Author: simonmackay

Product Review–Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop (Intel 8th Generation CPU)

Introduction

I am reviewing the latest version of the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 8th Generation which replaces the Inspiron 13 7000 7th Generation models that I previously reviewed. Here, this is based around implementing the Intel Kaby Lake Refresh technology which is a step towards making mainstream portable computers capable of doing most computing tasks without being seen as underpowered cousins of desktop computers.

There is also the Dell Inspiron 13 5000 2-in-1 series which omits the USB Type-C connection and the Intel RealSense camera but available at a cheaper price. These are available in three different configurations, one with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD; a step-up variant with a Core i7 CPU and the top-shelf model with 16Gb RAM and 512Gb SSD storage.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel - presentation mode

Price
– this configuration
AUD$2399
Market Positioning Mainstream consumer laptop
Form Factor Convertible laptop
Processor All CPUs:
Intel Kaby Lake R
Installed option
Core i7-8550U
cheaper option
Core i5-8250U
RAM 16 GB
cheaper option:
8 Gb
Secondary storage 512 GB SSD
cheaper option:
256Gb SSD
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel UHD 620 Integrated Graphics
Screen 13.3” widescreen touch display (Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Waves MaxxAudio
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n/ac dual-band two-stream
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.2
Modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x USB-C with Power Delivery and DisplayPort
2 x USB 3.0 (1 with Sleep and Charge)
Other Data Connections
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
HDMI 2.0
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security RealSense camera
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Now with 8th Generation Intel silicon

Thee Dell Inspiron 13 7000 8th Generation convertible laptop has the same aesthetics and build quality as the previous two generations. This means that it has the same metal finish and housing but also comes across as being very durable. As well, Dell have embraced the narrow display bezel trend started with the XPS 13 Series and implemented it in to this lineup, making for an effectively larger display space in a relatively compact machine.

There is still a smooth action involved when converting it between a laptop and tablet mode which makes for something that can be easily used by most people.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU - presentation mode

… as a presentation viewer

Like with the prior generation of the Dell Inspiron 13 7000, the cooling vent is located near the hinges yet there is a bit more heat build-up that can occur with basic gaming. It doesn’t exhibit this kind of heat buildup during basic computing tasks. This is even though I am dealing with the newer Intel Core i7 silicon which is known to be more powerful than prior versions.

User Interface

The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 uses an illuminated keyboard that lights up as needed. But it is wide enough to type with accurately and has a shallow key throw but that is enough for proper tactile feedback.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU - tent mode

… as a tent mode

Like with most laptops, the function keys default to the volume, multimedia and display controls. But with this one, press the Fn key and ESC key to toggle on the normal function-key behaviour.

The trackpad and touchscreen work properly and effectively. In the case of the trackpad, I have not noticed any situation where the pointer moved around while I was typing, thus being less of a distraction.

Audio / Video

The Waves MaxxAudio sound-tuning software does improve the sound but the internal speakers have that tinny sound common with laptops. But I would find best results when you use the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 with with headphones, external speakers or sound system. Most likely, you will end up needing to use headphones to avoid distracting others when you use this computer in a public place for multimedia, videocall, gaming or similar activities.

The Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics provides the kind of performance you would expect for most computing tasks including the occasional gaming and similar tasks that most of us would do. Here, you would see smooth video playhack for most of these tasks.

Like with all consumer-grade computers, there is still the glossy display which can become dirty very quickly and show reflections easily.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Left-hand side – USB Type-C, USB 3.0 Type A, HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm headset jack

Like with the prior iterations of the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1, the connectivity options are essentially the same with the 2 USB 3.0 ports and the 1 USB Type-C port as well as the HDMI video port.

Personally I would like to see Dell implement the Thunderbolt 3 port in the Inspiron 13 7000 Series computers but this will have to wait for a full model-level revision rather than a silicon-level refresh.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Intel 8th Generation CPU laptop Left-hand side - USB 3.0 Type A, SD card reader

Right hand side- USB 3.0 port, SD card reader

The whole of the Inspiron 13 7000 range offers the kind of capacity on the solid-state drives that would be expected for most people to benefit from with these drives living up to the promise of quick access. This also includes the fact that even the haseline variants have that healthy 256Gb capacity that would suit most users even as a main or sole computer.

