Sunday, June 24, 2012

Windows Phone 8: A BIG Step in the Right Direction

So, the latest announcements from Microsoft: the 'Surface' tablet and the 'Windows Phone 8' seem to be pointing to one single thing: Microsoft wants to catch up and if possible supersede both ‘Google’ and ‘Apple’. Both the announcements are equally important in a way that Microsoft is betting its future on. While it might seem that Microsoft wants to take advantage of the constantly growing tablet market, if we observe carefully, we can figure out the real thing that the company is concentrating on is its ‘Windows OS’.

The reason is quite simple and pretty obvious from its latest announcement: “Windows Phone 8”. The reason that this is very important is that ‘Windows Phone 8’ will be running on the same kernel that ‘Windows 8’ runs on which will allow it to support a lot of features detailed below:

a.      Support for Multiple Platforms
Developers shall be able to easily port apps from ‘Windows Phone 8’ to ‘Windows 8’ due to the ‘Windows NT’ kernel. Not only that, the kernel will also support native C and C++ Code which will make it easy for them to port apps from Android and iOS as well

b.      Support for Multi-Core Architecture
‘Windows NT’ kernel will also allow ‘Windows Phone 8’ to not only support dual-core and quad-core architectures but to also offer support up to 64 cores theoretically

c.       Support for HD Screens
Most people want their displays to be very crisp as they have to read text out of small screens. While the ‘800 * 480’ resolution on the ‘Lumia 800’ was good it was nowhere near the industry’s best. Thankfully, this problem has also been addressed in the underlying architecture as the ‘Windows NT’ kernel will allow ‘Windows Phone 8’ to support HD resolutions like WVGA, WXGA and 720p

d.      Support for Full SD Cards
The earlier architecture that ‘Windows Phone 7’ was based on, didn’t allow full SD card support which meant that users had to use only some manufacturer recommended SD cards which severely limited users’ ability to store more data in the form of music or photos or videos etc. in their devices by using other SD cards. Microsoft has also rectified that by using ‘Windows NT’ kernel which allows Full SD card support.

e.      Support for NFC
‘Windows NT’ kernel also allows ‘Near Field Communication’ to be enabled which means that Microsoft can design its own ‘Wallet’ service which will not only allow users to store sensitive information related to ‘Credit Cards’, ‘Debit Cards’ and ‘Coupons’ but also will allow them to transact instantly by swiping their smartphones. In fact, Microsoft will be designing the service in such a way that information can be seamlessly sent across its own Operating Systems: ‘Windows Phone 8’ and ‘Windows 8’

Apart from the above features, Microsoft is also planning to put to good use, the companies that it has acquired and has partnered with. ‘Windows Phone 8’ will have ‘Deep Skype (VoIP) Integration’ and ‘Better Navigation features’ through the use of ‘Nokia Maps’. The User Interface will also be revamped to allow the users to see more information through smaller ‘Live Tiles’.

There was a big uproar from user community who stated that Microsoft hasn’t done the right thing by not allowing the existing ‘Windows Phone 7.5’ users to get upgraded to ‘Windows Phone 8’. Well. How will it? Most of the sweeping changes that Microsoft is proposing are tied to hardware. What Microsoft should ensure is that it allows all the ‘Windows Phone 7.5’ users access to all the features in ‘Windows Phone 8’ which are not tied to hardware. It has already said that existing ‘Windows Phone 7.5’ users will get another update: i.e. ‘Windows Phone 7.8’ which will visually look similar to ‘Windows Phone 8’.

So, while ‘Windows Phone 8’ is definitely a step in the right direction for ‘Microsoft’, people will not stop wishing if only the company started with ‘Windows Phone 8’ as its entry OS for smartphones. Well, better late than NEVER.

Stay Tuned..!!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

NovaThor: Is it a Worthy Competitor to Tegra, Exynos and Snapdragon?

So another SoC (System on Chip) is slowly but surely making its way into the market and is aiming to become the top dog that mobile manufacturers would turn to. It is none other than the ‘NovaThor’ SoC. So, is it a force that established SoCs like ‘Tegra’, ‘Exynos’ and ‘Snapdragon’ have to reckon with? Let’s find out!

