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2019’s Handsets of the Year

It was a dazzling year for new phones, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, as he makes his choice of the best handsets of the year.



It was the best of gadgets, it was the worst of gadgets. At least, that’s what Charles Dickens would have said if he were alive today and writing about consumer technology.

On the one hand, foldable phones arrived amid enormous hype but absurd prices and one design flaw after another. On the other, flagship phones arrived with cameras so sophisticated, they practically wiped out the last vestiges of the low-cost point-and-click digital camera.

The selection below has been designed to meet every budget, starting at the high-end flagships, working down through the mid-range and low-mid, down to entry-level. At the high-end, we have selected no less than five phones that represent dazzling innovation, but at the entry-level, we also include a few feature phones that come in for as little as the price of a movie ticket and box of popcorn.

High-end: (above R10,000)

  • Huawei P30 Pro (from R16,000)
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The specs of the Huawei P30 Pro are enough to make one’s eyes water. A 6.5-inch display, 4200mAh battery and 40 Megapixel main camera are just the obvious. Look deeper into the camera array, and you begin to understand why this handset offers the best camera experience yet on a phone. The 40 MP lens is a 27mm wide-angle with an f/1.6 aperture, marginally behind the Samsung flagships’ 26mm and f1.5. It comes down to the fact that these smartphones let in more light than ever before, allowing for more dazzling images than ever before. The rear of the P30 Pro also hosts an 8MP 125mm telephoto lens with 5X optical zoom, and a 20MP 16mm ultrawide angle lens. The selfie camera on the front is a 32MP lens with an outstanding 26mm wide-angle lens. Video can be shot at a range of resolutions and speeds, from 30 frames per second at 2160p to 960fps at 720p. The single-SIM version is probably the best value for money of high-end smartphones, starting at around R11,000 at Takealot.

  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max (from R21,999)
Image result for iphone 11 pro max

The Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max offers a triple-lens camera, with a 12 MP f/1.8, 26mm wide-angle lens, a 12 MP  52mm telephoto lens, and a 12 MP 13mm ultrawide lens. This keeps Apple behind Huawei in camera technology, and one must look to the software settings for it to match image quality. The selfie camera may seem lower-end at 12MP, but the key difference is that Apple incorporates 3D functionality, along with higher resolution and more options for video speed. Its 6.5-inch display and 3696mAh battery keep it level with the P30 Pro, but it’s in the quality of the display that it shoots the lights out: while the P30 offers 1080 x 2340 pixels and 398 pixels per inch, the Max comes in at 1242 x 2688 pixels, and 458 ppi. Only Samsung does that better, underlining the fact that it is the combination of features and usability that differentiates each handset, rather than a single stand-out specification.

  • Samsung Galaxy S 10+ (from R19,999)
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The Galaxy S10+ set new standards for handsets, as the first phone in the world to offers 1 Terabyte of storage – a 1000 Gigabytes. With expandable storage, that can be pushed to 1.5TB.  It was also the first with a video technology called HDR10+, which uses artificial intelligence to analyse every frame of a video, and optimise its colours based on what it perceives as the content of that frame. Previously, this technology was only available in high-end TV sets. Samsung has put massive emphasis on display, with a resolution of 1440 x 3040 pixels and 522 ppi density – beaten only by Sony’s Xperia 1 (not available in South Africa).

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ (from R22,999)

The Samsung Note10+ represents an astonishing array of just how much current technology can be held in one hand. At 6.8-inches, it has the largest display of any mainstream flagship phone on the market.  The cheapest Note10+ comes with a massive half-a-terabyte of storage, compared to 128GB for the S10+. The equivalent storage on the S10+ cost a few thousand rand more than the base Note10+. The Note10+ is aimed at a very specific market, namely people who want to use the device for its size, or its productivity benefits. It is in the latter category that the Note 10+ comes into its own.

  • Nokia 9 Pureview (R11849 from Vodacom)
Image result for nokia 9 pureview

The handset that grabbed the most attention at the 2019 edition of the world’s biggest mobile launchpad, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, was the Nokia 9 Pureview, the first truly high-end Android smartphones from the resurrected Nokia brand under HMD Global, the new custodians of the handset brand. It has a dazzling array of five cameras on the back, with two colour sensors and three monochrome lenses working together to collect up to 10 times more light than a single colour lens of similar specs

Read more about the top mid-range, low mid-range, and entry-level handsets.

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