Tag Archive | "Battery"

Acer Aspire Switch 10 Keyboard Battery Coming?

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I’m testing the Acer Aspire Switch 10 for Notebookcheck.net right now and it’s going well. I prefer it to the ASUS Transformer Book T100 because of the better keyboard, mouse and screen but there’s one little issue – battery life. The Switch 10 has a 24Wh battery inside which is much less than the 34Wh battery of the ASUS T100 and less than half of what you got on the previous W510. Looking at the keyboard reveals that it’s quite light and has 8 exposed screws so naturally I took a look inside. What I saw was encouraging because there’s space, screw holes and an unused PCB header space.

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Powerocks Stone 3 Full-Speed USB Power-Pack for iPad and Galaxy Tab

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The Powerocks Stone 3 portable power pack for iPad and Galaxy Tab solves a problem. It’s all very well having a common interface for charging but when people break the specs it becomes less useful. The iPad and Galaxy Tab charge using very high currents through a USB port that excedes the capability of the USB port you’ll find on nearly all laptops and PCs which means you generally have to carry the mains charger around with you. I found a portable power pack at IFA that supplies the correct current to allow full-speed charing on the go and it works. At least with the Galaxy Tab I tested with it.

There’s no European distributor for the Stone 3 yet so you’ll have to keep your eyes open for availability. Alternatively, wait a while because I’ve got a unit coming from Znex. The Power-Pack IP is said to do the same so i’m looking forward to testing one that’s available right now.

Here’s a video and you’ll find some images below that.

200mw Internet Access on the Acer Iconia Tab A500

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If you measure the power used by a netbook PC when it’s in standby, a frozen unusable state, it uses around 500mW of power.  Leaving a netbook on with WiFi connected in an idle state with the screen blanked, maybe with an email program polling occasionally, you’ll see about 10 times the power usage. In PC terms, 5W is impressive but if you go to the smartphone world and take a look at the figures there, there’s a huge huge gap that needs to be tackled. As smartphones become tablets, become smartbooks, there’s a threat that ‘always-on’ becomes ‘must-have’ and that X86-based devices will struggle to compete in casual computing scenarios.

Smartphones are designed from the ground-up around the concept of ‘always-on. From the moment a smartphone is conceived, every element of the design has to be checked for power consumption which is why a smartphone can sit connected to the GSM telephone network drawing power consumption levels lower than 50mw. That’s 1/10th of the power consumption taken by a good netbook when it’s in a frozen state. Impressive.

But what happens when you connect a smartphone to the internet ? You can use cellular data services to achieve a good rate of connectivity by switching on UMTS for example. Switching to WiFi on a typical smartphone brings faster connectivity and, in a lot of cases, lower power that can be done on cellular networks. A smartphone can run a multitasking operating system and remain connected to internet and voice networks in well under 500mw of power, the same as it takes a netbook to sleep.  In fact, the best smartphones are running in this configuration for over 24hrs on a 5Wh battery which is an amazing 100mw of power usage. Turn on some background internet activities and it will jump to an average 200mw!

What happens if you take an ARM platform that’s in the same processing power category as a low-end netbook. Put it in a 10” screen form factor and do the same test? Actually, it’s the same as a smartphone. The only difference between a high-end smartphone and a smartbook with a 10” screenand a huge battery is the screen itself and when that is off, there’s practically no difference at all.

To prove this, I took one of the most powerful mobile computing platforms in a large 10” form factor device with 32GB of storage, 1GB of RAM and integrated WiFi. The device has a 23wh battery (about half that of ’6-cell’ netbooks. The device is the Acer Iconia Tab A500 Android tablet which runs honeycomb. I connected to the Wifi (at 54mbps) and left the device connected with the screen off while it did it’s stuff in the background. Marketplace checks, email checks, Twitter checks and even some GPS usage by Google Maps. A weather service was running, the volume was set to silent and Bluetooth was turned off.

