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Posts tagged ‘Asus’

16
Aug

NVIDIA brings desktop-class graphics to laptops


With the GeForce GTX 1080, NVIDIA pushed the boundaries of what a $600 graphics card can do. That flagship card was joined by the GTX 1070 and GTX 1060, two lower-power cards based on the same 16nm Pascal architecture at a much more affordable price. Now, it’s bringing mobile versions of those cards that match their desktop counterparts in almost every area — including being VR ready.

That’s not hyperbole. The top-of-the-line 1080M has 2,560 CUDA cores and 8GB of 10Gbps GDDR5x memory. The desktop chip has the same. The only difference is clock speed: it’s set at 1,556MHz, while the desktop version is 1,607MHz. The two do share the same boost clock (1,733MHz) though, and both have access to all the new technology introduced for the Pascal architecture. That means simultaneous multi-projection, VRWorks, Ansel and the rest.

If you want an idea what those specs translate to in real-world performance, how’s this: when paired with an i7-6700HQ (a quad-core 2.6GHz chip with 3.5GHz turbo), Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, 126; Overwatch, 147; Doom, 145; Metro Last Light, 130; Rise of the Tomb Raider, 125. Those are the 1080M’s FPS figures when playing at 1080p with “ultra” settings at 120Hz. NVIDIA is really pushing 120Hz gaming, and many of the first crop of Pascal laptops will have 120Hz G-Sync displays.

4K gaming, too, is more than possible. At 4K with “high” settings the same setup can push 89FPS on Overwatch, 70FPS with Doom, and 62FPS with Metro Last Light (according to NVIDIA). Only Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and Rise of the Tomb Raider fall short of 60FPS, both clocking in at a very playable 52FPS. At the chip’s UK unveil, NVIDIA showed the new Gears of War playing in 4K in real-time, and there were absolutely no visible frame drops. With figures like that, it goes without saying that VR will be no problem for the 1080M. The desktop GTX 980 is the benchmark for both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, and the 1080M blows it away. If you’re looking for more performance, the 1080M supports overclocking of course — NVIDIA suggests as high as 300MHz — and you can expect laptops sporting two in an SLI configuration soon.

The major drawback for the 1080M is power. We don’t know its exact TDP yet, but given the near-identical desktop version runs at 180W, you’d imagine it’s got to be at least 150W. NVIDIA has tech that counters that heavy power load when you’re not plugged in, of course. Chief among these is BatteryBoost, which allows you to set a framerate (i.e. 30FPS), and downclocks the GPU appropriately to save power — if your card is capable of pushing 147FPS plugged in, that’s going to be a fair amount of power saved. Whatever the battery savings possible, though, it won’t change the fact that the 1080M is only going to slide into big laptops.

That’s fine for those already used to carrying around behemoths on the go, but plenty of gamers prefer something more portable. Enter the 1070M. NVIDIA says this chip will fit into any chassis that currently handles the 980M, which covers a lot of laptops.

Just like the 1080M, the 1070M matches its desktop sibling in many ways. You’ve actually got slightly more in the way of CUDA cores — 2,048 vs. the desktop’s 1,920, but again they’re clocked slower (1,442MHz vs. 1,506MHz). Memory is the same — 8GB 8Gbps GDDR5 — and it too benefits from both the Pascal architecture itself and the new software features that come with it.

CUDA cores 2,560 2,560 1,920 2,048
Base clock 1,607MHz 1,556MHz 1,506MHz 1,442MHz
Boost clock 1,733MHz 1,733MHz 1,683MHz 1,645MHz
Memory 8GB GDDR5X 8GB GDDR5X 8GB GDDR5 8GB GDDR5
Memory speed 10Gbps 10Gbps 8Gbps 8Gbps
Memory Bandwidth 320GB/sec 320GB/sec 256GB/sec 256GB/sec

