New Samsung Laptops: The Series 5 Ultrabooks


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While at the Samsung stand at the CES, we had a good look around the notebook area. Lots of new products were on display, and we’ll be producing some in depth reports on each of them as they come closer to launch and available for a detailed review. But what stood out for us was the new Samsung laptops named the series 5 Ultrabooks.

These are also the first new Samsung laptops that official carry that title Ultrabook. Available in both 13.3” and 14” and with hard drive and solid state options, these Ultrabooks are Samsung’s first foray into the Intel-created “thin and light” category.

New Samsung Laptop the Series 5 ultrabook Profile Side on

Samsung have finally thrown their hat in the ring with an officially recognised Ultrabook range in this new samsung laptop.

With the Series 9 notebooks under the spotlight, it’s always going to be hard for other models to come out from the shadow of that impressive form factor and make its own mark. However, where the Series 9 is definitely more aspiration in market position, these new Samsung laptops make it much more accessible and affordable to own a Samsung Ultrabook.

The 13.3” series 5 sits right where we would expect a good quality, well featured Ultrabook to: 13.3” screen size, 2nd Gen Intel i5 processor, and a slim, silver body with no moving parts, unless you chose the hard drive model with 500GB of storage. It does add a little to the weight but for those who need it, it’s probably better than ensuring you’ve always got your portable hard drive on hand.

The screen was the most and refreshing one (pardon the technical pun) I’ve seen in a while – sporting a matte finish. Ever since we released details of the first Ultrabook, a matte screen request has come up in the comments section a few times and it’s great to finally see one in this category. Matte delivers much less reflection, and the 300 nit brightness means you can take it outside and use it in daylight without the massive light bounces.

New Samsung Laptop the Series 5 ultrabook matt Screen playing video

Matte screens are a rare find these days, but it's great to see one in an Ultrabook, which probably needs it most of all.

This suits Ultrabooks in a huge way, because the lightness and slimness encourages mobility and field use. The 1366 x 768 resolution is standard for this size screen, and doesn’t replicate the Asus UX31 or Macbook 1440 x 900 high definition screen. The matte screen and high brightness does help compensate.

Ports are also wide and varied to support most connectivity needs as well, with HDMI, USB 3.0 and 2.0, Card reader, and onboard Ethernet. Wireless connectivity is also impressive, with Bluetooth, N Wireless and WiDi all onboard.

Design wise it’s a smart looking though conservative design. Curved edges take away any edginess and the chiclet keyboard is comfortable to type on. It’s easy to hold in one hand and sits between the Acer S3 and the HP Folio Ultrabook from a weight point of view.

The 14 inch Ultrabook is extremely interesting from a labelling point of view. Take away the Ultrabook tag and what we have here is a light, well designed 14” notebook with all the ports and media drives you need.

Place it in the Ultrabook category and it’s kind of like the guy who is always stooping down to walk under door frames and slouching in his chair to remain inconspicuous  – suddenly the 14” Series 5 model is defined and measured by the relevant things around it, and it looks a little big in comparison to what we’d expect in an Ultrabook.

However Samsung have made sure that the 14” fits within the strict definition of an Ultrabook by using the required components, including processor and solid state, and sneaking under the weight and thickness limits by the smallest margin. For example, the thickness limit for a 14” Ultrabook is 21mm, and Samsung tip in at 20.9mm.

The one component I didn’t expect to see in an Ultrabook, regardless of size, was an optical drive, in this case a DVD Burner/Player. Although I can see where this might come in handy for those that use DVD media all the time, it is probably not what would be required in an Ultrabook.

New Samsung Laptop the Series 5 ultrabook optical drive anyone want to watch a dvd?

What do you call an Ultrabook with a DVD Drive? Not sure, but we'll just call it a Samsung Series 5 for now.

Samsung have made sure it impresses in performance, with very fast measured boot time, blink-and-you-miss-it wake up from sleep or lid opening. Because the Intel guidelines change with screen size, one of these new Samsung laptops has also managed to offer a 1GB dedicated graphics option as well, depending on what model hits what region.

