The 2.45-inch Jelly Android phone is one of the cheapest ways to get Nougat

Why it matters to you

Looking for a smaller phone that still offers impressive features? Jelly comes in at only 2.45 inches and comes packing Android Nougat.

While the general trend seems to be toward smartphones getting bigger, that’s not preventing some manufacturers from opting to go for a smaller-scale model. Jelly, for example, has built an ultra-small smartphone with Android Nougat and 4G LTE.

While small, it’s still a very capable phone. It features a full version of Android Nougat, along with the Google Play Store installed and ready to help you download all your favorite apps. The phone recently hit Kickstarter, and has so far raised a hefty $54,876 — nearly double the $30,000 goal.

The phone doesn’t seem all that bad under the hood, either. It boasts a quad-core 1.1GHz processor with up to 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, although the base model comes with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. That storage is expandable by up to 32GB through a microSD card slot. The rear-facing camera sits at 8MP, with the front-facing camera at 2MP.

The phone also offers plenty of specs that you would only expect on a smaller device. The display, for example, comes in at 240 x 432 pixels, and the phone has a 950mAh battery that should last for up to three days of typical use.

The best thing about Jelly isn’t its specs — it’s the price. The early-bird pricing for the device through the Kickstarter campaign is $59 for the base model and $75 for the Pro, which makes it one of the cheapest ways to get the latest and greatest version of Android. You might not get quick updates to Android O once it comes out, but that won’t matter to many people. It’s important to note that the phone does have a $109 retail price for the base model and $125 for the Pro model.

You can get the Jelly smartphone for yourself through the Jelly Kickstarter page.

VentureFriends closes €20M fund to invest in Greek software startups

A tiny bit more VC money sloshing around Europe. This time it’s the turn of Greece-based VC fund VentureFriends, which is announcing the final closing of a €20 million fund to invest in Greek software and “high tech” startups at the seed stage. The two Partners of the fund are Apostolos Apostolakis and George Dimopoulos, with Stefanos Katsimpas also acting as a senior Associate.

Over half the money was raised last year and I’m told VentureFriends has already done about 20 investments, but is keen to get the word out that Greek entrepreneurs have another investor to approach. Interestingly, unlike a lot of local European VCs, the firm’s 40 or so LPs are all private. In other words, if I understand correctly, there is no tax-payer money being gambled here.

Specifically, Apostolakis says the fund will be investing amounts between €250-500,000 and can follow on up to a total of 1 million. It is targeting startups with strong teams and generating a little revenue, with e-commerce/e-marketplaces, SaaS, AdTech, and on-demand services remaining a focus.

“We want to see network effects or high technology,” he tells me. “We look for innovating hustlers solving big and important need-to-solve problems”.

In case you aren’t familiar with Apostolakis’ work, he previously co-founded, the first e-tailer in Greece, and in 2011 he co-founded e-food, a food delivery marketplace acquired in 2015 by Delivery Hero, providing a major exit for the Greek startup ecosystem.

He’s also an active angel investor, including recently investing in Doctoranytime, the doctor booking app launched in Belgium by ex-Take Eat Easy team members.

Notably, he and Dimopoulo were also among the first angel investors in Taxibeat, the taxi app that sold to Daimler in February.

Facebook recruits 3,000 additional moderators to review flagged content

Why it matters to you

Facebook wants to become a safer website to visit and realizes it needs to get better at removing objectionable pics and videos.

If Facebook has one big, overriding problem, it’s objectionable content. The social network’s billions of users report videos and pictures that violate the website’s terms of service every day and it is up to the site’s moderation team to review complaints. But, it has struggled lately.

On Wednesday, Facebook said it would recruit as many as 3,000 moderators to help parse the network’s content for hate speech, child exploitation, animal abuse, teenage suicide, and self-harm. They will join the existing 4,500-member review team.

