The past year saw a magnificent selection of smartphones released. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK has a hard time choosing the best.
It was a stellar year for smartphone innovation, design and progress. This despite the fact that the once-perennial innovator Apple failed to ignite the market with the iPhone 7 duo of devices. And despite the fact that Samsung ignited a little too much of the market with the disastrous Note 7.
The usual practise is to select a Smartphone of the Year, along with a couple of runners-up. This year, my choice for the top three phones of the year has been made enormously complicated by the fact that three handsets each offer distinctions so powerful, each would have been a shoo-in to clinch the top spot in previous years.
The result is something of a cop-out, but also an acknowledgement that different users with different needs would have opted for any of these as first choice: we have a three-way tie. The winners are the Samsung S7 Edge Injustice Edition, the Motorola Moto Z, and the Huawei P9 Plus.
Here are the reasons why each of these deserves to be the winner:
Motorola Moto Z
Motorola came back to South Africa with a figurative and literal bang – the latter being the mighty noise made by the Moto Z’s astonishing range of distinctions. It is the thinnest name-brand smartphone in the world, at only 5.19mm. It is also the first modular phone that can be adapted without opening or removing anything from the phone, as required by the LG G5.
The Moto Z was launched with a range of Mods, short for modifications, that clip onto the back of the phone. Since the phone is so thin, the mod does not bulk it up so much that it becomes unsightly. The initial range of four Mods include a JBL speaker, Hasselblad camera, and a projector called the Insta-Share.
The latter is the highlight of the family, and makes it possible to project anything visible on the phone display onto any other surface. In a dark room, this allows for the equivalent of a 70-inch display on a white wall. In other words, using a ShowMax or Netflix app on the phone, one can watch a movie on a bigger screen that the average large-screen display in South African homes.
The phone’s specs are not too shabby either, with a 5.5-inch display (2560×1440), fingerprint scanner, Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB expandable storage, 13MP rear camera, 5MP front, and a 2600mAh battery.
Huawei P9 Plus
Huawei has been upping its smartphone game year by year, much the way Samsung did before its global breakthrough with the Galaxy S3 and S4. Its equivalent phones that made the market pay attention were the Huawei P6 and P7 devices, while the P8 marked time in much the same way Samsung did with the S5.
The P9 and its big brother, the P9 Plus, take Huawei to a different dimension. While the P9 is a 5.2-inch device and the Plus carries a 5.5-inch display, both feature a breakthrough that defines the new Huawei. They each carry a dual 12MP lens using optics from camera pioneer Leica.
One lens uses a colour RGB sensor, while the other is monochrome; the two use image fusion technology to combine their simultaneous images into one photo. The result is richer colour from the RGB sensor and greater detail from the monochrome, combining to allow Huawei to compete on image quality for the first time.
The P9 Plus is the standout of the two. In one of its colour options, Haze Gold, it is almost indistinguishable from last year’s Mate S, the phablet phone that took on the Samsung Note range in many departments. However, there are two standout distinctions: a sleek, rounded unibody that almost exceeds the industrial design standards set by the iPhone, and the two lenses on the rear, accompanying a dual-LED flash.
Outside of the curved edge screens of the Samsung S6 and S7 edge devices, there is no finer-looking phone on the market.
Samsung S7 Edge Injustice Edition
And that brings us to what is possibly the most beautiful smartphone ever made, the limited edition Injustice version of the Samsung S7 Edge. The basic S7 Edge is a superb phone in its own right, easily able to compete with the other phones in this list. Its curved edge screen continues to set it apart aesthetically from anything else on the market.
Now add an exclusive theme, and bake that into both the hardware and software of the phone. That’s what Samsung did when they teamed up with DC Comics and Warner Bros Entertainment to mark the release of the Injustice 2 mobile game, featuring a range of DC superheroes and villains. Since Batman is the standout hero, he was chosen to turn this into a standout phone, and it could well have been named the Batman Edition.
The midnight black unibody of the phone is inlaid with gold trimmings, from the speaker grill and edge of the fingerprint sensor, along with the Samsung logo on the front, to a Batman logo and edges of the camera lens and flash. An included protective plastic rear cover features an equally stylish logo Batsuit-inspired ribbing.
The limited edition phone is also packaged with a black edition of the Samsung Gear VR headset, and a voucher for downloading non-free VR content.
The Batman theme chosen for the phone blends in perfectly, with a range of iconic logos and images appearing on the home screens, messaging backgrounds and phone interface. Call up the keyboard, and that batsuit theme appears again.
The icons and category folders are all in gold on black, with the cherry on top the apps icon, which appears as a Batman mask.
For any Batman fan, this is the ultimate phone. For anyone who appreciates the character as well as stylish smartphone design inside and out, it is a visual feast. The aesthetic pleasure of both the phone and its interface has yet to wear off after six months of use.
The almost phones
Three phones didn’t make it to the top, but made a major impact this year. They were:
- The Apple iPhone 7 Plus: the ultimate phone for the iPhone aficionado, with a faster processor, better camera and better display than previous editions. The absence of a headphone jack and earphones, replaced by wireless AirPods, has attracted the most attention. The Airpods have been described as looking like tiny toothbrushes in the ear, and keep the iPhone outside the list above. Improved versions in future may well take it back to the top.
- The LG G5: a beautiful if chunky phone with a slide-down bottom that allows for Friends – LG’s version of Mod add-ons – to replace the battery. The add-ons include a camera, speakers and battery. The G5 is also at the heart of a new LG ecosystem of Virtual Reality goggles and camera – the 360 Cam – and apps that bring these features into their own.
- The Sony Xperia XZ: with one of the finest cameras ever seen on a phone. It is the world’s first smartphone with 5-axis image stabilisation, which compensates for camera shake in any direction. This allows for smoother and stable videos while walking or during extreme close-ups. Distance sensing and colour sensing technology have been added to a 23 MP lens.Between the XZ, the iPhone 7 Plus, and the Huawei 9 Plus, smartphone photographers have never had it better.
Money talks and electronic gaming evolves
Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.
The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.
The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games.
It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.
MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.
“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”
New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.
“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”
Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.
Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.
This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.
What is blockchain?
A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.
A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.
Each block stores:
– A number of valid records or transactions.
– Information referring to that block.
– A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.
Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.
As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.
How is blockchain so secure?
Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.
Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.
In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.
What else can blockchain be used for?
Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.
Use of blockchain in healthcare
Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.
Use of blockchain for documents
Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.
Other blockchain uses
This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.
Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.
Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.