ASUS Launches the ZenFone 4 Max Smartphone

Subject: General Tech | September 11, 2017 - 12:03 PM |
Tagged: ZenFone 4 Max, zenfone, Snapdragon 430, smartphone, ips, dual camera, asus, Android

The midrange phone market has a new contendor with the ZenFone 4 Max, launched today by ASUS and featuring some impressive specifications - particularly in the camera department - for an unlocked device with an MSRP of $199.

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The phone offers a 5.5-inch display - though likely due to the price target it is just 1280x720 - and the metal and glass construction gives it a more premium (if familiar) look. It's the back of the device where the dual camera sensors really set this apart from the majority of ~$200 unlocked phones: a pair of 13 MP sensors reside behind both a wide-angle and telephoto lens, which allows for more flexibility in composing shots.

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"ZenFone 4 Max features an advanced dual-camera system designed to take your mobile photography to new heights. Its 13MP main camera is equipped with the wide, F2.0 aperture lens to capture clearer photos. Its 120° wide-angle camera lets your fit more scenery and people in the frame for dramatic landscape shots, better group photos, and a more convenient photography experience in confined indoor spaces."

The application processor is the Snapdragon 430, a capable 8-core design with Adreno 505 graphics which also crucially offers 2x image signal processors for a dual camera setup. One area that is decidedly not midrange is the battery - which is a whopping 5000 mAh (!). Not only does this massive capacity allow for the unusual feature of turning your smartphone into a battery pack to charge other devices, but it should provide some really outstanding real-world battery life as well. The onboard Snapdragon 430 supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, so refilling that huge battery should be efficient as well.

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The unlocked ZenFone 4 Max is available now for $199 on Amazon.com in a 32GB capacity.

Source: ASUS

... and the crowd goes mild. Microsoft's Android integration starts out with a whimper

Subject: General Tech | July 28, 2017 - 12:19 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, Android

Can you imagine a world in which you're able to share links between your phone and computer?  This is the brave new frontier which Microsoft is exploring in Version 16251 of Win10 which will allow you to link to an Android phone via a app for Android on the Windows Store.  Mind you there are a variety of programs out there which already fulfill this purpose, The Inquirer offers an example here,  and if you sign into Chrome it will happily sync itself on all your devices.

On the other hand this is a first step towards admitting that Windows Mobile is not the success they had dreamed.  Microsoft does see this as a much a larger project and taking the initial steps slowly could help in the long run; as long as they can get people to notice what they are doing and attract at least some attention.

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"But it does lay foundations, and it does show intentions. It's hugely unlikely that Windows Mobile is ever going to claw its way back to the levels to compete with iOS and Android, so it is important that as it approaches its second birthday, Windows-as-a-Service is approachable from other mobile operating systems."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Source: The Inquirer
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction and Specifications

The Galaxy S8 Plus is Samsung's first ‘big’ phone since the Note7 fiasco, and just looking at it the design and engineering process seems to have paid off. Simply put, the GS8/GS8+ might just be the most striking handheld devices ever made. The U.S. version sports the newest and fastest Qualcomm platform with the Snapdragon 835, and the international version of the handset uses Samsung’s Exynos 8895 Octa SoC. We have the former on hand, and it was this MSM8998-powered version of the 6.2-inch GS8+ that I spent some quality time with over the past two weeks.

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There is more to a phone than its looks, and even in that department the Galaxy S8+ raises questions about durability with that large, curved glass screen. With the front and back panels wrapping around as they do the phone has a very slim, elegant look that feels fantastic in hand. And while one drop could easily ruin your day with any smartphone, this design is particularly unforgiving - and screen replacement costs with these new S8 phones are particularly high due to the difficulty in repairing the screen, and need to replace the AMOLED display along with the laminated glass.

Forgetting the fragility for a moment and just embracing the case-free lifestyle I was so tempted to adopt, lest I change the best in-hand feel I've had from a handset (and I didn't want to hide its knockout design, either), I got down to actually objectively assessing the phone's performance. This is the first production phone we have had on hand with the new Snapdragon 835 platform, and we will be able to draw some definitive performance conclusions compared to SoCs in other shipping phones.

