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How Nespresso reinvents coffee

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We don’t often think of food and beverages as the stuff of gadgets, but Nespresso has changed all that, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Remember when coffee makers were kitchen appliances and not gadgets? In fact, for many, the typical coffee machine still is a kitchen appliance. But that’s mostly because they haven’t yet discovered Nespresso, which has all but reinvented coffee.

In the process, it has also sparked a vigorous debate between coffee snobs and newly-minted coffee connoisseurs about what makes “real coffee”. Much as whisky lovers argue about the merits of “single malt” versus “pure malt” and blends, so do wannabe barristas bandy about the benefits of “single-origin coffee” over blends.

These are probably some of the reasons Nestl√© invented the Nespresso, with the very name suggesting a short-cut to both coffee bliss and profit heaven. The concept, as first expressed 28 years ago is simple: “enable anyone to create the perfect cup of coffee”. The result, today, is an independent brand within Nestl√© that has become a veritable industry on its own, with 8300 employees across the world.

What is not as well known is that Nespresso is protected by about 1700 patents, and many of these have begun to expire. As a result, compatible capsules are being manufactured around the world, including in South Africa. Nevertheless, the Nespresso pod remains the gold standard for the democratisation of coffee, despite being positioned and priced as a luxury item.

A basic Nespresso machine, the U, costs from R1800 upward, and each pod costs around R6-R8. That’s the signal for the coffee snobs to bleat about how that adds up to the equivalent of more than R1000 for a bag of coffee, when a high-quality equivalent costs one or two hundred rand, AND it’s so much better when you grind your own beans.

Of course, that misses the entire point of Nespresso: that you don’t HAVE to grind your own beans or figure out which bag of non-instant will make for a great coffee experience. Aside from the fact that even a terrible cuppa in a coffee shop will cost double or treble the price of a pod.

Recently, Nespresso brought its high end Gran Maestria to South Africa. Priced at a boiling hot R7950, it’s not going to get into the average South African kitchen. But it is a coffee dream machine, with a flip-out tray accommodating tall and short cups and mugs, a dial allowing for varied water flow, and a milk frother aiding in the ancient art of cappuccino and latte making.

Most Nespresso fans would settle for a U model with Nespresso’s separate accessory, the sub-R1000 Aeroccino Automatic Milk Frother.

Oh yes, you’re allowed milk with your Nespresso, since scientists have discovered that “coffee blends develop different aromatic profiles when combined with milk”. In other words, milk changes the taste of coffee. Again, that is anathema to the patrons of places like Truth Coffee in Cape Town and Father Coffee in Johannesburg.

Most of the debate around pod coffee culture is related to choice and knowledge, and it’s clear that Nespresso has expanded both, for those who don’t have the time or inclination to explore barista culture. However, it is less successful in recycling the pods, which contain a mix of plastic and aluminium. Recycling plants have been introduced in countries with high pod sales, but that apparently does not yet include South Africa.

The argument is reminiscent of criticism of Apple for relying on sweatshops in China to build its iconic iPhone and iPad. It is for a very different reason, however, that a British branding consultant has described Nespresso as “the Apple of pod-machine coffee”. Few fans would argue with the comparison.

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Nokia 9 PureView pioneers new camera tech

Nokia packed five camera-lenses into its latest high-end flagship, but does more lenses mean better pictures? BRYAN TURNER took it for a test run.

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Nokia is not new to the high-end mobile photography market. In 2012, it led Mobile World Congress (MWC) with its 41MP Nokia 808 PureView. This year, Nokia returned to MWC with its next PureView handset: the Nokia 9 PureView.

Instead of pushing megapixels, the mobile device maker chose to focus on intelligent exposure and sharp focus quality. It achieved this with a set of five cameras on the rear of the device – the most ever on the back of a handset. All of the lenses are 12MP f/1.8 lenses, and three of them are monochrome. The five lenses work in tandem to blend the best parts of a captured image. This is achieved through software image blending, which has been trained to know what’s good and bad about the image. 

Why monochrome? 

Lighting is dramatically improved with a monochrome sensor. About 2.9x more light can be captured with a monochrome sensor when compared to a conventional sensor. Huawei showed off the advantages of integrating a monochrome camera with the P9. 

Why three monochrome lenses? 

Detail can be captured at three different lighting settings, one to absorb a lot of light, one to absorb a little less light, and one to absorb very little light. These photos can then be blended into one great photo, without the user having to worry about setting the camera’s exposure manually.

The monochrome mode captures photos in crisp detail, while giving an authentic dramatic monochrome photography feel.

