TAG | windows-
- Ships with Chrome OS (generally requires an update to get to latest build)
- 2560 x 1700, 239 PPI display
- 32GB SSD
- 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 Processor
- MSRP: $1,299
- Hardware is incredibly well-designed
- Fast boot, right into Chrome-based workflow
- Touch is nice when actually needed
- Seems to leech battery quickly in sleep mode
- Still just Chrome
- Battery life could be better
The Chromebook Pixel is the Chromebook I’d pick as my personal Chromebook – if money was no option, and if I felt I really needed a Chromebook. It’s an impressive beast, like a Bird of Paradise, but in the end a trained falcon would be a way better winged thing to own, since it could catch you some wild game, instead of just prancing around with its mesmerizing but fairly useless mating displays.
While not comparable to a bird of prey, the Chromebook Pixel is a very impressive piece of hardware. The construction, which includes an anodized aluminum shell that has a dark slate finish, corners that are just slightly rounded for a more angular look than say a MacBook Pro, and clear attention to detail paid to the overall fit and finish that results in a final product you feel like putting on display in your home. The computer is solid, and it bears a pleasing weight to remind you, tipping the scales at 3.35 lbs (which is actually lighter than the 13.3-inch Retina MacBook Pro but feels more substantial somehow, perhaps owing to the smaller screen size.
The Chromebook Pixel also has a touch-sensitive, high-resolution display that beats the Retina MacBooks in terms of pixel density (which may have something to do with Google’s naming choice here). The screen is admittedly gorgeous in ideal conditions, but ideal conditions are fewer and farther between for the Pixel’s screen than for the Apple one. The color spectrum was skewed slightly yellow on my unit, and viewed at lower brightness legibility suffers. Also, if you think glare is a problem on your MacBook Pro or iMac, you’re going to be amazed at how much worse it can get with the Pixel in bright lighting.
The touch aspect works well, and surprisingly I haven’t had trouble with greasy mitts mucking up the screen so far. That’s probably because I seldom actually reach out and touch it though. The movement is awkward from a typing position, and of limited use value in my opinion. But for those few times you do get the impulse to tap something, it’s a very nice-to-have feature, if not a killer one. Speaking of touch, the Chromebook Pixel has one of the best trackpads currently available on a laptop, on par with Apple’s extremely solid input pads.
Hardware aside, the Chromebook Pixel’s main attribute is that it runs Google’s Chrome OS. If you’ve not used Chrome OS before, you’re probably not alone. But you also don’t need to worry about a learning curve; this is just like using the Chrome browser on your Mac or Windows computer. Web apps are treated a little more like proper desktop apps, perhaps, but the extensions, the experience and pretty much everything else about it is just like using Chrome. Which is both a good and a bad thing.
It’s good because it’s simple, easy, and for a good chunk of people, it probably actually satisfies the majority of their needs. If you’re a light computer user, making the browser the focus of an OS experience makes sense. But unfortunately for Chrome OS, tablets make almost as much, if not more sense for those users. Once you start requiring more than a tablet demands, your needs likely ramp up quickly, and then you’ll feel the lack of dedicated apps like Skype and Adobe’s Creative Suite products on the Chromebook pretty quickly. In other words, the Chromebook Pixel occupies a very thin sliver in terms of potential buyer needs, and there’s likely massive demand on either side.
Google didn’t make a mass market device with the Pixel, in the end. It made something that can stand as a shining example of what a Chromebook can be. That means that the Pixel is, in the end, something of a precious beauty, an exotic shape that won’t likely fit either a round, square or triangle-shaped hole.
Who is it for?
No. If you’re a designer and you’re using a Chromebook Pixel, you must be not very good at your job… or so good that I’m mystified at your abilities and you’ve evolved beyond the limitations of any physical tool. There are photo editing tools available for Chrome OS, and there’s even an SD card slot (but don’t try using ultra-high capacity ones like the 128GB I use as one of part of my go-to photography kit, it can’t read those), but if you’re a serious designer you’ll sorely feel the lack of better, more mature tools. It can output to other screens, too with a Mini DisplayPort, but that just gives you double the browser space, and still limits you in terms of design software.
A lot of effort seems to be going into putting more design tools in the hands of web-based editors and creators, but we’re not there yet. Maybe that’s next after Adobe has moved to its Creative Cloud subscription-based model, but for right now, designers steer clear.
