simonmackay Archive

Acer launches value-priced laptops powered by Intel Tiger Lake silicon

Articles

Acer Swift 3x ultraportable laptop press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Swift 3X ultraportable laptop with Intel Tiger Lake silicon including Xe integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 4 connectivity

Acer’s Putting the Best Integrated GPU in Years Into a Lot of Cheap Laptops | Gizmodo

New laptops announced at Acer Next 2020 feature Intel Tiger Lake | ARS Technica

From the horse’s mouth

Acer

Acer Announces Latest Lineup of Consumer Notebooks Across Swift, Spin and Aspire Series (Press Release)

My Comments

Acer has now refreshed most of their Intel-powered laptop lineup with Intel’s Tiger Lake silicon and is about to put these new computers on the market.

One of the benefits associated with this new silicon is the Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics processors which are as capable as baseline mobile discrete graphics silicon. This means that it could do “all-round” graphics tasks like photo rendering or even Full HD gaming quite easily and is considered credible for integrated graphics silicon.

Acer Spin 5 2-in-1 laptop press image courtesy of Acer

Acer Spin 5 and its stablemate Spin 3 also have the same kind of integrated graphics and connectivity as the Swift 3x

The Acer Swift 3x ultraportable clamshell laptop that has a maximum ask for US$900 or EUR€850 also impresses me further. That is something that holds true of Spin 5 and Spin 3 2-in-1 laptops with the Spin 5 available for USD$999.99 or EUR€1099. That is while the Spin 3 will be available for USD$849.99 or EUR€899.

Here, these abovementioned computers come with a Thunderbolt 4 connection which will appeal to the use of external graphics modules, especially “card-cages” that are kitted out with fit-for-purpose graphics cards. That fits in to what I see as an ideal cost-effective graphics configuration that can appeal to students.

The Aspire 5 is available with Intel Tiger Lake silicon but also with NVIDIA GeForce MX450 discrete GPU as an option. But the question that will arise is what relevance will the GeForce MX graphics processor have in the face of Intel’s Xe integrated graphics which has similar, if not slightly better, performance chops.

I would rather that Acer offers an Aspire 5 mainstream clamshell laptop with the Intel Tiger Lake Core i7 CPU, Xe integrated graphics and at least one Thunderbolt 4 port. Here, it would be about something that can do most graphics work including Full-HD gaming but offer an “after-the-fact” upgrade path for better graphics through the use of an external graphics module that has better-performing graphics silicon inside.

But Acer are showing some reasonably-priced laptops that use decent integrated graphics that could appeal to most users who want some performance out of their computer graphics. It could be seen as the way to go when it comes to portable computers that can do what most people want them to do.

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Deutsche Telekom fields their first Wi-Fi 6 DSL modem router

Article (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

Deutsche Telekom Speedport Pro Plus DSL modem router press picture courtesy of Deutsche Telekom GmBH

Deutsche Telekom Speedport Pro Plus – a DSL modem router that uses Wi-Fi 6

Telekom Speedport Pro Plus: Erster DSL-Router mit Wi-Fi 6 (Telekom Speedport Pro Plus First DSL router with Wi-Fi 6) | Computer Bild

From the horse’s mouth

Deutsche Telekom

Speedport Pro Plus: the premium router for Wi-Fi 6 networks (Press Release)

My Comments

Interest still exists in DSL-based WAN technology especially in VDSL-based fibre-copper setups like fibre-to-the-basement or fibre-to-the-cabinet / fibre-to-the-node. Here this is to utilise existing telephone cabling between the fibre-copper point and the customer’s premises while it is worth it to keep this cable in use.

But Deutsche Telekom have offered to their German market the SpeedProt Pro Plus DSL modem router which is the first of its kind for that market to have Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) for the Wi-Fi segment. For network security, this router works to the WPA3 security standards for Wi-Fi networks, and it can support meshed operation with Deutsche Telekom’s Speedport equipment. It is answering a reality that an increasing number of Wi-Fi client devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops are being equipped with Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking.

The use of Wi-Fi 6 network technology is being seen as very important within Europe where most people who live in the cities live in apartments. It also will underscore for countries like Australia where apartment dwelling within urban areas is gaining acceptance.

