HP joins with Bang & Olufsen for optimised notebook sound

Article

HP taps Bang & Olufsen for audio tech now that Apple has Beats | Engadget

HP Partnership With Apple’s Beats Officially Ends as HP Moves on to Bang & Olufsen | MacRumors

From the horse’s mouth

Bang & Olufsen

Press Release

Hewlett-Packard

Press Release

My Comments

B&O will start to appear in HP computers very soon

B&O will start to appear in HP computers very soon

Over the last many years, most of the Windows-based laptop manufacturers have been working with companies in the sound-recording and sound-reproduction space to improve the way these computers have sounded. This is whether through the integrated speakers or when they are connected to external speakers or headphones and was seen as a way to compete with Apple for music recording and reproduction.

The knowhow associated with this sound system will affect how the next HP laptop is designed

The knowhow associated with this sound system will affect how the next HP laptop is designed

As I have seen with the Hewlett-Packard laptops that I have reviewed, HP had partnered with Beats by Dr Dre, known for headphones and speakers with a very impressive bass response, to improve the sound from their laptops. But lately Apple bought out Beats and HP realised they couldn’t continue this partnership.

Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones

Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones

Bang & Olufsen has been well known for some very impressive hi-fi and video equipment, speakers, and audio accessories that are works of art in themselves for a long time.  For example, I had cited their single-piece music systems such as the Beocenter 7000 series, the Beocenter 9000 series and Beosound 9000 CD changer as being above their peers for sound quality even in their days.

They also have designed the ICEPower power-amplification modules to allow sound to be amplified by a compact device that is efficient with power and heat. Of course, B&O has related to a wide range of music from the classics through jazz and classic rock to current popular music and made their brand have that same kind of appeal as the Jaguar or Range Rover cars. This is where a premium brand like these isn’t just about being a status symbol, but is about enjoying the legendary expertise that the brand is all about.

But they have dabbled with sound tuning for ASUS, initially on a project basis but had applied the technology to a larger range of laptops under this brand.

So B&O have decided to pick up the mantle and offer the sound-tuning expertise to HP. This will also be about sharing the design expertise that is associated with how the Beomaster 1900 or Beosound Ouverture were designed. This includes preventing audio-noise sources like the power supply or other control circuitry from adding noise to the signal path.

Let’s not forget the way they have designed their speakers, headphones and similar equipment where they use a special cubic room for measuring the acoustic characteristics for the device they are designing. Here, this could lead towards being able to answer the question about how a laptop or tablet’s integrated sound system can be improved upon, making for a product that is more listenable.

The “Bang & Olufsen” brand will appear on the premium HP computers such as the Envy, Omen and Spectre lineups while the B&O Play lifestyle-focused brand will appear on the Pavilion computers, the tablets and accessories. Here, the B&O influence will affect HP computers that are being released through this year onwards.

I would see this partnership celebrate the expertise that both HP and B&O are about when it comes to their proficiencies rather than the bragging rights that is associated with a particular brand. Could that newer HP Envy or Omen complement that Beocenter?

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Product Review–Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible Ultrabook

Introduction

I am reviewing the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro which is Lenovo’s latest premium iteration of the Yoga Pro family of 360-degree “fold-over” convertible notebooks, one of which I have reviewed before as the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro. This still has the ability to work as a tablet or a laptop simply by you folding it over like a book or hinge.

Through the review, I had a good chance to write up the Consumer Electronics Show 2015 series of articles (1, 2, 3, 4) using this laptop and found it a good chance to test it as an on-road notebook especially with creating copy when out and about.

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

 

Price
– this configuration
RRP AUD$2099
Form Factor Convertible 360-degree “hinge”
Processor Intel Core M 5Y70
RAM 8Gb shared with graphics
Secondary storage 256Gb solid-state drive,
extra-cost: 512Gb solid-state drive
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD5300 integrated display
Screen 13.3” widescreen touchscreen (3200 x 1800) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD integrated audio
Network Wi-Fi 802.11ac 2×2 dual-band
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB 3.0 x 3
Video mini HDMI
Audio 3.5mm stereo input-output jack
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8.1

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook - Watch-band hinge

Watch-band hinge

One fieature that I would describe as the equivalent of the “pop up headlights” on a sports car is the watchband hinge. This works also as an effective heatsink which dissipates the heat that builds up at the top of the keyboard when the system is used. But it doesn’t compromise on how easy it is to switch between a tablet and a laptop.

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne - Viewer mode

Viewer mode

There is a distinctly tactile rubber surround around the keyboard that, at times could be a dirt trap. Otherwise it is a system that is easy to keep clean especially if your second office is your favourite café or bar.

User Interface

The keyboard is roomy enough for touch-typing like most 13” notebooks,but Lenovo needs to make the home keys easier to feel There is the proper tactile feedback while typing which allows you to type quickly and is even accurate even when I used the Yoga 3 Pro on my lap to type up some copy. It is also easy to clear dirt from around the keys which is something you would have to do if you have been munching on some food while typing up something on the Yoga at that “second office”.

