Product Review–Brother MFC-L2713DW multifunction laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing Brother’s latest approach at a light-duty monochrome laser multifunction printer in the form of the MFC-L2713DW. It is one of these machines that you could use for a small office or shop, especially if you are intending to replace a light-duty fax machine. Some of you also may see this machine or its peers as a routine document printer for your home office.

It may also appeal to professionals and the like who want to have a light-duty document-focused printer or fax-capable multifunction in their office as a “private” machine while their workplace has a heavy-duty multifunction in the common areas.

Brother MFC-L2713DW light-duty multifunction laser printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
B/W Colour B/W A4 x 1(standard) USB 2.0
Laser xerographic 1200 dpi ID Copy Multi-purpose tray capacity Ethernet
Wi-Fi
Own-access-point Wi-Fi
Auto-Duplex ADF IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Real-Time Super-G3 Fax via phone
Email-based Scan-to-email TIFF-FAX
JPG
PDF
Walk-up Printing
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
MoPria support
Brother Print Service plugin support
Online Services Print From Scan To
Multiple Users for Online Services N/A
“Own Account” Guest Access for Online Services N/A

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$81.00 1200 AUD$141.50 3000

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit AUD$150.00 12000
Belt Kit (Colour lasers)
Waste Toner Bin

Brother MFC-L2713DW light-duty multifunction monochrome laser printer

The printer itself

Connectivity and Setup

I had connected the printer to the home network via Ethernet and this meant that I could effectively be “on board” very quickly. As far as I am concerned, I really wouldn’t use the Wi-Fi ability on these printers to connect to an existing network because you may have Wi-Fi issues in your home or small-business location, rather I would connect via Ethernet or HomePlug AV powerline.

This printer, like the other small monochrome laser printers that Brother offers, uses a separate user-replaceable drum unit along with the toner cartridge rather than following HP’s path of an integrated print cartridge that has the drum unit. But if you have to add toner to the printer, you have to remove the drum unit from the machine before you detach the spent toner cartridge from the drum unit.

Here the installation process was simple enough to do. But I also like the way Brother offers a higher-yield toner cartridge for these printers, a feature I definitely applaud for people who want to choose the right yield to suit their needs and budget.

Paper Handling

Like with most of Brother’s budget-priced and value-priced printer models, this printer uses a single-page bypass feed which would be limiting if you are running multiple-page print jobs that use special media. This would also be used if you are dealing with pre-printed forms such as when a doctor is turning out prescriptions or test / treatment referrals.

Personally, I would like to move away from the single-page approach towards having a five-page approach to cater for jobs where a handful of pre-printed forms or label sheets are being turned out.

The A4 paper tray worked properly and didn’t feel flimsy to the touch, making it a machine that can satisfy most users.

Walk-up functions

The Brother MFC-L2713DW has an on-machine with a bright text-based LCD display and rubber-feel keys. Here, the text-based LCD display is a high-contrast “black-on-white” type which makes it very readable under many different lighting scenarios. But I would like to improve on the D-pad’s design by using illuminated arrow legends that come alive when you are using the menu options.

The copying process for a single page fed through the automatic document feeder came through as being very quick even when the machine wasn’t used for a while. Here, by the time the document left the ADF, the printer was turning out the copy.

The quality of the copies came out good for documents printed on plain paper but I wouldn’t expect a high-quality copy for photos or similar material. It also holds true for material printed on glossy paper such as ID or business cards whereupon you may find that the copy comes out paler than the original.

There is a one-touch “duplex copy” function that allows you to copy both sides of an original on to both sides of the copy’s paper, but you have to turn over the original to copy the other side. The ID copy functionality works as expected although there is the issue of not scanning “to the edge”. Brother answers this issue by a scrolling text message to tell users to put the original 1/4″ from the edge

The Brother MFC-L2713DW can serve as a basic monochrome phone-based fax machine with a limited-capacity “fax vault” function suitable for overnight / weekend use.

Here it omits the T.37 email-based store-and-forward fax functionality which may be an approach for some of us who want to move towards IP fax. Most likely, when you move towards an IP-based telephony service and use an analogue-telephony-adaptor with machines like this one, you may be also setting up for T.38 real-time Internet fax.

Like with all of the Brother MFC-series fax-capable multifunction printers that have duplex printing, you can set this machine up to print the faxes it receives on both sides of the paper as a way to save on paper.

Computer functions

I had installed the drivers on my Windows 10 computer from Brother’s Website and they were in place very quickly. Here, you would have to install the full software set to enable printing, scanning and fax management including “print-to-fax” functionality.

The ControlCenter4 scan monitor does take time to come in to action when you start a scan-to-computer job from the printer’s control surface. This is a continual problem with most of the scanner software offered by most scanner and MFC manufacturers and, personally, I would like to see the host computer’s operating system look after this functionality for both direct and network setups.