When faced off against the desktop 1070, the 1070M holds its own. In nearly every test we saw, it got within a couple of percentiles of the desktop card. We’re talking 77FPS in The Witcher 3 (1080p maxed settings, no HairWorks) vs. 79.7FPS on the 1070; 76.2FPS in The Division (1080p ultra) vs. 76.6FPS; and 64.4FPS in Crysis 3 (1080p very high) vs. 66.4FPS. The one outlier was Grand Theft Auto V, which dropped down to 65.3FPS vs. 73.7FPS on the desktop 1070. 4K gaming is a stretch on the desktop 1070, and that carries over here, but this card is more-than VR ready. NVIDIA says that it’ll support factory overclocking on the 1070M soon, so you may see laptops offering a little more grunt “in a couple of months.”

Rounding off the lineup is the 1060M, the mobile version of NVIDIA’s $249 “budget” VR-ready card. It’s something of the exception to the rule here. Yes, it offers 1,280 CUDA cores and 6GB 8Gbps GDDR5 memory, which is equal to the desktop 1060. But at the lower end of the range the fact that they’re clocked lower (1,404MHz vs. 1,506MHz) hurts performance quite a bit more. In side-by-side comparisons, NVIDIA’s benchmarks suggest you’ll get within ten percent or so of the desktop card. That’s not to say that the 1060M is a slouch. For traditional gaming, you’re not going to hit 60FPS at 1080P in every game without thinking about settings, but if you can play it on a desktop GTX 980, it’s probably a safe bet that the 1060M can handle it. That’s insanely impressive when you consider that the 1060M will fit into the same chassis as the 970M — think “ultra portable” gaming laptops.

CUDA cores 1,280 1,280 2,048
Base clock 1,404MHz 1,506MHz 1,126MHz
Boost clock 1,670MHz 1,708MHz 1,216MHz
Memory 6GB GDDR5* 6GB GDDR5 4GB GDDR5
Memory speed 8Gbps 8Gbps 7Gbps
Memory Bandwidth 192GB/sec 192GB/sec 224GB/sec

*Up to

In reality, the 10-percent gap between the 1060 and the 1060M probably makes it slightly slower than the GTX 980, but the difference is almost negligible. I wasn’t able to push the 1060M too hard on the “VR ready” promise — you can read about the demo and why the 1060M matters in a separate article — but the demo I had was solid. And really, being able to plug an Oculus into something as slim as a Razer Blade was unthinkable a few months ago, so it’s probably best not to complain.

Acer, Alienware, Asus, Clevo, EVGA, HP, Gigabyte, Lenovo, MSI, Origin, Razer, Sager and XMG are just some of the OEMs signed up to make laptops with the new Pascal chips. Many will announce updated and all-new models today, while some might hold off a while. But expect lots of super-powerful, VR-ready gaming laptops very soon.

22
Jul

Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $125 on an iPad Pro 9.7


This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read their continuously updated list of deals at TheWirecutter.com.

You may have already seen Engadget posting reviews from our friends at The Wirecutter. Now, from time to time, we’ll also be publishing their recommended deals on some of their top picks. Read on, and strike while the iron is hot — some of these sales could expire mighty soon.

iPad Pro 9.7″ 128GB

Street price: $750; MSRP: $750; deal price: $625

A big $125 drop below the street price, and $25 below the best price we’ve seen on this iPad Pro. This is part of Best Buy’s Black Friday in July sale, and you have to be signed into your Best Buy account to see these discounts. They’re also knocking $125 off of the 256GB model, if you’d prefer to have more storage space. While we’re featuring the rose gold model, this deal is available on all colors.

The iPad Pro 9.7″ 128GB is our upgrade pick in our iPad guide. Dan Frakes said, “If you need better performance for media editing, multitasking, or gaming; support for Apple’s fantastic Pencil stylus; better color accuracy; smartphone-class cameras; more storage capacity; or a huge screen, one of the two iPad Pro models is for you.”

ASUS ZenBook UX305UA

Street price: $750; MSRP: $900; deal price: $700

Zenbooks tend to gradually drop their street price by $50 every few months, and this deal is no exception. We last saw it drop from $800 to $750 towards the end of March, and it’s now dropped down to $700, the best price we’ve seen to date.

