Computer Hardware Archive

Product Review–Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer which is similar in capability to the HL-4150CDN and HL-4570CDW colour laser printers. This is the kind of printer one would consider as being useful for high-throughput printing of presentations and marketing collateral for a small business i.e. the organisational “short-run” printing press. The classic example of this would be a real-estate agent or auctioneer who has to turn out flyers that describe the property or goods that are for sale to hand to prospective purchasers when the property or auction lot is available for inspection. Or a church or funeral home could use these printers to bring colour in to those “order-of-service” cards or other similar short-run printing jobs.

There is a cheaper variant of this printer, known as the Brother HL-L8250CDN. This has a slower output speed and only has Ethernet as its network connection but is fast enough for most colour printing applications.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Print Paper Trays Connections
Colour / B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser xerographic Optional high-capacity A4 tray Ethernet,
802.11g/n Wi-Fi,
Wi-Fi Direct
Auto-duplex multi-purpose tray IPv6

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price:

HL-L8250CDN: AUD$399

HL-L8350CDW: AUD$499

Optional Extras:

High-capacity paper tray: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$109 2500 AUD$123.95 4500
Cyan AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Magenta AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Yellow AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500

 

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Unit AUD$267.45 25000
Belt Unit AUD$179.95 50000
Waste Toner Unit AUD$29.95 50000

The printer itself

Setup

The Brother HL-L8350CDW printer is apparently easy to set up or prepare for transport compared to previous-generation Brother colour laser printers. Here, there isn’t a need to remove catches and other pieces to prepare the HL-J8350CDW for use. There isn’t also a need to prepare the printer’s print engine for transport such as installing special fittings if the machine needs to be transported.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer toner cartridges and drum unit

Toner cartridges and drum unit as a drawer

Like the Brother HL-4150CDN, the HL-L8350CDW has the drum unit working effectively as a “drawer” when you have to change toners, which would make this process a lot more easier. As well, like all of the Brother printers or multi-function units that implement laser or LED xerographic technology, these use a print engine with running parts like the imaging drum and/or transfer belt that the user can separately replace, along with the option to purchase toner cartridges that have a higher yield. These features allow for the printers to be effectively cheap to keep going.

It is capable of being setup for an Ethernet of Wi-Fi wireless network or even supporting Wi-Fi Direct so you can print directly from your mobile device without the need for the printer to be connected to a network. But the Wi-FI Direct function cannot be operated at the same time as the printer being connected to your network.

There is the ability to set these printers up for advanced print jobs such as working with envelopes or thicker media. This is through a drop-down “manual-bypass” tray that accommodates up to 50 sheets of the media along with the back of the printer being able to be dropped down for “straight-path” printing of envelopes. This ability places the Brother HL-L8350CDW and its peers along with the higher-capacity monochrome laser printers at an advantage compared with cheaper Brother printers for working wiht special media.

Walk-up functions

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer USB walk-up socket

USB socket for plugging in USB flash drives

You can print PDF or similar files from a USB memory stick by plugging it in to a USB port on the front of the unit. One disadvantage here is that it is slower to turn out a 2-sided PDF print job which may come as a limitation when you want to turn out that flyer where the artwork is on a memory stick.

It is also worth knowing that the USB port can serve as a “walk-up” charging port for your smartphone or similar devices. The manual doesn’t seem to support this but I haven’t had error messages thrown up as a result of my charging of gadgets this way. This function even operates when the printer is in the “Sleep” mode or in active use. It doesn’t work this way in the “Deep Sleep” mode.

Computer functions

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser pritner control panel

Control panel

An issue with a lot of Brother printers is that they make one driver package for each model even though most or all models of a series have common abilities and features.  This can cause problems with installation especially over the network. Other than that, the software installation worked smoothly.

For printing, it took only a few seconds for the printer to “wake up” and turn out the first page of a job once you submitted it. This was from its “sleep” state. As for heat build-up, there wasn’t much of that during a small print run but it starts to occur through larger print runs say, for example, after 20 double-side pages are turned out. As well, the noise level is similar to what is expected for most laser printers and photocopiers.

The on-machine user interface is similar to the HL4150CDN’s user interface, which has the small LCD display and four-way arrow keys. This doesn’t have the ability to show up how much toner is currently available or provide an easy-to-implement “confidential-print” or “walk-up” printing function.

