Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant introduced in Windows Phone 8.1, has had the ability to predict outcomes of some events. Most recently, she did a near-perfect job of predicting World Cup results.
In an announcement on September 3, Microsoft says they have added NFL to the list of events that Cortana can predict. The American football season starts on September 4, so it is timely. In order to use this feature, just ask Cortana: “Who will win, team A or team B?”
Cortana’s prediction feature is based on Bing’s prediction engine. Bing on the desktop has enabled such predictions for reality shows on TV like the singing competition The Voice before.
Microsoft has earlier explained how Bing Predicts works, and how it is able to predict with a high level of accuracy. It is natural that they use all the signals and the data they have, to take it to one of the most popular sporting events in the American calendar.
For NFL predictions, Walter Sun from the Bing Predicts team says:
For pro football, we model the respective strengths of the teams by examining outcomes from previous seasons including wins, losses, and the very rare tie outcome (two games since 2009), factoring in margin of victories, location of contest, playing surface and roof cover (or lack thereof), weather and temperature conditions, scoring by quarters, and multiple offensive and defensive statistics. In addition to this prior model, we identify fans on Web and Social sites and track their sentiment to understand the aggregate wisdom of this expressive crowd. This introduces data which statistics alone cannot capture, providing real-time adjustments which surprisingly can capture injury news and other substantive factors in win probabilities.
I understand these things are more fun than useful, and I am not sure anyone who gambles will rely on this to make any bets, but it is good to see Microsoft showing off their machine learning prowess through normal use cases like predictions of NFL games.
If you are on Windows Phone 8.1, you can start asking right away. The beauty of most of Cortana’s features is that they are all web services-enabled, which means it does not require any client or app updates. Once Microsoft turns that feature on from the server side, it is available for everyone to use.
Let us know how you like the feature in the comments below!
Samsung finally unveiled the much-awaited phablet of the year, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 at the IFA 2014 event in Berlin. It features an upgraded 5.7 inch Quad HD display and a 3.7 megapixel front-facing camera for selfie lovers with 90 degree shooting angle and up to 120 degree wide angle. This device also offers an improved Fingerprint Scanner to secure personal data along with the world’s first UV sensor in a mobile device. The Smart Select feature allows the users to easily club together content from different sources and share it with their friends within seconds.
“The Galaxy Note series signaled extraordinary innovation within the technology industry. Its larger screen size and iconic S Pen technology launched a new standard in smartphone culture. With the introduction of the Galaxy Note series, we brought the age-old culture of the pen and notepad into the digital world. The new Galaxy Note 4 introduces the most refined Note experience to-date by combining all the latest technology that users expect from the Galaxy series.”
– JK Shin, CEO and Head of IT & Mobile Communication at Samsung Electronics
This device measures 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5 mm and weighs 176 grams. Samsung Galaxy Note 4 will be available from next month in four different colors – Charcoal Black, Frost White, Bronze Gold and Blossom Pink. The price of the device will be announced in the coming weeks. Check out the complete specs below.
What is a good movie to watch? I am sure that most of you can rattle off at least a dozen movies off the top of your head. However, the real answer to that question is a bit more complex. It’s often very subjective and greatly influenced by personal preferences. Your judgement might not necessarily align with that of a critic. Now, don’t get me wrong. Reviews are important. They can often save you from a couple of hours of agony. But, just a review or two is often not enough to get a sense of how watchable a movie is. This is where aggregators come in. Services like Rotten Tomatoes, which collect and summarise critic as well as audience ratings, are a great resource for movie buffs.
Rotten Tomatoes features both Hollywood and Bollywood movies. However, it’s obvious that the focus is on western movies, western media, and western audiences. If you are looking for your dope of Indian cinema, Rotten Tomatoes is not the place to be. The good news is that there are quite a few desi versions of the Tomatometer. Here are my top four picks.
Know Your Films
The design of this website is a bit old school, but it does get the job done. The home page shows a selection of entertainment news, upcoming movies, current movies, and some featured movies from the past. For current movies, the box office performance, as well as the latest reviews are displayed. Opening up a movie’s page shows more info including cast, crew, sound track, and various reviews. There is, however, no average rating, or a quick way to see how a movie has been received. There are a few other useful features including the ability to create watchlists (requires registration), and watching popular Bollywood clips and trailers.
