Want the best and the latest? Check out msafiri’s guide to the most desirable tech brands in Africa
While Amazon still may not operate on the continent, it’s never been easier to get hold of the best brands, whatever you’re into and whatever country you live in. Worldwide shipping is painless and (almost) affordable, and the last letter of EMEA has never been a bigger focus for the companies and manufacturers trying to make an impact on a global scale. From Egypt to South Africa the shop shelves are stuffed with the latest goods in every product category. Not sure where to start? Read on for inspiration…
Smartphone top pick
Apple iPhone 6s
Apple’s iconic smartphone hardly needs an introduction, but for those who have dismissed it in the past – too pricy, too closed off, too small – it’s certainly worth reconsidering. It won’t come cheap, but it’s important to understand you’re no longer just paying for cachet, though there will always be that. No, the iPhone 6s is a truly staggering technical achievement, marrying Apple’s beautiful design and industrial build with some of the best features that once only rival Samsung could offer, including a larger 4.7-inch display and a 12-megapixel camera that is absolutely best-in-class. There is no better smartphone on the planet.
Budget alternative: Safaricom Neon Smartphone
It won’t run iOS, but this Android smartphone supports all the most popular apps and services, from WhatsApp to Twitter, and at a fraction of the price of an iPhone.
Laptop top pick
Acer Aspire Switch 10
Not sure if you need a tablet or a laptop, or if you can afford both? Actually, you can: the Aspire Switch 10 is all about having your cake and eating it – just don’t smear it on the touchscreen. It’s a 10-inch Windows tablet that bolts onto a keyboard section for when you need to power through a report or play a game. Its panel is a super sharp 1080p full HD resolution so it’s perfect for playing games and watching movies, but it’s also highly portable given its size (just 8.9mm – as thin as a tablet), so you can slip it in a shoulder bag to work (or play) on the commute. Happily it runs Windows 8.1, so you can update to Windows 10 for no extra cost at all.
Budget alternative: Proline W945LU Smart 14” Notebook
It may not turn into a tablet, but this accomplished 14-inch laptop runs the brand new Windows 10 operating system out of the box.
Wearable top pick
Forget smartwatches for now – as cool as they may look, they’re still not actually smart just yet. No, the best brand for your wrist right now is a startup from Silicon Valley, Fitbit, that specialises in activity trackers for everyday use, not running watches for guilting you into getting fit. Its colourful, rugged devices are easy to wear and log your steps all day long, encouraging you to walk further each day and stay in shape. Better yet, this edition acts as a watch and even tracks your sleep. Fitbit does higher models that include GPS and heart rate tracking, but for day to day step counting and replacing your fading Casio wristwatch, the mid-range Charge is our favourite.
Budget alternative: Fitbit Zip
It won’t track your sleep or act as a watch unless you know how to fashion your own strap out of leather, but the company’s entry level model still does a fantastic job of tracking steps still, and sports an astounding battery life. Just remember to take it off before you wash your clothes.
Tablet top pick
Lenovo ThinkPad 10
If you’re sure you can cope without a keyboard (leave the email at work?) then the Lenovo ThinkPad 10 is for you. With a 10.1-inch display, it’s approximately the same size as an iPad Air 2 but is capable of even more, since it can run full Windows you can open up any app or game you want. Yet it still carries the brand clout of the ThinkPad line of legendary laptop computers from IBM and Lenovo. This tablet computer more than lives up to the name, with a hearty 10-hour battery as well as solid 2MP and 8MP cameras for taking pictures and video chatting with family.
Budget alternative: Samsung Tab 3.0 Lite 7.0 3G
This seven-inch tablet runs Android rather than Windows or iOS, but can muster many of the same apps and services, and because there’s 3G onboard, you can use it to get online wherever there’s a phone signal.
TV top pick
Samsung Series 6 Curved Screen Smart TV
Samsung doesn’t just make cheap tech, as it is known for: often it makes the best too. The South Korean company is one of the best display manufacturers in the world right now, not just pushing but positively shoving the envelope with innovations to improve your viewing experience. Its latest smart TV is available in South Africa, with an LED-backlit, curved display to further immerse you in your Blu-ray movies and HD TV as well as deliver incredible, colour reproduction. Because it’s smart you can connect it to the Internet and chat with friends using Skype, right from the comfort of your sofa.
Budget alternative: JVC 28-inch LED TV
JVC may not do smart TVs quite like Samsung, but the venerable Japanese AV brand knows how to put together a solid, affordable TV with great picture quality.