Over a 48  hour period with a few screen-on moments for checking progress (and a 10 minute in-use period as my daughter grabbed it to use a paint program)  I measured 46% fall in battery usage of which 5% was due to screen-on time. Take away the screen-on figure and you have 209mw of power usage.  The Acer Iconia Tab is nothing more than a smartphone inside!

‘Always-on, Always Connected’ will be a ‘Must-have.’

Always-on tests are interesting because it’s a hands-off test that people think only applies to idle smartphones.  In fact, it applies to many computing scenarios. With location, polling, sync, presence, alarms, push updates and of course, cellular voice and messaging becoming the norm in the hand, they will also have appeal on the desk. Not having to wait 5 seconds for a machine to start-up, another 5 seconds for a Wi-Fi connection and another 10 seconds for tweets, emails and other features to catch up is annoying.  There’s also a bunch of other screen-off, connected activities that are interesting. Servers for example. By that, I mean computers and gadgets that serve information to the Internet. This doesn’t just cover web servers. Think about internet-connected weather stations and web cameras, in-car data storage and notification systems. Then there are the devices that just don’t need big screens; Connected musical instruments. Digital cameras with 3G. Internet Radios. Low-power internet connectivity is important for these devices.

Related: Social Netbooks and ARM’s Lock-In Netbook Opportunity.

Summary

The point here is not to highlight that ARM is better than X86, it’s to highlight the gap. This gap is currently a huge advantage for ARM-based platform designers.

  • The first point is, if manufacturers using X86/PC architecture don’t get products to market with active standby soon, with the help of Intel (the only X86 player trying to tackle this problem) customers will have a chance to experience, and may not turn back from, ARM-based always-on products.
  • The second point is that this is a screen-off gap. Current screen technology is killing ARMs advantage in the ‘in-use’ scenario where screens are larger than 7”. It reduces the ARM advantage from 20x in idle to about 4x with a 10” screen being backlit. When the devices CPU is being actively used, the advantage drops even lower to around 2x. [Acer Iconia Tab – 4W. Samsung NC210 – 8W)
  • Finally, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is a good example of low-power internet connectivity. It’s likely that other devices in this ARM tablet segment hit the same figures.

Keep an eye on high-end ARM-based platforms over the next year or two. Honeycomb and iOS are leading the way into the professional space with their software and application ecoystems and you might find that this always-on advantage starts to lock people in soon.

Toshiba AC100 – Hardware Fault? – (Battery Life)

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For the last two nights I’ve been testing the ‘standby’ battery life on the Toshiba AC100. [Unboxing and overview video here] On the first test the battery was at about 30% capacity. I closed the lid and expected to have plenty of battery life left in the morning. When I woke up, the AC100 was dead. On the second test the battery was again at 30%. This time I turned the WiFi off before closing the lid. In that scenario I’d expect next to no drain at all. Again, when I woke up 7 hours later, the device was dead. Something’s wrong.

Looking at the battery information I’m seeing something strange.

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Can you spot the issue on my WiFi-only AC100?

Yup, somehow the 3G subsystem is draining power which is really quite strange considering I don’t have 3G on this device. Have they left the 3G radio on the device and just removed the SIM slot? Have they forgotten to turn the 3G off in the firmware? Does ‘cell standby’ actually mean something else? I can’t imagine another subsystem in the AC100 that would take more power than the screen and Wifi. On my Android phone here, cell standby is taking only 9% of the power. When the firmware contains strings like ‘eng/test-keys’, commonly found on test builds, you’ve got to wonder what’s going on.

I’ll have to raise a support issue on this with Toshiba Europe.

Note: 12mins later, the graph was still the same. Cell Standby is taking 77% of the battery drain. Going to ‘airplane mode’ doesn’t appear to help.

Note: 30 mins later and ‘cell standby’ is up to 81%.

Anyone else experiencing the same on their AC100 (Is there anyone else out there with an AC100?)

Update: Just to be clear – active battery life is around the 6hrs mark (50% screen, wifi on) so there’s no problem with that. I’ve also found a lot of threads on forums that question the ‘cell standby’ measurement. One response says it’s a known issue in Android 2.1. Currently manually measuring screen-off drain.

