Sprint, Qualcomm, and Motorola Team up to demonstrate Gigabit Class LTE Network in New Orleans

Subject: Mobile | March 16, 2017 - 11:15 AM |
Tagged: x16, Sprint, snapdragon 835, qualcomm, new orleans, motorola, LTE Plus, LTE Advanced, LTE, gigabit-class

Demoing improvements to mobile phone networks is difficult. Where an individual vendor such as Intel or AMD can show off an improved CPU architecture mostly by themselves, it takes a lot of cooperation between companies to show off advanced mobile data initiatives.

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This is just what Sprint, Qualcomm, and Motorola teamed up to do last week at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The first part of the story revolves around Sprint’s unique placement in the US mobile network market.  While network operators such as Verizon, ATT, and T-Mobile in the US currently operate their LTE networks on low and mid-band LTE frequencies, the vast majority of Sprint's allocated frequency into the high-band range of 2.5GHz. The reason that Sprint has this spectrum is from their short-lived rollout of WiMax technology with Clear.

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High-band frequencies can provide several advantages when deploying technologies enabling Gigabit-class LTE and on the road to 5G.

First, the antenna size needed in the 2.5GHz range is substantially smaller than the antenna size for a more common LTE frequency like 1900MHz. This means that when looking to deploy cellular sites utilizing technologies like 4X4 MIMO antenna arrays, Sprint can make smaller cell sites and be more nimble by placing them in areas where they are seeing substantial network load.

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Continue reading about the push to Gigabit LTE from Qualcomm, Sprint and Motorola!

Dropping all the Docks in the bay

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | March 8, 2017 - 12:50 PM |
Tagged: dell, hp, Lenovo, docking station, usb 3.1, thunderbolt 3, Type-C

Wave goodbye to your old docks as they sail away thanks to a thunderstorm.  The Register reached out to Dell, HP, Lenovo and ASUS about the rumours that the docking station will be a thing of the past and all but the latter responded.  It seems the vendors feel that as USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3 have united under the Type-C plug it is time to cover up that slot in the bottom of your PC and use a wire to connect you to docks.  Lenovo will also persist with their WiGig docks, for those who don't want to have to remember to 'undock' a cable.  Their post also has some tidbits on some of the features to expect on laptops from these three companies, so check it out for more info.

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"When you shop for PCs this year your theme tune may well be “Ding, dong, the dock is dead” because now that USB 3.1, USB-C connectors and Thunderbolt all play nicely together there's much less need for dedicated hardware to connect a laptop to peripherals."

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Tech Talk

 

Source: The Register

GamersNexus Tears Down a Nintendo Switch

Subject: Systems, Mobile | March 4, 2017 - 07:01 AM |
Tagged: Tegra X1, teardown, switch, nvidia, Nintendo

Here at PC Perspective, videos of Ryan and Ken dismantling consoles on their launch date were some of our most popular... ever. While we didn’t do one for the Nintendo Switch, GamersNexus did, and I’m guessing that a segment of our audience would be interested in seeing what the device looks like when dismantled.

Credit: GamersNexus

As he encounters many chips, he mentions what, if anything, is special about them based on their part numbers. For instance, the NVIDIA SoC is listed as A2, which is apparently different from previous Maxwell-based Tegra X1 SoCs, but it’s unclear how. From my perspective, I can think of three possibilities: NVIDIA made some customizations (albeit still on the Maxwell architecture) for Nintendo, NVIDIA had two revisions for their own purposes and Nintendo bought the A2, or the A2 shipped with NVIDIA's Maxwell-based Shield and my Google-fu is terrible.

Regardless, if you’re interested, it should be an interesting twenty-or-so minutes.

Source: GamersNexus

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

Qualcomm Announces First 3GPP 5G NR Connection, X50 5G NR Modem

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | February 27, 2017 - 11:12 AM |
Tagged: x50, Sub-6 Ghz, qualcomm, OFDM, NR, New Radio, MWC, multi-mode, modem, mmWave, LTE, 5G, 3GPP

Qualcomm has announced their first successful 5G New Radio (NR) connection using their prototype sub-6 GHz prototype system. This announcement was followed by today's news of Qualcomm's collaboration with Ericsson and Vodafone to trial 5G NR in the second half of 2017, as we approach the realization of 5G. New Radio is expected to become the standard for 5G going forward as 3GPP moves to finalize standards with release 15.