This device has 12 antennas compared to the AVM Fritz!Box 7590 having eight antennas. This allows for higher local-network-level throughput and increasingly-robust operation. There is also for Gigabit Ethernet connections for the local network and a Gigabit Ethernet connection as an alternative Internet connection. That is important for fibre-to-the-premises connections or fibre-copper setups implementing cable-TV or Ethernet technology and dependent on an external modem.

As is the trend nowadays with European-made home-network routers, the Telekom Speedport Pro Plus has a VoIP endpoint including a fully-featured DECT cordless-telephone base station. This device supports smart-home functionality for smart-home peripherals that work according to Wi-Fi, Zigbee or the European favourite technology that is DECT-ULE. That is part of their Magenta SmartHome platform that they are offering within Germany.

This is an example of Wi-Fi 6 coming to a carrier-supplied modem router and proving its case with Internet subscribers who stick with the equipment offering that their telco or ISP provide. Who knows when your local telco or ISP will offer their service with Wi-Fi 6 equipment in tow?

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Sonos speakers to work with GE home appliances

Article

GE fridge and stove press image courtesy of GE Appliances

Network-capable GE appliances will be able to interlink with the Sonos multiroom audio platform for audio notification purposes

Sonos’ Speakers Can Now Work With General Electric’s Appliances | UberGizmo

GE teams with Sonos to let your smart appliances talk back | SlashGear

From the horse’s mouth

GE Appliances

GE APPLIANCES BRINGS SMART HOME NOTIFICATIONS TO SONOS SPEAKERS TO DELIVER AN INTEGRATED SMART HOME EXPERIENCE (Press Release)

My Comments

Two companies have been able to build a smart-home partnership with their products and platforms without needing the blessing of Amazon, Apple or Google.

Here, Sonos who have a multiroom audio platform for their speakers and for the IKEA Symfonisk speaker range, has partnered with GE Appliances to provide some sort of smart-appliance functionality.

This will initially work appliances that are part of the GE Appliances SmartHQ building-supplied appliance platform but will work across all GE appliances that can connect to your home network. At the moment it may apply to GE-branded appliances available within North America or based on North American designs but adapted for local conditions. That is with fridges with ice-makers capable of turning large “whiskey-friendly” ice blocks, or ovens capable of roasting a large Thanksgiving-size turkey.

The functionality that will appear is to use the Sonos speakers for audio-notification purposes such as alerting users that, for example, the washing machine, clothes dryer or dishwasher has completed its cycle or the oven that you have set to preheat is up to temperature. It understands the nature of most “white goods” other than refrigeration where they are used to complete a process like washing clothes or dishes.

The classic example that most households face is a washing machine (and perhaps a clothes dryer) being used to process a large multiple-load run of laundry. Here the householder will want to know when the current cycle is finished so they can have the next load going with a minimum of delay.

What is being conceived here is that a multiroom audio platform can tie in with appliances without the need for either of these devices to work with a smart-speaker platform. Rather it is about the consumer-AV platform serving as a sentinel role for the appliances or fulfilling some other role in relation to them.

For these setups to work effectively, the industry needs to work towards using platforms like Open Connectivity Foundation and implement a device-class-level approach to integrating devices within the smart home. It then avoids certain vendors, usually Silicon Valley heavyweights, becoming gatekeepers when it comes to having devices work with each other in the smart-home context.

It then avoids the need for device vendors to strike deals with each other in order and implement particular software hooks to have any sense of interoperability within the smart home.

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Qualcomm to authenticate photos taken on your phone

Article

Android main interactive lock screen

Qualcomm will work towards authenticating photos taken by smartphones or other devices using its ARM silicon at the point of capture

One of the strongest ways to fight misinformation will soon be right in your phone | FastCompany

My Comments

The rise of deepfaked and doctored imagery surfacing on the Web and being used to corroborate lies has started an arms race to  verify the authenticity of audio and visual asset

It was encouraged by the Trusted News Initiative which is a group of leading newsrooms who want to set standards regarding the authenticity of news imagery and introduce watermarks for this purpose.

TruePic, an image authentication service, are partnering with Qualcomm to develop hardware-based authentication of images as they are being taken. Qualcomm has become the first manufacturer of choice because of themselves being involved with ARM-based silicon for most Android smartphones and the Windows 10 ARM platform.

