All posts in “Microsoft”

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop comes with one big suck, but it’s easily fixable

Like so many students, the very first laptop I had was a MacBook (the plastic one, not the new 2-pounder). I bought it in the summer of 2007 after finishing my first year of college, and it lasted until I graduated.

I loved the machine even though it weighed a hefty five pounds and was an inch thick. It’s a tank by today’s thin and light laptop standards, but you have to remember something: Back then, a one-inch thick machine was the definition of thin.

Steve Jobs wouldn’t famously pull the MacBook Air out of a manila envelope until a year later, and the laptop wouldn’t go on to become the most popular laptop until 2010 when it got a redesign with more ports.

In the last decade, MacBooks have morphed into the gold standard. They’re still more expensive and underpowered compared to Windows laptops, but for students and professionals, Apple’s machines expertly balance style and performance.

Chromebooks are also a popular option for many students, but their inability to run many “real” apps outside of Google Docs, underpowered web apps, and Android apps (if your machine supports them), makes them less viable for many college students (at least according to the dozen or so that I asked).

Apple’s MacBook domination on campuses and in Starbucks is arguably the strongest case for why Microsoft’s first clamshell laptop, the Surface Laptop, exists. 

Unmistakably Surface-y

The Surface Laptop is made of durable aluminum.

The Surface Laptop is made of durable aluminum.

Image: lili sams/mashable

The Surface Laptop builds on the Surface Pro’s success. Although the Surface Pro was never meant to sell in volume — it’s mostly an aspirational reference design meant to nudge PC makers towards Microsoft’s 2-in-1 vision — it has helped ingrain this idea that Microsoft is an underdog that builds hardware Apple won’t.

Just like how you know an Apple product when you see one, the same goes for Microsoft’s entire lineup of Surface devices.

The Surface Laptop is a very handsome machine. It comes in silver, gold, blue, and burgundy — all very attractive colors. The 2.76 pound laptop is lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, and thinner, too.

Its aluminum body is sturdy and sits firmly on a table or on your lap. The Surface Laptop has a wedge-shaped design and flaunts it hard; you won’t find rounded tapers to create the illusion that its thinner.

You only get one USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, and headphone jack. Woulda been nice to get two USBs.

You only get one USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, and headphone jack. Woulda been nice to get two USBs.

Image: LILI SAMS/MASHABLE

Most of its ports (USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, and headphone jack) sit on the left side. On the right side is a lone SurfaceConnect magnetic plug. I appreciate the full-sized USB 3.0 port, but one just isn’t enough; a second one would have been great, or at least one USB-C port. There’s also no SD card slot (a trend I don’t like), which basically means students will need to buy a separate memory card reader or a USB hub to get more ports. Even though Microsoft thinks USB-C isn’t ready for primetime, you’ll probably still end up in #donglehell.

That's not an SD card slot. It's the SurfaceConnect magnetic charging port.

That’s not an SD card slot. It’s the SurfaceConnect magnetic charging port.

Image: LILI SAMS/MASHABLE

The number of ports may be a little lacking, but the screen, keyboard and trackpad are sublime.

The 13.5-inch PixelSense touchscreen (2,256 x 1,504 resolution) has super slim bezels around it, and it’s covered with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3. I found the screen both remarkably sharp and bright, and incredibly responsive. 

The touchscreen is excellent.

The touchscreen is excellent.

Image: LILI SAMS/MASHABLE

I used to feel touchscreens on a laptop were silly, especially on Windows machines, which have tiny icons not designed for fingers, but I now really like them. “Gorilla arm” isn’t really an issue since you’re not using the touchscreen all the time, only sometimes. It’s a shame Apple thinks touchscreens are wrong for Macs. My only qualm with the touchscreen is how it wobbles when you poke at it, but that’s a necessary concession to get the screen so thin.

Hate the MacBook's flat keyboard? Surface Laptop's keys are superb.

Hate the MacBook’s flat keyboard? Surface Laptop’s keys are superb.

