The main event for consumer electronics in Europe, IFA in Berlin marks the debut of many of the hottest gadgets and devices of the holiday shopping period. Companies from all across the world descend upon the German capital to show off their latest smart devices: from phones, laptops, and speakers to fridges, ovens, and washing machines. This year should see many of them adding support for Google Assistant, which has quickly emerged as the biggest and most formidable competitor to Amazon’s Alexa in the race to put a digital assistant on all home appliances and electronics. Stay tuned here for all the biggest and most important news from IFA 2018.
Sep 4, 2018
The most interesting prototype at IFA this year was the Nubia Alpha, an Android-based device the company bills as a “wearable smartphone.” The Alpha tries to realize one of the enduring gadget dreams: having a smart device with a display that wraps around the user’s wrist. I checked it out at IFA in Berlin this past week, and, well, it’s still at the rough draft stage of development, but Nubia is confident it’ll have it ready to go on sale in China before the end of this year. If things work out, global distribution might also happen around the same time.Read Article >
The demo units at IFA were behind glass, and it took a lot of cajoling to convince Nubia to even let me touch one. I was able to lay it on my wrist, but I wasn’t allowed to close it up entirely, hence the semi-open position in these photos. The surprising thing was that, as bulky as the Alpha looks, it’s really quite light and tolerable on the wrist. I believe fans of big watches will find this chunky beast attractive, while the rest of us should definitely be paying attention to the technological advancement it represents.
Sep 3, 2018
Sony announced a new pair of compact cameras last week with some incredible zoom capabilities, going from as wide as 24mm to as zoomed in as 720mm. This isn’t the first of Sony’s compact cameras to have that exact zoom range, but this year’s models add 4K shooting and, in one instance, a touchscreen. That should turn them into far more capable cameras that get closer to rivaling Sony’s much loved RX100 series.Read Article >
The new models, HX99 and HX95, are about the size of an iPod (if you can remember the last time you held one of those), just thicker, and weigh around half a pound. That’s about the same as Sony’s RX100 cameras, but there’s one critical difference: the RX100 line uses a larger one-inch image sensor, whereas these cameras have a 1/2.3-inch sensor, which is somewhat smaller. That’s going to mean reduced image quality, but it also allows for this camera’s immense zoom range.
Sep 3, 2018
Three years ago, almost to the day, I was anguished to find Kodak, the once-great photography brand, slapped atop some random selfie sticks. Now, walking through the same IFA halls in Berlin, I find Polaroid’s name emblazoned on some dreadful laptops. These two companies — or, rather, whatever vulture capitalists have taken ownership of their names after their businesses went bust — are engaged in a miserable race to see who can put their name to the worst possible product.Read Article >
Today’s example from Polaroid is truly an eye-searing disaster. Just one of a group of plasticky, creaky, and underpowered “Polaroid” laptops with washed-out screens, this particular specimen ships with Windows 10 (the good), but only 2GB of RAM / 32GB of storage (the bad), and an ancient Intel Atom processor (the ugly). Whatever brand goodwill Polaroid used to enjoy back in its heyday, this batch of laptops should finally erase it.
Sep 1, 2018
Remember how I told you Huawei’s excellent P20 Pro was a phone that would frustrate Americans with its absence from their market? Well, this week at IFA, that device became even more aggravating, as Huawei introduced four new variants: two new color options and two real-leather backs that look and feel lovely.Read Article >
Firstly, the colors: one of them flips the gradient of the original Twilight P20 Pro, with the darker side now being at the bottom and the radiant blue topping the phone like the glow of a distant flame. Huawei calls this Morpho Aurora, because the gradient does indeed morph and change depending on the angle you look at the phone from. I like the original P20 Pro’s gradient finish, and I like this new one even better. The white P20 Pro is called Mother of Pearl, because it has some shifting hues laced into the white, though I’m far less enthused about it. White reflective things don’t look anywhere near as appealing as dark reflective things. Both phones are, of course, made of glass on both front and back, and both are unchanged from the P20 Pro we already know.