The ASUS ZenBook UX305UA is our budget pick for the best ultrabook. Kimber Streams said, “It’s inexpensive, slim, and light, and it has great battery life, a decent keyboard, and a reliable trackpad. It’s the only ultrabook in this price range with 8 GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, and an Intel Core i5 processor—you’d have to spend $200 to $400 more to get a better one. The downside? The ZenBook UX305UA lacks a couple of amenities such as a touchscreen and a backlit keyboard.”

Refurbished Pebble Time Steel Smartwatch

Street price: $200 (new); MSRP: $250 (new); deal price: $100

Only the second deal we’ve posted on a refurbished model of the Pebble Time Steel, and a big $40 drop below the best price we’ve seen. This deal is only available on the gold color and comes with a 90-day warranty.

The Pebble Time Steel is a smartwatch we like in our guide to the best smartwatch. Kevin Purdy wrote, “At this price, we’d recommend the Pebble Time Steel as a budget entry for Android phone owners. If the square look and wider straps work for you, the watch does an increasingly good job of relaying and responding to notifications, tracking your steps and sleep, and, of course, showing the time, all of the time.”

Aukey Quick Charge 2.0 54W 5 Port USB Desktop Charging Station

Street price: $25; MSRP: $32; deal price: $19 with code QQFYTSD8

Make sure to use the code QQFYTSD8 to get this price. We’ve seen this charger at $20 after code a couple of times, and while this isn’t much cheaper than that, it is a new low.

The Aukey Quick Charge 2.0 54W 5 Port USB Desktop Charging Station is one of the Quick Charge 2 options we list in our best multiport USB wall charger guide. Nick Guy wrote, “For five-port chargers, we recommend Aukey’s Quick Charge 2.0 54W 5 Port USB Desktop Charging Station. It has a single Quick Charge port plus four 2.4-amp ports. During this round of testing, we didn’t have four iPads on hand to test the maximum charging capacity, but we can confirm that two iPads and one Quick Charge 2.0 smartphone can charge at full speed at the same time.”

Deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go to The Wirecutter.com.

21
Jul

Asus ZenPad Z8 review | A spec-heavy $249 Verizon tablet


This post originally appeared on our sister site TabTimes.com where you can find benchmarks and additional screenshots

It’s not too often we see an affordable tablet compatible with a cellular network like Verizon deliver an experience nearly free of compromises. Although the affordable smartphone market has been more competitive as of late, with a sometimes even overwhelming number of excellent affordable options, budget tablets often leave something to be desired.

  • ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 review
  • Laptop, tablet or both, ASUS has you covered at Computex 2016

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the same company that brought us the remarkable Zenfone 2, various affordable tablets, and the Nexus 7 is now offering what appears to be one of the best “bang for your buck” tablets.

Where does the ASUS ZenPad Z8 excel and where does it fall short? Let’s find out in our comprehensive ASUS ZenPad Z8 review!

Buy the Asus ZenPad Z8 now!

Design

ASUS has undoubtedly delivered a clean and simplistic design with the Z8. Its textured plastic rear is subtle to the eye yet impressionable in the hand, and makes the tablet easier to grip. Unfortunately, the plastic band running along the edges of the tablet doesn’t seem to help with the ZenPad’s structural integrity, which is notably weak. The tablet’s plastic construction does lend to a nice handling experience in both portrait and landscape orientation, however.

ASUS ZenPad Z8-11

The power and volume buttons, found on the right edge, are tactile and positioned well. ASUS has implemented a fairly inconspicuous flap towards the top of the left edge, which covers the microSIM card slot, for data connectivity, and the microSD card slot, for expanding the tablet’s 16 GB of storage, up to 128 GB.

The front of the Z8 features a Verizon logo on the bottom, as well as a 2 MP front-facing camera on the top. Capacitive navigation keys are absent, and navigation is instead handled by on-screen keys. Although the iconography follows ASUS’ ZenUI design language, the layout matches what Google has defined as standard.

