quarta-feira, 29 de janeiro de 2014

CES 2014: Samsung Announces Galaxy NotePro and TabPro tablets

In their pursuit for dominance in the tablet market in 2014, Samsung has announced, at its CES 2014 show, four new tablets under the NotePro and TabPro names. The Galaxy NotePro 12.2 takes the spotlight, while the Galaxy TabPro 12.2, 10.1 and 8.4 followed it. As the Pro designation suggests, these are high-end tablets, hence, they'll be on the expensive side. All four Galaxy Pro tablets feature 2560 x 1600 displays and are available in Wi-FI only and LTE versions, and are powered by either the Exynos 5420 processor or the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800.

Galaxy NotePro and TabPro 12.2

This is perhaps the most interesting of these four tablets. The Galaxy NotePro 12.2, basically a larger Note 10.1 (2014), explores a display size that is seldom used in tablets. Some people (me included) think that 12.2" is too large for a tablet, while others may appreciate the extra screen real estate. The NotePro 12.2 has a very high 2560 x 1600 resolution, which leads to a 247ppi pixel density, just shy of the iPad's 264ppi (but then again, 1600p is pretty much the limit for tablets for the time being). The tablet is 8mm thick and weighs 750g for the Wi-Fi version and 753g for the LTE version. It's a very heavy tablet due to its footprint, but I suppose that the weight must be well distributed. The Wi-Fi variant is powered by an Exynos 5420 processor, which consists of four ARM Cortex-A15 cores clocked at 1.9GHz and four Cortex-A7 cores clocked at 1.3GHz in a big.LITTLE configuration, plus a Mali-T628 6-core GPU, while the LTE variant uses a Snapragon 800 processor, which consists of four Krait 400 cores clocked at 2.3GHz, plus an Adreno 330 GPU. The tablet has an 8 MP rear camera with LED flash and a 2 MP front camera. It's powered by a huge 9,500 mAh battery, which should sustain the large, high-res screen and the powerful SoC for long periods of usage. Expect this tablet to be very expensive, maybe even a bit below Surface Pro 2 territory. 

The Galaxy TabPro 12.2 is identical to the NotePro 12.2, though obviously sans the S-Pen stylus. Without the S-Pen, the TabPro 12.2 is actually a bit lighter, weighing 732g. Logically, it'll be slightly cheaper than the NotePro 12.2, though still well above the average tablet price. 

Galaxy TabPro 10.1

Much like the Galaxy TabPro 12.2 is a NotePro 12.2 sans S-Pen, the Galaxy TabPro 10.1 is essentially a Note 10.1 (2014) without the stylus. It's actually thinner and lighter than the Note 10.1 (2014), probably due to the exclusion of the S-Pen, measuring 7.3mm thick and weighing 469g for the Wi-Fi only version, and the LTE version weighs 477g, making it one of the few tablets to match the iPad Air in thickness (it's actually a bit thinner) and weight (they weigh EXACTLY the same). Compared to the Note 10.1, the TabPro 10.1 sees a reduction in RAM capacity from 3GB to 2GB. The reason for that reduction? I have no clue. Apart from that, they're practically the same, with a 10.1" 2560 x 1600 display with a 299ppi pixel density, an Exynos 5420 processor for the Wi-Fi version and Snapdragon 800 silicon for the LTE model, 8 MP rear camera with flash and a 2 MP front camera and a 8,220 mAh battery. Given its similarity to the Note 10.1 (2014), I'm assuming the exclusion of the S-Pen means the TabPro 10.1 will be a bit cheaper than its Note counterpart, I'm betting on $499.

