Thursday, September 01, 2016

Withings launches its first watch with heart rate monitoring


Much like it was mandatory to wear Loom Bands in 2014, if a fitness wearable can't track your heart rate then it's dead... dead, ya hear? Withings doesn't make fitness wearables so much as timepieces that just happen to track your activity, which justifies its decision to drag its feet on the heart rate sensor issue until now. That's now set to change with the Withings Steel HR, a follow-on to the Activité analog watch that gains an optical HR sensor and a new digital sub-display for smartphone notifications.

It's the digital sub-display that's probably the most striking new addition, a round circle that'll display your step count, heart rate and message notifications. The idea of cramming in a digital screen alongside an analog watch face isn't a new one, although Withings' version is significantly more elegant than Guess' version. Users can determine what's displayed on the screen via the company's iOS and Android companion app. Then, they can cycle through those options by pushing the multifunction button that sits where the crown should be.

Withings has historically been resistant to add too much technology to its timepieces to avoid compromising style and battery life. As such, the Steel HR follows the Activité and is a French-designed watch with a stainless steel case, chrome hands and silicone straps. Integrated into the face, below the main dial, is a sub-dial that, as usual, will creep toward your daily fitness goal as you move about your day. As well as being stylish, that level of restraint had another positive: a battery life that's measured in months, rather than days.

With the Steel HR, the company has managed to get 45 days of use out of its rechargeable cell, although that's a bit of a fudge. The first 25 days will offer you continuous HR for workouts, average HR for your working day and your resting HR at night. After that, the watch will go into power saving mode, giving you 20 further days with just basic step and activity tracking, but nothing more.

The Withings Steel HR will be available from the company's official website from the start of October and in stores by the end of that month. Available in both black or white, the 36mm edition will retail for $179.95/£169.95 while the 40mm version will set you back $199.95/£179.95.


Jabra's truly wireless earbuds track your heart rate during workouts


Jabra just announced a two revised sports headphone models last month, but the company is already back with more portable audio news. This time around, the in-ear headphones are truly wireless without a short cord to connect the two buds. Following on the heels of the Bragi Dash and Samsung Gear IconX, Jabra's Elite Sport is two separate wireless earbuds that offer heart rate tracking.

In addition to keeping you free of cord tangles during a workout, the in-ear headphones analyze physical activity by keeping tabs on your pulse (with 90 percent or greater accuracy) and VO2 Max levels. More specifically, you can expect details on distance, pace, route, calories, and more. Like previous Jabra models, the Elite Sport also works with the Sport Life app for coaching tips during your session. They're also IP67-rated for water resistance and Jabra tacks on an extra 3-year warranty to protect against sweat damage.

In terms of battery life, Jabra claims up to three hours of music and calls before you'll need to recharge. That can be done with a portable charge case that's included with the headphones. While Samsung noted that battery life took a major hit when fitness tracking was turned on, Jabra doesn't mention it. That's not to say battery life doesn't take a hit when the heart rate monitor is being used on the Elite Sport, Jabra just didn't clarify. For comparison, the $199 Gear IconX can be used for 3.4 hours or music or during a 1.5-hour workout if you're listening to tunes at the same time. Jabra's Elite Sport will also cost your $50 more, but if that doesn't deter you, they'll go on sale at Best Buy October 30th.

We're live all week from Berlin, Germany, for IFA 2016. Click here to catch up on all the news from the show.


Philips' new OLED TV has built-in, super colorful ambient lighting


If you've been waiting your whole life for a TV that offers a 4K resolution, an OLED panel and Philips' funky Ambilight technology, you're going to love TP Vision's newest 55-inch set.

The company is well-known for making Philips-branded TVs, and has gone a step further for its first model by integrating the ambient color-changing technology into the set too.

By using the "Philips Perfect Pixel Ultra HD engine" in combination with OLED pixels that have the ability to completely switch off, TP-Vision says the catchily named 901F delivers deeper, more accurate black levels.

Combine this with the Ambilight back-lighting effect on three sides of the TV and colors should look even more vibrant. It's also trying to side-step the achilles heel of many slim, Smart TVs by providing a 30W 6.1 sound bar that integrates into the unit.

Keeping it all ticking along nicely, hopefully, is Android for TVs, which offers up the usual Google services and apps that you'd expect from any other Android device.

While TP Vision could win a TV buzzword bingo prize for this announcement, it neglected to say when the set will be released, where it'll go on sale or how much it will cost.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Lenovo's Yoga Book is part tablet, part sketch pad


Let's face it: tablets are on the brink of death, and it's really difficult to get excited about a new slate these days. And even though tablet-laptop hybrids are taking off, that market is cornered by Surfaces and iPad Pros. So I wasn't prepared to be as thrilled as I was by Lenovo's latest offering. The Yoga Book, based on my experience with a preview unit, is not merely a mimicry of Microsoft's Surface Book; it's got impressively innovative features and a well-thought out interface that make it a solid hybrid in its own right.

