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In the Zone

Lights, action, webcam: How to make your virtual meetings look great

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by Kevin Jacoby on 08/19/2020
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Your virtual meetings — and those of your customers — don’t have to look and sound so lousy.

Sure, with the Work From Home movement in full swing (thanks, global pandemic!), virtual meetings have become part of daily life. But too many meetings are being spoiled by images that are less than flattering and audio that’s nearly incomprehensible.

How to improve? Take a cue from Hollywood and focus on the Big 3: image quality, lighting and sound.

Image quality: Looks sell

There’s a fair to middling chance your webcam is pretty awful. Even Apple, the undisputed heavyweight of aesthetics, missed the boat with the forward-facing cameras in its otherwise beautiful MacBook Pro and iMac models.

If your customers are tired of appearing as grainy, low-res versions of themselves, try introducing them to a full-HD webcam.

One example is Logitech’s C920 HD PRO. For just shy of $80, this sleek clip-on webcam delivers full 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second (fps).

Logitech C920 HD PRO webcam

Logitech webcam: excels where your laptop falls short

Behind a real glass lens sits Logitech’s rather smart brain, which can auto-correct for various high- and low-light conditions. Never again will your customers end up looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon while delivering quarterly sales figures.

Note: Logitech says it’s experiencing unprecedented demand for webcams these days. Indeed, the popular C920 HD Pro is currently back-ordered on major sites including Newegg.com and BestBuy.com. But if you or your customers are in a rush, it can be purchased at a premium on Amazon.

Lighting: Fiat lux

While a smart webcam can correct a multitude of visual sins, even the most sophisticated software controlled lens is but lowly aspirin when compared with the panacea of a well-placed light.

Even better, the right light doesn’t have to be expensive. Nor must it be big, hot or an electrical vampire.

Case in point: the QIAYA Selfie Light Ring. It’s a compact and rechargeable clip-on ring light that goes easily wherever a meeting happens to be.

QIAYA Selfie Light Ring

Qiaya clip-on light: keeping the shadows at bay

QIAYA’s light is also cheap, selling for less than $20 on Amazon. Yet it offers a rechargeable battery that can help save the planet. And 3 levels of brightness, so you can dial in the right level without having to hire a director of photography.

Why a circle of LEDs? The ring shape fits around just about any digital lens. This is a popular configuration because it helps maintain an even dispersion of light — even if you’re one of those people who bobs and weaves all through the weekly marketing meeting.

But the best reason to grab a decent light for Zoom meetings is this: Your customers will look way better than their co-workers. How can you put a price tag on that?

Sound: Now hear this

Bad sound can make a 20-minute virtual meeting feel like a nickel-tour through Dante’s Inferno.

“Now, if you burn your aplension t- djionehey, Yo.. (slience…) FIND THE PUTTING NICENESS! Crumberry thinkings. Everyone clear on that? Ok, moving on.”

Fortunately, there’s no need to repeat yourself. Instead, get a decent mic.

Any audio engineer will tell you that an affordable mic, if used wisely, will sound better than a $10,000 vintage Telefunken in the hands of an imbecile. In other words, you don’t have to spend a ton to sound good.

In fact, you can sound great with a simple, well-built USB mic like the Yeti Nano by Blue. It will help you achieve a clear, commanding tone that says (with style), “Let’s leave it at that, folks. I have a meeting with Bill Gates in 5 minutes.”

Yeti Nano mic

Yeti Nano mic: pay a little extra, reap big dividends

Yes, the Yeti costs as much as the Logitech webcam and QIAYA light ring combined. But that’s still shy of $100. And the value of not having to constantly repeat yourself? Priceless.

Also, as you hand the gift of great audio to your customer, tell them to keep the windscreen on the same plane as their chin, and to stay about 5 inches away. That will avoid those extra p-p-plosives and s-s-sibilants. The mic will do the rest.

Yes, it’s worth it

When it comes to gear for improving video meetings, your sales pitch can be simple. Better video can help create better video meetings. And since virtual meetings are the best we can do right now, we may as well get good at them.

Who knows, maybe raising the quality of our audio and video will help raise the quality of our discourse, too. Either way, extra hardware sales could help raise the level of your revenue.

That would look and sound good, wouldn’t it?

 

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

What’s new with All-in-One PCs? A lot

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by Kevin Jacoby on 08/10/2020
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Do your customers need some help making the most of their home offices? Now that we’re in Month 6 of lockdown, working from home has become nearly as common as stealing a colleague’s yogurt from the communal office fridge.

Maybe it’s time for a fresh look at some compact and affordable All-in-One (AiO) desktop PCs.

AiOs offer your customers a chance to declutter their desk without sacrificing performance — as they must when buying a laptop. That’s because AiOs are built around desktop-class processors, motherboards and memory.

