terça-feira, 18 de setembro de 2012

Motorola RAZR i Announced: Packs 2GHz Intel Medfield

Motorola has recently announced its first Intel Atom-based smartphone, the RAZR i (XT890). Usually,  Intel Atom smartphones look almost identical to Intel's development platform, for instance, the Lava XOLO 900. Intel has done a very unusual thing there: they made their own reference smartphone, as a development platform, and most OEMs made little or no changes to the design of the development platform. Motorola has done differently, by making the device with a similar design to other RAZR devices. Thus far, Atom SoCs found in smartphones operated at frequencies of 1.6GHz, but Intel has now enabled Atom to go all the way up to 2.0GHz, and the RAZR i is the first device operating at this clock speed.

Motorola RAZR i
Connectivity Wi-Fi + 3G
Body 8.3mm thick, 126g, splash resistant
Display Super AMOLED Advanced 4.3" 540 x 960 (256 pixels per inch) w/Corning Gorilla Glass
Storage 8 GB (5 GB user available) w/microSD slot, up to 32 GB
RAM 1GB, dual-channel LPDDR2
Camera (Rear) 8MP w/LED flash, autofocus, face detection, image stabilization, HDR, and 1080p@30fps video
Camera (Front) VGA
OS Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich (4.1 Jelly Bean upgrade coming soon)
Chipset Intel Atom Z2460 (Single-core Medfield @ 2.0GHz (Intel Hyper-threading enabled) + PowerVR SGX540 @ 400MHz, 6.4 GFLOPS)


The RAZR i seems like it has a mildly impressive display, with its Super AMOLED Advanced display, it should provide great, vibrant color reproduction, however, the pixel density of 256 pixels per inch falls a bit behind today's high-end standards, but should be very crisp nevertheless.


This must be the most interesting feature of this smartphone. The RAZR i is one of a select few devices shipping with Intel's Atom SoC. At a first glance, the Atom SoC might look very unimpressive, having a single-core Medfield processor and a dated PowerVR SGX540 GPU, however, it doesn't go quite that way. The Medfield processor architecture is a very unusual one for a SoC, primarily because it is based upon x86 architecture, like every processor found inside PCs and laptops. But wait, isn't Android only compatible with processors based on ARM architecture? Well, yes, but the Medfield processor has a binary translator, that converts instructions pertaining to the ARM instruction set into x86 instructions, and vice-versa. That alone makes Medfield a very unorthodox processor. Secondly, a single-core processor in a dual-core, quad-core era? Wouldn't that give unsatisfactory performance, despite the clock speed advantage Medfield has over the dual-core and quad-core competition? Usually, that would be true, but it's not. Firstly, the Medfield architecture supports Intel's ingenious hyper-threading technology, a feature which allows for two separate threads to be executed on a single core, thus making Medfield somewhat like a dual-core processor. Hyper-threading is the technology present in the Intel Core processors, and is what makes them the best. Remember also that higher core count doesn't always mean better performance, but rather, a mixture of core count, clock speed, and instructions executed per core and per clock. So Medfield has a single-core (but equivalent to a dual-core, because of hyper-threading), which is a rather low core count, at a good clock speed, but what makes the Medfield shine is the number of instructions executed per clock, which is very good in Medfield compared to current ARM processors. At 1.6GHz, the Atom SoC was seen giving CPU performance to rival dual-core and even some quad-core competitors, but now at 2.0GHz it should edge ahead of most of the competition, with exception perhaps of Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Pro, which uses a Quad-core Krait @ 1.5GHz. Obviously, single-threaded performance is just sweet in Medfield, thanks to the single, yet efficient core. Battery life should also be good on the RAZR i, despite of the good  CPU performance, because only one core is having to be powered there, albeit at a high clock speed. Battery life and thermals should also be very good because the Atom SoC is built upon 32nm process, better than Tegra 3's dated 40nm process, however slightly worse than the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4's 28nm process.

