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Best of the best

We’ve tested five high-end smartphones to find out what they have in store, and if they should be added to yours.

The latest generation of smartphones has the potential to significantly increase productivity. (123RF)

Modern day smartphones offer so much – browsing the internet, gaming, videoconferencing, navigating and digitally discovering the world, remote controlling your home, computers, TV, NAS and numerous other media devices.

In addition, cheap and expensive models alike can be used to listen to music, break the language barrier, watch videos, manage your finances, check the weather, order a cab, book a flight, hotel or restaurant.

Why go high-end?

In practice, high-end smartphones offer higher-grade material, better protection from the elements, console-level gaming, the best performance, highest image and video quality and most innovative functionality. The latest generation of smartphones has the potential to significantly increase productivity. They’re also generally more future-proof since they should enjoy the longest operating and app support. Unfortunately, getting a high-end, flagship phone doesn’t automatically imply a higher level of usability.

High-end smartphones are, however, now more expensive than ever. Even to the point where it’s possible to purchase two notebooks for the price of just one premium, flagship smartphone. The explosion of increased functionality over the years, improved screens, as well as faster hardware also takes its toll on battery life. While innovations abound elsewhere, no substantial, cutting edge breakthrough has yet been made to enable a premium smartphone to last more than two days on a full charge, with regular everyday usage.

Operating system

A good implementation of the operating system greatly enhances the overall user experience and ease of use. Combined, iOS and Android are currently running on more than 99% of the world’s smartphones. Microsoft is desperately trying to gain more market share with its Windows 10 Mobile OS, but has been unsuccessful and is down to just 0.6% globally, according to Gartner.

Security

In general, iOS proves easier to work with, especially for those not that tech-savvy, and by default currently more secure than Android. Nonetheless, good steps have been made in version 7 of Google’s mobile OS, Nougat. Still, Android devices require extra, third party security software to be installed in order to raise protection, increase privacy, prevent identity theft and mitigate leaking of digital corporate assets.

Picture perfect

All major smartphone brands are putting a lot of focus on the cameras, particularly on unique features to set them apart from the competition.

Manufacturers are using dual backside-located cameras, more LEDs to aid in difficult low-light scenarios, bigger sensors, snappier zooming, higher light sensitivity and more megapixels.

What really makes a difference is the incorporation of optical image stabilisation to compensate for shaky hands, in contrast to the inferior and cheaper digital image stabilisation, which uses software algorithms to smooth things out.

Test conditions

All five smartphones were thoroughly tested over an extensive period of time to see how they perform. Their overall score is based on screen quality, hardware performance, design quality, general ease of use, image/video capture quality and battery life. The latter had an extra heavy impact on the overall score since none of the fancy features are of use when there’s no more energy left.

Before commencing the test procedure, all phones were completely updated to the latest OS and app versions and then reset to factory defaults, to rule out optimisation of any kind. In each case, all other settings and options have been left to the standard values as determined by the manufacturers themselves.

Apple iPhone 7(Plus) Apple iPhone 7(Plus)
Apple iPhone 7 (Plus)

RRP: R 12 000, R15 499 (7 Plus)

Distributor: Core Group

Product page

Screen size: 4.7-inch, 5.5-inch (7 Plus)

OS: iOS

Storage: 32GB and up (non-expandable)

Water-resistant: Yes

Cameras: Front 7MP, Back 12MP (dual cameras on 7 Plus)

Weight: 138g, 188g (7 Plus)

Apple’s latest generation iPhone comes in two sizes and looks a lot like its predecessor. The legacy 3.5mm audio-connector has been replaced by a lightning connector, which has led to quite a lot of controversy. The new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are the first in Apple’s lineup to be officially water- and dust-resistant and come pre-installed with iOS version 10.

The screen of the iPhone 7 (Plus) hasn’t been significantly improved with new technology and battery life has only been marginally prolonged. Still, both models offer razor sharp image and text display quality and full day operation on a full charge.

The iPhone 7 (Plus) has been fitted with faster internal hardware, a much better front and back camera, improved sound output and increased storage space. It’s the only smartphone in this comparative review that doesn’t allow for expanding internal storage space afterwards, though. Unfortunately, the iPhone doesn’t support wireless charging like the Samsung Galaxy S7 (Edge) and takes quite a long time to completely charge. Its fingerprint reader works like a charm and the true optical zoom on the iPhone 7 Plus is a great feature for anybody keen on excellent photography.

Screen quality: 8/10

Performance: 9/10

Battery life: 8/10

Design: 8.5/10

Usability: 9/10

Camera: 9/10

Overall: 8.5/10

 

Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge
Samsung Galaxy S7 (Edge)

RRP: R 13 999, R15 999 (Edge)

Distributor: Partner operators only

Product page

Screen size: 5.1-inch, 5.5-inch

OS: Android

Storage: 32GB (expandable)

Water-resistant: Yes

Cameras: Front 5MP, Back 12MP

Weight: 152g, 157g (Edge)

Weight: 138g, 188g (7 Plus)

Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge flagship phones are both equipped with outstanding cameras, are water- and dust-resistant, feature a superb screen, are high performers and offer excellent battery life. Particularly when watching video, the device will keep going for more than 15 hours straight due to the superior AMOLED screen technology.

