Hugging Face raises $4 million for its artificial BFF

Chatbot startup Hugging Face has raised a $4 million seed round led by Ronny Conway from a_capital. Existing investors Betaworks, SV Angel and Kevin Durant are also participating.

I already reviewed Hugging Face so I won’t write the same thing again. But the startup has been building a chatbot app with a strong personality for bored teenagers. Instead of focusing on customer support or convenience, Hugging Face is focusing on emotions and entertainment.

It’s been available in the App Store as a standalone app and on Kik. Today, the company is also launching Hugging Face on Messenger. It should help bring new users.

Even without Messenger, Hugging Face now handles 1 million messages per day. In total, Hugging Face has received over 100 million messages.

It’s also worth noting that Hugging Face accepts text messages, photos, emojis, everything. So you can take a selfie, send a sad emoji, and the chatbot will know how you feel.

And it’s clear that Hugging Face is betting on surprise and enjoyment. The app doesn’t have to be perfect to be entertaining.

Beyond the consumer app, the team behind Hugging Face has written a couple of research papers about artificial intelligence. It’s clear that the startup plans on building a great team of engineers when it comes to natural language conversations. The team will double over the coming months.

Tempow raises $4 million to improve Bluetooth

French startup Tempow has raised a $4 million funding round. Balderton Capital led the round, with C4 Ventures also participating. The company has been working on improving the Bluetooth protocol to make it more versatile.

Smartphones, speakers and connected devices all use Bluetooth in one way or another. There are only a handful of Bluetooth chipset manufacturers in the world, such as Qualcomm and Broadcom. While Bluetooth chips have become incredibly efficient as they use much less power than they used to, it’s been stagnant on the software front.

Tempow is a software company that wants to rewrite the Bluetooth stack from scratch. The company started with an audio profile.

Thanks to Tempow’s technology, you can connect a phone to multiple Bluetooth speakers at once. This is just a software improvement — it works with standard Bluetooth chipsets and all Bluetooth audio devices out there.

Lenovo liked this idea and licensed the technology for its Moto X4 handset. More than 5 million devices with Tempow’s Bluetooth stack have been sold.

With today’s funding round, the startup wants to tackle more use cases. For instance, Tempow wants to optimize the pairing process, enhance the security of the protocol and work on battery consumption. “Maybe you could pay using Bluetooth instead of NFC,” co-founder and CEO Vincent Nallatamby told me.

At the same time, the startup is negotiating with multiple manufacturers. You can expect to see Tempow’s technology in more devices in the future.

The company currently has 7 patents pending and just got its first patent last week. Eventually, Tempow thinks it can build a team of Bluetooth experts who push the protocol forward.

HTC U12 Plus hands-on review

HTC may have sold around 2,000 engineers from its research and development team to Google last year, but that’s not slowing the Taiwanese company down from releasing smartphones. Right on schedule, the HTC U12 Plus is here, releasing almost exactly a year after its predecessor, the HTC U11.

The U12 Plus is the only U12 you’ll find – there’s no “regular” model. The new phone has a bigger screen, but also a higher $800 price tag. It’s clear HTC wants to directly compete with the big boys like the Galaxy S9 Plus, the Google Pixel 2 XL, and the iPhone X. Can it hold its own against top-tier competitors?

No mechanical buttons

Take a breath of relief — there’s no notch on the HTC U12 Plus. The notch is a growing trend in Android phones, ever since Apple popularized it on the iPhone X (though yes, the Essential did it first). We’ve grown used to it, having seen it on multiple phones like the Huawei P20 Pro, the OnePlus 6, and the LG G7 ThinQ, but we’re happy to see a phone not jumping on the trend. While the bezels surrounding the display are much smaller than the ones on the HTC U11, they’re not as thin as other modern flagships. Still, the U12 Plus looks attractive. Uniquely, it has two front-facing cameras, but more on that later.

