The Samsung Galaxy M31 managed to make a good impact in the budget segment thanks to its crisp AMOLED display and a big battery, which helped distinguish it from the competition. Samsung has now launched its successor, called the Galaxy M31s. The new Galaxy M31s sports an Infinity-O display and the Single Take camera feature, both firsts for the Galaxy M series. Starting at Rs. 19,499, do these new features justify the higher price? I review the Galaxy M31s to find out.
Samsung Galaxy M31s design: Premium looks
The Samsung Galaxy M31s has a somewhat new design that makes it stand out compared to its siblings in the Galaxy M series. It gets a 6.5-inch Infinity-O display with a hole-punch embedded camera centred at the top. I have seen such a design on the Galaxy Note 10+ (Review), and the Galaxy Lite twins. Recently, the Galaxy A51 (Review) and Galaxy A71 also launched with similar displays, so the same design on the Galaxy M31s makes it look premium. The bezel size is acceptable for the price, but a few people may find the camera hole in the centre a little distracting.
Samsung has gone with a side-mounted fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy M31s, which is on the right along with the volume buttons. These buttons can be reached while holding the smartphone in the hand, but need a bit of a stretch. I would have preferred the volume buttons on the left, which only has the SIM slot. The USB Type-C port, 3.5mm audio jack, and speaker are at the bottom while the top has a secondary microphone.
The phone has a plastic back, which Samsung refers to as ‘Glasstic’. It has a glossy finish and picks up fingerprints very easily. I had to keep wiping the back frequently to maintain its glossy look. Samsung offers the Galaxy M31s in two gradient finish options, Mirage Black and Mirage Blue. I had the Mirage Black version for this review, and I liked the look overall.
The Galaxy M31s has a quad-camera module at the back that looks similar to the one seen on the Galaxy M31 (Review), but with the sensors moved around. The module also houses the single-LED flash. The Galaxy M31s has a 6,000mAh battery, which causes it to tip the scales at 203g. You will feel the bulk when holding this phone for a while. The back is curved at the edges though, which makes it a little less uncomfortable.
Samsung Galaxy M31s specifications: Same old
Samsung is sticking with its Exynos 9611 yet again, to power the Galaxy M31s. We have seen this processor in multiple Galaxy smartphones now including the Galaxy M21 (Review) which is priced under Rs. 15,000. The Exynos 9611 SoC is a proven processor but I was expecting Samsung to use something newer and more powerful. The Exynos 9611 is an octa-core processor with four performance Cortex-A73 cores clocked at 2.3GHz and four efficiency Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.7GHz. The smartphone is available in 6GB RAM and 8GB RAM options, but the storage remains unchanged at 128GB. You do have the option to expand storage by up to 512GB using a microSD card.
There is support for Bluetooth 5, dual-band Wi-Fi ac, and GPS as well as dual 4G and VoLTE. Samsung has bundled a 25W USB Type-C charger in the box, which is a first for the Galaxy M series.. You also get a USB Type-C to Type-C cable that can be used to reverse charge other devices using the Galaxy M31s.
In terms of software, the Galaxy M31s runs OneUI 2.1 on top of Android 10. My review unit had the July Android Security patch. The UI is very similar to what I’ve seen on other Galaxy M series smartphones that I’ve reviewed such as the Galaxy M31 and the Galaxy M21. The setup process does prompt you to install a few apps, and even after skipping that I found Candy Crush Saga, Snapchat, Netflix, Facebook, and OneDrive preinstalled on the device.
The Galaxy M31s also has the Galaxy Store app which is an alternative to the Google Play Store. The phone does have Glance Lock Screen Stories, so you will see promotional photos and stories on the lockscreen. You can disable this if required. I did see a few notifications from the My Galaxy app from time to time.
You do get the option to customise the look of the UI using the themes app. The Galaxy M31s also has other useful software features such as dual apps, which let you run two instances of the same app. You get Android’s Digital Wellbeing feature, which helps you monitor your smartphone usage, and a Game Launcher which clubs all the games installed on the device in one place. There is a Game Toolbar as well, which lets you block notifications and full-screen gestures, and offers in-game screen recording.
Samsung Galaxy M31s performance and battery life: Holding back
The Samsung Galaxy M31s has a slightly dated processor but this did not impact day to day performance. I did not encounter lag or stutter while going through the menus and using the default apps. I had the 6GB RAM variant, and it could multitask between different apps easily. However, loading heavy apps took longer than usual.
