Product Review–Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother PJ-773 PocketJet wireless mobile thermal printer which is a highly-compact wireless-network-capable mobile printer. It is also the first mobile printer that I have reviewed that can work with a Wi-Fi network rather than having to be connected to the host computer for it to work. There wasn’t even a need for me to install or plug in a network adaptor for this functionality to come about.

This mobile printer implements direct-thermal printing technology that was initially used by fax machines to turn out incoming faxes. But Brother has rebuilt their faith in this technology for on-the-road transactional printing by using thermal-printing paper that is better than those rolls of thermal paper used with those fax machines.

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Print Paper Trays Connection
B/W A4 single-sheet USB 3.0
Direct Thermal A4 paper roll with roll attachment 802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless
IPv6

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$879

Optional Extras:

DC car charger (cigar lighter): AUD$49.00

DC car charger (direct wire): AUD$49.00

Carry Case and roll holder – rugged design: AUD$99.00

Rubber carry case: – rugged design: AUD$39.00

Vinyl carry pouch: AUD$19.00

Car mount with roll holder: AUD$199

Paper Guide – cut sheets: AUD$69

Paper Guide – paper rolls: AUD$69.00

Thermal paper

Standard A4 thermal paper (100 sheets): AUD$19

20-year A4 thermal paper (100 sheets): AUD$24

A4 perforated thermal roll (100 pages per roll, 6 rolls): AUD$89

A4 thermal roll (15m per roll, 6 rolls): AUD$99

The printer itself

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer printing

Brother PJ-773 turning out a document – the printing side is on the back of the paper

The Brother PJ-773 Pocket-Jet wireless mobile thermal printer is based on direct-thermal printing technology which was first implemented in a mobile-printing scenario by Pentax when they released the PocketJet mobile printer in the early 1990s as laptops were becoming more common. Here, this printer used the typical fax paper which was ubiquitous then as its printing medium while being a compact printing device.

But Brother had purchased Pentax’s printing assets including the PocketJet thermal-printing technology in 2008 and started to use their branding in 2009on the PJ-5 series of these printers. Then they started to apply their innovations when they manufactured the PJ-6 series of these printers.

Here, this printer is slightly wider than the narrow edge of an A4 or Letter sheet of paper but as thick as a bar of Toblerone chocolate. This means that you could easily stash it in your laptop bag without it taking up much room.

Setup

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer right hand side connections

USB and power sockets on the right side of the printer

The Brother PJ-773 printer is capable of operating on a lithium-ion battery pack or on an external power supply which would be the supplied AC adaptor. But you can purchase through Brother one of two DC adaptors that allow you to use it in your vehicle – one that plugs in to the vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket and one that is capable of being directly wired to the vehicle’s electrical-accessories wiring.

I have set up the Brother PJ-773 thermal mobile printer with my regular Windows computer and used software that was downloaded from Brother’s Website rather than the CD-supplied software. This software worked properly first time and found the printer over the USB connection.

Wi-Fi setup

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile thermal printer printing mechanism

Very small print mechanism due to thermal printing technology

The Brother PJ-773 printer is capable of being set up to work with a Wi-Fi network. This means that it can either work as its own Wi-Fi access point or it can be part of a small Wi-Fi network or a large enterprise-grade Wi-Fi network. It also is future-proof where you can use the printer with an IPv6 network which is becoming the way to go.

You have to configure it for your network by connecting it to a regular Windows or Macintosh computer via USB and running the USB Device Settings Tool program. The only exception is if you are connecting the printer to a Wi-Fi router or access point that uses WPS “push-to-connect” setup where you hold down the Wi-Fi button on the printer for 5 seconds to instigate this setup routine at the printer.

This also applies if you wish to switch your Brother PJ-773 printer between using an existing Wi-Fi network or creating its own Wi-Fi network. Here, you have to determine whether to use “Wireless Direct” for the printer to be its own access point or “Infrastructure” for it to be a part of an existing network.

Printing

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer alongside Windows test printout that it printed

Slightly smaller than the A4 printed page that it turns out

The Brother PJ-773 had worked properly with Windows 10 and with Android using both the Mopria printing abilities and the Brother iPront&Scan printing app. The latter situation may not work properly if you are using the Wireless Direct printing setup because the Android iPront&Scan software is dependent on an Internet connection for rasterising the documents for printing.

If you want to see the document come out more sharply, you may have to increase the density settings in the driver or app to see something darker.

I completed a document-copy test with the  to see how documents would turn out when copied using a regular inkjet multi-function printer. This included whether the thermal paper used for this printer would misfeed through an automatic document feeder. The reason I performed thsi test is because one could copy or scan a “print-and-sign” document as part of their workflow, such as to scan an invoice or repair quote for tax or insurance purposes.

Here,  I used the previously-reviewed Brother MFC-J5720DW business multi-function inkjet printer to perform these tests and printed the document using default settings for the PJ-773 and copied it using the default settings for the MFC-J5720DW. The thermal-paper original passed through the automatic document feeder on the multifunction without any problems while I found that a standard text document could copy properly on default settings. With some documents, you may have to increase the copy density on the MFC or copier if they come out a bit pale.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer could benefit from improvements as far as Wi-Fi setup is concerned.

Firstly, it could benefit from a hardware switch on the printer itself that allows you to select between Infrastructure or Wireless-Direct operation so you can have it work with an existing wireless network or as its own network without having to go through the rigmarole of connecting it to a regular computer via USB and running a configuration app to perform this switchover.

As well, it could support a “wireless repeater” mode like some mobile NAS units such as the WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS so you can have access to an Internet-supporting Wi-Fi network and the printer’s access point network at the same time. For setup in Wireless Direct mode, the Brother PJ-773 could implement WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” as a way of establishing a connection between it and a Windows or Android client device.

Brother could improve on the Pocket Jet direct-thermal printing platform by supporting duplex printing with suitable double-sided paper. This can appeal to applications where you need to turn out a 2-page document without needing to feed through two sheets of paper.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I find that the Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer earns its keep with basic “on-the-road” transactional printing from both regular computers and mobile devices. This is more so if you are turning out a receipt, invoice or similar document which only covers up to two A4 or letter pages. You may have to use the paper-roll kit of you expect to torn out a document with many pages at a time.

For best results, I would recommend thay you run the printer with the image density setting on 6 or 8. Here, you can have documents that last a long time and can be copied easily on most multi-function printers without any need to configure them. You could use the premium “20-year” paper to turn out legal-requirement documents such as safety and compliance certificates associated with installation work, or for tax invoices in those jurisdictions where you have to keep tax documents for over five years.

Similarly, it may be worth bargaining in the cut-sheet paper guide if you expect to use your Brother PJ-773 to frequently print multi-page documents. Buying the ruggedised carry case with integrated roll-paper holder may make for a practical no-fuss “ready-to-print” option for your briefcase.

On the other hand, you may have to use a Canon or HP mobile inkjet printer if you are expecting to turn out many pages at a time and place emphasis on on-demand colour or greyscale printing such as printing of photos, or you value a choice of media for “on-the-road” applications.

Therefore I would consider the Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer as a tool for tradesmen and other mobile workers to have in their mobile office.

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Product Review–Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 detachable tablet

Introduction

I am reviewing the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 which is the first “2-in-1” computer I have experienced  that is pitched at the business user, especially where business-level security is considered important.

There is a “stripped-down” variant that has only 4Gb RAM and 128Gb on the solid-state storage, which may be considered as a starting point when you are bargaining for these tablet computers.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

Price
– this configuration
RRP
Form factor Detachable tablet
Processor Intel Core M 5Y71 processor
RAM 8Gb RAM
cheaper option:
4Gb RAM
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 256Gb SSD
cheaper option:
128Gb SSD
microSD card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD 5300 integrated graphics
Screen 11” widescreen touch display
(Full HD)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements Dolby Home Theater tuning
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n/ac
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.0
Modems LTE wireless broadband (optional)
Connectivity USB USB 3.0 on tablet
USB 2.0 on standard keyboard
High-speed connections eSATA, Thunderbolt, etc
Video micorHDMI
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security Fingerprint reader, TPM
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8.1 Purchased systems will come with Windows 10 delivered or as a user install
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:
Insert variants with relative price shifts

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 as a tablet

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 – as a tablet

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 is based on a “detachable tablet” form factor where the tablet docks in to a keyboard base. Unlike other detachable tablets, the tablet computer isn’t mechanically retained in the keyboard dock this wouldn’t be suitable for working on your lap. Rather this arrangement would be limited to working on a table or desk when you type up documents.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 didn’t overheat even when I was viewing a run of YouTube videos. This means that it shows a heat-handling behaviour that is expected of a mobile-platform tablet like the iPad or the Galaxy Tab S.

