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Spark chooses Nokia to speed 5G rollout

This week: A trial run of The Download 2.0, a weekly wrap of New Zealand telecommunications news. You can subscribe below to get the newsletter delivered to your email inbox every Friday. 

Spark chooses Nokia to speed 5G rollout

Nokia says it has won a deal to supply radio access network (Ran) technology across a large part of Spark’s 5G rollout. The contract will also see Nokia upgrade 4G equipment at the sites.

After a modest start Spark has accelerated its 5G rollout plan. Spark’s FY21 results presentation revealed plans to cover 90 percent of the population by the end of 2023. The move represents a significant capital investment.

Spark’s plan assumes government will have made the necessary spectrum available by then. That’s not guaranteed.

In the early stages of its 5G roll out, Spark awarded contracts to Samsung, a relative newcomer to the network equipment scene.

Previously Spark had worked with Huawei to build its 4G network. That company is now, in effect, blocked from building 5G networks in New Zealand.

Nokia will use its latest AirScale portfolio including the company’s ReefShark System-on-Chip technology. It says this is energy efficient and will allow customers to connect at ten times existing speeds while using less power.

Spark has previously said its accelerated 5G programme will give the company a competitive advantage. The new technology will increase its capacity, offer customers greater speed and expand the reach of its fixed wireless broadband offering.

ComCom signs off Mercury’s Trustpower acquisition

After an investigation the Commerce Commission has given the green light to Mercury’s planned acquisition of Trustpower’s retail business. The regulator says the move is unlikely to lessen competition.

While Trustpower is an energy business, it is New Zealand’s fifth largest retail broadband provider. At the end of last year it had a six percent market share.

Trustpower sells fibre, fixed wireless broadband and mobile phone services. In many cases its customers bundle broadband and mobile services with power.

2degrees announces board ahead of planned float

While telco 2degrees has yet to confirm it will list later this year on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, it has named seven board members in preparation for the float. The seven are Kathryn Mitchell, Ken Tunnicliffe, Mark Cairns, Meg Matthews, Brad Horwitz, John Stanton and Erick Mickels.

In the winter 2degrees held meetings with potential institutional investors in New Zealand and Australia. Majority shareholder, Trilogy International partners has said it aims for an IPO either at the end of this year or early in 2022.

Vocus also plans to float its New Zealand business later this year.

Havelock North 4G tower build back on

A report at Stuff says building work on a Spark 4G tower in Havelock North has resumed. Construction work stopped in 2019 after protests and the site remains controversial with residents.

Online retail surged as New Zealand locked down

Slice Digital, an affiliate marketing network, reports online traffic and sales through its service increased dramatically in August as the nation locked down. Traffic was up 78 percent in the second half of August compared to the first half while sales increased by 162 percent. September sales are running at a 129 percent increase on August sales.

Vector works with Google

Vector is working with Google’s X division to build a map of its Auckland power distribution network. The goal is to build a virtual simulation of the network then use this for planning. The pair say it will help Vector get ahead of increasing demand for clean energy, renewable power and prepare to deal with a large electric vehicle fleet.

Tex Edwards behind supermarket plan

2degrees founder and Hawaiki Cable director Tex Edwards was in the news this week promoting a plan to upset the supermarket duopoly. It’s a move that echoes his involvement in establishing a third mobile network more than a decade ago. If Edwards succeeds with getting his plans off the ground, it will be familiar territory for at least one of his new rivals: Foodstuffs CEO Chris Quinn was a Telecom NZ executive when 2degrees emerged as the third mobile company.


 

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Nokia G20 review: Big battery, low-price Android

The Nokia G20 won’t win any high performance prizes. Yet at $279, the mid-range Android phone from HMD Global represents solid value.

Since HMD Global revived the Nokia brand, the company has push a straightforward pitch. It makes less expensive phones with the essential features but few trimmings.