This will use actual time and date, data gained from various device sensors and the image itself as it is taken to attach a certificate of authenticity to that image or video footage. This will be used to guarantee the authenticity of the photos or vision before they leave the user’s phone.

TruePic primarily implements this technology in industries like banking, insurance, warranty provision and law enforcement to work against fraudulent images being used to corroborate claims or to where imagery has to be of high forensic standards. But at the moment, Truepic implements this technology as an additional app that users have to install.

The partnership with Qualcomm is to integrate the functionality in to the smartphone’s camera firmware so that the software becomes more tamper-evident and this kind of authentication applies to all images captured by that sensor at the user’s discretion.

The fact that TruePic is partnering with Qualcomm at the moment is because most of the amateur photos are being taken with smartphones which use this kind of silicon. Once they have worked with Qualcomm, other camera chipmakers including Apple would need to collaborate with them to build in authenticated image technology in to their camera technology.

It can then appeal to implementation within standalone camera devices like traditional digital cameras, videosurveillance equipment, dashcams and the like. For example, it can be easier to verify media footage shot on pro gear as being authentic or to have videosurveillance footage being offered as evidence verified as being forensically accurate. But in these cases, there may be calls for the devices to be able to have access to highly-accurate time and location references for this to work.

The watermark generated by this technology will be intended to be machine-readable and packaged with the image file. This will make it easier for software to show whether the image is authentic or not and such software could be part of the Trusted News Initiative to authenticate amateur, stringer or other imagery or footage that comes in to a newsroom’s workflow. Or it could be used by eBay, Facebook or Tinder to indicate whether images or vision are a genuine representation of the goods for sale or the p

But this technology needs to also apply to images captured by dedicated digital cameras like this Canon PowerShot G1 X

rofile holder.

The idea of providing this function would be to offer it as an opt-in manner, typically as a shooting “mode” within a camera application. This allows the photographer to preserve their privacy. But the use of authenticated photos won’t allow users to digitally adjust their original photos to make them look better. This same situation may also apply to the use of digital zoom which effectively crops photos and videos at the time they are taken.

There is the idea of implementing distributed-ledger technology to track edits made to a photo. This can be used to track at what point the photo was edited and what kind of editing work took place. This kind of ledger technology could also apply to copies of that photo, which will be of importance where people save a copy of the image when they save any edits. This will also apply where a derivative work is created from the source file like a still image or a short clip is obtained from a longer file of existing footage.

A question that will then come about is how the time of day is recorded in these certificates, including the currently-effective time zone and whether the time is obtained from a highly-accurate reference. Such factors may put in to doubt the forensic accuracy of these certificates as far as when the photo or footage was actually taken.

For most of us, it could come in to its own when combatting deepfake and doctored images used to destabilise society. Those of us who use online dating or social-network platforms may use this to verify the authenticity of a person who is on that platform, thus working against catfishing. Similarly, the use of image authentication at the point of capture may come in to its own when we supply images or video to the media or to corroborate transactions.

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Zoom to introduce end-to-end encryption

Articles

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Zoom to provide end-to-end encryption for those video conferences

Zoom end-to-end encryption is finally rolling out next week | Android Authority

Zoom to preview free end-to-end encryption for meetings | ITNews

Zoom Is Adding End-To-End Encryption to Your Endless Meetings | Gizmodo

Zoom finally rolls out end-to-end encryption, but you have to enable it | Mashable

From the horse’s mouth

Zoom

Zoom Rolling Out End-to-End Encryption Offering (Blog Post)

My Comments

Since the COVID-19 coronavirus plague had us housebound even for work or school, we have ended up using videoconferencing platforms more frequently for work, school and social life. The most popular of these platforms ended up being Zoom which effectively became a generic trademark for multiparty videoconferencing.

But the computer press and consumer-privacy regulators identified that most of these videoconferencing platforms had security and user-privacy / company-confidentiality weaknesses. One of these that has beset Zoom was the lack of end-to-end encryption for multiparty videocalls. This ended up being a key issue due to most of us ending using these platforms more frequently and the increased use of Zoom and similar platforms for medical and legal telexonsultations.

Now Zoom, as part of its recent Zoomtopia feature-launch multiparty videoconference, has launched a number of new features for their platform. These include virtual participant layouts similar to what Microsoft Teams is offering.

