TIME Gadgets

Samsung Gear S Smartwatch Can Make Calls Without a Paired Phone

Samsung

The predominant smartwatch maker introduces yet another wearable, but this one can fly solo.

Smartwatches are notoriously codependent gadgets. If you want to use one to make calls, you need an auxiliary device nearby to do the cellular legwork. Forget smart, they’re like mini-dumb terminals, wrist-bound proxies for another functionally better-rounded piece of technology.

Until now: Meet the Gear S, a curved-screen smartwatch that maker Samsung says can do phone calls all by its lonesome.

The Gear S uses a curved 2-inch 360-by-480 pixel Super AMOLED display attached to a flex band (with changeable straps), and employs a customizable interface that includes views and fonts Samsung says will let you “read messages and notifications at a single glance.”

The IP67-certified (particle and moisture resistant) wearable is powered by a 1.0 Ghz dual-core processor, has 512MB of memory and 4GB of internal storage, and runs Tizen, the Linux-based operating system for embedded devices. It includes both 3G as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, charges its 300 mAh Li-ion battery (Samsung estimates you’ll get two days out of “typical usage”) with a USB 2.0 cable, and has a battery of tracking tools, including an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a compass, a heart-rate monitor, an ambient light sensor, an ultraviolet detector and a barometer.

It’ll still sync with or act as a call proxy for a smartphone, of course, if that’s what you prefer, but the big deal — if you care about smartwatches anyway — is that it can get online to check notifications by itself, and you can make and receive calls from your wrist without a secondary device. I see nothing in the specifications about a microphone or speaker, for better or worse, thus ruling out the Dick Tracy angle (meaning, in other words, that you might need a Bluetooth headset to make calls).

Samsung’s covering that angle by simultaneously announcing the Gear Circle, a Bluetooth headset that can pair with smartphones (and while the company doesn’t say as much in the press release, one assumes, the Gear S). The Gear Circle’s extras include a magnetic lock that lets it hang around your neck during downtime, and it’ll vibrate to indicate an incoming call or notification.

MONEY Tech

How to Flip Your ‘Kill Switch’ and Protect Your Smartphone from Thieves

140826_EM_KillSwitch
Nathan Alliard—Getty Images

Starting next summer, every smartphone sold in California must have an anti-theft device. Here's what you can do to safeguard yours right now.

Smartphone theft just got a whole lot less lucrative. Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring that all smartphones sold in the state include a “kill switch,” software that makes it impossible for thieves to use stolen phones.

Here’s something you may not know: Your phone could already have such a switch. Both iPhones and Samsung phones have new software that “locks” the device so that unauthorized users are unable to activate it. According to the San Francisco Police Department, the city saw a 38% drop in iPhone thefts in the six months after Apple released its kill switch. In June, Google and Microsoft promised to offer kill switch technology in their next operating systems, and for now, both offer other apps to help you protect a lost phone.

The California bill requires that tech companies make the kill switch feature standard on all phones starting July 1, 2015. In the meantime, you can enable your phone’s available security features by turning on the right settings. Here’s how.

iPhones

Do this right now: Make sure you have iOS7 software (if you haven’t already, you can download the upgrade on iTunes). Go to Settings, then iCloud, and then flip on “Find My iPhone.” If your phone gets lost, you’ll be able to track it on icloud.com.

Do this if your phone gets stolen: Go to icloud.com/find and sign in using your Apple ID and password. There, a button lets you play a sound on your iPhone to help you locate the device. You can also put the phone in “lost mode,” which gives you the option to display an alternate phone number and a message explaining that the phone has been lost, so Good Samaritans will be able to find you.

If you’re sure your phone has been stolen, erase the data. Remember that this is a last resort: Once you’ve erased your phone, you won’t be able to track it. But that way, the only way someone will be able to activate it is by entering your Apple ID and password. (And in the event that you find your phone again, you can restore the data using iCloud backup.)