The bottom line: AiOs offer a great price/performance ratio, and without the clutter and complexity of a traditional desktop PC.

Look beneath the surface

Once upon a time, you might describe an AiO as a second-class PC. Those days are long gone.

However, you can’t tell that just by looking at today’s AiOs. In fact, it can be hard to see any difference between today’s AiOs and devices made 5 years ago. Can you even remember the last time Apple updated the visual design of its iconic iMac?

No, you have to look below the surface.

There, you’ll find, these sleek, efficient computers have taken on myriad new features. These include the latest multicore processors, AAA gaming-ready GPUs and high-end audio speakers.

iMac + Intel = beast mode

Case in point: Apple’s recently updated iMac. The company's announcement made it perfectly clear that the iMac has come to play. Hard.

Cupertino’s latest features 10th gen Intel Core processors configured with 6, 8 or 10 cores. Each core is capable of pushing speeds up to 5GHz via Turbo Boost.

Apple iMac

Apple's updated iMac: looks can be deceiving

Other insane-in-the-membrane tech specs include the capacity for up to 128GB of DDR4 memory; a 27-inch, 5K Retina display with Nano-texture glass; and a solid state drive (SSD) storing up to 8GB.

All this tech doesn’t come cheap. The new iMac starts at just under $1,800, which isn’t bad. But if your customers want all the bells and whistles, they should be prepared to pay upwards of $8,800.

Dell’s design

Apple isn’t the only one with design chops — Dell has come to play hard, too. And at a much nicer price.

Are your customers looking for a sleek, silver and affordable AiO running Windows 10? If so, then you might want to give them a glimpse of Dell’s new Inspiron 27 7000 Silver Touch.

Okay, Dell still hasn’t figured out how to name products with concision. But you don’t have to utter that mouthful to take advantage of its 4.9GHz Core i7-1051OU processor, NVMe solid-state drives, and impressive array of ports.

Dell 7000 Series AiO

Dell knows how to design an All-in-One that packs a wallop

The whole system is housed in a sleek, silver chassis perched atop either an Arch or A-Frame stand. And that bezel! It’s barely 8mm thick, surrounding a 27-inch, InifinityEdge FHD display with a pop-up webcam and forward-facing stereo speakers.

As always, Dell offers a ton of options to fit any situation. And pricing depends on everything from the color to the processor.

As far as Dell’s 7000 Series goes, your customers can jump in for less than $950. The high-end offering clocks in around $1,400, which is still $400 less than it costs to go home with even the most basic iMac.

The future of AiO: convergence

Take a look at the HP Pavilion All-in-One with touchscreen, shown below. What do you see?

HP Pavilion AiO with touchscreen

Yep, it’s a giant, 27-inch tablet. Sure, it comes with a keyboard and mouse. But quaint, 80s-era peripherals like that will eventually disappear.

As time wears on and tech moves forward, form factor and functionality will likely converge. The difference between the computer we sit in front of and the one we carry in our pocket will become simply a matter of screen size and location.

These AiOs give us a glimpse of a bold, new future of computing. We’re well on our way.

 

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

3 areas where augmented reality is getting real

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by Kevin Jacoby on 07/27/2020
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Augmented reality (AR) has grown up and gotten a real job. No longer just the domain of Pokéman hunters, AR is now a bona fide enterprise tool with revenue to capture and room to grow.

Is now the right time to start offering your customers a new reality? You bet.

Combined revenue from AR hardware and software will top $18 billion worldwide by 2023, predicts market watcher Statista. Also by that year, the market watcher adds, the number of AR headset shipped worldwide will exceed 30 million units — more than 12 times the number Statista expects will ship this year.

With that kind of growth, the question isn’t whether you should get into AR, but how.

To the general public, current applications are still mostly about gaming, language translation and graphic design. But dig below the glossy exterior and you’ll find that augmented reality represents an exciting — and potentially lucrative — opportunity for tech providers who can wisely and efficiently serve enterprise verticals.

To help you get started, consider AR applications in these 3 real-world sectors: construction, education and retail.

Construction: Building a future

Construction is in a down cycle due to COVID-19, but eventually the world will get back into the swing of things. When it does, construction will once again take its place as a key economic driver.

Already, the sector is looking for ways to lower its costs and achieve economies of scale. That’s where tech providers offering AR solutions can come in.

AR can aid architects, contractors and construction workers in many ways. AR apps can provide additional safety, cost savings and efficiency. 

WakeCap AR app for construction

WakeCap AR app monitors the proximity of construction workers

For instance, virtual project planning can provide a safe, speedy way to visualize a new structure — and before a contractor needs to commit expensive time and materials.

That can also assist architects when working with clients who find it challenging to read a blueprint. “If only I could visualize how it would actually look,” they say. Now, with AR, they can.

