Sunday, January 10, 2016

What happened during CES 2016

Taking notice of product launches and trade shows is a big part of blogging about technology and the annual Consumer Electronics show is a dear part of me as I have been tuning in to all the announcements for a couple of years now and frankly speaking, everything feels a little boring now. As the years go by, I begin to look away from CES just because everything about has changed. Sure, the new products are exciting but all the major announcements or headlines are basically a little overkill. So, here I am writing about a recap of what I can remember most about CES 2016.

Not going to talk too much about the overkill stuff like the Samsung fridge with a gigantic tablet display. It is the future and all but at the moment it is impractical whatsoever due to it's relatively high price tag. But instead, I am going to focus on the mobile technology part of CES 2016. Maybe a little about the cars and home appliances but generally speaking, I am not an expert or advocate of either genres. So, it's just mostly about the new tablets, computers, laptops. Fitness trackers and mobile accessories.

One of the 'groundbreaking' announcements made during CES 2016 was Netflix's expansion to 130 countries worldwide and Qualcomm's first Snapdragon 820 powered smartphone was also a pretty big hit. But, we'll talk about the latter first. Chinese TV maker turned smartphone maker LeTV has the pride of announcing the Le Max Pro which is the very first smartphone running Qualcomm's new octa core Snapdragon 820 CPU. The announcement of the device generated more buzz than expected.

LeTV Le Max Pro Key Specifications:

  • Snapdragon 820 CPU
  • 6.3-inch 1,440 x 2,560 display
  • 32, 64, 128GB memory
  • 4GB RAM
  • 21MP rear camera
  • Quick Charge 2.0
  • Qualcomm Sense ID
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Being the first smartphone powered by the Snapdragon 820 is a nice term when marketing the device but it does not mean anything else. As the smartphone industry has proven, being first into the game doesn't give the player a fair advantage whatsoever unless the company is Apple. But yeah, just look at the HTC One M9, it was the first Snapdragon 810 phone last year but it only managed to get middling response. Anyway, I'm not trying to defame the LeTV Le Max Pro or anything, I just think that it received a little too much buzz than it needed. Plus the device will only be available in the 1H of 2016 and by the time it goes on sale, it'll be fighting with flagships from LG, Samsung and HTC which will all undoubtedly be powered by the new Snapdragon 820 CPU too.

Additionally in the smartphone market, there wasn't any high profile announcements at CES this year and most of the announcements were just previews of what's coming next. Huawei announced that they will be bringing both the Huawei Mate 8 and Honor 5X in to the US later this year and also made the gold Nexus 6P available in the US. Another big announcement was the Google and Lenovo partnership which will see the birth of the first Project Tango phone this Summer and that's basically about it for smartphones during CES. There was the new LG K-series and also that customizable Windows 10 phone from a Japanese maker.
Netflix was yet another buzz generator this week and what's more trendy than a pair of headphones that cost $50,000 a pop? #NetflixEverywhere is the answer and that hashtag managed to go viral worldwide in a matter of hours after the announcement and also sent their stocks up by nearly 10 points. Prior to CES 2016, Netflix was available in 60 different countries and today, the service can be reached to over 190 countries around the globe. This global expansion sounds radical in a lot of ways but in reality, the Netflix content will be curated for each region and not every country will get the same catalog of videos. It's an interesting move by an American company going global which proves once again that internet has conquered most parts of the world. Read more about the deal here.

Qualcomm isn't the only one making waves during CES 2016, other chip makers like Nvidia and Intel also unveiled some interesting hardware products this week. Intel in particular showed off their tiny Curie SoC in action with some extreme sports in addition to their fleet to futuristic drones which had a mind of it's own and also some interesting concepts for wearables. Intel partners in the other hand didn't stop innovating either as they also unveiled some cool new laptops powered by the 14nm Skylake CPUs and not to mention, Windows 10.
While intel is slowly catching up on the demand for Skylake CPUs, the new laptops at CES didn't stop coming. The most notable one was from Razer which is the company's first ultrabook and what's impressive about the new Razer Blade Stealth is not only because it starts at just $999 but it is designed to be paired with what Razer is calling the Core which connects through the Thunderbolt 3 connector and enables the Blade Stealth to be linked to a desktop class GPU or your choice essentially making this the ultimate ultrabook.

When you look at the Razer Blade Stealth, it's hard to not compare it with Microsoft's Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 systems as Razer's lineup of Blade laptops have always been known for their MacBook-class industrial design. From a price standpoint, the Razer Blade Stealth outdoes the Surface Book or Surface Pro 4 in terms of bang for your buck. Most notably is that Razer managed to get a Thunderbolt 3 / USB C connector on the new Blade Stealth which essentially makes it futureproof. One thing that Microsoft totally missed with the first gen Surface Book and SP4 is a USB C port, it's not that the chipset does not support it. It was just Microsoft which didn’t choose to implement it. The next iteration of the Surface lineup will definitely have this future I/O onboard.