But the important one here is to facilitate end-to-end encryption during multiparty videoconferences. This will be available across all of Zoom’s user base, whether free or paid. For the first 30 days from next week, it will be a technical preview so they can know of any bugs in the system.

The end-to-end encryption is based around the meeting host rather than Zoom generating the keypairs for the encryption protocol, which would occur as a videoconference is started and as users come on board. It is a feature that Zoom end-users would need to enable at account level and also activate for each meeting they wish to keep secure. That is different from WhatsApp where end-to-end encryption occurs by default and in a hands-off manner.

At the moment, updated native Zoom clients will support the end-to-end encryption – you won’t have support for it on Zoom Web experiences. If a meeting is operating with end-to-end encryption, there will be a green shield with a lock symbol in the upper left corner to indicate that this is the case. They can click on the icon to bring up a verification code and have that confirmed by the meeting host reading it out loud.

Free users will be required to use SMS-based verification when they set up their account for end-to-end encryption. This is a similar user experience to what a lot of online services are doing where there is a mobile phone number as a second factor of authenticity.

At least Zoom is taking steps towards making its multiparty videoconference platform more safe and secure for everyone.

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Facebook Portal TV converts your TV in to a group Zoom videophone

Facebook Portal TV group videophone press picture courtesy of Facebook

Facebook Portal TV

Article

You can now watch Netflix on your Facebook Portal TV | CNet

Netflix Comes to Facebook’s Portal TV Video Device, Along With Zoom | Variety

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Bringing Netflix, Zoom, and More Features to Portal (Blog Post)

Bringing Netflix, Zoom and More Features to Portal (Press Release)

Portal TV (Product Page with opportunity to order)

My Comments

Facebook’s Portal TV is a set-top box with built-in Webcam that is part of Facebook’s Portal smart-display platform. The platform has shown an increase in takeup thanks to us staying home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague.

This device is acquiring access to more of the video-on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV and Showtime. As well, newer Facebook Portal TV devices will come with remote controls that have one-touch access to the video-on-demand services. You may find that if you even bought a replacement remote control for your Portal TV device, it will come with these extra buttons. I see the Facebook Portal TV as an attempt for another of the Silicon Valley big names to have a set-top device based around their core online-services platform and offering the video content services that “every man and his dog” wants.

But the feature that has a strong appeal to me is the Facebook Portal TV turning your TV in to a large-screen group videophone. This initially works with Facebook’s messaging platforms – Messenger and WhatsApp and you have to bind it to your account on either of these services. You can bind the Portal TV to multiple Facebook / Messenger and WhatsApp accounts to make and take calls from these accounts. But it is being extended to Zoom along with some business-grade videoconferencing platforms, with a notable absence of Microsoft’s platforms i.e. Skype and Microsoft Teams which do have a significant user base.

Here, it will legitimise the idea of your household joining in to a long-distance videocall and being able to see the participants on the end of the line on the big screen without squinting. A classic example of this could be Thanksgiving or Christmas and you want to have your family chat with your relatives that are located a long distance away so the distant relatives can be in on the celebrations.

The Portal platform even has the camera and sound self-adjust to follow the action or to encompass more people coming in to view, This is very much a reality as more people crowd in to and join that long-distance videocall. As well, it could be seen as a direction to have video watch parties like what Sling TV is proposing come to your big-screen TV.

The Portal TV set-top box assures users of their privacy by having a hardware switch to enable and disable the camera and microphones. As well, there is a physical camera shutter so the user can mask the camera out. It is also compliant with HDMI-CEC operation thus allowing for one-touch call answering where the TV (and audio peripherals if connected) will come on and select the appropriate input when you answer a Portal videocall. For older people who would benefit from this device, this behaviour means that they only need to press one button on the Portal’s remote to answer that videocall.

What needs to happen is for Google, Amazon, Apple and others to work towards introducing group videophone devices that can work with a regular TV and use the common videoconferencing platforms. This can be through Wehcam accessories that work with existing set-top devices that they have designed and made available or newer set-top devices that have integrated Webcam functionality or support for such accessories. They would have to work with videoconferencing platforms that are popular at work and at home.

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Trying to reduce the number of USB chargers around the house. What can you do?