The two main competitors for the Series 5 14” model would be the Asus U46SV, and the Lenovo U400. Comparing against those two non-Ultrabook models, the Samsung is a very slim and light 14” notebook, easily beating both the Asus and Lenovo models in weight (both around 2kg with the Samsung at 1.64kg in SSD version) and thinness (Lenovo is closer to 23mm and Asus around 24mm).

So this is becomes the conundrum – should a slim notebook with awesome specs be shoehorned into a category because it exists, or will it succeed in its own right by having the optimum performance  against its competitors?

My guess is that on a shop floor, against other 14” models, this new Samsung laptop will still be a strong choice because of its comparatively slimmer and lighter dimensions. A 14” notebook with optical drive and dedicated graphics that weighs only 1.64kg? That’s pretty impressive by any measure.

For more details and specifications, please visit www.ultrabooknews.com for both the 13.3″ version and the 14″ model.

Here’s our run through of the Series 5 Ultrabook range covering both the 13.3” and 14” model, where we look at the features and discuss the definition of an Ultrabook:

 

Here is where we’d love to hear your thoughts! Would you prefer one of the new Samsung laptops named the Series 5  ultrabooks , and  why? Feel free to ask any questions about the range as well.

Consumer Electronics Show Las Vegas – Reflections on CES 2012

The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has come and gone, and left behind a buzz of excitement and expectation for products and platforms that we will begin to see later on this year. A week after returning to Sydney, and with a couple more videos to upload, I thought I’d look back on the show in a holistic view and pick out some highlights.

There were no revelatory launches or announcements, mostly there were hints of things to come, partnerships to blossom and a drive to make things even simpler for users. Here are some of the impressions I had while walking through the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

There is an ecosystem war about to be waged, and the prize is… you. Apple and Google have been fighting for the mobile device market for the past few years, with Google now an extremely capable and experienced hand in the cell phone market. However, inroads have been harder for Google to create for the tablet market, which is still predominantly iPad.

In the second half of this year, Microsoft will put its hat in the ring for ecosystem and cross-device dominance, with Windows 8 expected to be deployed across a raft of new products including desktops, touchscreen all-in-ones, Ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

CES attendees flocking to the Microsoft stand to obtain a glimpse on what will be on offer this year.

Windows are in the enviable position of possessing a user base of hundreds of millions that are potentially customers for the Windows 8 system. Of course, many of them are already using iPhones or one of the many well regarded Android Smartphones, and are knee-deep in the App markets of either one.

However, if Windows does manage to execute the launch correctly, it could potentially convert a fair percentage of these users over through the promise of complete and seamless connectivity of files and data through any device. It could be pretty compelling if they can tie Skydrive into the cloud service that manages the always-synched nature of the always connected, always on products that we now demand.

Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia, which was derided by many at the time of the announcement, now it seems to be one of the smartest moves for both companies to survive and succeed in the brave new world of the smartphone market.

On the other hand, Intel’s major push with Lenovo and Motorola into Google-powered mobile devices later this year gives Android another shot in the arm to stay ahead of the competition and flourish in bourgeoning markets like China – what a country for Lenovo smartphones to launch in! The name of the game here seems to be installed base, and on this metric both Android and iPhone have a comfortable head start on Microsoft.

Nearly every PC brand represented at CES had an Ultrabook offering, and this Intel-created category of slim and light notebooks has given notebooks a new lease of life where there has not been any tremendous technology bumps since the first wave of Core i3/i5/i7 processors were released.

Intel stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

With Intel announcing that they are entering the mobile phone market, other mobile phone chipmakers have been put on notice.

The Ultrabooks show how light, connectable and thin Windows notebooks can be. With most of Intel’s marketing funds being pushed towards the Ultrabook category, it’s no wonder manufacturers are producing their own takes on the Ultrabook in terms of design, weight and ports. As the gap between a standard notebook and an Ultrabook begins to narrow, Ultrabooks will become more attractive for its attributes of SSD, unibody shells, lack of moving parts, instant-on and practical portability without compromising comparable performance.