E-reader top pick
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 3G
While online shopping giant Amazon may not run its own African portals just yet, its hit line of e-readers is still available to purchase on the continent through websites and department stores. The e-tailer may not have invented the product category, but its Kindle line has redefined it, continually iterating by working in touchscreen tech that gives no glare in sunlight (crucial for a paper-like experience), 3G for downloading books and magazines wherever you are and even a backlight for reading in the dark, on planes or just in bed while your significant other sleeps. The Paperwhite is in a class of its own when it comes to e-books.
Budget alternative: Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi
A book is a book is a book, right? If you don’t need online connectivity to download a digital copy of today’s newspaper, or a nightlight for reading in bed, Amazon’s entry-level e-reader will let you enjoy The Life Of Pi all the same.
Headphones top pick
Bowers and Wilkins P3 Headphones
Apple may have forked out billions of dollars to purchase the company behind the instantly recognisable Beats headphones, but as good as Beats By Dre headphones may look, they don’t provide the sonic quality of some other Western brands. The Bowers and Wilkins P3 cans are another story (or should that be audio book?): as well as holding the title of surely the most attractive folding headphones ever, B&W’s classy aluminium over-ears provide serious hi-fi, thanks to its two solid 30mm drive units, and comfort with its cushioned band and padded speakers.
Budget alternative: Skullcandy Hesh 2
Want that Beats brand vibe on the cheap? Skullcandy offers the same comfort, audio quality and colour scheme, all for the price of Beats’ in-ear offerings.
Cooking top pick
Redmond Multi-cooker RMC-M90E
Too impatient to learn to cook, but want the health benefits of a home-cooked diet? Try the multicooker. Not only can it fry and steam with easy auto settings, it can even bake bread or whip up delicious desserts like yoghurts, ice-creams and sorbets. Just follow the easy steps in the accompanying cookery book. Redmond’s products are available across Africa from the company’s website so you won’t have any trouble getting hold of one. Your waistline on the other hand…
Drinking top pick
DeLonghi ESAM 6900.M
We’ve seen a revolution in coffee making over the past few years, but of the big manufacturers – Keurig, Nespresso – only DeLonghi has a big presence in Africa. Still, it’s the brand we’d go to anyway: this home coffee maker might cost more than a loan to open a decent coffee shop in most cities, but it’s worth the cost. This classy device produces the most beautiful looking lattes and cappuccinos you will ever see, perfectly layered, and you can tailor your drinks to your taste via the built-in touchscreen. The only downside – beyond the loan you’ll need to get one – is that the drinks look so good you’ll need to replace all your mugs with fancy glasses, just to enjoy the view.
Budget alternative: Russell Hobbs – 15 Bar Espresso/Cappuccino Maker
A tenth of the price, but by no means a tenth of the taste. No touchscreen, but who cares when you’re getting your daily caffeine shot in minutes?
Home audio top pick
Sony BDVE4100 sound system
Here’s the thing about top brand TVs in the age of flatscreen: even the best don’t deliver great sound quality. It’s not entirely surprising: in the quest for thinner and thinner profiles, it becomes physically impossible. You need a proper sound system to go with your new TV to make the most of movies and Blu-rays. Sony’s at the top of the pile right now with this excellent 5.1 surround sound system that packs in a subwoofer as well as a 3D- capable Blu-ray player with Wi-Fi connectivity for a smart TV set-up, even if your TV doesn’t have an Internet connection. Turn up the volume and enjoy the action all around you, but be sure to apologise to the neighbours first.
Budget alternative: G666 5.1 surround system
Brand and quality are always important in home audio, but so too is positioning. We’ll pick a cheap five-part sound setup over one fancy soundbase or bar, just for the immersion. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that GLD provides some decent bang for your buck on top of that with the G666.
Get imports online
Can’t find the brands you’re after in store? Wherever you call home, there’s a good chance you can get whatever you need shipped right to your door. Online retailers like Amazon offer global shipping on many products these days, but if you can’t find what you need there, there are a growing number of sites that let you order the best international brands, even if vendors themselves won’t. Here are just a few of them:
Set up as a way for British expats to order comfort foods and other everyday essentials from the UK high street, ukdukas is a great way for any Kenyan to place orders at chains like Argos, H&M and Topman.
Bundlebox.com (South Africa)
Want to save on shipping from the USA? This clever service from several ex-Google employees creates your own US postal address – you can then order all the American products you need while enjoying cheap shipping, and once they’ve all arrived, you simply pay shipping on one dispatch that combines them all. A great way to save money on goods as well as on expensive import tax.
The same deal as ukdukas (see above), but shipping goods straight to Nigeria. Everything from eBay to John Lewis is covered, so you’ll be absolutely spoiled for choice.