Xiaomi Mi Mix

Xiaomi Mi Mix

[ The Verge ] The Xiaomi Mi Mix is a 6.4-inch smartphone with a 91.3% screen-to-body ratio. The display takes up almost the entire front face and is literally — and this is not marketing mumbo jumbo — edge-to-edge for the top, left, and right edges. Right at the edges the display curves, much like the recently showcased Sharp Corner R concept smartphone that uses Sharp’s Free-Form Display technology.

French designer Philippe Starck was recruited as design lead for the Mi Mix. We recently saw Apple use ceramic in its Apple Watch Edition. Now we see ceramic used on a smartphone; the Mi Mix’s rear and side buttons are made of ceramic. Philippe Starck shares his fascinating design philosophy of the Mi Mix in this YouTube video.

I’ve always thought it ugly to see sensor holes on the front of iPhones and Android smartphones, especially the ones with white faces because those black holes are so pronounced and often lack symmetry. The Xiaomi Mi Mix won’t be completely devoid of black sensor holes — the bottom lip has a camera — but the 91.3% glass front looks more beautiful than any other smartphone I’ve seen. So where did all those ugly black hole sensors go?

The proximity sensor has been replaced by Norway-based Elliptic Lab‘s INNER BEAUTY, software that uses ultrasound to determine proximity. A piezoelectric speaker uses the metal frame to generate sound, allowing the deletion of the earpiece hole we traditionally see as a wide slit on the top lip of smartphones. We will have to see how well the proximity software and the piezoelectric speaker work, but kudos to Xiaomi and Starck for pushing the boundaries of minimal design with technology.

The Xiaomi Mi Mix is not just beautiful, it is also powerful:

  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, the same that goes into the recently announced Google Pixel smartphone.
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Camera: 16 megapixel rear with phase-detect autofocus
  • Dual SIM
  • Audio: 192Hz 24-bit DAC with 3.5-mm headphone jack
  • Battery: 4400mAh

Despite the Xiaomi Mi Mix being a concept phone, it will launch on November 4th in China for ¥3,499 or about $500.

iPhone 7 Display Test Results by DisplayMate

[ DisplayMate ] Raymond Soneira, President of DisplayMate, ran a battery of tests to find out how good the iPhone 7’s display is. Here’s my summary:

  • Two Color Gamuts: 102% DCI-P3, a wide color gamut used in digital cinema, and 104% sRGB / Rec. 709. The iPhone 7 automatically switches between the two.
  • Brightness: 602 cd/m2, highest peak brightness measured on a smartphone.
  • Contrast: 1762, highest of any mobile IPS LCD that has been measured, and 26% higher than Apple’s spec of 1400.
  • Reflectance: 4.4%, lowest measured on a smartphone.
  • Color Accuracy: Most color accurate display ever measured (including smartphones, tablets, laptops, monitors, and TVs).

The iPhone 7’s display is better in almost every category than the iPhone 6’s display. In Soneira’s words the iPhone 7’s display “… is by far the best performing mobile LCD display that we have ever tested, and it breaks many display performance records.” But he also notes OLED display superiority in the areas of thinness, lightness, smaller bezel, flexibility, response time, viewing angles, always-on mode, and power management.

Phil Schiller Claims iPhone 7 Display The Best

Here’s the list Phil Schiller put up while declaring the iPhone 7’s display the best on any smartphone:

  • 25% brighter display
  • Wide color gamut
  • Cinema standard
  • Color management
  • 3D Touch

Brightness: Let’s start from the top. The iPhone 7’s display is 25% brighter than the display found in the iPhone 6s. So how bright is it? According to AnandTech, max brightness in nits:

  • iPhone 6s Plus: 582
  • iPhone 6s: 567

So, if the iPhone 7’s display brightness is 25% brighter:

  • iPhone 7 Plus: 582 + 146 = 728
  • iPhone 7: 567 + 142 = 709

That’s pretty bright. We’ll see what AnandTech, DisplayMate and other publications say when they get their hands on the iPhone 7 and measure max brightness.

Wide Color Gamut: Apple put a “(P3)” after “wide color display” on the iPhone 7 specifications page. What’s P3? I had to look it up. According to Wikipedia, “DCI-P3 or DCI/P3 is a common color space for digital movie projection from the US-American film industry.” (DCI stands for Digital Cinema Initiatives, a joint venture composed of major motion picture studios to establish a standard architecture for digital cinema systems.) DCI-P3 covers 85.5% in CIE 1931 or 86.9% in CIE 1976. What does that mean? DCI-P3 covers about the same color space as Adobe RGB, which is wider than Rec. 709. Rec.709 is often associated with sRGB and DCI-P3 covers about 25% more color — especially with red and green — than sRGB. The second bullet point — “Wide color gamut” — and the third bullet point — “Cinema standard” — mean pretty much the same thing: the wide color gamut is the cinema standard DCI-P3. I guess budding filmmakers can use an iPhone 7 and not worry about inaccurate colors.

