TechSummit Rewind 156

LTE-U wireless rolls out on T-Mobile, Windows 10’s Mail app gets improvements, & Apple’s spaceship campus opens in April

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Recently FCC-approved LTE-U wireless rolls out on T-Mobile

t-mobile-store

The FCC has allowed several companies to activate the LTE-U wireless technology in their base stations. If all goes as planned, devices will be able to communicate cellular data over unlicensed frequencies that technically overlap with WiFi’s.

The basic idea behind LTE-U (and the related License Assisted Access and MuLTEfire techniques) is that some 5 GHz band frequencies used by WiFi routers were going unused. Carriers and device makers proposed allowing this spectrum to augment existing base stations’ signals and potentially improve short-range connection speeds.

The devices approved today are base stations from Ericsson and Nokia already in service and compatible with both LTE-U and LAA.

“These transmitters were already approved as LTE base stations previously. The grants issued today are for the ability for the devices to operate under Part 15 rules in the 5 GHz band.”

-An FCC representative

T-Mobile appears to be the first to take advantage of this, and compatible base stations should get the LTE-U boost in the spring.

Windows 10’s mail app gets Focused Inbox, calendar improvements

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Windows 10 mail app splash screen (Image: Andrew Okwuosah)

Microsoft is updating the Mail and Calendar apps for Windows 10 with new features ported over from its mobile apps. The biggest addition is Focused Inbox, which comes over from the Outlook apps for iOS and Android.

Focused Inbox lets you separate out an inbox into two sections that filter important emails into the Focused section, and less important emails (newsletters) into the Other section. In Windows 10, it’s available only on Outlook.com and Office 365 accounts, despite being available for Gmail and Google Apps accounts on mobile.

Mentions are also coming to the Mail app. You can simply @ and tag a name into an email message, and it’ll add a person to an email thread automatically if they weren’t already added.

On the calendar side, Microsoft is adding colored categories, interesting calendars, and travel reservation and package delivery support. Colored categories let you customize calendar events with colors to make things more readable at a glance. The interesting calendars showcase calendars for sports teams, TV shows, and more, and let you add them to your calendar.

However, the most useful feature here is the ability to display travel reservations and package delivery details. If an event is on your calendar, Mail will surface a useful summary card with all the details of your package or your flight. Improvements also include tweaking of the locations feature for calendar entries and an option to add Skype for online meetings. All of these changes are available now through an update in the Windows Store.

Apple Park ‘spaceship’ campus to open in April

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Apple Park in Cupertino, Calif. (Image: Apple)

Apple’s new spaceship headquarters will open in April and will feature some public areas.

The first employees will move into the 175-acre Cupertino, Calif.-campus at this point, according to the company, while building construction and landscaping continues around the site. It’ll take six months for 12,000 employees to move from the company’s current Infinite Loop headquarters and other offices scattered throughout Cupertino into the new Apple Park campus.

The campus is the last product from co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011 after battling pancreatic cancer. He envisioned the space as a beacon of innovation and a place for the company’s employees to continue their efforts to release groundbreaking headquarters.

The site is centered with a ring-shaped, 2.8 million square foot glass-clad building that Jobs dubbed a “spaceship” when he proposed the development to the Cupertino City Council in 2011.

In honor of the late co-founder, the new campus will include the 1,000-seat Steve Jobs Theater. The entrance to the building will be a 20-foot-tall, 165-foot diameter glass cylinder with a “metallic carbon fiber” roof sitting atop a hill at one of the highest points on campus.

“Steve’s vision for Apple stretched far beyond his time with us. He intended Apple Park to be the home of innovation for generations to come. The workspaces and parklands are designed to inspire our team as well as benefit the environment. We’ve achieved one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world, and the campus will run entirely on renewable energy.”

-Tim Cook, Apple CEO

A 17-megawatt rooftop solar installation on site will be “one of the largest” on the planet, according to Apple. The main building will also be the “world’s largest naturally ventilated building, projected to require no heating or air conditioning nine months of the year.”

The landscaping will include 9,000 trees and two miles of paths for workers, along with an orchard, meadow, and pond. Employees can also take advantage of a 100,000 square foot gym.

“Steve invested so much of his energy creating and supporting vital, creative environments. We have approached the design, engineering, and making of this new campus with the same enthusiasm and design principles that characterize our products.”

-Jony Ive, Apple chief design officer

The public will be able to enter a café and a visitor center featuring an Apple Store on campus.

Fitbit paid $23M for Pebble

Fitbit disclosed that it paid $23 million to acquire smartwatch maker Pebble in the fourth quarter of 2016.

This accounts for both talent and intellectual property, according to Fitbit’s earnings statement.