No. The Chromebook Pixel might be perfect for a founder who’s building products based on the Google ecosystem and wants to kiss some extra ass, but really it isn’t a great tool for an entrepreneur on the move. The main reason being that some absolutely crucial conferencing tools like Skype are still not in place on Chrome OS.
The other conceivable situation where this might work is if you’re a web startup that’s betting big on HTML5 and you want to really eat your own dogfood. But other laptops also offer Chrome, and a lot more besides, so why not have your dogfood and eat it, too? Not sure that metaphor actually works here but it reads well, so go with it.
No. This is a situation where it probably depends on what exactly it is you’re programming. If you’re building IFTTT recipes, for instance, a Chromebook Pixel is pretty exceptional. And if you’re working on tweaking WordPress themes, then you can do everything you want to on the Pixel. But for anything beyond straightforward and simple text-based coding, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. I wouldn’t, for instance, recommend coding iOS apps on a Chromebook Pixel. I probably wouldn’t even recommend developing Chrome OS apps on a Chromebook, though you can apparently hack the computer to make it operate better as an everyday coding device.
This is a very good Chromebook. But the fact remains that it still feels like devices running Google’s still-nascent Chrome OS need to be considered separately from other notebooks running OS X, Windows and even Ubuntu. The Pixel puts on an excellent show, has dazzling good looks and a stunning mating display, but it’s far from an apex predator.
Meet the Lumia 925, the latest smartphone flagship in Nokia’s increasingly populous Windows Phone portfolio. The 925 is clearly Nokia’s answer to criticisms of its high end devices being too heavy. At the device’s London launch earlier today, Vodafone’s Patrick Chomet – brought onstage to talk up the new Lumia which the carrier will be ranging in Europe — couldn’t avoid commenting negatively on the Lumia 920’s weight. For all the noise about the 925’s camera, its less hefty hardware is the key design difference here.
The 925 drops a full 46g compared to the earlier Lumia 920, weighing in at 139g vs the 920’s hefty 185g. The phone feels pleasingly light in the hand, helped by its slender profile: it’s just 8.5mm thick at its thickest point (vs 10.7mm for the 920). In order to achieve a sleeker, lighter device, yet keep the 4.5-inch display, Nokia has dropped built-in wireless charging – but it’s not ditching the tech entirely. It has included wireless charging as an add-on via clip-on shells – likely sold separately — which increase the thickness of the 925 by a few millimetres but don’t appear to add too much weight back on.
It’s a compromise but one that results in a sleeker, more attractive handset out of the box. If it’s a choice between wireless charging – which remains something of a gimmick — or a lightweight phone, most people would opt for the latter. And that’s a calculation Nokia has clearly made with the 925.
The handset design also takes a few steps in a new direction for the Lumia range, with aluminium edging running around its four sides – a band which doubles as the phone’s antenna – coupled with a polycarbonate back. The two-tone look and feel is a definite departure for Nokia’s high end phone design. Colour options are also more subtle, with the black version having anodized, almost charcoal looking aluminium edging, while the white 925 has silver edges. There’s also a grey colourway. The trademark bright Lumia colours are reserved for the wireless charging shells — including red, yellow and cyan.
The PureView-branded 8.7MP camera on the 925 is the other big focus here. The hardware introduces a sixth lens to the device, which Nokia says improves performance in bright sunlight. This is in addition to strong low-light capabilities, which it has touted on its other Lumia flagships – including most recently the Lumia 928.
During the 925 launch Nokia demoed both the low and bright-light photography capabilities of the phone, inviting the press to compare the shots with photos taken on their own smartphones. The Lumia 925 came off as better at snapping in the dark than iPhones, the BlackBerry Z10, the HTC One and even the Lumia 920, pulling a brighter, more colourful image from out of the gloom. It also appeared to capture more detail in strong light conditions in Nokia’s test conditions.
As well as the extra hardware lens, the 925 includes a new suite of camera-editing software called Nokia Smart Camera. This makes use of a burst mode that takes 10 photos at around 5MP each. It then offers a series of image-manipulation options to enhance the photo. Some of these features were a little hit and miss under the press launch lighting conditions. Others looked a little gimmicky, such as the ability to composite a series of movements into one shot. But others seemed like they could be genuinely useful, such as a feature that allows you to create the best shot by choosing from various facial expressions — much like the timeshift feature on the BlackBerry Z10/Q10. Or another that lets you remove a moving object from an image, such as a person or car passing in front of the scene you’re trying to shoot.
