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Windows 8 is hot, the devices are strange, and the experimentation is cool
Computex Taiwan is a hothouse of tech experimentation, with vendors spinning off ideas and plans that will be ruthlessly winnowed by the Darwinian dynamics on consumer spending. Here are some of the hottest, and strangest, gadgets from the current show (content collected by John Cox from Network World and IDG News Service stories).
Touch charging is a major theme at this year's Computex show. Winstream, a Taiwanese manufacturer of power supplies, demonstrated its new touch charging chip: Two iPhones (shown) with external battery packs containing the chips were pressed together back-to-back. One phone charged the other, then the settings in the packs were changed, and power flowed in the opposite direction. The $4 chips, due in September, will actually be implanted in mobile devices.
Microsoft Windows 8 on ARM processors is a Big Deal at Computex, and it's sparked fireworks between chipmakers Intel and ARM. Microsoft calls the ARM-based OS "Windows RT."
Asustek Computer (Asus) this week was one of the first to show a hybrid tablet with the new OS and an ARM CPU -- the Asus Tablet 600, with a 10-inch display, quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU. The tablet weighs 1.12 pounds, and is 0.33 inches thick; sports an 8-megapixel camera at the rear with LED flash, and a 2-megapixel camera at the front; boasts 2GB RAM, 32GB of storage, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0; and is preloaded with Office 15. No word on when it will ship.
The touch interface is evolving, allowing users to draw directly on touch-sensitive screens. ViewSonic unveiled a monster 32-inch drawable display, a size that dwarfs the mid 20-inch range of products from market leader Wacom, although the latter has better pen and markup sensitivity. The ViewSonic display on the Computex show floor responded well to drawing motions and different degrees of pressure, but sometimes missed clicks and swipes. Specs are still being finalized but it will go on sale in the U.S. in late August, for $3,000. The device uses a digital pen, rechargeable via a USB cradle; the pen runs 80 hours per charge. ViewSonic is going beyond the traditional graphics market, marketing to telecommunications, hotels and education.
A reboot for the hapless Google TV project is underway: Honeywld Technology, a small Taiwan-based device maker, demonstrated a Google TV set-top box that lets TVs play movies streamed directly from Android 4.0 smartphones or tablets. The box, running Android 4.0, will also synchronize multimedia content including pictures. The box has an ARM CPU, 4GB of flash storage, 1GB of DDR3 memory and a MicroSD slot; ports for Ethernet and HDMI video; and Wi-Fi as an option. Price estimates by the vendor: $95-$120. The mobile devices will need to install an app, which is being developed.
The first version of Google TV was used in Sony's Internet TV and Logitech's Revue set-top box, both now discontinued.
"AMD Inside" is the basic thrust by Advanced Micro Devices, which showed off a prototype Windows 8 tablet-laptop hybrid running on the company's A-series "Trinity" chips. It's a direct challenge to Intel's Ivy Bridge processors, which (Intel claims) will power about 30 Windows 8 touchscreen ultrabooks by year-end. The AMD prototype device, built by Compal, had a detachable touchscreen that could be used as a tablet.
The A-series chips are designed for ultrabooks and start at $600. Trinity has up to four CPU cores, is 25% faster than its Llano predecessor, and sports a graphics core that's 50% faster. Trinity chips draw 17 watts of power and 10 hours of battery life. So far, no PC maker has announced a tablet-laptop hybrid based on Trinity chips.
Put your trust in AA batteries. The SpareOne mobile phone is a barebones handset that runs on one replaceable AA battery. There's no screen, no charging port, or other ports, but it will give you 10 hours of talk time; the battery will keep for 15 years if the phone isn't used. It's intended for use in natural disasters and other emergencies. There's a number keypad, dial and hang-up buttons, and basic volume control. It also has a small flashlight and an "emergency call" button that automatically dials the local authorities. It weighs 2.6 ounces, and measures 4.72 by 2.36 inches. SpareOne was created by a subsidiary of TennRich International, and is available in the U.S. for $70, via the company's website.
Carbon heavy. Taiwan's Gigabyte Technologies unveiled the "world's lightest" laptop at Computex, the Gigabyte X11, made from a durable, lightweight carbon fiber material that is six times more durable than aluminum, according to the vendor. The specs: 11.6-inch screen, 2.15 pounds (a shade lighter than Apple's MacBook Air), 128GB solid-state drive, 4GB of DDR3 memory, a high-definition 1366-by-768-pixel resolution display, and a large fiberglass touchpad; a USB 2.0 port on one side, a USB 3.0 port on the other, a Micro SD slot, and audio port; and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
Initially, it runs Windows 7 on Intel's new "Ivy Bridge" Core i5 and i7 processors. The X11 will be priced between $1,000 and $1,300. It's on sale in the U.S. in Q3.
One of Acer's new Windows 8 products unveiled at Computex is the sleek Iconia W700 tablet, with an 11.6-inch full HD touchscreen, three USB 3.0 ports, a promise of 8 hours of battery life, and an attachable "cradle," which acts as a stand (shown) to tilt the device at 70- or 20-degree viewing angles. It reflects Acer's effort to create new hardware designs that meld features from tablets and notebooks. The W700 tablet uses Intel's new Core line of chips codenamed Ivy Bridge. Price range is $800 to $1,000.
Its smaller sibling, the 10.1-inch Iconia W510, can be used as a touch-screen tablet, a notebook or a presentation device. Its detachable stand-dock has an extra battery to extend its operating time up to 18 hours.
Et tu, Ubuntu! Canonical will make announcements on the open-source Ubuntu OS for smartphones later this year, the company hinted, but refused to offer even a general release time frame. At the trade show, an Android smartphone (the black oblong in the foreground of the photo) booted using Google's mobile OS, but then loaded and ran Ubuntu side by side with it when the phone was put in a dock that was connected to a monitor. The Ubuntu version in the demo provided the full experience also found on the desktop version of the OS, including access to Ubuntu Software Center and the Unity user interface. The dual-OS will take advantage of multicore ARM CPUs and graphics processors in smartphones today, Canonical officials say.
Asus' iPad challenger, the Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T, will ship in late June or early July. One report says the 16GB model will cost $380. It has a 10.1-inch, 1920 x 1200 display -- one of the highest-res screens on an Android tablet but still short of the new iPad. It has Android 4.0 and optional 3G/4G mobile broadband connectivity. It runs either a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, for models focused on gaming and multimedia, or a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip, for models with 3G/4G LTE. Other specs: 20.67 ounces, up to 64GB internal storage, microSD card slot and micro HDMI port, rear 8MP camera and front 2MP camera. Battery life is 10 hours; optional $150 keyboard dock extends it to 16.