ZTE Axon M is Official: 6.75″ Dual Screen Foldable Smartphone!

Amidst a sea of increasingly bezel-less smartphones, ZTE is looking to differentiate itself from its competitors. The company’s flagship smartphone of 2017 may not pack the top-tier hardware specifications we’re seeing in the latest flagships from Samsung, OnePlus, or Google but it has one particular hardware feature to make up for it—a second screen. Indeed, ZTE is attempting to do what Kyocera failed to do with its Echo device back in 2011. The company is hoping to beat Samsung to the market with the first truly functional, foldable smartphone. Can the ZTE Axon M live up to expectations?

ZTE Axon M
Display 2 x 5.2″ @ 1920×1080.  (1920×2160 “single screen” when folded)
Size & Weight 150.8 x 71.6 x 12.1mm, 230g
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, Adreno 530 GPU
RAM 4GB
Battery 3,180 mAh
Internal Storage 64GB
MicroSD Slot Yes (up to 256GB)
Rear Camera 20MP f/1.8 aperture, PDAF, dual-image stabilization, dual LED flash
3.5mm Headphone Jack Yes
Fingerprint Scanner Yes (integrated into power button)
Software Android Nougat 7.1.2 (promised update to Android Oreo)
Price $725
Availability U.S: AT&T ($24.17/month on AT&T Next) this Holiday 2017

Japan: NTT Docomo

China: China Telecom and JD.com in Q1 2018

Europe: Q1 2018


Design

Before we talk about the Axon M, we need to talk about its predecessor, the Kyocera Echo. The Echo was released far ahead of its time when Android was still in its pre-Holo days. Not only was the ecosystem inadequate for the Echo (the device had a “tablet mode” before Google started its tablet push with Android Honeycomb), but it was clunky to use.

When folded together, the Echo measured approximately 17mm in depth which is far thicker than the average device today. Furthermore, the large bezels contributed to the feeling that the device was huge (keep in mind that 4.7″ was large for a smartphone back then). For these reasons and some more we haven’t listed, the Kyocera Echo failed to capture the market and the foldable smartphone concept died with it.

The 2011 Kyocera Echo

But this is 2017 where the industry has been improving on every aspect of smartphones down to nearly eliminating bezels in some cases. Thus, the time is ripe for the foldable smartphone concept to be revived, and it seems that ZTE is the first to take a crack at it. Meet the ZTE Axon M. With a strong hinge connecting two regular smartphone displays and software trickery via Android’s splitscreen functionality plus some home-baked tricks, Axon is pushing a flexible design ahead of the advent of foldable and bendable smartphones in the coming years.


Display

Both of the Axon M’s displays measure 5.2 inches in their diagonal, both featuring the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio as well and they are protected by Gorilla Glass 5. Above the “back” display you’ll see the camera – a single camera for both selfies and regular pictures –  and the device closes like a flip phone giving you a screen on each side. At 1080p resolution, they aren’t the sharpest displays out there, but the relatively small size of each pushes the pixel density to 426 ppi, and you’ll end up seeing twice as many pixels as in other FHD displays once you enter the signature modes that make this device so special.


Software

There are three modes that the Axon M can be used in: Extended ModeDual Mode, and Mirror Mode. In Extended Mode, applications can be stretched across both displays to fill up the combined screen area. In Dual Mode, you can run two different applications at the same time on each display. Finally, in Mirror Mode the Axon M can mirror the same app across both displays.

On stage, ZTE demonstrated a few uses cases of each mode. For Extended Mode, the company showed a user scrolling through their Facebook feed that stretched into the other display. The company stressed how this results in reducing the amount of overall scrolling that a user needs to do. In Dual Mode, ZTE showed off watching a video while also sending a tweet at the same time (and also spoiled a certain Game of Thrones episode in the process). Finally, in Mirror Mode the company showed off a chess game being played between two players on opposite ends. They attempted to show off Google Duo video conferencing, though the person who was being called never picked up so we didn’t get to see that in action.

