Samsung’s duel with Sony steals IFA show

Japanese giant goes head to head with its Korean rival at the world’s biggest consumer electronics show

A man shows a Sony Smart Watch II at  IFA, one of the world’s largest trade fairs for consumer electronics and electrical home appliances in Berlin

A man shows a Sony Smart Watch II at IFA, one of the world’s largest trade fairs for consumer electronics and electrical home appliances in Berlin

 

In recent years Berlin’s IFA, one of the world’s biggest consumer electronics show, has seen tugs-of-war over flatscreen televisions, then tablets.

This year’s show opened yesterday with a Dick Tracy-style duel. Before its Korean rival Samsung stole the limelight with its smartwatch, Sony was determined to enjoy all the attention yesterday, if only for a few hours.

At a packed press briefing, the Japanese electronics giant reminded the world it had launched its own smartwatch earlier this year without hype.

But, in implicit recognition that the Sony SmartWatch failed to set the world alight, it unveiled its successor, the SmartWatch2, to go on sale later this month.

Sony’s second-chance smartwatch is made of aluminium with customisable wristband and a 1.6-inch LCD touchscreen which is non-reflective for better outdoor use.

It weighs 23.5g, doesn’t mind spills and splashes – though its not fully waterproof – and offers users a choice between an analogue and digital watch display.

We’re not quite in Dick Tracy territory yet: Sony calls the watch a second screen for your smartphone, allowing you to read texts, emails, and other posts without having to dig your phone out of your pocket or handbag.

The crucial question is who is ready to fork out €179 for the convenience of not having to dig out your phone from your pocket or handbag.


‘Social Live’ feature
Topping Sony’s IFA hype list was its flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z1.

It looks like the previous iteration but Sony’s “watershed” phone is waterproof, with a 5-inch screen, and a 20.7 megapixel camera with 3x zoom without any blockiness.

The phone runs on a 2.2GHz Qualcomm processor and Android 4.2.2.

“The Xperia Z1 offers you best-in-class imaging and a revolutionary new way to capture and share your memories,” said Kazuo Hirai, Sony chief executive, during an IFA press presentation yesterday in Berlin.

A new “Social Live” feature streams video live to Facebook, while a photo-burst feature allowing you select the best of a range of photos.

PlayMemories Online, in a nod to iCloud, saves your photos online to save on internal storage.

A new InfoEye feature promises to provide information on what comes in sight of its viewfinder: famous landmarks, plots of books and even what food goes with a bottle of wine. And all ready to launch later this month.

At his presentation yesterday, Kazuo Hirai insisted Sony was still all about design and innovation, though many of its products were merely polished versions of others’ ideas.

The Vaio Fit 11 laptop/tablet hybrid is an old idea in these fast-moving tech times, with more than a passing likeness to the Microsoft Surface. It brings some Xperia polish to the experience and comes in black or white.

Unlike the Surface, the backstand allows varied angles while the detachable keyboard – including trackpad – is charged from the main tablet battery every time it is attached.

The models on display yesterday offered a 1.5 GHz processor with 4GB of build-in ram, expandable via an SD card. One weak spot: according to Sony the battery has an estimated five hours’ life, which is not going to win any longevity prizes in the tablet stakes.

To give the Japanese firm its due, its best idea yesterday was its simplest.

The QX100 is a digital SLR-style lens that clips onto the rear of your Android or Apple phone, connects wirelessly, and allows you take higher-quality photographs via its Carl Zeiss lens.

The lens has its own power source, chargeable via a micro-USB connection. It even offers a a tripod mount on the bottom.


Two a penny
They are hoping to appeal to anyone who’s frustrated by the limitations of mobile phone snaps, yet unwilling to carry around an SLR. It remains to be seen if another piece of battery-powered kit is more appealing.

Sony’s other new products, unveiled yesterday, included new video cameras as well as the new Cybershot RX1R camera, with a Carl Zeiss lens.

Elsewhere in Berlin’s fairgrounds, new smartphones were two a penny.

Models unveiled yesterday included new blue versions of the HTC One and One mini, as well as a new HTC Desire 601, similar to their One model, but with a plastic case, 4.7-inch display, 5-megapixel camera and 1.4GHz processor.

Its entry-level mobile, the HTC Desire 300, offers unfussy users a 1GHz dual-core processor and 5-megapixel camera.

Also out of the traps early yesterday was Spotify with its new “Connect” wireless streaming system, aimed squarely at Apple’s AirPlay.

The online music service hopes to win over the growing numbers of digital-only music lovers who prefer to fill their room-filling musical experience to headphones, but who have been frustrated by Bluetooth systems’ notorious dropouts, poor sound quality and range.

Loyal Spotify users will soon see a new button in their iPhone app (Android users will have to be patient for a little while longer) to let them beam their favourite music to Spotify Connect speakers within range.


Streamed music
And what a range of speakers: Bang & Olufsen, Denon, Marantz, Philips, Pioneer and Yamaha are just a few of the speaker manufacturers already on board.

“We are great at making a music service so we are going to leave it to our partners to make great devices,” said Pascal de Mul, global hardware partnership chief told Pocketlint. com

The Connect logo was perched on many otherwise anonymous black boxes around the IFA halls yesterday, offering music lovers the chance to share their streamed music with anyone else on the same wifi connection.

The catches: Spotify managers said the system will require a premium account and only allows music to be sent to a single device – and it can only beam streaming music and not locally-stored music files.

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