Belkin BOOST Charge 68W GaN Dual USB-C Wall Charger (Australasia) product picture courtesy of Belkin

You may need to end up rationalising the number of USB chargers you have in your home

You can easily end up with too many USB wall chargers in your home. This can happen as you purchase more devices that come with these chargers or you find and use better chargers like multi-outlet “charging bars”.

Then you think of rationalising the number of chargers you have on hand in your home as you find you have too many of them. But how can you go about this effectively without sacrificing convenience?

Here, the idea is to keep enough chargers on hand and in appropriate locations that assures you of convenience. No-one wants to find that they can’t power or charge their devices because there aren’t enough of these chargers available near to them for their needs.

Which charges do you keep.

Firstly, you need to retain chargers that have at least one USB Type-A socket and/or USB Type-C socket on the charger unit itself. That means you don’t really need chargers that have a USB micro-B or Apple MFi Lightning plug on the end of a cable wired to the charger itself.

This will mean that you can use them to charge any device as long as you have a connection cable with the appropriate connectors on each end. You can even consider the use of longer cables for more flexible connectivity setups.

As well, prefer to keep powerful chargers or those that implement USB Power Delivery for USB Type-C units or Qualcomm fast-charge standards (for USB Type-A units. This will mean that you can quickly charge up your phone or tablet or allow them to work in a high-performance setting while connected to AC power.

Keeping one or more USB-C chargers that use USB Power Delivery and can put up at least 60 watts to at least one USB-C port is a good direction to go. This is important when you are using or intend to purchase an ultraportable laptop or 2-in-1 that has this kind of power needs, something that will be very common in the near future. Sometimes the more power output the charger can make available the better.

Chargers that have two or more outlets, including the many-outlet “charging bars” should be kept for the long haul. It is preferable to have them in the kitchen or the home office especially where you are likely to be charging multiple devices in the same location.

You will be finding that there will be more of the powerful multiple-outlet chargers on the market thanks to power-supply designers, manufacturers and vendors investing in Gallium Nitride technology that allows for compact powerful power-supply devices.

Here, you are factoring in many realities when you use mobile technology. Here, as your portable devices get older, the batteries don’t run for the same long time that they used to when they were new. As well, most of us like to run our portable devices on external power as much as possible to conserve battery runtime.

It is something we used to do with portable audio equipment and some pocket calculators since these devices came around in the 1960s.  We even did things like minimise any battery-draining activities like fast-winding of tapes with our portable tape players unless the equipment was connected to AC power. Or most portable devices that had dial or display lighting had this lighting come on when they were powered from external power but have a button to activate it as needed when on batteries. This was driven by the fact that batteries for these devices that ran for a long time were at a price premium then.

There are also the accessories that support our mobile devices like Bluetooth headsets or powerbanks and these use a USB-based cable for charging their integrated batteries. It is also underscoring that the USB Type-A plug or USB Type-C plug is being seen as the “universal DC power plug” for many devices thus simplifying what we use to power these devices with. For example, some LED-based decorative lighting is appearing that is powered by a USB charger rather than a specially-designed power supply.

As you find that you acquire more powerful USB chargers, you may find that it is high time to send the least-powerful ones away for e-waste recycling. That is unless you are using a device that uses the USB charger purely as a power supply and can work with a low-power USB charger.

You may also find yourself migrating to the newer USB Type-C connection for your devices and then find that it may be a better time to move towards chargers that use at least one of these connection according to the Power Delivery specification.

If you find that your charger uses an IEC-standard “figure-8” or “cloverleaf” AC input socket, this opens up a pathway of flexibility which may give you more reason to keep it. Here, you could use a longer AC cord that has the appropriate connection if you want it further away from the power outlet.

For travel purposes, you may find it simpler to purchase an AC cord with the destination country’s national AC plug to use it in countries using that kind of AC power outlet. Typically you would buy these cables from a local electrical retailer or office-supplies store as an AC cord for a radio or laptop. You then end up with some form of flexibility about where you locate it in your travel accommodation. This situation is more advantageous where you end up frequently visiting countries using that same AC power outlet.

Where should we keep USB chargers?

At least one of these chargers should be kept in each of the main living areas in the house.

If you find that you don’t like the idea of these chargers strewn around the house, it may be a good idea to keep them in a drawer in the appropriate room while they aren’t actually in use. But make sure everyone is aware of the chargers existing in those storage locations when you store them. This is where the ultra-compact chargers really earn their keep because they don’t take up much storage space.