As far as mobile devices were concerned, the Brother MFC-L2713DW worked properly with the Android print-service plugin that I installed on my Samsung Android phone. Here, the app was quick to recognise the printer’s capabilities and have the document turned out quickly. Of course it does support Apple AirPrint for those of you who run your business from an iPad.

Print / scan speed and quality

The Brother MFC-L2713DW came alive and started printing documents very quickly, whether from the computer or a mobile phone. It also led to a quick turnout of the document, something very similar to most of the small monochrome laser printers.

The printer was able to handle a double-sided print job but it doesn’t turn them out as quickly as a simplex print job. This is something you would notice more with light-duty monochrome lasers that have this functionality. It turned out these documents without jamming or dropping pages.

The Brother MFC-L2713DW does satisfy the output-quality requirements for a small entry-level monochrome laser printer. Here, it would yield clear easy-to-read text that would be part of an office document.

But I wouldn’t expect it to yield high-quality output when it comes to photos and similar presentation-grade work. Here I noticed banding along the narrow edge of the sheet when I printed out a picture of a landscape, but it was able to maintain proper fidelity when it came to the image’s contrast.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

A feature I would like to see continual improvement on for the Brother small laser printers is to have auto-duplex printing with a speed similar to simplex printing jobs. Similarly, I would like to see Brother move away from the “single-sheet” approach for the manual bypass function on these printers so as to cater for multiple-sheet print runs using special stationery.

A feature that could benefit this class of light-duty monochrome laser multifunction would to permit “two-machine” copying across the network. This is where you could scan a document on a multifunction like this one and it is then printed out on a colour printer or multifunction connected to the same network. This would also allow for other applications like enlarging documents to A3 / Ledger with the A4 / Letter or smaller original on a machine like this and the large A3 copy emerging from an A3-capable printer or multifunction. This feature could make use of setups where you have multiple document machines with complementary capabilites whether in page size, printing type or colour / monochrome printing.

As well, the Brother MFC-L2713DW and its peers could benefit from at least SDXC card storage to provide enhanced fax-storage functionality such as to cater to busy workloads, large documents and the like. Brother could also work towards creating a T.38 IP-fax endpoint functionality in their fax-capable multifunction printers and push the telecoms industry to lead towards simplified provisioning for this technology.

Similarly, Brother could exploit the separately-replaceable drum unit approach that applies to their laser printers by providing heavy-duty variants of these parts as an upgrade option. This would please users who buy laser printers suited for their current duty levels but install heavier-duty parts in them if they are faced with a heavier workload.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would position the Brother MFC-L2713DW monochrome laser multifunction printer as an economy-priced office printer for workplaces that don’t have a heavy document throughput. This would also include it serving as a “private” document printer / copier for a professional’s or manager’s office or simply as a document-focused multifunction for a home office.

Here, it would earn its keep as a replacement for a small inkjet multifunction that is used just for turning out documents or a small plain-paper fax that uses thermal-transfer printing. I would also see it as a direct upgrade for an economy laser printer or multifunction that isn’t able to do duplex printing.

I have also compared the price for the Brother MFC-L2713DW against the price of replacing its drum unit with the genuine replacement part and found that it is worth buying that part rather than replacing the machine with one of the same standard and functionality level when it comes up for replacement.

Update: I have updated the prices to the manufacturer’s recommended retail prices for the consumables.

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Amazon Echo to land in Australia on February 1

Articles

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon Echo – to be available in Australia and New Zealand on February 1 2018

Amazon Echo Australian Launch: Pricing, Models And Availability | Lifehacker Australia

Aussie brands and publishers get on board with Amazon Echo | Adnews

Aussie enterprises jump on Alexa as bot lands down under | IT News

Everything You Need To Know About The Aussie Amazon Echo | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon Australia

Amazon Music Unlimited Coming to Australia and New Zealand on February 1 (Press release including refernce to Echo devices)

Product Page

My Comments

I have written some previous articles about Amazon’s Echo devices and Alexa platform but at the time of publication, these devices weren’t officially available in Australia. But Amazon have just announced that they are to launch these devices in the Australian and New Zealand market on February 1 2018.

This is although Google had launched their Home smart speaker and Assistant platform to the Australian market in July 2017.  Then, close to Christmas, they launched the Home Mini smart speaker and were gaining some momentum on the Australian market.

The devices to be initially available are the Echo smart speaker (AUD$119), the Echo Dot adaptor (AUD$49) which connects to an existing audio device with a line input; and the Echo Plus smart speaker (AUD$199) which is equipped with an integrated Zigbee home-automation hub. Amazon also has run an introductory offer for a pair of Echo Dot adaptors for AUD$79.  As well, Amazon are taking advance orders on these Echo devices with the goal to ship them out on February 1.

