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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Intro, Exterior and Internal Features
Lenovo sent over an OLED-equipped ThinkPad X1 Yoga a while back. I was mid-development on our client SSD test suite and had some upcoming travel. Given that the new suite’s result number crunching spreadsheet ends extends out to column FHY (4289 for those counting), I really needed a higher res screen and improved computer horsepower in a mobile package. I commandeered the X1 Yoga OLED for the trip and to say it grew on me quickly is an understatement. While I do tend to reserve my heavier duty computing tasks and crazy spreadsheets for desktop machines and 40” 4K displays, the compute power of the X1 Yoga proved itself quite reasonable for a mobile platform. Sure there is a built in pen that comes in handy when employing the Yoga’s flip over convertibility into tablet mode, but the real beauty of this particular laptop comes with its optional 2560x1440 14” OLED display.
OLED is just one of those things you need to see in person to truly appreciate. Photos of these screens just can’t capture the perfect blacks and vivid colors. In productivity use, something about either the pixel pattern or the amazing contrast made me feel like the effective resolution of the panel was higher than its rating. It really is a shame that you are likely reading this article on an LCD, because the OLED panel on this particular model of Lenovo laptop really is the superstar. I’ll dive more into the display later on, but for now let’s cover the basics:
Subject: Mobile | February 8, 2017 - 07:26 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: zte, axon 7, google, nougat, Android, android 7.0
Well that was quick. About two weeks ago, we reported on ZTE Mobile Deutschland’s Facebook post that said Android 7.0 would miss January, but arrive some time in Q1. For North America, that apparently means the second week of February, because my device was just notified, about an hour ago, that A2017UV1.1.0B15 was available for over-the-air update. It just finished installing.
In my case, I needed to hold the on button a few times to get the phone to boot into the second stage of installation, but ZTE mentions it in the pre-install notes, so that’s good. Then, when the phone moved on to the new lock screen, my fingerprint reader didn’t work until after I typed in the lock screen password. I’m not sure why the phone didn’t accept the fingerprint reader until after I successfully logged in, especially since it used the fingerprints on file from Android 6.0, I didn’t need to set it up again, but it’s a small inconvenience. Just don’t perform the update if you can’t access your password manager and you don’t remember the unlock code off the top of your head.
While I don’t have a Daydream VR headset, I’ll probably pick one up soon and give it a test. The Daydream app is installed on the device, though, so you can finally enjoy Android-based VR content if you pick one up.
If your phone hasn’t alerted you yet, find your unlock password and check for updates in the settings app.
Subject: Systems, Mobile | February 6, 2017 - 03:37 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: xeon, Thinkpad, quadro, P71, P51s, P51, nvidia, notebook, mobile workstation, Lenovo, kaby lake, core i7
Lenovo has announced a trio of new ThinkPad mobile workstations, featuring updated Intel 7th-generation Core (Kaby Lake) processors and NVIDIA Quadro graphics, and among these is the thinnest and lightest ThinkPad mobile workstation to date in the P51s.
"Engineered to deliver breakthrough levels of performance, reliability and long battery life, the ThinkPad P51s features a new chassis, designed to meet customer demands for a powerful but portable machine. Developed with engineers and professional designers in mind, this mobile workstation features Intel’s 7th generation Core i7 processors and the latest NVIDIA Quadro dedicated workstation graphics, as well as a 4K UHD IPS display with optional IR camera."
Lenovo says that the ThinkPad P51s is more than a half pound lighter than the previous generation (P50s), stating that "the P51s is the lightest and thinnest mobile workstation ever developed by ThinkPad" at 14.4 x 9.95 x 0.79 inches, and weight starting at 4.3 lbs.
Specs for the P51s include:
- Up to a 7th Generation Intel Core i7 Processor
- NVIDIA Quadro M520M Graphics
- Choice of standard or touchscreen FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS, or 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS display
- Up to 32 GB DDR4 2133 RAM (2x SODIMM slots)
- Storage options including up to 1 TB (5400 rpm) HDD and 1 TB NVMe PCIe SSDs
- USB-C with Intel Thunderbolt 3
- 802.11ac and LTE-A wireless connectivity
Lenovo also announced the ThinkPad P51, which is slightly larger than the P51s, but brings the option of Intel Xeon E3-v6 processors (in addition to Kaby Lake Core i7 CPUs), Quadro M2200M graphics, faster 2400 MHz memory up to 64 GB (4x SODIMM slots), and up to a 4K IPS display with X-Rite Pantone color calibration.
Finally there is the new VR-ready P71 mobile workstation, which offers up to an NVIDIA Quadro P5000M GPU along with Oculus and HTC VR certification.
"Lenovo is also bringing virtual reality to life with the new ThinkPad P71. One of the most talked about technologies today, VR has the ability to bring a new visual perspective and immersive experience to our customers’ workflow. In our new P71, the NVIDIA Pascal-based Quadro GPUs offer a stunning level of performance never before seen in a mobile workstation, and it comes equipped with full Oculus and HTC certifications, along with NVIDIA’s VR-ready certification."
