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18
Oct

Cortana will soon be better at understanding English than you


Microsoft claims to have made a significant breakthrough in speech recognition that could result in a artificially intelligent assistant that is better at transcribing speech than a human being.

Its latest research into conversational transcription has resulted in technology that on a par with humans in recognising words as part of free-flowing speech. The next stage is to go one better.

The new tech understands a conversation with just a 5.9 per cent error rate. That’s “about equal” to people who were asked to transcribe the same conversation. It is also the lowest error rate recorded by AI software against the industry standard Switchboard speech recognition task.

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Microsoft says that the research will be used to enhance tools that use speech recognition, including Xbox and Cortana.

“Even five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought we could have achieved this. I just wouldn’t have thought it would be possible,” said Harry Shum, executive vice president of the company’s artificial intelligence and research group.

“This will make Cortana more powerful, making a truly intelligent assistant possible,” he added.

Hopefully, it’ll also make transcribing our interviews a darn sight easier – something all journalists, online or otherwise, would certainly agree.

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18
Oct

Apple iPhone to Google Pixel: How to transfer contacts, messages, calendars and media


With the Pixel, the company’s first home-made smartphone, Google decided to make part of the usual pains of phone setup disappear. For those switching from an iPhone to a new Pixel phone, it’s easier than ever to take all your contacts, messages, calendar appointments and media with you.

iPhone to Pixel transfer: How to connect

As part of the retail packaging’s included items, Google added a small USB Type-C to Type-A adapter, meaning you can plug the USB end of your iPhone Lightning cable in to one side, and plug the Pixel in to the other.

Before you do that though, you need to start the Pixel phone setup process, which initially looks just like any other Android phone setup.

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iPhone to Pixel transfer: Getting started

The first step of the setup process is inserting your SIM card. This goes in the SIM tray on the left edge of the device.

There’s a small, round SIM ejector tool in the packaging, inside the white envelope which also contains all your usual warranty and getting started guides.

Once you’ve inserted the SIM, the next step is choose to copy data from another device. After that, you connect to a Wi-Fi network.

iPhone to Pixel transfer: How to transfer

After you’ve connected to a network and inserted the SIM card, your Pixel phone will prompt you to connect your iPhone and Pixel to each other using the aforementioned adapter and Lightning cable.

It’s worth remembering that your iPhone has a built-in security system, which won’t let you transfer data to another device, unless you indicate that you trust the other device. That means you need to unlock your iPhone and choose “Trust” on the pop-up message that appears on your screen.

Once you do tell your iPhone to trust the Pixel phone, your Pixel will start gathering all the information it needs to perform the transfer. Essentially, it searches the iPhone for any data it can copy across. This process takes a few minutes.

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iPhone to Pixel transfer: What can you copy?

When the search is complete, you get a list of all the data you can transfer. You can choose which elements you want to copy across and which ones you don’t.

You can choose from the following

  • Calendar: Including iOS calendar entries
  • Contacts
  • Email (Gmail syncs automatically)
  • Message attachments
  • Messages
  • Music (anything stored on the device)
  • Photos and Videos (anything stored on the device)

It’s worth remembering that with so many cloud-based services like Google Photos, and music subscription services like Spotify, Google Play Music and Apple Music available on both platforms, some of these options are redundant. If you know you have those backed up already, you can choose not to copy them over.

However, if you don’t use any cloud-based alternatives and do have all your media stored on your actual iPhone’s built-in storage, it can copy them all across to your new Pixel.

Once you’ve chosen everything you want to copy, hit “next”, and the data starts making its way across.

Thankfully, the Pixel can do all of this in the background as you continue the regular Android setup process, including adding your fingerprint and security preferences (Pattern/PIN unlock etc.) and setting up Google Assistant.

iPhone to Pixel transfer: Does it work?

For the most part, the feature works flawlessly, but there are a few caveats worth noting which can’t be worked around.

While Google can move your calendar appointments and events across in to your Google Calendar app, it can’t stay synced with your iCloud calendar. So, if you share a calendar with another iCloud user, no new events, reminders or appointments will show up. Only the ones already in place will copy across, and they get synced to your Google calendar account.

As a way around this, you could download a third party email/calendar app and sign in using your iCloud details. Outlook for Android includes support for iCloud, and can handle both email and calendar in one application.

Likewise, all of your conversations from Messages app (including iMessage conversations) copy across in to the Android Messenger app. That doesn’t mean, however, that Android has suddenly gained the ability to send iMessages. It just stores all your conversations as SMS threads. When you reply, or continue the conversation, it does so using standard text messages. 

