MWC 2016: Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G5, and Other Things You Can Expect

MWC 2016: Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G5, and Other Things You Can ExpectThe annual Mobile World Congress exhibition in Barcelona is both a launch pad and a proving ground for tech companies, many of which will launch their most important products of the year within hours of each other and compete for the world’s attention.

Over the course of the week, we’ll see a slew of smartphones, wearables, tablets, appliances, accessories, apps, and other announcements from companies both big and small. Some secrets have spilled, and some have been given away to build hype. Here’s a quick look at what we know, what we’re guessing, and what we’re hoping to see at MWC 2016.

It’s all but officially confirmed that Samsung will be releasing its next flagship Galaxy S model right on schedule, and it now looks like there will definitely be a Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, but not a Galaxy S7 Edge+ just yet. The phones will be made of metal just like their predecessors, but will apparently make up for past compromises by supporting microSD cards and being resistant to water and dust. Battery capacity has apparently received a healthy bump.


According to leaks, the phones will be sold with Qualcomm’s new flagship Snapdragon 820 SoC in some regions, and with Samsung’s own Exynos 8890 in others. We expect 4GB of RAM and at least 32GB of storage. There are even reports of a free VR headset being offered with each unit. Apart from those phones, the company is expected to use its launch event to show off new smartwatches, tablets, andperhaps some new VR products for 2016. Samsung’s big launch event is scheduled for Sunday and we will be there to give you live coverage.

LG has kept its flagship phones out of the MWC spotlight, but is now shaking up its usual mid-year refresh schedule. The LG G5 has been confirmed for an early debut, and one of the features the company has confirmed so far is an always-on display that will show notifications without taking too much of a toll on battery life. There might also be a G5 Lite, if the latest rumours prove to be true.


It looks like we’ll see the launch of a mid-range phone called K8, which will join the K7 and K10 which were launched at CES. We can also expect to see the newly announced X series, which looks like it will include multiple models, each with one of the flagship G-series’ features. The LG X Cam will feature twin cameras, while the X Screen will have a low-power secondary display for notifications.

We also hope to see new watches, given last year’s emphasis on the Watch Urbane series. Maybe LG will keep experimenting with new platforms and designs – its competitors have certainly done so over the past year. LG kicks of MWC-related launches with its event on Monday.

Sony could keep up its six-monthly refresh schedule with a fresh Xperia Z lineup, but if so, the company is doing a good job at keeping them under wraps. It’s more likely that we’ll see new mid-range phones and wearables, replacing older models and fleshing out Sony’s product lines.

Huawei was one of the few companies to do anything around flagship smartphones at CES, so it isn’t entirely sure what it will pull out of its hat now. Following the Mate 8, we might see the debut of the more mainstream Huawei P9 and a few mass-market models including ones under its Honor label.

Xiaomi has confirmed that it will preview the Mi 5, but launch details aren’t certain. It looks like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 will power Xiaomi’s latest high-end push, so it will be interesting to see what price point the Chinese behemoth will hit, and when it will launch the Mi 5 in India. We wouldn’t mind refreshes to the rest of the lineup as well. While the official Mi 5 launch event is in China, a media preview is scheduled in Barcelona on February 24, so be sure we will share everything we find out.


With the Lumia 650 launched just this week, Microsoft might not have any new phones to show off. That said, there’s still bound to be a lot of curiosity around the Lumia 650 and its siblings, the Lumia 550, Lumia 950, and Lumia 950XL. Microsoft should also be showing off its nifty Continuum feature, and its ever-growing portfolio of apps for Android and iOS. Hopefully, there will be third-party Windows Phone devices. Beyond phones, the Surface 4 Pro and Surface Book will most likely make an appearance, plus of course a slew of Windows 10 devices in all shapes and sizes from partner companies.

The former tech superpower managed to steal quite a bit of attention last year with its gorgeous N1 tablet, but we haven’t heard anything further post-show, and the launch we were hoping for never happened. There’s a little part of us that is really hoping Nokia will be even bolder and disclose plans to enter the Android market in a serious way.


Lenovo might try to establish the positioning of the Moto lineup relative to its own Vibe and other models, but we only have indications of one major new launch, which is promised to be a ‘gorgeous’ new phone with stereo speakers. Stay tuned for more teasers as the launch date draws nearer.

