TechSummit Rewind 157: Huawei at MWC 2017

Huawei iterates with P10 smartphones, Watch 2 smartwatches

This is a special edition of the TechSummit Rewind, focused on Huawei’s MWC 2017 press conference.

P10, P10 Plus smartphones

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Huawei iterated on last year’s P9 with the P10 with a couple of extra tricks.

Like last year, the P10 comes with either a 5.1-inch 1080p display or the Plus model with a 5.5-inch WQHD display. Huawei’s Kirin 960 processor powers both with its EMUI 5.1 software on top of Android. However, the larger model has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage compared to 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage on the regular P10. Both phones support microSD cards and have large batteries: 3,200mAh on the P10 and 3,750mAh on the P10 Plus.

The Leica-branded dual camera system returns, with the P10 Plus benefitting from better lenses that give it a wider f/1.8 aperture than the P10’s f/2.2. There’s a 20- megapixel monochrome sensor for capturing sharper detail and more light and a 12-megapixel colored one for filling in the colors. There’s also a Portrait Mode that pretty much is a carbon copy of the iPhone 7 Plus’ feature of the same name.

Leica branding is migrating to the front camera as well this year with double the brightness and extended dynamic range. There’s also an “adaptive selfie” feature built in that directs whether you’re taking a selfie with one or many people and will automatically adjust the angle to match.

The P10 has the same curved discreet antenna lines as the iPhone with a similar look and feel. However, Huawei has a smorgasbord of colors (blue, graphite black, dazzling gold, rose gold, green, white, silver, and prestige gold) and a “hyper diamond cut” textured finish at its disposal to differentiate from the fruit-flavored phone. The latter is only available in blue and gold.

The new home button on the P10 shifts the fingerprint reader up front that takes in swipes and taps as an alternative for the Android control keys: One tap is back, a long press is home, and a swipe brings up your recent apps.

On the software front, Huawei has custom themes to match all eight exterior colors for the P10 and P10 Plus. However, the machine learning being used to accelerate apps is more intriguing. The company’s “behavior-based compression mechanism” will intelligently compress apps you don’t use very often, and the kernel has been modified to let the operating system recycle the phone’s memory faster.

The touch controller driver on the P10 is also faster, using predictive fingerprint tracking to convey a sense of snappier response to swipes around the screens.

The P10 and P10 Plus will begin shipping in March across Europe, Malaysia, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. The P10 will be priced at €649 ($685), with the Pro starting at €699 ($738).

Huawei Watch 2

huawei-watch-2

Huawei was a significant partner for the launch of Android Wear, and it’s shaping up to do the same for Android Wear 2.0 with two new, sportier models.

The Huawei Watch 2 and the Huawei Watch 2 Classic are loaded with connectivity and new features, including LTE (on the Watch 2), GPS, heart rate sensors, and NFC for Android Pay. Their designs are much chunkier compared to the first Huawei Watch, and are significantly thicker and bulkier, despite having a slightly smaller 1.2-inch screen compared to the predecessor’s 1.4-inch screen. They measure about 12.6mm thick, which is about two millimeters thicker than the prior version.

Both versions have two buttons and include microphones and speakers. According to Huawei, the 420mAh batteries inside both devices provide up to two days of battery life (double the first generation’s lifespan), and a new, low-power “watch mode” allows the watches to last up to 25 days with functionality reduced to just telling the time and counting steps.

The Watch 2 is made of plastic to support LTE (a WiFi-only model will also be offered), while the Watch 2 Classic has a metal chassis. Both versions have interchangeable straps, and the Classic model has a unique “hybrid strap” that has a leather top and rubber underneath to protect against sweat damage. Both watches are rated for IP68 water resistance.

The new heart rate sensor will continuously track heart rates, and both watches come loaded with Huawei’s Fit program that personalizes a training program based on goals and prior performance.

Both watches are distinctly masculine, but Huawei will keep its female-focused Watch Elegant and Watch Jewel from last year available for now.

A Porsche-designed version of the Watch 2 is also coming with a Porsche Design logo and special watch face.

According to the company, the Watch 2 will launch in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, and China in March. In April, it’ll come to the U.S., U.K., Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, the Nordics, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India, South Africa, Poland, Austria, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and UAE and Malaysia will see it starting in May. Pricing will begin at €329 ($347) depending on features and model.

 

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A daily recap of the top technology headlines.

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Snapchat introduces Memories archive of your snaps

Snapchat has introduced Memories, a way to share and save old snaps in a private archive within the app.

The feature is rolling out now for iOS and Android, and can be accessed by swiping up from the main camera screen.

Once you open it up, you’ll see your saved snaps in reverse-chronological order. Individual snaps are displayed as rectangles, while circular posts represent stories with live previews of its snaps. There are also tabs for viewing just snaps (or stories/your device’s complete camera roll). From these tabs, tapping and holding a snap to enable new interactions like: editing the snap to add geofilters/timestamps, share it to your current story (with a white frame and timestamp to indicate that it’s a blast from the past), or select multiple photos to create a new story that can be sent to friends as an attachment within a message.

A search feature lets you find photos based on when/where they were taken, along with showcasing snaps on their anniversary dates. Object recognition has also been built in, with the ability to detect “hundreds” of objects at launch (sunsets, surfing, the ocean, etc.).

There’s also My Eyes Only, a section that lets you put embarrassing/explicit snaps behind a PIN code. According to Snapchat, Memories is the brainchild of an observation that people tell stories in person by sharing their phones with each letter, letting them swipe through photos of an event.

At launch, there are no revenue-generating products inside Memories. It could take up to 30 days for you to receive the update, according to the Los Angeles-based company.

Twitter tests live sports coverage at Wimbledon

Twitter Wimbledon live stream

Twitter tested its live sports coverage Wednesday at Wimbledon, with a video player pinned to the top of a dedicated Live page on Twitter, with a scrolling list of related tweets below.

The San Francisco-based company is not streaming live matches, because ESPN holds exclusive digital rights in the U.S. However, Twitter will have access to live interviews, analysis, and match replays.

“Twitter is increasingly a place where people can find live streaming video, and that includes exciting sporting events like Wimbledon. This livestream is an extremely early and incomplete test experience, and we’ll be making lots of improvements before it in its final form.”

-Twitter, in a statement

The Twitter stream includes a mix of content from Wimbledon and ESPN, which has held exclusive TV rights for the tournament since 2011.

Google Now on Tap now translates in any app

Google Now on Tap

Google Now on Tap can now translate text on any screen, offering to translate text that doesn’t match your phone’s default language even if there are multiple foreign tongues at once. It’s available today for phones using a major European language or Russian.

The feature is also getting a Discover button that shows a feed of content related to what you’re looking at.

Now on Tap’s camera-based image searching also now recognizes barcodes and QR codes.

Microsoft launches Skype Meetings video conferencing tool for small businesses

Skype Meetings

Microsoft has launched Skype Meetings, an audio/video conferencing tool specifically for small businesses.

The tool allows for PowerPoint collaboration and screen sharing with up to 10 people for two months. After that, only three people can join a video call.

Participants can join a Skype Meeting from most devices with a personalized URL.

Google buys Moodstocks machine learning startup to help camera identify objects

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Google has acquired Moonstocks, a Paris-based company that has developed machine learning technology to bolster smartphones’ image recognition features.

“We continue to pursue our machine learning and research efforts, and Moodstocks is the latest proof of our commitment to this area.”

-Vincent Simonet, Google France research & development head

“Our focus will be to build great image recognition tools within Google, but rest assured that current paying Moodstocks customers will be able to use it until the end of their subscription.”

-Moodstocks, in a statement

Huawei sues T-Mobile over 4G patents

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Huawei has filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile for mobile patent infringement, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Texas, alleges that the wireless carrier rejected a deal to license 14 Huawei patents but continued to use its 4G technologies. Huawei isn’t seeking seeking financial damages, but they are asking the court to declare that they met its obligations to license patents at a fair and reasonable rate and to declare T-Mobile an unwilling licensee.

Facebook’s OpenCellular is an open-source wireless access platform for remote areas

OpenCellular

Facebook has launched OpenCellular, a new open source hardware and software project that aims to bring a more affordable wireless access platform to remote areas.

“One of the reasons the expansion of cellular networks has stalled is that the ecosystem is constrained. Traditional cellular infrastructure can be very expensive, making it difficult for operators to deploy it everywhere and for smaller organizations or individuals to solve hyperlocal connectivity challenges. It’s often unaffordable for them to attempt to extend network access in both rural and developed communities.”

-Kashif Ali, Facebook engineer

According to Facebook, OpenCellular will consist of two main subsystems: one for general purpose and base-band computing, and one to handle the radio. Both of them are designed to be modular somewhat.

According to Facebook, OpenCellular’s hardware design, firmware, and control software will be open source so interested parties can build their own versions. Their work will also be donated to the Telecom Infra Project, a Facebook-backed initiative for exploring new approaches to telecom infrastructure basics like access and backhaul.

Apple pushing organ donor registration in iOS 10

iOS10-Hero

iOS 10 is adding a new feature that’ll make it easier for users to register as organ donors. Users will be able to sign up as organ, eye, and tissue donors with a few taps. Registrations will be sent directly to the National Donate Life Registry.

“With the updated Health app, we’re providing education and awareness about organ donation and making it easier than ever to register. It’s a simple process that takes just a few seconds and could help save up to eight lives. Together with Donate Life America, we’re excited to deliver this new feature to iPhone users in the U.S. with iOS 10.”

-Jeff Williams, Apple COO

TinyCo bought by SGN Games

tinyco-logo

TinyCo, the San Francisco-based developer behind mobile games based on the Marvel universe and Family Guy has been acquired by Culver City, Calif.-based SGN Games.

“Other games have done it successfully, but [TinyCo] is a pioneer in the builder category, and they have an engine that allows them to do it with many more.”

-Chris DeWolfe, SGN Games CEO

According to DeWolfe, TinyCo has deals to create “several” more games based on other franchises.

“It didn’t necessarily come cheap but we love the relationship. Anytime you can have larger market share in a growing market, it’s a great place to be.”

-Chris DeWolfe

Darktrace gets $65M of fresh funding at $400M valuation

Darktrace

Darktrace, the Cambridge, U.K.-based cybersecurity startup, has raised $65M in fresh funding.

The round was led by global investment firm KKR, with participation from existing investor Summit Partners and new investors TenEleven Ventures and SoftBank.

This gives the company a valuation north of $400 million, with the new funding being used for further international expansion along with R&D.

According to Mike Lynch, whose Invoke Capital fund backs Darktrace, the company is developing technology to help companies respond to human-written cyberattacks and machine-learning-based attacks.

Appeals court: Anti-hacking law applies to password sharing case

A three-judge panel on the U.S.’ Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act applies to a case where David Nosal, a former executive gained access to Korn/Ferry International’s confidential client data through a password that was voluntarily shared with him.

The Nosal case specifically focused on the question of whether he acted “without authorization,” with the panel concluding that “’without authorization’ is an unambiguous, non-technical term that, given its plain and ordinary meaning, means accessing a protected computer without permission.”

The court also upheld Nosal’s conviction for trade secret theft under the Economic Espionage Act.

In his dissent, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that “this case is about password sharing, and in his view, the CFAA does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful, and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals.”

Bret Taylor joining Twitter board

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Twitter has appointed former Facebook chief technology officer Bret Taylor to its board.

“Bret brings to our Board a great mind for consumer products and technologies that will be invaluable to the company as we execute our plans for 2016 and beyond. His skills also complement those of our other recent Board additions, who bring expertise in finance, media, and entrepreneurship.”

-Omid Kordestani, Twitter executive chairman

TechSummit Rewind #015: January 16th, 2014

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TechSummit Rewind #013: January 14th, 2014

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TechSummit Rewind #006: January 6th, 2014

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NPR receiver receives closed-captioned emergency alerts for the hearing-impaired

NPR Labs Receiver

This first iteration of a standalone box for closed-captioning  is intended for emergency relief organizations like FEMA, NPR and its partners for testing in the Gulf states. The box uses a tablet as a display, getting emergency information through the radio spectrum, so you can use it when the power is out and your WiFi isn’t working — assuming you still have juice in the tablet, which powers the box.

Currently, those emergency alerts are the only thing that’s being closed-captioned, though NPR is aggressively looking at captioning most or all of its programming, so you could theoretically get the text narration through the box or the public radio network’s site. Future iterations of the receiver will also be a fair bit smaller, perhaps eventually being built into the radio with a display, so hearing-impaired folks can get their All Things Considered fix.

NVIDIA (seriously) made a crop circle to market its Tegra K1 chip

nvidia-tegra-k1

It’s CES, where you go big or go home. NVIDIA has clearly taken that mantra to a whole new level, with an advertisement featuring a crop circle that popped up and then disappeared. Yes, that actually happened — seriously. Watch it for yourself below. I guess the chipmaker has to get people interested somehow.

Amped Wireless launches WiFi extender that boosts wireless coverage up to 5,000 square feet

amped wireless rec15a

Amped Wireless continues to expand its wireless repertoire with a new 802.11ac WiFi range extender that’s both powerful and compact. Dubbed the REC15A, the device offers a whopping 500 milliwatts of power, four amplifiers and a high-gain dual-band antenna in a relatively small 3×5-inch package — it even fits neatly into a wall socket with the built-in plug. All of that power should result in up to 5,000 square feet in additional wireless coverage, according to the company, which would be great for those with palatial estates or large backyards. The REC15A repeats both 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi signals. There’s also an extra wired port that you can use to attach a networked device like a PC, TV or game console. On the software side of things, it also has parental controls, adjustable settings and free Android and Windows apps that tweak the coverage even more. The REC15A is available now from Amped Wireless at a $99.99 price point.

Nikon previews pro-grade D4S camera with faster autofocus

Nikon D4s

The D3300 isn’t the only DSLR that Nikon showed at CES. The camera maker has revealed that it will preview its next-generation flagship camera, the D4S, at its booth on the show floor. While Nikon didn’t say much about the pro camera’s advantages over the D4, it’s already talking up a new imaging engine that should deliver faster autofocusing — no mean feat considering that the D4 is already quite nimble. It’s still early for launch details at this point, but we’ll have it as CES 2014 continues.

Intel unveils RealSense hardware and software line, including 3D camera module

Intel-3D-camera

The takeaway from Intel’s CES 2014 press event was that all signs point to the RealSense product line — a number of hardware and software products that ‘make interaction with technology simple, more natural and immersive,” according to the company’s own words. The first product bearing the compound name is the RealSense 3D camera. Intel describes the product as “the world’s first integrated 3D depth and 2D camera module that helps devices ‘see’ depth much like the human eye,” suggesting that this isn’t just a substitute for Leap Motion or Kinect.

