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The Smartphone of the Year

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There are so many contenders for Smartphone of the Year, it comes down to a subjective choice. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK delivers his verdict.

It has never been more difficult to decide which is the best smartphone of the year. Three years ago, the Apple iPhone 4 was head and shoulders above the rest. Two years ago, Apple’s 4S was an early sign of a slipping crown. A year ago, Samsung had leapfrogged Apple’s iPhone 5 with the Galaxy S3 even before the launch of the 5.

This year, every phone maker seems to have caught up in one area or another. The 2013 Smartphone of the Year is something like a 10-way tussle. We look at the high-end contenders, which typically cost R8 000 upward.

And the winners are:

1. Samsung Galaxy S4: This 5‚” trendsetter narrowly edges out the Xperia Z1 as phone of the year, due to its sleeker lines, featherweight 130g, and better integration of voice control and fitness applications. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 1900 quad core chip is not the fastest around, but given it has to be squeezed into a 7,9mm form factor, that’s easily forgiven. Less forgivable is appalling battery life when using connectivity options like Bluetooth and mobile data, but that applies to most of the flagship smartphones. The phone sets the standards for integration of sensors, from accelerometer and gyroscope to thermometer and barometer, and then some. Gesture control also sets it apart from anything outside gaming consoles.

2. Sony Xperia Z1: The solid aluminium frame speaks quality, but makes for 170g in the hand, an instant minus at a time when light is the new thin. That does allow for a bigger battery, with superb stand-by time. Excellent integration of Walkman technology with great sound draw elegantly on the Sony legacy. It’s water and dust resistant, and the dazzling screen is matched by dazzling images from the best camera on a smartphone outside of Nokia. At 20MP, with HDR and continuous autofocus added, the photo quality is beaten only by the Nokia 1020. Talking of which‚Ķ

3. Nokia 1020. Who would have thought Nokia would be up there again? The bulky lens will count against those looking for something that will slip into a pocket, but it is the only phone I’ve used that almost persuades me to leave my SLR camera at home. It whips the S4 (and most other cameras aside from the Xperia) in low light, and smacks the Z1 for detail and zoom functionality. The screen size (4.5‚”) counts against it, but when compared to its natural competitor, the 4.3‚” Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, it suddenly seems roomy. An optional extra camera grip adds to its camera credentials, offering bulk when its needed, and getting out of the way when you just need a phone.

4. LG G2. This is the surprise entrant of the year, arriving seemingly from nowhere to remind us that LG still makes smartphones, and adding a significant footnote to the memo: it now makes great smartphones. The stand-out features are a 5.2‚” display, making it the biggest screen of a phone that is not defined as a ‚”phablet‚”, and rear Lock and Volume buttons designed for operating with the index finger. Astonishingly, despite a larger screen, it is a smaller handset than the S4, and that gives it immense slippability, as in the ability to slip it unobtrusively into a pocket.

5. HTC One. This is the critics favourite, partly because it really is a great phone, but possibly also because it is so reminiscent of the iPhone. Call it the Android iPhone if you wish, but then you’d be vilified by those who swear this is the best ever build on a phone, that Beats Audio gives it the best speakers ever on a phone, and that HTC Sense is the best ever skin placed over Android. All of which may well be true, but the problem in South Africa is that the phone is missing in action. First launched here in May, it disappeared without a trace, from a public relations, marketing and availability point of view, followed a few months later by the closing of the local HTC office. Ingram Micro has now taken over distribution, but too late to save the One.

Honorable mentions go to:

Apple iPhone 5s, doesn’t make the grade because it sticks to the poky 4‚” display and provides few reasons to upgrade from the iPhone 5, given a wallet-swallowing R10 000 price tag:

Nokia Lumia 925, the best Windows phone on the market for those not buying the device for the camera:

Sony XPeria Z, the first contender for phone of the year when launched in February, but now thoroughly eclipsed by the Z1, despite being more compact worth buying if offered a knock-down price:

BlackBerry Q10, arguably the best keyboard phone of the year, for those who still love quaint old QWERTY.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, the most enjoyable phone to use as a camera, although a little too bulky when used only as a phone.

Naturally, everyone will have a view on which of these phones don’t belong on the list, and what should have come out on top instead of this selection. It is a subjective choice, based on using the devices and also considering their market context. Arguments for or against are welcomed.

There are also many great mid-range and entry-level smartphones on the market, but those are an argument for another day.

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Bear in mind, though, that these rankings are not based on popularity or loyalty. As you imply, there can be many perspectives. They are based on my own experience with the devices, combined with ecosystem factors, like pricing and availability, if those are seen as major issues for specific devices. Meanwhile, please provide your contact details or an address where we can find out more.

I wondered why the BB Z30 wasn’t mentioned, I am soon to get one & I felt it was worth mentioning…….maybe they launch it a tad bit too late ?

a couple weeks ago it was compared to all the top end smartphones but this week it got a huge miss…..I wonder if I should get this phone ?