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook - tablet mode

Tablet mode

The trackpad works as expected but could benefit from a switch to disable it if you are using an external pointing device

The touchscreen is responsive as expected but a few bugs with some Windows 7 software doesn’t make it behave with proper cursor location when using these programs.

Audio and Video

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook left hand side - 2 x USB 3.0 ports (including power inlet), micro HDMI port, SD card reader

Left hand side – 2 x USB 3.0 ports (including power inlet), micro HDMI port, SD card reader

There is the sharpness that is part of the high-resolution display but a lot of Windows software doesn’t exploit this capability properly. But it still works properly with most video content in that there isn’t any change with colour balance or saturation. As well, the display shows the images very smoothly which can come across for multimedia and games.

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook right had side - USB 3.0 socket, headphone jack, volume buttons, power switch

Right had side – USB 3.0 socket, headphone jack, volume buttons, power switch

Like a lot of notebook computers of its class, the sound quality will be compromised by the speakers integrated in the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. But it was able to come across properly with the sound that is expected for computers for its class.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook - Tent mode

Tent mode

There is a 256Gb solid-state storage device serving as the main secondary storage and the capacity is enough to allow you to have plenty of work on board when you are on the road. This is augmented by 3 USB 3.0 ports and an SD memory card drive with the USB ports being able to support

One of the USB 3.0 ports on the left side and is highlighted in yellow serves as a power input port for the supplied charger. This predates the USB Power Delivery specification which is being purposed for powering small “secondary-use” laptops but the setup used with the Yoga 3 Pro wouldn’t be compatible with newer equipment.

There is also an 3.5mm audio input / output jack as well as a mini HDMI port for connecting to external displays.

The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro has Wi-Fi that supports 802.11ac dual-stream but I don’t have access to a network that proves this new functionality. What I like of this is that it is ready for home networks that are tooled up with this new Wi-Fi technology. If you have to use it with Ethernet or HomePlug, you would need to purchase a USB-Ethernet adaptor, preferably a USB 3.0-Gigabit Ethernet adaptor or an expansion module (dock) that has this functionality.

Battery life

For day-to-day regular use, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro was able to run for a long time without needing to be charged. This may be a point of confusion for those of us who are used to charging notebook computers overnight and starting off with a full battery at the beginning of the day. But you can get away with running it one or two days of regular Web-browsing, email and typing-up without worrying about whether you have taken the charger with you.

Other usage notes

I have noticed that the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro’s convertible design and touchscreen user interface still impresses most people especially when they haven’t been exposed to this concept with laptop computers that are in circulation. One of the men in the church I go to was impressed by the “watch-band” hinge that this computer has, more as a sign of luxury and quality.

For a time, convertible notebooks of the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro’s league will remind me of a situation with a man that I once knew through the 1980s who worked in a car showroom that sold Japanese cars as part of its stock. This is where the high-end sports cars that had the features that awed and impressed people, but these were out of the range of most peoples’ budgets.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is expensive if Lenovo is to target it as a successor to the Yoga 2 Pro, but is the right price if they are to pitch it as the ultra-premium convertible laptop. They could keep this model as the lead model of a group of convertible notebooks.

Personally, I would like to see Lenovo use the Yoga 3 Pro as a leading model for a range of 11” and 13” “360-degree” convertibles pitched at either home users or business users. Here, some of the models can be positioned at prices that most of us can afford, but are still preserved as a secondary personal-computing device. This is because there is an interest in the idea of the convertible or detachable “2-in-1” laptop computer being considered as an alternative to the tablet or a secondary laptop.

Conclusion

I would position the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro as an option for a premium easy-to-use multifunction notebook that can serve well for those of us who do a lot of travelling on public transport. It is more so if you also appreciate the idea of a tablet being 13” which may appeal if you are showing something to two or more people.

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Microsoft to benefit convertibles, detachables and other multi-input computer setups

Article

How Continuum will work in Windows 10 | CNet

Windows 10 ‘Continuum’ mode for hybrid devices showed off by Microsoft (video) | PureInfoTech

Video

Click to play

My Comments

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - image-viewer view

Windows 10 will play properly with these computers what way you fold them

A problem that was often echoed with Windows 8 was the Start Screen and the Modern user interface that was optimised just for touch interfaces. This is although there are computing setups that can work between a touch interface and / or a regular mouse / keyboard interface.

These range from the so-called “2-in-1” computers of the Microsoft Surface, HP x2 and Lenovo Yoga i which can be known as convertibles or detachables and change between a regular laptop and a tablet, through people connecting keyboards and mice to tablets, including the “Adaptive All-In-One” computers of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ilk, to touchscreen-enabled regular laptops or regular desktop computers that are kitted out with touchscreen-capable monitors.

