Month: April 2019

Is this the vertical-folding Motorola Razr?

This could be the upcoming Motorola Razr revival. The images purporting to be the upcoming smartphone appeared online on Weibo and show a foldable design. Unlike Galaxy Fold, though, Motorola’s implementation has the phone folding vertically — much like the original Razr.

This design offers a more compelling use case than other foldables. Instead of a traditional smartphone unfolding to a tablet-like display, Motorola’s design has a smaller device unfolding to a smartphone display. The result is a smaller phone turning into a normal phone.

Pricing is still unclear, but the WSJ previously stated it would carry a $1,500 cost when it’s eventually released. If it’s released.

Samsung was the first to market with the Galaxy Fold. Kind of. A few journalists were given Galaxy Fold units ahead of its launch, but a handful of units failed in the first days. Samsung quickly postponed the launch and recalled all the review units.

Despite this leak, Motorola has yet to confirm when this device will hit the market. Given Samsung’s troubles, it will likely be extra cautious before launching it to the general public.

Alphabet’s Wing gets FAA permission to start delivering by drone

Wing Aviation, the drone-based delivery startup born out of Google’s X labs, has received the first FAA certification in the country for commercial carriage of goods. It might not be long before you’re getting your burritos sent par avion.

The company has been performing tests for years, making thousands of flights and supervised deliveries to show that its drones are safe and effective. Many of those flights were in Australia, where in suburban Canberra the company recently began its first commercial operations. Finland and other countries are also in the works.

Wing’s first operations, starting later this year, will be in Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Va.; obviously an operation like this requires close coordination with municipal authorities as well as federal ones. You can’t just get a permission slip from the FAA and start flying over everyone’s houses.

“Wing plans to reach out to the local community before it begins food delivery, to gather feedback to inform its future operations,” the FAA writes in a press release. Here’s hoping that means you can choose whether or not these loud little aircraft will be able to pass through your airspace.

Although the obvious application is getting a meal delivered quickly even when traffic is bad, there are plenty of other applications. One imagines quick delivery of medications ahead of EMTs, or blood being transferred quickly between medical centers.

I’ve asked Wing for more details on its plans to roll this out elsewhere in the U.S. and will update this story if I hear back.

Kiwi’s food delivery bots are rolling out to 12 more colleges

If you’re a student at UC Berkeley, the diminutive rolling robots from Kiwi are probably a familiar sight by now, trundling along with a burrito inside to deliver to a dorm or apartment building. Now students at a dozen more campuses will be able to join this great, lazy future of robotic delivery as Kiwi expands to them with a clever student-run model.

Speaking recently at TechCrunch’s Robotics + AI Session at the Berkeley campus, Kiwi’s Felipe Chavez and Sasha Iatsenia discussed the success of their burgeoning business and the way they planned to take it national.

In case you’re not aware of the Kiwi model, it’s basically this: When you place an order online with a participating restaurant, you have the option of delivery via Kiwi. If you so choose, one of the company’s fleet of knee-high robots with insulated, locking storage compartments will swing by the place, your order is put within, and it brings it to your front door (or as close as it can reasonably get). You can even watch the last bit live from the robot’s perspective as it rolls up to your place.

The robots are what Kiwi calls “semi-autonomous.” This means that although they can navigate most sidewalks and avoid pedestrians, each has a human monitoring it and setting waypoints for it to follow, on average every five seconds. Iatsenia told me that they’d tried going full autonomous and that it worked… most of the time. But most of the time isn’t good enough for a commercial service, so they’ve got humans in the loop. They’re working on improving autonomy, but for now this is how it is.

That the robots are being controlled in some fashion by a team of people in Colombia (from where the co-founders hail) does take a considerable amount of the futurism out of this endeavor, but on reflection it’s kind of a natural evolution of the existing delivery infrastructure. After all, someone has to drive the car that brings you your food, as well. And in reality, most AI is operated or informed directly or indirectly by actual people.

That those drivers are in South America operating multiple vehicles at a time is a technological advance over your average delivery vehicle — though it must be said that there is an unsavory air of offshoring labor to save money on wages. That said, few people shed tears over the wages earned by the Chinese assemblers who put together our smartphones and laptops, or the garbage pickers who separate your poorly sorted recycling. The global labor economy is a complicated one, and the company is making jobs in the place it was at least partly born.

Whatever the method, Kiwi has traction: it’s done more than 35,000 deliveries at an increasing rate since it started two years ago (now up to over 10,000 per month) and the model seems to have proven itself. Customers are happy, they get stuff delivered more than ever once they get the app and there are fewer and fewer incidents where a robot is kicked over or, you know, catches on fire. Notably, the founders said onstage, the community has really adopted the little vehicles, and should one overturn or be otherwise interfered with, it’s often set on its way soon after by a passerby.

Iatsenia and Chavez think the model is ready to push out to other campuses, where a similar effort will have to take place — but rather than do it themselves by raising millions and hiring staff all over the country, they’re trusting the robotics-loving student groups at other universities to help out.

For a small and low-cash startup like Kiwi, it would be risky to overextend by taking on a major round and using that to scale up. They started as robotics enthusiasts looking to bring something like this to their campus, so why can’t they help others do the same?