Color Management: With the release of iOS 9.3 Apple integrated OS X’s ColorSync color management technology into iOS. The first product to make use of ColorSync was the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. ColorSync’s job is to make sure colors are accurately reproduced on the iPhone 7.

3D Touch: Not much needs to be said about 3D Touch, but I don’t know of any other smartphone brand that has implemented three dimensional touch on their displays.

So is Phil Schiller right? Is the iPhone 7 display the best? That depends on how we want to define best, but when it comes to a wider color gamut and making sure those colors are color managed for accuracy the iPhone 7 might actually be the best. But that’s a fairly narrow definition. I’m going to wait for some benchmark results.

Super Mario Run Creator Shigeru Miyamoto Explains Why iPhone First

[ TIME ] Shigeru Miyamoto:

Of course there are other mobile devices we’ll be bringing the game to later. But with the Apple devices, their hardware design is such that there’s not much you have to do from a compatibility standpoint across multiple different devices. It’s very streamlined. And I think just from a philosophical standpoint, there are elements of their design that are similar to ours. So that’s why we’re bringing it to iPhone first.

The iPhones you can buy from Apple as of today and in the near future are:

  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone SE

The iPhone 6s and 7 both feature 4.7-inch displays with a pixel format of 1334×750. The iPhone 7 Plus and the 6s Plus feature 5.5-inch displays with 1920×1080. The iPhone SE sports a 4-inch display with a 1136×640 pixel format. Three pixel formats for five models. Though all five models have roughly 16:9 aspect ratios. From a pixel format or resolution (ppi) perspective the iPhone series is not very streamlined.

And the iPhone 7 series sport a wide color gamut display so colors will look differently than the ones you’ll see on the iPhone 6 series and on the iPhone SE. You can 3D Touch all the aforementioned iPhones except the SE. In terms of display hardware the iPhones are quite fragmented, aspect ratio being the exception. Of course iPhones exist alongside Android smartphones, where fragmentation is more pronounced in terms different display hardware and capabilities. Relative to Android smartphones iPhones are indeed streamlined.

The one thing that is definitely streamlined and consistent across all five iPhone models: iOS 10, and maybe that’s the most important. All five models can run iOS 10, which will be launched in a few days on September 13.

Miyamoto mentions a similar design philosophy between Nintendo and Apple — I’m guessing simplicity in design? — as another reason why Nintendo decided to bring Super Mario Run first to the iPhone.

Why Apple Killed The Headphone Jack on the iPhone 7

[ Buzzfeed ] The 3.5-mm headphone jack is universal and has been for quite some time. Look at a laptop, desktop computer, smartphone, tablet, car, airplane, alarm clock, receivers, computer speakers, conference systems, headphones, etc. What you’ll find is that anything everything that can output sound has a 3.5-mm headphone jack. And Apple killed it on the iPhone 7.

Apple is very good at killing off stuff. I remember when Steve Jobs came back and a couple of years later introduced the iMac. Everyone who used a computer used a 3.5-inch floppy disk at the time. But Jobs killed off the 3.5-inch floppy disk. The future was writable CD-ROM. Fast forward 18 years and Apple has been eliminating the SuperDrive, a rewritable CD/DVD drive, from MacBooks. Yes, Apple has no qualms about killing off old stuff to embrace the future.

There are good reasons to kill off old stuff. The 3.5-inch floppy disk had a 1.44MB (that’s megabyte) of storage while the CD-ROM had 700MB. The SuperDrive? A DVD can store about 4.7GB (or 9.4GB double-sided). Compare that to a 32GB USB drive you can buy for $15. The USB drive is not only faster but smaller and more durable. It’s pretty obvious the DVD needs to die. CDs were better than floppies. USB drives are better than DVDs. But what about the 3.5-mm headphone jack? What’s better than the 3.5-mm headphone jack?

Before we talk about what might be better, let’s first talk about what Apple thinks is wrong with the universal 3.5-mm headphone jack. Dan Riccio, SVP of Hardware Engineering at Apple thinks its old, takes up space, and dumb:

We’ve got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space.

I understand space is tight in an iPhone. But Apple created this problem by continually making the iPhone thinner and lighter. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have problems that were the result of Apple putting too high of a premium on thinness and lightness; read iPhone 6 and 6 Plus Unresponsive Touchscreen and Class Action Lawsuit Against Apple for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus Unresponsive Touchscreen. The iPhone 7 is also the result of Apple continuing to put too high a premium on thinness and lightness. If the iPhone 7 was designed a little thicker there wouldn’t be a problem with a tiny 3.5-mm headphone jack taking up really valuable space. That space became really valuable because Apple took space away in the name of thinness and lightness. Think about it: if the iPhone 7 was a little thicker there would still be a 3.5-mm headphone jack. If the iPhone 7 was a little thicker there wouldn’t be an insanely ugly camera bump.

The 3.5-mm headphone jack made it difficult to meet IP67 water resistance (not waterproof) according to Apple. That’s probably true, but making a smartphone with a 3.5-mm headphone jack water resistant does not require killing it off. Other smartphone brands have been able to design waterproof smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are waterproof (IP68) and still manages to have a 3.5-mm headphone jack. The 3.5-mm headphone jack sporting Sony Xperia Z5 series of smartphones are all IP68 rated.

