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Picture this: phones as good as cameras

The new generation of cellphones comes with so many lenses, they can pretend to be as good as regular cameras. Which is right for you? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK gives a guide to the best camera phones available right now.

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Does anyone remember when Nokia boasted the best smartphone camera in the world? That was a mere six years ago, when the Nokia 1020 left anyone from Apple to Samsung in the dust with a 41megapixel lens and the biggest light sensor ever seen on a phone. But now both Nokia and Sharp, which pioneered the phone camera with the J-Phone at the beginning of the century, are forgotten as leaders in the field.

(For a brief history of the phone camera, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_phone)

Even so, the legacy of the 1020 was hard to shake off, until other smartphone makers showed in the last couple of years that hardware advances and software genius readily compensated for megapixels.

This is both good news and bad news; on the one hand, you don’t need megapixels for mega pictures; on the other, there is no specific number that tells you which phone has the better camera. However, a combination of numbers does help. Megapixels do matter, although not by themselves. Aperture, measured in f, matters even more, as it tells you how much light the lens allows in – the smaller the number, the more light. Sensor size counts, as it dictates how much light is captured. The bigger the size, the more light it captures.

Finally, and this would have been an absurd suggestion just six years ago, the number of lenses counts. When dual-lens cameras were first introduced in 2011 both the HTC Evo and LG Optimus, they were designed to take 3D photos – which no one really wanted. Consumers were demanding something seemingly simpler: better photos. Today that is exactly what multi-lens cameras do, with each lens contributing a different aspect to the quality of the combined image. HTC was the first with a dual-lens camera in the One M8 four years ago, but its two average lenses didn’t necessarily add up to one great photo. LG was next with two-lens phones in the G5 and G6, with the second allowing users to switch to wide-angle format.

It was only when Huawei partnered with Leica for dual lenses on the P9 and P9 Plus that the ability to combine images from two cameras came into its own, and now all smartphone makers are on the same path.

None of this guarantees perfect or even great photos, as the marketing hype promises. But more about that later. It is notable that only two of the 10 phones listed here have a single lens on the back, suggesting that it is dual-lens arrays – or more – that have finally laid to rest the ghost of the 1020.

Click on the link below to discover the top 10 camera phones:

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The myths of microwaves

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We all know microwaves make cooking a breeze and it helps save those minutes, we rarely have enough of these days. However, some people do have those lingering doubts about whether microwaving food destroys nutrients or that it emits harmful radiation. However, the truth is a lot more comforting and positive.

“The microwave makes life so much easier,” says Tracy Gordon, Head of Product – Home Appliances at Samsung South Africa. “It’s human-centred technology at its most helpful. The Samsung Hotblast for example, has revolutionary functions, which are tailor-made to create fast, tasty and healthy meals in minutes.”

A recent article by Harvard Health Publishingclaims stated that “microwave ovens cook food using waves of energy that are remarkably selective, primarily affecting water and other molecules that are electrically asymmetrical. Microwaves cause these molecules to vibrate and quickly build up thermal (heat) energy.” The article debunks two common myths about microwaving food.

Myth 1: Microwaving kills nutrients

Whether in a microwave or a regular oven, some nutrients, including vitamin C, do break down when exposed to heat. However, the fact is, cooking with a microwave might be better when it comes to preserving nutrients because it takes a shorter time to cook. Additionally, as far as vegetables go, cooking them in water robs them of some of their nutritional value because the nutrients seep out into the cooking water,” states the report by Harvard Health Publishing. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), food cooked in a microwave oven is as safe and has the same nutrient value, as food cooked in a conventional oven.

Myth 2: Microwaving food can give you cancer

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that microwaves do not make food radioactive. Microwaves heat food but they do not change the chemical or molecular structure of it. In fact, there is absolutely no evidence that microwaves pose a health risk to people when used appropriately, the organisation added.

With those myths well busted, it’s comforting to know one can make full use of the convenient kitchen appliance. And when the time comes to use a microwave to heat up a tasty meal in no time, one can trust the Samsung Hotblast to do the job. The HotBlast has multiple air holes blowing out powerful hot air, which reduces cooking time. Samsung claims the Slim Fry technology ensures that food is perfectly crisp on the outside and delicious and juicy on the inside. Additionally, this versatile microwave has a wider grill, making it easier to brown food fast and evenly. The turntable is wider, measuring 345mm, making it possible to prepare bigger portions of food. And with its Eco Mode power, it significantly reduces energy consumption with its low standby power. Its intelligent features and stylish design makes it very useful and as we now know – a safe, healthy way to enjoy a meal.

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New BMW 3-series ushers in autonomous future

The new BMW 3-series is not meant to be an autonomous car, but it is so close, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers.

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It was not meant to be a test-drive of an autonomous vehicle. But the Driving Assist button on the steering wheel of the new BMW 330i was just too tempting. And there I found myself, on Sir Lowry’s Pass near Cape Town, “driving” with my arms folded while the vehicle negotiated curves on its own.

Every 10 seconds or so, yellow or red lights flashed to alert me to put my hands back on the wheel. The yellow lights meant the car wanted me to put my hands on the wheel, just to show that I was in control. The red lights meant that I had to take over control from the artificial intelligence built into the vehicle.

With co-driver Ernest Page, we negotiated a major highway, the bends of Sir Lowry’s pass, and the passes of Hell’s Heights (Hel se Hoogte) above the Cape Winelands.

As the above video of the experience reveals, it can be nerve-racking for someone who hasn’t experienced autonomous driving, or hasn’t been dreaming of testing it for many years. For this driver, it was exhilarating. Not because the car performed so magnificently, but because it tells us just how close true autonomous driving really is.

There was one nervous moment when the autonomous – or rather, Driving Assist – mode disengaged on Hell’s Heights, but fear not. A powerful sense of responsibility prevailed, and my hands hovered over the steering wheel as it took the curve. Assist disengaged, and the car began to veer towards the other side of the road. I quickly took over, and also sobered up from the giddiness of thinking I was already in the future.

In reality, Driving Assist is part of level 2 of driving autonomy, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers. A presentation on the evening of the test drive, by Edward Makwana, manager of group product communications at BMW Group in South Africa, summed up the five stages as the driver having Feet Off, Hands Off, Eyes Off, Mind off, and finally, only being a Passenger.

However, the extent to which the hands-off mode of Driving Assist mimics self-driving, and easily shows the way to eyes-off and mind-off, is astonishing.

Click here to read about the components that make the Driving Assist work.

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