IFA 2016 round-up

IFA, Germany’s largest annual technology show, took place at the beginning of September, with exhibitors from across the world showing off their wares to the crowds.

Smartwatches

Major tech players Samsung and Asus as well as watchmaker Fossil unveiled new smartwatches at IFA. Asus’s ZenWatch 3 (€229, UK pricing not confirmed) adopts a circular form factor unlike its predecessor, and runs on Google’s Android Wear wearable operating system. The steel device features three buttons, two of which can be customised to the user’s chosen function and an optional, detachable battery pack to extend its longevity. The 1.39-inch AMOLED display boasts a 400 x 400 resolution similar to last year’s Huawei Watch and packs Qualcomm's new dedicated wearable processor, the Snapdragon 2100, which is specifically designed for wearables. 

Fossil’s releases (starting from around £200) are the Q Wander, which is aimed at women and the Q Marshal, aimed at men. They tread a similar path to the ZenWatch, with round faces and a metal construction, but they feature a small cut out at the bottom of the screen, which gives them a ‘flat-tyre’ look. The watches also feature the Snapdragon 2100 and smaller lugs than the ZenWatch, tapering to the straps.

Samsung’s new iteration, the Gear S3, boasts full waterproofing for the first time and uses its own OS based on its in-house ‘Tizen’ platform instead of Android Wear. The watch’s stainless steel rim can be twisted in a circular motion in order to navigate the operating system and control elements such as volume. The touchscreen is also protected by the recently revealed Gorilla Glass SR+ which is claimed to be more damage-resistant than previous versions.

Smartphones

Sony, Huawei and HTC announced their next line of smartphones at IFA. Sony revealed its new Xperia phones, the XZ and the X Compact. The XZ (£549) features a 5.2 inch full HD display screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, fingerprint sensor, 23mp camera, 3GB of RAM and either 32GB or 64GB of storage. The X Compact (£379) is a smaller variant with a cheaper processor, the Snapdragon 650, a plastic (rather than metal) build and most significantly, a smaller 4.6 inch 720p screen. While largely unremarkable in the crowded Android market, few other phones have achieved the small size of the Compact while maintaining relatively high-end specs.

Meanwhile, Huawei unveiled two mid-range smartphones, the 5-inch Nova and the 5.5-inch Nova Plus (€399 and €429 respectively, UK pricing not confirmed). Both phones have full HD screens and are available in three irritatingly named colours: ‘Prestige Gold’, ‘Mystic Silver’ and ‘Titanium Grey’. They will feature a slightly underpowered Snapdragon 625 processor that doesn’t quite match up to the Snapdragon 820 featured in most flagships, although the price makes up for this. They both feature solid aluminium casings. In particular, the Nova bears a striking resemblance to Google’s Nexus 6P from last year (that was also made by Huawei). The new phones see Huawei rapidly expanding its line up, as it just released its cut price Honor 8 in August and the more premium P9 and P9 Plus in May. 

HTC also unveiled its iPhone-like One A9S, an underwhelming five-inch device with a 720p LCD display, a MediaTek Helio P10 processor and two or three GB of RAM. The metal body looks sturdy, although the specifications leave something to be desired, unless it is significantly cheaper than phones from other manufacturers (price still yet to be confirmed).

Other releases

Lenovo was on hand to show off its Yoga Book, a tablet/laptop hybrid with a keyboard that doubles as a drawing pad. The device will come in three variants running Windows 10, Android and Chrome OS starting from £449. The 10-inch device runs on an Intel Atom x5 CPU with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage in a metal body. Its standout feature is that its changeling keyboard can be deactivated with a touch of button, transforming it into a freeform writing pad for artistic purposes or handwriting. When turned on, the keyboard’s backlights activate to make the keys visible, while haptic feedback emulates the feel of a real keyboard since the panel itself is completely flat. When off, the device can recognise finger input. It can also sense input from the ‘Real Pen’, an aptly named pen that contains ink, allowing users to place a sheet of paper over the pad so the drawing can be reproduced both physically and digitally on the device simultaneously.

Elsewhere, a new HDMI mode was announced for USB C ports that will allow modern smartphones and other recent devices featuring the relatively new port to directly output onto displays with HDMI inputs, eschewing the need for a bulky adapter.

Home appliances company Haier also announced a ‘double-drum’ washing machine that both washes and dries clothes at the same time. It has a combined 12kg capacity and clothes can be separated by colour according to the drum. Standing at a relatively meagre 128 centimeters tall, the Duo can be controlled with a digital touchscreen that sits above the top drum. Pricing information has yet to be announced.

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