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May 5, 2014

BlackBerry 10.3’s UI to Introduce “Signature Action”

Canadian mobile phone maker BlackBerry has long confirmed the upcoming availability of a new flavor of its BlackBerry 10 operating system, in the form of BlackBerry 10.3, and some more info on what it might have to offer has been provided today.

Apparently, the upcoming OS flavor will feature a certain “Signature Action” on the user interface, which translates into highlighting most used actions on the platform. The info comes from BlackBerry’s Michael Clewley, who posted info on this on his BBM Channel (PIN C00014277), as N4BB reports. “Basically we’ve pulled out the most used action to the center and highlighted it. Using a “Classic BlackBerry Blue” color to highlight the action more,” he said.

For those out of the loop, we should note that BlackBerry 10.3 has been already confirmed to arrive on devices before the end of this year, despite the fact that no specific release date for it has been offered as of now. Previously, the upcoming platform release was also discovered to arrive on devices with a new Red accent on the UI, yet it remains to be seen what other changes the Canadian handset vendor has in store for its users, so keep an eye on this space for additional details on the matter.

BlackBerry 10.3 to come with “Signature Action”
Image credits to N4BB

Xiaomi Mi3S with 2.5GHz Quad-Core CPU, 3GB of RAM Launching on May 15

Chinese company Xiaomi is expected to introduce a new high-end Android smartphone next week in Beijing, China. The company has recently confirmed that it will announce new products on May 15, so there’s a chance that Xiaomi will launch more than one device.

Dubbed Mi3S, the next Xiaomi flagship smartphone leaked several hours before the Chinese company confirmed the press event in Beijing, which is why we suspect that this is one of the devices to be announced next week. Xiaomi did not unveil any details on the Mi3S, but rumors coming from sources close to the matter claim that the smartphone will be equipped with Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5GHz. In addition, the smartphone will pack no less than 3GB of RAM and 16G of internal memory. There’s no mention of microSD card slot for storage expansion, but we will know for sure when the smartphone goes official.

On the back, Xiaomi Mi3S is said to boast an impressive 13-megapixel photo snapper with autofocus, LED flash and full HD (1080p) video recording, while in the front, the smartphone is expected to be equipped with either a 5- or an 8-megapixel secondary camera. Last but not least, the Mi3S will ship with Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system out of the box with MIUI on top, and will probably be available for purchase for as low as $320 (€230) outright.

Xiaomi press event invitation
Image credits to Xiaomi

BlackBerry Might Turn BBM into Skype-Like VoIP Service

BlackBerry’s BBM is one of the most popular products that the company is offering at the moment, with tens of millions of people already enjoying its capabilities on their devices, and it seems that the vendor is determined to grow the service into something more.

According to a recent report coming from N4BB, it would not come as a surprise if the company actually went for a Skype-like approach with the BlackBerry Messenger, turning it into a VoIP service. In fact, David Proulx, BlackBerry’s Senior Director of BBM Business Development, actually confirmed that this was one possibility that the Canadian vendor was taking into consideration, although no specific plans on the matter have been laid down as of now. According to him, BlackBerry is looking into various means of monetization when it comes to BBM, and Skype is indeed one of them, though it is not the only one. “We are still investing in the organic elements that drive users. Any monetization is driven by large user base. Our idea is to take BBM to as many end-points as possible,” he said. At the moment, the BlackBerry messenger is available on mobile devices running under Android, BlackBerry and iOS, but it should become available for Windows Phone as well in the not-too-distant future.

Basically, BlackBerry is looking to transform BBM into a tool that can be used by any user to stay in touch with all of their friends. “Apart from Android and iOS, the company plans to introduce a Windows mobile version within the next three months. We introduced support for the Gingerbread. We also introduced relationship with Nokia. We are already on Nokia X,” David Proulx said. He also unveiled that BBM was enjoying around 85 million active users each month at the time, and that the service also had over 113 million registered users. Moreover, BBM had seen a significant increase since its official release on Android and iOS, Proulx said. BlackBerry will continue to expand the number of features available for its users on BBM, with functionalities such as Shop, Channels, and eventually video set to arrive on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

Basically, the company is keeping its options open when it comes to the mobile service, so as to ensure that its multi-pronged strategy will pay off. When monetization is involved, however, it will all be done without impacting the user experience. “We are not taking one particular approach. Instead we are taking a portfolio approach in terms of commercialization. This provides us with an avenue to either accelerate or decelerate according to our requirement,” David Proulx also said. What remains to be seen is whether turning BBM into a VoIP service similar to Skype will indeed be one approach that BlackBerry will adopt soon.