At the Microsoft Keynote, a few important announcements were made that will start to affect the landscape of PCs later in the year. The first was the announcement of Kinext coming to Windows PCs, and that the developer kit would be released at the beginning of February. This is the first step away from the standard keyboard and mouse and towards Natural User Interface, where gesture and voice control may become a standard plug in for devices in the future. Kinect started as a gaming platform but it was always quite clear that its potential went far beyond waving your hands in front of the TV and would have positive implications for many industries.

Microsoft keynote at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

Microsoft Keynote... if only they could get the voice recognition software on that dang Windows Phone to work. :-D

The other key announcement was the support for ARM devices for the Windows 8 platform. This means that popular tablets like the Transformer Prime and Galaxy Tab could end up with Windows pre-loaded in the future. This could be a sigh of relief to traditional PC manufacturers, who will probably find deploying Windows on their tablets less burdensome than Android.

Not that Google is entirely on the outer, either. Intel’s chosen platform for its initial foray into the mobile phone market is with Google, which will strengthen its share in the smartphone category and possibly shore up support for tablet devices.

Integration and simplification seems to be the mantra for many AV companies, who are becoming less reliant on third party peripherals and building technology into their products. For example, LG will have Wi-Di in selected models, making the investment in a Wi-Di enabled notebook much less of a consideration because of the need to buy a Netgear or Belkin add-on, for example.

Glassless 3D was also on display for many companies, including Sony and Toshiba. Toshiba had glassless versions for their notebooks as well. The biggest issue is the need for the viewer to be positioned in exactly the right angle and distance for the 3D effect to take place, otherwise it just shows two overlapping images. It’s a progressive step and an indication of where this will head next.

Television-size OLED screens made an appearance as well, and we’ve seen how good images look on a small 7.7 inch screen, and they looked absolutely amazing on a 55 inch display – thin, light, bright with real colour depth. These are the displays of the future, taking over where Plasma and LCD was and where LED is now.

I was very interested in the integration of Google TV into TVs as well, which to me seems like the proper evolution of the Smart TV. LG’s demonstration of Google’s search and select activity on its screens showed how Google can become the default driver for finding relevant video content regardless of source on your television screen. With YouTube focusing on Channels instead of users, and licensing broadcaster program listings, the melding of online, cable and free to air content could be Google’s next big platform.

LG and Google TV stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

Google TV... changing the way we watch TV and putting the control firmly back into the viewers hands.

There was plenty more that I saw, including a fair bit of home automation and security and more IP connected devices and appliances. But for the most part, this year seemed to be all about the evolution of platforms and the devices that will support them.

We’ll be following up with key manufacturers here in Australia as products are released and look forward to sharing our views and demonstrations of these new devices and platforms as they become available. What new gadgets and devices are you looking forward to seeing in the market?

Until the next Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas from the Ritchie’s Room team thanks for watching and reading and we can’t wait until CES 2013.

Transformer Prime Wi-Fi Speedtest vs iPad 2

If there’s one thing we love here at Ritchie’s Room, it’s generating and joining in a discussion. The Transformer Prime from Asus has been a lightning rod for hundreds of comments and quite rigorous discussion around various issues.

Initially it was the hype around the Prime as it was the first Android tablet to incorporate the Tegra 3 processor. Then, as demand started to rise and stock was nowhere to be seen, floods of complaints started to flow on both our site and other forums. Finally the Prime made it into the hands of users, only to have one major feature, GPS, stricken from the specifications sheet due to poor performance.

The fast upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich seemed to temper the passions that were flaring in the initial stages, and from some of the accounts we have received, it appears to have addressed most of the issues.

One particular issue that still reared its ugly head was Wi-fi performance on the Asus tablet. Some users complained of low Wi-Fi signal strength and others of generally poor download speeds which affected browser experience.

A few days ago we decided to shoot a very basic piece for YouTube simply showing the signal strength in bars on the Prime and iPad 2, as a comparison. The signal strength was quite high on the Prime, and a tad lower on the iPad 2.

However, we received lot of comments about using a download monitor program to see what the real world differences were in Wi-Fi performance. We ended up with the Speedtest.net app and installed that on both the Prime and the iPad 2, and ran the test in the exactly the same location just seconds apart from each other. We then took both around the house, wondering in and out of rooms for a few minutes. We had some very interesting results.