In the lounge areas like the living room or rumpus room, it may be a good idea to keep a powerful USB charger of some form near one or more of the armchairs or couches. This is because most of us would be using a smartphone or, more likely, a tablet there in order to interact with online resources like Wikipedia, search engines or social media when we watch TV for example.

You may find that plugging a charger in to a standard extension cord may work if you are wanting one to serve someone sitting in a chair or sofa that is located away from a wall. Similarly using a powerboard to plug your table or floor lamp and a charger in to may work wonders here. The use of longer AC-current cords may benefit these applications better due to keeping the power conversion process closer to the device using the power and reducing voltage drop where it matters.

The kitchen area may be a good location for a multiple-outlet “charging bar” due to people charging their devices in that area. On the other hand a small two-outlet powerful wall charger may earn its keep here if you are trying to avoid excess clutter.

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock product image courtesy of Dell

It is best to focus USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks like the Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock towards peripherals that are being used with the dock’s host computer

The same goes too for the home office at least. Here, you may be using this as the “go to” place to charge powerbanks and mobile accessories in a location where they can be found. You may think of using that USB-C or Thunderbolt dock that you are using to connect your laptop to the big screen and keyboard for this purpose. But you may find that having a charger, like a “charging bar” may earn its keep here when you are simply charging devices that aren’t necessarily peripherals for your computer so that all USB sockets on that dock serve those peripherals.

You may want to keep a charger or two in the bedrooms if you do charge your smartphone or tablet there. It is also important to make sure the guestroom has one or two of these chargers so that guests who stay overnight have somewhere to charge their devices.

If you do keep accessories on hand for travel, one or more small USB chargers can come in handy here. You could even consider a multi-outlet “charging bar” again for packing when you travel.

At least, making sure you are keeping the powerful capable chargers that work to current standards and keeping them in areas where they are useful can work out as a convenient and effective way to rationalise these devices.

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Google answers Apple TV with their own set-top box

Article

Google announces new Chromecast with the new Google TV interface | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Our best Chromecast yet, now with Google TV (Blog Post)

Chromecast with Google TV (Product Page with opportunity to order)

Chromecast with Google TV (product video) – Click or tap to play in YouTube

My Comments

The Apple TV has ruled the roost as an add-on set-top box that ties in tightly with their MacOS and iOS platforms. Here, this set-top box has access to an app store with the native-client apps for the main online video content services amongst other things. This is in addition to being an audio-video AirPlay destination for streaming content from your iOS device, Mac regular computer or iTunes software.

You have to have your Apple TV bound to your Apple ID account (of which many such accounts can be bound to the same device) but you can control it using its remote control. This can be either the Siri Remote which is a Bluetooth voice remote with trackpad operation or the classic Apple TV remote which is a simpler infrared D-pad remote. You also had the ability to install native client apps for the popular video-on-demand services, while it existed as a front-end for Apple’s iTunes transaction-based video-on-demand service.

Newer iterations can be bought that can offer 4K UHDTV video and all the newer tvOS-based Apple TV devices use HDMI-CEC control, allowing you to press any button on the Apple TV remote to cause your TV to come on and switch over to the input the Apple TV is connected to.

But those of us who use the Android platform weren’t sure of any add-on set-top device that works properly with our phones or tablets. There are some TVs that run Android TV and some set-top boxes do work this platform but you need to be sure they aren’t running the mobile Android operating system rather than Android TV. As well, some of these Android TV set-tops run an “operator-tier” variant of that platform which may limit access to the Google Play app store for Android TV apps.

Or you would simply use a Google Chromecast device or a smart TV or set-top device that fully supports the Chromecast (Google Cast) streaming protocol and stream video content from your Android device to your TV using that device. This would have you keeping you Android device on while you were viewing the content and being aware of its battery status.

Now Google have offered their latest Chromecast device which is really a Google TV / Android TV set-top box rather than just a Chromecast-protocol audio-video endpoint, dependent on your smartphone. This device, called the Chromecast with Google TV, has its own remote control which is a Bluetooth / infra-red remote voice remote, along with an Android TV operating environment and Google Play app store. 