Only five lenses have been mentioned so far but the back of the device sports seven holes. The sixth hole is for the flash and the seventh is for the depth sensor. This sensor captures the depth of an image, so autofocus can be a little sharper and focus depth on bokeh images can be adjusted after the picture is taken. This adjustment feature is especially useful when a subject’s hair has been “bokeh’d out”.

Click here to read about the other features of the Nokia 9 PureView.

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Bose Portable: quality at a price

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The Bose SoundDock Portable looks great and performs well, but SEAN BACHER finds the price doesn’t justify the better sound quality.

Since its inception in 1964, American-based audio specialist, Bose, has built a name synonymous with quality. Along with that, it has built a reputation of being more expensive than many of its competitors, but not deterring many from making the expensive investment. The mini sound speakers are quite often used in boardrooms, bars and restaurants around the world and offer crystal-clear sound that rivals most speakers twice their size.

Testament to the Bose sound quality is that it is used as the standard audio system in luxury cars like Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and according to Wikipedia, Bose products can be found in many military and NASA applications.

It is therefore not surprising to find Bose accessories compatible with smartphones. One example is the Bose SoundDock Portable. A portable docking station for iPhones and iPods that works off rechargeable batteries.

We put the Bose SoundDock Portable through the Gadget Five Question User.

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

Although the Bose SoundDock Portable, comes with instructions, they are not needed and in most cases, it will be ready to operate the minute it is removed from the box and an iPhone or iPod is plugged into it.

If the batteries on either the phone or docking station are flat though, the charger needs to be plugged into it before it can be used. You don’t need to wait for the batteries to charge fully before using it.

Bose has taken the minimalist approach with the SoundDock as on the right are two touch-sensitive Volume buttons and that’s it. No Power or other controls. The included remote is also very easy to use. It uses standard Play, Pause, Volume and Skip buttons, all well labelled.

The front of the docking station is made up of a silver grill, below which is the retractable iPhone dock. Although the casing around the connector is designed to accommodate an iPhone’s protective skin, it was not big enough to for the bumper I had on my phone, which meant I had to take the phone out of the case every time I wanted to plug it in.

On the plus side though, unlike many other portable docking stations, the Bose will charge a docked phone even if it is just running off battery power.

The Bose SoundDock Portable’s ease of use along with its elegant design cannot be faulted. But its dock connector counts against it.

Score: 18/20

2. General performance

The two front facing speakers offer crisp sounds and when the volume is cranked up all the way the SoundDock does not distort at all and is deafeningly loud.

At the rear is 3.5mm jack, allowing you to connect non-Apple phones, MP3 players and other audio equipment.

According to Bose, the 1 900mAh rechargeable battery pack will offer up to three hours of music at a maximum volume a different approach to rating battery life as most other vendors rate operating times at ‚”typical listening volumes‚”. I have been using the SoundDock on and off and not at full tilt for the past week without having to plug the mains adapter in yet.

This is however a good thing. Although the Bose SoundDock Portable is elegant and well made, Bose didn’t pay to much attention to the adaptor. It is a bit bigger than two cellphone chargers placed next to each other. It monopolises all the other electrical outlets, when plugged into the wall, meaning you need a dedicated plug for when you want to charge the battery.

The Bose SoundDock Portable provides a beautiful sound, its battery life is great, but the giant-sized charger is a complete let down.

Score: 12/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

Unlike many docking stations that are designed for bedside listening, the Bose SoundDock Portable is powerful enough to offer good sound in an average sized dining room or lounge.

Weighing in at just under three kilograms, it is not the lightest of them all, but the rear, recessed-handle makes carrying it fairly easy. (A carry bag is available as an optional extra.) Overall, it is a nice addition for a picnic or where an electrical outlet is not available.

18/20

4. Innovation

Sound docks have been around for years, and although the SoundDock offers superior sound, it offers nothing in the way of innovation. In fact, the lack of Bluetooth or any wireless connectivity for that matter is limiting.

13/20

5. Value for money

Much like the die-hard Apple Mac fans that will spend more on a product that performs much the same as cheaper alternatives, you get the same in the audio/visual world.

This becomes especially clear when reading the various reviews posted on the Internet. Reviewers either dislike the Bose SoundDock Portable due to it price, while others like it, saying the sound quality justifies the price.

But at R5 000 for a docking station I would have to agree with the former reviewers. R5 000 is ridiculously overpriced, even though it offers superior sound.

10/20

Conclusion

There is no faulting the Bose SoundDock Portable in terms of elegance and sound, but its clunky charger and high price are complete turnoffs.

Total score: 71%

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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