Tag Archives: Software

Olympus XZ-1 review: Fast and fun

Though ILCs may be the more interesting enthusiast cameras, the more popular market seems to be compact, fixed-lens models, such as the Canon PowerShot S95 and Nikon Coolpix P7000. Olympus forges into that market with its XZ-1, a promising-looking model that’s not quite as compact as the S95, but with an exceptionally fast f1.8 lens and a sleek design that rivals models like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 in size and operation.

Its photo quality falls short of excellent, though. While the JPEG processing is a problem, it seems like the images don’t come off the sensor clean enough to lay all the blame at the feet of the algorithm. I found that I could fix detail issues at low ISO sensitivities, but couldn’t gain much latitude with respect to noise. Even at ISO 100 details like hair can come out mushy in JPEGs at midrange distances; this is a problem for landscapes, for example, where grass and leaves will look muddied. Processing raw can help somewhat at higher ISO sensitivities, but I was unable to produce an artifact-free version of an ISO 400 shot. At midrange ISO sensitivities you can get cleaner shots, but the trade-off is some lost detail.

In its default settings, Olympus applies a bit too much sharpening to the center subjects in its JPEGs. While it doesn’t look too bad in many cases, in more natural shots it adds a bit of crunchiness. Overall, the camera renders reasonably accurate colors and they’re pleasingly saturated. The camera’s generally cool outdoor white balance shifts the hue in reds a bit (a common problem with digital cameras). While there’s some loss of detail in the brightest areas, the camera does a reasonable job.

Read the rest of the review.

Article source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20090321-1/olympus-xz-1-review-fast-and-fun/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave

Samsung 2.8-pound ‘Sandy Bridge’ laptop hits $619

Staples has begun selling the 11.6-inch Samsung Series 3 laptop for $619 after “instant savings,” one of the least expensive ultraportables based on Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge processor.

The Series 3 presages sub-$800 Ultrabooks likely to appear in 2012 from PC makers. Though–with a maximum thickness of about 1 inch–it’s not as thin as Ultrabooks are expected to be, the weight is about right at 2.8 pounds.

The silicon is similar to Ultrabooks too. In this case, an ultra power efficient Intel Core i3-2357M Sandy Bridge processor.

Samsung Series 3 heralds future Ultrabooks priced below $800.

Samsung Series 3 heralds future Ultrabooks priced below $800.


Unlike the Samsung Series 9 (which can be considered an early Ultrabook), the Series 3 does not have a solid-state drive but a standard spinning hard disk.

Other specifications include 4GB of memory, 320GB hard disk drive (5400RPM), 6-Cell battery, Intel HD graphics,
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), and VGA, HDMI, and USB ports.

And here’s another way to think of this Series 3 model: an inexpensive alternative to the 11.6-inch MacBook Air, which begins at $999.

Article source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-20089842-64/samsung-2.8-pound-sandy-bridge-laptop-hits-$619/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave

Battlefield 3 to have 10x the unlocks of Bad Co. 2

Battlefield 3 awards

Battlefield 3 will continue to be fun in 2013, DICE says.


Last week, publisher Electronic Arts said preorder tallies for Battlefield 3 are currently tracking 10 times higher than predecessor Battlefield: Bad Company 2. However, reservation totals aren’t the only area in which Battlefield 3 is growing tenfold over its predecessor.

According to the latest Battlelog update, Battlefield 3 features 10 times as many in-game unlocks as Bad Company 2. These items include weapons, weapons attachments, gadgets, awards, service stars, and what DICE calls a “huge unlock tree” for vehicles.

Read more of “Battlefield 3 to have 10X the unlocks of Bad Co. 2” at GameSpot.

Article source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20089768-1/battlefield-3-to-have-10x-the-unlocks-of-bad-co-2/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave

Smartphones Unlocked: Understanding processors

Welcome to Smartphones Unlocked, my new monthly column designed to explain the ins and outs of smartphones to help you better understand how they work. The world of smartphones is fast-paced and can sometimes be confusing and difficult to keep track of all the new technology in these devices, particularly if you’re new to them, so if there are any topics you’d like to see covered here, please feel free to e-mail me at bonnie.cha@cnet.com.

There are a lot of things to consider when buying a smartphone–operating system, screen size, keyboard or no keyboard, camera–but one feature that more people are starting to pay attention to is the processor. This is, no doubt, in part due to the recent influx of dual-core smartphones like the Motorola Photon 4G, HTC Sensation 4G, and Samsung Galaxy S II.