This device also provides a unified content-search experience so you can search for a title and it will show you if it exists in any video services you subscribe to as well as offering you the ability to view it through Google’s Play Store’s transaction-driven video-on-demand service. The voice remote also allows you to search for content using your voice and Google Assistant.

The Google Chromecast with Google TV will require you to bind it to your Google account. But I am not sure whether this device offers multiple-account support to cater for multiple-adult households.

It has a USB-C connection that is primarily used for power-supply purposes but Google is wanting to see it used as a data connection for supplementary peripherals. The use they initially have in mind is an Ethernet adaptor similar to an Ethernet-equipped USB-C hub that implements USB Power Delivery Charge-through (pass-through) support.  But it could be a chance for Google to supply and support a companion Webcam as a way to purpose this device as a group videophone.

At least for Android users, Google has done the right thing towards having an add-on set-top device that is a known quantity which provides smart TV functionality.

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Dell updates the XPS 13 laptop and 2-in-1 to Intel Tiger Lake silicon

Articles

Dell XPS 13 press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

The new Dell XPS 13 clamshell laptop computer that is coming soon

Dell updates XPS 13 2-in-1 and XPS 13 | PCWorld Australia

Tiger Lake is coming in Dell XPS 13, XPS 13 DE, and XPS 13 2-in-1 | ARS Technica

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

XPS 13 (9310) clamshell laptop – Product Page with opportunity to order (USA)

XPS 13 (9310) 2-in-1 convertible laptop – Product Page with opportunity to order (USA)

My Comments

The Dell XPS 13 range of ultraportable laptops and 2-in-1 computers has over the last few years been seen as the “top of the pack” for that class of computer. Here, it has been about delivering the right mix of features, functionality and build quality for the price with this being reflected through the different generations of that computer.

Now, just after Intel had released the latest Tiger Lake mobile-computing silicon, Dell had just refreshed all of the computers in the XPS 13 lineup with this silicon. This includes the use of Intel’s latest Xe integrated-graphics processor technology which is being seen as fit for Full-HD gaming and even able to replace entry-level discrete mobile-use graphics silicon offerings like NVIDIA’s MX offerings. As well, they are to have two Thunderbolt 4 ports which are compatible with Thunderbolt 3 peripherals like external graphics modules. The integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 3 (or newer) port feature combination that the Dell XPS 13 has implemented since the Kaby Lake edition is one of those computer option combinations that I do see as being valid for laptops.

In this case, there was an emphasis on the quality aspect of the Tiger Lake silicon refresh for the Dell XPS 13 series. This was about a faster range of CPUs, the availability of integrated graphics silicon that is on a par with baseline mobile discrete graphics silicon, and the use of Thunderbolt 4 connectivity which is a reliability and connectivity improvement on that specification. Here, this graphics improvement was about combining an ultraportable computer design with graphics processing technology that isn’t a wimp.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 in all modes press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

Even as a 2-in-1 that has been engineered to work with higher-power processors nut not overheat

The computers will have a thinner lighter design with the 2-in-1 variant having improved thermal design to cater towards the use of more powerful processing silicon. But that variant will be limited to the Intel Core i7-1165G7 as the most powerful CPU that can be specified. It will have the smallest integrated camera ever which clocks in at 2.25mm. The XPS 13 traditional laptop variant will use an edge-to-edge keyboard and achieve a 91.5% screen-to-body ratio.

XPS 13 computers that are specified with the 4K UHD+ display will have the display being certified for HDR and Dolby Vision use. But computers specified with the Full HD screen will have a battery runtime rated for 19 hours. The question with this is whether this can be about 19 hours with a mixture of activities ranging from Web browsing, word processing, viewing video content and playing a game like Civilization 6 on that long flight or roadtrip.

These computers will normally be delivered with Windows 10 but Dell is offering the XPS 13 traditional clamshell laptop as a “Developer Edition” variant. Here, this will be preloaded with Ubuntu 18 Linux, which will please software tinkerers and open-source computing advocates.

The minimum prices for Australian users are AUD$2999 for the 2-in-1 variant and AUD$2499 for the clamshell variamt. It will be interesting to see what the press reviews will come up with when the review units start to appear – whether they underscore Dell’s commitment to keeping the right mix of features, functionality, build quality and price for these computers.

