Saturday, January 21, 2017

Now Home Delivery Through Quadcopter

If you measure the future in terms how pizza is delivered, the future is now: Domino's now delivers via autonomous drone. Today, the pizza chain officially launched its drone delivery service in New Zealand. The pizzaria chain has been working with Flirtey on the program for awhile now, but has only just started offering it to a select group of customers.

"Drones offer the promise of safer, faster deliveries to an expanded delivery area," Domino's group CEO Don Meiji says. "Meaning more customers can expect to receive a freshly-made order within our ultimate target of 10 minutes." Drone deliveries are being integrated into the company's online ordering system, and the company says it hopes to expand the drone deliveries to a wider area soon.

The company didn't announce any plans to bring drone delivery to the United States, but Flirtey is working on it. Earlier this year, the company performed its first FAA-sanctioned delivery in Nevada, carrying emergency food, water and a first-aid kit to an empty house. That's promising, but it will probably be awhile before you can order-in by air -- US Drone standards are pretty strict.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

How To Select The Right Microcontroller

If you are into software or hardware engineering, one of the most daunting task for you is probably the selection of the right micro-controller for your product. While choosing your microcontroller you are not only required to consider the long and defined list of technical features, but you also have to take care of other factors like cost and lead-times. It is indeed tempting to kick start any new project from straight away choosing your microcontrollers, but the results of such rush can be disheartening. So before making the rational decision of choosing the right microcontrollers, these are some must follow and simple 10 steps which can ensure that the right selection.

1. List down the required hardware interface.

Make use of the general hardware block diagram to make a list of all the required external interfaces that will be supported by the microcontrollers. The basic two types of interfaces which will be listed here will be the communication interfaces like the peripherals such as USB, I2C, UART, SPI, and so on. These interfaces have a bigger effect oh how much amount of program space a microcontroller will require to support. Secondly the engineer requires to chalk out the interfaces like the digital inputs and outputs, the analog to digital inputs, the PWM’s, etc. These will define the number of pins required by the microcontroller.

2. Consider the Software architecture

The software architecture and requirements is another big factor effecting the selection of the microcontroller. The weight of the processing requirements determines if you should choose am 80 MHz DSP or an 8 MHz 8051. Make notes of the requirements which can effect the decision like algorithms that require floating point mathematics, or high frequency sensors or control loops, estimates of how frequently these tasks are being run etc. These will help you make an estimation of how much processing power will be needed which will again effect the architecture and frequency of the microcontroller.

3. Selecting the architecture

Once you are done with step one and two make use of the information to get an idea of what architecture will be required. Choose between 8 bit, 16 bit and 32 bit ARM core? You will find your answers between the application and the required software algorithms. Do keep in mind that you might need to add further features in the future. So if your features are just right for a 8-bit core, you might want to consider a higher version.

4. Choosing the Right memory requirements

From the important requirements in the above steps, here we move to the critical requirements of a microcontroller. The Flash and the RAM are indeed two of the most critical components of any microcontrollers. Making sure that the product do fall short of the program space or variable space is indeed of the highest priority. There is nothing more painful then cutting down the features towards the end of the designing. So always start with higher memory requirements and you might consider cutting it down in the future. Estimate how much flash and RAM will be required by making use of the software architecture and the communication peripherals included in the application and as we mentioned above do keep in mind that you might need to add features in the future.

5. Power constraints

Once you are done with selecting the right architecture and the memory its now time to step down to the market and get a list of micro-controllers matching your requirements. Start cut shorting the list by the power requirements of your device. Make sure you choose the low power parts if the device will be powered from the battery of the mobile.

6. Life cycle of the product

You are done with shortlisting the products that matches the above requirements, so now its time to consider how long of a life cycle are you planning for your product. If your product’s life is 10 years, make sure that the manufacturer guarantees a 10 year availability of the micro-controller.

7. Look for a development kit

After considering all the above factors and almost ready with the selected alternatives, start to look for a development kit. These development kits helps you to play with and learn the inner functions of the controller. If the development kit isn’t available, it is probably not the right choice.

