This month, two iconic phone brands made their return to South Africa. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK asks if Nokia and BlackBerry can win their way back into our hearts.
They say you can never go back, but two iconic phone brands want to prove the cliché wrong. Nokia won the world’s technology heart in the 1990s and early 2000s with basic but elegant phones that kept pushing the boundaries of what early handsets could do. BlackBerry gained executive adoration when it perfected email on the phone, and won over the youth market with its pioneering Messenger product.
Both failed to recognise the significance of the touchscreen revolution, and confused past popularity with future invulnerability. Both crashed and burned.
Numerous attempts have been made to revive them, but most relaunches failed to recapture the magic of old.
Now, in the space of a few weeks, both have released new handsets that dig deep into the heritage of the brands, in the hope that it still resonates with users.
Nokia has delivered the “reimagined” 3310, a new version of the phone that captured the youth market at the turn of the century. It was a device with extraordinarily long battery life, as well as especially long SMS messaging: As opposed to the usual 160-character limit, it allowed for messages of more than 400 characters. This option caught on like wildfire among the young, and helped generate sales of more than 120-million units.
The new 3310 looks very different. It is bright, with a wide range of colour options, and more curvy. The curves extend from the overall shape of the device to the quirky 2.4-inch colour screen to the control buttons. At first site it appears overly toy-like, but the impression quickly gives way to a sense of fun.
A 2 megapixel camera with LED flash and video capability, and LED torch, combines with FM radio, MP3 playback, and a 3.5mm AV connector for earphones to emphasise its positioning as a lifestyle device. The revival of the original Snake game – the first ever game on a mobile phone – adds to the sense of fun.
Thankfully, it leaves behind the Nokia legacy of a different charger for every device, using a standard micro USB port, along with Bluetooth 3.0 for wireless connectivity. Its most serious drawback is that it does not support Wi-Fi, meaning a mobile data account is essential for connectivity.
The biggest wins on the phone are its 31 days standby time, 22 hours talk time, 51 hours MP3 playback, and FM radio playback of up to 39 hours. With that package, a recommended retail price of up to R750 appears reasonable.
While the absence of Wi-Fi hints at a gap in the understanding of where the phone market has moved, Nokia cannot produce the handsets fast enough to keep up with global market demand. This further, suggests, however, that its output is not what it was back in the year 2000, despite the fact that Nokia phones are being built for its parent brand, HMD Global, by the giant Foxconn factories in China.
The same may be said of the output of the new BlackBerry phone, which has been licensed to the Chinese smartphone maker TCL Communication, best known for its Alcatel phone brand and manufacturing Vodafone branded devices.
BlackBerry, now a security software specialist, has licensed the handset brand to TCL, which has created a division called BlackBerry Mobile to build and market the handsets. Its first new model, the KEYone, in effect reinvents the BlackBerry phone.
However, it exudes that heritage word. It carries the classic BlackBerry physical keyboard and, like Nokia, uses the term “reimagined” to give it an updated spin. It functions as a touchpad, and can be used to scroll through pages or pictures, as well as take photos. It allows up to 52 customisable shortcuts, for those who want to personalise a device to the nth degree.
It uses BlackBerry’s secure version of the Android operating system, while still offering the full Android 7.1 Nougat edition. It also retains the previous BlackBerry handsets’ Hub, which consolidates messages, email, SMS and messages from other social media accounts in one place.
Like the 3310, BlackBerry always prided itself on battery life, and the KEYone maintains the tradition with what TCL says is the largest battery ever found in a BlackBerry smartphone – a 3505mAh giant. It promises 26 hours of mixed use, outdoing even the 3310.
As with Nokia, however, there are still question marks around the capacity of the new entity. It has launched the device country by country over the past two months, with South Africa far back in the line. By contrast, the most successful smartphone launches usually see devices released worldwide with minimal lag between territories.
“Working for BlackBerry Mobile is like working for a start-up,” points out Bob el-Hawari, the brand’s head of carrier operations for Middle East and Africa. “It means we are rolling out progressively, but it gives us the freedom to innovate very quickly. We will use our role as a challenger brand to disrupt the market.”
The KEYone will retail for R9649, which positions it as one of the best-priced high end phones on the market.
However, both BlackBerry and Nokia have a major marketing challenge on their hands to convince their loyal old users that their respective heritages are still relevant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.