User Interface

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 detachable keyboard

Detachable keyboard with gully to rest Lenovo ThinkPad Helix tablet in.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 has its keyboard and trackpad on a separate unit that detaches from the tablet. Here, the keyboard was responsive and showed signs of a high-quality unit. It may feel a bit cramped for those of us who touch-type.

As for the trackpad, this behaved properly and wasn’t “hair-trigger”. There wasn’t the ability to turn on or off the trackpad but it may not be an issue for you.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 detachable tablet

Rear of tablet with fingerprint reader – consistently accurate with the fingerprint scanning

As required for a business computer, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 is equipped with a fingerprint reader on the back of the tablet. I would suspect that there would be problems with this fingerprint reader’s accuracy because it could be easily damaged in transit or if the Helix was laid on a dirty table. But I didn’t come across problems with its accuracy which was very consistent. Even working the fingerprint reader with a finger that has remnants of a sandwich dressing did not phase this device and its accuracy.

Audio and Video

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 as a laptop computer

I used the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 for the Skype video interview which I did with Matthew Hare from Gigaclear and this tablet performed excellently through the interview. Later on, I used the tablet to view some older episodes of a show I once liked which were available on YouTube.

The video display came up as being very smooth and sharp for video playback and similar applications. However, I wouldn’t consider this as being suitable for advanced video-editing work.

The sound came through loud and clear for the video content when I used the internal speakers but these would just come in handy for spoken content listened to closely by a few. Here, I would still use good headphones or speakers if you want to enjoy most audio or video content.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

There is a full-size USB socket on the keyboard so you can connect a USB peripheral like a mouse or trackball. Personally I would like to also see this replaced with a USB 3.0 socket so you can use USB memory keys with this computer at the best speed.

The tablet has a microSD card slot so you can move data off to your smartphone or use it as backup storage. This is also augmented with a microHDMI socket for you to use when connecting to a larger display.

The review unit came with a mobile-broadband modem but I didn’t have a spare SIM to test this modem’s performance with. As well it came with 256Gb solid-state storage but there is a cheaper variant with 128Gb storage which may be of use if you primarily store your data elsewhere.

I noticed that for reliable operation especially with fringe-area operation or where some legacy 802.11g access points are used, you need to download the latest drivers for the Lenovo’s Wi-Fi network adaptor. This is something you can do using Windows Update.

Battery life

Most activities didn’t place heavy demands on the battery thus it could be realistic to assume that you can get at least a workday out of this unit without needing to plug it in to AC power.

Other usage notes

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 on church pulpit

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 earns its keep on that pulpit or lectern

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 had performed properly with Skype when I did the video conference with Matthew Hare from Gigaclear especially as this had put the Wi-Fi network adaptor along with the system’s computing power and audio-video functionality to the test.

I had shown this computer to other people in the various communities that I deal with and they remarked that it is beyond the norm for the laptops and tablets they are used to using or seeing in action. One café owner in a popular shopping centre reckoned that it conveys the look of business compared to most of the consumer-based portable computing devices he has seen.

Although the review sample of the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 came with Windows 8.1, if you buy one of these units, it will be delivered to you with Windows 10 installed.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

There are some features that I would like to see happen for the ThinkPad Helix lineup.

One would be to have a standard SD card slot that could be part of the keyboard at least. Here, it would benefit those of us who download photos from digital cameras especially where the cameras use high-speed standard SD cards for their storage.

Similarly, Lenovo could improve the mechanical attachment of the keyboard unit to allow proper laptop operation. One way this can be facilitated would be to have a kickstand or other mechanism that clips the tablet to the keyboard.

A variant that has the 8Gb RAM and the 256Gb SSD storage but without the business-level security requirements could be positioned for those of us who place emphasis on a durable tablet or 2-in-1.

Conclusion

I would position the Lenovo  business-focused tablet / subnotebook especially where content consumption like Web browsing or reading of online content; or use as a “pad” is expected to be an increasing part of the user’s computing life. It will also serve as a similarly-sized viable alternative to an iPad or Android tablet as a “speaker’s companion” or “preacher’s companion” tablet.

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Controlling your garage door or gate from your smartphone

Relevant article:

Detached garage

Very soon your smartphone could control your garage door

Smart Garage Door Systems | Postscapes

Introduction

A feature that is available for your remote-controlled garage door or gate is the ability for you to control it using your smartphone. But this feature is primarily available from a few American-based home-automation manufacturers with some companies who sell garage-door openers offering add-on kits for their products to enable them to have this functionality. This is while the rest of these vendors offer them as a kit that is retrofitted to an existing garage-door opener or gate controller.

What do they offer?

Your smartphone is your garage door remote control

Smartphone and garage door transmitter

This Android smartphone could supplant that garage door opener

This avoids the need for you to fossick for a garage-door opener transmitter or worry whether the transmitter’s battery has died when you leave or arrive and some of these systems may have the ability to let you know if that garage door is actually closed or not. This may avoid the need to glance nervously in the rear-vision mirror when you leave to see if that door is closing as I have seen someone that I have known do when they and I left their house in their car, or to turn around to check if that gate is properly closed.

There is also the opportunity for the software developer who write the smartphone apps for these garage door controllers to exploit your smartphone platform’s abilities like asking your platform’s voice-driven personal assistant (Siri, Google Now, Cortana) whether the garage door’s open or not or telling it to close the door. Similar you can set a notification to pop up using your smartphone platform’s notification interface if certain conditions are met like the garage door being open too long or at odd hours.

Wrought iron gates

Even wrought-iron gates like these can be controlled with your smartphone

The software developers can even provide support for the in-car or smartwatch interfaces that are an extension of these mobile operating systems so that your CarPlay or Android Auto infotainment setup in the car, or your Apple Watch or Android Wear smartwatch is your key to your garage door or gate.

Increased security and manageability

All these garage door controllers have similar functionality to a smart lock where you can issue extra keys to other people yet have the ability to take the keys away from them or provide limited usage periods for these keys.

For example, you could allow your houseguests to have access to the garage or give the keys to a friend who is storing their car in your garage. Similarly, you could allow your nanny to have access to your property through the front gates for the duration of her shift.

You gain this functionality through the mobile-platform app or a Web-based dashboard in the case of those systems that connect to your home network. In a lot of cases, the latter example allows you to manage your garage from another Internet-connected computer like your workplace’s computer.

How do they work

Connecting to the garage door or gate opener

Most of these systems are designed to work on a universal-connection setup where the smartphone controller interface mimics the manual pushbutton that is used to open the garage door from inside. This is achieved through a relay (your car has these to control the headlights, horn or starter motor from the switches on the dashboard) or an optocoupler which has its switching contacts wired in parallel to the manual pushbutton and these are brought closed for a short moment when the controller wants the door opened or closed. This action causes the garage door or the gates to start opening or closing depending on their current position. The setup allows for the circuits in both the devices to be isolated thus reducing the risk of cross-voltage damage occurring while allowing for this control.

The systems that support Wi-Fi-based connectivity also provide the ability to work with a sensor that determines whether the garage door is open or closed. This allows them to report on this status either in an event-driven manner or under control of the controller’s app. This goal can be achieved using a wireless sensor that uses an integrated tilt switch and is attached to your single-panel or multi-panel lift-up garage door; or the better units may simply allow you to connect a door-contact switch to the garage door. This can work well with roller doors, sliding or swing doors including gates.

A few of these systems even have their own video-surveillance camera or can work with IP-based video-surveillance cameras so you can see if the garage door is opening or closing as well as knowing if anyone is in the garage. Some of them also offer a visual and/or audio alert so you and others know if the garage door or gate is being opened or closed, with this functionality being offered as a “get-out-of-the-way” safety warning.

The GoGoGate controller allows for increased flexibility by permitting different wiring scenarios like a separate “open” and “close” button which may be encountered with more advanced setups. On the other hand, some garage-door-opener manufacturers may offer kits that enable you to control their products from your smartphone.

An issue that may plague a lot of these controllers is that they aren’t weatherproof to outdoor conditions and installers may have to house them in weatherproof housings if they want to use them with gates.

