CES 2017 Little Known Elliptic Labs Could Reshape the Smartphone Industry

This year at CES, a little-known company with no booth or speaker slot is quietly talking about a technology that could bring about one of the most visible changes to smartphone design of 2017. It has developed software that would let manufactures remove a common component and so create almost-edgeless smartphone screens that run up to the very top of the device. And in the past three months, this company has been contacted by every major smartphone manufacturer in the world.

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Let’s back up for a moment. On your smartphone right now, there’s probably a little dot or narrow sliver right above your screen that’s a proximity sensor. When you make a call and place the phone to your ear, the screen turns off to save power and prevent you from accidentally hitting buttons with your cheek. It does this by emitting infrared waves and then measuring their reflections to determine how close the phone is to your head.

The original iPhone, released in 2007, was the first smartphone to use a proximity sensor. Since then, the proximity sensor has become a standard mobile component. It’s typically housed in a rectangular bit of casing that takes up about half a centimeter or so of real estate across the top of the screen.

But this staple of smartphone design may be on its way out. In October 2016, Xiaomi announced the Mi MIX, which features a display that runs right up to the top edge of the device, with no proximity sensor in sight. Reviewers raved about the almost-edgeless display and applauded Xiaomi’s ingenuity. Some even hinted that Apple and Samsung would be taking cues from the Mi MIX for their highly-anticipated releases of the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8 in 2017.

Though Xiaomi got the credit, the company behind that almost-edgeless display was Elliptic Labs. And according to an Elliptic representative who spoke with IEEE Spectrum here at CES in Las Vegas, consumers should expect to see many more almost-edgeless smartphone screens debut this year, all inspired by the Mi MIX design.

“Ever since this phone has been released, all the mobile OEMs have been contacting us,” said Angelo Assimakopoulos, VP of Sales and Business Development for Elliptic Labs. “Without naming names, I can tell you almost everyone is going this route.”

Elliptic Labs sells software that generates ultrasound pulses from a smartphone’s speaker and measures them using its microphone, as an alternative method for proximity detection. This technique allows manufacturers to get rid of traditional proximity sensors altogether, and so stretch the display all the way to the phone’s upper edge. Ultrasound may also prove more reliable for consumers, since proximity sensors can be affected by smudges or bright light.

The pulses that Elliptic generates are between 30 kilohertz to 40 kHz, well above the 20 kHz limit of human hearing. Assimakopoulos says most smartphone speakers can generate pulses at these frequencies, though the company finds that MEMS speakers work best for generating them.

The company, which has about 30 employees and operations in the U.S., Norway, and China, has worked on its software for almost 10 years. Now, they think conditions are favorable to roll it out. Consumers are watching more videos and playing more games on their smartphones than ever before. In response, manufacturers are producing phones with larger screens and maximizing every square millimeter of space. For example, Samsung has increasingly displayed content along the sides of screens. An obvious next step may be to expand the screen from the phone’s top to bottom, with Elliptic’s help.

By using their software, Elliptic’s Assimakopoulos estimates that smartphone manufacturers could increase screen area to between 90 to 95 percent of the phone’s facing side, from the standard 75 to 80 percent on most smartphones today. The Mi MIX has a screen-to-face radio of 91.3 percent.

Elliptic’s technology alone won’t allow manufactures to create entirely edgeless (or “bezel-free” as their known in the industry) designs, though. Aside from the proximity sensor, several other components such as the home button, camera, and speaker still live on the face of most smartphones.

It’s hard to say whether Elliptic’s technology would lower the cost of manufacturing a smartphone, or add to it. On one hand, it replaces the proximity sensor with software that uses existing hardware. This also frees up some space inside the phone since the proximity sensor, which itself measures approximately 3 millimeters by 2 mm, can be removed. On the other hand, manufacturers must pay to license the software, and installing a larger LCD display adds to a phone’s cost.

Now that Elliptic is drawing attention from manufacturers, Assimakopoulos hopes to work with as many partners as possible by licensing their patented software. He declined to comment on whether Elliptic might also be a candidate for acquisition, which would allow one company to keep their system from competitors. “We’re talking to several OEMs,” he said. “I will tell you that all OEMs have approached us inquiring about our technology since this phone was released.”

Though Assimakopoulos was hush-hush on the details of his conversations with manufacturers, he’s very confident that you’ll be seeing more almost-edgeless smartphone screens very soon. “There will be another phone that shows up this year with this technology,” he said.


