Motorola throws back to the future with a foldable Razr reboot

The rebirth of the Razr has been rumored for several months now. And honestly, such a product is a bit of a no-brainer. The Lenovo-owned company is embracing the burgeoning (if sputtering) world of foldables with the return of one of its most iconic models.

While it’s true that Motorola’s kept the Razr name alive in some form or another well into the Android era, everything that’s come since has failed to recapture the magic of the once mighty brand.

From the looks of things, however, the newly announced Razr is a lovely bit of symmetry. The product, which was announced earlier today in Los Angeles, leans into the lackluster criticism that foldables are simply a return of the once-ubiquitous clamshell design.

Motorola Razr

Motorola Razr

According to Motorola, the company has been toying around with flexible technology for some time now. Per a press release: “In 2015, a cross functional team, comprised of engineers and designers from both Motorola and Lenovo, was assembled to start thinking about how we could utilize flexible display technology.”

The device swaps the horizontal design of its best known competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Fold. The vertical form factor looks to be a match made in foldable heaven. Certainly it loses some of the uber-thin design that made the original Razr such a hit so many years back, but makes the ultra-wide (21:9) 6.2-inch screen compact enough to fit in a pocket.

As with the Galaxy Fold, there’s another a small display on the front for getting a glimpse of notifications and the like. It’s another design feature that mirrors the O.G. Razr. Predictably, the device runs Android — Android 9 (for now), to be precise.

For full throwback appeal, there’s also a “Retro Razr” mode, that mimics the original metallic button design for the bottom half of the screen. It’s a skin that does, indeed, double as a number pad, usable with Android messaging app. Motorola clearly put a lot of love into the design and it shows. If nothing else, the new Razr could go a ways toward proving that retro handsets can be more than just nostalgic novelty for bygone tech.

After the whole Samsung kerfuffle, you’d be right to question the device’s durability, though Motorola says it’s less concerned, citing an “average” smartphone timespan for the product. Only one way, to find out, I guess. Also like the Fold, price is a pretty big obstacle to any sort of mainstream adoption for this first-gen product. The Razr will run $1,499 when it launches in January of next year.

Lenovo slims down its Google smart display

Before there was the Nest Home — heck, before there was even the Google Home Hub — there was the Lenovo Smart Display. The smart screen was far and away the nicest of the original Google Assistant screens, and the partnership between the two companies continues to be fruitful, including the recent Smart Clock, a purpose-built bedside alarm clock.

With the Smart Display 7, announced today at IFA in Berlin, the company has slimmed down both the screen size and overall device footprint. At seven inches, it’s smaller than both of the original models (eight and 10 inches, for the record). It’s a rare step down in screen size for a new generation, but given the relative freshness of the category, there’s probably a fair amount of trial and error here.

The design language looks nice enough — perhaps a bit more generic than the first generation with its faux wood panel backing, but the fabric speaker grille is a nice touch that fits in nicely with the rest of the Google Home line. Feature wise, you’re getting pretty much what you’ll get with the rest of the Assistant smart displays — YouTube, answers, smart home control.

Of course, Lenovo’s got more direct competition this time out from Google itself, in the form of the Nest Hub Max. And when it comes to products like these, it can be tough to compete with first parties. That said, at $130, it’s a full $100 cheaper than Google’s version, which is compelling in and of itself. The device ships next month.

Joy Capital closes $700M for early-stage investments in China

Joy Capital, the venture capital firm that’s backed Luckin, NIO, Mobike and other investor darlings in China, just raised $700 million for a new fund focusing on early-to-growth stage startups.

Launched in 2015 by a team of former investors at Legend Capital, the investment arm of PC maker Lenovo’s parent company, Joy Capital made the news official (in Chinese) on Monday. It didn’t identify the limited partners in this new corpus of funding but said they include “top” public pension funds and insurance companies. Its existing pool of investors counts those from sovereign wealth funds, education-focused endowment funds, family funds and parent funds.

