Introduction, Design and Ergonomics
The original ASUS Eee Pad Transformer was a bit of an upset in the tablet market. Before its launch, there was no particular reason to believe that ASUS would be able to provide a better product than any of the many other PC manufacturers entering the Android tablet fray. Sure, I like most of the ASUS products that I’ve been able to review, and I believe they have some good engineers. But they also had no experience beyond a few Windows tablets and convertible tablets.
Yet they were successful. At the time I called the Transformer "the best Android tablet on the market today” and gave it with a Gold Award. Consumers apparently agreed, as it flew off shelves with such speed that ASUS has decided to debut a follow-up only half a year after the original hit the market.
Subject: Processors, Mobile | December 26, 2011 - 01:44 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: Intel, Medfield, Android, x86, SoC
Intel hopes that 2012 will finally be the year they see mainstream phones with Intel inside. Despite Intel's attempts to tell us otherwise for the past several generations, the upcoming Medfield design is the first truly serious attempt to enter the phone and tablet market currently dominated by the many ARM-based partners of phone manufacturers all over the world. A recent post over at Technology Review discussed the advantages that Medfield offers over previous Intel Atom-based designs with Steve Smith, Intel's VP of Architecture.
First shown at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this past September, a Medfield-based reference design has many believing in what some thought was impossible but what others thought was inevitable: Intel x86 cores in a phone that matters. Why the change from many in the analyst space? Medfield is the first option from Intel that is truly a single-chip solution, removing design space concerns and power consumption issues that previous Atom-architecture solutions were saddled with.
Intel showed Technology Review the Android-based reference phone running Gingerbread.
The phone prototype seen by Technology Review was similar in dimensions to the iPhone 4 but noticeably lighter, probably because the case was made with more plastic and less glass and metal. It was running the version of Google's operating system shipping with most Android phones today, known as Gingerbread; a newer version, Ice Cream Sandwich, was released by Google only about a month ago.
Intel has a lot of experience in the consumer markets though it took a shift inside the company to really put the focus on phones and tablets over netbooks and convertible-notebooks. At the recent showing not only did they have the reference design phone but also an iPad-like tablet device running Ice Cream Sandwich, another key to the consumer's dollar. And as you can clearly see in the diagram below, there is a lot of money being made that Intel wants in on. A LOT.
Source: Technology Review, IDC
Intel will also enjoy a process technology advantage over the competition with current Medfield SoCs built on the company's internal 32nm process and the upcoming 22nm technology promises even more power consumption advantanges. ARM designs are built at different foundries including Samsung and TSMC and while they are competitive, no one can keep up with Intel on this front.
Anandtech also had some interesting information to share from an investor conference earlier this month about the power consumption and performance levels of Medfield.
The diagram shows that power consumption on Medfield should be competitive with the current ARM-based SoC leaders in the market today. Areas like 3G standby, basic audio playback and video playback should be accomplished with minimal power draw in order to have battery life extended to at least current expectations. The performance graphs here on Browser Mark and "Graphics" are impressive as well though obviously we have a TON of missing information to really make the graph meaningful. Anand puts it well:
Barring any outright deception however, there seems to be potential in Medfield.
I tend to believe that Intel is too smart to misjudge a product to investors, but remember how impressive the initial performance results of Larrabee were for years?
I am hopeful and excited for Intel's mobility plans in 2012 as other information we have seen looks impressive. Let's see what CES has to offer.
Subject: Mobile | December 16, 2011 - 06:00 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: tegra, SoC, qualcomm, PowerVR, mobile, Android, adreno
Quite a few mobile device manufacturers are implementing graphics processors and image processors based on Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR technology. Popular licensees of Imagination Technologies PowerVR core patents include Intel, LG, Samsung, Sony, and Texas Instruments (a big one in regards to number of SoCs using PowerVR techs for mobile phones).
Interestingly, Qualcomm is not currently licensing the graphics processor portfolio that man other mobile OEMs license. Rather, Qualcomm is licensing the PowerVR display patents. The intellectual property features the PowerVR de-interlacing cores and de-judder purposed FRC (Frame Rate Conversion) core. The de-interlacing core(s) can do either “motion adaptive (MA) or motion compensated (MC) de-interlacing” as well as a few other algorithms to deliver smooth graphics. Further, the FRC cores take 24 FPS (frames per second) source material and outputs it as either 120 Hz or 240 Hz while applying image processing to keep the video looking smooth to the eye. The method for grabbing and extrapolating “extra” frames to take a 24 FPS video and display it on an LCD screen that refreshes at 120 Hz by displaying each one of those 24 frames five times every second involves a bit of math and algorithmic magic; a simplistic explanation can be read here.
