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July 16, 2021
👋 Hi there! Busy morning of tech with some fierce debates emerging thanks to Valve... read on!
Nord 2 camera

OnePlus has been drip-dripping out features and news about its upcoming Nord 2, set to launch next week on July 22. Previously there’s been news about the phone going with a Mediatek Dimensity 1200, rather than the usual Qualcomm mid-range SoC.

The announcement yesterday was a bigger one, focusing on a reveal that the Nord 2 has a flagship-level main camera.

The news:

  • The Nord 2 will use a 50MP Sony IMX766 main camera sensor with OIS.
  • This flagship-level sensor was also used by OnePlus in its ultra-wide cameras on the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro, and by its close-relative company, the Oppo Find X3 Pro, in its main and ultra-wide cameras.
  • In theory that’s a good thing. Reviews praised the Oppo Find X3 Pro’s main and ultra-wide cameras.

Questions:

  • However, OnePlus isn’t going with the usual Qualcomm chipset, instead needing to learn and integrate with Mediatek image processing and hardware.
  • The final product — the quality of photos — therefore is not guaranteed, and becomes a valid question. 
  • Could MediaTek do better? We’ve seen a Realme-Mediatek phone camera in the Realme X7 Pro do well compared to the original Nord. 
  • But will a new system be harder to optimize for OnePlus in the mid-range spec? And will this all apply to however OnePlus imports this as over to the US?
Roundup

📈 Xiaomi becomes the second-largest smartphone OEM, according to one analyst firm, eating Huawei’s losses. Global rankings top three: Samsung (19%), Xiaomi (17%), Apple (14%) (Android Authority).

🎧 OnePlus Buds Pro will offer fast charging, adaptive noise cancellation (Android Authority).

👏 The end-of-life Samsung Galaxy S8 gets a new security update, and that’s not supposed to happen, which is great! (Android Authority).

👉 Major news for chips: Intel is in talks to buy GlobalFoundries for about $30 billion (WSJ, $).

🍎 Apple employees say they will leave the company as it denies remote work requests in an apparent company-wide crackdown, though it’s a lot easier to say that than actually leave. No comment from Apple (The Verge).

🍏 Apple brings its free Today At Apple tutorials to YouTube, finally. These are good if you’re looking to learn, hopefully more roll out soon (YouTube).

📦 US cracks down on “Fulfilled by Amazon,” citing sale of 400,000+ hazardous items (Ars Technica).

🎤 The new Anthony Bourdain documentary ‘Roadrunner’ leans partly on AI-generated audio of Bourdain’s voice. Some argue that’s appalling, some argue that will be the norm in years to come (Engadget).

📎 Microsoft’s new 3D emoji include Clippy coming back to life in Office (The Verge).

📡 Starlink to improve latency for competitive online gaming, Musk says: 20ms goal (Mashable).

🔭 NASA identifies possible cause of Hubble telescope glitch, down to a power control unit for a payload computer (Gizmodo).

🤔 Hacker News discussion on Open Source Insulin (HN).

⛵ “Legally and practically, what is stopping me from walking out of work, buying a boat and sailing off into the ocean” (r/nostupidquestions).

Friday Fun

It’s real! Valve announced it is indeed bringing out a handheld gaming PC, called the Steam Deck, and it looks like a lot of fun.

In brief:

  • Valve put the Steam Deck on pre-order immediately, starting at $399, with availability in December 2021. (Pre-ordering is a bit of a process, to stop scalpers.)
  • It runs custom AMD hardware, and given the size of display, and resolution, should be able to handle even AAA games.
  • Those games will come from your Steam library, where most PC gamers will own a bunch of titles.
  • It runs SteamOS, making it a Linux-based PC handheld, and more than just a gaming device.

Specs, storage:

  • That AMD hardware is interesting: the Steam Deck packs a four-core, eight-thread CPU paired with eight RDNA 2 compute units for the GPU, and 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM. 
  • The screen is a 7-inch, 1,280 x 800 LCD (720p) screen with a 60Hz refresh rate.
  • Battery life varies wildly, according to Valve — from two to eight hours, depending on how demanding it is. Drop the frame rate down, for example, and you’ll get more battery.
  • The hardware design based on the images and videos has seen mixed feedback. I’ll await reviews for how the buttons and joysticks come together in the hand.
  • The $399 price tag is deceptive — you only get 64GB of average speed eMMC internal storage. Pony up for the 256GB version, which looks almost essential, and you’re paying $529, which is quite a bit above even the Switch (OLED). The 512GB version goes for $649, with “premium anti-glare etched glass,” carry case, and more.
  • Still, consoles are generally sold at a loss on the hardware, with software and accessories making that back over the lifetime of the console.

Nintendo Switch:

  • It’s impossible to avoid Switch comparisons because both are handhelds.
  • Yet they’re very different. 
  • Nintendo is fully behind the Switch in its locked-down way: a foolproof console, great for adults and kids alike, with a bunch of solid to exceptional games. Most people aren’t bothered that it doesn’t do more because what it does do, it does very well.
  • PC handhelds are different beasts, and thus far have had less success. 

Valve isn’t first but may be best:

  • Valve isn’t claiming it is first. Instead, the hook is its unique integration directly with Steam and the flexible platform to allow one to run the Epic Games Store or even Windows makes it wildly open for tinkering. It can also be docked to a bigger display via USB-C.
  • It sort of looks almost perfect as an Xbox handheld gaming console, depending on how it runs? Maybe it can just stream games, too?
  • And it’s very good to see big competition to the Switch, which has been unchallenged by major makers.
  • I do just wish that 64GB version wasn’t so stifling…

Also: IGN published a very good FAQ tackling a lot of important questions, with answers directly from Valve.

Bonus: Unicode’s new emoji finalists, ranked (Gizmodo).

Have a fun weekend,

Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor.

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