Battery Life

The use of Intel 8th Generation silicon for the CPU and graphics hasn’t made a difference to the Dell Inspiron 13 7000’s battery life although you are really allowing the computer to perform better using the newer technology.

Other Usage Notes

One of the men who run the Melbourne Men’s Shed was impressed with the Dell Inspiron 13 7000’s specifications even though the review sample is the top-shelf model. He was also impressed by the convertible design that this unit has.

Similarly some hotel staff wore impressed by the convertible design and described it as looking similar to a recent iPad when they saw it at first glance.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Dell could “carve out” the Inspiron 13 2-in-1 product range for those of us who aren’t necessary after a very light ultraportable 2-in-1 but want something that is portable enough for most applications.

Here, they could implement the 8th-generation Intel Core processors across the range as well as providing some of the premium models in the lineup with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. This is more so for those of us who want to run them with external graphics modules.

Similarly, Dell could offer one or two configurations with Intel Iris higher-performance integrated graphics as a product differentiator. This would appeal to those of us who want that bit more out of the graphics abilities.

As for enablement of options like PowerShare “sleep and charge” or anything that is only available in the computer’s BIOS, Dell could provide an app that allows some of these options to be manipulated from the Windows interface rather than having to reboot your computer to achieve that goal.

Conclusion

I would recommend this variant of the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1 comvertible computer for those of us who want value for money and want something that is powerful for most computing tasks. Even the improvement that Dell offers by implementing the Intel Kaby Lake R silicon still underscores the value for money that they are known for with the products.

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Video peripherals increasingly offering audio-output abilities

Article

XBox One games console press image courtesy Microsoft

Newer iterations of the XBox One to have connectivity for WISA-compliant speakers

Wireless speaker support could be coming to Xbox One consoles | Windows Central

My Comments

An increasing trend for video-peripheral devices like set-top boxes and games consoles is to offer an ability to connect speakers or headphones directly to these devices even though these devices are normally seen as video source devices. This goes against the conventional wisdom of a TV, soundbar and / or home-theatre receiver serving as the audio destination device for a home AV setup.

DLNA media directory provided by server PC

But what of Smart TVs being able to pass audio to these devices?

For example, Humax are offering a Bluetooth A2DP audio output on their premium PVRs so that the soundtrack from whatever you are watching on the PVR’s “current” tuner or hard disk can be fed through a Bluetooth headset or speaker. Just lately, Microsoft partnered up with the WISA Association to provide wireless-speaker output through WISA-compliant speakers from subsequent XBox games-console designs.

Let’s not forget that some soundbars and audio amplifiers are equipped with one HDMI-ARC connection for the TV and don’t add a video source to the home AV setup. The same situation also encompasses a large number of popularly-priced DVD and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems that only have one HDMI-ARC connection for the host TV as the only way to connect video equipment to these systems.

The limitation that is being shown up here is that you can’t stream the soundtrack of video content through the speakers or headphones connected through these devices’ Bluetooth or wireless-speaker outputs unless you are viewing the content hosted by the device itself. Or you may find it difficult to watch what you want yet hear it in the manner that suits the situation such as via headphones or a better speaker setup.

This is very similar to the old practice of connecting a video recorder’s audio output to a hi-fi amplifier to pipe the sound from either a TV broadcast or a videotape through the better-sounding hi-fi speakers.  There were even some video recorders that had their own headphone amplifiers or users simply connected them to hi-fi amplifiers or similar devices with integrated headphone outputs in order to add private or late-night listening abilities to that TV which wasn’t equipped with a headphone output. In that case, you only had access to the video recorder’s tuner or its tape transport through the hi-fi system with the video recorder offering some advantages over what was integrated in that old TV.

It may not be seen as a limitation except if a video peripheral connected to the TV or the TV’s own abilities provide content different to what is available in the “speaker-ability”-equipped video peripheral.

But what can be done to improve upon this reality would be for TV and video-peripheral manufacturers to answer this trend in an improved way.

Use of HDMI-ARC input functionality for host-TV audio

One way would be for the video-peripheral vendors who provide this kind of Bluetooth / WISA or similar “speaker output” ability to implement HDMI-ARC connectivity on their device’s HDMI output socket. It is very similar to the approach used by a popularly-priced DVD or Blu-Ray home-theatre system which only has one HDMI socket,

This means that if the device is connected to the ARC-capable HDMI socket on the TV, it can stream the sound from the TV’s own tuner, “connected-TV” functionality or video peripherals connected to the other HDMI inputs on the TV through this device’s “speaker output”.