Beyond the hype
Of course one of the best parts about an industry trade show is discovering new companies and being surprised by the unexpected. We can look forward to loads of startups in the IoT and wearables spaces. Health and fitness will be a huge deal, as will automotive entertainment and safety. Companies that have not typically dabbled in tech will show up in droves, touting tie-ups or experiments of their own. On the infrastructure side, buzz around 5G and new Wi-Fi and LTE standards will certainly be strong. Mobile payments might not be relevant to India right now, but several players will be pushing for their standards to become dominant.


Noteworthy absences
HTC has launched new flagships at the past few MWCs, but there hasn’t been much noise from the company of late. It isn’t certain whether we’ll see an HTC One M10, but mid-range phones should be on display. The company is more likely to emphasise its second-generation Vive VR headset, and might dip its toes into the wearables and IoT markets. Asus was expected to have its next generation ready as well, but it looks as though the company will be keeping things low-key.


Apple never participates at industry trade shows, but it seems very likely that it will host its own event in March to launch a new 4-inch iPhone, iPad Air, and updated Apple Watch. BlackBerry has confirmed that it will be skipping the show as well, so we won’t have any insight into its roadmap beyond the Privjust yet. Last year’s star Jolla, which launched its tablet last year, is unlikely to have anything to show off given its recent troubles.

What are you looking forward to the most from MWC 2016? Let us know in the comments below.


Why 3D Video Games Might Actually Be Good for Your Child

Why 3D Video Games Might Actually Be Good for Your Child

The late film critic Roger Ebert famously declared that video games could never be art, much to the outrage of die-hard gamers everywhere. While the artistic value of classics like ‘Portal’ or ‘Doom’ continues to be a matter of debate, another group of skeptics about the value of video games – namely medical researchers – are starting to come around to the idea that becoming engrossed in the virtual world of a video game may have value beyond pure fun.

Recent research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and cognitive science has found evidence that playing certain video games can be like exercise for the brain.

Studies from the past decade have found that individuals who frequently play action games like first-person shooters outperform non-gamers on a variety of perceptual and cognitive measures – visual acuity, decision-making, object tracking, and task switching to name a few. Even players of casual video games, such as ‘Bejeweled Blitz’ or ‘Candy Crush Saga,’ report memory improvements and quicker response time as a result.

Now, researchers have discovered that playing 3D video games – those that immerse the player in a three-dimensional world with a more true-to-life, first-person perspective – may boost memory and stimulate the brain.

A new study published this month in the Journal of Neuroscience, trained college students with either a simple 2D game (‘Angry Birds’) or an intricate 3D game (‘Super Mario 3D World’). The subjects had little to no experience with video games before the experiment, and were instructed to play for a half-hour per day for two weeks. After the training period, the groups took memory tests designed to activate the brain’s hippocampus, which is highly involved in the formation of new memories and becomes stimulated when navigating an unfamiliar environment.

“It’s sometimes called explicit or declarative memory, but what it really comes down to is your ability to remember details of things that have happened to you – and that’s where the hippocampus comes in,” said study author Craig Stark, professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California at Irvine.

For instance, structural MRI studies have found significantly larger cortical volume in the posterior hippocampi of London cab drivers – individuals with extensive navigation experience with first-hand knowledge of tens of thousands of streets – relative to control subjects. Stark and his colleagues wanted to determine whether exploration of a virtual world would lead to similar effects in the hippocampus through the use of a 3D video game.

The group that played ‘Super Mario 3D World’ improved their scores by about 12 percent after the two-week training, with performance correlating with the amount of exploration achieved in the game’s environment, while the 2D ‘Angry Birds’ cohort showed no significant progress. To get an idea of the magnitude of this boost, a typical score on these memory tasks has been seen to drop the same amount from ages 45 to 70.

“The amount that we were able to boost people’s memory performance by playing video games represents about 20 to 30 years of cognitive decline,” Stark explained in an interview. “But it would be the sort of thing that would require constant maintenance, like going to the gym. If you work out really hard for a month, that’s great – but it won’t last the rest of your life.”

Indeed, after two weeks of no gaming, the boost in memory performance seen in 3D gamers had already started to dissipate. But Stark, whose research focuses on how the circuitry of the hippocampus changes with age, plans to further investigate how video games and other stimulating, enriching experiences can help ward off cognitive aging in an older population whose memory is on the decline.