Connecting to your smartphone

Some of these garage door controllers connect to your smartphone using a Bluetooth 4.0 interface while most of the others use a Wi-FI network interface that is linked to your home network’s Wi-Fi segment.

A few of the controllers also offer an “own-access-point” mode where they serve as their own Wi-Fi access point just for controlling your garage door or gates. In this latter case, you have to make sure your smartphone discovers and switches to that network before you can control your garage door.

Some of the controllers like the GoGoGate system may even provide for Ethernet connectivity, perhaps in the form of using an Ethernet-based USB network adaptor. This feature cannot be discounted because it can allow the use of HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV2 powerline adaptors to provide a reliable network link to the home network and the Internet. Use this with a HomePlug Wi-Fi access point and you could assure reliable remote access from your car outside the garage or front gates.

Software

All of the smartphone-capable garage door controllers, like other home-automation devices, rely on control apps that are peculiar to a vendor’s controller system.

They will allow you to control multiple garage doors as long as the controllers are from the same vendor. The software even allows for property-level grouping and caters toward garages which have two or three separately-opened doors. So this means that you don’t need to install a new app for each door.

The Wi-Fi-based systems that connect to your home network also work with a management Website so you can see access logs or manage your system from a regular computer. Some of them also link to a remote-access server which would be referred to as a “cloud” setup, typically established by the vendor. This would allow for functions like email alerts or the ability to open or close your garage door from work.

Another feature to expect for some of these connected garage-door-controller systems is the ability to integrate with smart-home subsystems. This feature may be delivered in the form of a software update for better-designed systems, but some smart-home platforms like Apple’s HomeKit or Google’s Nest may require the garage-door controller system to be accepted by the platform’s vendor.

Conclusion

Although there are 11 systems on the market that link your garage door or gate to your smartphone, the market is still immature and fragmented as is the rest of the “smart-home” product market.

What needs to happen is for companies involved with garage doors and front gates for the residential and small-business market to share knowledge in order to enable the garage door or front gate to be part of the smart home. Manufacturers could sell the technology on a basis that allows different vendors to integrate in to their systems thus allowing for a quicker time-to-market for newer products or a reduced need to “reinvent the wheel”. As far as retailers go, it could include reselling the various systems whether with a new installation or to retrofit to existing installations.

For most of us, it may simply be about inquiring with your garage-door contractor about the existence of Bluetooth-based or Wi-Fi-based garage door controllers and seeking to have them installed.

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Elementary video software available for peanuts

It is worth knowing that if you are wanting to dabble with video editing, there are some options out there that offer more functionality than what Apple and Microsoft offer for their platforms but are within the budget range of most hobbyists, small businesses and community organisations.

NCH and Wondershare offer video-editing and video-conversion tools that are easy to use for someone with modest computer skills but don’t cost an arm and a leg. Here, the video conversion options are NCH Prism (US$50) and Wondershare Video Converter (US$50) and your video-editing options are NCH VideoPad (US$69) and Wondershare Filmora (US$50).

I have experienced these tools or seen them in action for myself with, for example, my former pastor turning out a video of my church’s recent overseas missionary trip using Wondershare Filmora. He was able to get a very impressive video without having to face a steep learning curve.

These video tools can earn their keep for turning out “small-time” video efforts without having to face either paying through the nose for the software or taking a long time to learn the software. In some cases, they may make you justify the use of the video abilities in your DSLR or premium compact digital camera or you buying a digital camcorder.

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Rotating videos shot with smartphones

When you shoot video using a smartphone or tablet held in the vertical (portrait) position, it will come out vertical and you may have to rotate your head to watch it comfortably on most display situations. Even if you use a camcorder or high-end digital camera to shoot your video footage, you may find that you have shot some footage at an awkward angle and may want to correct that.

But you can rotate the video footage so it appears right-way-up when you play it. Here, the video will come out in a “pillar-box” form when played full-screen with black borders on each side of the vision.

You can do this with both the main regular-computer operating systems using either an application that comes with the operating system or available as a free download from the vendor.

Apple Macintosh

Current versions of QuickTime Player for OS X have the ability to rotate the video and save a rotated copy.

To do this, open the video in QuickTime Player, then select “Rotate Video” under QuickTime Player’s Edit Menu to get it the “right way up”. Once you are satisfied, press Command-S on the keyboard to save a rotated copy of the clip.

Windows

If you download Windows Movie Maker, which is part of the free Windows Live Essentials package available from Microsoft, you can use this elementary video editor tool to rotate your video clips.

Here, you import your video clip to Windows Movie Maker, then you rotate your video clip using the Rotate buttons on the toolbar. Once you are satisfied, save a copy of the clip in any of the formats that Windows Movie Maker supports.

Conclusion

At least Apple and Windows offer inclusive solutions to correct your video footage that you take with your smartphone so you can make it comfortably watchable.

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Infocus ups the capacity for its Kangaroo mini-PC

Article

The $170 Kangaroo Plus pocketable PC doubles the RAM and storage | Windows Central

Previous Coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

InFocus Presents A PC As Big As A Smartphone

From the horse’s mouth

Infocus

Press Release

My Comments

InFocus, known for their range of value-priced projectors, had previously released the Kangaroo mini-PC which is about the size of a smartphone. But like most of the “Next Unit Of Computing” devices which represent the ultra-small “fixed-location” computers, this model used an Intel Atom CPU, 2Gb RAM and up to 32Gb solid-state storage. This made people think of them as being “toys” rather than tools.

But InFocus raised the game for this series of computers by offering the Kangaroo Plus “deluxe” version of their small-form-factor computer. Here, this is equipped with 64Gb of data storage capacity and 4Gb RAM which is considered iy most computer users to be a realistic amount of baseline memory. It was offered in response to customers expressing a need for real capacities on both the “primary-storage” RAM and the non-volatile secondary storage.

There is still the ability to use an Apple iPad as the display and input surface for the InFocus Kangaroo through the use of a special cable and an iOS app. It also works with the Kangaroo Dock expansion module so you can safely upgrade your existing Kangaroo pocket computer to the bigger-capacity model without dumping that accessory.

Could this be a sign of hope for small-form-factor desktop computers to have specifications that can allow for most elementary desktop uses? Would this also be a sign that these computers could end up being specified as part of a standard operating environment?

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System recovery images–how about updatimg them

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

The recovery image on these computers could be part of an update program to simplify refreshing them with the latest version of the operating system if they fail

Increasingly a lot of computer systems, especially laptops and tablets, are making use of so-called “recovery” images. This same practice also applies whenever an organisation is using a disk image with the operating system and applications that are the software component of a standard operating environment.

These are a disk image of all of the operating system and supplied applications that are delivered by the system manufacturer or value-added reseller and installed on the system when it is first set up. The computer makes use of these images if the computer has to be taken to “ground zero” due to a virus or corrupt data or before the user hands the computer to someone else. Newer operating systems use these images as part of a system refresh routine in order to remove corrupt data and bring stability to the computer’s configuration.

But what can happen is that as operating system and application developers keep refining their software, what exists on these system recovery images represents software that is way out of date. This reminds me of a support visit where Microsoft Word was continually crashing on a desktop computer and I had discovered that the computer was running an “out-of-the-box” version of Windows Vista which hadn’t had any service packs installed.

Typically, this will lead to reinstalling any and all patches and updates that were rolled out since the recovery image was created. But how can this be resolved?

One way would be for the manufacturer or value-added reseller to create a “recovery image service pack” and deliver that either as a USB stick or through an authenticated download to the computer users. Then the users install this service pack to replace the original recovery image to have an up-to-date reference image. This cond be created at regular intervals such as every six months.

Another way would be to create a dynamic system image that consists of the latest versions of the operating system and application files. The changed files can be added ot that image as part of installing the latest patches. Similarly, an “image update” app could check for newer hardware drivers for the hardware that is integrated with the computer system itself.

These issues may involve determining how installation and recovery disk images are built wiht a view to focus on the images referring ot major versions and editions of the software concerned along with any peripheral drivers. In the latter case, it may be about obtaining hardware-series-specific drivers rather than drivers that focus on that particular piece of hardware.

As well, with operating systems like Windows and OS X being offered with free major-version updates, the recovery image may also be about installing the latest major version of that operating system’s edition.

