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Walka 7 A portable novelty

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After trying DStv Mobile’s Walka 7 for a few weeks, SEAN BACHER finds that although it is no replacement for a full-sized TV, the Walka 7 really adds value to a user’s life when on the move.

A few years ago DStv Mobile announced the Drifta, a mobile device that could pick up selected DStv channels and stream them to your smartphone, tablet, notebook or desktop.

The device was certainly innovative, especially considering the slow speeds and high costs of data in South Africa.

However, the device disappointed. There were very few channels available for Drifta users and, although there were no subscription fees for DStv premium subscribers, those without DStv had to pay a monthly subscription. It almost felt as if MultiChoice were merely offering this product to South African premium subscribers as a way to offset their massive monthly subscription fees.

Since then, DStv Mobile has released the Drifta USB, with more channels, the device was limited to desktops or notebooks with USB, and had no Wi-Fi streaming functionality.

Now, DStv Mobile is offering South Africans the Walka 7, a 7‚” handheld device. It eliminates the need for a secondary device like a tablet or smartphone, as it lets users watch TV directly on the device. We put the Walka 7 through the Gadget Five Question User Test.

1. Ease of use (including setup)

The Walka 7 doesn’t need any drivers, nor does it need any kind of setup. However, you do have to phone the Multichoice call centre to have the signal to the device activated. Once the subscription is activated, though, it will work the moment the batteries are charged and the unit is switched on.

Operating it, on the other hand, is a little confusing. It looks and feels like a 7‚” tablet and I found myself tapping on the screen to access different functions much like you would on any tablet. But, in order to keep the price as low as possible, the Walka does not have a touch screen. Instead, all the controls are crammed into the top right corner of the device, making it nearly impossible to use without first turning it around to find out what button you need to press.

More usefully, the Walka 7 includes a stand that lets you adjust the tilt angle of the unit if you’re not holding it.

The Walka 7’s ease of use and seamless setup all count in its favour.

16/20

2. General performance

The built-in battery will run the Walka 7 for around six hours, depending on the signal strength. This is more than enough time to watch a full soccer, rugby or cricket game and is also great for keeping the kids entertained while on a drive on holiday. The battery will also take three to four hours to recharge fully, but it can be connected to a computer’s USB output for trickle charging.

The screen, which offers a maximum resolution of 800×480, is still not the greatest of quality, but is a vast improvement on the smaller Walka. It doesn’t offer a wide viewing area, so it won’t do well when a few people want to watch it at the same time. That said, the Walka 7 is great for personal viewing while on the go.

Also, the bigger screen means that you should be able to get a bigger picture by changing the aspect ratio much like you would do on your LED TV. Although the Walka 7 offers this feature, stretching the picture just distorts it as DStv Mobile uses the DVB-H broadcast standard, at a resolution of 320×480.

I found that watching at the default 320×480 resolution was not perfect, with much of the screen pixelating or updating at a slower rate than the rest of the screen.

The Walka 7 did however offer decent sound: it was clear and didn’t distort even when cranked up full-blast.

Once the Menu, Channel, Power, Aspect Ratio and Volume buttons situated on the top of the unit were worked out, navigating the various on-screen menus was easy. It is very well laid out with the menu items easily identifiable.

The great battery life counts in the favour of the Walka 7, but the substandard screen an area where DStv Mobile should have focused will sometimes make watching TV on the move more of a irritation than a pleasure.

Score: 12/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

Since the original Drifta I have always believed that DStv Mobile has aimed the device at the sports enthusiastic. Although there are now various mobile bouquets available for the Walka 7, including a variety of news and infotainment channels like Discovery, there are no dedicated movie channels.

At home, the Walka will feel like a novelty device, but it really begins to serve a purpose when on the move. I should add that my colleague Arthur Goldstuck swears by it as an ideal way of following breaking news when he is working at his desk. So it does depend on your priorities.

Score: 16/20

4. Is it innovative?

The Walka 7 follows in the footsteps of the Walka 3.5‚” device and, though it offers a bigger screen, the controls are very similar and there are no additional functions that could be labelled as innovative. However, the idea of using the popular 7‚” tablet format for a mobile TV device does score points.

The idea of being able to extend your DStv subscription to any part of the city or country where there is a DVB-H signal represents a compelling value proposition for existing premium subscribers and, while not new on this device, continues to surprise, since it works in most urban environments in South Africa.

Score: 15/20

5. Is it value for money?

As a device to use at home, the Walka 7 is not worth the R900 especially considering that you can watch high-definition channels on a much bigger screen.

It is however a different story for when you don’t have access to a TV. Being able to watch that important rugby match or keep up to date with late-breaking news definitely warrants the R900.