Android

Do this right now: Android doesn’t have a kill switch yet, but it has still some helpful anti-theft features. Start by downloading the free “Android Device Manager.”

Do this if your phone gets stolen: Sign in to the Android Device Manager using your Google account and password. Again, you’ll be able to play a sound, track your phone, reset the screen lock PIN, and erase the data. (Remember, once you erase the data, you won’t be able to track the phone anymore.)

However, hackers may still be able to reset and reactivate the device. Expect a tougher kill switch feature in Google’s next software upgrade.

Samsung

Do this right now: If you’ve got a Samsung Android phone, you’re in luck. Go to Apps, then Settings, and then Security. Check the box next to “reactivation lock.” You’ll be prompted to either sign in to your Samsung account or create one.

Do this if your phone gets stolen: Go to findmymobile.samsung.com and log in with your Samsung account. Like “Find My iPhone,” Samsung lets you track your phone, play a sound to help you find it, and lock your device remotely.

If your phone has been jacked, the reactivation lock renders it useless. Once you’ve turned the feature on, no one can reset the device without your Samsung account and password.

Windows Phone

Do this right now: Windows phones don’t have kill switches yet either, but they do have a device tracking feature. Go to Start, then App, then Settings, and then “Find My Phone.” You can opt to save your phone’s location every few hours, which could give you a more accurate reading of its last known location if the battery dies.

Do this if your phone gets stolen: Go to windowsphone.com and sign in with your Windows Live ID. You’ll be able to track your phone, play a sound, lock your phone with a message, and erase your data.

Windows also plans to add a kill switch in the future.

TIME Business

You Know Things Have Gone Too Far When a Samsung Galaxy Challenges an iPhone to the Ice Bucket Challenge

#Brands being #Brands

Some people are dumping buckets of ice water over their heads to raise awareness for ALS. Others are dumping buckets of ice water over their head to raise awareness for their social media profile. Samsung, for instance, dumped a bucket of ice water over a waterproof Galaxy S5 to bash Apple’s non-waterproof iPhone.

Brands, amiright? Always finding a way to latch onto the latest viral trend…

Chili’s had a more subtle approach to the challenge:

And Ronald McDonald had the most confused, failing to mention donations and nominating all “redheads”:

The Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $80 million for ALS research since July 29.

TIME FindTheBest

How China Will Change the Smartphone Industry: Predicting Winners and Losers

Back in 2012, if you compared a budget phone to a premium phone, you’d likely see a spec/features breakdown like this:

The comparison was simple: Twice the money bought you a phone that was, statistically speaking, twice as good.

But with Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi’s ascendance, the following type of comparison is becoming increasingly common:

The Xiaomi Mi 3 is less than half the cost of a Galaxy S5, yet boasts nearly identical specifications, even edging out Samsung’s flagship phone in a few categories, including display sharpness and standby time. For the money (at least based on the raw data) the Mi 3 is the clear choice.

But what about the fluffy stuff, like build quality, interface and overall user experience? Surely that’s where the Galaxy S5 earns its higher price tag.

Not necessarily. CNET calls the Mi 3 “quite the looker,” complementing the phone’s “aluminum-magnesium chassis and…beautiful face.” Meanwhile, TechRadar praises the “polished and comprehensive MIUI interface,” awarding the phone four out of five stars in both design and usability. Compare those accolades to the same experts’ opinions on the S5’s hardware (CNET: “at the end of the day, the Galaxy flagship feels…like plastic;” TechRadar: “[the S5] doesn’t look like a cutting edge smartphone”).

So Samsung might actually be in trouble, and the first warning signs are already here. Just last quarter, Xiaomi leap-frogged Samsung to become China’s #1 smartphone seller, usurping a spot Samsung had owned for over two years. What’s more, Xiaomi is just getting going, with its new flagship, the Mi 4, all set for launch.