The device launches with Android Nougat 7.1.2 on board, but ZTE is promising a prompt update to the latest Android Oreo. They also promise regular software updates for the device.

Developers looking to optimize their applications can head to developer.ztedevice.com to learn more, though ZTE states that most applications will not need to be optimized for use on the Axon M, and they made sure that the top hundred Play Store applications work without a hitch on this device as well.


Internal Hardware

Powering the device is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 SoC with 4GBs of RAM. Though the Snapdragon 821 was last year’s premiere SoC, it’s by no means inadequate. Some of the fastest phones out there including the first generation Google Pixel and Pixel XL are based on this processor, and at the same top clockspeeds of 2.15GHz. By itself, the Snapdragon 821 shouldn’t pose a problem in terms of performance, though some of you may understandably be disappointed by the lack of the latest offering from Qualcomm.

Even with the Snapdragon 821 SoC, the ZTE Axon M isn’t guaranteed to be a smooth performer. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 delivered embarrassing real-world performance when compared to its contemporaries, after all, though Samsung did clean up its act with its Galaxy Note 8. ZTE doesn’t have room for mistakes, however, since I can’t see users giving dual screen smartphones a second chance if this generation is inadequate. Do keep in mind that the phone is essentially powering up two FHD displays, so we’ll have to run it through its paces in order to see just how well it can keep up and perform in the real world.

It’s been 6 years since the Kyocera Echo, but this time we hope it’ll only be one year for the next Axon M. We’ll let you know how the Axon M performs in our hands-on review!


Battery

ZTE has embedded a 3,180 mAh capacity battery into its dual screen Axon M. Whether this will be enough for the Snapdragon 821 and two TFT LCD displays is something we’ll have to find out through day to day usage in the coming weeks.


ZTE Axon M Pricing & Availability

The company states that the phone will retail for $725 exclusively at AT&T, and for $24.17/month on AT&T Next. The company has also announced a partnership with NTT Docomo in Japan. In China, the M will be available through China Telecom and JD.com in Q1 2018. Finally, the company states the M will launch in Europe during Q1 2018, but no further information was given about which countries it will be available in.

Axon Passport M program will come for free for all purchases of the Axon M.


What are your thoughts on the ZTE Axon M? Let us know in the comments!

 

Here are the 10,000+ Songs that Google Pixel 2’s Now Playing Feature can Recognize

Google Pixel 2’s newest features is called Now Playing, and what it does is automatically detects songs playing in the background and displays information about it on the lock screen. Google says the ambient-music recognition feature can work offline and does not need to offload any data to their servers to aid in song recognition. Furthermore, the company states that their database can match over 10,000 tunes and that this database can be updated with support for recognizing more songs in the future.

But exactly what songs has Google chosen for its initial Now Playing recognition database? After some digging, we can now share the full, 10,000+ list of songs that the Google Pixel 2’s Now Playing feature can recognize. We achieved this by pulling the 53MB matcher.leveldb file located in /system/etc/ambient.

LevelDB is a key-value storage library that we presumed contained the list of songs for the Now Playing feature. We sent this file to Kieron Quinn, known on our forums as XDA Recognized Contributor Quinny899, who confirmed that this file was indeed the database needed by the Pixel Ambient Services app (which has the Now Playing feature).

Pixel Ambient Services (Free, Google Play) →

When trying to run this app, the app would crash stating that it “could not locate music recognizer core shard.” With the help of APKTool, Quinny899 was able to find the code where this error message was thrown. Lo and behold, the file that Pixel Ambient Services was looking for is the matcher.leveldb file.

Google Pixel 2 Now Playing AmbientSense Google Pixel 2 Now Playing AmbientSense

After confirming this, Quinny899 then ran a script to dump the contents of database, then another script of his that parsed the result to fix the formatting. The result is the “Google Pixel Ambient Song List,” a table of 17,300 songs containing the song name and artist of every tune that Now Playing can recognize.