Display

ASUS ZenPad Z8 AA-1

The ZenPad’s 7.9″ QXGA (2048 x 1536) display offers a high pixel density of 324 PPI, which is a pleasant surprise at this price. The display’s sharpness is very important when consuming text-heavy content, such as webpages or ebooks. Viewing angles are also good and the display’s color reproduction is fairly accurate.

ASUS’ Splendid app is also worthy of praise, as it offers granular control over the display’s color temperature, in addition to several screen color modes. If you’d like to bump up the display’s vividness, for example, you can simply select the “Vivid” mode.

ASUS ZenPad Z8-5

Sadly, the display’s glass is very reflective and the highest brightness setting is still relatively low, which makes reading the display in direct sunlight challenging in many cases. I also noticed that auto-brightness tended to dim the display too much, which eventually became so frustrating that I had to turn it off completely.

One other attribute to keep in mind is the display’s 4:3 aspect ratio, which makes the tablet seem a bit too tall in landscape mode when watching 21:9 movies or even 16:9 TV shows or videos. Put simply, you may see some letter boxing when consuming this type of content. I should note that the 4:3 aspect ratio does work well, however, when reading or web browsing.

Performance

ASUS ZenPad Z8-8

Under the hood, the ASUS ZenPad Z8 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 650, which offers performance comparable to that of the Snapdragon 808. During my time with the Z8, I did not notice much lag nor did I find app load times to be unreasonably long.

I did, however, have some minor trouble multitasking with more than a couple of apps. Unfortunately, the Z8 includes just 2 GB of RAM, which although often enough for some low-end smartphones, was not enough to keep up with my tablet usage demands. If you plan on using the tablet for simple tasks like video streaming and reading, however, this should not be an issue.

The Adreno 510 delivers great gaming performance and users should have no trouble playing higher-end games like Asphalt 8: Airborne. This is great to see, as tablets in this price category often skimp in this department.

Hardware

ASUS ZenPad Z8-9

Unlike many sub-$300 tablets, the ASUS ZenPad Z8 allows you to receive 4G LTE data on the Verizon Wireless network. It’s also compatible with Verizon’s strong XLTE network, meaning that you’ll receive more reliable and faster data coverage in congested areas. And, although band support is limited to the Verizon network, the tablet itself is unlocked and can be used on other compatible LTE networks.

ASUS ZenPad Z8-10

It’s great to see ASUS adopt the newer USB Type-C standard with the ZenPad Z8. Unlike the now outdated microUSB, USB Type-C is reversible so you won’t have to worry about plugging the cable in “the wrong way” when attempting to charge the device.

The ASUS ZenPad Z8 features dual front-facing speakers, which is something that we all love to see, especially on tablets. In terms of actual audio quality, they sound pretty good with some minor distortion and tinniness at full volume. But for the price, it’s really difficult to complain here.

Battery Life

 

Battery life with the Z8 was good, thanks to the tablet’s large non-removable 4680mAh battery. I was able to consistently achieve over five hours of screen on time with a minimum of twelve hours of standby. Although there are tablets out there offering better battery life, this should be more than enough for almost all users. ASUS’ power saving profiles can also help squeeze just a bit more juice when you are running low on battery.

Camera

ASUS ZenPad Z8-7

ASUS has implemented an 8 MP rear camera on the ZenPad Z8, but you should really avoid using it whenever possible. Although it certainly is nice to have and may come in handy in some situations, the images it produces are soft, noisy, and lack detail.

Camera samples from the ZenPad Z8:

With that said, color reproduction is excellent, saturation seems to be good, and autofocus is reliable and fairly fast. Low-light performance is poor, although ASUS’ Owl mode does help bring up the brightness by reducing the image quality. Chances are, however, that the camera on your smartphone is simply better in most conditions.

