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Author Archives: Alex Kidman

Is Samsung’s S9 too much smartphone?


At the recent Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Samsung absolutely dominated the headlines with the launch of its Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ smartphones. That’s partly due to the fact that, in the smartphone world, the majority of premium sales go either to Samsung’s Galaxy ranges or Apple’s iPhones, with everyone else a long way behind in both sales and revenue, so a little extra attention is warranted.

It’s also because Samsung’s launch of the Galaxy S9 saw numerous smartphone manufacturers simply decide to “skip” launching flagship phones. Huawei’s holding off on the launch of its new P-series phones until the end of march, opting instead to launch new tablets and 2-in-1 laptops at MWC, LG simply updated its V30 line into the awkwardly named LG V30 ThinQ, and only Sony launched a true “flagship” phone in the form of the Xperia XZ2… but even that won’t actually be available to buy for a few months.

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 is available to buy now, however, and the hype is inescapable. But is it any good?

I’ve been testing out the Galaxy S9+, the larger and slightly better equipped variant of the Galaxy S9, and it is, as the price should suggest, a very good smartphone indeed. Its headline feature is the “reimagined” camera, which features a single dual aperture lens for improved low light capability. On the S9+ (but not the S9) you also get a 2x telephoto lens for more close-up possibilities, as well as a selective focus mode that Samsung calls “live focus” that can be used to create bokeh-style effects for portrait photography.

The Galaxy S9 can also shoot slow motion video at 960 frames per second, albeit only for 0.2 seconds. Those 0.2 seconds are then stretched out into 6 full seconds of playback. It’s a fun feature that can reveal a lot about the world around us, although Samsung’s hardly the first to market with 960fps slow motion. Sony had that in last year’s Sony Xperia XZ Premium, and its new XZ2 will allow for shooting slow motion at full HD 1080p, where the S9 tops out at 720p.

Samsung’s also taking on Apple with its take on the “animoji” concept, via what it calls “AR Emoji”. These take a selfie shot of your face, and create your own virtual cartoon avatar for emoji purposes, as well as the option of a variety of “funny” animal faces. AR Emoji are pretty limited, with not much mouth movement, and honestly, they’re a gimmick that gets attention, but not one that you’re likely to use over the longer term.

Being premium phones, the Galaxy S9 features a high end internal processor. You’re either going to get Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 845, or Samsung’s own Exynos 8910 processor. That’s the version I’ve tested, but plenty of reviews back up the idea that the Snapdragon 845 is a solid processor in its own right as well. Battery life on the S9+ has been excellent in my test period.

Here’s the thing, though. Pretty much everything I’ve written above is exactly as it should be, because whether you buy a Galaxy S9 outright or on contract through a carrier, you’re going to pay a premium price. Something would be seriously wrong if a premium phone didn’t deliver premium performance!

The Galaxy S9 is a really nice smartphone, but we’re at the stage where for the vast majority of users, it may just be overkill. The camera is amongst the best I’ve ever tested, but these days, even a mid-range phone can deliver solid camera experiences within the limitations of smartphone photography. If you want more, look to a low-cost DSLR, because there’s really only so far that it’s possible to stretch sensors of the size found in modern smartphones, even premium ones.

That marks the Galaxy S9 out as highly desirable, but not entirely essential. It’s the smartphone equivalent of buying a Ferrari or Lamborghini — an absolutely beautiful machine with top-notch performance, but not something that you must buy, just something you might want to.

What are you meant to do when your smart speaker laughs at you?


Smart speakers are everywhere these days, whether you’ve bought into the hi-fi audio of Apple’s HomePod speakers, the general utility of Google’s Home or Google Home Mini, or the many shopping-centric variants of Amazon’s Echo family. Aside from being basic Bluetooth speakers, they’re also easy ways to audibly keep track of your day, catch up on the news, and of course control an ever-expanding array of smart home gadgets.

Indeed, that smart home control is quickly becoming a key factor in how the different smart speaker manufacturers differentiate their products, and in some circumstances, even how they do business with each other.