The catch for Americans, of course, is that the highly-affordable, surprisingly-capable Mi line won’t be available in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. Until Xiaomi decides to brave the fierce, patent-infested waters of the American electronics market, U.S. citizens will be stuck paying $650 for unlocked, top-shelf handsets.

Still, Xiaomi’s ascendance will likely shake up the mobile industry for years to come, as rival smartphone makers are forced to respond to top specs at low prices. So with that in mind, let’s speculate as to who will win and lose as a result of China’s maturing budget phone industry.

Winners

Chinese Manufacturers

The biggest winners here are Chinese handset makers—and not just Xiaomi. Originally the market followers, China’s gadget manufacturers are now positioned to be market leaders, with an opportunity to shape pricing, features and development trends around the world. If rival Chinese makers like Lenovo, Huawei and Yulong can match Xiaomi’s quality, they’ll be able to fight over Samsung’s old throne for the next several years.

Best of all, they’ve got a giant pie made up of 1.5 billion customers.

Consumers in Emerging Markets

Naturally, phone choice is only getting better in China, as manufacturers offer better and better phones at the same mid-to-low price points. It won’t be long before Americans are jealous of the latest Chinese-only hit—a 180 degree turn from five years ago.

Losers

LG, Samsung, Sony

Rival smartphone makers in Korea and Japan have the most to lose here—over time, they will have tremendous trouble competing with their Chinese counterparts on price. In order to survive, each company will need to find new ways to differentiate its offerings…and it has to be something other than specs and price.

Remains to Be Seen

Consumers in Developed Markets

On paper, consumers in developed markets should benefit from China’s new army of low-cost, high-quality handsets. Once Xiaomi and co. finally enter the U.S. market, the inexpensive products will theoretically drive down prices from the likes of Apple, Sony, and Samsung.

But how long will this take? Will Apple sue Xiaomi for infringing on patents to stall the threat? Will American manufacturers start making lower-quality phones to compete with China on price? And will any of this help solve America’s biggest smartphone problem: namely, the appalling, worst-in-the-world contracts forced upon us by big carriers? There may be a tech revolution going on in China, but the U.S. benefits could take years to unfold.

Apple

It’s tempting to call Apple a loser here. After all, the company has always rejected the low-cost phone, and here Xiaomi seems to be proving its success.

At the same time, however, Apple might just be positioned to sit above the fray as Samsung, LG and Sony fight for Xiaomi’s crumbs. Consider that Apple has never played the spec game, having ceded the spec-sheet war to Samsung years ago. Apple doesn’t sell handsets on the strength of megapixels or CPUs, but rather, great design and the Apple mystique. Perhaps the company was right to avoid the low-cost market all along, a territory that a Chinese company like Xiaomi was bound to win eventually.

Maybe people will finally abandon Apple once they can buy a phone with similar specs, for a third of the price. Or maybe the same group of geeks, Apple apologists and design nerds will just keep buying iPhones, Mi or no Mi. Time will tell.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

MONEY Google

4 Crazy Google Ambitions

Vehicle prototype photo of Google's self-driving car.
Prototype of Google's self-driving car. Google

Google has already changed the world by altering the way we interact with technology. As it enters its second decade as a public company, Google wants to repeat the trick.

Google’s thriving search business and Android mobile operating system are throwing off tons of cash. And with $60 billion to play with, the company is looking for the next new technologies to champion.

And it’s thinking big.

Co-founder Larry Page has frequently talked about putting new technologies to the “toothbrush test.” In other words, will we use it once or twice a day like our toothbrush…or for that matter, like Google?

He makes it sounds so easy. Perhaps too easy. Maybe it’s the inevitable overconfidence of someone whose youthful work turned out so spectacularly successful. (It doesn’t help to see this picture of him with a goofy oversized toothbrush.)

Can Google really create a third (or fourth) product that becomes so deeply enmeshed in our lives that it literally changes the way we live? If it fails, it won’t be for lack of ambition.