Google Pixel 2 Now Playing

Why 17,300? No reason in particular. Quinny899 isn’t sure if this is all of the songs as it’s possible that the script did not dump all of them. Some songs appear more than once, too, but we doubt there are thousands of duplicates in there.

Keep in mind that while this Now Playing song list is most likely comprehensive for now, it may not be in the future. This is because, as mentioned previously, Google will be updating their database. It’s unclear whether updating the database will require an OTA update or if the Pixel Ambient Services app can update the database on its own, though.


Update on “AmbientSense”

We earlier believed this feature to be related to previous research on a technology called “AmbientSense” given the matching name and topic, but Google reached out to us to state that their Now Playing feature is not based on AmbientSense. Presumably, this means that the app’s package name matching that AmbientSense paper is not relevant. We’ve reached out to Google for further information on the Now Playing feature and will update our articles when we hear back.

XDA is Partnering with Droidcon UK 2017 and the droidcon2gether Weekend

Droidcon UK, one of the best 2 day conferences focusing on Android in Europe, is taking place at the Business Design Centre in London on October 26th and October 27th. With more than 60 experts on all things Android, fans of XDA are likely to love this event, or at least find something they are interested in. Tickets are still available for both days, but are going fast!. XDA-Developers, being sponsors of the event, will be covering the event via XDA TV and the Portal, and will have a few of our representatives there: TK from XDA TV, our Community Relations Lead Jeremy Meiss, XDA Feed and Labs developer Jeff Corcoran, a few of our Recognized Developers, and myself (Adam Conway).

Just like previous years, we will be covering the event and anything interesting which unfolds. For all those in attendance, feel free to drop by, say hello to us and members of the Honor team, grab some swag, enter to win something from our friends at Aukey, NVIDIA, and more, and also ask us any questions you may have!

I’ve highlighted a couple of talks that I personally find extremely interesting to both fans of Android and developers alike, but there are loads more that look fantastic too! There’s an amazing selection of talks to attend, where you can expand your knowledge on many topics relating even only loosely to Android. With general development tips, AI and more, there’s something for everyone.


Droids to Drones

This year at Droidcon London, “Droids to Drones” is a fun event to test out the Droidcon drone simulation experience. Students can also join The Navigation Challenge, which is a challenge to program a drone with the DJI SDK to autonomously traverse an obstacle course. At the end of the first day there will also be a drone race!

Keynote Android: A Retrospective

 

 

 

 

Looking forward to this Keynote with Chet and Romain!

The Baddest Android Advice in All The Land

 

 

 

“Some of the best Android developers will share some of the worst advice you could take when building an Android app. Make no mistake about it, this session is no joking matter. Why learn, when you can repeat the mistakes of others… or maybe it was the other way round?”

Resource Overlays

 

 

 

“Has R.java ever made you wonder what exactly those strange number IDs mean? Do you want to know what powers the theming engines on your favorite devices and mods? In this talk you will learn from the creators of Runtime resource overlays exactly how resources are implemented in Android, how to use them most efficiently and further more how to replace them, split them and do just about anything with them using tools of OEMs and modders.”

One to 10x – Tools that give you superpowers

 

 

 

 

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The reality of the 10x developer myth is just that – it’s just developers who master their environment. The truth is we can become massively more productive by using what’s readily available and merely a few google searches away.

In this talk you will learn how to become a better developer by mastering our development environment and the universe of tools at our disposal. From the hidden depths of Android Studio and Gradle to the wide open fields of awesome open source utilities and services that border on magical.

How well do You know your tools?”