I found the side-mounted fingerprint scanner to be quick to unlock the device. Face recognition was convenient but not the fastest I’ve used. The display on the Galaxy M31s is crisp, has good viewing angles, and does get bright enough outdoors. The camera hole the center could be distracting especially when watching videos.
After using the Samsung Exynos 9611 in a few other smartphones, I had a fair idea of its performance, and the Galaxy M31s did not surprise me with its benchmark scores. In AnTuTu, it scored 192,550 points, which is lower than competitors such as the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max (Review) and Motorola One Fusion+ (Review), which achieved 277,058 and 273,407 respectively. In Geekbench 5’s single-core and multi-core tests, it scored 346 and 1,252 respectively.
Graphics performance isn’t very strong either, and the device could only hit 42fps and 14fps respectively in GFXBench’s T-Rex and Manhattan 3.1 tests. The Motorola One Fusion+ managed 55fps and 21fps in the same tests.
I played PUBG Mobile on the Galaxy M31s, and the game defaulted to the High preset with graphics set to HD and the frame rate to High. I could play the game at these settings without any stutter. The device did get warm to the touch after playing for 20 minutes.
The Galaxy M31s offers good battery life, and lasted for close to two full days with my usage. In our HD video loop test, the smartphone went on for 24 hours and 2 minutes, which was impressive. Samsung does lower the screen brightness when the battery drops below the 15 percent mark, though.
The supplied 25W charger was quick to recharge the battery, taking it to 34 percent in 30 minutes and to 65 percent in an hour. Charging the phone completely took a little over an hour and a half. Overall the battery performance is excellent, and thanks to reverse charging, you can use the Galaxy M31s’ 6,000mAh capacity to charge other devices in a pinch.
Samsung Galaxy M31s cameras: Mixed bag
The Samsung Galaxy M31s sports a quad-camera setup. The 64-megapixel primary camera has an f/1.8 aperture. There’s also a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera with a 123-degree field of view, a 5-megapixel macro camera, and a 5-megapixel depth sensor. The camera app is very similar to what I’ve seen on other top-end Samsung devices. It has the Single Take feature which delivers a wide variety of output including photos with pre-applied filters, as well as hyperlapse and boomerang video effects, instead of just shooting a simple video clip. It also has a Pro shooting mode which lets you take full control of the settings.
The Galaxy M31s takes 16-megapixel shots by default by binning the output of its 64-megapixel primary sensor. In daylight, the phone is quick to meter light correctly and the AI can detect scenes quickly. Photos taken in daylight were sharp and had adequate detail. Text in the photos was legible even after magnifying to 100 percent. You do have the option to take shots at the full 64 megapixels but we preferred the convenience of the default 16-megapixel resolution.
The wide-angle camera offers a wider field of view but there is distortion, and photos are warped at the edges. The resolution is high enough that you can crop into these shots, but the level of detail is lower compared to what the primary camera produces. Close-ups had good detail, and the phone can manage a soft bokeh effect for the background which looks nice. The Galaxy M31s has a Live Focus mode for portraits, which lets you set the level of blur before taking a shot. The macro camera does let you get quite close to a subject but it did not manage to capture colours very well.
I did try out the Single Take feature, which gave me multiple outputs for the footage I recorded. This idea behind this feature is to ensure that you don’t miss a moment. After hitting the shutter button, the phone records for about 15 seconds and offers multiple options including the best shot, some filters, a smart crop, hyperlapse, boomerang, and the original video. The photos and the video it delivers were of a lower resolution.
In low light the Galaxy M31s managed decent shots and kept noise in check. The wide-angle camera did not perform that well, though. Shooting photos in Night mode results in some cropping. The output isn’t drastically brighter but it does have slightly better detail.
For selfies, the Galaxy M31s has a 32-megapixel shooter and saves 8-megapixel shots by default and 12-megapixel ones if you want a wider frame. In daylight, the phone managed to capture good detail but you need to keep it steady after hitting the shutter button for a crisp shot. It does give you the option to capture portraits using the Live Focus mode, and managed good edge detection. Low-light selfies did not offer the same kind of detail.
Video recording tops out at 4K with the primary camera as well as the selfie shooter. There is stabilisation for video but we noticed a shimmer effect in the output at 4K, while 1080p footage was better. In low light, I noticed a shimmer in the output at both resolutions.
Samsung’s Galaxy M series is consistently popular, and the company has been launching new models into the market quite rapidly. The Galaxy M31s is the successor to the Galaxy M31 (Review) and gets a fresh look, the new Infinity-O AMOLED display, and faster charging with a higher capacity bundled charger. It retains the same 6,000mAh battery and aging processor though, which could stop buyers from putting their money down.
