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Big smartphone comebacks rich with heritage

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This month, two iconic phone brands made their return to South Africa. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK asks if Nokia and BlackBerry can win their way back into our hearts.

They say you can never go back, but two iconic phone brands want to prove the cliché wrong. Nokia won the world’s technology heart in the 1990s and early 2000s with basic but elegant phones that kept pushing the boundaries of what early handsets could do. BlackBerry gained executive adoration when it perfected email on the phone, and won over the youth market with its pioneering Messenger product.

Both failed to recognise the significance of the touchscreen revolution, and confused past popularity with future invulnerability. Both crashed and burned.

Numerous attempts have been made to revive them, but most relaunches failed to recapture the magic of old.

Now, in the space of a few weeks, both have released new handsets that dig deep into the heritage of the brands, in the hope that it still resonates with users.

Nokia has delivered the “reimagined” 3310, a new version of the phone that captured the youth market at the turn of the century. It was a device with extraordinarily long battery life, as well as especially long SMS messaging: As opposed to the usual 160-character limit, it allowed for messages of more than 400 characters. This option caught on like wildfire among the young, and helped generate sales of more than 120-million units.

The new 3310 looks very different. It is bright, with a wide range of colour options, and more curvy. The curves extend from the overall shape of the device to the quirky 2.4-inch colour screen to the control buttons.  At first site it appears overly toy-like, but the impression quickly gives way to a sense of fun.

05-1491379316-nokia-3310-2017-148817333350

A 2 megapixel camera with LED flash and video capability, and LED torch, combines with FM radio, MP3 playback, and a 3.5mm AV connector for earphones to emphasise its positioning as a lifestyle device. The revival of the original Snake game – the first ever game on a mobile phone – adds to the sense of fun.

Thankfully, it leaves behind the Nokia legacy of a different charger for every device, using a standard micro USB port, along with Bluetooth 3.0 for wireless connectivity. Its most serious drawback is that it does not support Wi-Fi, meaning a mobile data account is essential for connectivity.

The biggest wins on the phone are its 31 days standby time, 22 hours talk time, 51 hours MP3 playback, and FM radio playback of up to 39 hours. With that package, a recommended retail price of up to R750 appears reasonable.

While the absence of Wi-Fi hints at a gap in the understanding of where the phone market has moved, Nokia cannot produce the handsets fast enough to keep up with global market demand. This further, suggests, however, that its output is not what it was back in the year 2000, despite the fact that Nokia phones are being built for its parent brand, HMD Global, by the giant Foxconn factories in China.

The same may be said of the output of the new BlackBerry phone, which has been licensed to the Chinese smartphone maker TCL Communication, best known for its Alcatel phone brand and manufacturing Vodafone branded devices.

BlackBerry, now a security software specialist, has licensed the handset brand to TCL, which has created a division called BlackBerry Mobile to build and market the handsets. Its first new model, the KEYone, in effect reinvents the BlackBerry phone.

However, it exudes that heritage word. It carries the classic BlackBerry physical keyboard and, like Nokia, uses the term “reimagined” to give it an updated spin. It functions as a touchpad, and can be used to scroll through pages or pictures, as well as take photos. It allows up to 52 customisable shortcuts, for those who want to personalise a device to the nth degree.

It uses BlackBerry’s secure version of the Android operating system, while still offering the full Android 7.1 Nougat edition. It also retains the previous BlackBerry handsets’ Hub, which consolidates messages, email, SMS and messages from other social media accounts in one place.

Like the 3310, BlackBerry always prided itself on battery life, and the KEYone  maintains the tradition with what TCL says is the largest battery ever found in a BlackBerry smartphone – a 3505mAh giant. It promises 26 hours of mixed use, outdoing even the 3310.

blackberry_keyone_1

As with Nokia, however, there are still question marks around the capacity of the new entity. It has launched the device country by country over the past two months, with South Africa far back in the line. By contrast, the most successful smartphone launches usually see devices released worldwide with minimal lag between territories.

“Working for BlackBerry Mobile is like working for a start-up,” points out Bob el-Hawari, the brand’s head of carrier operations for Middle East and Africa. “It means we are rolling out progressively, but it gives us the freedom to innovate very quickly. We will use our role as a challenger brand to disrupt the market.”

The KEYone will retail for R9649, which positions it as one of the best-priced high end phones on the market.

However, both BlackBerry and Nokia have a major marketing challenge on their hands to convince their loyal old users that their respective heritages are still relevant.

  • 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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Acer gaming beast escapes

Acer this week unveiled two notebooks that take portable gaming to new extremes.