The Smart Camera software won’t be exclusive to the Lumia 925 for long – Nokia said it will be pushed out to other Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 8 devices as an update in Q3. But for the moment, the Lumia 925 has the lion’s share of Nokia’s camera creativity, including some new features in its Creative Studio image editing app, such as a tilt shift and radial focus. And the Oggl app.
One more new software addition in the 925′s screen settings allows users to tweak the colour saturation and temperature of the AMOLED screen to dial down how poppingly bright the colours are and opt for more muted, photo-realistic tones if you desire. Elsewhere, this is a business-as-usual Windows Phone 8 device loaded with the usual suite of Microsoft and Nokia apps, which include its HERE mapping and location apps and Nokia Music. It is also skinned with the new more flexible Windows Phone homescreen that allows for three different-sized live tiles.
The 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon chip powering the Lumia 925 doesn’t sound that beefy, considering the proliferation of quad-core phones in the Android ecosystem at least, but it’s as top-of-the range as Windows Phone gets right now. And Nokia argues that no more processing clout is required to do all of the image processing going on under the 925′s hood.
Welcome to the world of the sub-$1,000 3D printer. Manufacturer Pirate3D has promised that their Buccaneer printer will cost a mere $347, about $1,700 less than the cheapest extrusion-based printer available. The printer can print at a maximum of 100 microns – the same as the Makerbot’s – and prints at 50mm/s. It connects to your computer or mobile device via Wi-Fi and is made of stamped steel.
The output of the printer looks to be just on the edge of acceptable, especially given the price, but as this stream of photos shows, the Buccaneer has a 5.8
Fresh from last week’s Verizon Lumia device launch, Nokia has taken the wraps off a new smartphone in its Windows Phone-based Lumia range at an event in London today. The Lumia 925 is its first flagship for T-Mobile in the U.S. This means that following the Lumia 928 launch on Verizon, and factoring in Nokia’s initial launch of the Lumia 920 on AT&T last year, Nokia now has a flagship Windows Phone ranged on all three major U.S. carriers. Globally the Lumia 925 will be ranged with Vodafone in Europe, coming to markets including Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. (priced at €469), and in China with China Mobile and China Unicom. The device will ship in June in Europe, with a U.S. launch slated for soon after.
The Windows Phone 8-based 4G Lumia 925 continues Nokia’s strategy of emphasising the camera smarts of its flagships Windows Phones, including PureView branding, Carl Zeiss optics and an 8.7MP lens with image stabilisation tech inside. But the camera hardware in the 925 is a little different to the 928 and 920, with one extra lens. This sixth lens improves photo performance in bright sunlight, according to Nokia, as well as sharing the low light performance abilities of its fellow flagships. In addition to that new camera hardware, the phone includes new software, called Smart Camera, that’s aimed at extending the photography experience by giving users new ways to capture and share photographs.
The camera software on the device includes a burst mode which allows up to 10 shots to be captured at a time. The software also has three new capture modes that take advantage of this burst feature, namely: Best Shot, for composing a composite shot from the best elements of several images; Action Shot for snapping a series of stills of action shots, such as sports, that can then be edited and shared as a sequence; and Motion Focus, a Lytro-style mode that allows the snapper to pick different elements to be in or out of focus after the shot has been taken. Nokia confirmed to TechCrunch that the latter featured is the first bit of software to make use of technology Nokia acquired when it bought imaging company Scalado last July.
“Whatever you do you can go back and edit again and again,” said Jo Harlow, head of Nokia’s smart devices unit — pictured above left, with SVP of product design chief Stefan Pannenbecker at the London launch. “The Nokia smart camera is our latest uniqie experience for our Nokia Lumia portfolio.”
The Smart Camera software is exclusive to the Lumia 925 initially but will be pushed out as an over-the-air update called Amber to Windows Phone 8-based Lumias in Q3, the company said. Nokia looks to be trying to bolster its efforts against Samsung here, which included a raft of new camera features on its flagship Galaxy S4 device, such as Dual-Shot and Drama Shot. The lack of Instagram for Windows Phone continues to hamper Nokia’s photo-focused efforts however, but also today it announced a partnership with Oggl, Hipstamatic’s new photo community app — noting that since Oggl has a relationship with Instagram, users will be able to access the latter service via that app.
