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.

Microsoft Announces New Surface Pro Featuring Kaby Lake and Optional LTE

Subject: Mobile | May 23, 2017 - 10:24 AM |
Tagged: Surface Pro, surface, microsoft

As part of its Shanghai Event this morning, Microsoft announced a long-overdue update to the Surface Pro. While the new device retains the design and form factor of its predecessor, the Surface Pro 4, it still packs a few new features that Surface users have been waiting for.

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First off, Microsoft has used this revision to officially drop the numbering scheme from the product lineup. Rather than the expected "Surface Pro 5" moniker, Microsoft is now calling the product simply "Surface Pro," and will presumably use release year to differentiate models going forward.

Internally, the new Surface Pro finally makes the jump to Kaby Lake, with processor options including the Core m3-7Y30 on the low-end, the Core i5-7300U for the mid-range model, and topping out with the Core i7-7660U. These CPUs offer Intel HD 615, 620, and Iris Plus 640 graphics, respectively. The move to Kaby Lake, coupled with Microsoft's battery design improvements, also brings a nice boost to battery life, with the new Surface Pro offering an advertised 13.5 hours of video playback (the only usage scenario that Microsoft has thus far revealed). While we're interested to see other battery-life tests, the new Surface Pro's running time bests its predecessor by an impressive 50 percent, as the Surface Pro 4 was rated for only 9 hours of video playback.

In terms of connectivity, the new Surface Pro offers all of the same ports and I/O as the Surface Pro 4, with one big exception: LTE. Although not available at launch, new Surface Pro models with built-in 4G LTE will be available "later this year." This isn't the first Surface device to feature built-in LTE -- Microsoft offered limited availability of LTE-enabled non-Pro Surface 3 models back in 2015 -- but this is the first time that the feature will be available for the Pro lineup.

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Other design and functionality changes include a redesigned kickstand that will tilt back 165 degrees for a "Studio Mode" experience (Surface Pro 4 only had 150 degrees of tilt), support for the Surface Dial directly on the Surface Pro's screen (it had previously been limited to desktop use), and a new optional "Signature Type Cover," with improved key travel, higher-resolution glass trackpad, and featuring the same Alcantara fabric found on Microsoft's recently-released Surface Laptop.

On the downside, this new Surface Pro doesn't offer any improvements or changes to its display, port selection, RAM and storage capacities, or cameras. Even more disappointingly, the Surface Pen is no longer included, requiring users interested in pen functionality to shell out an extra $60.

The new Surface Pro starts at $799 and is available for pre-order now. It is expected to ship mid-June. Check out the Microsoft Store for pricing and specs on all Surface Pro configurations.

Source: Microsoft
Author:
Subject: Systems, Mobile
Manufacturer: Apple

What have we here?

The latest iteration of the Apple MacBook Pro has been a polarizing topic to both Mac and PC enthusiasts. Replacing the aging Retina MacBook Pro introduced in 2012, the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar introduced late last year offered some radical design changes. After much debate (and a good Open Box deal), I decided to pick up one of these MacBooks to see if it could replace my 11" MacBook Air from 2013, which was certainly starting to show it's age.

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I'm sure that a lot of our readers, even if they aren't Mac users, are familiar with some of the major changes the Apple made with this new MacBook Pro. One of the biggest changes comes when you take a look at the available connectivity on the machine. Gone are the ports you might expect like USB type-A, HDMI, and Mini DisplayPort. These ports have been replaced with 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a single 3.5mm headphone jack.

While it seems like USB-C (which is compatible with Thunderbolt 3) is eventually posed to take over the peripheral market, there are obvious issues with replacing all of the connectivity on a machine aimed at professionals with type-c connectors. Currently, type-c devices are few and are between, meaning you will have to rely on a series of dongles to connect the devices you already own. 

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I will say however, that it ultimately hasn't been that much of an issue for me so far in the limited time that I've owned this MacBook. In order to evaluate how bad the dongle issue was, I only purchased a single, simple adapter with my MacBook which provided me with a Type-A USB port and a pass-through Type-C port for charging.

Continue reading our look at using the MacBook Pro with Windows!

Google Daydream Standalone VR Headset Powered by Snapdragon 835

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | May 17, 2017 - 02:30 PM |
Tagged: snapdragon 835, snapdragon, qualcomm, google io 2017, google, daydream

During the Google I/O keynote, Google and Qualcomm announced a partnership to create a reference design for a standalone Daydream VR headset using Snapdragon 835 to enable the ecosystem of partners to have deliverable hardware in consumers’ hands by the end of 2017. The time line is aggressive, impressively so, thanks in large part to the previous work Qualcomm had done with the Snapdragon-based VR reference design we first saw in September 2016. At the time the Qualcomm platform was powered by the Snapdragon 820. Since then, Qualcomm has updated the design to integrate the Snapdragon 835 processor and platform, improving performance and efficiency along the way.