Here, you may have to use the device’s controller to select “TV audio” to hear the sound associated with the TV’s sources through the Bluetooth speaker for example. But some TVs that implement this system properly may offer an “audio output” option on the audio menu so you can direct the sound to the audio-capable device by selecting that device rather than the TV’s internal speakers.

The TV to support multiple HDMI-ARC video peripherals

A TV could also implement HDMI-ARC across multiple HDMI sockets to cater for multiple video peripherals that support this functionality. It would come in to its own where different video peripherals use different connection methods for audio devices or you use a soundbar or home theatre setup equipped with a single HDMI connection alongside one of these video peripherals.

Here, you would have the ability to direct the sound to one or more of the HDMI-ARC devices instead of or in addition to the integral speakers.

The first application that one may think of would be to provide late-night private listening using a pair of Bluetooth headphones connected to a cable box, or to switch to WISA-capable speakers connected to a newer XBOX rather than hear the sound through the TV’s speakers. On the other hand, the setup could allow the concurrent operation of multiple audio outputs such as to use a Bluetooth headset connected via a cable box and run at an independent volume level for someone who is hard of hearing while everyone else in the room hears the TV content through the TV’s or home-theatre’s speakers.

In both situations, it would be desirable to hear whatever source is connected to the TV such as a Blu-Ray player or a network media player through the Bluetooth headphones connected via the Bluetooth-capable cable TV box.

How should the digital audio be delivered?

A question that can be raised is how the digital audio is to be delivered to the different HDMI-ARC devices.

This can affect whether to run a stereo or surround soundmix for the content’s soundtrack; whether the soundtrack should be delivered as a Dolby Digital / DTS bitstream that the HDMI-ARC audio device decodes or as a PCM bitstream already decoded by the TV or source video peripheral; or simply whether to stay within the “CD/DAT-quality” digital parameters (16 bit 44.1kHz or 48kHz sampling rate) or allow “master-grade” digital parameters (24 bit 96kHz or 192kHz sampling rate).

This situation may be determined by the destination audio device’s abilities such as whether it can decode Dolby Digital or DTS audio or if it can handle digital audio at “master-grade” bitrates. Similarly, it may also be about achieving a common specification for all of the connected devices, including whether and how to concurrently provide multiple audio streams for the same content such as to offer a two-channel soundmix and a multichannel soundmix.

This can lead to situations like supplying multiple soundmixes of a kind via HDMI-ARC in order to make situations like multilingual audio, audio description or selectable commentary work well for different viewers. Similarly, it could be feasible to offer a “surround via headphones” binaural soundmix like Dolby Headphone to Bluetooth headsets connected to a cable box while offering a full surround soundmix through a multiple-speaker home theatre setup.

Conclusion

What will eventually be raised is what can be achieved at a common baseline specification, including issues of processing power and HDMI bandwidth that the setup can handle. This is especially if a device like a games console or set-top box is working as a content source and audio sink while the TV works as an audio “hub”.

It is more so where we are expecting that flat-screen TV, especially one installed in a secondary lounge area, being required to become an AV hub for all of the video peripherals that are connected to it.

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How about enabling multilingual search in the main search engines

There are those of us who are proficient in two or more languages or are wanting to become so. This is due to countries like Canada, Belgium or Switzerland or even parts of countries like the South West USA that are inherently or officially multilingual.

It also extends to societies that maintain a multicultural character; as well as people who are setting themselves about to learn languages in addition to their native one. In some societies, a desire to work across multiple languages has been enhanced through activities like the increased viewership of subtitled foreign-language film and TV content like European thrillers or Nordic Noir; or particular cultures bestowing attention to particular countries such as the gamer culture’s obsession with Japan being known for manga / anime and fast cars.

The current problem

But using Google or similar search engines may become awkward for those of us who are or want to be multilingual. Typically, you have to know a concept in a particular language if you want to see the results in resources based in that language and you only see those resources. But if you are multilingual, you may want to see the resources in the languages you are familiar with, even if you type the search terms in one of the languages you are familiar with.