But Windows 8 didn’t perform well for the regular mouse / keyboard interface. Here, you didn’t have the “comfort zone” of the Start Menu or desktop interface elements most of us are used to for over the last 20 years of Windows-platform regular computing. Windows 8.1 performed a few upgrades to try to bridge the gap but Windows 10 has approached this more sincerely.

Here they have a new Start Menu that also has active Tiles for Windows Store apps and this can be “shoehorned” to suit your screen layout. It is also optimised for touch-enabled setups like a “2-in-1” set up as a laptop, a touch-screen-equipped regular laptop or a desktop computing setup equipped with a touch-enabled monitor. This is part of a desktop user experience optimised still for the keyboard and mouse.

But if you detach the keyboard from an HP x2 detachable, fold over a Lenovo Yoga or slide the keyboard under a Sony VAIO Duo, the display adapts to a full-screen-optimised “tablet” mode. The same thing happens if you turn off your Bluetooth keyboard and mouse that you have connected to your Windows tablet. This has a reduced clutter view and program selection is through the Start Screen “dashboard” that was par for the course on Windows 8. There is the ability to bring this on manually if you like to, at times, mouse around an uncluttered workspace or simply have that “dashboard view”.

At least the folks at Redmond have made the effort to cater for multiple-interface computer users, especially the 2-in-1 users or people who have touch-capable laptops. Let’s not forget that a touch-capable monitor for a desktop computer setup or a touch-enabled laptop doesn’t have to be considered an unnecessary luxury.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2015–Part 1–Personal Computing

No sooner than the Christmas shopping season is upon us that the hype machine for the Consumer Electronics Show starts to warm up. This is where the Internet is awash with rumours about what hot gadgets will be shown in Las Vegas during the first week of January.

This year, it is becoming the place to even show household appliances in a similar vein to what is happening in Europe when the Internationaler Funkaustellung takes place in Berlin during the first week of September. But certain technologies are being considered key drivers at this show such as more of 4K UHDTV including more content for this ultra-high-resolution technology, the Internet Of Everything being more pervasive with an increase in the number of gadgets that link to the Internet or our smartphones, along with highly-converged personal computing.

A key issue that will be worth remembering  through this year’s Consumer Electronics Show is how Sony has come out of its recent massive cyber-attack that nearly crippled Sony Pictures. The President of Sony Corporation, as part of the press conference, ran a speech about not caving in to that attack especially where it concerned “The Interview”. He was underscoring the key factors of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of association as being very important lifebloods and lifelines of Sony and their entertainment business. For me, it was very much like Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight On The Beaches” battle speech given to the UK Parliament on June 4 1940 during World War II with these memorable lines:

“…. we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…..

Personal Computing

It is hard to split apart the different classes of personal computing devices what with the “2-in-1” convertibles and detachables becoming a major part of manufacturers’ lineups while smaller tablets have the computing abilities of even low-end laptops. Some of these even run Windows or Android or even can boot between both operating systems. This is why I have classed them together as one heading because of the way the CES hype machine was coming up with these machines.

As well, it is coming to the point where a household will have multiple computer devices at different screen sizes and for different uses. For example a “2-in-1” convertible or detachable computer could serve as one’s highly-portable auxiliary computer whereas a 7”-8” tablet could become a personal reference device or a smartphone becomes your main communications device.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon press image - courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon – now refreshed with new hardware

An example of this is NVIDIA with their Tegra X1 ARM processor which is able to achieve a 1 teraflop throughput and work with 4K video at 60Hz. Sony had put in to the CES hype machine the idea of a 12” Android tablet that can work at 4K resolution.

Lenovo have refreshed most of their computer lineup like the Thinkpad X1 Carbon carbon-fibre-built Ultrabook. Their new equipment will be more slimline and there will be a new solid-state-drive-only Ultrabook in the form of the T450S. They have also built up a range of Ultrabook accessories that are designed to stack like Lego bricks such a an external battery pack, expansion module (docking station) and an external hard disk.

Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook press image courtesy of Dell

Dell XPS 13 negligable-bezel Ultrabook

Dell have released a negligable-bezel XPS 13 Ultrabook and an ultra-slim Venue 8 7000 coat-pocket Android tablet. This implements multiple-camera depth-sense technology along with, guess what, an OLED screen which I would expect to be a treat for your social-media pictures or what you took with your camera.

Toshiba Portégé Z20T detachable laptop press image courtesy of Toshiba

Toshiba Portégé Z20T detachable pitched at the business user

The “two-in-one” convertible or detachable computer is still alive with the Jide which is an 11” Surface-style tablet along with Toshiba’s Satellite Click Mini which is an 11” netbook-style detachable. Toshiba also released the Portégé Z20t which is a 12.5” 2-in-1 detachable pitched at the business user and is driven by the Intel Core M technology.