It will be interesting to see how Qualcomm applies the image processing technology to their future SoCs (system on a chip) to entice manufacturers into going with them instead of competition like Texas Instruments or Nvidia’s Tegra chips. The Verge speculates that this Qualcomm and Imagination Technologies deal may be just the first step towards Qualcomm licensing more PowerVR tech (possibly) including the GPU portfolio. Whether Qualcomm will ditch their Adreno GPUs remains to be seen. If I had to guess, the SoC maker will invest in more PowerVR IP, but they will not completely abandon their Adreno graphics. Rather, they will continue developing next generation Adreno graphics for use in their SoCs while also integrating the useful and superior aspects of PowerVR graphics and display technologies. Another option may be to develop and sell both platforms (possibly with one being high end competition to Tegra and the other being for the rest of phones as competition to other low end, low power chips) to hedge their bets into the future of mobile SoCs which is a rapidly advancing industry where change and what is considered the top tech happens quickly.
Subject: Systems | December 15, 2011 - 04:44 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: x86, VIA, Nano, embedded, Android
Today low power X86 platform manufacturer Via Technologies announced Android operating system support with their embedded x86 motherboards and processors. Currently, the company is supporting Android on their EITX-3002 platform, with more options likely to come in the future. Via believes that running Android on X86 embedded systems presents the opportunity for low cost entertainment systems capable of playing back 1080p video in vehicles, planes, and kiosks.
Including the usually Android SDKs, Via has released a new SMART ETK (Embedded Tool Kit) that allows monitoring and control of peripherals. Applications of this include controlling lights or environmental systems in your home via a touchscreen enabled embedded home control center. In the video below, Via shows off Android running on their EITX-3002 platform and using a touchscreen panel connected to it to control an external light and fan.
The EITX-3002 is a motherboard based on the Em-ITX form factor. The boards is then paired with either a 1.2 GHz VIA Nano X2 E-Series or a 1.0 GHz Eden X2 dual core processor. In addition, a VIA VX900 MSP is located on the underside of the motherboard. This co-processor assists with the decoding HD video thanks to hardware acceleration. The VX900 MSP supports decoding MPEG-2, H.264, VC-1, and WMV9 codecs. The embedded platform itself is able to output to two independent displays and resolutions of 1920 x 1080. Fan-less enclosures can be used with this low power setup, and rear I/O includes HDMI, VGA, two Gigabit Ethernet, two COM ports, four USB 2.0, four USB 3.0, and audio jacks. Via will support the Windows 7, XP, Embedded Standard 2009, WES7, Debian Linux, and Android 2.2 operating systems.
There are already projects like AndroidX86 that allow users to use the Android OS on traditional PCs but not officially. This Via platform would be good for embedded systems and pairing it with Android is a good move. Especially now that many people are familiar with or have at least seen how the Android OS works, having a similar setup in vehicle and in-flight entertainment systems will make the UI all the more intuitive. Not to mention that the Android OS uses less resources than a traditional Windows installation which means power savings for end users. Whether Android will catch on or not for entertainment kiosks and car computers remains to be seen but it’s an interesting option for sure.
Subject: General Tech | December 1, 2011 - 02:23 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Lenovo, lephone, Android, windows phone
Lenovo is moving into BlackBerry's territory with several new mobile products, two phones and a tablet that can act as as phone. The first phone will be running an older version of Android and bears the unfortunate name of Lephone K2. The Inquirer reports that the other will be running Windows Phone OS though it would not be at all surprising if it ends up based on Win8. This may really hurt RIM as they are currently the choice of smartphone for enterprise users; these same users are likely using a Lenovo as their PC. With the already established place that Lenovo bears in the office, if they can create a decent phone that interacts with their Lenovo laptop or desktop, they could push RIM right out of the office.
"CHINESE HARDWARE VENDOR Lenovo has unveiled not one but two smartphones, the Lephone K2 and an unnamed Windows Phone 7.5 Mango device.