Image: LILI SAMS/MASHABLE

The keyboard and trackpad are some of the best I’ve ever used on a laptop. If you’ve typed on a Surface Pro or Surface Book, you’ll know how bouncy the keys are — the Surface Laptop’s keys with 1.5mm travel are satisfying and the opposite of the flat-as-hell keys on Apple’s MacBooks (the Air’s still got the old keys, though). 

Likewise, the trackpad is exceptionally smooth and nearly on par with a MacBook’s. That Microsoft can make a great trackpad only upsets me more that PC makers like HP and Lenovo still can’t get their shit together.

It looks great now, but how well will the Alcantara fabric hold up over time?

It looks great now, but how well will the Alcantara fabric hold up over time?

Image: LILI SAMS/MASHABLE

The most eye-catching thing about the keyboard and trackpad is, of course, the Alcantara fabric that surrounds it. The soft touch material is indeed soft and really keeps your fingers warm when you’re typing and scrolling. Microsoft says the material’s got a “polyurethane covering for durability, including water and chemical resistance.” 

I’m not sure how well the Alcantara cover will hold up to years of Cheetos dust, Red Bull spills, and whatever other gross things it may come into contact with in a dorm room. But I can tell you the edges on my review unit started to fray a little after a week in my bag.

I tested the $1,299 model with 7th-gen Intel Core Intel Core i5-7200U, Intel HD 620 graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage, and it powered through like a real champ. 

I wasn’t gaming on it or anything (mostly web browsing, typing, and streaming Netflix and YouTube videos) — just typical college student stuff — but even so it never chugged. I can’t speak for the 4GB model, though. But based on my past experience testing laptops with 4GB of RAM I can tell you they bottleneck very quickly.

Walled in

The Surface Laptop runs Windows 10 S. It’s Windows 10, but with one huge caveat: You can only install apps from the Windows Store. In this regard, Windows 10 S is basically like iOS.

Microsoft gives a few reasons for why Windows 10 S is better for students. One, it’s safer. Barring users from downloading and installing apps (from who knows where) means fewer virus-infested machines. Two, allowing Windows Store-approved apps improves performance and battery life. And three, Windows 10 S computers are easier to manage by network admins who want to quickly deploy a specific version and set of apps to devices.

You’d be stupid to say no to security and better performance, but are they worth restricting yourself to apps only in the Windows Store?

For me, the answer is no. I need Chrome for work and I use many apps that aren’t available in the Windows Store. But I’m not the target audience — students are — so I asked a bunch of my friends’ siblings who are in high school or college. 

What happens when you search for Chrome (it doesn't exist) n the Windows Store.

What happens when you search for Chrome (it doesn’t exist) n the Windows Store.

Image: screenshot: raymond wong/mashable

No surprise, all of them gave Windows 10 S’s huge app restriction a thumbs down. Sure, Windows 10 S runs Office 365, Google Docs works just fine in Edge, and you’ll find some popular apps like Netflix, VLC Player, but if you want, for example, Adobe’s Create Suite (Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere, etc.) or even another web browser, you’re totally screwed unless the app makes it into the Windows Store.

You could probably find alternative apps, but college students often use custom apps that come with their textbooks — none of which will work on the Surface Laptop unless… you upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

Students I asked all gave Windows 10 S’s huge app restriction a thumbs down.

Surface Laptop owners can upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro and basically remove the Windows Store-only apps restriction until December 31, 2017. After that, upgrading will cost $50. 

But while upgrading to Windows 10 Pro will “un-cripple” the Surface Laptop (there’s no going back to Windows 10 S), it comes at the expense of the aforementioned advantages.

You could argue that there’s no such thing as a truly secure computer — it’ll always be a cat and mouse game between Microsoft and hackers — and no laptop truly gets all-day battery life with real-world usage (I got around 6-8 hours of mixed usage; Microsoft advertises up to 14.5 hours of local video playback), and I agree.

How’s a student supposed to pick? I say be fearless and just upgrade. The Surface Laptop doesn’t get significantly slower and the power adapter’s compact enough to lug around. It’s not like it’s 2005 and laptops only get two hours of battery life on a single charge.

