TechSummit Rewind #002: January 2nd, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the TechSummit Rewind, which will be released weekly every Saturday starting in January, as well as this Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Soundfreaq unveils 2014 Bluetooth speaker range

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Soundfreaq might not have bothered to use spell check, but the company did clearly make efforts creating its latest gear with a pair of Bluetooth speakers and a refreshed version of its alarm clock. The Jambox-class Pocket Kick retails for $100, packing a 10-hour battery and speakerphone, while the $120 Double Spot looks to be squaring off with the Big Jambox. One neat innovation on the Double Spot, however, is that the device retails without a built-in battery, but if you want one, you can either buy one for $40, or special order a unit for $150. Rounding out the set is the revamped $70 Sound Rise, which sees the digital display moved to the top of the hardware and loses the lower docking plinth. Naturally, all three come with Bluetooth 4.0, USB and 3.5mm line-in ports as standard, and are all available now.

Polaroid debuts $1,000 4K TV at CES

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Polaroid’s been struggling with a bit of an identity crisis since instant photography fell off its prime. For example, the company’s been putting its name on TVs. Polaroid celebrated CES with the release of two ambitious sets at extremely low price points. The more notable of the two is a 50-inch 4K television with three HDMI inputs, which will set you back $1,000. If your wallet is gasping for air after hearing that, $600 will get you a 50-inch set with a Roku Streaming Stick built-in — and that one has HDMI inputs as well.

Ford’s C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is powered by a roof panel

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The tech inside green vehicles continue to improve, and Ford has announced a concept that looks to push it even further. The Detroit-based automaker has outed the C-MAX Energi Hybrid: a vehicle that packs in all the perks of a plug-in hybrid, but doesn’t require to be tethered to the power to charge. As the name suggests, a roof-mounted solar panel collects a day’s worth of energy needed to churn out the same level of performance as the C-MAX Energi Hybrid; however, the new Solar Energi model seeks to do without relying on the power grid. The panel itself houses a “special solar concentrator lens” that acts like a magnifying glass, directing those requisite rays on the rooftop. After rolling through the lot of CES’ home, the Las Vegas Convention Center, the concept vehicle was tested by researchers from Ford and Atlanta’s Georgia Tech — who helped develop the panel system — to see if the C-MAX Solar Energi is viable for production.

ZTE debuts an array of devices at CES 2014

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ZTE, who is now the official phone manufacturer of the New York Knicks, unveiled a range of smartphones and consumer electronics products to “meet the needs of today’s consumers.” The company’s newest devices include the Grand S II flagship smartphone with voice control technology, a mobile hotspot with a built-in projector, a new smartwatch and a phablet with dual screen functionality, just to name a few.

 Zeng Xuezhong, ZTE’s Mobile Devices division executive vice president and head:

“ZTE has been developing a portfolio of fantastic consumer electronics on top of the smartphones for which we’ve become well known. This year, we shall be focusing on pairing unique designs with unparalleled technology in order to offer customers the best possible experience at an affordable price.”

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The second-generation flagship smartphone Grand S II is the latest evolution in ZTE’s high end Grand Series line. As the company’s first high-precision voice phone, the Grand S II features the latest intelligent voice control technology, enabling voice recognition unlocking and voice-to-phone photography. The Grand S II also offers a host of “high-precision” audio features, such as triple-mic noise reduction for “more natural and clearer voice calls.”

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The company further expanded its flagship line of handsets with the nubia 5S and nubia 5S mini, the next generation in the nubia series. Both devices feature “screaming-fast” Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core processors, and “professional-grade photography hardware and software” and software characteristics of the nubia series. The larger nubia 5S features a five-inch Sharp 1080p FHD display, a 13MP camera with a Sony RS sensor, f/2.0 aperture, “DSLR-like photo options,” and 4K Ultra HD video capture, while the nubia 5S mini features a 4.7-inch Sharp IGZO display and comes in an “array of colorful finishes.”

The 5s has a similar look to the Nubia 5 that it follows up, with a slim chassis that marries a plastic back with aluminum sides. Measuring 127 x 68.8 x 7.6mm and weighing in at 126 grams, the 5s has a surprisingly premium feel thanks to the front’s cool, sharp edges and curves in the rear. Unlike the 5, the 5s also has a dedicated camera button.

