Motorola has released an updated version of their low-cost Moto E smartphone for 2015, adding faster hardware and LTE support to an unlocked device with an unsubsidized retail of just $149. In this review we'll examine this new phone to find out if there are any significant limitations given its bargain price.
There has been a trend toward affordability with smartphone pricing that accelerated in 2014 and has continued its pace to start this year. Of course expensive flagships still exist at their $500+ unsubsidized retail prices, but is the advantage of such a device worth the price premium? In most cases a customer in a retail space would be naturally drawn to the more expensive phones on display with their large, sharp screens and thin designs that just look better by comparison. To get the latest and greatest the longstanding $500 - $700 unsubsidized cost of popular smartphones have made 2-year contract pricing a part of life for many, with contract offers and programs allowing users to lease or finance phones positioned as attractive alternatives to the high initial price. And while these high-end options can certainly reward the additional cost, there are rapidly diminishing returns on investment once we venture past the $200 mark with a mobile device. So it’s this bottom $200 of the full-price phone market which is so interesting not just to myself, but to the future of smartphones as they become the commodity devices that the so-called “feature phones” once were.
One of the companies at the forefront of a lower-cost approach to smartphones is Motorola, now independent from Google after Motorola Mobility was sold to Lenovo in October of 2014. A year before the sale Motorola had released a low-cost smartphone called the Moto G, an interesting product which ran stock Android for a fraction of the cost of a Google Play edition or even Nexus device; though it was underpowered with decidedly low-end specs. After a redesign in 2014, however, the 2nd edition Moto G became a much more compelling option, offering a unique combination of low price, respectable hardware, a stock Android experience, and Motorola’s now trademark design language, to a market drowning in bloated MSRPs. There was just one problem: while the 2014 Moto G had solid performance and had (quite importantly) moved larger 5-inch screen with a higher 720x1280 resolution IPS panel, there was still no LTE support. Selling without a contract for just $179 unlocked made the lack of LTE at least understandable, but as carrier technology has matured the prevalence of LTE has made it an essential part of future devices - especially in 2015. Admittedly 3G data speeds are fast enough for many people, but the structure of the modern mobile data plan often leaves that extra speed on the table if one’s device doesn’t support LTE.
Subject: General Tech | March 2, 2015 - 01:49 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: SoFIA, silvermont, modem, LTE, Intel, Cherry Trail, atom x7, atom x5, atom x3, 7260
With MWC in full swing Intel showed off their mobile silicon to Ryan and to The Tech Report who compiled complete specifications of the Cherry Trail based Atom x5-8300 and 8500 as well as the x7-8700. All three of these chips will have an Intel designed XMM 7260 LTE modem as well as WiFi and NFC connectivity with the X7 also featuring Intel WiGig. You can also expect RealSense, True Key facial recognition and Pro Wireless Display to send secure wireless video to compatible displays for meetings. Check out the full list of stats here.
"Intel says the dual-core Atom x3-C3130 is shipping now, while the quad-core Atom x3-C3230RK is coming later in the first half of the year. The LTE-infused Atom x3-C3440 will follow in the second half. In all, the chipmaker names 19 partners on board with the Atom x3 rollout, including Asus, Compal, Foxconn, Pegatron, Weibu, and Wistron."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- News: The TR Podcast 171: Nvidia takes heat, Carrizo runs cool, and Fractal stays quiet
- Seagate NAS owners: hide it behind a firewall. Fast. @ The Register
- The Samsung Galaxy S6 & Galaxy S6 Edge Unpacked Event @ Tech ARP
- MWC: Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge arrive with metal redesign and QHD screens @ The Inquirer
- Acer enters Windows Phone fray with cheap Liquid M220 mobe @ The Register
- Microsoft Swarms all over Docker Machines @ The Register
SoFIA, Cherry Trail Make Debuts
Mobile World Congress is traditionally dominated by Samsung, Qualcomm, HTC, and others yet Intel continues to make in-roads into the mobile market. Though the company has admittedly lost a lot of money during this growing process, Intel pushes forward with today's announcement of a trio of new processor lines that keep the Atom brand. The Atom x3, the Atom x5, and the Atom x7 will be the company's answer in 2015 for a wide range of products, starting at the sub-$75 phone market and stretching up to ~$400 tablets and all-in-ones.
