“Technology has a huge impact on their travel choices. From seeking information, making booking arrangements and paying. They do everything on their mobile phones.”
Lisa Li managing director of China Travel Services New Zealand, talking about young Chinese millennial vistors to New Zealand
Paper missing in action
There’s research showing the overwhelming majority of that millennial group has not picked up a single piece of paper media in over a year.
— Tourism New Zealand general manager Rebecca Ingram
“Just over two years ago we signed an agreement with Alibaba Group.
“We wanted to get value from the Chinese market while also ensuring Chinese visitors had a good experience in the country. Part of that was us supporting a roll-out of Alipay.
…only 13 percent of Chinese visitors have credit cards. If they weren’t able to transact in the way they are used to, we would be leaving money on the table and they’d have a poorer experience when they came. “
More a pocket camera with phone features than a mobile with a camera, the Huawei P30 Pro pushes the Android handset envelope further than any rival.
Huawei’s P30 Pro is the first phone with 5x optical zoom. It’s also the first to feature four cameras on the back. That’s five cameras all up when you also count the front facing selfie-camera. You get a lot of camera.
That’s because it is an area that has, until now, remained ripe for further improvement. Most other aspects of phone design are starting to look like dead-ends. One notable exception to this is Huawei’s Mate X folding phone.
All phone makers emphasise their camera prowess. Huawei pushes its skill a little harder than its rivals. The company has two main premium phone ranges; the business-oriented Mate series phones and the P series which is all about photography.
Huawei P30 Pro – everything up-to-date
When it comes to photography, the P30 Pro is, in effect, a physical compendium of all the latest digital camera trends in a phone-size box.
This year’s standout feature is the 5x optical zoom. It is more than any rival can offer. The most I’ve seen to date on a phone is 2x optical zoom.
Adding 5x zoom to a phone relies on a complex periscope arrangement. To get that kind of zoom you need some depth, that’s hard to find in a phone that’s only a few millimetres thick, so Huawei used a prism to build a periscope through the inside of the phone.
The optical technology took me unawares. Periscopes are hardly new, but they are often big. Who even knew it was possible to fit a useful one inside a handheld phone and still leave enough room for everything else?
Less surprising is the Huawei P30 Pro’s array of four Leica cameras. Anyone who saw what happened to the razor blade market will know that was always on the cards from the day phone makers all had three camera models. It’s a more-is-more philosophy.
Lens number four is smaller than the others. It’s a depth-sensing time-of-flight camera. It should give better results with portrait images. The depth maps do a better job of separating the subject of a photo from the background. You get a better, more natural looking bokeh effect.
Huawei says it also plans to use this camera later with augmented reality applications. At this point I should offer a few words of caution. Phone makers are often not good at delivering on “we’re going to add this feature later” promises.
The main camera has 40-megapixel and there’s also a 20-megapixel ultra wide angle camera.
Huawei adds what it calls a SuperSpectrum sensor. Most sensors divide light into red, green and blue. The SuperSpectrum sensor adds yellow to the mix. This lets in a lot more light, Huawei says up to 40 percent more. More light means better performance in low-light conditions.
The 5x optical zoom does what the name tells you. But it enables more zoom options. You can work the cameras together to get a 10x hybrid zoom mode. Push things further and there’s a an option to go all the way to 50x digital zoom.
What amounts to a considerable amount of advanced camera hardware is neatly topped off with a serving of clever photography software. All phone makers talk about their devices using artificial intelligence. That’s not strictly true, not in the sense that the phones are smart enough to learn how to take better picture.
What the clever software can do is determine what the camera is pointing at. This could be a face, or a scenic shot with mountains in the background.
Armed with a rough idea of what is in the frame, the software can then adjust the exposure and other parameters. The whole adds up to a new level of phone camera sophistication.
It means in practice that you can often get stunning photos with the P30 Pro. Of course you can still get some naff ones too. But that’s generally down to the talent pushing the shutter button. Mediocre photographers have fewer excuses.
Away from the cameras, the P30 Pro is a decent premium phone. There’s a 6.5 inch OLED screen. I can’t think of the last time I saw a premium phone screen that wasn’t ‘beautiful’, but this one also qualifies. Huawei has opted for a much smaller notch to house the front camera.
Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro has 3D face recognition. It’s fast but not a patch on the version Apple uses with the iPhone XS Max. Instead of going down that path with the P30 Pro, Huawei has opted for an in screen fingerprint reader. Maybe I could warm to this over time, but in testing, I found it hard to use and spoiled the overall user experience.
