen fingerprint sensor, and more. And with Samsung’s recent commitment to provide three years of OS and monthly security updates for the phone, the A52 should have relatively strong post-purchase software support.

Unbeatable Value

The back of the Galaxy A52.

Photo: Sam Rutherford

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Samsung really stuffed the A52 with almost everything you could want on a $500 phone, with small missing items being a 2x optical zoom cam, support for wireless charging, and full mmWave 5G connectivity. But since optical zooms and wireless charging aren’t things you get from a Pixel 4a 5G either, it’s hard to harp on Samsung too much for that.

Honestly, the A52’s biggest weakness may be its lack of personality, because you don’t get any other color options to choose from, and while its design is quite solid, it doesn’t have a feature or trait that gives it a real wow factor. But when it comes to everything else, Samsung has you covered. The A52 has a big screen with beautiful OLED colors, good battery life, and even expandable storage and a headphone jack. For $500, the A52 isn’t just a good deal, it’s probably the best value in mid-range phones right now.

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Samsung’s New Galaxy Book Pros Are Super Thin and Feature-Packed

Illustration for article titled Samsung's New Galaxy Book Pros Are Super Thin and Feature-Packed

Photo: Sam Rutherford

Device makers have been shaving off extra millimeters here and there for years, so it’s easy to get jaded about the appearance of a new super slim laptop. With Samsung’s new Galaxy Book Pro laptops, that ultra-thin package doesn’t quite convey how compelling these machines are.

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Samsung’s new clamshell Galaxy Book Pro and 2-in-1 Galaxy Book Pro 360 make use of every last sliver of space. The 13-inch Galaxy Book Pro weighs just 1.9 pounds and measures 0.44 inches thick. And while Samsung’s 15-inch variants are slightly bigger, with the largest system (the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360) coming in at 0.46 inches and 3 pounds, none of them ever get anywhere close to being heavy or cumbersome.

Prior to launching these laptops, Samsung had been teasing its new Galaxy Book Pros as the most powerful Galaxy devices yet, which honestly is bit misleading and almost a disservice to the laptops themselves, because the real magic of these systems is combining this level of thinness with good specs, strong build quality, and excellent portability.

While the Galaxy Book Pro 360 doesn’t have a built-in stylus slot, its included S-Pen is significantly larger and thicker, which makes it easier to hold.

While the Galaxy Book Pro 360 doesn’t have a built-in stylus slot, its included S-Pen is significantly larger and thicker, which makes it easier to hold.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

Every model comes with an 11th-gen Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPU, Intel Xe graphics, at least 8GB of RAM, up to 512GB of SSD storage (or 1TB on select models), support for Wi-Fi 6E, and built-in fingerprint readers. And for such thin systems, their port selection is also quite good, with all models getting at least one Thunderbolt 4 port, two additional USB 3.2 ports, microSD card reader, 3.5mm audio jack, and even a full-size HDMI port on the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro.

And in addition to a premium all-aluminum chassis, the standard Galaxy Book Pro features a gorgeous non-touch AMOLED display that pumps out rich, saturated colors, while the Galaxy Book Pro 360 gets an even nicer Super AMOLED touchscreen with built-in stylus support and one of Samsung’s S-Pens in the box. Sadly, there’s no slot to store the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s S-Pen, though you can attach the stylus magnetically to the lid of the laptop when not in use, which at the very least is a thoughtful touch.

One small bonus on the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro is that is swaps out one USB-C port for a USB-A port, while being the only model to feature a full-size HDMI port.

One small bonus on the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro is that is swaps out one USB-C port for a USB-A port, while being the only model to feature a full-size HDMI port.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

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Samsung has also included its usual assortment of S-Pen apps like Live Message Smart Select, and others. But even though I haven’t had a chance to test them out fully just yet, perhaps my favorite thing about new Galaxy Book Pros is all the software Samsung added in to help its laptops better communicate and collaborate with other devices.

First, there’s Quick Share for easily sending content to other Samsung Galaxy gadgets, while the Link to Windows and Microsoft’s Your Phone apps help make transferring URLs, files, and more between the laptop and your smartphone as easy as dragging and dropping. And, for the first time ever, Samsung has created a Windows version of its Smart Switch app, so you can more easily move data and apps from your old laptop to a new Galaxy Book Pro.

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Bbetween all of Samsung and Microsoft’s various included apps, the Galaxy Book Pro might deliver the most cohesive joint PC/phone experience outside of Apple’s macOS/iOS walled garden. In fact, Samsung is also making it possible to sync sketches and drawings made in the Samsung Notes app across all your compatible devices, regardless of whether they’re running Android or Windows.