They are still pushing on with smartphones with Acer fielding the Liquid Z410 Android low-cost unit with 4.5” screen. Yezz is even pitching to the Windows Phone platform with the Billy S5 LTE model. The old dogs of consumer photography are vying for each other’s existence in the digital world through Kodak and Polaroid offering Android smartphones with Polaroid’s phone, a badge-engineered Oppo N1, known as the “Selfie” to court the selfie-taking craze. As well, ASUS have released the ZenFone Zoom which is the first smartphone to implement optical zoom in their rear camera. This Android phone also implements a 13-megapixel sensor and optical stabilisation on that camera.

LG G-Flex 2 curved Android smartphone - courtesy of LG

LG G-Flex 2 curved smartphone – to snap at Apple’s and Samsung’s heels

But the steal of the show is the LG G Flex 2 which is the first curved smartphone to get some real market traction. This sexy number implements a 5.5” Full HD OLED screen and is more durable than most flat phones. It is equipped with Gorilla Glass and a self-healing case that keeps looking anew. But it uses Snapdragon 810 64-bit horespower with 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage infinitely expandable by microSD cards. The camera implements laser-assisted auto focus and it runs Android 5 Lollipop. But do I see it knock Apple, HTC and Samsung off their perches when it comes to premium smartphones – if it becomes the next thing in cool.

In the next post, I will be looking at the trends for wearable technology and the Internet Of Everything

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FLAC studio-grade audio files to be supported by Windows 10

HP Elitebook 2560p playing through Naim DAC-V1 USB DAC

Windows 10 could allow this HP laptop and Naim USB DAC to handle FLAC files without extra software

Article

Windows 10 will play your .MKV and .FLAC files all on its own | Engadget

My Comments

As I have observed through the previous Australian Audio And AV Shows, there is increased interest in high-resolution file-based audio. Here, these studio-grade recordings or remasters of classic albums from the studio master tapes are being offered as a “download-to-own” digital audio option along with the regular CDs and MP3 files.

These files would be enjoyed either through a DLNA setup involving a network media player that can handle these files or a regular computer connected to a USB DAC (essentially a USB sound module) connected to the amplifier. But the latter scenario would typically require the use of add-on software and codecs to realise the FLAC audio files for the onboard or external digital-analogue conversion devices to turn in to amplifiable audio signals.

As part of many improvements to the operating system, Microsoft is integrating into Windows 10 the necessary software to decode these high-grade digital files. This is to avoid running a third-party codec pack that may be unstable or be part of a hasty download. Instead it is software that is effectively tuned to run with the operating system and play well with Windows Media Player.

Auralic Taurus control amplifier connected to Auralic Vega DAC

Auralic USB DAC – no extra software or codecs needed to handle FLAC files from Windows 10 onwards

For audio software developers who write for Windows, there isn’t a need to “reinvent the wheel” when catering to this high-quality codec for “download-to-own” digital audio. As well, it is an attempt to make the FLAC file become the “new MP3” file for distributing file-based audio content.

Personally, I would also like to see Microsoft write the necessary codec software to allow the creation of these files so as to take some work off the hands of anyone who is creating digital-audio-workstation software for Windows. It could increase the ability for Windows to become a highly-capable multimedia creation workhorse that is on a par or better than Apple.

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Game On HP!

Article

HP Just Built A Gaming Laptop Seriously | Gizmodo Australia

My Comments

With the arrival of the Razer Blade gaming laptop and Dell answering this model with their Alienware gaming laptops, things were starting to look up for this class of computer.

Now HP have joined in the gaming-laptop frag-fest by presenting the Omen series of 15” gaming laptops. This was based around HP originally taking over Voodoo who were floundering when the concept of gaming in a laptop form factor didn’t catch on. This machine takes on what Voodoo was about but places it under a popular computing brand name. Another factor that underscores this computer is the fact that HP have built the ZBook series of mobile workstations, including the ZBook 14 “Workstation Ultrabook” where there is emphasis on graphics performance.

Here, the computer, like the Razer Blade and the Alienware computers, is designed for portability yet has the performance abilities like the Intel i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and mid-tier NVIDIA graphics. HP have also tackled the cooling issue to enable the graphics subsystem to have that bit of extra “pep”. This will work at a more realistic 1080p Full-HD resolution and has a Mini Display port and a regular HDMI connection so you can plug it in to that flat-screen TV or that high-end computer monitor for full-on gaming.

Even the keyboard has gaming credentials such as RGB illumination and programmable keys. There is also a large trackpad to provide more responsive gaming. There are variants of the Omen with 4Gb display RAM and 16Gb system RAM along with solid-state disks for quicker performance options.

A good question to raise is whether other companies who make laptop computers will create or build out their high-performance product ranges that are pitched at games or advanced graphics users? It also includes whether these classes of computer would work well not just for performance but for reliability as well

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Why is that program failing to start?

Just recently, I was talking with a friend from the church that I go to and she was telling me that iTunes for Windows was failing to start on her computer. This happened after Apple rolled out an update for that music management system which also works as a bridge to one’s iPhone or iPad.

What I suggested for her to do in this case was to use Windows Control Panel to uninstall the software, then to visit Apple’s Website to reinstall iTunes. She thought that she would lose her music library and other settings associated with the program but, after she reinstalled iTunes as I had suggested, the program worked properly and she had access to her music library.

