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Samsung takes challenge back to Apple

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Samsung has made a startling comeback to the smartphone market, sending the innovation ball soaring back into Apple’s court, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Mere days before last week’s New York launch of the new Samsung S8 smartphone, the rumour mill had “confirmed” the specs of the next Apple iPhone, due out in September. It is ironic, then, that Samsung unveiled a device that featured almost every innovation that Apple is expected to introduce six months from now.

The result is that the Galaxy S8 not only occupies the high ground of smartphone innovation, but places huge pressure on Apple to come up with surprises in the iPhone 8. In recent years, however, the capacity to surprise has tended to elude Apple.

The key elements of the S8 already set it apart from all other handsets on the market. Both the standard S8 and the larger S8+ carry the curve on the edge that made the S6 and S7 Edge phones a huge success. However, they have refined the curves slightly to provide a more comfortable grip.

The standout aspect of the displays now is that they run from one side to the other, with no bezel or edge frame as is found on most other phones. From top to bottom, they also occupy a greater proportion of the front of the phone than almost any other phone on the market. Samsung has achieved this through an old iPhone technique – not having a logo on the front – and a seemingly revolutionary new idea: having the home button hidden invisibly under the surface of the display.

Because the screen is pressure sensitive, when the finger rests on the area where the home button would usually be placed, it activates the functions of that button without taking away from display space.

It is precisely this neat little trick that Apple is expected to announce when it unveils the iPhone 8 in September. In the past, Apple evangelists would have accused rivals of copying Apple. The best they can claim now – unconvincingly – is that Samsung has anticipated Apple’s virtual home button.

Since a flagship smartphone is usually a few years in the making, and the next model is already on the drawing board when the previous one is released, it is clear that the leading manufacturers all have access to similar technology, and twist it in the direction where they believe they can achieve both the best user experience and the best differentiation.

So, for example, Apple is expected to announce later this year that the iPhone 8 will abandon the Lightning connector that caused massive consternation when it replaced the dock connector five years ago. Instead, it will switch to the new standard USB-C connector that is already in use in the new Apple MacBook – and on numerous rival smartphones. It will be near unthinkable for Apple to adopt an industry-standard connector, but it will also mollify users who have to carry a bag full of adapters to make up for the absence of a headphone jack on the last version.

Not at all surprisingly, the new Samsung S8 has introduced the USB-C connector to the Galaxy range for the first time.

The real challenge for Apple will be competing with screen size. It is still a source of wounded pride that Samsung led the market into large-screen formats with the introduction of the Note series six years ago. Apple scoffed at the size of these devices for some years before it succumbed to market pressure and went beyond the 4.5-inch format that Steve Jobs had felt represented the perfect handset display size.

With 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch options for the S7 and S7 Plus, it made up lost ground. However, the S8 and S8+ take the fight to a new level. Due to the ultra-efficient use of the front of the phone, the S8 is now a 5.8-inch phone, despite being slightly narrower than the S7. The S8+ is a 6.2-inch behemoth, and yet remains comfortable in the hand.

It’s unlikely Apple marketing will carry jokes about size this time round. Instead, it is expected to release several size options, ranging from 4.7-inches to 5.8-inches. The new devices are also expected, for the first time, to introduce wireless charging, long a feature of the Samsung flagship phones. Samsung has taken this feature a step further, with charging pods that enable the phone to stand upright and remain viewable and usable while being charged.

The Apple rumour mill also includes a waterproof and dustproof phone, iris and facial recognition, a minimum of 64GB storage, and even a curved display. It ‘s almost as if the Apple clairvoyants were channelling the S8, a few weeks before its launch.

 

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

Available in SA on 5 May

The Samsung S8 and S8+ will be released on South Africa on 5 May 2017, and can be pre-ordered now. For pre-orders, Vodacom is offering a wireless charger and screen protector, while MTN will provide a battery pack and screen protector. Samsung is considering direct deliveries to these customers before the official launch, if it receives stock in time. The Galaxy S8 has a recommended retail price of R15 499, and the Galaxy S8+ a RRP of R17499, similar to current models.