Pixel C and Keyboard Unboxing and Tour

Android tablets are not something we talk much about these days, because unfortunately for Android tablets, most aren’t really worth talking about. In fact, there aren’t many manufacturers even making them anymore, so our job of ignoring them has become pretty easy. But here or there, someone introduces one worth a look. Like, we gave the Galaxy View tablet/TV monitor/wtf-is-that-plastic-stand-thingy a short look because at least it was doing something different. And that’s why we are about to take a short journey with Google’s new Pixel C tablet.

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Originally announced back at the Nexus event in September, the Pixel C is now available from Google at a starting price of $499. As the name suggests, this isn’t a Nexus. This is a Pixel, which means 100% Google. Google didn’t partner with LG or HTC or Motorola to build this thing – they did it all themselves. That’s really what the Pixel family is all about, honestly, a line of products with best-in-class specs and materials that are the vision of Google.

So yeah, we have one in house and are about to unbox it below before getting to a review. Want first impressions? You’ll get those in the clip, but the short version is this. It’s an Android tablet. Android tablets don’t really offer anything particularly interesting on a software front, because Android has never really evolved into a powerhouse tablet operating system. With this device, Google doesn’t seem to have even tried to do anything different as it just runs Android 6.0.1 in a tablet form that we are all used to.

With that said, the hardware is quite nice. It’s an all-metal design with zero logos. If you didn’t know what that multi-colored lightbar was at the top of the back and didn’t know Google made this, you probably would wonder who it was from (HTC, maybe?). Combine that beautiful, mysterious hardware with what may be the real selling point, the sold-separately-for-an-arm-and-two-legs keyboard, and you get a productivity combination unlike anything else on Android at the moment that is in tablet form.

Pixel C and Keyboard Unboxing! – YouTube Video Here

BlackBerry Priv is now available from Walmart

BlackBerry has started rolling out its first Android powered phone, the BlackBerry Priv, at certain retailers in the U.S. For example, the slider is now available at big box retailer Best Buy and office supply chain Staples. Starting today, BlackBerry has greatly increased the distribution of the Priv in the U.S. as the phone can now be ordered from Walmart’s online store. Once the phone has been purchased online, it can be shipped to the buyer’s home, or picked up at the nearest Walmart location.

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The model being sold at Walmart happens to be the same unlocked version (STV100-1) that BlackBerry is peddling on its ShopBlackBerry website. The only other version of the phone offered in the U.S. is the AT&T branded Priv available from the carrier. Back in October, a picture of the Priv running on the Verizon network was spotted on Instagram. Last month, Big Red sent out a tweet saying that the Priv is “coming soon”.

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While the Priv is now being sold by the largest discount retailer on the planet, there is no change in the pricing of the handset. The Priv is $699.99 at Walmart, the same price that BlackBerry charges for the phone on its website.

Samsung introduces its most cutting edge phone ever

Samsung is always at the forefront when it comes to debuting the latest cutting edge tech, and they’ve take it literally as they’ve just released the Samsung Galaxy BLADE edge, a smartphone with a bleeding sharp edge for the modern chef!

The ultimate cooking companion, the BLADE edge also comes with all of the Samsung Galaxy S6’s premium build and tech but has such a sharp edge it can be used as a chef’s knife, so much so it could very well render all the other knives in your kitchen obsolete.

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All the components were redesigned to fit into the curve of the smartphone never seen before anywhere else, with a brand new U4CF (Ultra 4D Curved Flash) memory technology that betters the previous 3D vertical stacking techniques by introducing 10nm-wide wormholes that send data to a far-away cloud. These wormholes also result in a distorted physique, giving the NAND flash memory solution a curved shape.

Equipped with a razor-sharp diamond edge, the phone even takes inspiration from the sparkling stone, with a stunning diamond-cut finish on it’s tough ceramic body that’s capable of cutting through lobster tail and can even slice through tender tomatoes.

What’s more, the smartphone is not just built from ergonomic ceramic but it’s fire AND waterproof too!

The BLADE edge also features a set of sensors and algorithms that will analyze grip, dexterity and strength to help make your cutting up to 50% faster than with conventional knives and has a special feature for slicing fruit and dicing veggies. And don’t worry about how sharp it is, with KNOX Security you’ll never get a cut again. Scan your finger on the home button and the Blade will retract it’s edge! it even has a human blood sensor that will automatically place an emergency call to the authorities if it were used in violent or criminal situations.