Smarter Growth, Powered by Google’s Machine Learning

 

 

 

“The games industry is growing at a rapid pace, but more importantly – becoming more sophisticated as technology, player demographics, motivations and community participation becomes more diverse. As a result, marketers are tasked with finding smarter and more efficient ways to engage high-value users. Using over a decade of machine learning technology, Google is driving innovations in growth and monetization across the player lifecycle. Alex Newby, Google app promotion specialist, will share with you how to combine the power of data and technology to drive profitable growth for your games business.”


So come check out the event, and drop by the XDA booth and say hi! We will be there for both days and the Droidcon Hackathon through the weekend afterward!

 

Huawei Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro are Official — Kirin 970, Huge Displays, Small Bezels & More AI Than Ever

Huawei has been teasing the launch of their two new flagship smartphones for a few months now and today the company has officially unveiled them. We’ve heard a lot of rumors about Huawei launching three devices at this event, being the Huawei Mate 10, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro and lastly the Huawei Mate 10 Lite. There has been some miscellaneous chatter about the company making a Porsche Edition again just like they did last year, and they spoke about it today as well.

There’s been a lot of focus on AI from Huawei as well as other smartphone OEMs this year. The 2017 trends have mainly been about shrinking the bezels of our devices, but there has also been a growing trend for artificial intelligence. Silicon vendors including Qualcomm and Huawei have started to integrate dedicated hardware into their SoCs specifically for AI and over the next few years we’ll see various smartphone makers taking advantage of this hardware.

Huawei made it a point to talk about the AI capabilities of its latest Kirin 970 SoC earlier this year and this is something the company touched on at the launch event for the Huawei Mate 10 and the Mate 10 Pro. Huawei has said the Kirin Neural Processing Unit (the NPU) that they’re using is capable of 1.92 TFLOPs of FP16 which is said to be twice as much as Apple can do with their new Neural Engine, and in today’s event they showed the Mate 10 handling computer vision tasks 20 times faster than the Galaxy Note 8. This type of performance will depend entirely on the application itself though, and right now we have yet to see something that truly takes advantage of this dedicated hardware. Huawei is focusing its AI capabilities to ensure speedy performance and to improve its camera experience, with the phone being able to recognize subjects and tweak image quality to create the best shot for each scenario.

Mate 10 Pro

With the launch of the Mate 10 and the Mate 10 Pro, the company is sticking to their beliefs that they need to focus on the high-end, premium sector of the smartphone market. So when creating these two new devices they said the team worked on design and performance the most. Compared to the iPhone 8 Plus, the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro have a larger screen built inside a compact design. So here are the specs of the two new smartphones announced today…

Huawei Mate 10 Huawei Mate 10 Pro Huawei Mate 10 Porsche Edition
Display 5.9″ 2560×1440 RGBW HDR LCD Panel 6″ 2160×1080 OLED Panel 6″ 2160×1080 OLED Panel
SoC Kirin 970 SoC, Mali G72 GPU Kirin 970 SoC, Mali G72 GPU Kirin 970 SoC, Mali G72 GPU
RAM 4GB 4GB/6GB 6GB
Internal Storage 64GB 128GB 256GB
MicroSD Card Slot Yes No No
Rear Cameras 12MP RGB + 20MP Monochrome Camera, both f/1.6 12MP RGB + 20MP Monochrome Camera, both f/1.6 12MP RGB + 20MP Monochrome Camera, both f/1.6
Front Camera 8MP Front Camera with an f/2.0 Aperture 8MP Front Camera with an f/2.0 Aperture 8MP Front Camera with an f/2.0 Aperture
3.5mm Headphone Jack Yes No No
Connectivity Dual SIM (Primary 4G, Secondary 2G/3G/4G), Dual 4G Dual VoLTE Dual SIM (Primary 4G, Secondary 2G/3G/4G), Dual 4G Dual VoLTE Dual SIM (Primary 4G, Secondary 2G/3G/4G), Dual 4G Dual VoLTE
Certification IP53 IP67 IP67
Rear Fingerprint Scanner Yes Yes Yes
Colors Champagne Gold, Black, Pink Gold, Mocha Brown Titanium Grey, Mocha Brown, Midnight Blue, Pink Gold Diamond Black
Price €699 €799 €1,395
Availability November 2017 November 2017 November 2017

