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Take Note of Samsung

The new Samsung Note 10 smartphone has arrived in South Africa, offering a carnival of new features, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



The smartphone world often resembled nothing less than a giant carnival, with numerous glitzy attractions that really represent the same old acts with a new layer of paint. That poses a massive challenge to handset manufacturers, who have to convince us that cosmetic changes are in fact revolutionary shifts.

However, when almost every element of a new device has undergone a step-change, a machine still has the power to amaze us.

The new Samsung Note10+, along with its Note10 sibling, is a perfect example. It may not seem to be a major shift from the previous edition, but when all its improvements are taken together, it represents an astonishing array of just how much current technology can be held in one hand.

The big attraction of the10+ is just that: how big it is. At 6.8-inches, it has the largest display of any mainstream flagship phone on the market. At one time, such oversized screens were regarded as an absurdity. Now, as handsets become multimedia devices, used for anything from game controls to movie watching, size is everything.

The smaller Note10 is almost the same size as the previous Note 9, which came in at 6.4-inches, and represents a nod to those who felt that they’d reached the limits of handheld real-estate. The Bigger phone, at R23,000 for a base model, is priced at a similar level to Samsung’s other flagship, the S10+, while the Note 10 is equivalent to the S10 in cost.

However, the cheapest Note10+ comes with a massive half-a-terabyte of storage, compared to 128GB for the S10+. The equivalent storage on the S10+ cost a few thousand rand more than the base Note10+.

These comparisons are deceiving, though: the Note10+ is aimed at a very specific market, namely people who want to use the device for its size, or its productivity benefits. It is in the latter category that both new handsets come into their own.

Justin Hume, director of integrated mobility at Samsung South Africa, puts it succinctly when he says that the new model is for someone “who effortlessly flows between ideas and endeavours at a moment’s notice”.

“Every element of the Galaxy Note10 was designed to help users achieve more,” he says. “Whether they’re finishing a big project for work, capturing and editing a video, or playing their favourite mobile game, the Galaxy Note10 re-imagines this promise.”

The most significant differentiator from almost any other smartphone on the market is the S-Pen, which adds a range of new capabilities to what was once just a stylus that slips into the top of the phone.

Aside from using it to write on the screen in normal handwriting, users can now customise these notes by shrinking, enlarging, or changing text colour. The handwritten text can also be converted into typed text, and exported from Samsung Notes into a range of formats, including Microsoft Word. In other words, handwritten notes quickly become editable documents.

The S Pen itself has evolved. It builds on the Bluetooth Low Energy functionality introduced with the Note9, and adds “Air actions”, which allows some apps to be controlled with the mere wave of the Pen above the screen. The phone detects specific gestures of the pen, and converts these into customised controls.

The S Pen can be used with a new function called AR Doodle, which allows one to personalise photos with drawings, effects, and animations that remain “stuck” to an image or video. 

The camera also introduces a new range of fairground attractions. By now most of us know that the number of megapixels don’t necessarily make for better pics, but the software that comes with the camera sure does. Both devices sport a triple array of lenses, made up of 12MP wide-angle, 16MP ultra wide-angle and 12MP telephoto.  That makes for great close-ups, but the Galaxy Note10+ goes further. It introduces a 3D DepthVision camera that can take a scan of an object, and turn it into a movable 3D image.

The video camera includes Live focus, which adds depth-of-field adjustments on the fly, allowing one to blur the background to focus on the subject, while filming. A zoom-in microphone amplifies the sound within the frame and pushes background noise, to make for higher quality audio with video. The software has also been updated to improve image stabilization and the hyper-lapse mode for time-lapse videos.

The S Pen is integrated with the video editing function to allow users to choose the specific elements they want to trim with a few taps, rather than having to select the segments painstakingly. The phone also comes with the Adobe Rush suite of editing tools.

The Note10 pair of phones are first Android devices to include screen recording, which Apple has had in iPhones for some time. The difference is that the S Pen can be used with the screen recorder to annotate notes, images and videos being recorded on screen.

Samsung has also caught up to Huawei in using artificial intelligence (AI) to optimise phone performance based on how one uses the phone. The company explains it this way: “One of the most innovative examples of this optimisation is the NPU (Neural Processing Unit)-powered Game Booster. When users are enjoying a heavy gaming session, it’s working behind the scenes, collecting and analysing system, user and game data and optimising performance and power consumption accordingly.”