So the team looked at dozens of universities, narrowing them down by factors important to robotic delivery: layout, density, commercial corridors, demographics and so on. Ultimately they arrived at the following list:

  • Northern Illinois University
  • University of Oklahoma
  • Purdue University
  • Texas A&M
  • Parsons
  • Cornell
  • East Tennessee State University
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Stanford
  • Harvard
  • NYU
  • Rutgers

What they’re doing is reaching out to robotics clubs and student groups at those colleges to see who wants to take partial ownership of Kiwi administration out there. Maintenance and deployment would still be handled by Berkeley students, but the student clubs would go through a certification process and then do the local work, like a capsized bot and on-site issues with customers and restaurants.

“We are exploring several options to work with students down the road, including rev share,” Iatsenia told me. “It depends on the campus.”

So far they’ve sent 40 robots to the 12 campuses listed and will be rolling out operations as the programs move forward on their own time. If you’re not one of the unis listed, don’t worry — if this goes the way Kiwi plans, it sounds like you can expect further expansion soon.

Huawei’s P30 Pro excels on the camera front

It’s been a month since Huawei unveiled its latest flagship device — the Huawei P30 Pro. I’ve played with the P30 and P30 Pro for a few weeks and I’ve been impressed with the camera system.

The P30 Pro is the successor to the P20 Pro and features improvements across the board. It could have been a truly remarkable phone, but some issues still hold it back compared to more traditional Android phones, such as the Google Pixel 3 or OnePlus 6T.

A flagship device

The P30 Pro is by far the most premium device in the P line. It features a gigantic 6.47-inch OLED display, a small teardrop notch near the top, an integrated fingerprint sensor in the display and a lot of cameras.

Before diving into the camera system, let’s talk about the overall feel of the device. Compared to last year’s P20 Pro, the company removed the fingerprint sensor at the bottom of the screen and made the notch smaller. The fingerprint sensor doesn’t perform as well as a dedicated fingerprint sensor, but it gets the job done.

It has become hard to differentiate smartphones based on design as it looks a lot like the OnePlus 6T or the Samsung Galaxy S10. The display features a 19.5:9 aspect ratio with a 2340×1080 resolution, and it is curved around the edges.

The result is a phone with gentle curves. The industrial design is less angular, even though the top and bottom edges of the device have been flattened. Huawei uses an aluminum frame and a glass with colorful gradients on the back of the device.

Unfortunately, the curved display doesn’t work so well in practice. If you open an app with a unified white background, such as Gmail, you can see some odd-looking shadows near the edges.

Below the surface, the P30 Pro uses a Kirin 980 system-on-a-chip. Huawei’s homemade chip performs well. To be honest, smartphones have been performing well for a few years now. It’s hard to complain about performance anymore.

The phone features a headphone jack, a 40W USB-C charging port and an impressive 4,200 mAh battery. For the first time, Huawei added wireless charging to the P series (up to 15W).

You can also charge another phone or an accessory with reverse wireless charging, just like on the Samsung Galaxy S10. Unfortunately, you have to manually activate the feature in the settings every time you want to use it.

Huawei has also removed the speaker grill at the top of the display. The company now vibrates the screen in order to turn the screen into a tiny speaker for your calls. In my experience, it works well.

While the phone ships with Android Pie, Huawei still puts a lot of software customization with its EMUI user interface. There are a dozen useless Huawei apps that probably make sense in China, but don’t necessarily need to be there if you use Google apps.

For instance, the HiCare app keeps sending me notifications. The onboarding process is also quite confusing as some screens refer to Huawei features while others refer to standard Android features. It definitely won’t be a good experience for non tech-savvy people.


(P30 Pro on the left, P30 on the right)

Four cameras to rule them all

The P20 Pro already had some great camera sensors and paved the way for night photos in recent Android devices. The P30 Pro camera system can be summed up in two words — more and better.

The P30 Pro now features not one, not two, not three but f-o-u-r sensors on the back of the device.

  • The main camera is a 40 MP 27mm sensor with an f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization.
  • There’s a 20 MP ultra-wide angle lens (16mm) with an f/2.2 aperture.
  • The 8 MP telephoto lens provides nearly 5x optical zoom compared to the main lens (125mm) with an f/3.4 aperture and optical image stabilization.
  • There’s a new time-of-flight sensor below the flash of the P30 Pro. The phone projects infrared light and captures the reflection with this new sensor.

It has become a sort of a meme already — yes, the zoom works incredibly well on the P30 Pro. In addition to packing a lot of megapixels in the main sensor, the company added a telephoto lens with a periscope design. The sensor features a mirror to beam the light at a right angle and put more layers of glass in the sensor without making the phone too thick.

The company also combines the main camera sensor with the telephoto sensor to let you capture photos with a 10x zoom with a hybrid digital-optical zoom.

Here’s a photo series with the wide angle lens, the normal lens, a 5x zoom and a 10x zoom:

And it works incredibly well in daylight. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use the telephoto lens at night as it doesn’t perform as well as the main camera.