Aug 31, 2018
Beyerdynamic announced a new line of earphones at IFA yesterday that are all coming soon. The Byrd line of earphones are notable for having a flat design so if you lay on your side, they supposedly won’t protrude into your ear.Read Article >
First in the collection is the entry-level, in-ear, wired Beat Byrd earphones (pictured above). They have an orange cable, and they look pretty standard besides the flat casing. Beyerdynamic claims they’ll have solid bass. The Beat Byrd earphone will be sold exclusively online on the company’s website for €24.90 ($28.89) starting at the end of September.
In the past few years, IFA has become a laptop show. It may not be the place where companies like Apple or Microsoft show off their flashiest hardware, but when it comes to the midrange, workhorse laptops that dominate the shelves at Best Buy and desks at schools, IFA is where you’ll find them. That’s why it’s so interesting that there’s been what feels like an overnight revolution in laptop screens at this year’s show: bezels are dead, and IFA killed them.Read Article >
This isn’t really a new trend in tech, either. The bezel-less revolution has been steadily rolling through smartphones for the past year. And where devices like the Essential Phone or iPhone X were once eye-catching, they’ve quickly become the norm across the industry. Practically every phone released this year has had some kind of notch or cutout with a bezel-less display. They’re so common that Android 9.0 Pie even added formal support for them. We’re already starting to see the next stages of slider devices like the Oppo Find X, Honor Magic 2, and Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 that try to achieve a truly bezel-free future.
Motorola has officially announced the Motorola One and Motorola One Power, the company’s pair of midrange Android phones with distinctly iPhone X-style notches.Read Article >
The Motorola One is the smaller of the pair. It has a 5.9-inch HD display, Gorilla Glass 2.5 on the front and back, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, and a smaller 3,000mAh battery. It’s set to be widely available for €299 (roughly $350 USD) in Europe, Latin America, and Asia starting in October.
At IFA today, Huawei announced its newest system-on-a-chip, the Kirin 980, which boasts a number of world firsts. It’s the first 7nm mobile processor, the first one built around ARM’s Cortex-A76 CPU and Mali-G76 GPU, the first with a Cat.21 smartphone modem supporting speeds up to 1.4Gbps, and the first chip to support 2,133MHz LPDDR4X RAM. The Kirin 980 has 6.9 billion transistors, but I’ve seen it for myself and it’s no larger than a thumbnail.Read Article >
The road to today’s announcement started three years ago for Huawei, with the company engaging more than 1,000 senior semiconductor design experts and churning through more than 5,000 engineering prototypes. The end result is roughly a 20 percent speed improvement and a 40 percent reduction in power consumption relative to Huawei’s previous generation.
The Huawei AI Cube is not a cube. I just really want us to get that fact agreed upon before we proceed any further. It is, however, a rather unique device, combining a 4G modem, a home Wi-Fi router, a high-end 360-degree wireless speaker, and a Huawei-Amazon collaboration that promises Alexa integration and some not-yet-articulated AI capabilities.Read Article >
Shaped like an elongated Google Home with a flat top, the Huawei AI Cube is an effort to get Huawei in on the flourishing smart speaker business. As of today, there are probably more consumer electronics brands with a smart speaker in their portfolio — Apple’s HomePod, the Google Home family of devices, Amazon’s Echo speakers, Lenovo’s Smart Display, and most recently, Samsung’s Bixby speaker — than without. Huawei’s angle is to leverage its tech lead in networking equipment by also endowing its AI Cube with a slot for an LTE SIM card, making it a 4G hot spot, and an Ethernet port, allowing you to use it as a home Wi-Fi router as well as an Alexa-enabled speaker.
