Looking for some recommendations for mobile devices?

Subject: Mobile | August 11, 2016 - 06:57 PM |
Tagged: guide

While the article was published last month, the various devices picked by The Tech Report still represent the best available choices on the market ... at least in their eyes.  For instance nothing comparable to NVIDIA's Shield has been released recently and the two recommended Chromebooks are still the best which are available for purchase.  They cover a variety of convertible and standard format laptops and the list of phones they recommend goes far beyond the binary choice of Apple or Samsung.  If you are shopping for mobile devices for yourself or for someone else you should take a quick peek at their top picks for the summer.

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"The Tech Report staff has scoured the Internet and drawn on our experience with the latest tablets, laptops, and phones to compile a list of the mobile devices we think are most worth your hard-earned cash this summer."

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Subject: Systems, Mobile
Manufacturer: Dell

Introduction and Specifications

Dell's premium XPS notebook family includes both 15 inch and 13 inch variants, and ship with the latest 6th-generation Intel Skylake processors and all of the latest hardware. But the screens are what will grab your immediate attention; bright, rich, and with the narrowest bezels on any notebook courtesy of Dell's InfinityEdge displays.

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Since Ryan’s review of the XPS 13, which is now his daily driver, Dell has added the XPS 15, which is the smallest 15-inch notebook design you will find anywhere. The XPS 13 is already "the smallest 13-inch laptop on the planet", according to Dell, giving their XPS series a significant advantage in the ultrabook market. The secret is in the bezel, or lack thereof, which allows Dell to squeeze these notebooks into much smaller physical dimensions than you might expect given their display sizes.

But you get more than just a compact size with these XPS notebooks, as the overall quality of the machines rivals that of anything else you will find; and may just be the best Windows notebooks you can buy right now. Is this simply bluster? Notebooks, like smartphones, are a personal thing. They need to conform to the user to provide a great experience, and there are obviously many different kinds of users to satisfy. Ultimately, however, Dell has produced what could easily be described as class leaders with these machines.

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Continue reading our review of the Dell XPS 13 and 15 notebooks!!

Rumor: Nintendo NX Uses NVIDIA Tegra... Something

Subject: Graphics Cards, Systems, Mobile | July 27, 2016 - 11:58 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, Nintendo, nintendo nx, tegra, Tegra X1, tegra x2, pascal, maxwell

Okay so there's a few rumors going around, mostly from Eurogamer / DigitalFoundry, that claim the Nintendo NX is going to be powered by an NVIDIA Tegra system on a chip (SoC). DigitalFoundry, specifically, cites multiple sources who claim that their Nintendo NX development kits integrate the Tegra X1 design, as seen in the Google Pixel C. That said, the Nintendo NX release date, March 2017, does provide enough time for them to switch to NVIDIA's upcoming Pascal Tegra design, rumored to be called the Tegra X2, which uses NVIDIA's custom-designed Denver CPU cores.

Preamble aside, here's what I think about the whole situation.

First, the Tegra X1 would be quite a small jump in performance over the WiiU. The WiiU's GPU, “Latte”, has 320 shaders clocked at 550 MHz, and it was based on AMD's TeraScale 1 architecture. Because these stream processors have single-cycle multiply-add for floating point values, you can get its FLOP rating by multiplying 320 shaders, 550,000,000 cycles per second, and 2 operations per clock (one multiply and one add). This yields 352 GFLOPs. The Tegra X1 is rated at 512 GFLOPs, which is just 45% more than the previous generation.

This is a very tiny jump, unless they indeed use Pascal-based graphics. If this is the case, you will likely see a launch selection of games ported from WiiU and a few games that use whatever new feature Nintendo has. One rumor is that the console will be kind-of like the WiiU controller, with detachable controllers. If this is true, it's a bit unclear how this will affect games in a revolutionary way, but we might be missing a key bit of info that ties it all together.

