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Colour is the new black

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Gone are the days when only a black or white phone was cool at the high end. Now colour is all the rage, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

A funny thing happened in iStores around South Africa last weekend. The new iPad went on sale, and no one noticed. What they did notice, though, was a new version of the iPhone, not with enhanced features, but with a new colour.

The new iPad 9.7” tablet is the successor to the iPad Air 2, but carries many of the same specs as the high-end iPad Pro, without the enhanced price tag. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus Red Special Edition smartphones introduce only a new colour.

Suddenly, that is a big deal.

Yes, the vibrant red aluminium finish has been released in recognition of more than ten years of partnership between Apple and the (RED) global campaign to fight AIDS, so it is not merely a matter of cosmetics. However, this nuance will probably be lost on most customers for the device.

In 2017, it seems, new colour options are a prerequisite for high-end smartphones. In fashion terms, colour is the new black. Any colour.

The trend was kicked off in earnest during Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, when Huawei unveiled its new flagship phones, the P10 and P10 Plus. As this column noted at the time, it was not the advanced camera and other specs that were expected to turn heads. Rather, it was the physical design of the phone, along with a fresh suite of colour options. Huawei had collaborated with the Pantone Color Institute, global thought leaders in colour standards, to introduce new colours not seen before on smartphones.

Pantone Greenery, named the official Pantone Colour of the Year for 2017, was applied to a handset with a sandblast finish, giving it a clean look that it said would reflects the eco-friendly symbolism of green. A new deep blue shade named Dazzling Blue, added to the diamond-cut finish, delivered a subtle glow effect that is likely to make it the most popular shade.

It is rare that colour options are stand-out features for phones, but Huawei pulled it off with its refreshed palate and the ultra-fresh Greenery.  The new phones, due in South Africa in May, also come in Ceramic White, Dazzling Gold, Prestige Gold, Graphite Black, Rose Gold and Mystic Silver.

“With consumers increasingly comfortable using colour as a form of expression, we are seeing more experimentation and creative uses of colour,” said Laurie Pressman, VP of Pantone Color Institute, at the launch. “Colour is truly a medium through which individuals can express themselves to the world around them.”

Last month, when Samsung launched its own new flagships, the S8 and S8 Plus – likely to be the standout phones of 2017 – it also unveiled a new colour range.

When it arrives in South Africa on 5 May, a key element of its marketing will be, in Samsung’s words, “a rich colour palette”. It will include Midnight Black, Orchid Gray and Maple Gold, with more colours to be introduced later in the year. The official global launch range includes Coral Blue and Arctic Silver.

While Samsung made less of the philosophy behind its colours, it put as much effort as Huawei into colour as a differentiator and a key element of the phone’s design. In a commemorative book issued at the S8 launch, entitled simply Galaxy S8: Design Story, it offered an echo of the Pantone argument:

“The influence of nature informs the colour palette for the Galaxy S8. Samsung’s Liquid Shade spectrum explores the depth of lustre as seen through the surface tension of a water droplet on metal.”

As abstract as this may sound outside the rarefied language of design, the real clue to the colour explosion in high-end smartphones probably lies in another principle expressed in Design Story – that of neutrality:

“With a strong and flexible but fluid design ethos that blends naturally into its environment, the Galaxy S8 is a device not defined by age, gender or geography.”

In other words, in contrast to a trend over the past few years to define phones according to their target market, the S8 attempts to be all things to all people. The only way to achieve this is to suit all colour tastes. The idea then, is that one of the five distinctive colour options for the S8 handsets will appeal to any of the various gender, age and location-based demographics of people who would be in the market for a high-end phone.

It is clear, then, that as it becomes more difficult to distinguish phones by design – although Samsung can argue that the S8 stands out from the rest – colour will become more important than ever before. Apple has proved the point with the new iPhone Red. There is little doubt that new-look phones ranging from Samsung Coral Blue to Huawei Greenery will make consumers more aware of colour than ever before in the short history of smartphones.

  • 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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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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