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As smart as it gets

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A string of new phone releases reveal the state of the smart art, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series. This week, Huawei, Samsung and Apple in focus.

There was a time when only two smartphone brands could get the world to sit up and take notice when they released new handsets. Now they’ve been joined by a third. Apple and Samsung will have to bunch up their seats at the top table to make space for Huawei.

The latest handset from the Chinese phone maker is one of the most advanced devices ever put in the hands of ordinary consumers. But then, it has to be if Huawei wants to compete with Apple and Samsung, which each recently released their own contenders for that accolade.

Here is a look at where each of the phones claim maximum points:

Huawei Mate 10 Pro

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Phones can’t think yet, but Huawei hopes to change that.

Its secret weapon is the Kirin 970 chipset, a processor designed to augment the smarts of both the phone and its user.  While we often associate artificial intelligence (AI) with machines that think for themselves and function independently of human beings, the Mate 10 points us in a more practical – and useful – direction for the algorithms that power AI.

For example, intelligent photographic algorithms identify different scenes and objects while the user is focusing, and automatically adjusts colour, contrast, brightness and exposure. That means, when one focuses on food or beach scenes, the lighting is automatically adjusted to what suits that kind of scene best.

On a business level, the phone takes the standard contacts list to a new level. It connects the address book on the phone to the user’s LinkedIn account, so that profile information on LinkedIn contacts are directly integrated into the phone’s contact list. This combines callers’ contact details with their professional identity, giving the phone user instant access to useful information on the person calling or being called.

“As we enter the age of intelligence, AI is no longer a virtual concept but something that intertwines with our daily life,” said Likun Zhao, general manager of Huawei Consumer Business Group SA, at the recent launch of the phone. “AI can enhance user experience, provide valuable services and improve product performance. The Huawei Mate 10 Series introduces the first mobile AI-specific Neural Network Processing Unit (NPU).”

The Microsoft Translator app has been customised for the Huawei Mate 10 series to provide the handset with the world’s first fully neural, on-device translations.

A company statement says: “The phone’s NPU allows every Mate 10 user to have native access to online quality level translations, even when they are not connected to the Internet, which means faster and more accurate interactive translation for a smoother communication experience.”

The Kirin 970 is claimed to deliver 25 times better performance and 50 times greater energy efficiency for AI-related tasks, compared to typical quad core chips. Once mobile networks integrate new connectivity technologies, the Mate 10 will also be ready: Huawei says it is “the world’s fastest smartphone supporting super-fast LTE connectivity and download speeds”.

If all one wants is a superb phone, though, the Mate 10 still delivers. A 6-inch OLED display that runs almost edge-to-edge, in a 3D glass body curved on all sides, puts this handset on a par with the elegance of its main competitors.

The new Leica Dual Lens delivers an f/1.6 aperture, drawing level with the LG V30+ as the world’s largest aperture on a phone. The lenses come in a 20MP monochrome sensor and 12MP RGB sensor, with optical image stabilisation.

This is all powered by a mammoth 4000 mAh battery, with “AI-powered battery management, which understands user behaviour and intelligently allocates resources to maximise battery life”.

These smarts are exceptional, but they don’t come cheap. The Huawei Mate 10 Pro has a recommended retail price of R18 999.

Samsung Note 8

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The original Samsung Note, back in 2011, shocked Apple out of its small-screen obsession when it popularised the “phablet” category of large-screen phones. It is astonishing to think, then, that the first Note carried only a 5.2” screen – small by today’s standards.

It is also astonishing to recall that Apple made TV ads that mocked that size. It tried to convince the market that no one would ever want to use two hands to operate a phone. Its mockery was eventually silenced by the market, and Apple gave in with the 5.5” iPhone 6 Plus in 2014.

The Note series is as much about Apple as it is about Samsung, as it tends to clear a path for Apple’s next iteration – which the American media then hails as invention and innovation. Samsung doesn’t mind too much, as it manufacturers many of the key components that go into Apple devices.

Most of all, it tells us about the size of the next, next iPhone. There seems to be a three-year lag between the Note going for the next size up, and Apple following suit, so the iPhone XIII in 2020 can be expected to carry a screen similar to the 6.3” beast on the Note 8.

The Note 8 display is dazzling, thanks to its Quad HD screen, at 1440 x 2960 pixels, with an incredibly dense 521 pixels per inch (ppi). It is powered by the cutting edge Snapdragon 835 chipset, which is also found in the LG V30+ and Sony Xperia XZ1 reviewed last week, meaning greater efficiency for its 3300 mAh battery.

The software allows simultaneous 4K video and 9MP image recording, along with face and smile detection. Facial recognition is the start of the biometrics on this device, rounded out by an iris scanner, and rear-mounted fingerprint recognition.

That sensor goes a step further for the health conscious, with heart rate measurement as well as SpO2 – peripheral capillary oxygen saturation – designed for high-performance sports or fitness enthusiasts to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. Until now, that was only available on specialist fitness devices.

The one area where Samsung did follow Apple was in its voice assitance technology, which has evolved from the S-Voice search engine to the Bixby AI-enhanced system for context recognition, natural language commands and dictation.

If that sounds like a remarkably rich package, it is matched by its price tag, which starts at R18 500.

Apple iPhone X

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The iPhone X has been hailed by Time magazine as one of the inventions of the year, which says more about American media coverage of technology than it does about the iPhone.

Saying it “is arguably the world’s most sophisticated smartphone, with a screen that stretches from edge to edge, a processor optimised for augmented reality and a camera smart enough to allow users to unlock the phone with their face”, TIme admits in parentheses: “though some of these features first arrived on devices from Samsung and LG”.

Those features to indeed make it a superb phone, in a frame that remains one of the most imitated phone bodies in the world. Probably the most outstanding feature is the one that is no longer there: the home button, which is replaced by a swipe gesture.

Here, Apple does lead the way, towards a phone world where specific buttons will be less important than voice, gesture and context. In most other respects, it matches up to the innovations of its peers. A dual 12MP camera with simultaneous 4K video and 8MP image recording (sound familiar?) and smile detection makes it similar to the Note 8.  However, a telephoto lens now  includes image stabilisation, meaning smooth zooming in and out while filming.

The one area where the iPhone does stand head and shoulders above any Android device is that its software updates roll out uniformly across all devices, and don’t leave any recent models behind. That., however, is a feature of the iOS operating system, rather than the iPhone X as such. In combination, though, it makes for a package as compelling as anything an Android device can throw at the market.

It would need to be, since it starts at R20 499 for the 64GB model, and around R3 000 more 256GB.

  • 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.

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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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