If you’re in the market for new wireless headphones, IFA 2018 has been an absolute treat for you. If, on the other hand, you just bought a pair, well... this is going to be an upsetting read. At this year’s IFA in Berlin, headphones manufacturers brought out a litany of meaningful, tangible, delightful improvements that have made the wireless audio market much more exciting than it was just a few days ago. Let’s take each new change in turn.Read Article >
Anyone who’s been following my writing will know that I think this change is overdue. For months, I’ve been imploring headphone makers to get with the times — a majority of smartphones and laptops now charge via USB-C — but most of them kept updating their flagship models while keeping the flimsier and now outdated MicroUSB standard. No longer. Every new pair of wireless headphones or earphones I’ve come across here at IFA has featured a USB-C charging port. Whatever market data everyone has been looking at, it’s finally showing the investment into USB-C to be worthwhile, and the industry has promptly responded by flooding the Berlin Messe halls with USB-C-powered headphones.
The Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC headphones come with a neat lighting trick: instead of having exterior LEDs spoiling their aesthetic, they have internal lights to inform the user of their status. It’s such a simple switch in thinking, executed with a smidgen of flair, yet its effect is profound. When you think about it, the only time you want to see a status light on your headphones is when they’re off your head, and you probably want to see that light without ambiguity. So Beyerdynamic has done what’s obvious in hindsight by illuminating the inner periphery of the cups with informative colors.Read Article >
When you first pick up a Lagoon pair that’s already on, the left ear cup will glow blue and the right one will glow red because that’s when you’ll want help differentiating between the symmetrical left and right ear cups. When they’re in Bluetooth syncing mode, the headphones will pulsate in a matching blue, alternating from cup to cup. When successfully paired, orange, Beyerdynamic’s brand color, will indicate that the headphones are connected and ready for use. Red alerts will show up when the battery is about to run out, and charging is accompanied by a graduating palette of colors, with the lights first blinking red, then orange, then yellow, and finally green when fully charged.
Aug 31, 2018
If you stream music from an Android phone to a pair of wireless headphones, there’s a very good chance your devices are relying on a compression algorithm known as AptX, which is supposed to squeeze high-quality sound into the limited bandwidth provided by a Bluetooth connection. But existing AptX options have their limits, so Qualcomm — the company behind AptX since 2015 — is introducing a new version that’s supposed to grow and contract the size of audio data to meet the demands of whatever and wherever you’re actually streaming.Read Article >
The new version of AptX is called AptX Adaptive, and its key feature is the ability to compress audio at a variable bitrate. That means if you’re in an environment with a lot of competing wireless signals, your phone will be able to compress your audio into a smaller file size so that it’s easier to stream to your headphones. And if you’re in an empty room listening to music, AptX Adaptive will allow your phone to send a higher bitrate file so that you get better audio quality.
Aug 30, 2018
Netgear’s Orbi line includes some of the most capable mesh routers around, and now, the line is about to get even more interesting. Its latest router, the Orbi Voice, is also a speaker with built-in microphones and Alexa. That way, you can place it in a room where you want to play music or listen to podcasts and improve the area’s Wi-Fi reception at the same time.Read Article >
There aren’t a lot of other products that combine a router with something else. I really can’t think of any, aside from combination routers and modems, since the two products have long had to sit side by side anyway. In most cases, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for a router to be combined with anything else.
It’s hard to explain just what the Yoga Book C930 is. It’s a laptop, but half of it has an E Ink display in place of a physical keyboard with haptic feedback when you type. But “laptop” doesn’t quite fit because this is a very thin, small device that’s more akin to a folio than a full computer.Read Article >
But it’s a full computer, too: it’s a Windows 10 device with 7th-Gen Intel processors that should be able to keep up with light computing needs. It has a 360 “watch band” hinge that allows you to flip it all the way around into a tablet mode, so it’s also a tablet. You can use it like any Windows tablet with support for a pen. You can jot notes on the E Ink side or read and mark up PDF documents.
Lenovo is introducing a new ThinkPad X1 Extreme at IFA in Berlin today. It’s a 15-inch laptop that’s designed to go head-to-head with Dell’s XPS 15 or Apple’s MacBook Pro, and it does so by being lighter than both. At 3.75 pounds, Lenovo has packed a lot into this laptop, including up to an 8th generation (Coffee Lake) Intel Core i7 processor, up to 64GB of DDR4 RAM, and up to 2TB of PCIe SSD storage. There will be multiple models, and the biggest choice will be between a 15.6-inch FHD IPS display or a 4K IPS display with HDR and Dolby Vision support. A separate ThinkPad X1 Extreme with Intel Core i9 processor will also be available in December.Read Article >
Lenovo is even including Nvidia’s GeForce 1050 Ti (the MaxQ version) so you should be able to run a lot of modern games on this, although you’ll probably want the FHD version if you’re planning on doing that regularly. The discrete Nvidia graphics will also help with photo editing, video processing, and even VR gaming. Lenovo is also using dual-fans for cooling, to prevent the ThinkPad X1 Extreme from running too hot.