8. Look out for compilers and tools

While after you have your development kit in hand, you are almost ready with the right micro-controller. But before you pay and leave back home, the availability of the compilers and tools is one last but a big and important factor to consider. Make sure that all required tools like the compilers, debugging tools and examples codes are already available. Without these the development process can get difficult, time taking and expensive.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

7 Tips for debugging embedded software

Debugging is one task every developer wants to avoid but it is unfortunately a necessary evil of software development. In fact, as EDN's Embedded Study revealed, embedded development projects on average spend more than 20% of their total effort on debugging alone. When the time comes to roll-up your sleeves and start a debugging session, here are some tips to help you along.

Tip #1 – Take controlled baby steps
When a bug creeps into embedded software, the developer's first instinct is often to jump into the code and start making changes. Instead of making changes in a controlled and directed manner, though, the developer's approach is usually haphazard and nearly random. Embedded software development isn’t the Wild West. The resolution of even the simplest bugs should involve reviewing available data, evaluating it, hypothesizing the most likely cause, updating the code, and then testing the update. In the event that the change does not solve the problem new data should at least come to light, which then helps the process to be repeated.

Tip #2 – Increase assertion density
The ASSERT macro is a great tool that returns an error message at runtime if the asserted condition is false. Developers can use this macro to verify that assumptions within their code are holding true. Surprisingly, many developers don’t take the time to put assertions into their code. The ASSERT density of a code base can often be the difference between long and painful debug sessions or the trapping of a failed assumption the moment it happens. ASSERT can help a developer discover bugs or assumption failure immediately. What is the ASSERT density of your code base?

Tip #3 – Use a data logger
Information about how the software is operating is the greatest tool an embedded software engineer can have when debugging. Having performance information such as when tasks start and complete, whether they are preempted, and similar details can be critical. A log of actions taken is a great way for a developer to gain insight into the software's behavior. A log can be as simple as a RAM buffer, a file written to external flash, or as complex as encoded data transmitted to a remote location.

Tip #4 – Use advanced breakpoints
Developers are familiar with using standard break points that can be turned on in an IDE by simply double clicking on a lie of code's left margin. However, many IDEs also have far more advanced breakpoint capabilities, ones that developers rarely utilize. An example of an advanced break point is setting a line to break when a variable reaches a certain value. The use of advanced break points can drastically decrease debugging time and make difficult to catch bugs far easier to spot.

Tip #5 – Review the datasheets again
Debugging peripherals can be especially difficult. Modern microcontrollers can have dozens of registers involved in setting up a single peripheral, and these peripheral settings are not always obvious or well documented. Even worse, the details on how to properly set the peripheral up are usually not all within a single datasheet. Instead, the information is in the form of "bread crumbs" scattered amongst the family and peripheral datasheets, and sometimes even in application notes. Looking at just one document is not enough. When hardware is misbehaving, you'll need to review the datasheets again and again.

Tip #6 – Monitor the call stack
Developers will sometimes question how they ever got to a specific line of code in the first place. IDEs contain a call stack window that can reveal exactly that information. The call stack shows what functions were called and in what order, revealing information that can be very useful for tracing a bug.

Tip #7 – Take a break
Debugging can be a taxing exercise. Diving deep into the workings of software and hardware can give a developer tunnel vision. A developer sometimes needs to step back by either moving on to a different task or by taking a break. Getting away from the system by going for a walk or doing something relaxing will allow the subconscious mind to work on the solution while the conscious mind rests, so that when it's time to start looking at the code again, additional insights will usually follow.

Whether you spend a lot of time debugging or very little, the fact is as embedded software developers it is impossible to avoid. Using the tips in this article can help make debugging more successful, and thus a little bit more palatable.

this article is created by Jacob Beningo -August 04, 2015

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Feedback Loop: Amazon's new phone

Amazon's first phone is finally here. But what makes it such a curious little device isn't all that (lackluster) 3D, head-tracking stuff; it's Firefly, the company's new visual search engine. Amazon may have been born unto the internet as a modest bookseller, but it's now become a services company: There's the Kindle Lending Library for e-books, plus streaming services like Amazon Instant Video and Prime Music.