Would the Speedtest App resolve the Wifi performance issue for the Transformer Prime once and for all?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, the speedtest in the Studio room. In the same location, seconds after one another, there was very little separating the Apple and Asus models – a few milliseconds difference for Pings, virtually the same download speed, and the Prime came out on top in upload speed by o.1Mbps or so.

After we filmed that, we walked around, getting further and further away from our filming location. In each area where we ran the tests, the results were wildly different even if the units were both side by side and didn’t move when we ran a second batch just to see a repeat of the test in that area.

To give you an idea, we moved the two tablets to a room that was three double brick walls removed from our studio, and both the Prime and iPad recorded download speeds of anything from 6Mbps all the way to 18Mbps, which is what we were getting when we were metres away from the router.

In the end we decided to leave the results of the further-distance speedtests out of the video segment because they were so wildly varying and could have been a consequence of a number of factors. In the controlled environment, the iPad 2 and Prime were neck and neck, and we repeated that test a few times with very little discrepancy to give ourselves a decent level of confidence.

However, the distance tests were fraught with fluctuations of the Wi-Fi signal that could have been affected by the environment, the wireless network or the wireless hardware built-in to the Prime and iPad 2.

All we can say is that based on the tests that we ran today, the results showed no real difference in the Wi-Fi performance between the best selling tablet in the market and the most advanced tablet in the market.

Here’s the Speedtest.net video we produced today (if you can’t see the video yet, we’re still uploading):

 

And here’s the original basic wireless signal test video that we released a few days ago:

 

Now that you’ve seen these tests, here’s a question for you: Does any of it help you make up your mind about the wireless performance of the Prime? Or is the Wi-fi performance of a tablet too hard to judge given all the other factors that might come into play?

Please feel free to comment below and we’d love to hear your opinion on this topic.

Tobii Eye Tracking Assistive Technology CES 2012

I had dinner recently with a group of friends, one of which is the IT Manager for a school. We talked about the digital divide, and the increasing need to be technologically skilled even in lower years of school. Instead of the critical gap being literacy and maths, which was the traditional line in the sand for student ranking, it was now the gap between those who were comfortable with technology and those who struggled to cope with it.

For those with disabilities, the challenge is even greater. Whether it’s a cognitive or physical disability, there needs to be a fair opportunity for all kids (and adults) to connect and interact with technology to similar levels enjoyed and utilised by able-bodied people.

This is where a company like Tobii comes in with their assistive technology, helping to bridge the gap where one might exist, and in fact possibly providing a greater range of communication and expression that may not have been achieved in previous times.

The demonstration we saw and tried out was a simple one. The product on demonstration was the Tobii PCEye Eye Control Unit. This eye tracking unit could be used with glasses, movement of the head, and most lighting environments.

Impaired motor skills shouldn't mean less access to computer related activities. Tobii helps make it possible.

We calibrated our eyes by focusing on dots on the screen, which took only a few seconds. Then we were ready to try out the software interface. The first was a game, which allowed me to blast asteroids just by looking at them. It’s amazing how quickly I adapted to this method of cursor control.

The second one was more relevant to education, control of appliances and communication. With the Tobii eye tracker I was able to scroll up and down a page, shift to other documents to the left and right, and even turn virtual lights on and off the screen.

The mind boggles at the possibilities that this and similar assistive technology devices can do to improve the quality of life of thousands of affected people around the world. For all the amazing innovations at the CES, the fact was that 99% of them were focused on able-bodied and able-minded people. I can’t wait to see what other systems can be created to help those with disabilities.

And of course it’s not just the mechanism that excites me. It’s the level of independence and the ability to express oneself, to communicate in your own style and personality that is the fulfilling side of this technology. Use Facebook, write emails, read books, and call up TV episodes with just the blink of an eye.

I think it’s great that there are companies working on this assistive technology to bring the enjoyment and necessity of technology to those who otherwise might not have the opportunity. Whether it’s social networking, home entertainment or controlling lighting and heating in the home, it’s an extra tool that uses some great innovations and technology to assist people with disabilities.

Here’s a short video of us using some of the basic functions of the eye tracking Tobii PCEye:

 

What do you think of this technology? Can you see it improving the lives of those with disabilities, or do you have a personal story to share? Feel free to comment below as always.