There are some significant differences in these Atom processors, more than the naming scheme might indicate.
Intel Atom x3 SoFIA Processor
For years now we have questioned Intel's capability to develop a processor that could fit inside the thermal envelope that is required for a smartphone while also offering performance comparable to Qualcomm, MediaTek, and others. It seemed that the x86 architecture was a weight around Intel's ankles rather than a float lifting it up. Intel's answer was the development of SoFIA, (S)mart (o)r (F)eature phone with (I)ntel (A)rchitecture. The project started about 2 years ago leading to product announcements finally reaching us today. SoFIA parts are "designed for budget smartphones; SoFIA is set to give Qualcomm and MediaTek a run for their money in this rapidly growing part of the market."
The SoFIA processors are based on the same Silvermont architecture as the current generation of Atom processors, but they are more tuned for power efficiency. Originally planned to be a dual-core only option, Intel has actually built both dual-core and quad-core variants that will pair with varying modem options to create a combination that best fit target price points and markets. Intel has partnered with RockChip for these designs, even though the architecture is completely IA/x86 based. Production will be done on a 28nm process technology at an unnamed vendor, though you can expect that to mean TSMC. This allows RockChip access to the designs, to help accelerate development, and to release them into the key markets that Intel is targeting.
New Features and Specifications
It is increasingly obvious that in the high end smartphone and tablet market, much like we saw occur over the last several years in the PC space, consumers are becoming more concerned with features and experiences than just raw specifications. There is still plenty to drool over when looking at and talking about 4K screens in the palm of your hand, octa-core processors and mobile SoC GPUs measuring performance in hundreds of GFLOPS, but at the end of the day the vast majority of consumers want something that does something to “wow” them.
As a result, device manufacturers and SoC vendors are shifting priorities for performance, features and how those are presented both the public and to the media. Take this week’s Qualcomm event in San Diego where a team of VPs, PR personnel and engineers walked me through the new Snapdragon 810 processor. Rather than showing slide after slide of comparative performance numbers to the competition, I was shown room after room of demos. Wi-Fi, LTE, 4K capture and playback, gaming capability, thermals, antennae modifications, etc. The goal is showcase the experience of the entire platform – something that Qualcomm has been providing for longer than just about anyone in this business, while educating consumers on the need for balance too.
As a 15-year veteran of the hardware space my first reaction here couldn’t have been scripted any more precisely: a company that doesn’t show performance numbers has something to hide. But I was given time with a reference platform featuring the Snapdragon 810 processor in a tablet form-factor and the results show impressive increases over the 801 and 805 processors from the previous family. Rumors of the chips heat issues seem overblown, but that part will be hard to prove for sure until we get retail hardware in our hands to confirm.
Today’s story will outline the primary feature changes of the Snapdragon 810 SoC, though there was so much detail presented at the event with such a short window of time for writing that I definitely won’t be able to get to it all. I will follow up the gory specification details with performance results compared to a wide array of other tablets and smartphones to provide some context to where 810 stands in the market.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | January 5, 2015 - 03:00 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: CES, smartphone, p90, LTE, Lenovo, Intel, ces 2015, atom z3560
Unveiled today at CES, the Lenovo P90 is the first smartphone to use Intel's latest Atom Z3560 processor and 5-mode XMM 7262 modem. The smartphone pairs the high end hardware with a colorful body that weighs 156g and is a mere 8.5mm thick.
The Lenovo P90 brings Intel back to the Lenovo smartphone family following a year dominated by smartphones powered by MediaTek and Qualcomm SoCs. Unfortunately, like the K900 that came before it, the P90 will not be available in the United States. Now that I've crushed the dreams of some US readers...