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As for the choice of ARM over x86... well. First, this obviously allows Nintendo to choose from a wider selection of manufacturers than AMD, Intel, and VIA, and certainly more than IBM with their previous, Power-based chips. That said, it also jives with Nintendo's interest in the mobile market. They joined The Khronos Group and I'm pretty sure they've said they are interested in Vulkan, which is becoming the high-end graphics API for Android, supported by Google and others. That said, I'm not sure how many engineers exist that specialize in ARM optimization, as most mobile platforms try to abstract this as much as possible, but this could be Nintendo's attempt to settle on a standardized instruction set, and they opted for mobile over PC (versus Sony and especially Microsoft, who want consoles to follow high-end gaming on the desktop).

Why? Well that would just be speculating on speculation about speculation. I'll stop here.

Report: ARM Holdings Purchased by SoftBank for $32 Billion

Subject: Processors, Mobile | July 18, 2016 - 04:03 AM |
Tagged: softbank, SoC, smartphones, mobile cpu, Cortex-A73, ARM Holdings, arm, acquisition

ARM Holdings is to be aquired by SoftBank for $32 billion USD. This report has been confirmed by the Wall Street Journal, who states that an official annoucement of the deal is likely on Monday as "both companies’ boards have agreed to the deal".

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(Image credit: director.co.uk)

"Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. has reached a more than $32 billion deal to buy U.K.-based chip-designer ARM HoldingsPLC, marking a significant push for the Japanese telecommunications giant into the mobile internet, according to a person familiar with the situation." - WSJ

ARM just announced their newest CPU core, the Cortex-A73, at the end of May, with performance and efficiency improvements over the current Cortex-A72 promised with the new architecture.

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(Image credit: AnandTech)

We will have to wait and see if this aquisition will have any bearing on future product development, though it seems the acquisition targets the significant intellectual property value of ARM, whose designs can be found in most smartphones.

Qualcomm Announces the Snapdragon 821 SoC

Subject: Processors, Mobile | July 11, 2016 - 03:44 PM |
Tagged: SoC, Snapdragon 821, snapdragon, qualcomm, adreno 530

Announced today, the Snapdragon 821 offers a modest CPU frequency increase over the Snapdragon 820, with clock speeds of up to 2.4 GHz compared to 2.2 GHz with the Snapdragon 820. The new SoC is still implementing Qualcomm's custom quad-core "Kryo" design, which is made up of two pairs of dual-core CPU clusters.

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Quoting Anandtech, who also reported on the Snapdragon 821 today:

"What isn’t in this announcement is that the power cluster will likely be above 2 GHz and GPU clocks look to be around 650 MHz but without knowing whether there are some changes other than clock relative to Adreno 530 we can’t really estimate the performance of this part."

Specifics on the Adreno GPU were not mentioned in the official announcement. The 650 MHz GPU clock reported by Anandtech would offer a modest improvement over the SD820's 624 MHz Adreno 530 GPU. Additionally, the "power cluster" will reportedly move from 1.6 GHz with the SD820 to 2.0 GHz with the SD821.

No telling when this updated SoC will find its way into consumer devices, with the Snapdragon 820 currently available in the Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge, LG G5, OnePlus 3, and a few others.

Source: Qualcomm
Subject: Systems, Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Introduction and Specifications

Lenovo made quite a splash with the introduction of the original X1 Carbon notebook in 2012; with its ultra-thin, ultra-light, and carbon fiber-infused construction, it became the flagship ThinkPad notebook. Fast-forward to late 2013, and the introduction of the ThinkPad Yoga; the business version of the previous year's consumer Yoga 2-in-1. The 360-degree hinge was novel for a business machine at the time, and the ThinkPad Yoga had a lot of promise, though it was far from perfect.

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Now we fast-forward again, to the present day. It's 2016, and Lenovo has merged their ThinkPad X1 Carbon and ThinkPad Yoga together to create the X1 Yoga. This new notebook integrates the company's Yoga design (in appearance this is akin to the recent ThinkPad Yoga 260/460 revision) into the flagship ThinkPad X lineup, and provides what Lenovo is calling "the world's lightest 14-inch business 2-in-1".

