Smartphone manufacturers are finding it harder and harder to stand out from the crowd.

Mobile phone shipments are down according to CSS Insights and the IDC and the former suggests that moving into the future, smaller brands are going to have a harder time competing against big brands such as Samsung and Apple.

So while the rand is still healthy(ish) and smaller brands are still around, now might be the best time to get your loved one a Christmas gift that will last them longer than Christmas leftovers.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

R12 999

Get it from: Takealot.co.za

We are yet to find a phone as impressive as Samsung’s 2017 flagship phone.

We’re including both iterations of the S7 because inside, the phones are the same. That said we did find the edges of the Edge a bit of a nuisance for those with larger hands. However, the downward curving display does offer more in that you can quickly access apps or edit screenshots with a swipe to the left.

Staying on the display for a moment, the always on display is convenient and not as frivolous as you might think. A quick glance rather than a button press gives you all the information you need. You can even customise the display to show more than just the time or less than email and text message notifications.

In terms of raw performance the S7 Edge is a beast. To date only the LG G5 has come close to it in the Antutu Benchmark where it scored 128 205. This is made possible by the Exynos 8890 octa-core processor. The configuration of the CPU with four cores at 2.5GHz and another four at 1.6GHz means you get the performance you need, when you need it without eating through battery power.

Speaking of which, the 3 600mAh battery is great and will last 10 hours with the WiFi on, screen brightness at 100% and a movie playing on loop.
It’s a great handset, even if it is quite pricey at R12 999.

Redmi Note 2

R2 499

Get it from: Mobile in Africa

We’ve been I love with the Redmi Note 2 ever since we got our hands on it earlier this year.

Despite the fact that it’s made of plastic and glass, it has a quality premium feel to it. The display is a 5.5inch Full HD (1 920×1 080) affair which is great, especially for a smartphone that retails for under R3 000.

Performance-wise the handset’s Mediatek 1.95Ghz processor and 2GB of RAM keep Android humming along at a good pace, and is paired with 16GB of internal storage. While that’s not really a lot of storage, you can always add a microSD card (up to 32GB) for extra capacity.

 

The camera at the rear is a decent 13MP snapper with an f2.2 aperture for decent photos at night. As is often the case with a cheap phone there is a trade-off, but in this particular case that trade-off is a 5MP front-facing camera, which is still quite good.
The battery is great as well offering up to nine hours of use depending on how hard you push the phone.

Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 2 is serious value for money and offers performance well above its price range. If you’re looking for a great little phone that packs a massive punch this should be your choice.

Huawei P9

R12 899

Get it from: Takealot.co.za

The stand-out feature of the latest flagship from the China-based manufacturer is not one, but two camera sensors.

The lenses on the snapper are designed in partnership with Leica and the marriage with the Sony 12MP IMX286 sensor results in astounding photos. You are able to customise the shot by tweaking shutter speed, exposure and the focal length.

This opens up the world of photography to a newcomer without them needing to get to grips with an expensive DSLR. With that having been said this is not a DSLR replacement, it’s just a really good camera on an average smartphone.

That segues nicely into our thoughts on the P9’s performance. To be frank it’s middling and hardly competes with the likes of the S7 Edge. For instance the P9 is only marginally better performance wise to last years P8, despite a new shiny Kirin 955 chipset and an octa-core CPU (Cortex-A72 @2.3GHz and Cortex A53 @ 1.8GHz).

There is a noticeable slow-down when running several intense apps such as YouTube and Google Maps and with less intense apps the P9 just doesn’t feel up to the task. It isn’t bad mind you, just not as fast as one would expect a flagship smartphone to be.

The 3000mAh battery will last a day and run out just before your mid-morning tea-break on the second day. Thankfully you can charge the battery up in two hours.

The P9 does photography well but not much else, but if all you want is a great camera that fits in your pocket, the P9 is worth a look.

HiSense Infinity KO

R3 999

Get it from: Cellucity

At under R4 000 the Hisense KO is great value for money and if you are prone to dropping your handset you’ll find the KO quite rugged.
The handset is covered in rubber, Corning Gorilla Glass 4 and aluminium and it can take a beating. If you’re the kind of person that dives into the pool without a second thought the KO has you covered. The handset has an Ingress Protection rating of 67 which means it’s both dust proof and water resistant up to a depth of one metre.

In terms of performance, while it isn’t bad, the KO it isn’t fantastic either. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 415 chipset plays host to a 1.36GHz octa-core processor which performs well in a variety of tasks but don’t expect it to out perform a more expensive phone.

The battery in the KO will last you through ten hours of continuous use (such as watching your favourite movie) and just over a day and a half with you checking normal everyday use (WiFi on, screen brightness at 100% and mobile data switched on)

By the sum of its parts the KO is a good little phone and it gets bonus points for being able to take a kicking.

CAT S60

R12 999

Get it from: Cellucity

If seeing your phone survive a fall impresses you, then you will find a lot to love about the Cat S60.

This is one incredibly rugged phone: it’s shockproof and covered in carbon fibre and damage-resistant plastic. The phone was developed around the MIL-STD-810G standard, which tests how equipment fares in various environmental conditions such as temperature shock, humidity and rain. What’s more is that it will survive a fall from 1.8m.

The stand out feature however is the FLIR thermal camera, which can measure the temperature in the environment. Additional software allows users to compile reports which place the thermal image and the regular image side by side, perfect for the engineer in the field.

As far as specifications go the octa-core Cortex A-53 CPU (four cores @1.5GHz and four more @1.2GHz) does well, even if it isn’t quite as powerful as other flagship smartphones. Depending on how you use the handset you can squeeze two days of life from the Cat S60’s 3 800mAh battery.

That said, the Cat S60 is designed to offer something not many other manufacturers can: a thermal camera and a body designed to take all kinds of abuse.

All prices quoted are correct at time of writing but are subject to change

[Main Image – CC BY 2.0 asenat29]