After years of touting its signature “watch band” hinge, Lenovo is taking a different tack this year with its flagship consumer laptop, the Yoga C930. Instead of a classy-looking watch band, there’s a Dolby Atmos speaker in the hinge, like a little soundbar for a laptop. There are still two more speakers on the bottom of the C930, but the purpose of the soundbar is to ensure that there’s a speaker pointing at you no matter what orientation you’re using. The Yoga C930 is a 2-in-1, of course, so the screen can rotate all the way around into tablet mode.Read Article >
Tablet mode is where you’ll get the most benefit from the C930’s other big new feature: an included stylus that can be stored in a “garage” inside the laptop. It’s relatively thin and small, somewhere between a Samsung Note stylus and a more traditional laptop stylus like the Surface Pen. But despite its size, it’s an “active” stylus, with 4,096 levels of pressure detection. Like the note, Lenovo’s “Garaged Pen” is automatically charged when you put it back in its little silo.
Lenovo is announcing a second ARM-powered Windows 10 laptop this week, and this time it’s a Yoga. The Lenovo Yoga C630 WOS (Windows on Snapdragon) is, as you might have guessed, powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 850 processor. It’s the first Windows laptop we’ve seen with the Snapdragon 850, and its a chip that Qualcomm specifically designed for always-connected Windows 10 PCs. This new processor ushers in the latest generation of ARM-powered Windows 10 laptops.Read Article >
Lenovo’s previous ARM-powered device was a 2-in-1 detachable tablet / laptop hybrid, but the new Yoga C630 is more like a traditional laptop that also flips over to become a tablet in the traditional Yoga style. Because it’s more of a clamshell-like laptop, you also get a polished aluminum design, and the build quality you’d expect from a laptop. Lenovo is equipping the Yoga C630 with a 13.3-inch FHD IPS touchscreen that also supports an optional stylus. There’s 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and 128GB or 256GB of storage. Ports include two USB-C and a headphone jack.
Garmin saved its reveal of the newest Vivosmart fitness tracker for IFA this year. For the Vivosmart 4, the company is adding a “pulse ox2 oximeter,” which measures the oxygen saturation in your blood.Read Article >
You may have tried an oximeter when a doctor or nurse clipped a little accessory to your finger. In Garmin’s case, the oximeter is trying to determine how well a person is sleeping. It could also figure out whether they stop breathing during sleep, meaning they have sleep apnea. That’s the biggest hardware addition to the tracker, although the company’s also updating its software to build out its sleep-monitoring system, so wearers can check in on their sleep quality once they’re awake. Sleep definitely seems like the focus of this launch.
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The big update on the Magic 2 is a new “Magic Slide” feature that hides the camera underneath a slider to enable a full, bezel-free screen without a notch — similar to the sliding Oppo Find X from earlier this year. According to Honor, the new design features a nearly 100 percent screen-to-body ratio, although it has yet to show off the Magic 2 beyond a brief onstage appearance of a prototype at its IFA press conference and a teaser image (seen below), so it’s hard to tell exactly what it looks like.
Last year at IFA, Marshall Headphones (Zound Industries’ licensed consumer version of the popular guitar amp company) updated its Bluetooth speakers with multiroom audio support. This year at IFA, the company announced another new version of its Acton II and Stanmore II speakers that — right in line with the trends for 2018 — add Amazon’s Alexa assistant.Read Article >
The new speakers (dubbed the Acton II Voice and Stanmore II Voice, respectively) also have an updated design, with new grille accents and colors. But for the most part, they’re pretty much the same as last year’s version. Far-field microphones to enable Alexa have been added, along with a mute button (for when you don’t want Amazon listening) and some new indicator LEDs.