On the outside, the P90 looks to be your average roughly rectangular smartphone with curved edges. Lenovo does manage to spice things up a bit by offering it in Lava Red in addition to Pearl White and Onyx Black. A large 5.5" 1920x1080 display dominates the front of the device. A 5 megapixel front facing camera sits above the display and a 13MP camera with flash and optical image stabilization (OIS) sits on the back.
The Lenovo P90 is powered by a 64-bit quad core Intel Atom Z3560 clocked at 1.83 GHz paired with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal flash storage. Lenovo is using the Intel XMM 7262 modem for cellular connectivity which is LTE capable and supports data speeds of up to 150 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload (obviously, dependent on carrier support, congestion, and signal strength, et al). A large 4,000mAh battery powers the P90.
Unlike the Vibe X2 Pro, the Intel-Powered P90 will ship with Android 4.4 KitKat. Obviously, the Atom-powered phone will have to use binary translation for many apps that are not available natively in x86-64, but the Z3560 should be plenty of hardware to handle that overhead even with the alleged 20%-40% performance hit.
The Lenovo P90 will be available in February for $369. It will hit China and Europe but not this side of the pond.
Are you interested in an Intel-powered smartphone? Do you care what the SoC is, or do you just want something with enough oomph to run your applications? I do wish Intel would be more aggressive in getting its SoCs into phones that will be available here, if only for more competition.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | September 11, 2014 - 06:27 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: qualcomm, snapdragon 210, snapdragon, LTE, cheap tablet
The Snapdragon 210 was recently announced by Qualcomm to be an SoC for cheap, sub-$100 tablets and mobile phones. With it, the company aims to bring LTE connectivity to that market segment, including Dual SIM support. It will be manufactured on the 28nm process, with up to four ARM CPU cores and a Qualcomm Adreno 304 GPU.
According to Qualcomm, the SoC can decode 1080p video. It will also be able to manage cameras with up to 8 megapixels of resolution, including HDR, autofocus, auto white balance, and auto exposure. Let's be honest, you will not really get much more than that for a sub-$100 device.
The Snapdragon 210 has been given Quick Charge 2.0, normally reserved for the 400-line and up, refill the battery quickly when connected to a Quick Charge 2.0-supporting charger (ex: the Motorola Turbo Charger). Quick Charge 1.0 worked by optimizing how energy was delivered to the battery through a specification. Quick Charge 2.0 does the same, just with 60 watts of power (!!). For reference, the USB standard defines 2.5W, which is 5V at 0.5A, although the specification is regularly extended to 5 or 10 watts.
Devices featuring the Snapdragon 210 are expected for the first half of 2015.
Subject: General Tech | July 23, 2014 - 01:40 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xiaomi, snapdragon 801, smartphone, mobile, LTE, Android 4.4.2
Yesterday, Xiaomi revealed a powerful smartphone called the Mi4 that looks to give the unlocked OnePlus One a run for its money. The new smartphone is launching first in China with an international version coming in the future.
The Xiaomi Mi4 features a 5" 1080p IPS LCD display, 13MP rear camera, and 8MP webcam. A metal band surrounds the outside edges of the phone while a stainless steel frame adds rigidity and protection for the internal hardware. The other bits of the case are plastic, however likely due to weight and signal reception concerns. There is a removable back cover that is available in several different designs and colors. The Mi4 is slightly bulkier than its predecessor at 0.35-inches thick and 149 grams.
Internally, the Mi4 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC with four Krait 400 CPU cores clocked at 2.5GHz and an Adreno 330 GPU. Further, the smartphone features 3GB of RAM and either 16GB or 64GB of internal storage. It is powered by a 3,080 mAh battery which should provide ample battery life. Wireless connectivity includes dual band 802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, 3G, and LTE. The WCDMA version of the smartphone will be available first with a CDMA version coming next month, and a 4G LTE capable device coming in September.
The smartphone runs Android 4.4.2 with a highly customized MIUI5 user interface. An updated version of the UI, called MIUI6 is reportedly coming in August, but it is unclear how soon Mi4 users can expect an upgrade.
