The Android and Windows platforms do have some things in common such as the ability to share URLs and contact cards via NFC or Bluetooth. As well, these platforms offer native out-of-the-box support for various industry norms at the hardware and software level like USB Audio device classes, DLNA network media acces, FLAC audio codecs, and MicroUSB connections for power and data.
This is augmented by another facture that people who value open-frame computing setups that are vendor-agnostic are likely to run a Windows-based desktop, laptop or tablet computer alongside an Android-based smartphone.
But there are some questions about whether both these platforms are coming to a crossroads in both the desktop and mobile contexts. Issues that have been raised is the availability of mobile-platform software for the Windows Mobile platform as well as Microsoft developing for the Android platform.
Windows 10 in its desktop and mobile phones will tie in with Android for stronger open-frame computing
This disparity is being addressed by Microsoft releasing the so-called “Project Astoria” software to reduce the effort needed by a software developer to port an Android app to Windows 10 and have it work on both desktop and mobile setups and the XBox One games console.
Another attempt that Microsoft was trying is to include the ability to sideload Android app APK files as part of a leaked preview build of Windows 10 Mobile. Here, these files would run in a sandbox of their own so as to assure system stability and security.
On the hardware side, manufacturers like Samsung, LG, Sony including the VAIO personal-computing spinoff, and Lenovo are increasingly targeting Apple’s customer base by offering 2-in-1 notebooks, tablets and smartphones that have that same luxurious cachet and performance level as the iPhone, iPad and MacBook.
It is also in conjunction with Microsoft porting an increasing amount of their productivity software to the Android platform along with writing Android-specific native clients for their online services. A good question that may be worth answering is whether Google will write native clients for their online services as Windows 10 Universal apps.
I see this ending up where Microsoft and Google could effectively give their mobile operating systems equal functionality for “home” and “work” use and support a tighter integration with Android, ChromeOS and Linux to increase the number of choices for personal computing options. Here, these platforms will end up forming a strong “open-frame” computing beach-head that competes effectively with the vertically-integrated platform that Apple offers.
The premium end of the laptop market is starting to see some very strong competition with Lenovo trying to answer Microsoft with their Yoga 900 premium convertible laptop,
The Lenovo Yoga 900 was initially to be an update and refresh for the previously-reviewed Yoga 3 Pro, courtesy of Windows 10 and Intel Skylake horsepower. But with Microsoft blindsiding everyone else in the “open-frame” computer market with their Surface Book which is both a convertible and detachable, the computer press have seen it as close competition.
The newly-refined watchband hinge on the Lenovo Yoga 900
The Lenovo Yoga 900 has provided some aesthetic and build improvements over the Yoga 3 Pro such as a slimmer chassis with the computer being rated as being the slimmest 13” convertible to date. The watch-band hinge has been refined in order to provide for a smooth switch between laptop and tablet operating modes. Even a six-row keyboard allows quick access to adjustments like brightness or flight mode courtesy of a single button push. Of course, this convertible notebook will exploit Windows 10’s Continuum feature right out of the box, automatically switching the display between Desktop Mode with the Start Menu and the touch-friendly Tablet mode when you fold it over and back.
As I have said before, this computer implements Intel Skylake processors, either an i5 or an i7 depending on the package rather than the previous Core M horsepower. As for RAM and storage, the baseline option is available with 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state storage while the top-shelf models come with 16Gb RAM and 512Gb solid-state storage.
What ZDNet and others were saying was that the baseline for the Yoga 900 (i5 processor, 8Gb RAM, 256Gb solid state storage) has an ask for US$1199 while the top shelf model (i7 processor, 16Gb RAM, 512Gb solid-state storage) could be bought fur US$1499. This is with the Surface Book costing around US$1000 more for similar specifications.
But the more expensive Surface Book is a convertible and detachable computer, comes with a stylus and has discrete graphics in some of its option levels. The Surface Book also offers 128Gb solid-state storage rather than 256Gb solid-state storage in its baseline package
Let’s not forget that Lenovo added the “champagne gold” finish to the list of finishes that the Yoga 900 can came in, as well as the silver finish and the orange finish that was common with the Yoga 3 Pro. The “champagne gold” look will have some of us think of that similar finish appearing on some premium consumer electronics especially Marantz hi-fi equipment.
As with VAIO coming back to the fore and Microsoft releasing their Surface Book, the Lenovo Yoga 900 indicates that there is still interest in premium-grade ultraportable computers as a distinct market segment. This is in a similar way to how vehicle builders developed the “personal luxury car” product segment which was based around vehicles, especially 2-door coupes, which were designed with a focus on luxury and style where you arrived at the destination “ready to impress”.