The fresh money boosted Joy’s total tally to over 10 billion yuan ($1.45 billion) under management, with a focus on backing cutting edge technologies and companies involved in the digital upgrade of China’s traditional sectors, or what Joy’s founding partner Liu Erhai (pictured above) dubbed the “new infrastructure” in an op-ed for the China Securities Journal. Targets can include the likes of logistics companies, online car rental platforms or bike-sharing apps.

As a relatively young fund, Joy Capital has so far achieved a few large outcomes. One of its portfolio companies NIO became China’s first electric vehicle startup to go public in the U.S. as a rival to Tesla. It’s also funded Luckin, the Starbucks nemesis from China that floated in the U.S. only 18 months after inception. The fund’s other big wins include Mobike, the bike-sharing pioneer that was sold to Meituan Dianping for $2.7 billion and fast-growing house-sharing unicorn Danke Apartment.

Joy Capital’s new raise arrived at a time when Chinese venture investors are coping with a cash crunch amid a cooling economy exacerbated by the expansion of U.S. tariffs. We reported that private equity and venture capital firms in the country raised 30% less in the first six months of 2019 compared to a year earlier, and the number of investors that managed to attract fundings was down 52% in the same period.

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Unraveling the “Secrets of Sand Hill Road” and the VC thought process, with Andreessen Horowitz’s Scott Kupor

Our Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos hosted an Extra Crunch live conference call with Andreessen Horowitz GP Scott Kupor, who manages all ops for the firm and was formerly head of the National Venture Capital Association. He just published a new book entitled “Secrets of Sand Hill Road” which is a guide to the venture capital industry and how to attract the attention of VCs to your startup.

This was our most popular conference call so far, and it was great to see so many people coming out to chat with Scott. In case you missed it, we have published the full transcript for Extra Crunch members.

Connie: Talking about demystifying venture capital, you’ve been with Andreessen Horowitz for roughly 10 years, pretty much from the outset of the firm. Can you tell us, beyond a warm introduction, what does it take to get a meeting at Andreessen Horowitz? What do you start looking for on paper?

Scott: What we’re really looking for is a couple of things. First, we always think about market initially, because we know that we’re going to be wrong a lot of times and the way we have to invest is we have to believe at the time we make the investment that the market size is big enough to be able to support a standalone, hopefully, public company at some point in time.

So, that’s always the threshold question we’re trying to ask — is the opportunity that they’re going after is as big as it possibly can be? And then, most of the analysis, particularly the early stage, tends to be based on team, because, we don’t really have the benefit of the product yet.

We definitely don’t even know, quite frankly, how the markets going to evolve. And so, the real question is what is it about this team or set of individuals that makes them uniquely qualified to go after this opportunity? What do they know?

We use this term internally, called an “earned secret”, which is what have you learned that other people might not know that’s going to really enable you to go build something that we know is going to be tough and competitive, and a long slog? And, a lot of the evaluation really starts there.

This year’s Computex was a wild ride with dueling chip releases, new laptops and 467 startups

Our Taipei-based correspondent Catherine Shu attended the local Computex conference, which has long been a major hub in the semiconductor, next-generation silicon, AI and 5G circuits. She wrote up her observations of what’s on the cutting edge of these fields, and what the opportunities for startups are in these hot spaces.

Devices built with Intel’s Ice Lake and Project Athena specifications will be available in time for the holidays

Even before Computex officially launched today, AMD and Qualcomm threw down the gauntlet at Intel with a new chip and a 5G PC, respectively. Today Intel responded in kind during its keynote presentation in Taipei, introducing new processors and laptops, in addition to unveiling Ice Lake, its 10th generation Intel Core chips.

Now shipping to OEMs, the 10-nm processors will increase speeds for AI computing tasks and graphics and boost wireless speeds up to three times, Intel says. Built on Intel’s Sunny Cove architecture and Gen11 graphics engine, the series includes chips with up to 4 cores and 8 threads, up to 4.1 max turbo frequency and up to 1.1GHz graphics frequency. Gen11 will enable faster graphics in laptops, 4K HDR in a billion colors and games with up to two times faster frames per second, Intel claims. With Thunderbolt 3 and Intel Wi-Fi 6 (Gig+) inside, the company says the chips will also enable up to three times faster wireless speeds. Devices powered by Ice Lake are expected to be available for purchase by the holidays.