Amazon has localised Alexa to satisfy the needs of the Australian and New Zealand userbase including giving her that distinctive Aussie accent and having her providing relevant answers. But the moment this news was launched, a significant number of Australian brands got cracking with developing Alexa Skills which provide a link between their services and these Echo devices. For example, the Australian media names like ABC, SBS and News Corporation have worked with Amazon to have their content available through Alexa. Similarly, Westpac and NAB have provided Alexa Skills so you can find out the state of your accounts you have with them.

I see the arrival of Amazon Echo on the Australian marketplace as the start of a major showdown when it comes to voice-driven home-assistant platforms in this country. As well, it will be a wake-up call for Australian service providers to work on “skills” for these platforms.

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Steps are taking place to make Amazon Echo Show become a kitchen TV

Articles (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

A German software developer is taking steps to make the Amazon Echo Show become that small kitchen TV

Amazon: Neuer Alexa-Skill verwandelt Echo Show in einen Fernseher | Netzwelt.de (Germany / Deutschland)

Amazon Skill link

Fernseher für Alexa | Live-Streams hören und sehen

My Comments

There has been a practice amongst a significant number of households to keep a small television in the kitchen. This started off with the arrival of the small portable TVs but is now facilitated through the availability of small flatscreen TVs including computer monitors equipped with an integrated TV tuner. Here, it has been seen as a way to watch those news and lifestyle shows that are run during breakfast time by the TV stations while you are eating breakfast, or to watch daytime TV shows like “Days Of Our Lives” while ironing in the kitchen.

Similarly using a tablet that runs the appropriate client apps could yield the same goal, whether you are dealing with a “broadcast-LAN” tuner, a free-to-air TV platform that has member stations stream their content, a TV-Everywhere platform ran by a pay-TV service or something similar.

Now, with Amazon Echo Show and Spot on the scene along with the imminent arrival of smart displays based on the Google Assistant platform thanks to Lenovo and JBL, a software need has been identified. This need is to bring regular TV stations to these devices so they can become like that small TV.

One effort has taken place in Germany to bring the Internet streams provided by the German public TV stations and most of the cable channels to the Echo Show at your voice command. Hear, you can ask this “Stream Player” to show a station by name or by “channel number” and it will show up on the Echo Show.

What I see of this Alexa Skill that is being premiered in Germany is something that can appeal to a “free-to-air TV” consortium of the Freeview kind, a voice-driven interface for a broadcast-LAN tuner including the SAT-IP platform or a cable-TV provider’s “TV Everywhere” platform. Here, these Alexa Skills or platform-equivalent apps could then enable smart displays to work as the traditional TV. But it may be considered “heretical” by the Millennial generation who are used to watching content on their own terms.

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Wi-Fi Agile Multiband–What will it be about

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Wi-Fi Alliance

D-Link DIR-895L AC5300 6 stream wireless router press picture courtesy of D-Link America

Wi-Fi Agile Multiband will make better use of those dual-band Wi-Fi wireless networks

Wi-Fi Agile Multiband (Resource Page)

My Comments

A reality that is affecting how the Wi-Fi wireless local network operates is the increasing number of network-infrastructure hardware that can work simultaneously on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Add to this the fact that most Wi-Fi clients released in the last few years are able to work on both these bands.

But there is the issue of making sure these devices can provide the optimum throughput for whatever data you are sending to them. This can affect the setup process for network-infrastructure hardware where you have to be sure you are on the right channel for optimum throughput everywhere over your premises.

There is also the fact that you may want to make sure that your laptop, smartphone or other client device chooses the right band for the right application when you deal with a network that works across both bands. This would be more important where you have to use the least-cluttered band to assure reliable audio or video streaming or IP-based voice or video telephony sessions.

The Wi-Fi Alliance have launched a certified trademarked specification known as Agile Multiband to answer these situations.

What does it offer

A network access point or client that implements Wi-Fi Agile Multiband has the ability to monitor the service quality to determine the best connection opportunities available for that network.

Client and infrastructure devices in a Wi-Fi Agile Multiband network can steer away from congested channels and bands. This is a form of “self-tuning” which can take place even as the network’s environment changes.

In a multiple-access-point network, a Wi-Fi Agile Multiband setup can steer client devices away from

D-Link Covr router and wireless extender package press image courtesy of D-Link

Even multiple-access-point networks will benefit from this technology

oversubscribed access points to those that aren’t loaded with traffic to access points that don’t have much traffic on them. This is also to answer the reality that home networks are heading towards the multiple-access-point path thanks to HomePlug-based access points and mesh-based wireless network kits.

All these options can answer the needs of both static and mobile client setups. This means that a Wi-Fi-capable printer or Smart TV can benefit as much from these features as a laptop or smartphone that is always moved around. It can also appeal to “transportable” clients like Smart TVs installed on easily-movable furniture or “all-in-one” desktop computers which are normally static but are moved on an ad-hoc basis.