Here are four of the company’s biggest dreams.

1) Fuse man and machine.

You probably already carry a smartphone (maybe even one that runs on Google’s Android operating system.) Google wants to bring that convenience even closer to you, with projects like Google Glass, its new eyewear; Android Wear, a version of its mobile operating system that pairs with a watch; and a contact lens designed to help diabetics measure their blood sugar.

“Someday we’ll all be amazed that computing involved fishing around in pockets and purses,” Page said, discussing Google Glass on a recent conference call.

Unlike some of Google’s most outlandish schemes, “smart” eyewear and watches are already here, at least for the early adopters. The glasses are for sale for $1,500. At least two companies, Samsung and LG, make watches to pair with Android Wear, although reviewers have warned most consumers may want to wait for the technology to improve.

Of course, not everyone is excited about these new products. In July, the New York Post reported on what it called “The revolt against Glassholes.

“I don’t see why anyone feels the need to wear them,” the Post quoted one 30-year-old, who found it disconcerting to encounter a subway rider sporting a pair. “Was he reading his emails, watching an old episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ or recording everyone?” the man asked. “Just reach into your pocket and get your phone!”

2) Drive Your Cars.

Driverless cars have been a dream of techies for a long time. In fact, at the 1939 World’s fair, the famous “Futurama” exhibit predicted their arrival by 1960.

Things haven’t evolved quite so quickly. But Google’s efforts seem to be on the cusp. Modified Toyotas and Lexuses have already logged hundreds of thousands of miles, including on public highways. The company has said it plans to build a prototype that will operate without steering wheel or brakes next year.

It’s not just a matter of convenience. While most of us will certainly be nervous when we take our first ride, the cars could actually make roads safer by eliminating the all-too-human habits – from texting to falling asleep at the wheel – of today’s drivers.

Then again, solving old problems could create some new ones too…like the driverless car chase.

3) Bring the Internet to everyone, everywhere.

Google puts information at your fingertips. But that’s only if you have access to the Internet in the first place. That’s not something everyone can take for granted.

“Many of us think of the Internet as a global community. But two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access,” says the Web site of Project Loon, “a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.”

Come again? While most of us hook into the Web through our cable or phone lines, there are many people and places those still don’t reach. The idea, as described by Wired, is for a network of high-altitude balloons, each able to beam high-speed Internet to one another, as well as a serve as a hub for access for an area of about 25 miles below.

Last year, Google floated 30 test balloons over New Zealand, allowing “a small group of pilot testers” to connect online. The company hopes to expand the pilot program, soon circling the Earth along the 40th Southern Parallel, which rings Australia and parts of South America.

Apart from technical and political hurdles, some have questioned whether connecting the world to the Internet is really a top priority.

Said Microsoft founder Bill Gates in a recent BusinessWeek interview:

“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria.”

4) “Solve Death.”

“Can Google Solve Death?” asked TIME last year. The occasion was an interview with Page about a new Google-founded company, Calico LLC.

Page explained the job of the new venture would be to use data and statistics to look at age-related health problems in new ways because current goals, like trying to cure cancer, weren’t ambitious enough.

“One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy,” he told Time. “We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.”

How exactly does Google plan to pull this off? Apart from announcing some high profile hires, Google hasn’t shared much about its vision. CNN was reduced to speculating about cryogenics.

Can Google really find the Fountain of Youth? Maybe. But they also may end up looking as if spectacular and unexpected success made them arrogant and gullible, not unlike those Conquistadors we learned about in grammar school.

Related:
10 Ways Google Has Changed the World
The 8 Wrongest Things Ever Said About Google

TIME Gadgets

Samsung Buys Into Home Automation with SmartThings Acquisition

SmartThings

The reported $200 million deal is a puzzler at first glance, but could make sense if Samsung loops in its appliance business.