Amazon (home of Echo speakers and its Alexa assistant) has recently been bouncing Nest (owned by Google, home of the Google Home and its Google Assistant) out of its online stores, a boldly competitive move that saw Google strike back by removing easy access to its YouTube subsidiary from Amazon’s FireTV set top box range.

Amazon, meanwhile, has been busy slurping up smart home companies, most recently spending $US1 billion to acquire smart doorbell company Ring. That’s also a move that will play into Amazon’s retailing strength, because Ring’s primary product is a video doorbell that could see a drop in doorstop theft of delivered Amazon packages. Ring already works with Amazon’s Alexa assistant for Echo speakers and other devices, but it’s presumed that Amazon will work to more closely integrate it now that it’s a wholly owned subsidiary.

Not that all is entirely rosy in the Alexa world, however. While as a platform it’s the most open in terms of the way external developers can make what Amazon calls “skills” — essentially ways to integrate other services, whether it’s checking your bank balance or ordering a pizza — those services only really work if you’re happy having a speaker that’s also a microphone in your home at all times. Amazon’s position on this is that it’s not listening in until invoked with its key phrase, but a recent outbreak of unusual behaviour from Amazon’s Echo speakers did cause some serious concern.

Then again, you’d be worried if your smart speaker suddenly, and for seemingly no reason started laughing at you. That’s what many Echo owners reported recently; that their otherwise mute Echo speakers would suddenly start laughing for no discernible reason.

Amazon’s eventual explanation was that there was a minor chance that Alexa was mishearing the command to laugh (typically, “Alexa, laugh”) and figured it was doing what its owners wanted it to do. The solution will be a software update — most smart speakers handle these themselves without much input from you, thankfully — that switches that command up to “Alexa, can you laugh”, with a verbal response from Alexa (“Sure, I can laugh”) before she actually starts chuckling.

As a solution, that straddles the line between removing the whole HAL 2000 vibe of an AI suddenly chortling at you, and being rather less convenient in pure command terms if you did happen to want Alexa to laugh. Then again, it’s unlikely you’d ask an actual human to laugh on command, so why should an AI be any different?

Your first 5G device might not be a phone


5G networks will start appearing on a widespread basis around the world in 2019, with some US based networks in fact promising rollouts by 2018, although it’s not all that clear what devices they’ll be using to support them.

For the longest time, most people have assumed that the first 5G devices they’ll buy will be in the form of 5G-capable smartphones. It’s not an unreasonable assumption, because the chances are pretty good that the mobile phone you’re using right now connects to a 4G network of some kind.

It’s not the only type of device, however that we’ll see embedded 5G within. At the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Intel showed off a concept 2-in-1 “5G PC” for the first time, with the promise that actual devices will come to market in the second half of 2019.

That will most likely be through partner brands such as Dell, HP or Lenovo, at least at first, although the promise of 5G ubiquity means that it could well become as standard a part of everyday PCs as Wi-Fi is today. It’s not actually all that long ago that Intel spearheaded efforts there to make Wi-Fi a part of every laptop, but today you’d be very hard pressed indeed to find a non-Wi-Fi compatible laptop device.

So if 5G is a mobile data and communications standard, why put it in a laptop, and not a mobile device? Partly from Intel’s side, it’s playing catchup with mobile chip market leader Qualcomm, who also had its own raft of 5G announcements to make at Mobile World Congress, mostly around new modem designs and its work with mobile carriers on 5G implementations. Intel has had essentially no luck at all breaking into the mobile phone market with its chipsets and processors, but in the full computer market, it’s all but dominant over the distant second place occupied by AMD.

It’s more than that, however, because while they’ve been a smaller segment of the overall mobile market, laptops with SIM slots for 4G (and even 3G) SIMs have been a reality for some time now. But again, it comes back to the promise around 5G networks generally. There’s a lot of talk around raw data speeds, with Qualcomm claiming real-world network performance that could deliver 8K video data consistently to a device (ignoring whatever mobile data cost that would incur).

