South African Guide to Smartphone Shopping this Xmas


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So you want to buy a smartphone (or tablet) this Xmas? And you’re not sure which device will suit your taste, or your pocket? We’ve taken the liberty of compiling a brief list on which phones are best for 3 categories of smartphones, and the top 3 tablets.

Note: Although there are contracts available for almost all devices from all the operators, we choose to look at choices without any contracts. Because contracts offer more than just the phone, some contracts make better sense, but offer weaker devices with them. You may, however, find a contract that suits your needs with the particular phone in mind, thus, we look only at the phones.

Budget Smartphone:

These devices can’t be considered true budget devices, as there are many of those out there. But, these devices are considered as smartphones, and that’s the big difference. If you can find a smartphone with a R200 price tag, there should be no doubt, you should buy it immediately (unless it’s second hand and in bad nick).

3. Sony Ericsson Live with Walkman: Based on Sony Ericsson’s previous Walkman phone, this Android based smartphone costs less than R2000. With a 1GHz CPU, 512MB RAM and Adreno 205 GPU, the device is very capable (similar specs to the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play).
Note: The device will be reviewed on the blog in the New Year.

2. Samsung Galaxy Ace: R3000 isn’t what we consider a budget purchase, but there are a number of great contracts deals (roughly R100-R150pm) that place this device in the budget smartphone category. Its 3.5” screen produces a 320×480 pixel resolution, while the CPU generates 800MHz of processing power. A very functional smartphone, which only misses out on top spot due to its high cost for a budget device.

1. HTC Wildfire S: If you’re looking for an all-round smartphone without parting ways with any of your limbs, the HTC Wildfire S (an upgrade of the HTC Wildfire) is your best choice. You can expect to pay between R2000 and R2500 for this device, but it’s worth every penny. Although the device is not expecting an official Ice Cream Sandwich overhaul, there will surely be a number of ported ROMs available to use in the near future. If you regretting having taken out a two year deal to attain the services of a Wildfire S, fear not, the device is extremely nifty and efficient with its 600MHz CPU and Adreno 200 GPU.

HTC WildFire S

Mid-range Smartphone:

It’s hard to decide what makes a phone a mid-range device. The easiest method is to divide it by price. With that in mind, we’ve decided on a range of between R3500 and R5500, which leaves enough room at the top for the flagship devices for the respective manufacturers.

3. Sony Ericsson Xperia Play: Although not the best in terms of specs, there is still great potential for this device. If the Android rollout is as impressive as with the Galaxy Nexus, this device will definitely bring with it great gaming fun. The current batch of games is satisfactory, with only a few really good releases, such as PES 2012 and Shadowgun. If more gaming houses can follow suit, then there is a lot to look forward to.

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2. Samsung Galaxy SII: In the world of technology, it’s funny what a few months can do. The Galaxy SII once stood proud atop of the Android devices, but now slips into the mid-range smartphone category. Although the device broke a number of sales records this year, it stood as Samsung’s flagship smartphone for all of 5 months in South Africa. The Galaxy SII can now be found in a number of stores, both physical and online, for a price below R5000, thus, making it slip into this category. And with devices such as the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy Note, I don’t think Samsung could be bothered. Be that as it may, the Galaxy SII still has a lot to offer with its 1.2GHz dual-core CPU and Super AMOLED Plus, 4.3” screen.

1. Motorola Atrix: At R5500 (recommended retail price), this phone isn’t cheap, even if it’s not considered one of the mainstream devices, which makes it a worthy title holder in the mid-range category. The device, however, is packed with a 1GHz dual-core CPU and a Tegra 2 GPU, so there’s little doubt that it doesn’t deserve the mention. This is one of my favourite phones of 2011, and can even compete with the big boys in the “Money is No Object” category.

Motorola Atrix

Money is No Object Smartphone:

For those fortunate enough not to worry about the cost of their next smartphone, then these next 3 devices are for you. So don’t fret too much about the cost, these smartphones make an excellent long-term companion to your pants pocket (or handbag). If, however, a cash purchase is not an option for you, be sure to find a deal that suits you, especially since you will be consuming loads of data.

3. Apple iPhone 4S: Although we haven’t reviewed this device, it cannot just go unnoticed. With its specs as amazing as it is, this device is sure to make the top 3 on anyone’s list. There aren’t, as yet, any contracts available for this device in South Africa, although there have been a few promised to announced shortly. The cash prices for the iPhone 4S start at R5700 and R6800 for the 16GB and 32GB, respectively.