Moving around a Wi-Fi Agile Multiband network will see minimal interruption for the network device’s user. This is because client devices can cache network encryption keys to facilitate a quick handover between different access points, something that will be important for IP telephony or AV streaming.

A question that needs to be asked thanks to the ubiquity of Wi-Fi wireless networks operating on the 2.4GHz band is how a Wi-Fi Agile Multiband network can address non-Wi-Fi interference on that band. This is a situation driven by microwave ovens, cordless telephone systems, Bluetooth devices and the like that work on this band and the use of these devices could cause temporary interference.

What Wi-Fi Agile Multiband is about is a step to assure increased reliability out of Wi-Fi wireless network segments and make better use of the radiofrequency spectrum available to them.

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Audio–Video Newscasts On Demand–Could this be real

Kogan Internet table radio

Traditional radio and TV broadcasters could augment their newscasts by having them on-demand

A question that can be raised in the online era is whether radio and TV broadcasters need to place their latest newscasts “on demand” alongside running them at the appointed times.

This is to encourage us to find relevance for traditional broadcast media in an age where the preferred source for information and entertainment is from online media services including social media. It is also about finding ways where traditional public-service and commercial broadcast media can maintain their influence in an age where Silicon Valley is obtaining more clout.

The typical newscast situation as it stands

What typically happens with radio is that most stations will ordinarily run a short-form newscast of up to five minutes long on the hour. Some of them even run an additional newscast on the half-hour during the breakfast programme as people are getting ready for work. It doesn’t matter whether the radio station serves as an informer like the talk-based stations or as an entertainer like music-based stations. Some stations who don’t have their own news-gathering team usually syndicate another station’s short-form newscasts to keep their listeners up to date with the news.

For TV, the traditional broadcasters, especially free-to-air broadcasters, frequently run regular short-form news updates, commonly known as “newsbreaks”, inserted between programmes or during commercial breaks. They are typically used to announce breaking news or updated news items or provide a succinct overview of what’s going on. This is in addition to the main long-form half-hour news bulletins run during breakfast, midday, early afternoon, early evening (which is TV’s prime time) and late evening.

Some of these stations may run dedicated newsbreaks focused on particular themes like local weather or financial / business news. The TV stations who advertise on local radio during the afternoon drive-time programme are more likely to run an audio equivalent of a newsbreak as their commercial for that daypart in order to create public interest for their main evening news bulletin.

Let’s not forget that all these broadcasters will run newsflashes, even interrupting regular programming, when there is significant breaking news.

The current way we consume media

But we are living in an environment where we rely on on-demand entertainment like Spotify, podcasts, Netflix and catch-up TV services. We even end up in an environment where sports is the only reason for watching or listening to linear real-time broadcast content. Similarly, some of us use PVRs to record TV shows and may find ourselves with “banked up” TV-show collections on these devices especially if we travel or not watch any TV for a while.

But most radio and TV stations’ Websites provide news clips for each of the news items that occur through the day, more as a way to allow people to learn more about particular events or share them on blogs or the Social Web. This is based on the “portal” idea that was started when the Web cam in to the mainstream and these broadcasters wanted to augment their daily broadcasts with a Web-based newspaper.

How can radio and TV news fit in with today’s media habits?

Amazon Echo, Google Home or similar platforms could be used to summon the latest news

But having the latest radio and TV news available in an on-demand context can earn its keep with a significant number of use cases.

For example, a short-form newscast like a radio news bulletin or TV “newsbreak” could earn its keep with a voice-driven home assistant where you could ask for the latest news. In this case, you could say “Hi Alexa, what is the latest news from the ABC?” and you would hear the latest local ABC Radio newscast together with the ABC’s newscast signature tune we have loved. If you are dealing with a voice-driven home-assistant device equipped with a screen like Amazon Echo Home, you could ask the voice assistant for the latest news from a TV station like the Seven Network whereupon you would see the latest newsbreak. In those situations where you have separate short-form newscasts for finance, sport, weather and other topics, it could be feasible to ask the voice assistant for one of these newscasts.

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Even a device like Amazon Echo Show could run the latest TV “newsbreak”

Similarly, a podcast or music player app could support the insertion of short-form news bulletins between podcasts or between tracks after a certain time has passed. A TV network having the latest newsbreaks online through their catch-up TV services or through YouTube can allow users to “pull up” short-form news content as required.

There could be the ability to draw down that long-form prime-time TV news bulletin via a “catch-up” TV service so one can catch up with the day’s news at a time they see fit. Even offering an audio-only version of one of these bulletins could earn its keep with a range of users like vision-impaired people or drivers.

What can broadcasters do?

Most broadcasters and networks don’t have to do anything with the news content that they make available through their channels. They simply have to keep the recordings of short-form and long-form news bulletins available and indexed according to time of publication.