Samsung Galaxy S II

The Samsung Galaxy S II is one of a number of smartphones today to feature a dual-core processor, but what does that mean for you?

Josh Miller/CNET)

With everyone from carriers to handset manufacturers to tech sites talking up dual-core processors, you probably get the idea that having a dual-core processor is a good thing, but for the uninitiated, it might not be apparent why, and for some, the whole subject of processors might be a mystery. It’s easy to understand why; it’s a spec that gets thrown around a lot, along with various names like Nvidia Tegra 2, Qualcomm Snapdragon, and TI OMAP, but it’s a feature that’s never fully explained and frankly, the business of processors can get pretty complicated and technical.

For this month’s column, I’m going to take a general approach to the topic and explain the processor’s function, explain the different parts, how they affect your smartphone’s performance, and give you a glimpse of what’s to come in the future. I’ll also introduce the various chipset makers, but there’s quite a bit of variation in how each of the companies design processors and this is where things can get a bit complicated, so I’ll save the comparison of each for a future column. That said, hopefully, this will serve as a good starting point to better understanding the world of smartphone processors.

What’s in a processor?

Nowadays, smartphones are so much more than phones and personal organizers. They’re music and video players; they’re mobile Web browsers and; they’re cameras and camcorders. However, in order to do all those things, there needs to be a part of the system that can process and carry out those functions, which is where the processor enters the picture.

“The processor is the brain of the smartphone,” explains Nick Stam, director of technical marketing at Nvidia. “Just like a regular desktop or laptop, these devices are, at the highest level, computers, and like computers, they have a processor to do all the basic calculations and to execute code.”

Of course, with smartphones, you’re dealing with a smaller form factor, so the design of the processor is somewhat different than what you’d find on your computer. On your desktop, you’ve got different elements, such as your Central Processor Unit (CPU), Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), memory, and peripheral buses, that all connect to the motherboard.

On a smartphone, you’ve got similar components, as well as other sub-processors, but they’re integrated onto a single chipset, referred to as System-on-a-Chip (SoC), since there isn’t room to have different chipsets with the battery taking up so much space. So technically, when we talk about processors, we’re really talking about the SoC, but for pretty obvious reasons,

Inside Nvidia’s Tegra 2 chipset, or System-on-a-Chip, lies multiple components, including two CPUs, a GPU, and video encoders and decoders.

Screenshot by Bonnie Cha/CNET)

A key component of the SoC is the CPU. Most companies use a CPU based a design from a company called ARM, and it handles most things you experience on your smartphone, from running the OS to touch-screen functions. When people talk about whether a phone has an 800MHz processor or a 1GHz processor, they’re referring to the speed of the CPU. Additionally, single-core or dual-core refers to the number of CPU cores.

Another element of the SoC is the GPU. The GPU processes graphical and visual data, so it’s responsible for such things as rendering Web pages and game play. Having a dedicated GPU is much more efficient than letting the CPU handle it, since it allows for lower power consumption while offering such benefits as better image processing and anti-aliasing and geometric realism. The better the GPU, the better experience you’ll have viewing complex Web sites and 3D video games.

Finally, the SoC incorporates a number of other sub-processors, such as video encoders and decoders, camera operation, and audio playback, so your smartphone can perform such tasks. Some companies also incorporate a phone’s modem (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, 3G/4G, etc.) into the SoC, while others keep them separate, which leads to the next topic.

Not all processors are created equal

Now, just because two smartphones both have 1GHz processors doesn’t mean you’re going to get the same kind of performance from both. This is because different chipset makers take different approaches to designing their processors or SoC.

There are four major players in the mobile processing world, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Samsung, but they’re all have one thing in common: ARM. ARM is the company that provides the architecture for mobile processors, and these companies use it as the basis for developing their chipsets. So what’s the reason for variation?

This is because some companies license ARM’s CPU design and use it as is, while others only license the instruction set and create their own CPU based on the guidelines provided by ARM. Qualcomm is an example of the latter, which is why you see some of its dual-core processors clocked at higher speeds, such as 1.2GHz. Add to that different kinds of GPUs and various integrations of sub-processors and modems, and you’re going to get some different results.

Again, I’ll compare each of the manufacturers processors in a future column, but for the sake of sticking with the basics for this article, I left it out.

Dual-core and beyond

As I mentioned earlier, smartphones already do a lot of things, but the advent of dual-core processors has allowed them to do even more, such as 3D and 1080p HD video capture and playback. These chipsets consist of two CPU cores, running at 1GHz to 1.2GHz each, depending on the maker, but it would be a mistake to think that a dual-core processor equals double the speed of a single-core phone. The difference isn’t quite that dramatic.