The camera does full-color 1080p and has an on-board sensor for gesture and face detection. The latter of which apparently helps it “understand emotions.” It also recognizes foregrounds and backgrounds, so you can replace that messy room and make it appear as if you’re Skyping from the Moon. But, if you’re looking for something more practical, you can also use it to scan objects in 3D using 3D System’s Sense software. The RealSense 3D camera is set to be integrated into a number of diverse devices this year, including tablets, Ultrabooks, laptops and all-in-ones, from top companies like Acer, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo and NEC. Seven such devices were being demonstrated, and Intel itself has a demo unit.

If you’d rather talk to your computer than wave at it, there’s also a next-generation version of Dragon Assistant from Nuance that will be part of Intel’s RealSense push. Of, course, while all this sounds good on paper, it remains to be seen how many people will actually want to wink, point or shout at their laptop to get it to open Netflix or point Chrome towards Facebook.

Makerbot launches new connected Replicator 3D printer

makerbot-replicator-2-dual-head-3d-printer-4

MakerBot has launched a new “prosumer” machine to go along with the Replicator Mini.

The device breaks with the naming conventions of its predecessor. The build volume has increased by 11 percent over the Replicator 2, and the printer can create objects with resolution as small as 100 microns. As with the Mini, the new Replicator was built for PLA plastic. When you run out, the Replicator will actually send you a message to let you know. There’s a 3.5-inch color LCD on the printeRr and a dial to navigate around it that was “modeled on high-end stereo equipment.” The display will tell you, among other things, how much time you have left to print.

There are connectors for USB and Ethernet, as well as built-in WiFi for printing from third-party devices. As with the Mini, there’s an on-board camera for sharing build pictures. Both devices also feature the “Smart Extruder,” which snaps on and off magnetically. The build platform, meanwhile has a light that indicates when it’s leveled during the setup process. The third Replicator is available now for $2,899. Watch an official video announcement below:

Sony announces Alpha 5000 with 20.1MP sensor, 180-degree display, WiFi

Sony Alpha 5000

Sony’s NEX branding died today at CES. The Alpha 5000 is the company’s first entry-level camera to drop the familiar moniker, falling instead under the higher-end Alpha lineup. Everything else about this model fits the mold, however. There’s a 180-degree tilting LCD that flips forward for self-portraits (aka selfies), built-in WiFi and NFC for instantly sharing pictures and videos on the web, Camera Apps for tweaking shots and uploading directly through a wireless hotspot. and Sony’s 16-50mm power-zoom kit lens for smoother zooming during video capture.

On the imaging front, there’s a 20.1-megapixel sensor, a 16,000 top ISO and 1080p shooting at 60i, 30p and 24p. There’s also a built-in flash — an appropriate feature for the Alpha 5000’s target demographic of beginner photographers stepping up from a less-capable point-and-shoot.

Despite the new name, the Alpha 5000 still has the heart and soul of a NEX. There’s a more pronounced grip (like the NEX-5T), and the same tweaked (and improved) multi-page settings interface that was first used in the Alpha 7 and 7R in October 2013. Like its recent Sony counterparts, the 5000 charges via a microUSB port, and it sports an HDMI output (with 4K image support this time around) for photographers looking to share their shots on the big screen. Of course, with WiFi built in, you can also transfer shots to a smartphone or tablet, back up your media to a connected computer or boot content to a compatible television using DLNA. It’s in stores now for $600 in black, white and silver, including the 16-50mm power-zoom lens.

NVIDIA reveals second Tegra K1 with 64-bit support; features 2.5GHz Denver CPUs

nvidia-tegra-k1

Ever since the iPhone 5s trotted out with Apple’s A7 chipset, 64-bit has become the latest buzzword in the marketing arsenals for manufacturers like Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Samsung and MediaTek. The former has already followed in Cupertino’s footsteps with 64-bit support on the Snapdragon 410, an SoC destined for budget devices and emerging markets, but we were awaiting word on NVIDIA’s next-gen aspirations at the company’s CES 2014 press conference. And now we have it — the company announced a second version of the previously-announced Tegra K1, this time with a dual-core 2.5GHz Denver CPU and 64-bit support.

The K1 has been certified by AT&T and Vodafone (among other carriers), and devices with the new chipset are available now. LTE support doesn’t come natively on the chipset, according to NVIDIA representatives, but it’ll still be available thanks to an external chip that will be part of the K1 setup.

Audience’s new voice processors offer always-on listening without sacrificing battery life

Audience VoiceQ

The touchless controls on the Moto X have us spoiled. It’s far too enjoyable to jolt the smartphone out of a deep sleep by speaking a keyboard-based trigger phrase (for the X, it’s “OK Google” or “OK Google Now”) and commanding it to read the weather forecast. And while Motorola managed to integrate the feature into its flagship smartphone without taking a huge hit on battery life, there’s always room for improvement. Audience, a manufacturer of digital voice and audio processors that are commonly found in a large number of smartphones, is introducing its next-gen chip with VoiceQ, an always-listening features the company claims is even more efficient and powerful than Moto’s X8 chipset.

VoiceQ, like the Moto X, will be continually ready and waiting for your trigger phrase (“Ok Audience” by default) and verbal commands. Your mileage may vary here, since it’ll be up to each handset maker to program those phrases and commands to their own satisfaction. The difference between the two devices, Audience says that the VoiceQ not only uses a lot less power (less than 1.5mA) as it listens for you, it also doesn’t require you to pause between the trigger and the commands; you won’t find yourself speaking the same command twice just to ensure the phone heard the whole thing.

VoiceQ isn’t the only enhancement to the next-gen chips, known as the eS700 series. It also comes with noise suppression for windy conditions, a type of speech-restoration tech that filters out extremely noisy situations and 48 kHz voice processing. In other words, if touchless controls aren’t really your thing yet, at least your smartphone will be much clearer on the other end for whoever you call. Device manufacturers are already testing samples of Audience’s new chips, and it’s showing up in devices now.

Avegant Glyph home theater handset isn’t competing wtih Oculus Rift

Avegant-Gylph-Virtual-Reality-Helmet

Avegant’s Glyph just got its name, and the first prototype looks an awful lot like what you’d see underneath a Terminator cyborg’s smooth visage. As Oculus did before, the company’s eight-person team is taking its impressive proof-of-concept to Kickstarter in hopes of funding a beta unit: $500 is the base level for a Glyph, and the project is available now. However, the Glyph isn’t competing with the Oculus Rift.

Ed Tang, Avegant’s CEO:

“We’re not trying to compete with Oculus.”

There’s good reason for that. For starters, the Glyph and the Rift are two completely different devices. By different, I mean dramatically. Yes, they’re both video headsets. Yes, the both offer some form of interactivity. What each is trying to achieve, however, is where the differences begin. The Rift aims for deep immersion — it cuts off your field of view, encompassing your entire spectrum of vision — whereas the Glyph is more like a pair of sunglasses. You can play games on it, but it’s really more suited for movie watching (like on a plane). Both the alpha model and the beta model that shipped to Kickstarter backers have a relatively small 45-degree field of view, allowing for a partially obstructed perspective of the world while using the Glyph. It’s this distinction that makes all the difference here.

As such, if you’re looking for the immersive virtual reality experience that the Rift offers, the Glyph isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a $500 way to buy your own, very personal home/mobile theater (that just happens to still be in beta), the Glyph is a perfect match. The Avegant Glyph’s image is extremely crisp. Similarly impressive is the fact that the Glyph can do 3D without any glasses: it projects the image directly onto your retinas rather than using a screen. The effect, however, is more than a little underwhelming. Sure, the image is nice, but it’s surrounded by a massive amount of dead space that feels wasted. Moreover, three to four minutes were wasted adjusting the interpupillary distance (IPD) — the space between your eyes — just to make it work. That’s exactly three to four minutes longer than it should take to make a $500 visual entertainment device function.

Another major differentiator from the Rift? Glyph has a fancy pair of headphones built in. If you want to get a little (by little, I mean very) crazy, you can wear the device like a standard (albeit very large) set of headphones. Normally, though, it just serves to make video viewing more comfortable. It’s a nice and rational addition, but adds yet another layer of adjustment, which translates to you not only having to adjust the IPD, but also how tight the whole enchilada is on your head. The alpha model had a headstrap, though it disappeared for the beta. The beta model is also considerably lighter — but as it stands, the Glyph rests somewhat uncomfortably on noses.

So, let’s recap: Who is the Glyph for? Not just gamers, that’s for sure. A single MHL/HDMI cable will attach the Glyph to virtually anything — seriously, we could even get some mobile gaming in thanks to a Lightning adapter on an iPhone 5. An expected three-hour battery life, however, applies some serious limitations to viewing on the go. As best we can tell, like Google Glass’ Explorer Edition and Oculus’ Rift dev kit, the Glyph beta unit is only meant to see the light of day of early adopters and developers who are willing to put up with a very promising wearable that isn’t quite ready for prime time, but not for your common Joe just yet.

Wilson Electronics’ new 4G signal booster doesn’t care about carriers

Wilson Electronics DT4G

Wilson Electronics is only interested in one thing: boosting cellular signals for those starved of bars. The company’s also quite fond of Vegas, and for the third straight year, it made the trek to CES with fresh hardware in tow. Previously, Wilson’s boosters have been able to enhance the signal from a couple of carriers at most, but the new DT4G doesn’t care what device you’re using, nor which network bills you receive in the mail at the end of the month — all it cares about is making sure you’ve got all the 4G, 3G or 2G airwaves you needed. It’s being touted as the first carrier-agnostic booster, and is ready to cling to walls now for around $400.

Roku renews bid for the living room with streaming-ready Roku TVs

roku-tv-main

Up until now, Roku’s bid to take over the living room has mainly come in the form of its hockey puck-like streaming players and sticks. These devices, priced at below $100, are a cheap way for consumers to augment your existing television (high or standard definition) and make them “smarter” (or “smart” to begin with). But now Roku’s getting into the TV hardware business directly. It’s partnered up with six manufacturers, with Hisense and TCL being the first partners to be revealed publicly, to produce a line of Roku TVs that come pre-loaded (hence the name) with the company’s streaming software. These sets should be making their way to retail right about now, but at CES 2014, we got a first look at what’s in store.

Roku’s shift from a provider of streaming players to that of integrated smart TVs isn’t actually a far-reaching one. The company’s aiming to leverage its streaming software as a smart TV platform; something to license out to TV manufacturers that can’t compete with the handful of vertically integrated titans like Samsung, Google, Apple, LG and Amazon. In other words, Roku wants to supply the brains of the set and leave the design work mostly to its partners.

Roku’s seeking to make a “TV for the ways TVs are used by people today,” according to Jim Funk, the company’s senior vice president of Product Management. That is, a hassle-free, streaming-ready set that does away with the need for extraneous dongles, players, video game consoles or a spaghetti mess below your home theater setup. It’s ironic considering that the company built its reputation itself on these exact peripherals that they’re trying to abolish, but you can’t blame Roku from accepting the inevitable and jumping ship. As consumer reliance on streaming becomes less and less an “interesting endeavor” and more and more a normal part of everyday life, so too will the availability of streaming -ready sets. Streaming peripherals are very nearly a thing of the past.

In keeping with its emphasis on simplicity, Roku TV’s UI is staying mostly unchanged from what’s running on the company’s streaming hockey pucks. You’ll still find a navigable grid of streaming providers and browsable categories, but you won’t find any web browser or guide overlay for cable when you turn these sets on. That said, inputs for Blu-ray players, gaming consoles and cable boxes will all be present from atop the UI, making switching between devices not a dreadful experience.

For the first run, Roku TVs will arrive in a variety of sizes from 32 to 55 inches and features the company’s branding on the bezel. It’s not known if any of these initial models will ship with remotes capable of audio output, though they should look similar to the streaming sticks. Design decisions like these, it seems, are entirely up to each manufacturing partner. So far, only TCL and Hisense have been named by Roku as set makers, but further partner announcements, as well as details on pricing, are planned for later this year.’’

The sets shown off at the show were of the 48 to 55-inch variety and were all accompanied by standard Roku remotes. The company’s representative pointed out that we can expect the standard 20-button remote, with different manufacturers controlling the overall design. The 48-inch TCL set that we saw has a 1080p, 60Hz display and contains a Sigma UXL processor. Roku hasn’t announced pricing details, but said we would be seeing that closer to launch. Stay tuned for more details.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 802 processor is a 4K powerhouse for your big screen

qualcomm_snapdragon_802

With 4K TVs (and content to go along with it, hopefully) promising to be a major theme at CES 2014, it makes sense that Qualcomm would introduce a processor tailored to handle some heavy-duty trimming. The new Snapdragon 802 is the result: a TV-specific quad-core processor that shares many features with the chipmaker’s Snapdragon 800 and its “Ultra HD” 805 for mobile video.

The Snapdragon 802 brings the best of smartphones to your smart TV, according to Tim McDonough, Qualcomm’s vice president of marketing. So, in addition to powering 4K content on your living room big screen, the processor will enable a much-improved app experience (aka: apps that run at a pace that’s actually usable) on your living room set. Of course, it can also handle multitasking, from browsing online while streaming a movie to simultaneously playing up to four HD videos on one TV. And thanks to the Hollywood Quality Video video-processing engine, 1080p content can be upconverted to a level that is “approaching Ultra HD.”

As for where the processor itself will be housed, that’s up to the OEMs. The Snapdragon 802 can be built into both TVs and set-top boxes. The processor won’t turn up in devices until late 2014, but we have some more nitty-gritty details below.

  • 1.8GHz quad-core Krait CPU
  • Adreno 330 GPU
  • Two stream, dual-band 802.11 WiFi
  • AllJoyn integration
  • Snapdragon Studio Access content protection

Razer’s Nabu smart band is half fitness tracker, half smartwatch

razer-nabu

Try as hard as you might, but it’s hard (to say the least) to predict what a company like Razer might do. The firm has surprised us year after year with overpowered tablets, shockingly thin gaming laptop and OLED screen-adorning keyboard interfaces. When tasked with predicting what the company could surprise us with next, a fitness tracker in 2014 wasn’t exactly at the top of the list. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Enter Nabu. When the company’s CEO Min-Liang Tan briefed on the product, he did a careful dance around the word tracker.

Tan:

“It’s not a smartwatch. It’s not a fitness band. It’s what we’re calling a ‘smart band.”

Min gave us an introduction at CES 2014. Stay tuned below for a closer look at the band.

The device is actually an odd combination of the both, featuring the bio data-tracking features of fitness products, while also dispensing notifications via two small OLED displays (by small, we mean small) — a small 32-pixel square that displays notification icons, and a larger 128×32 panel that ticks off text messages, emails and other personal data. By positioning the screens on opposite sides of the user’s wrist, Razer hopes the second screen will act as sort of a privacy keeper, keeping folks from reading your texts by glancing at your wrist. The band can also track a user’s location, attitude, steps walked, sleep data and everything else one needs to quantify their bodies. All of this, according to Min, works right out of the box, for both iOS and Android.

