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Big comeback day for Samsung

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On the day Samsung launched its new flagship product in South Africa, it also announced a return to its profitable ways, echoing news from its greatest rival, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It was a coincidence that Samsung Electronics announced an expected surge in profits the day it launched a new flagship device in South Africa. Nevertheless, it will have done wonders for confidence in the company as it brings to market a device that is notable for its incremental improvements rather than startling innovation.

The Samsung Galaxy Note5, now in stores, will go head-to-head with the Apple iPhone 6Ss Plus, which arrives in the country a week later. Again, both the similarity in model numbers and in release dates locally are coincidental.

However, it is no coincidence that neither company is wasting time alerting the market to the fact that it is riding high. A week earlier, Apple had announced it had sold more than 13 million new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models, which it described as “a new record, just three days after launch”.

“Sales for iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus have been phenomenal, blowing past any previous first weekend sales results in Apple’s history,” said CEO Tim Cook.

Samsung meanwhile forecast its first increase in quarterly profits in two years, saying it estimated its profit for the July-September quarter would leap 80 per cent to $6.3-billion.

Not that it was selling more phones, however. According to Reuters, “favourable currency rates and robust component sales appeared have to offset weakness in smartphones”. In fact, Samsung had lost market share to Apple at the high end and to Chinese rival Xiaomi at the low end of the smartphone market.

Analyst Lee Seung-woo told Reuters: “There were worries that overall earnings will continue falling as mobile profits declined, but now the numbers make the case that Samsung has the capacity to withstand weakness from the mobile business.”

The number of phone sold will be revealed when quarterly results are released later this month, and may put a damper on investor sentiment. However, that will mask the extent to which Samsung benefits from the surge in sales by smaller rivals: it supplies the computer chips that many manufacturers use in other smartphones, and even the display screens used by the likes of Huawei.

Of course, it would still like to sell more of its own handsets, and the Note5 is likely to build on the dominant position Samsung holds in the market for “phablets” – handsets with 5.5-inch and larger displays.

As reported in this column when the device was unveiled in New York in August, the default phablet size has steadily crept upward. The original Note, released in 2011, carried a mere 5,3-inch display. That is small by today’s standards, yet at the time was laughed off by many because of its “absurd” size. When Samsung went on to sell 10-million units in less than twelve months, a new industry category was born.

Apple’s 6s Plus is in a sense a descendant of that Note, in terms of Apple being forced to join the phablet revolution. In the same way that many of Apple’s rivals were forced to eat their words after initially dismissing the iPhone’s touchscreen as irrelevant, Apple has had to eat humble pie following its loud and derisive dismissal of anything bigger than a 4-inch screen.

The Galaxy Note eventually grew to 5.7-inches, and the new Note5 takes full advantage of the added real estate. As stated in August, however, the battle is now one for differentiation rather than format.

The Note aims at professional users who have probably already discovered the productivity benefits of a larger handset and the S-Pen stylus. Again, this is an area where Samsung led the way, after Steve Jobs’ infamous comment in 2010: “If you need a stylus, you’ve already failed.”

In 2015, Apple announced the Apple Pencil, a stylus for the new iPad Pro. The American technology media have bent over backwards to explain why the Pencil is not really a stylus, and why Steve Jobs meant something else altogether, proving that the great man’s so-called “reality distortion field” survives long after his passing.

However, change a few brand names, and he would probably not have disagreed with the comments made by Samsung president and CEO JK Shin at the Note5 launch: “The Pen is to the Note what the mouse is to the PC.”

The improved split-screen functionality of the Note5 takes it to a higher multitasking level, enhancing another user need that Apple has yet to acknowledge – but there is little doubt it will eventually have to follow in Samsung’s wake here, too.

So, while Samsung may not be able to match Apple’s sales figures for single devices, it is abundantly clear that it is also not skulking in the American company’s shadows.

* 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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Huawei Mate 20 Pro matches camera benchmark record

A benchmark by DxOMark sees the triple-cam handset tie with the P20 Pro for best smartphone camera on the market.

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The Huawei Mate 20 Pro has come out top in a camera benchmark test that assesses all aspects of smartphone camera performance.

DxOMark, which conducts rigorous hardware testing and is trusted as an industry standard for image quality measurements, has just released the results of its in-depth analysis of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro smartphone camera. 

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the Chinese manufacturer’s latest top-end device. Building on the P20 Pro’s camera technology, the Mate 20 Pro comes with a Leica-branded triple-camera setup, but swaps its stable-mate’s monochrome camera for a super-wide-angle module, offering a 35mm-equivalent focal length range from 16 to 80mm—the widest of all current smartphone cameras.

The handset is in direct competition with the Apple iPhone XS Max, the Google Pixel 3 XL, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, among other. How does it fare?

“With a total photo score of 114, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro ties the record-setting score of its cousin, the P20 Pro,” says DxOMark. “The overall Photo score is calculated from sub-scores in tests that examine different aspects of its performance under different lighting conditions.”

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro achieves a photo score of 114 points. In stills mode, the Mate 20 Pro’s triple camera captures images with good target exposure and a wide dynamic range, recording both good highlight and shadow detail even in difficult high-contrast situations. Noise levels are well under control down to low light levels, and the camera’s white balance system and colour rendering settings produce a pleasant colour response in almost all circumstances.

At 97 points, the Mate 20 Pro is very close to the best for video as well, thanks to a fast and smooth autofocus system with good tracking performance, accurate white balance as well as pleasant colour rendering, and low levels of noise, especially in bright shooting conditions. Our testers also liked the exposure system’s ability to adapt quickly and smoothly to changes in illumination.

It was not all good news. DxOMark also had some criticism for the device.

Click here to read about the drawbacks of the Mate 20 Pro camera, and other positives.

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SA car wins
Dakar Rally

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The final stage of Dakar 2019 drew to a close at the bivouac in Pisco, Peru, and saw Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa’s Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel bring home their South African-built Toyota Hilux for an historic victory. Not only was it a first win for Toyota, but it was also the first petrol-powered car to win the Dakar in the South-American era.

The Qatari driver ensured his French navigator, who turned 43 years old on Thursday, 17 January, received a great birthday present, when the pair arrived at the final time control of Dakar 2019 with teammates Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz in close formation. The two Toyota Hilux crews completed the entire stage together, as De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz waited nearly 55 minutes for the leaders to start the stage, in order to shadow them to the finish.

The emotions bubbled over for Team Principal Glyn Hall, who found himself without words as his two crews drove into the media area after the time control. “This victory was long overdue,” he finally managed, before being swamped in a sea of well-wishers.

The winning driver, however, was much more vocal: “We are so happy to win the Dakar – not only for ourselves, but also for Toyota and the entire Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team. Everyone has worked so hard for so long, and really deserve this. Thank you for letting us drive this car.”

Toyota Gazoo Racing SA led Dakar 2019 from the first to the last stage, with Al Attiyah/Baumel drawing first blood, before handing the mantle to De Villiers / Von Zitzewitz during stage 2. But then a disastrous Stage 3 saw the Qatari retake the lead – a lead he didn’t relinquish despite some of the toughest stages yet seen on any South-American Dakar.

“When we first heard that the rally was going to take place only in one country, we were skeptical,” said Hall after regaining composure. “But the organisers made sure that this year’s race will long be remembered as one of the toughest tests in the last decade.”

Al Attiyah / Baumel’s victory at Dakar 2019 means that Toyota Gazoo Racing has now won both of the world’s toughest automotive races – the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the DakarRally.

Click here to read Glyn Hall’s comment on winning the Dakar Rally, as well as the rankings.

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