Making a decision

Surface Laptop might be the best alternative to the MacBook Air/Pro.

Surface Laptop might be the best alternative to the MacBook Air/Pro.

Image: LILI SAMS/MASHABLE

The Surface Laptop can be summed up in a single word: finally.

After years of beating the 2-in-1 drum, Microsoft’s finally made a laptop that’s a real laptop through and through (sorry, but the Surface Pro isn’t a laptop if the keyboard isn’t included).

The Surface Laptop starts at $999, but nobody should buy this model; 4GB of RAM won’t get anyone very far. Which means the lowest-priced model to consider is the $1,299 version I tested. (Don’t forget to add $50 to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro if you miss the cutoff by the end of year.)

A $999 MacBook Air (2017) gets you more ports and double the RAM, but also a lower non-touch display and punier graphics. The new $1,299 MacBook Pro (non-Touch Bar) is a more comparable machine, and it’s got the better specs for the same money (without a touchscreen, of course).

It’s a tough call. How important is a touchscreen to you?

For a first laptop, Microsoft got a lot right. It’s not perfect (no laptop is), but it’s damn close and it’s still one of the better Windows 10 laptops that I actually wanted to keep using because the hardware is so nice. 

But if you buy one, do your self a favor and upgrade to Windows 10 Pro ASAP.

Microsoft Surface Laptop

The Good

Bright, high-res touchscreen Fantastic keyboard and trackpad Speedy performance Great battery life

The Bad

Apps restricted to Windows Store unless you upgrade to 10 Pro No SD card slot No USB-C port $50 to upgrade to Win 10 Pro in 2018

The Bottom Line

Microsoft’s first laptop is a winner, but only if you upgrade it.

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Take a first look at the Xbox One X hardware up close


Microsoft revealed the Xbox One X to the world today, proving that it thinks X is just the best letter. The new console is mostly an Xbox One, but with 4K HDR output capabilities and Dolby Atmos surround sound on board. From an exterior design perspective, however, what’s interesting about the Xbox One X is that it’s the smallest Xbox One Microsoft has ever made, despite also being the most powerful.

After the reveal we got some time to get up close and personal with the One X, to peek at its finishes, ports and angles. It was conveniently seated next to an Xbox One S, which meant you could easily see how it was more compact than its sibling. The design is even more conservative, too – it’s basically a no-nonsense black box that contains the most ambitious of console gaming power within.

The Xbox logo is there on the front, along with a convenient front-facing USB port (there are two more on the back of the console). Next to that is the controller pairing button, then on the other side there’s an eject button, the disk slot and an IR receiver. On the right side of the choose there’s a “Hello from Seattle – Xbox One X” engraved message and the exhaust grill. Around back, you’ll find two USB ports, an HDMI in and HDMI out, an optical audio port and an IR out port, as well as Ethernet and a power cable port.

It’s a tidy little black rectangle, and it’s amazing to think that this will be able to generate the kinds of visuals Microsoft was showing on stage. We’ll get our first play time with the new console soon, so stay tuned for further impressions.

Take a closer look at Microsoft’s Project Scorpio Xbox dev kit ahead of E3


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We don’t have to wait too long to see Microsoft’s Project Scorpio as it will ship to consumers, and we’ve already seen the developer hardware being used to get software ready for the console being unveiled in full at E3. But in case you wanted an appetizer ahead of the official show next week, take a look at this Microsoft-produced look at the Scorpio dev kit.

This details a number of features for the dev kit, including an extra networking port just for developer use, as well as a dongle that hangs off the back to help you transfer pre-release builds from PC to console incredibly fast thanks to special high-throughput hardwired I/O. We also get a better look at that front-facing on-console display, which helps devs make small changes very quickly.

Take a look above and get ready; this should be the console to beat all consoles once it finally ships out to consumers.

Social media giants making progress on illegal hate speech takedowns: EC


It’s been a year since the four major social platform players agreed with Europe’s executive body to a voluntary Code of Conduct for removing illegal hate speech within 24 hours of a complaint being received.