NovaThor’ is a product of ‘ST-Ericsson’, a joint venture of ‘ST Microelectronics’ and ‘Ericsson’. The joint venture company has lined up many variants out of which 4 have come into focus. They are ‘U8500’, ‘U9500’, ‘L8540’ and ‘L9540’.

The Insides: CPU and GPU
There is a reason why the ‘NovaThor’ SoC has got such popularity and it has partially got to do with the components of the SoC: the CPU and the GPU. All the 4 ‘NovaThor’ SoCs outlined above have CPUs manufactured on the basis of the designs licensed from ARM. These are dual-core cortex A9 microprocessors that have gained popularity over the past year and have now become the standard in most of the high end mobiles that are being manufactured by companies such as ‘Samsung’. Now here ends the commonality among the 4 variants. The differences are what make each of them unique:
  • While the ‘U8500’ and the ‘U9500’ have the A9s clocked at a frequency of around 1 Ghz, the ‘L8540’ and the ‘L9540’ will have the A9s clocked at a frequency of around 1.85 Ghz. This implies that the 'L Series' SoCs will be more powerful
  • While the ‘U8500’ and the ‘U9500’ have GPUs from ‘ARM’ (‘ARM Mali 400’), the ‘L8540’ and the ‘L9540’ have GPUs from ‘Imagination Technologies’ (‘Power VR SGX 544’). This implies that the 'L Series' SoCs will perform much better as far as graphics are concerned as we have already seen from the innumerous fights between the above mentioned GPUs where 'Power VR SGX 544' comfortably trumped 'Mali 400' in this department
  • While the ‘L9540’ and ‘L8540’ provide 4G capabilities (LTE), the ‘U9500’ and ‘U8500’ will work to provide 3G capabilities. This implies that the 'L Series' SoCs will provide better download and upload speeds
  • While the ‘U9500’ and ‘U8500’ are manufactured using 45 nm semiconductor technology, the ‘L9540’ and ‘L8540’ are manufactured using 28 nm semiconductor technology. This implies that the 'L Series' SoCs will be power efficient as compared to the 'U Series' SoCs
  • The ‘U9500’ will have an edge over ‘U8500’ as far as download and upload speeds are concerned
  • Similarly, the ‘L9540’ will have an edge over ‘L8540’

Mobile Manufacturers: What do they think?
While the ‘NovaThor U8500’ has already found its way into mobiles being manufactured by companies like ‘HTC’ (‘Sensation’) , ‘Samsung’ (‘Galaxy S Advance’, ‘Galaxy Ace 2’, ‘Galaxy Beam’) and ‘Sony’ (‘Xperia U’ and ‘Xperia P’), the rest of the three (‘U9500’, ‘L8540’, ‘L9540’) are not far behind. Another major player like ‘Nokia’ is also looking at integrating this SoC into its models. This will be the first time that ‘Nokia’ is looking at partnering with another chip manufacturer since all of its ‘Windows Phones’ released until now are based on ‘Qualcomm’s’ SoC (‘Snapdragon’).

The Competition: ‘Tegra’, ‘Exynos’ and ‘Snapdragon’
If you are an avid reader and follower of tech news, you would probably have noticed that some of the specifications of the ‘NovaThor’ SoC match another SoC very closely. Yes, as you would have probably guessed by now, it is the ‘Exynos’. The ‘Exynos’ SoC, used in ‘Samsung Galaxy SII’ and ‘Samsung Galaxy Note’, contains exactly the same components that the ‘NovaThor U8500’ SoC does: a ‘Dual-Core Cortex A9’ CPU and ‘Mali 400’ GPU. The only difference is that while the ‘Dual Cortex A9s’ in ‘Samsung Galaxy SII’ ‘Exynos’ SoC are clocked at 1.2 Ghz, they are clocked at 1.4 Ghz in ‘Samsung Galaxy Note’ ‘Exynos’ SoC and at around 1 Ghz in ‘NovaThor U8500’ SoC. Though the ‘U8500’ appears to have a disadvantage here, the rest of the capabilities like 1080p HD Video recording, HSPA capabilities, Extensive video format support are what put it in competition. In fact, the LTE equipped ‘NovaThor L9540’ and ‘NovaThor L8540’ are definitely going to be stars in their own rights and will guaranteed, match what other SoCs like ‘Tegra’ and ‘Snapdragon’ are offering.