Print speed and quality

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer special-media tray

Multi-page special-media tray

The text and graphics documents came out of the Brother HL-L8350CDW very sharply and clearly. This was exemplified with a personal “desktop-publishing” job that I had run as well as other print jobs that I had done with this machine.

The automatic duplex functionality came across as being very quick for jobs that were sent from the host computer. It was something that was very similar to what had happened with the Brother HL-4150CDN where it apparently worked both sides of two pages at the same time. This didn’t cause problems with registration shift, which could make it work well for turning out bookmarks and similar documents or proofing documents that are to be printed on card-stock by a print shop.

As for photos, these came through sharp and vibrant, which is above average for a colour laser printer. Here, I was able to see bright reds in the test images which also came through very brightly and with good contrast. This would increase the Brother HL-L8350CDW’s appeal to people like estate agents who need to turn out a run of flyers to have on hand during an “open-for-inspection” visit.

Build quality and serviceability

The Brother HL-L8350CDW is built very well and, as I have mentioned before, hasn’t had issues with heat buildup or excessive noise. This has been through use of proper cool-down procedures. As well, all the doors and drawers snapped shut properly and didn’t come across as being flimsy.

For serviceability, the rear door exposes most of the output print path so you can remove jammed pages easily. The fact that the drum unit is separately replaceable makes it easier to reach inside the unit if you had to deal with paper jams inside the unit. This makes the job of rectifying most printer paper-transport problems less of a chore.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother HL-L8350CDW could show the amount of toner available in the unit on the LCD display so you don’t have to operate a computer to know when it’s time to put a replacement toner cartridge on the shopping list. This could simply be shown as a bar graph and not only when the supply is critically low.

The USB device port on these machines could be implemented for more than just walk-up printing from USB flash drives. For example, this port could support PictBridge printing from digital cameras so you could obtain a quick printout of a digital photo you took with your camera. As well, it could use the USB Human Interface Device class to work with an external numeric keypad for applications such as Secure Print or whenever you are setting it up with a wireless network. It then avoids the need to “pick and choose” numbers for code entry.

A nice-to-have feature that the machine’s owner could separately enable would be a “plug-and-charge” function that is available at all times the printer is plugged in to AC power rather than when it is active or in “sleep” mode. Here, this means that the USB port could provide 1 amp or 2.1 amps of power available irrespective of sleep-mode status so you can charge up a smartphone, tablet or similar gadget from the printer’s USB port. It is one of those features that is becoming more important as the USB port is seen as a universal power outlet for personal gadgets.

Brother could improve on the automatic duplexer in these printers to improve its throughput so that the “sheet output” approaches that of half of the machine’s rated single-sided throughput. This is although these machines do excel on that feature by effectively “working” two sheets at once. It would then raise the bar with those of us who are using this feature as part of our desktop-publishing needs. Similarly, these laser-printer automatic duplexers could be worked further to handle A5 and similar small sizes of paper for those of us who expect them to work as “short-run” printing presses.

As for replaceable parts, Brother could offer for these colour laser printers a “heavy-duty” replacement-parts kit with a drum unit and belt unit that are optimised to handle longer more-intense print runs as an option. This could appeal to small businesses and non-profit organisations who are more likely to run these machines constantly as the organisational short-run printing press.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend the Brother HL-L8350CDW as a cost-effective high-volume colour laser printer for those of us who turn out a lot of colour business or presentation documents and place value on the laser xerographic print method for this application. Those of us who are on a budget could opt for the HL-L8250CDN which has a slower throughput and just uses Ethernet network connectivity.

As well, I would run these printers with the TN-346 series of toner cartridges when you are expecting to push them hard on a lot of promotional printout work. Most users can run them with the TN-341 cartridges when on a budget or even use a TN-346K black cartridge along with the TN-341 colour cartridges as a way of stretching your dollar further.

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APC releases a UPS targeted for your router

Article

This Compact Device Keeps Small Electronics Running On | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

APC

Product Page

My Comments

An uninterruptable power supply that I have previously recommended for use with routers, modems and the like was the APC Back-UPS ES series of UPS devices. This was typically for households who live in areas where the power supply may not be stable and they end up having to reset the equipment at the network’s edge in a certain manner every time the power goes down.

