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Bend it, shape it, this is the future of smartphones

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In San Francisco last week, Lenovo unveiled what may well be the future of smartphones, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

“Bend me, shape me, anyway you want me,” went the silly Sixties pop song. And now the gadgets industry is going the same way.

The fully bendable phone and the foldable tablet screen are finally on the way. Modular phones – as with Lego, you just attach the functionality you want – have made a big arrival in 2016. So, just when you thought that every possible improvement to the smartphone had been made, someone goes a step further.

“Innovation never stands still – I can’t remember a time when there has been more innovation in this space,” said Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel Corporation, during a keynote address at the Lenovo Tech World conference in San Francisco last week.

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Ashton Kutcher with the Lenovo CEO, Yuanqing Yang.

Lenovo CEO Yuanqing Yang – or YY, as he is nicknamed – used the event to announce the latest smartphones and concept phones from Lenovo and its 2013 acquisition Motorola. And he made an even bolder statement: “We will show you something that will change the industry and your life.”

Before unveiling the real new products, however, Lenovo teased the audience with two working prototypes that are still some years from hitting the shelves: the Cplus, a bendable phone that wraps around the wrist, and the Folio, a foldable tablet where the screen itself folds in half to become a standard smartphone display. Both were working devices, rather than artists’ concepts.

“We are turning this vision into reality step by step,” said YY. “You will see a whole new species of device from Lenovo. This year we will launch two revolutionary products.”

With that, he unveiled the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, the first phone to embrace Google’s Project Tango, a technology platform that allows a mobile device to detect its position relative to itse environment without external connections or signals. That makes the phone a platform for both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications.

moto

As YY put it, the Phab 2 Pro has more sensors and cameras than any other phone: “It understands its environment and augments your experience. It lets you place virtual objects into a real living room.”

It helps that the phone is a huge 6.4” phablet with 4050mAh battery, to support both the visuals and the demands on power made by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 chip.

The phone has no less than three rear cameras: a 16 Megapixel main camera, a depth camera, and a motion-tracking camera, to “enable the magic of Tango functionality”. It is also the first smartphone device to feature Dolby 5.1 audio capture, which records more true-to-life sound, along with Dolby Atmos sound output.”

Due out in the USA in September at a recommended retail price of $499, it is expected to reach South Africa shortly after that.

moto z

The Moto Z happens to be the thinnest smartphone in the world, at an absurdly slim 5.2mm, despite a 5.5” display and 2600mAh battery.

The virtual reality feature builds a “point cloud” of space around the user, and transforms it into a fully virtual space, taking into account real objects in the area. The user can then start exploring and shaping the virtual world through the screen. The application allows one not only to build virtual furniture, for example, but also to generate blueprints that can be taken to manufacturer.

YY kept the biggest unveil for last, declaring: “This is definitely a game-changing product.”

Actor and high-tech investor Ashton Kutcher joined him on state to announce a new family of devices bearing the Motorola logo. Two new Moto phones, the Z and the Z force, were just the starting point. The real news came with the unveiling of Moto Mods – an “ecosystem with two flagship smartphones and a collection of interchangeable backs that transform your mobile experience into exactly what you need, exactly when you need it – a battery powerhouse, a big screen projector or a boombox”.

Unlike the LG G5 announced at Mobile World Congress, with a slide-out bottom that allows components to be swapped, the Moto Mods are magnetic snap-on backs for the Moto Z phones.

motoz1

With Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor and Moto TurboPower charging, the Moto Z and Z Force area powerful handsets in their own right.  The Z Force introduces Moto Shattershield, guaranteeing the screen won’t crack even If dropped on concrete from a dew metres. The Z, on the other hand, happens to be the thinnest smartphone in the world, at an absurdly slim 5.2mm, despite a 5.5” display and 2600mAh battery.

And therein lies the real potential of the device. Because it is so thin, snapping a magnetized module onto the back does not make it unduly bulky. That means a Power Pack can double usage time, the Insta-Share Projector can be fitted to create a 70” interactive virtual screen on any surface, and the JBL SoundBoost speaker module can be added to turn the phone into a boombox.

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The bendable concept tablet, the Folio

The Mods are open to third party developers, and Kutcher also helped announce a $1-million prize for the best Mod prototype created by an individual or company in the next nine months.