Something is amiss….??: Yes, Quad-Core!!
Yes, ‘ST-Ericsson’ hasn’t outlined the Quad-Core roadmap for its ‘NovaThor’ SoC. The scene in the market is rapidly changing and the roadmap gains all the more significance as ‘Nvidia’ and ‘Samsung’ are already out with their Quad-Core offerings in the form of ‘Tegra 3’ and ‘Exynos 4 Quad’ respectively. ‘Qualcomm’ is also going to be out with its Quad-Core ‘Snapdragon’ offering very soon. So, ‘ST-Ericsson’ has a lot of work to do. It has to first impress the customers with the first 4 variants and then it has to manufacture and market its Quad-Core offering very rapidly to take advantage of the growing smartphone and tablet market.

The Bottom Line: Yes, ‘This means War’!!
The mobiles in which the ‘NovaThor U8500’ is fitted have already gained attention in the market. While the ‘Galaxy Beam’ is Samsung’s first offering which is coming out with an integrated projector inside it, ‘Sony’ is hoping to return to profitability with offerings such as ‘Xperia P’ and the ‘Xperia U’ and hence it is investing heavily on marketing the ‘Xperia’ models. If people accept the above phones, then ST-Ericsson can challenge market leaders like 'Nvidia', 'Samsung' and 'Qualcomm'.

Stay Tuned..!!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Samsung Galaxy S III: Features which make it Unique

The Samsung Galaxy S III has been announced with much fanfare. So what has changed in Samsung Galaxy S III that is different from Samsung Galaxy S II? The Display? The Processor? The OS? Yeah.. Yeah.. All of those have changed. The Galaxy S III now sports a ‘Super AMOLED HD’ display. The processor is now quad-core and the phone now comes with ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ as the default OS.

All of these are fine and yes they represent an improvement over the previous Galaxy. But, the real improvement shows up in the following features:

Smart Stay
More and more smartphones are being manufactured with 4.5+ inch displays that have made many people want to read articles, magazines or books on their smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy S III is no exception as it has a 4.8 inch display that will enable people to read them without any problem. But, how many times have you been faced with the following situation: You are reading an article and suddenly the display turns off. You had to press a button or touch the display each time to wake the screen up. Samsung has taken note of such a situation and has come up with a smart solution. It has put the front camera to work. If you have enabled the ‘Smart Stay’ option, the display doesn’t turn off while you are looking at it

Pop-Up Play
You are watching an interesting video and you just remember that you have to send out a short e-mail urgently but you do not want to stop watching the video. While previously this wasn’t possible, worry not, as Samsung has addressed this situation too with ‘Pop-Up Play’. This feature allows you to play a video in a pop-up window that can be dragged around the screen while you are interacting with other apps. So you want to continue watching a video while you are browsing through that photo gallery, you can happily do it now!

Direct Call
You are sending an SMS to a person and suddenly you feel that it is better to talk to them. Now, how many times has this happened to you, courtesy: Your Girlfriend!! Now, you can just hold your phone to your ear and the phone will automatically dial their number. This makes you avoid cancelling the message, going to the contact list and dialing their number. Pretty handy, isn’t it?

Buddy Share
You have gone on a trip to a place with your friends and you have captured many photos using your smartphone. If your friends want those photos too, you normally upload it on a cloud storage site and give your friends the link to download the photos. But, the buddy share feature lets you avoid that complicated process. When you have tagged your friends in the photos, you can send those photos instantly

Social Tag
You are browsing through the photo gallery and you suddenly want to view what the current status messages of people in the photo. Woah! This is one feature that even many people wouldn’t have even thought about. With the help of the Galaxy S III, it is now possible.

All the above features, which the Samsung Galaxy III comes integrated with now, present an indisputable case that smartphones are increasingly becoming smarter. It now remains to be seen how much smarter they can become in the coming future.

Stay Tuned..!!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Exynos 4 Quad & Tegra 3: The Quad-Core age is here!!