The real value lies in a commitment to provide regular operating system updates and security patches on a scale that other Android phone makers either can’t or won’t match. It is an Android One phone like earlier Nokia models.

The Nokia G20 follows this template. It has a 6.5-inch 720p LCD display that’s on a par with phones costing more than twice as much. The main camera has 48 megapixels. There’s a 5 megapixel ultra-wide camera, a 2 megapixel macro camera and a 2 megapixel depth sensor. On the front there is an 8 megapixel camera.

You’ll get decent pictures. It does an OK job with low-light conditions. That’s rare for a phone in this price range.

If photography is important to you, it may pay to spend more on an advanced phone, although this will not embarrass you.

Value, not flashy

At this price you can’t expect the latest features like wireless charging. It doesn’t have the most powerful processor and it doesn’t work with 5G networks. All those things are available further up the Nokia range.

Another price compromise is the plastic case. It’s not as pretty as more expensive phones, but it is sturdy enough to take workplace knocks and blows and carry on working. The plastic is not slippery. You can grip it to stop it slipping from your hands.

Also, you get a long battery life. Android phones rarely run for more than a day of frequent use. HMD says Nokia G20 users should be able to go three days before needing a recharge.

There are three years of monthly security and operating system updates. HMD Global gives New Zealand customers an extended three year warranty. Which means you can spread that $279 price over three years.

Nokia 7.2 – a good business phone

 

At $549, the Nokia 7.2 is a decent quality mid-priced Android phone. It hits all the right notes for business buyers. For everyone else, the Nokia 7.2 is a sensible choice rather than a pocket full of digital excitement. Choose it if you view phones as tools, not toys, if you prize value over pizzaz.

Nokia 7.2 at a glance

For:– Android One is the best Android experience
– Uncluttered user interface
– Well made
– Videos look great
Against:– Battery could be better
– Camera decent enough, but pictures a touch ordinary
Maybe:– Sober, business-like looks
Verdict:Sensible choice but doesn’t stand out from mid-range pack.
Six months ago the same specification would have been sensational at the price, today it’s ordinary.
Price:$549
Web:Nokia
Reviewed by:Bill Bennett
Review date:November 14, 2019

HMD Global has revived the Nokia brand with a solid range of mid and low priced Android phones. In doing so, the company has breathed fresh life into that market.

The hardware is well made and reliable, we’ll get to how that works for the Nokia 7.2 in a moment.

Build quality is important, yet the company’s main strength lies in its partnership with Google. It is part of Google’s Android One programme.

Best Android around

In effect, Android One means Nokia phone owners get the best experience Google’s operating system has to offer.

You won’t see bloatware or other annoyances. You won’t face inconsistencies.

And you don’t run the gauntlet of risky pre-installed software. Best of all, it means the user interface is refreshingly uncluttered.

Android One is possibly the purest form of Android. Companies like HMD Global who are part of the programme agree not to change the software.

In return, Google commits to refreshing the Android operating system for two years and providing monthly security updates for three years.

In other words, you know where you are with a Nokia phone and you know where you are going. Buy almost any other Android model and operating system updates are something of a lottery. In most cases, your security is, at best, an afterthought.

If I were to buy an Android phone, I’d choose the Nokia-Android One approach.

Nokia 7.2 – good business choice

Android One is particularly good for business phone buyers who worry about security and keeping software current. Like I said at the top of this story, it’s a sensible choice but it’s not a thrill-packed ride into the outer limits of geek wizardry.

The Nokia 7.2’s hardware is more or less what you’d get elsewhere for $550. There’s a 6.3-inch screen with what Nokia calls a teardrop notch. Some Nokia phones allow you to black the top lines of the screen out giving you a square display. For some reason this is not an option with the 7.2 does.

Nokia’s PureDisplay technology means standard definition video plays beautifully. Software, I presume it is software, tweaks the video picture to make it look more like high definition video.