CES 2012: Samsung Galaxy Note Smartphone

One of the more intriguing products to come out of the CES was one that has already been released overseas  but hasn’t yet seen the light of day in either the US or Australia. This was the new Samsung phone, the Galaxy Note, a Smartphone that straddles the space between phone and tablet – and does it very well.

For creative types and business people on the go, the Galaxy Note could be the answer to Multiple Device Syndrome.

Sales in the regions where it’s been released has now reached over 1 million units, so it certainly has found success so far in Europe, India and parts of Asia. With the Note expecting to be released early this year in the States and Australia, it was worth visiting the Samsung stands to have a look.

Samsung’s stand was massive at the CES, and a large portion of it was devoted to the Galaxy Note – there must have been over two dozen working units for people to play with. In addition to the stand, Samsung had set up a separate booth in another area of the convention centre where freehand artists were using Galaxy Notes to sketch up caricatures of attendees. I would have loved to have done that just for this article, but the line was unbelievably long.

So what makes this new Samsung phone so different that it has captivated such an audience? To start with, there is no tablet or Smartphone quite like it. From the screen to the stylus, it has managed to position itself away from any direct competition and sell itself on unique propositions.

Depending on how you look at it/use it, it’s either the largest mobile phone in the world, or the world’s smallest tablet. The screen size, at 5.3 inches, actually negates the need for a secondary device when you’re out and about. This is because the actual quality of the display is enhanced by the very first HD Super AMOLED screen on the market.

We had a play with the Galaxy Note at the Samsung stand at the CES and the two things that stood out for me were the physical dimensions of the Note as well as the emphasis on the stylus. The stylus is key to Samsung’s marketing of the Note, and they are building a whole sswap of apps designed specifically to take advantage of the Stylus, which actually hides away in the Note when not in use.

The stylus reintroduces a way of using a phone/tablet that hasn’t been seen since Palm Pilots were all the rage. However, the screen resolutions and applications that are available these days make the Note a compelling product for those you might call “creatively mobile”. That is, those that like to doodle away and design or edit and enjoy these activities even while on the go.

The stylus can be used for many different things, from freehand drawing, word recognition, editing and cropping, and a whole bunch more depending on the app. I can envisage powerful business reasons to use this new Samsung phone with this tool as well – I’d love to be able to highlight images or phrases on a document and visually communicate this to my contacts instead of typing/describing what I need.

Advertising briefs, presentation drafts and proposals can all be shared with better visual understanding of what needs to be achieved. Fit out a marketing team with these and they’ll never look back. So to me, the business potential for the Note is enormous once people understand how to take advantage of the tools, and the apps that are being rolled out.

The only uncertainty factor in my mind is the first thing that struck me when I first laid eyes on one:  would I really carry such a large device around as my main phone all the time? Compared to an iPhone, it’s gigantic, and next to a Galaxy S II it still appears oversized. I can see the benefits of the screen size – for reading documents, browsing the web, even for entertainment such as gaming and video watching, it combines all the features of a Smartphone and a tablet. But would I handle such a large device in my pocket all day, everyday?

That question will have to be left until we get a sample back here in Australia to test and report back. Until then, here are two short videos on the Galaxy Note from the Samsung stand at CES.

This one shows some of the functionality of the Note, particularly using the Stylus:

 

This video shows the video playback of the Galaxy Note:

 

We look forward to a more in depth review when a Note becomes available to us. In the meantime, tell us what you think… would you hand in your small smartphone and large tablet for a mid-sized smartphone that has tablet functionality and other enhanced features?

Google TV: The Future of Television?

Can Google TV recover from its initial poor performance in the TV entertainment category?

For those who have been watching Google’s activities in the last couple of years, Google TV has stuck out like a sore thumb as one initiative that has not become a runaway success like many other of their businesses. But is 2012 the year that Google TV finally comes of age and becomes part of how we choose and view our content in the living room?

Google TV launched with Sony back in 2010, offering a Blu-ray device with the firmware and connectivity built-in as well as a television with Google TV, along with a set-top box from Logitech.

