Durban - What a year it’s been in the tech and online world. Usually when confronted with such an eventful, gadget-packed line-up to condense into a few hundred words I wouldn’t know where to start.
If there was any doubt that social media has become part of the national dialogue, it was dispelled by Madiba’s passing. It was on social media where the premature rumours of his demise started months before the actual event and where the final confirmation came, with the fateful announcement just before midnight on December 5 that President Jacob Zuma would address the nation.
As with other big national stories, like the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing and e-tolls, the last leg of Madiba’s long walk revealed the power and limitations of social media, transforming citizens from passive consumers of news into active participants in historic events. If 2013 will go down as the year we said goodbye to a giant, it will also be remembered for the rise to prominence, almost overnight, of a once-obscure former US intelligence services computer boffin, Edward Snowden.
His leak of some 200 000 classified documents to the media blew the lid on the breathtaking scope of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance, igniting a global debate on privacy and how far governments should go in prying into the lives of their own citizens and foreigners in the name of national security.
Whether you view Snowden as a traitor or a patriot, a whistle-blower or a thief, one thing should now be clear: online privacy is a myth. As I’ve warned my kids for some time, if you’ve taken pictures or made comments you wouldn’t be happy for Gran to see, don’t take them anywhere near a PC, smartphone or any other web-connected device.
This can be quite difficult these days, given the huge choice of such devices on the market. Here’s my selection of this year’s top smartphones:
Best camera phone: Nokia Lumia 1020. With a huge 41 megapixel camera built into a surprisingly svelte and well-made phone, this lustworthy Lumia’s got the oomph to take on some entry level DSLRs while still being small enough to slip into a pocket. It runs the Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system and while there may not be as many apps available as for Android and iPhone owners, if you’re serious about photography this is the phone for you.
Best outdoors phone: Sony Xperia Z1. If you’re the active type and want a smartphone tough enough to keep you company on your mountain biking, surfing or trail running expeditions, this water and dustproof Android powerhouse is the perfect choice. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also got a blisteringly fast processor, huge screen and impressive 21 megapixel camera.
Best phablet: Samsung Galaxy Note 3. This year saw the release of a slew of big screen behemoths that pushed the boundaries between smartphones and tablets. What sets the Note 3 apart is its gorgeously bright 5.7-inch display, multitasking prowess and S Pen stylus which brings excellent handwriting recognition among a host of other features to busy execs, note-taking journalists and other power users.
Best for apps: iPhone 5S. With literally millions of titles, Apple’s App Store is still the best stocked repository of mobile games and applications and this, the latest and most powerful iPhone is undoubtedly the best way to tap into all that appiness. A clever fingerprint reader to unlock the phone and authenticate app purchases as well as an improvement on its predecessor’s already superb camera make this a no-brainer for iOS fans ready for an upgrade.
Best value for money: LG G2. While all of the previous phones I’ve mentioned will set you back R9 000 or more if you pay cash for them, the G2 matches many of their features at a price tag of R6 000. The superb 5.2-inch display makes it a big, but far from ungainly, phone and the buttons are cleverly placed on the back, just where your index finger naturally rests. Throw in outstanding audio and video playback and a great battery and you’ve got one of the best Android phones around, regardless of price.
Finally, from a gadget you can keep in your pocket to one that promises to save you packet in fuel bills while you do your bit for the environment.
Twenty-thirteen will mark the year electric vehicles finally came to South Africa, courtesy of carmaker Nissan and its award-winning Leaf. Powered by a pleasantly torquey electric motor and an array of underfloor hi-tech batteries it’ll get around 190km between charges, not one for the annual road trip, but more than adequate for the daily school run and office commute. Greenies will love its zero emissions label. The thrifty will enjoy the 80 percent savings in running costs over conventional cars.
Critics have picked on its bulbous looks and hefty price tag – close to R500 000 with the compulsory home charging station – and the fact it’s only available in Joburg and Pretoria for now. I say eat my non-existent exhaust fumes. I have seen the future an imperfect as it is now, this Leaf is blowing in on an irresistible wind of change. Next year is going to be exciting. - Sunday Tribune
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