If you haven't heard, the biggest tech event in Europe is IFA, and this year typically sleepy tech categories like laptops, smartwatches, and tablets are seeing a big shakeup. A lot of that is thanks to new processors from both Intel and Qualcomm, but there's also some wild innovation coming direct from Lenovo. From ridiculously massive powerhouse laptops to surprisingly thin, Wacom-powered tablet computers, we're collecting the most important stories from IFA right here. To see everything happening at IFA, be sure to check out our story index here, and there are lots of videos available on our YouTube page too!
Sep 6, 2016
Another of the world’s grand tech exhibitions is now in the books, with Berlin hosting what might have been its most varied and intriguing IFA in years. Like other shows, this one had its oddities, such as LG’s fridge running Windows 10, but what stood out to me was the practicality and immediate emotional appeal of many of the new products on show. With modern technology now mainstream and reaching a plateau of good-enough hardware, companies are spending less time chasing and explaining new specs and more of their effort on humanizing and styling out their latest gear.Read Article >
This is not a criticism. I think there’s a great deal of substance in style. It is the substance of design.
Sep 5, 2016
Like a grand old dinosaur that’s being left behind by the evolution of the tech industry, Sony is in desperate recovery mode here at IFA. The company has new phones, a rather nice pair of noise-canceling headphones, the imminent PS VR, and... a truly outlandish combo of music player and headphones that costs a mighty $5,499.98. I guess there had to be some outlet for Sony’s classic wild-eyed grandeur.Read Article >
Sony’s new Signature audio series consists of the gold-plated NW-WM1Z Walkman, which weighs in at 455g (1lb) and $3,200, the $2,300 MDR-Z1R closed-back headphones, and a desktop headphone amp whose price I haven’t even dared to look up. First impressions? The portable media player barely qualifies to be called portable. This new 256GB Walkman glints beautifully under IFA’s bright lights, and its hefty case is machined to a perfect finish, but its weight is overwhelming. I simultaneously love it for its looks and hate it for its impracticality. Typical Sony, then!
Sep 4, 2016
I’m ready to crown this the best IFA of this decade. In a show already highlighted by Lenovo’s Yoga Book, Acer’s ultraslim notebook, and LG’s enchanting tunnel of OLED, there’s somehow still room to fit in an astounding pair of headphones as well.Read Article >
Audeze, the boutique audiophile brand responsible for some of the best planar magnetic headphones in the world, has done what many might have thought impossible and shrunken its technology to fit into an in-ear design. The result is the imposing, alien-looking thing you see before you: the $399 Audeze iSine 10. It’s basically a 30mm planar magnetic headphone with a funnel to channel its sound into your ear.
Sep 3, 2016
Most technology out in the world is merely functional, exciting emotions only when it fails to perform routine duties. But sometimes that technology gets used for a higher purpose, such as with LG’s OLED tunnel at IFA in Berlin. Created using 216 55-inch curved display, it’s a 15-meter walkway that, ironically, stops people in their tracks. LG’s marketing isn’t hyperbolic when it calls this thing "awe-inspiring."Read Article >
The OLED tunnel is a microcosm of life itself. It presents beautiful natural images and stars above our heads, and all of us mere humans blessed to be beneath its arch stumble around in a sort of tipsy daze. Not all of us are moving in the same direction, and we tend to bump into and disrupt each other, but we manage to coexist anyhow.
The word "innovation" is so overused during a show like IFA that it quickly loses its meaning. It’s hard for me to therefore convey the sense of true innovation that I got when I first laid my hands on the Lenovo Yoga Book. This device is a whole new thing. Calling it a mobile productivity device and a versatile 2-in-1, as Lenovo does, really undersells the magnitude of what this Chinese company has achieved with the Yoga Book. There’s never been anything like the Yoga Book before, though I get the sense that it will be copied and iterated on for many years to come.Read Article >
As a quick recap, this is a 10-inch clamshell device, powered by either Windows or Android, which replaces the conventional keyboard with a flat panel that accepts either stylus or touch input. The Yoga Book runs on an Intel Atom x5 CPU with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage. Its case is made out of magnesium and aluminum.
