It could be touch-to-connect for Wi-Fi devices very soon

Article

WiFi Alliance adds support for NFC | NFC World

My Comments

Two “quick-setup” features that I have liked are coming together very shortly for wireless routers and network-enabled devices. These features are being exploited by device manufacturers who want to be part of the level playing field and desire to see innovation.

One of these features is the WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” functionality where you invoke a WPS setup option on a client device you want to enrol then press the WPS button on your wireless router to “enrol” your client device in to your home network’s Wi-Fi segment. This feature has made it easier to bring new Windows  7/8 computers, Android mobile devices amongst most other Wi-Fi-capable devices in to a home network without having to transcribe in long WPA-PSK passphrases. I even set up one multiple-access-point network to allow this to happen on both access-point devices when I was fixing up network-connectivity issues. Similarly, I was pleased with a TP-Link TL-WPA4220 HomePlug wireless access point that used “Wi-Fi Clone” to learn network parameters from an existing Wi-Fi network segment at the push of a WPS button so it can be quickly set up as an extension access point.

Another feature that I am pleased about is NFC-based Bluetooth pairing. This is primarily used on most Sony Bluetooth-capable devices but other manufacturers are increasingly enabling it. It allows you to touch your phone or computer to the Bluetooth-capable device to instantly pair and connect both these devices. When I bought the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headset adaptor with FM radio, it didn’t take me long to “get going” with this device because I simply touched my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Android phone to it to achieve this goal.

Now the Wi-Fi Alliance have merged both technologies and defined NFC “touch-and-go” setup as part of WPS-based wireless network setup standards. This functionality was seen as part of a “long-tail” vision for the WPS secure-network-setup standards with routers having to support the PIN-based and “push-to-go” methods. They defined a framework based around certain access-point and client chipsets including the Google Nexus 10 Android tablet. For that matter, Android, Linux and Windows 7/8 users could find this functionality either as a small app or “baked in” to an operating-system update.

This is another innovative step that will assure quick setup for Windows and Android devices with small-network Wi-Fi segments especially as most of the recent crop of these devices are equipped with NFC “touch-and-go” functionality and Wi-Fi connectivity.

Send to Kindle

Print This Post Print This Post

Convertible or detachable–where to go?

You are not really keen on keeping a separate laptop for creating content and a separate tablet for casual browsing. But there are portable computers that can become a regular clamshell-style laptop; or a touchscreen tablet at a moment’s notice.

Typically these will run the “open-frame” operating systems such as Microsoft Windows 8 or, in the case of most smaller 10” variants, Android with some newer varieties moving towards being able to boot from either operating system or run Android as a separate virtual machine..

Why own a convertible or detachable?

HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computer

One of the HP X2 series detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computers

These portable computers are optimised for both content consumption and creation. Here, they work as a tablet to use for reading in bed or on the couch, or they can become a laptop for frequent text-entry work such as using Google / Bing frequently to look for concepts, creating emails of any length, or amending notes for your speech, typing up documents “on the go”.

A person who values the idea of separate devices may stand for the idea of particular screen sizes and operating platforms being perfect for particular tasks. For example, a 10” tablet such as the popular Apple iPad family may work well for reading while a 13”-15” laptop may work well for writing up material and performing “larger tasks”.

Some people even couple a tablet with a USB or Bluetooth accessory keyboard typically in the form of a device cover that has an integrated keyboard and works as a stand for the device. This is seen as a cheaper path to a “combined-device” concept and may be seen as whether it is the path to go for your portable computing needs.

Screen sizes and what they are good for

HP X2 detachable tablet as a tablet

HP X2 detachable tablet as a tablet

Most manufacturers have units with either 10”-11” screens or 13”-14” screens in their convertible and detachable product lineups with most of these products with the 10”-11” screens.

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible notebook

The 10”-11″ units will work well for short bursts of text entry such as searching for information, short email replies, a few Social Web entries at a time, or amending speech notes before / after your speech. This is while they work well as a tablet screen size that suits most users. Some of you may value these units if you are typing up notes during a presentation because they don’t cramp you in between the seating rows.

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet - Right-hand-side view - 2 USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI port

Sony VAIO Duo 11 as a tablet

The 13″-14″ units work better for longer periods of text entry such as creating documents or writing down heaps of notes. The larger screen can also earn its keep if you are browsing Web sites, or viewing pictures and videos alongside someone else like your significant other frequently.

15” convertibles like the Acer Aspire R7 or the Sony VAIO Fit 13a may also appeal to those of us who like the large screen for both typing up content and browsing. This may also allow you to see the detail more easily but they won’t be as portable as the 13”-14” varieties.

Detachable tablets

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Sony VAIO Fit 13a 13″ convertible laptop

These computers like the HP x2 family, the ASUS Transformer family and Microsoft’s Surface family, also known as hybrid tablets, have a keyboard that unclips from the tablet itself.

The computing power, memory and main secondary storage  in these detachables is housed within the tablet like what is expected for a typical tablet. But the detachable keyboards contain some extra functions like supplementary storage space, a high-capacity battery and extra connections like more USB ports. Some of these computers may use a microSD card slot in the tablet itself and a standard SD card slot in the keyboard and this would require you to use the keyboard if you are “developing” those pictures from your digital camera’s “film roll” on your detachable tablet.

They appeal to those of us who value carrying around the lightweight tablet and reading material from it more.

Convertible notebooks

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga convertible notebooks

The convertible notebooks have a mechanical arrangement where you can fold, swivel or slide the screen to switch between a tablet computer or a clamshell-style laptop computer.

These would appeal to those of us who want a readily-accessible keyboard and don’t place emphasis on the lightweight tablet. Like the regular laptop, they have their connectivity, functionality and battery runtime as a known quantity and there is less of a likelihood of you losing the detachable keyboard.