In practice, this is better than it sound. It is also better than you’ll find in other similarly priced midrange phones, or at least the ones I’ve seen here in New Zealand.

The display doesn’t compare with the much brighter OLED technology found on more expensive phones, but that would double the price tag.

There’s a rear fingerprint sensor. People can get agitated about the position of a fingerprint sensor. Putting it on the back makes for more screen on the front. It almost covers the entire front of the phone. Nokia also includes a Google Assistant button, if that’s your thing.

Back in black

The review phone is what HMD calls ‘charcoal’. This is marketing speak for black. The case sits somewhere on the spectrum between matt black and glossy black.

Black means the Nokia 7.2 looks more like a business phone than some of the flashy colours you can find on Chinese made phones.

The phone’s back has a pronounced camera bump. There is what Nokia calls a ‘triple lens’ camera. While that’s true in a strict sense, it isn’t the whole story. You get a 48 megapixel lens and a secondary eight megapixel wide lens camera. The third lens is a five megapixel depth sensor. It doesn’t take pictures. So, in this case ‘triple lens’ means two usable lenses.

The set up takes decent pictures, but then show me a 2019 phone that doesn’t. They aren’t outstanding, but they can be good. You’ll struggle to find a better phone camera on sale in New Zealand at this price unless you go to a parallel importer. On the other hand, you may find a set of camera features that better suits your needs.

What else?

Some observations:

  • Despite the generous (at this price) 3500mAh battery, the Nokia 7.2 runs down a little faster than I like. I haven’t pushed it to the limit yet, but suspect it might not get me from 7:00 to 23:00 on a busy running around work day.
  • 128GB of storage and 4GB of Ram seems good for a $550 phone.
  • The Snapdragon 660 processor offers the kind of performance you’d expect in this price range. If you’re coming from a premium phone you might find it a little sluggish, but that’s more because you’ve been spoiled.
  • This would be a great phone to buy for employees or younger family members who don’t feel the need for a day-glo finish.

Nokia 7.1 review: Good choice when money is tight

You can spend the thick end of NZ$2000 and get a premium Android phone. Or you can spend NZ$600 and get the Nokia 7.1.

Either way you’ll get a good phone. One option will save you a small fortune.

As far as hardware is concerned, the Nokia 7.1 is not far behind more expensive Androids. Nothing vital is missing.

While the Nokia 7.1 hardware comes close to matching Android phones costing three times as much, its Android One software is arguably better.

Design nods at iPhone X

Like many other 2018 phones, there’s a whiff of the Apple iPhone X about the Nokia 7.1 design. It has the same almost all screen front. When the display lights up there is a notch. The rear is made of glass.

Despite this, you wouldn’t mistake the Nokia 7.1 for an iPhone when it’s in your hand. Although there is more than a passing external resemblance, if there is one area where the 7.1 falls short of any 2018 premium phone it is in the feel. Mind you, it doesn’t fall far short.

According to HMD Global, the company that makes Nokia-branded phones, the 7.1 has a gloss steel finish. In other words metallic sliver with copper highlights. It is also shiny looking.

The colour of the case visible under the Apple-like glass back is almost identical to the colour of my iPhone XS Max.

There’s a pleasing solidity to the phone in your hand. But it is rougher around the edges. The machining and build is great, but not quite as smooth as more expensive phones. The edges don’t taper, they are squared off.

Mid-range power plant

One area where Nokia saved money is the processor. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 chipset powers the phone.

It’s a year old mid-range phone processor. It won’t win races against more expensive phones. Yet you could say a lot of today’s high-end handsets are overpowered.

Unless you are a serious phone gamer or use a demanding app that shouldn’t be on a mid-range phone anyway, you are unlikely to bump up against any speed limits.

The 3,060mAh battery is a little less than you’ll find on a top end phone. While this is the weakest link in the 7.1 chain, it isn’t that weak. I found the phone could go all day with plenty left in the tank so long as I didn’t hammer it. Few phones do better in this department.