Now APC have issued a new and cheap UPS device specifically targeted at modems, routers, VoIP ATAs and the like in the form of the Back-UPS Connect 70. This 75-watt / 125 VA device is sold for US$50 and has enough power to service laptops or these other devices. You could even think of running more of these devices to allow you to support different loads such as one servicing a router, modem and VoIP ATA and another one servicing one or two consumer-tier NAS units.

At the moment, it is only available as a 120V unit for the North-American market, but personally I would like to see the arrival of a 240V unit targeted at the European market at least. This is more so with the French market where the Freebox and similar “n-boxes” are there to provide telephony and Internet service and are dependent on a reliable mains supply.

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Should I buy a secondary printer for my home network?

Brother MFC-J4710DW sideways-print multifunction inkjet printer

Brother MFC-J4710DW – an example of a printer you would use as your main printer

Your existing printer or multifunction unit may be working satisfactorily for you at the moment but you may find that you or your household may benefit from a secondary printer that is connected to your home network.

Typically this may be brought about by you buying a printer with more functionality than the one you already own and you “pushing” down the existing printer to serve as a secondary machine like you would with the existing refrigerator or colour television set. In some cases, it is more attractive to do this with mid-tier consumer units or any of the business units where you spend more on the equipment rather than those units that cost as much as you paid for the machine to replace their ink or toner cartridges.

Of course, the idea of networking a printer would be to avoid the need to buy a printer for each computer at home but a different trend has risen. Increasingly, most printer manufacturers are implementing a “mobile-printing” strategy to allow you to print from a smartphone or tablet. This can be done through Apple AirPrint for iOS devices, Google CloudPrint for some Android devices or a manufacturer-provided app.

Similarly, most printer manufacturers are selling equipment on a “horses-for-courses” approach where different printers in their consumer and small-business product ranges suit different tasks.

What applications may cause you to think of a secondary printer?

There are two main applications where a secondary printer on your home network may be handy

A machine more locally placed

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one inkjet printer – suitable for use as a secondary printer

Most likely, you will have the printer kept in your home office or study where you do a lot of the computing. But, as you use AirPrint or similar features that enable printing from your tablet or smartphone, you may be wanting to order print jobs from other rooms in the house like the kitchen. Similarly, most of the recent crop of printers have a “print-from-Web” function to obtain hard copy from Web services like Dropbox or Facebook.

The idea behind this setup is that when your computer device asks you which printer to send the job to, you determine the machine that is local to you for that job. Here, you have the advantage of being ready to collect the job immediately rather than it piling up on the desk. You also have the assurance of hearing whether the machine has started to turn out your job or not so you are not worried about sending it to the wrong unit or mis-specifying that job.

This situation may be more real for those of you who live in a larger house or a multi-storey / split-level house and have the home office up the front or downstairs but have a significant activity area on the other side of the house or upstairs like the kitchen and family room that is located down the back of the house. Similarly, those of you who have a multi-building home network covering the garage,barn or bungalow alongside the main house may also find this situation applying to you. Here, you could keep a lesser-capable printer or multifunction in the bungalow while having another unit like a better model kept in the main house.

Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer

Another printer that can serve as a secondary unit

Here, you could keep a light-duty network-capable multifunction printer like the Brother DCP-J552DW, the Brother DCP-J562DW or HP Envy 120 in the kitchen or family room. This could allow you to do on-the-spot printing and copying in that area. A mid-tier consumer inkjet, low-tier business inkjet or a low-tier business laser / LED machine may work well for a study.

Some families may use this as a way to work towards providing their adolescent or adult child with a printer for when they “grow their wings and leave the family nest”. Here, the adolescent or adult child could be responsible for buying the consumables for that machine and then take it with them when they move onwards.

The ability to have complementary functionality

You could have the best of both printing types for your home office if you have both a laser and an inkjet printer. Here, you could benefit from the flexibility that this offers when it comes to choosing and using stationery for your printing requirements. An example of this could be to not worry about purchasing laser labels or inkjet labels for your envelopes because you can use the appropriate machine for the labels you have on hand.

Some users may benefit from a monochrome laser or LED unit for their routine document-printing needs while a colour inkjet can come in handy when occasional colour printing is required. Similarly, a photo-grade inkjet machine like a high-end HP Photosmart or OfficeJet or high-end Epson could serve your photographic or brochure-printing needs while a machine not so good with “presentation printing” or “photo-grade printing” can do the normal office printing work. This is more so as presentation-grade glossy or silk-look paper is more readily available at local office-supply stores for inkjet printers than it is for laser printers.