Nabu appears to be a good take on the growing wearables market, but the underlying question remains: Why is a gaming company building a so-called smart band? Never fear, Min says that “real-world gamification is something we’re really focused on.” Nabu is built on an open development platform, which Min hopes will allow developers to build augmented reality games. Band-to-band communication allows Nabu devices to detect proximity to other Nabus and trade information (sort of like Nintendo’s 3DS Street Pass), which could be used to create augmented reality “tag” games, for instance. We can’t say that it’ll be a selling point, but it’s definitely a differentiator. Developers can pick up Nabu now for $50, and the company says it should last 7-10 days before it screams for the power cable. Razer didn’t give specifics on the final consumer price, but did say that it should fall under $100.

Nissan reinvents London’s black cab again, will launch all-electric model in 2015

Nissan NV200 Taxi for London

When Nissan introduced its modern interpretation of London’s black cab more than a year ago, the compact diesel was all but ready to hit the city’s streets. However, the Japanese automaker decided that it wasn’t quite finished with its final design, so it headed back to its London studios with feedback from the London Mayor’s office to make it a little more iconic. At CES 2014, Nissan updated its NV200 Taxi for London and unveiled it to the public, highlighting its round headlights and remodeled grille in an attempt to mirror the black cabs of yesterday. The new model also ditches diesel for a cleaner 1.6-liter gas engine and used LED lights to improve the visibility of its orange taxi sign. The gas-guzzling NV200 will go on sale next month, serving as a “stepping stone” for a zero emission electric version, which could become the UK’s first all-electric taxi next year.

Samsung estimates that its operating profit dropped to $7.8 billion in Q4

Samsung CES 2014 booth

In summer 2013, Samsung was booming with a record-setting quarter, but it simply crashed and burned (hard) in the fall. The Korean tech giant made estimations that its operating profit dropped to about $7.8 billion in Q4 2013, which is lower the $8.3 billion Samsung rolled in the bank in 2012 and the $9.6 billion from Q3 2013. Samsung remained numb on what triggered the drastic dip, but the forecast isn’t helping concerns that the company’s red-hot growth in smartphones may be cooling down. It’s not exactly crisis time at Samsung — the company generates more operating profit in a quarter than many of its mobile rivals do in total revenue. Still, I think that it’s happy to be launching a slew of new gadgets that could make up for the underwhelming earnings.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 is a gigantic tablet that promises extensive productivity

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

In much the same way that smartphones all trending towards larger screens, it appears that manufacturers like Samsung are experimenting with the same concept in the tablet realm. The company has announced its latest (not to mention largest) Android-running Galaxy Note device known as the Note Pro 12.2. Announced alongside the Tab Pro 12.2 at CES, the Note Pro offers the same S Pen functionality that’s been made recognizable by the Galaxy Note line of smartphones and tablets, and as usual, you’re going to see some refinements in Samsung’s firmware and user experience as well. The device is available now in LTE, 3G and WiFi variants worldwide.

As soon as I got my hands on the new Note Pro, we immediately noticed the size and weight difference compared with the Korean tech giant’s 10.1-inch offerings. Regardless of how slim you can get its bezel, a 12.2-inch tablet simply isn’t going to be the most portable device in the world, which translates to it being used most likely as a coffee table device or for special projects and conferences at the office. It’s just a little too awkward to hold for long periods of time. Aside from that and a glaring weight difference — 1.66 pounds in the 12.2, versus 1.21lbs on the 10.1 — there is almost no way to find any variations between the Note Pro 12.2 and the Note 10.1 2014 edition (more on that in a moment); it features the same design, button layout, “leather-like” back skitching and display resolution (2560×1600, which translates to a pixel density of 247 ppi). Other than that, what stands out on the 12.2, which features Android 4.4 KitKat at launch, is a few key new features within Samsung’s TouchWiz skin like Remote PC and Magazine UX. Read on below for more impressions.

First, let’s breakdown the key specs. With a larger Note comes an even larger 9,500mAh battery, 8MP rear camera paired with a 2MP front camera, “super clear” WQXGA LCD panel, IR support, dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi MIMO, USB 3.0 and Bluetooth 4.0. The LTE model promises support for 800/900/1800/2100/2600+850, while you’ll get quad-band HSPA+ (with a max of 21Mbps).

As previously mentioned, the Note Pro 12.2 runs Android 4.4 KitKat at launch, but the user experience is drastically different than any other Note we’ve seen before. Instead of being graced with the traditional Android skinned with TouchWiz home screen panel when pressing the physical home button, you get whisked away to a new interface fittingly called Magazine UX. This experience consists of three separate customizable on-screen panels: one for your office/workspace, another for your personal use and a last one that handles your social media and media. It’s much like My Magazine on the Note 10.1 2014 edition, but Samsung has streamlined the number of screens and assigned one of them as the default screen that pops up when you press the home button. So far, Samsung has made it impossible to opt out of that default. You can still access the notification menu and status bar on the top, as well as the app tray in the lower right corner, but if you want the standard home screen, you’ll need to swipe to the right to bring it up.

The Multi-Window feature also makes an appearance here, and Sammy is making good use of the extra screen real estate. Instead of having the option of two windows side by side, you can now have up to four (how long before we have a WSB-TV 22-box option, Samsung?) — and that’s not counting the ability to add pop-up windows on top of that. There are now two ways to access the menu as well: there’s the traditional method of long-pressing the back button, but you can also swipe in from the right bezel to pull up the list of compatible apps. Tapping on those apps will make them float above the screen as a pop-up window, and minimizing each one turns them into small circular icons that takes a great resemblance to Facebook’s Chat Heads feature. If you want the quad-box four-screen setup, you’ll need to drag-and-drop the app into its rightful place.

The last (but certainly not least, definitely not for the enterprise) major firmware enhancement that the Korean tech giant boasts is its Remote PC setup. We weren’t able to demo these features in our time with the Note Pro 12.2, but they certain sound promising. Granted, the idea of accessing your PC or Mac (or Chrome OS device, for that matter) isn’t a new concept by a long shot, but we can’t complain about having the functionality baked into the device right out of the box. In fact, Samsung has built in a UI that allows you to drag and drop files between your PC/Mac and Note Pro, which would be a huge asset to productivity when you’re away from the desk. The ability to edit and save files is also included, as well as support for Cisco’s WebEx Meetings.

In terms of performance, we didn’t see much of a difference between the Note Pro 12.2 and the Note 10.1 2014 edition, which is likely because Samsung opted to use the same processor inside: the LTE version of the Note Pro comes with a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, while the 3G and WiFi-only options are fitted with the same Exynos octa-core processor as the Note 10.1 unit; each unit also comes with a whopping 3GB of RAM. As luck would be, the models on hand were Exynos-powered, and unfortunately there were the all-too-familiar signs of hesitation, stutter and lag in even the most basic of tasks. Since we didn’t get a chance to see final production firmware or hardware at CES (although we suspect it’s pretty close to final at this point), we’ll give Samsung the benefit of a doubt that these issues will be fixed once it hits retail shelves.

And if you’re curious, no, there wasn’t an attempt to put the Note Pro 12.2 up to our ears like a phone. You’re welcome.

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab Pro series comes in 12-, 10- and 8-inch variants, but look a little too familiar

Samsung-Galaxy-Tab-Pro-Series

In case you’re keeping track at home, this is the sixth entry on Samsung in 2014 (and we’re just in week one). Yeah, you’re not the onlyone that’s getting Samsung fatigue. Anyways, the company’s tablet divison didn’t stop with the previously mentioned productivity-centered Galaxy Note Pro line of tablets, by launching three more tablets for 2014. Say hello to the Galaxy Tab Pro, which comes in 12.2, 10.1, and 8.4-inch screen sizes. Interestingly, all three share the same 2560×1600 resolution, with LTE and HSPA radios all baked in for good connectivity measure. If you’ve seen any Samsung Galaxy Tab over the last few years, then you’ll find the new range very familiar. If you liked those relatively clean lines and grippable bezels, then Samsung’s 2014 hardware is going to be a joy. On the back, each tablet also borrows the leathery finish found on both the Galaxy Note 3 and the most recent Note 10.1 iteration, which makes it not so difficult to grip and gives it a much better feel that a traditional glossy plastic surface.

The biggest Galaxy Tab Pro comes with 3GB of built-in RAM, compared with 2GB in its smaller siblings, but other than that, the devices share identical spec sheets. From the 8MP rear and 2MP front-facing cameras to the Android 4.4 KitKat launch OS, troubled tablet buyers really just have to consider the size that’s best for their needs. It’s also worth mentioning that the eight-inch Tab Pro is vertically oriented, which is a smart move on Samsung’s part — it feels more comfortable that way. This smaller screen, with the same resolution as the bigger ones, meant it was as sharp as could be and is a major win in helping it be our early favorite of the device trio.

The whole range is less than eight millimeters thick, which (again) is exactly like the 2014 edition Note 10.1 — in fact, the 10.1-inch middle model is completely the same, aside from the lack of a S Pen and the slight drop to 2GB of RAM. The Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2, however, seems like a harder sell. It’s just big. It’s not thick or unattractive, just a big honking device. However, that is what many said about the Galaxy Note phablet line, but look at it now!). A selling point (if you could truly call it one), is that only this Galaxy Tab Pro features the same $700 bounty of built-in software and services found on the Galaxy Note Pro. The full breakdown is below, and all three tablets are available now starting at $399.99, $499.99 and $649.99 respectively:

  • Bitcasa: 1TB storage for three months
  • Bloomberg Businessweek+: 12 months free subscription
  • Blurb: Free coupon
  • Cisco WebEx Meetings: 6 month free subscription, unlimited meetings
  • Dropbox: 50GB free for two years (100GB for $99/year)
  • EasilyDo Pro: Free app purchase
  • Evernote: (Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 and Tab Pro 12.2 only) 3-12 months of free Evernote Premium (depending on market)
  • Hancom Office: Free subscription
  • LinkedIn: 3 months of LinkedIn Premium membership
  • Livesport.tv: 6 month free subscription
  • New York Times: (Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 and Tab Pro 12.2 only) 12 weeks free subscription
  • Oxford Advanced Learner’s A-Z: Free app purchase
  • Remote PC:  2 year free subscription
  • Sketchbook Pro: Free app purchase

Sharp Aquos 2014 lineup features 1080p and 4K TVs, a revamped SmartCentral platform and the Quattron+ series

sharpces-0114-de

Coming into CES 2014, we knew four five six things for certain:

  1. 4K would be an extremely overused buzzword
  2. So would wearables, smartwatch, smart band and anything else you can think of that relates (even remotely) to the aforementioned three
  3. Samsung would announce a gazillion and one new devices
  4. Sharp would make its annual appearance in the tech press
  5. Razer would blow us away by launching something that a gaming peripheral company shouldn’t exactly have up its sleeve
  6. The TV hounds would be released

Sharp just singlehandedly confirmed three of my CES 2014 predictions in one swoop (Thanks, Sharp!). Seriously, though, Sharp announced its Aquos portfolio for 2014, with new hardware being introduced across its HD, Quattron and 4K Series — there’s also the debut of the Quattron+ line, but we’ll get to that in a moment. As expected, Sharp is placing emphasis on going big (After all, it’s go big or go home, right?) in the screen size department: Each model starts at 60 inches, ranging all the way up to a 90 inch-model in the case of the HD Series line. Speaking of which, the entry-level Aquos HD will be priced starting at $1,300, offering 1080p at 120Hz, 2D/3D options and Smart TV features. Meanwhile, the Quattron Series, which starts at $1,700, also transmits at 1080p, but at 240Hz, plus it’s equipped with Quattron technology and Sharp’s completely overhauled SmartCentral platform, much like the HD and rest of the lineup.

Those looking to burn a little more cash will be able to choose from the fresh off the assembly line Quattron+ or 4K Series, but of which are running the company’s revamped SmartCentral 3 Smart TV software. TVs in the Quattron+ line are a step up between 1080p and a step down from Ultra HD (4K). Sharp calls them the “highest-resolution full HD” sets available, noting that the technology “divides each pixel, creating two pixels from one, to deliver 16 million sub pixels.” Prices on these are in the ballpark of $2,300 to $6,000 — before you (or your wallet) die of a heart attack, this gets you features like Active 3D, THX-approved picture quality, Bluetooth and an AquoMotion 960, 240Hz screen on the higher-end models.

Lastly, the 4K Series, which is probably the most interesting of the bunch and ranges from $5,000 to $6,000, nets you an Ultra HD TV (obviously) with an 120Hz AquoMotion 240 display, THX 4K, 3D, a duo bass subwoofer (because apparently Mozilla is all about that bass) and four HDMI 2.0 ports. All in all, Sharp kicked off the year with a total of 19 different Aquos TVs; the HD, Quattron, Quattron+ and the 4K Series are available now.

Mozilla kicks off Firefox OS tablet developer program, teases new ZTE phones

Mozilla Firefox OS

You might only know Mozilla for the Firefox web browser that you’re probably reading this exact entry on (we’re not judging), but Mozilla has lit the fire to its fox to expand beyond the desktop with Firefox OS. After announcing a smart TV deal with Panasonic, the company behind Firefox and Thunderbird has unveiled a tablet developer program that gives dedicated contributors both reference hardware (initially from Foxconn, also known as the original leaker of Apple products) and other resources; they’ll help create the tablet-native version of Firefox OS in the same communal fashion that Mozilla builds its other entities.

The company also provided the first details of ZTE’s second-generation of Firefox OS smartphones. The Open family expanded to included two upgraded models, the Open C and the dual-core Open II; the companies remained numb beyond that, although we’ll hear more on those handsets later on. If you’re looking for something a little more tangible, you’ll be pleased to hear that VIA Technologies released a version of its tiny APC Rock desktop PC with Mozilla’s OS pre-installed. The bare system is available now for $59, while those who want it in a recycled Paper case will pay $99.

Check out the Clio if regular speakers are too opaque for you

ClearView-CLIO-Wireless-Invisible-Speaker-1

If your speaker looks a little bit too much like, well, speakers, ClearView’s got an interesting solution for you. Meet Clio, a new product that’s being deemed as “the first invisible speaker.” That title seems ready for a TV infomercial, as you might have thought as you ready that. For starters, there’s a clearly visible base, which houses the electronics and underlying technology, controls and inputs. The phrase refers to the transparent, curved glass at the top, which resonates to produce sound waves and certainly makes the system look less like a traditional clunky black box (I’m looking at you, Sonos and Bose).

