IFA is the European version of CES, and we're here to catch the latest from Samsung, Sony, and so many more. The big headline grabbers in 2014 are wearables, with the introduction of the Gear S, the G Watch R, and the SmartWatch 3 — though a number of major smartphones have also seen upgrades and revisions. Premium materials are also becoming more commonly used, as sapphire screens and ceramic backs start to mingle with the conventional plastic and glass combinations. Mobile computing remains the dominant topic of conversation, and the larger-sized devices are also being upgraded with new laptops and Chromebooks from the likes of Toshiba and Lenovo.
Oct 4, 2014
Exactly a month ago, in the maelstrom of news coming out of IFA in Berlin, T-Mobile quietly disclosed what might have been expected by many: it'll offer Sony's next flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z3, in the US later this fall. T-Mobile has been the only major American carrier to embrace Sony's Xperia family in recent times, however that relationship is now intensifying and should be followed by others soon as well. Whereas earlier Sony flagship handsets would take many months to reach the US market after their European debut, the timeline for the Z3 on T-Mobile suggests it is pretty much imminent. Moreover, when queried about the Xperia Z3 Compact — the handset I judged to be that little bit better than the Z3 — T-Mobile slyly asks its Twitter followers to keep an eye on its newsroom.Read Article >
Sony Mobile has scheduled a New York event for this coming Thursday, October 9th, with the associated hashtag of #DemandGreat. That's the tagline the company uses for its new family of Xperia Z3 devices, so there will obviously be news about their US availability. The worst scenario is that we'll just get a T-Mobile release date for the Z3 and move on in disappointment, however it's far more likely that Sony will have news about the Z3 Compact as well as other carriers who'll offer its handsets across the States. The Z3 and Z3 Compact are simply too good to be ignored.
This summer, Samsung and Swarovski formalized an agreement to collaborate on producing special edition accessories for the Korean company's devices. It started with the Galaxy S5 and Gear Fit and, at IFA this week, it continued with a pair of grandiose new limited editions. The new Gear S Tizen smartwatch and the Galaxy Note 4 Android phablet will both come with exclusive silver and gold variations that are adorned with densely packed Swarovski crystals. The effect upon the eyes is searing, particularly when set against the Swarovski-encrusted demo area in which Samsung was showing the two devices off.Read Article >
The Swarovski glitz actually goes nicely with one of Samsung's more ornamental watch faces for the Gear S, though the same can't be said of the Note 4. That already large device is made significantly thicker by the addition of the sparkling crystals, and it doesn't feel particularly friendly to the palm, either. If there's any sense to be made of these opulent modifications, it's when wearing the Gear S as a wide bracelet that just happens to have a 2-inch smart device attached to it. Maybe some determined soul can make that look work. I know I couldn't.
You don't have to connect your Nest thermostat to the internet or to any other devices capable of communicating with it if you don't want to. You'll get less functionality, but you can effectively ring-fence your private information within your home. Should you choose to share your data with Nest for its enhanced analytics and the like, Rogers says that it will never be sold on to any third parties. That doesn't entirely quell fears about Nest becoming a syphon of information for parent company Google to exploit, but Rogers is unequivocal in saying that his company's business is to sell and make good products rather than facilitate more targeted ads:Read Article >
"We don't sell ads, we sell products."
I’ve already written about the subtle but important upgrade that Samsung made to its Note series with the addition of a metal frame to the new Note 4 and Note Edge devices. But preceding them on the announcement calendar was the similarly metal-rimmed Galaxy Alpha, which until today looked like a promising alternative to the Galaxy S5. Now that I’ve held it in my hands, I can say it’s so much more than that.Read Article >
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I came, I saw, and I still don't know what Samsung has conquered. Creating a 105-inch TV that can bend on command is an undeniable feat of engineering, but it doesn't seem like anyone stopped to ask why we'd actually want one. Samsung's massive new prototype TV takes pride of place in the entryway to the company's grand IFA venue. It flexes back and forth between a flat and curved state with a smooth and unhurried motion. There's a pretty lady to one side and a blue-shirted demo dude to the other who'll explain how awesome the technology is.
