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When Hisense starts making sense

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Just when everyone thought new smartphones could no longer surprise, along comes a brand that has rediscovered how to turn heads, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When Hisense sent out an invitation to media attending the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to “Embrace the next”, not too many took them seriously. After all, while Hisense is a dominant player in the appliances world and leads China in TV sales, its fairly recent entry into smartphones had been a little tame. Value for money and capable devices, yes. Surprise packages and dazzling specs, no.

But Barcelona brought a real surprise. Hisense unveiled two new phones, each packing a punch of a different kind.

The biggest surprise was the new Hisense A2. It has a predictable 5.5-inch high-definition AMOLED screen, offering 1920×1080 pixels and a decent pixel density of 401 pixels per inch (ppi). But turn it over, and it is suddenly a startling device.

The Hisense A2

The Hisense A2

The rear of the phone presents us with a 5.2-inch e-ink screen: the same technology that allows one to read paper-quality content on a Kindle, and which ensures that device’s battery can last a month.

Hisense revealed it had conducted research that showed 60 per cent of Chinese smartphone users’ time was spent reading on phones to get knowledge. Because one could use a phone to read anywhere at any time, people were becoming accustomed to using mobile devices for small fragments of time to read.

They added this insight to the knowledge that the only use to which any manunfacturer was putting the back of the phone was for cameras and fingerprint readers.

“We think every inch of the phone is so valuable, the back of the phone should not be wasted,” said Dr Ma, vice president of Hisense Multimedia Group, at the launch. “We spent years working on combining a smartphone with e-ink.”

The two main benefits of the e-ink screen are that it doesn’t generate light, so makes for more comfortable reading, and it uses minimal battery power. The typical colour display on a smartphone is responsible for around two thirds of a phone’s battery use.

It’s not the first phone to feature an e-ink screen. A Russian company called Yota launched a similar concept at MWC four years ago. The Yotaphone was especially useful for mapping, as it would keep going on a long trip well after other phones had been drained by both the colour map and the display. However, little has been heard from the manufacturer for the past two years.

Hisense has added an extra twist to its e-ink screen, however.  In “dual mode”, a finger tracking along the e-ink screen on the rear acts as a mouse control on the front screen. A “gesture mode” on the rear controls the back and home functions on the front.

The phone can also be answered on the e-ink screen, so it is an ideal mode for when the battery is severely depleted by app activity on the colour screen. Most apps can be viewed in e-ink mode.

The second surprise from Hisense was its entry into a fairly well-populated market segment, namely sturdy phones that can be used in rough environments. The bulky Cat Phone, made by Bullitt Mobile under licence from Caterpillar, is the quality leader in this category. However, many mainstream manufacturers have built “action” or “rugged” versions of their phones for use on construction sites and the like.

The problem with most of these devices is that they look like they were designed for construction sites. And that is where Hisense has spotted a gap: a rugged phone that also looks like a lifestyle phone.

Due to be launched in South Africa next week, it’s called the Rock, and is a dual-SIM phone with a 5.2-inch high-definition display at 424 ppi. A 16MP rear camera and 5MP on the front and a Qualcomm 1.4GHz octa core processor are packed into a frame that is only 7.95mm thick – almost unheard of in a phone designed for durability.

The Hisense Rock

The Hisense Rock

On that note, it has a large 3000mAh battery for long use out in the field, and is rated IP68, meaning it is both dust and water resistant. The rating is something of a msinomer, however, as the phone can continue recording video while immersed under water. The pièce de résistance, however, is that it can be dropped from three metres onto concrete without either the screen or the insides cracking.

It runs on Nougat, the latest version of Android, and would not look out of place in an office or next to a pool. In demanding terrain, it would be the coolest phone out in the field.

  • 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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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