An app-launching technology, Boot up Booster, uses AI to identify the most frequently used apps and saves them in active memory so that they launch instantly. Usage patterns are analysed on a rolling weekly basis, meaning the active memory is updated every day.

Possibly the least obvious breakthrough is the slim form factor of the handsets. Both come in at 7.9mm thick, just a shade bigger than the Note 9, and substantially slimmer than the current Huawei flagship phones. This is partly thanks to a 7-nanometer chipset – the thinnest yet in Samsung phones, and equivalent to those in the current Huawei and Apple handsets.

The chipset is claimed to boost processor performance by up to 33% and graphics performance by up to 42%. That is hardly an incremental improvement, especially for gamers and video makers who keep trying to push the boundaries.

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

Click here to read about the updated Note’s S Pen.

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Broadband gets a helping hand

Behind this week’s news that MTN fibre provider Supersonic has launched a fixed LTE service is an effort to rethink home connectivity, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



This week, MTN made its biggest play yet into the market for fibre connections to homes, but its biggest impact may well be within the home.

The mobile operator’s fibre-to-the-home subsidiary, Supersonic, launched a Fixed LTE offering on a month-to-month basis, meaning that homes in areas not yet wired for fibre can receive high-speed broadband. More important, they can get that access at rates that seem unprecedented for mobile data. 

There are two differences from regular packages, however. For one thing, the SIM card that comes with the package only works in specific routers that have to remain plugged into a power supply. For another, the data allocation is split half-half between regular hours and a Night Owl timeframe: the hours between midnight and dawn.

“It just needs users to adjust their internet behaviour a little,” says Calvin Collett, MD of Supersonic. “Conducting massive mobile phone updates or downloading an entire library of Netflix content shouldn’t be prioritised during the day, but should be scheduled for Night Owl data consumption.”

The biggest benefit, aside from pricing, is that one does not have to wait for fibre to arrive in a specific area. While Supersonic’s core business is fixed-line fibre-to-the-home, it is now set to leverage its parent company’s massive mobile data network.

“MTN’s LTE network coverage sits at 95%, after billions of rand was invested in network upgrades in recent years. There is absolutely no reason why those waiting for a fibre connection shouldn’t move to Fixed LTE.”

Collett argues that consumers are far more savvy and well informed of developments in the telecoms space than observers think. They carefully investigate the products and services they choose to spend on, and are looking for the best deals available.

The result is that Supersonic has quietly built up a side business in installing what is called a Mesh Wi-Fi network, consisting of a main Wi-Fi router connected to the standardfibre or LTE or router, and a series of additional access pointscalled plumes, placed in areas of low coverage through ahome.

The plumes – small pods that plug into any power point –connect to one another to expand the network across a wide area. Where traditional WI-FI extenders lose up to half the fibre bandwidth with every extension, the plumes maintain most of the speed regardless of how far the network is extended. All the pods connected to the same router form a single network with the same network name, eliminating the complications Wi-FI extenders usually introduce.

“The traditional Wi-Fi router has replaced the dial up connection, and we’re all happy about this – the infamous dial up tone is ingrained in the brains of anyone over the age of 30,” says Collett. “Wi-Fi revolutionised our way of life as the router gave us access to the internet without directly connecting to a modem. 

“We’ve moved forward, transitioning from ADSL to fibre. While fibre allows for high speed internet access, it is still connected to your Wi-Fi router. Naturally, the further you move away from the hub, the poorer your internet connection will be. Those dead spots around the house can become frustrating when your Wi-Fi signal shows 1 bar and it takes 5 minutes to load a single web page. Mesh Wi-Fi is the solution.”

Collett says he specifically researched a product that looked good, offered app-based management and required no cables. His research led him to Silicon Valley, and the result is the Supersonic Plume Mesh network system.

The drawback is that installation can be complicated for the non-technical consumer. To plug the gap, so to speak, Supersonic sends out technicians who conduct a Wi-Fi sweep of a home and advise how many Plume devices will be needed for 100% coverage. Based on this the technicians make a recommendation for an optimal “smart Wi-Fi”solution. Once installed, though, the network can be monitored and managed from a Supersonic App.

We tried it out and found it was a tale of two experiences. The initial experience was frustrating, as the pods tried to find each other. This is a necessary evil, it seems, as the Plume Mesh network optimises itself over a period of several days. That means the experience at the edge of the network can be very poor at the time of installation. After a few days, however the network was flying.