So, aside from the aesthetic (and eye-grabbing marketing campaign), what benefits does such as product provide? For starters, the sound waves disperse from all angles, so in theory, if you were to put the speaker in the middle of a room, you’ll be able to hear clear sound from all angles. If that’s enough for you to throw your wallet at ClearView, you can pick one up right now for $350.

Corning’s new Gorilla Glass actively kills germs on contact

corning-gorilla-glass

Every properly raised gorilla (should) know that it’s not enough to be touch; you also have to be hygienic, which is the sure explanation for why Corning has developed an antimicrobial form of its Gorilla Glass technology that inhibits the growth of algae, mold, mildew, fungi, bacteria and other nasties that might take root on the traditional heavily-used touchscreen. The glass contains and ionic silver coating that’s similar to what’s found on other germ-killing surfaces. That is, except for that fact that it’s meant to be ”intrinsic” to the material and is therefore claimed to function for the device’s lifetime, whether it’s a phone, tablet, laptop (or desktop) or even a piece of medical equipment — although Corning stopped short of promising any health-related breakthroughs (or promises, for that matter). The company also avoided saying whether any antimicrobial gadgets would appear in the near future, because any good gorilla always under-promises and over-delivers.

Netgear’s new 802.11ac WiFi range extenders laugh at walls, distances

Netgear AC750 WiFi Range Extender

The 802.11ac WiFi standard is no longer a spring chicken, which makes us curious on why there’s a lack of range extenders supporting it — barring Amped Wireless’ efforts (which we covered earlier), of course. Looking to capitalize on the situation, Netgear launched a pair of this developing species at CES, starting with the AC750 (also called the EX6100). This wall-plugged model bounces up to 750 Mbps of dual-band WiFi to underserved areas, as well as being home to a lone Ethernet port. The beefier AC1200 (also known as the EX6200) looks more like a router and packs a plethora of ports. By a plethora, we mean five Ethernet ports and one USB 3.0 port, beamforming capabilities and can deliver speeds up to 1,200Mbps. Both are available now for $90 and $130, respectively, putting Amped Wireless’ $200 option into the “It’s a hard sell” territory.

 Samsung shows off 85-inch curved TV that bends with the touch of a button

Samsung 85-inch 4K bending TV

Somewhere to the right of Samsung’s huge 105-inch UHD TV, there was something even more innovative. The TV was initially off, but otherwise was plainly labelled for all to see as “85-inch bending TV.” We have no further details, but we wanted to pass that along.

Toshiba enters 2014 with extra-bright 4K TVs, simple streaming media hubs

Toshiba_UltraHD

Toshiba has found the secret sauce to knowing how to shine in the 4K TV space when there’s a sea of competition — make them brighter (obviously)! Its 2014 Ultra HD TV lineup focuses on 58- and 65-inch Premier L9400U models that both have extra-bright “Radiance” LED panels. They similarly share a third-generation 4K video-scaling engine, a 240Hz refresh rate, DirecTV RVU support and voice control. If brightness isn’t what you’re looking for, there are more conventional alternatives. The 84-inch L9450U relies on more conventional local-dimming LEDs while preserving the rest of the L9400U’s features, and the 50- and 58-inch L8400U sets cut costs through both their smaller sizes and 120Hz panels. All three TV lines are available now, though Toshiba couldn’t commit to a price point at CES.

Toshiba Symbio

The Japanese electronics giant also launched a pair of next-generation Symbio set-top boxes, both of which combine a Blu-ray player with streaming media using a newly simplified,one-page interface that brings Smart TV Alliance app support. The BDX5500 leads the group with 4K upscaling and 3D playback, while the BDX3500 saves some cash by sticking to 2D. Toshiba didn’t announce pricing for the new Symbio line (Stay tuned for that), but it’s available now.

Sony unveils waterproof T-Mobile exclusive Xperia Z1S at CES

Sony Xperia Z1S

For the past two years, Sony Mobile could be counted on to introduce new Xperia smartphone lines at the biggest technology trade show on Earth — the S and Z, to be more specific. This year, Sony did a not so fast, as the company offered twists on previously announced hardware, which results in the Xperia Z1S for T-Mobile here in the US market. The Xperia Z1S, which is available now for $528 outright ($22/month) retains much of its Z1 counterpart’s spec load — a five-inch Triluminos display, Snapdragon 800 processor, 3000mAh battery and 20.7 megapixel rear-facing camera — albeit with some notable upgrades. Stay tuned for the breakdown.

Despite maintaining the same five-inch screen size as its Z brethren, the Z1S is significantly taller, owing to the larger 3000mAh battery inside and 32GB of internal storage. Though its lack of an IPS display means viewing angles aren’t as generous, the Z1S does feature X-Reality Engine (It’s disabled by default, ironically enough) for improved contrast in stills and video.

The device’s now also rated for IP58 certification, making it waterproof, not just splash-resistant, at a depth of up to four and a half feet for about 30 minutes. As for the hardware, the Z1S still feature the all-around flat-sided (Sony calls it “omnibalance”) design Sony ushered in with the Z, but here the edges are gently rounded with a plastic trim, making for a much more comfortable feel in the hand. It’s a change we wish didn’t have to be made (meaning it should’ve been here from the very beginning of this Xperia Z line).

Much like its predecessor, the Xperia Z1S’ ports are all tucked away behind flaps, with one exception: the headphone jack. At the behest of T-Mobile, that jack, nearly centered on the top of the device, has now been made fully accessible when submerged, so users can laze around the pool and not worry about water damage. That’s not the only functional change the company made in the cosmetics department; Sony also added in a dual-detent camera key that aims to make taking shots when you’re taking advantage of its waterproofness far easier to do.

With a (as previously mentioned) 20.7-megapixel, f/2.0 camera module on deck and an associated software suite, it’s clear Sony’s placing heavy emphasis on the Xperia Z1S’ imaging prowess. Like its Z1 sister, this US iteration ships with a specially designed, larger Exmor RS sensor is on par with those found in the company’s compact cameras, according to Sony. That’s in addition to the company’s in-house G Lens solution and BIONZ for mobile image processing which, together, should translate into faster autofocus, better white balance and images with less blur and discernible noise.

Sony loaded up the Xperia Z1S with the PlayStation App (a Xperia line first) and a suite of camera apps to complement that imaging ensemble; the same camera apps found on the Z1. Of the bunch (By bunch, I mean InfoEye, AR Effects, Social Live and TimeShift Burst), only Background Defocus, an app that creates artificial bokeh or background blur, is new and an Z1S exclusive. Users can also augment this app suite with a selection of third-party add-ons, which are searchable from within the camera app.

The Z1S is available now for $528 unlocked or $22/month, exclusively in black on T-Mobile.

Alcatel brings the world’s fastest octa-core phone to Europe

Alcatel Idol X+

TCL already jumped the gun by launching its Idol X+ in China in December 2013, but the same flagship device got its passport at CES and headed to Europe under the Alcatel branding. This dual-micro-SIM, 7.9mm-thick Android phone packs a 2GHz MediaTek MT6592 processor (the world’s fastest true octa-core chipset, as of launch). You’ll find the usual top-spec components around the Idol X+ as well, including a five-inch 1080p IPS display, a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera (which is capable of taking 40-megapixel panoramas and digital stabilization for video capture), a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, a 2500mAh battery and dedicated ESS audio amplifier chips. Internal storage starts at 16GB (with 12.3GB available to you), along with support for up to 32GB microSD cards. The phone also comes with a pair of JBL earbuds, but there’s no word on whether the China versions’ Bluetooth activity tracker will be included as well — at least it won’t be called Boom Band, as it will apparently be a more refined version when it goes international.

The Idol X+’s design and build quality left us rather impressed. The solid plastic bezel features a brushed-metallic effect, accompanied by a spin finish (achieved by in-mould labelling) on the back of the phone. Like the screen, the backside will also have a nano-coating treatment to minimize fingerprint smudges. Shoppers can get it in either black or white for around $300 without a contract.

Martian Notifier watch uses custom vibration patterns to signal what app wants your attention

Martian Notifier

Martian Watches is back at CES this year, bringing with the best of both worlds in the watch industry. The Martian Notifier is a slight departure from previous efforts given it drops voice control (which was originally the feature that hooks you into the company’s products, although you can still remotely trigger Siri or Google Now with the press of a button). The watch keeps everything good about Martian’s range, though, like the small OLED screen for displaying contact names or text messages, and the ability to engage a device’s camera shutter remotely, among other things.

The Notifier pairs with iOS and Android devices via Bluetooth, and as the name suggests, its focus is on alerting you to notifications. Rather than just vibrating every time something happens on your phone, though, you can select exactly what triggers a buzz on your wrist. Furthermore, using the watch’s companion app (also available on iOS and Android), you can set up vibration patterns, so you know one long buzz and two short buzzes means someone’s calling you out on Twitter, for example. Any software that uses the iOS or Android notification back-ends will feed into the app’s settings, so you aren’t relying on this app or that app specifically building in support. While simple, it’s actually quite clever, and doesn’t look half bad, which is a great bonus. Anyone that’s intrigued by the Notifier and its semi-smarts can pick one up now for around $130.

Ozobot is a tiny robot that uses your mobile devices a a playground

Ozobot-following-line-patterns

All right, we’ve officially seen everything. This is definitely the sort of thing it helps to see in-person, so here’s the quick explainer: Ozobot is a tiny robot (by tiny, we mean roughly the size of a twist-off bottle top) that is capable of recognizing codes and sensors both on a mobile device and a more analog surface. The company has developed a handful of games that create patterns, which serve as paths for the robot. Ozobot also has built-in lights, which flash in different colors to let you know what it’s up to. The company pulled out a couple of add-ons and stuck them on an iPad, extending the robot’s course — a race track kits runs at a price point around $120 and ships with two Ozobots, so you can have the little guys compete.

Theoretically, Ozobot can work with non-digital board games, and the company is looking to build partnerships with companies like Parker Bros (The company behind Monopoly, Sorry! and Trivial Pursuit). It’s also looking for third-party app developers to create more games for its system. From what we saw, the selection was pretty limited, but there are certainly some cool potential applications for a little tablet-friendly robot like that, should the right developers come on board. In the meantime, the product is available now for around $59.

Sony announces the ‘tiniest’ gadget it’s ever made: Core, a wearable built for life-logging

sony-core-smartband

Sony has unveiled a new modular wearable — comprised of a Core sensor pack and a SmartBand bracelet at its CES press event. Core tracks your movement and activities using a companion LifeLog app that uses the information to suggest personal highlights based on your daily communications and activities. What’s more, you can don the NFC-enabled Core in additional ways, according to the Japanese tech giant, as a pendant or inserted into the footpod in a shoe, for example. Folks digging the standard implementation won’t be saddled with merely one or two colors like many other wearable bracelets either, as a whole host of colors are available. As of this point, we don’t have much more information about Core’s capabilities of its internals, Sony Mobile is working with various partners on more hardware (aka: additional clips and band designs), according to the division’s CEO Kunimasa Suzuki and software features, and they’ll be more details at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The Core is tiny. Thick as two sticks of gum, but twice a smart. This is Sony’s renewed effort for wearables and it really couldn’t look any more different from the SmartWatch the Japanese company launched in 2013. It’s a different device to begin with: an activity tracker with no screen whatsoever. Sony’s been keeping it all pretty vague, but going on the details of the colorful, oddly appearing app, it’s more life logger than health monitor. The idea the outfit is chasing is to collect what you do in your life, your movement, your photos, music listened to and your social network happenings, and put them together into a Flipboard-esque automated journal, which lives in a new LifeLogger app that launched alongside the Core.

You’ll need to hook the Core up with your smartphone through Bluetooth to see what’s happened activity-wise, and the battery should be good for up to five days on a simple charge: it’s tiny but there’s no blinking lights or vibration to sap power. There’s a micro-USB port for recharging, but the whole package is also waterproof. As previously mentioned, Sony promised to reveal more details at Mobile World Congress next month, but the company did show a glimpse at one of the places the Core will reside and, in true CES 2014 year of the wearable style, it’s a wristband.

With a textured rubber band (and coming in a stack of colors and patterns) it bears a resemblance to the Misfit Shine: the band is really just a stylized case for the Core. With the sensor stored inside, the SmartBand remained light and comfortable. Because it’s flexible and soft, it shouldn’t jar you when you rest your arms on a desk or laptop, something the Nike FuelBand fails on. There’s’ a machined aluminum Sony decal, while metal studs make sure to keep the band on. in short, details were hazy, but Sony’s at least got a plan where it wants the Core to go — somewhere that could play to the company’s strengths across entertainment, imaging and its mobile devices. Stay tuned for the sales pitch in Barcelona.

Nuance’s next-generation Dragon Assistant wants to have a conversation

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The fruits of the partnership between Intel and Nuance has finally arrived, after its incarnation way back when. Enter the next-generation Dragon Assistant. The virtual assistant is designed specially for Intel RealSense technology, and comes with two default personalities: American female or British Butler. The assistant does the normal voice recognition tasks, of course, but Nuance is particularly proud of the program’s conversation skills. Asking who directed Pulp Fiction, for instance, produces the correct answer (Quentin Tarantino, if you’re curious), but Dragon will also remember you asked that, fielding follow up questions like “Hey, who was in that movie?” into the proper context.

Nuance Mobile Vice President Michael Thompson:

“This latest version of Dragon Assistant is transformative. People can have an interactive dialogue that is natural and intuitive, with a voice assistant that listens and understand the context of the conversation.”

Best of all, the new assistant is available now in devices from Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus and Toshiba, just to name a few, in Ultrabooks, all-in-one PCs and tablets.

All Intel microprocessors will be conflict-mineral free

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Intel has announced that its entire 2014 line of microprocessors will be conflict-mineral free (tin, tantalum and tungsten, if you’re curious), in its CES keynote address. Previously, the company joined the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and its Conflict-Free Smelter group in an effort to separate itself from the blood-for-materials market. This looks like the logical next step in those efforts.

Okidokeys gives you more options than you’ll ever need to open the front door

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The Okidokeys smart lock system is probably the most overkill way to open your front door. When seeing it as CES Unveiled (the pre-show to CES proper), it was pretty much in various states of disarray on a table. The primary module hooks up to the lock on the inside of door, with no trace of the mechanism visible from the outside. Trigger it via your mobile devices and it rotates to unlock the door. There’s also a large button you can use to unlock it without a smartphone from the inside. The system starts at $179.

There’s also a bundle priced somewhere in the mid-$200 range, which nets you an RFID reader. The reader doesn’t attach directly to the module, so you can put it anywhere on the exterior of the door in question to unlock via a bracelet or card you keep in your wallet. Or, if you’re feeling nostalgic, you can still use your traditional key. Using the Android or iOS app, you can also unlock the door remotely and grant access to users. The sets are available now. The company also showed off a garage door module that works with its proprietary app. However, there was no word on pricing at the show.