Google’s initial entrance into the market was beset by software and product fault issues, with many users unsatisfied by the clunkiness of the interface and lack of real integration into the existing home entertainment environment.

After parting with Logitech, their initial set-top box partner, Google is now focusing a a much more sensible route – the television itself, and expanding its partner base to other brands such as LG.

This makes complete sense to someone looking at this from this outside in. With the advent of Smart TVs, you don’t need or desire additional components invading your already-full TV cabinet – the internet is now available straight from the TV, and integrated Wi-Fi is steadily becoming the standard to make Smart TVs always-connected.

Google TV is the progression of Smart TV rather than the progression of its initial add-on offering, and if Google had launched with this concept instead, it would probably be hailed as a breakthrough in large screen connectivity. Instead, the proposition was left to companies like LG to spruik it along with Google TV employees at the CES, one of which we managed to spend some time with at the stand.

I remember the uproar from publishers when Google started digitising books of its own accord, offending copyright owners and estates. This is one area that Google has not been good at managing: digital rights. So when Google TV launched back in 2010, it was crippled by a lack of licensed content because of worried content providers and had to rely on a select few partners to make up its content library.

Many things have changed now – more than ever, companies are recognising that digital content is the way viewers will consume their media, and there is actually much more competition to cut through to attract viewers, whether paid or not. The rise of companies like Netflix demonstrates that online business models are not only successful, but in some cases the only way forward.

Another factor is the rise of social media. Being able to recommend, rate and interact with friends over platforms was not possible or maybe even desired two years ago. How things have changed. Now we are “liking”, “plus-ing”, and rating everything we consume. Not only that, we are telling all our friends what we like, plus and rate, and this gives Google a huge opportunity to mine these recommendations and come up with profiles for each viewer.

The third is the hardware. TV manufacturers have now matured and learned from their experiences in Smart TVs that the online experience has to be on par with that of mobile and PC devices, whether it’s streaming, browsing or playing.

So maybe it was a case of the rest of the world catching up with Google on their vision of what the TV experience should be like. But there was one ingredient that was still missing – a robust platform that could be upgraded and used intuitively by anyone in the household. Google’s own Android platform now forms the base for the software that runs the Google TV interface, and with it comes a few core benefits that were not available back when the original service launched.

For example, access to the Android Market is huge plus. With a Google account you can download apps and use them on the TV, and Google has ensured that only apps that are of high enough quality to be used on a big screen are filtered through. Another strong feature is the development of apps specific to Google TV, so that content can be accessed via an app rather than simply searching online.

However, at the end of the day, Google TV is still all about search, and how you find your content is the core proposition of Google TV. To that end, Google have licensed broadcaster TV schedules all over the US to ensure that no matter where you live, the information will be localised to you. Whether you search by genre, by cable channel, pay per view or a YouTube channel, Google TV will help get you to what you want to watch. The idea of being able to search and select no matter what the source, be it online, free-to-air or via your cable provider is a compelling offer.

With learning capabilities, the idea of channel surfing becomes redundant and instead profiled and socially pushed content will be on your front screen from now on. The keyboard control may be a little anachronistic to some, but until there is an easier way to enter search terms, QWERTY will be your friend.

With Microsoft and Xbox making their move into the home entertainment territory, and with it their voice controlled Kinect system, and the mythical Apple Television that may make its debut late this year, it’s important for Google to get a foothold now in this extremely competitive market.

Unlike Apple, Google don’t own content per se, but facilitate the delivery of the media to your lounge room. Therefore, the interface and overall experience needs to be intuitive and as universal as possible in order to entice users to upgrade their TVs, or choose a Google TV when it’s time to purchase a new one.

We caught up with Paul Saxman, who works with developers at Google, focusing on Google TV. He took us through a few interesting features of the Google TV platform and showed us how far the integration of Google TV into content from multiple sources has come.

First, here Paul takes us through the importance of the Android Market and the Chrome browser for Google TV:

 

And here, Paul takes us through content searching and selection.

