Design - A Tablet and a Notebook
For the last 30 days or so, I have been using both Microsoft's new Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 as every day computing devices. The goal was to review these items from not just a handful of days of testing and benchmarking, but with some lengthy time under my belt utilizing both products in a real-world environment. The following is my review with that premise. Enjoy!
A lot has already been said about the design and style of both the updated Surface Pro 4 and the new Surface Book. Let’s start with the Surface Pro 4 as it sees the least dramatic changes from previous product.
The Surface Pro 4 uses the same kickstand tablet design that made the Surface brand so memorable as well as functional. Many different OEMs are starting to copy the design style because it has a lot of positive merits to it. For instance, it allows viewing angles from nearly 90 degree to flat. The Surface Pro 4 is a tablet in its purest form, though. It doesn’t have a keyboard or trackpad standard – you’ll have purchase the optional Type Cover. It’s only 8.5mm thick and weighs in at 1.73 lbs, without the added keyboard.
The kickstand works exceptionally, with unlimited positions between the starting and stop point of the hinge, and it allows smooth movement between them. It’s strong enough to stand up when being slid around on the tablet or desk. The biggest concern I have with the kickstand is that using it on your lap (or on an airplane tray table) is difficult to impossible, depending on the exact configuration or your legs / tray. Because the hinged kickstand needs a surface to make contact with, pushing the Surface Pro back on your legs where the hinged portion extends past your knees won’t work.
From a design and style perspective, I still think the Surface products are among the best that exist on the market today. The magnesium body is sleek and the angles are both professional and aggressive. Even when coupled with the magnetic Type Cover, it won’t look like a toy at the office or on the road.
The new Surface Book is a completely different beast – a unique design and a new product. I am sure that there are some people that simply won’t like the way the notebook looks, but I am not one of them. Though it is technically a tablet and a keyboard dock, the Surface Book only ships as a complete unit so calling this a notebook or a 2-in-1 convertible feels more accurate than calling it a tablet. It has a larger and more pronounced 13.5-in screen than the Pro, which makes it larger, heavier and bulkier in your bag as well. The magnesium body shares a lot of design cues with the Pro 4, but it’s the hinge on the Book that really makes it different than any notebook I have used.
Subject: Mobile | December 18, 2015 - 07:06 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: snapdragon, qualcomm
The mobile processors that were previously known as the Snapdragon 618 and the Snapdragon 620 are now known as Snapdragon 650 and Snapdragon 652, respectively. This is not how we typically see products rebranded. Normally, such as the desktop GPU market, individual products are carried between generations, and their model number is incremented to reflect that. This case is the exact opposite: Qualcomm feels that the new products are numbered too similar to existing models, so they're widening the gap between them.
An SoC is only useful if it is installed in a compelling device, though. While I would hope that these sorts of branding changes influence consumers more than device manufacturers, there exists a part of me that wonders how much this rebranding will affect their amount of design wins. You would think that bumping a model number up a few digits wouldn't affect experimentation at Samsung, LG, or other phone companies. Yet, it might, and that would be interesting to see. Either way, it should affect the semi-enthusiast phone users who buy based on breakdowns of tech specs.
Subject: Mobile | December 16, 2015 - 06:32 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: yoga 900, yoga, Skylake, Lenovo, Intel
You may remember that back in November Ryan took a look at the Lenovo Yoga 900 with its snazzy watchband hinge and 3200x1800 resolution. If not then now is the perfect time to revisit that video review but if you do still remember perhaps you would like a second opinion on the Skylake powered 2-in-1 device. At 324x225x14.9mm and weighing 1.3kg in the complete package it is very portable, though you could just pop the 13.3" IPS display around the keyboard for use as a tablet. The Inquirer takes a look at the good, the bad and the ugly attributes of the Yoga 900 in their review.
"This latest addition to the Yoga line is perhaps its fanciest yet, with a faux-leather finish and a complex ‘watchband' hinge. The real good news, though, is that this Skylake-powered convertible is as speedy and practical as it is eye-catching."
Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:
- Sony Xperia Z5 Premium @ The Inquirer
- Lumia 950 & 950 XL – The Phone That Works Like Your PC @ Tech ARP
- Evolution Of Google Nexus : Huawei’s Transcendence @ Tech ARP
- Xtorm AL420 Waterproof Power Bank Xtreme 9000mAh Review @ NikKTech
Introduction and CPU Performance
We had a chance this week to go hands-on with the Snapdragon 820, the latest flagship SoC from Qualcomm, in a hardware session featuring prototype handsets powered by this new silicon. How did it perform? Read on to find out!
As you would expect from an all-new flagship part, the Snapdragon 820 offers improvements in virtually every category compared to their previous products. And with the 820 Qualcomm is emphasizing not only performance, but lower power consumption with claims of anywhere from 20% to 10x better efficiency across the components that make up this new SoC. And part of these power savings will undoubtedly come as the result of Qualcomm’s decision to move to a quad-core design with the 820, rather than the 8-core design of the 810.
So what exactly does comprise a high-end SoC like the Snapdragon 820? Ryan covered the launch in detail back in November (and we introduced aspects of the new SoC in a series of articles leading up to the launch). In brief, the Snapdragon 820 includes a custom quad-core CPU (Kryo), the Andreno 530 GPU, a new DSP (Hexagon 680), new ISP (Spectra), and a new LTE modem (X12). The previous flagship Snapdragon 810 used stock ARM cores (Cortex-A57, Cortex-A53) in a big.LITTLE configuration, but for various reasons Qualcomm has chosen not to introduce another 8-core SoC with this new product.
The four Kryo CPU cores found in the Snapdragon 820 can operate at speeds of up to 2.2 GHz, and since is half the number of the octo-core Snapdragon 810, the IPC (instructions per clock) of this new part will help determine how competitive the SD820's performance will be; but there’s a lot more to the story. This SoC design placed equal emphasis on all components therein, and the strategy with the SD820 seems to be leveraging the capability of the advanced signal processing (Hexagon 680) which should help offload the work to allow the CPU to work with greater efficiency, and at lower power.
Subject: Editorial, Mobile, Shows and Expos | December 9, 2015 - 07:04 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: yahoo, mozilla, google, Firefox OS, Android
Author's Disclosure: I volunteer for Mozilla, unpaid. I've been to one of their events in 2013, but otherwise have no financial ties with them. They actually weren't aware that I was a journalist. Still, our readers should know my background when reading my editorial.
Mozilla has announced that, while Firefox OS will still be developed for “many connected devices,” the organization will stop developing and selling smartphones through carriers. Mozilla claims that the reason is because they “weren't able to offer the best user experience possible.” While the statement is generic enough to apply in a lot of contexts, I'm not sure how close to the center of that region it is.
This all occurred at the “Mozlando” conference in Florida.
Firefox OS was born when stakeholders asked Mozilla to get involved in the iOS and Android duopoly. Unlike Windows, Blackberry, and other competitors, Mozilla has a history of leveraging Web standards to topple industry giants. Rather than trying to fight the industry leaders with a better platform, and hoping that developers create enough apps to draw users over, they expanded what Web could do to dig the ground out of their competitors.
The issue is that being able to achieve high performance is different from actually achieving it. The Web, as a platform, is getting panned as slow and “memory hungry” (even though free memory doesn't make a system faster -- it's all about the overhead required to manage it). Likewise, the first few phones landed at the low end, due in part to Mozilla, the non-profit organization remember, wanting to use Firefox OS to bring computing to new areas of the world. A few hiccups here and there added another coat of paint to the Web's perception of low performance.
Granted, they couldn't compete on the high end without a successful app ecosystem if they tried. Only the most hardcore of fans would purchase a several-hundred dollar smartphone, and intend to put up with just Web apps. Likewise, when I've told people that phones run on the Web, they didn't realize we mean “primarily localhost” until it's explicitly stated. People are afraid for their data caps, even though offline experiences are actually offline and stored locally.
The Dinosaur in the Room
Then there's the last question that I have. I am a bit concerned about the organization as a whole. They seem to be trying to shed several products lately, and narrow their focus. Granted, all of these announcements occur because of the event, so there's plenty of room for coincidence. They have announced that they will drop ad tiles, which I've heard praised.
