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By | Tim Anderson 1st September 2016 06:30

Lenovo's tablet with a real pen, Acer's monster laptop, Samsung Galaxy S3 watch

and more Berlin IFA madness

IFA 2016 August 31st was press day one ahead of the IFA event in Berlin, which means vendors lining up to show off their latest efforts in (mainly) consumer electronics.

Acer kicked off the madness, unveiling the "world's first laptop with a curved screen," though you should think twice before letting the 8 kg Predator 21X gaming laptop anywhere near your lap.

This thing has a 21" curved 2560x1080 screen driven by dual NVIDIA GTX 1080 SLI GPUs, each with 16GB RAM, while the main board sports up to 64GB of DDR4 RAM, 7th Gen Intel Core i7, up to 4 SSDs as well as a hard drive, and five fans to keep it from melting.

Acer's Predator 21X gaming laptop

Acer's Predator 21X gaming laptop

Performance is great, apparently.

Acer also talked up the benefits of eye-tracking, built into the Predator 21X as well as several monitors. It is another input for gaming, and one example use was to increase the light on dark portions of the screen when you look in that direction.

Despite general weakness in the PC business, Acer CEO Jason Chen assured the press that thin ultrabooks are a growing market, and its engineers have taken that to heart. The Swift 7 ultrabook is just 9.98mm thick, with 13.3" screen, 7th Gen Core i5, and a claimed 9 hour battery life. It is the first laptop under 1cm according to Acer.

Lenovo: Yoga Book for Android and Windows, Moto phone with Hasselblad camera

Lenovo has announced the Yoga Book, a distinctive new take on the 2-in-1 tablet/laptop concept. This 10.1" device has a 360° hinge and measures just over 1cm thick when closed; the demo units felt small and light. What sets it apart though is that the keyboard is replaced by a smooth surface that can either light up as a virtual keyboard, or accept input from the bundled EMR (electro-magnetic resonance ) pen. In pen mode, the virtual keyboard disappears.

Another twist is that the pen includes actual ink, allowing you to write or draw on a paper notepad clipped to the device. Your input is automatically transferred to the tablet.

The processor is a quad-core 2.4 GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8550, and there is 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. The operating system is either Android 6.0, customised to support a taskbar for multi-tasking, or Windows 10. Price is €499 for the Android version or €599 for Windows 10.

The Lenovo Yoga Book showing the virtual keyboard

The Lenovo Yoga Book showing the virtual keyboard

I asked Lenovo VP Jeff Meredith, who presented the Yoga Book at the press launch, whether the device was developed initially for Android or for Windows. It was 3 years in the making, he said, and initial prototypes were Android.

The Yoga Book handles beautifully, but typing on the device is not much fun, at least for a keyboard addict like myself. There is some haptic feedback but it is still a flat hard surface and fatiguing to use. Still, many users will only do occasional typing and it is an innovative device.

Lenovo also announced several laptops, including the high-end Lenovo 910 with 4K display. This has Windows Hello support, for biometric login, but it is based only on a fingerprint reader, rather than the special camera of which Intel made great play at the 2015 IFA. A shame that few vendors are taking up the possibility of login by face recognition.

Another Lenovo announcement was a new Moto Z phone, the Play, which offers an impressive 50 hour battery life. It also supports the "Moto Mod" concept of hardware add-ons, with the star of the show being a 10x optical zoom lens created in partnership with camera specialists Hasselblad.

Hasselblad-branded add-on for Moto Z phones

Hasselblad-branded add-on for Moto Z phones

I tried the camera zoom Mod briefly and it does of course enable much higher quality zoom images. The add-on also gives the phone much of the feel of a camera, easier to grip securely than a phone on its own. However, there is no tripod mount which limits its appeal.

Another go with the Smartwatch

Samsung has launched the Galaxy Gear S3 smartwatch, and is beginning to address some of the factors that hold back this market. Among the best features of the Gear S3 are the claimed battery life of 3 to 4 days from its 380mAh battery, an always-on display, and enough on-board capability that it remains useful even if its partner phone is out of reach or out of power.

The Gear S3 has a 1.3” 360x360 display, dual core 1.0 GHz processor, runs Samsung’s own Tizen Wearable Platform 2.3.2 (not Android Wear), has 768MB RAM and 4GB storage, and supports WPC (Wireless Power Consortium) inductive charging as well as Samsung Pay contactless payments. Connectivity includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 and GPS. It is compatible with “standard 22mm watchbands,” according to Samsung’s press release.

Samsung Gear S3 Smartwatch

Samsung Gear S3 Smartwatch

At the press launch, much of Samsung's focus was on persuading us that the Gear S3 can hold its own with traditional watches. The always-on display means you can "tell time at a glance just like a traditional watch," says the press release, while the design of the Classic model is meant to have the look and feel of a "well-crafted luxury watch."

Handling the sample hardware at the launch though confirms that it is big, chunky and masculine; fine if that is your style, but not for everyone.

The key question is whether a device like the Gear S3 adds enough value to mitigate the annoyance of short battery life compared to a traditional watch. Samsung's use of Tizen rather than Android Wear has efficiency advantages, but is an obstacle for app developers. Price and availability is not yet announced.

Asus also announced a smartwatch today, the ZenWatch 3, with 1.39" 400 x 400 display and 87ppi, 512MB RAM and 4GB storage, battery life of 1-2 days, and Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor.

Asus ZenWatch 3

Asus ZenWatch 3

Again this is a chunky affair, though the advantage of Android Wear for app mitigates its shorter battery life. No wireless charging though; it has a special charging connector on the rear that is compatible only with its own charger, so make sure you remember to bring it with you. The ZenWatch 3 will be available before the end of 2016 at €229.®

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