Apple seems to think its proprietary Lightning port is a better audio connectivity solution. Let’s think about this for a second. Let’s say you’re flying Singapore Air to South Korea. If you’re anything like me I immediately start watching all the movies I haven’t seen. Let’s also say you just bought an iPhone 7 and because you wanted to go all in with Apple’s future vision of audio connectivity went ahead and bought the incredibly overpriced AirPods (US$159). Yeeah, you’re in the future now. You want to watch all those movies, but there’s a problem: there’s no way to connect your future-is-now super awesome AirPods. So when the stewardess comes around with the 3.5-inch headphones you raise your hand and take a set. That’s just one example.

Apple’s ultimate vision for the future of audio connectivity is no wires at all. I get that. I don’t like having a lot of wires, but the 3.5-mm headphone jack was universal, reliable, and affordable. If Apple really wanted to make some space inside the thin iPhone 7 chassis I think the Lightning port, which takes up way more space than the 3.5-mm headphone jack, should have been eliminated too. Why? There’s already a wireless charging standard and you can sync via WiFi. The always required to have with you USB-to-Lightning cable and power block could have been eliminated from our lives. And the elimination of the Lightning port might have enabled the design to be not only water resistant but waterproof.

Apple iPhone 7 Camera

[ Apple ] Here are a few takeaways from today’s iPhone 7 announcement by Apple.

Optical Image Stabilization

This definitely deserves a finally. Finally, the regular non Plus version of the iPhone 7 also gets optical image stabilization. It sure did take Apple a while. With the non Plus version of the iPhone 7 you should be able to get better shots off even if you’re hands are a little jittery, and a bit better photos when there’s not a lot of light.

f/1.8 Aperture

The lenses are getting faster — allows 50% more light into the camera sensor than the iPhone 6s according to Apple — but it’s not the fastest the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge sports a faster aperture of f/1.7. The smaller the number the better it is at gathering light. Aperture isn’t everything, but it’s one of the most important part of making a solid camera. Note: The second camera — the telephoto camera — in the iPhone 7 Plus sports an aperture of f/2.8.

Quad-LED True Tone Flash

The flash is 50% brighter than the one in the iPhone 6s. The color temperature of the flash adjusts depending on the color temperature of the environment. Now this is something professional camera brands like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Samsung, etc. should take note of: develop a flash that senses the color temperature of the environment and uses that exact color temperature for the flash, and sell it for under a gazillion dollars.

12 Megapixel Image Sensor

Apple didn’t say if the image sensor is larger than the one in the iPhone 6s or the 6s Plus, but that might actually be the case because the camera bump is way larger. Make the iPhone thin and don’t mind the camera bump. Who made this decision? In my opinion it was the wrong decision.

More pixels don’t mean better photos unless the pixels on the image sensor are better at capturing light. They need to be better because the smaller those pixels the worse they are if you keep the technology the same. I’m guessing Apple is using software — algorithms to be more specific — to make up for the hardware deficit by going for more megapixels.

Image Signal Processor (ISP)

The Apple-designed ISP is built into the A10 Fusion chip. The ISP enables the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus to make 100 billion operations every time you take a shot. What are those operations? Faster focus, improved local tone mapping, adjusting white balance, and a bit of machine learning.

Two Cameras

On the iPhone 7 Plus there are two cameras. Both are 12 megapixel cameras, but one is wide-angle (the one in the iPhone 7) and the other is a telephoto camera. Apple is using the two cameras to enable 2x optical zoom and up to 10x digital zoom. In a future update there will be a digitally created bokeh feature in Portrait mode.

My Thoughts

I think it’s safe to say the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus cameras will be one of the best cameras on a smartphone. But the thing I’m not sure about is the machine learning, ISP-based digital manipulation of photos. I have a bad taste in my mouth.

A friend of mine was telling me about another friend who is an amazing photographer. He showed me his Instagram account. He had a beautiful landscape photo with the night sky lit up with stars. Wait, I wouldn’t call it a photo; it was more a rendering or a compilation. My friend explained to me the landscape part of the photo was taken separately from the night sky, and then merged together in Photoshop.

This is how I decide whether or not a photograph is a photograph, and it’s pretty simple: if I were there can my eyes see it? If the answer is yes, then it’s a photograph. If not, then not. Clearly the iPhone 7 isn’t doing what this friend of a friend is doing, but I’m not sure the photos coming out of the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus will feel as organic. If the photos coming out of a Leica camera are on the organic end of the spectrum the multi-photo Photoshop’ed photos would be on the other end. I hope the iPhone 7 photos will not tend toward the Photoshop’ed end.

Apple Watch Series 2: 1000-nit Display

The Apple Watch Series 2 sports a display with 1000 nits, the brightest display Apple has ever shipped. Now you can more easily see what’s on the display in bright environments.