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Amazon’s next generation of Echo devices to use edge computing

ArticlesAmazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

New Amazon Echo devices

Everything Amazon announced at its September event | Mashable

Amazon hardware event 2020: Everything the company announced today | Android Authority

Use of edge computing in new Echo devices

Amazon’s Alexa gets a new brain on Echo, becomes smarter via AI and aims for ambience | ZDNet

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Introducing the All-New Echo Family—Reimagined, Inside and Out (Press Release)

New Echo (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

New Echo Dot (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

New Echo Show 10 (Product Page with ordering opportunity)

My Comments

Amazon are premiering a new lineup of Echo smart-speaker and smart-display devices that work on the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform.

These devices convey a lot of the aesthetics one would have seen in science-fiction material or “future living” material written from the 1950s to the 1970s. It is augmented by an indoor camera drone device that Amazon released around the same time.

As well, all of these devices have the spherical look that conveys that retro-futuristic industrial-design style that was put forward from the 1950s to the early 1970s like with the Hoover Constellation vacuum cleaner of the era or the Grundig Audiorama speakers that were initially designed in the 1970s thanks to the Space Race. You might as well even ask Alexa to pull up and play space-age bachelor-pad music from Spotify or Amazon Music through these speakers.

It is even augmented further with the base of the Echo and Echo Dot lighting up as a pin-stripe to indicate the device’s current status. This industrial design also permits the implementation of a 360-degree sound approach that can impress you a lot. It also is a smart-home hub that works with Zigbee, Bluetooth Low Energy and Amazon Sidewalk devices so you don’t need to use a separate hub for them.

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition (Tiger and Panda) press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition that is available either as a panda or tiger – for the young or young at heart

The small Echo Dot comes in two different variants where one of these has a clock on the front while the other doesn’t. It also comes also as a “Kids’ Edition” with an option of a panda face or a cat face. It is offered as part of Amazon’s Alexa Kids program which provides a child-optimised package of features for this voice assistant. But I also wonder whether this can be ran as a regular Echo Dot device, which may appeal to those adults who are young at heart and want that mischievous look these devices have.

The Echo Show 10 smart display uses a microphone array and automatic panning to face the user. This is driven by machine vision driven by the camera and microphone array. But the camera has a shutter for your privacy. Of course you can use this device as a videophone thanks to the Alexa platform’s support for Amazon’s calling platforms, Zoom and Skype.

Amazon Echo Show 10 press image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon Echo Show 10 that can swivel towards you

What makes this generation of Echo devices more interesting is that they implement an edge-computing approach to improve sound quality and intelligibility when it comes to interacting with Alexa. This is even opening up ideas like natural-flow conversations with Alexa or allowing Alexa to participate as an extra person in a multiple-person conversation. It is furthering Amazon’s direction towards implementing ambient computing on their Alexa voice-driven assistant platform.

But Google was the first to implement this concept in a smart-speaker / voice-driven assistant use case. Here, they used it in the Nest Mini smart speaker to improve on the Google Assistant’s intelligibility of your commands.

Amazon Echo Show 10 in videocall - press image courtesy of Amazon

Oh yeah, you can make and take Zoom or Skype videocalls on an Amazon Echo Show 10

I do see this as a major direction for smart-speaker and voice-driven-assistant technology due to improving responsiveness and user interaction with these devices. It may even be about keeping premises-local configurations and customisations on the device’s memory rather than on the cloud, which may improve a lot of use factors. For example, it may be about user privacy due to minimal user data held on remote servers. Or it could be about an optimised highly-responsive setup for the home-automation setups we build around these devices.

What needs to be looked at is a way to implement localised peer-to-peer sharing of data between smart speaker devices that are on the same platform and are installed within the same home network. This can allow users to have the same quality of experience no matter which device they use within the home.

There also has to be support for localised processing of data by devices with the edge-computing smarts for those devices that don’t have that kind of operation. This would be important if you bring in a newer device with this functionality and effectively “push down” the existing device to a secondary usage scenario. In this use case, having another device with the edge computing smarts on your home network and bound to your voice-driven-assistant platform account could assure the same kind of smooth user experience as using the new device directly.

These Amazon Echo devices are showing a new direction for voice-driven home assistant devices to allow for improved intelligibility and smoother operation.

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