BARCELONA, Spain — Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. is betting virtual reality will help give its Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge smartphones an advantage over all the other Android smartphones on the market as well as Apple Inc.’s rumored iPhone 7.
Samsung gave its two flagship smartphones for 2016 their debuts at the Mobile World Congress Sunday, with all attendees watching the launch in virtual reality through the company’s Gear VR headset. Those who preorder a Galaxy S7 in the U.S. will get a free Gear VR headset as Samsung looks to build on the lead it has over other smartphone makers in VR development. The new phones will go on sale in the U.S. March 11, with preorders beginning Feb. 23 (Tuesday).
Samsung was even able to call on Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg to help promote its VR efforts, as a result of Samsung’s partnership with Facebook’s Oculus unit. “VR is the next platform,” Zuckerberg proclaimed, adding he wants the technology to help remember the most important moments of his life.
“I think of my baby daughter and how I want to remember how she takes her first steps,” Zuckerberg said. “I want to capture the whole scene. I hope we can take a 360 video.” The Facebook co-founder also reported 1 million hours of video have been watched via Gear VR headsets to date.
Alongside its launch of the two new smartphones, Samsung released the Gear 360 twin-lens camera that will work in conjunction with the new phones to allow users create VR experiences directly on the phone.
The latest version of Samsung’s Gear VR, which launched last year, was designed to work with the new handsets, which differ only slightly from the models released last year, although the company has made the new smartphones lighter, narrower and thinner.
The Gear 360 is a camera the size of a golf ball that Samsung said offers much higher resolution than current models on the market without the high prices of professional models.
The Gear 360 will connect directly with the Galaxy S7 to allow users preview videos, and, by using Samsung’s Milk VR platform, users will be able to share the VR content on Facebook and YouTube. Creation of VR content is one of the stumbling blocks that has stalled wider adoption of the technology, and, with the Gear 360, Samsung appeared to be hoping it would continue its dominance of the smartphone VR market.
While the handsets may look similar to last year’s models, Samsung has added significant upgrades to the new smartphones. The Galaxy S7 retains the 5.1-inch display of the comparable model launched last year, while the Galaxy S7 edge has a larger 5.5-inch screen. Both display have always-on features that let users see information such as the time and date without having to turn on the devices.
Samsung also upgraded its smartphone cameras to provide improved auto-focus speeds and lower-light performance. The company showed off side-by-side comparison shots between its Galaxy S7 and the iPhone 6S Plus, highlighting how Apple’s handset is Samsung’s biggest challenger.
In addition, Samsung improved the battery life of each new phone, boosting the Galaxy S7 battery to 3000 milliampere-hour (up from 2550mAh) and the Galaxy S7 edge battery to 3600mAh (up from 2600mAh).
Samsung also waterproofed the two new phones and brought back the microSD card slot that it eliminated last year, which was something that consumers were not happy about.