The GPU was also an interesting choice of Intel's, and not a very smart one. The Atom SoC features a PowerVR SGX540 GPU. Yes, this is the SGX540 that was abandoned in favor of newer GPUs after last-gen Android devices, however, it is overclocked @ 400MHz, which should bring the SGX540 back from the dead for a while. The 400MHz clock speed results in a 6.4 GFLOPS performance, which is faster than the last-gen Tegra 2, yet much slower than today's Tegra, Adreno and Mali GPUs. At the same clock speed, a current Tegra GPU could give 9.6 GFLOPS, and a Mali-400MP4 GPU should give 14.4 GFLOPS. So, as you can see, the Atom's GPU is really below average, even with the RAZR i's lower resolution hence, the RAZR i isn't the right phone for a mobile gamer. However, the Atom SoC does have one advantage in the gaming area, and that is, in fill rate, thanks to the good memory bandwidth. Atom's dual-channel LPDDR2 memory controller @ 400MHz manages to beat Tegra 3 in fill rate, as well as every device with an Adreno 225 GPU, and most Mali-400 containing SoCs, therefore we won't see any bottlenecks because of poor memory bandwidth. The framerate bottleneck in Atom will definitely be due to the weak GPU. 


Basically, the only thing that distinguishes (albeit not necessarily in a positive sense) the Motorola RAZR i is the Intel Atom SoC, especially being clocked at 2.0GHz. Other than that, all that I can say about it is that is has a pretty good display and an excellent camera. Other than that, the RAZR i is just another phone in the Android pack. I'd say that 5 GB of user available storage is far too little for today's standards, but of course the microSD expansion saves the RAZR i in that sense. The RAZR i is a pretty fast phone, although it is not very good for gamers that like complex 3D games. It must be the best Atom phone created so far. The RAZR i is scheduled for a October release in certain European and Latin American countries, such as the UK, France, Germany, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil.

quarta-feira, 12 de setembro de 2012

Sony Xperia Tablet S Review

Sony is not a very big player in the Android tablet market, although the only other tablet it has ever released, the Tablet S, has been quite successful. Sony's new Xperia Tablet S, however, might bring Sony's reputation in the tablet space neck to neck with maybe even today's tablet king, ASUS. With a state-of-art NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor, slim and light form factor, splash-resistant body, and with an integrated IR emitter for use of the Xperia Tablet as a TV remote control, this tablet packs a punch. It will be shipping with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but common sense tells me that a 4.1 Jelly Bean update must be in the works.

Sony Xperia Tablet S ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity Apple iPad 3
Connectivity Wi-Fi Wi-Fi + 3G/4G LTE Wi-Fi + 3G/4G LTE
Body 570g, 8.9mm - 11.9mm thickness 598g, 8.5mm thickness 652g, 9.4mm thickness
Display 9.4" TFT LCD 1280 x 800 10.1" Super IPS+ Full HD (1920x1200) w/Corning Gorilla Glass 2 9.7" IPS TFT Retina Display (2048x1536)
Storage 16/32/64 GB + SD card slot (up to 32GB) 32/64 GB + MicroSD card slot (up to 32GB) 16/32/64 GB
RAM 1GB, single-channel DDR3-1600 1GB, single-channel DDR3L-1333 for Wi-Fi only. 1GB, dual-channel LPDDR2-500 for 3G/4G version 1GB, quad-channel LPDDR2-1066
Camera (rear) 8MP w/touch focus, image stabilization and face/smile detection, 1080p @ 30fps video 8MP w/LED flash, autofocus, 1080p video 5MP w/autofocus, face detection, 1080p @ 30fps video and video stabilization
Camera (front) 1MP, 720p video 2MP VGA, 480p @ 30fps video
OS Android 4.0 ICS Android 4.0 ICS (4.1 JB update coming soon) iOS 5.1
Chipset NVIDIA Tegra 3 T30L (Quad Cortex-A9 @ 1.3GHz + 12-core GeForce @ 419MHz) Wi-Fi version: NVIDIA Tegra 3 T33 (Quad Cortex-A9 @ 1.6GHz + 12-core GeForce @ 520MHz) 3G/4G version: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 (Dual-core Krait @ 1.5GHz + Adreno 225) Apple A5X (Dual-core Cortex-A9 @ 1.0GHz + PowerVR SGX543MP4 (quad-core GPU) @ 250MHz)
Price $399 - $599 $499 - $599 $499 - $829