In a third test last night I went to bed with about 60% drain. I woke up with 20% left – and the screen on. Something is turning the screen on and causing the drain. Have now done a factory reset to remove any of my sideloaded apps that may be turning the screen on. I’ll do another overnight test tonight.

Update: 1535 -  31 August.

With a fresh factory reset I’ve been testing the battery life over the last few hours.

With screen off, wifi on, idle, no usb subsystem, no sdcard i’m seeing 6 mins per 1% battery drain. That’s really not that good. – 2.4W average drain. I’m expecting more like 1W.

With screen off, AIRPLANE MODE, no USB subsystem, no sdcard, idle, I’m seeing 13 mins per 1% battery drain. That’s 1.14W drain which is terrible for an ARM system. A smartphone with screen off and airplane mode would take about 20-50mw. Remember, the AC100 is effectively has smartphone internals so when you turn the screen off, there should be no difference (i’ve turned the USB host subsystem off and removed the SDcard to remove that from the equation.)  Something is sapping over 90% of the battery – which brings us back to the cell subsystem which, after these tests, was taking 84% of the power according to ‘battery status’ under Android.  At this stage, i’m tempted to pull it apart. Will I find a surprise 3G module inside?

Update2 – 31st August.

I won’t be doing any more review work on the AC100 until I get to the bottom of this power issue because it’s a huge problem that takes away the main reason to have it in the first place. ARM-based devices do a good job at ‘always on’. Take the Archos 5 for example. It’s a Cortex-based Android device and just 30 minutes ago I checked some stats on it. It’s been sitting on my desk in a screen-off, wifi-off state for 4 days and 8 hours and get this, it has a battery that’s less than half the size of the battery in the AC100. Not only that, there’s 45% of the battery left. That’s under 50mw of drain. 20x less than the AC100. There’s the problem with the AC100!

Update 3: 5th Sept.

Toshiba Germany tell us that Froyo will be delivered in 6 weeks (Mid October) for the AC100. We have also reported the details of the above issue directly to the German product manager.

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my Toshiba AC100 unboxing and overview video. (embeded below)

Pixel Qi DIY Screen Installed and Tested

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pixelqidiy90 On the day that I stepped outside with my netbook to connect a solar panel and thought ‘hmm, a PixelQi screen would be nice,’ along comes a DIY article and test from Engadget on how to fit a PixelQi screen. Joanna Stern also gives some thoughts about usability and runs some tests to see just how much battery life the new screen would save over the old. It matches what we expected.

Installation on a Lenovo Ideapad S10-2 seems very straight-forward and the results in the outdoor scenario are fantastic. Viewing angles are as tight as I experienced them at CES earlier this year though so you’ll have to be using this at the correct angle to get the best out of it. Indoors, the screen performs much like any other LCD, LED-backlit screen.

The interesting thing about Engadget’s report is the battery life testing. A lot of people have been raving about saving huge amounts of power by turning the backlight off and yes, expect 1-2 watts power saving in this test but it’s not a real-world scenario. In a normal office scenario with reasonable lighting, you’ll still need the backlight on to view the color. Given that the screen only accounts for 20-30% of battery drain, the maximum that can be saved is 30% but in indoor use, with a 30% backlight setting, you may only save 0.5-1W. On a modern netbook that’s about 10-15%. Engadget’s test shows a 25% difference in battery drain with backlight on (70%) and off. That’s in-line with what we predicted.

Based on battery life alone, it’s not worth the money but how much is it worth to be able to finally use the device outdoors? For mobile computing or even train usage, we think it’s worth it. Interestingly, on a ‘smart’ device like the Airlife 100, the battery life savings would be more significant. You could expect usage to rise from 10hrs to 15 or more as the screen backlight forms a larger part of the power envelope.

Full how-to and report at Engadget.

Official Info on the Mifi 2372 Battery Issue. (Updated with reports from 2352 owners)

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mifi If you’ve got a Novatel Mifi 2372 (Canada) or 2352 (Europe) model, you might want to read this.