This website trims all the fat and puts all the focus on the films and their ratings. The home page is just a collection of recently released movies along with their ratings, and a preview of the upcoming movies. The individual movie page contains average rating, along with information about movie cast, plot, and trailers and preview clips. Filmy Pakoda is simple and useful. But, the lack of even basic features like Search limits its utility.
Sahi Nahi is the new kid in the block, and it’s very obvious what the inspiration for this service is. The design is clean and pleasant with good use of typography. The home page gives you a quick overview of the latest movies along with their ratings, as well as the current top box office performers. You also have featured celebrities, movies, and blog articles. Every movie page features the critic rating along with excerpts of their review, trailer, and cast and crew information. It’s worth noting here that Sahi Nahi follows a Rotten Tomatoes like rating system were each review is classified as either positive and negative. The overall rating is not an average of the scores assigned by each reviewer. The layout is responsive, hence, Sahi Nahi works well on a wide range of devices including phones and tablets.
The Review Monk has an unmistakably Indian soul that will endear it to Indian movie fans. The beautiful slider on the home page showcasing some of the most memorable moments in Indian cinema will impress you straight away. The Review Monk, however, doesn’t restrict itself to Indian cinema. Hollywood movies that have been released in India are also featured. The home pages offers a quick look at movies that are currently in the theatres, as well as top rated recent movies. The coming soon section displays the release dates of movies that will hit the theatres soon. There are even monthly reports and occasional blog posts about cinema for the film buffs looking for more. Every movie page has a TRM score, excerpts from reviews, cast and crew information, soundtrack list, trailer, and twitter buzz. There is even a spider chart breaking down the critic’s ratings for you. The Review Monk score is an average, unlike Sahi nahi or Rotten Tomatoes. For mobile users, there’s a free Android app that’s once again simple but elegant and useful. You can register to build your profile by rating and reviewing movies you have watched, and adding movies you want to watch to your watchlist. In addition to Bollywood movies, The Review Monk is currently also tracking Tamil and Telegu movies. The idea behind The Review Monk might not be original, but the execution is really good.
LG has come a long way since its initial clunky Optimus handsets. The firsttwo flagships in the G series did a lot to improve consumer perception about LG smartphones. It didn’t hurt that Google also placed faith in LG and assigned it the responsibility of developing the Nexus devices. The Korean electronics giant is going all out with the new G3. Launched and promoted by Amitabh Bachchan, it certainly has the specs to turn heads. But, how does it perform in real life? Did LG bite off more than it can chew? Keep reading to find out.
Appearance, Display and Battery
The headline grabbing feature of the G3 is undoubtedly the quad-HD display. The 5.5’’ IPS display boasts of a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels, which equates to an insane 534 ppi pixel density. LG obviously doesn’t believe in Apple’s claim that it’s impossible for our eye to discern improvements in pixel density beyond 300 ppi. After, using the G3, I am inclined to agree with LG. Some of the preloaded content looks absolutely breath-taking. Even the YouTube videos at a 2K resolution looks splendid. Unfortunately, most of the content that you are going to come across will not be able to take advantage of the G3’s superior display. We expect apps and videos to catch up at 2K becomes more prevalent, but by then the G3 might already be old. Compared to the G2, both contrast and saturation seems to have suffered. LG has shifted from natural looking displays to dialling up the saturation to make the colours pop. Another area where LG has compromised with the display is outdoor visibility. It’s not as good as before, and is made worse by the fact that in order to prevent overheating, the phone automatically restricts the maximum brightness to 90% after a few minutes of usage.
The size of the display puts it firmly in the phablet category. In fact, the LG G3’s display is a couple of inches bigger than the first Samsung Note. However, the G3 is still appreciably smaller than the Note N700 in almost every way. The G2 has impressively thin bezels, but the G3 cuts down even further. The almost edge-to-edge display lends the G3 a majestic appearance that none of the other flagships manage to pull off. In spite of the heft, the G3 is the easiest to handle among similarly sized devices. This is largely due to the fact that the G3 is not as wide as many of the phablets, and has a curved back that is easy to grip. This is only a relative thing though. Like all current generation flagships, the G3 is simply too big to be comfortably used with one hand. The G3’s rear is plastic, but polished to give a metallic appearance. The plastic feels cheap, but also has the advantage of making the phone lighter.