Now that nearly every tech company, retail store and hardware chain has its own home automation platform, Samsung doesn’t want to be left out.

The electronics giant has acquired SmartThings, which makes smart home products and apps to control them. Samsung hasn’t disclosed the price, but Re/code claims the company paid roughly $200 million. SmartThings says it will remain an open platform and will operate independently within Samsung’s Open Innovation Center.

Here’s how SmartThings works: First, you buy a $99 hub that allows all your devices and appliances to connect. Then, you tack on whatever other home automation gear you want, such as power outlets, light switches, motion sensors and door locks. The hub then connects to your Internet router, allowing you to control everything via smartphone or tablet whether you’re home or away.

SmartThings got its start as a Kickstarter project in 2012, but over the last couple years, many larger companies have launched similar products with hubs that control an array of other devices. Lowe’s has a smart home system called Iris, while Home Depot has backed Wink, an offshoot of New York-based design shop Quirky. Staples has its own platform, called Connect, and Best Buy is reportedly backing a new effort called Peq.

But there isn’t a huge difference between each of these platforms, and right now the landscape is a bit messy. If you’re in the market for a home automation system, it’s tough to decide which one to pick. And there’s so much expensive, proprietary hardware on each platform that you could easily lock yourself into to one system that doesn’t end up being the best fit.

Perhaps that’s why other tech giants such as Google and Apple are moving more cautiously. Earlier this year, Google acquired Nest, whose only products are a smart thermostat and smoke detector. (Nest itself has since acquired Dropcam, a maker of video-monitoring cameras.) Apple hasn’t yet entered the hardware fray, but the next version of iOS will include HomeKit, a framework for controlling third-party devices. There’s been some speculation that Apple TV could serve as Apple’s hub for home automation in the future.

With that in mind, Samsung’s purchase is a head-scratcher at first glance. SmartThings isn’t much different from all the other systems on the market, and probably won’t get much love at retail, given that every chain now has its own preferred platform.

But Samsung may be able to stand out if it can tie in products from its home appliance business, such as ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers. Although Samsung has dabbled in connected appliances before, until now, it hasn’t had a complete platform that covers things like door locks and light sensors. With SmartThings, Samsung could be buying itself those basic elements. Use cases like “make sure the oven’s off when I leave the house” could be pretty compelling to homeowners, and it’s something other platforms won’t be able to do unless they start partnering with major appliance vendors.

TIME Smartphones

Where Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha Goes Wrong

Samsung

Samsung's latest phone has metal trim, but no soul.

I’ve been trying to figure out what’s bothering me about Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha, a new flagship phone that will launch at the beginning of September.

It might be that Samsung is making a big deal about its use of metal, when most of the handset–including the entire back panel–is covered in plastic.

Or it might be the press release, which pumps a pile of empty adjectives into describing what is basically a smaller Galaxy S5 with metal trim. (In order: “stunning … sophisticated … sophisticated … elegant … practical … optimal … stunning … elegant … fresh … unique … refined … sophisticated … tactile … perfect … calming … eye-catching.”)

Mostly, though, I think it’s the phone itself, and its flimsy justification for existing in the first place.

Samsung CEO JK Shin says the phone was “built and designed based on the specific desires of the consumer market,” which I think means people were getting tired of $600 Samsung phones covered in cheap plastic.

But as a response to those demands, the Galaxy Alpha seems like a mix of laziness and cynicism. The design takes no risks and breaks no new ground aesthetically. (For examples of phones that do, see the rounded metal HTC One and the customizable Moto X.) It doesn’t use any new materials, as Apple is reportedly looking to do with sapphire glass displays, but instead rehashes old ones. It’s as if Samsung just threw some aluminum on a phone to shut people up. You want metal? Here’s your stupid metal.

And although the Galaxy Alpha is extremely thin at 0.26 inches, it only gets there by lopping the battery down to 1,860 mAh. No Samsung flagship has used a battery that small since 2011’s Galaxy S II. Perhaps that’s why Samsung doesn’t even mention battery life on its spec sheet.