The Xiaomi Mi4 will be available on July 29 for 1,999 Yuan ($322 USD) for the 16GB version and 2,499 Yuan ($403) for the 64GB version. Initially, it will be 3G only, but a 4G LTE capable version of the smartphone is coming in September (presumably for the same price). Even further out, an unlocked international version is said to be available for purchase in the future.
In all, the Mi4 looks to be a decent phone with enough design tweaks and hardware oomph to give existing high end smartphones a run for their money. You do sacrifice micro SD card support and stock Android, but if you can live with that and are in the target market (or can wait for an international version) it is worth keeping an eye on!
Subject: Mobile | April 8, 2014 - 07:47 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: SoC, snapdragon, qualcomm, LTE, ARMv8, adreno, 64-bit
Qualcomm has announced two new flagship 64-bit SoCs with the Snapdragon 808 and Snapdragon 810. The new chips will begin sampling later this year and should start showing up in high end smartphones towards the second half of 2015. The new 800-series parts join the previously announced mid-range Snapdragon 610 and 615 which are also 64-bit ARMv8 parts.
The Snapdragon 810 is Qualcomm's new flagship processor. The chip features four ARM Cortex A57 cores and four Cortex A53 cores in a big.LITTLE configuration, an Adreno 430 GPU, and support for Category 6 LTE (up to 300 Mbps downloads) and LPDDR4 memory. This flagship part uses the 64-bit ARMv8 ISA. The new Adreno 430 GPU integrated in the SoC is reportedly 30% faster than the Adreno 420 GPU in the Snapdragon 805 processor.
In addition to the flagship part, Qualcomm is also releasing the Snapdragon 808 which pairs two Cortex A57 CPU cores and four Cortex A53 CPU cores in a big.LITTLE configuration with an Adreno 418 (approximately 20% faster than the popular Adreno 320) GPU. This chip supports LPDDR3 memory and Qualcomm's new Category 6 LTE modem.
Both the 808 and 810 have Adreno GPUs which support OpenGL ES 3.1. The new chips support a slew of wireless I/O including Categrory 6 LTE, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, and NFC.
Qualcomm is reportedly planning to produce these SoCs on a 20nm process. For reference, the mid-range 64-bit Snapdragon 610 and 615 use a 28nm LP manufacturing process. The new 20nm process (presumably from TSMC) should enable improved battery life and clockspeed headroom on the flagship parts. Exactly how big the mentioned gains will be will depend on the specific manufacturing process, with smaller gains from a bulk/planar process shrink or greater improvements coming from more advanced methods such as FD-SOI if the new chip on a 20nm process is the same transistor count as one on a 28nm process (which is being used in existing chips).
The 808 and 810 parts are the new high-end 64-bit chips which will effectively supplant the 32-bit Snapdragon 805 which is a marginal update over the Snapdragon 800. The naming conventions and product lineups are getting a bit crazy here, but suffice it to say that the 808 and 810 are the effective successors to the 800 while the 805 is a stop-gap upgrade while Qualcomm moves to 64-bit ARMv8 and secures manufacturing for the new chips which should be slightly faster CPU-wise, notably faster GPU-wise and more capable with the faster cellular modem support and 64-bit ISA support.
For those wondering, the press release also states that the company is still working on development of its custom 64-bit Krait CPU architecture. However, it does not appear that 64-bit Krait will be ready by the first half of 2015, which is why Qualcomm has opted to use ARM's Cortex A57 and A53 cores in its upcoming flagship 808 and 810 SoCs.
Subject: Mobile | February 24, 2014 - 04:00 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: xmm, MWC 14, MWC, lte-advanced, LTE, Intel, 7260
Intel also announced Merrifield and Moorefield SoCs at Mobile World Congress today.
In 2011, Intel acquired SysDSoft to improve and accelerate the companies transition into the mobile wireless controllers, LTE in particular. As a result, Intel released the XMM 7160 modem in 2013 which included the X-GOLD 716 baseband controller that could support LTE and HSPA functions. This modem was adopted by a handful of OEMs in the market with Cat 4 bandwidth up to 150 Mbps (downstream) and 50 Mbps (upstream), LTE voice implementation and globally capability with 15 bands.
