Computers

Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Chromecasts, Pixel C | Google Event Highlights

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When you see or hear the word Google, hardware isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But they do release devices. While their Nexus launch event, held last week in San Francisco, was a snoozefest, there is plenty to be excited about.

Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P

The much loved Nexus 5, released in 2013, finally gets a refresh. Like its predecessor the 5.2-inch Nexus 5X makes a great case as being one of the best all around phones.

Starting at $379, it is competitively priced with a decent spec sheet and its polycarbonate shell is light and comfortable to grip. Can it draw the same level of interest and attention that the Nexus 5 did? We’ll have to wait and see.

Google pulled in Huawei to make the this year’s premium Nexus device. It helps Huawei position itself as a premium phone maker and they did a splendid job on the 6P.

The 5.7-inch 6P is made of aluminum. It is the first Nexus phone with a full-unibody construction. It also has, at least on paper, an impressive camera, 12.3 megapixels, but that’s not the number Google wants you to focus on. The company is touting the 6P’s 1.55 micron pixel size – larger than most phones on the market today.

Bigger pixels mean the ability to shoot with little to no light. We’re excited to see more sample photos to see if this is really the case.

The high-end Nexus 6P, which starts at $499, also has a host of other camera features including slow-mo capture, and a new smart burst mode. But I’m not feeling that whole band of black at the back of the device hosting the camera. Sure, it helps differentiate it from most other phones today but aesthetically, I wish Huawei went in another direction.

Both phones come with the new reversible USB Type-C for faster charging and will run the latest version of Android – Marshmallow.

The fingerprint scanners for both the 5X and 6P are located at the back right underneath the main camera. I had the chance to test a phone with a similar fingerprint scanner placement and I found it felt natural if you unlock the device while holding it up. But if you want to unlock the phone while its back is lying on the table, you might have to resort to using a lock code.

Google did well to address two needs with their 2015 Nexus phones – a value-for-money Nexus that most fans craved for after the pricey Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 of 2014, and the best of pure Android on a premium smartphone.

Chromecast and Chromecast Audio

Google tweaked the look of its media streaming device and made two of them – one for your TV, another for your speakers. Both are priced $35.

Instead of a stick, the redesigned Chromecast is now clearly more circular with a bendable HDMI arm that’s supposed to make it easy to hide the device behind your TV. It also has additional WiFi antennas for better range and support for modern wifi standards.

It comes in three colors: black, lemon yellow, and bright red.

Chromecast Audio, as its name suggests, focuses on music. With support for RCA, 3.5 mm, and optical inputs, Chromecast Audio should be able to take any speaker you have lying around and make it ‘smarter’.

Along with it comes the announcement that Chromecast now supports leading music streaming service Spotify. Now more than ever, it’s easier to blast your favorite playlists whether you want to rock out, dance, or, if the mood is right, ask someone to ‘Marvin Gaye And Get It On.’

Pixel C

In yet another crack at mobile productivity, Google announces the Pixel C (C stands for convertible).

It’s a 10.2-inch slate that pairs magnetically with a keyboard and it looks really promising. At the demo, Google showed off how the tablet seamlessly attaches to the keyboard without nasty ports and docks. You also don’t need to charge the keyboard as it is already charging the moment you stick it to the tablet.

It appeared the Pixel C will automatically come with the keyboard. Unfortunately that is not the case. The Pixel C tablet will retail for $499 and if you want the keyboard too, it’ll burn another $149 hole in your pocket.

That aside, the tablet, which runs Android Marshmallow, looks absolutely gorgeous and does appear like a step forward to actual productivity when you’re on the go.

Computers

NVIDIA launches the new RTX 2000 series

Promises movie-like quality for games

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Throughout the years, video games have slowly edged closer to movie-like picture quality. As of late, cinematic video games — like The Last of Us — have begun their long renaissance. Now, NVIDIA has unveiled a new series of graphics cards that pushes that boundary even further.

