It was a year of rapid advances, intense competition and crazy new features on devices large and small. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK names his pick of the gadget crop for 2017.
At a time when many thought phone technology could advance no further, innovation in both design and technology delivered a flood of delightful new devices. Advances in virtual reality and 360 degree cams, in activity monitors and wearables, in smart listening devices and home robots, in autonomous vehicles and electric cars, in gaming consoles and entertainment devices, all added up to a bewildering array of tech choices.
I can’t claim to have been exposed to all or most of these, but have tried out, tested and played with enough of them to offer a personal selection of the best gadgets of 2017.
Without further ado:
Smartphone of the Year: LG V30+
A brand I did not expect to stand out above the rest in 2017 was LG, which had lurched from novelty innovation to novelty innovation in recent years. Finally, it has produced a phone that not only looks and feels good, but also functions better than most, and competes feature for feature.
The LG V30+ does not have more advanced functionality than, say, the Samsung Note 8 or S8 Plus, but it packs similar features into a package so slim and elegant, it comes as a surprise just how cutting edge it is.
Ultra-smooth, curved edges that run through to the back, 6” screen, rated IP68 for dust and water resistance, two rear lenses – 16MP with f1.6 aperture and 13MP – as well as a surprisingly large 3300 mAh battery with wireless charging, all in a 158g package. If one is not brand conscious, there is nothing not to love here.
Joint runners-up: Samsung Note 8, Samsung S8 Plus, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and Apple iPhone X, are all superb handsets. If you have the budget, none of these will be a mistake
Low-end Phone of the Year: Vodacom Smart Kicka ve
In the last few years, entry level phones came and conquered, and generally went up in price for new models as demand increased. The Smart Kicka, a phone made for Vodacom by Alcatel makers TCL, has gone in the other direction. The latest model hit the market at just under R400, with a decent 3.5” HVGA display, 1400 mAh battery, 4GB storage and a micro SD slot for expanding storage.
It runs on Android 5.1, which may be two generations behind current devices, but then its target market has little interest in device confectionery like Nougat and Oreo. More relevantly, it comes with a R10 000 voucher for online study material from Top Dog, which covers video lessons, interactive tests, and study tips for grades 4 to 12.
Even if not in the market for an entry-level phone, it makes a great back-up option to keep around for emergencies.
Specialist Phone of the Year: CAT S41 durable phone
Anyone who works outdoors or a long way from a power supply will know how poorly the high-end phones serve their needs. Waterproof is nothing if a phone screen cracks at its mere impact with rocks and concrete. CAT, a brand derived from the Caterpillar earth-moving equipment company, comes to the rescue with the CAT S41. More specifically, with a tough shell, rubberised edges, and a giant 5000mAh battery giving 44 days standby time.
Gaming device of the Year: Nintendo Switch
In 2017, Nintendo made a successful return to the console wars decades after its Game Boy first made handheld consoles mass -market,. However, the flop of the Wii U was still fresh in people’s memory. Much was riding on the new Switch, and much was delivered.
The Switch is several gaming devices in one: Firstly, a handheld console, albeit a few generations advanced over the Wii U, with a 6.2”, multi-touch capacitive touch screen and display resolution of 1280 x 720; Secondly, the console can be connected to a TV, underlining its competition to the PlayStation and Xbox. Thirdly, the Joy-Con contollers on either side of the screen can also be removed, to become separate devices so that two people can play each other on the same system.
The most significant aspect of the Switch is the extent to which, a year after the groundbreaking Pokemon Go augmented reality mobile game, it underlines Nintendo’s ability to remain innovative.
Robot of the Year: Alpha 1 Pro
The average robot is a mechanical arm on an assembly line. Alpha 1 is not your average robot. It is a humanoid educational and entertainment tool with some nifty dance moves and extensive pre-loaded content and actions, thanks to 16 high precision servo motors. However, it can also be programmed, using a visual programming language called Blockly. It can thus be used as a fun vehicle for coding education, or used for direct education on any other subject.
Wearable of the Year: Fitbit Alta HR
In 2016, Fitbit took the activity band to a new level with the Alta. It was elegant and attractive, sleek and stylish, even carrying a curved OLED screen – something we tend to see only on high-end TVs. It only missed one feature to make it my default fitness device: a heart rate monitor.
This year, it plugged that gap. The Fitbit Alta HR is every bit as elegant, but also a high-tech power play in an aesthetically pleasing form factor.
Best Vehicle Tech of the Year: Land Rover Discovery ATPC
Anyone who thinks self-driving cars are still years away hasn’t tried the new Land Rover Discovery in impossible driving conditions. An off-road feature called All-Terrain Progress Control allows the driver to surrender control to the vehicle in difficult terrain. Although the driver still steers, ATPC manages vehicle speed, braking, and applying torque to each wheel for traction.