The architecture of 5G also talks to having many more devices connected and controlled, and that’s where a PC might have an edge over a smartphone in a 5G world. While today’s smartphones are bridging upwards in terms of raw processing power, they’re still a large step behind where current PCs are, and if you’re shifting large quantities of data around, you also need a platform to actually do something with that data. If it’s as simple as an 8K video file, then maybe a smartphone (with a ludicrously high resolution display) could handle it, but if you’re shifting more complex data that needs sorting, a PC might be your better bet. There’s also a strong focus on IoT (Internet of Things) smart devices and their control, and again, Intel’s argument is that a PC is going to be a better control and management hub than a smartphone would be.

Then again, we’re also shifting rapidly towards a space where the distinctions are becoming moot. Even today, it’s all too easy to shift documents from one device to another, or preferably simply work on them in the cloud. That’s nothing new, but the access speed of 5G could also make it a great deal smoother.

A VPN is a good idea, but not all VPNs are equal


The use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) software has erupted in recent years for a whole slew of reasons. If you’re staring at the acronym and wondering what a VPN is, it’s essentially software that encrypts your internet communications and allows that encrypted content to be sent across the internet, emerging at another destination without necessarily providing a clear path of where it’s come from or what it contains. It’s essentially a privacy tool, often beloved of both large businesses for whom secrecy is paramount, as well as folks simply using a VPN to mask where they are to access particularly content that may be geographically blocked. Before Netflix expanded beyond its limited US base, using a VPN was the favoured method of those wishing to use the streaming service from other countries. Now, Netflix tends to block accounts it detects are using VPN software to jump around the slightly varied libraries it offers in different destinations.

Geographic jumping aside, there’s some solid evidence that using a VPN for a lot of your Internet usage is a wise move. The nature of VPN usage means that you will experience a slight speed hit by using them, but in return you get mostly-secure communications, something that just isn’t there over the plain Internet.

That has be qualified as “mostly-secure”, however, because not all VPNs are created equal, or for that matter treat the data they’re shuffling around in equal ways. Even being able to tell where data has entered or exited a VPN (the metadata of that internet session) can tell you a lot about that actual usage.

That’s also predicating on the idea that the VPN itself isn’t outright spying on you. Facebook recently found itself in hot water due to the fact that its mobile app includes a section labelled as “Protect” that, on the surface, seems a good idea. Who wouldn’t want a “protected” internet, after all? Clicking on “Protect” within the iOS app will encourage you to download and install a VPN app called Onavo, named for the company that built that particular VPN, itself acquired by Facebook some years back.

So far, so good you might think, except that Onavo does a little more than just encrypt your data. It also logs that usage “in order to improve Facebook services”, or in other words, to provide Facebook with yet more data about what you’re doing online. It’s pretty much the opposite of what a VPN is meant to be doing, even if Facebook is only collecting the data in aggregate to clue it into internet trends rather than specifically honing into your online activities.

It’s well worth considering VPN usage for your online activities, especially if (for example) you do a lot of online banking, online shopping or any other online financial activity. A decent VPN will (typically) cost you a monthly subscription fee, although few of the good ones are punitively expensive. That’s a cost likely to be a lot less than having your online identity compromised and your bank accounts emptied, too. Still, before you install any VPN, do your research around exactly how private it really is, and what kinds of user activity it logs. You might just find that your virtual “private” network isn’t really all that private at all.

Google removes viewing images from search, but it’s easy to get back


Google has become so synonymous with searching the internet that it’s commonly used as a verb when describing searches of all types. It’s not just simple text searches that Google has near market domination of, either, with searching facilities across popular news sites, videos, shopping and images. Google really does want to be the one-stop shop for all your search needs.

Except, that is, when it pulls back from useful search features. Just recently, Google removed the ability to directly view images — and just images — from any image search you perform using its image search facility. Instead, what you get is a single button to view the site that has that image embedded when you search for it, rather than opening that image into its own tab by itself.

That’s not always going to be what you want, given that often images may be on sites with hefty advertising or other contextual material you don’t particularly care about. Given that it’s been a feature of Google’s image search for some time, you may be wondering why Google would make its image search less useful rather than more. It’s all part of a legal settlement with the well-respected Getty Images. Back in 2016, Getty files suit against Google with the European Union, stating that being able to access high resolution imagery via search was affecting the livelihood of artists and photographers. The EU largely sided with Getty, and part of Google’s settlement was the removal of the view image button.

