Category: Computer Hardware Design

Google’s Project Ara modular smartphone is for real

Article

Google Project Ara modular phone - for real

Google Project Ara modular phone – for real

Google’s Project Ara: build your dream phone | The Age

My Comments

There has been some previous coverage about Google’s “Project Ara” modular smartphone, but there was some doubt about this phone being for real.

This mobile phone, like the LG G5 smartphone, can be improved by you buying and adding extra modules that offer additional or better functionality. It is very similar to how the IBM PC evolved where it was feasible to add on extra parts to improve the computer’s functionality.

Google had put the Project Ara concept smartphone on the slow burner and LG advanced their take on a smartphone in the form of the G5 having an improved camera or a hi-fi-grade audio DAC module available as options. Now they have come forth with a firm proof-of-concept to be offered to developers so they can design the modular hardware and to have a system ready for the masses by next year.

Google will push the idea of requiring the modules to be certified by themselves in order to assure quality control and the user experience for installing or upgrading any of these modules will be very similar to replacing a microSD card in your Android smartphone. This is where you tell the operating system that you wish to remove the card before you open up your phone and swap out the card, something I do with my Samsung phone when I want to play different music because I see the microSD cards as though they are cassettes or MiniDiscs that contain music ready to play.

Like with computers, the modular phones will still appeal to those of us who are tech enthusiasts and don’t mind customising our phones to suit our needs. Personally, I would like to see this same modularity looked at for tablets, 2-in-1s and laptops pitched at this same user class who values modularity and customisability.

Send to Kindle

HP gives the convertible 2-in-1 the Ford Mustang treatment

Article

HP’s Pavilion x360 affordable convertible comes in 15-inch version now | The Verge

HP’s new Pavilion PCs include a 15-inch hybrid laptop | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

HP

Press Release

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

When Ford launched the Mustang in 1964, they used a strategy where they could pitch it as a car affordable to young Americans yet something that would appeal to them. Here, they offered a reasonably-equipped baseline model at an affordable price but provided a litany of options that they could “buy on” such as powerful engines, transmissions that suited their needs, air-conditioning, radios with different capabilities and the like. This tactic followed through across Detroit with most of the vehicle builders offering youth-focused “pony cars” that were designed and offered in a similar vein to the Mustang.

HP have taken this approach when they launched the latest range of Pavilion x360 convertible 2-in-1 computers for this model year. Here, they offered the fold-over convertible computers in different screen sizes including the 15” variant which some would consider as too big for a tablet but big enough for a mainstream laptop. This may appeal for the common activity of viewing photos and video content on portable computers, but it could allow you to make best use of the touch-enabled apps and games which are filling up the Windows Store. This range would also come with differing colours like silver, gold, red, purple or blue

As for processors, there would be variants that have horsepower ranging from Intel Celeron to Intel Core i7. You can have your system with up to 8Gb RAM and up to 1Tb hard disk or 128Gb solid-state storage capacity. There are the expected features like 802.11ac Wi-Fi and B&O sound tuning and connectivity in the form of 3 USB sockets, SD card reader for your “digital film” and an HDMI video port.

The 15” model is being pitched as an alternative to the traditional mainstream 15” laptop that most students would end up with. As I have seen in the video clip, I see the newer HP Pavilion x360 being pitched also as an alternative to, guess what, the 15” Apple MacBook Pro especially when it comes to creative work or to be seen in the DJ booth at the trendiest nightclubs.

Send to Kindle

The 3.5mm digital-analogue audio socket is still relevant for today’s portable computing equipment

Laptops like the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 could benefit from a 3.5mm digital-analogue audio output jack for an audio connection

Laptops like the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 could benefit from a 3.5mm digital-analogue audio output jack for an audio connection

Increasingly, there has been the rise of portable audio equipment associated with computers and there are opportunities to exploit what this all about for better sound.

Most of this equipment is implementing a 3.5mm tip-ring-sleeve phone socket for analogue line-level audio input or output connections. This is because the socket type is considered to be a “low-profile” connection that allows the equipment to be designed to be slim and neat. The same connector even appeals to the traditional PC expansion cards where the socket can easily exist on the card’s bracket.