The camera performance is very similar to what the Galaxy M31 achieved, and the new Single Take feature delivers interesting results but the tradeoff is lower-resolution output.
If battery life is your primary concern, there are very few phones that come close to the Galaxy M31s’ performance. However, you could save yourself some money by going for the Galaxy M31, if you don’t mind the older style dewdrop notch. If you want better value at this price point, the Motorola One Fusion+ (Review) and the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max (Review) are worthy alternatives.
AI automation promises to have a big, and not always positive, impact
Commentary: Just as telephone operators struggled with the automation of switching, AI promises to change global economies for the better, even as it wreaks havoc on individuals’ jobs.
The robots may not be taking over, but they just might erase your job. Yes, it’s almost certainly true that the “creative destruction” of technology will result in more jobs than it destroys, but a new academic paper about US telephone operators displaced by automated switching suggests that while the overall economy will be better off with artificial intelligence (AI)-driven automation, those immediately impacted may never recover.
Better in the long run
As detailed recently by Daphne Leprince-Ringuet on sister site ZDNet, the World Economic Forum (WEF) expects to see AI and other new technologies shred 85 million jobs over the next five years–that’s the bad news. The good news is that these same technologies are expected to help create 97 million new jobs. COVID-19 has served as an accelerant to corporate plans to embrace things like AI/ML-driven automation, effectively hitting “fast forward” on this labor upheaval. All of this is for the better, at least at the macro level.
SEE: The new normal: What work will look like post-pandemic (TechRepublic Premium)
In practical terms, this means that the majority of the work associated with information and data processing and retrieval (65%) will shift to machines, according to the WEF. People currently working as data entry clerks, accountants and auditors, and factory workers will be most affected even if, as I’ve written, organizations figure out ways to leverage things like AI to enhance worker productivity rather than replace it.
So what happens to these workers? It’s a polite fiction that they’ll simply be re-skilled and adapt to this new AI-automated future. As we’ve seen in past situations where technology automated away jobs, the immediate impact on those workers can be painful.
Just look at what happened in the telecommunications industry.
Learning from Ma Bell
As detailed in the aforementioned academic paper “Automation and the Fate of Young Workers: Evidence from Telephone Operation in the Early 20th Century,” written by professors James Feigenbaum and Daniel P. Gross, “Telephone operation, one of the most common jobs for young American women in the early 1900s, provided hundreds of thousands of female workers a pathway into the labor force.” It was a great force for good, but between 1920 and 1940 AT&T (then the dominant telecommunications provider in the US) automated telephone switching in more than half of its network, eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
So what happened to those women who had been employed as telephone operators?
[T]he automation of telephone operation led to a large, swift, and permanent decline in the number of young, white, American-born women working as operators, of around two-thirds in levels—roughly 2% of total employment for the group (in any job). As it was for many women a transitory job (often, a first job), far more were exposed. For an automation shock, we consider this large, especially for a vulnerable subset of the labor supply.
Our question is: what happened after these jobs disappeared? Did the elimination of a major entry-level job cut off future generations from entering the workforce? After accounting for concurrent trends taking place in cities of similar size around the country independent of cutovers, we do not find that the shock reduced later cohorts’ employment. We also see no substitution into marriage or childbearing. The negative shock to labor demand was instead counteracted by growth in other occupations, especially secretarial work and restaurant work, which absorbed the women who might have otherwise been telephone operators.
Future generations of would-be telephone operators, in other words, did just fine. The economy took care of creating net new jobs. But for those telephone operators who lost their jobs to automated switching? “While some became operators at private switchboards, others left the workforce, and those who remained employed were more likely to have switched to lower-paying occupations.”
Automation, in short, was good for the overall economy but bad for those whose jobs were automated away.
SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)
Beyond the Luddites
So what do we do? It doesn’t seem practical to destroy the looms as the Luddites once did, attempting to hold back the machines that threatened their jobs. But it’s also not useful to engage in wishful thinking about “upskilling” or “re-skilling.” These are positive endeavors, but it feels like we (by which I mean industry and government, working together) can’t afford to wave away the negative impact technology can have on jobs today.
Those telephone operators either left the workforce or found lower-paying jobs. Is there something government can do to underwrite some of the costs of helping the modern-day equivalent of the telephone operators to find new jobs? I don’t know. If you have ideas, please comment below or ping me on Twitter (@mjasay).
Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are mine.
Blast from the Past | Technology Org
Gemini North observations enable breakthrough in centuries-old effort to unravel astronomical mystery.
An international team of astronomers using Gemini North’s GNIRS instrument have discovered that CK Vulpeculae, first seen as a bright new star in 1670, is approximately five times farther away than previously thought. This makes the 1670 explosion of CK Vulpeculae much more energetic than previously estimated and puts it into a mysterious class of objects that are too bright to be members of the well-understood type of explosions known as novae, but too faint to be supernovae.
350 years ago, the French monk Anthelme Voituret saw a bright new star flare into life in the constellation of Vulpecula. Over the following months, the star became almost as bright as Polaris (the North Star) and was monitored by some of the leading astronomers of the day before it faded from view after a year . The new star eventually gained the name CK Vulpeculae and was long considered to be the first documented example of a nova — a fleeting astronomical event arising from an explosion in a close binary star system in which one member is a white dwarf, the remnant of a Sun-like star. However, a string of recent results have thrown the longstanding classification of CK Vulpeculae as a nova into doubt.
In 2015, a team of astronomers suggested that CK Vulpeculae’s appearance in 1670 was the result of two normal stars undergoing a cataclysmic collision. Just over three years later, the same astronomers further proposed that one of the stars was in fact a bloated red giant star, following their discovery of a radioactive isotope of aluminum in the immediate surroundings of the site of the 1670 explosion. Complicating the picture even further, a separate group of astronomers proposed a different interpretation. In their paper, also published in 2018, they suggested that the sudden brightening in 1670 was the result of the merger between a brown dwarf — a failed star too small to shine via thermonuclear fusion that powers the Sun — and a white dwarf.
Now, adding to the ongoing mystery surrounding CK Vulpeculae, new observations from the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab, reveal that this enigmatic astronomical object is much farther away and has ejected gas at much higher speeds than previously reported.
This team, led by Dipankar Banerjee of Physical Research Laboratory Ahmedabad, India, Tom Geballe of Gemini Observatory, and Nye Evans of Keele University in the United Kingdom, initially planned to use the Gemini Near-Infrared Spectrograph (GNIRS) instrument on Gemini North on Hawai‘i’s Maunakea to confirm the 2018 detection of radioactive aluminum at the heart of CK Vulpeculae . After realizing that detecting this in the infrared would be far more difficult than they originally thought, the astronomers improvised and obtained infrared observations across the full extent of CK Vulpeculae, including the two wisps of nebulosity at its outermost edges.
“The key to our discovery was the GNIRS measurements obtained at the outer edges of the nebula,” elaborated Geballe. “The signature of redshifted and blueshifted iron atoms detected there shows that the nebula is expanding much more rapidly than previous observations had suggested.” 
As lead author and astronomer Banerjee explains further, “We did not suspect that this is what we would find. It was exciting when we found some gas traveling at the unexpectedly high speed of about 7 million km/hour. This hinted at a different story about CK Vulpeculae than what had been theorized.”
By measuring both the speed of the nebula’s expansion and how much the outermost wisps had moved during the last ten years, and accounting for the tilt of the nebula on the night sky, which had been estimated earlier by others, the team determined that CK Vulpeculae lies approximately 10,000 light-years distant from the Sun — about five times as far away as previously thought. That implies that the 1670 explosion was far brighter, releasing roughly 25 times more energy than previously estimated . This much larger estimate of the amount of energy released means that whatever event caused the sudden appearance of CK Vulpeculae in 1670 was far more violent than a simple nova.
“In terms of energy released, our finding places CK Vulpeculae roughly midway between a nova and a supernova,” commented Evans. “It is one of a very few such objects in the Milky Way and the cause — or causes — of the outbursts of this intermediate class of objects remain unknown. I think we all know what CK Vulpeculae isn’t, but no one knows what it is.”
The visual appearance of the CK Vulpeculae nebula and the high velocities observed by the team could help astronomers to recognize relics of similar events — in our Milky Way or in external galaxies — that have occurred in the past.
Credit: Images and videos: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, K. Pu’uohau-Pummill, A. M. Geller/Northwestern University/CTIO/SOAR. Image processing: Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Jen Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), Mahdi Zamani & Davide de Martin. Music: zero-project – The Lower Dungeons (https://www.zero-project.gr/).