There’s a line here between reasonable usage and utility, and where you sit on it depends, I suspect on what you’re planning to do with the images you’re searching for. If you do pine for the ability to view images as individual web pages, however, there is respite at hand.

If you’re using Google’s Chrome browser, there are already extensions available that re-enable the “view image” buttons on Google Image searches. That’s due to Chrome’s extensible nature, and while you do have to trust the extension to run it, the “View Image” extension will re-enable that feature. You can install it from here if you’re keen.

If you’d rather not install extensions, your other avenue for this kind of search would be to use an alternative search engine. Back in the early history of the public internet, there were countless choices of search engines, but these days there’s really only a few prominent choices to pick from.

Any Windows user would be aware that Microsoft still operates its competing search engine Bing, often citing faster and more accurate search results, although that’s an endlessly debatable issue.

You could also consider privacy-centric search engine DuckDuckGo. Yes, it’s a silly name, but one with a rather serious issue at its core. Where Google tracks every search you make to build a profile for you, both for better results and to allow advertisers to more accurately serve you ads, DuckDuckGo does no profiling at all. That’s good if you’re privacy-minded, with the rather obvious caveat that as a result, there’s no personalisation in its searches at all. After a while, Google gets very good at tracking your interest areas and delivering honed results, where DuckDuckGo will deliver the same results to every single user with no refinements.

What does the 5G future hold?


You’re probably aware that your smartphone runs on either a 3G or 4G network, although you may be a little fuzzy on what those terms actually mean. You may even be aware that there’s a lot of talk about “5G” at the moment, again without being totally across the potential of a 5G future.

When mobile telecoms operators talk about any number suffixed with a G, what they’re referencing is the generation of mobile technology that it belongs to. The first generation of mobiles brought us mobile calling, while 2G ushered in the world of text messages. 3G was when mobile data started to really matter, while 4G pumped up the data speeds, although a lack of worldwide certification means that the 4G you get somewhere like the USA could have wildly different speeds to the 4G you might see in the UK, Japan, Australia or China. Different providers can (and have) called different bands and technologies “4G”, and while more modern handsets and mobile data aware devices can generally talk across 4G networks if you travel, your speed and connection experiences can vary massively.

5G, the fifth generation of mobile networks is being coordinated much more closely than 4G in an effort to make the experience of 5G a lot more standard worldwide. That’s especially important as it’s intended to be the connection standard for the so-called “Internet of Things”, a term used to define a vast array of mobile-data-aware sensors, smart devices and controllers that should be able to do everything from control your smart home gadgets to monitoring the progress of an autonomous crop harvesting machine in the middle of remote farmlands. At least, that’s the theory.

Most pundits have been picking 2020 as the date that we’d see the first 5G networks, but it now seems likely that in some locations, 5G services will start to be offered from 2019. Those rollouts, set to start in countries such as Australia and South Korea are likely to be smaller scale and confined largely to business users at first.

It’ll take some time for 5G to become purely global, although research by Ericsson suggests that consumers expect to be connecting to 5G within 3 to 4 years of general network availability.

Aside from the interconnected nature of 5G devices, the expectation there is that we’ll see much faster connectivity, with Ericsson’s research indicating that most of us are more willing to pay for that than we are, for example, 5G-guided drone deliveries, 3D hologram calling or self-driving 5G-guided vehicles. Mind you, all of those are features that 5G network makers are pitching as part of our 5G future, because the higher speeds and expected robustness of a 5G network should allow for features that existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks simply can’t handle.

There are still some large scale network building challenges for providers to meet before we’re all sending each other holograms, Star-Wars style, though, not to mention the challenge of new devices. If you’ve just bought a 4G phone, or you’re still happy with the one you’ve got, you don’t need to fret, however. Even now, telecommunication providers are all happily stating that they’ll build 5G on top of 4G networks, and it’s expected that the first 5G devices will have 4G fallback capabilities regardless.

Windows 10 S will become Windows 10 S Mode

Windows 10 S

When Microsoft launched its Surface Laptop, it also used the occasion to launch Windows 10 S, a more secure but significantly more locked-down version of its popular operating system.