BlackBerry's BBM could become a VoIP service
Image credits to BlackBerry

ASUS' New Z97 and H97 Motherboards Ship with SATA Express

We've already taken a look at the three ROG Z97 motherboards from ASUS, but those aren't the only mainboards that the company has prepared. Indeed, the company has introduced quite a few more mainboards, not all of them designed with the Z97 chipset.

You see, the Z97 chipset is made for people who want to eventually get a CPU they can upgrade, like the upcoming Devil's Canyon Core-series bearing the K suffix. The H97 chipset doesn't support overclocking (or isn't supposed to) and is a bit less rich in “embellishments.” ASUS still implemented a bunch of assets that aren't exactly “normal” for platforms of this sort. Though it's a pretty necessary thing really. After all, the company had to differentiate its products from those of rival companies out there. Anyway, one of the core assets of its Z97 and H97 motherboards, there is the 5-Way Optimization technology, consisting of a TurboV Processing Unit (TPU, to boost CPU performance), Energy Processing Unit (EPU, to enhance energy efficiency) and DIGI+ Power Control (better overall system performance). A Turbo App is used to manage network and audio settings for every application, while Fan Xpert 3 customizes fan speed, voltage, etc. The new motherboards have many onboard thermal sensors you see, and can reduce fan speed to below default minimums.

All in all, you could overclock an Intel Core i7-4770K processor by 20% via 5-Way Optimization, while still balancing cooling effectiveness and silence, all the while prioritizing game network access (good for online MMOs and other mutiplayers). The ASUS 5X Protection technology is another thing to note, consisting of DIGI+ VRM, DRAM overcurrent protection, ESD Guards, a corrosion-resistant stainless steel back I/O panel, and 5K-hr solid state capacitors. ASUS subjects all motherboards to 7,000 hours of physical testing (humidity and temperature tests, insertion and thermal-shock testing, power on/off, power consumption) and up to 24-hours of aging tests.

Furthermore, ASUS added Crystal Sound 2 technology, with Onboard physical shielding, separate layers for left and right channels, and Japanese-made audio capacitors plus other premium components, to heighten clarity and fidelity of sound. Other features include ASUS HomeCloud (access the PC from anywhere) and, for some Z97 platforms, the ASUS NFC Express 2 and Wireless Charger accessories. BFC Express 2 permits pairing PCs with smart devices (even to log to a PC or pick up a film clip), while the charger lets any Qi-compatible phone/tablet recover energy just from sitting on the charge pad. Keep an eye on your local retailer for the new ASUS Z97 and H97 motherboards. They should start to appear soon, specs and all. Hopefully, all these extra “features” don't make them too needlessly expensive. SATA Express is among the most important, enabling up to 800 MB/s on SSDs (wel, SSD RAID arrays anyway).

ASUS H97 Motherboard

ASUS Z79 Pro WiFi Motherboard
Image credits to ASUS

ASUS Releases Three ROG Z97 Gaming Motherboards for Intel Devil's Canyon CPUs

The LGA 1150 socket has been showing up on pretty much every Intel-ready motherboard of this year, and the latest set of mainboards from ASUS is no exception. And it's a pretty powerful set too.

We are, of course, referring to the new Republic of Gamers motherboards, specifically the Maximus VII Gene mATX, Maximus VII Hero ATX, and the new Maximus VII Ranger ATX. Their names say what form factor they use: the first of the series is a micro-ATX mainboard, while the other two are full-sized ATX models. It's a pretty standard move, this, to release at least two platforms, covering the two most popular motherboard types in the world. The trend was followed for the other ASUS motherboard product releases of the past couple of days, but we'll see to those separately, later. We won't really go into too much detail as far as technical specifications go. Not in the traditional sense. The photo gallery should show easily enough how many PCI Express/memory slots and storage/I/O connectors there are.