The Yoga Book has the same shiny "Watchband hinge" as Lenovo's Yoga 900 convertible laptops, which makes the Book's spine look like links on a wristwatch. That, together with a metal casing and slim silhouette, lend the Book a clean, modern aesthetic. I particularly like the gold version, which is only available for the Android variant that costs $499. A $549 Windows 10 model is also available, but that (disappointingly) only comes in black.

This book's cover may be pretty, but what really impressed me lies beneath. The Yoga Book's standout feature is its keyboard, which is essentially a giant touchpad. There are no physical buttons -- just a flat surface with the outline of keys.

The absence of physical buttons helps the Yoga Book look and feel more like a regular tablet with a flat back when you unfold it all the way around. Plus, without the uneven surface, you can use the bottom half of the device as a stand, with the keyboard facing down. The hybrid is also a lot lighter (1.52 pounds) than it would have been with a full keyboard, although it's still heavier than the Surface 3 (1.37 pounds without a keyboard).

But those aren't the main reasons for doing away with keys. The real pièce de résistance is housed within the flat surface, and Lenovo calls it the "Create Pad." Tap a button to the top right of the keyboard and the outlines disappear, and you're left with a blank canvas. It's like a Wacom digitizer tablet that you can draw on with the included stylus.

Lenovo adapted Android 6.0 Marshmallow to automatically start recording your doodles in the company's default note-taking app (which is the only app in the tablet that stores your input in the background) once you put the stylus to the touch pad. When you start writing, a small window pops up on the bottom right of the screen and captures your scrawls. This happens whether the tablet is awake or asleep, which is super convenient. It's basically like having a piece of paper ready for you to write on whenever you need, and worked really well in our demo. But, because the screen stays off when you're writing while the Yoga Book is asleep, it's hard to really know what you're jotting down.

Those who can't give up their paper addiction, however, will love this next feature. With a little finesse and jiggling of the stylus' nib with the included pen cap, you can pull out the stylus nib and replace it with an ink cartridge to make a real pen. Oh, and did I mention that "Real Pen" is what Lenovo named this stylus?

With the ink nib, you can write on real paper for a more old-school experience. And if you place the paper on the Create Pad, whatever you scrawl there will also show up in the Yoga Book. I tried placing an inch-thick notebook on top of the surface and wrote on it with the Real Pen and was very impressed when the system still detected my scribbles.

This won't work with a regular pen, though, you'll have to use the one Lenovo provides. It's designed with Wacom's "feel IT" tech that responds to the electro-magnetic resonance (EMR) film built into the keyboard, which enables the real-time digitization.

All this adds up to an experience that will delight and win over note-takers, and I'm incredibly stoked by what I've seen so far. But I don't think the Yoga Book will appeal to road warriors. Sure, the Windows version will run desktop apps and multiple apps simultaneously, making it suitable for productivity. The Android version has Lenovo's multiwindow support (until it gets updated to Android Nougat, which has that feature baked in) so it can handle multitasking as well.

The Yoga Book is powered by an Intel Atom x5 processor and has a generous 8500mAh battery that Lenovo said should last up to 15 hours of general use. Its 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200 IPS display should also be a decent canvas for multimedia.

But for a 2-in-1 to truly facilitate productivity, it needs a real keyboard. Even though Lenovo thoughtfully designed the layout with more generously sized keys and spaces, implemented haptic feedback, predictive text and autocorrect (the latter two are only on the Android model), I still struggled to bang out more than a few words at once without a typo. Lenovo said it would take about two hours to get used to the new keyboard, but I'm not sure I believe that.

The stark change may alienate those who depend heavily on physical keys. For those people, Lenovo still has slightly more traditional hybrids. The company also unveiled a super thin Yoga 910 convertible laptop, which has a full-sized physical keyboard and bends all the way around to become a 14-inch tablet.

Still, Lenovo deserves props for making a bold, innovative move. As a lover of notebooks and real-life writing, I can't deny that I'm incredibly excited to try out the Yoga Book in the real world. And for those who prefer pen-and-paper (I imagine that includes artists, designers and students), the Yoga Book is a compelling candidate that could trump the iPad Pro and Surface.

We're live all week from Berlin, Germany, for IFA 2016. Click here to catch up on all the news from the show.


Hasselblad reveals a Moto Mod that replaces your Moto Z's camera


Remember the days before the Moto Z launched, when a mysterious camera MotoMod was leaked along with a handful of other snap-on accessories? Remember when the Z and Z Force launched, and that camera was nowhere in sight? Well, the wait is (almost) over. Motorola just revealed the fruit of its close collaboration with Hasselblad today -- the $250 True Zoom -- and it's set to launch on September 15.