I’ve been at IFA, Europe’s biggest tech show, for three days now and I’ve had my eyes filled with a parade of all the shiny, beautiful new technology coming to an Amazon delivery drone near you. Much of that technology is powered by Google’s omnipresent Android software, but you wouldn’t know it from the way the new devices are presented. Android has become many tech companies’ original sin: fundamental to their identity and the character of their products, but buried under a thick veneer of insecure puffery, denial, and evasion.Read Article >
Welcome to Xperia!
Those itching to run Android software on ChromeOS should check out the new 2-and-1 device from Acer. The convertible $399 Chromebook R13 laptop has a 13.3-inch 1080p touchscreen that makes it suitable to run all variety of mobile apps. Google announced back in May it would begin letting Android developers support ChromeOS starting in the fall, and Acer is one the first device makers to produce a laptop-tablet hybrid that fits the bill.Read Article >
With regards to specs, the R13 comes with 4GB of memory in 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB varieties with about 12 hours of battery life. It packs a MediaTek quad-core processor and also supports USB-C as well. It’ll be available starting in October, when Google plans to have already rolled out full support for Android apps on ChromeOS.
Sep 1, 2016
I know it’s true of every modern phone, but it’s especially true of Sony’s new pair of Xperia handsets: the camera will be the most important factor in deciding the fortunes of the Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact. Introduced at IFA 2016 in Berlin today, Sony’s Xperia XZ triples down on camera technology with a new laser autofocus, RGBC-IR white balance sensor, and its traditionally strong 23-megapixel imaging sensor. The Japanese company’s new flagship even has a dedicated shutter button. And the Xperia X Compact is a smaller, less powerful vessel for that same upgraded camera system.Read Article >
One of the reasons the camera is going to be so pivotal is that the rest of the specs are not all that impressive: the Xperia XZ has the Snapdragon 820, which is hard to beat, but it only offers 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and 1080p resolution alongside that chip. The 2,900mAh battery is outmatched by 3,000mAh cells in thinner and lighter phones like the Huawei P9. The X Compact steps down to a Snapdragon 650 with 720p, which admittedly is probably sufficient for its 4.6-inch size, but it’s definitely not cutting edge. And the same is true of the Android Marshmallow OS version: not bad, but not the latest, and not distinct from other flagship phones you could’ve bought at the start of the year.
Sen.se, the smart home company behind the slightly creepy hub called Mother, is back with a handful of tiny, single-purpose sensors meant to be scattered around your home. The line of devices are called SensePeanuts, and the first one being unveiled is the ThermoPeanut, meant to track temperature wherever you put it.Read Article >
The ThermoPeanut is weirdly what it sounds like. It’s a peanut-shaped gadget that tracks temperature. It uses Bluetooth — so it doesn’t require a hub — to connect directly to iOS and Android devices. It’ll record temperature ratings as often as you program it to, and then report those readings back to an app. It can measure temperatures from -5 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (or, for those of you with more sensible measurement systems, -20 degrees Celsius to 60 degrees Celsius).
One of the biggest problems with wearing headphones — ...aside from this... — is losing awareness of the sounds around you. Once loud music is playing, you can’t hear if a friend is trying to talk to you, or if there’s an announcement on the subway, or if something falls and breaks in the room next to you. It’s all cut out, especially if you’re using noise cancellation.Read Article >
Sony is trying to solve that problem with its latest pair of headphones, the elegantly named MDR-1000X. The headphones have several noise-cancellation modes, which give you the option to block out as much sound as possible, or to filter in voices or ambient noise. The intention is to let you listen to music in a quiet environment, but make sure you can still hear enough to be aware of your surroundings.
If you’re still interested in small phones, Sony continues to be the place to look. As it’s done in years past, it’s putting out a 4.6-inch version of one of its top devices. This time around, it’s called the Xperia X Compact.Read Article >
As the name suggests, it’s a shrunken-down version of the Xperia X, itself a relatively underwhelming smartphone that combines a high price with sluggish performance. The X Compact includes a 4.6-inch 720p display, powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 650, 3GB of RAM, and up to 32GB of storage. Sony hasn’t announced any pricing yet, but if history holds here, it’ll likely be a bit cheaper than the X.
