A trio of high powered gaming laptops

Subject: Mobile | May 19, 2016 - 07:12 PM |
Tagged: msi, origin, eurocom, gaming laptop, GTX 980M

You have likely run into the 17.3" MSI GT72S Dominator Pro Dragon Edition but have you seen either the Origin EON17-SLX or Eurocom SKY X9 gaming laptop.  The Eurocom especially is rather impressive, a 4K panel powered by two GTX 980Ms in SLI, the other two have only a single GPU, though it is the desktop version of the GTX 980.

The least expensive of these laptops is $2899, the most expensive is $4837.  Take a look at how these beasts perform over at Hardware Canucks.

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"Gaming performance of high end gaming notebooks is quickly closing the gap with desktops. In this roundup we look at over $11,000 worth of desktop replacement options from MSI, Origin and Eurocom."

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Rumor: Apple's A11 SoC Reaches Tapeout at TSMC 10nm

Subject: Processors, Mobile | May 9, 2016 - 05:42 PM |
Tagged: apple, a11, 10nm, TSMC

Before I begin, the report comes from DigiTimes and they cite anonymous sources for this story. As always, a grain of salt is required when dealing with this level of alleged leak.

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That out of the way, rumor has it that Apple's A11 SoC has been taped out on TSMC's 10nm process node. This is still a little way's away from production, however. From here, TSMC should be providing samples of the now finalized chip in Q1 2017, start production a few months later, and land in iOS devices somewhere in Q3/Q4. Knowing Apple, that will probably align with their usual release schedule -- around September.

DigiTimes also reports that Apple will likely make their split-production idea a recurring habit. Currently, the A9 processor is fabricated at TSMC and Samsung on two different process nodes (16nm for TSMC and 14nm for Samsung). They claim that two-thirds of A11 chips will come from TSMC.

Source: DigiTimes

Not to be outdone by hard drives, ARCHOS releases the 70b Helium Tablet

Subject: Mobile | April 29, 2016 - 10:19 PM |
Tagged: archos, 70b Helium Tablet

ARCHOS has decided that bigger is not always better and released the 7" 70b Helium tablet.  It is powered by a quad-core Mediatek MT8735M running at 1GHz with 1GB of RAM and Android Lollipop 5.1.  At 278g and 188x108x9.9mm it is much smaller than many current generation tablets and costs less as well.  The resolution of 1024x600 is going to disappoint many prospective buyers, on the other hand bloatware is as sparse as the PPI which is a nice benefit to this tablet.  If you have need of a tablet which is not overly powerful and which is inexpensive enough to pass onto a kid or use in unfriendly places such as the beach pop on over to Kitguru to take a peek.

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"Recently there has been a definite trend to having bigger mobile devices. Smartphone flagships are well over 5 inches in size now, and tablets are getting bigger too – just take a look at the 13.3 inch iPad Pro. It is refreshing, then, to see ARCHOS buck the trend with its 70b Helium tablet.

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Source: Kitguru

Acer Debuts Liquid-Cooled Switch Alpha 12 Convertible Tablet

Subject: Mobile | April 21, 2016 - 10:56 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, tablet, switch alpha 12, liquid cooling, convertible tablet, acer, 2-in-1

Acer has unveiled their latest detachable 2-in-1 tablet/laptop with the Switch Alpha 12, and this device features some impressive specs - not the least of which is a liquid-cooling loop for the CPU.

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According to Acer, the Switch Alpha 12 "is the industry’s first fanless 2-in-1 notebook to use a 6th Generation Intel Core i7, Core i5 or Core i3 processor," and these Intel offerings power a 12-inch 2160x1440 resolution IPS display.

Acer offers this video to showcase the device's features, including the water cooling loop:

Storage will range from 128GB - 512GB, with memory available in either 4GB or 8GB capacities. The magnetically attached keyboard offers full-sized keys with 1.4mm travel, and a full touchpad, and overall battery life is said to be 8 hours. The unit is 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.62 inches, and weighs 2.76 pounds (with keyboard connected).