Amazon's also a hardware maker. And this time, the company's made something that lets you text mom and use a powerful image-based search system to shop with one touch. It's the Fire phone, and it feels like the inevitable marriage of Amazon's device and services initiative.
The thing to remember about the gadgets that Amazon and Lab 126 (its Research and Development division) craft is that they're, on some level, mere shells. You don't buy a Kindle Fire tablet because it's intrinsically beautiful -- you buy it because you want to read e-books, or watch movies or listen to music that comes as part of your annual Prime subscription. These Fire devices feed directly into the company's myriad services. They're no more than conduits for the sheer amount of content Amazon has on offer.

That said, the physical device still matters. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pointed out today, making hardware is, well, hard and making good, truly valuable hardware is doubly so. The annals of smartphone history are littered with high-profile failures like Microsoft's Kin and both of Facebook's now forgotten phones. It's a problem the Fire phone team grappled with, as Bezos even admitted on stage today. How do you make a smartphone that stands out amidst a sea of competitors with more experience? The answer, Bezos found, had nothing to do with specs.

Amazon's approach to smartphone differentiation was multi-pronged: a focus on real-time customer service with pre-existing features like Mayday and alternative user interface controls and perspectives -- what Amazon calls Dynamic Perspective -- made possible by all those front-facing cameras. But really, it's Firefly that seems like the real game changer for Amazon's Fire phone.

It's hard to overstate just how important Firefly really is. With a single press on the dedicated Firefly key, your Fire phone can recognize the material world around you. Firefly can detect and identify audio from the radio or TV similar to the way a service like Shazam does. It can also scan works of art, DVDs, books or tchotchkes sitting in front of you and return relevant information and shopping links.

Amazon's tried stuff like this before, naturally. Remember the Dash? You could use that little LED scanner to identify your groceries by bar code and stick them in your virtual shopping cart. With the Fire phone and Firefly, Amazon has lifted that restriction on bar codes. In a sense, it's turned the world around you into one giant showroom. Scan what you want -- anything at all, really -- and there's a decent chance you'll be redirected to an info page with a "Buy From Amazon" link mere millimeters away from your fingers.

Firefly's beauty is that it does more than just let you buy stuff; Amazon isn't that shortsighted. It'll show you related Wikipedia articles for objects of interest. It can show you book reviews and recognize phone numbers from street signage. It's just useful. And if you decide you want to buy anything you've discovered, well, it's right there. That lack of friction, that inherent usefulness, that subtle blurring of the line dividing the real world and Amazon's virtual shelves -- those factors could make the Fire phone the most potent selling tool the company has ever created, and you may not even notice it.

Of course, all this won't amount to much if Amazon can't move massive numbers of Fire phones. In the months and weeks that led up to today's unveiling, pundits called for a phone that merged worthy performance and a rock-bottom price tag. Clearly, Amazon wasn't paying attention to the hoi polloi -- the Fire phone starts at $199 with a contract and it's an AT&T exclusive. Right out of the gate, Amazon's looking at a limited market with that carrier lockdown. Sure, the Fire phone might be a tempting lure for customers that have already gone all-in on Amazon's Prime ecosystem. But with so many impressive smartphones currently retailing for that same price, the Fire phone's likely to go unnoticed by the iPhone crowd Amazon's chasing after.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Has Microsoft finally made a tablet to replace your laptop?

It didn't last long, but there was a moment earlier this week when I was sure Microsoft would unveil its own laptop. At a press event, Surface chief Panos Panay took the stage to remind the reporters in attendance how they once said tablets would make laptops obsolete. A quick scan around the room revealed rows of journalists, all typing on Ultrabooks -- including the MacBook Air, no less. For a moment, it seemed like Panay was conceding defeat.