Different convertible styles

Sliders

These computers, like the Sony VAIO Duo family, have the keyboard slide out from behind the screen with the screen coming up at a particular angle.

Typically most of these work at a fixed angle when they become a laptop and are worth their salt if you value a computer that, when used as a laptop, doesn’t have a larger footprint.

Swivel-head

Lenovo ThinkPad Twist convertible notebook courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad Twist convertible notebook

This type of convertible computer was considered the “original” convertible laptop when Microsoft launched Windows XP Tablet Edition and brought on the idea of pen-based computing for the Windows platform. They have the screen swivel 180 degrees vertically to become a laptop or tablet. A current example of this is the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist which is pitched at the business user.

Flip-screen

This style has the screen flipping horizontally between a front view or a rear view with the display rotated accordingly. These will have the screen either on a small hinged support like the Sony VAIO Fit 13a or the Acer Aspire R7; or in a frame like the Dell XPS 12.

360-degree hinged lid

Another type of convertible notebook, popularised by Lenovo under the Yoga name, is the 360-degree hinged lid. These computers which are like regular laptops have the lid swing from a closed position to the back of the computer’s case. Once you have folded the lid out all of the way, you turn the computer over for it to become a tablet.

The disadvantage with this style is that the keyboard is exposed to dirt when the computer is set up as a tablet, which can limit its useful as a tablet in areas where you may be eating or drinking.

Choosing the right convertible style

Each convertible style suits particular users and scenarios. These depend on how easy they are to switch between the different setups, what usage environment they work well with

The swivel-head, flip-screen or 360-degree lid may appeal to those of us who want to place the screen at an angle for viewing photos and videos when the machine is resting on a table. A swivel-head or 360-degree lid may appeal to those of you who may have dexterity problems or find operating some mechanisms difficult.

A slider unit or some flip-screens like the Acer Aspire R7 may appeal to those of us who want to expose the keyboard without taking up too much room when you do this. An example of this may be a public speaker who needs to quickly amend notes for their speech at the lectern using the regular keyboard rather than picking around on the touch keyboard.

Conclusion

If you are thinking of having one touch-enabled portable computer to use as a tablet or a laptop / notebook computer, I would suggest that a detachable would work well for those of you who value the lightweight tablet or a convertible for most usage scenarios.

It is also worth considering the convertible notebook or detachable-keyboard tablet as a valid option for your portable-computing needs especially if you see yourself typing up material.

Send to Kindle

Print This Post Print This Post

Dell brings in another cost-effective mobile workstation

Article

Dell thuds down low-cost lap workstation for cheap frugal creatives or engineers | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Dell USA

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USAThere have been a few Windows-based laptop-style workstation-grade computers that have been released over the past few years, especially by HP and Dell. But Dell have been pushing the price of this class of computer downwards but kept the performance up.

The Dell Precision M2800 is a 15” mobile workstation that uses Intel i5 or i7 horsepower but implements AMD FirePro W4170M graphics circuitry with 2Gb display RAM. It could come with up to 16Gb RAM and 1Tb hard disk capacity in the inimitable way that Dell allows you to customise your computer to suit your needs. Of course there is the multi-monitor support where you could jack in an extra screen on the side for that true multi-screen look.

The workstation starts at a cost of US$1199 and is one that could be suitable as a “work-home” unit for the engineer, architect or content-creator who wants to work on their project at home or the office. Similarly, this price point and form factor could also appeal to students and others who are starting out in the trades that call for workstation-class computing especially where one’s own space may not be all that big.

Could we still see the “mobile workstation” still appear as a viable computer class even though there is work towards virtualising high-performance workstations using server capacity? I would see this class of computer appeal to freelancers who want to have control over their data and be able to take it between their office, their home and on the road.

Oh yeah, could I also see these Dell Precision workstations also appeal to the “core” gamers who would like to see the idea of playing the big games wherever they can play them?

Send to Kindle

Print This Post Print This Post

Coming to your TV screens soon: A Microsoft ad pitching the Adaptive All-In-One at women

Article

Microsoft: Finally, a PC for All Your Lady Stuff (Weddings, Pinterest) | Gizmodo

YouTube clip of commercial (click to play)

My Comments

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer

Sony VAIO Tap 20 – an example of an “Adaptive All-In-One” computer

Microsoft is becoming more aggressive at pitching the Windows-capable touchscreen-enabled computer at more user types. One user class that is being pitched at is the woman who is planning for that big occasion and they were pitching HP’s Envy Rove as an alternative to the Apple computing platform.

The HP Envy Rove is HP’s equivalent of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 which I previously reviewed and Microsoft pitched the large touchscreen size that this computer and its peers offer. This is more as being suitable for showing images amongst a group of friends who are sitting on the sofa, and the touch ability allows for that “pinch-to-zoom” gesture that allows one to detail in on an aspect.

This was similar through my experience with the VAIO Tap 20 when I was showing it to a close friend of mine and she liked “messing around” with the Google Earth view in front of me. It is more or less showing the different form factors that are being made available to Windows 8.1 users along with the fact that there is an increased likelihood of these computers having touch abilities/

Send to Kindle

Print This Post Print This Post

Product Review–Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook which converts between a 13” “portable-typewriter” notebook computer and a 13” tablet, which is something I am starting to see for this class of computer.

It is one of the few 13” highly-portable notebooks that is in a convertible form-factor where it can become a large tablet or media viewer. Here the screen folds over a hinge that is positioned in the middle of the lid to convert to these different form factors – as a laptop, tablet or a presentation viewer with a kickstand.

Some of you may find that a 13” tablet device as being too unwieldy when used in that form but I usually think of these devices as being the size of an A4/Letter-sized notepad or notebook or a placemat and still easy to stow in that shoulder bag. For example, the large screen area comes in to its own when viewing photos or videos or simply lounging on the couch browsing Facebook. In some cases, this large size also appeals to “head-to-head” situations where two people are viewing something on that screen like some photos or social-media chatter.