Another nice upgrade is the 5s’ 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, which is certainly an improvement over the S4 Pro in the 5. There wasn’t any discernible lag while navigating the phone and it felt quite zippy overall in our short time with it. Other specs include a 5-megapixel front camera, 13-megapixel rear one with optical image stabilization, a 2300mAh battery, 4K video capture, 2GB of RAM, DLNA, Bluetooth and NFC support. As far as software goes, the Nubia 5s runs a custom ZTE skin on top of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. The camera software, which allows you to fine-tune the exposure, focus and even white balance by dragging certain shape icons across the screen, is particularly intriguing. And of course, there are built-in camera filters that take a hint from Instagram as well.

While the 5s is positioned as a higher-end consumer handset, the 5s mini is aimed for a slightly younger audience. This is evident in the UI being adorned with cartoon animals as shortcut icons the moment the screen was turned on. This can be customized to the users’ delight via a Nubia store where you can purchase such skins, according to a ZTE rep. Also, the back covers come in an array of different sporty colors and can be swapped out if your wish.

Even though it’s called the “mini,” it really isn’t much smaller than the 5s. Indeed, the 5s mini has a 4.7-inch display, which is a whopping 0.3 inch smaller than its bigger brother. With the measurements of 134.8 x 65.8 x 7.6m and a weight of 120 grams, the 5s mini has a relatively slim bezel and sports a microSD card expansion slot. Features include the same 13-megapixel rear and 5-megapixel front shooters, a 2,000mAh battery, Bluetooth 4.0 and DLNA. The UI and camera software (minus the ability to fine-tune the white balance as easily) also takes some cues from the 5s, and navigation was snappy enough with its 1.7Ghz Snapdragon 600 chip.

As of CES, the phones were only available in China, though ZTE seemed to hint that it could come to the US at a later date.

ZTE-Sonata-4G

ZTE also brought a new 4G smartphone to market in partnership with Aio Wireless (who has since been acquired by Cricket Wireless). The ZTE Sonata 4G comes packed with a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and 1GB of RAM for “quick browsing and multitasking.” The Sonata is also fitted with a 5MP camera with flash, is capable of 720p video capture, a four-inch display and a 1780mAh battery.

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On the larger side of the spectrum, ZTE debuted its first phablet, known as the Iconia Phablet. This device features a smart viewer that allows two applications to be simultaneously displayed on the screen. The phablet’s also equipped with a dual-core processor and a 5.7-inch screen encased in Gorilla Glass, as well as Dolby Digital Sound and wireless charging.

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ZTE also developed a mini projector and WiFi hotspot combo, the Projector Hotspot. This device is great for streaming visual content whether you’re in the office, at home (inside or out) or in the classroom. With its compact footprint, the Projector Hotspot can provide 4G access for up to eight users simultaneously.

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The company also introduced the company’s first smartwatch, known as the BlueWatch. The BlueWatch features a built-in pedometer and records and analyzes data around the clock, giving users access to “interesting ‘quantified self’ information” like body fat percentage. The watch tethers to a smartphone via Bluetooth, enabling calls, content, photography and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to be controlled from your wrist.

2725-03Lastly, ZTE worked with AT&T to develop the AT&T Wireless Home Base, which allows users to connect their home phone to AT&T’s cellular network, and enjoy unlimited local and long distance calls for $20 per month. No telephone jack is required; just plug your landline phone into the Wireless Home Base in the kitchen, bedroom or anywhere else there’s an electrical outlet.

Samsung unveils Galaxy Camera 2, NX30 with NFC photo sharing

Galaxy Camera 2 8

Samsung didn’t wait for the CES 2014 show floor to open to spill the beans on its 2014 camera lineup. The company revealed the Galaxy Camera 2 and NX30 cameras, both of which center around the NFC-based “Tag & Go” sharing feature, allowing you to tap your phone against either camera to begin transferring photos. They also offer more control through upgraded Remote Viewfinder mobile apps that show the same settings you’d find on the cameras themselves.

