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.
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.