Although Samsung has tried to keep its Android implementation as simple as possible it can’t quite match up to Apple’s iOS in terms of simplicity and intuitiveness, but offers an incredible amount of options and settings to tweak.11

T0he Galaxy S7 (Edge) houses 32GB of internal storage space that can be extended by using a microSD memory card. It also supports wireless charging through additional accessories and charges very quickly. As with the iPhone 7 (Plus), the front-located fingerprint reader does its job capably.

The Galaxy S7 Edge is almost identical to the regular S7, with the most profound change being the slightly bigger, curved screen. This innovative feature doesn’t just add to the overall aesthetics, but actually offers some nifty functionality by enabling new menus, additional widgets and display information.

Screen quality: 8/10

Performance: 9/10

Battery life: 8/10

Design: 8.5/10

Usability 9/10

Camera: 9/10

Overall: 8.5/10

 

Sony Xperia XZ Sony Xperia XZ
Sony Xperia XZ

RRP: R 12 999

Distributor: Partner operators only

Product page

Screen size: 5.2-inch

OS: Android

Storage: 32GB (expandable)

Water-resistant: Yes

Cameras: Front 13MP, Back 23MP

Weight: 161g

Sony's latest flagship phone has relatively sharp edges on the top and bottom and uses a modern USB-C connector to charge and transfer data. The Xperia XZ is water- and dust-resistant and has good screen contrast and brightness levels, although general screen quality can’t match that of the Samsung Galaxy S7 (Edge). It also feels very durable and sturdy. Battery life and raw performance are also not on par with that of the Apple and Samsung devices, but still good. The fingerprint reader is integrated in the on/ off switch on the right side of the phone and sound quality is impressive. Although Sony boasts thrilling camera specifications, captured image quality fails to match up to the expectations it generates.

Screen quality: 8/10

Performance: 7.5/10

Battery life: 7/10

Design: 8/10

Usability: 8/10

Camera: 7/10

Overall: 7.5/10

 

LG V20 LG V20


LG V20

RRP: R 10 999

Distributor: Vodacom only

Product page

Screen size: 5.7-inch

OS: Android

Storage: 64GB (expandable)

Water-resistant: No

Cameras: Front 5MP, Back 16MP + 8MP

Weight: 173g

The LG V20 is a remarkably solid, well-built and beautiful looking smartphone. It’s a shame it isn’t officially water- and dust-resistant, though.

The device facilitates easily swapping of the battery, which is unique in today’s high-end smartphone market. Another distinctive feature is its second screen that sits on top of the main screen, enabling extra icons, information and notifications.

In addition, the V20 comes pre-installed with the latest Android version 7 (Nougat). Sound quality is excellent and the cameras are able to deliver great footage and cool options, although not on par with the iPhone 7 (Plus) and Galaxy S7 (Edge).

The rear-mounted fingerprint reader works quickly and precisely. The main screen quality, performance and battery life are good, but nothing to make an unforgettable impression. By default, the V20 houses 64GB of storage space where all the other models only come with 32GB.

Screen quality: 7/10

Performance: 7.5/10

Battery life: 6.5/10

Design: 7.5/10

Usability: 8/10

Camera: 8/1

Overall: 7.5/10

 

Huawei P9 Huawei P9
Huawei P9

RRP: R 12 999

Distributor: Mustek

Product page

Screen size: 5.2-inch

OS: Android

Storage: 32GB (expandable)

Water-resistant: No

Cameras: Front 8MP, Back 12MP (dual)

Weight: 144g

With the Huawei P9, the brand delivers a smartphone that’s thin, sleek and elegantly designed. Unfortunately, the device isn’t officially resistant to water or dust.

The P9 also doesn’t excel in the camera department since it lacks optical image stabilisation and can’t shoot video in 4K resolution. This is somewhat surprising, since Huawei markets the P9 as a device that should theoretically offer ground-breaking, dual-lens technology, co-engineered with Leica.

Moreover, screen content is not as comfortable to read in direct sunlight and battery life fails to impress. Performance, on the other hand, is almost as good as the Samsung Galaxy S7. As with all the other tested smartphones, the rear-located fingerprint reader does the job.

Screen quality: 6.5/10

Performance: 8/10

Battery life: 6.5/10

Design: 7.5/10

Usability: 7/10

Camera: 6.5/10

Overall: 6/5/10

 

In conclusion

After carefully testing these five high-end smartphones, four of which run on Android, Samsung’s Galaxy S7 (Edge) comes out on top. It features an outstanding screen, incredible battery life and impressive camera.

If you’re not into Samsung, but still want to stick to the Android platform, Sony’s Xperia XZ device is a great runner up. Although far from disappointing, battery life of LG’s V20 and Huawei’s P9 simply fail to impress. The same goes for the screen and camera quality of the P9. Anybody that isn’t keen on Android, for security and/or usability reasons, will find the iPhone 7 (Plus) to be the sleekest, fastest and most innovative iPhone to date and also Apple’s first to be water- and dust-resistant. Its camera is as impressive as Samsung’s counterpart, runs on the excellent iOS 10 operating system and delivers great stereo sound, but lacks the legacy 3.5mm audio jack.

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