What needs to happen is for a search engine to implement “on-the-fly” translation of search phrases from one source language to a multiplicity of user-chosen target languages. Then the search engine would show the resources that are natively written in the target languages.

At the moment, most search engines can work across dialects of the same language such as to understand American or British English, showing resources in either dialect.

Questions that can be raised concerning this idea would be to assure a grammatically-accurate translation of the source search terms, including where there are multiple equivalents specific to that language.

Handling language peculiarities

There are situations where source and target languages maintain particular peculiarities when referring to some concepts or objects.

An example of this would be a reference to the lightweight commercial vehicles which are described as a van if they are enclosed or a pickup truck in most of the English-speaking world or a “ute” in Australia and New Zealand in the case of those with an open tray. But the French refer to these vehicles as either a “camionnette” or a “fourgonnette” while the Germans would use “Lieferwagen”, “Kastenwagen” or “Transporter” for a van for example.

Similarly, there are loanwords that are used across multiple languages to mean the same thing although some languages like French cut back on the use of these loanwords to maintain language purity. It may be preferred to use the loanwords or the language-specific equivalents or both as search terms for searching within a particular language. The same issue can also apply to proper nouns where there isn’t a language-specific equivalent such as place names, trademarks or business names.

There is also the issue with some Asian languages like Chinese and Japanese which use different writing styles. This can cause problems if search terms are provided in one writing style but you are confident in using the other writing styles offered by that language and want to see resources offered in those styles.

Handling multilingual resources

As for showing results, some Web resources, typically resources written by organisations in or targeting multi-lingual areas, tend to provide resources in multiple languages. This practice has been encouraged in Europe since the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty which underscores the Single European Market under the banner of the “Are you ready for 1992”. This approach may be through a translation process that the author implements as part of their editorial workflow or some end-users simply “pipe” the resource through a site-wide machine-translation resource when they view the site.

A situation that can come up with some multilingual Websites is that the site carries more comprehensive information in the site’s native language or a few other languages than in the other languages. Or if the site is targeted to multiple countries like all of the European Union’s resources, the translations may be deeply localised such as to refer to governmental workflows specific to that country.

A search engine could allow the user to set preferences for multilingual searches such as preferred languages and / or language priority. This would mean that the user would see the results from resources written in the languages they specify; along with the ability to have certain languages appear first. The language priority could be fixed by the user or be determined by the search engine if the user supplies the search expression in a language-specific form. But if a resource carries translations, the user could see results from that resource in the highest-priority translation first plus a reference to their other chosen translations.

Similarly, a search engine could compare the amount of information that is available in multilingual versions of the same resource to identify language peculiarity or content richness.

User preferences concerning multilingual search

A search engine that implements individual user preferences such as being linked to a user account could implement a set of preferences for multilingual search.

This could be through a list of languages that the user knows so as to prioritise resources in those languages. Similarly, a user could determine whether to place a multilingual resource’s native language as a higher priority over the translations.

Providing a multilingual results list

A multilingual results list could have each native language as a sorting or grouping factor when ordering the results. It may also allow results that come from a multilingual resource to be identified as appearing in the chosen languages.

To cater for multilingual resources where there is a differing level of comprehensiveness amongst the languages. the user interface could identify which languages have more comprehensive results. It can also be used to call out translations that underscore area-specific terminology or colloquialisms.

Catering to language learners

Some users who are learning a language may want a multilingual search interface to provide features conducive to this task.

This may include the ability to show their “home” language under foreign-language headlines in a search list using a different typeface so they can build their vocabulary up for example. Some user interfaces like the traditional mouse-based interface or a touch-based interface that allows the user to dwell for more options may allow for a “pop-up” or similar translation. This can also apply to languages that implement an intermediary phonetic script along with one or more different written scripts.

An augmentation that can work with text-to-speech setups may allow for the user to have all or part of a foreign language read aloud. This could permit them to hear how the word is pronounced in the context of the sentence.

Conclusion

What needs to be provided with a multilingual search option is to accept searches in multiple languages and to show resources that are native to different languages in a search-results page.

It also includes dealing with multilingual resources including resources that are focused towards a few languages along with supporting a multilingual user’s preferences.

