Rage3D Kombuting // February 1st edition

Author: Pete Vagiakos
Date: February 1st, 2013

Sony's comeback, Tegra 4, CES mini-recap and Ubuntu Phone this week!

Is it a blog? Is it my rumblings with a spice of memes? Is it Stuff That Are Entirely My Opinion And Do Not Reflect That of Rage3D? Guilty as charged on all accounts. Enjoy and comment away :)

Sony making a comeback

It has been a very interesting month for Sony, releasing its new Xperia Z line for both the mobile phone and tablet categories, where both have been praised by the press as both solid and ground-breaking. First to steal the spotlight was the Sony Xperia Z, its new flagship mobile phone.

Its specifications are tempting indeed; a FullHD 5" screen (aka 1920x1080 resolution) backed by a ground-breaking 443ppi Mobile Bravia Engine 2 technology. As its core, it uses the powerful 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 APQ 8064 quad-core processor, with graphics handled by the Adreno 320 GPU. All the usual (and not-so-usual) bling, like NFC, 2GB RAM, an impressive 13-gigapixel camera that also supports HDR video recording and LTE support are there, and furthermore, Sony claims it to be water-resistant, and dust-resistant, topping a surely impressive list of features. The phone is expected to hit retail end of February, and we are sure that it'll be a hit and will certainly give the upcoming Galaxy S4 a run for its money. Sony is making an even better deal for the UK, bundling a pair of its MDR-1R $299 headphones for every pre-order before February 27th, so if you are interested in this super phone, run and grab it. Hopefully we'll see that offer extended to other parts of the world as well.

As far as the Xperia Tablet Z is concerned, its specs are equally impressive: same CPU as its mobile brother, 10.1" with a FullHD 1920x1080 resolution, an 8.1-megapixel Exmor R-sensor rear camera. What sets it apart from the competition is its body, being an impressive 6.9mm thin, 495g light which makes it the lightest and thinnest tablet out there right now. Other specs include LTE support, NFC, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage, plus a 6000mAh battery which helps it stay thin and light. It should come out after the Xperia Z hits retail, so end of Q1, start of Q2 2013 is our best bet.

Both of these products should help Sony steal some of the spotlight from its competition, with impressive specs and even more impressive design. There's no official word on pricing yet, but if they are priced competitively, Sony will definitely have two winners on its hands.

Tegra 4 coming out of the shadows

Another major CES announcement was from NVidia, namely its Tegra 4 chipset. If you recall, we had mentioned rumours about it in a previous installation of Kombuting, and the guys from Santa Clara didn't disappoint.

Jen-Hsun Huang himself presented the goods over at the CES stage. Tegra 3 has been wildly popular for NVidia; you can find it in the majority of tablets and is used by many mobile phones as well, so its next iteration is keeping up with the trend. The chipset is keeping up with the design ideas of Tegra 3 and is sporting four ARM Cortex A15 processors running at up to 1.9GHz, with a fifth Cortex A15 running at between 700 - 800MHz for lighter workloads, which should reduce battery consumption. It also features 72 GPU cores, which of course is marketing talk for six Vec4 vertex units (FP32, 24 cores) and four 3-deep Vec4 pixel units (FP20, 48 cores). That kind of processing power should in theory offer more GFLOPS than even Apple's A6X which is considered king of the hill at the moment. On the feature side, among other things we noticed support for real multisampling AA, max texture resolution takes a bump up to 4K x 4K and LTE support with the help of the NVidia Icera 500 chipset add-on.

Even though the new chipset seems very promising, one thing is lacking: support from vendors. Only Toshiba has announced a Tegra4-based tablet, with major players like Acer and Asus staying silent as far as their plans are concerned. According to a report from VR-Zone, NVidia is thinking of dropping its Tegra 3 prices in order for the chipset to become affordable for entry-level tablets and devices, which should provide consumers some good opportunities in the near future. If we hear anything new concerning Tegra 4 devices, we'll report in a later Kombuting entry.

In other interesting stuff from CES...

Speaking of NVidia, one of the things that really caught our eye in this year's CES is Project Shield, a handheld console which literally appeared out of nowhere and really gathered very positive feedback from everyone.

First of all, as you can see it looks a LOT like an Xbox 360 controller, and handles like one, if various reports from CES are to be believed. It's a Tegra 4 powered Android handheld console, with a 5" top-up screen, making it a bit bulky, although it's just a prototype for now. Some of its features include microUSB, microHDMI and a microSD slot. The console was happily running Borderlands 2 and Call of Duty, and it sure looks promising. So until NVidia pins down the final details of the specifications and design, this is definitely one to watch for.