The unique upgrades to each model vary widely. The Android-powered Galaxy Camera 2 carries over its predecessor’s 16-megapixel sensor, 21x zoom lens and 4.8-inch LED screen, but touts a much-needed increase in battery capacity (up to 2,000mAh) and a decrease in weight (down to 9.2 ounces). Samsung also stuffed in a newer 1.6GHz quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, and an update to Android 4.3 KitKat introduced both 120fps slow-motion video as well as separate auto exposure and autofocus controls.
NX30_Lifestyle 3The NX30, meanwhile, builds on the NX20 with upgrades to image quality and the display. The new mirrorless cam sports both a more light-sensitive 20.3-megapixel sensor and a hybrid autofocusing system that takes just 80ms to find its subject. Take a look at the back and you’ll find a brighter, Super AMOLED-based touchscreen that can now tilt, in addition to swivel; on the side, there’s also a new 3.5mm microphone input. Glass aficionados may also appreciate two 16-50mm lenses launching alongside the NX30, including a quiet f/2-2.8 lens and a video-friendly, f/3.5-5.6 power zoom unit. Samsung didn’t dive into launch details on either product at CES, but we’ll have it later on.

Snapchat responds to Find Friends feature abuse

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When Snapchat was first built, the Instagram-esque social network “had a difficult time” finding other friends that were using the service. The company wanted a way to find friends in their address book that were also using Snapchat, which led to the creation of Find Friends.

Find Friends is an optional feature that asks Snapchatters to enter their phone number so that their friends can find their username. This means that if you enter your phone number into Find Friends, someone who has your phone number in his/her address book can find your username.

A security group first published a report about potential Find Friends abuse in August of last year. Shortly thereafter, Snapchat responded by implementing practices like rate limiting aimed at addressing those concerns. On December 24th, 2013, that same security group publicly documented the service’s API, making it easier for individuals to “abuse our service and violate our Terms of Use.

Snapchat acknowledged in a blog post that it was possible for an attacker to use Find Friends to upload a “large number” of random phone numbers and match them with Snapchat usernames. On New Year’s Eve, an attacker released a database of partially redacted phone numbers and usernames. No other information, including Snaps, was leaked or accessed in the attacks.

An updated version of the Snapchat application that will allow Snapchatters to opt out of appearing in Find Friends after they have verified their phone number was released. The company is also improving rate limiting and other restrictions to address future attempts to abuse Snapchat.

Polaroid’s Q-series Android tablets offer KitKat for $129

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Polaroid isn’t exactly known as a mover and shaker in the technology industry, but it showed a little forward thinking at CES with the launch of three budget tablets. The seven-inch Q7, eight-inch Q8 and 10.1-inch Q10 all run Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box, giving them a slight advantage over more advanced devices that are still running outdated software. Not that they’ll be especially noteworthy otherwise. All three ship with unnamed (likely low-end) quad-core processors, and HDMI video is the only real headlining feature. You may forgive the modest spec sheet when you see the pricing, however. The Q series sells at prices between $129 and $179, which makes it one of the cheapest ways to get your feet wet into Google’s mobile OS.

Navigating home screens and apps on the screen was snappy and lag-free, even though the unnamed CPU is likely on the low end of the available quad-core chip totem pole. Speaking of the screen, the pixel density is appallingly low here, which is to be expected with such a budget-priced tablet, but is nonetheless underwhelming — especially when there’s the $199 Nexus 7 from Google. The Q8 is wrapped in a soft-touch finish, which looks and feels anything but premium. Especially on the white model, which we expect will be a smudge magnet.

Lenovo launches the Vibe Z, three other handsets

Lenovo-Vibe-Z

Sometimes Lenovo is an innovative force, for example, it was first to market with Intel’s mobile chips for two straight years. When it comes to LTE, however, the company has been sadly lagging, as evidenced by the fact that it took until 2014 for the company to get around releasing its first LTE device, but I guess it’s better late than never, right? Lenovo’s LTE-capable Vibe Z is finally venturing outside the country’s native China, and though it won’t win any timeliness awards, it at least arrives with a solid spec sheet. This is a 5.5-inch handset with a 1080p IPS display (that equates to 400 ppi) and a thin, 7.9mm thick build. Inside, it’s powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip, along with 2GB of RAM, up to 16GB of internal storage and 802.11ac WiFi. Imaging-wise, you get both a 13-megapixel f/1.3 rear-facing camera along with a 5MP webcam up front. Lenovo also threw in some custom camera software allowing you to add special effect, it that’s your cup of tea.

