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.)

google-2016-android-n-preview-hero.png

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.

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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

MWC 2016: MediaTek Announces Helio P20 True Octa-Core SoC

Subject: Processors, Mobile | February 22, 2016 - 04:11 PM |
Tagged: TSMC, SoC, octa-core, MWC 2016, MWC, mediatek, Mali-T880, LPDDR4X, Cortex-A53, big.little, arm

MediaTek might not be well-known in the United States, but the company has been working to expand from China, where it had a 40% market share as of June 2015, into the global market. While 2015 saw the introduction of the 8-core Helio P10 and the 10-core helio X20 SoCs, the company continues to expand their lineup, today announcing the Helio P20 SoC.

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There are a number of differences between the recent SoCs from MediaTek, beginning with the CPU core configuration. This new Helio P20 is a “True Octa-Core” design, but rather than a big.LITTLE configuration it’s using 8 identically-clocked ARM Cortex-A53 cores at 2.3 GHz. The previous Helio P10 used a similar CPU configuration, though clocks were limited to 2.0 GHz with that SoC. Conversely, the 10-core Helio X20 uses a tri-cluster configuration, with 2x ARM Cortex-A72 cores running at 2.5 GHz, along with a typical big.LITTLE arrangement (4x Cortex-A53 cores at 2.0 Ghz and 4x Cortex-A53 cores at 1.4 GHz).

Another change affecting MediaTek’s new SoC and he industry at large is the move to smaller process nodes. The Helio P10 was built on 28 nm HPM, and this new P20 moves to 16 nm FinFET. Just as with the Helio P10 and Helio X20 (a 20 nm part) this SoC is produced at TSMC using their 16FF+ (FinFET Plus) technology. This should provide up to “40% higher speed and 60% power saving” compared to the company’s previous 20 nm process found in the Helio X20, though of course real-world results will have to wait until handsets are available to test.

The Helio P20 also takes advantage of LPDDR4X, and is “the world’s first SoC to support low power double data rate random access memory” according to MediaTek. The company says this new memory provides “70 percent more bandwidth than the LPDDR3 and 50 percent power savings by lowering supply voltage to 0.6v”. Graphics are powered by ARM’s high-end Mali T880 GPU, clocked at an impressive 900 MHz. And all-important modem connectivity includes CAT6 LTE with 2x carrier aggregation for speeds of up to 300 Mbps down, 50 Mbps up. The Helio P20 also supports up to 4k/30 video decode with H.264/265 support, and the 12-bit dual camera ISP supports up to 24 MP sensors.

Specs from MediaTek:

  • Process: 16nm
  • Apps CPU: 8x Cortex-A53, up to 2.3GHz
  • Memory: Up to 2 x LPDDR4X 1600MHz (up to 6GB) + 1x LPDDR3 933Mhz (up to 4GB) + eMMC 5.1
  • Camera: Up to 24MP at 24FPS w/ZSD, 12bit Dual ISP, 3A HW engine, Bayer & Mono sensor support
  • Video Decode: Up to 4Kx2K 30fps H.264/265
  • Video Encode: Up to 4Kx2K 30fps H.264
  • Graphics: Mali T-880 MP2 900MHz
  • Display: FHD 1920x1080 60fps. 2x DSI for dual display
  • Modem: LTE FDD TDD R.11 Cat.6 with 2x20 CA. C2K SRLTE. L+W DSDS support
  • Connectivity: WiFiac/abgn (with MT6630). GPS/Glonass/Beidou/BT/FM.
  • Audio: 110db SNR & -95db THD

It’s interesting to see SoC makers experiment with less complex CPU designs after a generation of multi-cluster (big.LITTLE) SoCs, as even the current flagship Qualcomm SoC, the Snapdragon 820, has reverted to a straight quad-core design. The P20 is expected to be in shipping devices by the second half of 2016, and we will see how this configuration performs once some devices using this new P20 SoC are in the wild.

Full press release after the break:

Source: MediaTek