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The Microsoft Surface Pro becomes another of personal computing’s Holy Grails

Apple MacBook Pro running MacOS X Mavericks - press picture courtesy of ApplePreviously, all the laptop vendors were trying to design their products to have a similar look to Apple’s MacBook product lineup. This ended up with the Apple MacBook product lineup along with the Apple iMac product lineup being seen as personal computing’s “Holy Grail” when it comes to design, construction and specification. This was involving computers that have the same slimline look to the Apple MacBook Air series along with some media-capable laptops like the HP Envy 15-3000 having a similar styling and capability to the Apple MacBook Pro.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 press image courtesy of Microsoft USA

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – considered to be the Holy Grail for Windows-based detachable-tablet 2-in-1s

But what has just been happening at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was a run of detachable-tablet 2-in-1 computers that have a very similar look to the Microsoft Surface Pro.  For example, when the keyboard is attached to the Surface Pro and the kickstand is brought out so it is used as a notebook computer, the setup raises the keyboard at a slight angle; while the tablet part is very much a glass-covered slate.

This ended up with the Microsoft Surface Pro, especially the latest generation, being considered the “Holy Grail” whein it comes to detachable-tablet 2-in-1 computers.

All of the contenders have the detachable keyboard supplied with the tablet even if you purchase the baseline variant in their product lineup. This is while they achieve that slimline look that the Microsoft Surface has attained as a tablet.

They also offer features that Microsoft wouldn’t provide as part of the Surface Pro’s spec like use of common “open-frame” connectors such as the USB Type-C connector. HP’s Spectre x2, for example, even adds an Intel RealSense camera for Windows Hello facial recognition.

As I have noticed over the last year, the Microsoft Surface Pro lineup has also been aggressively targeted at those of us who would buy the Apple MacBook Air or own one of these computers. This is through the use of style to woo these customers along with TV commercials that show you what you can do on the Surface Pro but can’t do on the MacBook Air and pages on Microsoft’s Website giving instructions on how to move off Apple’s Macintosh platform to the Surface.

Could this be another trend for computer manufacturers to achieve “Holy Grail” products for their product class which which other comptuer designers aspire to? But on the other hand, the desire to imitate can ruin the desire to innoviate and make products that carry their unique look and design characteristics.

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Advanced wallpaper images–could this be real?

LG's 4K OLED curved TV press picture courtesy of LG America

These LG 4K OLED TVs could be showing a tasteful wallpaper image while music plays

Increasingly, there is an interest in creating subtle wallpaper-type images and displays that can work effectively in the background whether with or without music.

Most home AV systems, especially those kept in a lounge area include a television or similar display device but if you intend to play audio-only content like music, you end up with a device that becomes useless in these environments. You typically end up with a blank screen which could be put to better use.

But you may want something that is effectively serving as a visual wallpaper that can exist in the background without destroying the flow of the conversation. This is more so if you are intending to play background music and something like a karaoke-style lyrics display or a music video may simply look out of place and end up more as a distraction.

A small cafe

Cafes like this could benefit from advanced video wallpaper displays rather than ordinary television

Businesses will also see this appealing as a merchandising tool for promoting their products and services and community organisations may want to exploit these concepts as a way to “set the mood” prior to running an event or promoting their efforts. Even cafes and bars would value the idea of creating a dynamic visual wallpaper rather than showing ordinary television content to set the ambience.

It is infact something that theatres and cinemas have practiced, typically before the programme session starts or during an interval where they show still images, typically advertising while background music plays.

What is being achieved with existing technologies

The concept has been tackled in various different manners such as DVD / Blu-Ray players, network media players and the like showing a screensaver-style image while audio-only content is being played.

A good example that stays in my mind is a Sony DVD/VHS combo that was used to play music CDs through the TV’s speakers and this unit showed a screen which changed between different colours while the music played. Similarly, some hotel TV systems may show a photograph and a text description of the radio station, or the radio station’s logo if the TV is being used to play a radio station, with better implementations showing the current song’s title or other dynamic information that is obtained from tha station’s RDS or similar datastream. Most regular-computer platforms have the ability to run a screensaver which typically is a pattern or animation that comes in to play when the computer is not being used. Or you could set up some network media players to pick photos up from your DLNA media server and run them as a slideshow while you have music playing from that same media server or another media server.

Static image from Christian playlist video used at church gathering that I cited

Static image from Christian playlist video used at church gathering that I cited

Sometimes, when people put up music on YouTube, they set up a visual wallpaper that accompanies that music. This may typically be a static image that never changes, or an image that may change at some point. A good example of this that I saw during a church get-together hosted at someone’s house was this YouTube “static-screen” video with the top 50 of the newer Christian contemporary praise-and-worship songs as its audio content while a static slide having a picture of a flying dove and “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life” appearing as a text quote at the bottom that picture. This is similar to how some people have created “continuous-music” DVDs which show one or more static images but have music playing. These and similar examples were based on a practice that WPIX-TV in New York City undertook since the 1950s where they showed a Yule Log burning in a fireplace (YouTube) with some classic Christmas carols and songs playing through the TV’s speaker.

How could this be taken further?

Live Wallpaper

There can be better ways to go about this. One would be to take a leaf out of Android’s book and exploit the “Live Wallpapers” concept which can allow you to create customised wallpaper images that can show real-time information or update the display in a dynamic manner. For that matter, Google could extend this concept to the Android TV platform which Sony is supporting for their 4K Smart TVs and Free have based their latest Freebox on. This could be in the form of showing selected pictures from one or more sources such as your photo collection or a stock-photo library, which could apply well to pictures of a city or country or some general pictures.

Cinemagraphs and short video loops

Beach shot

A beach image could be animated with the waves splashing in

A trend that is starting to become real is the concept of “cinemagraphs” which are video loops that appear like an ordinary photo but have subtle movement taking place. An example of this is a picture of someone sitting by the fireplace with the fire’s flames flickering, a Christmas tree with the twinkling lights or a beachside image with the waves rushing in. Even a close-up of someone may have some accidental movements like twitching or lips puckering.

Apple placed a revision in to the iOS 9 camera app which implements “Live Photos” that allows you to grab a short moment of animation just by taking that photo. Facebook and Tumblr even has integrated support for these “Live Photos” to be contributed to a user’s Facebook or Tumblr presence using the latest versions of the social networks’ iOS native-client apps. Third parties have opened up some desktop software and Websites which turn Live Photos in to animated GIFs which can be uploaded to Websites.

Microsoft’s research division is taking a step in the right direction by completing final research on “cliplets” where a short video can be broken in to “layers” with the ability to create separately-programmable loops for different objects in the video.

Enabling programmatic control of advanced wallpaper

Once a particular file type is defined for these kind of photo-video hybrid images to permit the creation of separately addressed video loops, it could be feasible to have these images driven by external properties like the time of day. This can range from one or mroe different text messages appearing under programmatic control to a graphic that is altereted depending on certain conditions.

An example of this could be a hybrid picture of London’s Big Ben showing the current time of day or a beachside image showing a dusk view when it is dusk. This could also allow for one or more text layers to be created to show text like quotes from a “quote library”, current song metadata, current time or weather information and the like. A media player that supports this file type could then show these for a user-defined time period then show another regular image or hybrid image for that time period.

Conclusion

This will become a constant issue as people want to use visual wallpaper on their display screens especially as these screens become increasingly large thanks to 4K UHDTV technology. Here, people may want to look at ways to keep these screens showing something appropriate during social events but not distracting their guests or patrons; or a business wants to keep their clients aware of their special offers.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2016–Part 2 Accessories, Peripherals and the Home Network

I am continuing to write up about the trends that have been presented at the Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas, USA.

 

Just before, I had covered the trends affecting desktop and mobile computing with such things as 4K and OLED screens, narrow bezels, Intel Skylake internals, business computers appearing at a consumer-focused show, and gaming computers that are rated for Oculus Rift.

Now I will be covering various peripherals, accessories and how your home network will evolve.

Display Monitors

The display monitors for your computer are following a similar trend to what is happening for TV. This includes 4K ultra-high-resolution screens and curved displays. But a few manufacturers are rolling out OLED screens in their product lineup. This will mean that you could see the benefit of increased contrast and colour definition on your computer’s display whether it serves as a secondary or “desktop” monitor for your laptop or primary or secondary monitor for your desktop.

Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year's computers

Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year’s monitors and peripherals

One of tbe trends starting to appear is for a display monitor to have a USB Type-C connector, more so with DisplayPort over USB-C connectivity. This capitalises on the fact that the monitor will be connected to a suitably-equipped laptop, tablet or 2-in-1 and will be this cable is the one cable that will provide power to charge or run the portable along with a physical link for data and video. Most of these monitors will have a self-powered USB hub along with an integrated Webcam and speaker system. On the other hand, there are the 15”-19” portable monitors with USB-C connection and powered by the host computer which will serve as portable “extra-screens” to use with these computers.