Windows 10 S will only run apps available from the Windows Store, which means many popular applications that you may run every day simply aren’t available for Windows 10 S users. So far, however, Microsoft has made it relatively painless to switch “up” to the full version of Windows 10 if you’ve purchased a device with Windows 10 S on it, although it claims that around 60 percent of all buyers of low-end Windows 10 S machines have elected to stick with the cut-down operating system. Those figures don’t include Microsoft’s own rather higher-end Surface Laptop, however, which I suspect would have a much higher percentage of switchers.

That’s all set to change, however, with Microsoft effectively making the concept of a “Windows 10 S” laptop all but redundant.

Where previously Microsoft offered an upgrade path for Windows 10 S users who wanted the full Windows experience (along with the security risks that go with it), it will instead pivot to making Windows 10 S available to any system sold as an option, instead of classifying an entire subset of laptops — generally low-end devices, although as with the Surface Laptop, not entirely — as Windows 10 S machines, they’ll instead be sold with the option for manufacturers to provide Windows 10 S across the entire range, sold as “Windows 10 S Mode”.

In effect, you go from having a range of mostly very low cost laptops running Windows 10 S, to one where just about any laptop could be sold with Windows 10 S if that suited your needs, and most predominantly your budget. It’s not likely to become the primary version of Windows 10 moving forwards, and you’re still likely to mostly see it on low-cost laptops, although businesses could presumably order a fleet of more powerful machines with Windows 10 S installed to lock down employee usage of those devices.

What does this mean for you if you buy a laptop where Windows 10 S is the pre-installed option? That will largely depend on which version of Windows 10 it thinks it is underneath, much the same as it does now. If you buy a Windows 10 Home S machine, you should be able to “upgrade” to full Windows 10 at no cost for now, but if you end up with what’s effectively a Windows 10 Pro S machine, that upgrade will incur an additional cost if you needed the full Windows experience.

Microsoft’s treading a very fine line here with that many versions of Windows. It’s not that having different capabilities for different audiences is automatically a problem. Most home users don’t (and won’t) need the features of Windows 10 Pro, with Home being more than enough, but once you add Windows 10 S Mode into the mix, and especially bearing in mind that most manufacturers make laptops on very slight profit margins, you’re creating a recipe for laptops that seem like a bargain but may have costly upgrade paths or limitations you weren’t expecting baked in.

Microsoft hasn’t given a strict timeframe for when S Mode laptops will start being sold, but it’s worth keeping in mind the next time you need to buy a new PC. As always, a little research, and knowing precisely what you’re buying can save a lot of heartache down the track.

Will Apple get the HomePod into your home?


Apple has recently announced the availability of its first “smart” speaker, the Apple Homepod, set to go on sale on the 9th of February in Australia for $499, in the UK for £319 and in the US for $349 respectively.

In the smart speaker space, that immediately marks the HomePod as a premium priced option, which sits well in line with Apple’s general market positioning. It often offers good value technology, especially for its durability, but it’s rarely, if ever actually cheap.

Apple is definitely the late arriving member of the smart speaker family. Amazon has offered its Echo speaker family, using the Alexa voice assistant for a number of years in the US and UK, and more recently in Australia, while Google’s Google Home and Google Home Mini are already entrenched in those markets.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering what on earth a smart speaker is, the recipe itself is rather simple. Take a standard audio speaker, add Bluetooth so it’s simple to pair your phone or tablet with it for audio presenting purposes, and then layer on top of it the kinds of digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri or Google’s Assistant that we’ve had on smartphones for a number of years now, and you’ve got the basics of a smart speaker.

So they’re not just for playing back your party tunes, but also for audibly checking for the latest news or weather, or controlling any of a number of compatible smart gadgets. It’s even feasible to set up scenarios such that simple commands could (for example), switch on the living room lights, dim them a little, turn on the TV and switch the kettle on just as you settle down to watch your favourite soap opera.

Of interest, while Microsoft has pushed its voice assistant, Cortana heavily into Windows 10, and less successfully into the mostly-dead Windows 10 phone platform, there’s no sign of any Cortana-powered speakers. It’s also interesting to note that while spoken assistants haven’t really taken off in public spaces — we’re all too reluctant to be embarrassed talking to them while out and about — they’ve gained considerable traction in the home, where almost nobody else is listening. But I digress away from Apple, and what its realistic chances are.