Software

ASUS ZenPad Z8-3

Shipping with ASUS’ ZenUI skin over Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, the ZenPad Z8 provides a great software experience. The user interface does feel a bit cartoonish, but the overall mechanics are very similar to stock Android. Overall, there’s nothing terribly out of the ordinary if you’ve used Android in the past.

There are some nice software additions, however. The screen color settings and audio equalizer are very nice to have, apps like Do It Later and Quick Memo can be helpful, and the included Help app could come in handy, especially for those who are not yet comfortable with Android. Thankfully, bloatware is also kept to a minimum, with only a few Verizon apps and four Amazon apps.

Sadly, the selection of tablet apps available on the Google Play Store is still very limited compared to Apple’s App Store. Many of the apps available on Android are simply not optimized for tablets, which is certainly a bummer. You’ll still have a wide selection of apps, but do be aware that not all will run as smoothly as they do on the iPad.

Gallery

Price & Conclusion

ASUS ZenPad Z8-1

The ASUS ZenPad Z8 is now available through Verizon Wireless for $250 off contract (or $10.41/mo. for 24 months). That’s a very competitive price, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a comparable cellular connected tablet.

You can also purchase the Z8 for $150 with a two year contract. You should, however, consider how you’d like to use the tablet before agreeing. Although there are certainly use cases where paying for data makes sense, you may end up mostly relying on Wi-Fi, especially if you don’t plan on taking the tablet outside of your home often. By paying an extra $100 up front (or by financing the device), you can avoid any headaches down the road.

  • ASUS ZenPad S 8.0 review
  • Laptop, tablet or both, ASUS has you covered at Computex 2016

There is little complaining that can be done once you factor in the Z8’s affordable pricing. Although the display could be less reflective, there could be more RAM, and the camera could produce better images, there’s a lot to love about this tablet. With its dual front-facing speakers, excellent high-resolution display, and very good performance, the ZenPad Z8 is yet another home run for ASUS.

Buy the Asus ZenPad Z8 now!

What do you think of the ASUS ZenPad Z8? Will you be picking one up? Let us know in the comment section below!

This post originally appeared on our sister site TabTimes.com where you can find benchmarks and additional screenshots

12
Jul

ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe gets first dibs on Snapdragon 821 chip


We knew it wouldn’t be long before ASUS rolls out its latest smartphones after the Computex unveiling, but it turns out the company has saved a little surprise for us. At the Taiwan and Hong Kong launch event today, ASUS revealed that its flagship 5.7-inch ZenFone 3 Deluxe has been given a chipset upgrade — from Snapdragon 820 to the speedier Snapdragon 821 announced yesterday. And yes, it’s officially the world’s first device to feature this 2.4GHz processor, while still benefiting from the same old Cat 13 LTE radio, a slightly faster Adreno 530 GPU, dual-SIM support (Micro SIM plus Nano SIM) and Quick Charge 3.0.

The metallic ZenFone 3 Deluxe comes in three flavors, with its top model offering pretty much all the best possible specs to date: 6GB of DDR4 RAM plus 256GB of UFS 2.0 internal storage (expandable by up to 128GB via microSD using the second SIM slot). But this will cost you NT$24,990 or about US$780. The remaining two variants are still based on the 2.15GHz Snapdragon 820, and you get either 4GB RAM with 32GB storage (NT$15,990 or about US$500) or 6GB RAM with 64GB storage (NT$17,990 or about US$560). It’s worth mentioning that these are certified for Google’s Daydream VR platform.

The rest of the features are identical, including their 1080p Super AMOLED touchscreen (with glove mode), Gorilla Glass 4, a 3,000 mAh battery, NFC, 23-megapixel f/2.0 main camera (with OIS, laser AF and dual-tone flash). 8-megapixel f/2.0 front camera and fingerprint reader on the back. The series will become available in Taiwan and Hong Kong as early as August, though we’re also told to expect the Snapdragon 821 variant to arrive later.