A lot has happened on this front since then, with a series of content moderation scandals hitting different platforms and serving to ramp up the regional pressure on the tech giants — including YouTube suffering an advertiser backlash over ads being served up next to extremist content; and Facebook accused of a series of moderation failures, including around child abuse and terrorist content. Not to mention fake news gate.

In Germany the government is now leaning towards legislating to levy fines of up to €50 million on social media platforms if they do not remove illegal hate speech promptly — claiming tech giants have not been doing enough (a UK parliamentary committee also concluded more needs to be done last month, and has urged the government to consider introducing fines as well).

But today the European Commission, at least, is trumpeting what it dubs “significant progress” on illegal hate speech takedowns by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft vs their performance six months prior. Though it also cautions some challenges remain.

Illegal hate speech is defined in EU law as the public incitement to violence or hatred on the basis of certain characteristics, including race, color, religion, descent and national or ethnic origin.

When the four tech firms receive a request to remove content from their online platforms they assess the request against their rules and community guidelines — but also, in Europe where applicable, against national laws on combating racism and xenophobia. So they are making judgements on whether content can be considered illegal online hate speech, and if so they have agreed to take it down — aiming to do so within 24 hours of a report being received.

The EC argues that removing illegal hate speech is not censorship but rather helps defend the right to freedom of expression because threats can prevent people from feeling able to freely express their views.

A majority of illegal hate speech is now being removed

The evaluation of the voluntary Code of Conduct, a year in, found that on average in a majority (59 per cent) of cases the tech platforms responded to notifications concerning illegal hate speech by removing the content — which constitutes a more than 2x rise on the removal level recorded (28 per cent) in the first evaluation of the code, six months ago.

It also found an improvement in the amount of notifications reviewed within 24 hours — up from 40 per cent to a majority (51 per cent) in the same six month period.

Although it notes that Facebook is the only company that “fully achieves the target of reviewing the majority of notifications within the day”.

Other areas for improvement the evaluation highlights are discrepancies between when a citizen reports content vs when an organization reports content.

So while it notes some progress on this front, with tech platforms apparently improving how they handle citizen complaints, it also says “some differences persist”, and that overall removal rates remain lower when a notification originates from the public.

The evaluation also points to ongoing discrepancies between tech platforms in their feedback systems for users who report content — with only Facebook sending “systematic feedback” to inform a person how their notification has been assessed.

“Practices differed considerably among the IT companies. Quality of feedback motivating the decision is an area where further progress can be made,” it adds.

The EC is drawing on an evaluation carried out in 24 Member States by NGOs and public bodies for this assessment. Whereas the German government has been basing its assessment of social giants’ performance on hate speech removals on reports from local youth protection organization, jugendschutz.net. (And in March, it used that assessment as a basis for criticizing Facebook and Twitter especially for not doing enough to promptly remove illegal hate speech — and also introduced a draft provision to legislate for fines of up to €50M.)

Making some general observations, the evaluation of the EU-wide Code of Conduct found that within the last year the four platform giants have strengthened their reporting systems and made it easier to report hate speech.

They have also trained staff and — in the EC’s words — “increased their cooperation with civil society”.

The EC further suggests the Code of Conduct has helped tackle the spread of illegal hate speech in the region by strengthening and enlarging the tech firms’ network of “trusted flaggers” throughout Europe.

And it argues that via increased co-operation with civil society organizations the tech platforms have gained “a higher quality of notifications”, which in turn is yielding “more effective handling times and better results in terms of reactions to the notifications”.

Vĕra Jourová, the European Union commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, described the results of the one-year evaluation as “encouraging”.

“This is an important step in the right direction and shows that a self-regulatory approach can work, if all actors do their part,” she said in a statement.

“At the same time, companies carry a great responsibility and need to make further progress to deliver on all the commitments. For me, it is also important that the IT companies provide better feedback to those who notified cases of illegal hate speech content,” she added.