Update: Readers have confirmed that the 2352 is affected. See comments below and check back here for feedback from Novatel. I am in direct contact.

Apparently there have been some battery swelling issues reported on the 2372 related to Bell which have caused the battery door to become jammed. In two cases, it appears that customers have punctured their batteries by using sharp objects to remove the cover.

Engadget have reported the story (in a rather sensationalist fashion considering that this is a safety issue) and we’ve had a call from Novatel themselves who took the time to detail the issue.

Two carriers in Canada have reported the issue and Bell have made the decision to disable their MiFi’s remotely. (There’s a remote-kill feature?) Novatel have kicked off a program of battery and battery door replacements through the two carriers and issued a product advisory.

Note that there is no product recall taking place.

What they fail to address is the 2352 which is the same device with European HSPA bands. Novatel confirmed to us that the 2352 is the same design so one assumes that the same battery supplier is used and that the same problem can occur. 2352 owners out there, please be careful. Don’t use sharp objects to open the battery cover and if you experience a swollen battery, please let Novatel know (and drop a comment here so that we can pass it on too.)

Xperia X10. Is Total Convergence The Answer?

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When the N900 was launched, Nokia positioned it as a total convergence device. It’s a dream (and the subject of my first ever blog post in 2006). The X10 is also aiming to be a total convergence device and does an incredible amount of activities with impressive quality but again I say no; and that’s not all. Battery life is a major problem with every smartphone I’ve ever used. I wrote about the problem back in 2008 and again in January. The X10 re-confirms my theory. There is NO SUCH THING AS IDLE and screens and communications continue to take the lions share of battery drain. Smartphones, when used professionally  as smartphones, don’t bring all-day battery life.

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Forget talk about cpu idle power claims because it’s totally irrelevant. 2W is the headroom needed to do all the things the marketing people tell you are possible and assuming you ‘only’ use the device for 15 minutes every hour, you’ll need a 7.5wh battery to get you through a full day.

The X10 has a 5.5wh battery which means it’s not going to hit the mark for many. It needs attention, a top-up late in the day and if you’re to be ready for the next day it needs plugging in before you go to bed. That late-day top-up is a big risk if you’re a pro user and relying on being able to take an important phone call or respond to an email at any time and if that risk is there, you’ll need to manage it. In this case it means either a spare battery, a universal charger or, and I suspect that this is going to be the easiest route for many, take a second phone. Either way, you’ve got a second device and a problem.

Corner cutting.

The X10 pushes the boundaries in so many ways but it does it within the confines of a pocketable size, smartphone pricing and smartphone life-cycles and that means (and always will mean) cutting corners. The web experience is great but even though you’ve got 800×480 pixels, the pixels are too small. a 5” screen has always been better for mobile web browsing from the hand and now that people are experiencing even bigger handheld web experiences, the 4” screen has issues. Zooming to click a link is a pain in the backside.

Then there’s the camera. How do you keep the price down and still provide a superb photo solution? You stick to daylight-only scenarios, drop the flash and choose a daylight sensor. The X10 is crap at low-light and flash situations. My 2 year-old N82 beats the pants off it.

How do you keep the design simple, reduce parts costs and avoid having to ship 500 different physical keyboard layouts? You make a tablet device with a software keyboard. Losing 50% of a landscape screen to a keyboard isn’t nice but it’s a great way to reduce the time-to-market costs.

How do you tackle the audio issues? Speakers need space, always. To fix that problem you ship it with a standard 3.5mm headphone port and hope no-one wants to use it as a radio. The speaker on the X10 is far from ‘top quartile.’

A great MID.