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And like so many modern productivity machines, Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pros also come with an intelligent noise cancellation feature to help you sound good during video calls, and a Studio Mode to help prevent poor lighting from impacting your video quality.

Another nice touch is that the Galaxy Book Pro and Pro 360 charge via a relatively small 65-watt USB-C power brick, which can also be used to recharge other USB-C devices.

Another nice touch is that the Galaxy Book Pro and Pro 360 charge via a relatively small 65-watt USB-C power brick, which can also be used to recharge other USB-C devices.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

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I only got to test them out for a short time, but despite having relatively shallow key travel of just 1mm, Samsung still managed to make typing on the Galaxy Book Pros feel crisp and bouncy in a way that defies the laptop’s super slim dimensions, which a lot more than Apple’s old butterfly switches could do.

So far, I only have a couple complaints, and they are relatively minor. The first is that webcams on the Galaxy Book Pro and Pro 360 are just 720p, which feels a bit low-res on an otherwise premium PC. The other is that while the new Galaxy Book Pros are part of Intel’s Evo platform, there aren’t any AMD-based configs, which is a bit disappointing, especially for anyone hoping for a slightly higher tier of performance.

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When placed next to Samsung’s new Galaxy Book Pros, my Galaxy Z Fold 2 looks like a super thick monster.

When placed next to Samsung’s new Galaxy Book Pros, my Galaxy Z Fold 2 looks like a super thick monster.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

But critically, even when compared to our current favorite ultraportable laptops like the Dell XPS 13, Samsung has managed to make an even thinner line of clamshell and 2-in-1 laptops that still have their own style and a number of features you don’t often get on other Windows notebooks. And with prices for the 13-inch Galaxy Book Pro and Galaxy Book Pro 360 starting at just $1,000 and $1,100 respectively (or $1,100 and $1,300 for the 15-inch models), Samsung’s new flagship notebooks look like pretty good deals too.

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All four Galaxy Book Pro and Galaxy Book Pro 360 models are available for preorder today, with official retail sales slated to begin on May 14.

Here’s How AirTags Stack Up to the Competition

The AirTags are here.

The AirTags are here.
Image: Apple

In addition to new iMacs and new iPads, Apple introduced its long-awaited and much-rumored $29 AirTag at its Spring Loaded event this week. But what exactly are these trackers supposed to do anyway? How do they know where your gear is at all times? And how are they different from the Bluetooth trackers already on the market?

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Not for the first time, Apple is launching a hardware product in a category that’s already well established, but trying to make its implementation better than everything else that’s been done before. The most well-known trackers in the space are the ones made by Tile, like the $25 Tile Mate, but Samsung SmartTags and the Chipolo range (which also starts at $25) are also competing for your dollars.

The idea is simple: You attach these little gizmos to anything you don’t want to lose track of, whether it’s your keys, your scooter, your bag, your digital camera, or whatever else. Using an app on your phone, you’re able to see where your possessions are, and get alerts if you leave them behind.

Track almost anything with an AirTag.

Track almost anything with an AirTag.
Image: Apple

They’re most often referred to as Bluetooth trackers, and that’s what’s important to understand first of all—these tags don’t come with built-in GPS, and they’re not constantly reporting their location by pinging a satellite up in space. They’re traditionally reliant on Bluetooth connections to your phone, specifically Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

That limits their range of course—down to a maximum of 120 meters (394 feet) or so in ideal conditions—but that’s fine if you’re hunting for your wallet in the house or the office. The Bluetooth connection means you can get the tracker to make an audible sound, which should be enough to locate it.

As an added bonus, some of these trackers do the same trick in reverse—you can press the tracker to make your phone ring, if it’s your handset that you can’t find. Another clever feature these devices offer is pinging you as soon as the Bluetooth connection gets broken, to stop you leaving something behind when you exit.

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Samsung has its own SmartTags.

Samsung has its own SmartTags.
Image: Samsung

So how do you find your stuff when it’s out of Bluetooth range? These trackers do appear on a map inside the relevant mobile apps, but they’re using your phone’s GPS, which isn’t the most accurate way to find something, and it will only log the last GPS location recorded when your phone and the tracker were most recently talking over Bluetooth.

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That’s not enough to track your possessions in real time as they float down a river or get carried away on the subway—which is something you can do with the apps that find your phone, for example—but it does at least help you figure out if you left something at the office, or in a particular restaurant, or at the gym.