Who knows what the other computer manufacturers will come up with to satisfy this product, especially when the idea is to compete against Apple.
When Windows 8.0 came on the scene, some computer manufacturers led by Sony brought forward the “Adaptive All-In-One” form-factor for personal computers.
Large screen – good for group computing
What is this form factor? It is a tablet with a screen size of between 19” and 27”, typically 21” and can either work as an “all-in-one” desktop computer or a large tablet suitable for group-based computing activities. As well, these computers were primarily a “transportable” class of computer with integrated batteries that had a runtime of under 6 hours along with them being larger and heavier than the typical laptop computer. This means that you could take them from room to room or be able to stow them away quickly and easily in the same vein as a boom-box, portable TV set or small sewing machine. The premier example of this was the Sony VAIO Tap 20 which sits on a kickstand and links with a wireless keyboard and mouse for desktop use or lays down as a tablet.
Lenovo Yoga Home 900 as regular all-in-one computer
There was some coverage about these computers being so-called “lifestyle” computers – devices that blend in to one’s personal and household lifestyle. The best example that comes to my mind was an account written by a Microsoft blogger who brought the Sony VAIO Tap 20 to her parents’ home which was effectively the “family house” for her family.
But things tended to slow down as far as this product class was concerned because of varying factors such as the low-cost mobile-platform tablets and cloud computing being considered more relevant for personal computing.
With Windows 10 and Intel Skylake silicon being launched over the last few months, the traditional “regular” personal computer has had a “shot in the arm”. These systems have been pitched as being complementary to mobile-platform devices rather than competing with them. As well, companies who worked on the “open-frame” computing environment where there systems ran Windows, ChromeOS, Linux or Android were pulling out all the stops to have systems, especially those in the premium class, that performed and looked as good, if not better, than Apple’s systems.
This has caused Lenovo to front up with an Adaptive All In One computer in the form of the Yoga Home 900/ This 27” system runs Windows 10 which has the Continuum feature that adapts the display for both tablet and desktop use. Lenovo even uses the “Aura” touch interface to make it work well for group computing. They also run an app store which specialises in games and apps that are for this class of computer, including board games, air hockey, photo-sharing apps and the like.
As well, the Lenovo Yoga Home 900 uses Full HD display resolution, Intel 5th-generation horsepower and has an option for discrete (should you say gaming quality) graphics. With air hockey and board games aside, there needs to be a way to convince most of us to consider a computer from the “Adaptive All-In-One” class as a viable personal-computing option.
Microsoft has started building up the heat for the new Surface Book convertible laptop that is also detachable. They are pitching this computer at the arts-based territory which Apple heavily courts and is also tackling the premium end of the general-purpose computing market.
They also highlighted in this one-minute video the flexibility that this computer has in how you use it along with its prowess in handling graphics and multimedia tasks associated with the arts. As well, it shows these concepts in a manner that isn’t too gaudy and is of a similar quality to whenever a vehicle builder os announcing a new luxury vehicle.
This ad is being run in conjunction with pre-orders being taken for the same computer and is showing up that the “open-frame” computing community can come up with equipment that can cut in to Apple’s territories, both in aesthetics and multimedia prowess.
Toshiba is snapping at the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 detachable by offering a 12” detachable that ranks as the thinnest and lightest of this class. Like the Surface Pro 3, the Toshiba DynaPad has an ultra-thin keyboard as an option rather than as standard and the keyboard attaches to the tablet using magnets..
Toshiba DynaPad – natural with handwriting
It runs Windows 10 and uses a 12” IPS display with a resolution of 1920×1280 which yields a sharp detail and wide-angle viewing. Of course it has a touchscreen but it also works with a Wacom pen that provides a handwriting experience that mimics writing on paper. As well it uses an Intel Atom processor and 4Gb RAM but there are scant details about how much storage there is in this tablet.
What I see of this is that the Microsoft Surface Pro series of detachable tablets is becoming the “reference product” for the detachable-tablet 2-in-1 class. This is more so with a lightweight design which applies whether the keyboard is detached or not. As well, a highly-responsive stylus is being seen as a product differentiator to allow for handwriting.
Similarly, it will be interesting to see if there will be a handful of 2-in-1s or other ultraportables that stand out as something to crave or be seen with, especially if they run an open-frame operating environment like Windows or Android. Or is Apple going to stay as the “one to be seen” with.