At IFA yesterday, two new smartphones were announced with 8-megapixel cameras. That could be said pretty much every September for the past three years, but what’s peculiar about the HTC Desire 820 and Lenovo Vibe Z2 is that their high-resolution cameras are on the front of the device: designed to help people take pictures of themselves rather than the world around them. Both also have 13-megapixel rear cameras, of course, however no one’s talking about them. The age of mobile photography is transmogrifying into the era of selfie — and smartphone makers are changing their phones to keep up.Read Article >
HTC and Lenovo’s devices are joined by Microsoft’s Lumia 730 "selfie phone" and Sony’s Xperia C3 "pro selfie" handset in being tailor-made for the auto-photography crowd. Beyond them, there’s a sea of devices like the Huawei Ascend P7 that also seem to over-spec the front-facing camera, plus every phone maker’s software now includes concessions to our growing selfie obsession. LG’s current flagship smartphone, the G3, doesn’t have a front-facing camera, says the company, it has a selfie cam.
The increasing use of premium materials in smartphones has gone hand in hand with the trend of them being presented as lifestyle and fashion items rather than mere gadgets. This year has seen the HTC One set a new design benchmark for Android (and now Windows Phone) handsets, Samsung switching to using real metal in its phones, and Sony refining a design language built around tempered glass and aluminum. But the hot new story is sapphire. Apple has committed an entire factory in Arizona to the full-time production of the ultra tough and scratch-resistant material, and all signs point to it planning to use it in the display for at least one of its new iPhones.Read Article >
There's no need to wait for the next iPhone, however, to find out what difference using sapphire will make. Kyocera's Brigadier and Vertu's exclusive range of luxury phones already have sapphire displays, and here at IFA, Huawei has just introduced its new Ascend P7 Sapphire limited edition handset. I spent some time with the latter phone today trying to discern a difference between the reinforced glass typically adorning phone fronts and the even hardier sapphire stuff.
Smartwatches have a big problem.Read Article >
I don’t blame Google or Android Wear. Hell, I don’t even blame LG, Motorola, Asus, Sony, or Samsung. These guys are all trying to get ahead of the incoming iWatch and deliver products that will, at least momentarily, sate our constant urge for novel gadgets. But they’re all completely insane if they think their oversized Android Wear and Tizen wrist devices can be considered smartwatches. These are chopped-down smartphones that are nonetheless still far too large to be attached to the average human wrist.
Work on the G Watch R, says LG, began more than two years ago. This fully circular smartwatch may be running Android Wear and competing against the likes of the Moto 360 and Asus ZenWatch, but LG argues that it's the product of a long-term project rather than a kneejerk reaction. The 1.3-inch OLED screen on the G Watch is the first mass-produced round display of its kind, which is indeed the sort of innovation that takes years of planning to complete. LG has committed just as much time on the design, which has been inspired by the forms and styles of luxury cars, classical watches, and other jewelry. Set to launch in October, the G Watch R marks a legitimate step forward from the first generation of nondescript Android Wear devices.Read Article >
Sep 4, 2014
The Lenovo Helix was one of the more interesting concepts we've seen in the ongoing effort to merge tablets and laptops, but it suffered from some design implementation issues and a high price point. Lenovo's trying to fix both of those issues with the a newly-updated Lenovo Helix model — while the tablet portion still weighs in at a somewhat-hefty 1.8 pounds, its now 15 percent thinner than its predecessor. Hopefully that'll help with the somewhat top-heavy awkwardness we felt when using the original Helix. The screen stays the same size at 11.6 inches and features a 1080p resolution, just like the original model.Read Article >
Rather than use full Intel Core i5 or i7 processors like the original Helix, the new model will run on Intel's new fanless Core M platform — something that Lenovo says will allow the Helix achieve 12 hours of battery life. The original Helix wasn't exactly lacking in the battery department, but for a machine such as this, more is always appreciated. Of course, to achieve this extended battery life, you'll need to use the Helix paired with Lenovo's Ultrabook Pro Keyboard (the standard Ultrabook Keyboard is rated for 8 hours of battery).
Sep 4, 2014
Samsung unveiled a massive, bendable TV display at IFA in Berlin today, after teasing a similar prototype earlier this year. The 105-inch UHD display features a 21:9 aspect ratio and, according to the company, can "seamlessly" transition between curved and flat orientations. The company showcased an 85-inch bendable prototype at CES in January, and released a 78-inch version in South Korea earlier this summer. The TV announced today is destined for the European market, though pricing and availability remain unclear.Read Article >
Microsoft's long-rumored "selfie phone" is finally here. The Lumia 730, as Microsoft puts it, is "built for Skype and selfies," thanks mainly to a wide-angle 5-megapixel HD front-facing camera. While phone makers like HTC have placed 8-megapixel front-facing cameras in their latest handsets, Microsoft is aiming to appeal to camera lovers with the Lumia 730 and apps like "Lumia Selfie" to help owners create that perfect selfie.Read Article >
Apart from the selfie aspect, the Lumia 730 is an average mid-range 4.7-inch (1280 x 720) handset running the latest Windows Phone 8.1 operating system and Microsoft's new Lumia Denim update, which mainly includes speed and other improvements to the Lumia Camera app. The primary camera is a 6.7-megapixel shooter with LED flash, and Microsoft is powering the Lumia 730 with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, 1GB of RAM, and just 8GB of storage. MicroSD support is available, so increasing that small storage isn't an issue. Microsoft has also included dual-SIM support with the Lumia 730, perfect for markets where using multiple SIMs is essential.
