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Camera Module Problems May Delay Samsung's Galaxy S5

timothy posted about 9 months ago | from the tiny-little-pieces dept.

Bug 70

concertina226 writes "There's less than a month to go before Samsung launches its new flagship Galaxy S5 smartphone worldwide on 11 April, and the new device has still not gone into mass production due to camera module manufacturing problems. The 16 megapixel camera module consists of six plastic pieces, one more piece than in the existing 13 megapixel camera modules in the Galaxy S4. The problem that Samsung is having is that even though the number of plastic pieces has gone up, the thickness of each piece has remained the same, so in order to fit the new camera module into the Galaxy S5, the lens makers will likely have to develop new technology to make thinner lenses. Not only that, joining six pieces together instead of five for the 13 megapixel camera modules increases the risk of optical faults surfacing at the lens manufacturers' plants dramatically."

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Why is the lens still plastic? (1)

glasshole (3569269) | about 9 months ago | (#46514961)

There are good glass / alternative options out there that will hold up to some abuse a little better. i.e. it won't look frosted over time from minute scratches.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (3, Insightful)

tomhath (637240) | about 9 months ago | (#46515009)

Planned obsolescence. They expect you to replace the phone in two years anyway.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (1)

timmyf2371 (586051) | about 8 months ago | (#46520383)

Most people I know don't usually upgrade their phone because of the camera; they do it in spite of the camera.

Now, you might see some people in the market for a new phone decide on a specific model because it has a good camera, but these are people already looking to replace their phone for other reasons.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515011)

There are good glass / alternative options out there that will hold up to some abuse a little better. i.e. it won't look frosted over time from minute scratches.

Because that won't prompt you to buy a new phone.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (1)

Colin Castro (2881349) | about 9 months ago | (#46515021)

My biggest problem is dust getting behind the lens of my cell phone versus scratches, and I don't use a case.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515031)

Injection moulding allows for all aspheric lenses (which costs much $$$ in glass). They can realise better performance this way than they could with a similarly priced glass lens. A glass lens would also weigh more and cost much much more (even if you forgo the aspheric elements).

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515063)

Because moulded plastic lenses are much cheaper to produce than glass lenses.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (3, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 9 months ago | (#46515129)

From your username, I'd suggest you are a little biased...

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (2, Interesting)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 9 months ago | (#46515203)

Personally, I don't really care about the camera in my phone. I've never seen a camera on a phone that takes anywhere close to to as good pictures as a decent point and shoot digital camera. At least not in all situations. They seem to work well outside in the summer when there is plenty of sunlight, but in low-light situations, the small pinhole phone cameras seem to perform poorly. Also, the led flash tends to work terribly compared to an actual camera flash. I really don't understand why smartphones are so popular. For the same price you could get a cheap feature phone, a tablet, and a camera. Use the phone for tethering the tablet, which works better for browsing the web and other such functions, and use the camera for taking pictures. That way you don't have to worry about your $600+ phone when you just want to go hiking or go for a bike ride where you don't really need internet connectivity anyway.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (5, Funny)

CreatureComfort (741652) | about 9 months ago | (#46515315)

For the same price you could get a cheap feature phone, a tablet, and a camera.

Maybe because we don't want to look like the friggin Batman everywhere we go?

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515341)

hiking or go for a bike ride where you don't really need internet connectivity anyway

Yeah, no use for GPS, downloadable maps & satellite imagery, when I'm hiking & biking. Why would I ever want to know where I am or what's nearby?

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515939)

> I really don't understand why smartphones are so popular.

Really?

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (4, Insightful)

dj245 (732906) | about 9 months ago | (#46516055)

I used to think the same, until I got video from my Samsung S4 and compared it to my Canon T2i. I can't tell the difference between video in a lot of cases.

Now, the T2i isn't primarily a video camera, but it has far better lenses and a far better/bigger sensor than the S4. It should perform substantially and irrefutably better than the S4. It doesn't.