Microsoft has just released a 13” 2-in-1 computer that takes this concept further. This class of portable computer was either a convertible notebook that folded over or collapsed in a certain manner to become a tablet; or a detachable tablet where the keyboard was detached from the tablet itself.
With the Surface Book which was just released, the computer is a fold-over convertible like the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro which I previously reviewed. Here, it has that same watchband hinge although in a plastic form. But you can detach the screen like you can with the HP x2 family and have it become a tablet.
…. or can fold over to be a tablet
It also has a stylus so you can effectively write and this technology is augmented with features like “Palm Block” so you can rest your hand on the screen without unwanted activity like you can with a regular notepad.
As for the graphics, there is a dual-mode operation method where it can work with integrated graphics processing when detached or with discrete graphics when with the keyboard.
Of course, Microsoft is pitching this Windows-driven notebook in to the same market as the Apple MacBook Pro and even running publicity shots of it in action with graphics arts and even putting forward the idea that it can be used as a music playout computer by a DJ in a nightclub. This is also playing out with VAIO and could easily play out with other computer names who are after the premium “status-symbol” end of the market.
This could also see the reality of the “2-in-1” convertible or detachable being a significant computing device class that is gaining traction in the personal-computing marketplace.
Telstra have shown some interest to the rural community by offering long-distance phone tariffs that are cheaper than their competitors for calls from rural and regional communities to the nearest state capitals which represents the kind of long-distance call someone would frequently make when they live in these areas. Similarly, I have always recommended Telstra or any “mobile virtual network” operator that uses the Telstra mobile-telephony infrastructure as a preferred mobile-telephony service for those of you who are in rural areas or make regular forays to these rural areas such as to visit that “bush bolthole” or maintain that farm that you have a few head of cattle on.
Now they have shown their chops again for this community of telecommunications users by offering an Android-based answer to that classic Motorola “brick” mobile phone that was so beloved of tradesmen and other outdoor types because of its simple ruggedness.
Unlike most Android phones, this phone has the ability to be connected to an external antenna which would improve on reception in rural areas as well as a cellular-network front-end optimised for long-distance reception. It is housed in a rugged casing which absorbs drops and is rated to IP67 which means the Telstra Tough Max is dust-resistant and can survive being dunked in a pool of water up to 1 metre deep.
This phone works on Android 5.0 Lollipop which means it can gain access to the apps on the Google Play app store. It has a 4.7” HD screen which may not match most of today’s desirable Android smartphones, uses removable microSD storage and can link with Bluetooth peripherals or your Wi-Fi home network. But surprisingly, it will support wireless charging when you pair it with a Qi charger. It doesn’t necessarily have all the frills of today’s smartphones but, like the Motorola “brick”, it is pitched towards users who place importance on durability.
The Telstra Tough Max is available for around AUD$500 outright or best paired on a subsidised-equipment contract with any of Telstra’s mobile phone plans to take advantage of what this network has to offer with the cheapest of these starting from AUD$62 per month.
If Telstra keeps going with phones that please the “bush brigade” like this one, they could work towards a phablet-style unit with NFC as a higher-end model to court this market along with similarly-rugged accessories. Similarly, they could work towards a Mi-Fi or wireless NAS that also espouses this same level of ruggedness, courting this same community.
I am reviewing the Braven Mira which is a small single-piece portable Bluetooth speaker that is designed for use in the bathroom or kitchen. This circular speaker is designed to be water resistant so it can be used in the shower or near the sink and has a kickstand that can double as a hook to hang over the showerhead or something similar.
The unit itself:
RRP including tax: AUD$129
Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo socket
Digital Audio Input
A2DP and Hands-Free Profile with NFC setup
Watts (RMS, FTC or other honest standard) per channel
2 full-range drivers
1 passive radiator
The unit itself
The Braven Mira is a circular portable Bluetooth speaker pitched for use in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry or pool area. This is due to it being water-resistant to IPx5 standards which means that it can survive water splashes or rainfall. But you have to make sure nothing is plugged in to it and that the cap covering the sockets on the side is closed properly.
The C-shape kickstand that doubles as a hook
It also has a C-shaped kickstand that allows it to become a hook so you can hang it on a shower head, a tap (faucet) or door knob. This allows for versatile positioning options that suit your needs perfectly.
Like other Braven Bluetooth speakers, the Mira has four main operating controls with two that double as volume / track navigation controls. To make the speaker discoverable for pairing, you have to hold the PLAY button until the speaker makes a repeated beep tone. It doesn’t support NFC “touch-and-go” paring for “open-frame” (Android and Windows) personal-computing devices.