Sony MZ-R70 MiniDisc Walkman image courtesy of Pelle Sten (Flickr http://flickr.com/people/82976024@N00)

One of the Sony MiniDisc Walkmans that implemented a 3.5mm digital-analogue audio input jack

Some devices, namely video projectors use the 3.5mm phone jack for this purpose, whether as an input or an output while this connector is also used as a so-called ad-hoc “walk-up” audio input or output connection on amplifiers or stereo systems such as an auxiliary input. This exploits the ability associated with the “phone” sockets where they can survive being connected and disconnected repeatedly thanks to their original use on the old telephone switchboards.

Sony took this connection type further during the MiniDisc era by equipping some of the CD Walkmans with a line-out jack that also had an LED in it and equipping their MiniDisc Walkman recorders with a mic/line input jack that had a photodiode in this socket. Then the user would connect a fibre-optic cable with 3.5mm fibre-optic connections on each end to provide a digital link between the CD Walkman and the MiniDisc Walkman to digitally copy a CD to MD with the sound transferred in the SP/DIF digital domain.

Economy data projector with VGA input sockets

HDMI-equipped projectors could even exploit the 3.5mm digital-analogue output connection for use with sound systems that have a digital input

You would still be able to connect the portable device to a normally-sessile device like a digital amplifier by using an adaptor cable which had a Toslink plug on one end and a 3.5mm fibre-optic connection on the other end or use a Toslink-3.5mm adaptor with an existing Toslink fibre-optic cable.

A few other companies exploited this connection beyond the portable realm with Pace implementing it as a digital audio output on some of the cable-TV / satellite-TV set-top boxes. The set-top application implemented this connection just for the digital-audio application while the analogue audio connection was facilitated through the multiple-pin SCART connection.

This same single-socket connection could be easily implemented for a video projector that uses an HDMI input and a 3.5mm audio-output jack so you could have a digital connection to a sound system rather than an analogue audio link. This can also apply to laptop computers which are increasingly being purposed as party jukeboxes by younger people along with “mini-DJ” accessories pitched at iPod/iPhone users who want to play DJ.

Conversely, TVs and stereo systems could implement the same digital/analogue input for the auxiliary-input connection that is reserved on a TV for computer equipment or on the front of a stereo system for “walk-up” connection of portable digital-audio players.

As far as equipment design is concerned, the single socket for a SPDIF-optical-digital or analogue audio connection saves on designing and budgeting for two sockets if you want to facilitate both a digital and an analogue audio connection.  This is more important if the goal is to design equipment that has a low profile or is highly portable. The same approach can also appeal to providing for an ad-hoc digital/analogue input or output where the connection exists on an “as-needed” basis rather than a permanent basis.

Personally, I would like to see the 3.5mm digital-analogue audio jack that Sony valued during MiniDisc’s reign as something that can work with portable computing equipment, video projectors, smartphones and the like for transmitting audio in the SPDIF digital domain.

Send to Kindle

Using Bluetooth for wireless keyboards, mice and game controllers

Bluetooth could be the preferred way to go for all wireless keyboard and mice applications

Bluetooth could be the preferred way to go for all wireless keyboard and mice applications

A lot of wireless mice and keyboards offered at affordable prices and pitched for use with desktop computers are implementing a proprietary wireless setup which requires them to use a special USB transceiver dongle.

This is compared to some wireless mice, keyboards and games controllers that are offered for laptops and tablets where they have integral Bluetooth support. This is because the laptop and tablet computers are the main computers that come with Bluetooth on board. It is compared to desktops, mainly traditional “three-piece” desktops, that don’t have this feature and require the use of a USB Bluetooth dongle to gain Bluetooth connectivity.

Wireless mouse dongle

The typical easy-to-lose dongle that comes with most wireless mice

A reality that is coming crystal clear is that the laptop computer along with the all-in-one desktop computer is being seen as a viable alternative to the traditional “three-piece” desktop computer for one’s main computing device. This is underscored with laptops that are taken between work and home along with myself seeing quite a few computer setups where a laptop computer is hooked up to a traditional keyboard and mouse and one or two desktop-grade monitors. Some of these setups even run the laptop’s screen as part of a multi-screen setup.