Design wise, the Lumia 925 is the first Lumia device to include metallic trim. A silver aluminium band runs around its four edges, and doubles as the phone’s antenna — taking its cues from the iPhone’s design (but with “rigorous testing” to ensure no repeat of antennagate, according to Nokia). The mobile maker’s trademark polycarbonate clads the back of the device, so there’s a two-tone look and feel.
Nokia says the plastic back is designed to make it feel nicer and grippier in the hand. It may also be about keeping the weight down (to 139g), since heavy handsets is something Nokia has been criticised for. It certainly felt lightweight and slender during a brief hands on. Handset colour options are muted rather than the usual bold Lumia offerings, with black, white and grey options for the plastic back. Wireless charging shells, sold separately, can reintroduce the usual Lumia splashes of yellow, cyan and red.
Under the hood there’s a 1.5GHz Dual-Core Snapdragon chip, and 1GB of RAM. On board memory is 16Gb plus 7MB free cloud storage on Microsoft’s SkyDrive. The 4.5 inch AMOLED display has a resolution of 1280 x 768. Dimensions are 129 x 70.6 x 8.5mm. The 2000mAh battery is good for up to 12.8 hours of talk time on 3G, or up to 6.6 hours video playback, according to Nokia.
A ‘true PureView’ Windows Phone device — codenamed EOS — has been rumoured for several months, and the Lumia 925 looks to be that device. However it certainly does not include the 41MP sensor and pixel oversampling techniques featured in the Symbian-based 808 PureView. It seems unlikely that bona fide PureView technology will ever make it to Windows Phone, not least because it’s something of a camera pro curiosity, rather than a consumer-friendly mainstream feature. Rather Nokia is extending the PureView branding — to associate it with a range of camera-centric features, not just that original huge sensor.
Harlow closed the presentation by hinting at further new device launches from Nokia “later this summer”. “I can’t wait to see you later this summer when we will continue to bring new innovation and new experiences to our Lumia portfolio,” she said.
Amazon offers a range of hardware, including its Kindle e-readers and tablets, but now it’s looking to expand the line with two new smartphones and an audio-only device that streams music, according to the Wall Street Journal. The phones include a high-end one with a glasses-free 3D screen, as well as another about which details were not included in the report, which presumably would be a more traditional design.
Amazon has been rumored to have been working on a phone for a while now, and the recent hiring of top Windows Phone evangelist Charlie Kindel also raised alarms that Amazon might be in the smartphone business soon. Natasha wrote about how Kindel had previously discussed Android’s fragmentation problem, and how it provided opportunity for other players to step up and innovate. This could be what he’s attempting at Amazon, and these devices might be part of that project, although nothing about its plans have been officially revealed as of yet.
The rumored 3D device is said to use some kind of retina-tracking technology to present a holographic image that’s viewable without glasses, and that hovers above the screen. It sounds a little like a gimmick to be honest, especially considering how CE devices with 3D have fared so far, like the 3DS, which recently has downplayed its 3D capabilities in recent marketing. Other phone makers, including HTC and Sony, have also dabbled with 3D displays on phones, all of which have essentially failed to make an impact.
Lately, however, a lot of companies have been creating hardware which doesn’t necessarily have an immediately apparent niche. There’s the Chromebook Pixel, for instance, as well as Google Glass and rumors of the Apple smart watch. There’s the Acer Aspire R7 more recently, too, all of which essentially point to a need to have a big, splashy marquee product that isn’t necessarily the hottest consumer device.
Amazon’s other phone could be the more mass-market play, and the dedicated audio player sounds like it might want to become the iPhone of the streaming music generation. WSJ says that some of these devices might launch as soon as in the next few months, though there’s no guarantee that they won’t be shelved, so 3D screens could also just be something Amazon is testing internally.
We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment and have yet to hear back, but will update this post if they provide any official comment.
Nokia has given its Series 40-based range of touchscreen Asha smartphones another push to try to keep up with the low end reach of Google’s Android platform today. The mobile maker has announced a new addition to the range — the Asha 501 (pictured left & below) — which also ushers in a new version of the Asha touch UI that’s designed to be quicker and slicker, and has a focus on swiping gestures to make it feel more fluid.
