The “other” Korean electronics giant, LG, came out with guns blazing last week, unveiling a family of fiercely competitive new smartphones for the South African market, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Barely days after Samsung presided over a global launch of two new “phablets” aimed at solidifying its hold on large-format smartphones, the “other” South Korean electronics giant, LG, reminded South Africans of its own credentials across formats large and small.
The star of the show at a Johannesburg media event was the new LG G4 Beat smartphone. This is a scaled-down version of the G4, launched earlier this year to unanimous acclaim for its cutting edge camera. The G4, a 5.5-inch curved phablet, features automatic as well as manual shooting, and provides smartphone photographers with the most control yet seen in a phone camera.
Now the same technology is available in the 5.2-inch G4 Beat. As with the G4, the entire phone is curved, according to LG, to match the natural curve of the palm. The big sister may just have been too big to feel comfortable in the hand, but the Beat really is a natural.
“We have a natural arc in the palm of our hands,” says Deon Prinsloo, GM Mobile for LG Electronics SA. “So we retained the arc in the design of the G4 Beat which allows you have the same distance from the eye to all parts of the phone, and it fits better in human hand. It is narrower and slightly smaller than the G4, without sacrificing display size.”
The smaller screen means it competes for attention with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and HTC One M9 rather than with the larger phablets. The display may suffer by comparison – it has nothing like the same resolution – but in many other respects, it is remarkably competitive.
Remarkably, because the Beat comes to the shelves at what seems like an absurdly low price: less than R300 a month on contract, and R4 900 for a cash purchase. The Galaxy S6 costs around R12 000.
Aside from the Beat’s 1.5GHz processor – comparable to high-end phones – it offers Full HD 1080p video recording and playback. The 8MP laser auto-focus camera’s Manual Mode gives fine control over shutter speed, ISO, exposure and white balance – previously not possible on phone cameras.
The phone is likely to find enormous appeal in the youth market, which has in the past proved essential to the cool credentials of technology brands. BlackBerry once owned that market, but was unable to maintain the cool factor.
Can LG claim a foothold here? If not, it won’t be for want of trying.
A second phone in the G4 family is about to make waves in that market. It’s called the G4 Stylus, and it is even more remarkable than the Beat. It is a 5.7-inch phone, meaning it is going up against the phablets, like the new 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 5, the 5.5-inch Apple 6 Plus and Huawei G7, and the giant 6-inch Huawei Ascend Mate 7.
But here’s the reason one can once again invoke the word “remarkable”: like the Galaxy Note, it sports a large 3000 mAh battery for extended use and a stylus geared to making notes and drawings on the screen. Unlike the Note 5 and iPhone 6 Plus, it is intended to be an affordable phone for the student market. At under R4000, it even knocks the cost socks of the Ascend Mate 7’s already generous R6000 pricetag.
Prinsloo is not shy about making comparisons with competing devices. In particular, the Galaxy Note: “For many, it is impossible to access the Note. A lot of consumers would like a big display with note-taking capability, but most can’t afford the R600-700 per month contract price. Hence we developed the G4 Stylus, which will cost less than a third of that.”
The core target markets are scholars, teenagers aged 14-plus, students and young professionals. It is likely that, between them, the G4 Beat and Stylus will find no shortage of takers in many other niches, too.
- Specifications of LG G4 Beat:
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 Processor
- Display: 5.2-inch Full HD IPS LCD (1920 x 1080, 423ppi)
- Memory: 8GB ROM / 1.5GB RAM
- Camera: Rear 8MP / Front 5MP
- Battery: 2,300mAh (removable)
- Operating System: Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
- Size: 142.7 x 72.6 x 9.85mm
- Weight: 139g
- Network: 4G LTE / HSPA+ 42.2Mbps (3G)
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 b, g, n / Bluetooth 4.1 / NFC / A-GPS / Glonass / USB 2.0
- Colors: Metallic Silver / Ceramic White / Shiny Gold
- Other: In-Cell Touch / Color Spectrum Sensor / Gesture Interval Shot / Full HD 1080p Video
Key Specifications of LG G4 Stylus:
- Display: 5.7” HD IPS LCD (257 ppi)
- Processor: Quad Core 1.2GHz
- Camera: 8MP / 5MP
- 1GB/ 8GB
- Battery: 3,000mAh
- Size:154.35×79.2×9.38 mm
- Stylus Pen
Samsung unleashes the beast
Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.
And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.
The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.
It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.
So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.
(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)
SA ride permit system ‘broken’
Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.
The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5 (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.
However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.
Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.
The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.
Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.
Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:
- Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
- Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
- Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.
If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.
As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.
Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.
What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.