Google has now taken the reference platform and made some modifications to integrate Daydream support and will offer it to partners to show case what a standalone, untethered VR solution can do. Even though Google Daydream has been shipping in the form of slot-in phones with a “dummy” headset, integrating the whole package into a dedicate device offers several advantages.

First, I expected the free standalone units to have better performance than the phones used as a slot-in solution. With the ability to tune the device to higher thermal limits, Qualcomm and Google will be able to ramp up the clocks on the GPU and SoC to get optimal performance. And, because there is more room for a larger battery on the headset design, there should be an advantage in battery life along with the increase in performance.

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The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 VR Reference Device

It is also likely that the device will have better thermal properties than those using high smartphones today. In other words, with more space, there should be more area for cooling and thus the unit shouldn’t be as warm on the consumers face.

I would assume as well that the standalone units will have improved hardware over the smartphone iterations. That means better gyros, cameras, sensors, etc. that could lead to improved capability for the hardware in this form. Better hardware, tighter and more focused integration and better software support should mean lower latency and better VR gaming across the board. Assuming everything is implemented as it should.

The only major change that Google has made to this reference platform is the move away from Qualcomm’s 6DOF technology (6 degrees of freedom, allowing you to move in real space and have all necessary tracking done on the headset itself) and to Google calls WorldSense. Based on the Google Project Tango technology, this is the one area I have questions about going forward. I have used three different Tango enabled devices thus far with long-term personal testing and can say that while the possibilities for it were astounding, the implementations had been…slow. For VR that 100% cannot be the case. I don’t yet know how different its integration is from what Qualcomm had done previously, but hopefully Google will leverage the work Qualcomm has already done with its platform.

Google is claiming that consumers will have hardware based on this reference design in 2017 but no pricing has been shared with me yet. I wouldn’t expect it to be inexpensive though – we are talking about all the hardware that goes into a flagship smartphone plus a little extra for the VR goodness. We’ll see how aggressive Google wants its partners to be and if it is willing to absorb any of the upfront costs with subsidy.

Let me know if this is the direction you hope to see VR move – away from tethered PC-based solutions and into the world of standalone units.

Source: Qualcomm

A dock for your Samsung S8? That would be DeX

Subject: Mobile | May 12, 2017 - 04:33 PM |
Tagged: Samsung, DeX, galaxy s8, galaxy s8+

Move over Surface, the new Galaxies are getting a docking station too.  The Dex is a charging port with talent, adding USB-A 2.0, ethernet, HDMI, and a USB-C charging port to your phone's capabilities.  Plug the dock into a monitor and you will be presented a limited Android system which supports various Samsung apps, as well as Microsoft Office apps, Gmail and YouTube; The Inquirer tested out a few others for compatibility in their review.  There is a virtual desktop app that will let you take over a desktop computer as well, according to the page on Samsung.  Gaming is not particularly good, unless you utilize the workaround The Inq discovered; pick up a USB C to HDMI adapter and bypass the DeX as opposed to the native screen mirroring which occurs with the DeX software.

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"In a nutshell, DeX is a dock for the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ that outputs a desktop experience from your phone to a big screen. It acts as little more than a portal, relying entirely on your phone's processing power to generate the experience, doing so via HDMI, making it compatible with most TVs and monitors."

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Source: The Inquirer

How To: Add AptX Bluetooth Audio to a Windows PC

Subject: Mobile | May 10, 2017 - 05:11 PM |
Tagged: windows, sony, qualcomm, mdr1000x, CSR Harmony, bluetooth, aptX, a2dp

Recently, to prepare for a long plane flight I bought a pair of Sony MDR-1000X Bluetooth noise canceling headphones. While I won't get into the specifics of these headphones other than that I have been really satisfied with them, when I returned from my trip I wanted to start using them at the office.

Seemingly that would be easy, as these headphones feature a 3.5mm input, but I am frequently walking around the office and I wanted to fully utilize the wireless features. While I could have just used any Bluetooth adapter compatible with Windows, I wanted to test out one of the features of these headphones —  AptX technology.

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AptX is an alternate Bluetooth audio codec from Qualcomm which aims to feature higher audio quality. Sebastian took a look at a pair of AptX-enabled headphones earlier this year, and I have wanted to check out the technology ever since.