Brother HL-6180DW monochrome network laser printer

One of those mono laser printers you would see as a document-printing workhorse

Another example would be is having machines that handle different paper sizes such as A4 and A3. You could use an A3-capable printer or MFC for your large-sheet printing requirements while you maintain an A4-capable machine like most business lasers for most printing needs.

What must you consider?

A common issue associated with very-low-end printers when it comes to keeping them going is that the cost of purchasing replacement consumables is equivalent to that of purchasing a similar-standard printer. As well, a lot of these machines may not last for a long time nor would they be able to yield a significant number of pages.

I would also be careful of the two-cartridge colour inkjet printers because if one colour runs out, you would have to replace the colour cartridge. These can only work well for occasional work but I wouldn’t expect to run them hard for constant work.

On the other hand, I would pay attention to brands that use the same type of consumables across a large part of their product range. This is represented with Hewlett-Packard implementing the 564 series of ink cartridges across most of their Photosmart product range since 2009 and Brother using the LC-133 cartridges across all of their current-issue inkjet machines.

The latter example was underscored with the Brother DCP-J552DW multifunction printer which is a light-duty home machine and the Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 multifunction printer which is a heavy-duty SOHO unit using these cartridges – you don’t have to think of buying two different cartridge types for the different printers..

Conclusion

You can run one or more additional printers on your home network still as communal printers. But these can earn their keep either as a machine that is local to a point of activity and/or to provide functionality that is complementary to other printers that you own.

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It’s getting closer for the USB Type-C connector

Articles

First Pictures Surface Of The Reversible USB Plug Of The Future | Gizmodo

Meet the next-gen USB cable that could sweep away all others | CNET

Previous coverage

USB Type C To Be A No-Worries Device Connection

From the horse’s mouth

USB Implementers Forum

Press Release (PDF)

My Comments

USB data cable

USB data / power cable to be eventually replaced with the USB Type-C data / power cable with the same plug each end

Just lately, the USB Implementers Forum have shown first pictures of their next-generation cable and connector which would have symmetrical connection abilities.

It was mooted last December as a connection solution for today’s computing needs. Here, this is about providing data and power to today’s smartphones, tablets and Ultrabooks using a very-low-profile connector the same size as either the Micro-B connector used on your Android smartphone or the Apple Lightning used on a recent-issue iDevice. The size will also appeal to increasingly-low-profile peripheral devices like portable hard disks, keyboards and mice and would also benefit monitor and smart-TV designers when it comes to connecting peripheral devices to these units so you don’t have to worry which way to plug the USB plug in.

It also underscores a reality with the USB standard where the USB cable will end up as a high-speed data transfer cable and a power-delivery cable that supplies enough power to run a notebook computer or high-capacity external hard disk by supporting the kind of scalability required for these setups.

Other advantages being shown here include an audible click for successful connection as well as being able to be plugged and unplugged 10,000 times. The former feature would help in that the user is sure the device they are connecting is firmly plugged in especially if they cannot see the socket they are plugging it in to, such as one installed at the back of a device, The latter feature would be of importance to sockets installed on mobile computing devices and accessories as well as “walk-up” connection sockets installed on the front of static equipment. Here we are thinking of smartphones being connected to a charging device regularly and frequently or USB thumbdrives being plugged in to the front of a desktop computer or printer. Both situations may start to lead to USB connections starting to become unreliable over time.

As mentioned previously, there will be cables available that will have a Type-C connection on one end and either a Type Standard-A, Type Standard-B or Type Micro-B connection on the other end. This will allow you to connect existing devices to newer devices bestowed with these connections. The articles even said that some newer devices will also be equipped with one of these connections along with a previous-standard USB connection in the near term.

Who knows what this year will bring for designers of low-profile devices where the power/data connection style will become more suited to this application.

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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/

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Philips to present Android all-in-one touchscreen displays

Article

Philips Launches Two Smart All-In-One Displays | TechPowerUp

Philips Smart All-in-One Android-Displays mit Touchsteuerung | Gizmodo.de (German language / Deutschesprache)

From the horse’s mouth

Philips

Product Page

S221C4AFD 21” variant

S231C4AFD 23” variant

My Comments

Philips S221C4AFD Smart All-In-One Monitor - press image courtesy of PhilipsAfter the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 had passed, it was for sure that Android was to step up to the plate as a desktop operating system and the classes of personal computing equipment were to be blurred. One class of equipment that was being premiered was a monitor that was an Android-driven “all-in-one” computer that that was being showcased running one of the Angry Birds games.