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Samsung Galaxy S8+ Specifications (US Version)
Display 6.2-inch 1440x2960 AMOLED
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (MSM8998)
CPU Cores 4x 2.45 GHz Kryo
4x 1.90 GHz Kryo
GPU Cores Adreno 540
RAM 4 / 6 GB LPDDR4 (6 GB with 128 GB storage option)
Storage 64 / 128 GB
Network Snapdragon X16 LTE
Connectivity 802.11ac Wi-Fi
2x2 MU-MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0; A2DP, aptX
USB 3.1 (Type-C)
NFC
Battery 3500 mAh Li-Ion
Dimensions 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm, 173 g
OS Android 7.0

Continue reading our review of the Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone!

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Google

Introduction and Design

In case you have not heard by now, Pixel is the re-imagining of the Nexus phone concept by Google; a fully stock version of the Android experience on custom, Google-authorized hardware - and with the promise of the latest OS updates as they are released. So how does the hardware stack up? We are late into the life of the Pixel by now, and this is more of a long-term review as I have had the smaller version of the phone on hand for some weeks now. As a result I can offer my candid view of the less-covered of the two Pixel handsets (most reviews center around the Pixel XL), and its performance.

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There was always a certain cachet to owning a Nexus phone, and you could rest assured that you would be running the latest version of Android before anyone on operator-controlled hardware. The Nexus phones were sold primarily by Google, unlocked, with operator/retail availability at times during their run. Things took a turn when Google opted to offer a carrier-branded version of the Nexus 6 back in November of 2014, along with their usual unlocked Google Play store offering. But this departure was not just an issue of branding, as the price jumped to a full $649; the off-contract cost of premium handsets such as Apple’s iPhone. How could Google hope to compete in a space dominated by Apple and Samsung phones purchased by and large with operator subsidies and installment plans? They did not compete, of course, and the Nexus 6 flopped.

Pixel, coming after the Huawei-manufactured Nexus 6p and LG-manufactured Nexus 5X, drops the “Nexus” branding while continuing the tradition of a reference Android experience - and the more recent tradition of premium pricing. As we have seen in the months since its release, the Pixel did not put much of a dent into the Apple/Samsung dominated handset market. But even during the budget-friendly Nexus era, which offered a compelling mix of day-one Android OS update availability and inexpensive, unlocked hardware (think Nexus 4 at $299 and Nexus 5 at $349), Google's own phones were never mainstream. Still, in keeping with iPhone and Galaxy flagships $649 nets you a Pixel, which also launched through Verizon in an exclusive operator deal. Of course a larger version of the Pixel exists, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the Pixel XL. Unfortunately I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that stock for the XL has been quite low with availability constantly in question.

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The Pixel is hard to distinguish from an iPhone 7 from a distance (other than the home button)

Google Pixel Specifications
Display 5.0-inch 1080x1920 AMOLED
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 (MSM8996)
CPU Cores 2x 2.15 GHz Kryo
2x 1.60 GHz Kryo
GPU Cores Adreno 530
RAM 4GB LPDDR4
Storage 32 / 128 GB
Network Snapdragon X12 LTE
Connectivity 802.11ac Wi-Fi
2x2 MU-MIMO
Bluetooth 4.2
USB 3.0
NFC
Dimensions 143.8 x 69.5 x 8.5 mm, 143 g
OS Android 7.1

Continue reading our review of the Google Pixel smartphone!

Shrout Research: Chromebook Platform Impacts Android App Performance

Subject: Mobile | May 23, 2017 - 12:25 PM |
Tagged: shrout research, play store, Intel, Chromebook, arm, Android

Please excuse the bit of self-promotion here. Oh, and disclaimer: Shrout Research and PC Perspective share management and ownership.