Lo and Behold!!! The quad core devices are here and it's most definitely their year. While 2011 was a great year where we saw the tablets and smartphones graduating from using a single-core processor to a dual-core processor, 2012 will be the year when gadgets will start coming integrated with quad-cores which will perform much better as compared to their dual core counterparts.

ARM has been licensing its designs to companies like Nvidia and Samsung for a while now and these companies have been very successful in manufacturing the processors designed by ARM. This shows in the success of single-core 1 Ghz smartphones that companies like HTC, Samsung came out with and it had got reiterated with the success of dual-core smartphones. Now, Nvidia has started manufacturing quad-core processors with Samsung not far behind.

The HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III are the most talked about devices currently each sporting a quad-core processor System on Chip, although these do have a different architecture compared to one aonther. The HTC One X sports an Nvidia Tegra 3 and the Samsung Galaxy S III sports an Exynos 4 Quad. While Tegra 3 is an evolution of Tegra 2, the Exynos 4 Quad is an evolution of Exynos 4 Dual.

The major highlight of Nvidia Tegra 3 is that it doesn't have 4 processors but it has 5! The extra 5th core is actually a companion core, clocked at a lesser frequency as compared to the other 4 cores, that takes over in the case of low intensive tasks that doesn't require running the other 4 processors. With this companion core, Nvidia Tegra 3 will make the device consume lesser battery and consequently make the device run much longer. Performance is obviously better than Nvidia Tegra 2 and that is pretty much expected

The Exynos 4 Quad also attempts to differentiate itself on the basis of the battery life factor. It is built using 32nm HKMG (High K Metal Gate) process that allows the device to consume battery at a much lesser rate than compared to Exynos 4 Dual which is built using the 45 nm process. 

What is common to both the processors however is that both of them deliver excellent performance with enhanced graphics and superb processing power (The 4 cores in both the System on Chips are ARM Cortex A9s). Although, the initial reviews have suggested that Exynos 4 Quad has an edge as compared to Tegra 3 due to its 32nm process build. The Eyxnos 4 Quad also allows you to play most of the video formats thanks to the ARM Mali 400 MP GPU unit in it.

The Exynos 4 Quad has also impressed another company: Meizu. Meizu's MX Quad Core phone also uses the Exynos 4 Quad System on Chip and the initial benchmark tests on this device have rated it at the top of the current crop of android devices. While benchmark tests do not necessarily indicate real world performance it nevertheless indicates the level of performance one can expect.

So, going by the initial indications it seems that both the SoCs: Nvidia Tegra 3 and Exynos 4 Quad are highly capable of delivering excellent performance. We'll just have to wait for the devices and see the extent to which we are going to like them.

Stay Tuned..!!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why the ‘Motorola Droid Razr Maxx’ is a harbinger of better things to come in Smartphones?

If you rewind the clocks by about 8 years, the only mobile that was on people’s minds and undeniably on their tongues as well was the ‘Motorola Razr’. The general population was so head over heels in love with the mobile that even today, it remains one of the largest selling devices in the history of smartphones and the characteristic that made it stand out from the regular run-of-the-mill phones was: it’s SLEEKNESS.

Back to the present, and you are again greeted by the same company trying to recreate the yesteryear’s magic by releasing an entirely different beast sporting the same appellation. Yes, the ‘Motorola Droid Razr’ is that phone, which for a brief period of time justified the title ‘World’s thinnest smartphone’ awarded to it. So, did it meet with the same fate as its predecessor namesake? The initial results: Not Quite.

Now if you analyze why, you will eventually get to know that though the smartphone has the build quality unmatched by any other phone and its internals match the internals of the best phones available on the market, the main factor that let it down a bit was only one: Battery Life. Is it that Critical? Yes, it is and there are no doubts and second thoughts about it.

The reason is pretty simple and straight forward. Smartphones are getting increasingly smart and increasingly capable and they are being integrated with functionalities that can guzzle battery much in the same way as SUVs guzzle fuel. Yes, I am talking about you LTE!!! So, what good is a phone that lets you do numerous things but which requires the user to charge it once every half-a-day if used extensively?