Canon’s PowerShot N100 available now for $350

Canon Powershot N100

 

You might’ve read about the Canon PowerShot N100 (and seen it, if you’ve looked above this blob of text), but how much do you really know about it? For starters, it has an adjustable rear viewing window which shows more than just the world in front of you — it also has your face staring back at you. The dual capture mode is the main attraction for the N100, which pulls down an unique perspective on everyday life — both the subject and videographer are part of the story, at once (No more invisible videographers!). On the spec sheet, there’s a 12-megapixel CMOS sensor, Canon’s DIGIC 6 processor, a 5x f/1.8-5.7 (24-120mm) optically stabilized zoom lens and a three-inch, 922k-dot touchscreen that flips up 90 degrees rounds it out. The new PowerShot is available now.

Cubify 3D printing destination hits 2.0 with curated and branded collections

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Even if it completely flopped in the consumer market, 3D systems would still be on pretty solid ground thanks to its strong industrial 3D printing presence. But that hardly means the company is going to take a half-hazarded effort to capture market share (and mindshare) from MakerBot and Thingiverse. Before CES even officially kicked off, the company announced the Cube 3 and CubePro printers and the launch of Cubify 2.0 — the next generation of its consumer site for hosting and posting ready-to-print models. While there is a community-driven site to the portal, including user-uploading collections and profiles, there’s also a heavily curated portion that includes partnerships with brands like Nokia and Digital Dollhouse (a virtual playground for kids, who can now 3D print their creations). The collections are divided up into categories like fashion, decor and “mancave,” and include both products that you can print at home on your Cube or, for the more complex products like guitars, you can have 3D Systems print it out for you on one of its giant industrial machines.

This isn’t a wrap for the company at CES, either. There’s still a press event to come that will feature will.i.am, which translate to some good things ahead for 3D Systems.

Whyd’s music-streaming aggregation now open to the public

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It was nearly 14 months from this date that Whyd was first available to check out. The music aggregation service pulls songs scraped from sites like YouTube and Soundcloud, letting you build streaming playlists out of music often not available through the likes of Spotify and iTunes. And while there hasn’t been a peep out of the service in the intervening year, it’s clear that the company has been cooking on something over there. The site is finally shedding its long-standing invite-only status, opening up for one and all. The news also brings with it a wider variety of features, including Deezer compatibility, comments, revamped profiles and more to help nudge you in the direction of yet another streaming music offering.

Huawei had a respectable 2014, wants to ship 80 million smartphones in 2014

Huawei CES 2014 booth

At Huawei’s CES press conference, the company’s executive VP Colin Giles reminisced on 2013, when the company truly embarked on its journey from being an ODM to a consumer-facing OEM. By the end of the year, 95% of all handsets left its factories with the Huawei name attached, and in Q4 2013, smartphone shipments topped 17.5 billion. In the previous quarter, the Chinese phone manufacturer jumped into the top three manufacturers list worldwide, according to various analysts. Despite all the company’s success and rapid growth, there’s no intention to slow down — Giles wrapped things up by setting Huawei’s sales targets for 2014, and no less than 80 million devices will be acceptable.

Cube 3 3D printer brings user-friendly hardware, higher resolutions for under a grand

3D Systems Cube 3

Like clockwork, 3D Systems has offered up a refresh to its entry-level Cube line. The third iteration of the Cube line, introduced almost exactly a year after its predecessor, features a new, semi-enclosed body, speedier printing and resolutions of down to 75 microns. The ink cartridges have been redesigned, as well, for an experience that’s “easier than changing an ink cartridge.” The printer features Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, for printing from the Cubify apps on Android and iOS and a build volume of up to six square inches. You can also print with both ABS and PLA and two colors at the same time. The Cube 3 is available now for under $1,000.

AT&T Sponsored Data lets businesses foot the bill for consumers’ wireless data use

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AT&T introduced what it calls Sponsored Data, at the company’s Developer Summit, something it compares to a 1-800 number for wireless data. Sounds strange I know, but this new wireless data model is pretty straightforward (I promise). The service, which is mostly geared towards businesses, allows user to test out or view applications, games, upcoming movie trailers and even websites without impacting their monthly data plans.

Sponsored Data is (naturally) all about consumer engagement… and data mining. With unlimited data fast becoming a rarity, consumers need to monitor their data consumption to avoid blowing past caps. It’s easy to see how that cautious behavior doesn’t translate well for businesses looking to hock their virtual wares and glean insight into consumption habits. Sponsored Data then removes that concern, offering users a way to browse the web or test drive new apps freely on their phone with the same 4G speeds they’d normally enjoy on their personal data plans and it gives business access to key usage info. Though consumers won’t be charged for taking advantage of Sponsored Data, they will see it appear within their monthly billing statement. The fees, however, are entirely responsible for by business partners backing that “toll-free data.”

Panasonic introduces Toughpad FZ-M1, a seven-inch rugged tablet

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At its CES press conference, Panasonic unveiled a new addition to its Toughpad line of rugged tablets. According to the company’s North American President, Rance Poehler, the seven-inch FZ-M1 is the thinnest rugged tablet of its kind, and it’s certainly a more portable solution than the 20-inch, 4K Toughpad launched last year. (It’s unlikely to pack just as many pixels on its smaller display, though.)

The tablet’s edges are rounded, and a rubber lining’s on hand to protect ports and connections. Though Panasonic touts this guy as the thinnest rugged device in its range, that doesn’t exactly say much; it’s no Nexus 7 or iPad mini. The M1’s bezel is a glossy white, as is traditional for Toughpads, but its build is unapologetically (as it should be) high quality. There aren’t many specs to share, but we’ll blow through what we do know on the internals front.

Unsurprisingly, the seven-incher is packing some serious specs once you take a peek under the hood. It runs a 64-bit flavor of Windows 8.1 Pro on a fanless Intel Core i5 vPro processor, and (naturally, I mean it is a ToughPad we’re talking about) it meets the requirements for shock, drop and temperature resistance. Specifically, it boasts a MIL-STD-80G rating for shocks and drops, in addition to IP65 certification for dust and water resistance. The shell might be impressive, but the screen isn’t a couch potato either — the multi-touch display even boasts “glove touch technology,” which hopefully will let you use your mitts (or welding gloves, for that matter) on your screen. It’s also daylight-readable, and the matte finish does look like it could hold its own against the sun overhead.

When it comes to connectivity, the slate packs a USB 3.0 port and micro SDXC slot, with options for barcode, MSR, SmartCard, Serial and LAN features. Panasonic’s hardened tablet also sports WiFi, dedicated GPS, NFC, UHF RFID, Bluetooth 4.0 and optional, integrated LTE connectivity. Sure, it’s got an air-tight case, but the hardware still manages to handle hot swaps of its batteries. Unfortunately, that’s all we have for now — stay tuned for more details.

ASUS unveils Zenfone line packing Android, Intel chips and a simple interface

 

It’s been a while since ASUS has announced a smartphone that wasn’t meant to be used with (or as, for that matter), but the company is making up for that absence by giving birth to the Zenfone line. The Zenfone 4, Zenbook 5 and 6 all sport dual-core Intel Atom processors and a range of exotic color options. They also tout a new interface layer on top of Android 4.3, ZenUI, that promises both simplicity and a What’s Next feature for tracking your daily schedule. Differences between models largely boil down to screen size and performance. The Zenfone 4 starts things off with its namesake four-inch 800×480 LCD screen, a 1.2GHz Intel Atom processor, a five-megapixel rear camera and a front VGA shooter.

Move to the Zenfone 5 and you’ll get a larger 720p display with pen and glove support, a 2GHz Intel Atom processor, an 8MP back camera and 2MP front-facing camera.

The Zenfone 6 builds on this with an even bigger (although still 720p) screen and a 13MP rear camera. ASUS didn’t say when the Zenfone series would hit stores, although the lack of LTE suggest that the handsets won’t reach 4G-obsessed US carriers in an official capacity. They’ll definitely be cheap to buy off-contract, however — the Zenfone 4 hits the low-end range at $99, while it’s five and six-inch counterparts will cost $149 and $199.

Wysips Connect will make your phone a solar cell that can receive data transmitted through light waves

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The Wysips Connect 90% transparent solar-cell that made its debut at last year’s CES made its return at CES 2014 with some new tricks. Wysips Connect made its official debut on the show floor this year, and while the transparent panel can still generate electricity through sun exposure, it’s now equipped with LiFi — a visible light spectrum communication technique capable of transmitting data at broadband speeds. If LiFi becomes common in smartphones, shopping malls, airports or hospitals could use the technology to push local map data to a user’s phone, or help them find a product’s location in an oversized supermarket.

All talk? Not quite: Sunpartner Technology and Qualcomm announced that they’ll be announcing the first Wysips Connect equipped smartphone during the trade show. The jury’s still out on if the technology will truly revolutionize the mobile world (as in, becoming widely adopted), but hey it’s a start.

LaCie’s Culbuto is a $50 USB thumb drive inspired by roly-poly toys

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If you wished your thumb drive was a little more whimsical, LaCie has announced an accessory to fill that void. The storage outfit teamed up with French designer Constance Guisset for Culbuto: a USB flash drive with a design inspired by roly-poly toys — complete with a weighted bottom to keep it upright. Further explained as “a storage device disguised as a decorative object,” Culbuto is coated in molded rubber with a solid gold metal base that connects via USB 3.0. And wait, there’s more! The cap doubles as a photo or business card holder when it’s not in use. Now that’s how to get the most bang for your buck! The Culbuto is available in both 16GB and 32GB capacities, starting at $50.

Google bringing Android to cars with help from Audi, GM, Hyundai, Honda, NVIDIA

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Google’s Android operating system already has more than one billion activations on mobile and media devices, the OS announced that it would make an impact on another major industry: cars. Following rumors that the internet giant was working with luxury carmaker Audi to embed its open-source OS inside its automobiles, the company has confirmed that it has teamed up with five automotive and technology companies (at least to begin with) to form the Open Automotive Alliance. Alongside the aforementioned Audi, Google will be joined by General Motors, Hyundai, Honda and chipmaker NVIDIA, which all worked to bring Android to cars starting in 2014. The coalition aimed to create a common platform that drives (no pun intended) innovation and would in term make cars “safer and more intuitive for everyone.” With Apple (with their Siri Eyes Free initiative) and Nokia also pushing hard to put their own names in the automobile market — with Apple counting the previously mentioned Honda, GM and Hyundai as Siri Eyes Free partners — 2014 could be the year of the connected car.

Panasonic brings Firefox OS to your smart TV

Panasonic CES 2014 booth

Firefox OS won’t be confined to your smartphone or tablet for much longer. Panasonic has announced a partnership with Mozilla that will bring Firefox OS-powered smart TVs and other “smart screens.” The deal could potentially open up the frequently proprietary world of TV software — since the program guide and other interface elements will be web pages, they won’t be limited to any one company’s hardware. It should also be easier to write remote control apps, personalize the interface and integrate TVs with home automation systems. Panasonic didn’t go into more detail about the hardware at this stage, but Firefox OS TVs should be available now.

BMW unveils prototype self-driving car platform, i Remote app for Samsung Galaxy Gear, driver assistance tech

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Automotive manufacturers, long regarded to as laggards in terms of new technology, has been making a push in recent years to catch up with consumer expectations. BMW is one such car maker, and it’s rolling out a suite of new technologies to improve its cars at CES 2014. First up is an improvement to its suite of driver-assistance technology known as ActiveAssist that’s been built into a new prototype car. Generally speaking, it’s a series of control systems that allow the car to react “to fluctuations grip levels” like during hydroplaning to react and bring the car back under control precisely, automatically and without driver input. It accomplishes this by both braking individual wheels (like existing systems) and adjusting steering input in response to its active monitoring of road conditions using lidar, radar, ultrasound and optical cameras.

BMW is also apparently on board with the new wearable trend, as it’s also built a version of its i Remote app — that lets owners access vehicle information for their mobile device — for Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. The app delivers the BMW i3’s remaining range charge level and any departure times you’ve entered into the app, plus whether or not the doors ,windows or sunroofs are open. Not only that, Galaxy Gear owners can also send navigation destinations and assess the climate controls in their i3, too.

Bavarian Motorworks also rolled out improvements to its parking-assistance system. Using ultrasound sensors, your car will now find you appropriately sized spaces (as long as you aren’t traveling faster than 22MPH) by evaluating the open spots on either side of the vehicle. It looks for those at least 55cm (21.7 inches) longer than the car and when you stop the car, press the parking button and hit the turn signal to let it know which side you want to park on, the system then maneuvers your car in for you. No muss, no fuss. Additionally, BMW has improved its Traffic Jam assistant as well. When traveling at 25 MPH or slower, the system automatically maintains a set following distance and controls the steering to keep you steady in your land when traffic gets heavy. The system uses the optical camera located behind the rearview mirror, and works in tandem with the cruise control and Stop & Go systems that provide driver assistance at speeds up to 87 MPH.

Stay tuned for more details on how all this new gear works in the real world as CES 2014 rolls on.

NVIDIA certifies PCs and routers that can stream games to Shield handheld

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If you’ve ever tried to stream a game from a PC (or PlayStation 4) to a mobile device over WiFi, then you’ll know the bandwidth requirements can be quite fussy. Attempt to remote play in high definition at 60 frames per second, as NVIDIA promises with its Shield handheld and recently upgraded GameStream service, and things start to get seriously pinnikity. So, to help you pick the right hardware to go with your Shield, NVIDIA has started a certification program to label PCs and routers that are GameStream-ready. Expect to see the green logo on pre-built machines from companies with the likes of Digital Storm and Maingear that have the necessary GeForce GTX graphical guts, as well as a number of dual-band and wireless-AC routers from ASUS, Buffalo, D-Link and Netgear. Compatible routers will also support streaming from the cloud, thanks to NVIDIA’s alternative GRID service, although of course you’ll also need a steady 10 MBps broadband connection before that even becomes a remote possibility.

Qualcomm looks to improve the connected car with the Snapdragon 602A

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In addition to announcing a version of its Snapdragon 800 processor tweaked for your home theater, Qualcomm has introduced a chip made specifically for in-car entertainment. The Snapdragon 602A, unsurprisingly given its name, shares several specs with the Snapdragon 600 chip seen in mobile devices, but it’s made to meet the automotive industry’s requirements for temperature, longevity and more. It also packs in plenty of additional tech, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Qualcomm’s been involved in the connected car space for about a decade, with 3G and 4G modules to show for it. Though it offers Gobix 9×15 3G/4G LTE modules along with WiFi and Bluetooth, the 602A is ambitious on more than just the connectivity front: The chip will initially power infotainment — serving multiple video streams to numerous screens in your car, for instance — but will pave the way for more advanced connectivity and safety features. For example, facial recognition support could let you start the car by looking in a camera, and gesture recognition could enable a smarter backup camera.

