“People in China are now required to have their faces scanned when registering new mobile phone services, as the authorities seek to verify the identities of the country’s hundreds of millions of internet users.”
It’s creepy. Another step on a path to a terrifying totalitarian state that is starting to make George Orwell’s 1984 nightmare look mild in comparison.
Two things worry me abut this development. First, China could be paving the way for other governments to do something similar. In the West this may be pitched as some kind of protection from terrorism or crime, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be abused.
Second, it may not be secure. It’s bad enough for abusive totalitarian or even nominally democratic governments to use this technology to keep tabs on people, but what if criminals get their hands on it? Say if violent men use it to stalk women. We know that already happens with technologies like police car registration plate databases.
New phone models arrive monthly. Most phone product lines get an annual refresh.
Apple usually does its annual iPhone upgrades all at once.
Top Android phone makers like Samsung, Huawei and Nokia have a few product lines. Each line gets its own annual update. The phone makers tend to stagger their launches.
Add in the smaller brands and yes, we see a dozen launches of note each year.
Goodbye two year refresh cycle
Phone makers expect you to hang on to a device for at least two years even if they refresh their model lines every year.
Carriers agree. Their phone plans are usually two-year contracts. Remember carriers make money when you to buy new phones and roll over two-year contracts.
While two-year contracts remain popular, they’re less common today than five years ago.
New Zealand’s Inland Revenue Department depreciates phones at 67 percent a year. That implies a life expectancy of under two years.
We’re holding on for longer
Most of us now hold onto phones for longer than two years. No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable.
There’s still a difference between Apple and Android phones. Android phone users tend to keep their phones for less time than iPhone users. Apple’s sales figures reflect this. iPhone revenues peaked two years ago. Apple is now focusing on selling services to its customers to make up the shortfall.
One reason people hold on to phones for longer is that upgrades are more incremental than in the past. A few years ago there would be dramatic changes from one year to the next. Now the emphasis is on cameras and cosmetics.
Phone hardware can live for years
Phones can take a beating. Owners handle them many times each day. They get dropped, knocked, scratched and soaked.
Yet, in most cases, there are no moving parts to seize up.
If you look after your phone and it doesn’t pick up too much moisture, the battery is the first part to wear out. Constant use and charging cycles mean they degrade over time. After about three to four years use they hold as little as half the charge they managed when they were new.
You can replace most phone batteries, even those in sealed phones. It can be difficult, there are official repairers and a cottage industry exists.
Although it may seem expensive to pay someone NZ$100 to replace a battery, it’s cheaper than buying a new phone.
Screens last three to ten years depending on the technology, build quality and your use. Often the screen backlighting goes first. Again, repairers can fix these problems.
There are times when a new phone model is compelling.
Sometimes move from one year’s model to the next brings a must-have feature. Even so, you can expect to get at least two years from a device. They should last for three or more. Five years is no longer exceptional.
Of course, some users give their phones a pounding. If that’s you, or a family member, you have two choices. You could buy a more robust phone model. Or you could opt for a a cheaper model that won’t break the bank when replacement time rolls around.
Huawei’s Freebuds 3 look distinct from Apple’s Airpods. Presumably they are different enough to avoid knock-off litigation.
Yet there’s little question the Bluetooth wireless earphones with a charge box idea is cribbed from Apple.
Let’s be polite and say they pay homage to the original.
You can buy a pair in local stores for around NZ$260. This compares with the NZ$450 price of Apple’s Airpods Pro.
Freebuds 3 versus Airpods
It’s impossible to write about Freebuds without mentioning Airpods. So let’s stick with comparisons here, that’s the real story.
Both products are wireless earbuds that use Bluetooth to connect to devices. Both come with snappy little charging cases. More important, both have active noise cancellation.
If you own an iPhone or iPad, it’s likely Airpods will be your first choice. And why not? They are excellent. I wouldn’t be without mine.
Likewise, if you own an Android phone or you are allergic to buying Apple kit, there’s a good Freebuds are on your wish list.
The main exception to these cases is cash-strapped Apple owners might be drawn to the less expensive Huawei option.
Looking beyond price, there are a few significant differences between the products. The Freebuds 3 earpieces are more like those of the original Apple Airpods. That is, they sit in the outer ear.
The Airpods Pro have a snugger fit. This means the physical hardware does some of the work when it comes to cutting out external noise.
Physically the Airpods have a better look. For the New Zealand market the Freebuds come in a Darth Vader black version, although there is a Imperial Stormtrooper white option overseas. Apple’s wireless earbuds only come in white.
Latency advantage not obvious
Both products use their companies’ chip designs. Huawei claims lower latency, but in practice this, if it is true, is not noticeable. Both can automatically connect without the need to stuff around with Bluetooth settings.
Apple’s active noise cancellation is one-size-fits-all. You can tinker with the Huawei settings. I wouldn’t say one approach is better than the other, they are different.
Likewise, I struggle to say one sounds better than the other. The Freebuds seem to do a better job with electronic music, while I find the standard non-Pro Airpods handle classic and acoustic material better, but this is largely a matter of taste.
Apple’s wireless earbuds have better battery life, but not by much. One thing I like about Airpods is their wireless charging, but again this is not a deal breaker.
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
– Android One is the best Android experience – Uncluttered user interface – Well made – Videos look great
– Battery could be better – Camera decent enough, but pictures a touch ordinary
– Sober, business-like looks
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.
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.
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.
A $2 price rise for overseas roaming doesn’t seem much until you realise it’s a 40 percent price increase at a time when inflation is close to zero. Few other service providers could get away with a 40 percent price hike.
That said, no-one can argue that New Zealand mobile phone margins are excessive.
Less than a beer
Nor could you argue that $7 a day for overseas roaming is not reasonable. If you can afford to travel overseas and you want to stay in touch, it costs less than a glass of beer. For many readers, it remains the best option and is far better than the bad old days of bill shock.
Vodafone’s first line of justification for the price rise borders on the ridiculous. Keall writes:
The spokeswoman said, “Vodafone launched Daily Roaming over five years ago and since then have made numerous improvements to the service, including expanding it from 23 destinations to now over 100. Included in the latest round of new destinations are Vietnam and Cambodia, which are hugely popular with Kiwis.
Chris Keall, NZ Herald, June 4, 2019
The fact that there are more destinations may benefit customers. It benefits Vodafone more.
By giving the company a lot more opportunities to bill that $7 a day charge, it means much more revenue. It also improves internal costs by spreading the costs of administering overseas roaming charges across many more sales.
Let’s put it another way: imagine if New World said it was charging more for milk because it was stocking it in more supermarkets.
Vodafone has a much better argument when it says mobile data use is now running at three times the rate when the roaming service was first introduced. However, the cost of delivering a gigabyte of mobile data has fallen over time.
There’s a bit of snark about Vodafone’s customers not having to buy bundles… that’s how roaming works with Spark. And talk about one fixed price across markets where the costs are different. Well yes, but again, keeping the price structure simple is also of benefit to Vodafone.
Overseas roaming is revenue
Whatever the public justification, the increase is also about increasing revenue at a time when there’s little obvious growth. It’s also about improving margins. Both of these are fair enough, Vodafone is not a charity, yet for some reason, the company doesn’t feel able to say so.
The bigger concern for Vodafone customers could be that this is not the only price increase. Six months ago Vodafone jacked up broadband prices. There could be more in the pipeline.
Vodafone can’t go too far. As the Commerce Commission points out, New Zealand’s telecommunications market is competitive. If you don’t like Vodafone’s roaming price increases you can go elsewhere. The international equivalent of buying a prepaid Sim card in the first dairy as you leave the airport is also still an option.