Galaxy TabPro 8.4

Finally, there's the iPad mini 2 competitor, the Galaxy TabPro 8.4. It has, as the name suggests, an 8.4" display with 2560 x 1600 resolution, which gives the tablet an industry-leading 359ppi pixel density. Unlike other TabPro and NotePro tablets, both the Wi-Fi and LTE versions of this tablet are equipped with a Snapdragon 800 processor, an unusual decision from Samsung. The TabPro 8.4 also comes with an 8 MP rear camera with flash and a 2 MP front-facing camera. Like the TabPro 10.1, this tablet comes with "only" 2 GB of RAM. It's very thin and light, measuring 7.2mm thick and weighing 331g for Wi-Fi only, and 336g for the LTE version. The power hungry components are fed by a respectable 4,800 mAh battery. Expect the Galaxy TabPro 8.4 to be priced competitively with the iPad mini 2. Some may still prefer the iPad mini, but the TabPro 8.4 is definitely the best mini tablet in the Android space. 


All of the four tablets will come with Android 4.4 KitKat running out of the box. Samsung's  new Magazine UX will also make a debut with these tablets. Expect the TabPros and the NotePro 12.2 to be released in February, while pricing is still not known for certain. But so far we've heard that the NotePro 12.2 Wi-Fi only will be sold for about $800, the TabPro 10.1 will be $499 and the TabPro 8.4 will cost $399. Though not officially confirmed, these prices seem very plausible.

Samsung has started 2014 very well in the tablet space. The NotePro and TabPro tablets offer flagship specs, with the biggest difference between them (in the case of the TabPro line) being the screen size, much like what Apple did this year with the iPad Air and iPad Mini Retina. Expensive as they are, The Galaxy Pro tablets are bound to be the greatest Android tablets this year, if not the greatest tablets in general. 

quinta-feira, 16 de janeiro de 2014

CES 2014 - Sony Xperia Z1 Compact: Flagship Specs with a Smaller Display

There have been many complaints that recent Android phones with flagship hardware almost always meant a very large screen too, and that all smaller smartphones, save for the iPhone, were mid-range phones that were severely underspecced compared to their flagship counterparts, so there isn't really an option for who wants an Android smartphone with a smaller screen, with high-end specs. Sony will attempt to fill in that gap with its Xperia Z1 Compact smartphone. Unvieled at CES 2014, the Xperia Z1 Compact features almost identical specs to the 5" Xperia Z1 flagship, but in a much smaller 4.3" package.

Xperia Z1 Compact
 Body   127 x 65 x 9.5mm, 137g 
 Display   4.3" TFT Triluminos Display 1280 x 720 (342ppi) with X-Reality engine
 Connectivity   GSM (2G), HSDPA (3G), LTE (4G)
 Storage  16 GB (microSD expandable), 2 GB RAM
 Camera (Rear)   20.7 MP with Exmor RS image sensor, LED flash, face detection, image stabilization, HDR and 1080p video with video stabilization and HDR
 Camera (Front)  2 MP with 1080p video
 OS  Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
 Processor  Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 MSM8974 (Quad-core Krait 400 @ 2.2GHz + Adreno 330 @ 450MHz)
 Battery  2,300 mAh
 - 18 hours talk time
 - 670 hours standby
 - 12 hours video playback
 Notes  - IP58 certification (Waterproof and dust-proof)

Most of the Z1 Compact's spec list is unchanged from the original Z1, save for the display size and resolution, and of cours the dimensions. This is the first Android smartphone in recent history that we can really call a small-sized flagship. 


Along with the rest of the Xperia Z1 Compact's specs, its design is very reminiscent of the larger Xperia Z1, but, you know, smaller. The Z1 Compact will be offered in various colors, including black, white, yellow and a very unusual pink.
The Z1 Compact isn't among the thinnest high-end smartphones around, actually it's 1mm thicker than the Xperia Z1. Still, considering it packs a pretty large battery and that 20.7 MP rear camera (without the camera protruding from the chassis) more than justifies the thickness, and it's not exactly thick at all.  It also weighs 137 grams, which is pretty heavy for its size, but then again, the large battery and the superb rear camera make the weight justice. 

