All posts in “Microsoft”

HP’s Spectre x2 finds its spot as one of the best Windows tablets, for what it’s worth


The Spectre x2 is what a Surface Pro would feel like with HP’s design cues and a few better specs for the dollar. In fact, most of the Spectre x2’s drawbacks stem from having to squeeze so much into its frame, which is better than having glaring software issues. Nearly free of stutters under heavy workload, Windows 10 remains a smooth experience.

Specs of a svelte slate

The internal specs of a machine like this are important, because it’s what separates from being a pretty slate to a fully functional windows machine. Thankfully it’s the latter. The model I’ve been using has a 7th-gen, dual Intel Core i7 processor (clocked at 2.4 GHz), 8GB of RAM, a 360GB SSD, Windows Hello camera and Intel Iris Pro graphics.

Like any touchscreen device, it’s the screen that has to shine. The Spectre x2 frames its 12.3-inch screen with bezel space all around, which is alright. Resolution is set for 3000 x 2000 at 293 pixels-per-inch, another edge it has over the current Surface Pro’s 2736 x 1824 screen of the same size.

Its dimensions are also peak portable: it weighs 2.49lbs and is 13.2mm thin with keyboard, or 1.68lbs and 7.7mm thin without.

However, there is one spec that I’m not too impressed with, and that’s the x2’s Adobe RGB color gamut: just 72%.

I’ve been lamenting over color correction on Windows machines the past couple months (and will continue to), it’s something I hope all manufacturers will take more seriously. After all, who wouldn’t want a dazzling tablet display with correct and complete color reproduction?

For a similar Surface Pro with Core i7 and 8GB RAM to match, you end up spending $300 more than you would on the Spectre x2 — and the Surface’s price doesn’t even include the keyboard.

Using it everyday

I’m incredibly pleased to see that the included keyboard isn’t an afterthought. Not only is a backlit, island-style keyboard with 1.5mm of key travel but mimics the other Spectre keyboards with a wide, fairly accurate touchpad.

On the flip side, the Spectre x2’s keyboard has a textured and rubber-like cover that keeps it glued to tables. It’s easy to clean, comfortable to use and as I’m typing this, reminds me a lot of the keyboard on a real laptop. The fact HP went with a simple but effective U-shaped metal hinge, that opens up to 165 degrees, also aids its case.

The Spectre x2 has plenty of input methods: pen, touch and keyboard, which are all reliant on Windows 10. Say what you will about the actual usefulness of the tablet and desktop modes, this tablet performs well in either user environment. Real business goes down in desktop mode, of course.

You get four ports: two USB-C for display/charging/data (no Thunderbolt), one 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD slot. To migrate SD card files for use in Lightroom, reach for your nearest dongle.

Now, try not to be disappointed: battery life on the Spectre x2 isn’t astounding. You can’t squeeze a huge battery into a 7.7mm thin frame, in mid-2017, at least for now.

On an intensive run with Chrome and Spotify running at max brightness and Bluetooth enabled, I peaked at six hours of battery. HP advertises eight hours, which I can see being possible if you’re conservative, but I use mobile systems with the same vigor as my desktop ones — or at least try to.

Bottom Line

Probably the x2’s biggest flaw is its lack of being much different to other Windows tablets with Core i processors and detachable keyboards. Still, the Spectre x2 is a strong Windows 10 machine with good processing power, screen quality, aesthetics, pricing and accessories.

Its main shortcomings are its tinny Bang & Olufsen sponsored speakers, less than incredible battery life and a small 72% color gamut. It also tens to run quite warm, if you’re pushing it on the mulitasking front.

If you’re in the market for a tablet that doubles as a productivity laptop out of the box, then you have a (safe) option with the Spectre x2. The charger is a small cube that you can easily carry around, maybe charging up twice a day.

While Microsoft’s smoother Precision touchpad drivers are absent, the Spectre x2 is still a tablet with the times.

Price as Reviewed: $1299 at HP 

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Microsoft squeezed AI onto a Raspberry Pi

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning usually work best with a lot of horsepower behind them to crunch the data, compute possibilities and instantly come up with better solutions.

That’s why most AI systems rely on local sensors to gather input, while more powerful hardware in the cloud manages all the heavy lifting of output. It’s how Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa work, and how IBM Watson can tackle virtually any major task. It is, though, a limiting approach when it comes to making smarter Internet of Things and applying intelligence when there isn’t Internet connectivity.

“The dominant paradigm is that these [sensor] devices are dumb,” said senior researcher with Microsoft Research India, Manik Varma.

Now, Varma’s team in India and Microsoft researchers in Redmond, Washington, (the entire project is led by lead researcher Ofer Dekel) have figured out how to compress neural networks, the synapses of Machine Learning, down from 32 bits to, sometimes, a single bit and run them on a $10 Raspberry Pi, a low-powered, credit-card-sized computer with a handful of ports and no screen. It’s really just an open-source motherboard that can be deployed anywhere. The company announced the research in a blog post on Thursday.