If an item is well and truly lost, there’s one more option: These trackers can anonymously enlist other users of the same brand of device to help find your missing item. So, if another Tile user sits down next to a Tile that you’re trying to locate, you’ll get an update about it.

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Tile makes a variety of different trackers.

Tile makes a variety of different trackers.
Image: Tile

That does mean your search party is limited to the number of people who’ve bought the same trackers as you, but it’s better than nothing. It’s also an area where Apple has a huge advantage, thanks to the hundreds of millions of iPhones it shifts each year—all of these devices will be enlisted in the hunt if one of your AirTags goes missing. You’ll have to put your AirTag in Lost Mode, and your iPhone will then notify you if the Find My network has picked up its location. If someone happens to spot your AirTag, they can use their phone (iPhone or Android, as long as it’s equipped with NFC) to tap it and bring up your contact number if you’ve chosen to add it.

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Another AirTag feature that Apple is heavily promoting is the inclusion of an ultra-wideband (UWB) chip called the U1, which works alongside Bluetooth. UWB has a shorter range than Bluetooth, but it offers more accuracy in reporting its location, enabling you to hunt down your items using precise AR guidance from your phone (as you can see in Apple’s product demo video).

UWB isn’t technically exclusive to the AirTag. Samsung launched a similar product, the $39 SmartTag+, just a few days before the Apple event, and it also has ultra-wideband for a more precise search experience. Tile is rumored to be working on its own UWB tracker as well, so it’s a feature that you don’t necessarily have to go to Apple for.

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Chipolo trackers now work with Apple’s Find My app.

Chipolo trackers now work with Apple’s Find My app.
Image: Chipolo

Ultra-wideband has been around for a while, but the tech is now cheap and miniaturized enough for phones. You will need an UWB phone (like the iPhone 12 or the Galaxy S21) to track a UWB device using augmented reality. It uses a wider transmission frequency than Bluetooth, with some range sacrificed along the way.

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So what else is Apple bringing to the table? We’ve mentioned the millions of users it can tap into to help you find your stuff, and it also has a well-established Find My app that you’re probably already using if you need to keep tabs on your Apple gear. That means the integration of AirTags is going to be relatively seamless.

The Find My app is also opening up to third-party products—including Chipolo trackers—so you’re not forced to go with Apple’s products. That’s a somewhat uncharacteristic move by Apple, as was the recent decision to allow users to change the default email and browser apps on the iPhone, and we suspect it has more to do with the threat of antitrust proceedings than anything else.

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Ultra-wideband enables this sort of precise tracking.

Ultra-wideband enables this sort of precise tracking.
Image: Apple

As you’d expect from Apple, the security and privacy controls are thoughtful. Location information is kept on the AirTag itself, everything is anonymized and encrypted, and not even Apple itself knows where your AirTags are or which devices they’re reporting to. If someone tries to track you by dropping an AirTag into your pocket or bag, the app is smart enough to recognize it’s not yours and send you an alert. The AirTag will also make an audible sound if it’s separated from its owner for an extended period of time, so you don’t have to have an iPhone to be alerted to its presence. (Though this unwanted tracking feature may not be entirely foolproof.)

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Tile, Samsung, and Chipolo have their own measures to protect your security and privacy of course, though as yet none of them have that unwanted tracking protection. Samsung has promised to add it soon, and we suspect the others will follow suit before too long to keep up with the AirTag.

With a massive network to fall back on, super-simple integration with other Apple products, tight privacy controls, and precision tracking via UWB, the AirTags are the obvious choice for these kind of trackers if you’re an iPhone owner—and in an instant everyone else is playing catch-up.

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Who on Earth Is Buying These Rugged Android Phones?

It’s a smartphone you can wash with soap and water.

It’s a smartphone you can wash with soap and water.
Image: Cat

Caterpillar, the same folks behind forklifts and the other big machines you have to wear hardhats around, makes Android devices for a very particular set of users in the field. Their latest device, the Cat S42 H+, is fascinating, because you can run it under water and wash it in the sink at the same time as your hands.

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The Cat S42 H+ gets its moniker from the “Hygiene Plus” technology used on the exterior. Cat partnered with Addmaster to use its antimicrobial casing on the device, and the claim is that it inhibits any bacteria cells that have globbed on to it from replicating.

The chassis is sealed, so you can run the phone under a faucet to clean it off with your favorite dish soap. For extremely tough cleanup jobs, it can even withstand bleach with water.