So, what has Motorola done about it? Simple. They went back to the drawing board, figured out what 
people wanted, designed and brought out an upgraded version: the ‘Motorola Droid Razr Maxx’ and if you think they only changed the name. Well, think again. The ‘Motorola Droid Razr Maxx’ has a 3300 mAh battery tucked in its back that lets the phone have a talk time of around 21 hours!!! Stunning, isn’t it? Initial reviews suggest that though the phone isn’t coming close to the claimed talk time it is still beating every other phone’s talk time capacity by a HUGE margin. Now, why is this relevant?

As I mentioned, today’s smartphones let the users do numerous things like Watch Videos, Browse the Internet, Listen to Music, Read books, Write notes and last but not the least Make and Receive Calls. To support all these functions, the phone needs to have battery-life so that user is able to do all the functions listed above on a typical day. Now, the 3300 mAh battery is so good that it gives the ‘Droid Razr Maxx’ enough juice to let you watch videos continuously for up to 15 – 16 hours.

The ‘Droid Razr Maxx’ isn’t the first phone that has broken the non-imposed thresholds of battery capacity that a smartphone today has got. Samsung got to the party first, with their super-sized smartphone: the ‘Galaxy Note’. When all the smartphones being released into the market were sporting batteries with capacities ranging around 1500 mAh – 1800 mAh, it went ahead and included a 2500 mAh battery to power its beast. But, the important difference between the ‘Galaxy Note’ and the ‘Droid Razr Maxx’ is that a 2500 mAh battery is powering a 5.3 inch screen loaded ‘Galaxy Note’ whereas a 3300 mAh battery is powering 4.3 inch screen loaded ‘Droid Razr Maxx’.

It is a known fact in the electronics industry that once a manufacturer comes out with a feature or a technology, the competitors improvise on it at such a pace that it even amazes the company that has introduced the technology in the first place. So, if the 3300 mAh battery sporting Motorola Droid Razr Maxx is regarded as the starting point, you can foresee where the middle and the ending points are. Can’t you?

Stay Tuned..!!!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Intel Medfield: The new CHIP on the block

Nowadays, you guys must be hearing the term 'Medfield' a lot. So, what is Medfield?

If you even have a vague idea of the 'Chips' and 'Microprocessors' market, you would know that Intel is one of the principal market leaders. Laptops and PCs from leading manufacturers like Toshiba, Dell, Lenovo etc. use Intel's chips to power their bodies which has made Intel one of the undisputed leaders in this segment. So, what about the smartphone market then?

Intel, for some reason, hasn't really focused on the smartphone market, which had thrown up a huge opportunity for companies like ARM and Qualcomm to make their mark in this segment. Today, they are one of the undisputed leaders in this market and have even for the last quarter earned huge revenues and also made huge profits by selling smartphone chips. The reason obviously is people's increasing preference towards buying smartphones. ARM and Qualcomm had probably forecasted this then and now are reaping  its rewards.  So, what about Intel?

It seems that Intel have finally realized their mistake and are now focused on gaining a slice of the 'Smartphone Chip' market pie. They are going to be out with their first SoC (System-on-Chip) in this year. The platform for this SoC is named 'Medfield' and the SoC itself has been named 'Penwell'. So, is the 'Penwell SoC' ready to take on established players like Exynos and Tegra? Let's find out.

Intel has demonstrated the power of their new SoC by pitting it against devices like Samsung Galaxy Nexus and have won the appreciation of everybody. The SoC seems to have a 1.6 Ghz single-core Atom Z2460 processor (CPU) and a 400 Mhz Power VR SGX 540 (GPU). In benchmark tests like 'Sunspider Javascript' and 'Browsermark', Intel's SoC has defeated the current leader (TI OMAP 4460 in Galaxy Nexus) by quite a good margin. While the 'Galaxy Nexus' scored 97381 on 'Browsermark', Intel's Penwell SoC scored a better 116425. As you already know, the CPU is entirely responsible for the remarkable performance on these tests and by the demonstration of such performance, it seems that Intel's single-core 1.6 Ghz Atom processor (also called 'Saltwell') is better than TI OMAP's dual-core 1.2 Ghz processor. Guess that the old man did have some wise tricks up his sleeve!!!!