2. Samsung Galaxy Note: Big and powerful. The Galaxy Note has a lot going for it. You’ll have to dig quite deep into your pockets this Xmas if you going to get this as a cash purchase. If you’re planning on purchasing this locally, you’re looking at around R7500. This is quite crazy since it’s more expensive than both a smartphone and tablet. However, it does have the functionality of both, so you can understand the pricing, to some extent.

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1. Motorola RAZR: Fast, thin and stylish with bright colours on the display. The Motorola RAZR means business. With its accessory support and wireless desktop sync, the device is geared toward both business use and fun. There’s not much else to say about the device, it is truly worthy of the top spot on our list, with great specs and even greater user experience. Be prepared to pay around R7000 for the world’s thinnest smartphone.

Motorola RAZR

Note: Unfortunately, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus isn’t available in South Africa as yet, and, thus, cannot be considered. There are options to purchase online, but that’s at your own discretion. Being the flagship smartphone for Android, and based on the brief review earlier this week, it was a definite contender for top spot in our list.


Tablet sales in South Africa still dwindle far below that of smartphones. You can justify your purchase of a smartphone with the need to keep in contact while getting something of great use and mobility, but the same cannot always be applied to the purchase of a tablet. Be that as it may, tablets offer a totally different experience, and have the same benefits as a smartphone without the ability to make calls. So if you’re looking for a purchase for the sake of pure enjoyment, none of the tablets below will let you down.

3. Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: Although the lightest of the 10.1 inch screen tablets, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn’t have quite enough to make it to the top. Not surprisingly, all 3 tablets also share a similar price tag of between R5500 and R6500 depending on the storage capacity you choose. Seen by many as the leading Android tablet of the current generation, based on our tests, however, there are many areas which can still be improved, the UI the main culprit. The results may change once Ice Cream Sandwich is available to all, but by then, the current tablets will be a thing of the past, with the Tegra 3 devices already been rolled out in parts of the world.

2. Motorola XOOM: Even with its extra flab around the edges, the Motorola XOOM remains my favourite Android tablet, as it is smoother and faster, while the UI provides a more aesthetic appeal than the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Even in the gaming department, the XOOM runs much smoother and is less buggy. So if you don’t mind the extra weight, the Motorola XOOM should, in my opinion, be the flag bearer for the green robot.

1. iPad 2: There should be no doubt when it comes to the king of tablets. It’s not much heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 costs the same, but just provides that little bit more than the Motorola XOOM. One of the most notable differences in all Apple’s devices is in its smoothness. When it comes to gaming, the iPad 2 is no slouch either and produces amazing results. The biggest difference between this and the other 2 tablets is the number of accessories available. The choice is simply endless, as we mentioned in our earlier review. Unfortunately, the iPad 2 does lack a bit when it comes to the extras available in the UI and software capabilities to control the hardware. Be that as it may, it reigns supreme as the number 1 tablet.

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iPad 2

Note: If you just have to spend on a tablet this year (before Xmas), then the choice is obvious. But, if you’re willing to hang on for just a few more weeks, nVidia’s Tegra 3 chip will be available in a host of Tablets in 2012. Although Asus have released the Transformer Prime Tegra 3 tablet, the first release is available as Wi-Fi-only. With the 3G version to be released in early February, I’m sure that’s not too long to wait. Take my word for it, Tegra 3 is worth the wait.

It is clearly evident from the categories (2 winners and 1 runner-up) that Motorola has made great strides with the devices released this year. What is unclear is whether the deal with Google earlier this year, where Google purchased a number of patents from Motorola Mobility, has eased the pressures on the former and inspired a line of great devices. Motorola has, thus, raised people’s expectations, so we can only wait with baited breathe as to what they will release next. In the words of Uncle Ben, “with great power, comes great responsibility!” Hope Motorola can continue in this vein, as they make our manufacturer of the year in our books.

You might be missing some limbs in the New Year, or shedding some tears while handing the salesperson your hard-earned money, so choose wisely. Don’t feel pressured into buying the latest and greatest device money can buy, in the end there are many qualified smartphones that will leave less stress on your pockets, especially when January comes around. Also remember that even if you do spend R7000+ on a device now, a month or two down the line and you’ll be faced with a new wave of fancy devices that make yours look like a Nokia 3310.

Happy shopping everyone!

Be sure to check back next year for more phone and gadget reviews.

About The Author

Evan has intensive experience in the technology field. He completed his MSc Computer Science and Information Systems (which included programming and virtual reality) in 2010 and currently works for a mobile operator as an Element Specialist. His interests include Android App Development, Design, Sports and watching movies, series and documentaries.

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