A feature that is very common on this class of speaker is that the Braven Mira can serve as a speakerphone for whenever you want to talk hands-free on the phone or engage in a videocall.
I have used the speaker with my phone and when I have run it at the maximum level, it sounds very similar to a small radio. You wouldn’t expect high-quality sound from a speaker like this one or any of its peers but it is loud enough to fill a small room.
Limitations and Points Of Improvement
Personally, I would like to see Braven add two extra buttons to the Mira for track selection rather than you holding down the volume buttons to change tracks. This can avoid operational mistakes when you skip a song when you intend to turn it down. As well, the controls could be embossed more distinctively so you can identify them at a touch especially if you are having to contend with shampoo in your eyes.
Like with some of their other Bluetooth speaker products, Braven could offer variants that have an integrated broadcast-radio tuner so they can serve as ordinary portable radios.
I would still see the Braven Mira earn its keep as a multipurpose utility speaker that you can use with your phone, tablet or 2-in-1 especially if these devices don’t put up much in the way of sound output for your needs.
This article has highlighted how the phone in a hotel room has earnt its keep. Primarily, this was seen by a hotel or motel as a revenue-generating device because of the local, long-distance and international calls placed by guests. It is even though guests who wanted to save money used services that allowed calls to be charged against prepaid cards, one’s own telephone account or credit cards; or made a brief call and asked the respondent to call them at the hotel.
This was taken further with guests carrying their own smartphones where they (or their employer / business) picked up the tab for the calls, along with VoIP services of the Skype or Viber ilk that offered voice or video calls for free.
But these phones still earn their place in the hotel room. Commonly they are used to contact hotel services like Housekeeping, the Front Desk or the restaurant to facilitate dinner bookings or in-room dining. For some older people or those at risk of strokes, diabetic comas or seizures, the phone can be used as part of an “are-you-OK” arrangement, something that has been of benefit for me. This also leads to these phones serving as a “preferred emergency contact point” because of it relating to the room you are calling from.
Increasingly hotels are deploying smartphone apps to allow you to facilitate these services in a more “express” manner and these work alongside the apps that run on the in-room iPads. Young people do use these apps but the in-room phone still serves as a fallback if you need to ask further questions or convey further details. this fallback applies if your smartphone’s battery dies or you want to use it for another activity.
But the phone suppliers are realising now that these phones can do more than just be a telephone extension. Traditionally, they offered a phone that has a built-in AM/FM clock radio but they are taking it further by integrating USB charging ports for your gadgets and / or Bluetooth speakers for music playback and speakerphone functionality.
What can be done to improve on these phones?
One way to improve on them in the hotel context is to have a site-configured Bluetooth device identity that reflects the hotel name and your room number. This would make it easier to identify what you are pairing your smartphone to.
Similarly, there will be an expectation for increased synergy amongst all of the technology within a hotel room including the devices a guest brings along with them and this synergy will be primarily room-focused. For example, it could be desired to pair your smartphone to the hotel room’s phone then have your music that you have on your phone play through the TV’s speakers for better and louder sound.
To some extent, USB connectivity can also be about adding functionality to these phones such as serving as an audio device or USB hub for computing devices.
What really is happening is that although it becomes so easy to write off certain technology due to other technology supplanting it, such technology can still serve a complementary role. This is important if we look at the devices beyond what they current do and look at what they can do.
Previously, in Part 1 of my series about the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015 in Berlin, I had covered the trends affecting regular computers, tablets and smartphones especially with Intel just releasing the Skylake processor silicon which yields better performance for the same amount of power used. This has caused manufacturers to effectively refresh their desktop and portable computer lineups. As well, nearly every computer manufacturer is offering a lineup of desktop or portable computers that shine on gaming-grade performance to appeal to the core gamer and e-sports communities.
ASUS ZenWatch 2
The smartwatch scene is slowly maturing with manufacturers offering more of these watches in their product lineups. The key trends here are about smartwatches that are designed to “look right” for the user and occasion. Here, we are seeing premium smartwatches that would look the part if you are to “dress to impress” on that date or in the corporate boardroom, but there are a few sports smartwatches with the rugged look along with a few “ladies’ watches” that look the part on her wrist.
Samsung had just launched the latest Tizen-based Gear S2 which has a traditional-looking round face and they have co-opted Alessandro Mendini, a well known Italian designer, to design accessory bands and watch faces for this watch.