Also announced today is the ZenPad 3S 10 (Z500M). This is a mid-range 9.7-inch tablet featuring a 2,048 x 1,536 LCD, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (with microSD expansion), an 8-megapixel main camera, a 5-megapixel front imager and Android 6.0. It runs on a hexa-core MediaTek chip (MT8176; dual 2.1GHz Cortex-A72 and quad 1.7GHz Cortex-A53) so it should be more than enough for general usage, plus it has a fingerprint reader, 802.11ac WiFi, DTS Headphone:X audio, a 5,900 mAh battery, USB Type-C port and Quick Charge 3.0 (but charger sold separately). The tablet will be available in Taiwan for NT$10,990 or about US$340 in August.

12
Jul

PC shipments recover in the US


It’s not all doom and gloom in the PC world… for once. Both Gartner and IDC estimate that PC shipments actually grew in the US for the first time in over a year, climbing in the second quarter to either 4.9 percent according to Gartner (which includes Windows tablets) or 1.4 percent if you ask IDC (which doesn’t). There’s no one answer as to why the computer industry is bouncing back, regardless of who you ask. A stronger US economy is playing a part, but the analyst groups also point to strong Chromebook sales to schools as well as a possible spike in purchases from governments and other public outfits.

Just don’t look at shipments in the rest of the world, as they’re rather ugly. Both Gartner and IDC reckon that worldwide deliveries dropped between 4.5 to 5.2 percent. That’s not as bad as it could have been (IDC was predicting a 7.4-point drop), but you’ll have to forget any visions of an imminent return to the PC’s heyday. Economies are still weak outside of the US, and mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are still a higher priority for cash-strapped buyers. Lenovo may have extra reason to worry — its shipments shrank enough that it’s barely holding its market share lead over HP.

On the bright side? While researchers are cautious, they do see ways the industry could climb out of its hole. As upgrading to Windows 10 will soon cost you $119, there’s the chance that people will decide to replace their PCs rather than fork over cash to update existing machines. You could also see the corporate crowd take a serious look at buying Windows 10 computers instead of clinging to aging systems for dear life. Although that amounts to a lot of “ifs” and “maybes” that could easily change, it’s the best hope yet for a PC business that has been declining for years.

Gartner's worldwide PC market share estimate for Q2 2016

Gartner's US PC market share estimate for Q2 2016

Source: Gartner, IDC

4
Jun

ASUS’ ZenBook 3 vs. the updated MacBook: Which packs more punch?


The 12-inch MacBook is attractive and compact, but not without compromises. When the original came out last spring, our reviewer Dana Wollman took issue with its lackluster performance and lack of ports outside of a USB-C connection. Still, the MacBook was good enough to warrant a refresh in 2016 that delivered more battery life and improved performance. Now, ASUS is getting in on the minimalist act with its new ZenBook 3. At a glance, the new MacBook and ZenBook 3 seem quite similar indeed, with small, lightweight designs and, well, not many ports. While we’ll certainly put the Zenbook 3 through its paces in a full review, a quick peek at the specs reveals two machines similar in profile, but with the potential for very different performance.

Price $999 / $1,499 / $1,999 $1,299 / $1,599
Dimensions 296 x 191.2 x 11.9mm (11.65 x 7.53 x 0.47 inches) 280 x 196.5 x 13.1mm (11.04 x 7.74 x 0.52 inches)
Weight 910g (2 pounds) 920g (2.03 pounds)
OS Windows 10 OS X El Capitan
Display 12.5-inch LED-backlit LCD 12-inch LED-backlit LCD with IPS
Resolution 1,920 x 1,080 2,304 x 1,440
Processor Intel Core i5 6200U or Core i7 6500U Intel Core m3 (1.1GHz) or Core m5 (1.2GHz)
Memory 16GB / 64GB 8GB
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 520 Intel HD Graphics 512
Storage 256GB / 512GB / 1TB SSD 256GB / 512GB SSD
Ports USB-C USB-C
WiFi 802.11ac with WIDI 802.11ac
Battery 40 WHr 41.4 WHr
3
Jun

ASUS’ Zenbo proves our robot butler dreams remain just that


Another robot wants to join your family. Announced earlier this week, ASUS’ Zenbo is aimed at providing “assistance, entertainment and companionship.” Like numerous home robots that have (literally) rolled out before Zenbo, it involves voice-activated commands, cameras, an internet connection and a touchscreen. It can’t wash your clothes or clear the table and you still need separate robots to vacuum your house, or get you from A to B. ASUS says Zenbo can help with cooking, but that just means it can read out recipes. It’s not chopping onions for you — it doesn’t even have arms. Let’s take a look at the promo video.