With a 100Mbps line, the experience next to the main router was around 105 Mbps, both up and down. That in itself was something of a marvel. But the biggest impact was felt at the furthest point from the router: where a Wi-Fi extender had previously delivered speeds of below 10Mbps, download speeds of 80Mbps became not only commonplace, but almost taken for granted.

One of the most useful features of the Plume Mesh is the level of monitoring offered through the Supersonic app. One can observe exactly what devices are connected to which pods – each is given a name, typically of the room, that is visible only through the app.

The biggest surprise of the plume solution is that it has not become a standard solution for Wi-Fi networks everywhere. In an era when we have become deeply dependent on a decent Wi-Fi signal, it has become a necessity rather than a luxury. As a result, home connectivity should be taken far more seriously than merely fobbing consumers off on low-performance extenders. 

MTN seems to have taken this message to heart, rethinking its own approach to home usage.

“Internet access has become the third utility behind electricity and water,” says Collett. “Our goal is to ‘own the home’ but not just by connecting a bunch of devices to a central point. It’s really about how these devices can pioneer habitual change in the home that’s convenient and saves valuable time and money.”

Click here to read about SuperSonic’s pricing.

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Location data key to transforming SA’s transport system



Location technology can transform South Africa’s transport system – but don’t expect to see self-driving cars on our roads any time soon. What’s more relevant is the need for the public and private sectors to work together more closely to unlock the significant social and economic benefits that more efficient transport and mobility systems would bring to the country, including less congestion and fewer road accidents. 

That was the message from Michael Bültmann, Managing Director, in charge of international relations  atHERE Technologies, a global leader in mapping and location platform services, at an event hosted by the international law firm Covington & Burling in Johannesburg last week, to discuss how digitization could support better mobility, safety and integration in South Africa. 

“Society needs to solve some fundamental challenges, and relevant location data can play a key role in creating a better future for mobility in South Africa. If we know where the goods and people are, and how and why they move, we have the basis for a system that matches demand and supply far more closely, and uses our transport infrastructure more efficiently,” saidBültmann.

“But no company, government or individual can do it all themselves. It’s all about collaborating. If we get real-time data use right, it would have a profound effect on the way the entire economy works: less congestion, fewer accidents, more efficient use of vehicles and public transport, less air pollution, greater quality of life, and potential savings of billions of rands in fuel, time and safer roads.”

Speaking at the event, the CSIR’s Dr Mathetha Mokonyama said that despite the billions of rands pumped into the country’s mass public transport network in recent years, 90% of commuter seats available are still provided by either cars or taxis.

“We have the right to dignity. If you want to see indignity, look at people getting up at 2am to get unreliable transport to a job that only pays R3500 a month. In our country, access to transport is critical for people to make a living, and our focus as a country should be to implement an equitable and just transport system that caters to all sectors of society,” he said.

“It was a pleasure to support the event that brought together so many viewpoints on the question of the effective use of data and location intelligence to enhance the mobility of goods, people and services,” said Robert Kayihura, senior advisor in Covington’s Johannesburg office.  “While the harmonization of regulatory regimes around the continent will take time, a key takeaway from our discussions is the critical need to build a shared vision of the future through consistent public-private dialogue and collaboration in order to accelerate and ensure the sustainable and safe digitization of Africa.”

Paul Vorster, the chief executive of the Intelligent Transport Society of SA (ITSSA), said the effective sharing of data between metros, government and the private sector would ‘go a long way’ to improving the efficiency of existing transport infrastructure.

“The starting point is to improve what we already have. Once we know what we have – that is, data – we can start solving real problems, like knowing where the demand and supply are. But to do this, metros will need to learn from each other, and they often face political hurdles in the process,” he said.

Bültmann said increasing levels of urbanisation across the world were creating the need for cities to better predict, manage and plan future urban movement. Combining and analysing data from different, complementary sources could help South African cities to improve urban planning, relieve congestion and curb pollution for better quality of life.

The event was also attended by Presidential Investment Envoy Phumzile Langeni, the National Planning Commission’s Themba Dlamini; SANRAL’s Alan Robinson; and Dr Rüdiger Lotz, the Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy. The guests were welcomed by Witney Schneidman, the head of Covington’s Africa practice and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (1997-2001) in the U.S. Government.

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