On the bottom of the phone is a USB Type-C charging port, next to a bottom-firing speaker. The speaker works with the top earpiece to provide stereo sound (what HTC calls BoomSound). We haven’t had a chance to try the speakers out yet.

In a twist, the phone’s buttons – even volume — aren’t mechanical at all, meaning they don’t move when you press them. Instead, they’re touch-sensitive like the home button on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 7. There zero mechanical buttons on the U12 Plus, and we’re not so sure if that’s a good thing.

Why did HTC eliminate physical buttons? A company spokesperson told us it improves water-proofing, but HTC also wants a phone with a clean look. We’ll have to do more testing on the U12 Plus to see if touch-sensitive buttons interrupt day-to-day use, and if they’re a good idea.

Translucent Blue caught our attention because — like the name suggests — you can slightly see internal components.

Flip the phone around, and you’ll think you bought an LG V30. Both have a dual-camera setup that are horizontally-aligned, a stark contrast to the vertical alignment on many other new phones. There’s a nice, large fingerprint sensor below the separate flash module, and it’s easy to access. There’s a little too much going on in the top half of the phone, and we’d like to see HTC integrate some of the additional sensors and the flash into the main camera module for a cleaner look. There’s also the HTC logo in the middle, and a microphone hole at the bottom.

HTC is still utilizing its Liquid Surface design, which it unveiled last year. That means variations of colors have been added to layers of the glass, allowing it to reflect and display subtle changes in color when held up to light. It still looks fantastic, and we love the new color options — Translucent Blue, Flame Red, and Ceramic Black.

Flame Red won’t be available until later this summer, but Translucent Blue caught our attention because — like the name suggests — you can slightly see internal components on the rear of the U12 Plus. HTC already experimented this design with the HTC U11 Plus last year, but that phone didn’t make its way to the U.S. We love the translucency, but we wouldn’t mind if HTC removed the vertical lines under the HTC logo. Flame Red would be our immediate second choice, because it’s so flashy that it stands out from the competition.

Oddly, HTC is using Gorilla Glass 3 — not Gorilla Glass 5 like all the other flagships — on the rear and front of the phone. HTC told Digital Trends that’s because Gorilla Glass 3 is “the optimal balance of scratch resistance, shatter-proofing, and bendability for the 3D glass edges on the U12 Plus.” No matter what type of glass it uses, you’ll still need a case to protect this phone, and the company provides one in the box. Thankfully, the phone is IP68 water-resistant, which means it can survive a dip in the pool.

Also, glass on the back doesn’t mean there’s support for wireless charging. HTC said it doesn’t think the technology is much more useful than wired charging.

HTC U12 Plus Compared To

Improved Edge Sense

The edges of the phone are rounded, making it comfortable to hold, but the 6-inch screen can be a little unwieldy. It can be tough to reach the top corners. Luckily, HTC has a handy solution, and it involves its Edge Sense technology that debuted on the U11 last year. In addition to a short squeeze and a long squeeze of the phone, you can now double tap either side of the U12 Plus to trigger one-handed mode, which makes the content on the screen smaller and easier to reach.

Flip the phone around, and you’ll think you bought an LG V30.

The squeeze actions are done on the lower half of the phone, and it works thanks to sensors on the edge of the phone that can detect pressure. You can customize the apps you want to open or the actions you want to trigger with all three gestures, or you can turn it completely off. For example, you can set a double tap to open the camera, a short squeeze to launch the camera, and a long squeeze to open your favorite messaging app. Google used this same technology in the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, though only for launching Google Assistant.

HTC also uses the Edge Sense sensors to recognize how you’re holding it. If you are holding the phone in portrait mode and lie down, the screen won’t rotate to portrait. If you hold it in landscape orientation, it will automatically rotate. This feature may be moot, though, considering the next version of Android has a nifty way of managing those sudden screen rotations.

htc u12 plus review display
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We like Edge Sense, and the level of customizability to make those actions personalized, but we’ll need more testing to see if all these touch-based gestures — including the touch-sensitive buttons — genuinely improve usability.

