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  • Consumer Reports and its Samsung Disconnect

    June 20th, 2017

    So Consumer Reports has finally issued its verdict on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8+. Both score 82 on the current ratings scale, placing them at the top of the heap. Plenty of praise was heaped on the phone, except for its lack of a removable battery, a difficult-to-access memory card, and then there’s that fingerprint sensor!

    Instead of being on the front, in the spirit of Apple’s Touch ID, it’s at the rear. The reason appears to be due to the difficulty of embedding such a sensor beneath the AMOLED display. This design decision fueled unconfirmed rumors that Apple had encountered the same problem, and would the forced to make the same placement decision for Touch ID on the rumored iPhone 8, which is rumored to also sport an edge-to-edge display.

    But recent iPhone 8 rumors indicates Apple won’t have that problem, and there will be an embedded Touch ID in its usual spot.

    CR gave the iPhone 7 a 76, and the iPhone 7 Plus a 77. Both products were also denigrated for the lack of a removable battery. But the smaller iPhone gets a mediocre rating for battery life, whereas the larger battery in the iPhone 7 Plus gets a rating similar to that of the Galaxy S8.

    Now as to that CR review, it does appear that the magazine’s reviewers were asleep at the wheel. I’m not saying the Galaxy S8 and its bigger brother/sister aren’t deserving of a high rating. But there are some real question marks in the review, serious omissions, which do not make any sense unless the tech staff is living in a bubble.

    So there are published reports of a red tint on some of the Galaxy S8 screens. Supposedly you can fix it with a manual calibration on your unit. That this curious step was required is curious, although a supposed carrier update appears to fix it, at least for the carriers who are pushing that update. Still, CR isn’t doing its research not to be aware of ongoing problems with this device. At the very least, customers should be warned about the problem and the possible solution.

    Then there are the biometrics. So it doesn’t appear that CR worried so much about the awkward positioning of the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, or the fact that you might accidentally smudge the camera lens when trying to unlock your phone. This is a poor design decision, one that might discourage people from using it.

    But the real lapse in the CR review is the failure of the magazine’s editors to understand the flaws in the facial and iris recognition sensors. The problems aren’t even mentioned, or weren’t in the version of the review I read at CR’s site.

    Consider that, on the day the Galaxy S8 was rolled out to the media, someone already found a way to defeat the facial recognition scanner with a photo. Do I need to go on? That makes the feature fatally flawed, useless as a security feature.

    But what about the iris sensor? Surely it’s going to be real hard to fool that, even if you remove someone’s eye, as you see on some the TV shows and movies, right?

    Well, it won’t take any gruesome surgery to defeat the iris sensor. According to a published report, all that’s required is a photo and a contact lens. That’s how hackers managed to defeat that system.

    Now all of this information is online, so anyone using these devices would understand the limits. But CR is blissfully unaware of such problems. Well, at least the units survived the dunk tests.

    Compare that to one of the Galaxy S8’s predecessors. A Galaxy S7 Active failed CR’s dunk tests. Supposedly Samsung agreed to replace any defective handsets, but only if they have actually sustained water damage. So do you even want to take the chance?

    Now I’m not suggesting that CR needs to write favorable reviews of iPhones, or that the ratings should be changed. But I am concerned that significant facts about lapses in the security features of the new Samsung smartphones were ignored. So there’s an awkward-to-use fingerprint sensor, which, of course, will discourage users from trying it. The iris and facial recognition sensors are seriously flawed and easy to crack.

    Another example of CR’s lack of attention to detail is the way it appears to accept the Samsung’s features without considering the usability, or even if they’re necessary.

    So you know how Apple’s Retina displays work, that you won’t be able to see the pixels that make up the image at a normal viewing distance. If there are more pixels, you won’t see them. Other than bragging rights, what’s the point?

    So CR’s reviewers write that the Samsung’s display, which is either 5.8 inches or 6.2 inches, depending on the model, promises “more than 520 pixels per inch of detail, though you may not notice the benefits of those extra pixels in everyday use.”

    You think?

    Clearly CR doesn’t understand what a Retina display is. But since the magazine wasn’t aware of the shortcomings in the Samsung’s biometrics, I’m not surprised.

    Again, this doesn’t mean these handsets don’t deserve high ratings, but why the flaws and unnecessary frills aren’t mentioned is yet more evidence of CR’s serious shortcomings in reviewing tech gear.



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