As far as photos go, I'm either going to get out the big DSLR or I'm not. The DSLR obviously has superior image quality, but the camera is too big to carry around all the time, and is a significant theft risk if left unattended. If I have to wrangle 2 kids and whatever bags of stuff they require, I don't have a lot of patience for carrying around a camera bag too. Point-and-shoot consumer cameras are pretty much the same thing as cameraphones, unless you are talking about large models with big lenses (which have the same size problems as DSLRs). The cameraphone goes in my pocket. Of course it can be stolen but it is unlikely to be stolen if it is in my pocket. With the larger cameras you have to constantly be on guard and conscious of possible theft.

The best camera is the one you have with you. 1 device to rule them all is perhaps not the ideal solution but it is the most practical.

For the same price you could get a cheap feature phone, a tablet, and a camera. Use the phone for tethering the tablet, which works better for browsing the web and other such functions, and use the camera for taking pictures. That way you don't have to worry about your $600+ phone when you just want to go hiking or go for a bike ride where you don't really need internet connectivity anyway.

I have enough complexity in my life already without juggling 3 physical devices, managing all the interfaces (networking, file transfers, charging) between them, and upgrading/replacing them when needed.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46517135)

the best camera is the one i have with me. i dont carry a friggin camera everywhere as i am not a photographer. the phone camera is good enough for anything i want to take pictures of, it's small enough to fit in my pocket, and it does a hundred other things as well.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (1)

sootman (158191) | about 8 months ago | (#46518315)

> I've never seen a camera on a phone that takes
> anywhere close to to as good pictures as a decent
> point and shoot digital camera.

And I've never seen a DSLR that weighs 4 ounces and fits in my pocket.

> I really don't understand why smartphones
> are so popular.

Really? [google.com]

All phones are smartphones (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 8 months ago | (#46519093)

Where can you buy a "cheap feature phone" that isn't a smartphone?

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46520285)

Where can you get a feature phone with decent 3G (say 15Mbps downloads, whichever version of 3G that may require) and wifi hotspot capability?

Although constantly running a wifi hotspot is quite demanding energy-wise, but bluetooth doesn't have decent data speeds, so the feature phone will need quite a large battery making it heavier than a smartphone.

And you don't need to spend $600+ on a smartphone if cost is an issue for you, the Moto G is a damn fine budget smartphone with decent midrange performance available for $180 (8GB) or $200 (16GB). If you want a top-end smartphone the Nexus 5 is a great choice for only $349 (16GB) or $399 (32GB).

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (1)

perryizgr8 (1370173) | about 9 months ago | (#46522101)

I've never seen a camera on a phone that takes anywhere close to to as good pictures as a decent point and shoot digital camera.

SGS4, lumia 1020, Nokia 808 would like a word.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515227)

Is this REALLY necessary? The S3 camera produces very good images but if I want super resolution, I won't be using my phone. I'll get my DSLR out and start shooting.
Some product manager must be very proud......

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (1)

Andreas . (2995185) | about 9 months ago | (#46515633)

But Samsung aims to replace DSLRs with HDR imaging and phase-detection autofocus in the S5. So it's no wonder that it's "really necessary" for them! I preordered the S5 because my old phone (Galaxy S) is getting slow with all the new stuff smartphones are supposed to support and execute. My GF will be happy with my old one and I have a new phone that will last a few years.

Re: Why is the lens still plastic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515267)

Plastic actually has some advantages for the small scale lenses that are requires for cell phones. Don't ask me what they are; this was a random fact I picked up while researching DSLR lens tech.

This is Samsung. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515307)

Samsung is not known for quality, but for making the cheapest version possible, then spending multiple times other companies like Apple or Microsoft to sell them.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515697)

There are good glass / alternative options out there that will hold up to some abuse a little better. i.e. it won't look frosted over time from minute scratches.