The three-inch capacitive screen Asha 501, which has Wi-Fi but no 3G and costs $99 before taxes & subsidies, is expected to start shipping in June, via some 60 carriers in more than 90 countries worldwide. Nokia’s Asha range typically targets emerging markets in Africa, Asia and South America but Asha devices have also been ranged in Europe.
Although Nokia has retired its other in-house platform Symbian, to concentrate its smartphone efforts on Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, it has continued to expand its portfolio of low end Android alternative S40-based devices — adding in a variety of new hardware and software features to devices in the range, including full Qwerty keyboards; dedicated keys for Facebook/WhatsApp; refreshed industrial design; its Bluetooth sharing technology Slam; its Xpress browser to lighten the data consumption load; preloaded social networking apps; free games downloads; and a focus on long battery life.
But keeping up with low end Androids also means improving Asha’s usability — and that’s what its latest platform refresh is all about. The Asha 501 is in fact the first fruit of Nokia’s 2012 acquisition of Smarterphone, a Norwegian company that made mobile OSes for feature phones designed to give them smartphone looks and capabilities.
Nokia said the new Asha platform is faster and more responsive. It also introduces a touchscreen UI refresh — with a dual homescreen view: the Home screen is a “traditional icon-based view for launching individual apps or accessing a specific feature”, while the new Fastlane view changes based on device usage, showing things like “recently accessed contacts, social networks and apps”.
Fastlane “provides a record of how the phone is used, giving people a glimpse of their past, present and future activity, and helping them multi-task by providing easy access to their favorite features”, according to Nokia’s press release. The feature sounds a lot like certain portions of Motorola’s Android skinning software — such as the widgets deployed on 2012 devices like the Motorola Motosmart.
The overall idea of the design refresh is to make it easier for Asha users to get to the apps and features they’re after, according to Nokia – with the two main screens accessible by a “simple swipe”. ”Fastlane is integral to the whole Nokia Asha 501 experience, but so is the ‘swipe’ motion,” a spokeswoman told TechCrunch. “With swipe as you experience it on the device, we were able to make optimal use of screen space, so you see just what you need. You swipe to everything else, including pull-down menus and of course, Fastlane. The whole user experience is faster and more responsive.”
New Asha, New Apps
So what about apps? The new Asha platform does require developers to rework apps for it — either by writing them afresh or porting them over. Which does mean Nokia is pushing the reset button yet again, but the company would probably argue that at this price point with these price-conscious consumers, users aren’t expecting hoards of apps — just select key apps. It’s also added in-app purchases to the new Asha platform, offering developers a new way to monetise Asha apps, along with its Nokia Advertising Exchange and carrier billing network.
“A good percentage of existing apps can be ported to the new platform,” said Nokia’s spokeswoman. “We already have many developers working on this. Going forward and with the new Nokia Asha Software Development Kit, developers can write an app once, and it will be compatible with future devices also built on the new Asha platform, with no need to re-write code.”
Apps that are already available for the new Nokia Asha platform include CNN, eBuddy, ESPN, Facebook, Foursquare, Line, LinkedIn, Nimbuzz, Pictelligent, The Weather Channel, Twitter, WeChat, World of Red Bull and games from Electronic Arts, Gameloft, Indiagames, Namco Bandai and Reliance Games. Nokia said its HERE location software will also be available as a download, starting in Q3 this year — and will “initially include basic mapping services”.
Messaging giant WhatsApp is noticeably absent from the list but Nokia’s spokeswoman suggested that may change in future, noting: “WhatsApp and other key partners continue to explore new Asha.”
In select markets, certain carriers are also offering data-free access to apps including the Facebook app and mobile website on the 501 for a limited time, offering another hook for the target cost-conscious consumers.
The 501 comes preloaded with Nokia’s cloud-based data compressing Xpress browser. Nokia has also created a new web app, called Nokia Xpress Now, which ”recommends content based on location, preferences and trending topics”. It said this will be available via the Browser homepage or as a download from the Nokia Store.
“Nokia has surpassed expectations of what’s achievable in the sub-100 USD phone category with a new Asha handset that is unlike any other, with design cues from Lumia and a mix of features, services and affordability that is valued by price-conscious buyers,” said Neil Mawston, executive director, Global Wireless Practice, Strategy Analytics, in a supporting statement.