A 500 Euro smartphone is an expensive item but when you look at what the X10 is giving you it’s hard to put much weight on the corner-cutting. In terms of mobile internet, the X10 blows away any Intel-based MID I’ve tried. Sure, I’ll have to put up with a no-flash experience but the X10 brings me email, PIM and calendar integration, sync and accessibility that I’ve never had before. The dedicated GMail J2ME app on my old Nokia 6280 was really fast but this is something else altogether. Being able to push information around (sharing with email, IM, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and other important networks) is easier than on a PC and when you add the always-on feature, GPS (location based search adds a lot of value) a WVGA video capability and an 8MP camera that puts every PC-based 1.3mp webcam to shame, you’ve got something special that goes way beyond browsing. With 4-6hrs full-on web browsing time, 9GB storage and a 138gm (measured here) weight, you can forgive it not having the ability to beat a dedicated digital camera in a low-light photography test.

What have I learnt?

I’ve learnt that I use the Internet too much for a smartphone. Actually I knew that already which is why I’m still looking for the ultimate MID but the X10 serves to re-iterate that point. No smartphone battery can keep up with me.

I’ve learnt that Android fits me perfectly. I’m a Google user and Android brings my services to me in a way that no other device ever has and that means that I won’t pursue a Windows-based mobile internet device. Actually, I never did. I knew that a dedicated OS was needed from day 1 but the choice just hasn’t been there. [History: Carrypad was started in 2006 to journal my question for a mobile internet device]

I’ve learnt that I love having a top-end, stylish smartphone. Just because! (Who doesn’t?)

I’ve learnt that the ARM/Android platform is able to bring a consistently high-speed, multitasking and flexible web experience. I experienced it on the Archos 5 and it’s here again on the X10. Android will easily scale to bigger screens and given the apps, would be able to provide a productive internet experience.

I’ve reaffirmed that the Marketplace is critical. Without it, Android devices just can’t keep up.

I’ve learnt that the X10 may not be for me but I know it will be difficult to part with it. I’ve tasted Google Android at 1Ghz and I don’t want to step down from that. The Dell Mini may be my savior.

HTC Nexus One / Desire, Motorola Milestone / Droid

Many of you have been asking how the X10 compares to these two phones. I’m afraid I can’t comment on the Desire and N1 because my hands-on was with a device that kept crashing but from my brief hands-on with the Nexus One I can say that the experience is very comparable. As for the Droid, I’ll immediately say that the Droid is a better value device. It’s available for under 400 Euros now and has the 2.1 upgrade. It offers similar photo, web and UI experience. If you’re a Google user and smartphone oriented,you’re not going to walk away from a Droid purchase unhappy.

The fact is that all five devices are top quality Android smartphones and offer an experience that will is likely to lock you in to the Android way.

Detailed first impressions and review.

I’m writing about the X10 in detail on a separate sub-blog and have just posted Part 1 of my first impressions. The article highlights three potential show-stoppers so take a look, comment and check back soon for part 2 where I cover the good stuff. Part 2 is going to be much longer than Part 1 I’m sure!

Also on the XperiaX10 blog:

Sample Daylight Photos. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to create photo’s and videos on a UMPC!

Size comparison. Includes Archos 5, 5” PMP.

Information on the screen.  It’s transflective. Why didn’t UMPCs ever get good outdoor screens?

Unboxing and Open Review (with JKK)

A Warning about ‘Smart’ Device Battery Life.

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Over the last 3+ years I’ve spent a rather embarrassing amount of time analysing battery drain on mobile computing devices. It’s become a specialty of mine to look at a device, look at the battery size and then estimate real-world battery life figures for certain usage scenarios although in the netbook world it really boils down to a simple equation – take 30% off what you see on the specifications.

In the world of smart devices (computing and communication devices based around the ARM architecture) the equation is slightly different and as we move to ARM based tablets, pads and MIDs the equation gets even more wobbly because these devices can idle down to near-zero drain rates. Take the 300+hrs standby figures you see on some phones for example. With a 5W battery, that’s a drain of about 16mw, which is 100x less power than even the most efficient of PC-based mobile devices in idle mode.  The problem is, however…

There’s no such thing as idle.