In addition to hardware improvements, Huawei has also worked on the algorithms that process your shots. Night mode performs incredibly well. You just have to hold your phone for 8 seconds so that it can capture as much light as possible. Here’s what it looks like in a completely dark room vs. an iPhone X:

Huawei has also improved HDR processing and portrait photos. That new time-of-flight sensor works well when it comes to distinguishing a face from the background for instance.

Once again, Huawei is a bit too heavy-handed with post-processing. If you use your camera with the Master AI setting, colors are too saturated. The grass appears much greener than it is in reality. Skin smoothing with the selfie camera still feels weird too. The phone also aggressively smoothes surfaces on dark shots.

When you pick a smartphone brand, you also pick a certain photography style. I’m not a fan of saturated photos, so Huawei’s bias toward unnatural colors doesn’t work in my favor.

But if you like extremely vivid shots with insanely good sensors the P30 Pro is for you. That array of lenses opens up a lot of possibilities and gives you more flexibility.

Fine prints

The P30 Pro isn’t available in the U.S. But the company has already covered the streets of major European cities with P30 Pro ads. It costs €999 ($1,130) for 128GB of storage — there are more expensive options with more storage.

Huawei also unveiled a smaller device — the P30. It’s always interesting to look at the compromises of the more affordable model.

On that front, there’s a lot to like about the P30. For €799 ($900) with 128GB, you get a solid phone. It has a 6.1-inch OLED display and shares a lot of specifications with its bigger version.

The P30 features the same system-on-a-chip, the same teardrop notch, the same fingerprint sensor in the display, the same screen resolution. Surprisingly, the P30 Pro doesn’t have a headphone jack while the P30 has one.

There are some things you won’t find on the P30, such as wireless charging or the curved display. While the edges of the device are slightly curved, the display itself is completely flat. And I think it looks better.

Cameras are slightly worse on the P30, and you won’t be able to zoom in as aggressively. Here’s the full rundown:

  • A 40 MP main sensor with an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization.
  • A 16 MP ultra-wide angle lens with an f/2.2 aperture.
  • An 8 MP telephoto lens that should provide 3x optical zoom.
  • No time-of-flight sensor.

In the end, it really depends on what you’re looking for. The P30 Pro definitely has the best cameras of the P series. But the P30 is also an attractive phone for those looking for a smaller device.

Huawei has once again pushed the limits of what you can pack in a smartphone when it comes to cameras. While iOS and Android are more mature than ever, it’s fascinating to see that hardware improvements are not slowing down.

Xbox One does away with discs in new $249 All-Digital Edition

Discs! What are they good for? Well, they’re nice if you don’t want to be tied to an online-only ecosystem. But if you don’t mind that, Microsoft’s latest Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” might be for you. With no slots to speak of, the console is limited to downloading games to its drive — which is how we’ve been doing it on PC for quite some time.

Announced during today’s “Inside Xbox” video presentation, the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition — honestly, why not just give it a different letter? — is identical to the existing One S except for, of course, not having a disc slot in the front.

The Xbox One X (left) and S (center) are missing this valuable feature exclusive to the All-Digital Edition (right)

The impact of the news was lessened somewhat by Sony’s strategically timed tease of its next-generation console, revealing little — but enough to get gamers talking on a day Microsoft would have preferred was about its game ecosystem. But to return to the disc-free Xbox.

“We’re not looking to push customers toward digital,” explained Microsoft’s Jeff Gattis in a press release. “It’s about meeting the needs of customers that are digital natives that prefer digital-based media. Given this is the first product of its kind, it will teach us things we don’t already know about customer preferences around digital and will allow us to refine those experiences in the future. We see this as a step forward in extending our offerings beyond the core console gamer.”

The CPU and GPU are the same, RAM is the same, everything is the same. Even, unfortunately, the hard drive: a single lonely terabyte (imagine saying that a few years ago) that could fill up fast if every game has to be downloaded in full rather than loaded from disc.

It’s also the exact same shape and size as the S, which seems like a missed opportunity — they couldn’t make it a little smaller or thinner after taking out the whole Blu-ray assembly? Well, at least the original is a nice-looking little box to begin with. (“Changes that affect the form of a console can be complex and costly,” said Gattis.)

At $249 it’s $50 cheaper than the disc-using edition, and comes with copies of Sea of Thieves, Minecraft and Forza Horizon 3. That’s a pretty decent value, I’d say. If you’re looking to break into the Xbox ecosystem and don’t want to clutter your place with a bunch of discs and cases, this is a nice option. Sea of Thieves had kind of a weak start but has grown quite a bit, FH3 is supposed to be solid and Minecraft is of course Minecraft.

You may also want to spring for the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service, which combines Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass — meaning you get the usual online benefits as well as access to the growing Game Pass library. There’s enough there now that, with the games you get in the box, you shouldn’t have to buy much of anything until whatever Microsoft announces at E3 comes out. (There’s even a special offer for three months of Game Pass for a buck to get you started.)

You can pre-order the All-Digital Edition (which really should have been called the Xbox One D) now, and it should ship and be available at retailers starting May 7.