simonmackay Archive

Windows 10 on Qualcomn ARM chips–to be real

Articles

Snapdragon smartphone electronics in 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Qualcomn

Implementing high-end smartphone electronics into an ultraportable laptop

Smartphone Guts Are Coming to Windows Laptops, and It Could Triple Your Battery Life | Gizmodo

Microsoft reveals ‘Always Connected PCs’ from HP and ASUS with Windows 10 on ARM | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Always Connected PCs enable a new culture of work (Windows Experience Blog)

Qualcomn

Qualcomm Launches Technology Innovation with Advancements in the Always Connected PC and its Next-Generation Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile Platform (Press Release)

A day in the life with the Snapdragon 835 powered HP Envy x2 PC (OnQ Blog)

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Microsoft had made some attempts at bringing Windows to the ARM RISC microarchitecture with a view to bringing forth cheaper computers. But they had failed thanks to silicon based on traditional Intel x86/x64 microarchitecture being offered at very cheap price points and able to natively run a large roster of software already available for that platform.

But they, along with Qualcomn who supply the silicon for most of today’s smartphones, have re-approached this through the vision of an ultraportable laptop computer or tablet that implements the same technology as one of the recent high-end smartphones and phablets. This has been drawn out alongside the recent crop of highly-capable 11”-14” 2-in-1 laptops that are making a strong appeal as a highly-capable alternative to the iPad and Android-based tablets.

But the computers that represent the “Always Connected PC” product class integrate a large battery along with the LTE-based wireless-broadband modem, both of which allow for a long time of computer activity without the need of Wi-Fi or daily charging. These would also support eSIM which allows for over-the-wire provisioning of mobile broadband service, including the ability to provide “international-focused” service for people roaming around the world. HP and ASUS have premiered a detachable 2-in-1 and a convertible 2-in-1 which are based on this technology.

Microsoft is pushing the Always-Connected PC for the workplace with a focus towards a managed computing environment. Here, it is about avoiding the need to connect to insecure public-access Wi-Fi networks or worry about whether you have the laptop’s power supply with you when you head to work or make that business trip.

I see it more as an answer to Apple’s iOS platform, Google’s ChromeOS platform and Samsung’s interpretation of the Android platform where the goal is to cater to a mainstream productivity-focused computing environment for work or school.

Here, the focus would be about interacting with cloud-based business / education software whether as a Web app or as platform-native software or simply working with information using standard office-productivity software, perhaps with some video playback or mobile-grade gaming. I also see this as a way for Microsoft to aggressively compete against the iPad in the household, education and business environment by encouraging its partners to offer tablets and 2-in-1s that have the same operational qualities as that tablet.

But it wouldn’t displace the Intel / AMD x86/x64-based computers which would be focused towards applications where performance is of importance such as serious gaming or photo / video editing. But as for running Windows software, the ARM-based variants of Windows will be implementing an x86 emulation layer that allows 32-bit Windows software to run on these computers. This is while Windows software developers who package software for the Windows Store will be encouraged to deploy code native to x86, x64 and ARM microarchitectures.

The big challenge now is for software developers and games studios to port the software that is on the iOS or Android platforms towards the Windows 10 platforms on all the microarchitectures. It would them make it viable for Windows to continue as a third force for “non-handheld” mobile computing.

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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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France takes steps towards a YouTube competitor

Articles – French language / Langue Française

Map of France

France sowing the seeds for a YouTube competitor

Nouveau monde. Un YouTube “libre” à la française | France TV

From the horse’s mouth

Framatube.org

My Comments

I have previously raised the issue of people and companies based in Europe building online services that compete with what Silicon Valley offers but respect European values. This has been more so in respect to the European Commission taking legal action against the Silicon Valley IT titans like Google and Facebook due to issues like user privacy and respect for European values.

Subsequently, in answer to Google denying Amazon access to YouTube for their Echo Show product, I wrote an article about YouTube needing to face competition when it comes to online video services.

Here, I was calling out issues like individuals and small businesses needing affordable options for sharing their video content while they maintain effective control over it. It also includes issues like monetisation options for video content providers along with proper fair dealing for content creators and rightsholders when it comes to using copyrighted works in the content creators’ videos. The latter issue focuses on users using a relatively small part of a copyrighted work like a phrase from a song or a few seconds of vision from a film or TV show in an incidental manner.

Amazon Echo Spot press picture courtesy of Amazon

Could this be a chance to make user-generated video available on devices like Amazon’s Echo Spot?

In the same context, I was calling out the availability of native-client apps for various IT platforms, whether as a separately-installed app for a regular-computer or mobile operating system or as something baked in to firmware for a device like a set-top box or smart speaker. This is so you aren’t always heading down an inefficient path of using a browser to view videos or find that you can’t use the platform’s or device’s assets for this task.

The French have taken off with this goal with Framasoft, a French open-source software developer, working towards a peer-to-peer approach.

The “PeerTube” approach is based on free open-source software and implements a “federation” model. This is where a host could store video uploaded to it directly but also share video uploaded to other hosts. This can please media companies, the education sector, Webhosts and other companies who have multiple servers or data centers in differing geographical locations and make sure these hosts serve viewers closer to them.