Yoga and Carbon Merge

When Lenovo announced the marriage of the X1 Carbon notebook with the ThinkPad Yoga, I took notice. A buyer of the original ThinkPad Yoga S1 (with which I had a love/hate relationship) I wondered if the new X1 version of the business-oriented Yoga convertible would win me over. On paper it checks all the right boxes, and the slim new design looks great. I couldn't wait to get my hands on one for some real-world testing, and to see if my complaints about the original TP Yoga design were still valid.

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As one would expect from a notebook carrying Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 branding, this new Yoga is quite slim, and made from lightweight materials. Comparing this new Yoga to the X1 Carbon directly, the most obvious difference is that 360° hinge, which is the hallmark of the Yoga series, and exclusive to those Lenovo designs. This hinge allows the X1 Yoga to be used as a notebook, tablet, or any other imaginable position in between.

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (base configuration, as reviewed)
Processor Intel Core i5-6200U (Skylake)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 520
Memory 8GB LPDDR3-1866
Screen 14-in 1920x1080 IPS Touch (with digitizer, active pen)
Storage 256GB M.2 SSD
Camera 720p / Digital Array Microphone
Wireless Intel 8260 802.11ac + BT 4.1 (Dual Band, 2x2)
Connections OneLink+
Mini DisplayPort
HDMI
3x USB 3.0
microSD
Audio combo jack
Dimensions 333mm x 229 mm x 16.8mm (13.11" x 9.01" x 0.66")
2.8 lbs. (1270 g)
OS Windows 10 Pro
Price $1349 - Amazon.com

Continue reading our review of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Notebook!!

Gigabyte's 17" P57W laptop thinks you should go big or go home

Subject: Mobile | July 4, 2016 - 06:41 PM |
Tagged: gigabyte, P57W, GTX 970M

Gigabyte's 17" laptop contains some decent hardware although the GPU is somewhat questionable; with that much room inside they still opted to go with a GTX 970M and one with only 3GB of available VRAM.  On the other hand the i7-6700HQ is a strong choice, paired with 16GB of Crucial DDR4-2133, storage is handled by a 256GB LiteOn SATA SSD and a 1TB Hitachi HDD.  The screen is a 1080p panel and while the NVIDIA card can handle upscaling on some games, The Tech Report saw performance drops on many intense games when using that feature.  Check out more details in their full review.

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"17" laptops have long been maligned for their bulk, but the onward march of technology means one can now get a big machine like Gigabyte's P57W that's slim and trim. We put this large laptop to the test to see whether gamers on the go should go big."

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Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Huawei

A new competitor has entered the arena!

When we first saw the announcement of the MateBook in Spain back in March, pricing was immediately impressive. The base model of the tablet starts at just $699; $200 less than the lowest-priced Surface Pro 4, with features and performance that pretty closely match one another.

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The MateBook only ships with Core m processors, a necessity of the incredibly thin and fanless design that Huawei is using. That obviously will put the MateBook behind other tablets and notebooks that use the Core i3/i5/i7 processors, but with a power consumption advantage along the way. Honestly, the performance differences between the Core m3 and m5 and m7 parts is pretty small – all share the same 4.5 watt TDP and all have fairly low base clock speeds and high boost clocks. The Core m5-6Y54 that rests in our test sample has a base clock of 1.1 GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost clock of 2.7 GHz. The top end Core m7-6Y75 has a base of 1.2 GHz and Boost of 3.1 GHz. The secret of course is that these processors run at Turbo clocks very infrequently; only during touch interactions and when applications demand performance.

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If you work-load regularly requires you to do intensive transcoding, video editing or even high-resolution photo manipulation, the Core m parts are going to be slower than the Core i-series options available in other solutions. If you just occasionally need to use an application like Photoshop, the MateBook has no problems doing so.