In the world of ASUS’ TV ad, WiFi connections are strong and acting skills are weak. We’re shown how Zenbo can detect faces and take photos and videos through voice commands. It will also respond to questions. It gives reminders for medication or upcoming events, has built-in speakers for streaming music, and can even connect with smart home devices like air conditioners, lighting, TVs and connected door locks. And yet, smartphones and tablets can already do all of that. I have Siri on my iPhone, I can play music on it, I can use apps to control my smart devices and it even has an alarm and calendar.

What differentiates the robot from your smartphone is its ability to move around either independently or through smartphone controls, like remote home monitoring. According to the company, Zenbo will learn and adapt to how you use it with with proactive artificial intelligence. As it lives alongside you, it’ll get better at identifying objects and people on its cameras, as well as recognize speech commands. ASUS says machine learning and cloud computing will help improve the robot’s functionality; Zenbo will be connected to a hive mind of all the other robots. It’s still so very far away from the robotic butler we’re still waiting for: Machines are getting smarter, but robotics are hard. There’s no Rosie, no C3P0, no Kryten. Heck, there’s not even a Bender. They’re all still many years away.

Here in the present, the world isn’t as perfect as the ASUS family vignette. The on-stage debut of Zenbo (and three subsequent demonstrations I saw over this past week) showed that manipulating a robot can be just as frustrating as working with pets and children. Sometimes Zenbo didn’t go where it was told, or it didn’t hear the host’s simple commands (despite them being repeated multiple times). On other occasions, Zenbo failed to pick up on camera gestures, or it simply stopped and did nothing. Yes, this was an early model. And yes, the company will continue to refine its behavior and sensitivity, but as it stands, it doesn’t have enough pros to outweigh the cons.

It’s not fair to single out ASUS’ Zenbo bot, although the promotional ad was particularly awful. I’ve already written about how we have to lower our expectations about what robots are capable of at this point in time. Indeed, the same criticism can be leveled at most home robots, some of which are already on sale. Softbank’s Pepper could also be described as a glorified tablet on wheels. Its gestures and movements are adorable and endearing, but its speech recognition is far from perfect and there’s still no killer app, other than the romantic notion of having a robot in your home.

There are still so many technical challenges facing robots, with researchers and companies chipping away at challenges related to movement, motor control and object detection, among other things. Sci-fi films and television shows have set our expectations very high, so it’s no surprise that current home robots are a bit of a letdown. ASUS’ first bot is at least “reasonably” priced at $599, but the reasons for buying one aren’t strong enough — yet.

3
Jun

Computex 2016: It’s a wrap!


Just like that, Computex 2016 has come to an end. As in previous years, the show kicked off with ASUS’ big keynote presentation, but this time it wasn’t just laptops, tablets and smartphones — the company also unveiled its first home robot, Zenbo. We met up with Chairman Jonney Shih who gave us an exclusive demo of this $599 machine, so do check out our interview wit him. We also saw Intel launch its first 10-core desktop processor geared towards hardcore gamers, followed by yet another exclusive interview — this time with the company’s new consumer head, Navin Shenoy.

The rest of the show gave us a lot of opportunities to play around in virtual reality. HTC was there with several cool Vive demos; MSI showed off its Backpack PC; AMD announced its $199 Radeon RX480 graphics card to lower the entry barrier for VR; and even Microsoft is opening up its Windows Holographic platform to embrace the virtual world. Find all that and more in the video above.