Facebook’s moderation problem is an open secret. In 2016, a BBC reported that private Facebook groups were being used by sexual predators to trade images of exploited children. Despite promises by Facebook’s head of public policy to “[remove] content that shouldn’t be there,” a follow-up investigation found that Facebook failed to remove a vast majority of the images — about 18 or 100 — after the BBC used Facebook’s own systems to report them.

In response, the chairman of the U.K. House of Commons’ media committee, Damian Collins, told the BBC he had “grave doubts” about the effectiveness of Facebook’s moderation. “I think it raises the question of how can users can make effective complaints to Facebook about content that is disturbing, shouldn’t be on the site, and have confidence that it will be acted upon,” he said.

The chairman’s comments came on the heels of more onerous oversights. Earlier in 2017, three men live-streamed the gang-rape of a woman in the city of Uppsala, Sweeden, 50 miles north of Stockholm. Last month, a man in Thailand killed himself and his child and broadcast it. And two days prior to Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference, a Cleveland man filmed the shooting and killing of a 74-year-old man.

“We still have a lot of work to do, and we will keep doing all that we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during F8’s keynote address. “We’re going to make it simpler to report problems to us, faster for our reviewers to determine which posts violate our standards, and easier for them to contact law enforcement if someone needs help.”

Facebook is also improving its automated moderation tools. It is developing new algorithms that will automatically identify and take down objectionable content, and tools that will make it easier for users to report problems and contact law enforcement.

But Zuckerberg said that these measures won’t be an instant fix. “Artificial intelligence can help provide a better approach,” Zuckerberg said in an open letter. “[But it will take] many years to fully develop.”

He praised the company’s human moderators, who ensure flagged Facebook content abides by the network’s Community Standards.

“Just last week, we got a report that someone on Live was considering suicide. We immediately reached out to law enforcement, and they were able to prevent him from hurting himself,” Zuckerberg said.

Here are all the places that support Apple Pay

Apple Pay is Apple’s contactless payment service, and it’s available to the iPhone 6/6S, 6/6S Plus, iPhone SE, and the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The service, like Android Pay, requires stores to have NFC terminals at checkout so that you can simply tap your phone to make a payment.

While Apple was hardly the first with contactless payments, the company’s solution has banks, stores, and companies jumping on the bandwagon and pledging their support for Apple Pay. It seems as if new partners are joining every day, so we’ve put together this handy list of all the major partners, which we’ll update as more are added. Here are all the brands and countries that support Apple Pay.

More and more banks support Apple Pay

Apple inked deals with the four major U.S. credit and debit card providers early on: Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express. Apple also has the support of more than 1,500 banks and credit unions in the U.S. as of December 2016. Users can even send money transfers from Apple Pay at Western Union locations.

In May 2017, Apple added 23 banks and credit unions in the United States, including Chevron Federal Credit Union and Manasquan Bank. The company typically expands support to smaller institutions in North America on a regular basis every few weeks; back in October 2016, it added Canadian Desjardins customers to the fold. The full list of United States and Canadian locations is available on Apple’s website.

In November 2016, Apple updated its list of supported Apple Pay banks to include nine newcomers in China, four in Russia, and more than 30 in Australia. Shortly after, in February 2017, Apple Pay in Russia and Switzerland picked up support for B&N Bank and boon. by Wirecard, respectively.

In October 2016, Apple Pay was made available to The Co-operative Bank and Metro Bank in the U.K. Taiwan looks to be up next for Apple Pay domination, as the four largest financial institutions in the nation appear to be preparing for the contactless payment service.

In February 2015 at the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection, CEO Tim Cook announced that Apple Pay will support government employees’ credit cards, federal benefit cards for veterans, and social security benefit cards. According to Bloomberg, the government’s deal with Apple Pay includes the Direct Express payment network and government cards from GSA SmartPay.

“We can imagine a day the not-so-distant future when your wallet becomes a remnant of the past.”

At the summit, Cook also hinted that Apple Pay will replace every card in your wallet one day — even drivers’ licenses.