Apple’s selling the HomePod at a premium price and positioning it mainly on the strength of its audio quality. That’s a smart play if you’re an audiophile, because while the Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers are markedly less expensive, they’re also not exactly what you’d call hi-fi equipment. Fine for background music, less fine if you care about audio reproduction. That brings the HomePod more into discussion around higher-end brands such as Sonos, for what that’s worth.

Where Apple can also claim a little ground against the likes of Google and Amazon is in privacy. By selling the HomePod primarily as a music speaker than can handle just a few simple Siri-based tasks, it’s not gathering or collating any information about your usage patterns for later analysis, the way Google (which sells ads) and Amazon (which sells just about everything) most definitely does with Echo and Home respectively.

That’s a downside as well, though, depending on your perspective, because that same data collection also gives those services a lot of scope for personalisation, whether it’s making it easier to order goods from Amazon, or simply giving you vocal search results that more closely match your usual usage patterns and needs.

Amazon and Google also have something of a leg up against Apple in the straight smart home space. At the recent CES, I saw countless devices touting their Echo and Assistant compatibility, from the smallest alarm clocks right up to massive smart fridges, but very few gadgets using Apple’s competing HomeKit infrastructure. The HomePod will act as a control hub for HomeKit gear, but there’s much less of it about, and based on Google and Amazon’s head start, Apple will have a lot of work to do there just to catch up. A smart speaker that doesn’t speak the language of your smart gadgets may not be that smart after all.

Apple being Apple, you can expect a significant sweep of marketing around HomePod to try to sell it. If you’re already heavily in the Apple ecosystem, especially if you love listening to music via Apple Music, it could well be a good buy. If you’re more in a mixed environment, or you already use an Amazon Echo or Google Home, it’s going to be a much less exciting proposition.

Google’s Chromecast could be killing your home Wi-Fi


Wi-Fi is nothing new, and for the most part, we just take it for granted, typically with the router supplied by our ISPs doing all the heavy lifting. The routers supplied by most ISPs really aren’t all that great if you crave high performance, but for the majority of consumers they’re suitable, if not exciting.

The only time most consumers actually pay attention to their routers is when something goes wrong, typically because you’re trying to use a wirelessly connected device, be it a computer, gaming console, set top box, smartphone or tablet, and you find you can’t actually get access to your Internet resources.

There can be all sorts of reasons for this. Certain types of building construction, some appliances and just the overwhelming quantity of Wi-Fi in constrained areas (especially if you live in an apartment or similar small dwelling) can all play a factor in how well your home Wi-Fi actually works. The same is true for Wi-Fi in business settings as well, because while some routers supplied for business purposes have more robust technology sitting under the hood, they’re all still (essentially) fighting for the same radio frequencies. It can get crowded out there, and that can often lead to connections that appear to “work”, at least in that you get a Wi-Fi signal, but that don’t actually pass any data through to your device.

A recent bug in Google’s popular Chromecast home streaming devices has been shown to be capable of also knocking your home Wi-Fi around in a rather unexpected way. When waking from its sleep condition (so, for example, if you were getting ready to cast some video from an Android device or a web browser using Google’s Chrome), the Chromecast could (in certain circumstances) flood the network with thousands of request packets accidentally. In very simplified terms, think of what the post office is usually like around Christmas time; a chaotic mess of parcels and letters all flooding in at once, overwhelming the service. That’s what Google’s Chromecast was doing (at least in some circumstances), leading to seriously degraded network performance. Google has admitted the issue, and started to roll out patches to deal with it to Chromecast devices.

It’s worth noting that the presence of a Chromecast device in your home network isn’t an automatic cause of poor Wi-Fi performance, but it’s once again another reminder of why it’s quite important to keep your home network devices as up to date as possible. Google has said that it will roll out updates to Chromecast devices and the casting software offered through the Google Play store, and those should be (more or less) automatic updates that you don’t have to do anything about. Major router manufacturers, including Netgear, Linksys and Asus have all committed to patches for their popular routers, and that’s something you’ll need to check against your router model. Most routers have simple web interfaces that let you check for firmware updates within them, so it’s worth making some investigations if you’re unsure. You may also find (especially if you’ve never really touched the firmware on your router) that you get simple performance boosts along with the Chromecast fix. If you’re unsure about your router model, especially if it was sourced through your Internet provider, check with them, as they may have custom firmware or specific advice on how and when to update your router’s software.