Radio stations can even record the bulletins that are not normally recorded like traffic bulletins to provide an experience similar to what Blaupunkt achieved with their Traffic Information Memo feature on some of their 1990s-era car radios. This was where the car radio would operate in a standby mode for three hours when the car is parked and record traffic bulletins as they come through from the last-tuned radio source. It relied upon established standards commonplace in Europe for providing machine-to-machine signalling for these broadcasts, namely the RDS system. Then the driver would be able to press a blue “TIM” button to hear the last four traffic bulletins that were recorded.

This can be facilitated in a manner similar to what happens with podcasts where the latest content is available through an RSS Webfeed. Most talk stations would be familiar with this practice when they make their shows available as podcasts or for syndication to other stations. But they also need to keep their “branding” alive with these newscasts like maintaining the use of their news signature tunes at the start of each bulletin so people know they are dealing with their favourite broadcasters. Let’s not forget that a single URL should then be used to provide a Weblink to the latest news bulletin for the various voice-driven-home-assistant skills, mobile apps and the like to locate that resource.

The idea could be augmented by having a standard metadata flag for RSS Webfeeds containing audio or video content like podcasts that represents the fact that the feeds are news bulletins. Here, it could allow “podcatcher” and similar software to treat them as a news bulletin then retain and play just the latest newscast. As well, if the software has always-live Internet access, it could make sure it’s always up to date with the latest news bulletins that the user wants.

As well, broadcasters and allied organisations can create “skills” for voice-driven home assistants along with “channels” for on-demand video services. It can extend to linking them to standard application-programming interfaces to facilitate “news-on-demand” apps and services.

There has been some investigation by online media providers, especially those who have advertising in their business model to permit free or freemium access like Spotify or YouTube to allow the insertion of newscasts in online-advertising spaces. Similarly, providing it as an optional service or “channel” on a streaming service is being seen as a way to add value to these services.

But this kind of application especially where newscasts are inserted in to a playlist could be seen as heretical by the Millennial generation who want to break away from traditional broadcast media and the methods they use. This is although having the latest radio and TV newscasts on demand through various mechanisms is really about mass customisation.

Conclusion

What will be required of traditional radio and TV broadcasters who maintain a strong profile with their newscasts is to “think outside the box” with how they are used. This means being able to take them further and integrate them with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant & co; or effectively have them as part of “custom-content” strategies.

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Dell premieres the XPS 15 2-in-1 that ticks the boxes

Articles

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 convertible press picture courtesy of Dell

The first laptop with the CPU/GPU combo chipset from Intell

CES 2018: Dell brings updated 2018 XPS 15 2-in-1 with Radeon Graphics | WinCentral

Dell’s new XPS 15 2-in-1 has a ‘maglev’ keyboard | The Verge

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 hands-on: A sleek showcase of firsts | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Press Release highlighting what was shown at CES 2018

My Comments

Dell used the Consumer Electronics Show 2018 to premiere a 15” ultraportable 2-in-1 convertible laptop that underscores what Intel’s new G-series CPU / GPU combination chips are about.

Intel Corporation is introducing the 8th Gen Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics in January 2018. It is packed with features and performance crafted for gamers, content creators and fans of virtual and mixed reality. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

This is what drives the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

This laptop, which is the smallest thinnest 15” portable, comes in with a thickness of 16mm when either closed or folded over as a tablet. This is brought about due to the implementation of the single-die chip which has the Intel 8th Generation Core CPU and an AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics processor with 4Gb of display memory to “paint” with. The computer press see this setup being equivalent to an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 dedicated GPU.

It is allowing Dell to pitch the XPS 15 2-in-1 as an “enthusiast-grade” lightweight 2-in-1 laptop with the kind of performance that would please people who are into multimedia and animation work or want to play most of the newer games.

Another influence is the use of a “maglev” keyboard which uses magnets to provide the tactile equivalent of a keyboard with a deeper throw. But this allows also for a slim computer design.

The new Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 computer can be configured with an Intel Core i5 as the baseline option or an Intel Core i7 as the performance option. The touchscreen can be a Full HD display as a baseline option or a 4K UltraHD display with the 100% Adobe colour gamut for the premium option.

The RAM available ex-factory can range between 8Gb to 16Gb while the storage capacity that is available ex-factory ranges from 128Gb to 1Tb on a solid-state drive. Personally, I would like to see the minimum storage capacity available being 256Gb. The only removable storage option integrated in this computer is a microSD card slot, which may require you to use a microSD card and SD card adaptor in your camera or carry a USB-C SD card reader for your digital camera’s SD memory card.

The connectivity options for this computer come in the form of 2 Thunderbolt 3 and 2 standard USB-C sockets. These all support USB Power Delivery which means that they serve as a power input from the laptop’s charger, along with PowerShare “sleep and charge” and DisplayPort alt mode. The fact that this laptop has Thunderbolt 3 connectivity means that it could be connected to better-performing graphics processors installed in external graphics modules and can even lead towards “workstation-grade” graphics once teamed with a “card-cage” graphics module that is kitted out with an NVIDIA Quadro workstation graphics card.

