Category: Current and Future Trends

Google Nest thermostats to have HVAC fault notification

Article

Nest Learning Thermostat courtesy of Nest Labs

These Google Nest thermostats will be able to let you know if the heating or cooling is about to break down

Nest thermostats in the US and Canada can now monitor your HVAC system | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Behind the scenes with the new Nest Thermostat (Blog Post)

HVAC Monitoring from Google Nest (Support Article)

My Comments

Google has added a notification function to their range of Nest smart room thermostats to let you know if the heating or air-conditioning is failing.

This has been a side project of theirs as part of the main Nest Smart Thermostat effort but is now finished. It will be available not just to the latest Nest thermostats but also for older models installed in the US and parts of Canada. The functionality will only work with forced-air systems that we in Australia often refer to as “ducted” systems, most likely because they are the most common type of residential heating / cooling setup in the US.

The functionality detects anomalies in how quickly the home heats up or cools down to the temperature the thermostat is set at. For example, it will alert you if it is becoming colder or taking too long to heat up while the heating is actually on; or becoming warmer or taking too long to cool down when the air conditioning is actually on. This will usually highlight a failing air-distribution fan or the burner in a heating system not staying alight while needed.

As well, it monitors the HVAC system’s control circuitry to identify abnormal shutdown activity or whether it is actually on and working as intended. Here, it observes conditions where the gas-fired heating may intermittently fail to light up or stay alight for the duration of the heating cycle or the air-conditioning fails to start cooling or runs longer than expected,

You receive the reports via e-mail or the Google Home App or a “heads-up” alert can be indicated on the thremostat itself. In most cases, you will have to call out your HVAC technician to rectify the problem. The “early alerts” functionality can be of use if you have your HVAC technician service your system regularly so it is working reliably and safely for the seasons that matter.

At the moment, Google encourages the use of “Nest Pro” technicians who partner with them to supply and install the thermostats or the “Handy” tradespeople platform who partners with Google. This allows for you to book them to attend to your system at the times that suit you through these platforms.

Thanks to the use of standard heating/ventilation/air-conditioning wiring setups that the Google Nest thermostats use to interface with the heating and air-conditioning, there is no need for this kind of system-health monitoring to be dependent on the use of a particular brand, model or series of HVAC system. This factors in the reality that “durable” products like these systems are expected to last many years and there is the requirement to allow newer thermostats like these to work with the older systems that are still in service.

Here, what I am pleased about is the idea of Google allowing a smart thermostat to be able to alert you to your heating or cooling system being at risk of underperforming or failing to make it through the seasons that matter. Hopefully they will have this kind of functionality for other types of heating or cooling setup or available in other markets. I also see this as a direction for smart thermostats from other manufacturers to alert you to the state of your HVAC setup.

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Acer answers the business market with Intel Tiger Lake laptops

Articles

Acer TravelMate P4 laptop  press image courtesy of Acer

Acer TravelMate P4 business laptop with Intel Tiger Lake silicon

Acer TravelMate Spin P4 hands-on review | Laptop Mag

Acer TravelMate P2, P4, Spin P4 now official | Yugatech.com

From the horse’s mouth

Acer

TravelMate P4 clamshell laptop (Product Page)

TravelMate Spin P4 2-in-1 laptop (Product Page)

My Comments

Acer is about to offer 14” laptop computers focused towards the business community that use Intel’s Tiger Lake silicon with Xe graphics. These come primarily in the form of the TravelMate P4 clamshell laptop and the TravelMate Spin P4 convertible laptop. The latter model is intended to snap at the heels of Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible business laptop.

Acer TravelMate Spin P4 convertible business laptop press image courtesy of Acer

.. also in a convertible 2-in-1 form as the Acer TravelMate Spin P4

Both these computers have as a baseline option, Thunderbolt 4 connectivity along with other business-grade connectivity requirements. For wireless connectivity, they will have Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 as standard. But there is the ability to have them specified with an LTE mobile broadband modem that uses eSIM service authentication.

