I’m currently reviewing the Microsoft Surface Duo and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 — they’re sitting on my desk right now next to another folding phone, the Galaxy Z Flip. All three represent different ideas for how to make a folding phone and all three are prohibitively expensive. Even if at the end of my reviews I have to go hunt down the socks they knocked off, I think it’s incredibly unlikely I would tell you to buy either of them — or the Flip.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I would harshly judge anybody who does buy one of them. That’s because these super expensive phones belong to a category that the smartphone industry has been trying to break into since before the iPhone: luxury products. Vertu once made a name for itself by encrusting bog-standard phones with diamonds and calling them luxury products, but the new folding phones are something else.
I’m putting this newsletter out a little later than usual so that it can coincide with a Processor video (finally, some brand synergy!). In it, I take a look at these three categories of folding phones and argue that each has a different purpose.
Samsung itself figured out that luxury is the way to position the Z Fold 2 this year. Last year, it convinced itself it was creating a future for everybody and spun a narrative around the original Fold that was classic gadget futurism. It fell apart just like the original Fold’s screen. This year, the company isn’t pretending that the Z Fold 2 is a phone for everybody — and thank god, because at $2,000 it would be insulting to do so.
Simply saying these are luxury products in the same vein as handbags, watches, or designer clothing doesn’t quite work, though. For one thing, those other products hold their value much better than consumer electronics. For another, they don’t usually promise to do more than their regular-priced counterparts — they’re just the same things, made with higher quality and with an exclusive brand attached.
The go-to analogy for this kind of gadget is luxury automobiles. Like folding phones, they offer a mix of better quality and more features while fundamentally being the same thing: a car.
I’m dwelling on it because it’s the only way for me to put these prices in a context that makes sense. It also helps me make the case that you should pay attention to these phones even if you won’t buy them. The stories these phones tell are stories about where tech companies hope phones are heading — or to continue the car analogy, where tech companies would like to drive them.
If you’re curious about the Duo and the Z Fold 2 themselves, what I can tell you is that my initial impression is the hardware on both is well made but for different reasons. The Duo is almost impossibly thin for a device that has two screens and all the usual parts of a smartphone. The Z Flip 2 has a glass screen and a refined hinge that makes the whole thing feel a lot less slapdash than the original (or the original’s rushed-out revision).
That’s actually about all I can tell you. Microsoft has told reviewers that they can’t share anything beyond bare hardware impressions until the review embargo lifts, and I simply haven’t had more than a day with the Z Fold 2.
The properties they share are (pardon the pun) twofold. First, the main reason to spend the money on them isn’t functionality but luxury. Second, they’re trying to kick off the next big trend in smartphones.
The Fold, the Duo, and the Flip all have very different ideas for what that trend will actually be. I don’t know if all of them will be able to coexist or if one will win out in the same way rectangular glass slabs became the default of the 2010s.
But until a company gets serious about bringing the price down, I’ll keep calling folding phones luxury devices. At the end of the day, the thing that makes something a luxury is that you don’t need it.
┏ Apple will soon release two Apple Watches and a new iPad Air: report. I’ve been wondering when Bloomberg would drop its annual tease of Apple’s fall hardware event. Mark Gurman and Debby Wu lay out all the new stuff: four iPhones with 5G, two Apple Watches, and a bezel-less iPad Air. It’s going to be a busy fall!
┏ Nvidia announces new RTX 3080 GPU, priced at $699 and launching September 17th. Hope you keep your PC in an area with good airflow:
At the heart of this new GPU is an updated thermal design. Nvidia has created a new pennant-shaped board for its RTX 3080, combined with a new cooling shroud. The new cooling solution is designed to improve airflow and overcome some of the constraints of the cooling solutions that exist on the RTX 2080 today. It includes a dual fan setup that is designed to improve airflow by more than 55 percent, with promises of much quieter and more efficient cooling. Nvidia is using a bracket exhausting front fan, with a flow through rear fan.
┏ Nvidia’s new RTX 3090 is a $1,499 monster GPU designed for 8K gaming. Tom Warren is right, this thing is a beast:
While the RTX 3080 will ship with 10GB of G6X memory, the RTX 3090 ships with a huge 24GB of G6X memory. Nvidia is promising that the RTX 3090 will be capable of 60fps gaming at 8K resolutions. This new flagship card is more akin to Nvidia’s Titan series and will ship on September 24th priced at $1,499.
You can get a stellar pair of headphones for much, much less than that, but the audio specialist is hoping to leapfrog Sony, Bose, and other headphone makers in craftsmanship and sound quality. With their lambskin ear pads (with memory foam inside), aluminum frame, and leather headband, these certainly look the part of top-end, premium headphones. With the H95 headphones, Bang & Olufsen also copied one of the best things about Microsoft’s Surface Headphones: the dial controls.
┏ Sonos patent gives possible first look at unannounced headphones. Jon Porter rounds up a bunch of rumors you might have missed. Good luck to Sonos on this part, though, because it seems highly unlikely:
The patent shows a couple of designs that look similar to other over-ear headphones from the likes of Sony and Sennheiser. It also mentions support for multiple voice assistants via wake words, as well as Sonos-specific features like integrating with an existing multi-room speaker setup.
┏ Asus Zenfone 7 Pro review: fun flipping cameras with a bulky phone attached. As I’ve mentioned before, last year’s Zenfone was a surprise hit. As Jon Porter notes in his review, the sequel gets almost everything right except the important part: quality photos that live up to that flippy camera.
┏ The Zendure SuperTank Pro is a great travel charger for optimists. Chaim Gartenberg on a gadget few will get since travel is so restricted, but is nevertheless cool. If I hadn’t just got a huge battery in case of power outages, I might look at this:
It has the exact same capacity as the previous model at 26,800mAh / 96.48Wh battery (the maximum that you can legally take on a commercial flight according to Federal Aviation Administration rules), but it’s upgraded the ports considerably. Instead of a USB-C / USB-A split, the SuperTank Pro fully embraces the future with four USB-C ports along with higher and more consistent power output.
More from The Verge
┏ Biden campaign launches official Animal Crossing: New Horizons yard signs. Super fun scoop from Makena Kelly:
The Biden-Harris campaign released four sign designs for players to download, featuring the official Biden-Harris logo, Team Joe logo, the “Joe” Pride logo, and an image of aviator sunglasses shaded in red, white, and blue. Players will be able to access the designs in-game by scanning the design QR codes through the Nintendo Switch Online app.
┏ Apple and Google announce new automatic app system to track COVID exposures. Russell Brandom:
Under the new system, participating health departments will assemble a configuration file, allowing them to set their risk scores, redirect users to their specific health department website, and modify the recommendation for users who have been exposed. Once the configuration is complete, iOS and Android can automatically generate the necessary software, although the two operating systems handle the task differently. In Android, the configuration file will automatically generate a custom Android app, while iOS will incorporate the settings into its OS-level contact system. The iOS version will be built into iOS 13.7, which is set to deploy on Tuesday. Android is planning to deploy the system later this month to all users with Android 6.0 or higher.