Most software programs rely on many different library and support files for them to work properly and these are typically delivered as part of an installation or software-update routine. But all it takes is the main executable file or one of these files to be corrupted and not carrying expected data for the program to fail to start or to run abnormally and slowly. As well, an increasing amount of software is dependent on resources held by other programs for it to perform certain functions.

How could these files be corrupted especially after an update? They can be corrupted by glitches in an Internet or network connection as the file is drawn down from the download server. Similarly, a hard disk may be starting to “lose it” and carry corrupted data especially as it becomes more fragmented and full of different data and this happens more as an update procedure substitutes older runtime files for newer files which may be larger or loads extra runtime files.

But a complete uninstall and reinstall routine allows the program to reconstruct all of its files that it needs to work with and rebuild all of the data associated with its settings that affect how it runs.

In some cases, identifying a program that is failing to start or affecting other programs and performing a complete uninstall / reinstall routine on that program may fix these problems. As well, it can cause a program to run more smoothly and quickly.

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Lenovo puts fresh blood in to the Yoga lineup

Articles

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Successors to come to the Lenovo Yoga lineup

Lenovo Refreshes Yoga Series with New Laptops and Tablets | Tom’s Guide

Lenovo’s New Yoga Laptop And Tablets Are All About Touch | Gizmodo

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 range

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 targets both Windows and Android | Mashable

Lenovo Announces 8- and 10-inch Yoga Tablet 2 for Windows and Android | Laptop Mag

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro Wants to Be Your Tablet and Big Screen TV | Mashable

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is Thinner and Lighter with Adaptive Software | Laptop Mag

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 Makes Business Flexible | Laptop Mag

My Comments

There has been so much doubt in the concept of the convertible notebook but Lenovo is one of a few who are keeping it alive in the form of the Yoga lineup. This is a lineup of 360-degree convertible computers that fold over on their back to become either a laptop, tablet or something in between.

Recently, I reviewed the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and found that this 13” convertible was capable and able to do many different tasks, whether creating new written content, playing basic games, browsing the Web or watching video content. As well, Lenovo had run some “Yoga Tablets” which had a kickstand which worked in a similar way to how the Yoga laptops worked.

Lenovo has refreshed the Yoga Tablets by adding variants which are delivered with Windows 8.1. These use Intel Atom quad-core “classic microarchitecture” horsepower and work with 2Gb RAM. Their network connectivity is primarily the 802.11n Wi-Fi but some market-specific variants will come with 4G wireless broadband. Secondary storage is in the form of 16Gb SSD for Android variants or 32Gb SSD for Windows variants with add-on storage in the form of a microSD slot. They will come in the choice of an 8” or 10” screen for each operating system. One feature that Lenovo had integrated was a hole in the kickstand to allow it to hang from something like a cup hook in the kitchen.

They also fielded the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro which is the largest Android tablet, clocking in at 13.3”. This also has an integrated pico projector which can comfortably throw a 50” image and has an 8-watt sound system with an integrated bass driver, a feature being pitched at consumer or business use. But its hardware abilities are similar to the Yoga Tablet 2 which has the Atom processor working with 2Gb RAM, along with 32Gb SSD storage and add-on storage abilities courtesy of a microUSB “On The Go” port and a microSD card slot.

The Yoga 3 Pro has an aluminium chassis and a hinge similar to how a metal watchband is constructed. This is to make it easier to fold this 360-degree convertible between a tablet or a laptop or anything in between. It is slimmer than the Yoga 2 Pro and has that same 13.3” screen but the resolution clocks in at 3200×1800 pixels fulfilled by an integrated-graphics subsystem. It runs with Intel Core M-70 horsepower and can work with 8Gb RAM. As well, the maximum storage available is 256Gb SSD like the Yoga 2 Pro review sample along with a “4-in-one” memory card reader. There is the similar connectivity to the Yoga 2 Pro, including 2 USB 3.0 ports, a microHDMI port, a headphone/microphone audio jack as well as a power socket that can become a USB 2.0 port. It runs Windows 8.1 but also comes with Lenovo Harmony software that optimises it for the task in hand.

Business users who like the “work-home” laptop need not fret that they are being left out in the cold. This is because Lenovo have fielded the ThinkPad Yoga 14 which has the Yoga 360-degree convertible abilities but has the ThinkPad credentials like the excellent keyboard, thumbstick and a long battery life. This comes with a 14” Full-HD screen that is serviced with NVIDIA GeForce GTX840M discrete graphics. It has the latest generation Core i5 processor and can work with 8Gb RAM. For secondary storage, it comes with a 1Tb hard disk and has most of the same connectivity as the Yoga 3 Pro, except for a full-size HDMI port.

What I see of this is that Lenovo won’t give up easily on the convertible notebook computer even though a lot of naysayers are running the line that the computing world is just tablets, especially the iPad.

