Monthly Archives: May 2016

Magical Mi Mix On Xiaomi

On Tuesday fired another shot in the shrinking bezel wars, as it announced a smartphone with a front that’s more than 90 percent display.

The Mi Mix is a 6.4-inch phone that’s stylishly crafted by French designer Philippe Starck. It sports a feature set that indicates Xiaomi wants to compete at the high end of the smartphone market.

“For many years, Xiaomi has had a reputation of copying designs and branding from Apple and Samsung,” said Ross Rubin, principal analyst atReticle Research.

“This phone breaks with those designs,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“One factor for success is trying to get the greatest possible screen area into the smallest possible footprint,” Rubin said. “This design comes close to the ideal of an all-screen phone.”

The Mi Mix has a screen-to-body ratio of 91.3 percent. That compares to 67.7 percent for Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus.

Real Estate Grab

To expand the Mi Mix’s display, Xiaomi grabbed the real estate at the top of the phone occupied by the front-facing camera, ear speaker and proximity sensor.

It did that by moving the front-facing camera to the bottom of the phone, and replacing the ear speaker with a piezoelectric speaker that uses the metal frame of the phone to generate sound. It also replaced the infrared proximity sensor found on most phones with one that uses sound.

The proximity sensor turns off a smartphone’s display as the device approaches the ear. Most phones use an infrared sensor at the top of the phone to do that. The Mi Mix uses ultrasound waves and software to do it.

“We use the sound transmitter that’s already inside the phone,” explained Guenael Strutt, vice president of product development at Elliptic Labs, maker of the ultrasound technology, which it calls “Inner Beauty.”

“The sonic wave echos off the head, is picked up by a microphone, and the data is processed by our algorithms inside the phone,” he told TechNewsWorld. “We use components in the phone to detect the head — we don’t have to add a new sensor.”

Using sound to detect proximity also avoids issues that make infrared sensors unreliable from time to time, such as weather conditions or skin and hair coloring.

Top-Shelf Play

In addition to its eye-catching display, the Mi Mix has a 16-megapixel camera with phase-detect auto focusing, a generous 4,400 mAh battery, two SIM slots and a Snapdragon 821 processor. It supports high-definition audio with a 192 Hz/24-bit DAC chip, which users can listen to through a standard headphone jack.

Although the Mi Mix is officially a concept phone, Xiaomi will start selling it in China next week. Models with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage will be priced at US$516, and those with 6 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage will sell for $590.

“Xiami lost a lot of traction in China as Vivo and Oppo strengthened their position in the lower end, and Huawei and Apple took the high end,” said Carolina Milanesi, a principal analyst at Creative Strategies.

“I see the new Mi Mix concept phone as an attempt by Xiaomi to recapture the higher end of the market and reposition itself as an innovator,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Xiaomi already is a top global contender because of its performance in China, and it wants to challenge Huawei in the West as best-performing Chinese brand.

“If this phone really goes up for sale in the West, it might jump ahead of the iPhone in terms of sexiness and design appeal,” Newzoo CEO Peter Warman told TechNewsWorld.

Just the Beginning

It’s unlikely the Mi Mix will be made for the mass market, though, in Milanesi’s view.

“Chinese consumers love large screens, and the quality of the display looks fantastic,” she said, and “$520 is in line with their pricing strategy of delivering a high-end experience at an affordable price.”

That said, “it will be interesting to see what supplies will be, as I have a feeling that these phones are more focused on revamping brand than growing sales,” Milanesi added.

Xiaomi might be wise to sell as many Mi Mixes as the market will bear as fast as it can before competition heats up.

More designs like the Mi Mix will start appearing in the next 12 months, said Daniel Matte, an analyst at Canalys.

Rocks Worlds Technology

images-6Rez Infinite, one of the first virtual reality games for Sony’s new PlaystationVR, this week earned praise from early reviewers for its graphics and immersing qualities. Sony announced the game — an update of a remake — last year.

Featuring support for 1080p resolution graphics, along with 3D audio sound,Rez Infinite is designed for the PSVR, but it’s also compatible with the regular PlayStation 4.

Sega introduced the original Rez for the Dreamcast in 2001 and the PlayStation 2 a year later. It was a huge hit with fans and critics alike, and it earned an award from the Japan Media Arts Festival. It was featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s 2012 exhibition, “The Art of Video Games.”

Instead of traditional gaming sound effects, Rez incorporates electronic music, which results in the audio being as important as the visuals.

A high-definition version, Rez HD, became available for the Xbox Live Arcade in 2008.

The latest iteration remains true to the original rail shooter music video game in many ways, but the Rez Infinite visuals and audio now are even more immersing through VR technology.

