Snapdragon: Empowering smartbooks and robot overlords
Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips promise a world of ultra-quick, low-power devices that are permanently connected via 3G -- and it has the gadgets and robot doctors to prove it
Crave has travelled to the spiritual home of the iPhone -- California -- but
we're not chasing this
week's phone superstar. This week is so last week, because we're at Qualcomm, which is taking us on a
magic carpet ride into the future of the mobile world.
Here be dragons, thanks to Qualcomm's new Snapdragon
processor, which powers the wafer-thin mega-touchscreen Toshiba TG01.
Snapdragon has prompted Qualcomm to invent a new word, 'smartbook', to label its
dream of low-power, super-thin smart phones that are powerful enough to start nudging
the netbooks. Snapdragon is a chip with 3G connectivity, so we're talking a
tablet that's always on and always connected to the Internet, without a Wi-Fi
signal in sight.
We got our hands on the TG01 and its much bigger cousin, the
Wistron PBook -- that's 'P' for purse, ladies and manbag wielders. It may look
like an anorexic Sony
P-series netbook, but there's no Intel inside, just the heart of a
Snapdragon also uses much less power, and Qualcomm is
bandying around battery life like 8-10 hours of use -- and multi-day standby
time between charges -- for a device such as the PBook. That means instead of
busting out our power cord after two hours of typing, we can roam free of the
plug and pop open the device, like a mobile, whenever we're in the mood for a spot of surfing or Facebooking.
But we're not talking about booting up Microsoft Word on
these little guys -- you can't load Windows. Instead, mobile operating systems
such as Windows Mobile, Google Android and other versions of Linux are the flavours
The TG01 has already launched, there are now more than 40 Snapdragon-based devices in the works and Qualcomm says the UK
is going to be the snappy reptile's prime stomping ground, so we're sure to see
a herd of them on our shelves.
Click through to see what Snapdragon is promising, more from
the PBook and a Dalek that will totally frickin' heal you.
Unlike the Toshiba TG01, which sports Windows Mobile like a disfiguring goitre, the PBook works a version of Linux, and works it good. The device we played with was an early prototype, so it's too soon to say whether it will live up to its promise of processor power, but the user interface looked attractive and straightforward. Since it doesn't run a familiar operating system like a Windows netbook does, the smartbook concept will live or die based on the quality of its user interface, just like any smartphone -- the iPhone proved that. So until we see what gets shipped, there's still a big questionmark hanging over smartbook designers' ability to pull it off.
We're not convinced we need a teeny-tiny laptop that's not a netbook, but we see a huge potential for uber-smartphones and some crazy innovations. Because Snapdragon is so small -- 15mm by 15mm -- and doesn't need a big battery or a fan, we're hoping for some ultra-thin tablets and devices with keyboards that pop out in unexpected ways.
We were soiling our snapdragons when we saw this Dalek with the face of a Miami surgeon roll in, but Qualcomm wasn't demonstrating a new way of convincing organ donors with extreme prejudice.
These robots are already being used all over the world, including at London's St Mary's hospital, to get doctors where they can't be in person -- such as war zones, wards after hours or in other countries, or training other doctors in surgery.
Right now they're controlled over 3G, to allow doctors to get online from many more places than Wi-Fi, but with a laptop using a 3G dongle. Qualcomm says that because Snapdragon is so powerful, at 1GHz, doctors will be able to control their Dalek bodies from a mobile device, leading to life saving while lying on the beach.
The Miami doctor who chatted us up live from this beast assured us that although our Dr Who-fuelled imaginations left us filled with irrational fears of plunger-based attacks, patients report that after a few minutes they forget they aren't talking to the doctor in person, and the robot's mobility is a huge help in getting the job done rather than a ridiculously expensive gimmick redolent of 70s sci-fi television shows.