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5-Year Special: Portable Computing is Mainstream

5 Years Special iconThis is the first of a series of posts to celebrate the last five years of the connected lifestyle which has been covered on this Website.

Laptops

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible Ultrabook

Over the last five years, the 15”-17” clamshell-style laptop computer has overtaken the traditional “tower-style” desktop computer as become the preferred computer style for most households.

There are even users, some of whom I know, who will operate these computers in conjunction with an external screen, keyboard and mouse for their primary office-based computing locations while being able to use just its built-in screen, keyboard and mouse for computing while “on-the-road”. In other cases, the laptop bas brought with it the appeal of the dining table or kitchen bench rather than a home office or a desk in the corner of the family room as a workspace due to the ability to stow it away when you are using that space for other activities like meals.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – an example of a mobile workstation

With this class of computer, there has been the rise of “workstation-grade” and “gamer-grade” laptops that are tuned for increased performance, especially with graphics-intensive tasks or even “full-on” games. This has also displaced the desktop workstation computer or “gaming-rig” for these applications and allowed for increased portability when dealing with CAD, multimedia or games.

Windows 8 with its tile-based “Modern” user interface has legitimised the touchscreen as a control surface for the computer and has opened up a plethora of touchscreen-enabled laptop designs. For example, the Sony VAIO Fit 15a that I reviewed last year underscored the concept of adding touch abilities to a 15” mainstream laptop even as I let a friend who works in enterprise IT play with this machine when I had visited him.

This has also led to the arrival of convertible and detachable computer designs that switch between a traditional laptop design and a tablet design. There are even these convertibles that have 13” or, in some cases, 15” screens which may be considered too large for tablet use by one person but are the right size for creating content. In some cases, this size can appeal to those of us who want to let another person have a look at the same content.

The trend has led to a fusion of regular desktop-style computing and mobile computing with some laptops running Android whether standalone or on a dual-boot method. As well, some small tablets are being sold with Windows 8.1 as an operating system and it is being harder to differentiate between mobile and regular-grade computing capabilities.

Mobile computing

One main trend over the past five years has been the arrival of platform-based mobile computing, which was commercialised by Apple with their iPhone platform.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – an up-and-coming Android smartphone

It is where devices like mobile phones and tablets are built around an operating system which has many third-party programmers writing software for these devices. Typically the software is supplied through “app-stores” operated by the company who develops the mobile-computing platform and these “app-stores” are typically one-touch away from the user. The software, which is referred to as “apps”, typically ranges from productivity software like email clients or note-taking software, through utility programs like calculators or unit converters, and mobile front-ends for online services to games for whiling away those train journeys.

Google Play Android app store

Google Play Android app store

If the programmer wants to monetise their creation, they have the ability to sell it through that app-store which has an integrated e-commerce setup, sell modules for that software through “in-app purchasing” where the user can buy the option within the app’s user interface but via the app-store’s storefront or make use of an in-app display advertising setup.

Some of these app-stores or the apps available in them provide access to content-retail services where you could buy music, audiobooks, e-books and videos to enjoy through your device. For example, the e-book has appealed mainly to women who like to read romance fiction without that “tut-tut-tut” from other people about what they are reading.

The performance calbre of these mobile-computing devices is approaching that of the regular computing devices, especially when it comes to playing hardcore games or watching multimedia content. Here, we are seeing mobile devices being equipped with 64-bit ARM-microarchitecture RISC processor units or some Android devices being equipped with IA-64 microarchitecture chips similar to what most laptops are equipped with.

Smartphones

These devices have changed since the arrival of the iPhone with customers being spoilt for choice in device capabilities, operating systems and even screen sizes.

Firstly, you can purchase smartphones with a screen size of up to 6 inches and these are the same size as an advanced-function pocket calculator such as a scientific or financial type. As well, some of the premium smartphones, especially those from the Samsung stable, even implement the OLED display which is a different self-illuminating display technology to the LCD display which requires LED backlighting to illuminate it.

As well, there are smartphones that run Android or Windows Phone operating systems available from many different manufactures. For that matter, the smartphones that are considered “cream of the crop” nowadays are most of the newer Android phones made by Samsung, Sony or HTC.

Tablets

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tablet

Toshiba AT1S0 7″ Android tablet

The mobile tablet has been made commercially viable thanks to Apple with their iPad lineup. Here, we are now seeing tablets at various different price ranges and screen sizes courtesy if intense competition. Some of these units, when paired with a Bluetooth or USB keyboard have been able to become a viable alternative to “netbook-size” small laptops.

Firstly, I had seen the arrival of the 7”-8” mini-tablet that could be stuffed in to one’s coat pocket. These have appealed as units that can be useful for reference-type applications when you are out and about and have effectively displaced the e-reader as a device.