Based on testing done by Shrout Research and published in a paper this week, the introduction of Android applications on Chromebooks directly though the Play Store has added a new wrinkle into the platform selection decision. Android applications, unlike Chromebook native apps, have a heavy weight towards the Android phone and tablet ecosystem, with "defacto" optimization for the ARM-based processors and platforms that represent 98%+ of that market. As a result, there are some noticeable and noteworthy differences when running Android apps on Chromebooks powered by an ARM SoC and an Intel x86 SoC.

With that market dominance as common knowledge, all Android applications are developed targeting ARM hardware, for ARM processors. Compilers and performance profiling software has been built and perfected to improve the experience and efficiency of apps to run on ARMv7 (32-bit) and ARMv8 (64-bit) architectures. This brings to the consumer an improved overall experience, including better application compatibility and better performance.

Using a pair of Acer Chromebooks, the R11 based on the Intel Celeron N3060 and the R13 based on the MediaTek MT8173C, testing was done to compare the performance, loading times, and overall stability of various Android Play Store applications. A range of application categories were addressed including games, social, and productivity.

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Through 19 tested Android apps we found that the ARM-powered R13 Chromebook performed better than the Intel-powered R11 Chromebook in 9 of them. In 8 of the apps tested, both platforms performed equally well. In 2 of the test applications, the Intel-powered system performed better (Snapchat and Google Maps).

The paper also touches on power consumption, and between these two systems, the ARM-based MediaTek SoC was using 11.5% less power to accomplish the same tasks.

Our testing indicates the Acer R13, using the ARM-powered processor, uses 11.5% less power on average in our 150 minutes of use through our education simulation. This is a significant margin and would indicate that with two systems equally configured, one with the MediaTek ARM processor and another with the Intel Celeron processor, the ARM-powered platform would get 11.5% additional usage time before requiring a charge. Based on typical Chromebook battery life (11 hours), the ARM system would see an additional 75 minutes of usability.

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There is a lot more detail in the white paper on ShroutResearch.com, including a discussion about the impact that the addition of Android applications on Chromebooks might have for the market as whole:

...bringing a vast library of applications from the smart phone market to the Chromebook would create a combination of capabilities that would turn the computing spectrum sideways. This move alleviates the sustained notion that Chromebooks are connected-only devices and gives an instant collection of usable offline applications and tools to the market.

You can download the full white paper here.

Meet Google's Fuchsia OS

Subject: General Tech | May 10, 2017 - 04:44 PM |
Tagged: fuschia, google, Android, iot

Fuchsia is still a work in progress which has been available on Github for a while now but we haven't really seen a  demonstration of it in action.  A Texan enthusiast has been working on creating one and you can take a peek at it in this video over at The Register.  The tiny OS is design to run on almost anything, from smart light bulbs to phone and even full sized computers.  It is based on BSD with additional resources developed at MIT and will be backwards compatible with current Android libraries.

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"When Fuchsia broke cover last August, we noted the project's ambition. The presence of a compositor indicated it was capable of running on more than lightbulbs and routers, although the tiny new Magenta kernel also allows it go there too."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Source: The Register

Early Opinions about Android O Dev Preview Around the Net

Subject: Mobile | March 30, 2017 - 12:37 AM |
Tagged: google, Android, android o

A couple of sites have downloaded the upcoming Android preview and walked through the new features that they found. Google, themselves, published a “what’s changed” video (embed below) to their Android Developers channel, which is mostly about the specific API changes, rather than UI and feature differences.

The first couple of minutes was dominated by new limitations on background applications, increasing the privacy and decreasing the battery impact of apps that are not currently focused. “Notification Channel” interests me personally, because it allows apps to categorize notifications, which users can block individually. While good apps should have that sort of control in their own settings already, a unified implementation in the OS is welcome (if it can limit how many applications I need to outright block everything from).

As for the third-party previewers, Ars Technica has a pretty in-depth look, with screenshots for most differences (often side-by-side with the Nougat equivalent). For a second opinion, Paul Thurrott also has a brief overview with a handful of screenshots.

We should learn a lot more at Google I/O in mid-May.