We found some music tracks didn’t copy across, while some did. This could be down to the tracks being copyright protected.

Regardless of those minor issues, we love the simplicity and peace of mind that comes from knowing we’ve kept all of our conversations and contacts despite moving to a new smartphone platform.

18
Oct

The OmniWear Arc is a haptic neckband for serious gamers


There’s a lot to keep track of in a game like Counter-Strike. You need to know your location, where your teammates are, your ammo supply and most importantly — where your enemies are. With all these sights and sounds coming at you, it’s easy to miss something, which is why OmniWear is looking to offload some of that cognitive load to another sense: touch. The Arc neckband, launching on Kickstarter today, vibrates to let you know where your opponents lurk, ensuring you don’t miss a thing.

Haptic feedback — using vibration to enhance a virtual experience — is nothing new in gaming world. The past two decades have brought us products like the Rumble Paks for Nintendo 64 and DS and Sony’s line of DualShock controllers for the PlayStation. But the majority of titles use haptics as an add-on, making an impact feel a little more real or to startle you during an intense moment. Even if the haptics were keyed to the appearance of an enemy, they didn’t offer much in the way of information, especially not where the danger was coming from so you could act on it.

OmniWear attempts to tackle that problem with the Arc, a band that goes all the way around your neck. There are eight vibration motors placed around it, making 360-degree location tracking possible. If an enemy appears behind you, you’ll feel a vibration on your back. If they approach from the left or right, well, you get the idea. The idea is that you’ll become more aware of what’s happening around you, without taking your eyes off the action to look at the mini-map all the time.

The Arc is currently compatible with Counter-Strike and League of Legends, but the company plans to expand that list. The team can add new games easily enough because they’re not dependent on developers building support into their titles. Instead, the Arc uses an interesting workaround to function with various titles.

The Arc doesn’t actually connect to your computer at all — it connects to a mobile app on your phone instead. Clip your phone onto your monitor and open the program, which will “read” whatever’s going on in the game by watching the screen just like you would. In Counter-Strike and League of Legends, this is accomplished by pointing the phone at the mini-map itself, and the program translates the data into vibrations. It buzzes when an enemy first appears and is smart enough to keep track of which opponent is which so it doesn’t buzz again. The OmniWear team thought about having it buzz more often but decided that created too much feedback — enough to easily overwhelm a player.

I’d agree with that, as my brief time with the prototype neckband was marked by a persistent series of buzzes from all sides, with the vibrations a tad stronger at the nape of my neck. However, the final version should produce a consistent sensation that you can customize, with an option to adjust the strength of each individual motor. CEO Ehren Brav tells Engadget that this was added because gamers adore customization, likening it to a mouse with adjustable weight.

Although Brav says he’d love for gamers to never have to look at the mini-map again, I found that the Arc didn’t provide enough information to make this possible. I knew there were enemies off to my right, but I didn’t know how far away they were or which door they were standing behind. I still needed the map to gauge the exact level of danger I was in and which way I had to go to deal with it.

Still, the Arc made it possible to look at the map less often, leaving my eyes and ears open to focus on other things. It’s also easy to see how this can be applied in other industries, which OmniWear has considered — bicyclists and football players alike would benefit from the heightened awareness this kind of haptic feedback can bring. They can learn to avoid danger, or if they can’t, at least prepare for impact, which should have the happy consequence of reducing injuries.

If you don’t play Counter-Strike or League of Legends sit tight — new titles will be added before the device launches in September of next year. But if you’re already sure you need an in-game “spidey sense,” the Arc hits Kickstarter today for $150, with backers getting first priority to suggest more games — whether it’s their favorite FPS, MOBA or something else entirely.

Source: Kickstarter, OmniWear

18
Oct

Ultimaker 3 can 3D-print using two materials at once


There aren’t many 3D printers out there that have two extruders for putting out two materials at once, and of those even fewer are ready to hit the market. But Ultimaker’s latest device is up to the task. The Ultimaker 3, which starts at $3,495, has two extruders that can hold different materials so you can produce more intricate prototypes. The device also comes with WiFi and Ethernet support, in addition to a USB port, so it can receive your jobs over the internet.

One of the most popular (and, frankly, more interesting) applications of this dual-material capability is using the second nozzle to print integrated support structures that you can remove the inside of your print-out. In a recent demonstration, Ultimaker showed how it was able to create a complicated cage-like structure by using a water-soluble material for the support structure against the nylon-based primary material. Then, by dunking the whole thing in water for a few hours (depending on water temperature and movement), the support structures dissolve, leaving behind a clean-edged product.