Super LCD Display

The HTC U11 had a 5.5-inch screen, but the U12 Plus cranks that up to 6 inches. That doesn’t mean the new phone is much bigger, though, as the smaller bezels make the U12 just a tad taller than its predecessor.

The taller screen equates to an 18:9 ratio, a trend with new phones, as well as a 2,880 x 1,440 pixel resolution. That’s a pixel density of 537 pixels-per-inch, and HTC has opted for a Super LCD screen. The screen gets bright, but in our brief time with the phone, we noticed it was still a little tough to see the screen outdoors. The screen is colorful and sharp, though the blacks aren’t as inky as you’d find on an OLED screen.

Performance, software, and battery

The HTC U12 Plus is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor and comes with 6GB of RAM. You can choose between 64GB of internal storage or 128GB, but there’s also a MicroSD card slot to expand it more. We didn’t see any performance issues. Apps opened quickly, and transitions were fluid, though we’ll have to do more intensive testing. Based on the same processor in other phones, we don’t think anyone will have problems with the phone’s performance.

The software is close to stock Android, but there are some of HTC’s flourishes.

The U12 Plus runs Android 8.0 Oreo, and HTC confirmed it will get Android P when it’s released later this year. The software is close to stock Android, but there are some of HTC’s flourishes like Blinkfeed (a collection of personalized news and interests on the left of the main home screen). In the unit we tested, it looked like there’s quite a bit of bloatware pre-installed. We’ll double check with our final review unit when we receive it.

There’s a 3,500mAh battery in the U12 Plus, and it supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology. It also supports Quick Charge 4.0, but you’ll need to find a compatible adapter to utilize the faster charging speed.

Four cameras

There are four cameras on the HTC U12 Plus — two on the rear, and two on the front. On the front, top left corner are two 8-megapixel cameras with f/2.0 apertures each, and a fixed focus. You can’t swap between the two cameras, but the extra lens helps take Portrait Mode selfies — which blurs the background to bring out the focus on a subject. It’s quick to react, and the portrait mode photos it takes are solid. We did notice some issues with blurred edges, particularly with hair, but that’s par for the course with most other phones.

HTC has added AR stickers in the camera app in case you want to don a pair of rabbit ears, and you can also use the front-facing cameras for Face Unlock, which does what it says on the in. It’s meant for convenience, not security, so you can’t use it to access secure apps, as is true on the iPhone X.

HTC is no stranger to dual cameras on the rear — having been among the first to debut the technology in 2014 — but the company went back to a single lens set up for a period of time, kicking up its feet as the rest of the smartphone market fully adopted a dual-lens system. Well, the dual-lens system is finally back, though it’s not too different from the competition. There’s a 12-megapixel standard lens with a f/1.75 aperture, as well as a 16-megapixel telephoto lens with a f/2.6 aperture. The latter lens offers 2 times optical zoom, which means you can zoom in a little more without sacrificing image quality. Both lens have optical image stabilization.

DxOMark gave the U12 Plus a 103 score, which puts it second to the Huawei P20 Pro.

The camera shutter is fast, and the few photos we took look well-detailed, with accurate colors. We’ll do more testing to see how it stacks up in this increasingly competitive field. There’s now a Portrait Mode on the rear as well. You can see the blur effect live in the viewfinder, and you can change the intensity or remove the blur after you capture the image. The camera app also has a Pro mode that lets you access RAW photo files.

HTC has improved on a feature previously called Acoustic Focus. It’s now called Sonic Zoom, and it lets you zoom into a subject during a video. The camera will try to boost the sound of the subject you’re zooming in on, while suppressing other sound. We haven’t given it a try yet, but HTC did say it has genuinely improved, and it’s not just a name change. Speaking of video, you can now shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second, or slow-motion video at 240 frames per second and 1080p.