Source: Google

MWC: BlackBerry KEYone Is Solid Mid-Range Smartphone Priced Too High

Subject: Mobile | March 1, 2017 - 02:26 PM |
Tagged: Snapdragon 625, opinion, MWC, keyone, enterprise, Cortex A53, blackberry, Android 7.1, Android

February is quite the busy month with GDC, MWC, and a flurry of technology announcements coming out all around the same time! One of the more surprising announcements from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona came from BlackBerry in the form of a new mid-range smartphone it is calling the KEYone. The KEYone is an Android 7.1 smartphone actually built by TCL with an aluminum frame, "soft touch" plastic back, curved edges, and (in traditional CrackBerry fashion) a full physical QWERTY keyboard!

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The black and silver candy bar style KEYone (previously known as "Mercury") measures 5.78" x 2.85" x 0.37" and weighs 0.39 pounds. The left, right, and bottom edges are rounded and the top edge is flat. There are two bottom firing stereo speakers surrounding a USB Type-C port (Type-C 1.0 with USB OTG), a headphone jack up top, and volume, power, and convenience key buttons on the right side. The front of the device, which BlackBerry has designed to be comfortable using one handed, features a 4.5" 1620 x 1080 LCD touchscreen (434 PPI) protected by Gorilla Glass 4, a front facing camera with LED flash, and a large physical keyboard with straight rows of keys that have a traditional BlackBerry feel. The keyboard, in addition to having physical buttons, supports touch gestures such as swiping, and the spacebar has a fingerprint reader that early hands on reports indicate works rather well for quickly unlocking the phone. Further, every physical key can be programmed as a hot key to open any application with a long press (B for browser, E for email, ect).

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On the camera front, BlackBerry is using the same sensor found in the Google Pixel which is a Sony IMX378. There is a 12MP f/2.0 rear camera with dual LED flash and phase detect auto focus on the back as well as a front facing 8MP camera. Both cameras can record 1080p30 video as well as support HDR and software features like face detection. Android Central reports that the camera software is rather good (it even has a pro mode) and the camera is snappy at taking photos.

Internally, BlackBerry has opted to go with squarely mid-range hardware which is disappointing but not the end of the world. Specifically, the KEYone is powered by a Snapdragon 625 (MSM8953) with eight ARM Cortex A53 cores clocked at 2GHz and an Adreno 506 GPU paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Wireless support includes dual band 802.11ac, FM, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC, and GSM/HSPA/LTE cellular radios. The smartphone uses a 3,505 mAh battery that is not user removable but at least supports Quick Charge 3.0 which can reportedly charge the battery to 50% in 36 minutes. Storage can be expanded via MicroSD cards. The smartphone is running Android 7.1.1 with some BlackBerry UI tweaks but is otherwise fairly stock. Under the hood however BlackBerry has hardened the OS and includes its DTEK security sftware along with promising monthly updates.

Not bad right? Looking at the specifications and reading/watching the various hands-on reports coming out it is really looking like BlackBerry (finally) has a decent piece of hardware for enterprise customers, niche markets (lawyers, healthcare, ect), and customers craving a physical keyboard in a modern phone. At first glance the BlackBerry KEYone hits all the key marks to a competitive Android smartphone... except for its $549 price tag. The KEYone is expected to launch in April.

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No scroll ball? Blasphemy! (hehe)

Unfortunately, that $549 price is not a typo, and is what kills it even for a CrackBerry addict like myself. After some reflection and discussion with our intrepid smartphone guru Sebastian, I feel as though BlackBerry would have a competitive smartphone on its hands at $399, but at $549 even business IT departments are going to balk much less consumers (especially as many businesses embrace the BYOD culture or have grown accustomed to pricing out and giving everyone whatever basic Android or iPhone they can fit into the budget).