As with the Snapdragon 802, the goal behind the 602A is to bring the dynamic app experience of smartphones and tablets to a different environment. This means improved 3D navigation, cloud-based software and integration with mobile devices, among many other things. Support for both Android and QNX give carmakers options for building their own infotainment systems that comply with the automotive industry’s requirements, as well. Qualcomm hasn’t mentioned a timeframe at that time, but I have a feeling that we’ll have something to pass along to you before CES 2014 wraps.

T-Mobile promises better coverage after spending $2.4 billion on spectrum from Verizon

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T-Mobile has made a big move to improve its coverage by purchasing a large z A-Block spectrum from Verizon for nearly $2.4 billion in cash. The UnCarrier — which has been in a buying mood — said the deal will help improve its coverage for 158 million people in 21 of the top 30 US markets, including New York, LA, Atlanta and Dallas. It added that the low-band spectrum (which has a greater range than high-band frequencies) will be particularly useful in city suburbs. As part of the deal, it’ll also transfer $950 million worth of spectrum to Verizon in several markets, mostly in northern California and Atlanta.

Grocery stores use Apple’s iBeacon to remind you what you’re shopping for

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Many of us will occasionally forget to pick up important ingredients (the milk!) when visiting the grocery store, but that momentary lapse of focus may not be a problem for much longer. A handful of Giant Eagle and Safeway stores are now using a new marketing service, InMarket’s Mobile to Mortar, that relies on Apple’s iBeacon to send proximity-based notifications while you’re wandering the aisles. In addition to offering on-the-spot coupons and rewards, the system can remind you what’s on your shopping list at just the right moment. It can also send an alert when someone adds to the list; if the family runs out of juice while you’re in the store, you’ll know to pick up another jug before you hit the checkout line. Only certain Giant Eagle and Safeway outlets in Cleveland, San Francisco and Seattle are using Mobile to Mortar at launch, but InMarket promises more news as time goes on.

Dish announces streaming app for PlayStation consoles

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In an effort to bring its streaming chops to gaming consoles, Dish Network has announced an app for for PlayStation that does just that. The TV provider’s customers will be able to take advantage of Dish’s widely successful Hopper’s functionality via its Virtual Joey software on both PlayStation 3 and PS4 consoles to access their favorite TV shows without having to switch devices after the end of a marathon gaming session. This software also allows for control via either the PlayStation 4’s native DualShock 4 controller or the Dish remote that comes with your traditional cable box. The app is available now in the PlayStation Store.

Nikon’s D3300 DSLR captures detailed, filter-free photos for $650

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Nikon started removing optical low-pass filters on pro-DSLRs, where owners are more likely to notice the extra detail, but that emphasis on super-sharp photos has been moving rapidly downrange. At CES 2014, it reached the entry level line through the D3300. Although the camera shoots at the same 24 megapixels as its predecessor, its filter-free sensor should produce crisper-looking pictures without pushing would-be buyers to costlier models. It also get s the newer Expeed 4 engine and its matching improvements to battery life, performance and image quality. The D3300 is still stuck with 11-point autofocusing, and there’s no built-in WiFi, but it captures at a more sensitive 12,800 ISO (versus the ISO 6,400 on the D3200). It’s the first Nikon DSLR with an Easy Panorama mode, too. SHould you be intrigued by the D3300’s blend of high resolution and beginner features, you can pick it up now for $650 paired with an equally new, more compact 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II lens. Veteran Nikon fans can buy the stand-alone lens as well for $250.

MakerBot shows off a trio of new apps: Desktop, Mobile, Printshop

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Yeah, the hardware was the big reveal at today’s MakerBot press conference (in some cases, literally), but that wasn’t all the company had to show off at CES. First off is the Desktop app, which lets you monitor and control your prints and access MakerWare, a feature that lets you view your prints. The app’s available now for free.

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Also announced at the company’s press conference was MakerBot Mobile, an app that lets you monitor and control your printer remotely. The app also sends alerts to let you know when the prints are complete. You can also download prints directly from Thingiverse. This one’s also free and is available now on iOS and Android.

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The last addition to the MakerBot ecosystem is Printshop, a way to actually get those pesky 3D model to print. There are two ways to use it: a text feature, which lets you print out words and a bracelet maker, which, as you’ve no doubt already figured out, lets you design your own plastic wrist wearables. The app also features a number of “Verified” files from Thingiverse, with easy access to good models. MakerBot Printshop is available now on iOS and Android.

iRobot shows off improved Scooba mop ‘bot, still not ready to tackle the Las Vegas Convention Center

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Nothing particularly revolutionary came out of the iRobot booth this CES. A couple of months after dropping a new souped-up Roomba (the robot vacuum cleaner), the company did the same for its floor-mopping Scooba. iRobot’s promising “three times better performance” on the 450, thanks to a 600 RPM brush and improved navigation. The company demoed the robot ahead of CES in a pretty tight space. It’s tough to say definitely how well the 450 actually works based on limited time with it, but it seemed to do a pretty good job picking up muddy water and spilled Cheerios, combining them into what can now be called the world’s grossest breakfast cocktail in its tank — which, as it turns out, is actually slightly smaller than the one in its predecessor’s.

The device’s Three-Cycle Cleaning Process promises to kill up to 99.3 percent of bacteria (there’s always something, right? I guess they can’t catch them all), sweeping, soaking and then scrubbing your floor. The robot has two cleaning modes: a 40-minute cycle for up to 300 square feet and a 20-minute version for 150 square feet and smaller. That means, interestingly, that no matter how large or small the room is, it’ll spend that much time picking up the pieces. Also, for the first time, the Scooba plays nicely with Roomba’s Virtual Walls, so you don’t have to run out and pick up a proprietary set, if you already have the Scooba’s sister vacuuming robot sitting around your house. The new Scooba is available now through iRobot’s site for a cool $600. There’s also an upright charging station that allows you to dry it out while it charges. If you’re interested, that’ll set you back another $80.

Broadcom’s new WiFi chips aim to keep your video streams flowing

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All that hardware strewn throughout your digital life is only as good as what’s beneath the surface. Broadcom is one of the firms bent on evolving those parts, and at CES the company introduced two new chips that’ll pervade the tech mentioned throughout this series (even though it won’t garner much attention). First up is the BCM43569 (2×2 MIMO), which blends 5G WiFi (most widely known as 802.11ac), and Bluetooth 4.1 standards with a USB 3.0 interface. The combo SoC is intended for the next generation of smart TVs and set-top boxes, allowing the simultaneous WiFi and BT connections to other devices and ensuring solid video-streaming performance in your airwave-saturated home.

The BCM43602 (3×3 MIMO) 5G WiFI chip, which instead uses a PCI Express interface, is destined for future routers and set-top boxes. It, also, is slated to improve the reliability of video streaming over 802.11ac by assuming the brunt of wireless processing work usually executed by those products’ internal CPUs. Both new chips also support beamforming for maintaining stronger connections, and are available now for OEMs to put into their devices.

Pebble introduces the Steel, an all-metal smartwatch with an elegant look

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To say 2013 was a banner year for Pebble would be an absolute understatement. The company began its journey to prominence at CES 2013 showing off functional versions of its iconic Pebble smartwatch — the same one that generated over $10 million on Kickstarter in a matter of weeks — and ended the year with the announcement that it pushed out more than 300,000 units and was planning to launch a dedicated app store. But while the watch has a healthy app (and watch band, for that matter) ecosystem, loyal following and a sporty look, the Pebble isn’t exactly the kind of device you would slap on your wrist for wine-tastings or browsing through an exhibition at the local art gallery or presenting at events, you’ll need a premium-looking smartwatch, but good luck finding one; you’ll probably just opt for your traditional Rolex or other classy, fancy and trendy piece of wristwear over anything else on the market.

Fortunately Pebble a, didn’t come to CES empty-handed this year and b, might have found a solution for you. CEO Eric Migicvosky announced the Pebble Steel at the company’s trade show press conference, which takes the original Pebble watch’s heart and soul and encapsulates it in an all stainless steel, CNC-machined body. If you like the concept of the Pebble, but don’t think it radiates enough elegance or class, the $250 Steel may be more up your alley. The new device is available now.

So what are our thoughts on Pebble’s new look? In a nutshell, we like it. Before we go any further, let’s make an important clarification. The original Pebble isn’t going away because of the Steel. It’ll continue to be available for $150 through several different distribution channels. Fortunately, it isn’t creating fragmentation within the Pebble lineup either; aside from a few minor hardware changes (such as a new charger, Gorilla Glass, an anti-fingerprint coating and an LED notification light that indicates whether or not the device is charging, the Steel adds very little functionality. Many of the other specs remain unchanged: the e-paper display, waterproof design, user interface and battery are just a few examples.

The most striking changes to the Steel are all cosmetic, all of which are welcome improvements that give the Pebble a much more mature appearance. The stainless steel body is surrounded by a small, black racing strap near the top, which doubles as an external antenna. It’s a functional trade off for those who like consistency, without it, the Bluetooth signal would be completely obstructed by the watch’s metal chassis. Each steel will come with two wristbands — leather and metal — but this time, standard bands aren’t going to be compatible. However, Pebble plans to release the design specs in a 3D-printable format, allowing third-party manufacturers to come up with a wider variety of options.

You can also choose between two colors: Brushed Stainless and Black Matte. While both models feature the same build material and quality, the black unit’s casing is coating with a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) finish that helps make the body more scratch-resistant and slightly more durable.

The original Pebble’s look will always hold a sweet spot in my heart, but there is definitely something to be said about the fact that the Steel is not only more stylish, not to mention easier to use. It still feels just as comfortable to wear and even the buttons offer a more enjoyable experience; we didn’t feel like we had to push as hard on the Steel’s buttons to navigate around the UI, which is a huge win for the watch’s industrial design.

Earlier we mentioned that the Steel (unfortunately) doesn’t use the same charger as the original version. Since the new watch is shaped quite a bit differently than its predecessor, the team had to make some adjustments. Fortunately, the result is at least a good one: In theory, since the contacts actually have a little more surface area, it actually charges the Steel faster. Also, don’t worry about having to buy a new one — as you might expect, it’ll come with one in the box.

On the firmware side, the Steel will come with Pebble OS 2.0 built-in, allowing you to take advantage of the company’s new App Store. CEO Migicovsky says that more than 6,000 developers have already submitted apps, so the Steel has a healthy selection of games, watch faces and other apps. The list of developers includes ESPN, Pandora, GoPro, Yelp, Foursquare and Mercedes.

Dolby Vision imaging comes to Netflix, Xbox Video as partners

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Dolby’s TV image-enhancement technology has been in development for a good little while, and at CES the company has finally announced when and where you’ll find it. The outfit has promised that we’ll see TVs with Dolby Vision baked in this year. Perhaps more excitedly, Sharp and TCL had compatible hardware on display in both of their booths, and Amazon, Netflix, VUDU and Xbox Video have stepped up as content providers. Stay tuned for more details.

Canon unveils WiFi-equipped PowerShot SX60HS, ELPH 340HS point-and-shoots

Canon Powershot SX600 HS

 

It’s going to be hard to get excited about an ordinary point-and-shoot again after Canon showed off its funky PowerShot N100, but if practicality is the name of your game, this new duo has you covered. Let’s start with the PowerShot SX600 HS, which includes a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor, a DIGIC 4+ processor, an 18x 25-450mm, f/3.8-6.9u optical zoom lens and a three-inch 461k-dot LCD display. There’s also built-in WiFi and NFC, so you can pair the camera with an Android smartphone or tablet and transfer stills and video with ease. There’s a Mobile Device Connect button, enabling instant access to wireless features, such as app control and upload.s The SX600 includes a Hybrid Auto mode, which records four seconds of video before each still photo; a Smart Auto mode with 32 predefined shooting modes; and a dedicated movie button, giving you instant access to taking 1080p video captures.

Canon ELPH 300 HS2

Next up is the PowerShot ELPH 340HS. This more portable camera will set you back $200, and includes the same 16-megapixel CMOS sensor and DIGIC 4+ processor as the PowerShot SX600 HS, a 12x 25-300mm f/23.6-7.0 optical zoom lens and a three-inch 461-dot LCD display. It also supports WiFi and NFC, with the same functionality mentioned above, along with the Hybrid Auto, Smart Auto and video shooting modes. The 340HS is available now for $200 in purple, black and silver. The $250 SX600 is also available now in red, black and white.

Sharp teased 3D-ready, 85-inch 8K display at CES, with no glasses required

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Sharp loves to show off the 8K technology that it hopes will make it to the television in your living room in the not too distant future. It’s no surprise, then, that the Japanese outfit is yet again using CES as a platform to tease us with another super, super high-res 85-inch display. Unlike the panel Sharp showed off last year, though, this time the company rolled into the desert with a glasses-free 3D flavor of its 7680×4320 display. The company didn’t share many more details at the moment, but, for what it’s worth, it did mention that its latest 8K concept was created in collaboration with Philips and the previously mentioned Dolby. Stay tuned for more updates as the Consumer Electronics Show rolls on.

Formula E’s Spark-Renault SRT_01E electric racer makes official public debut in Las Vegas

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Sure, you might’ve already heard about Formula E’s car being tested and details as its inaugural season draws closer, we haven’t yet had the opportunity to get cozy with it. The fledgling racing series chose Las Vegas’ CES 2014 to give the public its first proper demo and peek at the car. If you had that opportunity, would you pass it up? Most of you (except for the one wannabe troll) probably said no. We simply can’t pass this one off. If you’ve missed the other announcements, the SRT_01E is an all-electric car producing 200kW of power — that converts to roughly 270 HP — with the motor, gearbox and electrics designed by McLaren, batteries and management systems by Williams, tires by Michelin, monocoque chassis by Dallara and Renault puts all of the pieces together.

So what do we think? To be blunt, with the shopping list of F1 teams above how could it not be fantastic? Of course, the proof will be in the sport’s uptake as it starts its maiden season in the fall of 2015. For now, imagine the SRT_01E doing donuts in Lucas di Grassi’s — wearing a helmet with a design that’s very similar to his Formula 1 days — capable hands in a Las Vegas parking lot.

Huawei unveils big ambitions with the six-inch Ascend Mate 7

Huawei has launched the Ascend Mate 7, which features a six-inch FHD 1920×1080 (368ppi) display for enhanced entertainment viewing, a slimmer 7.9mm body for increased comfort, a more powerful octa-core processor, and a longer-lasting 4100mAh battery.

Richard Yu, Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO:

“Today marks the arrival of our fastest and most compelling big-screen smartphone experience for consumers. It’s a symbol of our relentless commitment to ‘Make it Possible’ for people everywhere to enjoy our premium quality products. Huawei Ascend Mate 7 actually leads the big-screen pack with smarter performance, impressive power efficiency, and outstanding convenience with its superior single-touch fingerprint technology.”