Philips was no further from the truth when they launched a pair of Android-powered Full-HD “smart monitors”. These monitors are able to work as primary or secondary displays for Windows computers but also work in their own right as the equivalent of a recent Android 4.2-powered tablet.

They are available as a 21” (S221C4AFD) or 23” (S231C4AFD) variant with full access to the Google Play store (and such goodies as Instagram, Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga and the like). Here they run this software using NVIDIA Tegra 1.6GHz horsepower and work with 2Gb RAM and 8Gb flash storage. They also can mount an SDHC card for your digital camera’s photos or other “offloading” storage requirements and connect to your home network using 802.11g/n Wi-Fi.

Some of us could see these as “toys” but they could be purposed not just as secondary monitors for your propped-up laptop. There is the ability to use these as task-focused computers like digital signage / electronic picture frames, kiosks, POS terminals and the like when it comes to work use or they could be used in the same vein as the Sony VAIO Tap 20 and its ilk where they end up on that ottoman so that two kids play air-hockey or similar multiplayer games.

At the moment. they are being sold in Europe for €440 (21” model) or €470 (23” model). This is a symptom of what will be happening with Windows and Android being the mainstream operating systems for both regular and mobile computing needs.

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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

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Last minute shopping ideas

Are you still at the shops looking for gifts to buy those loved ones? Have a look at this list of last-minute shopping ideas so you have something to give.

Headphones, Earphones and Speakers

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headphones

Whether someone is working with a poor-quality headset or simply has lost or damaged their headphones, a replacement or additional headset can earn its keep.

Similarly the headset that they are using may not suit a particular activity they are doing like jogging or listening to content in a noisy environment. For example some headsets may earn their keep better for on-the-road use compared to other headsets or someone who does a lot of air travel or commutes by bus or diesel-powered train may appreciate the active-noise-cancelling headphones.

Bluetooth headsets can be of benefit to smartphone, tablet ad laptop users as a way to achieve private wireless handsfree communication. Why I mentioned tablet and laptop users is because of programs like Viber, Skype and Lync that allow for audio or video calls using these devices.  There are the Bluetooth audio adaptors that can covert a pair of wired headphones to a wireless headset and most of these come in the form of “Bluetooth in-ear headsets” which have these adaptors supplied with a pair of bud-style earphones.

Sony SA-NS510 Portable Wireless speaker

Sony SA-NS510 portable wireless speaker

Wireless speakers are still worth considering whethe they are Bluetooth-based or Wi-Fi-based, most of which serve as Internet radios under the control of a software app for smartphones and tablets. The cheaper variety can work as an ad-hoc portable listening device for a smartphone, tablet or ultraportable laptop and better-quality units can work well as an adequate secondary sound system for a small area. If you are buying a Wi-Fi-based unit, make sure that it supports AirPlay and DLNA or is a Wi-Fi / Bluetooth type that supports DLNA for Wi-Fi use.

To the same extent, a Bluetooth-capable radio can serve as an alternative to wireless speakers if you are thinking of something for the kitchen, workshop or office and you want access to broadcast or, in some cases, Intenret radio.

Input Devices

External hard disk

A typical external hard disk

One last-minute shopping idea for most technology users would be an input device of some sort like a keyboard or mouse. This includes Bluetooth keyboards and mice that come in handy for tablets and some smartphones or a small USB “multimedia” keyboard for a games console or some smart TVs and video peripherals.

Examples where they could benefit would be to create a “full-sized” workstation with a full-width keyboard for an ultraportable laptop or a tablet or a proper keyboard to use with a Smart TV or games console to enter in login parameters or social-media text on these devices rather than “hunt-and-peck” or SMS-style text entry.

Of course, they would earn their keep with replacing that half-dead computer keyboard, mouse or games controller thus benefiting from increased reliability.

Storage

The USB memory key always earns its keep as a removable storage solution for most devices especially if you are doing things like printing photos from your image collection at commercial photo-printing kiosks, using as a “virtual mixtape” for music to play in the car or on another music system or simply to keep certain important data with you on the go. Blu-Ray player users can use these USB memory keys to locally store downloadable BD-Live content peculiar to their own experience with the BD-Live disc and player. This could even allow them to take the same data between many Blu-Ray players which comes in to its own with BD-Live interactive entertainment that maintains local scoreboards or progress charts.