Huawei MateBook Tablet PC
MSRP $699 $849 $999 $1199 $1399 $1599
Screen 12-in 2160x1440 IPS
CPU Core m3 Core m3 Core m5 Core m5 Core m7 Core m7
GPU Intel HD Graphics 515
RAM 4GB 8GB
Storage 128GB 256GB 256GB 512GB 256GB 512GB
Network 802.11ac MIMO (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz)
Bluetooth 4.1
Gigabite Ethernet (MateDock)
Display Output HDMI / VGA (through MateDock)
Connectivity USB 3.0 Type-C
3.5mm headphone
USB 3.0 x 2 (MateDock)
Audio Dual Digital Mic
Dual Speakers
Weight 640g (1.41 lbs)
Dimensions 278.8mm x 194.1mm x 6.9mm
(10.9-in x 7.6-in x 0.27-in)
Battery 33.7 WHr
Operating System Windows 10 Home / Pro

Update: The Huawei Matebook is now available on Amazon.com!

At the base level, both the Surface Pro 4 and the MateBook have identical specs, but the Huawei unit is priced $200 lower. After that, things get more complicated as the Surface Pro 4 moves to Core i5 and Core i7 processors while the MateBook sticks with m5 and m7 parts. Storage capacities and memory size scale though. The lowest entry point for the MateBook to get 256GB of storage and 8GB of memory is $999 and comes with a Core m5 processor; a comparable Surface Pro 4 uses a Core i5 CPU instead but will run you $1199. If you want to move from 256GB to 512GB of storage, Microsoft wants $400 more for your SP4, while Huawei’s price only goes up $200.

Continue reading our review of the Huawei MateBook convertible PC!!

Will people Flip over ASUS' new Chromebook?

Subject: Mobile | June 21, 2016 - 10:50 PM |
Tagged: asus, Chromebook, Chromebook Flip

ASUS' new Chromebook Flip convertible laptop can be yours for about ~$250, not too shabby for a tablet, let alone a laptop.  However for this price a few sacrifices must be made, including the use of Chrome OS as it is a Chromebook after all.  The hardware is a quad-core, 32-bit ARM chip from Rockchip called the RK3288C which can reach up to 1.8GHz.  It also has 4GB of RAM and 16GB of local storage using eMMC flash and a two year subscription to Google drive to give you 100GB of additional storage.  The Tech Report were quite enamoured of this little 10.1", 1280x800 IPS touch screen device, it may not be the fastest machine out there but for the price they felt it to be quiet impressive.

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"Asus' Chromebook Flip is an all-aluminum convertible PC that runs Google's Chrome OS. Its $240-ish price tag puts it in contention with the budget Windows PCs we usually suggest in our mobile staff picks. We put the Flip to the test to see whether it's a worthy Windows alternative."

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Lenovo's PHAB2 Family Features Project Tango-Powered PHAB2 Pro

Subject: Mobile | June 9, 2016 - 06:30 PM |
Tagged: Snapdragon 652, smartphone, project tango, phablet, PHAB2, Lenovo, augmented reality, AR

Lenovo has unveiled the PHAB2 family at their Lenovo Tech World event today, featuring the PHAB2 Pro, a phablet-sized mobile device powered by Google's Project Tango (now simply Google Tango) augmented-reality technology.

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Lenovo PHAB2 Pro (Image credit: Lenovo)

“Unlike any other phone, the PHAB2 Pro, powered by Tango technology – a set of sensors and software from Google that senses and maps its surroundings – makes a host of cutting-edge smartphone augmented reality (AR) experiences possible. For example, using AR apps, students can place true-to-scale virtual dinosaurs in their classrooms and enhance their learning through AR data overlays that appear while they walk around the creatures. AR gaming experiences let you play virtual dominos on your kitchen table, raise a digital pet in your bedroom and fight back swarms of aliens invading your house.

With Tango technology PHAB2 Pro can even begin to change the way people think about mapping indoor spaces to create new experiences like future augmented reality museum tours via the GuidiGO app. With Tango, PHAB2 Pro offers unprecedented experiences on a smartphone that will continually learn and improve.”