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computer keyboard

Bluetooth shouldn’t just be for mobile keyboards

To the same extent, most of the “all-in-one” desktops are being equipped with Bluetooth functionality as a matter of course. This is more so where the goal is to compete with the Apple iMac range of “all-in-ones” or make this class of computer more impressive.

The Bluetooth advantage does away with the need to install a USB wireless dongle for that wireless keyboard or mouse or the risk of losing one of these dongles. For traditional desktop users, they can use and keep one Bluetooth dongle which works well if you want to move a Bluetooth keyboard and/or mouse between a secondary laptop and the desktop computer. Similarly the same Bluetooth dongle can support multiple devices like a keyboard, mouse, game controller and multipoint-capable Bluetooth headset.

The gap I am drawing attention to is the lack of traditional-sized keyboards, trackballs and mice fit for use with desktop computers, including novelty mice like the “model-car” mice, that work using Bluetooth. Manufacturers could offer a range of traditional-sized input devices that work with Bluetooth, preferably having Bluetooth LE (Smart) support, as part of their product ranges to cater for laptop-based and all-in-one-based personal computing setups.

Having Bluetooth LE (Smart) support would benefit this class of device because users shouldn’t need to be changing the peripherals’ batteries frequently which is something that can affect Bluetooth setups.

As well, there can be an effort towards improving responsiveness for Bluetooth keyboards, mice and games controllers to maintain Bluetooth’s appeal to the gaming community. Here, this would also be about working with other Bluetooth device clusters such as in a LAN-party environment where toe goal for gamers is to frag each other out rather than being “trampled on” by the enemy.

What really should be looked at is to standardise on Bluetooth as a way to wirelessly connect input devices like keyboards and mice to computer equipment.

Send to Kindle

USB.org to introduce authentication in to the USB Type-C platform

Article

The USB Type-C connection will now be able to be authenticated irrespective of vendor

The USB Type-C connection will now be able to be authenticated irrespective of vendor

New USB Type-C Authentication spec can stop faulty cables before they do damage | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

USB.org

Press Release (via BusinessWire)

My Comments

Increasingly the USB connection standard has shown up a need to verify or authenticate device connections on a hardware level. Initially Apple had engaged in this practice with their iOS devices that use the Lightning connector to make sure that properly licensed Lightning cables are used with these devices. But there have been other reasons that this kind of authentication is needed.

One of the reasons was the existence of fake charging devices that are typically installed in public locations. These espionage tools look like plug-in AC chargers or “charging bars”  but are really computing devices designed to harvest personal and corporate data from visitors’ smartphones and tablets. The mobile operating systems have been worked to address this problem whether through asking users what role the mobile device plays when it is connected to a host computing device or whether you trust the host device you connect your mobile device to it.

But there has also been concern raised about ultra-cheap USB Type-C cables, typically Type-A adaptor cables, that aren’t wired to standard and could place your laptop, smartphone or tablet at risk of damage. In this case, users want to be sure they are using good-quality properly-designed cables and power-supply equipment so that their devices aren’t at risk of damage.

The USB implementers Forum have established a connection-level authentication protocol for USB Type-C connections. This implements some of the authentication methods used by Apple for their Lightning connection to verify cables along with the ability to verify the devices that are on the other end of a USB Type-C connection.

For example, a traveller could rectify the “fake charger” situation by setting their mobile gadgets only to charge from certified USB Type-C chargers. Similarly, a business can use low-level authentication to verify and approve USB storage devices and modems to the computers under their control are connected to in order to prevent espionage and sabotage. Vehicle builders that supply software updates for their vehicles to rectify cyberattacks on vehicle control units can use this technique as part of their arsenal for authenticating any of these updates delivered to customers via USB sticks.

What needs to be established is that the USB interface chipsets installed on motherboards and other circuit boards need to be able to support this kind of authentication. Similarly, operating systems and device firmware would need to support the low-level authentication in order to reflect the user’s choice or company’s policy and communicate the status concerning USB Type-C devices properly to the end-user.

At least it is an industry-wide effort rather than a vendor-specific effort to verify and authenticate USB devices at the electrical-connection level rather than at higher levels.