Qualcomm plans to offer quad-core processors in Q1 2012.


That said, you should enjoy faster Web browsing, smoother game play, quicker multi-tasking, and even improved battery life.

“When you have a single CPU core, you need to raise of the voltage of the CPU, which consumes a lot of power,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior technical marketing manager for Tegra at Nvidia. “With two cores, you’re basically processing at half the frequency and not maxing out, so it better handles multi-tasking and multi-threaded applications.”

It’s only going to get better too. Several chipset makers, including Qualcomm, Nvidia, and TI, have already announced plans for quad-core processors. Nvidia began promoting its next-gen Kal-El quad-core CPU back in February with a scheduled release for this fall, and Qualcomm will follow in Q1 2012.

“Existing functions on smartphones will get better and better, as they will get more powerful and power-efficient,” said Raj Talluri, vice president of product management at Qualcomm. “They’ll also do more and more things, and we see the use of gestures, augmented reality, and increased wireless connectivity between devices becoming more popular in the future. Next year’s smartphones are just going to be great products.”

Article source: http://www.cnet.com/8301-17918_1-20088704-85/smartphones-unlocked-understanding-processors/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave

Tiny lens could put projector phones in our pockets

pair of tiny lenses

Lenses like these millimeter midgets could play a big role in your next phone.

Alps Electric)

We’ve been waiting years for smartphones to gain built-in projectors. What’s not to like about your phone being able to project a 50-inch display?

There are a few projector phones on the market–outside the U.S.–but the predicted flood has been slow to materialize. That could be changing, thanks in part to a speck of glass not much larger than a grain of sand.

One reason phone projectors have been just out of reach is that they have to be bright to be seen well, and projecting a lot of light takes a lot of power. So while it’s possible to put a tiny powerful projector into a phone, doing so involves trade-offs.

The grain-size speck of glass, a lens from Japanese component maker Alps Electric, transmits more light than previous lenses, which means fewer trade-offs. A projector using the lens requires less power to put out a given amount of light. When component makers address efficiency like this, watch for more phone makers to take the plunge.

The Alps Electric lens measures a millimeter by a millimeter and is less than a millimeter thick. The company boosted the lens’ efficiency from 68 percent to 73 percent, making more of the light pumped out by laser diodes pass through the lens.

So, will your next smartphone be a projector phone? Projector phones are cool, and they’ve been a staple of science fiction for decades. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they’re all over the place. It’s obvious that it will make your phone easier on your eyes, but will it also change what you do with it?

Also, will there be downsides to projector phones? It’s annoying enough hearing everyone’s phone conversations in public. Are we going to find ourselves constantly treated to strangers’ favorite YouTube clips too?

(Via Wired)

Article source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20088887-1/tiny-lens-could-put-projector-phones-in-our-pockets/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave

Don’t stop pedaling on bike-powered Ferris wheel

Pedal power: The bike-operated Ferris wheel.

Tod Seelie)

If you’re a fan of amusement rides and exercise, here’s a homemade thrill you won’t want to miss.

Kinetic sculptor Paul Cesewski (aka Paul Da Plumber) is building another pedal-powered Ferris wheel that can seat three daring riders.

As seen in the vid below, the wheel gets plenty of laughs–and squeals. Paul and collaborators plan to show the wheel this summer in conjunction with artists’ collective Miss Rockaway Armada.

“The Ferris wheel is just in the beginning stages and will eventually be floating on a junk raft on a river,” says collaborator and photographer Tod Seelie, adding that a smaller version of the wheel previously sailed down the Mississippi.

Paul has been building Ferris wheels in various forms for years and showing them off at festivals such as Maker Faire. At the Burning Man festival in 2004, he debuted his Star Wheel, a three-person, mobile, giant hamster-wheel contraption that looks insanely dangerous and fun.

A 2008 artist-in-residence at the San Francisco dump, he produced an exhibition entitled “Carnival Mecanique,” and made this statement:

“Much of my artwork consists of bicycle-powered kinetic sculpture. Participants move themselves through space by pushing bicycle pedals. People-powered machines engage us in active participation with the machines. The process of propulsion is in the hands of the participant. The participant can experiment with the machine and respond to stimulus directly. We experience the organic nature of propelling ourselves.”

I just hope his wheels have seat belts.

Bicycle Ferris Wheel – Test Run from Sucka Pants on Vimeo.

(Via Craziest Gadgets)

Article source: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20087770-1/dont-stop-pedaling-on-bike-powered-ferris-wheel/?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=Crave