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Sonnet shows up a highly-portable external graphics module

Articles

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module press picture courtesy of Sonnet Systems

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module – the way to go for ultraportables

This Little Box Can Make Even the Junkiest Laptop a Gaming PC | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Sonnet

eGFX Breakaway Puck (Product Page, Press Release)

My Comments

Increasingly there has been the rise of external graphics modules that connect to your laptop or small-form-factor desktop computer via its Thunderbolt 3 port. This has allowed this class of computer to benefit from better graphics hardware even though they don’t have the ability for you to fit a graphics card in them. Similarly, they would appeal to users who have an ultraportable computer and mainly want the advanced graphics in a particular environment like home or office but don’t care about it on the road.

A highly-portable approach to giving the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake and its ilk discrete graphics

But most of these devices have come in the form of a “card-cage” which houses a desktop-grade graphics card, which is all and well if you are thinking of using gaming-grade or workstation-grade desktop graphics hardware. As well, these “card-cage” units would take up a lot of space, something that may not be beneficial with cramped desktop or entertainment-unit spaces.

Acer previously issued one of these external graphics modules which has an integrated NVIDIA graphics chipset but Sonnet has now come to the fore with the eGFX Breakaway Puck that uses integrated AMD Radeon graphics silicon. This device is sold as two different models with one equipped with the AMD Radeon RX560 GPU and another with the better-performing Radeon RX570 GPU.

The Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck can be stuffed in to a backpack’s pocket this making it appeal to users who are likely to be travelling more. As well, they offer a VESA-compliant bracket so that this external graphics module can be mounted on a display stand or arm for those of us who want as much space on the desktop as possible.

Connectivity for external displays is in the form of 3 DisplayPort outlets and 1 HDMI 2.0b outlet to cater for multi-monitor setups. It also exploits the Power Delivery standard to supply up to 45W of power to the host computer which can mean that you don’t need to use the computer’s charger to power the host computer.

There could be some improvements regarding connectivity like having another Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C port for connection to other peripherals, something that can be of concern with ultraportables that use very few connections. But I would see this opening up the idea for similarly-sized integrated-chipset external graphics modules both as highly-portable “add-ons” for laptop computers or to create “building-block” approaches to small-form-factor “NUC-style” desktop computer setups.

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BBC introduces interactive radio drama using Alexa

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon Echo and similar voice-driven assistants will end up being able to provide voice-driven interactive storytelling

BBC launches interactive voice drama for Amazon Alexa devices | CNet News

My Comments

Any of you who have lived in the UK or other British Commonwealth countries will be familiar with the BBC’s long-time expertise with radio plays. Examples of these include the unforgettable humour of the Goons or the long-evolving countryside drama that is the Archers. If you didn’t hear it on the BBC, you may have heard one of these dramas via a resource available through the Internet or a local public radio station syndicated one or more of the BBC radio plays, making it available to hear through your trusty radio. These are essentially comedy and drama that is delivered through an audio-only medium.

But the BBC are combining this old-time craft of theirs and the concept of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books to provide an interactive audio drama that you effectively participate in using, at the moment, the Amazon Alexa platform.  “The Inspection Chamber” is a science fiction comedy where you effectively are playing the “extra character” in the show to steer its plot.

It will also be very similar to those text-based adventure games made available through mainframe computers and early home-computer platforms but this effort will be about having a wider vocabulary and natural-language handling.

But I see this as a way to take voice-driven assistants further in the direction of providing entertainment in the form of “Choose Your Own Adventure” interactive storytelling. This could lead to other radio-drama houses and, to some extent, education / training environments taking this concept further to provide voice-driven interactive stories, such as to provide scenario-driven training or language learning.

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Bluetooth Fast Pairing–to be part of the Android platform

Articles

Android main interactive lock screen

Most recent Android smartphones may be able to support one-touch pair-up for Bluetooth accessories

Android ‘Fast Pair’ will quickly connect Bluetooth devices | Engadget

Announcing Fast Pair – effortless Bluetooth pairing for Android | Android Developers Blog

My Comments

Google has answered the setup method that Apple has implemented for their AirPod wireless in-ear headset by implementing a software-driven “quick-pair” setup that will be part of Android.

This method, called Bluetooth Fast Pairing, works on Android handsets and other devices that run Android 6.0 Marshmallow onwards and have Google Play Services 11.7 or newer installed and support Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (Bluetooth Smart) connectivity. You will have to enable Bluetooth and Location functionality in your handset, but you don’t have to look at Bluetooth device lists on your smartphone for a particular device identifier to complete the setup process.