Of course, these convertible notebooks still earn their keep when you are typing up those notes in that “second-office” café while the barista is making that latte or cappucino on the espresso machine or as you type up that magnum-opus while you are on that long flight with it sitting on that economy-class tray table.

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Price
– this configuration
RRP: AUD$1699
Form factor Convertible tablet
Processor Intel Core i5-4200U processor cheaper – other options
extra cost – other options
RAM 4Gb shared with graphics
Secondary storage 128Gb solid-state drive SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics
Screen 13” touchscreen
(Full HD)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements All audio tuning available
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n dual-band dual-stream
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB 3.0 x 2
Video HDMI
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security TPM
Sensors NFC, Accelerometer, Gyro sensor, Digital compass
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Sony VAIO 13a convertible Ultrabook as a tablet

Set up as a tablet

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a is a well-built convertible notebook but for first-time users, the method to convert between notebook and tablet use can be daunting. Here, you have to flick the RELEASE-LOCK lever under the screen to the left and twist the screen at the top with both hands to make it become a tablet. Then you have to pull the screen up at the top to fold it to a conventional notebook.

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook as an image viewer

Set up as an image viewer

Even though I had used this on light tasks, there wasn’t any overheating going on with the VAIO Fit 13a although it felt warm underneath during some network video watching. There is some venting on the left side of the keyboard and any unoccupied sockets are forced in to service as vents. Personally, I would have some perforation underneath the keyboard to improve the ability for the notebook to cool itself. As well, the use of an all-aluminium lid and aluminium all over the keyboard surface also allows for better temperature control.

User Interface

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook

As a laptop conducive to typing

The keyboard is a full-width illuminated keyboard that is conducive to touch-typing. It has a proper feedback that makes you feel sure that you are typing the right characters and your hands aren’t “crunched in” which works well when typing up a large amount of content.

The trackpad works as expected and I haven’t even noticed it “jump around” when doing a lot of typing and can serve its role as a fine-level navigation tool while the touchscreen works well for coarse navigation and quick function access with recent software.

The NFC sensor is at the foot of the trackpad which is at the right place for sharing contact detail or Web links between your Android smartphone and the VAIO Tap 13a. This is also conducive for touch-and-go paring of small Bluetooth accessories like headsets but may be too awkward for pairing to larger equipment that implements “touch-and-go” Bluetooth setup like most of Sony’s newer audio equipment.

Audio and Video

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a’s display was very responsive both with regular computer work as well with multimedia activity such as watching online video from SBS Australia. There is still the issue with the display being glossy which may annoy some users and is common with most consumer-targeted portable computers.

The audio subsystem is typical for most laptops where you don’t have the ability to hear the full range from the sound. This may be good enough when you are close to the screen but wouldn’t be good enough to fill a room. I still would recommend using a pair of headphones or external speakers when you are after the good sound.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook Right-hand side view - 2 USB 3.0 ports, SDXC card slot and HDMI output port

Right-hand side view – 2 USB 3.0 ports, SDXC card slot and HDMI output port

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a has 128Gb of solid-state storage which would be enough for “second-office” work or short trips and may satisfy longer trips when you use auxiliary storage like a NAS or USB hard disk. It is still very quick and responsive but the capacity wouldn’t have me use it as a main or sole computer.

This is augmented by an SDXC card slot which comes in to its own when you “develop” your digital pictures from your digital camera or camcorder or show these pictures to a group of people.

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook left hand side with power and audio sockets

Left hand side with power and audio sockets

There are two USB 3.0 peripheral sockets along with a headset jack and ah HDMI port for connecting external devices. It also connects to your network using 802.11a/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi technology, but you would need to use a USB Ethernet network adaptor if you are connecting to an Ethernet or HomePlug segment.

It also has Bluetooth with NFC functionality for “quick pair-up” with some newer  devices or transfer of data like contact details or Web links to and from newer Android and Windows phones.

Battery life

I could use the Sony VAIO Fit 13a for a long time on most regular computing activities and even watching a 45-minute online video show from SBS Online had the battery to 50% capacity from full charging. This means that the VAIO is taking advantage of the current generation of Intel chipsets to work properly as a portable computer.

Other usage notes

Other people who have seen the Sony VAIO Fit 13a in action have been impressed with certain features like the convertible form-factor and the large-screen tablet size. This is more so with people who are used to ordinary 10” tablets like the Apple iPad or not seeing much of the touch-enabled convertible notebooks.

For example, a waitress who works at a downtown (CBD) hotel restaurant which is used regularly as a “second office” during the day was impressed with the VAIO’s convertible design. This is something she doesn’t come across as often – she mostly sees the typical laptop or iPad-style tablet used by customers using the restaurant and bar as that “second office”.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Sony could offer a premium variant with an Intel i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and/or 256Gb solid-state drive as a deal-making option, especially if they want to use this model to court those of us who live out of our suitcases.

As well, the VAIO Fit 13a could be delivered with Windows 8.1 out of the box rather than users having to download the updates to bring it up to date to the newer Windows version. I would also look at improving the DC socket so it feels less fragile to use when connecting your charger to the VAIO.

The NFC chipset could be duplicated at the top edge of the keyboard to cater for “pairing up” with fixed equipment like Bluetooth speakers or stereo equipment whether the VAIO is set up as a tablet or a laptop.

Conclusion

I see the Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible notebook as a viable contender to the market when it comes to the so-called “traveller’s computer” or “second-office computer”. This is more so in both these cases when you you want to view or show video or photo material on the go such as showing that presentation to the client over that latte or viewing that movie on the plane. It is more augmented by the fact that this computer works with a median performance requirement such as an Intel i5 processor and 4Gb of RAM.