“We can imagine a day the not-so-distant future when your wallet becomes a remnant of the past,” he said. “Your passport, your driver’s license, and other important documents can be digitally stored in a way that’s safe, secure, and easy to access.”

Non-traditional banking and payment companies are also pledging support for the system. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Square, told CBC that Square will support Apple Pay and Bitcoin payments on its newest registers. Square’s registers are widely used by artists, small indie shops, and other stores, especially in large cities. Alternative registers from First Data’s Clover and others like Poynt, already support Apple Pay.

Apple May Be Prepping Siri for Smart Home Duty

By John P. Mello Jr.
May 3, 2017 10:31 AM PT

Odds appear good that Apple will be joining Amazon and Google in the smart speaker competition with a Siri-powered device it plans to introduce at its World Wide Developers Conference next month, according to MacRumors, which cited a report by Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities.

The new home-AI product will have excellent acoustics with one woofer and seven tweeters, and the processing power of an iPhone 6, Kuo wrote. Its price tag likely will be higher than Amazon’s Echo, which sells for US$179.

Rumors of an Apple speaker have been floating around for some time: The Information reported that Apple was preparing an Echo competitor a year ago, and Bloomberg last September reported that Apple had begun testing a prototype of the device.

The speaker may have a camera, which could be used for facial recognition. It likely will control other devices — locks, lights, appliances, curtains and such — by voice commands issued through Siri.

Battle for the Home

Entry into the smart speaker market makes sense for a company with smart home aspirations.

“As the success of Echo and Google Home took off, everyone expected Apple to follow suit,” said Brad Russell, a research analyst with Parks Associates.

Battle lines are being drawn over who will have the dominant voice technology in the home.

“Consumers have really responded to voice control, and the Echo has accelerated that,” Russell told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s pretty much accepted now that voice is the interface of the future,” he said. “It makes adoption of devices much more frictionless, because you don’t have to learn a different user interface for every product.”

Apple already has a voice beachhead in the home with Apple TV.

“What it doesn’t have is a central standup device like Google or Amazon,” observed Jonathan Collins, a research director for ABI Research.

“Those devices have proven to be popular, and they provide a key focus and key introduction to the smart home,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Tough Competition

The Apple speaker is likely to have great sound output, but sound won’t be the only feature to justify the premium price the company likely will charge for the product.

“It will probably be an important of part Apple HomeKit so they can link it to other smart home devices,” said Kevin Krewell, a principal analyst with Tirias Research.

“One of the uses of these smart speakers is for home automation control,” he told TechNewsWorld. “This would be an opportunity for Apple to attach a voice-based device to HomeKit.”

However, Siri will find it difficult to challenge some of the players already entrenched in the market.

“I don’t see it as a great competitor to Google Home, which has a tie-in to Google’s deep knowledge base,” Krewell said.

Amazon’s Echo, with its Alexa voice assistant, also will pose strong competition, largely because of its growing partner network.

“Alexa has led the way in third-party integration,” said Ross Rubin, the principal analyst with Reticle Research.

“It’s very easy to pass on a request from Alexa to another product, and Amazon has been very aggressive in courting third-party devices,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Siri Lost First Advantage

It’s not unusual for Apple to wait for a market to develop before it moves in for the kill. It did that with the iPod, as well as with the smartphone and tablet computer. In the case of voice assistants, though, it failed to exploit its first-to-market advantage.

“Apple’s Siri was actually the first digital assistant to widely impact the market, but the company has leveraged the technology less than might be expected,” observed Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“That left an opening for Amazon Alexa and Google Home,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The larger question now is how well Apple can compete in a young but rapidly maturing market.”

However, Apple still has a lot to bring to the table, noted Parks’ Russell. It has 120 HomeKit devices, and security has been one of the hallmarks of its approach to the smart home.

“When you couple rising security concerns by consumers with Apple’s well-known higher security standards, that will position them well in the market,” he said.

Also, in spite of the timing concerns, Apple’s track record is hard to ignore.

“Apple has a history of success when it enters settled markets and out-innovates other vendors,” King said. “We’ll see if the company can work some of it’s old magic here.”