Commenting on the launch via Twitter, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi added: “Asha 501 shows what you can achieve when you design bottom up rather than strip down features to hit the right price point.
“Asha 501 Dual SIM with hot swap very important to users but what is most striking on this device is the user interface.”
The full device specifications for the Asha 501 are as follows:
Dimensions: 99.2 x 58 x 12.1 mm; 98 grams
Camera: 3.2 MP
Single SIM standby time: up to 48 days
Dual SIM standby time: up to 26 days
Talk time: up to 17 hours
Additional memory of 4GB (card included in box), expandable up to 32GB
Forty free EA Games worth €75 downloadable from Nokia Store
Available colours: Bright Red, Bright Green, Cyan, Yellow, White and Black
Suggested pricing is 99 USD before taxes and subsidies.
Nokia is teasing the Lumia 928 — a phone it has not officially announced yet, despite all the leaks, rumours and, er, magazine ads – in a camera comparison video posted on its U.S. website. All this teasing smells like a new strategy for Nokia to try to manufacture a little hype for the forthcoming Windows Phone 8 flagship, which is apparently heading to Verizon.
The camera comparison pits the Lumia 928 against two of the most hyped smartphones in the tech world: the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 5. Although the Lumia device is not identified by name in the actual text or video on the page, the URL is far less coy: http://www.nokia.com/us-en/lumia928
The page does confirm the device will have an 8.7MP PureView camera with Carl Zeiss optics and the optical image stabilization first seen on the Lumia 920. The camera specs are in fact exactly the same as the 920′s. The design, however, looks rather more slab-like — with what look like blunted sides, vs the 920′s rounded edges.
According to Nokia’s low light camera test — conducted at a fairground in New York — the Lumia has greater colour saturation and sharper image focus than the iPhone 5, and less video noise and sharper image focus than the Galaxy S3. But then Nokia would say that, wouldn’t they?
It’s certainly interesting to note Nokia has picked on last year’s flagship Galaxy for the comparison, rather than pitting it against Samsung’s latest flagship: the Galaxy S4 (which has a 13MP rear camera).
The mobile PC market isn’t doing great, but that’s only if you look at it independently of tablet device sales. NPD DisplaySearch now says that over the next five years, however, the mobile PC market will more than double, growing from 367.6 million units in 2012 to 762.7 million by 2017.
The growth is being driven by a sea change in PC computing, as tablet PCs continually replace your standard notebook form factors, and touch gets built in to more and more laptop devices. Almost every manufacturer now has at least one touch-capable model, which is actually required for Windows 8 certification, and which helps explain ambitious devices like the Asus Aspire R7.
In the near-term, NPD DisplaySearch expects tablet shipments to rise 67 percent year-over-year in 2013, reaching 256.5 million on their own. Notebook shipments are expected to slow in general, down to 183.3 million in 2017, from 203.3 million in 2013. NPD predicts growth for certain categories, including touch-enabled devices, and even projects that devices like the MacBook Air and Ultrabooks will adopt touch in the coming years.
NPD doesn’t see Windows 8 actually driving touch adoption, despite the requirement by Microsoft for certification. That’s probably because of reportedly lackluster sales performance by Microsoft’s latest OS so far, but still the category will grow as OEMs look to invest more in hybrid devices, sliders and tablet-style form factors that could potentially resonate better with where consumers seem to be spending their computing dollars these days.
Despite the generally rosy outlook NPD DisplaySearch paints, the fact remains that now, Apple is the company that stands to gain the most from an upsurge in tablet popularity. It sold around 19.5 million iPads during Q2 2013, representing 65 percent year over year growth, and so far no one has been able to come close to that. Others are slowly making inroads, however, including Asus, which reported its Q1 2013 earnings today, including 3 million tablet sales that offset notebook and PC component losses to the tune of $202 million in profit.
When was the last time you talked about Acer? Never? Me too. The company, which is the fourth largest PC maker in the world by the way, announced the Acer Aspire R7 this morning. It’s a mighty morphing Windows 8 portable. Like the Lenovo Yoga, it features versatile hinges that allow the computer to take different forms.
The Aspire R7 is not the next big thing. No one is going to buy this thing. But that’s probably just fine.