The days of ‘standby’ are long gone as even the most basic of phones are able to play music, access 3G networks, present information on backlit colour screens and run simple background tasks like alarm and event monitoring, location services, email polling and more. Move to a smartphone scenario and that 16mw idle figure is irrelevant. When I tested my N82 a few years ago I was shocked to find out that it could suck 9 batteries dry in a long day of heavy use.

I re-charged the device fully and did a static test using the same apps. Music playing, live GPS tracking (I use Nokia Sports Tracker) and IM via Gizmo. I left the device alone and didn’t use it. After 110 minutes it switched off indicating a 2.1W average drain from the 3.7wh battery. [Source]

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Today I installed an interesting app on my N82 and confirmed those findings of nearly two years ago. Using the awesome (for geeks like me) ‘Energy Profiler’ for Symbian Series 60 I lay in bed for about an hour testing out various scenarios. Sure enough, the phone idled down to about 200mw and by simply streaming some music over 3G the figure shot up to 1W. Turn on GPS via the map application and crank up the volume and the device was using over 1.5W. Just cranking up the audio volume added 20-30% power load on the device!

The CPU is out of the equation

Last week at CES Nvidia announced Tegra 2. It’s one of the most powerful ARM-based processing platforms on the planet. Think 2-4 times more CPU processing power than even the fastest smartphone out there right now. It’s amazing and exciting, especially when you known that the CPU cores only take around 400-600mw under full load. Once again, this platform can idle down to an almost frozen state. The platform is slightly too big and power-hungry for small smartphones at the moment but expect to see this in high-end media and internet phones and upcoming tablets and MIDs. The 4-10” screen range.

When you get to screen sizes of 4” and above, something happens that levels the playing field for Intel somewhat. Their CPU platforms (*1) don’t idle down very well but in a typical ‘internet-connected’ scenario on one of these ‘smart’ devices, that becomes almost insignificant as the screen backlight adds such a huge load to the platform that when combined with Wifi, 3G, BT, GPS and audio, the CPU is just 10% of the total load. Swapping Intel out for ARM would save you just 5-10% battery life in an ‘active’ scenario.

Active standby

I’m a big fan of low-power computing and I understand that that most people won’t be using a device all the time so there’s a distinct advantage to use and ARM platform over a current Intel platform (*1) but usage models are changing and it’s now common to find people picking up a phone to use it once every few minutes and when they’re not using it, the GPS, Wifi, 3G and audio is still running. Simply being ‘connected’, polling the internet is going to mean that your device is going to be using 500mw of power on average. Standby is now an ‘active’ or ‘on-net’ experience.

Extreme Battery life marketing

All this confusion and range of figures is great for marketing teams. The ‘all-day’ connected’ expression will be used a lot along with a lot of talk about standby battery life of ‘days.’ Forget it! The average 4-10” tablet device will be using an average 1W to 2W per hour. Leave the screen backlight on along with a few flash and ajax-filled browser tabs running with a 10” Slate and you’re in the 4W range. The 10W battery that would fit comfortably in such a device suddenly becomes a 2.5hr battery in that scenario.

Warning

You will hear a lot of battery life BS over the next year. Silicon manufacturers are in a truly critical fight to win in the new ‘smart’ devices market and as a result, they will use every weapon. BE AWARE that as devices get more fun, connected and dynamic, you will use them more and battery life will drop like a fly. IGNORE manufacturers battery life claims and wait for independent reviews. That’s what we’re here for!

Related articles:

How long does your smartphone last in ‘MID’ mode?

How big is an ‘all-day’ Mobile Internet smartphone?

(*1) The upcoming Moorestown platform brings a whole new power control architecture to the table in late 2010. More analysis on Moorestown here.

Li-Ion battery technology update. (From #idf09 session)

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I’m reporting from the IDF09 battery technology session.

Here’s what’s been happening in Li-Ion tech.

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“3% per year improvements in capacity (watt-hours)” If you ask me, that’s peanuts. Chemistry research not keeping up with Moore’s Law ;-)

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Battery packs aren’t just cells…

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11:27 am.