Indeed, Microsoft has had multiple chances to prove it can bridge the divide between slates and laptops: Both the first- and second-gen Surface tablets were intended as do-it-all devices. And both times, the company fell short of its mission. The Surface Pro in particular was powerful enough to rival Ultrabooks, but suffered from several usability flaws: It was awkward to use in the lap, and also unwieldy as a tablet. For most people, a touchscreen laptop was still the better choice.

Even so, that wasn't Panay conceding defeat up there on stage -- that was him being persistent. When he finally did get to the point, he unveiled not a laptop, but a tablet, the Surface Pro 3. Most notably, this third-gen device steps up to a larger, 12-inch screen, bringing it in line with contemporary Ultrabooks. The keyboard has been born again too, this time with a larger, more responsive touchpad and the ability to prop it up at a more comfortable angle. As a tablet, meanwhile, the Surface Pro 3 is thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 2, despite having a bigger display. Just as important, the device will start at $799 when it goes on sale next month -- that's a hundred dollars less than last year's model. All told, the Surface Pro 3 is Microsoft's biggest, fastest, thinnest, lightest, best tablet yet. Panay even went so far as to say, "Today we take the conflict away." Did they, though?

Surface Pro 3

  • Remarkably thin and light for a machine with laptop guts
  • Easier to use as a standalone tablet
  • Fast performance
  • Gorgeous, high-res display
  • Keyboard can be propped up at a more comfortable angle
  • Flimsy keyboard is inferior to what you'd get on a proper laptop; worse, it doesn't even come in the box
  • Not that comfortable to use in the lap 
  • Middling battery life
Summary The Surface Pro 3 is Microsoft's biggest and best tablet yet, but it needs a better keyboard to truly replace your laptop.


Physically speaking, the Surface Pro 3 has more in common with the Surface 2, which runs Windows RT, than with previous Surface Pros. This year, Microsoft ditched the old carbon-black color in favor of a more playful silver, though the chassis itself is still made of sturdy magnesium alloy, with chamfered edges making it easy to wrap your fingers around. It's not just the color, though, that makes me think of the Surface 2: The Surface Pro 3 measures just 0.36 inch thick, making it only a tad fatter than the Windows RT model; that guy comes in at 0.35 inch wide. This is stunning when you remember the Surface 2 is a traditional tablet, comparable to the iPad, whereas the Surface Pro is basically an Ultrabook without a built-in keyboard. In fact, Microsoft says this is the thinnest machine with an Intel Core i7 processor. It may also be the lightest too, at 1.76 pounds. And even if it's not, it's still a meaningful improvement -- both the first- and second-generation Surface Pros weighed two pounds.

The Surface Pro's thinness seems even more impressive when you compare it to its peers: full-fledged Ultrabooks. Most 13-inch Ultras come in at around three pounds and half an inch thick (if they're lucky). Even the 11-inch MacBook Air, which benefits from a smaller footprint, tips the scales at 2.38 pounds. Next to those systems, the Surface Pro 3 is impossibly compact. In fact, I was loath to go back to my 13-inch MacBook Air after my review was over; the new Surface is just so much lighter. Truly, why can't all Ultrabooks be this easy to carry?

As a tablet, of course, the Surface Pro still doesn't feel particularly light; you don't just forget what it feels like to use a lighter device like the iPad Air. That said, it's definitely lighter than a 12-inch tablet has any right to be. Also, there's this: Despite that bigger screen -- or maybe because of it -- the Surface Pro 3 handles better than its predecessors. For one thing, blowing up the screen size actually allowed Microsoft to slim down the proportions. Think about it: With more internal space to work with, the engineers were able to rearrange the components, laying some items side by side instead of stacking them on top of each other. The result is a substantially thinner device that might not have been possible had Microsoft stuck with a 10.6-inch screen size.

Additionally, the new Surface Pro has a different aspect ratio: 3:2, instead of the usual 16:9. During his keynote, Panay said the company was actively trying to mimic the dimensions of a legal pad, the sort of object humans are already used to holding, and working with. It was a smart move, I think: With this new shape, the tablet feels less top-heavy in portrait mode, and it's easier to reach things with your thumbs in landscape. Goes to show that weight reduction isn't everything (though it definitely helps).

