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The EU to make micro USB charging mandatory on mobile phones

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October 18, 2013

The European Union said earlier today that it's about to make micro USB charging mandatory on all mobile phones, but the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is pushing to extend that regulation to everything handheld, making all electronic gadgets chargeable from the same cable. The new EU regulation in question is the amended RED (Radio Equipment Directive), which will require all radio devices to feature an onboard Micro-USB socket.

The ITU's equivalent requires that all manner of devices conform to the micro USB form factor for charging, as well as mandating that chargers switch into low gear when unloaded and have a detachable cable so they can be used to charge other devices.

Those requirements go well beyond what the EU is currently planning, which is at the center of the disagreement.

Standardized charging is already making life easier for those of us with multiple gadgets, or even just one gadget which needs to be kept charged.

With USB sockets proliferating in trains, planes and just about every car, it's already got a lot easier to keep one's phone fully charged.

The ITU's proposal extends that to include MP3 players, tablet computers, cameras, wireless headphones and GPS devices, not to mention cordless phones as well as those using cellular connectivity.

The ITU also says that an unloaded power adapter (one with nothing plugged in) should consume no more than 0.15w, so we can ignore the flashing reminders to unplug our chargers after disconnecting them.

But the risk is making standards which won't be enforced, or worse, will be mired in complaints from manufacturers who are more than capable of filibustering any amendments to existing laws out existence.

The adoption of micro USB has been widely supported, with even Apple conceding that standards can be helpful even if Cupertino reneged on its commitment to embed a socket and went for a converter instead.

But amending the EU's already-amended directive at this stage could be a step too far for a policy which is genuinely benefiting manufacturers, consumers and the environment.

In other mobile news

Cricket Wireless announces the newest device to its 4G LTE smartphone lineup today, a new 4.5-inch handset known as the ZTE Source. The device will be available on Sunday for $219 in retail stores and online.

The Source measures just 5.3 inches tall, 2.64 inches wide, and 0.4 inches thick. Though the build quality was solid, at 5 ounces however, the device did feel a bit heavy. We did like its black matte battery door cover since it fends off fingerprints easily. The 4.5-inch TFT display has a 480x854-pixel resolution and 218 ppi. During our brief time with it, the screen appeared to be responsive, and icons and text looked fairly crisp.

But when cranked up to its maximum brightness, we thought the screen could stand to be a bit brighter, however.

On the left edge of the device are a Micro-USB port and volume control. On top is a 3.5mm headphone jack and the right edge houses a sleep/power button. Located on the back are the rear-facing camera lens and flash.

Using a small indentation on the bottom left corner, you can pry off the battery door to access the Micro-SD card slot, which is expandable up to 32 GB, and the removable 2,070 mAh battery.

The battery has a reported talk-time of about 15.2 hours and a standby time of about eight to ten days.

The new phone runs Android 4.1.2, so-called Jelly Bean, and features ZTE's user interface called "MiFavor." Although we prefer a more minimalistic version of Android, which have been featured in previous ZTE handsets, the user interface is still intuitive and features clean icons that are easy on the eyes.

Powering the smartphone is a 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor. From what we gleamed of it during our testing, the Source operates smoothly. Swiping through the home page, opening up the lock screen, and navigating into the app drawer were all executed easily.

On the back is a 5-megapixel camera with a F2.8 aperture lens that is capable of shooting 720-pixels HD video. Above the display you'll find a 1-megapixel camera.

But while the rear-facing camera has auto-focus capabilities, the front-facing camera only has a fixed-focus lens.

And since it's a Cricket Wireless smartphone, the device will include the streaming Muve Music subscription service from the carrier.

Now in its fourth iteration and with two million subscribers on its network, the service enables users to access and stream thousands of songs and albums.

Additional features include 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of internal storage, and Bluetooth 4.0. At around $220, the ZTE Source is one of the carriers cheapest 4G LTE handsets.

Other devices around that price point, for example, include the Samsung Galaxy Admire 2 at $249 and the HTC One SV at $279.