The back cover is removable and the battery is user replaceable. The 3000 mAh battery offers enough juice to last through the day. I didn’t conduct any benchmarks, but the battery life seemed to be on par with other flagships. LG has done a few under the hood tinkering to make sure that the massive display doesn’t hurt the battery life, and the tweaks seem to have worked.
The G3 is powered by a Snapdragon 801 chipset that includes a Quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400 CPU and Adreno 330. As you can expect from such mighty hardware, the performance is great. The G3 maxed out the 3D Mark – Ice Storm Extreme benchmark, and is certainly among the best performers you can buy right now. Heating can be a concern, as I mentioned earlier, but at least the G3 doesn’t completely disable critical functions (Camera) like the Z2 does when its gets heated.
The G3 comes with 16 or 32 gigs of internal storage. The latter has 3GB RAM while the former has only 2 GB. External memory cards up to 128 GB are also supported.
The G3 unit in India is 4G-enabled, and supports all common connectivity options including Bluetooth 4.0 LE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/f/n/ac, and NFC. Wireless charging (Qi) is also supported.
One of my pet peeves with LG has been its silly, childish icons. I’m glad to report that they are finally gone. In fact, LG has embraced the flat design concept, and tastefully reskinned its entire interface. Bright, primary colors have been replaced with more subdued tones. But, LG has ensured that the UI doesn’t become boring with the help of quick animations peppered through the interface. However, all is not rosy. The notifications pane still has way too many things going on. I like the scrollable, quick toggles section, but the audio control is pointless since that can easily be done through hardware keys. Also, in its attempt to simplify the Settings pane, LG has removed a lot of the neat options it had before. Important settings like switching between Network modes (2G/3G/LTE) seem to have disappeared. However, the G3 is still one of the most customizable Android devices out of the box. You can change your phone’s appearance by changing home screen themes, tweaking fonts, and switch animation effects. There are tons of free themes available for download in LG’s app store (SmartWorld).
There are also heaps of software enhancements. My favourite among them is Knock Code. One of the potential issues with having the power button at the rear of the phone is that it becomes impossible to unlock the phone without picking it up from your desk. To get around this problem, the G2 introduced Knock On, which allowed you to wake up the phone by simply tapping on the screen twice. Knock Code is a further enhancement of that. It allows you to define a custom pattern of taps (combination of Up, Down, Left, and Right). You can directly wake up and unlock your device by tapping your Knock Code. This is actually a faster and easier than pattern unlock. It’s also a lot harder for bystanders to figure out.
Another new inclusion is LG Health, which tracks your steps without requiring any additional hardware or using too much battery. However, like most such apps it’s likely to be more gimmicky than useful. The data it reported varied wildly with the data reported by Sony’s Smart Band, which itself doesn’t agree with the Fitbit.
LG also made a lot of fuss about its keyboard. I like that fact that you can adjust the height and there is a dedicated numpad. However, like all other OEM keyboards, it is no where near as good as Swype or Swiftkey.
Perhaps my least favourite new feature is Smart Notice, which is more annoying than useful. The only reasonable advice I received from it is to carry an umbrella based on the weather forecast. When you already have something as good as Google Now, it’s stupid to a similar but vastly inferior app.
LG’s note taking app QuickMemo is still there, but doesnt have a dedicated button like in some of the older models. Other typical LG features are also there including Smartseek (displays YouTube like thumbnail preview in the video player when you seek), QSlide (opens app in a floating mini-window with adjustable transparency), Guest Mode (restricts access to apps and data), and Cliptray (clip board manager providing access to data you have previously copied).
The G3 ships with a 13 mega-pixel camera with Optical Image Stabilization and Laser Autofocus. The latter is another LG innovation. As soon as you hit the capture button, the G3 emits a laser beam, which acts like a SONAR and helps it determine the distance of objects in the frame. LG claims that it allows the G3 to focus faster and more accurately in varied conditions. Although, the benefits weren’t as dramatic as advertised by LG, the G3 did manage to focus quickly and reliably even under poor lighting conditions.