As it is, the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 have dual-stage kickstands that can be arranged in one of two positions. The Surface Pro 3 goes a step further -- literally -- with an option to pull out the kickstand at a near-flat 150-degree angle. This is useful if you're playing a board game or using a drawing app, and an upright angle won't do. All in all, too, the kickstand feels well-built, if a little rigid. Granted, I wouldn't want the hinge to move so easily that it verges on snapping off. But the kickstand here is so tightly wound that I actually feel a bit naughty every time I push it back into that 150-degree position; there's so much friction that when I push the stand back, I feel like I'm doing something I'm not supposed to. It's also still a bit awkward to pull the kickstand out, since there's only a notch on one side of the tablet. Again, though, it feels durable, and still makes that soft "click" sound every time you snap it shut.

Despite the bigger size, the port selection is the same as ever. That means: a power button on the top landscape edge; a Mini DisplayPort and USB 3.0 connection on the right; and a volume rocker and headphone jack on the left. The bottom, of course, is home to the magnetic guides that allow it to click into the optional Type Cover keyboard (more on that in a moment). There's also a microSD slot tucked under the kickstand, supporting cards as large as 128GB. Microsoft also upgraded the cameras so that both go up to 5-megapixel resolution. Meanwhile, there's a proprietary charging port on the right side, just below the USB socket. Though the charger stays put, it's still awkward to insert -- a minor annoyance you'll surely get used to, should you choose to buy this. As for the front-facing speakers, said to be 45 percent louder than last year's model, they pass my "Dolly Parton rundown test" with flying colors. (They make other kinds of music sound good, too.)

Display and pen input

The Surface tablets have always had lovely displays, and the third-gen Pro is no exception. What we have here is a 12-inch, 2,160 x 1,440 IPS panel, with text so sharp you'd have to put your nose up against the screen to see any pixels. Colors are punchy, but balanced, and the viewing angles are good too, though even a low-glare screen like this isn't immune to reflections from overhead light. In general, I had little trouble reading the screen, but using the Surface in my lap was sometimes challenging; the most stable kickstand position doesn't necessarily mean the best viewing angles.

Under the hood, Microsoft used some different pen technology this time around: an active digitizer made by N-trig, as opposed to Wacom. While it might sound like I'm harping on specs there, hear me out: You'll be making some trade-offs. On the one hand, Wacom's digitizer offered more nuanced pressure sensitivity: 1,024 degrees, versus 256 from N-trig. On the other hand, N-trig's setup allows for a thinner glass display and thus, a slimmer overall design. Additionally, N-trig's pen was designed to feel more like a proper, ink-based pen, and is therefore more natural to hold. Likewise, the screen has just enough friction that drawing on it feels more like dragging a pen across a pad of paper -- or as close as you can get, anyway. Personally, I'd choose a thinner, lighter device over more precise pressure sensitivity, but hey, don't let me set your priorities for you.

As you're using the pen, you'll notice it does some old tricks, along with some new ones too. It supports hovering, for instance, and you can use the top button as an eraser in select apps. On a more surprising note, you can press that top button to wake the tablet from sleep, at which point OneNote will open above the lock screen. Kind of like how you can already use the camera app from the Windows 8.1 lock screen. Also, OneNote now sends your scribbles to the cloud as you're writing them -- not unlike how you'd expect Google Drive to immediately save your work.

As with previous Surface devices, there's no place on the tablet to stow the pen. Rather, you're supposed to slip it inside a loop that attaches to either the Surface or the optional Type Cover keyboard. Unfortunately, the thing fell off after just a few days of use, which means you're probably on your own when it comes to making sure you don't lose your writing implement.