Too bad you're not asking the right question though and looking at the bigger issue....why the hell do I need a 16MP camera in my cell phone again? Oh yeah, that's right, because I think I can one-up DSLR owners for some reason with my shitty lens.

It is mind-baffling to observe the race to technological infinity for devices we all throw in the trash can within 3 years. Have fun in engineering and design. I feel for you when fashion demands 20 pounds of shit in a 5-pound bag.

Re:Why is the lens still plastic? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 9 months ago | (#46515745)

There are good glass / alternative options out there that will hold up to some abuse a little better. i.e. it won't look frosted over time from minute scratches.

Aside from cost(polycarbonate compares quite favorably to cheap glass, and exotic optical glass isn't cheap), I suspect that they like the failure mode of plastics better. Scratch resistance, even with hard-coat, isn't so hot, so they will 'fog' slightly over time if exposed to abrasion; but that's a relatively slow process and may remain tolerable even once it starts. Glass, especially the surface-toughened stuff that all the smartphone kids are using these days, has lovely scratch resistance; but poke it just a bit too hard and it's massive dramatic cracking time. If you are stacking 6 teeny pieces in the (constrained) space of a modern cellphone, you'd probably be talking about some touchy slivers of glass.

module (3, Funny)

StripedCow (776465) | about 9 months ago | (#46515013)

The true reason for the production problems is that it's difficult to fit the tiny NSA module in there.

Re:module (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 9 months ago | (#46515077)

It would just function as a red herring, since they can seemingly already gather more intel on you than a college roommate.

16 mega pixels (1)

ILongForDarkness (1134931) | about 9 months ago | (#46515085)

How quaint.

Re:16 mega pixels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515715)

How quaint.

Yes, quite, especially when ran through the shitstain that is instagram image editing...

Nobody cares (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515119)

Cellphone manufacturer may delay introducing new shiny toy due to uninteresting process problems.
Stuff that matters... nope... check.
News for nerds... nope... check.
Business bullshit... check.

Poor engineering? (1)

koan (80826) | about 9 months ago | (#46515139)

Favouring a structural plastic part over the lens, the lens is everything.

How many megapixels is enough? (1)

colfer (619105) | about 9 months ago | (#46515169)

These are photographs, not telescopic images of the universe. How many megapixels does a camera phone need? Are people going to be sending me the full pictures and then I have to spend time reducing them to a reasonable size?

Re:How many megapixels is enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515331)

That's just Samsung's typical idiotic 90s-stylte spec bullet list fetishism. And teenagers and stupid/naive people fall for it. Just like in the 90s.

Re:How many megapixels is enough? (1)

glasshole (3569269) | about 9 months ago | (#46515569)

Well it's basically the PC business moving over to phones and tablets. Some percentage of the populous always wants to see big numbers. Whether it helps them rationalize it as better than a previous product, whatever product their friends have, etc. Megahertz, megapixels, megabytes, heck even horsepower.

Re: How many megapixels is enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515621)

That's what I said. People choosing products based on meaningless numbers are stupid.

Re: How many megapixels is enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515911)

in other words...
nerds?

Re: How many megapixels is enough? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46516411)

No. Just stupid mindless spec whores. Some nerds are like that. But not all. Most Samsung shitphones are sold to non-nerds.
Teenagers, Apple haters, idiots, cheapskates, trolls, etc. The typical Samsung buyers.

Re: How many megapixels is enough? (1)

perryizgr8 (1370173) | about 9 months ago | (#46522107)

Ironically Samsung phones are the most customizable, with a HUGE amount of options and things to tinker with. Nexus phones on the other hand don't let you unlock the bootloader even (without deleting all your data).

Re:How many megapixels is enough? (1)

swb (14022) | about 9 months ago | (#46515703)

640k ought to be enough for anybody.

While higher res photos of cats and six grinning girls in a bar someplace don't mean much, I think the higher resolution becomes important for image processing of various stripes, whether its trying to improve photo quality or using the added resolution for machine vision applications such as document scanning or augmented vision.