Like, say, Sony's peculiar lens cameras, the True Zoom replaces the 13/16/23-megapixel on the back of whichever Moto Z you happen to own. Instead, you'll start working with a 1/2.3-inch 18.9-megapixel with big (think 1.55 micron) pixels and a 10x optical zoom. You'll probably notice a few things right off the bat. First off, everything's really well constructed. The mod itself is light, and when it's strapped to a Moto Z the textured grip is easy to hold on to and the zoom rocker around the shutter button works like a charm. With a big lens housing, a xenon flash and dark trim, the whole thing looks exactly like a pricey point-and-shoot from a distance. More importantly, the True Zoom behaves like one, too.

Early test JPEG and RAW shots came out remarkably crisp in both bright and low-light conditions, just as you'd expect from a sensor with pixels that big. (Friendly reminder: fretting about megapixels is almost completely pointless these days.) That crispness persists even when you're zoomed in all the way, which is frankly incredible. Think about it: the more you zoom, the more the minute motions of your hands get magnified. Lackluste stabilization would make for a Monet-like soft image at best and a hot blurry mess at worst, but the True Zoom does an incredible job of keeping things tight and focused.

You can even reach beyond the limits of lens thanks to an additional 4X digital zoom, but really, you're better off steering clear. That's nothing against Hasselblad -- digital zoom is just by nature a lousy compromise. (Alas, a pre-release software update basically bricked our True Zoom demo unit so we'll update this story with sample photos once we get another to play with.)

Frankly, it's a little strange to see Hasselblad dabbling with smartphone accessories of all things. In case you're not familiar, the storied Swedish company specializes in expensive medium format cameras -- at time of writing, the cheapest new Hasselblad camera on the market will set you back more than $6,000. To hear company spokespeople tell the tale, Hasselblad has been exploring more consumer-friendly options for a while, and Motorola's high-speed MotoMod connector was intriguing because of how seamlessly it allows third-party hardware to meld with the host device. Speaking of seamless, the True Zoom also plays nice with third-party camera apps, though whether you need them is another story. the stock Moto Camera app has been tricked out with extra scene modes and presets for sports and night photography.

What we have here isn't Hasselblad at its most ambitious, but Hasselblad at its weirdest, its most experimental. The jury's still out on whether anyone actually wants (or needs) to carry something like this around, but hey -- there's still something to be said for ambitious, elegant weirdness. Stay tuned for more as we continue our testing.

We're live all week from Berlin, Germany, for IFA 2016. Click here to catch up on all the news from the show.


Acer Made the Touchscreen Chromebook We've Been Waiting For


At the IFA show in Berlin, Acer is showing off its new Chromebook R13, which is the industry’s first convertible Chromebook with a 13-inch display.



ASUS' Zenwatch 3 is fast and round


Following Motorola, Huawei and a bunch of other smartwatch manufacturers, ASUS has built a round Android Wear device. The Zenwatch 3 has a 1.39-inch AMOLED display with a 400x400 resolution, which works out at 287 pixels per inch (ppi). That's almost identical to the Huawei Watch and a smidge sharper than the larger second-gen Moto 360. The casing is made from stainless steel and will be available in a few different styles: gunmetal (black), silver and rose gold. All three have a gold inlay, which ASUS claims is like "the corona of an annular solar eclipse."

Whatever you say, ASUS.

The new wearable is 9.95mm thick -- a tad thinner than both the Huawei Watch and Moto 360. It runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor and 512MB of RAM, coupled with 4GB of internal storage. While the 341mAh battery will last you for "up to two days," ASUS is also pushing its "HyperCharge" technology, which will bring you back up to 60 percent in 15 minutes. Charging is handled with a magnetic port and there will also be an "optional battery pack," which sounds like a bizarre accessory for something so sleek. We'll have to ask for more details on that one.

On the software side, it's the typical Android Wear experience. Google's wrist-ready operating system is slowly improving, and the company has its "biggest platform update yet," Android Wear 2.0, scheduled for the fall. ASUS is, however, offering some custom watch faces for the Zenwatch 3, and hopes you'll make your own with its FaceDesigner app for smartphones. The new smartwatch also has some fitness chops, with automatic step-counting that is supposedly 95 percent accurate. It can also track a few other basic activities such as running, push-ups and sit-ups -- don't expect too much, however, this isn't a high-end Garmin.

The Zenwatch 3 will set you back €229 (roughly $255) in Europe -- ASUS is yet to give an official price for the US. There's no word on availability either, but rest assured we'll let you know when it's been confirmed.