It was difficult not to take YY seriously when he declared: “This will create a new era for the smartphone and for Lenovo.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

 

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Opera launches built-in VPN on Android browser

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Opera has released a new version of its mobile browser, Opera for Android 51, which features a built-in VPN (virtual private network) service.

A VPN allows users to create a secure connection to a public network, and is particularly useful if users are unsure of the security levels of the public networks that they use often.

The new VPN in Opera for Android 51 is free, unlimited and easy to use. When enabled, it gives users greater control of their online privacy and improves online security, especially when connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots such as coffee shops, airports and hotels. The VPN will encrypt Internet traffic into and out of their mobile devices, which reduces the risk of malicious third parties collecting sensitive information.

“There are already more than 650 million people using VPN services globally. With Opera, any Android user can now enjoy a free and no-log service that enhances online privacy and improves security,” said Peter Wallman, SVP Opera Browser for Android.

When users enable the VPN included in Opera for Android 51, they create a private and encrypted connection between their mobile device and a remote VPN server, using strong 256-bit encryption algorithms. When enabled, the VPN hides the user’s physical location, making it difficult to track their activities on the internet.

The browser VPN service is also a no-log service, which means that the VPN servers do not log and retain any activity data, all to protect users privacy.

“Users are exposed to so many security risks when they connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots without a VPN,” said Wallman. “Enabling Opera VPN means that users makes it difficult for third parties to steal information, and users can avoid being tracked. Users no longer need to question if or how they can protect their personal information in these situations.”

According to a report by the Global World Index in 2018, the use of VPNs on mobile devices is rising. More than 42 percent of VPN users on mobile devices use VPN on a daily basis, and 35 percent of VPN users on computers use VPN daily.

The report also shows that South African VPN users said that their main reason for using a VPN service is to remain anonymous while they are online.

“Young people in particular are concerned about their online privacy as they increasingly live their lives online,” said Wallman. “Opera for Android 51 makes it easy to benefit from the security and anonymity of VPN , especially for those may not be aware of how to set these up.”

Setting up the Opera VPN is simple. Users just tap on the browser settings, go to VPN and enable the feature according to their preference. They can also select the region of their choice.

The built-in VPN is free, which means that users don’t need to download additional apps on their smartphones or pay additional fees as they would for other private VPN services. With no sign-in process, users don’t need to log in every time they want to use it.

Opera for Android is available for download in Google Play. The rollout of the new version of Opera for Android 51 will be done gradually per region.

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Future of the car is here

Three new cars, with vastly different price-tags, reveal the arrival of the future of wheels, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Just a few months ago, it was easy to argue that the car of the future was still a long way off, at least in South Africa. But a series of recent car launches have brought the high-tech vehicle to the fore in startling ways.

The Jaguar i-Pace electric vehicle (EV), BMW 330i and the Datsun Go have little in common, aside from representing an almost complete spectrum of car prices on the local market. Their tags start, respectively, at R1.7-million, R650 000 and R150 000.

Such a widely disparate trio of vehicles do not exactly come together to point to the future. Rather, they represent different futures for different segments of the market. But they also reveal what we can expect to become standard in most vehicles produced in the 2020s.

Jaguar i-Pace

The i-Pace may be out of reach of most South Africans, but it ushers in two advances that will resonate throughout the EV market as it welcomes new and more affordable cars. It is the first electric vehicle in South Africa to beat the bugbear of range anxiety.

Unlike the pioneering “old” Nissan Leaf, which had a range of up to about 150km, and did not lend itself to long distance travel, the i-Pace has a 470km range, bringing it within shouting distance of fuel-powered vehicles. A trip from Johannesburg to Durban, for example, would need just one recharge along the way.

And that brings in the other major advance: the i-Pace is the first EV launched in South Africa together with a rapid public charging network on major routes. It also comes with a home charging kit, which means the end of filling up at petrol stations.

The Jaguar i-Pace dispels one further myth about EVs: that they don’t have much power under the hood. A test drive around Gauteng revealed not only a gutsy engine, but acceleration on a par with anything in its class, and enough horsepower to enhance the safety of almost any overtaking situation.

Specs for the Jaguar i-Pace include:

  • All-wheel drive
  • Twin motors with a combined 294kW and 696Nm
  • 0-100km/h in 4.8s
  • 90kWh Lithium-ion battery, delivering up to 470km range
  • Eight-year/160 000km battery warranty
  • Two-year/34 000km service intervals

Click here to read about BMW’s self-driving technology, and how Datsun makes smart technology affordable.

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