Instead, we'll specify the things that you would be hard-pressed to find, starting with the discrete audio cards included in the product boxes. The ROG Maximus VII Hero and Ranger come with SupremeFX 2014, while Maximus VII Gene gets the SupremeFX Impact II discrete audio card. Electromagnetic interference (EMI) should be minimal thanks to the isolation technologies used in their making, while the premium ELNA audio capacitors and 8-channel gold-plated audio output ports make the integrated audio technology as good as that of add-in adapters. Another asset is the support for M.2 (PCI Express x2) solid-state drives, also known as NGFF (next generation form factor). They're like DDR3 DIMM modules but with the connector on one of the narrow sides. The data transfer is of up to 10 Gbps.

UEFI BIOS is another advantage, along with KeyBot (uses a dedicated USB socket to turn normal keyboards into “smart” ones with one-click smart login, instant shortcuts and commands, macros, etc.). Then there's the Sonic SenseAmp, which detects headphone impedance and automatically adjusts the built-in amp. Finally, the Sonic SoundStage button optimizes audio settings for FPS, racing, combat and sport games. The new ROG motherboards from ASUS ship with RJ45 LAN ports with LANGuard (better throughput with up to 1.3 times the surge protection and 1.9 times the static electricity tolerance of traditional boards) and black nickel processor socket covers with improved circuit layouts.

The ASUS Maximus VII motherboards ship in a black and red color scheme and use the upgraded ROG UEFI BIOS to detect ASUS graphics cards, plus the Secure Erase function to wipe out SSD data and restore factory speeds (SSDs get slower over time, even with TRIM active).

ASUS Maximus VII Hero

ASUS Maximus VII Gene

ASUS Maximus VII Ranger
Image credits to ASUS

PowerColor Radeon R9 295 X2 Devil13 Dual-GPU Graphics Card Needs Four 8-Pin Power Ports

The new dual-GPU graphics card from Advanced Micro Devices, called Radeon R9 295 X2, has a pair of 8-pin PCI Express power inputs, but PowerColor decided they were not enough, so it set about customizing the thing. Massively.

It's reasonably safe to say that the PowerColor board, called PowerColor Radeon R9 295X2 Devil13, is the first board that needs so many 8-pin power connectors. Although saying it “needs” them all might be something of a stretch, considering that the card should still be able to work on the energy supplied by a single pair. However, PowerColor wasn't thinking of just the base specifications of the board. It has taken into account the people who like to overclock the living lights out of their hardware. And the 1% of the GPU market with the needed funds and disposition to buy video cards of this caliber mostly have overclocking tendencies anyway. Still, PowerColor added another pair of 8-pin ports, going above and beyond the call of duty (so to speak). Normally, even three ports are considered overkill, but the AMD OEM didn't let that stop it.

So here it is, the Radeon R9 295X2 Devil13, which not only can channel more energy than any video card on the market, but takes up three PCI Express slots as well. The reference adapter is a dual-slot card. That said, PowerColor's board is not thick only on the side of the PCB that holds the two Hawaii XT graphics processing units. The product also happens to use a backplate. All in all, the PowerColor Radeon R9 295X2 Devil13 might be one of, if not the, thickest video card out there right now. Though saying it's “out there” isn't altogether accurate, since the product isn't up for sale anywhere that we know of, not at this stage. It's coming though, with its 5,760 stream processors, 8 GB of GDDR5 VRAM and 1,024 memory interface (512 bits for each GPU's 4 GB).

Sadly, the clock speeds of the GPUs and VRAM haven't been revealed. PowerColor could factory overclock them, but it could also let them work normally, leaving overclocking exclusively to the buyer. On that note, here are the standard parameters, as AMD dictated them: 1018 MHz for the Hawaii XT GPUs, 5 GHz for the VRAM, 320 GB/s x2 bandwidth, 5,733 GFLOPS x2 floating-point performance, and five video ports (dual-link DVI and four mini-DisplayPort 1.2 connectors). Obviously, the PowerColor Radeon R9 295X2 Devil13 will cost more than $1,500 / €1,500. Image gallery below, click for larger image.