So as you can see, Huawei is doing a ton of work to put its best foot forward when it comes to both design and performance. They’re putting a lot of focus on comparing the Mate 10 and the Mate 10 Pro with other smartphones on the market today. This was done with the NPU in the Kirin 970 versus the Neural Engine that Apple offers. They took time to compare the screen ratio of these new phones to what Apple offers in the iPhone 8 Plus, showing every dimension and improvement. They even spoke about how they could fit a 4,000mAh capacity battery while the iPhone X has a much smaller one — Huawei sure loves battery capacity.

It’s true that the regular Mate 10 has an LCD panel while the Mate 10 Pro has an OLED panel. However, they feel the new RGBW panel in the Mate 10 does its best to keep the battery usage low with backlight power savings of up to 14% compared to regular RGB displays, and the panel is oddly of higher resolution to boot. Samsung has their Infinity Display for the curved screen technology that they have been working on while Huawei is calling their edge to edge display tech “FullView”.  The Mate 10 Pro’s OLED panel is FHD+ 2:1 with HDR support, and a 70000:1 contrast ratio, and it’s targeting NTSC for color saturation. The RGBW panel on the Mate 10 is slightly smaller at 5.9″ instead of 6″, but boasts of a higher resolution (2560×1440) in a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, and it can achieve 730 nits of brightness for outdoor visibility.

Along with packing these phones with tons of hardware, Huawei  has also done a lot of work to improve the software used in them. They will ship with EMUI 8.0 and they’re betting on improved performance thanks to AI optimizations over time as well as general speed improvements from the hardware. The company says this will increase system response time by up to 60% and smoothness of operation by up to 50%, as it learns your habits and usage patterns and adjusts various performance-related parameters to ensure a fast experience. Once more the company is trying to ensure performance won’t degrade over time: Richard Yu called this philosophy “start fast, stay fast” and showed us a comparison of how the Huawei P10 Plus only saw 10.6% performance degradation over time versus the S7’s 195% decline in application response time (however, no more specifics were given). Not only will this help to improve performance, but it also helps tune the device for improved battery life as well.

The batteries in the new Huawei Mate 10 series are certified by TUV Rheinland, one of the companies that helped Samsung when assessing the Note 7’s battery faults, and they’re the first to include a certified fast charger from them as well. Huawei’s SuperCharge fast charging technology, which we found to be excellent in the past, enables the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro to charge 50% faster than the iPhone 8 Plus with promises of filling the battery to 58% on a 30 minute charge. While there are some benefits to wireless charging for some, Huawei feels their SuperCharge technology charging our phones four times as fast is ultimately better for the customer.

The software has a feature that will let you use your device as a virtual touchpad and keyboard for a PC, and they will also support Android’s neural network API to let developers make full use of hardware acceleration for machine learning applications. All of the devices will be shipping with Android 8.0 Oreo and they’ll be the first in a wave of devices that support Google’s zero-touch provision. This enables them to offer enhanced enterprise security and efficiency thanks to global enterprise mobile management vendor partnerships.


The Huawei Mate 10 will be available in November 2017 with a starting price of €699 for 4GB+64GB of storage, while the Mate 10 Pro will cost €799 for the 6GB+128GB variant. Finally, the Porsche Design Mate 10 will cost €1395 — while seemingly absurdly expensive, Huawei did indicate that their previous Porsche model sold out, so there’s definitely demand for such an exclusive phone. As always, stay tuned to the XDA Portal for more coverage and in-depth analysis once we get our hands on these devices!

What do you think of the Mate 10, Mate 10 Pro and Mate 10 Porsche? Let us know in the comments!

Check out XDA’s Huawei Mate 10 Forum!