The thing that really stole the show though was the Oculus Rift. In case you missed it, it was a success story on Kickstarter a few months back, a Virtual Reality helmet that promised to revolutionize game playing. It met its Kickstarter funding goal, and the people over at Oculus VR are ready to send the first development kits to the backers this March. But they found some time to present it to the CES crowed and reporters for a test drive.

And boy, were people impressed or what. It quickly became the talk of the show, with everyone agreeing that it takes VR to another level. It packs two lenses in a head-mounted display - each lense has a 640x800 resolution, and they are both combined to form a 1280x800. There's also a break-out control box you use to plug the headset to your computer; it features DVI, HDMI, micro-USB and power. I agree that this doesn't sound very 2013ish, but trust me when I say that people were floored regardless, with everyone that tried it mentioning the immersion of the experience, how easy on the eyes it was and the potential it has to transform game playing. It's just a dev kit of course, and things will be more improved until it hits market, so it can only get better. Virtual Reality was one of those things we were promised as kids for "the future" but never quite got, so maybe this time someone actually did it right.

Other things that caught our eye from the various CES coverage reports are:

  • Another product that made the jump from Kickstarter success to actual product was the Pebble smart watches. After some delays, the product was officially shipped on January 23rd with initial reviews being favourable - a sealed polycarbonate face and bezel certainly helps making it feel like a quality part, with the MagSafe-like adapter and waterproofing up to some five atmospheres of pressure (that's about 160 feet.) being welcome additions to an already compelling product. The first people that received it are the Kickstarter backers of course, with pre-orders for the rest of us available in the near future.
  • Microsoft's Surface Pro made an appearance, and it's everything people have hoped for, minus the disk space. It seems that the 64GB tablet only has 21GB free, which is... well... laughable. Microsoft keeps shooting itself on the foot with this one, and I really don't see how this otherwise excellent tablet will succeed in the market.
  • In the ZOMG department, Sony actually presented a mouth-watering 56" UltraHD OLED TV. No release date, no price tag, just the stuff dreams are made of. Panasonic also presented us with a 20" tablet sporting a 4K resolution. Yes, that's UltraHD, and 20 inches. Can't wait for it to become mainstream so that people take pictures with it during concerts.
  • It wouldn't be CES if rumours that "the PC is dead" didn't surface for one more time. Yes, it's an annual thing, the death of the PC platform that is; with other exciting factors coming to take its place, new consoles, slowing sales, making it irrelevant yada yada, I am sure you know the story by now. So I will use one of my favourite memes for all that :

The Ubuntu Phone - and why it's destined to fail

A month ago, Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical and driving force behind the most popular Linux derivative out there, Ubuntu, made an announcement that turned quite a few heads: Ubuntu was coming to the mobile space, with a new and innovatively designed UI, based on gestures. Some people who had hands-on with the devices claimed it felt fresh, with new approaches in many areas, and laggy and unintuitive in others. Exactly what we expected from a product that was just announced, with first phones arriving a year after the announcement.

And that will be its downfall - timing. As the Verge put it in one of its articles, in a world that talks in months, Canonical talks in years. Everything is evolving very fast in the mobile space, with Google, Apple, Microsoft and even Blackberry lately announcing new products and revised schedules for the upcoming months. The landscape will be totally different in one years' time, when Canonical plans to put the first handsets to the market. As far as I am aware, there are no carrier plans yet, no phones announced that will sport the new operating system, nothing concrete. The "single OS for every device" slogan that Shuttleworth is preaching has been done before; it's what Microsoft is trying to do with its Windows 8/Windows RT/Windows Phone 8 family of operating systems. The difference here is that Ubuntu's penetration to the market is still very small to actually make a difference and to drive people to try mobile phones with the new OS, just because they run Ubuntu at home. On the contrary, people are actually starting to migrate from Ubuntu to other Linux distributions (with Linux Mint being one of them, it's the one I am using too to write this article). And it's a mystery how Canonical will convince carriers and manufacturers to ship its OS instead of the now dirt-cheap Android, which is already proven to the market.

There have been many promising upstarts the past few years... WebOS, MeeGo... they all failed because they didn't provide something compelling to the market. Microsoft is struggling with Windows Phone because, even though its OS is a joy to use, people are finding Android and iOS are "good enough", and they don't find a good reason to switch, let alone learn a whole new user interface. That's the true hurdle Canonical has to overcome in order to become a player in this competitive landscape. And I donít think they'll succeed. Maybe Ubuntu ROMs will be popular on sites like XDA Developers - but not on the mass market.

Tune in next time; same Komb-time, same Komb-site.