There’s an interesting approach to sound. Instead of an earpiece the front of the front of the phone turns into a speaker. To me this feels like showing off more that genuine innovation. But there you go.
At the launch function Huawei talked of getting two days battery life from the phone. Well yes, that’s possible if you don’t actually use it.
Realistically you’ll get a long, long working day from it with enough juice to order a cab home late at night. It may still turn on the next day.
In reality you’ll be charging it every night just like every other phone. The good news is that it charges fast. Half an hour gets you to about 70 percent.
Should you forget to turn the power on overnight, you can give it a solid charge while you eat breakfast. Make an extra pot of coffee and go in late if you need 100 percent power.
Huawei P30 Pro verdict
At NZ$1500, the P30 Pro is a big investment for most people. It could be worth the money if you want to spend time mastering the cameras and plan to take a lot of pictures.
If that’s not you, then you’ll find better value elsewhere, including elsewhere in Huawei’s range. You might consider the cheaper and smaller NZ$1100 non-Pro P30. It has a 6.1 inch screen, the same fingerprint scanner and less storage. There are also fewer cameras, only three on the back. It can only do 3x optical zoom.
Expect talk about devices like the P30 Pro putting the final nail in the coffin for standalone digital cameras. When it comes to consumer cameras, that happened a while ago.
When I reviewed the P30 Pro, I charged the phone with a USB-C cable that I already had set up for other devices. In part that was because the phone was supplied with a Chinese power supply.
While packing the phone up to return to Huawei, I tested the supplied USB-2 to USB-C cable. It doesn’t work. This is an example of sloppiness that you wouldn’t expect to find with rival brands and goes some way to explain why Huawei’s core mobile network business faces problems.
If that’s too much, you can enter a full screen mode and the menu bar disappears from sight. There’s also a focus mode that can hide everything except the paragraph or sentence you are working on.
No fiddling with iA Writer
This simplicity allows me to focus on writing. There’s a wonderful passage of text written by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams where he describes the creative ways he prevaricates with his work. It involves tinkering with fonts, type sizes, widths and so on.
The mere presence of all those options can be a distraction. iA Writer does away with it. As every long-term Apple user understands, restricting your options can boost productivity.
While, on one level, this iA Writer approach has always worked well for me, it has, at times been a problem. In the earlier versions of the software those choices were too restrictive. The text size was fixed and there was a strict monospace Courier-like typewriter typeface.
Good in theory, but in practice we reached a point where I was struggling to read my text on the screen.
I have an eye problem and every so often have restricted vision, to get around it I need larger, clearer typefaces. When that wasn’t an option with iA Writer I found myself using different writing tools. The, now apparently defunct or neglected Byword was a solid alternative with variable fonts and text sizes.
iA Writer addressed these issues with the last two releases of the software. Version 5.2 builds on version 5. There are now three typeface choices: Mono, Duo and Quattro. As the names suggest the first is monospaced, the second uses up to two spaces and the third can use as many as four.
There’s a lot of nerdy material on the iA Writer website about fonts. It all boils down to the newer options making it much easier to read your words on the screen.
Uno, Duo… Quattro
The most recent typeface, Quattro combines the benefits of fixed and proportional spaced fonts. It is particularly easy on my eyes. Better still, it is legible if I need to read or write on a smaller screen, say an iPhone.
iA Writer has always done a good job of exporting to Microsoft Word. The latest version improves this functionality. If you want you can write documents with footnotes, tables or even inline images and convert them to Word .docx format. This is essential for my work as almost every client expects to see a Word document.
The software also integrates with other services. The only one I use all the time is the post to WordPress option. This was sometimes a little tricky with earlier versions of iA Writer but has been good since version four.
Sharing an iA Writer strength
You can also save documents as HTML, which is powerful when fixing web copy. As you might expect with a made-for-Apple app, iA Writer deals brilliantly with the internal Apple sharing functionality. They work well with the iOS Files app and on both operating systems with iCloud. One neat aspect of this is that I can draft a post on my Mac and then edit on an iPad or iPhone later. You can also link them both to Dropbox.
When I first purchased iA Writer for iOS, the price was, from memory, US$3. That was an introductory deal. It later moved to $5. Today it is US$9. The MacOS version has increased more in price, today it is US$29. Get it from the app store. You have to buy the app again when there’s a major upgrade, but the price is low enough for this to not be a deal breaker.
One last thing. iA Writer stores documents as plain text, but it uses Markdown formatting. This is a simple way of adding headers, bold, italics, hyperlinks and so on to you text. These show up in the text editor as punctuation marks. You can then create a preview to show how the document looks after converting it to HTML, Word format or whatever. It might sound off-putting, but in practice it’s easy to use.