It would also work well for those of us who like the idea of the tablet but want the proper full-size keyboard offered by the 13”-14” “portable-typewriter” notebook that is conducive to comfortable touch-typing for creating plenty of text-based content.

Send to Kindle

Print This Post Print This Post

Lenovo has just released laptops pitched at high-school student use

Article

Lenovo Aims New Rugged ThinkPad 11e Laptops at Students | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo

Press Release

My Comments

Lenovo who are well known for their highly-durable ThinkPad business laptops have taken this class of computer to the student user-base. Typically the student is more likely to take these computers through a rough lifespan as they make their way to and from school and friends’ houses and some of this rough-handling can cause problems in the computer’s life.

What they have done is to release a quartet of 11-inch notebooks with rubber bumpers, reinforced ports and strengthened hinges to handle this rough activity. There is the ThinkPad 11e which runs Windows 8 along with a ThinkPad Yoga 11e convertible also running Windows 8. But Lenovo also offered these as Chromebooks that run Google’s Chrome operating system. For the Windows-based models, I am not sure what RAM and storage capacity they have but would need to cater for a reality with students using them for more than school life.

It is a step in the right direction for companies like Lenovo to create highly-durable portable computers not just for big business but for school life, “first cars first friends” and eventually startup and small business life.

Send to Kindle

Print This Post Print This Post

Consumer Electronics Show 2014–Part 2 (Your computer, smartphone, tablet and network)

The second part of this series is about computing devices both for desktop use and for mobile use in all of the form factors along with the new equipment that you can use to buid out our home or other small network.

Computers and Mobile Devices

Previously, I used to see mobile computing devices like tablets and smartphones as their own device class but the situation is changing for this class of device.

This has been brought on with use of Windows 8.1 in smaller tablets that have lightweight and low-energy processors that implement the orthodox Intel microarchitecture used in regular-computers along with these regular computer products running the Android mobile operating system as a standalone operating system or in a dual-boot configuration.

This has caused us to blur the lines between the orthodox “regular” desktop or laptop computer that uses IA-32 or IA-64 microarchitecture rather than ARM RISC microarchitecture and running a desktop operating system like Windows or desktop Linux; and the primarily-battery-operated mobile computers like the smartphones and tablets that use ARM RISC microarchitecture and  use a mobile operating system like Android.

Computer devices that boot between Windows 8.1 and Android

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

This class of computer may be either running Windows or Android very soon

Intel and AMD have established computer reference designs that allow for switching between Windows 8.1 or Android 4.4 operating systems even when they are fully operational. This is to capitalise on the 7”-10” tablets appearing on the market that are running Windows 8.1 along with the desire for us to run Android programs on our regular laptops and Ultrabooks.

A clear example of this is ASUS’s Transformer Book Duet detachable tablet which has a hardware switch that allows you to switch between Windows 8.1 and Android. Think of this – on a long journey, switch to Windows to make some headway on a document you are creating with Microsoft Word, then, to while the time away on that journey after that, switch to Android to play Plants Versus Zombies, Candy Crush Saga or whatever is the latest mobile time-waster game.

Android and Chrome OS gain a foothold on the regular computer

Previously, we thought of Windows as the only open-frame operating system that runs on a “regular computer” i.e. a desktop or laptop. Now Google have pushed forward Chrome OS which is a cloud-based operating system along with Android with these kind of computers.

Nearly every laptop vendor, save for Sony, Panasonic and a few others are putting forward at least one “Chromebook” which are notebooks that run the Chrome OS environment. LG even premiered a “Chromebase” which is an all-in-one desktop computer that runs the Google Chrome OS. This implements Intel Celeron horsepower along with the Chrome OS specification for RAM and secondary storage (2Gb RAM, 16Gb SSD). These may have limited appeal due to software only available through Google and an always-online operation and may just work as Web terminals.

For Android, HP put up the Slate 21 Pro 21” tablet that runs on this operating system thus bringing the adaptive all-in-one to this operating system especially in the workplace. Similarly, Lenovo had launched a 19” all-in-one PC that runs Android and has an appealing price of US$450 along with the ThinkVision 28 which is a 28” 4K monitor that is an Android all-in-one PC. This is alongside HP also running with a Slate Pro all-in-one that runs Android and appeals to the business. Some of these computers are being pitched as inexpensive kiosk computers or communications terminals that go hand in glove with Viber, Skype, Facebook and the like.

Business-grade computing appears at CES 2014

Not often have I seen any of the Consumer Electronics Shows or similar consumer-electronics trade fairs become a platform to launch computer hardware pitched at business users. This year, HP, Lenovo and a few others are launching smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops pitch at this user class with the expected features like security, management abilities and system durability.

Could this be a sign that “business-targeted” computing trade fairs like CEBit and Interop start to focus on a narrower class of “big-business” computing equipment like large-scale servers and networking equipment while small-business office and computing equipment ends up being exhibited at consumer-focused computing and electronics trade fairs? Or could this be answering a reality where business computing equipment are working also as home computing equipment as in the typical “work-home” laptop that is used for personal and business computing tasks? As well, could this be in response to the so-called “BYOD” trend where employees are buying their own devices, perhaps with their employer subsidising the purchase and running costs of these devices, and using them at work?

This is augmented with Samsung, Lenovo and HP launching business-grade tablets and smartphones and operating environments that cater to the business’s operating needs.

HP even used this show to launch the 300 series 14” and 15” laptops that have hardware credentials for a business laptop like spill-resistant keyboards, anti-glare displays and fingerprint readers but don’t come with business-tier manageability software. These machines start from US$399 upwards. This is more about offering appropriate computer hardware for small businesses and community organisations at a price they can afford without the hard-to-understand “big-business” security and manageability software that can daunt operators who are effectively their organisation’s “chief cook and bottle-washer”.

