Weekly Tech Recap - № 178 - Lenovo Smart Display, graphics cards come back down, AI-assisted Windows updates, etc.
Lenovo Smart Display
Smart Display. © Lenovo.
The first smart device running on Android Things is here. The “Smart Display” is a smart speaker with built-in touchscreen, like Amazon’s Echo Show, but using Google Assistant. Android Things is a lite version of the Android system, specifically developed for connected objects. Smart Display is designed to enhance the Google Assistant experience thanks to a screen that displays the weather, recipes, smart home controls, Duo video calls, YouTube videos, etc. Thanks to its Qualcomm SDA624 System on a Module (SoM), it delivers respectable performance and a very reactive touchscreen interface. Smart Display comes in two flavours, one with an 8-inch screen (1260 x 800) and the other with a 10-inch screen (1920 x 1200), for US$200 and US$250 respectively. In comparison, Amazon’s Echo Show has a 7-inch screen (1024 x 600) and costs US$230. Google is giving Smart Display owners three months’ free access to YouTube Premium service.
⇨ Ars Technica, “Lenovo Smart Display review: The Google Assistant now has a face.”
Graphics cards come back down
Timothy B. Lee, data from PC Part Picker.
Good news for gamers! Thanks to a dampening of speculation activity on cryptocurrencies, the price of graphics cards (which are used massively for mining) is coming back down from its stratospheric levels. The Radeon RX 570, a popular mid-range graphics card, had gone from under US$200 in April 2017 to over US$450 in February 2018. Now, it sits at US$350, which is still expensive, but already US$100 less than its peak, and the prices are still dropping. Similarly, the RX 580 went from US$230 to US$330 through US$540. Nvidia’s GeForce has followed the same pattern. The GTX 1080 floated down to US$600 after a US$800 high in February. In fact, the price of graphics cards is clearly correlated to the value of the ether (of the Ethereum platform). And as the ether is trending downward, so should the price of graphics cards. Ether is the second-most popular cryptocurrency after bitcoin, but worth far less. Bitcoin mining is no longer cost-effective with graphics cards since it has been taken over by faster, more energy-efficient ASICs. Over the last year, the value of graphics cards has effectively been pegged to the value of ether.
⇨ Ars Technica, “Declining cryptocurrency prices are making graphics cards affordable again.”
AI-assisted Windows updates
Updating… © Spiria / iStock.
Windows 10’s next semi-annual update will use machine learning models to make update-related reboots less annoying for users. Currently, Windows can detect whether you’re working or not (inactive mouse and keyboard, no video streaming, etc.) and save reboots for inactive periods. However, at the moment, it can’t tell if you’ll be gone for moments or for hours, i.e. whether you’ve run out for a cup of coffee or left for home and bed. Thanks to a new predictive system, Windows will try to distinguish between these two scenarios and avoid rebooting if it thinks you’ll be back soon.
⇨ Ars Technica, “Windows 10 will try not to reboot when you’re just grabbing a cup of coffee.”
Facebook peaks out
Facebook has lost 3 million users in Europe. © iStock.
This quarter, Facebook had 185 million users in the U.S. and Canada, roughly the same number as in the first quarter. North America is Facebook’s most lucrative market by far, with the average user generating US$25.91 in revenue. This is the fourth consecutive quarter that the number of users stays stuck at185 million, which means that Facebook has probably reached its saturation point in this market. Worse, for the first time, the social media platform has actually lost users in Europe: it had only 279 million active daily users in the second quarter, compared to 282 million users in the previous quarter. Finally, the company has missed its financial targets, sending its stock plunging by 19% overnight on the NASDAQ, from US$217.5 to US$175. The overall devaluation of 119 billion dollars is the heaviest one-day loss recorded in the market’s history.
⇨ Recode, “Facebook’s user growth has hit a wall.”
New Sony IMX586 sensor
Tourist taking a photo of the Blue Mosque in Instanbul. © iStock.
Sony has introduced a new 48-megapixel sensor for smartphones. Current phones are usually equipped with 12 megapixel cameras (Apple, Samsung Galaxy), sometimes 20 megapixel. Sony’s IMX586 sensor is 6.4 x 4.8 mm with a pixel size of 0.8 micrometres. In low light, pixels are combined in arrays of 4 thanks to a Bayer filter, for a 12 megapixel resolution. In bright light, the image signal processor makes full use of the sensor’s pixel count to capture high-resolution images, or the abundance of captured image data for high-quality digital zooming. Expected to launch in September, it will probably come standard on the next generation of high-end phones.
⇨ Digital Photography Review, “Sony IMX586 smartphone sensor comes with 48MP and Quad Bayer design.”