The additional R50 that non-premium subscribers need to pay each month is also value for money considering the additional channels that have been added.

Score: 16/20

In conclusion

Total score: 75/100

Since the original Drifta was launched, DStv Mobile has introduced a number of additional mobile channels. While this is a step in the right direction, the Walka 7 is not a great device for watching TV as your main entertainment option. Those using the Drifta and streaming to a tablet will get better sound and a better picture quality, as their device will usually offer better specifications than that of the Walka 7. However, it is a fun option for keeping up with sports and news while in the office or on holiday.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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Amazfit Bip – An unassuming smartwatch competitor

The Amazfit Bip has everything a smartwatch needs: notifications, heart rate monitoring and a month-long battery life, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Amazfit Bip is one of the most appealing devices in the smartwatch lineup from Huami, a low-cost brand backed by Xiaomi.

Coming in at around R1500 depending on where you shop, the price point puts the Bip into the budget smartwatch space. Combined with a large set of offerings, it makes one wonder: “Why aren’t more smartwatches like this?”

Aesthetically, the rectangular face is similar to the Apple Watch but, on closer inspection, is more reminiscent of the Pebble Time smartwatch. Ergonomically, the Bip has a single button which mostly acts as an unlock button and a back button in menus. The watch strap is made of hypoallergenic silicone and is replaceable. 

The Bip has an always-on transflective colour screen with a backlight for darker situations. This kind of display is very similar to a 90’s Gameboy, and happens to be quite the power saver. The display is covered with 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla glass with an anti-fingerprint coating, giving that extra bit of knock resistance.

The unit is 18 grams without the strap and 32 with it on, making for an extremely light smartwatch that’s roughly half the weight of the Apple Watch. While the Bip is rated IP68 in terms of waterproofing and dustproofing (meaning it can withstand 30 minutes of being under 1.5 meters of water), Huami’s website says that it should not be used while swimming, diving or bathing, and should not be taken into a sauna. When the Bip we used got dirty from rock climbing, it was washed with a soap-free cleanser (as Fitbit recommends) and a soft-bristled toothbrush.

GPS tracking with a visual route of a run.

The number of sensors in the Bip is astonishing: heart rate sensor, accelerometer, geomagnetic sensor, barometer, and GPS. This sensor set is usually reserved for the premium smartwatch market but budget Bip packs all of these. Most interestingly, the geomagnetic sensor allows for compass readings (as well as assisting the GPS in locating the watch while it’s moving) and the barometer for measuring elevation by detecting changes in pressure. 

Battery life has been optimised to a month of regular use, with some reports measuring up to 45-days with the heart rate sensor off. Huami claims the smartwatch can last for 4 months with only step and sleep tracking on. The 190mAh battery was run down in 28 hours with the GPS, barometer and heart rate sensor set to permanently on.

The built-in software is basic and lacks app support but redeems itself in other areas. Firstly, the customisation of watch faces is limited but can be easily changed with a third party app. Notifications are handled well, available for viewing only, and require the phone for replying or other interactions. 

A notification from Telegram on the Bip with the backlight on.

The menu options become available with a swipe left, notification settings with a swipe down, past notifications with a swipe up and the weather with a swipe right. The menu has options for checking one’s current status (steps, heart rate, distance, calories), followed by quick activity tracking (running, cycling, walking weather (a five-day forecast with icons), alarms, timers, compass and settings.

The companion app, Mi Fit, is well-designed and syncs quickly with the Bip. Mi Fit is where the watch and sync settings can be fine-tuned. Mi Fit also gives very detailed sleep analytics, including showing how much time one spent sleeping compared to other Mi Fit users. 

Overall, the Bip is an attractive smartwatch for those who are looking to purchase a device that provides value for money while being highly-functional.

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Samsung A51: Saviour of the mid-range

For a few years, Samsung has delivered some less than favourable mid-range devices compared to the competition. The Galaxy A51 is here to change all that, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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It’s not often one can look at a mid-range phone and mistake it for a flagship. That’s what you can expect to experience when taking the Galaxy A51 out into the open.

Samsung went back to the drawing board with its new range of devices, and it shows. The latest Galaxy A range features some of the highest quality, budget-friendly devices we’ve seen so far. The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best phones we’ve seen in a while, not just aesthetically, but in what it packs into a sub-R7000 price tag.

Looking at the device briefly, it’s very easy to mistake it for a flagship. It features a four-camera array on the back, and an Infinity-O punch-hole display – both of which are features of the high-end Samsung devices. In fact, it features a similar camera array as the Galaxy Note10 Lite but features an additional lens in the array. The cameras line up in an L-shape, clearly avoiding looking like a stovetop.