One of the ways in which the Xperia Tablet distinguishes itself is in its unusual shape. The body is thinner at the bottom of the device and is thicker at the top, making the back casing slightly tilted in relation to the screen. This provides a good position of the tablet when it is placed in a flat surface, enabling ergonomic typing. The Xperia Tablet is also very light, just slightly lighter than the ASUS Transformer Prime. Another nifty feature of the Xperia Tablet is that is has an integrated IR emitter, and can therefore be used as a Universal Remote Control. Personally, I think that the Xperia Tablet's design is very good. I quite like the squared corners and wide bezel. The cameras in the Xperia Tablet are very good indeed, and quite unusually, both the rear and front cameras are good, but unfortunately there's no LED flash coupled with the rear camera.

Display's pixel density is not bad, at 160 pixels per inch, but it's definitely not enough to compete with Full HD tablets, which at 10.1" screen size offer 224 pixels per inch. Sadly, this tablet only comes in a Wi-Fi only version. Also, I think that the display quality will be rather bad, following Sony's unusual choice of using a TFT display instead of an IPS screen. In relation to IPS, TFT screens tend to have rather poor color reproduction and bad viewing angles. Apparently the Xperia Tablet also has no scratch-resistant glass, making it less durable. Also, despite its processor being the king of the hill, the Tegra 3, it is unfortunately the weakest version of Tegra 3 available. The Tegra 3 T30L in the Xperia Tablet has a slightly weaker GPU, however, the memory controller is actually not bad.


I'd say that I was rather disappointed with the Xperia Tablet S, considering how good Sony usually is with its devices. It is basically a mid-end tablet with the price of a mid-to-high end tablet. It is in many ways worse than the ASUS Transformer Pad 300, yet more expensive. It doesn't have many good features, has only fair performance, which leaves design as the only win this tablet has. Sony should've used a better screen, because that's the worst feature of this tablet, and Sony should've also included a 3G or even a 4G variant of the tablet. I believe that the Xperia Tablet won't sell much mainly because other tablets offer more for a lower price. .

segunda-feira, 10 de setembro de 2012

ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity Review

The ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity (TF700) is ASUS' sixth tablet, counting the Eee Slider and the Nexus 7. After making so many tablets', ASUS has gained much experience in how to make a quality tablet, and this experience reflects especially on the TF700. It is just about the best tablet you'd possibly find (at least, of all Android tablets). It has a mind blowing design and ergonomics, it packs a punch in terms of hardware, but the best feature of all is that the TF700 is the world's first Android tablet with a Full HD screen, offering razor-sharp text, vivid colors, and crisp images and videos. With a very good entry level price ($499 for the Wi-Fi only version with 32GB of storage), this tablet should prove to be quite a best-seller, but it still remains to be seen whether it's sales will be comparable against today's best-selling tablet, the Apple iPad.