Send to Kindle

Acer advances a Thunderbolt 3 graphics dock for their laptops

Article

Acer unveils its first external mobile GPU dock powered via Thunderbolt 3  | Neowin

My Comments

I had previously covered the issue of using Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 technology to facilitate the design and use of an external graphics module or dock for laptops. This idea was put forward by Sony with the VAIO Z-Series premium Ultrabook and by Alienware through the use of a “card-cage” dock that worked with some of their laptops.  Both these devices illustrated the possibility of allowing for improved graphics on portable or compact equipment, whether through a graphics module that has the graphics chipset integrated in its circuitry or a “card-cage” expansion module that allows you to install one or two desktop graphics cards in to that module.

But the Thunderbolt 3 technology which uses the USB Type-C connector as a physical connection has been known to have the same bandwidth as the PCI Express internal connection used to connect display cards to the motherboard in a regular computer. This appeals because there is no need to reinvent the wheel when designing an external-graphics-module solution for that portable-computing or low-profile computing product.

Now Acer have premiered a Thunderbolt 3 external graphics dock for their laptop products and had demonstrated it working with their Core-M-powered Switch 12.5 convertible laptop. This graphics module implements a NVIDIA GTX-960M graphics chipset in a small dedicated box and adds extra connectivity to the host laptop in the form of 3 extra USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port and the ability to connect to external displays via HDMI or 2 DisplayPort connections. It also exploits the USB 3.1 subsystem by providing the ability to power and charge the host laptop via the USB Type-C connection thanks to a DC power-supply connection on the graphics module itself.

This has been able to show real graphics performance benefits using the 3DMark II theoretical graphics benchmark where the Switch 12.5 came in at 940 on its own graphics chipset and on 4048 when used with this dock.  This device is the first of its kind to have a release price called for it with it costing around EUR€300, but there isn’t an estimated release date.

For Acer, it could be feasible for them to use the same external graphics docks across most, if not all, of their consumer and business laptop range that has the Thunderbolt 3 connection.

The question with the Thunderbolt 3 graphics-module application will arise is whether there will be the ability for one external graphics-module or card-cage module made by one manufacturer to work at their full potential with Thunderbolt-3-equipped laptops offered by other manufacturers.

If so, this could encourage computer manufacturers to use the Thunderbolt 3 technology on their portable, all-in-one or low-profile computers as a graphics-expansion option without needing to offer a graphics dock while computer-peripheral manufacturers can make external graphics solutions such as graphics expansion docks, desktop monitors with integrated graphics subsystems, and the like to work with other computers.

I see this concept appealing in a few ways:

  • An ultraportable computer being able to benefit from discrete graphics when used “at the desk” or “at home” thanks to an external graphics dock. This could open up the ability for a user to have one graphics dock at the office and another at home with these devices serving a “work-home-travel” computer.
  • The possibility of offering an affordable laptop or all-in-one desktop computer to most customers with the ability for these customers to expand their computer’s capabilities to suit their needs thanks to an external graphics module.
  • The ability for gaming-grade or workstation-grade computers that don’t offer much in the way of graphics-upgrade potential like laptops or all-in-ones to be upgraded to multiple-GPU performance and the latest graphics-processor technology thanks to an add-on graphics module or card-cage. In some ways, it could bring the separate-boxes “hi-fi approach” to the concept of improving personal computer equipment.

Once a level playing field is achieved regarding Thundberbolt 3 over USB Type C for graphics docks through the use of open standards, it can lead to the idea of allowing low-profile and portable computers to benefit from high-performance graphics.

