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MWC: Seat Minimó – AI meets urban mobility

Picture: Arthur Goldstuck

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, Seat unveiled the Minimó – a concept car that it says will transform urban mobility. With this concept, the company confirms it is going to spearhead the Volkswagen Group’s micromobility strategy by coming up with ideas and creating products specifically designed for short trips within cities.

Click through to read about Seat’s latest concept car and how it implements AI.

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Seat claims its latest concept car combines the safety and comfort of a car with the agility and parking ease of a motorcycle. It has been especially developed for shared use, is 100% electric and thanks to an innovative battery swap system, it enables carsharing providers to reduce their operating costs by up to 50%.

Over the course of the congress, Seat had the chance to meet with and listen to representatives of several public institutions to learn about their views and specific needs regarding urban mobility. As a result of these joint efforts, SEAT will analyse the possibilities of integrating the proposals made by authorities and the public in the development of the SEAT Minimó concept car to find solutions with a common goal – enhance urban mobility.

Seat and IBM also reported the development of a new solution designed to transform driving in cities. Mobility Advisor uses IBM Watson AI to help urban citizens make informed decisions about their daily transportation options: from cars to scooters, bikes and public transport.

Currently under development and designed to run as a mobile app on 4G/5G networks, Mobility Advisor uses IBM Watson Assistant to provide users with a conversational interface to plan and optimise routes and suggest the most suitable transportation options.

“Traffic congestion and environmental challenges are putting huge pressure on cities to transform,” said Jordi Caus, head of new urban mobility concepts at Seat. “At Seat, we are leading the way by working with innovative cities and technology companies to come up with solutions to make mobility easier and more efficient. With its advanced cloud and AI technologies, IBM is helping us to innovate new approaches to mobility that will transform our business strategy while improving the lives of people living in urban areas.”

With IBM Watson Machine Learning, Mobility Advisor can learn a user’s preferences and make personalised recommendations for how best to complete a journey. Connected to the IBM Cloud, it dynamically adapts to changing conditions by taking into account weather forecasts, traffic reports and things happening in the city that day. It incorporates the user’s appointments and historical data about previous choices in order to suggest the best modes of transportation each time – even if that means leaving the car behind, walking, or using one of Seat’s e-KickScooters for the part of the journey.

“With the roll-out of 5G networks in cities in the coming years, the possibilities for transforming the driver experience are limitless,” said Juan Ramon Gutierrez Villar, industry solutions leader at IBM Global Markets. “At IBM, we are working with telecommunications companies and innovative manufacturers like Seat to provide the open technologies which they need to deliver on this vision and create highly contextualized and personalized user experiences that work at lightning speed across multiple clouds and IT platforms.”

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Acer launches new Predator Triton 500

The new Predator Triton 500 features a 10th Gen Intel Core processors, the latest Nvidia GeForce RTX Super and GTX GPUs, and fast display refresh rates of up to 300 Hz.

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Acer has unveiled the new Predator Triton 500 gaming notebook, with the latest 10th Gen Intel Core processors and newly-announced Nvidia GeForce RTX Super and GTX GPUs. 

“In addition to the latest processors and GPUs, we’ve made exciting across-the-board updates to the Predator Triton 500 and Acer Nitro 5 this year,” says Glenn du Toit, General Manager & Head of Consumer Business at Acer Africa. “Most importantly, we’ve applied new thermal technology which keeps the devices cool so gamers can enjoy the performance improvements from the latest silicon technology.” 

Backing up all the internal power, the Triton 500 offers up to 7.5 hours of battery life, making the notebook an excellent choice for working professionals who want to play too. The laptop’s 300 Hz IPS panel with a 3 ms overdrive response time displays all the action in smooth and vivid detail, covering 100% of the sRGB colour gamut while supporting wide-angle views. Nvidia G-Sync technology eliminates tearing and minimizes lag. 