I went to Amazon, and did a search for "AptX Bluetooth USB" and found a wide array of options, so I did what anyone would naturally do — I bought the cheapest one and hoped it would work

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After receiving the USB adapter, I first installed the CSR Harmony software from the Azio website. This is a piece of software that sits on top of the Windows Bluetooth Stack and enabled advanced Bluetooth features, including AptX, on certain Bluetooth chipsets.

Once the software was installed, I plugged in the device and found a new Bluetooth icon sitting in my Windows tray.

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From here, you can simply right click the icon and search for a new Bluetooth device.

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Once I put the headphones into pairing mode I was able to pair to them successfully.

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And, that's it! Once you are successfully paired to an AptX device, you should see this popup from the Windows tray confirming that AptX is working. From here, you can use the headphones just like you would with any Windows audio playback device. 

This certainly isn't a review of AptX audio quality, I will defer to Sebastian's analysis for that in which he calls the headphones he tested "audiophile-approved Bluetooth."

For a $12 investment, it seems like a no-brainer for users who already have an AptX-enabled device that they use on their smartphone.

Source: Azio

Qualcomm Launches Snapdragon 660 and 630 Mobile Platforms

Subject: Processors, Mobile | May 9, 2017 - 01:55 PM |
Tagged: spectra, snapdragon mobile platform, snapdragon, qualcomm, Kryo, isp, hexagon, dsp, adreno, 660, 630

Today Qualcomm took the covers off of an update to the Snapdragon 600 family of processors, now known as mobile platforms. The Snapdragon 660 and 630 Mobile Platforms are important products in the company’s portfolio as they address a larger segment of the consumer market than the premium-tier Snapdragon 800 while still offering performance and feature sets above the budget segments of the 400s. The Snapdragon 820 and 835 traditionally get all of the attention from media, the 600-series is at the heart of popular devices like the Sony Xperia X, Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra, HTC 10 Lifestyle and over 1000 more designs.

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The biggest changes to both new platforms come in the form of LTE connectivity and GPU performance. In a bid to bring previously unseen capabilities to the 600-series of solutions, Qualcomm has taken the Snapdragon X12 LTE modem that shipped with the Snapdragon 820/821 SoC and integrated it on both the 660 and 630. This creates mainstream mobile platforms that can run Cat 12/13 modems and speeds as high as 600 Mbps downstream (3x carrier aggregation) and 150 Mbps upstream (2x carrier aggregation).

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That is a significant move and should result in a massive amount of high speed devices saturating the market (and carriers’ networks) starting later this year. Along with that higher performance comes the same X12 feature set that we saw with Snapdragon 820/821 including adaptive antenna tuning capability (TruSignal) and dynamic signal quality adjustments for power efficiency optimizations.

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The GPU performance of both the Snapdragon 660 and 630 get a boost over the previous competitors (653 and 626 respectively) though they do so with different Adreno implementations. The SD 660 uses the Adreno 512 GPU that offers up to 30% better performance compared to the Adreno 510 used on the SD 650 series. While we don’t have details yet on where that advantage comes from (clocks or core improvements), I have a feeling that much of it comes from improved frequencies. The Snapdragon 630 uses the Adreno 508 GPU, compared to the 506 from the SD 626 processor, and also claims to have a 30% performance advantage over the previous generation.

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Continue reading about the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 and 630 Mobile Platform!

Source: Qualcomm

New Microsoft Surface Laptop Announced with Windows 10 S

Subject: Mobile | May 2, 2017 - 11:33 AM |
Tagged: Windows 10 S, touchscreen, surface laptop, surface, microsoft, Intel, core i7, core i5

Microsoft has announced their new Surface Laptop, which notably leaked just yesterday, but the surprising part was not the hardware at all - however sleek and impressive it might be. Yes, it seems I spoke too soon with the Windows 10 S news, as this consumer (I assume) product is shipping with that new version of the OS which only allows apps to be installed from the Windows Store.

Surface Laptop.png

As to the hardware, it is milled from a block of aluminum (as shown in a very Apple-like video) and the heat pipes for the processor are milled into the bottom case to help make this so thin, but the laptop will undoubtedly feel warm to the touch during use (a fact which was mentioned on stage as a positive thing). The palmrest/keyboard is coated in a fabric material called Alcantara, rather than being bare metal and plastic. The combination of warmth (literally) and the fabric surface is supposed to make the new laptop feel very friendly, as the narrative went.

Surface Laptop Side.png

Thankfully (in my opinion, anyway) the bizarre flexible hinge of the prior Surface laptop is gone in favor of a conventional one - and with it the air gap from he previous design. Among the features mentioned for this new Surface were its PixelSense screen, which is the “thinnest LCD touch panel ever in a laptop”, and a very impressive 14.5 hour battery life. The standby power consumption was described as effectively zero, which suggests that a suspend state of some kind is standard to prevent drain when not in use. rather than a low-power sleep.

