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The Most Innovative Tech Unveiled at IFA 2017

The latest trends in mobile technology, wearables and virtual reality
Diana Plutis
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The Most Innovative Tech Unveiled at IFA 2017© 2017 IFA Press Photos

IFA is not only one of the largest consumer electronics show worldwide, but also one of the oldest. Started in 1924, it was the place where many tech innovations were presented for the first time: the car radio in 1931, the colour TV in 1937, or the CD in 1981. This year’s edition brought together 1,805 exhibitors from 40 countries and more than 250,000 visitors. As usual, mobile devices, photo and video equipment, audio gear, and home appliances were a big part of the show. The Internet of Things is changing the way home appliances are being used and the number of robots attending the show in the past few years has been steadily increasing. This year, virtual reality systems attracted many visitors, who had the chance to try out the new Lenovo Explorer, Google DayDream and many other VR headsets. Here are our top picks from the 57th edition of IFA.

Mobile technology: Huawei Kirin 970, the first mobile AI computing platform

Opening Huawei’s keynote event, Jens Heithecker, IFA’s Executive Director, predicted that 2018 will be an AI first world. The combination of mobile devices and AI will push technology further and Huawei is making a first step in this direction with its new Kirin 970 mobile processor. Richard Yu, Huawei’s CEO, presented the company’s vision for the future: building powerful AI platforms by developing processors, devices, and cloud technologies that complement each other.

Huawei Kirin 970 has 5.5 billion transistors and is built on a 10-nanometer process size. It’s small but mighty, measuring one square centimeter and combining an octa-core big.LITTLE CPU, a 12-core GPU and a Neural Processing Unit (NPU). The CPU has four A73 cores clocked at 2.4GHz and four A53 cores clocked at 1.8GHz. Together with the dedicated NPU, the chipset is able to provide high efficiency for AI computing tasks, like image recognition. An impressive demo was made during the keynote: 2,000 images were processed in one minute. For comparison, an iPhone 7 Plus received the same task and was able to process only 487 images per minute.

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Huawei Kirin 970

Another ground-breaking advancement is the high-speed LTE. The Kirin 970 is one of the world’s first CPUs with 4.5G LTE connectivity, reaching a download speed of 1.2Gbps. Thanks to its Category 18 LTE modem, the Kirin 970 can guarantee stable connections. Huawei conducted an interesting high-speed railway optimization test: engineers travelled with high-speed trains in different countries, like the ICE in Germany and the Shinkansen in Japan, and used smartphones powered by Kirin 970 to make calls and browse the web. Using an intelligent cell search, there were significantly less dropped calls. You’ll be able to try it out soon: Huawei’s next flagship smartphones, Mate 10 and Mate 10 Plus, will be powered by Kirin 970. These will be the first smartphones to bring on-device AI, meaning that you will be able to use AI even while offline. Huawei summarised its vision for the future of mobile technology as the combination of on-device AI and cloud AI, and we’re very excited to see how the next generation smartphones will use these technologies. Huawei Mate 10 and 10 Plus will be announced on October 16.

Mixed Reality headsets: Lenovo Explorer

Mixed Reality (MR) is basically a synthesis of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. If Leibniz were around, he’d probably call MR the best of all possible worlds. Why? Because virtual content and the real world are merged. With MR, interactions between virtual objects and real objects take place in real-time. Microsoft is the pioneer of MR and its Windows 10 Mixed Reality platform is now being used by Lenovo, Acer, Asus, Dell and HP. All these companies showcased MR headsets at IFA. MR experiences require a lot of computing power, so all these devices depend on a laptop or PC running Windows 10, equipped with at least 8GB RAM memory and a 2.5GHz dual-core processor. The controllers are built according to Microsoft’s reference design. The headsets themselves don’t differ that much in terms of specs: all have a resolution of 1440 x 1440 pixels per eye and a refresh rate of approximately 90Hz. They have sensors for tracking (accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and proximity sensor) and a 3.5mm headphone jack for connecting headphones.

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Lenovo Explorer

Our favourite was Lenovo Explorer because of its sleek design and ease of use. If feels light and comfortable, so it can be used for long gaming sessions. Compared to the other headsets, it has the largest field of view (120 degrees) and it’s the lightest one, weighing only 380g. It has two cameras on the sides, assuring accurate positional tracking for an area of 4 x 4 meters. It will be available starting October and it’s priced at approximately $350. It’s not the cheapest MR headset: Acer’s headset will cost approximately $299. These devices are definitely making VR and AR technologies affordable. They might not offer the breathtaking experience of Sony’s PlayStation VR or HTC’s Vive, but they are much better than wireless, smartphone-enabled headsets, like Google’s DayDream or Samsung’s Gear VR.