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter
since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the
Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government
Security News
. Email John.

This biped robot uses mechanics instead of a computer brain to stay upright

Bipeds keep getting better. Instead of slow, heavy, and terrain-sensitive humanoids like ASIMO, researchers are building lightweight and agile bird-like robots, such as Cassie. The better the designs are mechanically, the less power and smarts are required to keep the robot upright. This is a virtuous cycle that’s an encouraging sign that some of these biped research projects might actually be useful someday.

The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Florida just unveiled its Planar Elliptical Runner (via Engadget), and this robot is all mechanics. A single motor in the middle of the robot drives the legs in an elliptical motion, and the side-to-side motion of the robot is inherently stable when running — meaning it won’t fall forward or backward.

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The mechanical design also includes torsion springs which drive more power to a leg if it meets resistance, and moves the opposing leg accordingly, making the robot dynamically stable, without a power-hungry CPU in the loop crunching numbers and making decisions based on sensor data.

The dog-sized robot can run up to 10 mph, and the researchers say a human-sized version could run at 20 or 30 mph. Its throttle is controlled with a simple RC controller.

Right now, the robot runs with glass walls on each side to keep it going straight, which feels like cheating, but, according to simulations, the researchers think they know how to build a version that’s stable from side to side without the walls for guidance.

Google’s home solar panel estimates launch in Germany

Google’s Project Sunroof, which estimates whether homes get enough sunlight to switch over to solar power, is launching in Germany today. It’s the first time Sunroof has expanded outside the US, where it finally reached all 50 states earlier this year after launching in 2015.

But as with its US coverage, Google’s estimates don’t reach all — or even most — homes in Germany. Its coverage is limited to densely populated areas, like Munich and Berlin. Google says that around 7 million Germany homes are covered, or about 40 percent of the country’s homes.

Still, the tool serves as an extremely simple way to quickly look up whether your house — assuming it’s covered — could install solar panels to cut down on the energy bill. Right now, Sunroof’s Germany coverage is only hosted on the website of the electricity provider E.on.

Project Sunroof in GermanyProject Sunroof in Germany Photo: Google

Because Google is partnering with an energy company for Sunroof’s launch in Germany, the tool works a little bit differently than it does in the US. Rather than providing visitors with the contact information for a number of solar panel providers that could offer installation, German homeowners will be directed to go straight through E.on, instead of being presented with multiple options.

Google isn’t selling something either way — for now, this really is just a reference tool. Sunroof is free even for the panel installers Google refers people to; a spokesperson clarified that Google doesn’t make any money off of the product.

Slack beefs up its search to find the right person to ask a question

As a company gets bigger and bigger, finding out the answer to some question you have in your head — like the definition of some kind of acronym or the right process to hire someone — is going to be harder and harder to find.

For Slack, which given that it’s a constant stream of communication, that’s going to be doubly true. But over time Slack wants to become a kind of lexicon of information, with everything easily accessible, and it’s starting to do that today with a big update to its search function. Now, when an employee searches for a topic, search should point them to a good person to answer that question or the channel that’s best to check on for that information. Slack wants to be the entire foundation of a business, but that starts with ensuring that employees can actually be more productive instead of spending all their time digging in menus for information.

“There’s tons of info in email, but it’s in silos or other individual inboxes — and on the other side there are hundreds of Wiki products, they take too much work and get stale and aren’t comprehensive,” Noah Weiss, Slack’s Search Learning & Intelligence group, said. “Slack, because it’s a place where people are er doing work all day, there’s this collective knowledge amassing over time. We’re able to tap into that in mostly public channels.”

It’s coming out of Search Learning & Intelligence group, which is trying to leverage all the data it has to build a smarter way to get access to all the information that comes out of a constant wave of conversations. Weiss, who was previously at Foursquare, is working on probably one of the most complicated and important problems Slack might face: jumping from a massive set of chat rooms to something that operates functionally as a base of operations for an entire organization.