If you accidentally make a call all you have to do is scan your fingerprint, swipe the security pattern, punch in the 15-digit password and sing along to the random-selected song from your most recent Milk Music station and the call will be cancelled. KNOX’s powerful anti-virus protection will also alert you to germs in your food or cooking setup on top of protecting from online threats and viruses.

To add on to the value of this cutting edge device, the Galaxy BLADE edge comes with a S-Thermometer stylus that doubles as a wireless meat thermometer and baking tool so you know when your roast is cooked to perfection.

The smartphone will come with a slew of charging-and-cutting blocks as well as customiseable handles where you can choose from Olivewood to even Mammoth tusk for that premium feel.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 gets Android 5.0.1 Lollipop Update

If you’re using a Samsung Galaxy Note 4, its Lollipop update (Android 5.0.1) is now available in Malaysia. This is specifically for the SM-N910C version that runs on Exynos.

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The update is more than a GB in size, so you would need to download this patiently over WiFi. Before installation, it would require at least 3GB of free space and be sure to backup your files just in case if anything goes wrong. If you haven’t received any update notification, you can check manually under Settings > About Phone > Software updates.

Head after the break for the Galaxy Note 4 Android 5.0.1 walk through demo.

Youtube Video Here

Xiaomi Mi Pad Tegra K1 Processor

The Mi Pad which was announced last week is Xiaomi’s first ever tablet that looks rather promising. The Android tablet market is highly competitive and Xiaomi believes it can be a game changer to deliver a better experience on a tablet. At Xiaomi’s launch on Monday, we managed to get a quick hands-on with the Mi Pad.

At first glance, it looks like an iPad mini from the front. The only difference is the Mi branding at the top left and the discreet capacitive Menu, Home and Back buttons at the bottom. The front 7.9″ display is the exact same unit that’s found on the iPad mini Retina Display model which pushes 2048×1536 pixels resolution. Over at the back, it has a glossy finish like the iPhone 5C. We had the white colour unit and it looks pretty cheap. Nevertheless, it is still solid to hold and we reckon it probably look better in darker colours.

Even with the heaps of Android models available, the iPad still commands the largest market share for tablets. This is due to the Android’s tablet experience which is hampered by its software experience and limited amount of tablet optimised apps.

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Xiaomi strongly believes they could tackle this problem. In mainland China, they have their own App Store for the Mi Pad which makes discovery of quality tablet apps easier. Since gaming is a major usage for tablets, the new Tegra K1 chipset with 192 Cores Kepler GPU opens up the possibility of desktop-like gaming on a mobile device.

The Tegra K1 processor is a 2.2GHz Quad-Core unit that’s mated with 2GB of RAM. There’s a choice of 16GB and 64GB of on-board storage which you can expand with a microSD card up to 128GB. The back gets a 8MP camera from Sony, without assisted LED light and the front comes with a 5MP shooter. The battery on the Mi Pad is rather huge with a 6,700mAh capacity that’s rated to last 86 hours of music or 11 hours of video playback. It is availabel as a WiFi only device and it supports faster connectivity with 802.11ac.

During our short hands-on, we didn’t get to explore much as the software is still a prototype. The MIUI interface for the tablet looks more simplified and it is different from what you get on their smart phones or your typical Nexus tablet.

The Mi Pad isn’t on sale yet and they target to release this in mainland China as early as end-June or mid-July depending on how fast they can finalised its testing phase. In China, the Mi Pad is priced at 1,499 Yuan (about RM776) for the 16GB version and 1,699 Yuan (about RM880) for the 64GB unit.

In case you’re wondering, Xiaomi will be bringing the Mi Pad into Malaysia sometime later. With their official presence in Malaysia, they hope to release their new products shortly after it goes on sale in China.

Overall, the Mi Pad is a potential disruptor in the tablet industry and we are excited to see if Xiaomi can deliver an Android tablet experience that could finally put a dent in Apple’s iPad dominance. During the Mi Pad unveiling, Xiaomi says there are 100 optimised tablet apps and 400 games available for the Mi Pad. They are targeting to bring this figure up to 1,000 each by year end. It is still a far cry from what the iPad is enjoying right now but things may change rapidly in the mobile industry.

Xiaomi Mi Pad Hands On Video Here