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The CPU cooling loop (Image taken from Acer promo video)

As to pricing and availability, Acer states that the "Switch Alpha 12 will be available in North America in June starting at $599".

Source: Acer

Android N Developer Preview 2 Includes Vulkan

Subject: Mobile | April 14, 2016 - 08:59 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, google, android n, Android

We knew it was coming. Google was a partner of Vulkan since it launched, but support was coming at some point after the desktop launch. We expected that it would be soon, but now we know that the new graphics API is in Android N Developer Preview 2. Other platforms, like apparently the Samsung Galaxy S7, are able to ship Vulkan drivers, but it is “a part of the platform” in this Android N pre-release.

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Vulkan is particularly useful for mobile because those devices tend to have many cores, but relatively slow cores, which drive a decently fast GPU. Whether the benefits end up being higher performance or just better battery life (as the CPU can downclock more and more often) depends on the application, but it can be useful for 3D applications, and eventually even 2D ones, like future Qt applications with many elements, or even web browsers (when drawing complex sites).

It's good that Google is supporting Vulkan, especially after their ban of OpenCL drivers from Nexus devices. We want a single GPU compute interface across as many platforms as possible. While Vulkan isn't as complete as OpenCL, lacking some features such as unified memory, it should be more useful than OpenGL ES compute shaders.

Android N Developer Preview 2 launched (again, as a preview) yesterday.

Source: Google

A 14" Monster; Eurocom's new gaming laptop

Subject: Mobile | April 14, 2016 - 05:46 PM |
Tagged: i7-6700HQ, BGA, gaming laptop, GTX 970M

If there wasn't a market for gaming laptops then we would not see so many companies offering them for sale, nor frequently updating their lineups.  These devices certainly are not for everyone and with the release of products like MSI's Shadow and Razer's Core which allow you to hook your laptop up to an external GPU there is going to be a change in the market.  For now, companies like Eurocom are updating their lineups which brings us to Techgage's review of the Monster 4 14" gaming laptop.  The screen, as reviewed, is 1080p and while the laptop does have HDMI and mini-DisplayPort it lacks the TB3 connector to utilize external GPUs so you will be dependent on the i7-6700HQ and GTX 970M

Check out the full review of this $1500 gaming laptop here if you are interested.

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"Building a gaming desktop can be tough, but building a gaming notebook can be even harder. While most vendors limit your options, Eurocom goes out of its way to provide the most customization possible. As we find out in this review, the company’s offerings are diverse, and based on our findings with the Monster 4, a notebook with professional looks can still be a beast inside."

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Source: Techgage

HP Announces World's Thinnest Laptop - The Spectre 13.3

Subject: Systems, Mobile | April 6, 2016 - 02:01 PM |
Tagged: ultrabook, thinnest laptop, Spectre 13.3, notebook, laptop, Intel Core i7, Intel Core i5, hp

HP announced their thinnest notebook ever - and "the world's thinnest laptop" period, according to HP - yesterday with the new Spectre 13.3.

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The 10.4 mm thick HP Spectre 13.3 (Image credit: Engadget)

It's an astonishingly thin design, with a "CNC machined aluminum chassis as thin as an AAA-battery at just 10.4 mm", and yet it manages to avoid using Core M (or even mobile SoC) parts, opting instead for full Intel Core i5 and Core i7 mobile processors.