“It is difficult at this stage to offer a definitive or compelling explanation for the origin of the 1670 eruption of CK Vulpeculae,” concluded Banerjee. “Even 350 years after Voituret’s discovery, the nature of the explosion remains a mystery. ”
 17th-century astronomers who observed the bright new star CK Vulpeculae included distinguished Polish mayor, brewer, and astronomer Johannes Hevelius and the French-Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered four of Saturn’s moons. After it faded from view in 1671 there were numerous unsuccessful attempts through the intervening centuries to recover it, some by noted astronomers including Halley, Pickering and Humason.
 A spectrograph is an instrument that splits light from an astronomical object into its component wavelengths, allowing the composition of the gas emitting the light, its speed, and other traits to be measured.
 Just as the pitch of an ambulance siren changes depending on whether the vehicle is moving towards or away from you, astronomical objects change color depending on whether they are moving towards or away from an observer. Objects moving away from Earth become redder (known as redshift) and approaching objects become bluer (known as blueshift).
 The brightness of an object is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from an observer. In the case of CK Vulpeculae, if the 1670 explosion occurred five times as far away it must have been 52 = 25 times as bright.
This research is presented in the paper Near-Infrared Spectroscopy of CK Vulpeculae: Revealing a Remarkably Powerful Blast from the Past to appear in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The team was composed of D. P. K. Banerjee (Astronomy & Astrophysics Division, Physical Research Laboratory Ahmedabad), T. R. Geballe (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), A. Evans (Lennard Jones Laboratories, Keele University), M. Shahbandeh (Department of Physics, Florida State University),
C. E. Woodward (Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, University of Minnesota), R. D. Gehrz (Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, University of Minnesota), S. P. S. Eyres (Faculty of Computing, Engineering, and Science, University of South Wales), S. Starrfield (School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University), and A. Zijlstra (Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester).
WhiteHat Jr Exposed Data of Over 2.8 Lakh Students, Teachers Due to Multiple Vulnerabilities: Report
WhiteHat Jr, a popular online coding platform for young kids, reportedly exposed personal data of over 2.8 lakh students and teachers due to multiple vulnerabilities that existed in its servers until the middle of November. The platform said that it has fixed the flaws after it was informed by a security researcher. It is, however, unclear whether the affected data was compromised until the loopholes were not patched. Just last month, Mumbai-based WhiteHat Jr was found to have another security issue that was also leaking students’ personal data and transaction details.
The security researcher who discovered the latest vulnerabilities within WhiteHat Jr made multiple disclosures to the platform for over a month between October 6 and November 20, The Quint reports. The issues reportedly existed due to a misconfigured backend server that exposed data including student names, age, gender, profile photos, user IDs, parents name, and progress reports. The data is said to have included the details of a large number of minor students.
In addition to the personally identifiable information of several minor students on the platform, the vulnerabilities allowed access to information related to teachers and partners of students. Salary details of WhiteHat Jr employees as well as its internal documents and dozens of recorded videos of online classes being conducted by the platform were also exposed, according to the report.
The researcher reportedly didn’t receive any correspondence from WhiteHat Jr initially. However, he got a response within a day after emailing its Chief Technology Officer Pranab Dash on November 19 and 20.
WhiteHat Jr acknowledged the issues and confirmed to The Quint that it fixed the identified vulnerabilities. However, it didn’t provide any clarity on whether the exposed data was compromised until the fixes came in place.
Gadgets 360 has reached out to WhiteHat Jr to get a comment on the security issues and this report will be updated when the company responds.
Interestingly, the latest vulnerabilities weren’t the only ones impacting the security of coding-focussed WhiteHat Jr. Santosh Patidar, founder of queue management app DINGG, last month highlighted a flaw in one of the platform’s APIs that was exposing personal data of students alongside transaction details.
Patidar took to LinkedIn to reveal the security flaw within WhiteHat Jr and was reached out by its CTO. He later updated the original LinkedIn post stating, “They have fixed the issue.”
Apart from the security issues, WhiteHat Jr has been facing criticism for allegedly false advertisements that feature young students. The company also recently filed a Rs. 20 crore defamation lawsuit against one of its critics, Pradeep Poonia, who alleged that the platform was not providing quality education to its students.
Founded in November 2018, WhiteHat Jr was acquired by edu-tech unicorn Byju’s in August this year for $300 million (roughly Rs. 2,219 crores). The coronavirus pandemic has helped both WhiteHat Jr and Byju’s to grow their businesses as people are staying indoors and are looking for online learning platforms for their children.
How are we staying sane during this Coronavirus lockdown? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.
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