Google Fast Pair in action - press image courtesy of Google

Click or tap this image to see Google Fast Pairing in action

It is meant to provide quick discovery of your compliant Bluetooth accessory device in order to expedite the setup process that is involved with new devices or to “repair” Bluetooth connections that have failed. This latter situation can easily occur if data in the device regarding associated Bluetooth devices becomes corrupted or their is excessive Bluetooth interference.

The user experience will require you to put your accessory device like a Bluetooth headset, speakers or car stereo in to Bluetooth-setup mode. This may simply be through you holding down the “setup” or “pair” button till a LED flashes a certain way or you hear a distinct tone. On the other hand in the case of home and car audio equipment that has a display of some form, you using the “Setup Menu” to select “Bluetooth Setup” or something similar.

Then you receive a notification message on your Android device which refers to the device you just enabled for pairing, showing its product name and a thumbnail image of the device. Tap on this notification to continue the setup process and you may receive an invitation to download a companion app for those devices that work on the “app-cessory” model for extended functionality.

Google implements this by using Bluetooth Low Energy “beacon” technology to enable the device-discovery process. This is similar to the various beacon approaches for marketing and indoor navigation that are being facilitated by Bluetooth Low Energy, but they only appear while your accessory device is in “Bluetooth setup” mode.

The Google Play servers provide information about the device such as its thumbnail image, product name or link to a companion app based on a “primary-key” identifier that is part of the Bluetooth Low Energy “beacon” presented by the device. Then, once you tap the notification popup on your Android device, the pairing and establishment process takes place under Bluetooth Classic technology.

I see this also as being similar to the various “Plug And Play” discovery process implemented in Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS whenever you connect newer peripherals to your computer. This is where Microsoft and Apple keep data about various peripherals and expansion cards that are or have been on the market to facilitate installation of any necessary drivers or other software or invocation of class drivers that are part of the operating system. For Google and the Android platform, they could take this further with USB-C and USB Micro-AB OTG connectivity to implement the same kind of “plug and play” setup for peripherals connected this way to Android devices.

This system could be taken further by integrating similar logic and server-hosted databases in to other operating systems for regular and mobile computer platforms to improve and expedite the setup process for Bluetooth devices where the host device supports Bluetooth Low Energy operation. Here, I would like to see it based on the same identifiers broadcast by each of the accessory devices.

The Bluetooth Fast Pairing ability that Google gave to the Android platform complements NFC-based “touch and go” pairing that has been used with that platform as another method to simplify the setup process. This is more for manufacturers who don’t have enough room in their accessory device’s design to provide an NFC area for “touch-and-go” setup thanks to very small devices or where NFC doesn’t play well with the device’s aesthetics or functionality.

It may be a point of confusion for device designers like Alpine with their car stereos who place their devices in “discoverable” or “pairing” mode all the time so you can commence enrolling your accessory device at your phone’s user interface. Here, the device manufacturer may have to limit its availability to certain circumstances like no devices paired or connected, or you having to select the “Bluetooth” source or “Setup” mode to invoke discoverability.

At least Google have put up a way to allow quicker setup for Bluetooth accessories with their Android platform devices without the need to build the requirement in to the hardware.

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AMD now launches the Ryzen processor for portable computing

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

AMD

Ryzen Processors (Product Page)

Video (Click or tap to play)

My Comments

Just lately, Intel released their 8th generation Kaby Lake R family of “Core i” processors which are targeted at portable computers. These powerful CPUs that were optimised for portable use were issued with an intent to compete against AMD’s upcoming release of their Ryzen processors, pitched at a similar usage scenario. Various press articles even drew attention towards being able to play more powerful PC games on these lightweight computers rather than limiting their scope of activity.

Now AMD have released this silicon which also integrates the Radeon Vega graphics-processing silicon for the laptop market. This is where they are targeting the Ryzen 7 2700U CPU and the Ryzen 5 2500U 15-watt processors and instigating a race against Intel’s Kaby Lake R horsepower and QHD integrated graphics.