The company also unveiled Intel’s new class of laptops, Project Athena. Laptops built to Athena 1.0 specifications wake from sleep in less than a second, claim battery life of 9 or more hours under real-life conditions based on Intel’s testing conditions (with default settings, display brightness set to 250nits and continuous Internet connection with apps like Office 365 and Google Chrome running in the background) or 16 or more hours in local video playback mode. They are built with Thunderbolt 3, Intel Wi-Fi 6 (Gig+) and OpenVINO and scheduled to be available in time for this holiday season.

Lenovo’s senior vice president of consumer devices Johnson Jia, who helped launch Qualcomm’s first Snapdragon-powered 5G laptop yesterday, returned to the stage with Intel to showcase the the ultra-lightweight (1.2kg) Yoga S940 laptop, built on Project Athena, scheduled to go on sale in time for (you guessed it) the holidays.

Yesterday, AMD revealed the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X, retailing for just half of Intel Core i9 9920X’s $1,100 starting price. Intel recaptured some thunder with its Intel Core i9-9900KS processor. Part of its 9th-generation chip series, the eight-core Core i9-9900KS is aimed at gamers who want to play and livestream at the same time. Like Intel’s other 9th-generation chips, it features mobile 5Ghz, and can run all eight cores at 5GHz all the time. Pricing has not been disclosed, but Intel announced that it will also be available by the holidays.

For gamers, Intel showed off its 9th-generation Intel Core-powered laptops Alienware M15 and M17, which boost mobile Ghz, a 8-core, 16-thread processor and faster frame rates and reaction times. The two laptops are expected to begin selling on June 11 at a starting price of $1,500.

Intel also announced that the Intel Performance Maximizer will be available for free download next month. The software makes overclocking more accessible by testing every core in a 9th-generation desktop processors and bringing it to maximum frequency.

Devices built with Intel’s Ice Lake and Project Athena specifications will be available in time for the holidays

Even before Computex officially launched today, AMD and Qualcomm threw down the gauntlet at Intel with a new chip and a 5G PC, respectively. Today Intel responded in kind during its keynote presentation in Taipei, introducing new processors and laptops, in addition to unveiling Ice Lake, its 10th generation Intel Core chips.

Now shipping to OEMs, the 10-nm processors will increase speeds for AI computing tasks and graphics and boost wireless speeds up to three times, Intel says. Built on Intel’s Sunny Cove architecture and Gen11 graphics engine, the series includes chips with up to 4 cores and 8 threads, up to 4.1 max turbo frequency and up to 1.1GHz graphics frequency. Gen11 will enable faster graphics in laptops, 4K HDR in a billion colors and games with up to two times faster frames per second, Intel claims. With Thunderbolt 3 and Intel Wi-Fi 6 (Gig+) inside, the company says the chips will also enable up to three times faster wireless speeds. Devices powered by Ice Lake are expected to be available for purchase by the holidays.

The company also unveiled Intel’s new class of laptops, Project Athena. Laptops built to Athena 1.0 specifications wake from sleep in less than a second, claim battery life of 9 or more hours under real-life conditions based on Intel’s testing conditions (with default settings, display brightness set to 250nits and continuous Internet connection with apps like Office 365 and Google Chrome running in the background) or 16 or more hours in local video playback mode. They are built with Thunderbolt 3, Intel Wi-Fi 6 (Gig+) and OpenVINO and scheduled to be available in time for this holiday season.

Lenovo’s senior vice president of consumer devices Johnson Jia, who helped launch Qualcomm’s first Snapdragon-powered 5G laptop yesterday, returned to the stage with Intel to showcase the the ultra-lightweight (1.2kg) Yoga S940 laptop, built on Project Athena, scheduled to go on sale in time for (you guessed it) the holidays.