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(Image credit: Anandtech)

Here's a list of the Spectre 13.3's features from HP:

  • A carbon fiber bottom creates a thin profile that is both durable and lightweight, keeping the total weight of the notebook at just 2.45 pounds
  • High gloss copper accents reflect a hand-polished, jewelry-like finish and an innovative hidden piston hinge creates the illusion of a hinge-less design to offer an unmatched premium look-and-feel
  • An innovative hybrid battery split into two thinner pieces delivers the same wattage as a single battery for up to 9 and half hours of battery life while enabling the world's thinnest laptop
  • Full HD IPS edge-to-edge display featuring Corning Gorilla delivers a superb viewing experience for editing photos, perfecting a presentation, or watching a movie.
  • 6th generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and a lightning fast PCIe SSD with storage up to 512 GB with up to 8 GB of memory for maximum performance. Integration of Intel hyperbaric cooling system keeps the machine running cool even with powerful processors in a small package
  • Stereo speakers by Bang & Olufsen with HP Audio Boost technology, a combination of hardware and software to give customers the depth they want.
  • Three full function USB Type-C connectors, including two of which support Thunderbolt, to provide a fast, versatile I/O connection.

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The hyperbaric cooling system (Image credit: Anandtech)

Note the mention of "Integration of Intel hyperbaric cooling system..." in the above list. We first saw hyperbaric cooling back in 2010 with products like the Dell Vostro V130, and the system is based on pulling cool air from outside of the enclosure, rather than simply pushing it out.

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A look inside the Spectre 13.3 (Image credit: PC World)

With the use of regular laptop processors inside an enclosure as thin as this new Spectre 13.3 cooling will be crucial, though (as speculated by Anandtech in their post) actual clock speeds for the processors may have been lowered significantly due on thermal restrictions.

What exactly are the specifications for the Spectre 13.3? Here's what we know (via Anandtech):

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-6200U or Intel Core i7-6500U
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • Storage: 256 GB or 512 GB PCIe SSD
  • I/O: 3x USB 3.1 Type-C, 2x Thunderbolt, audio jack
  • Thickness: 10.4 mm (0.41 inches)
  • Weight: 1.10 kg (2.45 lbs)
  • Pricing (256 GB SSD): Core i5, $1170; Core i7, $1250

Exact specs on memory standard/speed, Wi-Fi, etc. were not available, and availability has not been announced.

Source: HP

AMD Pre-Announces 7th Gen A-Series SOC

Subject: Processors | April 5, 2016 - 10:30 AM |
Tagged: mobile, hp, GCN, envy, ddr4, carrizo, Bristol Ridge, APU, amd, AM4

Today AMD is “pre-announcing” their latest 7th generation APU.  Codenamed “Bristol Ridge”, this new SOC is based off of the Excavator architecture featured in the previous Carrizo series of products.  AMD provided very few hints as to what was new and different in Bristol Ridge as compared to Carrizo, but they have provided a few nice hints.

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They were able to provide a die shot of the new Bristol Ridge APU and there are some interesting differences between it and the previous Carrizo. Unfortunately, there really are no changes that we can see from this shot. Those new functional units that you are tempted to speculate about? For some reason AMD decided to widen out the shot of this die. Those extra units around the border? They are the adjacent dies on the wafer. I was bamboozled at first, but happily Marc Sauter pointed it out to me. No new functional units for you!

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This is the Carrizo shot. It is functionally identical to what we see with Bristol Ridge.

AMD appears to be using the same 28 nm HKMG process from GLOBALFOUNDRIES.  This is not going to give AMD much of a jump, but from information in the industry GLOBALFOUNDRIES and others have put an impressive amount of work into several generations of 28 nm products.  TSMC is on their third iteration which has improved power and clock capabilities on that node.  GLOBALFOUNDRIES has continued to improve their particular process and likely Bristol Ridge is going to be the last APU built on that node.

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All of the competing chips are rated at 15 watts TDP. Intel has the compute advantage, but AMD is cleaning up when it comes to graphics.

The company has also continued to improve upon their power gating and clocking technologies to keep TDPs low, yet performance high.  AMD recently released the Godavari APUs to the market which exhibit better clocking and power characteristics from the previous Kaveri.  Little was done on the actual design, rather it was improved process tech as well as better clock control algorithms that achieved these advances.  It appears as though AMD has continued this trend with Bristol Ridge.