Trends – Thin and light systems and their effect on battery packs. Here;s a nice diagram that explains how cell types affect design.

Prismatic cells 40% more expensive for same capacity.

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Clearly cylindrical cells are more common.

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Next few years:

More than 2600mah in a standard cell. (the ’18650′ cell)

11:30 Sasmung now talking.

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Samsung say 33% of customers willing to pay $45 for an extra hourCapture_00015

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Inside a Samsung Cell.

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Getting technical now…. Samsungs secret sauce for 3.0A

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New technologys…. Silicon based anode. Getting too technical for me here!!!!

Bottom line: 30% improvement in Q3 2010. Sounds too good to be true. I’ve heard these sort of promises before!

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11:42 Panasonic presenting…

Strategy slide:

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NNP – Nickel-based New Platform announced.

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Generations of Li-Ion Li-Ion cells. 2nd generation is the currently available technology.

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Reducing pack size to save money with higher-capacity cells.

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11:55 Intel summary slide. 

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That’s all from the battery technology session at IDF09. I’ll continue to report on mobility topics at MeetMobility so check back regularly for updates.

MIDs, UMPCs, Smartbooks. Where Are We on the Timeline?

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We’ve been talking about the area of mobile internet-connected devices between the smartphone and notebook for a long time now. Many companies have tried with many many different designs but in reality, none of them have been a success. OQO, Flipstart, Wibrain and Raon Digital are proof that it’s a market where many are going to fail before a winner comes along but what is it going to take to make that winner and how close are we to it? Where are we on the Mobile Internet Timeline?

There are three components to a successful mobile internet product. Hardware (including technology and design), software (including UI, apps and community) and the magic pixie dust that is the combination of pricing, branding, distribution and marketing needed to bring the device to the people in just the right way. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about marketing to be able to comment (apart from the fact that I think that certain marketing teams are easily capable of making it happen today) but my experiences with ultra mobile devices and customers over the last 3 years gives me some idea about what’s needed for the hardware and software components.

One of the keywords that I keep coming back to in this segment is the word ‘microblogging.’ In my mind, microblogging is the word that connects to all the elements that go to make up a good mobile internet device. I’ve listed those below.

  • Portability and form factor
  • Always-on, connected and fast in use
  • Content, image and video creation, optimisation and playback
  • Fully web capable
  • Position awareness
  • Local storage
  • Capable of multiple communication methods
  • Flexible, reliable and up-to-date software set
  • Pervasive and low-cost mobile internet connectivity.

I talk a bit more here about my own ideal microblogging device and the markets it addresses but let’s focus on a more generic level here.

Of all the items listed above, the first two are the biggest issues. These are the ones that are limited by current technology and have prevented engineers from creating what could be the ideal device so lets take a closer look at these.

Portability

mid-d-a It goes without saying; a mobile internet device needs to be portable but how portable is portable? Through my conversations with thousands of mobile computing and smartphone fans I’ve learned that it can be vastly different to many people although it largely centers around ‘the bag.’ If you’ve got a bag with you all the time (as I do, I hate carrying things in my pockets) then portability goes all the way up to 7” screens and nearly 2lb in weight. For those that are looking for a jacket pocket solution, forget anything over 4.8” and 1lb. One important thing to note though is that the smaller the device is, the easier it is to hold in one or two hands but that it gets harder to display information. Pixel density can only go so high before websites become unreadable and need to be zoomed. 4-5”, 250gm, 15mm thick and an 800×480 screen is going to be the target in my opinion for the next few years. How far away from that are we? We’re there already. Devices have already been designed with both X86 and ARM cores that achieve this size. [Example]

Form Factor – Style. Keyboard. Screen.