Yesterday, AMD revealed the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X, retailing for just half of Intel Core i9 9920X’s $1,100 starting price. Intel recaptured some thunder with its Intel Core i9-9900KS processor. Part of its 9th-generation chip series, the eight-core Core i9-9900KS is aimed at gamers who want to play and livestream at the same time. Like Intel’s other 9th-generation chips, it features mobile 5Ghz, and can run all eight cores at 5GHz all the time. Pricing has not been disclosed, but Intel announced that it will also be available by the holidays.

For gamers, Intel showed off its 9th-generation Intel Core-powered laptops Alienware M15 and M17, which boost mobile Ghz, a 8-core, 16-thread processor and faster frame rates and reaction times. The two laptops are expected to begin selling on June 11 at a starting price of $1,500.

Intel also announced that the Intel Performance Maximizer will be available for free download next month. The software makes overclocking more accessible by testing every core in a 9th-generation desktop processors and bringing it to maximum frequency.

Qualcomm and Lenovo reveal the first Snapdragon-powered 5G PC

Qualcomm announced during its Computex press conference today that it will launch the first Snapdragon-powered 5G PC with Lenovo. The two companies describe the PC, called Project Limitless, as “the world’s first 7nm platform purpose-built for PCs that offers 5G connectivity.”

Qualcomm and Lenovo unveil the first Snapdragon-powered 5G PC at Computex in Taipei

Qualcomm and Lenovo unveil the first Snapdragon-powered 5G PC at Computex in Taipei

The laptop runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Compute Platform, which is designed to support both 5G and 4G connections, combines the Qualcomm Adreno 680 GPU with the Qualcomm Kryo 495 CPU and has a battery that Qualcomm claims can last for several days per charge. The platform uses the Snapdragon X55 5G modem, which has download speeds of up to 2.5 Gbps.

Project Limitless’ release date and pricing haven’t been revealed yet.

With foldable phones in limbo, foldable display laptops are on the horizon

With the Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X currently in limbo for very different reasons, PC makers are apparently jumping at the chance to make their own foldable display ambitions known. It’s been clear, of course, for as long as flexible screens have been a viable technology, that hardware manufacturers would be experimenting with any and all form factors. In just the past week, two key players have talked up their plans for how it might be utilized on the PC front.

Last week, Lenovo showed off a prototype ThinkPad X1. The company’s been no stranger to experimental convertibles, and utilizing a foldable display could further blur the line been tablets and PCs. The technology allows for a large screen in a compact form factor. Here it’s 13.3 inches that can be collapsed into half the size, making it a lot easier to take with you.

It’s a slick prototype, and obviously folding form factors are already the standard in the laptop world. But like Lenovo’s past attempts at dual-screen devices, the on-screen removes the tactile keyboard, one of the biggest pain points in moving consumers away from more traditional laptops. Perhaps that’s something that could be addressed with the sorts of overlays provided by companies like Sensel.

Dell, too, recently told Gizmodo that it’s experimenting with a similar form factor. No surprise on that front, really. One expects that any PC maker worth its weight in netbooks is, at the very least, playing around with the concept as we speak.

All of this is complicated by the fact that the foldable phone category has been plagued with issues — though not necessarily the ones most people predicted. Samsung indefinitely pushed back the launch date of the Galaxy Fold after several reviewers ran into issues with their units.

We’re still waiting for official news on that front. Huawei, meanwhile, had a wrench thrown into its stratospheric ascendancy when the company was blacklisted by the Trump White House, leaving aspects of its future in jeopardy.

Neither of these are direct indictments of the concept — though Samsung’s model certainly failed in real-world testing. For that reason, it’s probably safe to say that the jury’s still out on consumer demand, though many of the major concerns, including pricing, would likely carry over to the PC category.

