Just when you think you have seen the highest definition television, the thinnest laptop and every tablet screen size possible, someone in consumer electronics comes along and tops it, as if simply to prove it can be done.
HD TVs already show every blemish on the actors’ complexions we once thought immaculate, many consumers still prefer a laptop thick enough to include a DVD drive and they seem happy with the one-size iPad.
But manufacturers’ bragging rights, the need to compete with trailblazing Apple and to persuade consumers they must have something new is driving this innovation. Nowhere is it more evident than at an event such as the annual IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, which has just finished giving us its latest preview of the future.
After wandering between exhibits in the IFA’s vast halls, I can award the prize for Greatest Variety of Tablet Screen Sizes to Samsung, which introduced 5.3-inch and 7.7-inch models to go with its current 7-inch, 8.9-inch and 10.1-inch Galaxy Tabs. The company’s philosophy is that different sizes suit different buyers, and that this affects the ways in which they use tablets.
(According to from Reuters, however, Samsung has stopped promoting its new tablet computer at Europe’s biggest consumer electronics fair after a court-ordered sales injunction in Germany, the latest setback in its global patent battle with Apple Inc (AAPL-Q383.93-0.21-0.05%) .
A Dusseldorf court ordered the South Korean company to stop selling Galaxy Tab 7.7 on Friday when the annual IFA electronics show started in Berlin. The move follows an earlier ban on German sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 by the court in late August until its final ruling on Sept. 9).
Sharp snatched the High Definition crown with a screen that has 16 times the resolution of the best current high-definition available to consumers. On those grounds it surpassed a TV from Toshiba that had “merely” four times “full HD” resolution, although the Toshiba’s display is the first to offer large-screen 3D viewing that does not need special glasses.
Among the laptops, almost as soon as Toshiba announced the world’s thinnest and lightest 13.3-inch model, Acer unveiled an Aspire that was just a teensy-weensy bit skinnier at 0.51 inch.
TVs, tablets and very light laptops were the headline-grabbers at IFA. While some of the devices will be on sale this month, others may be a decade away from mainstream use. But consumers will find they can combine them seamlessly long before then, with tablets already acting as sophisticated TV remote controls and second screens and laptops able to wirelessly stream content to TVs.
Toshiba’s announcement of a December launch for the first big-screen 3D television that does not require viewers to wear special glasses must have knocked its rivals hard enough to give them double-vision.
Other makers have predicted that a 3D TV that does away with the tyranny of special eyewear is years away. Sceptics, including Toshiba’s bigger 3D rival Sony, question the quality of the 55in ZL2 and whether it will be affordable. Such sniping is predictable, but they may have a case: Toshiba did not reveal the price and, in fact, only showed off the set’s 2D capabilities at the press event. We do know it will be capable of a resolution that is four times better than the current highest standard. It will also deliver 3D to viewers in different parts of a room, representing a big improvement on current efforts at “glasses-less” versions that make viewers sit in front and at close quarters.
Sharp outdid Toshiba on straightforward resolution, however, with its 85-inch set. Watching it on a wall was like looking at a modern equivalent of a live action Bayeux Tapestry. The screen’s large tableau told a multitude of stories, with hundreds of people picked out in perfect detail as they milled around on a hill in Japan taking part in or watching the strange sport of log-riding.
Impressive as the picture was, Sharp had to rely on Japanese broadcaster NHK to use a special camera, and proper trials are not expected until 2020, making the set a one-off artwork for now.
Samsung produced the first serious challenger to the iPad when it launched the 7in Galaxy Tab at IFA last year. This time, it had a thinner, lighter version with a slightly bigger (7.7-in) screen that may be the sharpest and most vibrant on any tablet.
But the new Galaxy Note scored the most attention as a hybrid phone/tablet with its 5.3-in screen. The Note includes a pen and has new gestures, such as placing a palm over the display to pause a video.
Samsung gave no launch date, but Sony was only too happy to announce pricing and availability for its first tablets, the S and the P. The unusual wedge-shaped 9.4in, 16Gb S is on sale this month for $499 in the US and €479 in Europe. The folding P, which has two 5.5in screens, will be available from November, with only the price in Europe of €599 announced.
As well as unveiling the slimmest tablet (the 0.3-inch-thin AT200), Toshiba showed off the thinnest, lightest laptop with a 13.3-in screen, the Portégé Z830. It is one of the first wave of “ultrabooks”, designed to match the MacBook Air for being thin, light, running cool and having all-day battery life and instant-on capabilities.
Acer promptly unveiled its Aspire S3, which proved fractionally thinner and has software and flash memory that enables users to surf the web within five seconds of lifting the lid.
With Lenovo’s new U300s also introduced as an ultrabook at the show, Asian manufacturers seem to be matching or even beating Apple’s iPad and MacBook Air with their hardware. However, their Android and Windows 7 software still come nowhere near the depth and range of Apple’s apps and the sophistication of its touch-inspired interfaces.
And while IFA has become a major launch pad for Asian companies, expect their US counterparts, including Apple, to come out with their own strong contenders in the coming months.
Best in show
This 55in TV is the first in the world to go on sale offering 3D viewing on a big screen without the need for glasses.
Pros: The 3D effect can be enjoyed from different angles around the room; higher-resolution screen means improved 2D viewing, too.
Cons: Quality still uncertain; likely to be pricey.
Price: €599 in Europe.
Acer Aspire S3
First of the new ultrabook laptops.
Pros: “Wakes” in 1.5 seconds from a sleep mode that lasts up to 50 days on its battery; fast web connection; runs cool; choice of solid-state or hard-disk drive; as thin and light as MacBook Air.
Cons: Flimsier feel than the Air; no backlit keyboard; Windows 7 operating system looks a little dated next to Mac OS X Lion.
Price: Between €800 and €1,200
Samsung Galaxy Note
This 5.3in Android device aims to define a new category with a screen size between the biggest smartphone and the smallest tablet in its range.
Pros: Pocketable and light but display is still big enough for split-screen tablet interface; pen included for note-taking and drawing; new intuitive gestures.
Cons: A little big for a phone but also a little small for a tablet.
Price: To be announced.