While one trip is not enough to write a definitive review of Emirates OnAir, the airline’s inflight Wi-fi service, I’m not masochistic enough to put myself through the experience a second time.
So this is an anecdote, not a formal review.
My earlier plan to work at the airport business lounge was foiled by overcrowding. Plan B was to write, fact-check, polish and file my stories from my seat as Emirates flight EK448 made its way from Dubai to Auckland.
The plane has in-flight Wi-fi, so it should have been practical. It’s a 15 hour flight, which, on paper at least, left plenty of time to write and rest.
That’s not how things worked out.
Emirates offers three in-flight Wi-fi options on Airbus A380 flights. There’s a free 20MB download. 150MB costs US$10, 500MB costs US$16.
The 20MB free option wasn’t even enough to download the email that arrived in the eight hours since I last connected. That’s because some PR companies insist on sending journalists material as PDFs or Word documents with large embedded logos or other images.
I didn’t plan to work all through the flight so I opted for 150MB. As we shall see, this turned out to be a wise choice.
On my flight the Wi-Fi wasn’t turned on until almost an hour after take-off. By then the cabin crew were starting to serve a meal, so I waited until that was over; maybe two hours into the journey.
Connecting, logging-in and paying was straightforward enough. Two days after landing the payment still doesn’t show up in my bank account so I can’t confirm there were no price surprises. If it does show up I’ll let you know how it went.
The rest of this story is a tale of woe. Here at home I have a 1 gbps fibre connection. When I’m on the move I use 4G mobile which can mean anything between about 20 and 100 mbps. I’m old enough to remember 1 mbps ADSL and even dial-up, which during its last phase could connected at 56 kbps.
Emirates’ OnAir Wi-fi service was slower than dial-up. Much slower. It was so slow that I couldn’t even load many webpages before they timed out. This included Speedtest. Mail was slow. I normally use Apple’s Mail app. I tried to use Gmail, but, again, the page couldn’t load before timing out.
The best benchmark I can give you is the time it took to file my first story. I use iA Writer, which produces a text file as output. The story was 5050 characters long. The file is 5k. That is five kilobytes. In other words, bugger all text. It took Emirates OnAir 27 minutes to transfer this file. That’s about three bytes per second.
To put this in perspective. Emirates OnAir sent my story at 33 words per minute. A Morse Code operator might transmit at around 13 words per minute.
It is like all the passengers on the flight are sharing a single dial-up internet connection.
That’s not the whole story. The OnAir service cut out entirely for large sections of the flight. This is to be expected. After all, Emirates publishes a map showing areas where the satellites servicing OnAir don’t operate. However, the flight didn’t pass through these areas.
Not a good look for Emirates OnAir
There’s nothing new or original when it comes to whinging about in-flight Wi-fi. The services are usually slow, poor quality and ridiculously overpriced. My point here is that it is so bad, it’s not remotely fit for purpose. Fact checking was near impossible. Sending email questions and getting answers was painfully slow.
In the end it took nine hours to do a job that might normally take me 90 minutes.
One last point. Even though I was using OnAir full tilt for about nine hours of a 15 hour journey, I only used about a third of the 150MB data allowance. This means there’s no point buying the 500MB plan, you simply can’t use it.
Like it says at the start, this is based on a single experience, it’s not a definitive review. Even so, Emirates OnAir is, at best, a marginal proposition.
InternetNZ research shows 94 percent of New Zealanders are concerned about the security of their personal data. Yet despite the high level of fear, researchers found only a fraction of users take practical steps to protect themselves from risk.
There is also concern about children being able to see inappropriate content online. The survey found this concerns 92 percent of those questioned.
There are positives. Nine out of ten respondents told InternetNZ the benefits of the internet outweigh the negatives. When asked to be more specific about those benefits, 83 percent named having access to information.
Commenting on the survey results, Andrew Cushen, InternetNZ’s outreach and engagement officer says: “As more and more of our lives are spent on the Internet, being able to access information online has now become a necessity.
“This is why it’s so important that we continue to try and close digital divides in New Zealand. Every New Zealander deserves the opportunity to harness the power of the Internet”.
Cushen says the fact that many people are not protecting themselves online is something we need to improve if New Zealanders are to stay safe online.
He says: “We all need to take personal responsibility for our safety on the internet”.
Cushen says the concern over inappropriate content is a reminder that families should talk to each other about the different types of content and what to do if they come across anything upsetting. He says; “We need to ensure that people of all ages feel safe on the Internet.”