PowerColor Radeon R9 295X2 Devil13
Image credits to VideoCardz

LG G3 Leaks in More Press Renders: Black, White and Colorful

LG’s next flagship Android smartphone, the G3, has recently been confirmed to go official on May 27, but the device is likely to hit shelves only next month.

There have been quite a few leaks showing the LG G3 in live pictures, but thanks to @evleaks, we now have the chance to see some press renders of the high-end smartphone. Three images showing the alleged LG G3 have recently been published online and while two of them are simply showing the smartphone in both white and black colors, the third one has the smartphone captured with the display on. Obviously, it’s just a photoshopped image merged with the black version of the LG G3, but at least we now have an idea of what the smartphone may look like with the screen lit.

LG G3 will ship with Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system out of the box, as well as the latest version of LG UI. The latter leaked a few weeks ago and showed that the South Korean company planned to redesign its entire UI and make it flatter. Apart from the press renders, no additional details on the phone’s specs have been leaked, but we already know most of LG G3’s hardware and software configuration.

Images credits to @evleaks

Google to Finally Cut Down on Android Bloatware with the Silver Series Phones

The days of the popular Nexus series of smartphones appear to be numbered as the sixth and the last handset launched as part of it is nearing its release, though this will not mark the end of Google phones out there.

Nexus 6 was rumored a while ago to be the last device in the lineup, and all returned to the headlines earlier this week, when a report coming from The Information suggested that the Nexus family would be replaced with a new series of smartphones, called Silver. These phones, supposedly set to arrive on the market as soon as the next year, are expected to provide users with exactly the same experience that Nexus and Google Play Edition devices can offer at the moment and to feature high-end hardware capabilities. Basically, it appears that the Mountain View-based Internet giant is transforming the two acclaimed families of smartphones into something new, in an attempt to bring down the Apple iPhone and the increasingly popular Galaxy series from Samsung. However, there's more than that, and the launch of this Silver lineup could actually prove to be Google's effort to cut down on the bloatware that manufacturers currently put on their devices out of the box.

The Nexus series of smartphones has attracted millions to its side over the years courtesy of two main reasons. One of them is the low price that handsets with the Nexus name has featured, and the other is the pure Android experience that they have had to offer. Building on the popularity of these phones, Google then decided to take things a step forward with the launch of Google Play Edition devices, which were nothing else than flagship handsets from various makers stripped down of bloatware. While manufacturers call all of the custom applications and features loaded on top of their handsets unique experiences, many users out there aren't so attracted to these customizations and would rather go without them. 

Phones without bloat applications are preferred.

In fact, a recent report has suggested that most of the applications that Samsung pre-loads on its Android devices are never used, despite the fact that the company is pushing them to all of the phones that can support them. However, even if unused, these apps cannot usually be removed from devices, which means that they will remain there until either the phone or the OS loaded on it gets replaced. The second scenario usually involves rooting the handset and loading a custom ROM on it. Many Android users have already decided to walk this road, and the popularity that software such as CyanogenMod has seen over the years proves it. Such a custom ROM might not be very easy to install, but it will offer an experience similar to that of the stock Android platform, and it might worth the trouble. Soon, the first smartphone in the world to have been designed specifically for the CyanogenMod platform will arrive on shelves in the form of OnePlus One, offering not only a bloat-free experience, but also great performance at a lower price tag.

Basically, this device will be some sort of Nexus that will offer near-stock Android looks and experiences, save for the lack of specific applications that wear Google's signature. Installing them won't be hard, which might turn OnePlus One into a real success at least among enthusiasts. The upcoming Silver series of devices from Google might prove to be very similar to Nexus and Google Play Edition handsets, but it also sounds like a CyanogenMod-based OnePlus One to me. Microsoft's Windows Phone also comes to mind, since it doesn't allow manufacturers to customize it either. The first and foremost idea behind the new lineup is to reduce the amount of custom applications that manufacturers load on their devices, which could significantly alter the actual experience that users receive. More bloat on a smartphone means less internal memory for people to take advantage of, possible performance issues due to continuously running processes, and less freedom for users.