To prevent the materials from crossing over each other mistakenly, the Ultimaker 3’s extruders will also dodge each other if they get too close. They slide back up into their housing and stop printing, not unlike how a turtle hides its head back in its shell when danger is near. Lights on each nozzle will indicate when the head is hot, cool and ready, so you won’t have to hurt yourself when swapping out the cores.

The Ultimaker 3 also adds NFC readers to its spool racks, so it can automatically detect the material you’ve chosen and adjust its settings accordingly. It also offers automatic bed-leveling, and has an on-board camera so you can watch your project’s progress without leaving your workstation.

The new extruders can print up to 215mm x 215mm x 200mm each, while their output volume when used together is 197mm x 215mm x 200mm. The company is also offering the Ultimaker 3+ for larger build capacities, and it can produce a taller 197mm x 215mm x 300mm print. The popular Ultimaker 2 and 2+ will continue to be available for $2,499 and $2,999, respectively.

18
Oct

Fairphone’s easy-to-fix handset relaunched with a slim cover


Most smartphones are doomed to the scrap heap several years after they’re new, because glued and soldered parts make them too pricey to repair. With the modular Fairphone 2 handset, on the other hand, you can replace the screen in a minute without tools, and other modules can be swapped with a screwdriver. In fact, iFixit gave the device a perfect 10 for repairability. The company behind it has refreshed the device, and released its first replaceable component: the cover

The case is slimmer than the one that came with the original Fairphone 2, which first went on sale late last year. New buyers will get the refreshed case, and the 50,000 buyers of the original can update. “With the new cases we are exploring an interesting part of modularity: customization,” Fairphone’s Fabian Hühne tells Engadget. “You can now get a refreshed look for your phone without having to buy a completely new device.”

The Fairphone has a Full HD screen, 8-megapixel back camera (2-megapixel front cam) Snapdragon 801 CPU, Android 5.1 Lollipop, dual-SIM slots for travelers, 4G wireless capability, 2GB RAM and 32GB of RAM with expandable storage. The company uses conflict-free minerals, recycles e-waste and promises better working conditions at its factory.

The new covers are easy to change and come in four colors, and you can still purchase the transparent or custom older models. If you’re worried about the phone becoming obsolete, Fairphone will eventually offer updated components, starting with the camera.

All of that comes at a price: it’s on pre-order for €525 in Europe (around $575), with delivery by December 16th. That’s $175 more than the technologically superior OnePlus 3, for example. You will feel less guilty, however, knowing you can keep it around by fixing or updating parts if need be — provided the company itself has the same longevity.

Source: Fairphone

18
Oct

Sky Q smartphone app lets you take your recordings with you


One of the clever things about the Sky Q box is that it can sync recordings to devices throughout your home. The company has offered a tablet app since launch, but if you wanted to transfer TV shows and movies over to your smartphone, you were out of luck. Thankfully, that changes today with the launch of a dedicated mobile app that lets you stream live and on-demand programmes but also remotely set your Sky Q box to record episodes while you’re out and about.

As you’d expect, the Sky Q app will only let you access channels and programming available under your existing subscription. Recordings won’t be available if you’re outside of your home network, which means you’ll need to download content to your device over WiFi before you leave the house. It’s a welcome update for commuter types who want to fill their journey to work with an episode or two but would rather not blitz their entire data allowance when doing so.

Via: Sky

Source: Sky Q (App Store), (Play Store)

18
Oct

Samsung is setting up Galaxy Note 7 exchange stations in airports


Sasmung has officially cancelled the Galaxy Note 7 following its exploding battery scandal, but there are still plenty of people out there who need to exchange their phones. If you’re planning to fly soon, that need got stronger a few days ago, when the US banned the phone from all flights. To help air travelers get a phone that they’re actually allowed to have on a plane, Samsung is setting up exchange stations in airports to give customers refunds or a new phone.

So far, the company has only officially announced the program in Australia, but ABC News out of San Francisco reports that Samsung is set up at the San Francisco International Airport to help customers exchange their phones. If you get a new phone from Samsung at an airport, the company will transfer all the data from your Note 7 so you don’t lose any vacation pictures.