3
Jun

ASUS’ $599 home robot is smarter than it looks


It goes without saying that ASUS’ first-ever home robot, Zenbo, stole the show at this year’s Computex. As soon as it rolled onto the stage during the keynote, everyone rushed to the front to get a good look at this cute little fella; and that was before Chairman Jonney Shih shocked the audience with its surprisingly attractive price point of just $599. Apart from its basic capabilities, little else was said about the machine, so we traveled all the way to ASUS’ headquarters to meet Shih for a detailed demo. During the process, we managed to pry a little more info out of the exec, including what’s inside this mysterious bot, the thinking behind its design and a target launch date around the holiday season.

For a robot that is about a meter tall and can move its head, wheel around, recognise people plus objects and do voice interaction, $599 is almost too cheap — that’s in the same league as some of the unlocked flagship smartphones. From what I could see, the BB-8-like machine runs on four wheels (two large rubber-tired ones and two small assistive ones), and it’s able to avoid bumping into objects or falling down the stairs by using an array of sensors around its body. There are also speakers, microphones and apparently a full-day battery tucked somewhere into the bot.

Unlike its spherical body, Zenbo’s face comes in a “paper clip” oval shape to accommodate a 10-inch touchscreen (we think the prototype had a 1080p LCD panel) that’s occupied by a cute animated cartoon face most of the time. You’ll also find a conventional camera and a depth camera — likely similar to the one ASUS made for Softbank’s Pepper — right above the screen, which are for face and object recognition, taking photos and surveillance. There’s a socket at the top left for future accessories, which could include a projector, according to Shih. While there’s no word on what processor is inside, it’s pretty obvious that Zenbo runs on Android — which is great for attracting developers to create apps for Zenbo.

As to how ASUS has managed to set such an affordable price point, again, Shih wasn’t willing to share the details. Instead, he went on to explain the design thinking that strictly focused on the essential features. For one, limbs and fingers would be too costly to make, nor would they be practical given today’s technology — they aren’t precise enough to pick up pills for the elderly, for instance. In Zenbo’s case, the wheels alone are sufficient for surveillance and basic remote assistance purposes.

There’s also a reason for why Zenbo is modeled as a cartoon-like character with a five-year-old personality: A realistic human-like robot would be a bit intimidating plus costly, which isn’t a good idea for a company’s first attempt in entering this market. On the contrary, a kid-like design would appeal to all ages. This is especially important for children, who will treat Zenbo as a playmate and dance with it, watch it act out a story or even try some kid-friendly programming to boost their logical thinking.

The seemingly intuitive voice commands — initiated by saying “hey Zenbo” to the bot — helps as well, and Shih said Zenbo’s natural language processing will only get better over time with machine learning. These make features like screen-sharing remote assistance and screen casting to TV a whole lot easier than digging them up in the menus, which can be challenging for elderly users. But more importantly, they will potentially benefit from Zenbo’s fall detection emergency feature: If a fall is detected by their wearable devices (in this case, a ZenWatch 2), Zenbo will automatically call a designated contact to start a video call and offer remote control via an app, so that said contact can go check on the users.

With just under half a year to go, it’ll be interesting to see what new features Zenbo will get by the time it launches. Regardless, we have a good feeling that this machine will sell like hot cake and make a fun home helper, but whether it’ll arrive on time or stick to the same $599 price point, that’s a whole different story.

Stay on top of all the latest news from Computex 2016 right here.

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Jun

ICYMI: Adorable robot overlords, all-in-one home brews and more


ICYMI: Adorable robot overlords, all-in-one home brews and more

Today on In Case You Missed it: ASUS debuted a $600 home companion robot named Zenbo, who is designed to help out around the house (so long as its chores don’t involve actually holding anything). Whirlpool launched an Indiegogo campaign to crowdsource a $1200 all-in-one home brewing kit that turns beer precursor into sippable suds in as little as a week. And we take a look at the upcoming VR game Mosh Pit Simulator, which will bring GoatSim-level insanity to your VR headset.

As always, please share any great tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.

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