The baseline price for this model intended to be available in the USA in April is expected to be US$1299. Personally I would see the Intel CPU/GPU chipset preparing the path for a slow return of the “multimedia laptop” but in a lightweight manner and with a larger battery.

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USB to improve on charging of smartphones and laptops

Article

A sure-fire logo-driven certification program to come from USB to permit safe fast charging of laptops and smartphones with USB-C connectors

USB about to get better at charging laptops and phones fast | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

USB Implementers Forum

Press Release via BusinessWire

My Comments

The USB Implementers Forum are working on a project to achieve a reference design for USB battery chargers and power supplies in order to support fast charging or stronger power output.

USB-Certified Fast Charger logo courtesy of USB Implementers Forum

The logo to look for

It is an extension of the initial USB Battery Charger specifications used for just about every smartphone charger but is extended to encompass USB Power Delivery which is being used to provide power to laptops. The goal is to be able to use USB PD chargers on all USB-C devices that support this power-intake path thus reducing e-waste and creating room for innovation when it comes to designing USB-based charging devices.

Here, it is based on the USB Power Delivery 3.0 standard but makes heavy use of the Programmable Power Supply function that is part of that standard. It allows for backward compatibility with existing USB devices that honour prior versions of that standard.

The idea of a Certified USB Fast Battery Charger as a logo-based certification program has been brought about due to the existence of poor-quality USB chargers and cables sold online or through a myriad of stories that are placing our devices at risk of being damaged. Here, it also allows customers to quickly identify power-source devices that will properly and safely provide the high current throughput in a vendor-independent manner, in a similar approach to how the Dolby symbol allowed us to identify the fact that a cassette player was able to play pre-recorded cassette tapes at the best quality or our favourite film was prepared with surround sound.

One of the desires also being raised in this certification process is the ability for host devices to implement authentication of cables and other devices and use this as a machine-level manner for verifying devices.  The device-authentication feature is a goal that the USB Implementers Forum are intending to implement by this year’s end and is also appealing towards verifying that USB devices are what they say they are so as to protect against USB-borne computer attacks.

What is being achieved by the USB Implementers Forum is that there is a goal to permit fast charging of smartphones and laptops in a safe manner without having to be tied to a particular vendor’s accessories.

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At CES 2018, Google is answering Amazon’s Echo Show with smart displays

Articles

JBL Link View smart display press picture courtesy of Harman International

JBL Link View – one of the smart displays that is Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo Show (Press picture courtesy of Harman International)

Google takes on Echo Show with four new smart displays | CNet

Google’s routines look ready for prime time at CES | CNet

Google unleashes ‘smart displays’ loaded with Google Assistant | PC World

Lenovo Smart Display makes Google Assistant a smart home sidekick | PC World

Lenovo announces Google Assistant-powered Smart Display | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Google

New devices and more: what’s in store for the Google Assistant this year (Blog Post)

Lenovo

Seeing is Believing on the New Lenovo™ Smart Display – with the Google Assistant™ Built In (Blog Post)

JBL

JBL® Announces LINK View, A Smart Display Speaker with The Google Assistant (Press Release)

My Comments

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Google is now giving the Amazon Echo Show something to worry about

Amazon has become the first company to integrate visual support in their voice-driven home assistant platform. This is in the form of the Echn Show and Echo Spot being “smart displays” with the ability to show text or other visual information to augment Alexa’s replies.

Now Google is answering Amazon by having a few other companies launch smart-display devices that work on their Google Home (Assistant) platform. The Consumer Electronics Show 2018 has effectively become the time for a showdown between both voice-driven home-assistant platforms.

These devices have the ability to work as a videophone thanks to integrated cameras and will have improved powerful speakers and microphone arrays. But they will miss out on the ability to show up Web pages. Rather they will provide visual feedback for Google Assistant replies or show videos at your command.

Lenovo has announced two of these smart displays – one with an 8” screen and grey back panel and one with a 10” screen and a bamboo back panel. Both of these units, equipped with the mono speaker and a touch screen can be positioned in a horizontal or vertical manner. They also have a switch to turn off the microphones along with a privacy shutter for their cameras.

JBL also premiered the Link View which has an 8” display but has stereo speakers and a rear-mounted passive radiator for that extra bass kick in the sound. LG and Sony are to release similar smart displays through the coming year thus building up Google Assistant’s position in this space.

But Google is integrating their Assistant (Home) platform in more smart speakers and TVs with some extant Android TVs from TCL, AirTV, Xiaomi and Skyworth having this function provided through a software update. Funai, Haier, Hisense, Westinghouse, Changhong and Element will roll this functionality in newer Android TVs that will be released this year. Of course, LG is integrating this functionality in their 4K UHD TVs.