Secondly, the 10” tablet has become more of a household content-consumption device especially with video but also has served some basic computing tasks like checking email or Web browsing. Apple and Samsung have raised the bar for this product class by improving the display calibre with the former using a high-resolution “Retina” display on their 3rd-generation iPad lineup and the latter offering an AMOLED display on a 10″ mobile tablet.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10" tablet - Press Photo courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10″ tablet

But, as I said earlier, the tablet and laptop are bridging together as a portable computing solution. This has been brought about with the convertible and detachable computers that can be a tablet one moment or a laptop another moment. Similarly, Intel and Microsoft have pushed the classic desktop microarchitecture and Windows 8 in to the field of the small-sized tablets with chipsets optimised for portable computing and the availability of Windows 8.1 for free with small-screen tablets.

Moble-Platform apps

The mobile platforms have seen a cottage industry of developers write programs or “apps” for these devices that can fit in with our lifestyle. Some of these apps have become mobile “on-ramps” to various online content services like social networks. As well, the e-reader has been displaced by the “e-bookstore” apps written for the mobile platforms so one can use a tablet or smartphone for reading whatever they want to read without worrying.

Recent controversies have arisen regarding how these apps are sold such as the issue of “in-app” sales of downloadable content or virtual currency for games that appeal to children or ad-funded apps that may host advertising that “commercialises” childhood like the sale of toys or junk food. As well there have been issues raised about the quality of apps sold through the app stores with computing “old-timers” relating them to the download sites, bulletin boards and magazine-attached disks of yore.

Wi-Fi an important part of the home network

For that matter, the most important feature of any network, including a home network, is a Wi-Fi wireless-network segment. This has enabled us to do more around the house with laptops, tablets and smartphones yet use cost-effective fixed broadband Internet.

These networks have increased in speed and security courtesy of newer technologies like 802.11n, 802.11ac and use of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The setup procedure has been simplified for these networks courtesy of WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” setup and the upcoming NFC “touch-to-connect” setup technologies.

Increasingly more networked devices are being designed to work primarily or solely with the Wi-Fi network segment because of the “no new wires” concept that this technology provides. This technology also appeals to the mass-market retailer as an easily-saleable “backbone” for the home network even though there are issues with the radio-network performance.

Mi-Fi devices and the portable Wi-Fi network

Another class of device that is becoming popular is the “Mi-Fi” router which is a portable battery-operated Wi-Fi router for a mobile broadband service. These have appealed to those of us who use temporary network setups with Wi-Fi-only tablets and laptops or simply want to run a mobile-only communications setup.

This has also extended to the arrival of portable NAS units that work as extra storage for smartphones, tablets and laptop computers but work as their own access points for these devices. Manufacturers are even pitching them as a way to store video content on the mobile NAS unit and having people like children view the content on their tablets via the small network that is created by these devices.

The next part of this 5th-anniversary series will liook at the concept of “connected” communications and entertainment and how the home network is playing a strong part in these activities.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2014–Part 1

IFA LogoThe Internationaler Funkaustellung trade fair that happens in Berlin is seen as a launch point for consumer electronics and home appliances being sold primarily in to the European market but also covering to some extent the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Ocieania markets. Typically what is launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas during January may be premiered in Europe during this show.

Personal and home computing

Laptops, notebooks and tablets

ASUS Eeebook X205TA 11" notebook courtesy of ASUS

ASUS Eeebook X205TA – an example of the new cheap Windows notebooks that are appearing

There are two main trends affecting the laptop computer and tablet computer here that you couldn’t really have them as separate product classes. One is an increased proliferation of the detachable and convertible classes of products that become either tablets or laptop computers at any one moment. The other is the available of 11” Windows notebook computers at really low prices to compete with the Chromebook products that run the Google ChromeOS operating system.

As far as the cheap-end laptop is concerned, ASUS, HP and others have been pushing products in this class with ASUS drawing on the EeePC “netbook” heritage with their specimen that has an 11.6” screen, an Intel Bay Trail Atom processor, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb solid-state storage.

Toshiba Satellite Click 2 Pro detachable notebook press image courtesy of Toshiba

Toshiba Satellite Click 2 Pro detachable notebook

The convertibles and detachables are coming strongly in the 13” screen size with Toshiba fielding the Satellite Click 2 Pro P30W detachable Ultrabook and the Dell Latitude 13 7000 for the detachable form factor. Acer have shown up with a 13” “flip-down” convertible in the form of the Aspire R13. The 13” screen size is still perceived as a size to keep with this product class because of a larger screen that can be good as a large “sharable” tablet and the keyboard comfortably large enough for typing up large chunks of copy while you deal with a compact portable computer.

Other trends affecting this space include laptops having 4K UHDTV resolution screens which have been brought on by the concept of the Apple Retina display in the MacBook lineup. This is making the concept of high-dot-per-inch displays become the norm in this class of computer which will put pressure on software developers and Webmasters to cater to these screens.

An example of this is the Toshiba Kira 102 13.3” Ultrabook which sports an Intel i7 processor and 256Gb SSD along with a touchscreen resolution of 2560×1440. Let’s not forget that Toshiba were refreshing the popular Satellite L Series of 15” and 17” laptops with them having either Intel or AMD processors.