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Acer  unveiled two new Predator Helios gaming notebooks this week at the next@acer global press conference in New York. They include the powerful Predator Helios 500, featuring up to 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors, and the Predator Helios 300 Special Edition that includes upgraded specs from its predecessor and a distinctive white chassis. Both feature VR-Ready performance, advanced thermal technologies, and blazing-fast connectivity.

“We’ve expanded our Predator Helios gaming notebook line in response to popular demand from gamers seeking extreme performance on the go,” said Jerry Kao, President of IT Products Business, Acer. “The Predator Helios 500 and Helios 300 gaming notebooks feature Acer’s proprietary thermal technologies and powerful components that, coupled with our award-winning software, deliver unparalleled gaming experiences.”

“The 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processor for gaming and creation laptops is the highest performance Intel has ever delivered for this class of devices; purpose built for enthusiasts who demand premium gaming experiences whether at home or on the go,” said Steve Long, Vice President and General Manager, Client Computing Group Sales and Marketing, Intel. “Intel and Acer’s long relationship has produced amazing products over the years, and the new Acer Predator Helios gaming notebooks are powerful examples of what’s possible with this unprecedented level of performance.”

Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast featuring overclocking, 4K 144 Hz panels

Designed for extreme gamers, the Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast. It features up to overclockable 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors and overclockable GeForce GTX 1070 graphics. Intel Optane memory increases responsiveness and load times, while ultra-fast NVMePCIe SSDs, Killer DoubleShot Pro networking, and up to 64GB of memory keep the action going, making the Helios 500 the ideal gaming notebook for graphic-intensive AAA titles and live streaming.

Top-notch visuals are delivered on bright, vibrant 4K UHD or FHD IPS 17.3-inch displays with 144Hz refresh rates for blur- and tear-free gameplay. NVIDIA G-SYNC technology is supported on both the built-in display and external monitors, allowing for buttery-smooth imagery without tearing or stuttering. For those looking for maximum gaming immersion, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, and display and HDMI 2.0 ports support up to three external monitors. Two speakers, a subwoofer, and Acer TrueHarmony and Waves MAXXAudio technology deliver incredible sound and hyper-realistic 3D audio using Waves Nx.

The Helios 500 stays cool with two of Acer’s proprietary AeroBlade 3D metal fans, and five heat pipes that distribute cool air to the machine’s key components while simultaneously releasing hot air. Fan speed can be controlled and customized through the PredatorSense app.

A backlit RGB keyboard offers four lighting zones with support for up to 16.8 million colors. Anti-ghosting technology provides the ultimate control for executing complex commands and combos, which can be set up via five dedicated programmable keys.

Acer’s PredatorSense app can be used to control and monitor the notebook’s vitals from one central interface, including overclocking, lighting, hotkeys, temperature, and fan control.

Predator Helios 300 Special Edition brings a sophisticated design twist to gaming notebooks

Acer’s budget-friendly Helios 300 gaming line sees the addition of a Special Edition model featuring an all-white aluminum chassis accented with gold trim, an unusually chic design for gaming notebooks.

The Helios 300 Special Edition (PH315-51) allows for ultra-smooth gameplay via its 15.6-inch FHD IPS display with an upgraded 144Hz refresh rate. The rapid refresh rate shortens frame rendering time and lowers input lag to give gamers an excellent in-game experience. It’s powered by up to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7+ processor, overclockable GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, up to a 512 GB PCIe Gen 3 NVMe solid state drive, and up to a 2 TB hard disk drive.

The Helios 300 Special Edition also comes equipped with up to 16 GB of DDR4 memory, and is upgradable to 32GB. Intel Optane memory speeds up load times of games and applications, access to information and improves overall system responsiveness. In addition, Gigabit Ethernet provides fast wired connections, while Gigabit Wi-Fi is provided by the latest Intel Wireless-AC 9560 that delivers up to 1.73Gbps throughput when using 160 MHz channels (2×2 802.11ac, dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz).

The Helios 300 Special Edition also includes two of Acer’s ultrathin (0.1 mm) all-metal AeroBlade 3D fans designed with advanced aerodynamics and superior airflow to keep the system cool. They can be controlled with Acer’s PredatorSense app, which offers three usage modes:

1. Coolboost mode:

For heavy loading games, rendering, streaming, and extended video consumption

2. Normal mode:

For productivity tools like Microsoft Office

3. Silent mode:

For web browsing and online chatting

Price and Availability

Predator Helios 500 will be available in South Africa in June starting at R34 999.00

Helios 300 Special Edition will be available in South Africa in August 2018. Exact Price will be communicated closer to the time.

