The past year saw a magnificent selection of smartphones released. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK has a hard time choosing the best.
It was a stellar year for smartphone innovation, design and progress. This despite the fact that the once-perennial innovator Apple failed to ignite the market with the iPhone 7 duo of devices. And despite the fact that Samsung ignited a little too much of the market with the disastrous Note 7.
The usual practise is to select a Smartphone of the Year, along with a couple of runners-up. This year, my choice for the top three phones of the year has been made enormously complicated by the fact that three handsets each offer distinctions so powerful, each would have been a shoo-in to clinch the top spot in previous years.
The result is something of a cop-out, but also an acknowledgement that different users with different needs would have opted for any of these as first choice: we have a three-way tie. The winners are the Samsung S7 Edge Injustice Edition, the Motorola Moto Z, and the Huawei P9 Plus.
Here are the reasons why each of these deserves to be the winner:
Motorola Moto Z
Motorola came back to South Africa with a figurative and literal bang – the latter being the mighty noise made by the Moto Z’s astonishing range of distinctions. It is the thinnest name-brand smartphone in the world, at only 5.19mm. It is also the first modular phone that can be adapted without opening or removing anything from the phone, as required by the LG G5.
The Moto Z was launched with a range of Mods, short for modifications, that clip onto the back of the phone. Since the phone is so thin, the mod does not bulk it up so much that it becomes unsightly. The initial range of four Mods include a JBL speaker, Hasselblad camera, and a projector called the Insta-Share.
The latter is the highlight of the family, and makes it possible to project anything visible on the phone display onto any other surface. In a dark room, this allows for the equivalent of a 70-inch display on a white wall. In other words, using a ShowMax or Netflix app on the phone, one can watch a movie on a bigger screen that the average large-screen display in South African homes.
The phone’s specs are not too shabby either, with a 5.5-inch display (2560×1440), fingerprint scanner, Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB expandable storage, 13MP rear camera, 5MP front, and a 2600mAh battery.
Huawei P9 Plus
Huawei has been upping its smartphone game year by year, much the way Samsung did before its global breakthrough with the Galaxy S3 and S4. Its equivalent phones that made the market pay attention were the Huawei P6 and P7 devices, while the P8 marked time in much the same way Samsung did with the S5.
The P9 and its big brother, the P9 Plus, take Huawei to a different dimension. While the P9 is a 5.2-inch device and the Plus carries a 5.5-inch display, both feature a breakthrough that defines the new Huawei. They each carry a dual 12MP lens using optics from camera pioneer Leica.
One lens uses a colour RGB sensor, while the other is monochrome; the two use image fusion technology to combine their simultaneous images into one photo. The result is richer colour from the RGB sensor and greater detail from the monochrome, combining to allow Huawei to compete on image quality for the first time.
The P9 Plus is the standout of the two. In one of its colour options, Haze Gold, it is almost indistinguishable from last year’s Mate S, the phablet phone that took on the Samsung Note range in many departments. However, there are two standout distinctions: a sleek, rounded unibody that almost exceeds the industrial design standards set by the iPhone, and the two lenses on the rear, accompanying a dual-LED flash.
Outside of the curved edge screens of the Samsung S6 and S7 edge devices, there is no finer-looking phone on the market.
Samsung S7 Edge Injustice Edition
And that brings us to what is possibly the most beautiful smartphone ever made, the limited edition Injustice version of the Samsung S7 Edge. The basic S7 Edge is a superb phone in its own right, easily able to compete with the other phones in this list. Its curved edge screen continues to set it apart aesthetically from anything else on the market.
Now add an exclusive theme, and bake that into both the hardware and software of the phone. That’s what Samsung did when they teamed up with DC Comics and Warner Bros Entertainment to mark the release of the Injustice 2 mobile game, featuring a range of DC superheroes and villains. Since Batman is the standout hero, he was chosen to turn this into a standout phone, and it could well have been named the Batman Edition.
The midnight black unibody of the phone is inlaid with gold trimmings, from the speaker grill and edge of the fingerprint sensor, along with the Samsung logo on the front, to a Batman logo and edges of the camera lens and flash. An included protective plastic rear cover features an equally stylish logo Batsuit-inspired ribbing.
The limited edition phone is also packaged with a black edition of the Samsung Gear VR headset, and a voucher for downloading non-free VR content.
The Batman theme chosen for the phone blends in perfectly, with a range of iconic logos and images appearing on the home screens, messaging backgrounds and phone interface. Call up the keyboard, and that batsuit theme appears again.
The icons and category folders are all in gold on black, with the cherry on top the apps icon, which appears as a Batman mask.
For any Batman fan, this is the ultimate phone. For anyone who appreciates the character as well as stylish smartphone design inside and out, it is a visual feast. The aesthetic pleasure of both the phone and its interface has yet to wear off after six months of use.
The almost phones
Three phones didn’t make it to the top, but made a major impact this year. They were:
- The Apple iPhone 7 Plus: the ultimate phone for the iPhone aficionado, with a faster processor, better camera and better display than previous editions. The absence of a headphone jack and earphones, replaced by wireless AirPods, has attracted the most attention. The Airpods have been described as looking like tiny toothbrushes in the ear, and keep the iPhone outside the list above. Improved versions in future may well take it back to the top.
- The LG G5: a beautiful if chunky phone with a slide-down bottom that allows for Friends – LG’s version of Mod add-ons – to replace the battery. The add-ons include a camera, speakers and battery. The G5 is also at the heart of a new LG ecosystem of Virtual Reality goggles and camera – the 360 Cam – and apps that bring these features into their own.
- The Sony Xperia XZ: with one of the finest cameras ever seen on a phone. It is the world’s first smartphone with 5-axis image stabilisation, which compensates for camera shake in any direction. This allows for smoother and stable videos while walking or during extreme close-ups. Distance sensing and colour sensing technology have been added to a 23 MP lens.Between the XZ, the iPhone 7 Plus, and the Huawei 9 Plus, smartphone photographers have never had it better.
Welcome to world of 2099
The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.
Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.
This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.
Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.
As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.
“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”
The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.
“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”
Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
Street art goes electric
Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.
The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.
The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.
D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.
D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.
“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”
As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.
Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”
Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”