The camera on the HTC U11 was a surprise hit, competing head to head with the likes of the Google Pixel 2 and the iPhone X, and we’re expecting it to deliver strong results again on the U12 Plus. DxOMark gave the U12 Plus a 103 score, which puts it second to the Huawei P20 Pro.

Price and availability

You can pre-order the Translucent Blue version of the HTC U12 Plus now in either 64GB, which costs $800, or 128GB, which will set you back $850. The Ceramic Black version is also available, but only in 64GB. The Flame Red color will be available later this year. The U12 Plus is also available for $34 per month for 24 months at 0 percent APR. HTC is selling the phone unlocked on its website and on Amazon, and the phone is certified to work on AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

The HTC U12 Plus is on track to be a good phone that improves upon its predecessor in almost every way. But while it is unique in a few ways, the U12 Plus doesn’t have a heart-throbbing feature that makes us excited to use it – like triple cameras, for example. At its price range, we’re really hoping the camera delivers, because that’s what separates good phones from the rest.

HTC U12 Plus: Everything you need to know about HTC’s latest phone

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

HTC has put out two great flagship phones in two consecutive years with the HTC 10 and HTC U11. Now, the Taiwanese company is looking to continue that streak with the newly-announced HTC U12 Plus, its flagship phone for 2018. But what does the new device have to offer? Here’s everything you need to know about the HTC U12 Plus.

You can check out our HTC U12 Plus hands-on review to learn more about our impressions of the phone.

Design and display

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Images and renders of the HTC U12 Plus leaked heavily in the past few months, and it turns out those images were accurate. HTC is re-using its Liquid Surface design that it introduced last year, which adds subtle color changes in layers of glass on the rear. This means the color slightly changes when the glass back catches light.

This year, there are three color versions of this Liquid Surface design: Flame Red, which will be available later this year; Translucent Blue, where you can see some of the internal components on the rear; and Ceramic Black.

Starting on the back, the phone resembles LG’s V30 smartphone. You’ll find dual rear-facing cameras, a fingerprint sensor, and an HTC logo — and that’s about it. The Translucent Blue model also has a few faint vertical lines below the HTC logo. The back and front glass uses Gorilla Glass 3, which is quite dated considering most other modern flagships use Gorilla Glass 5. If you were also hoping that glass meant wireless charging, you’ll unfortunately be disappointed. Glass is here is purely for aesthetic reasons.

Over on the front, HTC has added a much larger display over the HTC U11. Yes, the bezels surrounding the screen are thinner than ever before, but they’re not as skimpy as bezels on other flagship phones. You may just be satisfied that there’s no notch at the top.

Speaking of the display, it’s a 6-inch Super LCD display with a resolution of 2,880 x 1,440. That resolution on the 6-inch screen size equates to a pixel density of 537 pixels-per-inch. We would have liked to see HTC adopt OLED technology, but LCD should be more than satisfactory. On the front, you may also have noticed dual front-facing cameras. The additional camera helps with Portrait Mode selfies, but more on that later.

There are two speakers — one in the earpiece and one bottom-firing speaker. HTC is still utilizing its “BoomSound” audio technology, and hopefully that means better sound than ever before. The phone is water-resistant, coming in with an IP68 rating, which means it should survive in the dip in the pool.

HTC has brought back Edge Sense for the U12 Plus, meaning that you can set different functions for when you squeeze the phone, depending on how hard you squeeze. The company has also introduced a new gesture — you can double-tap each side of the phone. By default this will put the phone into one-handed mode, though you can change it to whatever you want.

What’s unique is the buttons on the U12 Plus are not mechanical — the power and volume buttons stick out of the phone, but you can’t push them down. They’re digital, or touch sensitive, so just tap them and you should be able to achieve the same function. It’s the first time HTC has used digital buttons, and the company said it should help with water resistance.

