Samsung Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge Plus among highlights of latest smartphone developments

As one of the premier electronic shows in the world, IFA annually brings the biggest names in the technology industry together in Berlin to showcase the latest and greatest technological offerings to a global audience. Here is a look at some of the remarkable smartphone and smartwatch developments shown last month at IFA 2015.

Alcatel took the wraps off several new products at this year’s show; however, two devices stood out prominently from its new offerings. The OneTouch Go Watch, Alcatel’s latest smartwatch, was one of these. At first glance, the watch will look familiar to those who know the hip Casio G-Shock line of watches. Nonetheless, at a time when most smartwatch makers are focusing on high-end designs, it is nice to see a brand take a different approach that focuses on a sporty-yet-hip segment of users. The watch itself is incredibly customisable, with the face and wrist bands all able to be swapped out to suit one’s mood. Furthermore, the watch has an “Emotional Pulse” feature that uses sensors to tell its owner to do something – like scream or eat – and provides an option to post that activity on social media. The OneTouch Go watch runs its own software that will be work on either Android or iOS operating systems.

The second Alcatel product that stood out was the OneTouch Pop Star, a phone that features interchangeable back covers that come with quick response (QR) codes. When scanned, these QR codes will provide the phone owner with wallpapers and themes that match the overall look of the cover. Moreover, these back covers will be offered in denim alongside the usual options such as wood and leather. The OneTouch Pop Star comes with a 5-inch high-definition screen, a quad-core processor, an 5 MP front-facing camera, and a 8 MP rear camera. The phone will be aggressively priced when released, proving that Alcatel is serious about targeting the mid to low-end segment of the market. According to IDC, this segment has large growth potential as the sub-$200 price band in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region accounted for about 65 per cent of smartphone shipments in the second quarter of the year.

Huawei has recently become a massive force to be reckoned with in the smartphone field, with IDC’s latest research showing that the vendor currently commands more than 11 per cent share of the MEA smartphone market. And the vendor’s rapid rise through the rankings shows no signs of slowing down.

A major hit at IFA 2015 was the unveiling of Huawei’s Mate S 5.5-inch metal smartphone. The Android device features a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner that also allows users to navigate the screen by simply swiping over it in the desired direction. Another interesting feature is Knuckle Sense 2.0, which is capable of differentiating between the user’s fingers and knuckles. Using this feature, the user can write the first letter of a desired app and that app will automatically run; for example, the letter C can be written with a knuckle anywhere on screen, and the camera app will launch.

A further intriguing feature of the Mate S is the inclusion of Force Touch, which is already used by Apple to describe a pressure-sensitive surface that is capable of providing additional features with the use of extra force or pressure. With Huawei’s device, this feature allows users to zoom into pictures and fast forward through videos by simply applying additional pressure to the device’s screen.

Samsung recently took the wraps off two new smartphones, the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. The company also teased its long-awaited smartwatch, the Samsung Gear S2 running Tizen, during the launch of these new smartphones.

At IFA 2015, Samsung finally unveiled two variants of the watch, the Gear S2 and the Gear S2 Classic. The former comes with interchangeable sporty silicon wristbands, while the latter is more traditional and comes with changeable leather straps.

This time around, Samsung opted to go for a circular Samoled display instead of the more traditional squared designs of smartwatches of the past. The crown of the Samsung smartwatch is actually rotatable, allowing users to easily and intuitively navigate the device’s menu and touchscreen. This interesting feature can be considered as Samsung’s attempt to take on Apple’s current digital crown. The smartwatch will also be able to work with other Samsung devices as well as most smartphones running Android 4.4 and above.

It is no secret that the smartphone arm of Sony has had a rough time recently in the face of incredibly tough competition. According to IDC, the company held less than 2 per cent share of the MEA smartphone market in this year’s sercond quarter. In a bid to grow this share, Sony unveiled three variants of its flagship Z5 phone at IFA 2015.

The high-end model of the three phone variants, the Sony Z5 Premium, stole the show with its 5.5-inch screen and whopping 4K display resolution – the first of its kind for a smartphone. Despite being encased in a glass and metal build, the phone is waterproof and incorporates a fingerprint scanner on its side. The phone also has a 23 MP rear camera.

The 4K display has a pixel density of 806 PPI that many were quick to attack, saying that the feature might be overkill and will only drain the battery. Whatever the case, in this competitive day and age of smartphones, companies need such standout features to get mentioned and noticed in the market. Whether the display will be beneficial or not, Sony has gotten itself and its new phones some much-needed publicity; it is now down to consumer acceptance and the vendor’s channel strategies to ultimately determine their fate.

Saad Elkhadem is a research analyst at IDC in the Middle East and Africa.

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