The back of the device is made from a slightly glossy polycarbonate, just like the Xperia Z1 which doesn't look cheap at all. On the back cover there is only a centered Sony logo. On the bottom there's an Xperia logo, and on the top left corner is the 20.7 MP Exmor RS camera, and beside it is an LED flash. 

The front of the device is mostly clean, with the bottom bezel completely bare, and the top bezel accommodating the front-facing 2 MP camera and the ambient light and proximity sensors.

Overall, the Xperia Z1 Compact's design is superb. The white and black versions are very simple and understated, while the yellow and pink versions have a Lumia-esque quality to them. 


Here's the only thing about the Z1 Compact that's really different from the Xperia Z1. The display size does down from a large 5" size to a more portable 4.3" size, and the resolution goes from 1080p to 720p. That means that the pixel density goes down from 441 in the Xperia Z1 to 342 in the Z1 Compact, but you'd have a very hard time trying to notice the difference in sharpness between the two smartphones. The 4.3" screen is still larger than the latest iPhone, but it's still much easier to handle than this year's 5" flagships. The Triluminos display technology used in the display helps it reproduce bright colors, and the X-Reality engine adds an extra pop to images and videos. For it's size, it's a very good display with no compromises. 

Processor and OS

The Xperia Z1 Compact, much like the Z1 and most recent flagships, is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset, currently one of the fastest SoCs available, if not the fastest. This SoC is built on a 28nm HPM process, and consists of four Krait 400 cores clocked at up to 2.2GHz plus a monstrous Adreno 330 GPU. Considering that the Adreno 330 already performs exquisitely at 1080p, I imagine that at 720p there would be nothing in the entire Play Store that can even utilize its full power. 


The Xperia Z1 Compact is expected to come out within the next few months. I expect its price to be lower than the Xperia Z1, but given its flagship specs the price may still be pretty high, maybe slightly below the flagship range, but definitely much above mid-range prices. 

I'm very happy to see Sony produce a flagship device with a relatively compact screen, during this age of ever larger flagships, and I hope other Android OEMs follow suit. With the Xperia Z1 Compact you get a flagship-grade processor, a very impressive camera that borrows from Sony's  successful digital camera technologies, and a large 2,300 mAh battery with a smaller display that makes for a very compact flagship. If you've been looking for a flagship Android smartphone, but never quite enjoyed the size of the usual flagships and wanted something that was more similar to the iPhone in size, the Xperia Z1 Compact is the best phone for you.

segunda-feira, 6 de janeiro de 2014

CES 2014: NVIDIA Introduces Tegra K1 SoC: 64-bit Denver CPU and 192-core Kepler GPU

The Tegra line has always seemed like a second-thought product for NVIDIA due to lack of the innovation we've come to expect from NVIDIA. Well, this may be because they were busy working on something extraordinary, and it's finally here. NVIDIA's latest addition to the Tegra line, the Tegra K1, was announced today at its CES 2014 event, and it's pretty impressive. Tegra K1 brings NVIDIA's custom CPU core named Denver as well as a GPU built on the Kepler architecture, which according to NVIDIA can even outperform the Xbox 360 and the PS3 and DX11 compatibility, all the while keeping a 5W TDP. The PowerVR GPUs Apple always uses in its SoCs were always the pinnacle of mobile GPU performance, but if NVIDIA's performance claims about Tegra K1 pan out, Apple's GPUs will be utterly blown out of the water. 

Tegra K1 is, just like the Tegra 4, built on a 28nm process, which is pretty much the standard for modern SoCs, save for Intel's latest Atoms, which have already moved to 22nm. Hopefully the efficient 28nm process will keep the TDP at 5W or below, despite that beefy Kepler GPU. 

