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When Hisense starts making sense

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Just when everyone thought new smartphones could no longer surprise, along comes a brand that has rediscovered how to turn heads, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When Hisense sent out an invitation to media attending the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to “Embrace the next”, not too many took them seriously. After all, while Hisense is a dominant player in the appliances world and leads China in TV sales, its fairly recent entry into smartphones had been a little tame. Value for money and capable devices, yes. Surprise packages and dazzling specs, no.

But Barcelona brought a real surprise. Hisense unveiled two new phones, each packing a punch of a different kind.

The biggest surprise was the new Hisense A2. It has a predictable 5.5-inch high-definition AMOLED screen, offering 1920×1080 pixels and a decent pixel density of 401 pixels per inch (ppi). But turn it over, and it is suddenly a startling device.

The Hisense A2

The Hisense A2

The rear of the phone presents us with a 5.2-inch e-ink screen: the same technology that allows one to read paper-quality content on a Kindle, and which ensures that device’s battery can last a month.

Hisense revealed it had conducted research that showed 60 per cent of Chinese smartphone users’ time was spent reading on phones to get knowledge. Because one could use a phone to read anywhere at any time, people were becoming accustomed to using mobile devices for small fragments of time to read.

They added this insight to the knowledge that the only use to which any manunfacturer was putting the back of the phone was for cameras and fingerprint readers.

“We think every inch of the phone is so valuable, the back of the phone should not be wasted,” said Dr Ma, vice president of Hisense Multimedia Group, at the launch. “We spent years working on combining a smartphone with e-ink.”

The two main benefits of the e-ink screen are that it doesn’t generate light, so makes for more comfortable reading, and it uses minimal battery power. The typical colour display on a smartphone is responsible for around two thirds of a phone’s battery use.

It’s not the first phone to feature an e-ink screen. A Russian company called Yota launched a similar concept at MWC four years ago. The Yotaphone was especially useful for mapping, as it would keep going on a long trip well after other phones had been drained by both the colour map and the display. However, little has been heard from the manufacturer for the past two years.

Hisense has added an extra twist to its e-ink screen, however.  In “dual mode”, a finger tracking along the e-ink screen on the rear acts as a mouse control on the front screen. A “gesture mode” on the rear controls the back and home functions on the front.

The phone can also be answered on the e-ink screen, so it is an ideal mode for when the battery is severely depleted by app activity on the colour screen. Most apps can be viewed in e-ink mode.

The second surprise from Hisense was its entry into a fairly well-populated market segment, namely sturdy phones that can be used in rough environments. The bulky Cat Phone, made by Bullitt Mobile under licence from Caterpillar, is the quality leader in this category. However, many mainstream manufacturers have built “action” or “rugged” versions of their phones for use on construction sites and the like.

The problem with most of these devices is that they look like they were designed for construction sites. And that is where Hisense has spotted a gap: a rugged phone that also looks like a lifestyle phone.

Due to be launched in South Africa next week, it’s called the Rock, and is a dual-SIM phone with a 5.2-inch high-definition display at 424 ppi. A 16MP rear camera and 5MP on the front and a Qualcomm 1.4GHz octa core processor are packed into a frame that is only 7.95mm thick – almost unheard of in a phone designed for durability.

The Hisense Rock

The Hisense Rock

On that note, it has a large 3000mAh battery for long use out in the field, and is rated IP68, meaning it is both dust and water resistant. The rating is something of a msinomer, however, as the phone can continue recording video while immersed under water. The pièce de résistance, however, is that it can be dropped from three metres onto concrete without either the screen or the insides cracking.

It runs on Nougat, the latest version of Android, and would not look out of place in an office or next to a pool. In demanding terrain, it would be the coolest phone out in the field.

  • 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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