Microsoft has previously discussed the need to bring its PureView camera features down to a more affordable price and now the company is doing just that. The new Lumia 830 includes a 10-megapixel PureView camera with what Microsoft is calling the “thinnest” optical image stabilization system on a Lumia to date. That results in an interesting design that mixes parts from the Lumia 930 and the Lumia 1020’s large camera housing.Read Article >
The Lumia 830 is essentially a thinner, less bulky, and lighter version of the Lumia 930 on the outside. However, inside there’s a lot of differences between the two. The Lumia 830 is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. Like the Lumia 930, the 830 is also a 5-inch handset, but Microsoft has opted for a 1280 x 720 resolution instead of the beautiful 1080p display on the Lumia 930. That’s an inevitable sacrifice as the Lumia 830 is positioned below the Lumia 1520 and Lumia 930, as an “affordable flagship.”
The Desire 816, introduced at MWC in February of this year, has been one of HTC's unheralded successes. Featuring bold bright colors, the company's signature BoomSound speakers, and a generously proportioned 5.5-inch screen, it appealed to the more budget-conscious buyers eager to have a big entertainment device while on the move. HTC is sticking close to that winning formula today with the introduction of the new Desire 820. It still measures 5.5 inches across, it still has a 720p resolution, and its rear camera still uses a 13-megapixel sensor. And yes, the bold colors are back and bolder than ever.Read Article >
Sep 3, 2014
There are a lot of virtual reality headsets out there these days. As of today, Oculus has been shipping DK2 development kits worldwide for about a month. Sony has announced a few titles for Project Morpheus, which will work with the PlayStation 4. Google revealed that the most basic elements of VR aren’t hard to create with its foldable cardboard goggles. GameFace Labs is prototyping a wireless head-mounted display powered by Android. And Samsung has just announced a partnership with Oculus for the Gear VR, a headset that turns your Galaxy Note 4 into a mobile theater and gaming device. On the face of it, Oculus has just made itself a new competitor. But right now, what it actually got is a much-needed ally.Read Article >
The Gear VR is a mobile alternative to the Oculus Rift, which has to be wired into a power source, a computer, and an external camera. The second development kit’s screen was a big improvement over the first — it uses the display from Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3, which means that because half the screen is shown to each eye, you’ll see a 960x1080 image. But it’s got a lower resolution than the Quad HD Note 4, which will give the Gear VR an effective resolution of 1280x1440. John Carmack waxed nerdy about the benefits of Samsung’s Super AMOLED panels, describing his system for drastically cutting latency (the Note 3 is also Super AMOLED.) The two headsets have similar fields of view: the Gear VR is 96 degrees, while the DK2 is about 100. And while the DK2 is heavily backordered, the Gear VR is set to go on sale — real sale, not pre-order — this fall.
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It started, appropriately enough, with the Alpha. Heeding years of complaints about the tacky and unpleasant feeling of its plastic Galaxy phones, Samsung finally responded this summer with the introduction of a new metal frame on the Galaxy Alpha. Today at IFA, the Korean company has added the Note 4 and Note Edge to what’s turning into a portfolio of metal-rimmed devices. It’s described as a new design approach, but it’s being done in classic Samsung style.
Sony just introduced two new products at IFA 2014: its fifth-generation smartwatch, the SmartWatch 3, its first wearable to take advantage of Google's Android Wear platform, and the SmartBand Talk, the company's latest fitness-tracker.Read Article >
According to The Verge's Vlad Savov, the SmartWatch 3 is sporty and rugged, but the overall design and poor components make for a disappointing first impression. The SmartBand Talk fares no better due to its "frustratingly sluggish" performance.
We just got our first look at Sony's new Xperia Z3 Compact. It's a mid-size smartphone, but don't let its diminutive stature fool you. It's packed with full size specs, and in Vlad Savov's opinion, it might be the best phone Sony has to offer right now.Read Article >
We've compiled our best photos of the phone so that you can decide for yourself. You can see our first impressions of the device right here.