Slack a darling in Silicon Valley, and while it’s amassed 5 million DAUs and 1.5 million paying customers it still needs to set its eyes higher on the massive companies that will propel it to an even larger business. And right now at face value it may seem that Slack’s conversational streams are chaotic and difficult to navigate — which is why this change to search, even as a first step, is critical in making it more accessible as teams get bigger and bigger.

“Maybe when you write something, he’s responsive to you but you’re not responsive to him, or you need to follow the channels you care about — we have to understand how those channels are related to each other and this different graph structure,” Weiss said. “What we had to build for this is understanding what are the topics in a company, what’s the unique vocabulary people use in an org to discuss work. It’s very different to a knowledge graph at Google, where there’s one canonical set of entities in the world.”

That problem still requires a lot of data around how people talk and what are some specific nuances and quirks to companies. It’s currently restricted to teams of 50 or more — the sweet spot where the search starts being useful, Weiss said — for paying customers on standard, plus and enterprise plans. As people use it more, the algorithm should get smarter and make it easier and easier to find the right person or channel to ask a question.

“We’re really making slack a kind of great connective tissue for even the largest organizations,” Weiss said. “Search results only get more useful with more history but also more people in channels. It becomes harder to know exactly who you talk to when companies get bigger.”

Slack introduces a new search feature powered by artificial intelligence

Slack is rolling out an improved search experience today bolstered by sophisticated machine learning, the company said. The feature, which was built by the company’s year-old search learning and intelligence group, is designed to help users find relevant channels and subject matter experts more quickly than traditional search. It represents a move by the company to extend its lead in team collaboration software as stiff new challenges emerge from giants including Microsoft, Facebook, and Google.

The new Slack search, which will be available only on paid accounts, attempts to highlight the most relevant people and channels for your query. Search for “hiring process,” for example, and Slack will try to show you the person who discusses that phrase the most, and in what channel. “It’s really about tapping into that collective knowledge from your company,” says Noah Weiss, who runs Slack’s search efforts, said that.

Part of Slack’s pitch from the beginning has been that it will let the average user figure out what’s going on inside their own company more easily. The “S” in Slack stands for search — the company’s name is an acronym for “searchable log of all conversation and knowledge.” But until recently, Slack’s actual search features have been rudimentary. Last year it added a “top results” feature to searches that attempts to show you more relevant results. But I’ve never found it to be much use — if I query “Uber” in the Verge Slack, for example, the most recent result is from April 7th, even though we write about the company many times each week.

It’s for that reason that we should approach Slack’s claims of building “AI search” with skepticism. Weiss, who used to work on the Knowledge Graph at Google, says his team’s work is just beginning. But he shed some light on how Slack tries to guess at what makes a message relevant.

If a person frequently responds to questions about a certain word or phrase, for example, that suggests expertise. If a person’s messages about a keyword receive a lot of replies, or reaction emojis, or trigger new threads, that also suggests relevance. The speed with which that person replies could also be taken into account, Weiss said. Add in the channel where those conversations are taking place and Slack has a decent chance of pointing you in the right direction, he said.

In early tests, the machine learning-powered results led to clicks 30 percent of the time — much higher than the average for a standard set of search results presented in reverse chronological order, he said. It’s a good signal that Slack is onto something here, even if it doesn’t work all of the time. The Verge wasn’t able to test it ahead of time, so I can’t yet vouch for it.

Still, the problem Slack is targeting here is real. The company points to a recent study by market research firm IDC that said modern office workers spend 16 percent of their time looking for information about their own companies, and find it barely half the time. If Slack can offer a better way for employees to answer questions about their employers, it will represent a significant step toward achieving its product vision. And with Microsoft, Facebook, and Google circling it, the company likely can’t afford not to.