"5G NR will make the best use of a wide range of spectrum bands, and utilizing spectrum bands below 6 GHz is critical for achieving ubiquitous coverage and capacity to address the large number of envisioned 5G use cases. Qualcomm Technologies’ sub-6 GHz 5G NR prototype, which was announced and first showcased in June 2016, consists of both base stations and user equipment (UE) and serves as a testbed for verifying 5G NR capabilities in bands below 6 GHz."

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The Qualcomm Sub-6 GHz 5G NR prototype (Image credit: Qualcomm)

Qualcomm first showed their sub-6 Ghz prototype this past summer, and it will be on display this week at MWC. The company states that the system is designed to demonstrate how 5G NR "can be utilized to efficiently achieve multi-gigabit-per-second data rates at significantly lower latency than today’s 4G LTE networks". New Radio, or NR, is a complex topic as it related to a new OFDM-based wireless standard. OFDM refers to "a digital multi-carrier modulation method" in which "a large number of closely spaced orthogonal sub-carrier signals are used to carry data on several parallel data streams or channels". With 3GPP adopting this standard going forward the "NR" name could stick, just as "LTE" (Long Term Evolution) caught on to describe the 4G wireless standard.

Along with this 5G NR news comes the annoucement of the expansion of its X50 modem family, first announced in October, "to include 5G New Radio (NR) multi-mode chipset solutions compliant with the 3GPP-based 5G NR global system", according to Qualcomm. This 'multi-mode' solution provides full 4G/5G compatibility with "2G/3G/4G/5G functionality in a single chip", with the first commercial devices expected in 2019.

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"The new members of the Snapdragon X50 5G modem family are designed to support multi-mode 2G/3G/4G/5G functionality in a single chip, providing simultaneous connectivity across both 4G and 5G networks for robust mobility performance. The single chip solution also supports integrated Gigabit LTE capability, which has been pioneered by Qualcomm Technologies, and is an essential pillar for the 5G mobile experience as the high-speed coverage layer that co-exists and interworks with nascent 5G networks. This set of advanced multimode capabilities is designed to provide seamless Gigabit connectivity – a key requirement for next generation, premium smartphones and mobile computing devices."

Full press releases after the break.

Source: Qualcomm

Qualcomm Announces the Snapdragon X20 LTE Modem

Subject: Mobile | February 21, 2017 - 08:19 AM |
Tagged: X20, snapdragon, qualcomm, modem, LTE, DSDV, Category 18, Carrier Aggregation, CA, 5x20 MHz

Qualcomm has announced the Snapdragon X20 LTE modem, their 2nd-generation Gigabit LTE solution built on 10nm FinFET and offering what Qualcomm says are “a number of industry firsts”, which include first to Category 18 (downlink) and first to receive up to 12 spacial LTE data streams simultaneously.

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“It is the first commercially announced Gigabit LTE chipset designed to deliver fiber-like LTE Category 18 download speeds of up to 1.2 Gbps, a 20 percent improvement in download speeds over the previous generation. Additionally, it allows support for up to 5x20 MHz downlink Carrier Aggregation (CA) across licensed and unlicensed FDD and TDD radio frequencies, as well as 4x4 MIMO on up to three aggregated LTE carriers. Lastly, it supports integrated Dual SIM Dual VoLTE (DSDV) capability, a first for Snapdragon LTE modems. These leading-edge features of the Snapdragon X20 LTE modem are supported by the first commercially announced single-chip RF transceiver capable of simultaneously receiving up to 12 spatial streams of LTE data.”

Compared the the X16 modem featured in the upcoming Snapdragon 835 SoC, the Snapdragon X20 LTE modem moves from Cat 16 to Cat 18 on the downlink, with support for 5x20 MHz (vs. the X16’s 4x20 MHz) Carrier Aggregation and “can simultaneously receive 12 unique streams of data on as few as three 20 MHz carriers”, with up to 256-QAM and 100 Mbps per stream. Uplink is at the same 2x20 MHz/64-QAM as the X16 modem, for speeds of up to 150 Mbps.