ASUS has come along with the Zenwatch 2 Android Wear which uses an OLED display and Gorilla Glass protection and comes in 2 different sizes. It even has an add-on battery pack for if you want to get that more runtime out of the watch. Fossil has come up with another Android Wear watch as part of their range.
Motorola 360 smartwatches for her
Motorola have built out their Moto 360 range of Android Wear smartwatches with the Moto 360 Sport which is their smartwatch equivalent of the sports watch along with a slender “ladies’ watch” variant that will look good on her wrist. There are different finishes available such as a rose-gold look, a gold look, a silver look and a black-metal look with these watches up for preorder. This is also accompanied with a 1” TV commercial which they used to promote this watch.
LG Watch Urbane Luxe – fit for the boardroom
LG have also brought out the LG Watch Urbane Luxe which is a more premium variant of the LG Watch Urbane. This comes with an OLEP flexible display that works like the OLED displays and has a 24-carat gold finish. Huawei’s Android Wear watch can be had gold plated for US$800, gold with a leather band for US$649, black metal for US$449 and a stainless steel look for US$349.
The home network
The main trend affecting the home network is the availability of 802.11ac Wave 2 wireless-network technology which implements the MU-MIMO multi-path technology. This has led to some very powerful routers hitting the European market lately which have four MIMO streams and support the “multi-user” feature that effectively creates a Wi-Fi “switch” out of the access point.
ASUS RT-AC5300 router
ASUS has launched the RT-AC5300 which is considered the world’s fastest Wi-Fi router. This router, which uses spike-shaped antennas can run 1Gbps over the 2.4GHz band and 2.167Gbps over the 5GHz bands.
NETGEAR also fielded the 7800 Nighthawk X4S which is the first modem router to offer this kind of performance. This modem router has a DSL modem on the WAN (Internet) side that can work with ADSL2 or VDSL2 (fibre-copper) networks alongside a Gigabit Ethernet connection for fibre-to-the-premises, fibre-coaxial or Ethernet-based fibre-copper networks; and has on the LAN side, Wi-Fi capable to AC2600 4×4 MU-MIMO dual-band standards along with 4 Gigabit Ethernet connections. It is available in Europe and Australia for a recommended price of AUD$529, EUR€299 or GBP£269. The American press were moaning that they didn’t get this modem router first but they work on a service provisioning method very different to Europe and Australasia where self-install or BYO-modem provisioning of DSL based services is the norm.
D-Link have fielded some home-network hardware in the form of the DIR-885L router which supports 4×4 MU-MIMO AC3150 for its Wi-Fi functionality. They even fielded a USB Wi-Fi network adaptor which can allow any computer to work with an 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless network. This device’s best-case abilities is to work with Wi-Fi network segments up to 3×3 MIMO AC1900 standards.
AVM Fritz!Box 6820 LTE “Mi-Fi”
AVM has been very productive with its home-network hardware although this has been very much “in the comfort zone” with existing technology. They have launched the Fritz!Box 4020 which is a small Internet gateway with an N300 dual-stream single-band Wi-Fi access point along with the Fritz!Box 7430 VDSL Internet gateway that has an N450 three-stream single-band Wi-Fi access point. They also launched the Fritz!Box 6820 which is a “Mi-Fi” that can work with LTE mobile-broadband services and implements 802.11n Wi-Fi and a Gigabit Ethernet connection on the LAN side.
AVM Fritz!Powerline 1220 – AVM enters the HomePlug AV2 fray
They have bought in to the HomePlug AV2 MIMO arena by offering the Fritz!Powerline 1240E HomePlug wireless access point along with the Fritz!Powerline 1220E HomePlug adaptor with pass-through AC outlet. This is in conjunction with the Fritz!WLANRepeater 1160 which is a dual-band Wi-Fi repeater.
Devolo haven’t been quiet lately. Here, they are pitching custoem HomePlug-based powerline solutions including HomePlug access points to ISPs and telcos so they can provision these devices to customers for optimum Wi-Fi coverage. They intend to sell these solutions more likely on an OEM basis. As well, they have launched the dLAN 550 WiFi which is a HomePlug AV500 wireless access point that can establish a single-band N300 Wi-Fi segment. They also used this show to exhibit their existing dLAN 1200 HomePlug AV2 hardware including the dLAN 1200+ WiFi AC which is a wireless access point that answers to the HomePlug AV2 MIMO and 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi.
Next I will be talking about the home-entertainment trends that are expected to cover Europe and Australasia such as the ultra-high-resolution TV and networked audio. Stay tuned!