Typing experience

Just so you know, I'm typing this sentence from a Surface Pro 3. The thing is sitting in my lap, even. And you know what? I'm doing alright. This isn't my favorite laptop keyboard -- not by a long shot -- but I'm doing OK. And I think you will too. But before I get ahead of myself, let me explain what you're getting here. The first thing you should know, perhaps, is that there's just one keyboard option: a backlit Type Cover keyboard built specifically for the Surface Pro 3's bigger frame. For now, at least, the flat Touch Cover keyboard is not an option. Frankly, I always preferred the physical buttons anyway, just because the learning curve is so much smaller. The only thing you'll miss, maybe, is the Touch Cover's lighter-weight design. But given the choice, I'll take a more natural typing experience over a lighter keyboard any day. And hey, the tablet's already pretty light; you can deal with a few extra ounces.

What I like best about this new keyboard is that I don't have to type on a completely flat surface if I don't want to. Unlike previous Type Covers, this one has a magnetic strip on the top, allowing you to fold up the upper piece of the keyboard so that it attaches firmly to the tablet's lower bezel. The end result is sort of a wedge profile, similar to what you'd find on a proper laptop. And it goes a long way in making the thing more comfortable to use. Mind you, nobody's forcing you to pick the propped-up option; you can go flat if you want to. I just don't understand why anyone would.

The problem is that the keyboard is flimsy, and it's nowhere as sturdy or comfortable as "real" keyboards. As I type this, I can see the keyboard cover giving a bit under the weight of my fingers; it's enough to make me not want to use it in my lap (though I do it anyway, out of necessity). With every keystroke, I make a loud "clack," letting anyone around me know I'm getting stuff done. The keys are also bunched close together -- the opposite of your standard chiclet layout. That means it's a little too easy to hit the wrong key. Luckily for me, I have a copy editor, so you can't tell how many typos I actually made while writing this review. Suffice to say, it was enough that I eventually started to type more gingerly, in the hopes I wouldn't make quite as many mistakes.

The Surface Pro 3's Type Cover also brings an improved touchpad. And that's good timing, because the latest Windows 8.1 update made the OS much more mouse-and-keyboard friendly. In brief, the trackpad here is bigger, with a built-in touch button you can press down on. It's also said to be more responsive, but I'll be the judge of that, not Microsoft. Even if the trackpad is more precise than it used to be, it's still many steps behind the sort of glass touchpad you'd find on the MacBook Air or many Windows Ultrabooks. It sometimes takes multiple tries to get two-finger scrolling to work. Ditto for clicking and dragging windows and other objects around the screen. Other times, I accidentally navigated backward out of a web page when I was really trying to do some other sort of gesture. If you're serious about having a mouse, especially in desktop mode, you might be better off using a Bluetooth one, especially if you intend the Surface Pro to be your daily driver.

Performance and battery life

PCMark7 3DMark06 3DMark11 ATTO (top disk speeds)
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (1.9GHz Core i5-4300U, Intel HD 4400) 5,024 5,053
E1,313 / P984
555 MB/s (reads); 252 MB/s (writes)
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400) 4,922 6,236
E1,906 / P997 / X303
534 MB/s (reads); 167 MB/s (writes)
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014, 1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400) 4,773 5,881
E1,727 / P930 / X284
555 MB/s (reads); 137 MB/s (writes)
HP Spectre 13 Ultrabook (1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400) 4,786 6,005
E1,837 / P962 / X293
527 MB/s (reads); 327 MB/s (writes)
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro (1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400) 4,676 5,688
E1,713 / P914 / X281
546 MB/s (reads); 139 MB/s (writes)
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite (1.4GHz "quad-core" processor, AMD Radeon HD 8250) 2,060 2,814
E749 / P530
550 MB/s (reads); 139 MB/s (writes)
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (1.6GHz Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400) 4,973 5,611
E1,675 / P867 / X277
547 MB/s (reads); 508 MB/s (writes)
Acer Aspire S7-392 (1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400) 5,108 5,158
E1,724 / P952 / X298
975 MB/s (reads); 1.1 GB/s (writes)
Sony VAIO Pro 13 (1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U, Intel HD 4400) 4,502 4,413
E1,177 / P636 / X203
1.04 GB/s (reads); 479 MB/s (writes)
Sony VAIO Pro 11 (1.8GHz Core i7-4500U, Intel HD 4400) 4,634 N/A
E1,067 / P600 / X183
558 MB/s (reads); 255 MB/s (writes)