Jaybird’s updating its X line of workout headphones today with the announcement of its new X4 Wireless Sport. They’re pretty similar to the X3s, although this time around, the X4s are very much waterproof and sweatproof. The company says they’ve received an IPX7 waterproof rating, which means you can submerge them in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes without damage. You previously couldn’t submerge the headphones at all, but they were water resistant. Of course, you still wouldn’t want to take these swimming with you, and right now, Jaybird doesn’t sell any headphones that would work for that use case.Read Article >
Apart from that addition, there really aren’t any major changes to the product. Like its predecessor, it’ll last for up to eight hours of playtime. It’ll even cost the same as the X3 at $129.99. You can preorder the headphones now through Jaybird’s website, although they’ll go on sale at some point in September.
BlackBerry’s Key2 didn’t exactly win over the world when it came out. The best that can be said is that it’s a phone with a physical keyboard for people who really like phones with physical keyboards.Read Article >
But that isn’t stopping BlackBerry (and TCL, which sells devices using the BlackBerry Mobile name and brand) from trying again with the new Key2 LE. It’s a lower-specced, cheaper version of the Key2 that brings features like the iconic keyboard at a more affordable price.
Aug 30, 2018
The world of truly wireless earphones can be summed up as follows: there are AirPods, the Jabra Elite 65t, and all the unsatisfying others. I’m not griping, though: having two great options to choose from is still two more than we used to have. But now, Sennheiser, the manufacturer of some of the best headphones in every price class, has made its fashionably late arrival to the truly wireless competition. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless are the first pair of entirely wireless earphones that Sennheiser has built since a long-forgotten pair in the earliest years of Bluetooth.Read Article >
I made it a point to rush over and check out these new Momentum buds as soon as I learned about them. I deliberately disregarded all the spec and pricing information; I just wanted to get my hands on them. My very first impression is there’s absolutely no way to intuit how to control these things. They have no physical buttons and no user-friendly hints, just the occasional beep in response to my taps. A friendly Sennheiser staffer enlightened me that one tap on the left earbud will play or pause, two taps will advance tracks, three taps will rewind, hold your finger on the left bud to lower volume, hold your finger on the right earbud to raise it, and a single tap will activate Google Assistant or Siri, depending on your device. If that sounds convoluted, don’t worry, it’s reasonably easy once you know what’s what. Sennheiser plans to walk users through everything with an accompanying app, which isn’t yet ready to demo.
ZTE can’t resist its notch envy. The company introduced its newest flagship phone — the Axon 9 Pro — at IFA in Berlin today, and, of course, it features a notch along with a bezel at the bottom of the display. It also features vertically aligned dual, rear-facing cameras, a la the iPhone X. The phone looks like a 2018 flagship. Here’s the spec rundown:Read Article >
This device is more of an update to the Axon 7 from 2016 as opposed to last year’s Axon M, which folded in half. It’s unclear if ZTE plans to return to the Axon M, or if that was just a random one-off experiment. This phone won’t be coming to the States, but it’ll cost €649 when it goes on sale in September in Europe.
Sennheiser entered the truly wireless earbud market today with the debut of its new Momentum earbuds. They’re Bluetooth-enabled, as you’d expect, and are touch sensitive so wearers can access Siri or Google Assistant directly with a tap. They ship with a charging case that’ll power them for at least 12 hours of listening, according to Sennheiser. The case appears to require a USB-C cable. On their own, they have a four-hour battery life. They’ll be released in mid-November for £299.99.Read Article >
That’s all we know about these buds. They’re clearly at the top of the market in pricing. Even Bose’s SoundSport Free and B&O Play’s E8 cost less, both of which are priced between $250 and $300. Only the Bragi Dash Pro veer into the $300 territory, and those include additional features like activity tracking and live translation. Hopefully Sennheiser adjusts its US pricing to bring it down to its competitors’ price range. Otherwise, these earbuds better be great.