Anyways, what feels like a kind of blip in this amazing SoC is the choice of GPU that Intel has made, a Power VR SGX 540. It's actually surprising why manufacturers like Samsung and Intel are opting to go for this GPU from 'Imagination Technologies' as it has almost been 2 years since it initially debuted in the market. But what actually makes the Power VR SGX 540 in Intel's SoC better than the other Power VR SGX 540s is that the GPU here is clocked at a higher frequency: 400 Mhz. Hopefully, this should make it perform better in Intel's SoC.

So it is pretty clear that if Intel had debuted with this offering for the smartphone market a year ago, it would definitely had a huge advantage and would probably have been rubbing shoulders with the current leaders like ARM and Qualcomm as far as 'Smartphone Chip' market is concerned. Anyways, as the saying goes, 'Better Late than Never'. Initial reviews suggest that Intel's first offering is most definitely not bad and it will only get better when the company comes out with their dual-core offerings. That might actually be the beginning of a new era as far as Intel is concerned.

Stay Tuned..!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why do Android Phone Manufacturers Need to Update their Phones?

The other day, my roommate wanted to know how he could connect his 3G enabled android phone to his laptop in order to just surf the internet. I asked him to go the 'Settings' application on the android phone and enable 'Tethering'. When he went to the 'Settings' application, he couldn't find the option. So, I immediately checked out the android version he was using and I found that it was Android 2.1 (Eclair). As you guys would be knowing, tethering capabilities have been enabled in Android 2.2 (Froyo). So, I had to look up the internet to find out what were the alternative options that I could adopt to enable tethering. While some websites prescribed me to root the phone (which my friend was dead against. Obviously, since that nullifies your warranty!!!), one other website prescribed me to download a simple application to enable wireless tethering on an Android 2.1 (Eclair) phone.

There are a lot of people out there who wouldn't go through this painful process of finding out what their smartphones in fact offer and what they do not. They wouldn't know whether their smartphone would be capable of tethering or not. If the phone is updated to a better version which provides more features they will easily spot it and use it. If the phone isn't updated, they just accept the fact their smartphone is in reality, not that smart!!! It was decided at a Google I/O conference that manufacturers will support devices until 18 months after their release, but I hardly see that happening. A case-in-point is my roommate's phone. He purchased his android phone one-and-a-half years back and it still hasn't been updated from 'Eclair' to 'Froyo'. In the age of 'Ice Cream Sandwich' such news sounds like blasphemy!!!.

You don't need an expert to tell you that what's going is on not right. People purchase their smartphones investing a lot of money and they expect it to get updated to the latest versions at least for a reasonable period of time. I had a 'Nokia E71' previously (I have an Android now!!!) and even 2 years after purchasing that phone, I used to receive updates (Long live Nokia!!). I still have a sense of attachment with that phone and even today, my father uses it and he is very happy.

Let's look at the whole issue from 2 perspectives: the 'Customer' and the 'Mobile Manufacturer'. As far as the customers are concerned, the example I quoted above is what makes them develop a sense of 'TRUST' towards a brand. This is what makes them 'LOYAL' to a particular brand. There are plenty of people, even today, who will swear by a Nokia phone even though other manufacturers have surpassed it in terms of features integrated in their smartphones. When customers become loyal to a brand due to the immense satisfaction they have had from using it, in the future, if they want to purchase a phone, they will consider the same brand from where they had purchased earlier.

As far as the mobile manufacturers are concerned,  they can derive a lot of value from the customers due to the sense of loyalty that they develop in people. Just to make this point more clear, movies like 'Avatar' and 'The Dark Knight' haven't become 'Top Grossers' just due to the high ticket rates or the movie being watched by more people. The reason that they became 'Top Grossers' is because they had attracted 'Repeat Audience'. That is the exact reason why they had become so commercially successful. If you want an analogy with respect to the 'Smartphone' industry, you can always remember the company from Cupertino which has shown that it will take care of its customers who had purchased its phones even 3 years back. That is where the current crop of android phone manufacturers should aim. Otherwise, it is a known fact that smart people will buy only those flagship phones from the android phone manufacturers, that they believe would be updated in the future.

Stay Tuned.!!