NVIDIA's latest SoC will actually come out in two variants. One will have a Quad-core Cortex-A15 CPU with a 2.3GHz clock speed and the other, which will only be available later this year, will feature a dual-core configuration of NVIDIA's own Denver CPU core. 2.3GHz is actually the highest clock speed we've ever seen a Cortex-A15 run on, so performance should be superb. The dual-core Denver-toting variant has an unknown clock speed, but what's really important is that Denver is a) NVIDIA's first custom ARM CPU and b) one of the first CPUs that use the ARMv8 architecture and therefore support 64-bit processing. I'm very excited to see how Denver performs when it comes out, and the Quad-core Cortex-A15 @ 2.3GHz will be very impressive too. Also, NVIDIA says Tegra K1 will, like its predecessors, use the 4-PLUS-1 architecture, so there's going to be a single "shadow" CPU core for handling light tasks while using very little power. Whether it's going to be used with both the Quad-core A15s and the Dual-core Denvers, I don't know, but I suspect the dual-core Denver won't need the extra shadow core. 

Perhaps the most interesting GPU we've ever seen on mobile is the Tegra K1's GPU. Considering how every previous Tegra GPU was based on a very old architecture and seldom topped benchmark charts, a jump to Kepler in one generation is quite satisfying. NVIDIA's Kepler GPU architecture was introduced last year and brought high performance and much better power efficiency to notebook and desktop GPUs, and even supercomputers, but NVIDIA has now achieved the impressive feat of bringing this architecture to the ultra-mobile space. The Tegra K1's GPU uses one full Kepler SMX, which is 192 unified shader units (or as NVIDIA calls it, cores). That's much more shading units that any mobile GPU has ever packed (for instance, Apple's A7's GPU had 128 shader units). NVIDIA claims that this GPU can even outperform both the Xbox 360 and the PS3. According to our calculations, it can, at 950MHz at least. At this clock speed, this GPU would have 365 GFLOPS of power, which is much more than the Xbox 360's 240 GFLOPS GPU and the PS3's 230 GFLOPS. I don't know whether NVIDIA's 5W TDP claim account for the GPU at 950MHz, but if it does (and it might, given how power efficient Kepler is), I pity NVIDIA's SoC competitors. For the record, to match the Xbox 360's performance, the Tegra K1's GPU would have to be clocked at 625MHz, which is actually lower than the Tegra 4's GPU clock. At the rather standard GPU clock speed for many mobile GPUs, 500MHz, the Tegra K1 can achieve 192 GFLOPS of peak theoretical performance, which is more than all of its competitors have reached. Of course, there are theoretical calculations, and we'll have to wait for a device running the Tegra K1 to be released to test whether its performance (vs its power consumption) is as good as it sounds.

The Tegra K1 GPU also touts DirectX 11 compatibility, and will probably also support OpenGL ES 3.0. NVIDIA showed us a demo of a Tegra K1 running a game simulation with the DX11-based Unreal Engine 4, and it just looked fantastic. Far ahead of anything we've ever seen on a mobile device. This is probably the first time when a mobile GPU's capability can really be called console-quality (almost every mobile GPU vendor makes that claim every year). While the GPUs on Tegras 2, 3 and 4 were a bit disappointing, Tegra K1 is exactly the innovation I was always expecting from NVIDIA in the ultra-mobile space. 

NVIDIA has, for the first time, come up with a mobile SoC that really pushes the boundaries of mobile processing. Its Denver cores will probably rival, if not outperform, the Apple A7's performance, and its 192-core Kepler GPU is downright amazing. Wrap that up with a 5W TDP, and you have just about the most impressive SoC to date. Now all NVIDIA has to do is ensure it can get OEMs to release devices using the Tegra K1, and before the competition catches up. Tegra 4's time-to-market wasn't bad, but the adoption of its last SoC wasn't very widespread, and Qualcomm's SoCs simply trumped the Tegra 4 in terms of OEM adoption. Hopefully NVIDIA will try to change that with the Tegra K1, maybe by releasing a Tegra K1 with an integrated Icera modem to attempt to find its way into LTE-enabled smartphones. For the first time NVIDIA has industry leading performance (previously Qualcomm held that title), so now it only needs to attract OEMs to use this fine silicon on their devices.