HP earnings: 3.6 percent rise in quarterly revenue

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HP Inc., which houses the hardware business of HP, reported a 3.6 percent rise in quarterly revenue in the first quarter that ended Jan. 31. That’s helped largely by a stabilizing PC market.

However, the company’s net earnings from continuing operations fell to $611 million from $650 million a year ago. Earnings per share remained flat at $0.36.

Revenue rose to $12.68 billion from $12.25 billion.

Twitter tweaks brand direct messages to make them more human

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Twitter’s custom profiles feature in use by T-Mobile (Image: Twitter)

Twitter is tinkering with direct messages to let brands show customers that they’re communicating with a human, not an automated bot. With custom profiles, businesses can respond with a customer service agent’s name and photo rather than their company name to make users feel more at ease.

The first partner to use the feature is T-Mobile, which as long used the service to address customer feedback. Now when you interact with @TMobileHelp, you’ll see the real face, name, and title of the customer service agent that’s helping you.

These features aren’t being made available through the service. Instead, developers have the ability to incorporate the capabilities into their own offerings and market it to customers.

Custom profiles are available through Twitter’s Direct Message API, which remains in private beta. However, verified brands can get whitelisted by filling out this form.

 

TechSummit Rewind 102

A daily recap of the top technology headlines.

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Apple adds 2TB iCloud option for $19.99/month

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iCloud users can now pony up $19.99/month for 2TB of storage from Apple.

Amazon Dash Buttons expand to U.K., Germany, Austria

Amazon Dash Replenishment

Amazon has launched its Dash Buttons program in the U.K., Germany, and Austria.

The Seattle-based retailer’s Dash Replenishment Service is also launching in the aforementioned markets to let device-makers connect their devices to Amazon to reorder physical goods automatically.

Jeff Jones joins Uber as ridesharing president

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Uber has hired Jeff Jones as its president of ridesharing. According to company CEO Travis Kalanick, he’ll be responsible for the company’s operations, marketing, and customer support globally.

Jones succeeds Ryan Graves, who will become the company’s “resident entrepreneur.”

“It’s super clear to me that Jeff understands scale, operational excellence, innovation, and storytelling – and that’s he up for learning and testing his limits. Most of all I love Jeff’s optimism about, and enthusiasm for, our mission.”

-Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO

Jones was previously Target’s chief marketing officer.

Sonos partners with Amazon, Spotify for enhanced music control

Sonos

Sonos has announced software partnerships with Spotify and Amazon.

Spotify users can now control their Sonos speakers in the Spotify app, essentially turning them into Spotify Connect systems.

However, the Amazon partnership is a little more interesting. Sonos speakers can now use Alexa to request songs and modify the audio with your voice. However, you’ll need to use an Amazon product to make the requests.

Commands include “Alexa, play me music,” “Alexa, skip,” and “Alexa, what’s playing.”

The Spotify features are launching in October, while the Alexa integration is coming in 2017.

Transmission linked to Mac malware again

BEST security researchers have pinpointed keydnap, a form of malware taking advantage of Mac BitTorrent app Transmission to infect Mac users.

The malware uses a modified version of Transmission planted on the developer’s site without its knowledge to attack your computer.

The modified app has since been pulled from the developer’s website.

Beats lawsuit claiming fraud before Apple sale dismissed

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Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahley has dismissed the heart of a lawsuit against Apple-owned Beats Electronics that claimed that the Santa Monica, Calif.-based headphone maker’s co-founders conspired to sever the headphone line from Monster before Apple bought the company.

The trial, which is scheduled for next week, will now focus on forcing Monster to pay its attorney fees, and other costs, according to the Associated Press.

The lawsuit claimed that Beats “fraudulently acquired” the headphones line and its technology with a “change of control” clause when HTC acquired a 51 percent stake in Beats in 2011, depriving the company of hundreds of millions of dollars. Less than a month after the HTC purchase, Monster alleges that Beats repurchased half the interest HTC acquired.

According to Monster, the Brisbane, Calif.-based company lost millions in a “sham” transaction.

Corning wants Gorilla Glass on your next smartwatch

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Corning has developed Gorilla Glass SR+, which is a scratch resistant glass coming to smartwatches.

Google starts rolling redesigned Google+ out

Google-Plus-Logo

Google is rolling out a trio of Google+ updates now: a redesign, a few new features, and its addition as a core Google for Work service.

If you’re not already using the new Google+ web redesign, which was first shown off last November, you’ll be bumped to it “over the next few days.” You’ll still be able to revert to the classic Google+ with the “Back to classic Google+” link in the bottom left-hand corner.

As for new features, you can now add links and photos to comments, Community owners and moderators can turn on approved posting (to control who posts what), and there’s a new notifications center where you can see and manage your recent Google+ activity. They’ll be rolling out across Android, iOS, and the web “in the coming weeks.