 

What do you think? Is Google’s TV offer strong enough to bring forward the purchase of a new TV with Google TV built-in, or to sway you towards one when you start looking for a new television? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

(thanks to @Level380 for the feedback on the original version of the article)

CES 2012: Intel Smartphone Reference Design Demonstration

At the Intel Keynote at the CES, CEO Paul Otenelli made quite a few major announcements, some of which will start to bear fruit later in the year. Of the big pieces of news to come out of that event was Intel’s foray into the Smartphone category – providing chipsets for manufacturers as an alternative to existing suppliers.

We were impressed with the performance capabilities of the reference design - if this manifests in a vendor-based smartphone, Intel has a rosy future in the smartphone market.

Intel are not dipping their toes in the water either – they are launching with Lenovo in the Chinese market. This does make a lot of sense – because manufacturing will most likely be based in China, speed to market and scalability will be competitive advantages from day one.

As a chipset manufacturer, Intel could simply provide the processor feature set and engineering samples and leave it to the builders to start from scratch. However, Intel actually develop full working samples of devices to inspire and create a performance baseline that brands can use as a template.

At the Keynote, there were actually a few Reference design models – one for Smartphone, for tablet, and for Ultrabook. The Ultrabook reference design was interesting in its capability to shift into a touchscreen tablet.

Outside of the keynote, the only reference design model that was publicly demonstrated was the smartphone, and it was an impressive display. If this is truly how smartphones built with Intel architecture will be perform, then Intel can’t ignored as a viable alternative for manufacturers looking to improve the experience of their products for customers.

With 4G network infrastructure being built, high definition content becoming the norm, and smartphones increasingly taking share in the mobile phone market, Intel look to be in a good position over the next year.

Check out these live demos of the Intel Reference Design on the Intel stand at CES.

The first one is a spec introduction and web browsing demonstration:

 

The second one shows a gaming example:

 

This last one demonstrates high definition video playback:

 

Would you consider a smartphone if it has an Intel sticker on it?

 

CES 2012: Asus Transformer Prime TF700 Series

The second iteration of the Transformer has barely been released to market, and Asus have the latest version to show us, named the TF700 series.

Better resolution screen, front and back webcams and designed back cover... the new Transformer Prime TF700 series.

It’s important to note that the TF700 is still a fair few months away from market, and it’s really only the form factor that has been locked down with any certainty. Asus could not confirm the processor or other performance specs and there could be some intriguing reasons this is staying on the low down for the time being.

My guess? Given Microsoft’s announcement at their final CES keynote a few days ago, Asus may be testing the Windows 8 platform on the ARM architecture, which has previously not been compatible with the upcoming OS, and there may indeed be multiple configurations of this series, as the “series” name does hint at.

So what are the differences between the just-released Prime and the TF700 series? To start with, an improved screen resolution, 1920 x 1080, for a full high definition experience with a very high pixel density, which should theoretically ramp up the visual quality even further.

The webcams are also being upgraded to 8MP for the back camera and 2MP for the front. The front one will be particularly appreciated for webchats. There’s not much more we know about this new TF700 series.

The Transformer Prime captured the imagination of the tablet market, and there is still passionate discussion over on our Question and Answer page, particularly now that the Ice Cream Sandwich update has been deployed in some regions.

We are still keen to help our readers with some of the issues you’ve experienced on the Prime, so keep that chat going and we’ll be getting our hands on a Prime on our return to Australia so we can test and provide.

In the meantime, here’s a taste of what’s to come in the coming months for Asus:

 

What are your thoughts on the new Prime?

CES 2012: Nest Makes Home Climate Control Cool.

Who would have thought that a thermostat could be sexy? Then again, companies like Dyson and Apple have shown just how seemingly innocuous or technical products can become something akin to a piece of art.

Nest Thermostat Retail Box and Product

Who would have thought a thermostat could look sexy?

Nest takes the idea of a thermostat and drags it kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Based on a design by Tony Fadell, who contributed to the design of many iterations of the iPod and iPhone, the Nest doesn’t just control the temperature of your house – it also learns the behaviour of occupants and helps save money through this information it gathers, as well as giving users the option to select a slightly different room temperature that will result in energy, and therefore money, savings.

The philosophy of simplicity is evident in the design and functionality of the Nest. There is a dial to move clockwise/anti-clockwise, mainly to select temperature, and the centre button to access other functions.