You can’t escape Google Assistant when you get in to your car because it will be part of the Android Auto platform which a significant number of vehicle builders and aftermarket infotainment manufacturers are implementing.

What I see of this is that it will lead to a showdown between Google and Amazon regarding the voice-driven home assistant platforms that they offer. Who knows what else they could be lining up to answer each other with?

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Intel premieres the CPU/GPU chip at CES 2018

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Intel Corporation is introducing the 8th Gen Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics in January 2018. It is packed with features and performance crafted for gamers, content creators and fans of virtual and mixed reality. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

Intel Corporation is introducing the 8th Gen Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics in January 2018. It is packed with features and performance crafted for gamers, content creators and fans of virtual and mixed reality. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

Intel’s Vega-Powered SoC Debuts In VR-Capable ‘Hades Canyon’ NUC | Tom’s Hardware

Intel launches Coffee Lake CPUs with onboard AMD Radeon RX Vega M GPUs | bit-tech

Intel and AMD Join Forces on Tiny New Chip | Gizmodo

Intel and AMD ally to shrink your next gaming laptop. A lot. |CNet

Intel launches five Core chips with Radeon graphics from rival AMD | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Intel

8th Generation Intel Core with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics (Product Overview – PDF)

Press Release

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Intel have used the Consumer Electronics Show 2018 to premiere a system-on-chip that is to affect how portable and small-form-factor computers will perform.

This chip, part of the 8th generation of Intel CPUs contains an 8th Generation Core i5 or i7 CPU along with an AMD Radeon RX Vega M discrete graphics processor and an Intel HD 630 integrated graphics processor.

It is positioned in the Intel 8th Generation processor lineup which is like this:

  • U-Series processors that are only equipped with an Intel UHD integrated graphics processor. One of these is installed in the latest iteration of the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 which I reviewed for this site. Here this family of processors is pitched towards what most people will want for their personal and business computing needs.
  • G-Series processors that are also equipped with the above-mentioned Radeon RX Vega M graphics processors. These are pitched as a performance option which would appeal to most gamers, virtual-reality / augmented-reality enthusiasts and content creators who want a machine with that bit of “pep” when it comes to graphics.
  • H-Series processors which are pitched towards those who want the highest performance and would rely on a dedicated graphics processor. Here, they would apply to the gaming rigs and workstations where the goal is for full-on performance.

What is special about these Intel processors

These Intel processors place the Core CPU and the AMD GPU on the same die along with a stack of dedicated graphics RAM and they are linked using the EMIB (Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge). This arrangement provides a short link between each component to provide for quick data transfer. There is also a power-optimised design to allow for efficient power use by all the components on the chip.

There are two variants of the graphics subsystem available for the chipset known as the GL and the GH. The GL (Graphics Low) variant is optimised with less than 65 watts power draw and is pitched towards “thin-and-light” laptops and the like. The GH (Graphics High) variant is a higher-performance variant that draws less than 100 watts of power and only comes with the Core i7 CPU. Here, it is pitched towards the small-form-factor desktops, all-in-ones and similar computers that normally work from a constant power supply.

All that horsepower in those dies can allow the computer to paint an image across nine display devices at once. The fact that there is an integrated graphics processor on board can allow these “system-on-chip” setups to engage in “performance / economy” switching to maximise power efficiency.

Where are they being premiered in?

The first two variants are the Core i7-8809G CPU with Radeon RX Vega M GH for performance and the Core i7-8705G CPU with Radeon RX Vega M GL as the value option.

These are being released to go with the the Hades Canyon series of “Next Unit Of Computing” small-form-factor computers. Both of these computers are available as a kit which can support 32Gb (2 x 16Gb) DDR4 RAM and 2 M2-compliant solid-state drives. These have plenty of USB connections including 2 Thunderbolt-3 sockets and can connect to your home network via one of two Gigabit Ethernet sockets or 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

What kind of impact do I see these Intel chips have on computer design?

One class of computer that will definitely benefit will be the portable computers that most of us will consider purchasing. The computing press see a benefit when it comes to “enthusiast-class” laptops where they will benefit from a slimmer chassis along with the ability to run in a quiet and cool manner yet deliver the performance they are known for. It will also lead to longer battery runtimes like nine hours even while engaging in high-performance work.

But I see computer manufacturers deploying these CPU/GPU chipsets as the standard expectation for the mainstream 13”-15” home or business laptops that are their “bread and butter” products. Typically these machines have a larger chassis than the ultraportables and are valued by most users for factors like durability, connectivity and ability to choose different configuration options. Here, the manufacturers can design in larger battery packs or extra peripherals like multiple storage devices or optical drives or even improve how these computers sound by using larger speakers.

Let’s not forget that the computer manufacturers could also offer in their ultraportable lineup a run of computer products that are thin and light yet powerful.