Make no mistake: When it comes to performance, the Surface Pro has always been able to go head to head with traditional laptops. Still, it's nice to know that as other Ultrabooks have experienced modest performance gains, Microsoft has kept pace. Armed with a Haswell processor (a 1.9GHz Core i5-4300U chip), 8GB of RAM, a Samsung-made solid-state drive and the usual Intel HD 4400 graphics, the Surface Pro 3 holds its own in synthetic benchmark tests, with scores that fall in line with the competition. It also boots quickly, taking just 10 seconds to get to the lock screen and then one more to load the Start Screen. My WiFi connection was consistently fast too, thanks to the 802.11ac radio inside (there's also Bluetooth 4.0, if you need it).

Accordingly, the Surface Pro 3 can do everything an Ultrabook can do. One of my favorite things about working on a Windows machine is the Snap feature, so I routinely have two programs laid out side by side -- usually Chrome and HipChat. In particular, I often have a dozen tabs open at once, including Gmail, my calendar, Engadget, Facebook, Twitter and the publishing software we use to write stories, not to mention the odd Wikipedia page and music-streaming service. In addition to the usual multitasking, you could also edit photos if you wanted, or maybe even cut together some video.

Throughout, the metal surfaces stayed relatively cool, and I didn't hear much noise coming out of the thin vent that surrounds the perimeter of the device. As with every other Ultrabook, though, the new Surface wheezes a bit during gameplay. Load up a game and the thing gets quite warm -- almost hot -- to the touch. Hot and noisy, too. At one point, the fans started exhaling so loudly that I heard them even in a loft space with various coworkers milling around nearby. If I can hear it over all that ambient noise, well, that's not good. Fortunately, it takes a lot to make the system pipe up like that. And if you do, it could be that you're doing something Ultrabooks weren't actually designed for.

Battery life
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 7:08
MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013) 12:51
MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2013) 11:18
Sony VAIO Duo 13 9:40
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus 8:44
HP Spectre 13 8:30
Sony VAIO Pro 13 8:24
Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch 7:53
Acer Aspire S7-392 7:33
Acer Iconia W700 7:13
Sony VAIO Pro 11 6:41
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro 6:32
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 6:27
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014) 6:18
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 5:32
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2013) 5:07
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch (2013) 5:00
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite 4:33
Microsoft describes the Surface Pro 3's battery life in two ways: You can get up to nine hours of web surfing (WiFi on, auto-brightness turned off), or you can simply expect a 15 to 20 percent increase over previous models. Translation: Your mileage will vary, but battery life will be improved either way. And improved it is. In our video-looping test (also with WiFi on and auto-brightness disabled), the tablet managed seven hours and eight minutes. Compare that with the Surface Pro 2, which couldn't crack six and a half hours.

Now, let's put that seven-hour battery life in context. In short, it's not great, but it's not bad, either. Other ultraportables that are either small in size or super lightweight have tended to last a similar amount of time (see: the Acer Aspire S7-392 or the Sony VAIO Pro 11). Even some larger Ultrabooks, like Lenovo's Yoga 2 Pro and ThinkPad X1 Carbon, deliver less runtime despite having room for bigger batteries. The thing is, of course, there are many Ultrabooks that last much, much longer on a charge. The HP Spectre 13, Sony VAIO Pro 13, Sony Duo 13 and Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus all last around eight and half hours, if not closer to 10. (The MacBook Air can go even longer, though I've never tested the 11-inch model.)

Though the Surface Pro 3 is lacking in battery life compared to larger Ultrabooks, it at least charges quickly. After pushing the battery to its limits, I got back up to 72 percent in around 90 minutes. So, even if you only have a short time to recharge, you should still recover enough juice to last you through a couple hours of work. And by the time that runs out, you probably will have found another outlet.

Update: After continued testing, we started to get even higher benchmark scores for the Surface Pro 3. We've updated the above benchmark table to include those.