The large phablet devices are full smartphones, not just small tablets, and the three models offer widely varying specs with significant improvements in each successive model. We'll begin by looking at the base configuration.

Lenovo PHAB2

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The PHAB2 (Image credit: Lenovo)

  • Display: 6.4-inch HD (1280x720) IPS
  • Processor: MediaTek MTK 8735 Quad-Core Processor
  • Memory: 3 GB
  • Storage: 32 GB (expandable up to 128 GB via microSD)
  • Sound: Triple Array Microphone with
  • Active Noise-Cancellation; Dolby Atmos + Dolby Audio Capture 5.1
  • Camera:
    • Rear: 13 MP PDAF Fast-Focus
    • Front: 5 MP 85° Wide Angle
  • Battery: 4050 mAh

Next up is the PHAB2 Plus, which improves on the base model's display, SoC, and particularly the cameras:

“The PHAB2 Plus comes with two 13MP rear cameras that have instant focus, fast f1.8 lenses and the same professional-grade Futjitsu Milbeaut image signal processor that powers the Leica camera.”

Lenovo PHAB2 Plus

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The PHAB2 Plus (Image credit: Lenovo)

  • Display: 6.4-inch FHD (1920x1080) IPS
  • Processor: MediaTek MTK 8783 Octa-Core Processor
  • Memory: 3 GB
  • Storage: 32 GB (expandable up to 128 GB via microSD)
  • Sound: Triple Array Microphone with Active Noise-Cancellation; Dolby Atmos + Dolby Audio Capture 5.1
  • Cameras:
    • Rear: 13 MP Dual Camera Milbeaut ISP, F2.0 Aperture, 1.34 Big Pixel, Laser Focus with PDAF Light Supplement
    • Front: 8 MP Fixed-Focus, F2.2 Aperture, 1.4 μm Big Pixel, Light Supplement
  • Battery: 4050 mAh

Next up we have the PHAB2 Pro, the flagship of the lineup, which moves to a Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC from the MediaTek chips in the first two phones, and offers a higher screen resolution and (most importantly for this launch) Google Tango support - the first product equipped with this AR technology.

Lenovo PHAB2 Pro

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The PHAB2 Pro (Image credit: Lenovo)

  • Display: 6.4-inch QHD (2560x1440) IPS Assertive Display
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 Processor Built for Tango
  • Memory: 4 GB
  • Storage: 64 GB (expandable up to 128 GB via microSD)
  • Sound: Triple Array Microphone with Active Noise-Cancellation; Dolby Atmos + Dolby Audio Capture 5.1
  • Cameras:
    • Rear: 16 MP PDAF Fast-Focus, Depth Sensor for Tango, Motion Tracking Sensor for Tango
    • Front: 8 MP Fixed-Focus, F2.2 Aperture, 1.4 μm Big Pixel
  • Battery: 4050 mAh

There will be a retail presence in the U.S. for the PHAB2 Pro, with Best Buy confirmed as an outlet for the Google Tango device. Additionally, in a move that is perplexing at first, the PHAB2 Pro will be featured for sale in Lowe's home improvement stores. (Wait, what?) A move which actually makes sense once you’ve read Lenovo’s press release:

“Homeowners can also now use their PHAB2 Pro to remodel their homes by visualizing real home furnishings in their living rooms and kitchens. Home improvement company Lowe’s is one of the first partners to develop a Tango-enabled application, Lowe’s Vision. The app empowers customers by leveraging Tango technology to measure spaces and visualize how products like appliances and décor, or materials like countertops or backsplash tile, will all look and fit together in a room. With Lowe’s Vision, customers will be able to control a new generation of augmented reality tools with a mere tap of the finger.”

As to pricing, the base PHAB2 has an MSRP of $199, the PHAB2 Plus moves up to $299, and the PHAB2 Pro will be $499. Availability set for September of this year.

Source: Lenovo