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Vodacom cuts cost of smallest bundle by 40%

The country’s largest mobile operator has kept to a promise made last month to slash the price of entry-level data packages

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Vodacom has cut the data price of its lowest-cost bundle by 40%, reducing the price of a 50MB 30-day bundle from R20 to to R12. This follows from the operator’s promise in March, when it announced a 33% cut in the cost of 1GB bundles, to reduce prices of all smaller bundles by up to 40%.

Vodacom’s various 30-day data bundle prices will be cut across all of its channels, with the new pricing as follows:

30-day bundle size New Price Reduction
50MB R12 40%
150MB R29 33%
325MB R55 33%
500MB R79 21%
1GB R99 34%
3GB R229 23%
5GB R349 14%
10GB R469 22%
20GB R699 31%

Vodacom confirmed it will provide free data to access essential services through Vodacom’s zero-rated platform ConnectU with immediate effect. The value of these initiatives, it says, is R2.7-billion over the next year.

“Vodacom can play a critical role in supporting society during this challenging time and we’re committed to doing whatever we can to help customers stay connected,” says Jorge Mendes, Chief Officer of Vodacom’s Consumer Business Unit. “Since we started our pricing transformation strategy three years ago, our customers have benefitted from significant reductions in data prices and the cost of voice calls. Over the same period, we invested over R26 billion in infrastructure and new technologies, so our customers enjoy wider 2G, 3G and 4G coverage and vastly increased data speeds.”

The latest data reductions will complement the discounted bundle offers that will also be made available to prepaid customers in more than 2,000 less affluent suburbs and villages around the country. For qualifying communities to access further discounted voice and data deals, they need to click on the scrolling ConnectU banner on the platform via connectu.vodacom.co.za

ConnectU – which is a zero-rated platform – also went live this week. It will provide content aimed at social development and offers a variety of essential services for free. Learners and students enrolled in schools and universities can access relevant information for free, with no data costs. The ConnectU portal includes a search engine linked to open sources such as Wikipedia and Wiktionary as well as free access to job portals; free educational content on the e-School platform; free health and wellness information and free access to Facebook Flex, the low data alternative to Facebook that enables customers to stay socially connected.

Vodacom’s popular Just4You platform has been a significant contributor to the approximately 50% reduction in effective data prices over the past two years. Substantial cuts in out-of-bundle tariffs and the introduction of hourly, daily and weekly bundles with much lower effective prices have also driven increased value and affordability, resulting in R2-billion in savings for customers in 2019.

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OneBlade shaves price of electric precision

Electric razors and their blades are usually quite expensive. But the Philips OneBlade shaves the cost, writes SEAN BACHER

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Electric razors come in all shapes and forms and their prices vary as well. When your nearest electronic retail outlet opens again, you will be able to pay a small fortune for a wet and dry razor that cleans itself, shows you when it needs to be recharged, and tells you to replace the cleaning solution – all via a little LCD panel in the handle.

But does everyone want that? Does everyone need that? Surely there must be customers who want an easy-to-use, no-mess, no-fuss razor that gets the job done just as well as a “smart razor”?

With this in mind, Philips has launched its OneBlade wet and dry electric razor. The razor is dead simple to use. It comes with three stubble combs – 1mm, 3mm and 5 mm –  which can be clicked onto the head much like one would with a hair shaver. Should you want a really close shave, simply the combs off. I found this to be the most effective as I don’t have a beard.

The razor’s blade is the size of the striking side of a matchbox and has 90-degree angles all round. This offers precise shaving and, because of its small size, it is able to get just about anywhere on a person’s face.

The blade has a usage indicator that shows when it is time to replace the blade – usually after four months – and an additional blade is included in the box.

The OneBlade’s battery takes up to eight hours to charge, and will give up to 45 minutes shaving time.

Overall, the Philips OneBlade will give a man a comfortable and precise shave. Its battery life, combined with its size, makes it a perfect travel companion as it is no bigger than an electric toothbrush. Its relatively low price compared to other electric razors also counts in its favour.

The One Blade can be bought from most electronic retailers or can be ordered online from websites like takealot.com. The razor retails for R650 and a set of two new blades will cost around R450.

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