The promise of a wireless earbud that can talk to us and take verbal commands has been a hot topic since 2013, when Spike Jonze’s Her wondrously reimagined near-future technology. Now, Sony’s take on the singular earbud, the Xperia Ear, has a release date at last. The device is due out in November, the company announced at the IFA conference in Berlin today, after being pushed back from a summer release window.Read Article >
We don’t have any pricing details just yet. But the Xperia Ear performs many of the same functions as Motorola’s Moto Hint earpiece it appears to be following. So the Xperia Ear will also be a Bluetooth-controlled companion for your smartphone. It will sit in the ear and give you updates on the weather, your schedule, and the latest news. It can also read off directions as your walking or driving, let you dictate messages, and perform web searches. It will not, however, come with science fiction-quality artificial intelligence.
Sony has built the perfect complement to your Apple Watch Edition: a $3,200 Walkman that’s plated in gold.Read Article >
This is a super-high-end revision of the already-high-end Walkman that Sony introduced for playing lossless audio files last year. It basically takes that and modifies the hardware to prevent subtle interference that could harm sound quality. To be clear, these are likely to be minor sound quality improvements that only serious audiophiles with equally high-end headphones will notice. But for that niche audience, this may be a solution.
Modular devices are in this year, and HP is bringing the trend to the desktop. It’s introducing a new computer called the Elite Slice, which is a crazy and excellent name, and which lets you snap on additional components to add new features to the PC, like speakers or a disc drive.Read Article >
It’s a simple way of making PCs easier to expand and customize after purchase, rather than requiring people to dig inside their case or buy a whole new unit. For now, HP is keeping things pretty basic with the Elite Slice, with only three snap-ons available at launch.
HP is unveiling a new PC today that looks far more like a speaker than a desktop computer. And that’s kind of the point: HP is hoping that by cramming a computer into a small package that might even look like furniture around your house, you’ll be a lot more willing to set it out in the open on your desk.Read Article >
The computer is called the HP Pavilion Wave. The Wave is tall triangular prism with curved sides, covered nearly edge to edge in a woven black and white fabric that makes it look like the outside of a speaker. The only interruptions are for a USB and headphone jack on the front and then for a strip of ports down the back, which includes more USB ports (one of which is USB-C), an HDMI port, and an SD cart slot, among others.
My big highlight from last year’s IFA 2015 was the Samsung Gear S2, a smartwatch that finally, truly felt like a normal watch. It was light, its wristband was supple and comfortable, and it had a rotating bezel and a software interface that both felt fresh, unique, and just fun to use. Today at IFA 2016, Samsung introduced the successor to that glorious little watch, and it’s a big old thing bearing the title of Gear S3. The new watch has GPS, LTE, a long-lasting battery, the latest Gorilla Glass designed specifically for watches, and a leather strap — but in becoming better in so many ways, the S3 has also become worse in the one aspect that matters to me most: bulk.Read Article >
Where the Gear S2 was the unimposing companion that really could reside on my wrist 24 hours a day, the Gear S3 is heavier and larger in every dimension, especially its depth. This is a very thick watch (12.9mm to the original S2's 11.4mm), which Samsung tries to disguise by painting its underside black. It’s a totally understandable tradeoff for having the benefit of GPS and cellular connectivity built right into the device — GPS is a notoriously difficult feature to integrate into wearable gadgets of any kind. But even so, it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever completely forget you’re wearing the S3, owing to its heft and presence. Some people will like that, to be sure, and large watch enthusiasts will be salivating at the thought of having such a feature-rich new option to consider.
Aug 31, 2016
Samsung hit on a good formula with last year's Gear S2 smartwatch. So for this year's model, it's making small changes and sticking with what already works.Read Article >
That's the gist of the Gear S3, which Samsung is unveiling today in Berlin. It's basically a blown up version of the Gear S2 with a bit more tech inside, which should be good news for anyone who wants a big smartwatch.
I’ve seen this scene before: fancy Berlin venue, shiny new Asus smartwatches, and precious little in the way of any differentiation. Even the Android Wear demo loop on Asus’ new ZenWatch 3 units is the same one we’ve all been seeing for years. It’s not for lack of trying, of course, as Asus has upgraded the hardware to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 2100 processor, specifically designed for wearable devices. But that still only gets you the regular one to two days of battery life, albeit with a new fast charging option that bumps the battery from 0 to 60 percent in 15 minutes. Asus even added two extra buttons for a total of three, but the new additions are just physical shortcuts to your favorite apps.Read Article >
Maybe I’m expecting too much. It’s just deflating to keep coming back to tech exhibitions and seeing all this design and engineering work going toward what are, in my estimation, underwhelming devices. I’m referring to Android Wear, yes, but also to smartwatches in general. What can you do with them? Well, you can use the ZenWatch 3 as a mouthpiece for taking calls on your connected phone, and you can use it as a remote shutter button for the camera on your connected phone. Or you can collect notifications from your connected phone. You can do a bit of rudimentary messaging and some fitness tracking. So a smartwatch isn’t useless, but I can name better, purpose-designed devices for most of its uses, and those typically cost less than Asus’ €229 asking price.