Of all the Android phones I have had the chance to put my hands on over the past five years, those with the stock experience appealed the most to me, although some of the user interfaces that HTC, Samsung or Sony came up with for their devices were somehow impressive as well. In fact, while I have had little to complain about when it comes to the software on my Galaxy Nexus over the past two and a half years, most of my friends on Android have had issues with the custom, non-Google apps present on their phones right from the start. I do believe that offering such applications through the Google Play Store and allowing users to choose on whether they actually want to download and install them – in the event they need the functionality they have to offer – would be a much better approach for handset vendors out there. Moving forth, however, Google is said to plan on significantly restricting the number of apps that can be loaded by makers on new handsets, which will result in a consistent experience across all Android Silver devices. 

High-end specs will help as well.

Moreover, these phones are said to be high-end products, which means that they will indeed be able to take on existing flagship devices out there, including the Apple iPhone, something that the aforementioned OnePlus One might also be capable of doing. The handset comes not only with the software advantage, but it also features top-of-the-line hardware specifications inside and is priced well below flagship models today. It will be half of what it costs when coming out in June. Overall, the Silver series of phones, should it ever come to the market – and judging by the fact that a Nexus 7 smartphone cannot be launched, since a tablet with this name already exists –, it looks like a winner. The Android platform might be at the top at the moment but is showing signs of weakness, perhaps due to the wide variety of devices and experiences, and Google needs to do something about that fast, that's for sure. However, reducing the bloatware on Android devices in the Silver lineup might actually be only the first step that Google will be taking towards increasing its control over the platform.

Said report claimed that the company was looking to include in the family phones that adhered to a specific set of rules, and it would not come as a surprise if these handsets came with minimum hardware specifications as well. Overall, this should prove a great thing for end users, though what remains to be seen is whether Android Silver phones will also be able to compete with their rivals when prices are involved. At the moment, these devices appear to be nothing more than Google Play Edition smartphones in this regard: high-end phones with a stock Android on top but with high price tags. Should the Silver series be indeed meant to replace the Nexus program, it would certainly need to appeal in terms of cost as well. And selling top-rated phones at lower prices has always proved a great thing for business.

Less bloatware coming to Android with Google's Silver series
Image credits to Google

First HTC One Mini 2 Press Render Leaks

HTC fans rejoice, as the first press image of the so-called One Mini 2 is here. The smartphone that's rumored to arrive later this month, the mini version of HTC One M8 seems to feature the same aluminum chassis.

The One Mini 2 does not come with dual-camera on the back, instead HTC is said to pack the smartphone with a 13-megapixel rear-facing photo snapper and secondary camera in the front. It's unclear whether or not the camera on the back is an UltraPixel one or just an ordinary 13-megapixel shutter. However, courtesy of @evleaks, we do know that the smartphone will be available in multiple colors, such as gold, gunmetal, white and silver. We can safely assume that the HTC One Mini 2 will ship with Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system out of the box, along with Sense 6.0 UI. In addition, the smartphone is rumored to pack a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and 1GB of RAM.

Furthermore, the One Mini 2 might arrive with a 4.5-inch HD (720p) capacitive touchscreen display and 16GB of internal memory. We suspect that the smartphone will also offer a microSD card slot for memory expansion. Stay tuned for more updates on the One Mini 2’s release and price tag.

HTC One Mini 2
Image credits to @evleaks

HTC One M8 Unlocked and Developer Edition Receive Extreme Power Saving Mode

More owners of HTC One M8 devices out there can now enjoy the Extreme Power Saving Mode feature that HTC designed for the device, as it has started to arrive on more phone models today.

The handset vendor has kicked off the deployment of a software update for the Unlocked and Developer Edition HTC One M8 devices, and this Extreme Power Saving Mode is the main feature packed inside it. The functionality was included in this smartphone in other markets out there, but it was not present on the phone when it landed in North America. However, it seems that HTC is finally ready to make it available for all HTC One M8 devices, after pushing it to Sprint’s version only a few weeks ago.

As TalkAndroid notes, the phone has received the same update in Canada on the network of wireless carrier Telus, yet another sign that a full rollout is planned. HTC One M8 users will receive a notification on the availability of the new update, and they will be provided with the possibility to grab it right away. Users can also manually check on the availability of the update through going to Settings > About phone > Software update.

HTC One M8
Image credits to HTC

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