As far as sessile computers are concerned, I would see that ultra-small “next unit of computing” units benefit along with the all-in-ones that have the computing electronics part of the screen. Other traditional desktop computers that could also benefit include those that are the same size and shape as typical consumer-electronics devices.

Conclusion

I would see Intel’s 8th-generation “Coffee Lake” G-series CPU/GPU hybrid chip being something that offers greater potential for how the personal computer is designed without losing the desire for more computing power.

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NETGEAR releases the first weatherproof distributed-WiFi module

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NETGEAR RBS-50Y Orbi Outdoor Satellite Module - press picture courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Orbi RBS-50Y – the first weatherproof satellite module for a distributed-Wi-Fi system ever

NETGEAR Moves Orbi Outside | SmallNetBuilder

I Live in the Woods, and Netgear’s Orbi Outdoor Satellite Sounds Like a Dream | Gizmodo

Netgear’s Orbi Satellite takes mesh WiFi networks outdoors | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

NETGEAR

Orbi Outdoor Satellite RBS50Y (Product Page)

Press Release

My Comments

NETGEAR has continued to invest in their Orbi distributed WiFi system which was initially based on the “router + extender” or star-based setup.

This is one of the few systems of this kind that implement a separate 5GHz wireless backhaul along with Web-based system management rather than cloud-based Internet-dependent system management. A recent firmware upgrade added the ability for a NETGEAR Orbi system to implement a wired backhaul thanks to the Gigabit Ethernet switch integrated in most of the Orbi indoor device.

Initially, they offered different router and satellite modules that answer different needs, either as systems or additional client modules that people can add to extant Orbi systems to shape their system’s coverage.

But they have showcased the Orbi RBS50Y weatherproof satellite module which is the first first module for a distributed-WiFi system to be designed for outdoor use. This module, which is weatherproof to IP56 standards, connects to any NETGEAR Orbi or Orbi Pro routers wirelessly using that same dedicated backhaul.

Client devices connect to the network via an AC1300 dual-band dual-stream Wi-Fi radio which can allow an extra coverage of 2500 square feet (232.3 square metres). There is also the ability to have the unit’s main LEDs work as a night-light and work to scheduled on-off times.

The RBS50Y is powered through an AC adaptor so you would need to have an electrician install a power outlet near where you want to install the satellite module. You may get away with snaking the power cable from outside to inside the building through a small hole that you drill for this purpose. The computer press expressed that it could be desirable to implement 802.3af/802.3at-compliant Power Over Ethernet so you could use Cat5 cabling and a power injector which can make the installation process easier for this device. I would add to this that such a connector could be used as a way to exploit the recently-supported Ethernet backbone functionality offered to the Orbi distributed-WiFi system.

At the moment, this device is to be sold for a suggested retail price of US$329.99 ex tax with the computer press grumbling that it costs more than an Orbi setup or standard router. But I see this more as something intended to be added on to an existing Orbi setup to take it further and this NETGEAR Orbi RBK50Y outdoor satellite module has been honoured with a CES 2018 Innovation Award.

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TVs to work with Google Home and Amazon Alexa

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LG’s 2018 TVs get faster and smarter with Google Assistant, Alexa | Engadget

LG 2018 TVs tap Google Assistant, Alexa for voice control | CNet

NVIDIA Shield to support Google Assistant | CNet (Video – Click or tap to play)

My Comments

A trend that is appearing for this year is to see Smart TVs equipped with the ability to work with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. In this case, there will be a microphone integrated in the remote control or the TV set and Google Assistant will reply through the TV’s speakers. The Amazon Alexa Skill that some manufacturers will offer will have access to some but not all of the TV’s functionality through your Amazon Echo or Alexa-compatible device.

Initially Sony had rolled out an Android TV software update to enable Google Assistant to work on their Android-based Smart TVs, while they have an Amazon Alexa Skill in beta-testing.

Now LG are building in Google Assistant in to their webOS Smart TVs which will have access to the EPG as well as functions essential to watching TV. It will also have the same control path as Google Home when it comes to controlling your smart-home devices and if you run a Google Home smart speaker, you could ask Google Assistant to do things like turn on the TV or change channels without needing the TV’s remote. They are also offering an Amazon Alexa Skill for those of you using Amazon Echo but this will provide a limited level of control over your LG TV.

NVIDIA has answered the TV-ownership reality that TV sets aren’t necessarily disposable by rolling out the Google Assistant to their Shield Android TV games console. Here, you can add Google Home control to your existing TV along with the ability to ask questions of Google Assistant. This is facilitated with integral microphones in its game controllers and remote control and Google Assistant replies through the connected TV’s speakers.

This highlights the market reality that TVs and video peripherals will be required to work with one or more of the voice-driven home assistants whether as an endpoint or as a function set added on to the home-assistant platform.

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