Aug 31, 2016
Asus unveiled its new ZenBook 3 earlier this year and it made headlines for being thinner and lighter than Apple's new MacBook. I got a chance to get a closer look at a ZenBook 3 today at IFA in Berlin, and it's clear this is literally a Windows-powered MacBook. If it wasn't for the Asus logo and brightly colored exterior, it would be pretty hard to tell the two apart.Read Article >
Both the MacBook and ZenBook 3 use a single USB Type-C port and a headphone jack, and no other ports. Even the keyboards are similar and shallow, although Asus claims it has better travel than the MacBook. I didn't really notice that during my limited testing, and the keyboard just felt as mushy and weird as the MacBook's. There are some pretty big differences inside, though. Asus has opted for the latest 7th generation Core i7 chips inside its ZenBook 3, which means it's going to perform better than the Core m7 found in Apple's latest MacBook. Asus hasn't released exact specs yet, but the demo unit I tested was running at 1920 x 1080, so Apple's 2304 x 1440 panel on the MacBook definitely beats the ZenBook 3 on paper. That aside, you can configure the ZenBook 3 with up to 16GB of RAM, and it weighs just two pounds and is 11.7mm thin.
Aug 31, 2016
Acer definitely has the range. This morning at IFA, the company announced what are most likely the thinnest and fattest laptops in the world. At one end of the spectrum we have the Swift 7, the first laptop slimmer than a centimeter, and at the other, the Predator 21 X, a gaming behemoth that's roughly ten times as thick.Read Article >
Looking at the pair of these is like seeing a Chihuahua and a Great Dane in the same room together. It's tough to remember that they both belong to the same species, and are meant for (broadly) similar work. Although, just like a Great Dane, we wouldn't recommend keeping a Predator 21 X on your lap for too long.
Acer is getting IFA 2016 off to a wondrous start this morning with the launch of the incredibly thin Swift 7 laptop. This Windows 10 machine, powered by Intel’s brand new 7th-generation Core i5 processor, measures a scant 9.98mm, making it the first to limbo under the 1cm bar (0.39 inches). Despite beating Apple’s MacBook and HP’s Spectre 13 for the braggadocious title of being the world’s thinnest laptop, the Swift 7 doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of either ports or battery. It offers two USB-C 3.1 ports and a headphone jack, plus Acer promises a 9-hour endurance thanks to Intel’s newly updated and more efficient Y series of chips.Read Article >
The display up front is a 13.3-inch Full HD IPS panel with nothing to truly distinguish it. It’s not going to be the Swift’s big selling point, but neither is it any sort of deal breaker. On the inside, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage sit alongside the Intel Kaby Lake chip, which is passively cooled — the whole system is fanless. Acer outfits the Swift 7 in an aluminum unibody chassis, which is dark on the outside and a quite classy gold on the interior.
Aug 30, 2016
Intel’s Skylake processors are getting a mid-generation refresh in the shape of the new Kaby Lake CPUs, launching today under the "7th generation Core" branding. In short, Kaby Lake is a revamp of the 14nm Skylake with a few efficiency and power improvements thrown in. It’s the chip that bridges the gap until the 10nm Cannonlake, which Intel has penciled in for 2017.Read Article >
Kaby Lake also opens the door for Apple to finally upgrade its MacBook Pro (and maybe even Air) computers, after the Cupertino company opted to skip the Skylake architecture altogether with those models. Microsoft's Surface Book suffered from a number of power management problems relating to Skylake, and other PC manufacturers also had to issue an aberrantly high number of firmware and driver updates for their Skylake machines. Apple's abstinence from those chips could well have been motivated by those very same challenges, which Intel will surely have prioritized to fix with its new generation.