In another supporting statement, Andrus Ansip, the EC’s VP for the digital single market, added: “Working closely with the private sector and civil society to fight illegal hate speech brings results, and we will redouble our joint efforts.

“We are now working to ensure closer coordination between the different initiatives and forums that we have launched with online platforms. We will also bring more clarity to notice and action procedures to remove illegal content in an efficient way — while preserving freedom of speech, which is essential.”

Last month Facebook announced it would be beefing up the size of its team of content reviewers by 3,000 additional staff — bringing the total headcount to 7,500. Though it’s been dealing with a string of content moderation scandals, not just in Europe — such as its Facebook Live being used to broadcast murder and suicide.

Commenting in a statement on the Code of Conduct evaluation today, Richard Allan, VP public policy EMEA for Facebook, said: “We believe that the best solutions to the challenge of hate speech on the Internet are found when governments, civil society and industry work together.

“The results of the independent tests released by the European Commission today show that our partnership is having a significant positive impact for people in the EU. We have made many improvements to our policies and processes over the last year and now see that more illegal hate speech is being removed more quickly than ever before.

“We are determined to keep doing better and live up to the high standards that people rightly expect of us. We recently announced that we would be adding another 3,000 staff to our global team of reviewers. We are also looking at how we can use the latest technology to help our review teams identify and prioritise high risk content.”

In a statement, Karen White, Twitter’s head of public policy in Europe, added: “At Twitter, we strive to reach the right balance between showing all sides of what’s happening and tackling hateful conduct. Over the past six months, we’ve introduced a host of new tools and features to improve Twitter for everyone. We’ve also improved the in-app reporting process for our users and we continue to review and iterate on our policies and their enforcement. Our work will never be ‘done’.

“As the world’s conversation evolves, so too does the challenge we face. We will continue to operate at pace, while meeting our core principles around freedom of expression, and defending and respecting the voices of those who use our service worldwide.”

Twitter is also stepping up its efforts to inform users of existing tools they can use to manage which content they do and don’t see on its platform (or “manage your experience” as it puts it) — and is currently sending the below email notification to users in Europe to flag up what it describes as “three key tools for staying safe” — namely:

Mute

Rather than see content in Tweets you’d like to avoid, you can manage what you see in your timeline and notifications. Mute accounts, words, and conversations.

Notification Filters

Get an extra level of control by filtering the types of accounts you see in your notifications. You can choose to stop seeing notifications from certain kinds of accounts.

Block

You can instantly block any account. When you do, that account holder can’t see your Tweets or send you a message while they’re logged in.

Microsoft just gave Skype a Snapchat-style makeover

Skype might be the last messaging app you’d expect to get the Snapchat treatment, but that’s exactly what’s happening because it’s 2017 — and there can never be enough ways to share selfies.

Microsoft just unveiled a redesigned version of Skype that adds a suite of new features ripped straight from Snapchat and Facebook’s playbook.

For one, the messaging app has seriously upped its photo-sharing game. Every chat you have in the app now has a dedicated “capture” tab where you can exchange photos or snap new ones — complete, of course, with the requisite doodles and stickers — while you’re texting or video chatting. 

And if you want to share images outside of a one-on-one or group conversation, a new “highlights” feature lets you blast photos of your choosing to all your contacts, just like your Story on Snapchat or Instagram (or Facebook, or WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger). 

Skype's new Snapchat-like photo sharing features.

Skype’s new Snapchat-like photo sharing features.

Image: skype

Speaking of contacts, the new Skype is also making it easier to find people you already know but may not be connected with, with a new search feature that makes it painless to find your existing contacts on the platform.

Skype, of course, has always been a messaging app, but the latest version of the service makes the whole experience feel a lot more social. There are emoji reactions (a la Facebook) and new add-ins and bots — both of which allow you to bring third-party apps and services into your chats.

Image: skype

Microsoft says these these features are just the beginning. Also in the works: turn-based games in chats (ahem, Facebook), new tie-ins with Cortana and other “intelligent” features that leverage Skype’s new in-app camera.

The new Skype is rolling out now on Android and will be out soon for iOS and desktop. 

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