Razer Blade Stealth Specifications:

  • Intel Core i7 6500U
  • Intel HD graphics 520
  • 8GB RAM
  • 12.5" IGZO LED touch display
  • QHD (2560 x 1440) OR UHD (3840 x 2160)
  • 128/256/512GB PCIe M.2 SSD
  • Thunderbolt 3 port (USB Type-C)
  • USB 3.0 ports (x2)
  • 13.2mm x 321mm x 206mm
  • 1.25kg 
  • $999 - $1,599

Beyond what Razer unveiled, other PC makers like Samsung, Lenovo, Acer, Dell, HP also unveiled new systems running one Intel's Skylake processors during CES 2016. You've probably heard about the new Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S that runs Windows 10. If not, the new Galaxy Tab Pro S is the first Samsung Galaxy branded device running Windows 10 and it looks like Samsung finally realized that the Ativ brand wasn't good enough and the Galaxy name should be more effective in terms of marketing. But other than the name, the Galaxy Tab Pro 3 is a lot like the Windows based tablets/laptops powered by Intel's core M CPUs.
As it's name suggests, the Galaxy Tab Pro S is more of a tablet styled device like the Surface Pro 4 but the Galaxy Tab Pro S does come bundled with a keyboard accessory, LTE support for higher tiered models and is only 6.4mm thin which is both thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 4 and iPad Pro. Just like the Surface Pro 4, Samsung is offering customers a USB dock which expands the connectivity of the Galaxy Tab Pro S which only sports a single USB C port which is fine for a tablet but this device is designed to be a laptop too.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S Key Specifications:

  • 12-inch 2,160 x 1,440 SUPER AMOLED display
  • 2.2GHz Core M CPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 128/256GB memory
  • 5,200mAh battery
  • 5MP front and rear camera
  • Wi-Fi/LTE
Lenovo also managed to please the crowd with their new lineup of ThinkPad X1 laptops that comes in all forms. The original ThinkPad X1 Carbon got a Skylake upgrade and the new ThinkPad X1 Yoga combines the premium build of the X1 Carbon with Lenvo's flagship Yoga styled hinge enabling the screen to rotate 360 degrees. But most impressively is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet which is able to expand it's functionality to say a 3D Realsense camera or even a mobile projector with the special dock. Learn more about that here
Acer's new Aspire V Nitro "Black Edition" with Intel's Realsense camera technology
Dell's rugged and business focused Latitude 13 700 series Ultrabook capable of ouputting dual 4K displays and features Dell's signature Infinity Edge display like on the XPS 13.
HP's new Elite Book Folio that comes with Windows 10 Pro and is aimed towards business users with an Intel Core M vPro processor onboard.
But moving back to Nvidia, the company didn't announce any new graphics card or mobile processor but they did unveil a sequel to their in-car supercomputer called the Nvidia Drive PX2. The Dual SoC Drive PX2 is designed to help advance the research of autonomous driving and the board itself features over 8 teraflops of compute power which equates to the processing power of 150 MacBook Pros. Volvo will be the first to implement this board their fleet of XC90 cars and this is just the start of supercomputers in cars as everyone including Apple is gearing up to bring autonomous driving to the masses.
Finally, it's to talk some wearables as this category has been a hot topic in the past year or so. Fitbit announced their first customizable fitness tracker with the Fitbit Blaze. The Blaze which features customizable bands and a premium build that includes a shiny aluminum bezel but you can upgrade that look with an optional band like a leather or metal links band. That should take some thunder away from the Apple Watch. But basically, the Fitbit Blaze is just like the Fitbit Charge HR but it look more like a standard square faced watch. HR tracking and automatic activity tracking is available on the color display but the Fitbit Blaze does not come with GPS tracking like the Fitbit Surge.
But wearables isn't necessarily the tech that goes on your hand, as Oculus has proven, Virtual Reality has a bright future. Late last year, the Facebook owned Oculus unveiled the first consumer version of the Oculus Rift and only earlier this week that they finally unveiled the $600 price tag of the virtual reality headset. Oculus is now taking pre-orders for the Rift and the product will finally ship on March 28.

HTC's Vive VR headset made in partnership with Steam was at the HTC booth but the new Under Armor HealthBox was the star of the show there. Bot HTC and Under Armor is calling this $400 box the world's first connected fitness system that is designed to measure, monitor and manage your health. The star of this kit is the UA Band which is a lot like all the other fitness bands out there, it tracks steps and sleeps but lacks the GPS and HR tracking. Also inside the three-piece kit is a UA Heart Rate strap that measures your heart rate and to round things up, there's the US Scale which is a round scale that can log body data of up to 6 people.

Insider Talk

Well, this is it. The things that I was focusing on during CES 2016. I will look into covering things like TVs and cars next year during CES but yeah, when the time comes I'll start to write about autonomous driving. Prior to opening up this blog, I was heavily invested in CES 2012 and that was probably my first year or covering CES as a whole 5-6 day event. Back then, everything was so exciting as I was relatively new to the technology space. But, I would give credit to CES as it did made me open this blog.