Smart Performance

Boasting an octa-core architecture, Ascend Mate 7 has an intelligent Huawei Kirin 925 processor made up of four large 1.8GHz A15 and four small 1.3GHz A7 chipsets which are in different configurations depending on the power needs of a specific app or function so the device can be smarter with power management. The device saves up to 50% of the battery by automatically using smaller A7 cores to power standard apps that consumers use at least 80% of the time, and kicking in the larger A15 during high-performance use such as gaming. The processor will also automatically activate additional cores when it detects that 85% to 95% of a single core’s processing capability is being used.

Ascend Mate 7 is possibly the market’s first six-inch smartphone with instant single-touch fingerprint access to put an end to password fatigue. It enables users to unlock the phone at least 80% faster than devices that use a slower sweeping recognition option. Located at the back of the handset and measuring 9.16 x 9.16mm, the reader supports up to five sets of different fingerprint records which can be allocated to normal and guest modes, so a user can switch modes to enhance protection when securing private folders, applications, or payment information. It has a higher 508 ppi ratio for enhanced reader accuracy so there’s no need to swipe repeatedly before being able to unlock the device — even with wet fingers or under light rain conditions. ARM TrustZone also stores encrypted data of the fingerprint within the chipset for better protection by SecureOS, and prevents direct access by third parties.

Style and Substance

A rare find for smartphones of this size, Ascend Mate 7 is made up of more than 95% metal and features an interior structure made of a strong aluminum alloy for superior heat reduction. At 7.9mm and weighing 185g, it has an ergonomically curved back for easier one-handed operation and an ultra-narrow 2.9mm bezel that delivers a 83% screen-to-body ratio.

With a six-inch FHD in-cell LTPS display that consumes less power and JDI Nega-NEO technology for an impressive 1500:1 contrast ratio, Ascend Mate 7 delivers incredibly sharp images. It has a 13MP rear-facing camera to capture better party photos in low lighting with Sony’s 4th generation BSI sensor and f/2.0 aperture. In addition, the 5MP front-facing camera adopts an industry-leading 5P non-spherical lens for higher definition and less image distortion.

Intuitive Simplicity

Ascend Mate 7 features EMUI 3.0, the latest version of Huawei’s intuitive user interface that makes it easier to use with one hand and features a brand new look across the entire software interface. The new timeline design is used extensively throughout for enhanced consistency and usability across various apps. In addition, it actively addresses daily needs intuitively through practical and visually appealing design details, such as the convergence of key smartphone functions call, contact, and messaging, that can now be easily switched between with a single horizontal swipe.

Availability and Accessories

The recommended retail price of the standard Huawei Ascend Mate 7 with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage is €499, while the premium Ascend Mate 7 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage is €599. It’s available in over 30 countries/territories including mainland China, Hong Kong, the UK, Germany, Italy, France and Spain. The smartphone is available in three colors: silver, black and gold. Accessories include the new UltimoPower Active Noise Cancelling Earphones that reduce noise by 15-30 decibels and features a self-charging internal battery when connected to a smartphone and two hours of use when connected to other devices, as well as leather cases and a charging stand that converts the smartphone into a digital photo frame.

Specifications

 

  • Dimensions: 157.0×81.0x7.9mm, 185g
  • Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi with WiFi Direct support, Bluetooth 4.0, microUSB
  • Sensors: Gyroscope, proximity, accelerometer, compass, hall, fingerprint

 

Source: Huawei

Huawei anounces the Ascend P7

PARIS — Huawei unveiled the Ascend P7 Wednesday at a press event in Paris.

The Ascend P7 features a 5-inch full high definition display, 8MP front-facing and 13MP rear-facing cameras and the latest version of its Emotion UI, version 2.3.

At 6.5mm thin, the Ascend P7 is “one of the slimmest 4G LTE smartphones on the market, according to Huawei.

Richard Yu, Huawei Consumer Business Group (BG) CEO:

“Huawei’s relentless commitment to developing premium quality smartphones over the past three years has paid off. We are now ranked number three globally in terms of smartphone shipments, and our brand recognition is growing steadily in key regions such as China and Western Europe. Today, the launch of Huawei Ascend P7 once again challenges existing industry standards by redefining smartphone design, camera experience, and connectivity, to provide people with an unprecedented mobile experience.”

Yves Maître, Executive Vice President, Connected Object and Partnerships, Orange:

“Orange is pleased to witness how Huawei’s products and brand have developed since we first identified Huawei as a global contender several years ago. Today’s launch of the best-in-class Ascend P7 is an illustration of a strategy and investment that is now paying dividends. As a long-term partner, Orange is delighted to provide its customers with the results of this successful relationship.”

The Huawei Ascend P7 provides enhanced strength and durability against everyday use with Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 technology on the front and rear of the device. It has a metallic appearance created by a seven-layer rear surface treatment with a refined micro-pattern design.

Joon Suh Kim, Mobile Device Vice President, Consumer Experience Design Center, Huawei Consumer BG:

“Huawei Ascend P7 was inspired by the natural curves of a water droplet which instills the phone with a sense of natural purity, and also gives users a more comfortable grip. It took us months of extensive design refinements to achieve this excellent balance of form and function.”

The Ascend P7 features a 5-inch FHD touchscreen with 1920 x 1080 resolution, 445 ppi and a 16:9 aspect ratio. The handset is also available in a range of colors including black, white and pink.

Huawei Ascend P7 gives users an edge in low-light settings with Sony’s 4th generation BSI sensor, Image Signal Processor (ISP), IMAGESmart 2.0 software and f/2.0 aperture on its 13MP rear-facing camera.

To capture spontaneous moments, Huawei Ascend P7’s Ultra Snapshot function enables the user to be camera-ready 1.2 seconds after double-clicking the volume down button while the device is locked.

Take better selfies, or group selfies (groufies) with the Ascend P7’s 8MP 5P non-spherical lens front-facing camera that comes with a panorama function for panoramic selfie shooting, and 10 level auto-facial enhancement in beauty mode. Users can also take a selfie video with the 1080p HD video playback. Huawei Ascend P7 ensures picture-perfect moments even time with the built-in mirror function and selfie preview window.

Add an extra dimension to photos with the “Voice Photo” function which takes photos accompanied by 10-second video clips for users to upload photos with audio reactions on social media.

In addition to camera improvements, Huawei’s Image Signal Processor (ISP) allows the smartphone to control a range of functions that mimic those found in digital SLRs, including autofocus, white balance and noise reduction for optimized photos under any conditions. Users can also select the focus and exposure metering function with one touch so the preferred focus and exposure position can be set to maximize image precision.

For people seeking faster and seamless connectivity, Huawei Ascend P7 enables unlimited media viewing with 4G LTE speed and Huawei’s dual antenna design to improve signal reception. Ascend P7 also uses smart network switching technology that stabilizes the connection even during weak signal reception to minimize battery drainage.

Enjoy long-lasting media viewing sessions and data sharing thanks to the 2500mAh lithium polymer battery and battery saving technology. In addition, the power saving management function enables users to save battery power by switching off applications running in the background.

The super power-saving mode enables Ascend P7 to adopt the most suitable use of power when it is running on less than 10 percent of battery life. When enabled, the screen will dim and only the phone’s basic functions will remain activated, including voice calls and contacts. It will also stretch the low battery to last 24 hours on standby.

Huawei Ascend P7 gives smartphone newbies the ability to get around the handset with the latest version of the company’s Emotion UI, version 2.3, providing customizable lock and home screens, with two enhanced UIs for effortless navigation.

Personalize the smartphone management software with a harassment filter, permission manager, network and notification management and power saving modes.

The Huawei Ascend P7 is €449 ($617) and will be available in China, the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Serbia, Greece, Norway, Hungary, Denmark, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates starting this month, with other markets to follow.

Source: Huawei (Android Central)

 

Huawei Ascend P6 review: a beautiful handset, but performance is lacking

Well, what do we have here? Okay, let’s scrap the faux suprise. The recently confirmed Ascend P6 has landed, and Huawei hopes it will stir interest in the hearts of mobile users. Debuting across Europe, China and Australia with a €449 ($600) price tag, it’s asking you to take it seriously, and that’s what we’ll do.

The mobile market is a fickle place, so it doesn’t matter where you are right now; it’s all about where you’re going. Huawei? Well, it’s definitely got its sights set on an upward trajectory. The Ascend P6 is the latest rung on the ladder, intended to elevate the company to mobile greatness. But, with competition stiffer than ever, can it really call a device with a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 720p display and 8-megapixel camera a flagship? (For its P-series at least?) Huawei’s certainly giving it a try, and it’s hoping that beauty, not brawn, will win the day.

Hardware

Remember the Ascend Mate? If you do, then a lot of the following specifications will sound pretty familiar (apart from that gargantuan screen size, of course). We’re dealing with the same 1.5GHz K3V2 home-brew processor, the same 8GB of internal storage and, yup, the same 1,280 x 720 display resolution (the Mate, as you may have guessed, uses LCD as well). As for radios, there’s no LTE; let’s just get that out of the way now. If you’re okay with that, though, then the rest is as you’d hope — Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, GLONASS, 802.11b/g/n, etc.

The P6 is positively svelte by comparison to the Mate, though, weighing just four ounces, and measuring 5.2 x 2.57 x 0.24 inches (132.6 x 65.5 x 6.18mm), compared to the Mate’s 6.5 x 3.4 x 0.4 inches of Android heft. That size difference is important; crammed into that more diminutive form, it not only offers a greater ppi (312), but also turns an otherwise mid-range phablet into a much more mass-market device. The specifications are still fairly modest, but the hardware they come in — plus a few other notable inclusions — means that this is a completely different proposition than the Mate altogether.

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“When put next to Samsung’s Galaxy S 4, for example, it makes the Korean flagship look and feel shamefully thrown together.”

There’s a black brushed-metal finish on the rear (there are white and pink versions also) with drilled speaker holes at the bottom, and a brushed-metal band around the edges of the device. The Ascend P6 instantly feels good, solid and, dare we say it, delightful. The chamfered edges that lead into the Gorilla Glass display prove that not only can Huawei do detail, it can also do it very well. Next to Samsung’s Galaxy S 4 for example, it makes the Korean flagship look and feel shamefully thrown together. Even the dapper HTC One gets a good run for its money in terms of style, fit and finish. Yes, it’s fair to say that Huawei has proven that a well-built phone isn’t as much a matter of means as it is intention.

It’s not all solid, smooth lines. That metal band is broken up by the occasional port. The micro-USB connection sits at the top, just off-center. The right-hand side houses the power / standby button and volume rocker, plus microSD and micro-SIM card trays. If there was a small negative, it’s that these buttons do jiggle slightly in place. Not terribly so, but enough to indicate there’s room for a tighter fit. The back cover isn’t removable — hence the trays — but Huawei has done a good job at keeping them flush with the edges. One related design note — of mixed success — is the 3.5mm headphone jack located at the bottom of the left-hand side. You’d be forgiven for missing it, first of all, as it’s tightly plugged up. In fact, at first glance, the small circular protrusion looks like an unusual design feature, like a rivet added on at the end to conceal a functional cavity. It’s only when you inspect it a little further that you sense something else is going on.

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We tinkered around with this curiosity for a few moments, before wondering it the Ascend P6 perhaps came with a stylus, as this small silver disc could have easily been the top end of one. But a little fingernail pulling and gentle wriggling actually revealed the truth: it’s a small, concealed pin to help eject the SIM and memory card trays. Genius. Weird genius. The positive being that you never need to worry about whether you have a paperclip or similar nearby, should you wish to remove your SIM (not that paperclips usually work that well). The negative, however, is that every time you want to use your headphones, you have to remove — and potentially lose — the pin. In our experience, getting the thing out wasn’t a smooth process either. Still, it’s a nice idea, and sort of ingenuity we’re loathe to discourage.

“If you’ve liked what you heard so far, then be sure to add a memory card to your shopping list now.”

One thing we would encourage? More internal storage. We’re sorry gus, but 8GB doesn’t quite cut it these days, especially when barely any of that (less than 4GB) is accessible. Yes, there is the option to expand (by a further 32GB), but that’s more of a common courtesy rather than a reasonable solution. So, if you’ve liked what you’ve heard so far, then be sure to a memory card to your shopping list now. The memory issue is compounded by the — albeit pleasantly surprising — inclusion of a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. These self-portraits are about to get a serious upgrade, which is all the more reason to get your storage set from the get-go. We’ll cover the cameras (including the 8-megapixel rear shooter) in more detail later.

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Rounding out the hardware side of things are a few significant omissions. First, there’s no LTE. It’s just not happening. So if that’s a dealbreaker, leave this review ow. If it’s not — and there’s category 14 HSPA+ (up to 21 Mbps) to keep things moving — then you’ll likely be expecting some returns elsewhere — such as in the longevity of the non-removable 2,000mAh battery. Again, more on that later. If you get this far and were wondering on NFC, hate to break the news to you, but, it’s absent too, but you’re okay with DLNA sharing and Dolby Digital audio instead, right?

Display

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At 4.7 inches across, with a resolution of 1,280 x 720, the Ascend P6 might not be in the (increasingly less) exclusive 1080p club, but the 720p “in-cell” LCD does a good enough job that you likely won’t mind. Compared to some of the larger flagships (heck, for some, 4.7 inches is almost “mini”), the P6’s display may seem average — but it really does feel perfectly sized. You can reach your way across it comfortably, and thanks to a minimal bezel, the phone should sit snugly in most hands. We did find that the touchscreen was occasionally less responsive less responsive to our pokes and gestures from time to time. Pinching out from the home screen to bring up the zoomed-out view sometimes took two or three attempts to register. Likewise we sometimes found ourselves prodding more than once to get it to realize that we were trying to open an app. There is a “gloves” mode, which increases sensitivity, and we noticed the problem occurred less frequently when this was activated, so you may prefer to keep this switched on.

We’re inclined to give the Ascend a solid pass in the display department.

When you’re not thumbing at it, the Ascend’s LCD looks bright and crisp,with excellent viewing angles. The screen is dimmer when gazed at from anything other than straight on, and you’ll definitely want to keep the brightness set to no less than 50 percent for outdoor viewing. Do that and colors will remain solid and blacks dark, making photo and video viewing on the device a pleasant experience. Also, we noticed that the screen displayed a pleasing resilience to fingerprints — definitely a plus point.

We already mentioned the 312-ppi pixel density, which is by no means terrible despite an increasing number of phones cresting over into the 400s. If you really want to be picky, you can spot a bit of pixelation on rendered text in websites, but you have to bring the phone a lot closer to your face than is reasonable.  Likewise, with no visible hues or tones, we’re inclined to give the Ascend P6 a solid pass in the display department.