Builders can also complete measurements and calculations with the aid of augmented reality. They can visualize physical building sites through mobile phones and AR glasses.

Education: Dawn of a new age

With the world’s children on lockdown, finding new and effective teaching methods is paramount. To help kids thrive in this new world, teachers will need to reach far beyond simple web interfaces and online forms.

Enter augmented reality. It’s a readily available tech that can help bridge the gap created by the global pandemic. Teachers can create rich learning environments with AR apps, devices and customized programs.

Biology app with augmented reality

Educational AR app for biology names parts of human anatomy

In this new virtual school, students download an app onto their cellphones, tablets or Chromebooks. The app immerses them in a virtual classroom, interactive map, or view of stars augmented by a virtual astronomy lesson.

Retail: Don’t stop shopping

Retail is another vital sector hit hard by the lockdown. Thousands of retailers both large and small are scrambling to find new ways to interact safely with their customers.

AR offers a way. Shoppers can use AR to virtually try on clothes and makeup without leaving home. Car buyers can sample different colors and options just by pointing their phones at a car on the street. 

Ikea Place app

Ikea Place AR app: Try before you buy

Fans of inexpensive Swedish furniture can even download Ikea Place AR app. It virtually places home furnishings in the customer’s living room before they order online. Sorry, you’ll still need to deal with those curse-inducing cartoon directions.

How to leverage the new reality

While the times have changed, your tech provider’s mission remains the same: Help customers find the technology they need.

AR offers a new way ahead for both you and your customers.

One more feather in AR’s cap is its amazing potential for growth. As new devices like AR glasses and IoT devices come online, uses for this cutting-edge tech should grow rapidly.

When it comes to AR, your possibilities are real.

 

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

Take these 3 less-traveled ways to get into PC gaming

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by Kevin Jacoby on 07/20/2020
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For tech providers, now’s the perfect time to explore new markets. And one of the best markets to explore is gaming.

Sure, the economy is on a roller coaster, and uncertainty lies ahead. But gaming seems to defy the market’s mercurial whims.

In fact, PC gaming now rakes in the kind of revenue usually reserved for entertainment juggernauts such as the movie business. A recent report by Jon Peddie Research predicts global gaming revenue this year will approach $40 billion. By way of comparison, Hollywood last year took in “just” $42 billion.

Jon Peddie also predicts that sales of entry-level gaming hardware will rise this year by an impressive 22%. Few other tech sectors are growing even half that fast.

Ready to jump into the gaming fray? Careful, it’s a crowded space. Put your finite resources where they’ll make the most impact. That could be the most important decision you make.

With that in mind, here are 3 entry points that could provide a less-crowded way into the gaming market.

Thriving through driving

TV broadcasters recently discovered that people like to watch other people compete in simulated car races. We can officially call sim racing a thing now.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that building a $2,000 to $5,000 racing simulator for home use is also now a thing. Among the most common accessories are steering wheels, pedals, gear shifters and virtual cup-holders. (Just kidding about that last one.)

Of course there will always be gamers who want to go “all the way.” To those proud and moneyed few, you can offer the Stage 5 Racing Simulator by SimXperience. For around $26,000, your customer can immerse themselves in a setup best described as “everything but the car.”

SimExperience Stage 5 Racing simulator

Stage 5 Racing sim: Full immersion for those with $26K

The gear list includes three 55-inch LED displays, hydraulic-assisted motion simulation, 500 watts of Dolby 5.1 surround sound, and, of course, a supercomputer to run it all.

Lights, camera, gaming

Online gaming-entertainment platforms such as Twitch have proven that watching gaming can be just as popular as gaming itself.

For example, Twitch channel Tfue currently has 8.8 million followers, all watching channel owner Turner Tenney play “Fortnite” and other games.

Green screen gaming chair

Green screen: popular accessory for aspiring gaming stars

Customers looking to get in on the action will need to set up a small broadcast operation of their own. In addition to cameras and tripods, aspiring Twitch superstars often opt for lights, microphones, green screens, and network hardware that can keep up with the fast pace of AAA gameplay.

Support and upgrades

Providing tech support and hardware maintenance takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to the gaming sector. So don’t file this one under “too obvious” just yet.

Why? Because gamers are way harder on their gear than most computer users.

Overclocking, for instance, is the fastest way to speed up a gaming PC, but it’s also a fast way to increase a system’s wear and tear. Compared with “regular” operations, overclocking produces more heat, draws more power, and puts more stress on a PC’s cooling system, RAM and GPU.

When those bits and pieces finally give up the ghost, you — not Amazon or Best Buy — should be your customer’s first call. To make that a reality, start now by setting up an easy and convenient replacement program that can help your customers get back in the game fast.

Don’t forget upgrades. Even if your customers don’t burn through their gear, they’ll almost certainly want to stay current with the latest and greatest systems.