While similarly specced Snapdragon 625 smartphones are going for around $300, (e.g. Asus ZenPhone 3 at $265.98), there is some precedent for higher priced MSM8953-based smartphones such as the $449 Moto Z Play. There is some inherent cost in integrating a physical keyboard and BlackBerry has also hardened the Android 7.1.1 OS which I can see them charging a premium for and that business customers (or anyone that does a lot of writing on the go) that values security can appreciate. It seems like BlackBerry (and hardware partner TCL) has finally learned how to compete on the hardware design front in this modern Android-dominated market, and now they must learn how to compete on price especially as more and more Americans are buying unlocked and off-contract smartphones! I think the KEYone is a refreshing bit of hardware to come out of BlackBerry (I was not a fan of the Priv design) and I would like to see it do well and give the major players (Apple, Samsung, LG, Asus, Huawei, ect) some healthy competition with the twist of its focus on better security but in order for that to happen I think the BlackBerry KEYone needs to be a bit cheaper.

What are your thoughts on the KEYone and the return of the physical keyboard? Am I onto something or simply off my Moto Rokr on this?

Source: BlackBerry
Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Living Long and Prospering

The open fork of AMD’s Mantle, the Vulkan API, was released exactly a year ago with, as we reported, a hard launch. This meant public, but not main-branch drivers for developers, a few public SDKs, a proof-of-concept patch for The Talos Principle, and, of course, the ratified specification. This sets up the API to find success right out of the gate, and we can now look back over the year since.

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Thor's hammer, or a tempest in a teapot?

The elephant in the room is DOOM. This game has successfully integrated the API and it uses many of its more interesting features, like asynchronous compute. Because the API is designed in a sort-of “make a command, drop it on a list” paradigm, the driver is able to select commands based on priority and available resources. AMD’s products got a significant performance boost, relative to OpenGL, catapulting their Fury X GPU up to the enthusiast level that its theoretical performance suggested.

Mobile developers have been picking up the API, too. Google, who is known for banishing OpenCL from their Nexus line and challenging OpenGL ES with their Android Extension Pack (later integrated into OpenGL ES with version 3.2), has strongly backed Vulkan. The API was integrated as a core feature of Android 7.0.

On the engine and middleware side of things, Vulkan is currently “ready for shipping games” as of Unreal Engine 4.14. It is also included in Unity 5.6 Beta, which is expected for full release in March. Frameworks for emulators are also integrating Vulkan, often just to say they did, but sometimes to emulate the quirks of these system’s offbeat graphics co-processors. Many other engines, from Source 2 to Torque 3D, have also announced or added Vulkan support.

Finally, for the API itself, The Khronos Group announced (pg 22 from SIGGRAPH 2016) areas that they are actively working on. The top feature is “better” multi-GPU support. While Vulkan, like OpenCL, allows developers to enumerate all graphics devices and target them, individually, with work, it doesn’t have certain mechanisms, like being able to directly ingest output from one GPU into another. They haven’t announced a timeline for this.

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Huawei

Introduction and Specifications

The Mate 9 is the current version of Huawei’s signature 6-inch smartphone, building on last year’s iteration with the company’s new Kirin 960 SoC (featuring ARM's next-generation Bifrost GPU architecture), improved industrial design, and exclusive Leica-branded dual camera system.

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In the ultra-competitive smartphone world there is little room at the top, and most companies are simply looking for a share of the market. Apple and Samsung have occupied the top two spots for some time, with HTC, LG, Motorola, and others, far behind. But the new #3 emerged not from the usual suspects, but from a name many of us in the USA had not heard of until recently; and it is the manufacturer of the Mate 9. And comparing this new handset to the preceding Mate 8 (which we looked at this past August), it is a significant improvement in most respects.

With this phone Huawei has really come into their own with their signature phone design, and 2016 was a very good product year with the company’s smartphone offerings. The P9 handset launched early in 2016, offering not only solid specs and impressive industrial design, but a unique camera that was far more than a gimmick. Huawei’s partnership with Leica has resulted in a dual-camera system that operates differently than systems found on phones such as the iPhone 7 Plus, and the results are very impressive. The Mate 9 is an extension of that P9 design, adapted for their larger Mate smartphone series.

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Continue reading our review of the Huawei Mate 9!