What I see of this is that Intel and AMD will make sure that this generation of ultraportable computers will be seen to be more powerful than the prior generations. Think of using an Intel Kaby Lake R Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 powered 2-in-1 for most photo-editing tasks or as a “virtual turntable” in the DJ booth, activities that wouldn’t be associated with this class of computer.

At the moment, Intel hasn’t licensed the Thunderbolt 3 connectivity standard across the board including to AMD, which will see it as a limitation when it comes to allow users to upgrade graphics capabilities on their AMD Rysen-equipped laptops using an external graphics module.

One way Intel could approach this is to divest the Thunderbolt standards and intellectual property to an independent working group like the USB.org group so that manufacturers who implement Intel, AMD, the ARM RISC-based vendors like Qualcomm or other silicon can use Thunderbolt 3 as a high-throughput external connectivity option. This could be a way to establish an even playing field for all of the silicon vendors who are providing processor power for all the various computing devices out there.

At least Intel and AMD are taking steps in the right direction towards the idea of mixing portability and power for computing setups based on regular-computer platforms. It may also make this kind of performance become affordable for most people.

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It is time for YouTube to face competition

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Google not allowing Amazon to provide a native client tor the popular YouTube service on the Echo Show highlights how much control they have over the user-generated video market

Over the last many years, YouTube established a name for itself regarding the delivery of user-generated video content through our computers. This included video created by ordinary householders ranging from the many puppy and kitten videos through to personal video travelogues. But a lot of professional video creators have used it to run showreels or simply host their regular content such as corporate videos and film trailers, with some TV channels even hosting shows for a long time on it.

After Google took over YouTube, there have been concerns about its availability across platforms other than the Web. One of the first instances that occurred was for Apple to be told to drop their native YouTube client from iOS with users having to install a Google-developed native client for this service on their iOS devices.

Recently, Google pulled YouTube from Amazon’s Echo Show device ostensibly due to it not having a good-enough user interface. But it is really down to Google wanting to integrate YouTube playback in to their Google Home and Chromecast platforms with the idea of running it as a feature exclusive to those voice-driven home assistant platforms.

YouTube Keyboard Cat

Could the Web be the only surefire place to see Keyboard Cat?

These instances can affect whether you will be able to view YouTube videos on your Smart TV, set-top box, games console, screen-equipped smart speaker or similar device. It will also affect whether a company who designs one of these devices can integrate YouTube functionality in to these devices in a native form or improve on this functionality through the device’s lifecycle. The concern will become stronger if the device or platform is intended to directly compete with something Google offers.

There are some video services like Vimeo and Dailymotion that offer support for user-generated and other video content. But these are services that are focused towards businesses or professionals who want to host video content and convey a level of uninterrupted concentration. This can be a limitation for small-time operators such as bloggers and community organisations who want to get their feet wet with video.

Facebook is starting to provide some form of competition in the form of their Watch service but this will require users to have presence on the Facebook social network, something that may not be desirable amongst some people. Amazon have opened up their Prime streaming-video platform to all sorts of video publishers and creators, positioning it as Amazon Video Direct. But this will require users to be part of the Amazon Prime platform.

But for people who publish to consumer-focused video services like YouTube, competition will require them to put content on all the services. For small-time video publishers who are focusing on video content, this will involve uploading to different platforms for a wider reach. On the other hand, one may have to use a video-distribution platform which allows for “upload once, deliver many” operation.

Competition could open up multiple options for publishers, equipment / platform designers, and end-users. For example, it could open up monetisation options for publishers’ works, simplify proper dealing with copyrighted works used within videos, open up native-client access for more platforms, amongst other things.

But there has to be enough competition to keep the market sustainable and each of the platforms must be able to support the ability to view a video without the user being required to create an account beforehand. The market should also support the existence of niche providers so as to cater to particular publishers’ and viewers needs.

In conclusion, competition could make it harder for YouTube to effectively “own” the user-generated consumer video market and control how this market operates including what devices the content appears on.

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Another attempt at security for the Internet Of Things

Article

Google and others back Internet of Things security push | Engadget

My Comments

An issue that is perplexing the personal-computing scene is data security and user privacy in the context of dedicated-function devices including the Internet Of Things. This has lately come to the fore thanks to the KRACK WPA2 wireless-network security exploit which mainly affects Wi-Fi client devices. In this situation, it would be of concern regarding these devices due to the fact that the device vendors and the chipset vendors don’t regularly update the software for their devices.

