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Samsung takes challenge back to Apple

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Samsung has made a startling comeback to the smartphone market, sending the innovation ball soaring back into Apple’s court, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Mere days before last week’s New York launch of the new Samsung S8 smartphone, the rumour mill had “confirmed” the specs of the next Apple iPhone, due out in September. It is ironic, then, that Samsung unveiled a device that featured almost every innovation that Apple is expected to introduce six months from now.

The result is that the Galaxy S8 not only occupies the high ground of smartphone innovation, but places huge pressure on Apple to come up with surprises in the iPhone 8. In recent years, however, the capacity to surprise has tended to elude Apple.

The key elements of the S8 already set it apart from all other handsets on the market. Both the standard S8 and the larger S8+ carry the curve on the edge that made the S6 and S7 Edge phones a huge success. However, they have refined the curves slightly to provide a more comfortable grip.

The standout aspect of the displays now is that they run from one side to the other, with no bezel or edge frame as is found on most other phones. From top to bottom, they also occupy a greater proportion of the front of the phone than almost any other phone on the market. Samsung has achieved this through an old iPhone technique – not having a logo on the front – and a seemingly revolutionary new idea: having the home button hidden invisibly under the surface of the display.

Because the screen is pressure sensitive, when the finger rests on the area where the home button would usually be placed, it activates the functions of that button without taking away from display space.

It is precisely this neat little trick that Apple is expected to announce when it unveils the iPhone 8 in September. In the past, Apple evangelists would have accused rivals of copying Apple. The best they can claim now – unconvincingly – is that Samsung has anticipated Apple’s virtual home button.

Since a flagship smartphone is usually a few years in the making, and the next model is already on the drawing board when the previous one is released, it is clear that the leading manufacturers all have access to similar technology, and twist it in the direction where they believe they can achieve both the best user experience and the best differentiation.

So, for example, Apple is expected to announce later this year that the iPhone 8 will abandon the Lightning connector that caused massive consternation when it replaced the dock connector five years ago. Instead, it will switch to the new standard USB-C connector that is already in use in the new Apple MacBook – and on numerous rival smartphones. It will be near unthinkable for Apple to adopt an industry-standard connector, but it will also mollify users who have to carry a bag full of adapters to make up for the absence of a headphone jack on the last version.

Not at all surprisingly, the new Samsung S8 has introduced the USB-C connector to the Galaxy range for the first time.

The real challenge for Apple will be competing with screen size. It is still a source of wounded pride that Samsung led the market into large-screen formats with the introduction of the Note series six years ago. Apple scoffed at the size of these devices for some years before it succumbed to market pressure and went beyond the 4.5-inch format that Steve Jobs had felt represented the perfect handset display size.

With 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch options for the S7 and S7 Plus, it made up lost ground. However, the S8 and S8+ take the fight to a new level. Due to the ultra-efficient use of the front of the phone, the S8 is now a 5.8-inch phone, despite being slightly narrower than the S7. The S8+ is a 6.2-inch behemoth, and yet remains comfortable in the hand.

It’s unlikely Apple marketing will carry jokes about size this time round. Instead, it is expected to release several size options, ranging from 4.7-inches to 5.8-inches. The new devices are also expected, for the first time, to introduce wireless charging, long a feature of the Samsung flagship phones. Samsung has taken this feature a step further, with charging pods that enable the phone to stand upright and remain viewable and usable while being charged.

The Apple rumour mill also includes a waterproof and dustproof phone, iris and facial recognition, a minimum of 64GB storage, and even a curved display. It ‘s almost as if the Apple clairvoyants were channelling the S8, a few weeks before its launch.

 

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

Available in SA on 5 May

The Samsung S8 and S8+ will be released on South Africa on 5 May 2017, and can be pre-ordered now. For pre-orders, Vodacom is offering a wireless charger and screen protector, while MTN will provide a battery pack and screen protector. Samsung is considering direct deliveries to these customers before the official launch, if it receives stock in time. The Galaxy S8 has a recommended retail price of R15 499, and the Galaxy S8+ a RRP of R17499, similar to current models.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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