Tag Archives: Smartphones

Do You Need A 2K Display on your Smartphone?

One of the biggest selling points of flagship smartphones is their display resolution. A high resolution allows for better rendering of images and text on the screen and enhances the overall viewing pleasure. While grainy displays have become a thing of the past, with even sub $100 smartphones touting qHD and HD displays, the question now is, how much is too much.

Phone manufacturers are constantly striving to equip their devices with the sharpest displays, outperforming rivals in terms of clarity and accuracy of color reproduction. While shopping for a new smartphone, you might have come across terms like retina, HD, 2K and 4K displays. However, post a certain figure, it is doubtful if there is any discernible improvement in the clarity.

When launching the iPhone 4, Apple had claimed that a resolution of 960×640 pixels on a 3.5″ screen (translating to 326 pixels per inch) was as much as a normal human eye could discern when viewing from a distance of 9″. Going by that statement, a screen resolution north of 326 ppi would not cause any tangible improvement in clarity, while increasing production costs. Though iPhones have bigger screens now, their ppi remains constant at 326, whereas some other manufacturers have been pushing increasingly higher resolution screens on their latest releases. Most smartphones launched in the past year by tech giants like Samsung, LG and newcomer Oppo have panels with pixel densities of and above 415. The first smartphone to feature a 2K display was the Xplay 3S, launched by Vivo with a 6″ screen that sported 491 ppi. Soon after, Oppo launched the Find 7 smartphone, also with a 2K display of 2560×1440 or an astronomical 538 ppi. These figures are way ahead of retina displays, but in case of smartphone displays, after a certain point, more might not always be merrier.

Of course, the screen size has a huge role in determining how many pixels need to be packed in per square inch for delivering the perfect viewing experience. Moreover, a lot depends on the distance at which the screen is kept from the eyes, as closer viewing distances mean that more pixels can be resolved by the human eye. However, in no way is the average smartphone user going to be able to appreciate the difference between say, a 350- and a 500-ppi display. Stuffing more pixels per inch into an LCD panel is only more taxing on the battery. Therefore, an ultra-high resolution 2K display needs to be powered by a bigger battery as well, along with a superfast CPU to provide juice for all those extra pixels.

A 2K display, or the absence of it, should not be the only factor to consider when looking for a new smartphone. While it does make for a great viewing experience, it is more than likely a slightly less ppi count will not cause any noticeable decrease in clarity. It is a good feature to have on a smartphone to boast about, but it comes at the cost of battery life and processing speed.

Flexible Aluminum Battery for Smartphones

Would you be interested in a battery that takes only a second to charge up and is flexible enough to wrap around your smartphone? While manufacturers would be more interested in the flexibility feature, most users will welcome the quick charging time. At Stanford University, researchers claim to have developed such a battery from cheap, plentiful materials. It is flexible and charges up very fast as well.

The new aluminum battery has a foil anode made of flexible aluminum, a cathode of graphite foam and an electrolyte of liquid salt. Researchers at the Stanford University say they discovered this aluminum and graphite battery quite by accident, but have worked on their discovery to improve its performance, especially the graphite cathode part.

Compared to a lithium-ion battery, the aluminum battery with its porous graphite cathode offers only one-third the capacity at a terminal voltage of 2.5V. Therefore, two aluminum batteries must be used in series to power most devices requiring 5V. However, the aluminum battery has a property that gives it an edge over its lithium-ion rival – a very high Coulombic efficiency of above 95%. Researchers are currently engaged in optimizing the capacity and other desirable qualities to match or surpass those of lithium-ion batteries.

The aluminum battery uses a liquid electrolyte, making it cheap and nonflammable. This is an ionic liquid made by mixing two solid precursors – EMIC and AlCl3, where EMIC stands for 1-ethyl-3-methyl-imidazolium chloride and AlCl3 is aluminum chloride. While both compounds are individually solid, mixing them significantly lowers the melting point of the mixture so that it remains a liquid at room temperatures. The liquid electrolyte and the porous graphite electrode contribute to the super-fast recharging time, and the amount of current the aluminum battery can deliver.

The porous graphite foam cathode presents a large surface area, which is the governing factor for accessing the electrolyte. While charging, the large surface area presents a low energy barrier to the process of intercalation. The team expects the flexibility of the battery will be useful to manufacturers making flexible smartphones in the future.