I also wonder whether the camera modules are purpose-built for just smartphone applications or whether they are more generic cameras applicable to all kinds of small-electronics purposes and the makers of these cameras are merely competing with each other to deliver improvements on what was available in the last revision.

Re: How many megapixels is enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46516815)

Adding more megapixels is NOT an improvement. Get that fallacy out of your head. Picture quality depends on the lens and the quality of the CCD and it's size. Not on the number of megapixels.

Just by having more pixels will NOT improve your pictures. Quite often its the opposite. More pixels quite often means more jitter and distortion.

Re:How many megapixels is enough? (1)

Bitmanhome (254112) | about 8 months ago | (#46520659)

There's two advantages to silly numbers of megapixels on a phone. One is that there's no room for a zoom lens on a phone, so the more pixels your sensor has, the more useful digital zoom becomes.

The second is that us nerds buying high-megapixel senors funds research and development of high-megapixel sensors, eventually making them cheap enough that something like the Lytro light-field camera becomes possible on a phone.

Will likely have to... (1)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about 9 months ago | (#46515193)

the lens makers will likely have to develop new technology

They will likely have to develop it eh? When are they going to do that?

Answer: If they would have to, they already have. If Samsung is going to ship this thing in 3.5 weeks, then I'm guessing it's done if it needed to be.

This whole thing sounds like some fanboy taking guesses with no basis in reality.

Re:Will likely have to... (1)

FrankSchwab (675585) | about 8 months ago | (#46518831)

When are they going to do that?

LMFAO. You're exactly correct.

They may be running into yield issues as they try to ramp up production from thousands of cameras a month to millions. But it's extraordinarily unlikely that any "development" engineering is happening. That ship has sailed.

Limited by technology (1)

N3tRunner (164483) | about 9 months ago | (#46515215)

I think it's nice that a consumer device is actually being delayed because technology hasn't caught up with its design yet. It's a good thing (for us) when consumer-grade products are on the leading edge of technology rather than trailing behind industrial grade devices as they commonly do.

More evidence of lack of design (0)

Dixie_Flatline (5077) | about 9 months ago | (#46515221)

Let's get this out of the way: I have an iPhone 4, I tend to like Apple's designs, and I've scornfully referred to Samsung's phones as "the phones that Tupperware made" in the past.

This isn't changing my mind any.

Let me also say that I think that the Lumia phones, the HTC one and the Xperia Z1 compact all tickle my design bone in some way, so this isn't just some anti-Android rant.

Samsung really seems to slap together their phones from stuff that's available with no mind towards anything other than just cramming stuff in, and it turns out they're not even very good at that. Why anyone continues to buy them is honestly beyond me when there are so many good options available, even just within the Android ecosystem. This is why Apple continues to have so many fans. They at least try to have all their ducks in a row before making announcements and promises.

Hopefully more people start bailing out of the Samsung trapâ"what differentiates their phones other than 8GB of system software and a flimsy plastic body?

Re:More evidence of lack of design (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | about 9 months ago | (#46515325)

Not just the hardware, have you actually tried to use one of those things?

HTC's android skin blows away touch wiz.

Re:More evidence of lack of design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515475)

All of the 3rd party skins are crap. Stock Android is so much cleaner and faster.

Re:More evidence of lack of design (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 9 months ago | (#46515443)

Apple's cameras aren't bespoke engineering; they're usually Sony ones, and I'd be terribly surprised if Apple's suppliers weren't engaged in similar engineering challenges themselves at the moment.

Re: More evidence of lack of design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46517477)

The CCD sensor is a standard component not necessarily the lens apparatus and the signal processing that turns the CCD signal into a pic.

Re:More evidence of lack of design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515487)

Let's get this out of the way: I have an iPhone 4, I tend to like Apple's designs, and I've scornfully referred to Samsung's phones as "the phones that Tupperware made" in the past.

This isn't changing my mind any.