It is being driven by the “WebTorrent” concept of integrating BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing technology to video streaming in an effort to reduce latency. Again, it is implementing free open-source technology to achieve the same goal.

At the moment, the “PeerTube” effort is at an alpha stage but there is a goal to have it to beta by March 2018. Framasoft are raising money to get this idea off the ground and have raised EUR€16,032 at the time of writing. There is also the issue of creating a Web-based portal to show what’s available along with providing source code to make native clients for a PeerTube content delivery network.

Personally, I would see the “PeerTube” concept working tightly with Webhosts, content delivery networks and the like to make audio and video distribution affordable for the small-timer. There will also be their idea of data centers including edge computing being used as a way to expedite reliable access to “catch-up TV” and similar video content pools.

What needs to happen once PeerTube is proven is that it needs to be sold as a viable alternative for YouTube when it comes to offering user-generated video content.

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Windows to introduce quick-pair for Bluetooth

Articles

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

Quick pairing to come to Windows 10 to simplify connecting Bluetooth headsets to these computers

Bluetooth quick pairing feature in the works for Windows 10 | Windows Central

Bluetooth “Quick Pair” Feature is Coming to Windows 10 | Thurrott blog

Previous coverage on Bluetooth quick-pairing

Bluetooth Fast Pairing–to be part of the Android platform

My Comments

Google Fast Pair in action - press image courtesy of GoogleApple and Google have put up a simplified Bluetooth pair-up approach for commissioning newly-purchased Bluetooth headsets and other accessory devices with host devices based on their mobile operating systems.

This approach has the Bluetooth device sending out a short range “beacon” to compliant host devices, causing them to pop up a notification inviting the user to instigate the pair-up procedure. Google even had the ability to invite users to download and install any companion apps for devices designed with the “app-cessory” approach.

It is rather than having the user head to the Bluetooth menu on their host device and to make sure they choose the Bluetooth peripheral device they intend to pair to. This can be arduous where Bluetooth device names appear to be very confusing such as to only show a model number or the device is being set up in an area where other Bluetooth devices are being setup to be discoverable such as “always ready to pair” default setups like Alpine car stereos.

Now Microsoft is working on similar functionality that will appear in the next or subsequent feature release of Windows 10. In this case, Windows users will have the ability to enable or disable this feature and the notifications will appear as pop-up messages.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

.. to make these easy to set up

The Windows 10 host computer would need to be equipped with a Bluetooth interface compliant to Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (Bluetooth Smart) standards for this function to work. It effectively makes the user experience for Bluetooth devices very similar to the “plug-and-play” experience that Microsoft achieved for peripherals directly connected to a Windows host computer.

Why would I suspect that a user be required to put a “fast-pair” Bluetooth device in setup mode?

One reason that I would see some manufacturers require a user to place a “fast-pair” Bluetooth peripheral device in a setup mode or specifically enable this feature on that device would be to conserve battery runtime on a portable device. Here, having a device broadcasting the beacon signal all the time may be taking power away from the device’s main functionality thus shortening the battery’s runtime.

It could also be a device security requirement to cater for environments where multiple compliant host devices are likely to exist and you want to make sure that your accessory device isn’t ending up pairing to someone else’s host device. It is an important issue with health and allied devices like fitness bands which work with your smartphone and these devices are dealing with very personal information. This can also be a user-experience issue regarding pop-up notificatiosn for other users’ devices.

What is showing up now is that a simplified user experience is being made available whenever you are commissioning a newer Bluetooth device.

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Editing favourites with Microsoft Edge

Article

Edit URL item in Favourites context menu

Edit URL item in Favourites context menu

Windows 10 Tip: Edit any URL in your Microsoft Edge Favorites | Windows Experience Blog

My Comments

A situation that can affect many Web users is to have a “favourites” or “bookmarks” list with out-of-date links in it. This can be brought about by a Website moving to a new domain or its link directory being reorganised. The latter situation can be brought about due to implementation of a new content-management system or substantial renovations to the site layout.

Most Web browsers have the ability for you to edit a Web address in the Favourites or Bookmarks list, typically through you right-clicking on a link, selecting an “Edit” option, and manually editing the Web address.

But the Microsoft Edge Web browser that is part of Windows 10 didn’t have this kind of in-place editing functionality. It was in a vain attempt to achieve a reduced-clutter user experience for viewing Web pages on your Windows 10 computer. This would have caused you to navigate to the resource’s new location, add it as a Favourite then delete the old reference from the Favourites list.

Microsoft has added in-place link editing to their Edge browser that is delivered with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update onwards. Now what you can do is to right-click on the resource’s link in your Favourites list, then select “Edit URL” in the context menu to make the Weblink for the resource editable.

If you are using a touch-only arrangement like a 2-in-1 convertible laptop in a “tablet”, “presentation viewer” or “tent” position, you need to dwell your finger or stylus on the Web resource’s link until a square or circle appears, then remove your finger to expose this context menu. There are some stylus implementations that may have a button that you use to enable the context menu.

But now you can revise that Web link in Microsoft Edge’s Favourites list without having to add the new link then delete the old link.

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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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