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Image via Thurrott.com

Microsoft stated that two versions (Intel Core i5 and Core i7) will be available for pre-order beginning today, with the Core i5 model starting at $999. (Pricing on the Core i7 version was not mentioned.)

Windows Central has posted specs for the new machines, reproduced below:

  • Display: 13.5-inch Pixel Sense display, 10 point multi-touch
  • Display Resolution: 2256 x 1504, at 201 ppi, Aspect Ratio: 3:2
  • Software: Windows 10 S
  • Processor: 7th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
  • Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB Solid State Drive (SSD)
  • Memory: 4GB, 8GB or 16GB RAM
  • Graphics: i5: Intel HD graphics 620, i7: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
  • Front Camera: 720p, Windows Hello face authentication
  • Speakers: Omnisonic Speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
  • Ports: One full-size USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Headset jack, Surface Connect
  • Sensors: Ambient light sensor
  • Security: TPM chip for enterprise security
  • Battery Life: 14.5 hours of use
  • Pen: Surface Pen
  • Weight: 2.76 lbs
  • Dimensions: 12.13 inches x 8.78 inches x 0.57 inches

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Image via Thurrott.com

I will briefly editorialize here to mention the Windows 10 S problem here. That limitation might make sense for education, if Microsoft is providing a suite of apps that make sense for a school, but consumers will undoubtedly want more flexibility from their own devices. This is less consumer-friendly than even the Starter Edition of Windows from the past, which limited the number of running applications but not their provenance.

Source: Microsoft
Author:
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Dell

Overview

The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming series has been part of the increasingly interesting sub-$1000 gaming notebook market since it’s introduction in 2015. We took a look at last year’s offering and were very impressed with the performance it had to offer, but slightly disappointed in the build quality.

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Dell is back this year with an all-new industrial design for the Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming along with updated graphics in form of the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti.  Can a $850 gaming notebook possibly live up to expectations? Let’s take a closer look.

After three generations of the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming product, it’s evident that Dell takes this market segment seriously. Alienware seems to have lost a bit of the hearts and minds of gamers in the high-end segment, but Dell has carved out a nice corner of the gaming market.

Dell Inspiron 15 7567 Gaming  (configuration as reviewed)
Processor Intel Core i5-7300HQ (Kaby Lake)
Graphics NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1050 Ti (4GB)
Memory 8GB DDR4-2400 (One DIMM)
Screen 15.6-in 1920x1080 I
Storage

256GB SanDisk X400 SATA M.2 

Available 2.5" drive slot

Camera 720p / Dual Digital Array Microphone
Wireless Intel 3165 802.11ac + BT 4.2 (Dual Band, 1x1)
Connections Ethernet
HDMI 2.0
3x USB 3.0
SD
Audio combo jack
Battery 74 Wh
Dimensions 384.9mm x 274.73mm x 25.44mm (15.15" x 10.82" x 1")
5.76 lbs. (2620 g)
OS Windows 10 Home
Price $849 - Dell.com

Let's just get this out of the way: for the $850 price tag of the model that we were sent by Dell for review, this is an amazing collection of hardware. Traditionally laptops under $1000 have an obvious compromise, but it's difficult to find one here. Dedicated graphics, flash Storage, 1080p screen, and a large battery all are features that I look for in notebooks. Needless to say, my expectations for the Inspiron 15 Gaming are quite high.

Click here to continue reading our review of the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming.

Move over Razer Blade, we want to see the Razer Core

Subject: Mobile | April 25, 2017 - 05:24 PM |
Tagged: external gpu, razer, razer blade, Razer Core

Razer updated their Blade gaming laptop with a GTX 1060 and i7-7700HQ along with a bump in the 16GB of memory to DDR4-2400 and an 256GB M.2 Samsung PM961 SSD.  That is not what makes this review from Kitguru interesting, it is the additional product which came with the Blade that does.  The Razer Core is a housing for an external GPU which connects over Thunderbolt 3.  You can install either an AMD or NVIDIA GPU which 310mm or less in length which can be powered by a 500W PSU, which is pretty much any GPU on the market.  Kitguru installed a GTX 1080 and compared the performance of the integrated GTX 1060 to the higher end card; you can see the results here.

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"We began our recent review of the 2017 Razer Blade by telling you that Razer had updated the graphics chip from GTX 970M to GTX 1060. The laptop has continued to evolve and now it’s the turn of the CPU which has been changed from Intel Core i7-6700HQ Skylake to Core i7-7700HQ Kaby Lake."

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Source: Kitguru