I understand why Samsung feels the need to launch the Galaxy Alpha. Smaller vendors are starting to produce phones that are similar to Samsung’s flagships, but for a fraction of the cost, and now they’re eating away at Samsung’s high-end profits. In theory, a premium design might help stop the bleeding.

But for users, I’m not sure what problem the Galaxy Alpha solves. It’s a soulless attempt at a slightly prettier phone, whose most unique asset will be likely obscured by people’s ugly protective cases anyway.

TIME Tablets

These Are the 10 Best Android Tablets of 2014

Samsung

Here's how to choose the best tablet for you

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 9.42.33 AM

This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at Trusted Reviews.com.

By

Are you on the lookout for an Android tablet? The range is vast and varied so we understand it can be a nightmare finding the right one for your needs. So to help you in your search we’ve selected some of the best Android tablets for a number of different scenarios, whether you want the best for a specific budget or you want a tablet that is perfect for your kids or for work.

If you’d like even more advance on what to look for when buying for a new tablet, you should read our Tablet Buyer’s Guide which explains the strengths and weaknesses of each type of tablet and anything else you may need to consider.

If, on the other hand, you know that the iPad Air or a Windows tablet isn’t for you then here’s the place to be.

One of the golden rules when looking at Android tablets is that you should steer clear of cheap no-name models. There are countless of them and they’re almost never worth the money or the effort of using such inferior products.

As for the “best” Android tablet, well there isn’t really one at the moment. What you have is a number of great Android tablets that do some things better than others. What is best for you may be very different from what the person next to you might need.

Click the next arrow to go through and read a bit more about each tablet to find your perfect Android tablet partner.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Originally reviewed by 09 July 2014

Best Android Tablet Overall

Key features:

  • 8.4-inch Super AMOLED screen
  • 16GB storage
  • MicroSD slot

It’s taken some time, but we finally have a tablet to knock the Nexus 7 (2013 edition) off its lofty perch. The 2,560 x 1,600 display on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is fantastic, making it a great place to watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer. The battery life is great and the slim design means it’ll slip nicely into your bag. As we’ve come to expect from Samsung tablets, it still has some not so great software quirks and the fingerprint scanner is not very useful. But if you are looking for an iPad Mini 2 alternative, then this is currently your best option.

Nexus 7 2013

Originally reviewed by 12 August 2013

Best 7-inch Android Tablet

Key features:

  • 7-inch, 1920 x 1200 IPS screen
  • Powered by a reasonably nippy Snapdragon S4Pro quad-core processor
  • Features a 5-megapixel rear camera
  • 16GB/32GB non-expandable

The successor to the brilliant Nexus 7, Google teamed up with Asus once again for the Nexus 7 2 and it’s still one of the best portable Android tablets to own. So, what’s new? Well, the screen resolution has been bumped up to 1,920 x 1,200, the Tegra 3 processor has been replaced with a Qualcomm snapdragon S4 Pro CPU and there’s now a 5-megapixel main camera. It’s more expensive than the original at £199 but it still looks great and offers a zippy performance. The new camera addition is no different from the average rear-facing snappers we’ve seen on other tablets, though.

MONEY Shopping

CONTEST: Are You America’s Smartest Shopper?

All You America's Smartest Shopper presented by Samsung

MONEY's fellow Time Inc. publication, ALL YOU, is launching a contest to track down the country's savviest shopper, sponsored by Samsung. Here's how to enter.

Visit allyou.com/smartestshopper to share your best shopping tip and a photo that illustrates that tip. You can also enter on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #aysmartestshopper. Entries will be accepted from July 25th through August 15th.