This modem was available as a multi-chip solution for mobile device vendors to implement but was shipped in a M.2 module. The latter form gave a quick option for notebook and tablet vendors to include in ready-built systems.
At Mobile World Congress today though, Intel is announcing its next generation modem, the XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced. As the name implies, this update includes support for LTE-Advanced that adds in features like carrier aggregation and a pair of downlink channels for up to 300 Mbps data rates. Carrier aggregation can be used for additional bandwidth performance or to disperse spectrum in a more efficient way to improve reliability. Intel claims that this controller and modem meets the maximum specification levels of LTE today.
The XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced includes the X-GOLD 726 that is truly a global market ready part with frequency compatibility on LTE FDD/TDD, WCDMA/HSPA+, TD-SCDMA/TD-HSPA/EDGE. This iteration uses fewer components, thus is smaller and easier to integrate than the 7160, and will be "on shelf" as early as next quarter. There is no CDMA support included, though. For users on Verizon and Sprint, we'll have to see if handset makers for those carriers have adjusted their timelines for LTE-only devices. AT&T and T-Mobile, in the US, will have no issues with 4G and 3G support.
This modem is meant to compete directly with the stranglehold that Qualcomm has on the LTE market (and one source tells me that carriers "are dying for an alternative" to help drive down costs). Though it might seem odd in some ways, I fully expect this XMM 7260 modem to be paired with non-Intel SoC devices, including smartphones and tablets. In fact, it is quite possible that the XMM 7260 LTE-Advanced modem might have more successful adoption than the upcoming Merrifield SoCs, also announced today. Device manufacturers might be satisfied with their choice in SoCs, not demanding an alternative in x86, but also might appreciate a new modem.
As a side note, the XMM 7260 is being built on TSMC's 28nm process technology rather than on Intel's own fabs (this isn't the first time it has happened). I don't expect this to be a concern for performance but it is interesting to see a chip that Intel is placing so much emphasis on being constructed outside its own walls.
The XMM 7269 LTE-Advanced modem is currently in certification and is expected to be available for integration in Q2, 2014.
Subject: Mobile | February 21, 2014 - 09:00 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: tegra note 7, tegra 4, nvidia, LTE, i500
In November of last year NVIDIA and some of its partners around the world released the Tegra Note 7, a 7-in tablet that was powered by NVIDIA's Tegra 4 SoC. I posted a review of the unit on its launch and found that the Note 7 offered some impressive features including a high quality screen, stylus input and high performance graphics for a cost of just $199. Users that were looking for a budget priced Android tablet that didn't skimp on features found a perfect home with the Tegra Note 7.
In preparation for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, NVIDIA is announcing a new model of the Tegra Note 7 that adds an LTE modem. The appropriately named Tegra Note 7 LTE still includes the full performance Tegra 4 SoC but adds to it the NVIDIA i500 software LTE modem that enables support for the LTE and HSPA+ bands in the US. That means you can expect support on AT&T and T-Mobile networks. This is NOT the Tegra 4i SoC that integrates the i500 controller directly on die; this integration is two distinct chips.
The rest of the specifications of the Tegra Note 7 LTE remain the same as the previous model. A 7-in 1280x800 resolution screen, front facing stereo speakers, front and rear cameras, chisel and brush tipped stylus and more. The price of this new model will be $299 and it should be available "in the 2nd quarter." That is a $100 markup over the current Tegra Note 7 that is WiFi only. The Google Nexus 7 only has an $80 premium for the LTE-enabled option.
Also announced with the Tegra Note 7 LTE is the availability of the 4.4.2 KitKat Android update for all Tegra Note 7 devices. Along with the Android OS tweaks and updates you'll get support for the NVIDIA Gamepad Mapper to enable touch-based games to work on an attached controller.
Another solid OS update for existing Tegra Note 7 devices and LTE data support in a new model perk up the NVIDIA tablet line quite a bit. With MWC kicking into high gear in the next few days I am sure we will see numerous new competitors in this 7-in tablet market though so we'll have to hold judgement on the Note 7's continued placement in the market.