We likely are not seeing per clock increases, but rather higher and longer sustained clockspeeds providing the performance boost that we are seeing between Carrizo and Bristol Ridge.  In these benchmarks AMD is using 15 watt TDP products.  These are mobile chips and any power improvements will show off significant gains in overall performance.  Bristol Ridge is still a native quad core part with what looks to be an 8 module GCN unit.

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Again with all three products at a 15 watt TDP we can see that AMD is squeezing every bit of performance it can with the 28 nm process and their Excavator based design.

The basic core and GPU design look relatively unchanged, but obviously there were a lot of tweaks applied to give the better performance at comparable TDPs.  

AMD is announcing this along with the first product that will feature this APU.  The HP Envy X360.  This convertible tablet offers some very nice features and looks to be one of the better implementations that AMD has seen using its latest APUs.  Carrizo had some wins, but taking marketshare back from Intel in the mobile space has been tortuous at best. AMD obviously hopes that Bristol Ridge in the sub-35 watt range will continue to show fight for the company in this important market.  Perhaps one of the more interesting features is the option for the PCIe SSD.  Hopefully AMD will send out a few samples so we can see what a more “premium” type convertible can do with the AMD silicon.

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The HP Envy X360 convertible in all of its glory.

Bristol Ridge will be coming to the AM4 socket infrastructure in what appears to be a Computex timeframe.  These parts will of course feature higher TDPs than what we are seeing here with the 15 watt unit that was tested.  It seems at that time AMD will announce the full lineup from top to bottom and start seeding the market with AM4 boards that will eventually house the “Zen” CPUs that will show up in late 2016.

Source: AMD

Gigabyte's Aorus X3 Plus v5, gaming on the go for those who do such things

Subject: Mobile | April 4, 2016 - 06:26 PM |
Tagged: Skylake, GTX 970M, gigabyte, gaming laptop, Aorus X3 Plus v5

Gaming notebooks do not tend to generate positive feedback in our reviews, as many reader feel the sacrifices to fit a powerful machine into a slim chassis are just too much of a compromise.  BGA processors have negative connotations surrounding them, in some cases fair criticism but there is obviously a market for these machines as companies are producing and selling them.  The Tech Report takes a peek at Gigabyte's Aorus X3 Plus v5, a 14" 3200x1800 IPS laptop powered by a Core i7-6700HQ and GeForce GTX 970M, a 512GB Samsung NVMe SSD and 16GB o fDDR4-2133.  They loved the machine apart from the fact that the 970M just can't drive the panel at native resolutions when playing a demanding game and perhaps a lower resolution would have been preferable; which would bring a different set of negative comments.

The Lagavulin allegory which starts out the review is apropos, if you like something enough, you will find a way to afford it.  That said, if you consider $90 as the high end of Scotch your tastebuds have some nice surprises in store; your bank account not so much.

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"Aorus' X3 Plus v5 laptop packs eight threads of Skylake pro cessing power and a GeForce GTX 970M graphics card into a 14" chassis. We put the X3 Plus v5 to the test to see whether it ushers in a new era of portable computing power."

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Pixel C Developer Discounts Have Expanded

Subject: Mobile | March 31, 2016 - 07:40 PM |
Tagged: google, pixel c

A few weeks ago, Google published preview builds of Android N, and they announced a developer discount page for the Pixel C. At the time, it was US-only and applied to the 64GB version, bringing it down to $450 USD. The website also seemed... broken... so I wasn't sure if Google were fixing it or whatever. A few people received discount codes on the first run, but the websites now say that they will email you within a few days with a promotional code.

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The discount website has now been updated, and the terms have changed. The major difference is that it is now available in 13 countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States, of course. The discount is now a blanket 25% off a Pixel C tablet (just one, like before). I haven't received the promotion code yet, so I can't confirm that it applies to both 32GB and 64GB models, but ZDNet claims it does, and Android Police states that Google confirmed it to them. The discount still does not apply to the keyboard.