Lastly, Google Apps users already using Google+ will also start getting the new experience when they sign in.

“The new experience makes it easier to focus on the features our Apps customers tell us they find the most useful.”

-Google, in a statement

Over the next few weeks, Google+ will become a core Google for Work service. At that point, Google Apps customers will no longer be able to revert to the classic interface.

Snapchat unpublishes Facebook page

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Snapchat has unpublished its official Facebook page.

Navigating to the page will give you a generic “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now” error message.

Before being pulled, Snapchat’s app page had over 6.5 million Likes. However, Posts were published many months apart.

Snapchat releases web tool for making custom geofilters

Snapchat geofilter tool

Snapchat is now rolling out a tool to create on-demand geofilters from the web, using templates for weddings, birthdays, and other celebrations. The filters, which can cost as little as $5 for a small geographic area, will appear alongside the other geofilters inside the app when guests post snaps during the event. Snapchat’s tool lets you customize the filter’s color palette and text, as well as offer preview images to show you what guests’ snaps could look like once the filter’s in use.

A new update to the app makes a handful of things easier:

  • You no longer have to long-press on your face to view custom lenses. Now, you can just tap once and filters will load.
  • When you’re adding a caption to a snap, you can now long-press to bold, underline, and italic
  • Captions can be animated like emojis, by “pinning” them to an object inside a video snap by long-pressing the caption after recording your video.

You can also preview a person’s public stories before adding them as a friend. The update is live now in the iTunes App Store, and is coming soon to Android.

Pebble firmware update brings improved health app, interface enhancements

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Pebble has released version 4.0 of its smartwatch firmware, which upgrades its entire lineup with new features and interface tweaks.

For starters, Pebble Health has been revamped with new activity cards that display your step and sleep performance, and you can quickly access them by pressing Up from the watchface. You can also press Right from each activity to see detailed info and performance comparisons.

The watch interface now has Quick Views (on Pebble Time and newer devices) that shows you what’s next on your agenda from your watchface in a small strip at the bottom of the screen.

You’ll also find App Glances, which surfaces app info without having to launch them. To get to frequently-used apps quickly, you can now assign them to the Up, Down, Back, and Select buttons.

In addition, iOS users can now act on their emails: functions like Delete, Archive, Mark as Read, Reply All, and Star emails received from Gmail accounts are now available. As with other messages, you can reply using canned responses or send a voice reply.

Lastly, Pebble’s iOS and Android apps have been redesigned with easier to understand Health graphs and an overhauled interface for faster performance.

The Pebble app can be updated to version 4.0 from Google Play or the iTunes App Store. If you’re using a Pebble Time, Time Steel, or Time Round, you can update in the Pebble app under Menu > Support > Update Your Pebble.

These features will be available when the Pebble 2 launches in November.

FCC backs down from municipal broadband case

The Federal Communication Commission has decided not to pursue another review of a case to keep local competition in high-speed internet service.

In early 2015, an FCC order attempted to circumvent laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevented municipal broadband companies from expanding beyond their city or county lines. The FCC argued that it had a congressionally bestowed duty to promote local competition and new investments in telecom infrastructure. The court didn’t agree, and shot down the FCC’s order, stating that Congress never gave the Commission any power to preempt state laws.

However, an FCC spokesperson told Ars Technica Monday that the commission won’t be appealing the case because doing so “would be the best use of Commission resources.”

Twitter paying users to create videos

The reception desk at Twitter's San Francisco headquarters. (Image: Aaron Durand/Twitter)
The reception desk at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. (Image: Aaron Durand/Twitter)

Twitter is planning to sell video ads alongside creator videos and share that ad revenue with content creators.

70 percent of revenue is going to creators, with the rest going to Twitter.

Approved creators will simply need to click a rev-share button when uploading video.

The split applies only to Twitter videos, not those on Vine and Periscope.

Twitter is not requiring content exclusives as part of the deal, meaning that content creators can post the same video from Twitter to other platforms.

The San Francisco-based company will not provide any advance funding to creators as incentive for trying the program.

Anyone can apply for the program starting today, though it’s only open to U.S. users.

TechSummit Rewind #006: January 6th, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the TechSummit Rewind, which allows you to hit rewind on the tech news wire.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Pebble updated to version 2.2, brings App Menu and Music controls

The Pebble smartwatch’s firmware has been updated to version 2.2 to bring App Menu and Music controls to the watch.

You can now re-order items in the Launcher Menu by pressing and holding the ‘select’ button while in the menu. Once the item begins shaking, you can move it up and down as you wish.

Users can also control the volume of music playing from a paired device by updating your iOS app.

Source: Pebble  Blog