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LG G7 arrives in SA

LG this week introduced South Africa to its latest premium smartphone, the LG G7 ThinQ, focused on bringing useful and convenient AI features to the smartphone experience.

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Powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform, the LG G7 ThinQ offers 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage to run demanding tasks and apps with. It is equipped with a 6.1-inch Super Bright Display, but the LG G7 ThinQ remains compact enough to use with one hand.

Sporting a new design aesthetic for the G series, the polished metal rim gives the LG G7 ThinQ a sleeker, more refined look, complemented by Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and the back for enhanced durability. Rated IP68 for dust and water resistance, the LG G7 ThinQ is also awarded MIL-STD 810 c certification, having been subjected to a range of extreme temperature and environment tests designed by the United States military.

The LG G7 ThinQ has an 8MP camera up front, rendering clear and natural selfies, with two 16MP cameras at the back that deliver higher resolution photos with more detail, as well as a Super Wide Angle configuration.

As with other leading brands, LG has evolved its signature camera by including AI functionality. The AI CAM offers 19 shooting modes for intelligence-optimised shots. Users can also improve their photos by choosing from an additional three effect options should the AI CAM recommendation not suit their taste.

The new Super Bright Camera captures images that are up to four times brighter than typical photos shot in dim light. Through the combination of pixel binning and software processing, the AI algorithm adjusts the camera settings automatically when shooting in low light.

Live Photo Mode records one second before and after the shutter is pressed for snippets of unexpected moments or expressions that would normally be missed. Stickers uses face recognition to generate fun 2D and 3D overlays, such as sunglasses and headbands, that can be viewed directly on the display.

New to the G series is Portrait Mode, which generates professional-looking shots with out-of-focus backgrounds. This effect can be generated using both front and rear standard lenses as well as the rear Super Wide Angle lens.

LG G7 ThinQ offers further AI functionality with the inclusion of Google Lens features. Google Lens is a new way to search using the AI and computer vision. Google Assistant and Google Photos allow users to access more information on objects such as landmarks, plants, animals, and books. It can identify text or visit websites, add business cards to contacts, events to the calendar or look up an item on a restaurant menu.

A button just below the volume keys launches the AI functionality. A single tap of this button launches the Google Assistant, while two quick taps launches Google Lens. Users can also hold down the button to start talking to the Google Assistant without the repetition of the OK Google command.

With Super Far Field Voice Recognition (SFFVR) and the highly-sensitive G7ThinQ microphone, the Google Assistant can recognise voice commands from up to five meters away. SFFVR is able to separate commands from background noise, making the LG G7 ThinQ an alternative to a home AI speaker, even when the TV is on. Commands for the Google Assistant have been increased in the LG G7 ThinQ so users can get more done with their voice alone.

“The LG G7 ThinQ is strongly focused on the fundamentals and its launch marks a new chapter for our company,” said Deon Prinsloo, General Manager for Mobile Communication, LG Electronics S.A Pty Ltd. “Through the combination of personalised and useful AI functionalities with meaningful smartphone features, this is LG’s most convenient and in the moment smartphone yet.”

Key Specifications

  • Mobile Platform: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform
  • Display: 6.1-inch QHD+ 19.5:9 FullVision Super Bright Display (3120 x 1440 / 564ppi)
  • Memory:
    • LG G7 ThinQ: 4GB LPDDR4x RAM / 64GB UFS 2.1 ROM / MicroSD (up to 2TB)
  • Camera:
    • Rear Dual: 16MP Super Wide Angle (F1.9 / 107°) / 16MP Standard Angle (F1.6 / 71°)
    • Front: 8MP Wide Angle (F1.9 / 80°)
  • Battery: 3000mAh
  • OS: Android 8.0 Oreo
  • Size: 153.2 x 71.9 x 7.9mm
  • Weight: 162g
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n, ac / Bluetooth 5.0 BLE / NFC / USB Type-C 2.0 (3.1 compatible)
  • Colours: New Aurora Black
  • Others: Super Bright Display / New Second Screen / AI CAM / Super Bright Camera / Super Far Field Voice Recognition / Boombox Speaker / Google Lens / AI Haptic / Hi-Fi Quad DAC / DTS:X 3D Surround Sound / IP68 Water and Dust Resistance / HDR10 / Google Assistant Key / Face Recognition / Fingerprint Sensor / Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Technology / Wireless Charging / MIL-STD 810G Compliant / FM Radio
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