The main attraction of the aluminum battery as compared to the lithium-ion batteries currently available is its capability of fast recharge. In fact, even the prototype reached 7.5 times the rate of charging of a commercial lithium-ion battery. Typically, lithium-ion batteries loose significant capacity after they have reached about 1000 recharge cycles. In comparison, an aluminum battery is capable of withstanding more than 7500 charges without any loss of capacity.

That makes the aluminum battery suitable for large installations such as storing solar energy during the day for release at night on the grid. These batteries are a perfect replacement for the lithium-ion batteries that occasionally burst into flames and for alkaline batteries that are bad for the environment. According to the researchers, even if someone were to drill through an aluminum battery, it will not catch fire.

At present, the only drawback is the terminal voltage. However, the researchers are optimistic that with a better cathode material, the aluminum battery can be made into a more powerful commercial battery.

Expect These Smartphone Innovations In The Near Future

Things are moving very rapidly in the smartphone arena. The phone you buy today after so many considerations and searches on the web, loses its new shine the very next day – some other phone has better features at a lower price. Just as for desktops, new processors for smartphones are entering the market with ever-increasing number of cores inside them. Memory prices are falling, so 2GB RAM is now a norm rather than a feature.

Today’s top-of-the-line smartphones are powered by processors from MediaTek, Qualcomm, NVidia or Samsung – leaving aside the iPhones. The processor is the veritable backbone of a smartphone, coupled with a GPU, which handles the graphics. Computational capabilities of a powerful processor such as the Snapdragon 805, from Qualcomm, offers enhanced abilities such as the virtual reality environment on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4.

If you thought that virtual reality was the last frontier to be reached, well, just wait for the Snapdragon 810 as this is expected to take things even further up. Qualcomm has already demonstrated some of the new features that it will bring into smartphones this new year.

Although some smartphones already have Quad HD displays of 2560 x 1440 resolution, the new Snapdragon 810 will allow wireless streaming of 4K video to a TV with just a few taps. If your TV is capable of displaying the 4096 x 2160 resolution, the new phone will be capable of moving 4K video to your TV. The problem is that there are not enough sources for 4K videos at present.

However, Qualcomm has an answer for that as well. Most smartphones with 8MP cameras are already capable of shooting 4K videos. Qualcomm estimates that by 2018, there will be over 500 million devices with 4K-capability. The new Snapdragon 810 chip is going to make the smartphone even smarter. It will let the tiny camera on the smartphone simulate the zoom power that only a DSLR camera lens enjoys right now.

Core Photonics is making a new type of camera with the combined capabilities of a wide-angle as well as a fixed telephoto lens that can magnify the image by a factor of three. The advanced computing power of Snapdragon 810 can combine the two images and create a better picture than what a DSLR camera can produce at low zoom levels.

For example, in a practical demonstration by Core Photonics, a normal DSLR camera aimed at a peanut cartoon produced only a blurred image with illegible text. However, with the new camera, not only was the cartoon crisply displayed, the text was also readable, although it was set to only 8x zoom.

Smartphones can record video, but they cannot select the audio from an individual. The Qualcomm processor will have directional audio capabilities, allowing the user to record an individual voice selectively in a room full of loud sounds. Therefore, when you are filming a single person, you can instruct your phone to pick up only his or her voice and nothing else.

Such a powerful processor as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 will make a tablet as powerful as a PC is today, when supplemented with a monitor, keyboard and mouse – all connected without wires.

Wireless charging – what’s new?

The convenience of having your mobile charged wirelessly, while you sip coffee at the corner shop, is now fast approaching reality with passing time. Wireless charging is now entering a phase where manufacturers are turning up the power so that it is possible to charge wirelessly handheld medical equipment, tablets and larger phablets. For example, a new set of receivers and transmitters from Freescale can now handle up to 15W. These chips use the Qi technology that the Wireless Power Consortium has defined.

According to the MCU group director of global marketing and business development at Freescale, the latest mobile products are offering a broader range of features. As compared to earlier, current products have bigger form factors and improved functionalities, necessitating larger batteries. Accordingly, wireless charging systems must also upgrade to accommodate the larger power requirements and faster recharge speeds.