Google's Nexus line has been known to limit API access, specifically by not shipping OpenCL drivers and pushing developers toward their proprietary RenderScript instead. That said, it should be kept up to date with Google's latest OSes for longer than most devices. Also, Vulkan is being considered a Google-supported API, so, unless something weird happens, Pixel C should get those drivers, which should be sufficient for upcoming GPU compute and gaming tasks.

Source: Google

The Status of Windows Phone

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 31, 2016 - 05:52 PM |
Tagged: BUILD, build 2016, microsoft, windows 10, windows phone

If you watched the opening keynote of Microsoft's Build conference, then you probably didn't see much Windows Phone (unless you were looking at your own). The Verge talked to Terry Myerson about this, and Microsoft confirmed that they are leading with non-Windows, 4-inch devices, and they want to “generate developer interest” on those platforms for this year.

PC World interpreted this conversation to say that Windows Phone is put on hold.

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That might be a little hasty, though. Microsoft is still building Windows 10 for Mobile. In fact, since Microsoft updated “Windows OneCore” and jumped build to 14xxx-level build numbers with Windows 10 build 14251, Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 PC are kept in lockstep. As far as I know, that is still the plan, and Windows Insiders should continue to receive these on compatible devices.

That said, Microsoft has basically admitted that Windows Phone would just be a distraction for developers this year. At the very least, they don't believe that the platform will be ready for them until next year's Build conference, which means that consumers will probably be even further down than that because there would be no applications for them. Yes, Windows Phone could be slowly shimmying out of the spotlight, but it could also be delayed until they make a good impression, and have the PC, Xbox, Hololens, and other ecosystems secure to lift it up.

Source: The Verge

Microsoft Surface Book, taking the prize for most expensive laptop and running with it

Subject: Mobile | March 23, 2016 - 04:32 PM |
Tagged: surface, surface book, tablet, Skylake, notebook, microsoft, Intel

The Register is not exaggerating in the quote below, the new Microsoft Surface Book ranges from $1500-$3200 depending on the model you chose, passing even the overpriced Chromebook Pixel by quite a sum of money.  For that price you get a 3200x2000 (267ppi) 13.5" display on a tablet which weighs 3.34lbs (1.5kg), the detachable keyboard with an optional Nvidia GPU and an extra battery as well as a Surface pen.  If you want the dock which adds more connectivity options, well that is another $200 and seeing as how there is only two USB3.0 ports, a single MiniDP and an SD card reader on the keyboard you are likely to want it. 

Certainly The Register liked the looks, design and power of this ultrabook but with the competition, up to and including Apple, offering similar products at half the price it is a hard sell in the end.  Ryan expressed a similar opinion when he reveiwed the Surface Book.

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"Sumptuous and slightly absurd, Microsoft's Surface Book is the most expensive laptop you can get, short of ordering a 24-carat custom gold plated jobbie."

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Source: The Register

The new Razer Blade gaming laptop is compatible with external GPUs

Subject: Mobile | March 15, 2016 - 07:12 PM |
Tagged: Razer Core, razer blade, gaming laptop

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The new version of Razer's Blade gaming notebook comes with a brand new feature, a USB-C port which is compatible with Thunderbolt 3 and allows the use of the Razer Core external graphics enclosure which you can see below.  This is the model that they were showing off at CES, which will allow you to use any GPU that will fit in the enclosure as opposed to the GTX 970M which is in the laptop.

Razer_Core.jpg

A quick rundown of the specifications are a quad-core Intel i7-6700HQ, 16GB of DDR4-2133, the aforementioned 6GB GTX 970M and a choice between a 256GB or 512GB PCIe M.2 SSD at a price of $2000 or $2200.  The integral touchscreen is a 14.0", 16:9 IGZO panel with a native resolution of 3200x1800 and LED backlighting.

