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Samsung goes large – again

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In the wake of declining market share, Samsung faced a big challenge for its latest product launch. It had a big answer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When Samsung launched its Galaxy S6 edge phone in February, it dazzled the market with a curved glass edge that seemed to rewrite the rules of phone design. However, it did not manage to dazzle the market equally with sales figures for the device. Ironically, demand was high, but supply was constrained by the complexity of manufacturing the curved screen.

Its more basic sibling, the S6, was too similar to the previous S5 and even S4 to capture customers’ imagination.  It was no surprise, then, that Samsung focused on the devices that made a difference when it staged its latest Galaxy Unpacked event in New York last week.

It unveiled a larger version of the edge, the S6 edge+, pushing it into the “phablet” space with a 5.7-inch screen – up from 5.1-inch on the smaller edition. At the same time, it announced the Note 5, the latest in a series that has redefined the market for larger smartphones.

The original Note, released in 2011, carried a mere 5,3-inch display, but was mocked as being absurdly big. Samsung had the last laugh, selling 10-million units in less than a year, and heralding the dawn of both the “phablet” and demand for larger screens. In a rare misstep, Apple initially dismissed the trend, but eventually succumbed with its iPhone 6 Plus last year.

The next two versions of the Galaxy Note each had a bigger screen, until it maxed out at 5.7-inches, where the new Note 5 has also settled. That appears to be the sweet spot for phablets, and the battle is now one for differentiation rather than format.

At the launch, Samsung Electronics President and CEO JK Shin made a point of reminding the audience of the legacy of the device: “The Note created a category.  Some said we were crazy, but we saw a problem we could solve.”

This time round, the problem was Samsung’s own: “What does it take to stay ahead of the curve?” The answer, he said, was to “start with the rules and bend them”.

The result is two phablets aimed at two entirely different markets. The Note series captured an audience of professional users looking for more productivity from a handset, in particular through the introduction of the S-Pen that allows for handwriting recognition and drawing on a phone.

“The Pen is to the Note what the mouse is to the PC,” Shin explained. The Note 5 plays hard to this strength, with a “more solid, more precise and sensitive” S-Pen, which Shin says feels “like writing with a ballpoint pen”.

The S6 edge+, on the other hand, is aimed firmly at the consumer multimedia market, with an emphasis on content, sharing and consumption.  It improves dramatically on the functionality of the original S6 edge, which only allowed for inclusion of contacts on the secondary side screen. The edge+ allows any apps to be added to the side screen, bringing the notion of a phone edge into its own. This functionality should eventually be rolled out to the original edge phones as well.

The most significant innovation on the edge+ is not entirely on the handset itself. It’s called Live Broadcast, and allows users to share moments directly from the phone, as video.

“Sure there are other video apps that can do that,” said Shin, “but your friends and family have to be signed up with the same platform. With Live Broadcast, you can broadcast directly from the phone to YouTube, and people can watch live or catch up on the feed later.”

Wireless charging based on industry standards means the devices can now be charged in any location where standard wireless pads are provided, such as some Starbucks outlets in the United States. These are expected to become widespread in the near future.

According to Craige Fleisher, Samsung’s Director for Mobile Communications in South Africa, the enhancements to the devices represented a more significant change than the market realised, as they “bring our design innovation to the large screen format”.

Dealing with the power demands of large displays has also represented a major challenge, he said.

“Understanding that power in terms of battery consumption and recharge is a key consideration in terms of consumer purchases, I see Samsung bringing innovation to this environment as we have historically to camera and screen technology.”

Fleisher says the S6 edge+ will arrive in South Africa in the first week of September, while the Note 5 will be released in November.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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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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