ASUS has presented the latter type of these displays with their MB169C which is a 15” portable monitor that features a 15.6” Full HD LCD screen and connects to the host computer via a USB Type-C connector. They also launched the MX27UQ which is a 27” 4K UHDTV screen with Bang & Olufsen ICEPower amplification for the sound and can stream sound from your computer or smartphone via Bluetooth. This is available in an Icicle Gold finish. They also launched a 34” curved monitor with a UQWHD (3440×1440) resolution that has a Qi wireless charging base and has its sound amplified using B&O ICEPower technology.

Lenovo ThinkVision X1 4K monitor

Lenovo ThinkVision X1 4K monitor

Lenovo has added the ThinkVision X1 monitor to their premium “X1” computing product lineup with this one being equipped with a 27” 4K IPS screen set against a very narrow bezel. It is intended to be an “at-base” companion to the latest crop of laptops thanks to a USB Type-C connection that provides power to the laptop that it is connected to as well as being a USB hub. It also comes with a 1080p Webcam that has a microphone array, LED lighting and mechanical privacy filter; along with a stereo pair of 3W speakers. It can also be connected to other devices thanks to an HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.2 connector.

The Lenovo ThinkVision X24 Pro adds on an Intel RealSense camera and the option for a WiGIg connection bar for wireless connectivity with suitable laptops and tablets. Gamers will relish in the fact that Lenovo has catered for them with the Y27g Razer Edition curved gaming monitor which has a 27” Full HD display and RGB lighting on the back to providing interesting effects. This also can work tightly wiht G-Sync-capable display cards.

LG advanced the 27UD88 27” 4K gaming monitor that optimises itself to work with the latest AMD graphics subsystems.

Dell has not been quiet on the display monitor front with them offering a range of 21” and 23.8” wireless monitors that can work with Windows and Android devices. These also have a Qi / PMA wireless charging base with the smaller variant having 2 three-watt speakers and the larger variant having a narrow bezel and improved colour accuracy.

They alos premiered the UltraSharp 30 which is a 30” 4K OLED monitor that also uses a USB Type-C connector as a way to connect to the host device.

Computer Peripherals and Accessories

With the computer manufacturers releasing more devices that are equipped with USB Type-C connectors, especially as a way to power these devices, the peripherals and accessories scene has responded with a range of devices that have USB Type-C connections.

Lenovo will be fielding the WriteIT 2.0 which adds pen capabilities to any Windows-based tablet or 2-in-1 that implements a touchscreen. This could then allow you to benefit from pen-based operation without paying dearly for that function. Wacom are also selling this same stylus as the Bamboo Smart and thsi works with “active electrostatic” or capacitive touch screens.

The Lenovo Link 32Gb memory stick celebrates mobile and regular open-frame computing very finely by allowing you to connect your Windows and Android devices to each other. This allows you to mirror your Android phone’s display on your Windows computer and provides local file transfer between both platforms. It will work with Android 5.0, Windows 7 and newer versions of these operating systems and your smartphone will have to have a USB On-The-Go connection or USB Type-C connection.

Lenovo also added to the ThinkPad Stack an external battery pack and a pico projector.

Samsung 2Tb solid-state external storage device press picture courtesy of Samsung USA

Samsung 2Tb solid-state external storage device

Samsung used their expertise in developing solid-state flash storage to prepare a USB portable storage device that can hold up to 2Tb of data, the same quantity as a lot of USB hard disks. This connects to the host device using a USB 3.1 Type-C connection but you could connect it to existing devices using a USB Type-C adaptor cable.

Griffin are known for aftermarket accessories and peripherals that are typically pitched to the Apple ecosystem but, in a lot of cases, can work wiht omst computers. They have fronted up with the BreakSafe cable which gives USB Type-C connections the same “safe disconnect” abilities as Apple’s MagSafe connection, a boon to those of you who own the latest 12” Apple MacBook that uses this connection. They also launced an external battery pack that attaches to your keyring so you can charge up your Apple Watch when out and about. They also launched the Survivor Slim Case which is a ruggedised case for the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

Seagate have launched one of the slimmest USB external hard disks around in the form of the Backup Plus Ultra Slim external hard disk. This device has a thickness of 9.6mm and is about more data in a slimmer package. As required for Seagate external hard disks, this unit has backup software with one-touch or scheduled host-system backup. Similarly, LaCie have launched an external hard disk that has Porsche design and connects to your host computer via USB Type-C. But this unit has another USB Type-C connection so you can charge your MacBook or other USB Type-C computer without forfeiting hte ability to use the external hard disk.

Scosche have also launched a lineup of USB Type-C cables, port hubs / chargers and adaptors. One of these is the StrikePort USB-A + HDMI + USB-C adaptor which has a USB Type-C connector for charging while another of these is the StrikeDrive USB-C car adaptor which plugs in to your vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket so you can charge your USB-C devices – this can charge or power 2 12-watt USB-C devices. There is also a range of StrikeLine charge-and-sync (data) cables with ones that connect a USB-C device to a USB-A device and another that connects a USB-C device to a MicroUSB device.

Panasonic have established the case for BluRay optical discs as a “cold-storage” medium for archived data and this is based on what Facebook is storing those selfie snaps, holiday pictures and other images that you tender to the social network. They have started with 100Gb disks bot are moving towards 1 Terabyte disks which they are calling “Freeze Ray”.

Braven have come forth with a slew of accessories for your smarpthone or tablet. One of these is the BRV-BANK Pro LE which is an ultra-rugged modular battery pack . This pack has a 300-lumen LED torch and is built in aircraft-grade alumium housing and can charge devices via a 1.4A USB port and a 2.1A USB port. The device has a waterproof rating for IPx7 and houses a 6000mAH battery.

Braven BRV-PRO LE modular rugged power bank press picture courtesy of Braven

Braven BRV-PRO LE modular rugged power bank

But it is part of a Braven accessory ecosystem with a solar charging panel, speaker, multi-tool, GoPro action mount and a stacking plate. A smartphone app which links to this battery pack via Bluetooth supports a “Find Me” function which causes the torch to flash SOS in Morse code. Campers will also appreciate the “Bear mode” that uses the smartphone’s motion sensors to alert the BRV-BANK Pro LE and cause it to flash the torch light and sound an alarm if the phone is disturbed. Here, the idea is to pack the phone with your food supply and be alerted if the local wildlife starts raiding your food supply and is a problem that faces North American campers because of bears being too dependent on campers’ food supplies.

Razer have even provided Intel RealSense technology in to an add-on Webcam in the form of the Stargazer 3D Webcam. This can give existing desktop computers that don’t necessarily come with integrated RealSense abilities this kind of sensing and could open them towards Windows Hello facial recognition along with 3D scanning.

In an out-of-the-ordinary move, Black & Decker, know for those power drills, have integrated USB device-charging functionality in to their power-tool batteries. They also implement an app to support a “find-me” functionality along with the ability to support a “check-in / check-out” function and the ability to control when the batteries are used.

Your Home Network

Yhere are a few trends that are affecting the home network and how it is set up. One of these is 802.11ac Wave-2 Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO operation. The MU-MIMO function effectively creates dedicated bandwidth for each MU-MIMO device that uses the network but also frees up more bandwidth for ordinary Wi-Fi devices. This function is moving down towards the mid-tier routers and starting to appear in wireless range extenders with this function being about optimised bandwidth on the backhaul link and the device-side link.

It was also the time that the IEEE and Wi-FI Assocations have cemented the 802.11ah 900mHz “HaLow” wireless-network specification. This uses a lower frequency than 2.0GHz 802.11b/g Wi-Fi thus having a longer range and lower power but it doesn’t have the same data bandwidth as the Wi-Fi standards that we currently use for the home network. This will be pitched towards the “Internet Of Things” application case where a lot of sensors and allied devices will rely on batteries expected to run for a long time.

As far as HomePlug AV2 is concerned, the concept of the HomePlug access point which supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and HomePlug AV2 has finally hit American shores thanks to Netgear.

Linksys have released their EA9500 4×4 802.11ac MU-MIMO router with Gigabit WAN and 4 x switched Gigabit LAN. This uses eight antennas to provide the MU-MIMO function. There is also the EA7500 3×3 802.11ac MU-MIMO router which is similar to the EA9500 but has reduced MU-MIMO abilities.