Software

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Huawei’s invested more than just developer dollars on its Emotion UI, so it’s no surprise that it’s sticking to that, ahem, theme here. In fact, it’s version 1.5 of the custom interface that you’ll be dealing with, keeping the stock Android Jelly Bean (4.2.2) out of sight. Regional versions of the final production software may vary, but we’re giving you some impressions based on the version we spent time with. If you’ve ever used Emotion UI, or at the very least, read about it, then you’ll largely know what to expect. If you’ve not had the pleasure, then how about a brief refresher?

As Android skins go, Emotion UI is a largely inoffensive offering. Much like TouchWiz and Sense, it mainly manifests itself by rearranging the home screen slightly, and offering up proprietary widgets. Depending on your preference, this can be considered either a positive or a negative. In our experience, the parts we liked were similar to what we found useful in other skins such as the aforementioned TouchWiz — quick access to switches and toggles alongside the notifications up top. The options you see here are extensive (such as screen sharing) and also customizable. Likewise, quick access to a profile selector will be a boon to those who hop between meetings and public transport.

By default Emotion UI pushes its “Me” widget on you, which is the usual gathering of favorite contacts, images, videos and weather and date widgets. Basically, all the usual suspects that manufacturers are sure we’re most in need of direct access to. You’re not stuck with this, of course, and not only can you customize (and remove) the widget entirely, Emotion UI also lets you easily set another screen as your default destination. One thing that remains absent, however, is the app tray. So, if you appreciated the ability to keep your essentials on the top layer, with everything else hidden away, you’re fresh out of luck with Emotion UI. You can exert some control, though, by stuffing less-used apps into folders, and tucking them away on home screens out of view — with the ability to create up to nine, which should just about suffice.

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Let’s hope that some of those other themes offer more variety, and something a little more modern.

The skin extends to the main settings menus, theming them slightly different to Android’s stock Holo look and feel. Oh, and if you don’t like it? No problem: Huawei will have an extensive number of choices available (at least 100, last we heard) when the phone actually launches. The default themes we saw on our review device, however, all had a few things in common. First, and this may seem like a small detail, but the app icons are all rounded squares, regardless of what the original app icon intended. An example? WhatsApp’s green speech bubble suddenly gets an opaque rounded square behind it. The result is something that looks like an attempt at iOS; an important distinction from actually looking like iOS. Let’s hope that some of those other themes offer more variety, and something a little more modern. After all, even Apple thinks iOS 6 icons need an update.

There are a few other quirks in Emotion UI that make themselves apparent. To start, despite running Android 4.2.2, there’s no gesture keyboard, which will be a major loss if you’ve become reliant on that. The good news, of course, is that you can go ahead and download it from the Play Store for free, but it’s an unusual omission nonetheless. Another odd, but not entirely unwelcome addition is a battery-level indicator in the notification bar that also displays a numerical percentage. This extra info is undoubtedly useful, but we also found ourselves becoming more pre-occupied with remaining battery life than ever before. One minute, it’s at 97 percent. Then you play a few rounds of a game, and what’s that, now it’s 92 percent? Definitely not a feature for those with obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

Huawei’s added a few other features that again will likely split opinions. By default, a folder of “management” apps has been added that includes such useful-sounding options as being able to determine which apps can and cannot send push messages. It will also alert you each time an app sends out such a message for the first time, asking you to OK it. Definitely good for the security-conscious, but much like Windows’ User Account Control, you can soon find yourself bypassing it completely to prevent further pestering, despite best intentions. Not all the inclusions are quite so heavy-handed, though. One straight out of the “it just works” camp is the media-sharing app. One press while connected to the same WiFi network as our smart TV, and we were watching video and viewing photos on the larger screen. DLNA and media-sharing apps aren’t anything revolutionary, but when we work as effortlessly as this, we’re inclined to applaud them.

Camera

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Many of you may have headed directly here, or at least held a particular interest given the P6’s unusual camera configuration. With a generous five megapixels on the front-facing camera, Huawei has given the P6 a standout feature that many will be drawn to. The rear-facing camera, on the other hand is a rather less-notable 8-megapixel affair. Naturally, we gave both of them a spin to see how they fared.

Let’s start with that main shooter, shall we? While it might not be the one people are talking about, that doesn’t mean it lacks a few tricks of its own. Huawei is keen to play up the main camera’s macro credentials, boasting “distance-defying” 4cm capabilities (it’s based on a Sony sensor). This, of course, encouraged us to get up close and personal with a variety of things and, all in all, the results are pleasing. Those who like to shoot objects such as flowers and other natural delights will generally get positive results. We found the camera was usually able to pull focus on nearby objects, but sometimes would get itself stuck. One foray out into a local park to test this feature resulted in a few occasions where despite being four centimeters (or more) away from the intended subject, the camera just couldn’t fix its focus on the target despite us repeatedly guiding it (by tapping on the object on screen; it has autofocus too). To compound the issue, if we took the picture from a different angle (but the same distance away) the issue disappeared. Perhaps the macro features are slightly sensitive to light levels, but the issue wasn’t consistent enough to rouse anything more than minor annoyance (perhaps partly due to the specific boast on this exact feature).

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As for the pictures themselves, we generally found the colors could be a little oversaturated at times, but not displeasing — just a touch more jacked up than might seem natural for some light conditions. Conversely, when shooting darker subjects with a bright background detail against that surface can deteriorate. Again, in even cloudier conditions the camera sometimes struggles to compensate resulting in dull, softly detailed images. These criticisms don’t detract greatly from what is otherwise a reliable shooter, and one that can definitely deliver great images.

We generally found the colors could be a little oversaturated at times, but not displeasing.

Perhaps you’re more interested in self-portraits? If so, then it’s that front-facing camera that you’ll no doubt be curious about. Yes, five megapixels are a lot, but as some are keen to point out, not all pixels are created equal. We took selfies with an HTC One, a Galaxy S 4 and the Ascend P6, and got mixed results. The images from the Huawei do appear to have more detail but the brightness and color levels seem to struggle a little compared to its competition. The Galaxy S 4’s 2-megapixel front camera gives a similar result overall, with roughly the same focal range, but slightly less detail. The HTC One, on the other hand, shoots much wider, but also offers the most light (possible thanks to its HDR functionality). Beyond the self-portraits, we took some standard pictures from the front for comparison, and found that colors are somewhat more washed out. It’s particularly noticeable when put against the high-contrast rear-facing camera.

Whether you’re happy with the results of your self-portrait or not, Huawei’s there to offer a helping hand with a facial-enhancement feature to help “Beautify” your mug. Much like Nokia’s Glam Me feature, essentially this is a filter that softens edges and — at least in theory — delivers a beautiful visage. In practice, pictures end up looking unnatural, and little more than a novelty. We tried the same feature on non-facial subjects and the results looked not much different from a couple of quick filters you might find in most popular image-editing apps. No big deal; it’s a bit of fun. But in terms of a useful feature? It’s a bit of a miss, we fear.

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As for the camera interface? It deviates from the stock Android experience, and bears more than a passing resemblance to the camera controls you’ll find in TouchWiz. More of the camera scene modes (which include HDR, Beauty, Smart and Panorama) are brought to the top of the interface, as are some of the other settings such as GPS tagging, touch-to-capture and object tracking. If you’re more of a moviemaker, you’ll find the same positive notes we made about the stills camera apply to videos too. We viewed some footage we took with the Ascend P6 and were very pleased with the brightness and clarity. This only improves when watching back on the phone’s own display. Definitely a competent performer.

Performance and Battery Life

With a quad-core SoC clocked in at 1.5GHz, this might not be the most eye-watering chip out there right now, but it certainly shouldn’t be a slow coach. That said, unlike much of the competition that leaves the finicky subject of processors to the likes of Qualcomm and NVIDIA, Huawei wanted to tackle the job itself. The result is the K3V2, based on the Cortex-A9 architecture, variants of which we’ve seen show up in much of the firm’s other hardware — the MediaPad 10, Ascend D1 Quad and the aforementioned Ascend Mate. The hardware it runs might have changed, but our verdict remains largely the same — it could do better. When it comes to general performance, navigating menus and using popular apps (email clients, Twitter and so on), you’ll be hard-pressed to find a fault, even it occasionally you can notice the transition animations (between portrait and landscape mode, for example) can be a little slow. Open up something a bit more intensive, however, and that soon changes.

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While it’s not a like-for-like comparison, we tried opening Real Racing on the P6 and the Galaxy S 4 at the same time. The difference in speed when loading the game was, to be polite, pretty drastic. At some points we weren’t sure if the P6 had given up completely, with it just getting past the splash screen as we were about to force close and start again. Gameplay, too, was a very different matter. The pre-installed Riptide, to be fair, plays just fine. But, it seems, the extra muscle required to play Real Racing gets the processor sweating. Don’t get us wrong, it will open, and you can play, but the experience (especially when put side by side with a more capable SoC) is very different indeed.

You’d hope that building your own chip would provide scope for optimization. If so, it’s hard to see where that might be taking place here — it’s certainly not reflected in battery life. With a 2,000mAh battery to play with, this should be enough to reach well over 24 hours of usage. Our experience, and battery life rundown test, suggests otherwise. In regular use, we found the battery seemed to noticeably decline at a rate that, while not causing panic, did have us thumbing our collar a little. Perhaps it’s that expanded battery notification we mentioned earlier; perhaps we’re the ones with a tendency for the obsessive? Maybe, but with only four hours and 45 minutes on our typical battery rundown test (video playing on loop; 50 percent brightness; WiFi on, but not connected; etc.) It still falls a little short compared to what we’d expect from the battery’s potential. Perhaps more worrying is that it’s not like there’s even LTE on board to blame.

The P6 sounds great.

When you’re not playing games and fixating on battery levels though, we imaging you might want to make a good, old-fashioned phone call or two (remember those things?). We certainly do, and the P6 sounds great. We found crisp, clear and solid signal levels in areas where we know there to be good coverage — take your pick from WCDMA (850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100) or GSM (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900). In terms of data, that omission of LTE might be a dealbreaker for some (though Device Chairman Richard Yu did let slip that a revised version will come this year sporting that radio), but the HSPA+ does a decent job in its place. We regularly hit data speeds between 4Mbps and 6Mbps down, and 600-800Kbps up at home, which is consistent with typical results in the area. As for media playback? Little to report other than it worked without issue. Likewise, audio performance was good, and was only further enhanced by the inclusion of Dolby Digital Plus.

Wrap-Up

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For a phone that had its specifications fairly public for some time, it’s hard to feel overly excited about what the Ascend P6 has to offer. That’s not intended to seem unkind, however. It’s more an acknowledgement that it’s clear the majority of the effort has been put into designing an object of desire, rather than blowing our minds with numbers and features. Yu made it known at the London launch event that the P6 isn’t for the power users, with that distinction going to the Ascend P2, instead. So, are good looks and a daringly thin design enough to carry it? Possibly. More important than all of those things, however, is that the P6 shows that Huawei can build high-quality phones. What goes inside those phones can more easily be improved, but making something that looks and feels good is a harder skill to nail. Huawei appears to have made good ground here.

Pleasing as the design is, it’s still hard to ignore the occasionally mediocre performance, slightly dated UI (despite what the research might say), iffy battery life and lack of LTE. On more positive notes, the display looks great, the main camera can turn out pleasing photos and video, data and call performance are all solid. For the most part, the negatives are balanced by the positives (barring no LTE, perhaps). The takeaway message here is that Huawei means business. With the build quality and core-functionality nuts cracked, most other niggles should be relatively easy to improve. Iron those out, and there’s potentially a bright future for the brand beyond its traditional markets.

Fresh images of the Samsung Galaxy S 4 Active, Huawei Ascend W2 and LG Optimus G2 leak out

We may be in the midst of the weekend, but that doesn’t mean that the leaks are slowing down. Several new images of unannounced smartphones have made their way online in the past day or so, and I’ve rounded them up in a single, easy to digest post.

First up is a side view of a handset that we’ve been seeing a lot of lately, the Samsung Galaxy S 4 Active. This new image from @evleaks shows the device with a teal black plate, which differs from the original red-orange unit we saw as well as the gray AT&T version that surfaced recently.

There’s still no word on when the Galaxy S 4 Active might be formally introduced, but Samsung’s “Premiere 2013” event on June 20 is certainly a possibility. The rumored specs for the device claim that it’ll sport features like a 5-inch 1080p display and 1.9GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, suggesting that it may very well be a ruggedized version of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S 4. That’s exciting news for anyone in the market for a phone that can take a beating, as the Galaxy S 4 Active may offer both a toughened body and high-end performance, which is a combo that we don’t see terribly often.

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Moving on down the line, we’re going to make the jump to Windows Phone. A pair of images have been posted by @evleaks recently that show the Huawei Ascend W2, a sibling to the recently-released Ascend W1. These images tease a colorful device that may be offered in yellow and blue versions. Details on the Ascend W2 are light, but according to WPCentral, some of the W2’s rumored specs include a 4.3-inch 720p display, dual-core 1.5GHz processor and 8-megapixel camera. All of those features add up to make a device that’s a bit higher-end than its Ascend W1 counterpart.

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Rounding out this leaky Sunday is a purported close-up shot of the LG Optimus G2. The photo, first posted by TechTastic a few days ago and then shared again today by @evleaks, shows the top half of a device with an earpiece, camera and sensor layout that’s similar to previous images of the Optimus G2. There’s not much in the way of new information about this device in this new photo, but the kernel crash screen does include a step that says “Send e-mail to G2-SW-Stability@lge.com,” suggesting that we may indeed be looking at the Optimus G2.

So, after getting a look at these three upcoming smartphones, which one are you most excited for?

[Source: Phonedog]

Huawei W1 now available from Walmart, priced at $229.99

Just as promised, Huawei’s first Windows Phone-powered smartphone is now officially available for purchase in the U.S. The Huawei W1 is now listed as “In Stock” on Walmart’s website, with pricing set at $229.99. The device is compatible with the prepaid Straight Talk service, and Walmart says that the W1 can only be used with Straight Talk’s $45 30-day Unlimited Service Plan or its $60 30-day Unlimited International Service Plan. Both rate plans include unlimited talk, text and web use, and the latter offering packs in unlimited international calling as well.

The Huawei W1 features a 4-inch 800×480 touchscreen, 5-megapixel rear and 0.3-megapixel front cameras, 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 512MB RAM, 4GB storage, microSD card slot and a 1,930mAh battery. With a spec list like that, the W1 fits into the “entry-level” Windows Phone device category. While the device may not appeal to everyone, the W1 is noteworthy because it’s Huawei’s first Windows Phone effort, and I’m sure that most Windows Phone fans are glad to see another manufacturer on board with Microsoft’s mobile platform.

[Source: Phonedog]