Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Rant: Samsung and the case of the disappearing MicroSD Card

I have noticed a trend with major smartphone manufacturers to exclude MicroSD card slots from their phones in order to differentiate the different varieties and sell phones of different storage capacities.

What is a MicroSD card?  Well a MicroSD card, such as the one pictured to the right, is a type of storage device that allows you to store pictures, movies, music, etc on it.  Once upon a time, when internal storage was meagre, MicroSD Card was all the rage.  It allowed manufacturers to get away with less internal storage.  However, with smartphones, the apps are typically stored in the phone's internal storage, making the MicroSD card external storage quite useless for the task.

Then came Apple, whose first smartphone, the iPhone, didn't come with external storage.  Instead of allowing expandable storage, they sold their device with varying capacity of storage, where the user have to "predict" the amount of storage they might need in the future and buy the appropriate model.  I have heard too many a tale where iPhone users have "ran out of storage" since their storage needs have grown since they last bought the phone.  Also, each iteration of the iOS operating system that powers Apple's mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) were heavier than the last.  Thus, they ate more of the internal storage, leaving less space for the user.

If the iPhone had external storage, the user could have just bought an external storage card and offload all their photos onto that.  Some may argue, "but wait there's USB OTG (on the go), which allow you to plug in your USB storage device like flash drive."  To that I say, ha!  Would you seriously want to carry a USB pendrive around just in case you want to show your friends photos or playback music that you have "archived" since you no longer use them?

But thank gods that Android phones all come with a MicroSD card slt.  But wait, it seems that the MicroSD card slot is slowly growing missing.  In the mainstream Android market, the Nexus devices were first the one to do away with the slots.  First gen Motorola G and Moto X didn't come with the slots either and neither did the HTC One (M7).  However, those companies found the error in the ways and brought back the slot in later models of the devices.

However, it seems that Samsung, whose phones had always had an MicroSD card slot, is doing away with them.  The S6 and S6 edge device didn't come with the slot, much to my chagrin.  Instead they feature a metallic look that harken to the Apple iPhones.

While I'm not a big fan of the Samsung's physical button and their layout of the back / app switcher is opposite to 99% of non Samsung devices, in the past I was willing to give Samsung phones a go (I had one but swapped it for an Xperia Z2), but without the MicroSD card, it's bye bye Samsung. I am a long time Android user and my first smartphone phone is a Samsung device.  And plus, Samsung did a backward step here with the S6 and S6 Edge. The Samsung S5 had waterproofing whereas the S6 doesn't. On the other hand, Sony has done the opposite. The Xperia M doesn't have waterproofing while the M2 Aqua and all the latest range has waterproofing. In addition, the M4 has a capless waterproofed charger port. That means the only components that are hidden behind the caps are those you rarely touch i.e. the sim card and the MicroSD card slot.  It seems Samsung is trying to mimic Apple and "be cool" with their "redesign" turned out for the worse.

But enough about Samsung, the infamous (or famous depending on how you see it) OnePlus "smartphone killers" don't have the slots either.  OnePlus also relied on a clunky invite system, but that's beside the point.

By now you might be asking why would the company do away with the slots?  There could be a couple of reasons, simplifying of designs.  But the biggest factor is profits.  The MicroSD card stood in the way of storage differentiation.  With the slot present, if you need a larger storage, you could just go to a store and get a larger capacity card.  That means less profits to the smartphone manufacturers (and more to the MicroSD card producers).  Without the slot, the smartphone manufacturers can force user to buy a more expensive phone in anticipation of the storage that the consumer may need as in the consumer's eye, it's better to have more storage than less (and this is true).

So no matter how the company spin it, taking out the MicroSD card slot is an attempt to squeeze more money from the consumers.