Microsoft’s work is part of a growing trend of moving Machine Learning closer to devices and end users.

Earlier this month at is annual World Wide Developer’s Conference, Apple announced new Machine Learning APIs (Vision and Natural Language) that allow developers to add machine learning-based intelligence to their apps with just a couple of lines of code. They also unveiled Core ML for developers more well-versed in AI to take full advantage of all inference capabilities available on the local hardware. Apple’s model does have the developers train their Machine Learning algorithms on libraries Apple provides. The system then converts the code to run the AI locally.

Obviously, in Apple’s case, that hardware is inside a $700 iPhone and the CPU is much, much more powerful than anything found on a Raspberry Pi. Still, the trend is clear. These companies are moving intelligence closer to the local hardware and, where possible, relying less on constant access to massive data and intelligence stores in the cloud.

“If you’re driving on a highway and there isn’t connectivity there, you don’t want the [AI] implant to stop working,” said Varma in the blog post. “In fact, that’s where you really need it the most.”

It’s an approach that will make sense for smaller, sensor-based tasks that can learn by location, intention, recent action and the device data. In the near term, it won’t be a solution for, say, coming up with new cancer therapies (one of the areas of interest for IBM’s Watson AI).

As for Microsoft, this Raspberry Pi breakthrough is simply phase one in a quest to compress neural networks so much that they can run on a breadcrumb-sized micro controller. To get there, the machine learning models need to be, according to Microsoft, as much as 10,000 times smaller. That’s a problem the team is still working on.

In the meantime, Microsoft released previews of the Raspberry Pi-sized machine learning and training algorithms on GitHub where enterprising developers can try them out and, potentially deploy on Raspberry Pi 3 and Raspberry Pi Zero.

Ultimately, this is another piece of Microsoft’s growing Intelligent Edge strategy, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella outlined earlier this year a Microsoft Build developers conference. Microsoft hopes to see these tiny AI-able microprocessors deployed in everything from our offices to the clothes we wear.

For Varma, who is visually impaired, the research is a little more personal. His team is already developing a prototype intelligent walking stick to showcase their research.

WATCH: Robots are taking over the Museum of Industry and Science in Chicago

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Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter form Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism


Today Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter collectively announced a new partnership aimed at reducing the accessibility of internet services to terrorists. The new Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism adds structure to existing efforts by the companies to target and remove from major web platforms recruiting materials for terror groups.

Together, the four tech leaders say they will collaborate on engineering solutions to the problem, sharing content classification techniques and effective reporting methods for users. Each company also will contribute to both technical and policy research and share best practices for counterspeech initiatives.

Back in December of 2016, the same four companies announced the creation of a shared industry hash database. By sharing hashes with each other, the group was able to collectively identify terror accounts without each having to do the time- and resource-intensive legwork independently. This new organization creates more formal bureaucracy for improving that database.

Similarly, Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter will be teaching smaller companies and organizations to follow in their footsteps to adopt their own proactive plans for combating terror. A portion of this training will cover key strategies for executing counterspeech programs like YouTube’s Creators for Change and Facebook’s P2P and OCCI.

All of these actions are occurring side-by-side with public sector efforts. The G7 has been vocal about the importance of combating extremism with a multi-pronged approach. Today’s partnership further solidifies the relationship between four multi-national tech companies with the aim of pushing back against terrorism on their respective platforms.

Featured Image: Photodisc/Getty Images

It looks like the much-hyped Windows Whiteboard app has leaked

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No one is immune to leaks in the tech world and today it’s Microsoft’s turn as a version of its anticipated Whiteboard app looks like its leaked on the web. 

The video above from WindowsBlogItalia — a, well, Italian Windows blog — which purports to show the app in use, free writing, image insertion, shapes and all. 

As flagged by The Verge, the leaked version seems to be an “Education Preview” of the software, and seems to be as cool as we expected it to be. One note, though: One of the coolest parts of the software — the collaborative tool that lets users simultaneously draw and edit the same project — isn’t available in the leak. 

Our own Lance Ulanoff got to see the software up close at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington office back in May. 

The tool’s builders included a feature called “live ink,” wherein collaborators’ ink strokes are visible as they’re made, and each collaborator is identified thanks to an icon, called “local ink identity.” 

The system also includes shape recognition. Draw a circle and it will turn into a cleaner and more manipulable one.

The app is also a powerful demonstration for Microsoft’s new, impressive Surface Pen. 

The Whiteboard app is currently “available in private previews in Surface Hub” and Microsoft has only added they plan to roll it out to more users later in 2017.

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