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Click here to see the full PR and spec list.

Source: Razer

Huawei honor 5X; that other phone company

Subject: Mobile | March 11, 2016 - 11:33 PM |
Tagged: Huawei, honor 5x

Huawei's new honor 5x is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 with 8 cores, 4 ARM Cortex A53 @ 1.5 GHz and another 4 ARM Cortex A53's @ 1.2 GHz. Qualcomm's Adreno 405 provides GPU power for the 5.5" 1090p IPS display.  As is common with many of their other phones the honor supports dual SIMs, one micro and nano. TechARP have put together a comprehensive review of the phone, covering the specifications as well usage and setup.  Check it out here.

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"The honor 5X is one of the most anticipated smartphones to come out of CES 2016. It offers a 5.5″ full HD display, and a second-generation rim-free fingerprint reader, powered by a Qualcomm octa-core processor underneath its metal alloy body at less than US$220. "

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Source: Tech ARP

Android N Preview Published and Pixel C for Devs Discounts

Subject: Mobile | March 9, 2016 - 07:22 PM |
Tagged: pixel c, nexus 6p, nexus 6, nexus 5x, google, android n, Android

With basically zero warning, Google has released Android N previews for the Nexus 5X, the Nexus 6, the Nexus 6P, the Nexus 9, the Nexus Player, and the Pixel C. It can be installed by flashing the OS onto the device, or by joining the Android Beta Program. Personally, I'd recommend joining the program, because then updates are pushed over-the-air. Be sure to back up your personal data, too. Almost every method of installing or removing the preview build will intentionally wipe the device. (Technically, installing from the Android Beta Program shouldn't erase user data, but errors can occur, and, even then, the device will be wiped when you leave.)

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Aligning with this announcement is a discount on the Pixel C. It is only available to developers, and only within the US. Also, before I found out that Canadians were not eligible, I tried getting a code and the website seems to silently fail. It basically just refreshes and no email is sent, so Google might have pulled the plug once non-developers heard the news. Android Police believes that it only applies to the 64GB version, but Google's announcement wasn't clear on that. This would make the Pixel C available for $450 USD, which is quite cheap for a 10-inch, Tegra X1 device.

Android N will have a few user experience (UX) changes. The two most obvious ones are app splitscreen, which behaves like Windows 8's Windows Store app snapping, and “direct reply notifications,” which allows, for instance, replying to a chat message from the notification itself. Google has also moved to OpenJDK, as we mentioned during the holidays. This is an Oracle-approved, open-source implementation of Java that can be freely used.

Source: Google

Microsoft Ends Project Astoria, the Windows Phone "Bridge for Android" Apps

Subject: Mobile | February 26, 2016 - 05:04 PM |
Tagged: windows phone, Project Astoria, microsoft, developers, build 2015, Android

A smartphone is nothing without a large selection of quality apps these days, and to that end it seemed Microsoft was going to follow the BlackBerry OS 10 method (injecting life into a platform barren of software by borrowing Android apps) when they announced the "Windows Bridge for Android" last year.

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(Image credit: Microsoft)

Blackberry accomplished this by adding the Amazon app store to OS 10, which gave BB users at least some of the apps an Android user has access to via Google Play. BlackBerry also provided devs tools to help them convert Android apps to run on the BB 10 OS platform, but the market share of BB OS 10 just isn’t high enough to justify many doing this.

Microsoft appeared to be headed in this direction when they introduced Project Astoria at last year’s Build conference, which was going to enable devs to bring Android apps over to the Windows mobile OS. Well, that’s over. In an update published yesterday by Kevin Gallo, Microsoft’s Director of Windows Developer Platform, this news was spun positively (of course).