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Prepare now for 2030

Traditional businesses are toast unless they start preparing for the future now, warns ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Various forecasts point to the likelihood that technologies using artificial intelligence will generate up to 15% of the world’s gross domestic product by 2030. PwC suggests that it will add $15.7-trillion to the global economy. 

That, in turn, will ensure that a sizeable proportion of the world’s business will be conducted on advanced digital platforms. In other words, the 15% is just the springboard for vast swathes of activity that will dominate business. Those that stick to the old way of doing things will simply be left out of the new economy.

This means traditional businesses are already toast, but only if they decide not to start preparing now.

“This future economy is something that should be on everybody’s mind and in every government’s strategy,” says Mohammed Amin, Dell Technologies senior vice president for Middle East, Russia, Africa and Turkey. During a visit to South Africa this week, he said it was no longer a matter of selling technology for its own sake.

“If you’re not part of this wagon to the future, you need to jump on it. The world’s IT companies are not pushing digital transformation and multi-cloud strategy just for the sake of selling technology. We’re doing it to optimise your business and to help make you part of the future.”

He says three primary trends need to be leveraged by business.

“I believe that artificial intelligence is the ship that is going to take us for the future. The fuel is going to be data. And infrastructure will be software-defined. You have to build an agile, dynamic infrastructure to thrive in this future.”

Amin, an Egyptian-Canadian, points to the sensation created by his late compatriot, the Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum, who died 45 years ago. Last year, she appeared in the world’s first hologram concert, at the World Youth Forum in Egypt. Then, in December, she performed – as a hologram – for paying audiences in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. 

“Imagine people paying for tickets to watch a hologram. It means the world is open to this. It is moving so fast, and we are in the heart of this.”

It is also an example of how technology companies are no longer focused only on technology but also on enhancing human lives. 

“We’re involved in so many projects, from healthcare to education. Education especially is very important, because it is shifting from ‘what to learn’ to ‘how to learn’. It’s an amazing shift. You need to know how to learn because you will need to experience and learn in so many fields to be qualified for the future.”

Amin does not believe doomsday prophecies of much of the world’s population being rendered jobless by robots and AI. However, some “straightforward” jobs will be readily replaceable. Even lawyers and general practice doctors, for example, could be replaced by smartphone apps.

“The job market will grow, but the profile required is going to change. Jobs will be available, but for certain profiles. By 2030, 85% of the job market will be for jobs we don’t know today. This is the challenge that education faces.” 

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

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Did an earthquake take out SA Internet?

Seabed avalanches caused by an earthquake could have cut several undersea cables, leading to one of South Africa’s biggest Internet outages yet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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Picture by TooMuchCoffeeMan from pixabay.com

There is still no official explanation for freak breaks 11 days ago in two separate undersea cables that provide international access to South Africa’s Internet users. However, as reported in the Sunday Times yesterday, the most common causes of such breaks are damage by ship anchors and earthquakes at sea.

However, the freak occurrence of two separate cables being cut simultaneously far out at sea, as happened on the morning of 16 January, can only be explained by sea-bed activity.  One of the cables was cut in two places, and it is widely believed that a third major cable was also cut.

The cable damage mostly occurred in or near an area called the Congo Canyon, which starts inland and extends 220km into the sea. It is known for having the world’s strongest “turbidity currents”, underwater sediment avalanches over hundreds of kilometers, which are known to destroy undersea cables.

The most likely culprit is a 5.6 magnitude earthquake that struck the Atlantic Ocean near Ascension Island shortly before the cables were cut on the morning of 16 January. The earthquake occurred just before 8am South African time, and local ISPs reported losing international access from just before 10am. The epicentre of the earthquake was more than a thousand kilometres off the coast of Africa, but disturbances caused by seismic activity at sea become more powerful as they approach the coast. Combined with turbidity currents, this could well have taken out all cables in the area.

The West Africa Cable System (WACS) was cut in two places, and the South Atlantic 3 (SAT3) cable in one location. Industry insiders believe that the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable was also cut, but it has not been publicly confirmed.

South Africa is connected to the global Internet via seven such cables, with a total capacity of 42.3 terabits per second (tbps).  These cables, in turn, connect to additional cables connecting the West and East coasts of Africa, with a single cable running from Angola to Brazil providing another 40 tbps.

However, it emerged in the past week that smaller ISPs in South Africa had bought capacity on only one or two cables. In a freak occurrence, two of the most commonly used cables, the WACS and SAT 3 cables, were cut simultaneously, plunging millions of Internet users into data darkness.

Customers of the major mobile network operators – Vodacom and MTN – were largely unaffected, as these tend to have both part-ownership and access to most of the cables running up both the East and West coasts of Africa.

Visit the next page to read about how ISPs have battled to reroute access, how massive resources are needed to deal with these kinds of outages, and when the ship will reach the breakage points.

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