The Lephone K2 is the Android device and will come with Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread, not Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Details are very light on Windows alternative, apart from that it will run Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system and tip up in the second half of next year, according to PC Mag."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Toshiba to close several fabs @ SemiAccurate
- Win a new XFX Pro Black Edition 1250W PSU & HD6950 DD @ Kitguru
- We wish you a merry XPS'mass! Win a Dell XPS with OC3D
- We're giving away a couple of MSI graphics cards and motherboards @ The Tech Report
Introduction, Design and Ergonomics
The tablet market is starting to heat up. After a long period of dominance by the iPad and its long line of Android imitators, we have new competitors looking to spoil the tablet world order. On the high-end we have the incoming volley of buff Tegra 3 based products, and on the low end with have the Kindle Fire, a simple $199 tablet that seems to prefer that its users don’t think for a second about the hardware inside.
That’s actually a bit odd, because the hardware inside is at least competitive. Though priced $300 less than the cheapest iPad 2, the Fire offers a dual core processor at the same clock speed of 1 GHz. It also provides 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage, neither of which will blow away competitors, but all of which is competitive. While the 7” size of the Fire means there is simply less tablet to build, it’s impressive that Amazon has managed to cram reasonably impressive hardware into one of the cheapest Android tablets on the market today.
Hardware is only a small part of equation, however. Amazon really intends the Fire to be a portal to its world of services, which includes ebooks, streaming video, apps and much more. This is very much a walled garden, even more so than Apple’s iPad, and for it to work the spoils of the garden need to be damn good. Let’s see if $200 is really a good value given that users must buy into Amazon’s services as well.
Subject: General Tech | November 15, 2011 - 12:57 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: touchscreen, Android
Check out what MAKE:Blog found! A 65" tablet-like Android powered touch screen prototype from ARDIC Technology out of Turkey. It is still a prototype so it will not hit the market any time soon, nor does it have a price tag yet. The display uses a docked Android tablet for connectivity but once connected you interface solely through the large touchscreen. Watch the video for the biggest fruit ninja game you've ever seen.
"The folks at Ardic Technologies in Istanbul seem to have developed a prototype for the ultimate tablet user experience. Isn’t this what we all secretly wish our handsets and tablets would do out of the box? Didn’t you expect you’d be able to smoothly transition from mobile device to a massive touchscreen effortlessly, like ten years ago? In any case, if Ardic can get their device to market, they’ll have one of the nicer presentation tools out there. I imagine this would go well with some of the newer apps from Adobe and Autodesk."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- InAs membranes could compete with Si MOSFETs @ Nanotechweb
- ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2012 Review @ TechReviewSource
- World's stealthiest rootkit pushes DNS hijacking trojan @ The Register
- Intel implants cash register to help flog Ultrabooks @ The Register
- Intel marks 40 years of the 4004 microprocessor @ The Inquirer
- Ninjalane Podcast - Volt modding 8800 GTX Cost of being Competitive
Subject: Mobile | November 9, 2011 - 07:08 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Samsung, Infuse 4g, froyo, AT&T, Android
Just Delivered is a new section of PC Perspective where we share some of the goodies that pass through our labs that may or may not see a review, but are pretty cool none the less.
I've been rocking an aging Nokia N900 smart phone for quite some time now. It was a good phone but I felt that it was time to take advantage of the upgrade pricing, and pick up a new phone with better support and hardware. Fed Ex today dropped off a smart phone in this ever unassuming box. Let's hope the phone is shinier than the box!
After opening the box and taking out all of the components, I was left with quite a bit of kit. The phone in question is a Samsung Infuse 4G (for AT&T), and the box includes all the various retail odds and endsa that go with it. The Android smart phone is fairly thin, and although made of plastic it feels sturdy. Weighting in at 4.9 ounces, the phone resembles a small tablet with a massive 4.5" Super AMOLED+ capacitive multi-touch display with a resolution of 480 by 800 pixels. Powering the display is a single core Hummingbird processor running at 1.2 GHz, 512 MB of RAM, and 16 GB of internal storage via an internal microSD card. Unfortunately, the phone is only running Android 2.2 and Samsung is using their own TouchWiz UI on top of the OS. Despite that, the phone does still feel very snappy in terms of scrolling, bringing up menus, and transitioning between applications. I'll have to play around with it some more though.
Notable accessories Included in the box are a 1750 mAh battery, 2 GB MicroSD card (and SD card adapter), and wired headset as shown in the image below. Also a nice touch is a combination USB/AC charger and USB cable, which will be easier to manage than carrying around two chargers for my old phone (the AC charger and separate USB cable). The phone is capable of supporting up to a 32 GB microSDHC card for maximum storage.