It’s not a feature that will be in regular use. But, along with Land Rover’s Autonomous Emergency Braking system, which spots potential collissions and applies brakes automatically if an accident is anticipated, it reveals the extent to which autonomous vehicles are already possible.
Huawei goes ultra-premium
Porsche Design and Huawei have launched the Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS in South Africa exclusive to MTN and retailing for R 26 459.
The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS boasts features like the world’s first dual fingerprint design, including an in-screen fingerprint sensor, the world’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI) processor and Leica triple camera with 40MP image capture.
“After the overwhelming success of the Porsche Design Huawei Mate 10 Pro in South Africa, we now bring you our latest offering, a perfect blend of innovation in a smartphone and luxury design,” said Likun Zhao, Vice President of Huawei Consumer Business Group Southern Africa. “From three-point security feature including facial recognition, rear fingerprint scanner and the new innovative in-screen fingerprint to the Leica triple camera system. it culminates in an unprecedented experience for our customers.”
The device incorporates Porsche Design’s signature design language and Huawei’s breakthrough technology. The phone has a 6” 2K curved OLED screen and symmetrical look, minimalist feel and 8-edged 3D curved glass body.
High performance is symbolised by the naming of the smartphone: the term “RS” in the world of Porsche motorsport stands for outstanding racing performance.
Huawei provided the following information on The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS benefits and features :
· The world’s first dual fingerprint scanner for enhanced convenience, allowing users to wake and unlock the device simply, thanks to an in-screen fingerprint sensor. Hover to wake the device, touch to unlock it
· The winning combination of Leica triple camera with 40MP RGB sensor technology and exceptional photography powered by Master AI. This combination puts effortless, eye-catching photography at the fingertips of those looking to immortalise their favourite moments. Combined with 5 x hybrid zoom, and the world’s first AI image stabilisation on a smartphone camera ensures photography lovers can capture the best shots with exceptional clarity in almost any situation
· The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS is the first Huawei handset to allow quick wireless charging, making it even easier to keep the phone topped up and ready to go and, thanks to its long lasting battery, users will easily be powered through the busiest of days
· An ‘intelligent’ smartphone, the powerful AI processor automatically tailors the performance of the phone according to how it is used – constantly learning, understanding and anticipating needs, it is the perfect personal assistant for the pocket
· 256GB of internal storage means those constantly on the go and constantly on their phone can be worry free
· Dual SLS (super linear system) speakers with DOLBY ATMOS enable users to have a superior experience, with the best immersive surround sound and entertainment on the go
· Splash, water and dust resistant, which means there is no need to worry about damaging the device in the rain or accidentally dropping it in water
Jan Becker, CEO Porsche Design Group, said: “Both Porsche Design and Huawei seek to imagine and develop products that stand for precision and perfection, intelligent functionality and highly sophisticated design. Our aim was to create an outstanding device that goes one step further. We believe we have reached this goal by taking our partnership to the next level.”
Porsche Design and Huawei have worked in tandem to develop a smartphone that fuses together the two brands’ DNA, wealth of experience in design and technology, industry-leading expertise and exceptional performance. Through the use of colour in the device’s body, software themes and accessories, the new handset is accentuated with Porsche Design’s distinguished aesthetic and purist, minimalist feel.
The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS will be available to purchase exclusively from MTN at R 26 459.
Cross-channel chat launched
Clickatell has launched a cross-channel live chat service, Touch Go, that transforms omni-channel customer care.
It enables live chat across a company’s website as well as social platforms (Twitter and Facebook) and mobile apps, bringing customer care and engagement into a single business platform.
“Today’s consumers expect to engage with your brand on the digital channel of their choosing,” says Deon van Heerden, Clickatell Engage CEO and Group CFO. “They want to message your business and instantly have queries resolved, find the information and services they are looking for, without the need for a voice call. Clickatell’s Touch Go makes that happen with the right level of capabilities for businesses of all sizes.”
Businesses can start using Touch Go immediately, with a free Starter option. Touch Go requires no credit card for sign-up and is fully featured with a simple setup process. It offers customisable branding, a unified chat desk business application as well as reports and analytics.
As the business scales up its digital customer care, it can opt-in for the Touch Enterprise offering. Touch Enterprise is designed for scaling up customer care efforts through advanced capabilities including AI driven virtual agents, sentiment analysis, automated workflows, enterprise integrations and in-channel mini-applications.
“Customer care has become a defining factor for sustained business success ” says Nirmal Nair, Clickatell Engage EVP Product & Marketing. “In an ever-increasing mobile native world, customers often choose to interact digitally, but they also expect to be able to reach a human immediately, should they need. Monitoring multiple channels and providing immediate action becomes challenging with siloed deployments. Touch’s unified solution allows businesses of all sizes to provide the customer delight in a simple modular approach.”