USB external hard disks also serve a purpose for providing offline backup of large amounts of data or offloading a large quantity of data from a laptop. This is more important with users who operate an ultraportable laptop that uses lower-capacity solid-state storage or for travellers who want to make sure they have a copy of the data in their in-room safe. Some smart TVs and digital-TV set-top boxes also benefit form USB hard disks simply to allow them to gain PVR functionality.

Similarly, most digital camera users and Android phone users would benefit from a spare SD or microSD storage card. The camera users can see these cards serving as extra rolls of film that can be swapped out at will where you can gain access to the photos for printing or downloading. For Android and, to some extent, Windows Phone, users, the microSD card can work as infinitely-expandable storage or, as I use them, as the equivalent of the mixtapes.

Covers, sleeves and other accessories

One simple way to personalise any portable computing device is to purchase ta cover, sleeve or pouch that reflects the personality of the user. In the case of smartphones, cases that look like a wallet or notepad also can add that look of something that exists alongside one’s wallet and other personal accessories.

Similarly, “gadget bags” come in to their own with people who has laptops, smartphones, tablets or digital cameras. These can be small “toiletry-bag-style” bags or “school-style” pencil cases that can be used to keep chargers, cables and other accessories “rounded up” and hard to lose to neat-looking camera cases that can keep cameras and their accessories protected.

As wit these, pay extra attention to the quality of the material, the stitching and any fasteners that are part of these accessories because a lot of cheaper poor-quality types easily become undone by stitching coming apart or zippers giving way. This is because these cases undergo a lot of use as people use their portable computing devices through life.

Other notes

Have a look at the Essential Smartphone Accessories gadget list that I recently published because these highlight the kind of accessories a person who has a smartphone or tablet can never be without. Of course, it is so easy to think that you should have a certain quantity of chargers, extermal battery packs or similar devices but they are the kind of devices you never have too many of and are easy to lose or not have with you at the right time.

If you know what they like for music, video material, games or books, the right title can fill the spot easily. In some areas like Australia and New Zealand, these earn their keep as Christmas is immediately followed by the main summer holidays that most people take and it becomes the time to enjoy these titles more easily.

Of course, if you are not sure of what to give a person, a gift card to an online app store, online music store or “bricks-and-mortar” music, games, technology or similar store can answer you gift-giving needs. Some gift cards such as the JB HiFi gift card can be exchanged for credit towards another storefront like an online app store like the Apple iTunes storefront. Similarly, vouchers to the same merchant from different can be added towards a more significant purchase.

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USB Type-C to be a no-worries device connection

Articles

Upcoming USB Type-C connector won’t have “right” and “wrong” sides | Gizmag

From the horse’s mouth

USB Promoters’ Group

Press Release (PDF)

My Comments

USB data cable

USB data / power cable to be eventually replaced with the USB Type-C data / power cable with the same plug each end

A new USB equipment connector is in the process of being designed and will be called by the USB Promoters’ Group by the middle of 2014. This is to cater for technology equipment that is becoming smaller and thinner while also allowing for quick worry-free connections.

This connection will be the same size as the existing USB Micro-B connector used on most smartphones or the Apple Lightning Connector that Apple uses on their latest iDevices. This will cater for devices that are acquiring an increasingly-low profile such as the smartphones, tablets or Ultrabooks or even peripherals like some external hard disks and keyboards.

The socket will be designed so that you don’t worry about which way you plug it in and the patch-cords will have the same connection on each end so you don’t have to worry about which end of the cable you are using, in a similar vein to the RCA connections used on most stereo equipment.

Of course, the standard will also define the patch cables that allow you to connect equipment that has the USB Type-C socket on it to equipment that has commonly-available USB connections like the Type A found on computers and USB power supply equipment or Micro-B connections found on the smartphones or USB hard disks.

As we are seeing the USB connection become the universal power-supply connection for many different gadgets. Here, the USB Type-C connection will also allow for scaleable power-supply and charging situations and to provide further support for improved USB bus performance. A commonly-raised question that could surface is the power-supply performance for particular USB patch cables especially as we find smartphones not charging as quickly with some cables compared to others given the same power-supply equipment.