There’s no real answer here expect to say that most styles and form-factors in most materials are possible today. A keyboard creates a thickness problem and a folding screen option would be nice for the industrial designers but I’m confident that given current industrial design knowledge, materials, skills and production technologies, almost anything is possible today. Fasion changes but given economies of scale, anything should be possible.

n810hsdpaallday Always-on and connected

Being always connected means not having to charge a device for a whole day of about 15 hours. This has been possible with mobile phones for along time but we’re talking about a different level of ‘always connected’ with a mobile internet device. This is not a device that will sit idle. Background software will be checking emails, waiting for instant messages, polling social networks, processing GPS signals, updating locations, checking for software updates, playing music, checking accelerometers and ambient light levels, scheduling alarms and the device will probably be in-use, with the screen backlight on, every 15 minutes during the day. Idle devices are a thing of the past and that’s where the technology challenge comes in. Running these scenarios on a phone architecture results in a dead battery within hours. I know because i’ve tested it!

Always-on Internet applications increases the average power requirement of a smartphone by a minimum of 1000% and up to 3000%

gtdbattThe answer here is not to use the lowest power CPU but to use a very closely coupled hardware and software layer that can schedule events at the right times and make sure the device sleeps for as long as possible. In general, low power devices take longer to perform general purpose processing tasks so the power advantages are outweighed by the need to keep screens and radios active. In general, a device that can perform tasks quicker in processing ‘windows’ and then resume to a standby state is probably going to have the advantage. [See this article for more thoughts and view the image on the left.] How far away from that are we? Quite far. We’re in a very early stage of mobile internet software development and unless a golden bullet comes along in the form of new battery technology, the problem will need to be worked on for some time before true all-day mobile internet ‘computing’ is possible.

Fast in use.

Getting a task completely quickly and efficiently means better user satisfaction and more productivity. The days of waiting 20 seconds for a web page to load on a smartphone are over and we need to be looking towards the sub 10-second page load. Ultimately, 5 seconds for every page on the internet. Not only that but applications need to start instantaneously and user interfaces need to react in a physical way in order for the device to become more a part of the user. How far away from that are we? Quite far. The new generations of smartphone are improving very well and reaching the 15 second average page load level along with having great almost instantaneous interfaces but its still the exception. UMPCs and netbooks are into the sub 10-second level for web page processing but still struggle to meet the battery life requirements when doing so. In general we need about 4x efficiency improvement from the X86 based devices and about 4 x processing power improvements in the ARM-based devices. Both sides are moving very quickly towards it but we’re a couple of years away from what I would call a thrilling experience.

Pervasive 3G networks

As for the rest of the list, we’re pretty much there now. Location, storage, video and software is available. It’s just a matter of sticking it al together in the right way and focusing on the limitations above.

The dream of that ultimate mobile internet communications device is spread wide across potential consumer base and the industry itself but we’ve still got a long way to go. 2009 is an early point on the timeline where although devices are possible, customers are burdened with issues. Be it battery life or slow web processing, heavy form factors or tiny screens. The good news is that everyone working in the industry is already working on those problems and we’re now only a short few years away from seeing devices that satisfy everyone.

Tec-City Power Bank Solutions for Netbooks and UMPCs

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Firstly, I need to point out that Tec-City are manufacturers so you won’t be able to buy these products from Tec-City as a consumer. If you’re a reseller or distributor though, you might want to take a look because they have some good solutions and, clearly evident through my discussions with them about solar solutions, a lot of knowledge.

You might recognise some of the products here. Tekkeon and TabletKiosk have used them. I used one on my Solar-UMPC tour too and was very happy with it until I killed it one day.

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The two products that I highlight in the video are the MP3450E and the MP2300.

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If you’re a reseller or distributor looking for a good quality power bank solution, take a closer look at Tec-City. If you’re a reseller or distributor that carries these products, please contact us and we’ll link you in to this article.

UMPC Accessory Test: Ultimate-Netbook U2o Universal Power Pack and UMPC Holder. 10% off.

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umtest1Ultimate-Netbook, a big accessory retailer based in Europe, has just announced a 10% discount code (Psst – Use the offer code WEBUMPC to get the discount) for our readers so now would probably be the best time to tell you about two Ultimate-Netbook products that I’ve had for a while. A universal power pack and a universal car mount. For anyone into mobile computing, these two products are well worth considering.

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