The tablets are becoming available either as Windows 8.1 units or as Android 4.4 KitKat units. Here, I have had to class tablets with the laptops because they are being positioned as a competitor to the small laptop as a personal computing device although some people could position them more as media-consumption devices. This has been made easier with Microsoft licensing Windows 8.1 at no cost for the small tablet devices.

As well, it was a time when Microsoft was premiering the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet but, really a detachable notebook. Samsung has used this show to promote the Galaxy Tab S which is the first tablet to implement an OLED screen, causing it to be more lightweight as well as show pictures with increased contrast and brilliance.

Sony used this show to premiere the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact which is their “coat-pocket” tablet. As well, they have premiered their PocketBook Android-driven e-ink readers which also includes a 13” model that is pitched at CAD and architectural use. This one also is able to connect to a computer to serve as a Wacom-compliant graphics tablet.  Thomson fielded the THBK-1-1- which is capable of booting between Android or Windows 8.1. Acer was also running a Windows-based 8” tablet in the form of the Atom-powered Iconia Tab 8W.

Peripherals

As for desktop monitors, the 4K resolution is appearing in the premium end of this product class. LG fielded a curved ultrawide 4K unit with a 34” 21:9  screen, along with the 31” Digital Cinema 4K monitor and a 24” gamer-grade monitor.

Smartphones

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge press image courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge – a new trend for smartphone displays with the wraparound display

The key trends for the smartphones include moving towards the 5”-6” 16:9 screen size with the display size hitting the golden maximum for the product class. This is where the product is similar in size to a larger highly-functional pocket calculator where it has a large screen yet it is comfortable to hold in one hand and operate with the other. It has been underscored by the so-called “phablet” class of smartphone with the large 6” displays and having that “golden maximum”.

We are also seeing more stylish designs for the premium models along with upscaling of the devices’ processor, camera and similar abilities.

Samsung were pushing their premium Galaxy line at this show. The headline products were the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini and Galaxy Note Edge with screen edges that wrap over side of phone and exposes software-determined options,

Alcatel were exhibiting their One Touch smartphone which uses e-ink as a battery-saving display technology. HTC also exhibited the Desire 820 which was the first Android smartphone to implement a 64-bit ARM processor. This may impact software development for the Android platform because of a requirement to compile 64-bit packages of the apps to take full advantage of this processor’s abilities.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – the latest iteration of the phone that started the phablet phenomenon

Companies that are normally dormant when it comes to handheld devices are surfacing with smartphone products of their own. Examples of these include Acer launching their “Leap” smartphone range along with Lenovo launching their Vibe smartphones with some of the products being pitched at the “selfie” culture.

The phablets are emerging in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which is the latest iteration of the Galaxy Note lineup that opened up this product class. Sony answered with the Z3 product range while LG fielded the G3 Stylus 5.5” Android phablet.

As for the emerging markets, Technisat were promoting a dual-SIM Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean smartphone with Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth and FM radio. This runs on a 1500mAH battery with 512Mb RAM and 4Gb main storage at EUR€115.99. LG were running the L Fino and L Bello 3G smartphones for these markets.

The home network

Two main trends that are affecting connectivity on the home network are 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless connectivity and HomePlug AV2 MIMO powerline connectivity.

More of the current-issue broadband routers are being equipped with 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity with more concurrent wireless streams this allowing for increa

Devolo dLAN 1200+ HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor press picture courtesy of Devolo

Devolo dLAN 1200+ HomePlug AV2 MIMO adaptor (Continental Schuko plug)

sed Wi-Fi throughput. For that matter, we are seeing such equipment in the order of the AC1900 specification with three radio streams.

Examples of this include TP-Link’s Archer C9 performance broadband router and the NETGEAR NightHawk X4 with the four-stream AC2350 802.11ac Wi-Fi.  As well, TP-Link also fielded the RE200 AC750 dual-band wireless range extender.

As for HomePlug AV2 with its MIMO abilities, Devolo have released their kit for this specification as the dLAN 1200+ which requires the power outlets to be compliant to the Continental “Schuko” plugs at each end of the connection. These have a filtered Continental “Schuko” mains socket in them so you don’t forfeit the AC socket you used for your HomePlug AV2 connection, along with a Gigabit Ethernet socket for your network connection. There are even plans for Devolo to release local-specific variants of this kit for other European countries like UK and France. TP-Link are fielding the PA8030 HomePlug AV2 SISO (two-wire) adaptor which has a Gigabit 3-port Ethernet switch.

There have been a few “Mi-Fi” routers with 4G LTE WAN technology at the IFA 2014. One of these is the NETGEAR Aircard 785 Hotspot which also has a dual-band Wi-Fi LAN connection. TP-Link has fielded a the M7350 Mi-Fi which also works as an SD-card file server.

In the next part of the series, I will be covering the consumer AV technology, the wearables and home appliances technologies.

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