The newly launched GeForce RTX 2000 series leaps miles apart from NVIDIA’s long-reigning GTX 1080 video card. Specifically, the series comes in three variants — the RTX 2070, RTX 2080, and RTX 2080 Ti.

Powered by the Turing architecture, the new series attempts to solve the industry’s problems. Most importantly, the RTX 2000 series highlights ray tracing, a feature missing from video cards before now.

Traditionally, video games have trouble rendering lighting. Usually, games fall into two categories: terribly drawn lighting which clashes haphazardly with stunning textures, or power-hungry graphics that tank your frames-per-second rate to single digits.

Ray tracing vastly improves how light interacts with surfaces. With the feature, the series brings professional-level graphics to a mass market. In terms of performance, the RTX 2000 cards promise six times the capabilities of the previous GTX 1080.

For starters, the RTX 2070 comes with 2304 CUDA cores and 8GB GDDR6 RAM. The midrange RTX 2080 offers 2944 CUDA cores and the same amount of RAM. Finally, the flagship RTX 2080 Ti boasts 4352 CUDA cores and 11GB GDDR6 RAM.

Already, the series promises support for upcoming games: Battlefield V, Metro Redux, Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Upon launch, the RTX 2070 retails for US$ 499. The midrange RTX 2080 sells for US$ 699. Finally, the RTX 2080 Ti sells for US$ 999. All three cards will also come with Founders Edition variants selling for US$ 599, US$ 799, and US$ 1,199, respectively. The series will officially launch on September 20.

SEE ALSO: NVIDIA Titan V breaks benchmarks and banks

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Computers

ASUS Vivo AiO (V272) review: All-in-one goodness?

A complete desktop PC that simply works

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As a person who builds his own desktop computers and thrives on portable laptops for his on-the-go lifestyle, I admit there are times I just want a PC that can do it all — minus all the hassle of plugging accessories in and finding wall sockets for charging.

That’s exactly what an all-in-one computer aims to do, and the ASUS Vivo AiO is the latest example.

Much like the Zen AiO Pro I reviewed last year, this model only needs a single power cable to get things running. Everything else is already built in or simply wireless. Now, that’s convenience!

Here’s what it can do

Make no mistake about it: This AiO PC is quite big. With a 27-inch LCD on its adjustable base, it takes some effort to take this 8.5kg computer out of its box and setting it on a table. From there, however, the rest of the setup becomes pleasantly easy.

All you have to do is plug in the power cable, insert the wireless keyboard and mouse’s dongle into an open USB port, and you’re all set! Powering the unit on happens by pressing a somewhat hidden button at the back of the display.

You’ll then be greeted by a 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution, which isn’t that dense for a 27-inch panel, but it does allow the system to run more smoothly since fewer pixels have to be pushed at a given time. ASUS claims it has a 100 percent sRGB color gamut, which is great for editing photos and videos more accurately.

Some variants of the Vivo AiO come with a touchscreen. This is kinda unusual to have on a desktop computer, but if it’s already there, then why not, right? Still, I would stick to using the keyboard and mouse, and leave the touch gestures to your laptop or smartphone.

I’m saying this because the bundled wireless mouse and keyboard are actually quite good. While not mechanical or gaming-optimized in any sense, they’re ergonomic and work well on all sorts of surfaces with no noticeable input lag.

Despite having everything in one solid piece, there are enough ports to go around.

Underneath the display, you get a single USB port, which I found to be a perfect spot to plug in the keyboard-mouse receiver, as well as a 3.5mm audio port for your headphones or external speakers.

At the back is a decent selection of ports, from USB 3.1 to HDMI and Ethernet. The only head-scratching omission is USB-C, which is becoming increasingly common on smartphones and thin notebooks. Even ASUS’ own phones and laptops are committed to the port, so it’s strange to see it missing here.

Design-wise, my main complaint is the location of the webcam. It’s situated on the bottom bezel, allowing it to look up your nose during video calls. ASUS brags about the display’s 81 percent screen-to-body ratio, but I would’ve been fine with some bezel up top to house the front camera instead.