“I don’t necessarily think there’s anything magical about 3D games themselves,” he said. “I think they’re tapping into a lot of things – they’re complex, fun, engaging and immersive – and I think that’s what is really driving [the improvements in memory].”

While specific brain training games do exist to supposedly build up memory or concentration, Stark believes that more broad-spectrum approaches like complex video games, language classes, or even traveling abroad, may be more beneficial for brain health. Living a “cognitively engaged lifestyle” as he calls it, that also captivates our imagination and sense of wonder is a natural way to draw on a number of different brain processes and potentially improve functioning as a result.


Zuckerberg Goes on the Offensive, but Free Basics Isn’t Wholly Benevolent

Zuckerberg Goes on the Offensive, but Free Basics Isn't Wholly Benevolent

With just two days left for responses to Trai’s consultation paper on differential pricing, it seems that Facebook is doing everything it can to win the debate, at least in terms of submissions. The last time Trai asked for responses, this battle was fought by Internet activists and startups. Now, Facebook pre-empted the PR offensive by launching its campaign first, and using every means possible, from outdoor media to newspaper ads, to YouTube, and even Reddit.

(Also see: Free Basics vs. Free Internet: Your Guide to the Raging Net Neutrality Debate)

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chairman of Facebook penned an opinion column in a leading daily on Monday, where he claims that Free Basics protects net neutrality. Actually going into the details however shows that he’s cherry-picked facts and played loose with them to make his case, and Free Basics isn’t as benevolent as he wants to make it sound. We went through his post, and here are our responses.

1) Free Basics is not the Internet

Here’s what Zuckerberg said in his column:

We have collections of free basic books. They’re called libraries. They don’t contain every book, but they still provide a world of good. We have free basic healthcare. Public hospitals don’t offer every treatment, but they still save lives. We have free basic education. Every child deserves to go to school. And in the 21st century, everyone also deserves access to the tools and information that can help them to achieve all those other public services, and all their fundamental social and economic rights. That’s why everyone also deserves access to free basic internet services.

Free Basics is not the Internet – rather, it is only a tiny fraction of it and doesn’t provide access to many services, such as YouTube, Gmail, Google, or Twitter, the last of which has proven to be a vital communications platform for disaster response and real-time data broadcasts. Considering India’s literacy levels, a low-bandwidth solution isn’t the most ideal use case – rural people might be more inclined to use video, VoIP services, messaging and file transfer, or want to photos larger than 200 KB. Even the government-subsidised Internet accounts given to students by VSNL in the late 90s gave users access to the full Internet. We’re not debating that free Internet wouldn’t be a wonderful thing, but that’s no reason for the Indian government to hand over the privacy of its citizens to a multinational corporation that works on an advertising-funded business model, where people are the product. What Facebook stands to gain from its data retention policies on these users is a near monopoly on the next billion users who will come online.

2) There’s no guarantee that it will be ad free

Zuckerberg wrote:

“This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests – there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics. If people lose access to free basic services they will simply lose access to the opportunities offered by the internet today.”

While Free Basics doesn’t serve any ads at present, Chris Daniels, VP, didn’t rule out the possibility of running ads on it in the future, when asked in a recently concluded AMA on Reddit. Facebook famously diluted its core value proposition for its page owners by throttling organic reach to single digits, making users pay to reach communities they had put countless hours into curating and cultivating. While Facebook says that Free Basics is ad free at present, it’s possible that the company will be exploring opportunities to monetise the platform in the future, by its own admission.

3) Third party audits are like a band-aid to a bleeding gash

Zuckerberg says:

We are also happy to have a third party audit what apps we accept and reject and why, and we’ve proposed this to IAMAI and Nasscom.

Facebook does not guarantee that a site submitted on its platform will be available through Free Basics. The selection process is not transparent, and third-party audits for which apps get accepted and which are rejected is still at a proposal stage. Moreover, a third-party audit will only further slow the selection and rejection process, making getting onto Free Basics a tedious, counter productive exercise carried out without transparency. Large corporations which can devote resources might not have a problem, but small startups, or urgent relief efforts, would get bogged down and wouldn’t be able to reach their potential audience.

(Also read: Facebook’s New Name, Same Problems)

4) The only bridge to digital equality is the full Internet

More than 35 operators have launched Free Basics and 15 million people have come online. And half the people who use Free Basics to go online for the first time pay to access the full internet within 30 days.