Like many other late 2018 phones, the Nokia 7.1 will charge fast through its USB-C port. There’s no wireless charging here, what do you expect at the price?

Camera

It has a dual camera and can take bokeh portraits. This last feature now seems to be standard everywhere.

The 12 megapixel main back camera is not up to the standard of more expensive phones, but the gap is so small that causal phone photographers may never notice. Cameras seem to be more important to phone makers than most customers.

My only gripe is that contrast can be poor in low light conditions.

My favourite aspect of the Nokia 7.1 is that it uses Android One. This means regular software updates and security patches, something most Android phones still can’t manage.

It also means an absence of clutter. Most Android phone makers load up their devices with apps that no-one really wants or needs. Their software overlays do not add value. Some detract from the phone experience.

You might not choose to put the Nokia 7.1 at the top of your list if you are a keen mobile gamer. The processor may not have the necessary grunt.

Nokia 7.1 verdict

Despite the handful of minor niggles mentioned here, the Nokia 7.1 is great value for money. Those niggles are when comparing the 7.1 with phones costing more than twice the price.

If you don’t want to pay for cutting edge features that you may never need, this would be a good choice.

The Nokia 7.1 is only available from Spark in New Zealand. It’s an ideal choice for someone looking to get more phone for less money. If you buy phones for employees or for younger family members this will stretch your money further, with few compromises.

Nokia 6.1, 7 Plus phones showcase Android One

Google’s Android phone operating system is often a mess when compared with Apple’s iOS. Android One aims to fix that. You can’t get it on phones from Android market leaders like Samsung or Huawei. At least, not yet. Nokia, with nothing to lose, has gone in boots and all. The company hopes Android One can revive the brand’s fortunes.

Earlier this year Spark launched two Nokia Android One models into New Zealand. While they could put Nokia back on the map, many Android phone buyers won’t care enough to take notice. This could change if there is another big, well publicised Android security scare. The reality is a regular slew of small security worries gets little attention.

Android can be frustrating on many counts. First, most phone makers can’t leave it alone. They feel the need to overlay the raw Android operating system with their own software. In almost every case, these overlays detract value. None are great. They can make for a lesser user experience than you might get on a pure Android phone. It can also make for a fractured market.

Fractured software market

This fracturing is invisible to everyday Android phone users. If you pick, say, a Samsung phone with TouchWiz, you may not know which software is Android and which is TouchWiz. I see many phones every year. In that context switching between different Android overlays is jarring.

Yet, if, say, when you come to upgrade your Samsung phone and like the look of a rival model, changing can be troublesome. Controls are sometimes not where you’ve come to expect them. Some used features are missing. Things work in different ways. I can find switching between two Android brands is as much of a jump as moving from Android to iOS.

To be fair to phone makers, there are fewer deal-breaker differences between today’s overlays than in the past. It was once common for popular apps to run on one model, but not on another. I haven’t seen that in recent times with the big apps. But there are still many inconsistencies.

You need to take care reading through feature lists to know if a different Android phone has a feature you loved on your last one.

Geeks versus the rest

Some geeks see this through a different lens. Many phone enthusiasts love to customise their Android phones and play with options. What’s fun to them can be a nightmare for less technically minded phone users. Geeks often deride Apple iPhones for reducing user choice. Yet that lack of confusion is major plus point for those who don’t get off on tinkering with software.

Two other things stand between Android as we’ve known it until now and the best phone experience. Many Android phone makers are, to say the least, slack when it comes to keeping software up-to-date. This applies to both their own software and their versions of Android. Many Android phones have never seen a software update. Apart from anything else, this makes those Android phone insecure. It’s no accident that more malware targets Android than iOS.

Sure some Android phone makers are better than others. Yet how are mere mortals to know which is a wiser buy?