Configuration options and the competition

The Surface Pro 3 can be either sorta expensive or really expensive, depending on the specs you choose. At the low end, there's a Core i3 model with 64GB of storage, priced at $799. The next step up is a Core i5 configuration with 128GB of storage; that'll sell for $999. To get that same Core i5 unit with 256GB of storage instead, you'll pay $1,299. Rounding out the list are two Core i7 models: one with 256GB of storage and the other with 512GB. Those will cost you $1,549 and $1,949, respectively. As of this writing, the two Core i5 models were slated to ship on June 20th. The Core i3 and Core i7 configurations, meanwhile, aren't shipping until August 31st, according to Microsoft's online store. Either way, you can pre-order any of them now, if you like.

Unfortunately, whichever you pick, the $130 Type Cover keyboard is sold separately, which means the Surface Pro 3 immediately suffers in comparisons with proper Ultrabooks, like the Yoga 2 Pro ($1,199), Dell XPS 12 ($1,000), Acer Aspire S7-392 ($1,300) and the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus ($1,400). For instance, if you wanted the Surface Pro 3 with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, you'd pay $1,299 for the laptop and $130 for the keyboard, for a total of about $1,430. The Yoga 2 Pro with comparable specs is currently going for $1,399, with an online price of $1,199.
And there's the rub: With a subpar keyboard, how can the Surface Pro truly be a laptop killer? And if the idea is for the Surface Pro to go head to head with Ultrabooks, the keyboard should also be included gratis. But it's especially bad if that $130 keyboard isn't even that comfortable to type on. So what do you end up with, then? A device that's slightly more expensive than comparable laptops, with an inferior typing experience. When you put it that way, it's tough to give this a glowing recommendation.


With each generation of Surface devices, Microsoft gets closer to building a device that can replace both your tablet and laptop. Unfortunately, though, the company's progress has been gradual, and even after three attempts, it still hasn't addressed some serious usability flaws. This time around, the biggest problem is the keyboard. It's tough to say who should buy the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop alternative when the very thing that makes it a notebook replacement -- its optional keyboard -- offers a subpar typing experience and a frustrating trackpad. Adding insult to injury, it's not even included in the box; it's an optional $130 accessory that helps drive up the cost compared to similar PCs.

The good news is that despite its larger screen size, the Surface Pro is easier than ever to use as a tablet, thanks to a thinner, lighter design and more sensible aspect ratio. If Microsoft could just figure out the keyboard thing (and start throwing it in for free), I'd be more inclined to recommend this as a laptop replacement. For now, unless you want a tablet and laptop in equal measure, and sincerely enjoy using Windows Store apps, a touchscreen Ultrabook is still your best bet.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Moto X - Always Ready

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Nokia researchers develop a phone controlling magnetic finger ring

Three researchers at Nokia have designed an amusing finger ring that can control your phone. The ring that looks like a piece of jewelery is completely made of magnet. On twisting it around, the ring will simply do the task of controlling a certain functions of your phone. The team of researchers has named the magnet ring as Nenya, which will be officially shown up at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Vancouver, Canada in May. The magic ring functions along with a Bluetooth capable bracelet that the user should wear. On twisting the ring around, the strong magnet will make some signals that will be absorbed by the bracelet banded on the hand of the user. The bracelet will transmit the signals to the phone via Bluetooth. Users can position the magnet ring about 45 degree increments meaning that it will sport eight menu options, which should be remembered by the user for comfortable usage of the dazzling ring. Nokia researchers have certainly pointed toward the risk of carrying a powerful magnet ring on finger.Needless to mention, it may attract metallic objects and spoil credit cards, hard drives or other electronics devices.The bracelet along with the finger ring looks quite unwieldy. Researchers say that there are working on to integrate the electronics inside the bracelet to some cute bangle, watch or another piece of jewelery for nice look.
The task of twisting the ring can be done by both the hands. However, doing it with the other hand will be the best option. Turning it with the same hand will be fairly difficult. The inventors of the technology however mentioned that they have plans to turn up a revamped ring with two thin magnet balls on the two ends to help the task of twisting with the same hand

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