The camera itself is excellent. Although, it looks inferior to the Sony Xperia Z2 on paper, in reality I struggled to find a difference. In fact, in some cases, the G3 returned better results. LG has dramatically simplified the camera interface. Manual mode as well as multiple scenes are now a thing of the past. There are three basic modes – Auto, Magic Focus, Panorama, and Dual. The Magic Focus mode snaps multiple pics at different focal lengths and allows you to change the focus of the picture later. The Dual mode fires both the front and rear cams together to make sure that you aren’t missing from all your photo. Photosphere (or VR Camera as LG used to call it) has been axed, presumably because it’s too complex to be used in most situations. The amount of detail in the images was good with low noise and vibrant colours. LG’ flagship is way ahead of HTC, and on-par with everyone else.
The 2.1 mega pixel front-camera is capable of shooting full HD videos. There’s also a selfie mode, which allows you to trigger a 3-second countdown timer by clasping your palm. This is neat as having to tap the camera button while posing for and taking a selfie can be a bit tricky. There’s also an option to use the light from the display as a secondary light source. The overall quality of pics captured from the front cam, however, is nothing particularly impressive.
The G3 supports 4K video recording, but as in other devices it’s more of a gimmick. It’s usable for short periods of time, but generates way too much heat and takes way too much space to be usable for longer videos. However, the quality of recorded video is great for a smartphone, and the microphone does a good job at removing background noise.
LG has also worked on the loudspeaker, which is often ignored in smartphones. The speaker is rated at 1 Watt (1.5W with Boost Amp), and is quite loud. Of course, if you keep the phone on a flat surface, the sound is going to get muffled. LG still can’t match up to the quality of the sound produced by HTC’s front-facing stereo speakers, but its loud speakers are no pushovers. In all likelihood, LG was forced to put the speaker in the rear as front-facing speakers would have added to the dimensions of the G3.
The G3 is a phenomenal device. It’s not perfect. It’s too big to be comfortable. The faux-metal back cover looks good, but doesn’t feel as great. And, the ultra-high resolution display comes with its own set of compromises. However, these are small grievances. LG gets most of the things right. It packs in a bigger display than others, while keeping the phone size in the same ballpark. The resolution is, of course, a generation ahead of everyone else. The camera is as good as others, if not better. And, some of its innovations like the Rear Key and Knock Code are simply brilliant. There’s little to separate the flagships from Samsung, HTC, Sony, and LG. The G3 is also priced competitively. It’s cheaper than the Z2, in the same range as the One M8, and a bit more expensive than the Galaxy S5. A lot depends on your personal preference. However, LG G3 is my favourite device of the season. This is a phone that’s really hard to not like.
One trait that’s a rarity among Windows applications is beauty. However, every once in a while there comes an app that stands out and makes you take notice due to its well thought out design and interface. GlassWire is one such app.
GlassWire is a free network and bandwidth monitor and firewall. There’s no shortage of similar apps for Windows; however, almost all of them are a confusing mess of complexity that would scare away anyone who is not tech-savvy. GlassWire on the other hand is brilliant in its simplicity.
There are only four tabs – Graph, Firewall, Usage, and Alerts. The Graph section shows a continuous stream of your network activity. You can see your total internet activity or drill down on type of traffic and application.
The Firewall tab allows you to quickly block an app from using your internet connection. It lists all apps that are connected or have connected to the internet, along with details about the host that it is connecting to. If you see something that you don’t like you can instantly bock that app by clicking on the fire icon next to it. GlassWire itself doesn’t have a Firewall engine. Instead, it sits on top of the Windows Firewall and provides an interface to control the Windows Firewall.
The Usage tab gives a detailed report on the internet usage pattern of every app. You will be able to see exactly who your app has been communicating with and how much data they are sending out. GlassWire also has an Incognito Mode for the times when you don’t want your activity to be recorded. It’s also pretty straight forward to delete reports, in case you want to keep some stuff off the books.
Finally, there’s a pretty versatile Alerts feature, which provides you a wide range of alert including first network activity, excessive bandwidth usage, host files modification, and suspicious host connection. There’s also an option to remotely observe another system’s activity.
It’s still early days for GlassWire, and there’s undoubtedly room for improvement. The Firewall tab simply lists all the processes that are transferring data over the internet. It will be a lot more useful it also integrated with something like ProcessLibrary to show more information about each app/process. There are also a few UI glitches that show up at various resolutions.
The absence of advanced features found in most third-party firewalls might put off power users, but GlassWire does just enough to be useful to a large section of users, who might get annoyed or confused by a full-fledged firewall. GlassWire does a good job at keeping things simple and exposing a lot of useful information without being confusing.