Send to Kindle

Infocus ups the capacity for its Kangaroo mini-PC

Article

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

Previous Coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

InFocus Presents A PC As Big As A Smartphone

From the horse’s mouth

Infocus

Press Release

My Comments

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

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

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

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

Send to Kindle

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

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

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 press image courtesy of Microsoft USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send to Kindle

Consumer Electronics Show 2016–Part 1 Desktop and Mobile Computing

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

Desktop and Mobile Computing

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

The key trends

Windows 10 Start Menu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of what the brands offer

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

Acer Aspire Switch 12S convertible 2-in-1

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

Acer Travelmate P648 Business Notebook computer press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Acer Travelmate P648 Business Notebook computer

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

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

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

Acer Iconia Tab 8 family Android tablet with Kids’ Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HP Elitebook Folio laptop press picture courtesy of HP

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

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

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

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

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

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet family - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet with additional options

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

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

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook

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

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

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

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

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

Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 all-in-one business desktop

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

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

Lenovo ThinkPad T560 business notebook - press photo courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad T560 business notebook

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

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 notebook - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

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

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

Lenovo Yoga 900 - stand mode press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga 900 – now available as a Business Edition computer

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

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

Improved watchband hinge in the Lenovo Yoga 900S Series

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

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

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

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

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

Lenovo Y Series Razer Edition gaming desktop

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

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

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

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

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

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

LG Gram 15 laptop CES press shot courtesy of LG

LG Gram 15 laptop – how lightweight it is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Send to Kindle

A 13” traditional laptop found to tick the boxes

Article

Dell XPS 13 review: The best Windows laptop just got better | The Verge (Product Review)

My Comments

Dell XPS 13 negligable-bezel Ultrabook

Dell XPS 13 negligable-bezel Ultrabook

There are times where a product is identified as being able to “tick the desirable boxes” for a product of its class. Here, it has the right combination of build quality and functionality and the manufacturer performs incremental changes to that product when they evolve the model without destroying what it’s about.

One example that showed up in the mid 1980s were the mid-tier VHS video recorders that Panasonic offered to the PAL / SECAM (Europe, Australia, etc) markets through that era. The cost-effective front-loading video recorders “ticked the boxes” for essential “home-video-recorder” functionality such as an infra-red remote control which controlled the machine’s tape transport and changed the channels on the unit’s tuner. This function effectively “modernised” older and cheaper television sets instantly because you were able to change channels with the video recorder’s remote. For Australia, it also meant added UHF TV reception to the older TVs that could only pick up VHF TV channels through the use of a mechanical “click-click-click” rotary tuner. Their trick-play functionality had just the picture-search as well as a still-frame when in pause. But these machines still did the job for reliability and durability through their era, whether it came to playing many rented video movies, recording TV content or adding remote control to older TVs.

Another example that occurred in the mid-1990s, was a series of Sony hi-fi MiniDisc decks including the MDS-JE520. These provided functionality that exposed MiniDisc as a cost-effective record / edit / play format for community radio, drama groups, churches and allied user groups. These users benefited from the ability to edit their recordings in a non-linear method and label them as they see fit with the label text appearing on the machine’s display. But one function that appealed to this user base was the “auto-pause” function that stopped the deck at the end of a track while cuing up the next track. This gave these MiniDisc decks “playout” abilities where pre-recorded content can be played out on demand without it “running on” to the next item.

Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

Dell XPS 13 – when it first came about

But what these devices have is the ability for a manufacturer to provide essential functionality along with the desired performance and reliability at a price that is affordable for most people in the market for this kind of equipment. As well, the manufacturers were able to refresh the products with newer technology without losing sight of the original goal for that model and its positioning.

Dell has underscored these values with their XPS 13 range of 13.3” “portable-typewriter” laptop computers of the kind that would suit someone who does a lot of travelling or makes use of a café as a second office. I have reviewed a Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook when Dell first started this range of computers. These Ultrabooks were positioned not as “Yoga-style” 2-in-1s that can become a tablet but more as a traditional notebook computer. Nor were they intended to look like an Apple Macbook. Rather they were about the core functionality and the build quality they offered.

Each time Dell refreshed the XPS 13, they provided the technical improvements that were to really benefit the user experience rather than add unnecessary features. This included a very narrow bezel which allows for a smaller 13” notebook while touch-enabled variants were equipped with an Intel i7 processor. Of coures, the baseline models had the Intel i5 processor, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state drive which means that you have some room to grow while you have a highly-performing laptop thrifty on battery consumption.

What this is all about is to make a product that combines the right mix of features and specifications, the right build quality and be priced right for the users and keep it that way whenever the model is refreshed. Then the manufacturer could be on a winner.

Send to Kindle