BACK TO THE FUTURE

Throwback Thursday: Are Samsung’s newest phones from 2006?

It’s 2015. What do you feel you’re missing most when you’re out and about on your smartphone? Is it your old BlackBerry’s physical keyboard? Your Palm Pilot’s stylus? A screen the size of your laptop? If you’ve been pining for a way to combine the greatest technology accessories of the last 15 years into one device, you’re in luck. Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 5, announced today (August 13) at an event in New York, might be the phone for you.

The Note 5, presented alongside the succinctly named Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, is the latest iteration of Samsung’s flagship ‘phablet’ line of supermassive smartphones. The slimmed-down Note 5 will be available in the US August 21, and will apparently be comparable in price to the iPhone 6 Plus. Here are some its new blast-from-the-past features that set it apart from Apple’s largest phone:

Keyboard case

what is that
Blast from the past. (Quartz/Mike Murphy)

BlackBerry hit its peak sometime in 2010. Back then, it still had more users in the US than either Android or Apple, and its physical-keyboard-toting phones were ubiquitous at just about every business in the country. But as consumers fell in love with Android and Apple experiences, BlackBerry faded, taking physical keyboards with it. But those who miss the tactile glory of bashing out emails on small plastic blips on their smartphone will now have the luxury of doing so on a flagship Android device. Samsung announced today that it would sell a snap-on case for the Note that has a flip-around physical keyboard. There weren’t a lot of details about the case. But Engadget reports the case “feels great” and will cost $80. Someone should let Kim Kardashian know.

Stylus

That was supposed to say "hey."
That was supposed to say “hey.” (Quartz/Mike Murphy)

While each iteration of the Note has shipped with a stylus, the new version of the S Pen has some new tricks up its sleeve. Housed in the base of the phone, it can be popped out with one click, and will let Note owners write on the screens of their phones, even when the screen is turned off, giving the effect similar to one of those old magnetic sketch toys. It lets users jot down a phone number, or a quick note, without having to open the phone, find a note-taking app, and start writing. Continuing with the theme of recreating physical inputs, the new S Pen also has a satisfying click button at the top, in case you wanted the feeling of writing with a ballpoint pen.

Bigger screens

Both the new Note and Edge Plus feature massive 5.7″ screens, which also happens to make the phones look quite similar. Samsung claims the rounded back on the Note will make the phone easier to hold with one hand, which will be nice for watching long videos. This reporter found the phone easy enough to use with one hand, but it was a real workout to get a thumb from one side of the device to the other—granted, this will make the phone a great pickup for anyone that has big hands. The big screens will also be great for Samsung’s newly announced Periscope/Meerkat clone, called Live Broadcast, which allows anyone with one of the new devices to live steam 4K video to YouTube from a double-tap on the home button. While big screens aren’t necessarily outdated—Samsung started to buck the trend of making phones smaller and thinner with the first Note—and the new phone is slimmer than previous models, it does still raise the question: How big can a phone be before it’s just a portable TV?

Samsung Pay

Samsung’s wireless payment service, which was supposed to have launched in the summer, will arrive exclusively on the new devices on September 28. It’s like a cross between Apple Pay, using near-field communication (NFC) to let users tap to pay with credit cards loaded onto the service, and regular magnetic strip credit cards. Samsung didn’t say which banks it will be partnering with, but claimed that its service will work with any card—loyalty card, gift card, or credit card—and work on any traditional card reader. To do this, it’ll use a technology it acquired when it bought a startup called LoopPay. The technology mimics the swipe of a regular magnetic card, “by using a small metal coil to generate changing magnetic fields over a short period of time,” as Quartz’s Alice Truong reported in March.

One of the biggest complaints reviewers tend to have with the operating system Samsung builds on top of the standard Android operating system is all the junk it adds in. There’s proprietary apps that add clutter to the home screen, and features (like being able to wave your hands at the device) that seem to add little utility.

It’s too early too call these blasts from the past physical bloatware, but it does seem like Samsung is adding things just to see what sticks. Samsung’s phones are kind of like the anti-Apple. While Apple is trying wean the world off credit cards, Samsung is adding functionality to make sure credit card readers still work. Apple kickstarted the demise of the BlackBerry, and Samsung is pulling its look and feel back. The original Note was met with tepid critical response, but almost immediately showed strong demand from customers. Perhaps Samsung is onto something with the new Note: Even Apple seems to be considering pairing a stylus with its next iPad.

Up next: a revival for Flo Rida and T-Pain, perhaps.

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