They also released the Pro One 400 and HP205 all-in-one desktops and issued the second generation of the Z1 all-in-one desktop workstation which can he shoehorned as you see fit.

Newer hardware technologies

One key hardware technology that is being put forward is the arrival of highly-powerful ARM-based chips that are pitched for mobile computing. One trend has been the arrival of the 64-bit ARM mobile processor which was augmented by Samsung with their Exynos range. The other was NVIDIA who were putting up the Tegra K1 processor family that had 192 cores and the VCM variant being targeted at vehicle applications. The graphics capacity is about achieving smooth realistic rendering which comes in thandy for games and similar graphics-intensive applications that will be expected of the Android platform. This is an example of a high-power ARM processor that is being pitched across the board not just for the tablets but for the Android-driven computers, the smart TVs as well as the cars.

Similarly, Intel premiered the Edison microcomputer which is the same size as the standard SD memory card. This has a two-core microprocessor with a 400MHz primary core and a 50-200MHz secondary core along with 500Mb RAM and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interfaces. Here, they are pitching it at wearable application such as smartwatches but I would see a greater potential for this application.

As for memory, the magnetoresistive RAM and resistive RAM technologies have been premiered at this show. It s a non-volatile RAM technology that can lead to the creation of memory that isn’t just for primary on-hand storage or secondary long-term storage. The obvious applications that are being called include quick-start portable computers that don’t need to store their current state to secondary storage. But I see this likely to appear in devices like printers and faxes for power-safe job-queue handling.

As well, the IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless-network technology is appearing in a lot more as a client interface in this newly-released equipment. There has to be work on making sure that there are options for reduced-battery-load for smartphones and small tablets that are primarily battery-operated and these may stay on N technology at the moment.

Smartphones and Tablets

One major trend for smartphones and tablets is for the market to be full of affordable Android devices especially those that are positioned at the “value” segment where you gain best bang for your buck. Similarly, a lot more of these devices are being pitched at the business user with the necessary manageability features appearing.

Samsung have launched the Galaxy Note Pro range of Android tablets with some of these at 12”. Similarly, we are seeing Lenovo run a range of smartphones like the Vibe Z phablet along with a smartphone that has an 802.11ac wireless-network interface. They are even running an 8” business-grade tablet known as the ThinkPad 8 which runs Windows 8.1 and has Intel Bay Trail small-device horsepower.

Asus have previously run their Padfone range of smartphones which dock in to an accompanying tablet and are furthering this with the Padfone Mini 7 “coat-pocket” tablet / smartphone combo. They are also running the Zenfone range of standalone Android smartphones.They also premiered the VivoTAB Note 8 which is an 8” coat-pocket tablet with stylus that runs Win8.1 and uses Intel Atom horsepower.

Acer are even launching some more of the Iconia Windows and Android tablet range along with a budget-range phablet smartphone. At the same time, Polaroid have put their name to an affordable 8” Android tablet in the form of the Q8.

Panasonic is not left lying down when it comes to tablets with a ToughPad 7” tablet being premiered at this show.

Laptops, Ultrabooks and similar computers

This year has seen a great influx of detachable and convertible Ultrabooks with, for example HP bolstering their x2 family.This is brought in to affordable territory with the Pavilion x2 range being a “foot-in-the-door” and running on cheaper AMD or Intel Bay Trail horsepower. This is augmented with the Pro x2 which is pitched at business users and is powered by Intel Core i3 or i5 processors.

Lenovo have premiered their MIIX 2 detachable tablets which run Windows 8.1 with the 10” variant running an Intel Atom processor and the 11.6” variant running an Intel Core i5 processor. They also launched the latest iteration of the X1 Carbon Ultrabook which is finished in a carbon-fibre material.

LG has answered the slider convertible trend started with the Sony VAIO Duo 11 and released the Tab Book 2 slider convertible. Sony are still keeping on with their convertible notebooks with the new VAIO Fit 11a and Flip PC 13, 14 and 15 convertible notebooks and the latest iteration of the VAIO Duo 13 slider convertible along with the VAIO Tap 11 detachable tablet. Sony has also taken the time to refresh the VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one and sell it as the VAIO Tap 21.

Samsung have released the ATIV Book 9 which is a 15” Ultrabook that owes its small size to a very narrow screen bezel, making it look less like a regular 15” laptop. Toshiba has broken through the mould by offering the first laptop with a 4K resolution screen as well as a shape-shifting concept for a convertible portable computer.

The home or other small network

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become a time to show that 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking has matured ant to premiere the HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit powerline network technology. It also has been a chance for network hardware vendors to showcase some of the small business / contractor network hardware alongside consumer network hardware so as to expose this kind of hardware to the small-business and startup users.

802.11ac wireless network hardware

One major trend that is affecting equipment for the small network is the increased availability of 802.11ac Wi-Fi network connectivity equipment, especially now that the standard has been officially ratified and published by the IEEE. Here we are dealing with Wi-Fi wireless-network segments established in the 5GHz band and capable of operating at Gigabit speeds. Broadcom have come up with newer 802.11ac chipsets that improve wireless-network experience including one that has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and improved radio amplification in the same packaging.

The main class of devices offered here are routers or range extenders where some of the range extenders can work as client bridges for these networks. Examples of these include TrendNet’s newer AC1900 router and the ASUS RT-AC87U broadband router that has 1.7Gbps on 5GHz and 600Mbps on 2.4GHz using 4 x 4 MIMO and support for multiuser MIMO functionality. The old Linksys WRT54G with its distinctive style and user-evolvable open-source firmware has been released as a new iteration but equipped with 802.11ac wireless and Gigabit Ethernet network abilities and USB connectivity.

Even Engenius offered the ESR-2300 which is a 4 x 4 AC2300 wireless broadband router that is the first device of its type to offer “box-to-box” VPN endpoint functionality. NETGEAR also offered DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem routers with one of these having an 802.11ac 1700 wireless network segment.