As far as graphics go, these computers will use the Intel Xe integrated graphics processors that can do the job for 1080p gaming or for basic content creation tasks. There is the option for users to specify an NVIDIA MX350 mobile discrete graphics processor if they want a bit more graphics “pep”. Of course that will have the NVIDIA Optimus automatic graphics-processor switchover so the Intel Xe integrated GPU can work as a highly-capable “lean-burn” option for battery use. But, as I have mentioned before, these have a Thunderbolt 4 connection which will offer connectivity to external graphics modules as another path to improve your computer’s graphics performance.

Both computers are designed to be highly-durable and comply with MIL-STD-810G durability standards. There is also essential security security features including the TPM 2.0 security processor which works in a discrete form, fingerprint reader and camera fit for Windows Hello facial recognition.  The camera even has a privacy shutter so you aren’t easily spied upon.

The TravelMate P4 will start from USD$899 or EUR€899 while the TravelMate Spin P4 will start from USD$999.99 or EUR€999. But with Acer’s TravelMate business computer range like with the Lenovo ThinkPad / ThinkCentre business computer range, they don’t focus it necessarily towards particular business use cases, be it the small-business operator or freelancer who manages the computer by themselves as their own “axe”, or an enterprise who buys and manages a large fleet of computers for staff to use.

With Acer offering these TravelMate business laptops that run the Intel Tiger Lake silicon with highly-capable Xe graphics processors, it could really define what is expected on the outset for an all-round computer. It means being able to do some advanced graphics tasks like modest gameplay or basic photo and video editing. These business laptops could also be a sign of things to come for mainstream consumer laptop product ranges.

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Intel now shipping the DG1 discrete graphics chip

Article

Intel Xe graphics strategy slide courtesy of Intel Corporation

IIntel now rolls out the DG1 discrete graphics chipset – the first chipset of that kind from Intel for a long time

Intel: DG1 GPU now shipping, Xe-HPG DG2 GPU in labs | AnandTech

Intel Xe DG1 GPU is shipping and will release this year | TechSpot

My Comments

This year, Intel is strengthening their effort to change the graphics-processor marketplace and become a viable third factor. Previously, anything beyond bare-bones economy graphics needs was answered by NVIDIA and AMD with their discrete GPUs. These were typically in the form of a soldered-in graphics chipset installed in a laptop, all-in-one or small-form-factor computer or external graphics module, or a graphics card slotted into a traditional desktop computer or “card-cage” external graphics module.

But Intel has come as a viable competitor to these two established companies thanks to the Xe graphics platform that is part of their Tiger Lake silicon platform. At the moment, it is demonstrated with Xe integrated graphics silicon that performs on a par with NVIDIA’s MX mobile discrete graphics silicon, yielding something that could work well for gaming with a playable experience on Full HD displays or to capably handle most multimedia tasks.

Now Intel has shipped the Xe DG1 discrete graphics chip, also known as Xe Max, which will be positioned as a “step-up” option when it comes to mobile graphics needs, especially with ultraportable laptops. It may also be seen as a “baseline desktop” discrete-graphics option for all-in-one or small-form-factor desktop computers in those markets where desktop graphics performance is expected to be better than mobile / laptop graphics performance. Add to this the ability for vendors to offer “soldered-in” external graphics modules intended to give a Thunderbolt 3, USB4 or Thunderbolt 4 equipped laptop a bit of that extra graphics “pep”.

But Intel is also developing the Xe DG2 discrete graphics chip which offers higher performance than the DG1 and realised this as a working product through an electrical power-on test. This will be intended to be offered “above” the DG1 for those of us wanting more performance and will be based on the Xe-HPG architecture, answering needs like ray-tracing graphics in games. The question about this graphics processor is whether it will be offered as a high-volume high-performance product for “sports sedan” gaming laptops like the Dell G series or for boutique enthusiast-focused gaming computers.

The question that will be raised about Intel’s discrete graphics silicon is whether the goal is to directly compete with AMD and NVIDIA in the performance graphics technology market, thus becoming a significant third player and leading to improved value-for-money in this segment. Or to focus their technology towards particular use cases like mobile and low-profile system designs, graphics processors as ancillary processor uses like in servers, or other particular use cases.

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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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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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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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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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