Android One attempts to fix all these niggles. It didn’t start out that way. Four years ago Google introduced Android One to help move people in emerging economies from dumb phones to smart phones. It was a barebones, lowest-common denominator version of Android. People elsewhere soon realised a lowest-common denominator Android might be popular with users in richer countries.

Android One quality mark

Today Android One acts like a quality mark. Google says all phones with the badge come with certain guarantees. You get:

  • An approved design. Google signs off on the phone hardware.
  • The core Android interface along with Google services.
  • Regular security updates for three years.
  • Android OS updates for two years. In practice this means the next two official versions of Android.

Android One phones also come without added, unwanted third-party software. In other words: no bloatware.

The other thing no-one mentions, at least not in the marketing material, is that the Android One phone you buy today should be good for three or more years. This is something Apple users take for granted. Phone makers in the Android world tend to take the attitude that you need to upgrade every year, or, at a pinch, every second year. Getting three years use from a phone is better for the planet and better for your pocket.

Nokia 6.1

Spark sells the Nokia 6.1 for NZ$500. In price terms that puts it at the low-end of mid-range phones. Yet it looks and feels more like something higher up the market, say the top-end of the mid-range. For the money you get a solid aluminium case. It is about the same size as an iPhone 7 or 8 Plus model, although 10mm shorter. The two weigh about the same.

The screen is a 5.5 inches with FHD resolution, that’s 1920 by 1080 pixels. Nokia has stuck with the older 16:9 screen ratio which is still standard on all but the most expensive phones. It’s not the best screen, but is more than you might expect given the phone’s price. In practice it is more than bright enough. You may need to adjust the brightness at times where it is automatic on other phones.

Nokia uses the, now standard, USB-C connector for charging. The phone still has an audio jack, in this case it is along the top edge of the case. On the left hand edge is a pull out drawer for the Sim card, it will also take a MicroSD card. If you want to carry a lot of music or photos you’re going to need that memory card slot. The phone only comes with 32GB of storage as standard, around 19.7GB that is available for you to use.

Nokia 6.1 drawback

This is the major drawback to the Nokia 6.1. Its standard 19.7GB is not enough for many people. It’s better to pay extra for more built-in storage than deal with SD cards. This may not bother you, if, say, you get all your music from Spotify and stream all your video. There is a Nokia 6.1 model with more storage, but it isn’t sold in New Zealand.

There is a fingerprint reader on the back of the phone.

Nokia 6.1 performance is a fraction ahead of what you’d expect from a $500 phone. If you want to push hard with the latest games you might run up against limits. Yet for most people the processor and 4GB Ram are more than enough for everyday use. It’s an octa-core Snapdragon 630 if you care about this kind of detail, most people buying the Nokia 6.1 will not.

You get a 3000mAh battery, that’s normal for mid-range phones. It should last a full day without too much trouble unless you spend a lot of time running games or watching video. If you do either of these, then you might be better off spending more on a phone anyway.

Nokia’s camera is capable enough, it can even shoot 4K video. Again, it’s behind what you’d find in $1000-plus phones, but more than you’d find in another $500 phone. In summary, the Nokia 6.1 manages to pack all the phone punch everyday users need at a reasonable price.

Nokia 7 Plus

At $700, the New Zealand asking price for the Nokia 7 Plus is $200 more than for the 6.1. The extra money buys better cameras, a bigger screen, extra storage and more battery. On the 7 Plus there are two rear cameras. One has a 12MP sensor with an f/1.4 lens, the other is a 13MP sensor with an f/2.6 lens. Both lenses are from Zeiss.

While you’ll get better shots than you might see on the Nokia 6.1 with its single 16MP sensor and f/2 Zeiss lens, neither is a patch on the cameras you’ll find on phones costing twice the price. That said, the 7 Plus camera is more than enough for everyday snaps. The only time it lets you down is in low light conditions. It can handle time-lapse, 4k and slow-motion video.