Unlike business users, gamers don’t sit on hardware for years at a time. When new graphics cards are released, gaming enthusiasts jump in with both feet. They see that as the price of staying competitive.

Being their go-to resource could be a long-term revenue generator. It’s worth exploring.

Be cautious, be bold

There you have it, 3 ways to enter the gaming market: simulated car races, gaming entertainment, and support/upgrades.

But don’t let anyone tell you that entering this new market segment will be quick or easy. To succeed, you’ll need to invest both time and money.

But if you have the courage to branch out, and the savvy to attract a loyal base of die-hard enthusiasts, then gaming could be your way past the 2020 doldrums.

And who couldn’t use one of those?

 

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

Are tablets finally ready for prime time?

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by Kevin Jacoby on 06/22/2020
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Are tablets ready to take over for laptops? Some of your customers are probably considering that question now — and rightly so.

To be sure, the latest generation of tablets has grown up fast. Their processors are fast, their batteries last all day, and their list of available apps grows faster than a weed.

But still, the laptop isn’t dead yet. Sure, pro tablets offer more power and flexibility than ever before. But they also have serious drawbacks. Your customers should keep these drawbacks squarely in mind.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of two obvious front-runners: the Apple iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7.

Apple iPad: the revolution starter

The iPad was born on April 3, 2010. For some, that’s the day when Apple introduced a frivolous time-waster. For others, the date marks the launch of a device so revolutionary, it signaled the laptop’s inevitable death.

Well, the laptop is still alive and well. And Apple still sells its lineup of eminently capable MacBooks.

But Apple also sells its iPad Pro tablet with this tagline: “Your next computer is not a computer.”

Apple may well be right. The company’s latest 11- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models (starting at $799 and $999, respectively) include Wi-Fi 6 and 4G cellular connectivity, 64-bit A12Z Bionic processors, and 6GB of RAM.

Those specs may not impress when compared with those of a modern laptop. But they’re an order of magnitude beyond the business laptops of just a few years ago.

Also, Apple now augments the iPad Pro with its new Magic Keyboard. This accessory combines a backlit keyboard, a trackpad and a sturdy “floating cantilever design” that makes all-day work a realistic proposition.

Apple iPad with Magic keyboard

Apple 11-in. iPad Pro with ‘floating’ Magic Keyboard

Is the iPad Pro the ideal business machine? In a word, no. But it’s not the hardware that will hold your customers back. It’s the operating system.

While iPadOS 13.5 is light years ahead of its previous iterations, it’s still a tablet OS. That means your customers can use only made-for-tablet versions of their favorite apps, not the originals.

Is that a deal-breaker? That's a decision your customers will have to make for themselves.

Microsoft Surface Pro: a tablet that eats like a laptop

Critics agree that Microsoft’s first Surface ultra-book was a piece of ultra-crap. But over time, the Surface Pro has grown into a force to be reckoned with. And a big seller. For the first three quarters of Microsoft’s current fiscal year, Surface sales have topped $4.4 billion.

Buying today's Surface Pro 7 will set you back at least $1,200 — as much or even more than you’d pay for a decent laptop. But the device sure does deliver on its promise of flexibility and convenience.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Microsoft Surface Pro 7: guts of a laptop & full Win10

Both the price and the delivered promises are due in no small part to a trio of available dual- and quad-core Intel Core processors. Microsoft wisely mated them with up to 16GB of DDR4 RAM and as much as a terabyte of solid state drive (SSD) storage.

If those sound like honest-to-goodness (if not downright impressive) laptop specs, that’s because they are. And that’s Surface Pro’s ace in the hole.

With the Surface Pro, Microsoft integrated the guts of a standard laptop, then mated it with a full version of Windows 10. This ensures that devotees of desktop apps such as the Office and Adobe suites can have their proverbial cake and eat it, too.

But here’s the catch: The Surface Pro is as bad at being a tablet as the iPad Pro is at being a laptop.

Despite the Surface Pro’s convenient kickstand, the tablet itself is ungainly. Relaxing with Netflix or Minecraft after a hard day’s work is possible. But it’s nowhere near as comfortable or convenient as it would be with the iPad.

More issues arrive at the end of the day, when the Surface hardware is burning hot and the battery is oh-so-low.

A standard laptop has a lot more space for one or more high-capacity batteries and efficient cooling mechanisms. Not so the Surface Pro. Microsoft did what it could, but the tablet’s form factor offers only so much space.

All about the trade-offs

Somewhere out there in the future is a cool, light and transparent slate. No matter where you are, it maintains a blazing-fast connection to servers filled with every app and every shred of information known to man. Plus, this tablet is so cheap, Amazon is practically giving it away.

Until that future is realized, today’s tablets present some difficult choices. You’ll have to spend more money than you want in return for less performance than you need. Such is the story of technology. Such is our legacy.