We're live all week from Berlin, Germany, for IFA 2016. Click here to catch up on all the news from the show.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Intel's 7th generation Core CPUs will devour 4K video


4K video is finally gaining a foothold in home theaters this year, but for most PCs it's practically kryptonite. Even if you're lucky enough to have a powerful computer, dealing with such high-resolution video is a surefire way to spike your CPU usage and gobble up battery life. So it's little surprise that Intel made 4K performance the centerpiece of its long-awaited seventh generation Core processors, which were officially announced today. You can also look forward to a slew of other speed-enhancing features when the new chips hit laptops in September.

So just how good are these new batch of Core processors? How about a CPU utilization rate of around 5 percent and power usage of 0.5 watts on the new Core i7-7500U while playing local 4K video. That's compared to 40 to 70 percent CPU usage and a 10.2 watt power draw on its predecessor, the i7-6500U. And when playing 4K VP9-encoded video on YouTube, the new seventh generation i7 clocks in at 10 to 20 percent CPU usage while drawing 0.8 watts of power. The previous chip, on the other hand, ate up 70 to 80 percent of the CPU while taking up 5.8 watts of power.

Even as a computer geek, it's been hard to get excited over new processors over the last few years. Intel, for the most part, has focused on steadily improving its lineup instead of aiming for dramatic performance gains. (My fourth-generation quad-core desktop chip can still go toe-to-toe with sixth-gen offerings.) But when it comes to 4K, Intel has delivered an evolutionary upgrade. And while it might not sound that important yet, it sets the stage for laptops and desktops that need to drive the new video standard.

Specifically, Intel added hardware encoding and decoding capabilities for both 10-bit HEVC 4K video and 8 to 10-bit VP9 video. There's also HDR and wide color gamut support, but Intel says it's up to manufacturers to implement the two competing HDR standards, Dolby Vision and HDR10. On top of just letting you watch more 4K video, the new chips' encoding performance could be a huge deal for anyone editing media, with speeds between 1X and 3X real-time for 30FPS 4K.

Intel's seventh generation Core processors (codenamed "Kaby Lake") are basically a refined version of the company's Skylake design from last year. Once again, they're built on a 14 nanometer process, and they rely on Intel's Speed Boost feature, which pushes the chips to their maximum speed faster than previous generations. Unfortunately, the company isn't saying much about its seventh gen desktop lineup yet, but we'll hopefully hear details early next year.

The new laptop chips are divided into two groups: the "Y-series" for thin designs using up to 4.5 watts of power, and the "U" series for faster performance (or just about every other type of laptop). And while there's still a Core M3 processor in the new lineup, Intel has dumped the M5 and M7 models in exchange for the power efficient Y-series. Base clock speeds range between 2.4 GHz and 2.7 GHz for the U-series chips, with boost speeds up to 3.1GHz on the Core i5 and 3.5GHz on the Core i7. And for the more efficient Y-series, base speeds run between 1GHz and 1.3GHz, with larger boost figures between 2.6GHz and 3.6GHz.

When it comes to typical web browsing, Intel claims the new i7-7500U is 19 percent faster than the i7-6500U, while i7-7Y75 chip is 18 percent faster than the M7-6Y75, as measured by WebXPRT 2015. And when it comes to productivity, the company says the new CPUs are around 12 percent faster than their predecessors, based on SYSmark 2014 figures. Sure, they're not exactly exciting upgrades if you have a fairly new laptop, but if yours is getting long in the tooth, you'll definitely notice the difference. And while I didn't get any exact figures on battery life, you can expect some sort of improvement (especially when watching videos).

So what do these new chips mean for you? Basically, if you're in the market for a new laptop, it's worth waiting for new models featuring the seventh gen CPUs in September. And if you're planning to build or buy a new desktop, sit tight until January.


LG delivers three new super-sized ultrawide monitors


LG has continued to push the limits of 21:9 aspect ratio monitors over the years and its latest three additions are something to behold. Ready to debut at IFA and coming to the US this fall, they include the "world's largest" 38-inch curved 38UC99 model that goes on sale in September for $1,500, a 34-inch curved 34UC79G due in October for $700, and the flat 34-inch 34UM79M coming in November for $600.

That massive 38-incher packs a Quad HD+ resolution of 3,840 x 1,600 and is apparently the first ultrawide monitor with a USB-C port built-in. The 34UM79M has integrated Google Cast support (plus built-in support for multitasking, so you can Netflix while you work without giving up any screen space). Finally, that curved 34-inch model is pitched as "the world's first 144Hz IPS 21:9 Curved UltraWide gaming monitor," with AMD FreeSync included to cut down on stuttering and tearing when the action gets hectic.

Source: LG Newsroom