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Huawei leads the charge to next generation phones

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At this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, upstart brand Huawei reinforced its claims to the top table of smartphone makers, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It would have been unthinkable just four years ago. The brand that no one outside China had heard of, Huawei, has become the flavour of the moment. At this week’s Mobile World Congress, which turns Barcelona into the epicentre of the mobile industry for four days at the end of February every year, the upstart led a mass charge of new phone launches.

Its new Huawei P10 and P10+ handsets drew more than a thousand journalists to a launch event, reminiscent of the jostling crowds at previous Samsung flagship phone launches in the city. Samsung opted for a more low-key tablet launch, having delayed the unveiling of its new Galaxy S8 by a month. That left the field open to the likes of Huawei, LG and Sony to play catch-up or even leapfrog. Even the venerable old names like Nokia, BlackBerry and Motorola – under Lenovo ownership with the Moto brand – were able to make an impact.

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Nokia was Huawei’s biggest challenger for attention, thanks to the hype around the relaunched 3310, the best seller from the year 2000. Targeted back then at teenagers and young adults, it sold 126-million units, and was known for its week-long battery life, exceptional durability and – most significantly – allowing text messages more than double the length of traditional SMS.

That made it a youth favourite, and those youths are now in their 30s and 40s. Aside from having more disposable income, it is also the generation that now dominates the media. It was a stroke of marketing genius, then, to reincarnate that particular phone. Even if the new Nokia licensee, HMD Global, does not sell a single unit of the “reimagined” 3310, it has everyone in the industry talking about the brand, and most old fans will now know that Nokia is back. That gives it the runway from which it hopes a new range of Android smartphones will take off.

Despite the operating system remaining fairly faithful to the old Symbian OS created for Nokia feature phones, the new 3310 in bright plastic casings looks more like a toy than a serious device. On the other hand, the Android insides and quality bodies of the Nokia 3, 5 and 6 should give it some traction among more demanding users.

It will not, however, represent serious competition to Huawei. The latter first gave notice of its intentions to move from copycat to challenger less than four years ago, when it launched the P6 as the thinnest smartphone in the world. By the time it got to the P9 last year, consumers had almost figured out how to pronounce its name.

The premium version of that handset, the P9 Plus, was one of the best phones of 2016. It helped create a halo effect that took the full Huawei range to third place in worldwide smartphone sales. Only Samsung and Apple remained ahead.

Both were absent from the smartphone action at MWC, making Huawei the de facto thought leader of the event. As a result, when the Samsung Galaxy S8 is launched at the end of March, it will probably be the first time in five years that the South Korean company will be playing catch up instead of leading the way.

The P10 and P10+ build on the advanced camera technology of the previous edition. Once again, they feature dual rear cameras co-engineered with Leica. For the first time, their front cameras also offer near-professional quality, thanks to incorporating a Leica lens.

The power lies as much in the software, with a Portrait mode that includes 3D facial detection technology and ”professional studio-like effects”, such as re-lighting and a Hybrid Zoom feature that allows one to focus on specific areas of an image.

That is not necessarily what will turn heads, though. The physical design of the phone reveals an ever-evolving metal craftsmanship, as the company calls it. Rounded curves, a “hyper diamond-cut” finish and a fresh suite of colour options set it apart. Huawei collaborated with the Pantone Color Institute, the global colour specailists, to introduce new colours not seen before on phones.

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

It is rare that colour options are stand-out features for phones, but Huawei pulls it off with its refreshed palate. It includes 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, t the launch. “Colour is truly a medium through which individuals can express themselves to the world around them.”

The Huawei P10 and P10+ phones are expected to be available in South Africa in April 2017.

  • 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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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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