If it’s any consolation, even the computer on Starship Enterprise couldn’t make Captain Picard a decent cup of Earl Grey. In the end, it’s all about the trade-offs.

 

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

Zoom vs. Teams vs. Meet: Which is best for your customers?

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by Kevin Jacoby on 06/12/2020
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Around the time most of the planet got the shelter-in-place order, it became obvious that working and hanging out with our regular cliques could be a deadly proposition. Most of us quickly turned to virtual meetings.

The obvious winner so far is a previously obscure platform called Zoom. It went from 10 million daily users in December to more than 300 million in April.

But in the tech realm, no king is permitted to occupy the throne for long. No sooner was Zoom crowned than ubiquitous tech giants Google and Microsoft declared open war.

Now the video-chat platform battle has reached fever pitch. At this point your customers might be wondering which platform is right for them. With all three platforms offering many similar features, it’s not an easy question to answer. But let’s try.

Zoom: All hail the king

How Zoom ended up as the world’s go-to video chat service is anyone’s guess. But what is clear is that Zoom’s growing pains were myriad and very public. Exhibit A: the world’s universal adoption of a new verb, “Zoom-bombing.”

Zoom’s recent 5.0 release build adds end-to-end encryption, and this has cut down on the bugs. Plus, Zoom’s position as a truly universal platform helps keep its status among the best of the bunch.

Zoom logo

Zoom works equally well on Android and iOS devices as well as desktop PCs. That’s true even if you’re using the free version.

For your customers seeking a more professional face for their Zoom meetings, a paid tier is available for about $15 a month. The Pro version includes all the standard features, perhaps most importantly the famed user-programmable virtual backgrounds. It also adds improved admin controls, scheduling and analytics tools, and the ability to record and encrypt meetings up to 1GB.

Microsoft Teams: a good second fiddle

There’s a good chance your business customers already have a subscription to Microsoft 365 (formerly called Office 365). If that happens to be the case, then their best option for virtual meetings is probably Microsoft Teams.

Why? Because Microsoft 365, which starts at $5 a month, is a tightly integrated suite of productivity apps designed to help users manage data, documents, contacts and calendars. Teams takes advantage of this by offering easier scheduling for calls with up to 250 members.

Microsoft Teams logo

Once participants are on a Teams call, they can collaborate in real time via shared Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. If Teams has one killer feature, that’s gotta be it.

Teams also offers Slack-like persistent chats. These can be easily searched later to find out who said what and when they said it — or even to find the boss’s favorite vegetable emoji.

Google Meet: ubiquitous ubiquity

You remember Google, right? The company that basically runs the internet?

Until recently, Google Meet — formerly known as Hangouts — was a feature of G Suite.  That’s Google’s $6-a-month-and-up answer to Microsoft 365.

Then the pandemic hit, and Zoom got huge without charging a dime. Over at Google, the powers-that-be decided they’d better reduce signup friction lickety split before Zoom ate their lunch.

Now anyone with an account can Meet on a platform that’s tightly integrated with a few little apps — Gmail, GoogleVoice and YouTube. Perhaps you’ve heard of them?

Google Meet logo

Like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet can handle up to 250 people per meeting and up to 100,000 livestreaming viewers within a domain.

And Meet’s 60-minute time limit? Yeah, that’s gone. You can now meet for up to 24 hours straight. Though who in their right mind would want to participate in a 24-hour meeting is a question for the ages.

Also, if you’re a fee-paying G Suite admin, you can set up calls via Google Calendar, enable unique meeting link URLs, create custom dial-in phone numbers, and record calls to Google Drive for broadcast later.

At 100 million daily users, Meet is hosting just barely a third of Zoom’s traffic. Then again, Google was a verb long before zoom-bombing. And, as discussed, they do kinda run the internet. So don’t count out Google just yet.

Decisions, decisions

Of course, Zoom, Meet and Teams are just a few of the many virtual-meeting services available. We haven’t even discussed the luxury-tech elephant in the room, Apple’s FaceTime, or the Gen-X tech startup favorite, Slack, which just signed a technological earthquake of a deal with Amazon.

Bottom line, your customers have choices — maybe too many. But there are differences among the major platforms.

Helping your customers understand those differences could be one of the most helpful things you could do for them, whether they’re locked down or not.

 

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

The return of the affordable smartphone

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by Kevin Jacoby on 05/21/2020
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A thousand bucks for a smartphone? During a pandemic-infused financial crisis?

“You gotta be kidding me,” said the entire world.

Then the entire world put its money where its mouth was. In the first quarter of this year, global smartphone shipments dropped 12%, according to IDC.

To the credit of major smartphone designers like Apple and Samsung, these companies were almost prescient about the need for lower-priced devices. Maybe that’s why they were able to roll out affordable phones so quickly.