Netgear’s latest 802.11ac wireless routers also have a firmware option for small businesses to turn their premises in to Wi-Fi hotspots using the Facebook Wi-Fi service. This is where clients who have Facebook presence can “check in” using Facebook to gain free Wi-Fi access but there is also an option to skip this requirement and use password-protected sign-up.

There are also the range extenders that perform their range-extending trick on an 802.11ac network and are available as wall-plugged or standalone units.

TrendNet amongst a few others are premiering business / contractor-grade wireless-networking hardware, especially access points for integrated installation. Some of these units also work with management software to allow you to have control over your Wi-Fi segment. TP-Link even offer the EAP-320 dual-band AC1750 Wi-Fi access point (enterprise grade) which has Power-Over-Ethernet, hotspot-style captive portal authentication and rogue access-point detection.

TrendNet also used this show to premiere a USB-connected high-gain 802.11ac wireless network adaptor so you can bridge existing computer equipment to a new 802.11ac wireless-network segment.

HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit power-line network hardware launched

This show also has seen TP-Link and TrendNet launch HomePlug adaptors that embody the latest iteration of the HomePlug AV2 specification. Initially there were plenty of the HomePlug AV2 devices that didn’t exploit the MIMO abilities of the specification allowing for Gigabit data-transfer speeds but the two latest devices do implement these speeds using all three AC wires.

As far as this standard is concerned, there haven’t been any other HomePlug AV2 devices in other form factors launched or premiered at this show. Of course, TrendNet and TP-Link have been able to premiere HomePlug AV500 Wi-Fi N300 access points as an alternative to using range extenders to build out 802.11n wireless-network segments.

IP-based video surveillance

Most of these manufacturers are offering IP-based video-surveillance cameras with some that even work on 802.11ac Wi-Fi. D-Link even issues one of these as a “baby monitor camera” which measures room temperature and plays soothing lullabies while TP-Link offers an N300 Wi-Fi cloud camera that also doubles as a range extender and can shoot at 720p.

D-Link and Buffalo both offer network video recorder devices that interlink with certain IP cameras and record on a stand-alone basis with these cameras.

NAS units

QNAP and Synology have used the Consumer Electronics Shows to premiere their small-business network-attached storage devices and Synology has used this year’s show to launch the DiskStation Manager 5 operating system which is their latest iteration of the Linux-based operating system. This one has both home and business capabilities like the ability to link with online storage and social-network services along with centralised management and scaled-out storage for evolving businesses. Now Thecus are using this year’s show to premiere their small-business NAS devices.

Lenovo also made this show the chance to offer their first consumer network-attached storage device which can also serve as a USB external hard disk or show multimedia on TV using its HDMI output. This is although they have taken over Iomega and rebranded it as Lenovo EMC to cover this product class and focus on small-business NAS units.

Buffalo even offers a wireless mobile NAS which has the DLNA media-server functionality which can come in handy with Internet radios or other DLNA-capable media players. This is alongside some increasingly-capable DiskStation single-disk and duel-disk NAS units.

Conclusion

Next I will be looking at a major trend that is captivating the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in the form of the “wearables”, brought on by the arrival of Bluetooth 4.0

Send to Kindle

Print This Post Print This Post

Acer joins the adaptive all-in-one party–what could this mean?

Article

Acer new 21.5-inch all-in-one PC has an integrated battery | PC World

Acer joins the tabletop parade | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

Acer USA

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Previously, I had reviewed the Sony VAIO Tap 20 which symbolises a newer class of home computer. This class, officially known as an “Adaptive All-In-One” but also known as a “tabletop” computer is an 18”-27” tablet computer which can be set up to become a desktop computer.

These have an appeal because they can be positioned lying flat on a table or desk for multi-person computing activities. Their large size and positioning flexibility has increased their appeal as a so-called “lifestyle” computer that integrates easily with a household’s lifestyle.

For example, the CNet article described a popular use case where two people sprawled over an ottoman and playing a multiplayer air-hockey game on one of these computers while a Microsoft blog article that I had cited previously in my coverage of that computer had highlighted its prowess to impress a family with different computing skill levels.

Acer have stepped up to the plate with this class of computer by dropping their Aspire Z3-600 computer on the US market at a reasonable price for this class – US$779. Here, this implements a 21” Full-HD screen and can lie flat or be upright. Like the VAIO Tap 20, it is able to run on batteries but it runs for 2.5 hours on batteries alone. There is the quad-core Pentium horsepower and it runs with 4Gb RAM and 750Gb hard disk storage more than what the VAIO Tap 20 came with.

There is even the ability for the computer to serve as a display for another computer or video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player, digital TV tuner or games console through an HDMI input along with an HDMI output so it works with another display. This even comes with MHL support so it can charge an Android smartphone or be a video display for these phones.

A question I would raise is that Acer could bring the price down on these computers, could it then be possible for manufacturers to start offering a range of these computers with differing specifications rather than just the one model in their product lineup? Similarly, could this force the price for a baseline “adaptive all-in-one” computer down to more reasonable levels?

Send to Kindle

Print This Post Print This Post

Handling the many-source one-destination situation with Bluetooth audio devices

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

There may be difficulties running a Bluetooth speaker like this with multiple source devices in the same room

The Bluetooth A2DP audio playback setup which provides a wireless link between a mobile device and a sound system or Bluetooth speaker has now brought along its own set of complications. This is something that will show up more as the number of Bluetooth-capable wireless speakers, audio adaptors and music systems in circulation increases.