It also comes with a Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650i wireless controller, E3100G ethernet controller, and Control Center 2.0 to push network connection quality to the Wi-Fi 6 standard. All this power is packed into a thin 17.9 mm and lightweight 2.1 kg all-metal chassis that features narrow bezels and an 81% screen-to-body ratio. The notebook has up to 32 GB of DDR4 memory and up to 2 TB of NVMe, RAID 0 SSD storage. 

The Triton 500 features Acer’s Vortex Flow technology, a new design involving three custom engineered fans strategically placed in the chassis, working in tandem to increase additional airflow while also reducing noise. This is further enhanced by CoolBoost technology, which increases fan speed for improved performance. Users can monitor the device’s temperature and adjust the fan speed through the PredatorSense UI. 

The notebook’s innovative cooling system also features an all-metal 4th Gen AeroBlade 3D fan that’s been specially designed to maximize airflow and reduce noise. Serrated edges, winglets and a curved fin allow for up to 45% increase in airflow. Adding five heat pipes to the mix, the 2020 Predator Triton 500 ultimately gets 33% better thermal performance than its 2019 counterpart. 

The Predator Triton 500 gaming notebook will be available in North America in May starting at US$2,200. Local pricing has not yet been announced. 

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DxOMark reveals Samsung S20 Ultra audio score

The Galaxy S20 Ultra is already known for its camera, but how does its sound shape up? DxOMark’s MARIE GEORGESCU DE HILLERIN evaluates the device’s audio performance.

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The Latin word “ultra” translates as “going beyond limits”— and when it comes to Samsung’s latest smartphone, it’s a well-deserved suffix. The Galaxy S20 Ultra boasts a groundbreaking 108-megapixel main rear camera, a whopping 6.9-inch 120 Hz AMOLED display, a huge 5000 mAh battery, and an Exynos 990 chipset (Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 in the USA) with 12 GB of RAM. 

Predictably, this magnum opus also benefits from AKG’s expertise in the audio field, along with Dolby Atmos certification, Bluetooth 5.0 (which allows users to stream audio to two wireless devices at the same time), and stereo speakers. (However, wired listeners, beware: the Galaxy S20 Ultra offers no headphone jack, and no USB-C adapter either.) 

Key audio specifications: 

• AKG earphones included 
• Audio Zoom 
• Dolby Atmos 
• Bluetooth 5.0 
• No headphone jack, USB-C adapter not included 

With an overall score of 69, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra manages to hold its own through our rigorous DxOMark Audio test suite. In Playback testing, the midrange frequencies (mids) and high-ends offer precision and clarity, which contribute to accurate distance rendering, precise localizability, and good wideness. Audio played back through the speakers benefits from good maximum volume, and artifacts are very well controlled. Despite being decent, however, low-end extension could use a boost, as it impairs tonal balance as well as bass precision. Finally, the balance is slightly off-center, and at minimum volumes, high dynamic content lacks intelligibility. 

As for microphone performance, the main issue is the lack of high-end extension in selfie videos, which impairs the distance rendering, localizability, and attack of recorded audio, as well as blurring the envelope and making voices sound nasal and backgrounds less natural. 

Furthermore, in high SPL (Sound Pressure Level) scenarios, an aggressive low-end compression impacts punch and generates audible temporal artifacts. In all other use cases, the overall timbre performance is fairly good; dynamics are decently captured (average SNR ratio, well-preserved plosives in life videos and memos); loudness is good in most use cases (except for indoor scenarios); and few artifacts are noticeable. 

Sub-scores explained 

The DxOMark Audio overall score of 69 for the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is derived from its Playback and Recording scores and their respective sub-scores. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at these audio quality sub-scores and explain what they mean for the user. 

Playback 

Timbre 

DxOMark timbre tests measure how well a phone reproduces sound across the audible tonal range and takes into account bass, midrange, treble, tonal balance, and volume dependency. 

The Galaxy S20 Ultra offers a fairly good and consistent timbre performance across all music genres, and fares even better in movies. The overall tonal balance highlights clarity and precision in mids and high-ends. 

That said, as shown in the graph above, bass frequencies could be a little louder: up to 500 Hz, the response is clearly below that of Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro Max and Xiaomi’s Mi 10 Pro. Also, when playing games, mids and high-ends become slightly too aggressive. 