“We also announced the Windows Bridge for Android (project “Astoria”) at Build last year, and some of you have asked about its status. We received a lot of feedback that having two Bridge technologies to bring code from mobile operating systems to Windows was unnecessary, and the choice between them could be confusing. We have carefully considered this feedback and decided that we would focus our efforts on the Windows Bridge for iOS and make it the single Bridge option for bringing mobile code to all Windows 10 devices, including Xbox and PCs. For those developers who spent time investigating the Android Bridge, we strongly encourage you to take a look at the iOS Bridge and Xamarin as great solutions.”

To editoralize here a bit, I will add that I own a Lumia smartphone, and in my experience Windows Phone is an innovative and extremely efficient mobile OS. However, the lack of quality apps (and the non-existent updates for those that do exist) is too great a barrier to use a Windows Phone as my primary device. It’s telling that BlackBerry's latest smartphone, the Priv, runs Android, as BlackBerry has effectively given up trying to compete with their own OS.

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BlackBerry Priv, which runs the Android 5 OS (image credit: BlackBerry)

Microsoft seems unwilling to do this, but they are a software company first and foremost and that's not surprising. But as a hardware company they have struggled with portable devices, as we saw with the ill-fated Kin smartphone, and of course the Zune music player. Android is the only realistic option if you want to compete with iOS on a smartphone, but Microsoft hasn't given up on the OS just yet. As much as I like the tiled interface, I think it's time to say goodbye to this iteration of Windows Mobile.

Source: Microsoft

Video Perspective: Samsung Galaxy S7 / S7 Edge Hands-on from MWC 2016

Subject: Mobile | February 25, 2016 - 04:43 PM |
Tagged: MWC, MWC 2016, Samsung, galaxy, s7, s7 edge, qualcomm, snapdragon, snapdragon 820

I got to spend some time with the brand new Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge phones at MWC this week in Barcelona. Is this your next Android flagship phone?

Video Perspective: Huawei MateBook 2-in-1 Hands-on from MWC 2016

Subject: Systems, Mobile | February 25, 2016 - 04:42 PM |
Tagged: MWC, MWC 2016, Huawei, matebook, Intel, core m, Skylake, 2-in-1

Huawei is getting into the PC business with the MateBook 2-in-1, built in the same vein as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Can they make a splash with impressive hardware and Intel Core m processors?

MWC 16: Imagination Technologies Ray Tracing Accelerator

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 24, 2016 - 01:46 AM |
Tagged: raytracing, ray tracing, PowerVR, mwc 16, MWC, Imagination Technologies

For the last couple of years, Imagination Technologies has been pushing hardware-accelerated ray tracing. One of the major problems in computer graphics is knowing what geometry and material corresponds to a specific pixel on the screen. Several methods exists, although typical GPUs crush a 3D scene into the virtual camera's 2D space and do a point-in-triangle test on it. Once they know where in the triangle the pixel is, if it is in the triangle, it can be colored by a pixel shader.

imagtech-2016-PowerVR-GR6500-GPU-PowerVR-Wizard-GPUs.png

Another method is casting light rays into the scene, and assigning a color based on the material that it lands on. This is ray tracing, and it has a few advantages. First, it is much easier to handle reflections, transparency, shadows, and other effects where information is required beyond what the affected geometry and its material provides. There are usually ways around this, without resorting to ray tracing, but they each have their own trade-offs. Second, it can be more efficient for certain data sets. Rasterization, since it's based around a “where in a triangle is this point” algorithm, needs geometry to be made up of polygons.

It also has the appeal of being what the real world sort-of does (assuming we don't need to model Gaussian beams). That doesn't necessarily mean anything, though.

