IFA 2018

The shape of things to come

Huawei AI Cube
Huawei AI Cube
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Edge
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Edge
Lenovo Yoga Book C930
Lenovo Yoga Book C930

Sleek speakers, cool smartphones and 8K-ready television displays are among the devices unveiled. Lester Hio reports from Berlin

The IFA consumer tech show started as a modest radio exhibition almost a century ago, but has since grown to become Europe's biggest tech show where international companies gather to display their latest wares.

The Straits Times gives its first impressions of the top three most interesting devices to come out of IFA 2018: a two-screen laptop-tablet-e-reader hybrid, a smart speaker that doubles as a portable 4G router, and a wheel-shaped speaker which users can roll along the ground to turn the volume up or down.


SMART SPEAKER

Huawei AI Cube

Price to be confirmed

Chinese electronics firm Huawei is best known as a smartphone manufacturer, but it has now also jumped into the smart speaker arena with its new AI Cube.

Its design is reminiscent of one of the pioneers of smart speakers - the Google Home - being similarly vase-like and circular, with a speaker at the base. It is not a cube, as its name would suggest, but more of a tall, sleek cylinder.

The 21.8cm-tall speaker is powered by Amazon Alexa and, in China, Huawei's own HiAssistant software. A 360-degree speaker rounds out the AI Cube's base, providing good, powerful sound.

The presence of Alexa as the voice assistant software of choice might dampen the AI Cube's chances of reaching Singapore, as there is still no official native support for Alexa.

But it is not another run-of-the-mill smart speaker because the AI Cube also doubles as a Wi-Fi router. An Ethernet port at the base lets you connect your modem to it so you can spread Wi-Fi goodness throughout your home.

It also comes with a microSIM port for a 4G microSIM card, which turns the AI Cube into a portable router.

It might not be very practical to lug around a 900g speaker just to have Internet access when setting up a hot spot on a smartphone is so much more convenient, but it does make the AI Cube more useful than just being yet another smart speaker in a growing market.


SPEAKER

Bang & Olufsen Beosound Edge

Price: €3,250 (S$5,180)

At first glance, the Beosound Edge looks like it just rolled out of an industrial plant, like a car wheel which has yet to have tyres put on.

But when it lights up as you approach it, you see it for what it is - a futuristic-looking speaker with a radically new design scheme for high-end audio equipment.

The Beosound Edge contains two tweeters, four mid-range drivers and a 10-inch woofer for bass, all encased in a sleek aluminium frame that stands out for its looks as much as for how the speaker sounds.

The intuitive thing to do upon seeing a large metal circle on the ground is to roll it along - and the Edge lets you do so.

The speaker's base hides a balancing cradle that holds it in place and prevents it from rolling away like a runaway wheel, but also lets you rock it gently from side to side to adjust the volume.

The speaker is capable of pushing out audio on both sides, which can be adjusted using an app so you can have audio blasting away from one side, but at a lower volume, or turned off altogether, on the other.

The Edge is slated for release in November, first in Europe and the United States.

LAPTOP, TABLET AND E-READER

Lenovo Yoga Book C930

Price: €999 (S$1,590)

Lenovo released its first dual-screen Yoga Book in 2016, which, at that time, was one of the most innovative designs for a convertible laptop.

The Yoga Book C930, the first refresh of the Yoga Book, continues to impress with some thoughtful upgrades and features.

Like the original, it opens up like a laptop and can flip all the way round to double as a tablet.

The bottom display swops out the LCD screen of the original for an e-ink one. This lets users use it as an e-book reader, with the e-ink screen clear, crisp and much easier on the eyes than an LCD panel.

The bottom panel also takes touch input, letting users draw and type on it. The early production units on the IFA show floor I tried had a bit of input lag when I initially used the pen, but that seemed to be the case only when I was first switching to pen mode. It worked well subsequently, with a fluid, intuitive feel.

In laptop mode, the bottom screen functions as a keyboard. It still takes a while to get used to touch typing on a display panel, rather than a physical keyboard, due to the lack of tactile feedback.

Lenovo says it has integrated smart features that will detect a user's typing patterns and modify the keyboard accordingly.

Always end up hitting the L key when you want to hit K instead? The display will then move the K key farther to the right so you will miss it less.

It seems useful in theory, but I can see a fair bit of typos even with this feature in play if you try to type quickly.

The device is very thin at 9.9mm when shut. However, finding the groove to open the screen can be a challenge at times. Lenovo has added a knock-to-open feature, whereby gently tapping the top will cause it to spring open.

It took me a few attempts to get used to where to tap and how much force to use. But once I got the hang of it, I could not see myself going back to opening it through the usual means.

Local pricing and availability have yet to be announced, but the original Yoga Book retailed for $849 when it was released in November 2016.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2018, with the headline 'The shape of things to come'. Print Edition | Subscribe