Wearable tech: Fitbit Ionic

When the first wearable devices entered the mainstream market five years ago, there was a clear separation between smartwatches, GPS sports watches and activity trackers. The wearables showcased at this year’s show are a proof that the boundary between different types of wearable devices is becoming more blurred. Most smartwatches have activity tracking features and the high-end ones have a built-in GPS, which was typical in the past only for sports watches. Activity trackers are now designed similarly to smartwatches, with a round or square display, and a wide range of bands. Fitbit, one of the leaders of the wearable market, is following this trend. The new Fitbit Ionic is the company’s first hybrid smartwatch, bringing together the advanced activity tracking features from Fitbit Blaze, Charge 2 and Surge, and a fashionable smartwatch design.

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Fitbit Ionic

The device has a built-in GPS, automatic run tracking, and it’s great for swimmers, as it can detect different swimming styles and can be used to count strokes. It is water-resistant and has an IP68 rating, which means that it can be submerged into water and withstand pressures of 5 atmospheres, equivalent to a depth of 50 meters. What makes Ionic stand out in comparison to other wearable devices is the SpO2 sensor, or pulse oximeter, which is used to detect blood oxygen levels. Monitoring the percentage of blood that is loaded with oxygen, as well as hemoglobin levels, can help detect health conditions, such as stress or sleep apnea. The Ionic supports NFC payments with Fitbit Pay, the company’s own mobile payment service, similar to Apple Pay or Android Pay. Fitbit’s new OS also supports third party apps and comes with some popular apps pre-installed, like Strava and AccuWeather. Thus, Fitbit Ionic is a powerful competitor to Apple Watch Series 2 or Samsung’s new Gear Sport, especially since it has a very attractive price of $299.

Smartphones: Sony Xperia XZ1

For smartphones, the stars of this year’s edition were Samsung Galaxy Note 8, LG V30 and Sony’s Xperia XZ1 and Xperia XZ1 Compact. Samsung announced its new Note flagship before IFA, but the event in Berlin marked its European debut. For the European market, the Note 8 will be available with Samsung’s own Exynos 8895 chipset, while the versions available in China and in the USA will be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chipset. Both chipsets are power-efficient and can guarantee more than 20 hours of battery life on one charge. Speaking of battery, Samsung assured its fans that Note 8 passed the challenging battery safety checks imposed after the Note 7 debacle. Although the Note 8 has a relatively small 3000mAh battery which has to power a enormous 6.3-inch Super AMOLED screen, the device can last for more than one day on a single charge.

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Real-size comparison of LG V30 (left), Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (center) and Sony Xperia XZ1 (right)

One of its main competitors is the new LG V30. Just like Samsung’s latest flagships, the LG V30 has a large 6-inch screen and a dual-lens camera. The main camera module on the LG V30 has 16 megapixels camera and an additional 13 megapixels camera with a wide angle lens. Unlike the Note 8 or Sony Xperia XZ1, the LG V30 doesn't have optical zoom. However, one advantage of the LG V30 is that it’s DayDream ready. It fits perfectly in Google’s wireless VR headset and the high-resolution display guarantees an immersive and realistic experience while playing VR games.

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LG V30 with Google's DayDream VR headset on display at IFA

Our top pick for the smartphone category is Sony’s Xperia XZ1. It’s the first flagship that comes with the latest Android version out of the box, Android 8.0 Oreo. Therefore, managing notifications will be much easier than on other Android flagships, like Samsung's Galaxy S8 or Note 8, at least until these smartphones get the Oreo update. Google’s latest OS gives much more power to users - being able to set up notification channels and snooze notifications are features any long-time Android user will highly appreciate. Another reason why Sony’s new flagship has been one of the main attractions at IFA is the 3D Creator camera software.

Sony’s 3D Creator app allows you to scan objects using the phone’s camera and generate high-resolution 3D models. There are 4 scanning modes available: face, head, freeform and food. There’s also a morph tool included, allowing you to do playful edits to your scans. It takes between 15 and 60 seconds to capture a 3D image, depending on the complexity of the scanned object. The speed is achieved thanks to the advanced camera sensors, Sony's Exmor RS sensor and BIONZ mobile image-processing engine. The main camera has 19 megapixels, 8x digital zoom and support for 4K video recording, while the secondary camera has 13 megapixels. Sony isn't using a dual-camera setup on its smartphones, but this doesn't mean that the image quality is inferior compared to other flagships. Xperia XZ1 has 4GB of RAM, 6GB of expandable storage and a 2700mAh battery. It might not be the best flagship spec-wise, especially compared to the Note 8 and LG V30, but the 3D camera app is definitely innovative. 3D content is gaining popularity and we expect to see more and more smartphones with 3D cameras and displays able to render 3D images or even holographic content.

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