The Linksys RE7000 4×4 MU-MIMO range extender optimises the bandwidth used for the downstream devices whin it is linked to a MU-MIMO access point. As well, this multifunction range extemder has a Gigabit Ethernet port and can be set up to serve as a wired client bridge for a wireless network or as a MU-MIMO wireless access point – the latter being a way to upgrade your wireless netowrk to MU-MIMO abilities without throwing out your existing router. They also offer a MU-MIMO USB wireless network adaptor so you can join MU-MIMO wireless netowrk segments using your existing laptop.

Linksys have released DOCSIS 3.0 cable-modem hardware including a cable modem-router. They also exhibited the X6200 which is an ADSL2/VDSL2 modem router works on the 802.11ac standard.

D-Link have sold the AC4300 MU-MIMO wireless router and AC1300 MU-MIMO range extender as a kit in order to appeal to those of us who have larger houses.

Netgear have released the R7800 Nighthawk X4S Smart Wi-Fi Router whcih handles MU-MIMO with four streams and a processor improved on the previous model. This device also has the ability to work on 160Mhz channel bandwidth.

They also released the C7000 which is an AC1900 cable modem router that is part of the Nighthawk router lineup.  For that matter, new firmware that will be available for the Nighthawk router lineup will offer native support for Netgear’s Arlos lineup of network cameras.

As for range extenders, the EX7300 Nighthawk X4 is a wall-plugged AC2200 unit with MU-MIMO for both the upstream and downstream paths. There is the EX6400 range extender which is the first wall-plug AC1900 range extender. Both these range extenders  can also serve as access points to work wiht Ethernet or HomePlug wired backbones or as client bridges to serve wired network devices like smart TVs.

The PLW1000 HomePlug AV2 wireless access point can establish an 802.11ac wireless segment and can provide a HomePlug AV2 SISO (two-wire) backbone to the router. This functionality was offered by Devolo and was available only within Europe. But now, the Netgear device is the first device of its kind that is offered by a major home-network name to offer this kind of functionality to the North American market.

TP-Link have demonstrated a router that may have ordinary capabilities but be a “smart home” hub. The SR20 offers a throughput of 1300Mbps on 5Ghz 802.11ac and 600Mbps on 2.4GHz 802.11n and implements beamforming along Gigabit Ethernet for WAN and LAN. But it can be a “smart home” hub for Z-Wave and Zigbee devices and works alongside the Kasa mobile-platform dashboard app. This is similar to the Securifi Almond series of routers which have this kind of functionality and is the first of such devices to be released by a major home-network name.

Conclusion

After seeing a USB-C-driven direction for peripherals, OLED starting to light up computer display monitors, along wiht MU-MIMO increasing the throughput on Wi-Fi home networks,  I will be covering in the next article about photography, audio and video trends from CES 2016.

Next, I will be covering the trends affecting digital photography and videography along with audio and video recording and reproduction technology.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2016–Part 1 Desktop and Mobile Computing

This article is part of a series about the trends that have been shown at the Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas in the USA.

Desktop and Mobile Computing

This encompasses personal computing systems ranging from desktop and laptop computers that run “regular” or “traditional” computer operating systems like Microsoft Windows or Google ChromeOS to smartphones and tablets that run a mobile operating system typically Android. Apple hasn’t been showing their equipment at CES because of the way they see themselves as their own unit.

The key trends

Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10 – influences how this year’s computers are being designed

Microsoft Windows 10 and the Intel Skylake processor / chipset family have become established as far as personal computing system is concerned. This has led to most of the manufacturers refreshing their desktop and laptop product lines to take advantage of the new microarchitecture and operating system with what it offers. It doesn’t matter whether you use these computers for work or play; or at home, the office or on the road.

Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year's computers

Expect the USB Type-C connector to be common on this year’s computers

Feature that are being made available include the USB 3.1 Type-C connector which offers data transfer and laptop power on one cable, Thunderbolt 3 which uses the USB Type-C cable as an effective way to provide PCI-Express data throughput along with mobile-optimised design based around reduced heat output and reduced power demands.

This has led to a situation where most of the manufacturers have engaged in a race to see who is the first with the lightest 15” laptop and the most svelte 13” 2-in-1 convertible or detachable computer. The latter goal has been brought on because of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book 2-in-1s as something to emulate or beat where these systems are being offered as a credible alternative to the Apple MacBook lineup. This has been brought about because of the Intel Skylake processor family offering more options for mobile-focused processors that can lead to fanless cooling and improved battery runtime. The latter benefit benefits designers due to the ability to supply a smaller battery yet yield the same runtime.

The display is being seen as a tool to differentiate the premium-grade laptops. This is based on an increasing number of laptops and 2-in-1s having a 4K ultra-high-resolution display along with some manufacturers offering OLED displays as an option in their premium models. From my personal experience with my Samsung Galaxy Note phones and their AMOLED displays, I have noticed that photos and videos do come across more vividly due to the improved contrast that these displays offer. This could mean that the OLED-equipped laptops could woo photographers and video editors away from the Apple MacBook Pro as their tool of choice.

This year has also seen a larger number of business-grade laptops and tablets being exhibited by the manufacturers. Why show business-focused computers at a consumer-focused show? Firstly, there is the concept of “bring-your-own-device” appearing in a large number of workplaces where workers could choose their own devices, perhaps with the employer subsidising the cost of the equipment. Then there is the concept of the Internet-based “cottage industry” where your place of business is your home, perhaps with extra rented premises as a shopfront or storage where applicable.

All the computer names are offering gaming-optimised desktop and laptop computers with two significant trends showing up this year. One of these is to have gaming computers rated to work with the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset at best performance. Another is to have highly-compact gaming desktop computers in a manufacturer’s lineup rather than the traditional “gaming-rig” tower computers.

Some of what the brands offer

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1 - press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1

Acer has premiered the Aspire Switch 12S detachable which uses Intel Thunderbolt 3.1 via USB Type-C connectivity. As well, there is a 4K ultra-high-resolution screen in the lineup but these computers normally have a 12.5” Full HD (1080p) screen. These detachables use a magnetic docking mechanism which shouldn’t be about messing around with a latch; while they maintain 2 USB 3.0 connections, microHDMI external display connection and a microSD card slot.

Acer Travelmate P648 Business Notebook computer press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Acer Travelmate P648 Business Notebook computer

Acer’s TravelMate business notebooks have been brought up to date. One of these is the TravelMate P649 14-incher which come with WiGig short-throw Wi-Fi support, a USB Type-C port, NVIDIA GTX940M discrete graphics, start with 4Gb RAM but can be set up with 20Gb RAM, storage up to 512Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk, MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi for the latest routers, amongst other things. It seems like this computer could be called as an “all-rounder” work-home computer. They even offered the ProDock expansion module as a recommended “desktop-computing” accessory for this laptop, because this can provide 2 USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet wired network adaptor, and the ability to connect display devices via DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI or VGA.

The gaming scene didn’t miss out, thanks to Acer refreshing their Aspire Nitro range of gaming computers uprated to current expectations including Skylake technology. The Black Edition even sports an Intel Realsense camera for 3D scanning and Windows Hello facial recognition.

Acer Iconia Tab 8 Android tablet - press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Iconia Tab 8 family Android tablet with Kids’ Center

There is the Acer Liquid Jade Primo smartphone which is Acer’s entry in to the Windows 10 Mobile foray. This has the USB Type-C connectivity along with 3Gb RAM and 32Gb storage. But Acer hasn’t forgotten about Android with their Iconia One 8” family tablet that runs Android Lollipop 5.1, 9 hours battery runtime and has 16Gb storage and 1Gb RAM. Acer also added to this tablet the “Kids Center” software which is effectively an app corral for kids.

Acer has fielded a few Chrome OS computers to the foray with the Chromebook 11 which has 9 hours battery runtime, a Celeron processor and starts with 2Gb RAM but can go 4Gb RAM; and a Chromebase 24 all-in-one desktop which uses an Intel Core-family CPU and uses 8Gb RAM.

ASUS didn’t show up much in the way of laptop computers but presented their Zenfone Zoom which is a camera smartphone that uses a 10-element Hoya 3x optical-zoom lens. This phone is not as bulky as other camera-smartphone hybrid designs.

Dell revamped their Latitude range of business portable computers by offering the Latitude 11 500 series of business-focused tablets , the Latitude 13 7000 series of Ultrabooks and the Latitude 12 7000 series of detachable 2-in-1 tablets.