Let me also say that I think that the Lumia phones, the HTC one and the Xperia Z1 compact all tickle my design bone in some way, so this isn't just some anti-Android rant.

Samsung really seems to slap together their phones from stuff that's available with no mind towards anything other than just cramming stuff in, and it turns out they're not even very good at that. Why anyone continues to buy them is honestly beyond me when there are so many good options available, even just within the Android ecosystem. This is why Apple continues to have so many fans. They at least try to have all their ducks in a row before making announcements and promises.

Hopefully more people start bailing out of the Samsung trapâ"what differentiates their phones other than 8GB of system software and a flimsy plastic body?

Dear friend, this comic was made with you in mind. [theoatmeal.com]

Re:More evidence of lack of design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46516155)

Samsung really seems to slap together their phones from stuff that's available with no mind towards anything other than just cramming stuff in, and it turns out they're not even very good at that.

I don't really give a shit about Samsung, but Apple doesn't build shit from stuff that's availible? Fucking Christ! The original Mac was just a 68000 and generic parts stuffed into a fancy looking case with a black and white monitor. That's why it was so slow, unlike the Amiga 1000 which was built with custom chips. Did you get that part? CUSTOM. Apple NEVER makes custom parts, apart from their cases.

Re:More evidence of lack of design (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 9 months ago | (#46516435)

Fucking Christ! The original Mac was just a 68000 and generic parts . . unlike the Amiga 1000

You're bringing up history from 30 years ago as your examples instead of something maybe within the last decade?

Apple NEVER makes custom parts, apart from their cases.

Oh really? So their A7 CPU or M7 motion coprocessor are not custom parts? Checkmate.

Re:More evidence of lack of design (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 8 months ago | (#46517303)

This is a fairly new development. Steve Jobs was once shown an Amiga prototype. His comment? TOO MUCH HARDWARE.

Re:More evidence of lack of design (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | about 8 months ago | (#46517667)

And? Steve Jobs said a lot of wacky shit in his day.

(Also, you mention this but don't care to bring up NeXT Cube?)

I can't defend the GP's point about Samsung throwing off the shelf parts into a box and calling it a phone, but, no, it's not a new development. Woz, Burrell and a whole host of Apple engineers did design custom hardware. It's only during the Dark Age of Apple did shit slip. Even then, I believe the Newton had custom silicon in it.

Re:More evidence of lack of design (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 8 months ago | (#46518573)

The NeXT cube was made of a bunch of market available components. The only thing NeXT manufactured was the box and the software.

Re: More evidence of lack of design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46517937)

You mean except for ALL of their logic boards, graphic cards, connectors (FireWire, Lightning and even the initial development of Thunderbolt before giving it to Intel to finish), iPhone CPUs since the A4, etc etc.

Yes. Clearly Apple only makes cases.

D'oh. The stupidity of Apple haters knows no bound.

Re:More evidence of lack of design (1)

Ranbot (2648297) | about 9 months ago | (#46516209)

I agree that Apple's designs are very good, but they still make plenty of mistakes that Apple enthusiasts overlook... The roll-out of their GPS road map software was so buggy they even recommended customers use other services temporarily. Apple had that antenna issue where if you held the iPhone incorrectly it hung up on you. That bug probably would have bankrupted another Android-based company, but it was barely a blip on their earnings because Apple has hordes of people locked into their systems. But worse is Apple's controls over their system and 3rd parties is simply anti-consumer...from iTunes control, attempts to manipulate e-book markets, litigiously pursuing their overly broad patents to stifle competition, to their non-removable batteries. Not even Microsoft was/is as bad as Apple with the manipulation and control. And then there's the Apple price tag. No thank you.

Re:More evidence of lack of design (1)

perryizgr8 (1370173) | about 9 months ago | (#46522125)

Fuck design. SGS5 will whip the collective ass of iphone, htc, xperia, lumia in terms of everything that matters (picture quality, screen quality, display quality, audio quality, connectivity, options, battery life, speed, useful features, power). The lack of design is a statement in itself. It says "Fuck you, you fucking wannabe nerds who really just want 'teh shinys'."

