The end of January 2013 saw the eagerly-anticipated arrival of BlackBerry 10. As the industry holds its collective breath waiting to find out whether this is the long-term solution the doctor called for, at least in the short-term we now have four major players again and interesting new smartphones to look forward to.
BB10 is supposed to be the solution to RIM's declining market share, turning the company around to once again become a player of significance in the smartphone market. The new operating system together with a number of new smartphones are intended to make BlackBerry relevant again. That, and a better-late-than-never name change from RIM to BlackBerry.
We are eagerly looking forward to the arrival of the new BlackBerry devices with BlackBerry 10 (the only one on the market is the Z10). Our brief hands-on experience with the new OS left a positive impression, and we expect that Blackberry will be able to compete in this area with the other main players. The hardware used in the new phones isn't ground-breaking, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the new BlackBerry phones will have subpar performance as long as the new OS is optimised well.
It's a good move that both full-touch models and phones with BlackBerry’s trademark physical keyboard will appear, that will likely appease the different target groups. Whether or not BlackBerry 10 will become the success the company needs it to be, and take back some of the market share from Android and iOS, that remains to be seen. It will take some time before that question can be answered, because it depends on whether the entire ecosystem matures and is accepted by the mainstream. The general reaction has been positive if a bit lukewarm so far.
Moving on to computer hardware. The first computer monitors with an aspect ratio of 21:9 are hitting the market, for example LG’s E93. These are basically two screens in one, so people used to having a two-monitor setup at work or at home will be able to enjoy the same desktop space and resolution, but without that ugly edge in the middle of their viewing area. They’re also great for watching super-widescreen films in 2.39:1 aspect ratio without the black bars at the top and bottom. Other manufacturers like Dell, AOC and Philips are set to introduce their own 21:9 screens in the coming months.
It’s been a quiet start of the year for computer components like motherboards and graphics cards, as we’re waiting on the next generation chips to be launched later this year. Manufactures like ASUS do their best to stay in the headlines with impressive graphics cards that are too exotic for the mainstream market, but still push the boundaries of graphical performance, like the limited edition ASUS Ares II. Other manufacturers try to push their cards by bundling lots of AAA gaming titles, so if you’re looking for a new video card and you’re a gamer, it’s worth shopping around a bit.
January is, of course, the month of the International CES event in Las Vegas. At this year’s CES, a number of 55-inch to 84-inch UHD (Ultra-High Definition) TVs were introduced. Great technology, but how useful can it be in the short-term? The key is probably to get one with very effective upscaling, so you at least can enjoy enhanced Full HD material. Granted, those are a lot more expensive, but if you can afford those types of TVs that likely won’t be a problem. So what are the benefits of such a high resolution? It's unlikely that any UHD broadcasts will appear soon, if we’re to judge by how long we had to wait on Full HD TV stations. A PC is already able to support a UHD screen if it has a graphics card with HDMI 1.4, which is the case for most current generation cards.
You can then watch YouTube videos in 4K resolution, and 4K demo videos are available with a little searching, but there really isn't a huge amount of 4K material yet. You can also view photos in UHD resolution, and with a powerful graphics card you can play video games in 3,840 x 2,160 resolution. The review of the 84-inch LG 84LM960V UHD TV can soon be found here.
Elsewhere, Nvidia introduced the very impressive Tegra 4 chip at CES, but it is not being accepted as quickly or widely as Nvidia had hoped. This is not due to a flaw in Nvidia’s SoC, but is more due to the fact that the market is a bit saturated at this point. Samsung is happy with its own Exynos SoCs, ASUS has a deal with Qualcomm, and Apple also makes its own. So where does that leave the Tegra 4? Right now, only Toshiba has confirmed that it will implement Nvidia’s latest chip in future products, and Nvidia will of course use the new SoC in its own “Project Shield” handheld gaming device.
There are a few trends that we’ve noticed since the beginning of 2013. Touch laptops are becoming more affordable, like the ASUS Vivobook S200E for example. It’s a sign that having a touchscreen is already becoming more and more common in consumer products. And speaking of touch interfaces, now that we’ve tested a number of Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets, we wonder if Windows 8 can really live without a physical keyboard. It’s become clear that unlike iOS and Android tablets, having a keyboard dock is necessary at times with Windows tablets. We’ve noticed that product photos of Windows tablets almost always tend to include the keyboard dock in the picture. Even more telling is that Microsoft Office 2013 isn’t even optimized to work without keyboard as its touch interface isn’t great.
Another trend is that large-volume storage is becoming increasingly affordable and user-friendly. NAS devices have become so easy to use, that it doesn’t matter whether you have a two-disk model or a 12-disk model, the installation process and maintenance is the same. The Synology 2413+, for example, has 12 disks, and is very user-friendly. You can put 12 2TB disks in there for 48TB of storage, combine it with the 12-disk expansion module, and then you have 96TB at your fingertips.
At the end of this month the annual Mobile World Congress takes places in Barcelona, and all eyes will be on Samsung. Will they finally announce a tablet that can be a true iPad competitor or even killer? Samsung has to compete more decisively with either performance or product pricing, and not keep hovering somewhere between those two with its tablets.
What does seem to be certain is that some type of new Galaxy Tab or Note will see the light of day at MWC. Rumour has it that it runs on the new and powerful Exynos 5 processor, which makes the implementation of high-resolution screens quite likely. We won’t see any announcements about the Galaxy S4, as Samsung doesn’t want to share any of the spotlight for its flagship smartphone launch, and that’s understandable.