The 7 Plus’ 16MP front camera is a big step up from the 8MP front camera on the Nokia 6.1. Both phones can take photos using the front and rear camera at the same time. It’s a gimmick, but then gimmicks sell phones. This one is not going to set the market alight.

The 6-inch screen brings the Nokia 7 Plus up to the size of the Apple iPhone 8 Plus. There are few more pixels than on the Nokia 6.1, in this case 2160 by 1080. This brings it to the 18:9 aspect ratio that you’ll find on today’s more expensive phones. The 3800mAh battery is enough to power the extra screen size and then some. In practice you get an extra hour or two use compared to the Nokia 6.1.

Nokia 6.1, 7 Plus Verdict

Nokia won’t thank me for saying this, but the two Android One phones are excellent choices for buyers who don’t care to show off a prestige brand. They are all about bang for buck. They are affordable, capable handsets that can do all the important things you buy a phone for. If you want more camera, you need to spend more. Otherwise, there’s not that last bit of fairy dust sprinkled on phones to add $1000 to the price.

Android One is a better experience than anything from the more expensive Android phone brands. Even so you still may prefer to stay with what you know if you’re wedded to on Samsung, Huawei, Sony or whatever. If you are thinking of switching brand, Nokia is a good choice and you’ll save money into the bargain.

Nokia 3310 – nostalgia phone, long battery life

Phone nostalgia fans will love the new Nokia 3310 3G. The NZ$100 phone looks like the old Nokia 3310 brick phone that was a hit in the first years of the 21st century.

It also sounds like an old-school Nokia. The phone can play the famous Nokia theme at almost ear-splitting intensity. The phone maker has even included the Snake game.

While the phone has the Nokia brand, like other 2017 Nokia phones, it is made by a Finnish company called HMD Global which has a licence to use the name. HMD also makes the Nokia 8, an impressive mid-range Android phone.

Not the old Nokia 3310

While the new phone looks a lot like the original brick phone, it isn’t identical. The screen is bigger. There’s a camera. It’s not much of a camera, but enough to get by.

In place of the old proprietary pin style Nokia charger plug there’s a microUSB connection. You can charge this from a computer if you want.

The software is a reasonable emulation of the original Nokia 3310 phone software. I don’t remember there being as much colour last time around, but memory is hazy. It’s not hard to use, mainly because there are so few options.

If anything it’s the software that reminds us how far phones have come in the last 15 years.

Plastic

There is a distinct plastic feel. Although it seems flimsy in comparison with the original and with today’s premium phones, that’s not the case. The device seems robust. It’s probably better at taking knocks than a device costing the thick end of $2000.

The keys, especially the navigation key, can be tricky to use. But what do you expect? After all this is a $100 phone.

Which brings us to one of the glorious aspects of the revival: price. The 2017 version of the Nokia 3310 costs $100. That’s a fraction of the price of the original before taking inflation into account.

Another nice touch, the battery lasts far longer than ones on many expensive phones. HMD says the phone has 27 days standby time.

Would would buy this?

Not everyone wants a full featured smartphone. And there are many who would struggle to pay the asking price for a fancy top-of-the-line handset.

Some people only want a basic phone for simple tasks like calling and messaging. Then there are those who need a spare phone in a hurry because they lost or broke their main phone.

You might want something inexpensive to give a youngster on a night out or if someone works in a job where phones get destroyed. The long battery life makes it a great phone to take on a boat trip or a long bush walk.

The Nokia 3310 makes an ideal family back-up phone.

It took almost a year for the Nokia 3310 3G to reach New Zealand. An early version of the revived phone went on sale in the Northern Hemisphere in February. That model was so retro it couldn’t even use 3G networks.

The version that arrived in New Zealand in November has been updated to use the 3G network.

HMD says the phone is a Spark NZ exclusive, but the red version shown in the photo above is only available from The Warehouse and Warehouse stationary.