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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

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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 Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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

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Project prepares Africa’s youth for the future

A partnership between the African Union and VMware is hoped to give new impetus to preparing Africa’s youth for the future, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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VMware’s Everline Wangu Kamau-Migwi and African Union Commissioner Sara Anyang Agbo at VMworld in Barcelona. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

The woman in the regal red dress and gold turban cuts a dramatic figure as she sweeps through the halls of the Fira Gan Via expo centre in Barcelona, Spain. She stands out in sharp contrast to thousands of hipsters in hoodies and businessmen in dark suits thronging the halls. But she is on a mission that will bring true relevance to the work of many of these conference delegates

She is Sara Anyang Agbor, Commissioner for HR, Science & Technology at the African Union Commission. Agbor is at the VMworld cloud conference to sign a memorandum of understanding with the event hosts, VMware. They are formalising a shared commitment to developing the next generation of digital leaders in Africa in a project called Virtualise Africa.

When Agbor began her career as as a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Yaounde in Cameroon in the early 2000s, the last thing she worried about was technological infrastructure. But fast forward a decade and a half, and she talks of little else.

Agbor is passionate about preparing Africa’s youth for the future. Her focus is still on education, but she discusses it in terms far removed from her PhD in English literature.

“Nelson Mandela said it very well, that education is the greatest weapon that can transform the world, but what kind of education are we talking about?” she poses the question after signing the memorandum. 

“We’re talking about the education that can lead to the future of work. It is no longer about us having degrees in history and degrees in English, etcetera. It is no longer important for kids to go to school, just for the sake of going to school and having certificates. It is very important for them to go to school that will give them jobs so that they can become job creators, rather than job seekers.”

To that end, VMware will work with the African Union to bring to the continent the VMware IT Academy, a network of educational institutions that provides students with access to learning certification opportunities and hands-on lab experiences with VMware technologies.

Delegates to VMworld in Barcelona pick up new skills. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

VMware is the world’s leading developer of software for managing data centres and businesses’ adoption of cloud computing, generally referred to as virtualisation. It is a strategic partner of cloud giants like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Oracle, which are all setting up data centres in South Africa, and creating thousands of jobs across the continent. As such, VMware technology skills and certification represent a direct path into careers that are tailor-made for the digital revolution sweeping the world.

Everline Wangu Kamau-Migwi, channel lead for VMware in East Africa, responsible for setting up the VMware IT Academy in the region, says that the agreement is an outcome of the company’s quest to use “technology as a force for good”.

“We asked how we as VMware can play a role in bridging the digital skills in in the African continent,” she says. “Hence Virtualise Africa was born, with a key mandate around education. We’ve partnered with learning institutions, starting with universities, a little over 30 in Africa, where we are now giving them material, learning resources, and labs, and they’re able to access this using a methodology called ‘train the trainer’. 

“It focuses on the faculty, on the staff, for sustainability of the program within the learning institutions. Appreciating the fact that VMware virtualisation is the core of cloud computing, this is a technology that is well-appreciated across Africa. But we find that we are not moving at the pace we need to, especially in the adoption of emerging technologies, because we don’t have those skills.

“VMware also has a huge ecosystem with both a partner and customer ecosystem. So we looked at how we can leverage this ecosystem and ensure that those students who are graduating are able to innovate, are employable, and can be enterprising while doing that.”

Globally, around 550 institutions are part of the programme, with the University of South Africa the first in this country coming on board. VMware also supplies licenses to several thousand institutions around the world to teach the curriculum with its products and solutions. 

Enter the African Union. It has 55 member states, and the bulk of their populations are youths.

“We call it a demographic asset,” says Agbor. “But this demographic asset can also be a demographic liability or a demographic time bomb, if we did not put in place the right resources to capture the mind of the African youth. Over 200 million African youth are unemployed. Many have certificates, but they do not have a job.

“As a result, there is no dream, there is no hope. So now they migrate, looking for the European dream, the Canadian dream or the American dream. But there is an African dream.” 

Read more about the AU’s agenda for 2063.

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Beware biometrics, and other digital dangers

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Traditional passwords nowadays are a weak point as data leaks happen quite often. More and more companies decide to change the approach and adopt biometrics. However, no one is immune to identity theft and there already have been several actual cases of losing biometric data.

To raise awareness on the topic and show that such data requires strong security regulations, cybersecurity company Kaspersky has distinguished several dangers of unsecured biometric data:

  1. Stranger-danger. In order to set face or touch recognition, the system usually requires one sample of a finger or a face. Hence, it is possible for a user to fail authorisation due to lighting conditions or such changes in their appearance as glasses, beards, make-up or aging. On the contrary, it allows cybercriminals to steal this sample and use it according to their malicious aims.
  2. A password for a lifetime. It is not a problem to change a password consisting of numbers and letters, but once you lose your biometric data you lose it forever. The problem with touch recognition can partially be solved by leaving only 2-4 fingerprints, leaving others for emergency cases, but it is still not safe enough.
  3. A digital locker. Existing «digital lockers» rely on cloud-based help – biometric matching usually happens on the server side. If successful, the server provides the decryption key to the client. That increases a risk of a massive data leak – a server hack might lead to the compromising of biometric data.
  4. Biometrics in real life. There are two cases when an ordinary person can encounter biometric authentication. Firstly, banks try to adopt palm scans on ATMs as well as voice authentication on phone-based service desks. Secondly, individual electronic devices use touch and face recognition. However, biometric security is not yet fully developed and there are such constraints as CPU power, sensor price and physical dimensions, so some users have to sacrifice system robustness – some devices can be fooled by a wet paper with fingerprints generated using an ordinary printer or gelatin cast.

To secure biometric data, Kaspersky has recommended:

  • employing stringent security measures against breaches of traditional logins;
  • for businesses it is needed to improve ATM design so as to prevent the installation of skimmers or establishing control over the security of ATM hardware and software. 

As for biometric identification technology in general, Kaspersky has recommended that, for now, it should be  using it as a secondary protection method that complements other security measures, but does not replace them completely.

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