Even though you can tilt the unit by a few degrees to find your sweet spot, you sadly can’t adjust the height to remedy the poorly placed webcam.

What exactly can it run?

One look at the specifications sheet, and you can tell what this machine is meant for.

My review unit is equipped with an Intel Core i7-8550U, 8GB of memory, and an NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics chip. This setup means the Vivo AiO can handle light workloads such as Microsoft Office, Chrome, and Photoshop with ease, but anything visually heavy will make it struggle a bit.

Like most AiO computers, upgrading components is a pain, so you’ll have to settle for whatever configuration you pay for from the start, so choose wisely.

During my time with this unit, I didn’t experience any lag while browsing websites, writing articles, and editing photos — all at the same time. That’s largely thanks to the quad-core Core i7 processor with Hyper-threading, giving you eight logical cores in total.

It’s only when I fired up a couple of graphically demanding games when the system couldn’t keep up.

For kicks, I played some Final Fantasy XV on this thing. As expected, I was forced to endure the lowest graphics settings on 1080p. However, to my surprise, the game managed to run at a consistent 30 frames per second, which made it totally playable. Any title less power-hungry than Final Fantasy XV such as Fortnite or PUBG — will definitely run more smoothly.

Video editing on Premiere Pro is enjoyable on the large monitor and its powerful stereo speakers, but don’t expect rendering to be seamless. Still, I highly recommend getting a configuration with both an SSD and HDD to speed up the processing and provide you with enough storage, respectively. My setup has a standard 128GB M.2 SSD and 1TB HDD.

All in with the all-in-one?

In a nutshell, this is pretty much the Windows equivalent of an iMac. And like an Apple product, the Vivo AiO simply works. There’s no cumbersome setup process or annoying cables and dongles to deal with; plug it in and you’re set.

Who is this for other than iMac users wanting to jump ship? I’d say Windows users who want more screen real estate than what a laptop offers, yet need to save as much desk space as possible. An AiO like this is by far easier to transfer from one point to another compared to a traditional desktop PC with its separate monitor and multitude of cables.

Of course, this costs more than a custom-built PC spec-for-spec. You may buy a Vivo AiO with a starting price of US$ 1,000, but you could assemble a more powerful rig for less.

It ultimately comes down to convenience versus power. Which one will it be for you this time? Take a long look at your work space and decide from there.

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Computers

AMD unveils powerful 32-core Threadripper 2

More cores for more powerful performance

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AMD announced the arrival of its new CPU at Computex 2018, and it promises to bring more power to modern computers out there. We’re talking about Threadripper 2, a more powerful update than its predecessor — bringing with it 32 CPU cores. That’s more than enough for multitasking, photo and video editing, and gaming, too!

Threadripper 2 features the latest 12mm Zen+ architecture from AMD, the same architecture found in the latest Ryzen CPUs. Desktops running Threadripper 2 are expected to consume less power when running a ton of applications all at once. The Zen+ architecture also allows for better security and compatibility with the latest hardware available.

AMD says that Threadripper 2 will work on motherboards with an X399 architecture with its 250W power requirement, much more than its predecessor at 180W. However, older X399 motherboards might not be able to meet the power requirement for the new CPU, especially if you plan to maximize the CPU through overclocking. AMD’s partners are expected to launch newer X399 motherboards to accommodate the greater demands of the Threadripper 2.

AMD says that the new Threadripper 2 will clock in at 3.0GHz, less than the 3.4GHz the original Threadripper had. These are still subject to changes as more tests and benchmarks will be done before its official launch. At this speed, however, AMD caters to users who want to maximize the CPU for heavy workloads.

Threadripper 2 will be available in both a 24-core CPU and its flagship 32-core CPU for heavier workloads. Although AMD has not yet announced prices for the new CPU, the company expects its launch to be in the third quarter of 2018.

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