But ARM Holdings, a British chipmaker behind the ARM RISC microarchitecture used in mobile devices and most dedicated-function devices has joined with Google Cloud Platform and others to push for an Internet-Of-Things data security platform. This is very relevant because the ARM RISC microarchitecture satisfies the needs of dedicated-function device designs due to the ability to yield greater functionalities using lean power requirements compared to traditional microarchitecture.

Here, the effort is centred around open-source firmware known as “Firmware-M” that is to be pitched for ARMv8-M CPUs. The Platform Security Architecture will allow the ability for hardware / software / cloud-system designers to tackle IoT threat models and analyse the firmware with a security angle. This means that they can work towards hardware and firmware architectures that have a “best-practice approach” for security and user-friendliness for devices likely to be used by the typical householder.

There is still the issue of assuring software maintenance over the lifecycle of the typical IoT and dedicated-function device. This will include how newer updated firmware should be deployed to existing devices and how often such updates should take place. It will also have to include practices associated with maintaining devices abandoned by their vendors such as when a vendor ceases to exist or changes hands or a device reaches end-of-life.

But at least it is another effort by industry to answer the data-security and user-privacy realities associated with the Internet Of Things.

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Intel’s 8th Generation CPUs give ultraportable laptops more performance

Articles

Computers like these won’t be considered puny when it comes to what they can do thanks to Intel 8th Generation Core horsepower

HP Unveils Its Most Powerful Detachable PC The ZBook x2 | Gizmodo

Dell gives XPS 13 and Inspiron laptops a boost with Intel’s eighth-generation processors | Windows Central

Four Cores for Ultrabooks: Core i7-8550U Review | TechSpot

From the horse’s mouth

HP

ZBook x2 (Product Page, Press Release)

My Comments

Intel are releasing the eighth-generation lineup of CPU processors which have been considered a major step when it comes to performance from the “engines” that drive your computer. This is affecting the the Core i family of processors which are used in most desktop and laptop computers issued over the last few years.

There are three classes of the 8th Generation lineup – the Coffee Lake which is pitched at desktops, the Cannon Lake which is pitched at mobile applications and the Kaby Lake Refresh which also is pitched at most of the ultraportables including the 2-in-1s.

This class of CPU has impressed me more with the arrival of ultraportable computers, especially 2-in-1 detachables and convertibles, that could do more than what is normally associated with this class of computer.

It is brought about through an increase in the number of “cores” or processor elements installed in the physical chip die, similar to the number of cylinders in your car’s engine which effectively multiply the power available under that hood. In this case, the improvements that Intel were providing were very similar to what happened when the “V” configuration was implemented for engine-cylinder layouts that allowed more power from a relatively-compact engine, allowing the vehicle builder to offer increasingly-powerful engines for the same vehicle design.

In this case, there was the ability to use low-power processors like 15-watt designs with the increased “cores” but not sacrifice battery runtime or yield too much waste heat. This opened up the capability for an ultraportable or tablet to be able to do more without becoming underpowered while running for a long time on battery power.

For example, HP just released the ZBook x2 detachable tablet computer which has the kind of power that would work with advanced graphics and allied programs. Some could see this as a typical detachable tablet that could be considered not so powerful but this handheld workstation can use these programs thanks to use of the Intel 8th Generation Core i7 Kaby Lake R processor and NVIDIA Quadro discrete graphics. There is even the option to have it specified with 32Gb of RAM.

Then there’s Dell who have refreshed their XPS and Inspiron ultraportables with Intel 8th-generation horsepower with the XPS 13 benefiting from that extra performance, making the whole XPS 13 clamshell Ultrabook lineup show its relevance more.

What is to happen with the ultraportables is that you won’t need to think of them as being unfit for heavy-duty computing tasks while on the road. You may even find that you could do things like watch a season of downloaded TV episodes or play an intense round of Civilization 6 while you are flying one of the new Qantas non-stop long-distance flights to London or Los Angeles without worrying about the battery dying out.

It will be up to the software vendors to make games and other software that take advantage of these high-performance 2-in-1 computers by exploiting the touchscreens and the higher power offered by these machines. How about a Civilization, SimCity, one of the mobile “guilty-secret” games, or more being available through the Microsoft Store for one to install on that 2-in-1?

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