The Latitude 12 7000 series 12” tablets are effectively Dell’s answer to Microsoft’s Surface detachable tablet range, with an option to have the display resolution as 4K resolution as an option or Full HD (1080p) as standard; Intel Core M3, Core M5 0r Core M7 processors; 2 USB 3.1 Type-C ports with a USB Type-A adaptor supplied, 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity and an Intel RealSense camera. These 2-in-1s will offer 8Gb RAM and 512Gb storage. There is also the Latitude 11 5000 which is a closely-specced 11” variant of the Latitude 12 7000 2-in-1. The Latitude 13 7000 13” Ultrabooks will have the InfinityEdge “narrow-bezel” look, Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type-C and a fingerprint reader and NFC / RFID reader. Other members of the Latitude 5000 and 7000 business portable-computer lineup have been revamped to newer expectations with Intel Skylake technology, all USB connections being USB 3.0 or better, Thunderbolt 3.0 and 2560×1600 screen resolution at least. One of the systems even has support for WiGig short-throw high-bandwidth Wi-Fi wireless connectivity.

The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 is Dell’s entry to the bargain-basement laptop market with at least US$199 buying you a Windows laptop that has Celeron or Pentium processors, 2Gb or 4Gb RAM, 32Gb SSD storage and the 1366×768 display resolution.

For the gamers out there, Dell’s Alienware gaming brand has fronted up with some Oculus-ready gaming computers. They even put up the prospect of offering a gaming laptop with an OLED screen to improve those games graphics.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) have premiered their Phoenix x360 convertible notebook which has a variant equipped with a 15.6” display. This series implements the Intel Iris graphics engine and a 4K screen with OLED offered as an option. At the moment, HP are claiming this Skylake-equipped computer to he the thinnest  lightest 15” convertible notebook on the market. These computers are equipped with a USB Type-C connector and have their sound subsystem tuned by Bang & Olufsen which is part of a trend affecting HP laptops.

They have also released a larger version of the Pavilion x2  detachable tablet, which is another attempt to answer Microsoft’s Surface tablet range. It will come with low specs like a Core M or Atom CPU depending on the price range. The keyboard has a magnetic attachment mechanism rather than the usual mechanical latch used with most detachable tablets and the screen will come in at 12.1”.

HP Elitebook Folio laptop press picture courtesy of HP

The HP Elitebook Folio – as part of one’s office, whether that’s the main one or the café.

For business users, HP has released the Elitebook Folio whcih can lay flat for collabberation in the main or secondary office. This very thin Ultrabook has 2 USB Type-C connectors, a sound system that works well for voice communications, dedicated call-control keys, a piano hinge and, like a lot of this year’s computers, will have a 4K touchscreen option. As well, it is built on an aluminium chassis rather than a plastic chassis. You could achieve a good long workday and a few coffees from your favourite barista at your “second-office” café before the battery goes flat even if you go for the 4K touchscreen display variant or have the display at maximum brightness.

Other business computer options premiered by HP at this year’s CES include the Elitebook 1040 G3 14” notebook based on an aluminium chassis and using Core processors, Full HD or QHD displays. This is along with HP launching the Elitebook 800 family of business notebooks, available as 12.5”, 14” or 15” variants. HP have also added in a privacy filter feature to their latest Elitebook lineup as a deal-making option to prevent others like baristas or neighbouring aeroplane passengers from snooping on your work that is on the screen.

HP have not forgotten about the gamers and have premiered the Envy Phoenix performance gaming desktop which is pitched at today’s virtual-reality gamers.

Lenovo have come up with a large lineup of very interesting computer equipment.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet family - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet with additional options

Firstly, they have released the ThinkPad X1 as a family of portable computing devices rather than one notebook computer. The first of these is the ThinkPad X1 Tablet which is a highly-modular 12” detachable tablet set to answer Microsoft’s Surface. It has USB Type-C charging. Core M horsepower, up to 16Gb RAM and a 2K IPS screen. But its piece de resistance is the fact that there are clip-on modues that extend its functionality further. One of these is the Productivity Module which is a 15-hour external battery while another of these is the Presenter Module with a pico projector and HDMI video connectivity and the last of these is the 3D Imaging Module with an integrated Inntel Realsense 3D camera.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook (tent view) - press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook

The X1 Yoga is a 14” convertible notebook that carries through the Lenovo Yoga 360-degree hinged convertible design weighs in about 2.8lb and has a pen integrated in the tablet. This has a 2560×1440 OLED display as the top-shelf option or an LCD with similar resolution or a Full HD LCD at cheaper prices. It has that standard HDMI connector for external displays, uses Core M horsepower, is equipped with an Ethernet socket for Ethernet or HomePlug AV2 networks, and can have up to 16Gb RAM and 1Th SSD storage.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook (Skylake powered) press picture courtesy of Lenovo

The Skylake-driven iteration of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook

The X1 Carbon is a follow-on from the legendary business notebook which I reviewed that has a carbon-fibre housing. It comes with similar specifications to the X1 Yoga and has military-specification construction and there is the option to have it run with Intel i7 processors while you have the same “elasticity” that you have with RAM and storage types and capacities as the X1 Yoga.

Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one business desktop press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one business desktop

It is followed on with the ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one desktop computer that is as slim as one of today’s typical computer monitors. This has a 23.8” Full HD screen; Intel i7 Skylake processor; 16Gb RAM and an option of 500Gb or 1Tb hard disk, 512Gb solid-state drive or a 512Gb self-encrypting drive or OPAL self-encrypting drive for storage; 1080p Webcam; DisplayPort input and output; SD card reader and 5 USB 3.0 sockets. It connects to home or business networks via Ethernet.

There are some more of the ThinkCentre and ThinkPad product families being offered for business users. One of these is the ThinkCentre Tiny which is Lenovo’s latest small-footprint computer but this is designed to be able to be attached to one of their monitors as part of a “ThinkCentre-In-One” all-in-one computer design.

Lenovo ThinkPad T560 business notebook - press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad T560 business notebook

The ThinkPad T Series manifests this year in the form of the T460 and T560 laptops, which continue the heritage that this series embodied. The T460s is a lightweight durable Ultrabook with a 14” screen while the T460p is equipped with improved graphics in the form of discrete graphics and WQHD screen. The ThinkPad X260 is a 12” Ultrabook that has an option of an add-on battery pack that gives this machine a runtime of 21 hours – enough for a long-haul flight to the other side of the world. The ThinkPad L460 and L560 are focused on military-specification durability.

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 notebook - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 durable budget notebook – can be supplied with Chrome OS or Windows 10

But the ThinkPad 13 budget notebook is the shining star when it comes to a purely secondary computer although it is pitched at the education market. It is available as a version which runs on Windows 10 or as a version that runs on Google Chrome OS. This unit implements military-specification durability, Intel Core i5 horsepower and up to 16Gb RAM and 512Gb storage. The Windows 10 variant has the IBM/Lenovo thumbstick on the keyboard, an HDMI external-video port, 3 USB connectors as well as a USB Type-C connector. This is while the Chrome OS variant has 1 USB connector along with 2 USB Type-C connectors. Personally, I would see this as a budget small-enough “portable typewriter” computer that is comfortable for answering emails, writing blog posts or completing that magnum opus while away from home or office – think of your favourite café or bar.

Lenovo Yoga 900 - stand mode press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga 900 – now available as a Business Edition computer

Let’s not forget that Lenovo also offered the Business Editions of both the Yoga 900 and MIIX 700. These add on features that allow for improved security and allow for management by a business’s own IT department or IT contractor. This will also mean that they may be available at value-added IT resellers that pitch to the business community.

Lenovo Yoga 900S watchband hinge detail press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Improved watchband hinge in the Lenovo Yoga 900S Series

Speaking of the Yoga 900 Series, there is the Yoga 900S which is a deluxe edition of the Yoga 900 with an improved watchband hinge and is available in that “Champagne Gold” finish reminiscent of early-1980s Marantz hi-fi equipment or a platinum-silver finish. Lenovo says that the Yoga 900S is the thinnest 360-degree convertible laptop on the market.

Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one – aimed squarely at the Apple iMac

Lenovo is taking aim at the iMac by offering the IdeaCentre 510s 23” touchscreen all-in-one with narrow bezel which is equipped with a drop-down module that houses some USB ports and a Webcam. This comes in wiht Intel Skylake Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GT930a discrete graphics and has up to 1 Tb hard disk and a 256Gb solid-state drive for storage.