First, let's compare the specs of the Infinity with other tablets:
ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity New iPad Acer Iconia Tab A700 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 ASUS Transformer Pad 300
Connectivity Wi-Fi + 3G/4G LTE Wi-Fi + 3G/4G LTE Wi-Fi + 3G Wi-Fi + 3G Wi-Fi
Body 598g, 8.5mm thickness 652g, 9.4mm thickness 667g, 10.9mm thickness 600g, 8.9mm thickness 635g, 9.9mm thickness
Display 10.1" Super IPS+ Full HD (1920x1200) w/Corning Gorilla Glass 2 9.7" IPS TFT Retina Display (2048x1536) 10.1" Full HD (1920x1200) LCD 10.1" PLS TFT 1280x800 10.1" IPS 1280x800
RAM 1GB, single-channel (32-bit wide) DDR3-1600 for Wi-Fi only version. 1GB, dual channel (64-bit wide) LPDDR2 @ 500MHz for 3G/4G version 1GB, quad-channel (128-bit wide) LPDDR2-1066 1GB, single-channel (32-bit wide) LPDDR2-1066 2GB, dual-channel (64-bit wide) LPDDR2 1GB, single-channel (32-bit wide) DDR3L-1333
Storage 32/64 GB 16/32/64 GB 16/32/64 GB 16/32/64 GB 16/32 GB
Camera (Rear) 8MP w/autofocus, LED flash, 1080p video 5MP w/autofocus, face detection, 1080p video @ 30fps, w/video stabilization 5MP w/autofocus, LED flash, 720p video 5MP w/autofocus, LED flash, 720p video @ 30fps 8MP w/autofocus, 1080p video
Camera (front) 2MP VGA, 480p video @ 30fps Yes, Unknown specs 1.9MP 1.2MP
OS Android 4.0 ICS (4.1 update coming soon) iOS 5.1 Android 4.0 ICS Android 4.0 ICS Android 4.1 JB
Chipset NVIDIA Tegra 3 T33 (Quad Cortex-A9 @ 1.6GHz + 12-core GeForce @ 520MHz) for Wi-Fi only version. Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 (Dual-core Krait @ 1.5GHz + Adreno 225) for 3G/4G version Apple A5X (Dual Cortex-A9 @ 1GHz + PowerVR SGX543MP4 (quad-core) @ 250MHz) NVIDIA Tegra 3 T30 (Quad Cortex-A9 @ 1.3GHz + 12-core GeForce @ 520MHz) Samsung Exynos 4412 Quad (Quad Cortex-A9 @ 1.4GHz + overclocked Mali-400MP4) NVIDIA Tegra 3 T30L (Quad Cortex-A9 @ 1.2GHz + 12-core GeForce @ 419MHz)


The Infinity retains many of the design features found in its little brother, the Transformer Prime. The 10.1" display is surrounded by a relatively wide bezel, with a bright, small ASUS logo sitting on the top left of the bezel, just above the screen. On the back, you will find an extraordinarily good-looking metallic spun design, with a metallic ASUS logo at the center. The tablet is available in both Champagne Gold and in Amethyst Gray colors. The difference the Infinity has from the Prime's all-aluminum casing is that it adds a plastic RF strip running along the top side of the back casing, together with the camera and LED flash, at the center. The RF strip is for improvement of Wi-Fi/GPS signal reception, which proved to be quite poor on the all-aluminum Prime. The RF strip will also be fundamental for good 3G/4G reception. The Infinity, not unlike the Transformer Pad 300, has a less tapered design than the Prime, meaning that the edges are less sharp. All this in an unprecedentedly thin 8.5mm thickness makes the Infinity the best-looking tablet you could hope to get your hands on. 


This is, after all, the main innovation coming with the Infinity. ASUS has proved that it can create the best display in most categories. It excels in brightness and is suited for outdoor reading, thanks to its Super IPS+ technology, which boosts the screen brightness to unprecedented levels. It offers 178° wide viewing angles thanks to the IPS display. It has some very good color reproduction, although not as vivid as the display in the iPad or the Galaxy Tab 10.1. It has great scratch-resistance, because it is the first tablet to use Corning Gorilla Glass 2. But the big deal of the TF700's screen is it's Full HD display. A 1920x1200 resolution in a 10.1" display results in an amazing 224 pixel density, making text look razor-sharp, images look vivid, and games more realistic. It's resolution is just a bit indistinguishably lower than the New iPad's 264 pixel density. The TF700 clearly has the best display in any Android tablet, for now.