The problem is, why would they do that? Was it for good will, aligning with their non-profit values? (Update: Fixed double-negative typo) Or was it bringing in much less money than projected? If it's the latter, then how far do they need to shrink their influence, and how? Did they already over-extend, and will they need to compensate for that? Looking at their other decisions, they've downsized Firefox OS, they are thinking about spinning out Thunderbird again, and they have quietly shuttered several internal projects, like their division for skunkworks projects, called “Mozilla Labs.” Mozilla also has a division called "Mozilla Research," although that is going strong. They are continually hiring for projects like "Servo," a potential new browser engine, and "Rust," a programming language that is used for Servo and other projects.
While Mozilla is definitely stable enough, financially, to thrive in their core products, I'm concerned about how much they can do beyond that. I'm genuinely concerned that Mozilla is trying to restructure while looking like a warrior for both human rights and platforms of free expression. We will not see the books until a few months from now, so we can only speculate until then. The organization is pulling inward, though. I don't know how much of this is refocusing on the problems they can solve, or the problems they can afford. We will see.
Subject: Mobile | December 8, 2015 - 06:05 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: USB 3 Type-C, OxygenOS, oneplus 2, Android
OnePlus is not likely the first source you would think of when purchasing an Android phone but perhaps this review over at Techgage might just change that. As you can see below the phones are rather attractive and OxygenOS is an interesting flavour of Lollipop 5.1.1. The charge cable is also an interesting feature, it is USB Type-C, however the cable it ships with is specific to this phone and you should not be charging other USB devices with it as it is out of spec. While there are advantages to a custom USB cable, there is also some danger associated with it so make sure to keep it separate from your other cables if you intend on picking this phone up.
The hardware includes an 8-core 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 and Adreno 430 GPU powering a 5.5" 1080p IPS screen. Depending on the model you choose you will either have 16GB local storage and 3GB of DDR4 or 64GB and 4GB. Techgage liked the phone a lot, with a few caveats; check them out in the full review.
"When a smartphone vendor comes along and offers its latest option as a “flagship killer”, it doesn’t exactly leave much room for leeway: it’s either going to be accurate, or off the mark. On paper, the OnePlus 2’s case seems to be solid, so let’s take a hard look at it and see if its promises are lived up to."
Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:
- Samsung Gear S2 @ The Inquirer
- Microsoft Surface Pro 4 @ The Inquirer
- Microsoft Demonstrates The Surface Pro 4's Artistic Flair @ Tech ARP
Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | December 6, 2015 - 08:10 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, graphics drivers, 860m
Users of notebooks with the GeForce GTX 860M GPU have apparently been experiencing crashes in many new titles. To remedy these issues, NVIDIA has published GeForce Hotfix Driver 359.12. If you do not have the GeForce GTX 860M, and all of your games work correctly, then you probably shouldn't install this. It has not been tested as much as official releases, by either Microsoft or NVIDIA, so other issues could have been introduced and no-one would know.
If you do have that specific GPU though, and you are having problems running certain titles, then you can install the driver now. Otherwise, you can wait for future, WHQL-certified drivers too. Some users are apparently claiming that the issues were fixed, while others complain about crashes in games like Mad Max and Shadow of Mordor.
Subject: Systems, Mobile | December 2, 2015 - 12:09 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: yoga, wacom, ThinkPad Yoga P40, Thinkpad, NVIDIA Quadro M500M, mobile workstation, Lenovo, ips, Intel Core i7
Lenovo has announced a pair of new mobile workstations at the Autodesk University event in Las Vegas, and the front-runner is the latest ThinkPad Yoga.
This new ThinkPad Yoga P40 may look like the previous models, but it's loaded with workstation-level features and specs, beginning with the 2560x1440 IPS display with Wacom Active ES technology that boasts 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. Lenovo says the software driving this digitizer has been carefully optimized with help from Wacom:
"Professional artists and designers have been clear with the need for absolute precision and accuracy. Working with Wacom, Lenovo developed a unique driver to get closer than ever to the ‘pen to paper’ experience. For a comfortable and realistic sketching experience, the rechargeable ThinkPad Pen Pro is included, along with additional pen tips providing varied levels of tactile feedback for the professional community."
The underlying hardware features 6th-Gen Intel Core i7 processors, graphics provided by a 2GB NVIDIA Quadro M500M card, up to 16GB of memory (SoDIMM), a 512 GB SSD, and Intel 8260 2x2 802.11ac wireless. The ThinkPad Yoga P40 also features the Lift 'n Lock keyboard from the original ThinkPad Yoga "with a frame that automatically rises around the keys when the Yoga device switches into tablet mode", and Mil-SPEC construction.