ALL YOU will select 25 semifinalists who will be given a new Samsung Galaxy S5 to create a 60-second video that explains why they deserve the title of America’s Smartest Shopper. Those entries will be winnowed down to 10 finalists; ALL YOU, voters, and a panel of saving-savvy judges will determine the winner. The big reveal will air live on NBC’s TODAY show later this fall.

How to vote

Visit allyou.com/smartestshopper from September 17th until October 3rd to cast your vote.

The prizes

The winner will take home $1,000, plus a Samsung prize package that includes a Tab S 8.4 Wifi, Gear Fit and Smart TV.

Two runners-up will each receive $50, plus Tab S 8.4 Wifi, Gear Fit and Samsung Level headphones.

All three finalists will receive a trip with a guest to New York City, where the winner will be revealed live on NBC’s TODAY Show.

 

MONEY Tech

Should You Snap Up a (Cheap) Plasma TV Before They’re All Gone?

A visitor looks at a Samsung ultraslim plasma flatscreen television.
Jochen Eckel—Bloomberg

First Panasonic. Now Samsung. With the big makers dropping plasma, now could be a smart time to buy a TV.

Plasma TVs are going the way of the floppy disk, Walkman, and VCR. This month, Samsung announced that it would stop making plasmas by the end of November. Panasonic got out of the game last year. That leaves just LG to carry the plasma torch—and that probably won’t last. Indeed, by 2016, research firm IHS says plasma TVs will be completely vanish from the U.S. market.

So, with plasma on the way out, should you expect to start seeing killer discounts on TVs that use the technology? And, if you do spot a plasma bargain, should you buy it, or will you just end up with a 60-inch doorstop?

Plasma Prices

Let’s start with prices. No need to hotfoot it to Best Buy right now, according to industry watchers. Panasonic’s exit from the market didn’t have a significant effect on prices, says Ty Pendlebury of CNET.com, and Samsung’s move is expected to be similarly uneventful, at least in the short term. However, that may change “at the very end,” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for the NPD Group. Eventually, retailers will be looking to move those last few plasmas to make room for newer stock and the markdowns will shift into high gear.

The average selling price for a plasma is currently $878, expected to drop 14% to $752 in 2015, according to IHS. On paper, plasmas seem more expensive than LCDs, which have an average price of $735. (A note: Some types of LCD TVs are often referred to LEDs. In this story, “LCD” refers to both types.) That’s misleading, though, because LCDs come in a range of sizes, while plasmas are only made in large (and thus expensive) sizes. When comparing TVs of similar size and quality, says Will Greenwald, who covers consumer tech for PCMag.com, plasma is cheaper.

The takeaway: If you’re in the market for a big TV, plasmas are a good deal and will likely get even cheaper. Just don’t expect to see fire-sale prices.

Is Obsolescence Really So Bad?

People who love plasmas–and they definitely exist–love them because they have great color contrast, a clear, sharp picture, and a wider “viewing angle” than LCD models, meaning you can sit further to the side of the screen without seeing a distorted image. However, they’re also massive energy hogs, and aren’t as thin or bright as other technologies.

The reason so many companies are dropping plasma has little to do with the technology itself. Rather, as LCD models have gotten better and cheaper to produce, it’s become less logical for manufactures to build and maintain factories capable of building only large, pricey plasmas.

Still, if you’re buying a technology that you know is headed for extinction, it’s worth considering what will happen if you need to get a new part for your plasma or have it repaired. Consumer Reports argues that TVs from the top brands are reliable and will continue to support their products. A Samsung rep echoed this, saying the company “will continue to provide support for our plasma TVs and our customer service policy will remain the same as before.” That said, it’s difficult to predict what repair options you’ll actually have.

So You Want to Buy

If you think a plasma could be the right buy for you, check out the Samsung F8500, which CNET dubs “the last great plasma TV.” Starting at $1,800 for the smallest 51-inch model, down from $2,700, “this TV is a very good value and will easily beat any LCD under $3,000 for picture quality,” says Pendlebury.

 

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