MarkZuckerberg_Townhall_main.jpgZuckerberg claims that Free Basics has brought over 15 million people online, and that it serves as a stairway to the full Internet. He had made the same claim in late October when he visited India, but we haven’t seen any clear source as a citation for this claim. Telecom operators could make a better use case for the Internet by offering free data packages, but the reason they aren’t doing so is because they’re waiting and watching to see how this plays out. The net neutrality battle has been brewing for a lot longer, and if Facebook wins, it’s possible that other telecom operators will also roll out their zero rating plans, making for a balkanised Internet.

5) There are plenty of valid reasons to oppose Free Basics

There’s no valid basis for denying people the choice to use Free Basics, and that’s what thousands of people across India have chosen to tell Trai over the last few weeks.

There are other other alternatives to Free Basics that telecom operators and Internet companies have offered that are net neutral – these include Mozilla Foundation, Grameenphone, Gigato, and MCent. Aircel had introduced free basic Internet for all its new subscribers starting October. Telecom operators offering a free introductory access package for a limited period could prove just as effective in bringing the bottom of the economic pyramid online. More and more people come online each year because the Internet does not need a sales pitch – for every story of a farmer who used Facebook’s Free Basics, there are millions of stories of Indian citizens who used the Internet to improve their income, get access to education, information, and jobs.


Delhi’s Odd-Even Rule: 5 Apps to Make Your Life Easier

Delhi's Odd-Even Rule: 5 Apps to Make Your Life Easier

There are a lot of different apps that claim they will be able to help you manage your commute while the odd-even scheme is being trialled in Delhi from January 1. From autorickshaw aggregators to carpooling, many websites and apps have come up, but not all are helpful – some are just hastily put together solutions that crash at all the wrong moments. Here are some apps that will actually help you to commute without difficulty once the odd-even rules go into force from Friday.

1) Odd Even Ride
This free Android app lets you find people nearby you can carpool with. You just have to enter your car and phone number, and then you get a list of all the other people who are on a similar route, with similar timings. You can contact them with the press of a button, either by SMS, or via a call, and one your details are saved, you don’t need to enter them again if you want to see who is free to commute with you.

odd_even_ride.jpg2) Ola CarPool/ Ryde/ BlaBlaCar
If you’re not keen to agree to a fixed carpool with someone – maybe your timings are variable, or your destination location isn’t always fixed – then you could look at carpooling through services like Ola CarPool (iOS | Android), BlaBlaCar (iOS | Android), or Ryde (iOS | Android). You can register your car with these services, and once you do, you can tell the company that you’re driving, and set the origin and destination.

ola_carpool.jpgOther people can now log into these services, and see if they want to carpool with you – carpooling is free on Ola, but allows you to “gift” money to the person you took a ride with via Ola Money. BlaBlaCar and Ryde have a straightforward payment system which is handled within the app.

3) UberPool/ Ola Share/ Meru
You’re probably already familiar with Uber (iOS | Android), Ola (iOS | Android), and Meru (iOS |Android). All these platforms now allow you to “share your ride” – tap a button on the screen to let the app know you’re willing to share, and it will allow other people who are headed in the same direction to take the cab too. It’s voluntary, but also cheaper than riding alone. Save money and the environment too.

uber_pool_twitter.jpg4) Zoomcar
Don’t want to hire a cab, and aren’t comfortable with carpooling? You could try one of the self-drive car rental apps, such as Zoomcar (iOS | Android). You’ll get a car with the right numberplate when you need it. It’s pretty easy and takes just a few taps on your phone, delivered and picked up from your home. It’s not the most cost effective solution though – booking a car from Sunday night to Friday night will cost you at least Rs. 3,000 – around Rs. 600 per day. This includes not just the price of booking the car, but also fuel.

Not an app, but a useful website anyway, Odd-Even is a simple website that can help you find a commute partner to carpool with. Just enter your details – location, whether your car is odd/ even, and then search for a commute partner. You can also specify age and gender preferences if you want.

odd_even_dotcom.jpgOther than these apps, you could consider using apps like Grofers and Peppertap to take care of your day to day needs, but if it’s close enough, walk to the market instead – you’ll get a little extra exercise in the process as well.