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North Korea's new smartphone: faster, pricier, & insulated from outside networks

[As Heard in North Korea]
Kim Ji Seung  |  2017-06-22 14:18

"As Heard in North Korea" articles contain radio programming content broadcast by Unification Media Group [UMG], an independent multimedia consortium targeting North Korean citizens.


According to a January announcement from Egyptian telecom company Orascom, there are 3.7 million phone subscribers in North Korea. It has now become commonplace for North Koreans to use cellphones to exchange information about the market with each other.

Smartphones have also become more and more popular in recent years. Reporter Kim Jiseung has analyzed some of the newest models available. 
 
Daily NK has recently managed to acquire the Pyongyang model smartphone. North Korea also produces the Arirang and Jindallae models as well. 
 
Smartphones have been popular in North Korea since about 2015. Compared to flip phones, they are lighter, with bigger screens that comfortably show videos. Demand for the phones has also risen among the residents thanks to their convenience and diverse functionality. 
 
Some are noting that the new models reveal the countrys leap in technological capacity, while others have remarked that the producers have merely hobbled together parts from China and other outside countries. When compared to South Korean models, their shortcomings are particularly apparent. 
 
Can you give us a breakdown of the model in comparison to South Korean phones? 
 
For this test, I compared the latest models coming out of the North and South. As a standard South Korean phone, Samsungs Galaxy S8 is light and boasts a large screen. The screens curved edges make it easier to enjoy videos for hours on end.    
 
The Pyongyang model is similar in size and also has a diverse range of features. For example, the phone is an effective e-book reader and video viewer.  
 
There are doubts however about the performance of the phones features. The South Korean phone responds immediately to touch, while the Pyongyang tends to lag. 
 
Can you tell us about the screen resolution and the camera? 
 
This is one of the biggest differences between the Galaxy S8 and Pyongyang. The Galaxy S8 has a screen resolution that can compete with top-of-the-line cameras. There is an autofocus feature, and the pictures come out vibrant and crisp. Different modes - like portrait, scenery, and food - make it easier for the photographer to adjust the camera to the environment. The brightness is also adjustable, making it easier to shoot pictures in the dark. 

On the other hand, while the Pyongyang also has an autofocus feature, the cameras are low resolution (front 200 pixels, back 800 pixels). There are four modes - normal, filter, background, and face-correction, but the quality is so low that there are hardly any differences between them.  
 
Because the screen quality is significantly lower than the Galaxy, it is also difficult to read for an extended period of time on the device. 

Phones are a great source of both amusement and information. Can you compare the two based on this criteria? 
 
This is where the Pyongyang really falls short. The Galaxy can be used to download all manner of applications and software from the internet, but the Pyongyang cannot be used to download extra content. Users can only enjoy the content that the authorities have deemed appropriate. 
 
Among the programs available on the Pyongyang phone are: Joson Encyclopedia, Joson-Language Dictionary, Baektu Mountain Anthology 123, foreign-language dictionaries, and applications for specific academic subjects like medical studies.  
 
In the past, the North Korean dictionary was 30 volumes long and extremely difficult to use, so this can be seen as a huge leap in convenience. However, the fact that you cannot connect to the internet severely restricts the functionality and usefulness of the phone. Other than the listed applications, there are also a few different card games that the residents enjoy. 
 
Were there any other features you could compare? 
 
We looked into the all-important battery. This is especially important in North Korea, where power outages are a regular occurrence. The Pyongyang has 4,000 milliamp hours, which is more than the Galaxys 3,000. The extra battery life is an effort to compensate for the large, power-sucking screen, which requires much more energy than a flip phone. 
 
Analysts believe that the Galaxy S8s battery has been reduced with an eye towards safety. 
 
The weight of the two phones is also quite different. The Pyongyang tips the scales at 199g, while the Galaxy weighs about 155g. The South Korean model is designed to be light and user friendly. 

*Edited by Lee Farrand

 
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2017.12.14
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