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BlackBerry still gets physical

BlackBerry’s new KEY2 begs the question: Does the physical smartphone keyboard have a place in 2018? BRYAN TURNER has a few answers.

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BlackBerry, a name that was once synonymous with smartphones, has made yet another comeback with a refreshed KEY handset. The new device appears aimed at appeasing those who want to use a physical smartphone keyboard again.

The most important enhancement of the KEY2 is dramatically improved ergonomics. Compared to the KEYone, there is a slightly increased space between the bottom of the phone and the bottom row of keys, which makes the space bar more reachable. The overall weight distribution also seems to be improved, with the top half of the smartphone being lighter than the bottom. This makes it feel more balanced when typing, making for a dramatic improvement from the KEYone. 

The iconic BlackBerry keyboard underwent a slight redesign from the KEYone, making it more BlackBerry Bold-like than before. Scrolling through on-screen event using the capacitive touch keyboard is a lot more responsive than one would expect. In fact, users were often impressed with how accurate it was when they tried it out. Flick-typing is still a function of the keyboard, but can be turned off if one accidentally triggers suggested words while typing. The fingerprint sensor remains in the keyboard spacebar, as with the KEYone.

The metal body of the KEY2 in silver is something to admire, giving the smartphone a very premium aesthetic. The back is textured black plastic with the silver BlackBerry logo has remained unchanged since the late 2000s. 

The hardware keys are placed on the right side of the phone, starting with the volume rocker at the top, followed by the lock/wake button, then by a custom “Convenience Key” which can be programmed to quickly access specific apps. The left side features a Micro-SIM and SD card slot; the latter can be expanded up to 256GB. The top holds the 3.5mm headphone jack while the bottom sports a symmetrical speaker/microphone grid and a USB Type C port.

Portrait mode photograph with the BlackBerry KEY2. (Picture: Bryan Turner)

One of the most interesting redesigns is the 12+12MP dual camera setup, which proved to take superb portrait mode photos compared to other options in the mid-to-high-range smartphone market. The video recording proved to be good at shooting 4K videos at 60 frames per second. That being said, a huge disappointment was the lack of ability to deal with low-light, as it consistently delivered grainy, blurry photos in night-time situations.

The screen has not changed much from the KEYone: a 4.5 inch full HD display includes touch navigations keys, placed neatly between the keyboard and screen. The display colours are good but the 3:2 aspect ratio is a little weird, to say the least. This creates little black bars above and below YouTube videos, which wouldn’t happen on a typical 16:9 smartphone screen. Losing screen space is one of the sacrifices of having a physical keyboard.

BlackBerry’s software claims to use one of the most secure flavours of Android on the market. At first glance, BlackBerry has skinned very little, leaving a lot of the aesthetic as vanilla Android as possible. But, when looking deeper, one finds motifs of “professional BlackBerry design”. BlackBerry DTEK, software included with the BlackBerry, routinely scans and keeps the user informed about what apps are doing and what they are accessing. This proved to be quite an eye-opener in terms of how much an app can access on one’s phone.

Overall, the KEY2 is a smartphone for the nostalgic business person who misses a physical keyboard and doesn’t use the device for video media.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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