Samsung has a team of representatives at SFO to help customers with the Note7 phone. It’s banned from US flights. pic.twitter.com/2IiEcg6hsU

— Sergio Quintana (@svqjournalist) October 17, 2016

CNET notes that Samsung also has exchange stations set up in South Korea and has plans to get them into high traffic airports around the world. They’re set up ahead of security checkpoint, where the Note 7 would be cause to turn passengers around, at least in the US. If it somehow hasn’t become clear yet, the obvious message here is that you should turn in your Note 7 and get another phone, as soon as possible. Why wait until you get to the airport? But for those who have been traveling while the airplane ban went into effect, these exchange stations could be quite handy.

Via: The Verge

Source: Samsung, ABC 7 News, CNEt

18
Oct

Amazon Japan’s manga-ready Kindle has 8 times the storage


Amazon Japan has an unusual challenge with the Kindle: it not only has to cater to your typical bookworm, but to a local fondness for image-heavy (and thus storage-intensive) manga books. What it’s going to do? Release a special model just for those readers, apparently. The company has introduced a manga version of the Kindle Paperwhite with 32GB of storage, or eight times as much space as the run-of-the-mill 4GB model. You could cram every single volume of Asari-chan, Kochikame and Naruto into this e-reader, Amazon says. On top of that, a 33 percent faster page turning speed promises to keep you engrossed in your comics.

The manga Kindle is available for pre-order now, with pricing commanding a slight premium over the usual Paperwhite. You’re spending ¥16,280 (about $157), or ¥12,280 ($118) if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber. The first units ship October 21st, and the update to improve page turning performance should arrive by the end of the month. As you might gather, it’s not very likely that you’ll see this model elsewhere in the world — when the 4GB in regular Kindles is enough to hold thousands of regular books, Amazon doesn’t have much incentive to boost their capacity any time soon.

Source: Amazon Japan (translated 1), (2)

18
Oct

NVIDIA’s GTX 1050 graphics card starts at $109


This year has been a busy one for NVIDIA, what with the introduction of its highly anticipated GeForce GTX 1080 and, most recently, the high-end Titan X graphics cards. But the company isn’t forgetting about the entry-level crowd. Today, it announced the GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti, a pair of GPUs built for people who want to get into PC gaming. They’re both based on NVIDIA’s Pascal architecture, and the company says you’ll be able to play many titles at a “smooth” 60 frames per second in 1080p. That includes games like Bioshock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, Star Wars Battlefront, The Division and more.

As for the difference between the two, the GTX 1050 Ti is slightly more powerful, featuring 768 CUDA cores and 4GB of GDDR5 RAM. The GTX 1050, in comparison, offers 640 CUDA cores and only 2GB of GDDR5 RAM. Neither card supports virtual reality platforms, but that’s not surprising given their low starting price. What’s more, although there’s no external power connector needed, the company promises that the cards’ performance won’t disappoint.

You can buy the GTX 1050 on October 25th at $109, while the GTX 1050 Ti is expected to arrive around November 8th for $139 and above. And if these aren’t good enough for you, don’t forget NVIDIA also has the GTX 1060 and GTX 1070, which cost $249 and $379, respectively. Unless, of course, you prefer AMD’s budget-friendly gaming cards, the RX 460 and RX 470.

Source: NVIDIA

18
Oct

Plantronics’ new wireless cans deliver noise-canceling for $200


Plantronics’ latest wireless headphones double-down on the company’s strengths: sound quality and price. For a relatively low price of $200, the BackBeat Pro 2 packs in decent noise-cancelling and even more thumping bass than its predecessor. But, once again, you certainly won’t mistake them for Beats or Sony cans, with a design that’s even less appealing than before. They won’t do much to change Plantronics’ image, but they might end up being the ideal pair of noise-cancelling over-ear headphones for less style-conscious buyers.

I was a big fan of the original BackBeat Pro, Plantronic’s first foray into premium noise-cancelling headphones in 2013. They were cheaper than the competition — which typically ranges from $300 to $400 — and they sounded pretty great, to boot. Last year’s BackBeat Pro+ refresh aimed to simplify pairing with the addition of a Bluetooth dongle, but that didn’t justify its higher $300 price. With this new model, Plantronics had to right a few wrongs. And for the most part, it succeeds.

While Plantronics’ previous headphones were large with circular earpieces, the BackBeat Pro 2 is a bit less bulky with oblong ear pad designs. The company claims it’s 15 percent lighter than before, and the overall volume has been reduced by 35 percent. You can certainly feel the weight difference just by picking them up. Not surprisingly, the BackBeat Pro 2 feels a lot more comfortable when you’re wearing them, and they’re also less comically large when they’re actually on your head. As for that earpiece design change, Plantronics says it’ll allow the Pro 2 to fit more comfortably for more people.