I'll have to evaluate the Infinity twice here, once for the Wi-Fi only version, which is powered by a Tegra 3 processor, and another time for the Snapdragon S4-powered 3G/4G version. Let's begin with the Tegra 3. The TF700 is the first device to include Tegra 3 T33. The T33 is powered by a Quad-core Cortex-A9 CPU running at up to 1.6GHz, with 1MB of L2 cache. So far, it is the CPU that offers by far the best performance, but that doesn't mean that power efficiency suffers much. NVIDIA has designed the Tegra 3 so it could use only enough cores to satisfy the current processing needs of the deivce. Also, NVIDIA's patented 4-PLUS-1 technology includes a fifth companion core, which is designed to operate at a very low frequency, at up to 500MHz. When the device doesn't need performance from the Cortex-A9 cores, for example, when it is idling, or when it is locked, it will power gate the four cores and all processing will be done by the companion core, thus extending battery life dramatically. The Tegra 3 is equipped with a 12-core GeForce GPU, which, ironically enough, isn't the SoC's strong feature, given that NVIDIA is a GPU company. The GPU is based on an eight-year-old core architecture, and has horrible per-core efficiency, but offers very good performance nevertheless, but unfortunately it's performance in games is even further reduced by the poor memory bandwidth, which, for a Full HD display, is almost below average. On top of that, Tegra 3 is known for having problems with heat management. After periods of time doing intensive processing, for example, when rendering games, the SoC can get pretty hot.

The 3G/4G variant of the TF700 is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 Plus SoC. Qualcomm balanced performance with heat management/battery life with the S4, while NVIDIA chose to sacrifice a bit of the latter in favor of the former. The Snapdragon S4's main advantage over Tegra 3 is that it is built upon 28nm process, which offers much better heat management and battery life than T3's outdated 40nm process.  The Snapdragon S4 is also powered by the Krait processor, which is a Cortex-A15 class architecture, that is faster and more efficient than the older Cortex-A9 in the Tegra 3, but don't forget that the MSM8960 has only two of these Krait cores, and running at 100MHz slower than T33. The result is that the S4 offers a bit less performance than Tegra 3, although they are comparable, but with better power consumption and heat management. The Snapdragon S4 Plus has an Adreno 225 GPU, which offers very similar performance to Tegra 3. The Adreno 225 is built on a much more advanced architecture than Tegra 3's eight-year-old architecture, but it is still beat by Tegra 3's GPU in most benchmarks, but by a small margin. Another concerning issue of the Adreno 225 is its memory bandwidth, because even Tegra 3's already poor memory bandwidth doubles the S4's bandwidth. This should prove to be quite concerning for gaming on the TF700, especially for games that are optimized to run at the tablet's native resolution.

Both of these chipsets do quite beautifully on the CPU side, and do ok on the GPU side, but they have some serious problems with memory bandwidth. Even at HD resolutions, the fill rate figures for these SoCs were already quite concerning, now at Full HD this should be even more of a problem. Perhaps it is good that virtually no games are designed to take advantage of the TF700's FHD screen, because if there were such games, undoubtedly the poor memory bandwidth would severely bottleneck performance on these SoCs. They're both no match to the GPU inside the Apple A5X, the PowerVR SGX543MP4, which isn't good at all, considering that now Android tablets are catching up with the New iPad thanks to FHD tablet displays, not to mention that, despite only having a few pixels more than the TF700, the New iPad still has roughly 4 times the fill rate of Tegra T33, and about 8 times the fill rate of the S4 MSM8960. 


This is the question that keeps coming up all the time: Android or iOS? This should be the base for one's choice of whether they should buy an iPad or an Android tablet. Even though the TF700 still has Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich, I'll evaluate Android 4.1 Jelly Bean instead because the TF700 will be upgraded to 4.1 very soon. iOS is a simple OS, which doesn't allow for much customization, but is easy to use, is flawlessly fast, pretty stable, and offers the widest variety of apps, and enables fast multitasking with multi-touch gestures. Android is the exact opposite of that. Developed by Google, it is more complex, and has many customization options, like 3D animated wallpapers, widgets, such as having weather, email, and time live right on the home screen, however, it offers no multi-touch gestures, has a considerably smaller number of apps, and it is also pretty unstable. Android used to be a very slow and laggy OS, but Android 4.1's Project Butter has ensured that the mast majority of performance faults were fixed, bringing the fluid experience that until now only iOS offered. So it's really about whether you prefer easy and simple, without customization, or complex, and with lots of customization. 