One main complication is that the last-connected Bluetooth-capable source device “lays claim” to the Bluetooth-capable sound system until either device’s Bluetooth functionality is turned off. This is even though the user of that source device stopped playing the audio content using the media player and can cause complications where, for example, an “established” Bluetooth device like a tablet cannot be used with the sound system it is normally used with because a guest “walked up” to the sound system and paired their iPhone full of their music collection to that unit to play some of their tunes.

The practice is expected to be common with music systems that are operated during a party where you want to let a guest “look after the tunes” for the evening; and will become common with cars when a group of people go on a long journey and one of these passengers offers to “look after the tunes” for a part of the trip. At the Australian Audio And AV Show 2013, the people who were demonstrating the Aktimate active speakers with a Bluetooth adaptor allowed me to try the speakers with a track on my phone but asked me to make sure the Bluetooth on my phone is off or the speakers removed from the phone’s devices list after I had finished playing the music.

Nokia BH-111 headphone adaptor connected to headphones

Two or more devices paired to the one Bluetooth headset and on in the same vicinity may cause problems.

It can also show up when you use the same Bluetooth headset or audio adaptor amongst a group of devices which is common when you want to use your headset with your smartphone while walking down the street or use it with your laptop to make that Skype or Lync call.

How do you handle this situation

When you have finished using a Bluetooth sound system, especially one you use on an ad-hoc basis, you have to make sure you logically disconnect your computer or mobile device from that sound system. Most commonly, you may have to turn off your computer’s or mobile device’s Bluetooth functionality. But if you are using your own Bluetooth peripherals, then you have to enable the Bluetooth functionality again.

Logically disconnecting the device

The recent versions of the Android mobile operating system handle this better by allowing a Bluetooth device to be “disconnected” without the Android smartphone or tablet losing its paring data. Here, you enter the Android Bluetooth menu to tap on the currently-connected device to disconnect it immediately.  The ability to retain the pairing is important if you are using a particular Bluetooth device regularly such as a car sound system in the car you regularly drive or a commonly-used Bluetooth-capable hi-fi setup.

Unpairing or removing the device from your operating system

Most other desktop and mobile platforms require you to “remove” or “”unpair” the music system from the Bluetooth-capable source device. Then if you want to use the same Bluetooth device again, you have to put that device in to pairing mode which typically requires you to press and hold a button to invoke this mode; and use the operating system’s Bluetooth menu or “Add New Device” menu to add or pair with a new Bluetooth device.

In Windows, this requires you to go to the Devices Menu, select the device and select the Remove option to remove the sound system. There is the Bluetooth icon in the Taskbar which has the right-click option to “Show Connected Devices” to bring up all the Bluetooth devices associated with your system.

Macintosh users have to click on the “System Preferences” item under the Apple menu, select the Bluetooth icon in the System Preferences window, select the device in the left-hand list box and click the “-“ button to remove the device.

For iOS, you may have to go to the Bluetooth menu under Settings – General. and touch “Unpair” to detach the sound system.

What needs to happen

Support for “connect / disconnect” on all desktop and mobile operating systems

An improvement that needs to be able to exist for an operating system’s Bluetooth functionality is to allow the user to logically “connect” and “disconnect” a Bluetooth peripheral manually. Here, the parings are retained in the host device while it is disconnected yet, when you connect, they come in to play as part of attempting to connect up with the device. This doesn’t remove the ability for a device to immediately connect when it is paired but  allows it to stay paired without being connected.

Bluetooth-capable audio equipment to support multiple connections

We are starting to see some Bluetooth headsets, speakers and in-car setups able to support multiple connections to different devices. This is typically to facilitate a media-player-only device like an Apple iPod Touch to play content while the device serves as a hands-free for a smartphone that is not necessarily used as a media player. Sony has made an effort with their SBH-20 Bluetooth headset adaptor to support the multiple-connection requirement for two smartphones thus facilitating one-touch answer from either phone.

Similarly, a Bluetooth-capable audio device could implement a multiple-connection setup where it can stay connected to many Bluetooth host devices. Each of these host devices can be enumerated as a virtual source as far as the Bluetooth-capable audio device is concerned and there is a user interface on the Bluetooth audio device to select between the different hosts.

Automotive implementations could allow multiple smartphones to connect with one being determined as a “primary” device for making and taking calls and receiving messages and others determined as either “secondary” devices used primarily to take calls or as “media-player” devices that only play media.

Conclusion

This issue of having Bluetooth devices, especially Bluetooth audio devices, work with multiple host computing devices is something that has caused headaches and will be doing so until the people designing the operating systems and devices can handle this reality properly and easily.

Send to Kindle

Print This Post Print This Post

Product Review–Sony VAIO Fit 15E mainstream laptop computer (Model: SVF1521JCG Series)

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony VAIO Fit 15E laptop computer which is Sony’s latest take of the VAIO E series of mainstream laptop computers. This is where these computers come with the 15” screen and extra secondary storage, in some cases an optical drive of some sort.

Sony offers a variant with an Intel i7 processor and 8Gb of RAM as the deluxe option but that is all that they offer to make it worthwhile whereas I would like to see a few more features like a higher-resolution display offered as a more convincing upsell for most people.

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

Price
– this configuration
RRP AUD$999
Form factor Regular laptop
Processor Intel i5 processor extra cost
Intel i7 processor
RAM 4Gb
extra cost: 8Gb
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 750Gb hard disk,
variants available
DVD burner, SDHC card drive
Display Subsystem NVIDIA GeFORCE GT740M + Intel HD 4000 Graphics (NVIDIA Optimus automatic switch) 1Gb display memory
Screen 15” widescreen
(1366×768) touchscreen, variants
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements All audio tuning available
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB USB 3.0 x 2 (1 with Sleep and Charge), USB 2.0 x 2
High-speed connections eSATA, Thunderbolt, etc
Video HDMI
Audio 3.5mm stereo  output jack, 3.5mm stereo input jack, digital audio output via HDMI
Sensors Touchscreen Yes
NFC Yes
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

IMG_1166The VAIO Fit 15e series comes as a regular clamshell laptop computer but has a touchscreen like the previously-reviewed HP Envy4 Touchsmart Ultrabook. The action associated with this computer is very durable.