What’s interesting is that although, specs-wise, this is Lenovo’s most advanced phone thus far, it has generally the same industrial design as Lenovo’s other recent mobile devices, such as the Vibe X and the Yoga Tablet. That meaning, it has a textured plastic back and runs the same heavily skinned version of Android (4.3 KitKat out of the box). That means some oversized icons, for starter, and a missing app drawer. However, heavily skinned phones are fairly common in Asia, which is exactly where the Vibe Z is headed: Lenovo says it’s available in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines with an unlocked price of $549.

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Additionally, Lenovo brought three other phones — none of which have LTE, unfortunately — outside of mainland China. Working our way down the line, there’s the A859, a five-inch phone with a 720p IPS display, dual SIM slots, 8MP rear-facing/1.6MP front-facing cameras, a quad-core MediaTek processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of built-in storage that’s expandable via a microSD card slot. Unlike the Vibe Z, it’s a little thicker at 9.2mm and runs the older Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.

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Meanwhile, the S930 actually has close to the same specs, except for a bigger six-inch screen with a lower pixel density.

 

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Finally, there’s the S650, a 4.7-inch device with a 8MP rear-facing/0.3MP front-facing camera and a lower-resolution 960×540 screen. Those differences, aside, it otherwise has the same specs as the other two, including the same processor and dual SIM slots. All of the above are available now “in countries where Lenovo smartphones are sold” (translation: mostly Asian countries) at $219 for the A859, $319 for the S930 and $229 for the S650.

Amped Wireless outdoes itself with a new router, extender pairing

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Amped Wireless showed off the WiFi hardware that arrived all year today. This time out, the company announced a router and range extender, both of which are being branded as AC1900 devices. The pair comes with eight 802.11ac WiFi radios, a USB 3.0 port for file sharing and five wired Gigabit Ethernet. There’s no word on pricing or availability, but considering that last year’s flagship was announced at CES and arrived the following July, it’s going to be a while before I can announce that for you, but I promise it’ll come…  eventually.

Surface Pro 2 gets CPU speed bump to 1.9GHz

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Sometimes, it pays to avoid the bleeding edge of technology. Microsoft has confirmed that newer Surface Pro 2 tablets are shipping with a 1.9GHz Core i5 processor instead of the 1.6GHz chip that came with the earlier models. The company didn’t say why it rolled out the stealthy upgrade, although Redmond noted that it “routinely” tweaks designs based on part availability and customer value. The move may frustrate early adopters, but it’s good news for latecomers who’ll get more for their money.

2015 Hyundai Genesis allows owners to connect with vehicle using wearables

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Hyundai’s next generation of products, starting with the 2015 Genesis, will allow owners to connect with their vehicle using a wearable device. The car manufacturer’s cloud-based Blue Link platform makes features like remote start and service information quickly accessible through new devices like Google Glass.

This will “help owners save time and add a new level of convenience by allowing remote interaction with the vehicle without the need to pull out their smartphone.” Hyundai plans to launch a Blue Link Glassware application during 2014 — we’ll find out if they did later on — with the 2015 Genesis sedan.

Barry Ratzlaff, Hyundai North America Customer Connect and Service Business Development executive director:

“We see wearables as a technology trend, expanding from fitness and health monitoring to broader applications. As a leader in connected car technology, we’re always exploring new ways to use technology to enhance the ownership experience for our customers. Wearables are a great way to extend the experience outside of the vehicle by leveraging these small screens to quickly access remote features and deliver timely vehicle information.”

Wearable device apps will join Hyundai’s existing mobile app designed to give Hyundai owners convenient access to Blue Link features and Car Care services. The 2015 Genesis, with its suite of technology and connectivity features, is a perfect fit to showcase “leading-edge mobility and connectivity features,” many of which are not offered in competing plans to launch the vehicle with new infotainment and connectivity features powered by Blue Link.