The rest of the phone’s specifications are underwhelming. There’s a 5.5-inch display with 720p resolution, an underpowered MediaTek processor, and 3GB of RAM inside, plus it ships with the rapidly aging Android 10. Those who wear gloves most of the workday will like the shortcut button on the side that’s programmable for push-to-talk functionality or a quick SOS call, plus the 4200 mAh battery. The phone costs about $300 and will debut in the US later this summer.

I’ll level with you here: These Cat smartphones made to withstand rugged industrial work aren’t typically on my radar because they’re pretty niche. But Cat continues to release rugged phones, and they’re not the only manufacturer still carrying the torch for this phone category. Samsung stopped making ruggedized versions of its Galaxy S flagship phones a bit ago, though it offers the Galaxy XCover Pro. And Kyocera is still making rugged smartphones for Verizon, with the latest device offering 5G connectivity.

Rugged Android phones are floating around in more places than you might think. A report on the global rugged smartphone market showed North America and Europe accounting for about 30% of rugged phone sales in 2019. The report mentions brands like DOOGEE and OUKITEL, both of which sell rugged budget smartphones overseas. There’s also Blackview, which recently launched a global 5G rugged smartphone featuring an underwater camera and a massive 8580 mAh battery.

You could always buy a hardcore Otterbox case or another equivalent to protect your smartphone from the elements of your day job. But there are other perks with rugged phones that you won’t get merely by popping your current breakable slab of glass into a case. You won’t always get the latest hardware in a rugged smartphone, but you will get unparalleled water and shock resistance and at least one extra programmable button. Most rugged phones are also dual SIM devices or offer swappable batteries, a hard-to-find feature on any smartphone made in the last seven years. Cat even offers some models with a built-in FLIR infrared camera for augmented reality-based thermal imaging.

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Rugged smartphones sales dipped slightly during the pandemic, though it’s to be expected with how related industries have been impacted. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s an uptick after more of the population becomes vaccinated, and the need for sterile gadgetry on the job is a necessity rather than a suggestion.

For its part, Cat intends for the antimicrobial S42 H+ to be used in hospitals, medical facilities, and by “anyone constantly exposed to other people.” With that kind of description, perhaps we should all be carrying rugged phones all the time.

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Samsung’s New Upcycling Program Allows You To Turn an Old Galaxy Phone Into a New IoT Device

Illustration for article titled Samsung's New Upcycling Program Allows You To Turn an Old Galaxy Phone Into a New IoT Device

Gif: Samsung

Usually, when a phone gets worn down, you recycle it or trade it in for a new one. But with its new upcycling program, Samsung is trying to help people convert old Galaxy phones into new IoT devices.

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Today, with the expansion of its Galaxy Upcycling at Home service (which is still in beta), users in the U.S., U.K., and South Korea will get access to an experimental feature in the SmartThings app designed to give an old Galaxy handset new life as a useful smart home accessory.

By using the app to reconfigure the device’s battery usage and optimization, Samsung says even older devices will still be able to deliver good longevity, while the phone’s usual assortment of wireless connectivity features makes it easy to pair the phone with other devices in your home.

Gif: Samsung

In the SmartThings app, Samsung provides a range of functions that an old smartphone can perform, including serving as a light sensor that can automatically turn on your smart lights or even your TV when it gets dark. Alternatively, you can also convert an old Galaxy phone into a sound sensor, with the phone using AI to detect common household noises like a barking dog, crying baby, or a knock on the door.

In this way, you can also repurpose an old Samsung phone as a baby monitor of sorts, which depending on how old the phone really is, might actually save you money compared to trading the phone in straight up and using whatever money you get to buy a brand new baby monitor.

And of course, even without much fiddling, upcycled Samsung phones can also be used as universal remotes, providing an easy way to control your streaming video box, play music on your smart speakers, control your lights, and more.

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Gif: Samsung

Samsung says the goal behind its upcycling program is to give users another way to extend the life of the gadgets they already own, and by extension, help reduce the impact Samsung’s gadgets have on the environment. After all, a device that gets reused or upcycled is potentially one less gadget that’s sitting in a landfill.

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That said, the biggest hurdle for most people is that repurposing an old smartphone generally takes a bit of tinkering and some tolerance for DIY solutions, which may require a bigger commitment than what most people want to do. And that’s before you think about needing to buy extra phone stands or holders so you can position your new IoT device properly.

So in the end, the easiest approach may still be to get rid of your old device (either via trade-in or recycling) before buying something new. But at least you now have the option to reuse or repurpose some of your aging gadgets, and if you’re already invested in Samsung’s SmartThing ecosystem, the Upcycling at Home program could serve as a handy little upgrade.

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