Let’s take a look at 3 new phones worth more than just their price tags.

Apple iPhone SE, 2020 edition

Here’s a Herculean task: Design an iPhone that costs 40% less, but is still a joy to use. That was Apple’s brief when it set out to create the $399 iPhone SE. (With a qualified trade-in, the phone’s price drops to an even lower $229.)

Previous low-cost iPhones — namely, the iPhone 5c and the original iPhone SE in 2006 — were met with appropriate levels of resistance. They were not, in fact, a joy to use. The processors were too slow, the cameras were too low-res, and the screens were too dark.

Apple has clearly learned from its errors. Now the company has hit the ball out of the park. The new iPhone SE packs the same processing punch as an iPhone 11. And as a camera, it does a remarkably good job, offering clear, crisp photos and a decent portrait mode.

Apple iPhone SE

Apple iPhone SE: less money, more joy

No, the SE’s battery doesn’t last all day. And for those who prize giant 6-inch screens, the SE’s diminutive 4.7-inch display will probably leave them less than chuffed. But otherwise, this is a smartphone for the masses, as egalitarian an iPhone as could be imagined.

Samsung Galaxy S20 5G

To count Samsung’s new Galaxy S20 5G as a low-cost smartphone, you’ll have to calculate the price based on a trade-in credit. Samsung users ready to turn in their former devices can go home with an S20 for as little as $499.

Is that a little slight-of-hand Samsung is doing to put its horse in the cheap smartphone race? Sure. But then again, the S20 offers way more screen real-estate, connectivity, and photographic prowess than its Apple counterpart. The money to build all those features has to come from somewhere, right?

Samsung Galaxy S20 5G

Samsung Galaxy S20 5G: ready for high speeds

The last part of the Samsung Galaxy S20 5G’s too-long name speaks volumes about its value proposition. Eventually, Verizon and AT&T will get their 5G game together. Once they do, the S20 is going to be sitting pretty among a field of sad 4G competitors.

The S20’s other noteworthy features include a triple-sensor camera that takes 8K video, up to 1TB of storage, and an all-day battery that’s hard to kill.

Google Pixel 3A XL

Speaking of cheap smartphones, Google has a new one this year that deserves an honorable mention.

If your customers ask you to name the best four-Benjamin cellies on the market, the Pixel 3a XL probably won’t be the first name to cross your lips. But just as Coke and Pepsi need RC Cola, Apple and Samsung need Google.

Sure enough, Google’s phone looks cool. And, like the iPhone SE, it has the advantage of offering both hardware and software designed by the same company.

Google Pixel 3A XL

Google Pixel 3a XL: one cool looker

The Pixel also has a headphone jack. That’s one of those weird, previous-generation features that shouldn’t be sought-after, but so totally is.

One downside is the Pixel’s conspicuous lack of water resistance. Another is the lack of wireless charging. These may not be the first things your customers think about in terms of smartphone features, but they sure do come in handy.

Hope for a battered market

The pandemic has already hurt the global economy, and more is sure to come. But it’s not written in stone that the rest of the year must bring only doom and gloom.

We can take heart that tech titans like Apple and Samsung are listening to their customers and delivering appropriately affordable products. This should help bring consumers back into the fold.

Slowly, ever so slowly, we’ll regain our foothold and push revenue — and customer satisfaction — back up where it belongs.

 

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

How Intel’s latest desktop CPUs can lower your customers' power costs

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by Kevin Jacoby on 05/13/2020
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Intel’s new 10th Gen Core S-series processors are among the most powerful ever produced. But did you know they’re also among the most efficient?

With energy costs on the rise and new energy regulations on the way, your customers should be interested.

By upgrading their processors (and motherboards), you can help your customers save money in the long run. This should also help them comply with new regulations — and even help to save the planet.

Idle computers give the devil time

What are your customer’s PCs doing right now? Chances are, they’re gobbling up energy and not much else.

That’s because most computers spend more time idling than actually computing anything.

Even if the average business PC is active for the entirety of an 8-hour shift, Monday through Friday, that still leaves 128 hours of weekly downtime. That’s over 5 full days’ worth of powered sleep!

10th gen to the rescue

On April 30, when Intel took the wraps off its super-powered 10th Gen Core S-series desktop processors, gallons of digital ink were spilled over how powerful they are. But few noted how much power these CPUs can save.

10th gen Intel Core S-series processors

That’s important because governments around the globe are tightening their energy standards. These new rules include the U.S. Energy Star for Computers v8 in 2020; the California Energy Commission Title 20, Tier 2 requirement in 2021 (with other U.S. states following); and Japan’s Top Runner program in 2022.

As Intel points out, all these regulations are requiring PC makers to adjust their desktop power targets.

To help your customers comply with the new standards — and lower their own energy costs — Intel has built a bold new feature into its newest gear. The latest platform can reduce idle power by up to 30%.

