Samsung releases a Chromebook-like Windows 10 Home laptop

Samsung is announcing two new laptops at CES. The company is launching a pro-level laptop called the Notebook 9 Pro and a laptop for student called the Notebook Flash.

The Notebook Flash is an entry-level laptop with a textured design. It looks like fabric but it’s made out of plastic. The screen doesn’t look great to be honest — it has a narrow viewing angle.

And specs aren’t that great. 64GB of storage, 4GB of RAM and entry-level Intel CPUs. The good news is that it has a bunch of ports — two USB-C ports, two big USB ports, an HDMI port, etc.

But it’s a laptop for schools and students who just want something basic. The Intel Celeron N4000 version is going to ship for $ 350 on January 15.

It’s slightly more expensive than Windows 10 S laptops, but you get a full version of Windows for that price.

The 13-inch Notebook 9 Pro features a slimmer bezel and an updated backlit keyboard. There’s a fingerprint reader on the side of the device. You can convert it into a tablet by pushing the screen all the way. And the laptop comes with an Active Pen.

The default configuration comes with 256GB of flash storage, an integrated Intel GPU and 8GB of RAM. There are two Thunderbolt 3 ports, one USB-C port and a microSD slot.

Samsung is swapping the rounded edges for a sharper metal design. It looks more like a MacBook Pro now, but with a touch screen. Pricing hasn’t been disclosed yet.

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Krisp reduces noise on calls using machine learning, and it’s coming to Windows soon

If your luck is anything like mine, as soon as you jump on an important call, someone decides it’s a great time to blow some leaves off the sidewalk outside your window. 2Hz’s Krisp is a new desktop app that uses machine learning to subtract background noise like that, or crowds, or even crying kids — while keeping your voice intact. It’s already out for Macs and it’s coming to Windows soon.

I met the creators of Krisp, including 2Hz co-founder Davit Baghdasaryan, earlier this year at UC Berkeley’s Skydeck accelerator, where they demonstrated their then-prototype tech.

The tech involved is complex, but the idea is simple: If you create a machine learning system that understand what the human voice sounds like, on average, then it can listen to an audio signal and select only that part of it, cutting out a great deal of background noise.

Baghdasaryan, formerly of Twilio, originally wanted to create something that would run on mobile networks, so T-Mobile or whoever could tout built-in noise cancellation. This platform approach proved too slow, however, so they decided to go straight to consumers.

“Traction with customers was slow, and this was a problem for a young startup,” Baghdasaryan said in an email later. However, people were loving the idea of ‘muting noise,’ so we decided to switch all our focus and build a user-facing product.”

That was around the time I talked with them in person, incidentally, and just six months later they had released on Mac.

It’s simple: you run the app, and it modifies both the outgoing and incoming audio signals, with the normal noisy signal going in one end and a clean, voice-focused one coming out the other. Everything happens on-device and with very short latency (around 15 milliseconds), so there’s no cloud involved and nothing is ever sent to any server or even stored locally. The team is working on having the software adapt and learn on the fly, but it’s not implemented yet.

Another benefit of this approach is it doesn’t need any special tweaking to work with, say, Skype instead of Webex. Because it works at the level of the OS’s sound processing, whatever app you use just hears the Krisp-modified signal as if it were clean out of your mic.

They launched on Mac because they felt the early-adopter type was more likely to be on Apple’s platform, and the bet seems to have paid off. But a Windows version is coming soon — the exact date isn’t set, but expect it either late this month or early January. (We’ll let you know when it’s live.)

It should be more or less identical to the Mac version, but there will be a special gaming-focused one. Gamers, Baghdasaryan pointed out, are much more likely to have GPUs to run Krisp on, and also have a real need for clear communication (as a PUBG player I can speak to the annoyance of an open mic and clacky keys). So there will likely be a few power user features specific to gamers, but it’s not set in stone yet.

You may wonder, as I did, why they weren’t going after chip manufacturers, perhaps to include Krisp as a tech built into a phone or computer’s audio processor.

In person, they suggested that this ultimately was also too slow and restrictive. Meanwhile, they saw that there was no real competition in the software space, which is massively easier to enter.

“All current noise cancellation solutions require multiple microphones and a special form factor where the mouth must be close to one of the mics. We have no such requirement,” Baghdasaryan explained. “We can do it with single-mic or operate on an audio stream coming from the network. This makes it possible to run the software in any environment you want (edge or network) and any direction (inbound or outbound).”

If you’re curious about the technical side of things — how it was done with one mic, or at low latency, and so on — there’s a nice explanation Baghdasaryan wrote for the Nvidia blog a little while back.

Furthermore, a proliferation of AI-focused chips that Krisp can run on easily means easy entry to the mobile and embedded space. “We have already successfully ported our DNN to NVIDIA GPUs, Intel CPU/GNA, and ARM. Qualcomm is in the pipeline,” noted Baghdasaryan.

To pursue this work the company has raised a total of $ 2 million so far: $ 500K from Skydeck as well as friends and family for a pre-seed round, then a $ 1.5 M round led by Sierra Ventures and Shanda Group.

Expect the Windows release later this winter, and if you’re already a user, expect a few new features to come your way in the same time scale. You can download Krisp for free here.

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The Windows 10 October 2018 Update is now available

Microsoft today announced that the Windows 10 October 2018 update is now available. The company made the announcement at a small press event in New York, though it’s obviously no surprise that Microsoft decided to roll out the October update in the month that gave it its name.

As usual, these rollouts take a while. You can force the update now, but for those who want to wait, Microsoft will start the automatic updates on October 9.

Like most recent Windows updates, the October release isn’t going to blow you away with a new interface or crazy new features. Most of these updates now are incremental, but overall, the new release offers a number of interesting new features.

The most interesting of these is probably the new “Your Phone” app, which allows you to text from your PC using an Android phone that also runs Microsoft’s mobile companion app. In later iterations, that app will also sync notifications to your desktop, but for now, that’s not an option. There also are tools for continuing your workflow as you switch from your phone to PC (or vice versa). These features work for iOS users, too.

As far as syncing between devices goes, it’s worth noting that the update also will allow you to share your clipboard between PCs.

Since everybody likes a dark mode these days, the Windows 10 File Explorer now also includes a dark theme. There’s also a revamped search experience, as well as a new screenshot tool.

While the release includes plenty of other tweaks, both in terms of functionality and design, the most anticipated feature, Sets, didn’t make it into this release. Sets is probably the biggest change to the overall Windows user experience since the release of Windows 10, so maybe it’s no surprise that Microsoft is trying to perfect this. And perfection takes a while.


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