Intel gets cosy with AMD on new systems at CES 2018


For decades now, if you were buying a PC, you essentially had two choices when it came to the processor that ran it. For the most part, Intel’s processors under various branding such as Pentium or Core were what you were most likely to hit, with rival AMD’s CPUs generally found in lower-cost machines, or in some cases in machines pitched towards enthusiast markets such as gaming. It’s long been a race between the goliath that is is Intel and the smaller AMD.

AMD, however, had one particular advantage in that, back in 2006, it purchased one of the two big graphics card manufacturers, ATI. That gave it something of a positional edge when it came to integrating graphics performance onto systems running its chips, with ATI’s Radeon GPUs onboard.

Intel could pitch towards ATI rival NVIDIA to an extent, but that was essentially in the form of add-on dedicated graphics boards, which is fine and accepted for the gaming crowd, but problematic for a wider audience. Intel did persist with its own inhouse graphics solutions, but these were always lower-tier products.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, amidst a lot of news around its plans for everything from 5G to autonomous vehicles, Intel also announced a new tie-up to bring the embedded graphics on its systems up to scratch, by the unusual method of signing up with… AMD.

Yep, the two arch rivals are working together on Intel’s new “Kaby Lake G” processors, more formally for laptops the Intel Core i5-8305G and Intel Core i5-8305G and for desktops the Intel Core i7-8706G, i7-8709G and i7-8809G CPUs. All will feature Radeon GPUs onboard, with the laptop models featuring RX Vega M GL and the desktop versions running the more powerful Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics onboard. For its part, AMD is custom-producing the silicon that will go into these new processors, so they’ll be a little different from its existing models and the graphics drivers will have to come from Intel.

While there’s not much in the way of independent benchmarks to show performance, Intel’s suggestion is that on the laptop front, we’ll see new systems with solid 3D performance better than most chunky “gaming” style laptops by the middle of the year, while their desktop alternatives will allow for lower-cost entry into VR and AR experiences such as Windows Mixed Reality, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.

At CES 2018, only a couple of manufacturers showed off laptop systems running the new CPUs. For its part, Dell debuted the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, a thin and light fully foldable laptop with a gore fabric chassis for heat dissipation and a new “maglev” keyboard. HP also showed off an updated version of its highly regarded Spectre x360 running on the new processors, with options for a 4K display. Both Dell and HP expect to ship in the US in March, with global availability to be advised.

The interesting aspect with both systems is that while they should offer high-end graphics performance, neither is in the classic “gaming” laptop style, which typically favoured huge displays, heavy carrying weights and massive fans. Instead, they’re machines that look like they should just be simple productivity offerings, but instead will pack some real punch.

Recent News


At the recent Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Samsung absolutely dominated the headlines with the launch of its Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ smartphones. That’s partly due to the fact that, in the smartphone world, the majority of premium sales go either to Samsung’s Galaxy ranges or Apple’s iPhones, with everyone else a long… More 


Smart speakers are everywhere these days, whether you’ve bought into the hi-fi audio of Apple’s HomePod speakers, the general utility of Google’s Home or Google Home Mini, or the many shopping-centric variants of Amazon’s Echo family. Aside from being basic Bluetooth speakers, they’re also easy ways to audibly keep track of your day, catch up… More 


5G networks will start appearing on a widespread basis around the world in 2019, with some US based networks in fact promising rollouts by 2018, although it’s not all that clear what devices they’ll be using to support them. For the longest time, most people have assumed that the first 5G devices they’ll buy will… More 


The use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) software has erupted in recent years for a whole slew of reasons. If you’re staring at the acronym and wondering what a VPN is, it’s essentially software that encrypts your internet communications and allows that encrypted content to be sent across the internet, emerging at another destination without… More