At Mobile World Congress, Imagination Technologies once again showed off their ray tracing hardware, embodied in the PowerVR GR6500 GPU. This graphics processor has dedicated circuitry to calculate rays, and they use it in a couple of different ways. They presented several demos that modified Unity 5 to take advantage of their ray tracing hardware. One particularly interesting one was their quick, seven second video that added ray traced reflections atop an otherwise rasterized scene. It was a little too smooth, creating reflections that were too glossy, but that could probably be downplayed in the material ((Update: Feb 24th @ 5pm Car paint is actually that glossy. It's a different issue). Back when I was working on a GPU-accelerated software renderer, before Mantle, Vulkan, and DirectX 12, I was hoping to use OpenCL-based ray traced highlights on idle GPUs, if I didn't have any other purposes for it. Now though, those can be exposed to graphics APIs directly, so they might not be so idle.

The downside of dedicated ray tracing hardware is that, well, the die area could have been used for something else. Extra shaders, for compute, vertex, and material effects, might be more useful in the real world... or maybe not. Add in the fact that fixed-function circuitry already exists for rasterization, and it makes you balance gain for cost.

It could be cool, but it has its trade-offs, like anything else.

MWC 16: Qualcomm talks antenna improvements in Galaxy S7

Subject: Mobile | February 23, 2016 - 01:14 PM |
Tagged: snapdragon 820, Samsung, s7, qualcomm, MWC 2016, MWC, galaxy

No one is more excited to see the Snapdragon 820 processor in the Galaxy S7 (in some regions) than Qualcomm and Qualcomm's investors. Missing the S6 design win completely was a big blow to the SD 810 but the move to FinFET technology and a new SoC design have put the SD 820 back in the driver's seat for flagship smartphones it seems. While talking with Qualcomm's Peter Carson, Senior Director of Marketing and Modems, I learned quite a bit about the X12 LTE modem integration with the Galaxy S7 as well. As it turns out, the application processor itself isn't the only thing that has impressed OEMs or that will benefit consumers. 

Modem marketers have a problem - quantifying the advantages of one LTE modem over another can be troublesome and complex. It's not as simple as X% faster or X% longer battery life, though those aspects of performance see improvement with better modem technology. And while of course the new announcement of Gigabit LTE is getting all the media attention at Mobile World Congress this week, there is a lot of excitement internally about the shipping implementation of the S7's modem.

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The Galaxy S7 encompasses the most advanced Qualcomm TruSignal antenna technology implementation to date, combining several features to add real-world benefits to the cellular performance of the device.

First, the S7 will feature the most advanced version of the antenna tuner including a closed loop feedback cycle that will tweak antenna properties in real time based on sensor data and current signal properties. If the proximity sensor is activated or you are rotating or moving the mobile device, the receiver can adjust antenna properties to improve signal reliability measurably.

The best examples fall on the cell edge, where dropped calls are common and low voice quality are found. You can improve the gain of the antenna, that is adversly affected by simply holding the device, for much better reliability and even data throughput. That means fewer dropped calls and network drops for users that have moderate service reliability. Voice quality will get better as well, as the error rates that cause data loss in low signal areas will be reduced. 

But even users that have a good signal can get benefits from the tech - gains of just 2-3 db will allow the modem and receiver to go into a lower power state, reducing 20% of the modem power draw. That won't equate to 20% total system battery life improvement but users that depend on their phones for extended use will see benefits from this integration.

Another TruSignal feature included in this modem implementation is smart transmit antenna switching. The simple explanation here is that the modem can swap which antennas are in receive and transmit modes in order to improve the transmit (upload) performance by as much as 10db! Based on properties of the antenna signal, position of the device and if you are in a heavy upload workload (posting some photos to Facebook, a video to YouTube), TruSignal allows the modem to change in real-time.

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These techniques are additive so Galaxy S7 owners will find that both the antenna tuner and antenna switching are going to move the cellular performance forward, though Qualcomm isn't saying if ALL implementation of Samsung's new flagship smartphone will implement the features. I would guess that we'll see this on the Snapdragon 820 + X12 powered models only, but I haven't learned yet which modem the Exynos-powered versions are using yet. Turns out the versions of the S7 that utilize the Samsung Exynos SoC are using a non-Qualcomm modem, so they will not support the features seen here.

Source: Qualcomm