Nvidia announces its next-gen RTX pods with up to 1,280 GPUs

Nvidia wants to be a cloud powerhouse. While its history may be in graphics cards for gaming enthusiasts, its recent focus has been on its data center GPUs for AI, machine learning inference, inference and visualization. Today, at its GTC conference, the company announced its latest RTX server configuration for Hollywood studios and others who need to quickly generate visual content.

A full RTX server pod can support up to 1,280 Turing GPUs on 32 RTX blade servers. That’s 40 GPUs per server, with each server taking up an 8U space. The GPUs here are Quadro RTX 4000 or 6000 GPUs, depending on the configuration.

NVIDIA RTX Servers — which include fully optimized software stacks available for Optix RTX rendering, gaming, VR and AR, and professional visualization applications — can now deliver cinematic-quality graphics enhanced by ray tracing for far less than just the cost of electricity for a CPU-based rendering cluster with the same performance,” the company notes in today’s announcement.

All of this power can be shared by multiple users and the backend storage and networking interconnect is powered by technology from Mellanox, which Nvidia bought earlier this month for $6.9 billion. That acquisition and today’s news clearly show how important the data center has become for Nvidia’s future.

System makers like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus and Supermicro will offer RTX servers to their customers, all of which have been validated by Nvidia and support the company’s software tools for managing the workloads that run on them.

Nvidia also stresses that these servers would work great for running AR and VR applications at the edge and then serving the visuals to clients over 5G networks. That’s a few too many buzzwords, I think, and consumer interest in AR and VR remains questionable, while 5G networks remain far from mainstream, too. Still, there’s a role for these servers in powering cloud gaming services, for example.

Lenovo leads $10M investment in 6-legged robot maker Vincross

Vincross, the company behind the six-legged robot Hexa, said on Tuesday that it’s picked up $10 million in a Series A+ funding round led by Lenovo Capital, the startup fund managed by Lenovo Group. Returning investor GGV Capital and newcomer Seekdource Capital also participated. The company declined to disclose its latest valuation but said the proceeds will go towards research and development as well as new product lines.

Neuroscience and artificial intelligence researcher Tianqi Sun started Vincross in Beijing back in 2016 when he raised $220,000 for Hexa on Kickstarter. At the time the insectile, programmable robot had separated itself from the horde of humanoids on the market by billing itself as the first robot that can climb stairs, making it suitable for firefighting and other rescue tasks.

Meanwhile, Lenovo’s interest in the startup underscores the personal computer giant’s intent to catch the impending robotics wave, which has been evident since it shelled out $500 million in 2016 for a new investment vehicle to back artificial intelligence, robot and cloud computing startups as the PC market dwindled. Some notable AI companies from its 100-plus portfolio are face recognition company Face++, chipmaker Cambricon and electric automaker Nio.

Beta testers have used the Mind Kit to build a salt-passing robot. Photo: Vincross

“Lenovo lead this round as they had an aligned vision with us on how the future of consumer electronics products that will be in everyone’s home will be robotics, similar to how this has been the case for laptops and computers, which Lenovo is also known for,” founder and chief executive Sun told TechCrunch.

Vincross also announced Tuesday a new developer kit called Mind to serve customers at all levels of building capacities. The firm says early testers have used it to build devices from a voice-controlled gadget that passes you salt and pepper at the dining table, to an all-terrain, legged robot that looks just like Hexa. Amateurs and professional developers can order the suite for $99 on Kickstarter before it gets retailed at $150, a pricetag Sun believes is competitive for consumer-facing robotic development kits.

Vincross already runs an open platform for developers to toy with new hacks for Hexa, upon which they can sell those skills through the company’s online marketplace. The firm has sold about 2,000 devices till this day to researchers, educators, young developers and more in 20 countries, with most of its sales coming from China and the U.S., where Vincross has set up overseas operations.

Within the space of robots for kids, Vincross faces competition from Shenzhen-based Makeblock, which raised $30 million in 2017 to build its development kit targeted at young programmers.

“The types of consumers [Mind Kit is] targeting should be in the process of learning basic programming skills but interested in robotics development, and so we anticipate interest from high school students or older, all the way up to robotics makers,” suggested Sun.