Specs and camera

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Under the hood, the HTC U12 Plus is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, along with 6GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of storage. If that isn’t enough storage for you, there is a MicroSD card slot, so you can expand it if you so choose. As far as connectivity goes, the phone has Bluetooth 5.0, along with a USB Type-C port on the bottom.

Then there’s the camera, and on paper it has a lot to offer. There are two cameras on the rear, with one 12-megapixel lens with an aperture of f/1.75, and one 16-megapixel telephoto lens with an aperture of f/2.6. The camera also has features like phase detection and laser autofocus, along with optical zoom of up to 2x and digital zoom up to 10x. It also has “bokeh mode in realtime,” which is similar to the Portrait Mode found on the iPhone X.

The front-facing camera has two 8-megapixel sensors with an aperture of f/2.0, and it too boasts bokeh mode, which is perfect for selfies. HTC says you can also use the phone for facial unlock, though like other Android phones, the feature is meant for convenience and not security. There are also augmented reality stickers built into the camera app, and these are similar to Snapchat filters.

The battery on the phone sits in at 3,500mAh, and the phone supports Quick Charge 3.0 — meaning it can charge up to 50 percent in 35 minutes. It does support Quick Charge 4.0, but you’ll need to buy the appropriate adapter and cable yourself.

When it comes to software, the phone ships with Android 8.0 Oreo — but HTC says it will update the phone to Android P once the new operating system is available. Generally, HTC ships a fairly stripped back version of Android, but it does make some tweaks to things like icons and settings.

Price and availability

HTC U12 Plus Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The phone is available for pre-order starting now, with the Translucent Blue version of the phone starting at $800 for the 64GB version and $850 for the 128GB version. The Ceramic Black model is also available for $800 for 64GB. You can also finance the phone for $34 per month for 24 months. It’s certified to work on AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Update: The HTC U12 Plus has officially been announced.

Editors’ Recommendations

The crazy fullscreen Vivo Apex concept is being made into a real phone

Vivo Apex Review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

A pop-up camera, no bezels to speak of around the screen, and an in-display fingerprint sensor that could recognise two fingers at the same time — just three of the reasons we were so excited to see the Vivo Apex concept phone at Mobile World Congress this year. However, while Vivo said we may see some of the technology from the phone in a future device, it was never certain the Apex itself would be released. The good news is, Vivo has decided to release the Apex on June 12.

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How similar will it be to the phone we saw at MWC? A teaser video and image show the phone in some detail, and it’s clear two of the three technologies that made the Apex standout will be in the final version. The bezel-less screen remains, as does the pop-up selfie camera; but it doesn’t appear the exact same in-display fingerprint sensor will make it. That doesn’t mean it won’t have an in-display sensor though. Right at the start of the video, the phone is unlocked with an in-display fingerprint sensor, which more resembles the version we’ve seen on the Vivo X20UD.

It’s likely a sensible decision by Vivo. The Apex’s multi-function in-display sensor wasn’t very reliable, and rarely recognised multiple prints. The Synaptics sensor used on the prototype X20UD was very reliable in our early tests. If it is the same as the X21UD, the Apex has the potential to be a formidable phone.

The screen has almost no bezels at all, no notch, and no chin. Sensors and speakers are all hidden away or sculpted into the body, while the selfie camera motorises up from the top of the phone when the selfie mode is activated, and then slides away again when it’s not needed. It’s a neat, fun, and eye-catching way to deal with the problem of where to put the lens on bezel-less phones. The Apex phone’s design is likely to be very similar too, and a render of the phone published on Twitter, apparently based on leaked photos, may show the device in all its glory.

vivo apex news concept

It’s impossible not to be excited about such a futuristic-looking smartphone. Vivo will launch the Apex at an event in Shanghai on June 12, but no price or availability has been provided yet. Vivo does sell some devices internationally, but not officially in the United States, so if you want one after it’s released you’ll probably need the services of an importer. We’ll keep you up to date with all the Vivo Apex’s release news here.

Editors’ Recommendations