Last year Sony took a bold gamble by introducing its QX line. Strap one of the "lens cameras" onto any Android or iOS device, and you'd get pictures that were far superior to what a smartphone could ordinarily turn out. The idea was novel; these "lenses" were basically cameras themselves — complete with dedicated SD card slots and batteries. And your phone's big screen makes for a great viewfinder. It could've changed the way we all use Instagram, but Sony's execution was clumsy and torturously slow. Give the company credit for not giving up: today it's back with not one, but two new companion lenses for your phone.Read Article >
Check out all of Sony's new releasesFirst is the 20.4-megapixel QX30, which delivers 30x optical zoom and the sort of reach that smartphone owners can typically only dream about. Just how far can it get you? The 35mm equivalent works out to 24-720mm, so the QX30 opens up all sorts of creative possibilities. Just don't expect any low-light miracles from its f/3.5-6.3 aperture range. If you thought the prior QX lens cameras looked silly attached to a smartphone, this one's even more awkward when fully extended. But it'll still fit in a coat pocket without any trouble when turned off.
The Sony Xperia Z3, Z3 Compact, and Z3 Tablet Compact are joining the PS Vita in being able to stream and play PlayStation 4 games away from the console. Starting in November, the three members of the new Z3 family will allow you to play your PS4 games directly on their screens so long as they are on the same Wi-Fi network as the big games machine. This is a major step on the way to Sony finally making good on its perpetual promise of PlayStation gaming on mobile devices. The Japanese company even says that PS4 Remote Play will be "theoretically" possible over a web connection, but is hedging its bets by recommending that you have both the console and remote device hooked up to the same Wi-Fi network and plugged into a fast internet connection.Read Article >
To make the transition to a smaller screen easier, Sony also recommends using the official DualShock controller, for which it is introducing a new GCM10 Game Control Mount, which is essentially a bit of scaffolding designed to hold up your smartphone or tablet while gaming.
In March, Sony said it'd stick to its own smartwatch software in lieu of joining the Android Wear party with the likes of LG, Motorola, and Samsung. Today, Sony's completely reversing that stance with the introduction of SmartWatch 3, its fifth-generation smartwatch, which has completely embraced Google's Android Wear platform. Sony intends to add a Walkman app for music playback via a Bluetooth headset along with a remote control app for stuff you're playing on another device. Don't look for much more to distinguish this device on the software front.Read Article >
Check out all of Sony's new devices
Add another to the list of products from weird Sony: the company just announced a Walkman media player designed for lossless and high-resolution audio playback. It's called the Walkman A17, and it's shipping this November for $299.99. Apparently there's a very real demand for hi-res audio players: Neil Young's Pono player raised over $6 million dollars through crowdfunding, and now Sony is planning to take the Kickstarter sensation head on. It's not the company's first attempt at appealing to audiophiles; Sony's already gone down this path with the ZX1, though few people in America have heard of that product. This one strictly focuses on audio, and Sony says it's the smallest hi-fi player in the world as of last month.Read Article >
But to understand the A17, you need to throw out everything you've come to expect from an MP3 player. If you're used to thumbing around an iPod touch, things are going to get weird. Think of this as the polar opposite of an iPod touch; it doesn't even have a touchscreen. Rather, the new Walkman is a pocket-sized audio player featuring a 2.25-inch QVGA display, a brushed aluminum chassis, and 64GB of internal storage. (You can expand that with microSD cards up to 128GB in size.)
Most smartphone manufacturers introduce new flagship phones once per year, but Sony's in a hurry to catch up to the leaders and has therefore set itself an accelerated timetable of refreshing its best phone once every six months. That's how we find ourselves looking at the Xperia Z3 precisely a year after the introduction of the Xperia Z1.Read Article >
The new 5.2-inch phone from Sony lacks for nothing, with a 1080p screen resolution, quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, and a familiar 20-megapixel camera sensor that has now been boosted to reach an unprecedented 12,800 ISO sensitivity. The lens has been made wider, with the new 25mm-equivalent field of view capturing more of the scene around you, and there's improved image stabilization for video, which can once again be recorded at 4K resolution.
Never mind what Sony tries to tell you about the premium nature of the 5.2-inch Xperia Z3. That phone's supposed understudy, the Z3 Compact, is the real star of Sony's IFA 2014 lineup. It's the same size as the excellent Xperia Z1 Compact, but fits a bigger 4.6-inch screen into a body that's 9 percent thinner and 6 percent lighter. Those sound like small improvements, and the phone itself doesn't look dramatically different, however the sum of Sony's changes makes the Xperia Z3 Compact feel like a much more refined smartphone.Read Article >
Check out all of Sony's new releases