Apple losing marketshare (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46515419)

Samsung will put enough technology in the phone to make Apple cry.

Re:Apple losing marketshare (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 9 months ago | (#46515573)

[sarcasm] Yes, because Apple's history of being the forefront of technology has been why they have succeeded so far. [/sarcasm]

Resolution wars (1)

alexo (9335) | about 9 months ago | (#46515509)

What good is a tiny 16MP sensor if the lens cannot match that resolution?

Re:Resolution wars (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 9 months ago | (#46515619)

I'll do you one better. What good is it to have 16 million pixels if they all suck? You ever zoom up on a high res smartphone's pic of an all one color area? It's got more noise and color jitter than a 2 megapixel camera from 2003.

Re:Resolution wars (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 9 months ago | (#46515789)

Based on the fairly favorable reviews [dpreview.com] of the 41 million pixel Nokias, there are apparently some clever tricks to turn lots of fairly lousy pixels into a smaller number of better ones.

Given that the state of sensor tech is basically the same at all (reasonable) sensor sizes, you are still going to get better results with a bigger chip than you will with the pitiful little sliver in your average cellphone; but apparently having more pixels is, at least potentially, a useful thing.

Re:Resolution wars (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 9 months ago | (#46515771)

16MP images scale down much nicer to 300x400 pixel facebook pictures than 13MP images.

Even with an amazingly good lens very few people actually need 16MP on a phone (or can even visually distinguish it from a ~4MP cam).

Re:Resolution wars (1)

Eric Sharkey (1717) | about 9 months ago | (#46516137)

The idea is not to scale the whole image down to 300x400, but to crop it down. There isn't space on a phone to include a mechanical zoom lens, so you either need to use "digital zoom", or just take a wide shot and crop it down to the part you want later. A higher than necessary resolution sensor for full image shots is what allows a cropped image to still look sharp.

Re:Resolution wars (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 8 months ago | (#46517023)

How many people actually use any significant amount of (ditigal) cropping?

Re:Resolution wars (1)

badzilla (50355) | about 8 months ago | (#46517387)

I do, the right crop can turn a bad large picture into a good small one.

Re:Resolution wars (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 8 months ago | (#46517753)

I dare fear that you may be the exception rather than the rule.
Most people probably just frame their picture based on the screen.

"Do your job better." (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 9 months ago | (#46515737)

So optical engineers have to develop an entirely new plastic lens molding technology because the mechanical engineers who got Cs at mediocre schools can't build a simpler holder.

Nice.

No thanks Samsung/NSA (1)

sanosuke001 (640243) | about 8 months ago | (#46517377)

I was rushed into a phone purchase by my parents who needed me to pick a new phone while I was driving through a traffic circle. I was talking to them via handsfree but couldn't concentrate enough and they were in a time crunch and NEEDED and answer. I begrudgingly chose the S4 because I liked the Samsung-made Nexus I had been using.

To my dismay, it's lock via Knox and made secure for use by the NSA apparently. I can't install CyanogenMod and their touchwiz UI is horrid. I'm never buying another Samsung phone again, regardless of how nice the hardware looks on paper.

Re:No thanks Samsung/NSA (1)

GuB-42 (2483988) | about 8 months ago | (#46519139)

Knox shouldn't prevent you from flashing a custom ROM. If your bootloader is locked it is because of your carrier. International models don't have this problem.
What Knox does, in regards to customization :
- prevents you from downgrading your bootloader
- causes the "knox warranty void" bit to be set to 1 permanently is you flash a custom ROM. This will prevent you from using Knox features, it also may (or may not) cause trouble for warranty repairs

Also, what don't you like about TouchWiz ? It it is the launcher, you can install something else like Nova. If you are rooted you can fix many annoying aspects of TW using Xposed and freeze pre-installed apps you don't like.

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