Dynamics 

Our Dynamics tests measure how well a device reproduces the energy level of a sound source. 

Predictably, the lack of low-end extension undermines the phone’s bass precision potential. Apart from that, the dynamic performance holds its head high: the clarity of timbre sharpens the attack, especially at nominal volumes, and dynamics are well preserved, even at soft volumes.  

Spatial 

The Ultra S20 has above-average spatial rendering of sound sources, ensuring that audio played back through its stereo speakers lets the listener precisely place instruments and other sound sources (localizability), and delivers good wideness. The timbre’s clarity also means that distance is accurately reproduced, thus offering a good feeling of proximity. The only cloud in the picture is the slightly off-center perception of sound sources. 

Volume 

Our Volume tests measure both the overall loudness a device is able to produce and how smoothly volume increases and decreases based on user input. 

Maximum playback volume is good, and incrementation levels are fairly consistent. By contrast, at minimum volumes, highly dynamic mixes (that is, a high ratio of amplitude from the loudest to the lowest sound) lack intelligibility. 

Artifacts 

Our Artifacts tests measure how much source audio is distorted when played back through a device’s speaker. Distortion can occur both because of sound processing in the device and because of the quality of the speakers. 

When it comes to controlling undesirable sounds, Samsung’s latest flagship ranks as second to the best of all the phones we have tested to date. No noise or temporal artifacts such as compression are audible at nominal or maximum volumes. Consequently, the clarity of loud content is well preserved. Distortion, however, shows its true colors at maximum volumes on low-end frequencies, especially when playing games and with synthetic signals. 

Recording 

Timbre 

While the S20 Ultra’s timbre performance is above average when it comes to recording life videos, it is impaired by a lack of bass extension when recording in loud environments. When recording selfie videos, treble is lacking, which results in nasal voices. 

Dynamics 

The Galaxy S20 Ultra does a reasonable job of capturing dynamics, with an average SNR (signal-to-noise) ratio in all simulated use cases. Good high-end extension in life videos and when using the memo app ensure that the plosives (sounds such as “p” and “b”) are well shaped. 

On the other hand, when filming in loud environments, an aggressive low-end compression dulls the punch. Additionally, when using the selfie camera, the shape of the sound envelope is impaired by the lack of treble, which along with the distance issue mentioned in the next paragraph, lowers speech intelligibility and attack precision. 

Spatial 

While the Galaxy S20 Ultra delivers an average performance for wideness and fairly good localizability in life videos and meeting room situations, localization and distance in selfie video recordings are once again impacted by the lack of high-end frequencies. Moreover, the memo app unfortunately records only in mono. 

Volume 

We test for both the nominal volume and the maximum level. Audio file loudness is good in most use cases, except in meeting room situations. In indoor scenarios, the overall loudness is noticeably lower. 

Artifacts 

In quiet environments, the S20 Ultra background recordings are very clean. In high SPL scenarios, apart from excessive bass compression and occasional distortion, few artifacts are noticeable. 

Regrettably, the microphones are easy to occlude, particularly when filming a selfie video or recording a memo. When the user’s hands obstruct the receivers, a noise-cancelling algorithm kicks in, introducing spectral artifacts on voices. 

Background 

The S20 Ultra does a good job of preserving the original tonal balance of the recorded background in life videos. However, when recording a selfie video, the lack of high-end is once again problematic, resulting in an unnatural background. 

Conclusion 

If the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra doesn’t outshine its strongest competitors in the audio area, it still delivers a very consistent, above-average performance. Volume is good, artifacts are well controlled, dynamics are generally respected, and timbre performance is good, whether in playback or recording. That all said, the memo app records in mono, and if you’re a fanatical selfie videographer, note that selfie videos suffer from a lack of treble, which impairs numerous audio attributes (tonal balance, attack, speech clarity, distance, natural background rendering). 

All in all, considering the phone’s spectacular spec sheet (and price), it is safe to assume that audio, despite its above-average performance, wasn’t Samsung’s top priority when designing its latest flagship phone. 

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