Pricing and availability is as follows:
- ThinkPad P51s, starting at $1049, March
- ThinkPad P51, starting at $1399, April
- ThinkPad P71, starting at $1849, April
In conjunction with Ericsson, Netgear, and Telstra, Qualcomm officially unveiled the first Gigabit LTE ready network. Sydney, Australia is the first city to have this new cellular spec deployed through Telstra. Gigabit LTE, dubbed 4GX by Telstra, offers up to 1Gbps download speeds and 150 Mbps upload speeds with a supported device. Gigabit LTE implementation took partnership between all four companies to become a reality with Ericsson providing the backend hardware and software infrastructure and upgrades, Qualcomm designing its next-gen Snapdragon 835 SoC and Snapdragon X16 modem for Gigabit LTE support, Netgear developing the Nighthawk M1 Mobile router which leverages the Snapdragon 835, and Telstra bringing it all together on its Australian-based cellular network. Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Telstra all see the 4GX implementation as a solid step forward in the path to 5G with 4GX acting as the foundation layer for next-gen 5G networks and providing a fallback, much the same as 3G acted as a fallback for the current 4G LTE cellular networks.
Gigabit LTE Explained
Courtesy of Telstra
What exactly is meant by Gigabit LTE (or 4GX as Telstra has dubbed the new cellular technology)? Gigabit LTE increases both the download and upload speeds of current generation 4G LTE to 1Gbps download and 150 Mbps upload speeds by leveraging several technologies for optimizing the signal transmission between the consumer device and the cellular network itself. Qualcomm designed the Snapdragon X16 modem to operate on dual 60MHz signals with 4x4 MIMO support or dual 80MHz signals without 4x4 MIMO. Further, they increased the modem's QAM support to 256 (8-bit) instead of the current 64 QAM support (6-bit), enabling 33% more data per stream - an increase of 75 Mbps to 100 Mbps per stream. The X16 modem leverages a total of 10 communication streams for delivery of up to 1 Gbps performance and also offers access to previously inaccessible frequency bands using LAA (License Assisted Access) to leverage increased power and speed needs for Gigabit LTE support.
The German offices of ZTE Mobile have announced (via their Facebook page) that the Android 7.0 update will be coming later in this quarter, which would be before the end of March. In November, this branch announced that the update would be coming in January. This update is supposed to bring Daydream to the handset, as this was one of the big promises that ZTE made about the device before it launched. They are not confident with it in its current state, though.
Our readers were asking about my opinion of the device, since I published a “Just Delivered” post about it four months ago. I said that I would wait until the Nougat release, which I was, at the time, expecting in October or November, because I had a feeling that ZTE envisioned the phone with that OS version. Since then, bugs have come and gone, most of which were relatively benign, like messing up whitespace in the lock screen’s current date. Personally, I started getting a bug where my camera would occasionally fail to focus, instead humming and blurring like it’s focusing in and out tens or hundreds of times per second until you close the app using the camera. (It started happening, off and on, just after the last service update, although it could just be a coincidental hardware issue with my unit. I’m waiting until I see it in Nougat to call customer support.)
Either way, it’s probably a good thing that ZTE is taking their time with this one. I’m guessing this update is when those who adopted the Axon 7 will begin to solidify judgments about the company as a higher-end phone vendor going forward.
Subject: Mobile | January 23, 2017 - 03:00 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: msi, dominator pro, GT62VR 7RE Dominator Pro, gaming laptop, 4k gsync
MSI takes their Dominator series of laptops seriously and the new Kaby Lake model is no exception. The GSYNC IPS display is natively 4k and the 8GB GTX 1070 should drive it at 60Hz without issue, or you could skip the monitor and go straight to VR as the required ports are present. The CPU is an i7-7820HK, with 32GB of DDR4-2400 in a dual channel configuration and Samsung provided an M.2 500GB SSD rated at 540MB/s read, 520MBs write, with a 1TB HDD for extra storage. It weighs in at almost 3kg (6.4lbs) so it is not as heavy as you might expect, though the 230W power adapter may add a few straws to that load. eTeknix tired it out to see how effective it was at replacing a gaming desktop, you can see the results and photos of the internals right here.
"MSI’s gaming laptops have gained a special status for their gorgeous sense of style and astounding features. It’s no surprise that the latest data puts their firmly in the lead as the world’s most successful gaming laptop manufacturer. Honestly, it’s thoroughly deserved and I’m pleased to see the MSI pushing the technical envelope further and making laptops a true alternative to traditional desktops."
Here are some more Mobile articles from around the web:
More Mobile Articles
- Razer Blade Laptop with GTX 1060 @ Kitguru
- Google Pixel Smartphone @ Hardware Secrets
- HTC U Ultra hands-on @ The Inquirer
- Everything About Lenovo Phab2 Pro @ Hardware Secrets
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | January 20, 2017 - 07:39 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: google, chromecast ultra, chromecast
One of the disadvantages of the ZTE Axon 7, which a lot of other phones share, is that you cannot directly connect it to a TV over HDMI via MHL. Granted, it’s a good screen and great speakers, so I can just pass the device around, but sometimes you want to show a video (or something) on the TV. As such, I was looking around at the Chromecast, but I heard a bunch of complaints that ranged from low frame rate to frequent stutters in some apps.
Then Google announced the Chromecast Ultra, which launched in November. I put my email address on the official waiting list and... haven’t heard a thing since. I also haven’t seen it in many stores. I then found out that the local Best Buy Mobile kiosk had it (yet the full store a few blocks away somehow did not???) Interestingly, when I arrived, they had several of them, and on sale for $20 off, too.
Upon bringing it home, it had a little difficulty connecting to my WiFi router. (The 5 GHz band was a little weak at that location.) Once that was resolved, though, it was a very pleasant experience. It played 1080p60 video from YouTube without any trouble, even switching to the correct input automatically with HDMI CEC (although I needed to manually change it back to the digital TV box when I was done).
I don’t have a 4K or HDR TV, though, so I cannot test its more advanced features. Sorry!