Introducing the first ATX12VO mobo

Those new Intel Core processors weren’t the only things to jump out of the cake on April 30. While Intel was busy raising the international speed limit, ASRock dropped the world’s first ATX12VO motherboard.

ASRock ATX120VO motherboard

ASRock ATX120VO PG Velocita: reduces idle power

Using Intel’s new platform specifications, high-end mobo maker ASRock created the Z490 Taichi and Z490 PG Velocita variants. Both are designed to use up to 27% less power by leveraging a single-rail power supply unit (PSU).

Most PSUs include 12-, 3.3- and 5-volt rails. (“Rails” refers to the circuitry that creates voltage.) This relies on the PSU converting AC power to DC at the plug. While this may be the industry standard, it’s anything but efficient.

The new ATX120VO spec obviates the PSU’s 3.3- and 5-volt rails, moving the creation of those voltages onto the motherboard. The change makes no difference to performance. But it’s a big win for energy efficiency.

Selling green—and making some

The more tech-savvy of us rarely tire of hearing about the latest and greatest toys. If it’s overclocked, multi-threaded, and “faster than ever,” we want to know about it.

Business-focused customers, on the other hand, may grow weary of this pitch. To them, overclocked may just mean overpriced.

Consider, then, the alternate narrative that Intel is offering the channel. If the usual hi-tech hoopla falls on deaf ears, you may be able to pivot.

Giving sales pitches based on green tech, high-efficiency, and fixed-cost reduction should give tech providers new power.

 

 

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

Help customers stay connected while they’re stuck at home

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by Kevin Jacoby on 04/20/2020
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Sheltering in place may be saving our lives through the surreal Pandemic 2020. But for many of us, the internet is what’s saving our minds.

Almost overnight, we've started spending much of our daily 24 hours asking the internet for food, information, entertainment, communication, education and, yes, toilet paper.

But not all internet connections are created equal. Chances are, some of your working-from-home customers are suffering from Wi-Fi and cellular dead zones.

That’s where you come in. You can help your customers stay sane, stay working and maintain their children’s education. All while keeping some revenue flowing into your company.

Let’s take a look at a couple of common problems — and the solutions you can offer.

Cell signal boosting:

> Problem: Poor cellular signal

> Symptoms: Missed and/or dropped calls, missing SMS messages, slow upload/download speeds

> Solution: A cell signal booster

Major cell providers such as Verizon and AT&T do their best to blanket the country in LTE, the current gold standard for 4G cellular connectivity. But they can’t always account for physical impediments to available cell signals, including concrete walls, rural landscapes and underground dwellings.

If your customers are missing important calls while working from home, they might be relieved to hear about cellular boosters such as Cel-Fi Pro.

Cel-Fi Pro cell signal booster

Cel-Fi Pro: pump up the cellular connectivity

Setup is fairly simple. There are two small black boxes: a Network Unit and a Coverage Unit. Just place them in your home, then connect them with a free app on your mobile phone. The Network Unit goes where the signal is strongest. The Coverage Unit goes near the problem area (say, a basement) and provides up to 100dB of gain.

The result is a stronger 3G, 4G and 4G LTE cell signal. Your customers should enjoy better reception, faster upload/download speeds, and longer device battery life.

And unless your customers live in a sprawling mega-mansion, they should be covered. The Cel-Fi Pro extends to a generous 13,000 square feet of indoor space per system.

Retailing for around $700, the Cel-Fi Pro isn’t cheap. But the relief and convenience it can provide to your customers may well be worth the price.

Wi-Fi range extension:

> Problem: Wi-Fi dead zones

> Symptoms: Slow or no internet connectivity

> Solution: A Wi-Fi range extender, aka a mesh network

Home-office routers have only so much power. The farther the user gets from the router, the harder it is for their device to pick up an adequate signal. Add dense walls to the equation, and the signal might be lost altogether. Brick, stone and concrete may make for a solid home, but they’re Wi-Fi’s sworn enemies.

The go-to solution? A Wi-Fi range extender such as the tri-band Netgear Nighthawk X6S EX8000.

Netgear Nighthawk EX8000

Netgear range extender: boost the signal

The EX8000 retails for around $200, which might be more than your customer spent on their router in the first place. But they’ll feel a lot better about that price once the power of up to 3Gbps flows past the 19th century farmhouse wall that’s such a hit with dinner guests.

As with the cellular booster, the key here is placement. You’ll need to position the Nighthawk so that it can grab the primary internet feed from the router while simultaneously shooting the signal into the dead zone.

After that, it’s just a matter of connecting a device to the signal from the range extender. Voila, your customer is back in business.

Eying connectivity’s future

Tomorrow will surely hold another set of connectivity challenges. Customers will need your help with those too.