Freescale’s transmitter chips – WCT1012/WCT1111 – are available as standard and premium versions. Together with the receiver chip – WPR1516 – Freescale now offers wireless charging system for mobile and other devices with bigger batteries. Compared to their 5W predecessors, the new chipsets from Freescale can recharge more than three times faster.

The typical 5W charging system produces one ampere of current, allowing charging to be completed in one hour. The new chips handle 15W and theoretically, should cut down the charging time by a third because of improved power handling capacity.

Modern smart devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Apple iPad have power ratings reaching 12W, but existing wireless charging devices cannot handle this power. According to IHS Analysts, fast charging capabilities are expected to grow rapidly in and after 2015. The new 15W specifications will accommodate such devices allowing them to be charged faster.

Manufacturer’s feel that a 15W wireless charger has more value since it is able to charge simultaneously many devices belonging to different power classes in multiple scenarios. Compare this to a charger that targets charging only media tablets. For example, the new wireless chargers will charge not only your media tablets consuming 12-15W, but also manage the charging of your phone at standard or fast charging and a wearable device consuming 0.5 to 3W or more. That certainly makes it a valuable product to own.

Inside the Freescale transmitter is a 100MHz DSC core that consumes less than 30mA loop current. DSP functionality within the core helps to reduce the system losses and improve its capability for charging. Additional programmability built into the premium transmitter provides access to flash memory on the chip. Extra IOs on the transmitter device allows building of applications such as chargers that support multiple devices at the same time. On the other hand, the Freescale receiver has capabilities to support buck output and LDO power topologies.

The Freescale chips work on magnetic induction principles using closely coupled coils. The chips comply with two standards – Qi and another specification from the Power Matters Association. However, the Freescale devices are not compatible to the resonant standard using loosely coupled coils that the Alliance for Wireless Power follows. According to Freescale, inductive charging is healthy for the ecosystem.

What Are NFC Tags And How Do You Use Them?

NFC stands for Near Field Communication. These are small tags, which can be programmed to talk to your phone. As you swipe your phone over an NFC tag, it triggers preset commands you have programmed into it. NFC tags are quite cheap, for example, you can pick up 10 of them on Amazon for about $13.

Here are some examples of using NFC tags –

• Tag No.1: On key chain. A simple trigger to take you to a specific website
• Tag No.2: On the kitchen counter. It triggers several commands – turn Wi-Fi on, turn Bluetooth off, turn Sync on, turn Brightness up and turn Volume up
• Tag No.3: Besides the bed. Turns volume to silent, turns brightness down
• Tag No.4: In the car. While entering the car, turns Wi-Fi off, turns Bluetooth on, opens Audible App, turns Synch off
• Tag No.5: In the car. While leaving the car, turns Bluetooth off, turns Sync on

Therefore, you can program these tags to make your phone do a bunch of things by simply passing it over the top of a tag. You do not need to open an app and individually change each setting; simply passing your phone over a pre-programmed tag will do the trick. To set up your Android phone, go to settings > More > Check off NFC. Unfortunately, Apple does not support NFC, so you cannot use the tags with iPads and iPhones.

You will need to download the Trigger App. If you have not downloaded this, your phone will take you there the first time when trying to use and NFC tag.

Technically, NFC has the ability for two devices to send data to each other simply by bringing one near the other. Here, the word device stands for a tag and a cell phone. NFC tags, also referred to as smart tags, have chips embedded into them and these can be programmed to transfer just about any instruction or data via NFC.

MOO.com offers business cards with NFC tags embedded within them. The idea is that when you hold your NFC enabled business card to an NFC enabled cell phone, your contact details are automatically added to the phone’s contact book. Therefore, you need to carry only a single card with you, which saves time and money. Moreover, no sensitive data is exchanged and there is virtually no security risk involved.

Advertisements have QR codes on them, allowing people to scan them to go to their blogs. That requires a barcode scanning app, the light has to be just right and the entire QR code has to be captured properly. With NFC tags, you only need to pass your cell phone over the advertisement to get the required information.

The NFC Task Launcher will allow you to program your NFC tags with your mobile phone. Once you have them programmed, the tags will help you to do almost anything from going to a website to enabling/disabling the Wi-Fi, adding contact details, setting an alarm, embedding information for a location and more.