Image credit: Laptop Mag
The ThinkPad P40 Yoga will be available beginning in Q1 2016, and pricing will start at $1399.
Subject: Processors, Mobile | December 1, 2015 - 07:30 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: TSMC, SoC, LG, Intel, arm
So this story came out of nowhere. Whether the rumors are true or false, I am stuck on how everyone seems to be talking about it with a casual deadpan. I spent a couple hours Googling whether I missed some big announcement that made Intel potentially fabricating ARM chips a mundane non-story. Pretty much all that I found was Intel allowing Altera to make FPGAs with embedded ARM processors in a supporting role, which is old news.
Image Credit: Internet Memes...
The rumor is that Intel and TSMC were both vying to produce LG's Nuclon 2 SoC. This part is said to house two quad-core ARM modules in a typical big.LITTLE formation. Samples were allegedly produced, with Intel's part (2.4 GHx) being able to clock around 300 MHz faster than TSMC's offering (2.1 GHz). Clock rate is highly dependent upon the “silicon lottery,” so this is an area that production maturity can help with. Intel's sample would also be manufactured at 14nm (versus 16nm from TSMC although these numbers mean less than they used to). LG was also, again allegedly, interesting in Intel's LTE modem. According to the rumors, LG went with TSMC because they felt Intel couldn't keep up with demand.
Now that the rumor has been reported... let's step back a bit.
I talked with Josh a couple of days ago about this post. He's quite skeptical (as I am) about the whole situation. First and foremost, it takes quite a bit of effort to port a design to a different manufacturing process. LG could do it, but it is questionable, especially for a second chip ever sort of thing. Moreover, I still believe that Intel doesn't want to manufacture chips that directly compete with them. x86 in phones is still not a viable business, but Intel hasn't given up and you would think that's a prerequisite.
So this whole thing doesn't seem right.
Subject: Mobile | November 28, 2015 - 09:05 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Samsung, s7, galaxy
The follow-up to the Samsung Galaxy S6 is already being rumored, which people are obviously calling the Galaxy S7. The last two phones were unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, which takes place in late February / early March. Information coming out in November is a bit... early. Some sites believe that Samsung will announce the phone in January, but who knows? Some of the rumors are interesting, though.
The one that catches my attention is the potential inclusion of a microSD card slot. External storage is rare these days, with Google removing it from their Nexus line and severely limiting what apps can do with the contents. That said, Android 6.0, recently released for a few devices, made further changes to increase its capabilities. You can now use SD cards as internal storage, but only if you agree to format and encrypt the storage to use only on that device. While the recent batch of Nexus phones don't include a microSD card slot, the changes might be enough to sway third-party manufacturers to include a slot.
As a developer, it would certainly be nice, especially if you intend to develop software that uses an SD card. Makes sense, right? Purchasing a developer phone that has all the features you might want to target?
Speaking of developer phones, the upcoming device should have a top-of-the-line processor in it. Reports are split between the Snapdragon 820 and the Exynos 8890. If it's the latter, availability is expected Q1 2016; the former started sampling a few months ago and was launched on November 11th. As such, SoC availability should be ready if Samsung intends to launch the phone early, regardless of the chosen chip, but that's probably not the limiting factor. It is also entirely possible that Samsung could include different processors for different markets. Qualcomm was absent from the Galaxy S6 line, but the S5 had some sub-models using Qualcomm processors and others Samsung's own implementation.
Either way, they are fast processors that support OpenGL ES 3.1 + AEP at the very least. The Adreno 530 is rated for about 550 GFLOPs, which is a tiny bit faster than a GeForce 9800 GT, although with Vulkan-level feature support (provided correct drivers). Thankfully Google has been more friendly to Khronos-based standards, and Samsung even more so.
When will we know for sure? Don't know. How much will it cost? Don't know. What will it be officially called? Don't know, but anything other than Galaxy S7 would be surprising. Would it make sense for Samsung to shake up the date and other long-running details? Well, the Galaxy S6 launch was lackluster, so this would be the most likely time for them to be squirrely. We'll see.