As far as very first impressions go, I'm really liking the Samsung Infuse. Although the display is one of the largest on a phone I've ever used, the phone is surprisingly light. It doesn't hurt that the display is very sharp and the colors are great, either. Now excuse me while I run out and get a screen protector before I scratch this thing!
Subject: Mobile | November 9, 2011 - 01:00 AM | Matt Smith
Tagged: tegra 3, tegra, tablet, quad-core, kal-el, eee pad, asus, Android
ASUS Eee Pad Prime
Rumors have been swirling around the ASUS Prime tablet and dock, successors to the popular ASUS Eee Pad Transformer, for months. Today, many of those rumors can rest, as ASUS has taken the wraps off the tablet's official specifications.
The big story for enthusiasts is the tablet’s NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor. Provided that the product makes its anticipated December release (the exact date has yet to be announced), this will be the first tablet to hit the market with Tegra 3 as well as the first Android tablet to sport a quad-core. You can read some more details that Ryan discussed about Tegra 3 and its five (5?!?) cores, by checking out this post from September.
NVIDIA Kal-El / Tegra 3 Processor
As the follow-up to the Transformer, the Prime offers many of the same features including the keyboard dock. However, the Prime is improved across the board. The tablet is just 8.3 millimeters thin, making it the thinnest tablet on the market (the next thinnest is the 8.6mm Galaxy Tab 10.1, while the iPad 2 is 8.8mm). Weight has been reduced to 586 grams (1.29 lbs), down from 680. The rear-facing camera now sports an 8MP sensor, the battery in both the tablet and the optional dock is slightly larger, and base storage is now 32GB, with a 64GB model available as an optional upgrade. Even the display has been improved via a new brightness enhancement function that promises to make the tablet easier to use in sunlight.
Even the design has been upgraded. Unlike the Transformer, which has a plastic back, the Prime has a “spun metallic” finish. It will be available in amethyst gray and champagne gold.
The battery tests from ASUS put the Prime at 12 hours of life on its own and 18 hours with the keyboard dock while playing back 720p video with all ports enabled and the screen brightness at 60 nits.
Despite all of these improvements, the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer will not be going away. In fact, it will be remaining at its current price. Instead, the Prime is entering the market as a “premium” product built to compete directly with the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1. The base Prime model with 32GBs of storage is $499, while the 64GB model is $599. As with the original, purchasing the optional keyboard dock will set you back another $149.
ASUS claims that the Prime will in fact ship with Android 3.2 in its initial release with an over-the-air updated to 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) as soon as it has been "optimized, tested and approved". They weren't willing to put a date or time frame on that release but they are planning on using the 4.0 OS revision at the launch event coming in December; that seems to indicate to us we may have it in time for CES in January 2012.
When PC Perspective reviewed the Transformer, I called it “the best Android tablet on the market today.” The thinner, lighter, more powerful Prime should be a significant improvement to an already excellent product. My only concerns were with the dock itself, which was sometimes finicky and added a fair amount of bulk. It’ll be interesting to see if the Prime can address those concerns.
Subject: General Tech | November 1, 2011 - 08:25 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows 8, tablet, software, kal-el, hardware, Android
With Asus’ previous tablets being a success, the company has decided to push forward with four new tablets that are slated to debut next year. The new tablets will join the ranks of the Transformer and soon to be released Transformer Prime tablets under the Asus Eee Pad lineup. Of the four new devices, two tablets will be running Google’s Android OS (Operating System) while the remaining two tablets will run Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS.
The two tablets running Android are slated for release in the first quarter of 2012. While Asus has not released any specific hardware specifications, they will likely be powered by the quad core Nvidia Kal-El ARM processor like the upcoming Asus Transformer Prime (or the Kal-El’s successor).
On the other hand, quarter 3 of 2012 will see the release of two tablets running Windows 8. Interestingly, Intel’s Ivy Bridge processors are also supposed to launch in 2012, which would make for a nice match of technology. Whether we'll see Ivy Bridge powered tablets; however, will depend on how soon Ivy Bridge launches and how quickly Asus can turn around and roll out a product designed around it.
The marketing speak in the above slides indicates that at least the marketing department is excited about the prospect of what they have dubbed hero products. They are striving to win mind share and achieve a “perfect” product. Whether they will achieve that or not remains to be seen; however, having more Windows 8 tablets isn’t a bad thing! More information can be had here.
Are you still holding out for your “perfect” tablet, and if so what are you looking/waiting to see from a tablet?