Apart from the camera array, the back of the handset features a striking pattern called Prism Crush, a pattern of pastel shades that come in black, white, blue, and pink. For the review, we used the Prism Crush Blue colour and it looks really great. The feel is clearly plastic, which isn’t too surprising for a mid-range device, but the design is definitely something that will make users opt for a clear case. It’s also great to see a design pattern that deviates from the standard single iridescent colours many manufacturers have copied from Huawei’s design.

Along the sides, it features a metal-like frame, but again, it’s plastic. On the left side, we find a SIM and microSD card tray while the right side houses the power button and volume rocker. The bottom of the phone features a very welcome USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, which isn’t too uncommon for mid-range phones.

On the front, the device is pretty much all screen, at an 87.4% screen-to-body ratio, thanks to a tiny chin at the bottom and the small punch hole for the camera. The earpiece has also been hidden inside the frame in attempts to maximise this screen-to-body ratio. When powered on, the 6.5-inch display looks vivid and sharp. That’s because Samsung opted to put a Super AMOLED display into this midrange unit, giving it a resolution of 1080 x 2400 (at 405 ppi) in a 20:9 format. This makes the display FullHD+, and perfect for consuming video content like Netflix and YouTube in HD.

Hidden underneath the display is an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is very surprising to find in a mid-range device. While it is extremely accurate, it takes some getting used to because the sensor is so large that one needs to put one’s entire finger over the right part of the display to unlock it. Most other types of non-in-screen fingerprint sensors don’t mind a partial fingerprint. The display itself feels nothing like the back and that’s because it’s not plastic, but rather Gorilla Glass 3, to prevent the screen from shattering easily.

What’s interesting about this device is finding accessories which aren’t quite available in phone stores yet. When browsing online for screen protectors, one has to be on the lookout for screen protectors that are compatible with the in-screen fingerprint sensor. Make sure to check out the reviews of users before purchasing them.

In terms of software, Samsung has made a great deal of effort to make the experience slick. Gone are the days of TouchWiz (thank goodness) and now we have OneUI in its second version. OneUI makes the phone easier to use by putting most of the interaction on the bottom half of the screen and most of the view on the top part of the screen, where one’s thumbs don’t usually reach.

Out of the box, the device came with Android 10. This is a huge step forward in terms of commitment to running the latest software for major feature updates as well as for Android security patches to keep the device secure.

It also has most of the cool features from the flagship devices, like Samsung Pay, Bixby, and Link to Windows. Samsung Pay is an absolute pleasure to use, even if it still confuses the person taking your payments. From linking my cards, I have stopped taking my wallet out with me because all merchants that accept tap-to-pay will accept Samsung Pay on the A51.

Bixby is useful if you’re in the Samsung app ecosystem, especially for owners of SmartThings devices like Samsung TVs and SmartThings-enabled smart home devices. Otherwise, Google Assistant is still accessible for those who still want to use the standard Google experience.

Link to Windows is an interesting feature that started with the Galaxy Note10 and has since trickled down into the mid-range. It allows users to send SMS messages, view recently taken photos, and receive notifications from the phone, all on a Windows 10 PC. This can be enabled by going to the Your Phone app found in the start menu.

The rear camera is phenomenal for a mid-range device and features a 48MP wide sensor. The photos come out as 12MP images, which is a common trick of many manufacturers to achieve high-quality photography. It does this by combining 4 pixels into a single superpixel to get the best colours out of the picture, while still remaining sharp. It also performs surprisingly well in low light, which is not something we were expecting from a mid-range device.

The 12MP ultra-wide angle lens spans 123-degrees, which is very wide and also useful for getting shots in where one can’t move back further. It’s not as great as the main lens but does the trick for getting everyone in for a group photo in a galley kitchen.

The 5MP depth-sensing lens supplements the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo – the same lens as its predecessor, the Galaxy A50. It features a 32MP wide-angle selfie camera, which is perfect for fitting everyone into a large group selfie.

The processor is an Exynos 9611, which is an Octa-core processor. It performs well in most situations, and there is software built in to give games a boost, so it performs well with graphically intensive games too. In terms of RAM, there are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB variants, so keep an eye out for which one you are trying. For the review, we had the 4GB, and it performs well with multitasking and day-to-day tasks.

For storage, it comes in a 128GB model on Samsung’s website, which seems to be the standard size. This is extremely welcome in the mid-range segment and is the largest we’ve seen for internal storage capacity as a starting point.

At a recommended selling price of R6,999, the Samsung Galaxy A51 marks the beginning of a great era for Samsung, because it provides a feature-rich handset at an affordable price.

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