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The X20 LTE modem now includes VoLTE for both cards in a dual-SIM implementation:

“The Snapdragon X20 LTE modem also features more advanced dual SIM functionality and, as the first Snapdragon LTE modem to support DSDV, it provides users with the benefits of Ultra HD Voice and other IMS-based services on both SIMs inserted into the device.”

Qualcomm has begun to sample the Snapdragon X20 LTE modem to customers, with the first commercial devices expected 1H 2018.

Full press release after the break.

Source: Qualcomm

Jack Sprat would approve of the third incarnation of the ASUS Zenbook

Subject: Mobile | February 20, 2017 - 02:03 PM |
Tagged: zenbook 3, UX390UA, ultrabook, kaby lake, asus. zenbook

We caught a glance at the new ASUS ZenBook 3 at CES and today Kitguru provides a full review of one, albeit a slightly different model.  The UX3901UA model contains a Kaby Lake i5-7200U with HD 620 graphics, 8GB LPDDR3-2133 and a 512GB M.2 SATA SSD.  The 12.5" screen is 1080p with no adaptive graphics or other tricks.  Where things seem to go off the rails is when you look at the thickness of the Zenbook, at its thickest it is 11.9mm (0.46").  This means you get no ethernet nor USB type A plugs as they simply would not fit and you have to content yourself with a single Type C plug.  For some the sacrifice is worth it; if you are one who likes petite sized computers you should head over for the full review.

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"What has really caught my eye about the ZenBook 3 is its physical dimensions – it measures just 11.9mm thick, while it weighs a mere 910g. With Kaby Lake hardware inside, as well as the promise of a crisp 1080p display and Harman Kardon speakers, could this be our new ultrabook of choice?"

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Source: Kitguru
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.

Just Picked Up: Google Daydream View

Subject: Mobile | February 16, 2017 - 07:01 AM |
Tagged: zte, VR, google, daydream

As I mentioned last week, my ZTE Axon 7 has just received Android 7.0 Nougat, which also unlocked Google Daydream VR. I wasn’t able to pick up Google’s VR headset at the time, but now I can, so I did, and I spent a couple of hours messing around with it.

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First, I have to say I am very glad that Google made one headset (and controller) that works with all Daydream-compatible phones. That wasn’t entirely clear when I ordered my Axon 7 last summer, and I feared it would lead to a lot of waiting for my OEM to release a specific headset that may or may not be as good as any another vendor’s, especially sight unseen. I don’t really know how they properly align the screens, across all possible phones and accounting for user-error, but it seems to accept my phone perfectly without really any fiddling. Maybe it’s a simpler problem than I am envisioning, but, either way, the one viewer works with my ZTE Axon 7 -- it’s not just for the Pixel.

My second point is that the phone gets very hot, very quick. I’m sure ZTE knows about this, and the phone is designed around it, but it doesn’t just get warm, it borders on hot-to-the-touch at times. To be safe, I’m removing the case each time I insert it into the Daydream View, although the device seems to work either way. The battery does drain quickly, relative to other workloads, but a single, hour-or-so VR sitting took about 25% off (~75% remaining). Despite the heat and the quick battery drain, you will probably be done with a VR sitting before the device is, so I consider those aspects to be all-around positive.

As for the YouTube app, I’m glad that the virtual screen for standard video can be adjusted in pretty much any way. You can make it bigger or smaller with the track pad, pull it in any direction with motion controls, and adjust whether it’s flat or curved (so all points are equidistant) in the settings. If you want to lay on your back in bed and watch movies “on the ceiling”, then you can... and without holding the phone over your face while your arms go numb.

Yes, I’m speaking from experience.

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As for games? Eh... about the only thing that caught my eye is maybe “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes”. I’m pleasantly surprised it’s there, but it’s about the only thing that is. I knew there wasn’t a whole lot of apps, and that’s fine for me, but you probably shouldn’t get too excited outside of video.

Also, it’d be nice to see Google Chrome in VR. Get on that, Google! A virtual void would make a good place to keep my many, many tabs. It will apparently support WebVR content very soon, but in a “browse, click the Daydream button, mount it in the View, and put it on your head, then undo all that when you’re done” sort of way. It’d be nice to just... stay in the headset to browse.

Anywho, I have it, and those are my thoughts. It’s early, but it seems to work pretty well. I haven’t tried an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive yet, though, so I can’t make any comparisons there.

Source: Google
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!