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Gadgets of the Year

Gadgets of the Year 2023, Part 1: the smartphones

These are the handsets that ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK enjoyed most having in his hands in 2023.

Best low-end smartphone (under R4,000): Xiaomi Redmi 12

Xiaomi regularly defines value for money in smartphones, which is another way of saying it delivers tremendous bang for one’s buck. The Redmi 12 looks startlingly like a high-end phone, given its price tag of just under R4,000.

The big numbers on this device are the 6.79-inch display, 396 ppi pixel density, 28GB storage, and a triple camera array combining 50MP wide, 8MP ultrawide and 2MP macro lenses. Not too long ago, that would have spelled out high end.

Best low-mid range smartphone (Under R8,000): Tecno Spark 10 Pro

The Tecno Spark 10 Pro excels in the selfie game, thanks to a front-facing flashlight and 32MP front camera. While the rear camera array is far less impressive, with a 50MP main lens and a perfunctory auxiliary lens camera, it offers 1440p@30fps and 1080p@30fps video shooting from both front and back.

As 6.8-inch IPS LCD display, with 1080x2460p high-resolution and 90Hz refresh rate, makes it great for watching videos or playing mobile games – helped along by a MediaTek Helio G88 gaming processor and 8GB of RAM. 256GB of internal storage, together with a microSD slot, make this one of the best “archiving” handsets in its price range for keeping memories on board. It’s price at launch was R6,999.

Best mid-range smartphone (R8,000-R15,000): Honor 90

With this handset, Honor lifted the benchmark for mid-range phones and gave the brand a distinctive identity. Its Quad-Curved design means it curves off in all directions, which, aside from aesthetic appeal, has the added benefit of reducing the amount of structure around the screen. That in turn brings it in at a weight of only 183g, and a delightfully slim body at mere 7.8mm thick. 

It is the first mid-range smartphone I’d seen with a 200MP rear camera lens. The f/1.9 aperture lens is part of a triple-camera array that incorporates a 12MP ultra-wide and macro camera with f/2.2 aperture and a 2MP depth camera at f/2.4. That means it can’t compare for low-light photography with the Huawei P60 Pro’s f/1.4 aperture, or the Samsung S23 Ultra’s f1.7, but then look at the price difference. 

The selfie camera is no less surprising for this price range, with a 50 MP, f/2.4, 100-degree ultrawide that will not only fit in more photobombers, but also capture their faces in finer detail. 

The large 6.7-inch AMOLED display has a pixel density of 435 ppi, ranking it alongside many flagships.  It starts at R14,999, usually bundled with the Honor Watch 4, valued at R3,499.

Best mid-high range smartphone (R15,000 -R20,000): Huawei nova 11 Pro 

As I said when I first reviewed it, it’s a smartphone that makes one want to hold it and even wave it about. With a textured “vegan leather” back, distinct emerald, green colour option and ultra-slim profile, it feels as cutting edge as handsets get.

A large 6.78-inch display sounds imposingly big, yet the screen feels compact due to its tall form factor, bezelless design, and 93.4% screen-to-body ratio. The result is that it feels smaller than the Huawei flagship, the P60 Pro, despite a bigger screen. It is also thinner and lighter, at just 6.88 mm and 168g. 

The true stand-out feature is the front or selfie camera array. It features two lenses: a 60 MP Ultra Portrait lens with a 100-degree ultra-wide-angle, and a 1/2.61-inch sensor that supports 4K resolution; and an 8 MP Close-up Portrait lens offering 2x optical zoom and up to 5x digital zoom. 

In the box, it includes a Huawei 100W SuperCharge Turbo charging brick, as a standard accessory. It charges the device to 60% in 10 minutes, and fully charges it in 20 minutes. Low battery anxiety truly is a thing of the past.

Full price is R16,999, but it typically comes with bundles or vouchers.

Best high-end smartphone (above R20,000): Huawei Mate50 Pro (vegan leather edition)

The Huawei Mate50 Pro in an orange-backed “vegan leather” edition stands out dramatically from the industry’s endless procession of large-display, curved candybars. A “Space Ring” camera array design on the back provides a satisfying sense of symmetry.

The first standouts that made the Mate50 Pro an early candidate for high-end phone of the year is its support of 66W fast-charging, with a fast-charger that comes with the phone, and fast wireless charging at 50W – comparable to most brands wired fast chargers. It also supports slow reverse wireless charging, meaning one can charge another device that uses wireless charging by placing it on the back of this one,

The second standout is a technology breakthrough on phones: A mechanically adjustable aperture control. Ultra Aperture allows for no less than ten aperture settings, from f2.4 to an excellent f1.4. This brings phone camera control yet closer to professional camera functionality.

The orange version, with 512GB storage, costs R26,999.

Best foldable smartphone: Samsung Z Fold 5

A foldable smartphone with a 7.6-inch main display and a 6.2-inch cover display, the Fold 5 represents the fifth generation of a format that has not made a significant impact due to its price (R45,999), but refuses to go away, due to its appeal to business users. In that context, it shines. 

The biggest enhancement is the fact that the Fold now closes completely flat, as opposed to leaving a visible gap at the hinge, and its weight has dropped from 271g to 253g, via a Fold 4 edition that weighed 260g.

The main display is a 7.6-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 2176×1812 pixels, while the cover display is a narrow 6.2-inch OLED screen, with 2316×904 pixel resolution.

When opened up, it looks and feels like a mini tablet. It allows for comfortable composing, writing and creative work, as well as more practical use of the likes of spreadsheets and presentations. Despite the claustrophobia of the front screen, after a few weeks of unfolded use, it was extremely difficult to go back to a regular smartphone.

Smartphone of the year

And the winner is – and hopefully other brands don’t get too green with envy – the

Hauwei nova 11 Pro. It is an emerald enchanter.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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