The sensor looks for movement in the house and works out when there is no one home, and adjusts the temperature accordingly. It also suggests temperature selections that light up with a leaf to indicate that these are temperatures that will be more efficient for the house with minimum power wastage.

The Nest is also Wi-Fi enabled, allowing control via an app on mobile devices, or even through the internet, giving control to users no matter where they are.

Inside the Nest Thermostat

A bit of a handyman then you can connect this baby yourself fairly easily.

So far, the Nest has been released in the States and although they don’t release sales figures, they have sold out and currently have a two month waiting list.

Just like Dyson, who reinvented floor care, Nest has taken a rather pedestrian domestic function and converted it into a sleek device that not only controls your home’s environment, it also learns your household’s behaviour and is easily controlled through devices you might already own or via the internet on a browser.

Nest Thermostat at the CES 2012

This thermostat would look great in anyone's home.

If this product does succeed, and from all indications of demand it looks like a winner, then it’s another shining example of a previously old-fashioned home device that has been revolutionised for today’s always-connected and design-conscious market.

Here is Nest’s own Kate Brinks talking to us about the Nest’s functions and business philosophy.

 

Have you ever thought about upgrading your home’s environmental control system, and would you consider it now that you’ve seen the Nest?

 

CES 2012: 3D Printing Goes Mainstream with Sculpteo

The idea of 3D printing has been slowly but surely gaining traction as machinery becomes more affordable and practical applications emerge over time. For the most part, 3D printing has been positioned in the marketplace as a quick and affordable way to produce physical drafts of designs to see how they might look or feel in the real world. And there it has remained because there haven’t been many applications to bring it into the mainstream.

Sculpteo 3D Created Cups at CES 2012

Ever wanted the profile of someone you love to be part of your coffee mug?

Scuplteo is a company founded two years ago and showed off its offering at today’s CES Unveiling. Sculpteo’s offer is to take a customer’s chosen image and integrate it into a household item that can be used or displayed, but not far removed from everyday use. The two examples we saw were a cup and a vase, both made of ceramic. The way Sculpteo have gone about their business plan is very interesting. Looking at the opportunities for household penetration of 3D printing, Sculpteo are betting that the average user doesn’t actually want to own a 3D printer, but wouldn’t mind owning the results of one if it was practical or customised. To that end, Sculpteo have released an app for iPhone and iPad, in which you choose the side profile picture of a face, and select what type of item you’d like it to be “printed” on: a vase, or a cup. On the cup, which is around $39 for a small size, the side profile is a physical part of the surface, not just a stick-on. On the vase, the profile can only been seen when the object is held at a particular angle, but the vase itself is completely unique, as its grooves are actually the side profile lines of your chosen image.

Sculpteo 3D Created Profile Vase at CES 2012

When you look at the vase from a particular angle you can see the profile of the person the vase was made from

The app takes advantage of the cloud, where the image is uploaded and the manufacturing is completed in Pyrenees, between France and Spain. Actual manufacturing takes around 30 days and can be shipped anywhere in the world. Sculpteo hope to tap into the market where customers are looking for gifts and memorable items that can be customised, making them sentimental and conversation pieces for a long time to come.

From a business perspective, Sculpteo are offering integration into other businesses to offer their own customer base, and share a split of the profit with them. Sculpteo see this as another way to expand the potential of the service and promote it through many affiliates around the world.

We spoke to Clement Moreau, the CEO and co-founder of Scuplteo, who took us through the app functions and talked about the manufacturing process, the possible business partnerships and showed us how the app worked. This is another step forward for 3D printing.

Although still very much a niche offering, it nevertheless exposes it to people who otherwise would not be considering such a gift or memento. 3D printing has always been about the ability to recreate something quickly and relatively inexpensively. Now households around the world are able to have a product 3D printed that they can display or drink out of.

As 3D printing becomes more flexible in the shapes and objects it can produce, this will open up 3D printing to even more potential. We’re still at the first stages of this technology, and it will be interesting to see where it will end up. Here’s the video of our brief interview with Clement:

Have you ever worked with a 3D printer before, and would you consider a customised mug or vase as a gift?