Lenovo Y Series Razer Edition gaming desktop press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Y Series Razer Edition gaming desktop

Lenovo are trying their best to conquer the US gaming market by offering a run of gaming-focused computer equipment. This is in conjunction with them developing and publishing a game that would appeal to the core-level games. The Ideapad Y900 17” gaming laptop, which I reckon is a desknote, has the Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GTX980M discrete graphics, and up to 64Gb of DDR4 RAM. The IdeaCentre Y900 Razer Edition, which comes with a Razer mouse and keyboard, has the multi-colour lighting effects and Robocop look that will appeal at that frag-fest. It comes in with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 32Gb RAM, NVIDIA GTX750Ti discrete graphics and up to 2Tb hard disk and 256Gb solid-state drive capacity.

The IdeaCentre 610s small-form-factor desktop looks like a home appliance or wireless speaker and has a micro projector that docks on to it. This again comes with an Intel Core i7 Skylake CPU, NVIDIA GTX750Ti discrete graphics and up to 16Gb RAM.

Let’s not forget that Lenovo are showing the Vibe S1 Lite metal-body smartphone to the American market. This implemtns a 1080p Full HD screen and a selfie flash.

Samsung are not just offering Android smartphones and tablets but are introducing Windows 10 tablets to the US market. For that matter, they are applying the Galaxy Tab Pro model name also to tablets that run Windows 10 and have offered the Galaxy Tab Pro S which is a Windows 10 2-in-1 tablet that looks like the Microsoft Surface Pro, implements a Super AMOLED display, Intel Core M processor, and can fast-charge its battery in 2.5 hours to lead to a 10.5 hours runtime.

They have also shown the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge Android smartphones which will be equipped with a microSD card slot.

As for laptops, they are offering the Notebook 9 in 13” and 15” variants with a choise of Intel Skylake Core i5 or i7 processors, Full HD displays, 2 USB Type-C connections, and have them in metallic housings. Their Chromebook is the Chromebook 3 which will be equipped wiht an 11.6” 1366×768 display, a dual-core Intel Celeron processor, a choice of 2Gb or 4Gb RAM, and 16Gb storage.

LG Gram 15 laptop CES press shot courtesy of LG

LG Gram 15 laptop – how lightweight it is

Their South Korean rival, LG,  are offering some computing equipment of their own.  They have launched a pair of budget smartphones in the form of the K10 and K7 smartphones. As well, they launched the ultra-light Gram 15 laptop which they say is the lightest 15” laptop. It has the Full HD IPS display, a choice of an Intel Core i5 or i7 Haswell CPU, a USB Type-C connector and a Cirrus Logic audio DAC for its sound. They also launched the 15U560 15” mainstream home laptop which has a 15” 4K display driven by NVIDIA 940M discrete graphics, 8Gb RAM, and powered by Intel Skylake Core i3, i5 or i7 processors. Storage is up to 512Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk and this laptop comes in a white finish.

Huawei have introduced fingerprint sensors across its phone and tablet range for this year. Examples of these include the Mate 6P 6” phablet and the Mate 8 6” phablet which is highly tuned for performance. There is also the MediaPad 10” 1920×1200 Android tablet which runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. This iPad alternative comes with 2Gb or 3Gb RAM and 16Gb or 48Gb storage.

Yezz Sfera have shown up with a smartphone that implements a 360-degree camera but could this catch on? Another newcomer called E.Fun fronted up to Las Vegas with a pair of budiget-priced laptop computers – a 14” notebook with a 1366×768 display, 32Gb onboard storage and a microSD slot, along wiht an 11” convertible notebook with similar specs except for 64Gb onboard storage.

Alcatel have fielded a small tablet in the form of the One Touch Pixi 3 which can work wiht 4G LTE mobile broadband. This 8” tablet works using Windows 10 Mobile, similar to what the Windows smartphones work on and it will support Contunuum for Mobile when it is used with a keyboard and mouse.

This is while Archos have presented a US$50 entry-level smartphone in the form of the Archos 40 Power 4” Android unit. This will have an 800×480 screen, 512Mb RAM, 8Gb storage, a microSD card slot and runs Android 5.1 Lollipop. Archos expects that this phone will run for 2 days before the battery dies but this depends on how many apps are running at once.

Nextbook have also fielded a range of entry-level detachable-tablet 2-in-1s driven by Atom x5 horsepower and equipped with 2Gb RAM and an HD touchscreen. Other features that are common include a microSD card slot, 802.11g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, the mobile-phone-standard microUSB port and a microHDMI port. The 9” 9A and 10” 10A units come with 32Gb storage while the 11” 11A comes with 64Gb storage.

Maingear have fronted up with a gaming computer that is based on an all-in-one design. As well Gigabyte have refreshed their Aorus X5 gaming notebook lineup with Skylake internals, Fusion keyboard, 4K display option, USB-C connectivity.

Razer have proven the concept of using Intel Thunderbolt 3 over a USB Type-C connection to work with user-attachable outboard graphics modules. This is by demonstrating their Razer Blade gaming laptop being hooked up to and working with a card-cage that houses a performance graphics card.

Intel have come up with their own consumer hardware in the form of a smartphone under their own brand and equipped wiht a RealSense camera. They also revamped their line up of Compute Sticks that plug in to a display’s HDMI port by releasing an entry level variant with an Atom x5 CPU, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage; along with better models that implement Core M3 or M5 CPUs and have 4Gb RAM and 64Gb storage. These units use a power adaptor which is actually a USB hub, thus making sure you are not forfeiting a USB port for power.

MSI are flexing their muscles amongst the gaming community by offering the Gaming 27XT all-in-one gaming computer which has an outboard card cage for a desktop-grade graphics card. This lets gamers and video enthusiasts upgrade the display card at any time without the need to take the computer apart. The computer cam put up 330W of power to the display card.

They also released the GT72 Dominator gaming laptop with a Tobii EyeX eye-tracking sensor which allows game players to control the action wiht their eyes. There is also the Vortex Compact Gaming PC which is a cylindrical modular small-form-factor gaming PC with dual NVIDIA GTX 980 SLI display cards and implements 360-degree Silent Storm airflow cooling. This is demonstrative of a trend towards highly-compact but powerful gaming computers rather than the large towers thar have always represented the gaming rigs.

Conclusion

What is being highlighted in this year’s Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas is that everyone is offering personal-computing devices that are pitched at every user class and wallet. This is underscored with the goal to benefit from what the new chipsets offer thus leading to slimmer and lighter-weight laptop and 2-in-1 computers along wiht higher-resolution displays.

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Give your Windows 10 Mobile smartphone a unique name

Article

Nokia Lumia 950 press image courtesy of Microsoft

Nokia Lumia 950 – representative of Windows 10 Mobile – you can give it a distinct name

How to rename your Windows 10 Mobile handset | Windows Central

My Comments

Most desktop and mobile operating systems allow you to name your computing device so it is logically identifiable from others of the same platform.

This is important with identifying devices that are or to be connected on a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth network or dealing with applications and games that only identify participants by device name. It is also about managing your devices’ access to cloud services including social networks

This was available on Windows Phone but was so well hidden that most Windows Phone users didn’t know it existed. It is because, unlike other operating systems, Windows Phone didn’t ask you to name your device as part of the setup process.

But there are two ways to go about this.

Using your Windows Phone’s control surface

To change:

  1. Tap Start then All Apps, then tap Settings
  2. Tap on System
  3. Tap About, which brings up details about your device
  4. Tap “Edit Name” which allows you to change your device’s name
  5. Enter your phone’s new name in Device Name field and tap Save

To verify

  1. Tap Start then All Apps then tap Settings
  2. Tap on System
  3. Tap About which brings up details about your device including its new name

Your Windows phone tethered to your Windows computer

Prerequisites: USB data transfer cable that suits your Windows Phone and regular Windows computer

This process is similar to giving removeable storage like a USB memory key, SD card or optical disk a volume name which identifies it.

To change

  1. Connect your Windows Phone to computer using a USB data transfer cable and let Windows detect the phone.
  2. Open File Explorer (Windows Explorer)
  3. Discover your phone under Devices and Drives. This is alongside your computer’s hard disk and other storage devices connected directly to your computer and your phone’s icon should be there.
  4. Right-click your phone’s icon and select Rename
  5. Rename as if you are renaming a USB memory key, then press Enter

To verify

Disconnect and reconnect the Windows phone to verify the change is applied and double check in File Explorer

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