You’ll also notice some design changes this time around. The headset is still mostly made up of plastic, but Plantronics added a few flourishes to spice up its previously minimalist design. There’s a pseudo-carbon fiber material around the outside of the ear pads, and the inner circle has a wood-grain plastic finish. I wasn’t expecting much from the company design wise, especially since it was aiming for a lower price, but what we’ve got in the BackBeat Pro 2 is mostly dull. And in certain angles, they simply look ugly. I’m particularly turned off by the huge “L” and “R” on the inside of the ear pieces. Next time, I hope Plantronics puts more thought into aesthetics (though I’m glad they were able to de-bulk the headphones, at least).

Controlling the BackBeat Pro 2 is simpler than with previous models. Instead of having track and volume controls spread across rotating dials on the left and right ear pieces, the Pro 2 simply pushes them all to the left can. Turning the outer ring changes the volume, hitting the center circle plays and pauses the music, and hitting the inner ring lets you change tracks. While it seems confusing at first, I didn’t have any problem differentiating between the buttons while wearing the the Pro 2.

When it comes to wireless sound quality, though, the BackBeat Pro 2 are stellar. They have more of a bass kick than the previous versions, but it’s not overdone to the point of distraction. Most importantly, they sounded great across several genres of music, no matter if I was listening to David Bowie, Janelle Monae or Radiohead. When it comes to orchestral music, especially film scores, they conveyed a surprising amount of nuance for wireless headphones. They also sounded good while taking calls; I had no trouble making out what other people were saying, and the microphone did a good job of picking up my voice while ignoring background noise.

Plantronic’s active noise-canceling (ANC) also did a good job of reducing subway and street noise during my commute between Brooklyn and Manhattan. It’s not a feature I’d use all the time — in quiet environments ANC can make things sound too quiet to the point of being eerie — but it works well when you need it. Without ANC turned on, the BackBeat Pro 2 still sounded solid, while letting in a bit of background noise. For situational awareness, you can also flip on the “open listening” mode, which pipes in external sound into the headphones.

When wired, the BackBeat Pro 2 sounds even better. They’re best used when connected to a headphone amp (not just straight into a PC or phone), but with the proper power driving them they sound almost as good as headphones twice the price. Unfortunately, they don’t work as USB headphones, which is a nice feature I’ve seen on other wireless cans (including cheaper non-noise canceling options from Jabra). That feature you an easy way to connect them to PCs without going through the whole Bluetooth pairing dance.

As before, the BackBeat Pro 2 features sensors that automatically pauses your media when you take them off. That’s particularly useful for things like podcasts and audiobooks where you don’t want to miss out on anything. The BackBeat Pro 2 also automatically paused what I was watching when connected to the Apple TV, which was a lifesaver during recent binge watching sessions. And yes, they sound great for film and TV watching too.

For the quality hounds out there, Plantronics also included support for the AptX Bluetooth codec, which delivers even better sound wirelessly than the typical BT profile. AptX is supported by a handful of Android devices, PCs and Bluetooth accessories, though it’s still missing on the iPhone and iPad. Surprisingly enough, the codec is supported on Mac OS. I noticed slightly more detail when listening to the BackBeat Pro 2 on my MacBook Air compared to the Pro+.

Plantronics claims the BackBeat Pro 2 gets 24 hours of battery life, and while I haven’t clocked it closely, I’m surprised that they’re still on a “medium” battery after using them for music and movies over the past week. The previous BackBeats also delivered solid battery life, so this is an area I know Plantronics has experience with. If you happen to leave them on accidentally, the company claims they’ll last for up to six months in “Deep Hibernation” mode. Basically, they’re ideal if you’re anxious about battery life.

In the box, you also a soft carrying case, a micro-USB cable for charging and a 3.5mm audio cable. There’s also a slightly more expensive “SE” version of the Pro 2 for $250, which includes NFC pairing and a hard case. Given how useless NFC pairing typically is, though, I’d recommend avoiding that model.

Overall, the BackBeat Pro 2 is a solid upgrade for Plantronics, despite its aesthetic missteps. It’s a particularly good deal for people who pride quality and comfort over good looks. But here’s the thing: Design does matter, especially if Plantronics wants to be considered alongside Beats, Bose and Sony. While it can certainly compete when it comes to sound quality, Plantronics would be a force to be reckoned with if it could hone its design chops.

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