5G cellular service has been introduced, so far in a limited fashion. But those limits won’t last long. Soon your customers will need 5G-compatible mobile devices to take advantage of this high-bandwidth cell service.

The same holds true for Wi-Fi 6 (aka 802.11ax). It’s already showing up in the latest phones, tablets and PCs. More is sure to come soon. To take advantage of this new standard in high-speed internet, your customers will need new routers, switches and range extenders.

At some point, this pandemic crisis will end — they always do. What won’t end is the need for network-accessible devices and the infrastructure that feeds them.

Opportunities will abound. They always do too. Until then, stay connected, stay at home if you can, and above all, stay safe.

 

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

Gaming laptops get speedy with new 10th gen Intel CPUs

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by Kevin Jacoby on 04/13/2020
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Gaming is going mobile, and gamers need laptops that can keep up. Good thing Intel just released its new 10th generation Core H-Series mobile processors.

At the top of the heap is the dazzling Core i9-10980HK. This mobile silicon rocket features 8 cores, 26 threads and a top speed of 5.3GHz.

Yes, in a laptop.

Here come the mobile monsters

Intel says we can expect more than 100 laptop designs this year that feature its 10th gen Core processors. But let’s face it, only a handful will have the guts to go into pitched battle at the hands of pro gamers.

Among the best and brightest will sit a panoply of extraordinary contenders, all vying for your customer’s attention — and dollars. Let’s take a look at 3 standouts.

Razer’s cutting edge

Any list of today’s baddest gaming lappies has to include the new Razer Blade 15. Why? Because Razer understands that the best tech is always greater than the sum of its parts.

In this case, the parts we’re talking about are already impressive. In addition to its Intel 8-core i7-10875H processor, the Blade 15 laptop features NVIDIA’s new GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU with Max-Q design.

Razer Blade 15 gaming laptop

Razer Blade 15: super GPU included

When NVIDIA says Super-GPU, it isn’t kidding. We’re talking 8GB of GDDR6 high-bandwidth memory and enough ray-tracing cores to rival almost any desktop system.

But this kind of performance doesn’t come cheap. The Razer Blade 15 retails for around $1,600. It’s not the most expensive mobile gaming rig we’ll talk about, but it’s not far off.

Acer’s ace in the hole

Are your customers ready to spend even bigger bucks? Then introduce them to Acer’s Predator Triton 500. Acer plans to make the Triton 500 available starting next month for the princely sum of $2,199.

Acer Predator Triton 500 gaming laptop

Acer Predator Triton 500: one cool operator

No surprise, the Triton 500 packs the same 10th-gen, Core i9 punch as the Razer. No surprise, either, that its visuals come courtesy of the same NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU.

So what’s the extra cash for? To keep things coooool, baby. Real cool.

Deep in the belly of this high-temp heartthrob lies a state-of-the-art cooling system. Called Vortex Flow, it comprises three 4th gen AeroBlade 3D fans. Acer says the fans’ serrated edges, winglets and curved fins provide up to 45% more airflow, yet without any extra noise. 

If that’s a little too rich for your customer’s blood, they may be semi-relieved to know Acer will also release a less-expensive companion called the Nitro 5. It will retail for just shy of $750. But that’s not really playing by the go-big-or-go-home rules, now is it?

Lenovo: straight for the middle of the road

Lenovo hasn’t yet set a date for its upcoming Legion gaming laptops. But the company was happy to take the wraps of a spec list that should sound pretty familiar by now.

You may be unsurprised to learn that Lenovo’s upcoming Legion 7i, like the Acer and Razer laptops, will pack a 10th gen Intel Core H-series CPU and NVIDIA GPU. But Lenovo does have some important differentiators built in.

Lenovo Legion 7i gaming laptop

 

Lenovo Legion 7i: same yet different

For instance, Lenovo’s Legion laptops will be the first to debut NVIDIA’s new Advanced Optimus technology. Optimus speeds performance by dynamically detecting GPU workloads and then automatically allocating work to 1 of 2 graphics processors.

For AAA gaming and other A/V-intensive tasks, Optimus will turn on the discreet super-GPU. For all other tasks it will switch from Super(man) to Clark Kent, employing the onboard Intel graphics to save battery power and lower thermals.

Lenovo will introduce various iterations of Legion later this year, all in the reasonable price range of $999 - $1,199. Well, reasonable for gaming PCs.

Gaming for the win

Alas, the channel cannot be immune to the financial virus brought on by the current pandemic. But you may be able to stack the odds in your favor by focusing on gaming, a vertical that’s growing by leaps and bounds.

Gaming’s finances are impressive, and getting more so by the quarter. It’s one of the few markets that still supports soaring average selling prices (ASPs) and cutting-edge tech.

Now that gaming is officially going mobile, it’s time to get in the game and go for the win.

 

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