The Acer Aspire R7 is a halo device. It’s an attention grabber. It’s advertising in the form of product. It’s Acer’s proof to the other big players and startups alike that the company can still hang. It’s designed to sit pretty in the showroom window and entice buyers to come inside to the dealership. It is, in automotive terms, the Chevy Corvette of Acer’s lineup.
Dealerships prominently position the Corvette outside their doors. It’s not around back with the Chevy Econoboxes. It’s right out front. It draws attention. It gets buyers near the door and talking about the brand. It will never outsell the Impala. In fact it’s designed to help sell the Impala.
Expect to see the Acer Aspire R7 on electronic store retailers’ end-caps and nowhere else. Just maybe, with this hot portable occupying prime real estate in Best Buy, more buyers will view Acer as a serious computer company rather than a list of competitive specs available at good price.
Every company produces these high-end products to get the blood moving again. Remember the Dell Adamo XPS? That $2,200 netbook was once displayed at CES on a turntable protected by a bulletproof cube of glass. It was “technically” available for sale, but Dell didn’t expect it to sell en masse. Sony had the uber-high end Qualia line from 2003 to 2005. With prices ranging from $1,400 (MiniDisc player) to $25,000 (SXRD video projector), these products were more of a design exercise than legitimate push into the upper echelon of consumer electronics.
Back to Acer.
The company’s Wikipedia page says it best: Acer sells “inexpensively-targeted” computer electronics. The products are available from nearly every retailer. Acer is, in short, the Lee Jeans of computer: They’re perfectly acceptable, available at Walmart but not a brand that generates excitement.
Now there’s the Acer Aspire R7. The Internet is excited about this computer. Gizmodo says they’re not ready for its level of crazy. But crazy is good. Crazy gets attention. And crazy sells.
Acer is losing marketshare. The company was the second most prolific computer maker in 2009, second to only HP in global sales. It ended 2012 in fourth place, after HP, Lenovo, and Dell. Worse yet, sales and shipments are still trending down.
The consumer marketplace has changed a lot since Acer was near the top. Like Giz said, we’re not ready for the R7′s radical design. But I for one can’t wait to see what else the firm is capable of producing. I would be totally on board with a similar Windows 8 computer albeit one that’s a touch less crazy. And now I’m looking to Acer to provide that where I wouldn’t have even considered the company before.
Oh, and Acer did announce new lower-end notebooks today. Engadget covered them. They’re good, but nothing exciting — which is just about right for Acer.
Mozilla was keen to talk up the 3.0 version of its Firefox OS simulator back in March, but didn’t have much to share about when eager developers could start fiddling with it. Thankfully for HTML5 buffs, that six-week quiet period is over — the team just announced on the official Mozilla Hacks blog that the newly updated simulator is now available to download.
All of the features that appeared in the preview release are accounted for — think support for rotating displays and a mock geolocation API for testing location-aware apps — but the simulator suite has been polished a bit since we last saw it. Most of those tweaks are housekeeping changes: the size of the download has been reduced, which has led to snappier boot times, and the simulator now supports common OS shortcuts like Cmd + Q to shut down, but the simulator has also been updated to run newer versions of Firefox OS and the Gaia user interface layer.
With that said, prospective Firefox OS developers will probably use one simulator feature more than any other: the ability to push work-in-progress applications to connected test devices. Mozilla and its hardware partners Huawei, LG, and ZTE (who showed off its first FFOS device at Mobile World Congress) have been pointing to device launches in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela later this year, but the quality of the experiences found on those phones will ultimately determine whether or not Firefox OS flops.
Even so, strong early sales of Firefox OS developer devices may point to a promising official launch for the first set of consumer-facing phones later this year. Just look at Spanish hardware OEM startup Geeksphone — it began selling its Keon and Peak reference devices for $119 and $194, respectively, late last month, and the company was forced to limit the number of handsets sold that on launch day so the 20-person team could keep up with shipping.
That’s a promising start especially for a company as young as Geeksphones, but there’s no question that Firefox OS is going to face some serious competition in its launch markets. Android powers a staggering number of cheap smartphones, and Nokia has refocused its efforts to build low-cost devices based both on Windows Phone and the aging Series 40 OS. Meanwhile, persistent rumors of a low-cost iPhone continue to make the rounds — Firefox OS seemed like a novel option for new and adventurous smartphone owners when I first played with it, but we’ll have to see how the rest of the industry responds.