Google Pixel 2’s “Now Playing” Feature uses AmbientSense to Minimize Battery Drain

The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are official after many months of leaks. One of the more interesting (and controversial) features is “Now Playing,” which detects music playing in the background and shows you what’s playing on the lock screen. We first heard about this feature a few weeks before launch, but we didn’t have much information about the feature apart from Google telling us that it can work offline without sending any data to the cloud (the latter is especially important in light of recent revelations regarding the Google Home Mini). After digging into the Now Playing feature, we’ve discovered that the feature is based on years-old technology called AmbientSense which promises minimal battery drain.

Google Pixel 2 Now Playing AmbientSense Google Pixel 2 Now Playing AmbientSense

Google Pixel 2’s Now Playing Feature

We were first tipped off about this when we analyzed the Pixel Ambient Services application, which is available on the Google Play Store.

Pixel Ambient Services (Free, Google Play) →

But it wasn’t the app itself that made us aware of the AmbientSense connection. Instead, it was the name of the APK pre-installed in /system/priv-app on the Google Pixel 2. Called AmbientSense, the APK matches the name of a technology described in a research paper presented at the 2013 IEEE International Conference on Pervasive Computing and Communications Workshops by researchers M. Rossi, S. Feese, O. Amft, N. Braune, S. Martis and G. Tröster.

What is AmbientSense and how does it relate to “Now Playing?”

We found a webpage that displays the first page of this paper here. According to the paper’s abstract, AmbientSense is a “real-time ambient sound recognition system on a smartphone.” What’s most interesting about AmbientSense is that it can be implemented as an Android app and only needs access to the device’s microphone to analyze ambient sounds.

There are two processing modes described in the paper: autonomous and server mode. Autonomous processing occurs on the smartphone only by comparing audio samples against a locally stored database. In comparison, server mode sends audio features to a server which then sends classification results back. Clearly, Google’s “Now Playing” feature is running AmbientSense in “autonomous” mode as it can work offline without sending anything to Google.

The paper goes on to describe how the team of researchers tested recognition performance, runtime, CPU load, and recognition delay under both autonomous and server mode recognition in a set of 23 ambient sound classes. They found that the AmbientSense app ran for up to 13.75 hours on a Samsung Galaxy SII and up to 12.87 hours on the Google Nexus One. Keep in mind how old these devices are; the Google Nexus One was released in 2010 with a 1,400 mAh battery and is a dinosaur in comparison to the Pixel 2. We can only imagine how much AmbientSense has been refined through Google’s testing.

Is it Possible to Port the Now Playing Feature on non-Google Pixel 2 Phones?

I can’t make any promises yet, but I think it’s possible. We’re working with XDA Recognized Contributor Quinny899 to make it happen. In order to get the Now Playing feature working on the first generation Google Pixel/Nexus smartphones, there are a few things that we believe are needed:

  • Pixel Ambient Services (AmbientSense.apk)
  • Audio Matching database
  • Some missing libraries
  • SystemUI modifications to ambient display
  • Root access (to push the above files to /system)
Google Pixel 2 Now Playing AmbientSense Google Pixel 2 Now Playing AmbientSense

Screenshots credit: Kieron Quinn (Quinny899)

We currently already have the audio matching database in our possession, called “matcher.leveldb.” It’s a 53MB storage library based on Google’s LevelDB. This is the database that AmbientSense relies on to do audio matching in autonomous mode.

As for the libraries, we know what they’re called and where to look for them, but it will take some time before we can get our hands on a Pixel 2 to extract it.

Finally, SystemUI needs to be modified because the “Now Playing” feature writes text to ambient display—something which is currently not possible on the ambient display feature found on the first generation Pixel.

As for getting this working on non-Google phones, we’ll test that after we get it working on the Google Pixel and Nexus phones. If or when we make a breakthrough on getting this feature working, the first place you’ll know about it is the XDA Portal—so stay tuned for more!