As I opened with, this laptop is equipped with a DVD burner which raises mainstream laptop credentials while satisfying realities with software, especially games, that are still delivered on optical disc.

There is a reduced chance of heat build-up with the computer having ventilation slots on the underneath as well as the sides. This makes the laptop more comfortable to use on your lap as well as less likelihood of the performance suffering due to heat stress.

This model is available in black, pink or white with the white variant, which I am reviewing, appeals to those of us who want to personalise it more.

User Interface

The Sony VAIO Fit 15e’s keyboard is a chiclet-style keyboard but is commensurate to touch-typing thus making it comfortable to use for a laptop keyboard. This along with the numeric keypad ticks the boxes when it comes to a highly practical keyboard surface for a mainstream laptop.

The trackpad sometimes acts in a jumpy manner when you are typing but could benefit from a hardware switch to turn off trackpad.

Sony VAIN Fit 15e laptop - optical drive

Equipped with an optical drive for burning or playing CDs and DVDs

There is an NFC reader on the palm rest and it worked properly with my Samsung Galaxy Note II Android mobile phone. But its implementation in the laptop would take off if there were some quality Windows 8 applications or Android / Windows 8 app ecosystems that took advantage of it.

The touchscreen also comes across as being very accurate and responsive, making it suitable for coarse navigation.

Audio and Video

The VAIO Fit 15e’s graphics system is based around a NVIDIA discrete chipset and Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. NVIDIA even implements the Optimus function which switches over between these graphics subsystems when the goal is battery economy or graphics performance.

There is the glossy screen which bedevils most consumer-grade laptop computers and requires them to be very bright when used outdoors. This can frustrate users when it comes to battery runtime.

Sony VAIO Fit 15e laptop right-hand-side view with optical drive and two USB 2.0 connectors

Right-hand-side view with optical drive and two USB 2.0 connectors

Sony have implemented a 2.1 speaker arrangement which has a separate bass driver that provides some “kick” in the sound. This can be a bonus when you can only use the integrated speakers for portability but headphones or external equipment for better sound.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

This laptop has 4 of the USB connectors with two being a USB 3.0 type for external storage. As for video display connectivity, you only have an HDMI socket which rules out older and cheaper data projectors for a larger screen. There are separate audio input and audio output jacks on the left for connecting headphones or a microphone.

Sony VAIO FIt 15e laptop Left-hand-side view - Ethernet societ, HDMI output socket, 2 USB 3.0 sockets and 3.5mm stereo audio input and output jacks

Left-hand-side view – Ethernet societ, HDMI output socket, 2 USB 3.0 sockets and 3.5mm stereo audio input and output jacks

Network connectivity comes in the form of a Gigabit Ethernet socket for wired network segments as well as support for 802.11g/n 2.4GHz wireless network segments. As well, there is Bluetooth connectivity up to the 4.0 Smart Ready standard which supports low-power use.

Across the VAIO Fit 15e platform, the secondary-storage options are the same with 750Gb on the hard disk and a DVD burner which still is relevant in this day and age. This is relevant for activities like cost-effective data sharing or if your comfort zone for music, video and PC games is still the “bricks-and-mortar” shop. As well, the SD card slot is located on the front of the laptop at the centre.

Battery life

The VAIO Fit 15e’s battery performed properly for day-to-day regular use. This was augmented by a properly-implemented sleep functionality allowing me to use the laptop over two days without needing to charge it.

For playing a DVD, the VAIO could make it through the feature movie and end up with 10% of remaining battery runtime. This is something I would expect for most of the consumer mainstream laptops and may limit them for long-term portable multimedia and gaming activities.

Other usage notes

I took this laptop with me to Ballarat when I was seeing a close friend of mine for the weekend and this friend was impressed with the fact that the computer was equipped with a touchscreen that worked tightly with the Windows 8 user experience. Like most people, he hasn’t come across a mainstream 15” consumer or small-business laptop that was equipped with a touchscreen. He was also impressed with the build quality of this machine and described it as being a good quality substitute for most mainstream laptops like the ThinkPad.

He even mentioned to me that the touchscreen interface will be very desireable due to the fact that most of us use smartphones and tablets with the touchscreen interface.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Sony could equip the higher-end variant of the VAIO Fit 15E with more options than just the more powerful processor and increased RAM in order to make for a convincing upsell option. Here, they could offer a BD-ROM / DVD burner as the optical drive, a 1080p Full HD display and / or dual-band Wi-Fi networking and / or a higher-capacity hard-disk for secondary storage.

These could allow Sony to create three variants with the same screen size and pitched at the same market as car builders like Ford and Holden have done with their popular family-car ranges. This is the laptop that serves primarily as the main household computer for Web browsing, games, running one’s “startup” small business and other activities.

As well, the NFC sensor could be duplicated on the back of the computer to cater for Sony’s NFC Easy Connect equipment-pairing ability.

Conclusion

ISony VAIO Fit 15e laptop rear view would position the Sony VAIO Fit 15e series of laptops as an all-round mainstream “dining-table” laptop for most households. Similarly it would work well as a small-business work-home laptop or as something that suits travellers who work from a particular location at their destination such as their friend’s house, a hotel room or ship’s cabin.

Here, Sony’s multimedia prowess would come in to its own when you want to dabble with photos, movies or music on the road.. The only sore point here may be the price being offered for this model but it is worth looking for the good deals on this unit.

Send to Kindle

Print This Post Print This Post
Page 1 of 101234567»...Last »
 
Recent Comments Tags

Sponsors

HomeNetworking01.Info

Latest PDF issue

Switch to our mobile site