Of course, this will cause a requirement for power-supply standards for mobile devices to be revised because of the current standard supporting only the Micro-B connection on the mobile equipment and Type-A on the power-supply equipment. As well, we will be ending up with USB Type-A to Micro-B and USB Type-A to Type-C as power/data cables for most of our gadgets in the near term.

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Bluetooth 4.1 to support Internet Of Things

Article

Bluetooth 4.1 Will Offer Better Connections | Tom’s Hardware

Bluetooth 4.1 prepares headsets and more to connect to the ‘Net | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Bluetooth SIG

Press Release

Specification Guide

My Commenbts

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Sony VAIO Duo 11 with Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity that can be upgraded to Bluetooth 4.1 through a software update

Recently, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group have released the Bluetooth 4.1 specification which is intended to capitalise on the low-power devices application that Bluetooth 4.0 was known for, but improve on useability and reliability.

With Bluetooth 4.0, it allowed the development of low-powered “Bluetooth Smart” devices that work with a “Bluetooth Smart Ready” device like a smartphone or tablet that serves as a hub for these devices.

This is intended to be a software-based upgrade so that an operating system, device firmware or driver software update could bring a Bluetooth 4.0 device up to date to this newer standard. It is compared to previous Bluetooth standards which affected the silicon that was installed in the device.

But what are the improvements?

Reliability

Kwikset Kevo cylindrical deadbolt in use - Kwikset press image

This Bluetooth 4.0-capable smart deadbolt can work with “hub” devices that are updated to Bluetooth 4.1 specification

A Bluetooth 4.1 subsystem can co-exist with an LTE cellular connection used for mobile broadband services without suffering or causing near-band interference which could ruin the user experience. This is catering to the increased rollout of the LTE-based 4G mobile-broadband services by many cellular-telephony carriers, the integration of LTE-based 4G modems in well-bred smartphones and tablets and the popularity of these services amongst users.

This is also augmented by use of longer time windows for inter-device handshaking so that there is less risk of the connections between devices being “dumped” and requiring users to manually pair the devices to each other again. The devices also connect with each other when they are in proximity to each other without extra user intervention beyond just powering-on devices that were powered off.

Functionality

One ability that Bluetooth 4.1 adds to Bluetooth Low Power devices is to support bulk data transfer in this class of device. One commonly highlighted application is for a sensor device to capture data while away from a “hub” device for an amount of time then upload it to the hub device. The situation that is described is someone who uses a heart-rate monitor during a physical activity, especially swimming. Then, after they have completed that activity, they upload the data to their smartphone or tablet which has the fitness-tracking ap.

I also see this as being useful for updating a Bluetooth Smart device’s firmware without the need to connect the device to a computer for this purpose. This could be to add functionality to a device like a smartwatch or improve on a device’s reliability and security.

A smartphone like this one here that has Bluetooth 4.0 hardware support can head towards Bluetooth 4.1 through a software update

A smartphone like this one here that has Bluetooth 4.0 hardware support can head towards Bluetooth 4.1 through a software update

Another ability would be for a device to be both a Bluetooth Smart peripheral device and a Bluetooth Smart Ready hub device. This is obviously targeted at the smartwatches which are effectively the descendents of those 1980s-era many-function digital watches. Here, these devices could serve as an extra display for a smartphone or be a display and data-capture unit for a health monitor or another “key fob” device for the Kwikset Kevo deadbolt.

To the same extent, this functionality could allow for peer-to-peer setup with Bluetooth Smart Ready devices such as a “smartphone and tablet” or “smartphone and laptop” setup; or a quick data share setup between smartphones or tablets to work taking advantage of what Bluetooth Low Energy has to offer. This would lead to increased battery runtime for devices used in these setups.

Extra functionality has been added to the core Bluetooth 4.1 specification to support IP-based high-level data transfer especially to the IPv6 standard. This is essential for integrating Bluetooth devices in the “Internet Of Things” which is about devices beyond regular and mobile computing devices benefiting from the same kind of communication advantages that the Internet has offered.

This is becoming more important where we are seeing sensor and controller devices being part of personal health and wellbeing; and a convenient secure and energy-efficient lifestyle.

Conclusion

Bluetooth 4.1 could be a path for the Bluetooth specification to mature its role in the support of low-power devices whether they integrate with each other or with other so-called full-powered devices especially as the concept of the “Internet Of Things” matures.

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