Mark Dipko, Hyundai Motor America Corporate Planning and Strategy director:

“Genesis is a unique take on luxury where the owner experience enabled through the intelligent application of technology, features and services that empower the owner. We feel this vehicle is a great product to showcase how the latest technology can enhance the experience and give owners more time and convenience.”

Small screens of wearable devices only allow a limited amount of information to be shown. As such, it’s important to present useful and relevant information. On Google Glass, vehicle optimized for its user interface. Push notifications will alert the owner when maintenance is due and allow quick service scheduling by enabling the wearer to start a call using the device’s built-in functionality. This application will also allow owners to access popular Blue Link features like remote start, remote door lock/unlock, vehicle finder, POI send-to-car powered by Google quickly using the device’s compact interface.

Hyundai is no stranger to mobile application development. In 2010, the company launched the Equus premium sedan with an iPad application that effectively replaced the vehicle owner’s manual with a digital, interactive version. It was designed to be “more convenient, immersive and save time.”

Hyundai’s Car Care app that launched last summer builds on this strategy by allowing Hyundai owners without Blue Link to schedule service, look up a maintenance schedule, read quick reference guides and more. With the launch of Blue Link, Hyundai also unveiled the Link app for iOS and Android devices to give subscribers quick access to Blue Link features while on the go. The company sees mobile apps as a “convenient way for owners to access information.”

Ratzlaff:

“In 2013, we saw millions of commands sent to Hyundai vehicles from our Blue Link mobile application. As new screens emerge, we see a real opportunity to expand our app strategy to provide added convenience for our owners.”

Archos debuts two 4G LTE-toting smartphones at CES 2014

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Archos has unveiled the company’s Helium range, which are their first LTE smartphones to be powered by Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with full access to the Google Play Store. Starting at under $200, Archos’ new unlocked 4G phones reinforces the company’s “commitment to providing feature-rich, consumer-friendly technology at an affordable price.

The Archos 45 Helium 4G, which serves as the company’s grand entry into the 4G smartphone market, features a 4.5-inch 854×480 FWVGA IPS screen, 1.4GHz quad-core Qualcomm MSM8926 processor, Adreno 305 GPU, Android 4.3 Jelly Bean as previously mentioned (with a promised upgrade to Android 4.4.2 KitKat), 1GB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, a 5MP rear-facing camera with LED flash, support for 1080p video recording, a VGA front-facing camera, Bluetooth 3.0, WiFI, a 1700mAh battery and is capable of transferring speeds of up to 150Mbps using a 4G LTE network. The 45 Helium 4G has dimensions of 5.7”x2.81”x0.35” and is available for $199.99 unlocked.

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The 50 Helium 4G, a slightly larger offering, comes equipped with the same LTE speeds, RAM, 1080p video recording, operating system, GPU, Bluetooth and WiFi and processor, but has a five-inch 1280×720 HD display, 8GB of internal storage, 2MP front-facing camera and a 8MP rear-facing camera. The 50 Helium 4G has dimensions of 5.7”x2.81×0.35” and is available for $249.99.

The launch of both phones addresses the growth in global 4G network availability and the company’s overwhelming success in Europe and takes advantage of its partnership with Qualcomm, leader in mobile chipsets and processors, to jointly engineer and launch affordable 4G solutions worldwide.

Loic Poirier, Archos CEO:

“The smartphone has revolutionized the way consumers access information, giving them the ability to instantly view, connect and share ideas regardless of location and time. The Archos Helium 4G smartphones will once again change consumers’ mindsets by making the best possible technology affordable.”

Archos’ newest unlocked 4G smartphones support microSD cards for easy memory expansion, has dual cameras with autofocus and LED flash, utilizes microUSB 2.0 connections to sync and charge, and can support a variety of multimedia files such as MP3, WAV, JPEG, GIF and PNG, just to name a few. The Archos Helium 4G smartphones also give users access to a variety to a variety of Google services including the aforementioned Google Play store, Google Chrome web browser, Google Now voice assistant, as well as other Google apps such as  YouTube, Gmail, Hangouts and Google Calendar.

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