ASUS has a knack for making good quality products. The Transformer Pad Infinity is proof of that. It is constructed very well in every sense, from body design to UI refinements. The Infinity is a device for all types of uses: taking pictures, watching videos, playing games, reading e-books, but the Infinity, together with the whole Transformer series, has proved itself to be especially adapt to working, thanks to ASUS' innovative keyboard dock, which enabled fast, easy typing. The keyboard dock's purpose is to enable the tablet to be quickly 'transformed' into a small netbook, hence the name 'Transformer'. With this keyboard dock, ASUS invented a new category of mobile devices, in which all of the Transformer tablets are included. But that's not all that the keyboard dock offers, it also provides one USB 2.0 port and an SD Card slot, for easy connection of peripherals and storage devices, and the keyboard dock also extends the tablet's battery life to an unprecedented 16 hours. The only possible complaint I could think of for this tablet is that it's GPU and memory controller aren't strong enough for the TF700's FHD screen. It is a great product, and I would recommend it for anyone looking for an Android tablet. I'd especially recommend it to people who intend to use a tablet for work, once again, because of the keyboard dock. Kudos to ASUS for making such a premium tablet!

sábado, 8 de setembro de 2012

Tegra 3+ review: Not good enough

NVIDIA Tegra 3 is finally starting to show its age, with competitors catching up with them as much on the CPU side as on the GPU side of things, most notably, with Qualcomm's Quad-core Krait in the Snapdragon S4 Pro, and the Exynos 4412. Tegra now doesn't look as good as it did in early 2012. And since the next-gen Tegra 'Wayne' is scheduled for release in Q1 2013, NVIDIA needed to refresh its Tegra lineup before Wayne comes up. That is the purpose of Tegra 3+, or T37. T37 supposedly has a CPU that can run at up to 1.7GHz and a faster GPU. The thing is, the architecture of the CPU/GPU remains unchanged. The CPU should be good enough too keep ahead of the competition, but the GPU still has many issues. It still uses an Immediate Mode Renderer with Early-z rejection, which is not a very good renderer for a mobile platform, and still uses the eight-year-old core architecture, as opposed to the unified architecture that all other mobile GPU vendors, most recently ARM's Mali GPUs, have adopted.

In my opinion, Tegra 3+ didn't even get a very significant bump. It would be much better if NVIDIA had forgotten about T37 and concentrated on getting Tegra Wayne ready faster. The first device shipping with T37 will be the HTC One X+, which is a refresh of HTC's successful One series. The One X+ will have a 5"  1280 x 720 display (294 pixel density) and Corning Gorilla Glass 2, and will ship with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The only benchmark we have of it so far is NenaMark2:

Tegra 3+'s graphics performance there is...ok at most.

Of course, most of the game-changing upgrades to Tegra will be made in the next-gen Wayne. Rumors are that it'll be built on 28nm process, and will thus eliminate the heat problems found in Tegra 3, and it will have four Cortex-A15 cores @ up to 2GHz, plus a battery saver core, which will put it's performance ahead of the upcoming Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro's Quad-core Krait. The GPU core is also getting quite a bit of an upgrade: Rumors are the graphics core of Wayne will be based upon NVIDIA's Kepler GPU architecture, which offers the best performance with the least power consumption, which is perfect for mobile devices, which have to keep substantially long battery lives. Rumors are that there'll be 24 CUDA (GPGPU) enabled cores, which will support DirectX 11.1, OpenGL 4.x, and PhysX, and it'll probably support OpenGL ES 3.0. The jump from eight-year-old architecture cores to CUDA-enabled cores will be a huge jump. According to NVIDIA's roadmap for Tegra, Wayne should be 10x faster than Tegra 2, and 3x faster than Tegra 3. Given that Tegra 2 has the raw processing power of 4.8 GFLOPS, Wayne should have, theoretically speaking, 48 GFLOPS of performance, which will put it far ahead of the Adreno 320 and Apple's most powerful A5X's PowerVR SGX543MP4. The SGX543MP4 can do 32 GFLOPS, therefore, Wayne will be expected to give 25% more performance than the Apple A5X. If these rumors are all true, then this means that NVIDIA has finally began to take Tegra GPUs seriously, a good news for Google and Microsoft.