A Virtual Remake

The early take on Rez Infinite emphasizes the way it pays homage to the original while showing off the capabilities of VR. This game might have been just the right choice to show off Sony’s PSVR technology, because it is a blend of the familiar with something new.

“Some games are timeless,” noted Alexa Ray Corriea for GameSpot. “Rez is one of them.”

In addition, because the game is set in “cyberspace” rather than a more photorealistic environment, it makes a solid leap to VR.

“Backgrounds that were once hazy have been replaced with updated, crystal clear pieces of the cyberworld,” added Corriea. “Colors are brighter, lines sharper. Enemies drift in and out of your field of view with a new smoothness. And in VR, Rez Infinite allows you to dive deeper into its world in ways previously impossible.”

The jump from the pre-high definition era graphics of the Dreamcast and PS2 to a true VR experience is highlighted in the reviews.

“I’m jealous of anyone who’s first experience of Rez is this virtual reality version,” wrote Matt Martin for VG247.com.

“This is clearly the way the game was meant to be played; it only took 15 years for the technology to catch up to the design,” suggested Ben Kuchera for Polygon. “Rez Infinite, played in virtual reality, seems like the ‘finished’ version of the game.”

Apt Killer App?

The reviewers may have loved the game, and it is likely that it will attract fans of the original — but the interest Rez Infinite spurs in VR might be limited

“I wouldn’t say that Rez is the killer app for PSVR, in itself,” said Steve Bailey, senior analyst for games at IHS Markit.

“Admittedly, for a number of people from my particular generation, who played Rez on the Dreamcast or PS2, it’s rather intoxicating to see the game realized for VR,” he told TechNewsWorld.

However, “Rez was always a niche darling that never found wide acceptance, and I don’t think that its role is going to scale to a broader audience where VR is concerned, either,” Bailey added.

Theories in the Information Age

One of the most volatile conspiracy theories in recent times ended with a whimper last month, when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made the terse statement, “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”

Though birthers may be with us always, it seems that many have turned their attention to other potentially scandalous topics — and they need look no further than the place most conspiracy theories are born these days, the Internet.

Scientists recently made a discovery that might explain why Trump’s search for President Obama’s “real” birth certificate resonated with his supporters — those most drawn to his promise to “make America great again.”

Highly stressed people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, according to research published this spring in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Based on the responses of 420 U.S. adults surveyed, stress and discontent correlated with a higher likelihood of belief in conspiracy theories ranging from 9/11 being an inside job to the moon landing being produced on a Hollywood set, researchers found, regardless of the participants’ social status.

That offers some insight into why some people are more likely to believe, but it does not explain why they push away a preponderance of evidence in favor of the generally accepted answers to questions most people don’t even ask.

There always have been conspiracy theories, noted pop culture expert Paul Levinson, a communications professor at Fordham University, who pointed to all the wild ideas that emerged in the aftermath of the JFK assassination.

Social media have fanned the flames, making conspiracy theories more likely to spread, he said.

“Anyone can write anything, and it can be viewed by millions in the blink of an eye on Twitter. Millions can, in turn, easily retweet the comment or image or link,” Levinson told TechNewsWorld.

New Tech Targets Human Creativity

images-5Microsoft made a slew of announcements at its New York City event Wednesday, focusing on the idea of user as creator.

Among its new offerings:

  • The Surface Studio, an all-in-one desktop computer with a touchscreen that’s 12.5mm thick;
  • The Surface Dial, a new input device that provides haptic feedback;
  • The Surface Book i7;
  • VR headsets for Windows 10 that use the same Windows Holographic platform as its HoloLens;
  • A revamped Paint app with 3D capability; and
  • Creator’s Update, an upcoming Windows 10 refresh providing 3D creation tools, live streaming, and custom Xbox app tournaments.

“Ultimately, technology is just a tool in the hands of humanity,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the event. It’s “a tool that helps amplify our ingenuity and creativity. New computing medias do not take shape by technology alone.”

The Surface Studio took center stage at the event.

“The Surface Studio is my favorite simply based on looks and the way it’s aimed at graphical productivity,” said Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“It would be ideal for desktop publishing integrating graphics,” he told TechNewsWorld. “This makes productivity through graphical manipulation practical.”

The Surface Studio’s 4.5K ultra HD touchscreen stood out for Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“All the OEMs buy screens based on price and yield,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Microsoft specified a screen that was matched to what Windows can do, which means this one product will work better with Windows than anything currently in, or coming to, market.”

The only other firm that has done that is Apple, Enderle noted.

Surface Studio Specs

The Surface Studio’s screen delivers 63 percent more pixels than a state-of-the-art 4K TV, said Terry Myerson, EVP of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group.

It works beautifully with a stylus pen, touch and the new Surface Dial, he noted.