What Is A Semiconductor Compass?

Chances are that your smartphone has a compass to show you which way is North. A normal compass consists of a magnetic needle suspended on a pivot and the earth’s magnetic field aligns it towards the magnetic North Pole. Since there is no magnetic needle within the smartphone, it is a wonder how this digital compass works. Well, a modern smartphone contains a built-in electronic or semiconductor compass, also called the eCompass. Moreover, this eCompass is calibrated for the magnetic interference from the circuit board and compensated for the tilt of your smartphone.

Probably the first sensor to be incorporated into a smartphone was the accelerometer that selected between the portrait and landscape display orientation. Then came the magnetometer and this evolved into the electronic or eCompass. The electronic compass is used to align the street maps to the geographic heading of the smartphone or to overlay augmented reality. With the high-volume production and use of smartphones, sensors for accelerometer and magnetometer now cost less than $1 each.

However, just having a magnetometer sensor is not enough to provide an accurate compass heading for a smartphone. There are two reasons for this – first, the magnetic field measured with the magnetometer varies significantly with tilt, the angle at which the owner is holding the smartphone. Second, the magnetometer requires to be calibrated not only for its own offset, but also against spurious magnetic fields caused by the nearby ferromagnetic components on the circuit board.

Both the above reasons are taken care of by the accelerometer. This is usually a three-axis component operating in the +/-2-g range with at least a 10-bit resolution. Its output changes by 512 counts as the accelerometer rotates 180° from pointing upward to downward. That gives it an average sensitivity of one count for every 0.35° change in tilt. For tilt-compass purposes, this is an acceptable sensitivity figure.

The other important measurement required from an accelerometer is its 0-g offset accuracy. This is the output of the accelerometer when it is in a free fall and experiencing zero gravity. As this value is an error adding to each accelerometer channel, it adds a bias in the calculate angles of tilt.

The geomagnetic field of the earth has a magnitude of 50µT, with a horizontal component varying over the earth’s surface. It varies from a maximum of about 40µT and goes down to zero at the geomagnetic poles. Therefore, for an eCompass to operate in horizontal geomagnetic fields, for example in the arctic Canada, where the field can be as low as 10µT and an accompanying noise jitter of +/-3°, then the magnetometer required must have a maximum noise level of 0.5µT.

In a smartphone, the software uses the aerospace coordinate system, where the initial eCompass orientation has X-axis pointing North, the Y-axis pointing East and the Z-axis pointing down. The three orientation angles are defined as clockwise rotations about the x, y and z-axis. These are named roll (ø), pitch (Ɵ) and yaw (Ψ) respectively. The earth’s gravitational vector points downwards at a magnitude of 1-g or 9.81ms-2.

Android smartphone sales up a whopping 886%

Research firm, Canalys, reports that Android platform smartphone sales increased an amazing 886% in the 2nd quarter.

An even bigger accomplishment is the fact that Android based phones now account for 34% of the market – topping all other platforms including Apple’s popular iPhone platform.

The press release from Canalys also reports that Android devices combined reached almost 475,000 units in Q2 2010 from no presence in the country a year ago. The Google-backed Android is available in phones from HTC, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and LG, among others.

In total, the US market for smartphones is the largest established market in the world, and it still continues to show rapid growth. In the 2nd quarter of 2010, there were 14.7 million smart phone units shipped.

Keeping up with the newest smartphones

Buy a smartphone in May, chances are that you can buy a bigger – better – upgraded – faster – prettier – cooler phone in June. It’s been that way for years with PCs and notebook computers so why should the smartphone market be any different?

I’m still waiting on my backordered HTC Incredible, but we already have 3 of them in service on our plan.They’ve quickly become the all-time favorite phone at West Florida Components. Powered by a 1GHz processor, these phones are fast! Other favorite features are the 8MP camera, the GPS and the large touch screen. We’re already watching and waiting to see what other gee-whiz features will be added on to this Android-based phone in V2 but we all agree the single biggest improvement they could make to this phone would be an improved battery. Then we won’t have to close down unused apps to preserve battery life.

One thing is for sure: by the time my backordered HTC Incredible finally arrives, the next ‘gotta-have-it’ phone will already be available. That gives me another 2 years to figure out which phone I just have to have next!