Although those manufacturers have a history of making smoother and more reliable smartphones compared to ZTE, the Source will be able to fill that niche for Cricket customers who are looking for a fast web experience on a budget.

Of course, we won't officially pass judgement until we spend more time with the device, so be sure to check back once we get our hands on a full review unit.

In other mobile news

Clearly a bit on the defensive, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich this morning touted the merits of his company's manufacturing process compared with that of Apple's new 64-bit A7 chip, after Intel's earnings report to shareholders.

During Intel's conference call today, an analyst questioned the company about the advantages of going to a 14-nanometer manufacturing process, compared with Apple's 28-nanometer A7 chip.

"Apple has been able to show very impressive benchmarks on 28-nanometer silicon," the analyst stated. Generally, the smaller the chip geometries, the more advanced the chip manufacturing process and thus the faster and/or more power efficient the chip can be.

Intel still claims that it's jumped well ahead of the rest of the chip industry by moving to a cutting-edge 14-nanometer process first, but most in the industry disagree on that statement.

Here's what Krzanich said in response to the analyst's comment, citing, among other things, Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors doubles approximately every two years.

"I mean you just kind of used the generic word for benchmarks and there are lot of different ones that are out there. So I am not sure exactly which ones you are talking about. But if you just take a look at our products and all of our products are 64-bit. So we have had that for an extended period of time and products that we are shipping today are already 64-bit," said Krzanich.

"And if you take a look at things like transistor density and you compare, pardon the pun, apples-to-apples and you compare, say, the A7 to our Bay Trail, which is a high density 22 nanometer technology, then our transistor density is higher or more dense than the A7 is. It's a good product, but we do see the Moore's Law advantage from 28 to 22 nanometer as an example, when you compare dense technologies to dense technologies," he added.

The challenge for Intel is that Apple is proving to be a world-class designer of fast-yet-power-efficient smartphone and tablet silicon with its A series of processors, essentially obviating the need for Apple to look to Intel for silicon in those devices.

And Apple is dropping hints that its 64-bit processors may be destined for devices that more directly challenge the traditional laptop PC.

"When Apple announced the iPhone 5S, it called the processor 'desktop-class,' and I don't think that was an accident. It was sending what we think is a very clear signal that it will converge the iPhone and the MacBook Air," Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth said recently in an interview, speculating on Apple's immediate plans.

Krzanich also addressed where PC and device makers will use its mainstream Core "Haswell" and tablet-centric Bay Trail Atom chips.

"Most of the tablets we're doing with hardware partners are Bay Trail. There are some that are being based on Core Haswell. Most of them are being based on the standard Core product. The Haswell Y's are going into fanless systems or extremely low-power 2-in-1s," he said, referring to the standard Haswell laptop chips and the more power-efficient Y series Haswell chips.

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And Krzanich reiterated that Bay Trail "clamshells," or traditional laptop designs, with touch enabled screens will appear at $299, which is a new real price point for a touch-enabled devices, so we see it continuing to grow as we enter next year.

In other mobile news

Some wireless industry observers are now suggesting that Nike could be making a big mistake with its stubborn reluctance to work with Google's Android operating system, and instead sticking to Apple's iOS.

The athletic apparel company today introduced its second-generation fitness tracker, the FuelBand SE, which worked beautifully on all Apple's iOS devices and computers. But completely missing from the presentation was any mention of Android. Anywhere.

It's a very bad thing that Nike still doesn't offer support for Android, which is the mobile platform champion, with about 80 percent of the global market.

At a critical time when more and more app developers are looking to expand the number of platforms they are on, Nike has stubbornly clung to its comfort zone and stayed with Apple's iOS.

But for its part, Nike maintains that the decision is tied to its desire to focus on a single consistent experience. "With the audience using iOS and the audience using the Web, we wanted to make sure that we had the best experience possible," said Ricky Engelberg, the experience director for Nike's digital sports business.

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Source: The European Union.

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