Everything you need to know about the $250 Honor 6X

Why it matters to you

A metal smartphone with a dual-lens camera that only costs $250? That’s the Honor 6X, and you need to know about it

We liked last year’s Honor 5X smartphone, which delivered exceptional cameras, a metal unibody, and a powerful processor for a palatable $250. It has since been superseded by the Honor 6X, which is bigger, faster, and better than its predecessor; yet manages to retain the excellent $250 price. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

How to buy one

Pricing starts at $250 for the Honor 6X 3GB and $300 for the Honor 6X 4GB. However, Honor regularly holds flash sales and sweetens the deal with special offers, so always check to see what’s available through the company’s own online store before buying one.

In the United Kingdom, the 3GB/32GB Honor 6X costs 224 British pounds through Huawei’s vMall online store, or it can be purchased on Pay As You Go, or with a monthly contract with Three U.K. It’s priced at 200 British pounds on PAYG, or with monthly tariffs starting at 16 British pounds.

The Honor 6X comes in gold, silver, and gray. In addition to the United States and the United Kingdom, the phone is sold in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq.

What you need to know about the Honor 6X

The Honor 6X originally launched at an October 2016 press event in China, with availability broadened with a launch in the U.S. and Europe at the beginning of January 2017.

It’s a beauty to behold. The slim, sleek Honor 6X boasts a unibody aluminum design and weighs 162 grams, and is a mere 8.2mm thick. The display, a 5.5-inch full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) panel of the LCD variety, reaches 450 nits brightness and has a 0.3-second response time — a 42-percent improvement from previous Honor models.

Inside the Honor 6X’s machine-polished body sits Huawei’s custom Kirin 655, an octa-core processor comprised of four high-powered cores clocked at 2.1GHz and a second set of energy-saving cores at 1.7GHz. A coprocessor handles lighter tasks like speech recognition, music playback, sensor processing, and location tracking. Both are paired with either 3GB or 4GB of RAM, while internal storage managed by a smart file system, which automatically prevents file fragmentation and optimizes read and write speeds.

In May 2017, Honor updated the software on the 6X from Android 6.0 Marshmallow and the EMUI 4.1 user interface, to Android Nougat and the EMUI 5.0 user interface. We’ve noted the benefits of EMUI 5.0 in our reviews of the Huawei Mate 9 in particular, and welcome it here. In addition to the latest version of Android, the new software adds the option for an app drawer, simpler operation throughout the system, smoother performance, and various new features such as the chance to run two versions of certain apps.

Three cameras

The Honor 6X’s silicon and software is not the only highlight. Huawei’s new handset packs a rear camera with a 1.25μm pixel size, built-in noise reduction algorithms, and a Sony sensor capable of focusing on subjects in 0.3 seconds. It’s the first in the Honor series to pack a dual-sensor rear camera; a 12-megapixel sensor handles color data, while an adjacent 2-megapixel monochrome snapper measures brightness levels. Its software combines the two to produce brighter and crisper pictures in low-light conditions.

The dual-sensor design allows for other effects, too. The Honor 6X’s camera can refocus (within an aperture value of f/.95 to f/16) on subjects in the foreground after the picture has been taken, and automatically convert pictures to monochrome. Huawei’s accompanying software supports low-light shots, long exposure, and custom filters.

The front-facing camera and fingerprint sensors are nothing to scoff at, either. The Honor 6X’s 8-megapixel front camera features a 77-degree lens for wide-angle selfies and a built-in “Beauty” mode that recognizes and fixes blemishes. The Honor 6X’s fingerprint sensor also supports swipe gestures; swiping left and right flips through pics in a photo album, for instance, while a series of taps snoozes alarms and places calls.

The Honor 6X’s fast-charging 3,340mAh battery should last up to two days on a single charge, or up to 11.5 hours of video, 70 hours of music, and eight hours of gaming.

The Honor 6X launched on the eve of the Honor brand’s third anniversary, and now reaches more than 74 different countries and regions, topping $6 billion in global sales during 2016.

Article originally published in October 2016 by Kyle Wiggers. Updated on 05-03-2017 by Andy Boxall: Added news of software update to Android Nougat and new user interface.