Initial Review – Creative SoundBlaster Roar Pro

Introduction

Today I got myself the Creative Soundblaster Roar Pro after much consideration. I wanted a small speaker system that sound really good, support both bluetooth and wired connection so that I can use it with my PC and my Apple devices.

It’s selling at SG$349 in retail but that was not what I paid as it was on promotion and I got it for SG$199, which I thought was a steal.

Unboxing

On first look, the black on white box looks great.

But upon opening up the box, the first thing I felt was, “Oh, this thing look cheap.” The accessories weren’t packed as neatly as I would like. It is definitely not that ecologically friendly with the heavy use of plastic to pack the cables and the manuals. Then there is the eye sore of the product manuals. Red on white but the product box is black and the product is black. Where is that consistency?

I guess I’m spoilt by Apple since the internals of their boxes are always so well designed and done. Even their manuals, which I know most people don’t read, are at least consistent with the overall theme. Apple do make you feel like you are opening up a great product and that is important to the overall user experience.

The box came with a charging adapter, a USB cable for you to connect the speaker to a computer, a AUX cable to connect to another Roar Pro or audio device. The charging adapter also come with two different kind of plugs that you can swap depending on your power socket. In Singapore, we will use the three-pin plug.

And here is the actual product.

Other than the rows of buttons and switches at the back, the overall speaker is pretty clean and well-built. The black matches well with my desktop setup of mostly black and grey. On the top where the main function buttons are, I would prefer the use of touch buttons instead of physical button. Nonetheless, they don’t detract much from the overall design.

Performance and Experience

I’m no audiophile but I know enough about the various sound range and the type of sound I enjoy listening to. I can tell if there’s crackling caused by the driver’s inability to transform the input signal to sound, if certain sound is muffled, not crisp and clear or if there is an overlap.

I always prefer a good mid-range and bass. To test, I played a few songs like Monody by The Fat Rat, Fountain and Hunting for Pearls from the album BLUE by iamamiwhoami, and Whatever it takes by Imagine Dragons. The Roar Pro with its 2.5 inch mid/bass driver located at the center and pointing up definitely delivers on that front. The mid range is crisp and the bass has enough dynamic range that it doesn’t sound muffled or too low. I suspect the two passive drivers on the side has been well-tuned to help with the bass reproduction.

The high range on the other hand seems rather ok but then I don’t listen to music that has a lot of that because how they hurt my ears and give me a headache. My predominant genre is electronic and pop. And they definitely have higher ratio of bass and mid-range compared to maybe classical music or symphony.

The pairing process with iPhone or Mac is pretty easy but not as easy as AirPods. You will have to power on the device, press and hold the bluetooth button for 3 seconds and see the LED light beside it flash. After that, go into the iPhone’s bluetooth setting or Mac OS’s bluetooth preferences and click connect.

It doesn’t take long for the connection to be established. Once it’s done, you can start playing music off it.

Conclusion

I have not start exploring playing games with it and when I do, I will update again. There are a few things that I have yet try. One of them is the use of the other functionality like playing music straight from an SD card. Another would be connecting it to another Roar Pro to via the AUX IN port for MegaStereo.

Yet, I really enjoy the sound coming out from this speaker and I couldn’t tell the difference from a SONOS Play 3 based on trial play in store. For the price of SG$199, I think it’s really good though the packaging could be better.

Friday Tech News Roundup #29

Below are 10 tech news that I found interesting and are related to topics I care about.

Microsoft advances several of its hosted artificial intelligence algorithms – Microsoft Cognitive Services is home to the company’s hosted artificial intelligence algorithms. Today, the company announced advances to several Cognitive Services tools including Microsoft Custom Vision Service, the Face API and Bing Entity Search. Techcrunch

UK and Australian governments now use Have I Been Pwned – Troy Hunt is turning Have I Been Pwned into an essential pwning monitoring service. The service monitors security breaches and password leaks so that you and your users remain secure. And now, the U.K. and Australian governments are monitoring their own domain names using the service. Techcrunch

Uber is the next big tech company getting into the healthcare business – Healthcare is big business, and tech companies don’t want to miss out just because they’re busy building smartphones, apps, and self-driving cars. Mashable

Skiers and snowboarders, the Apple Watch has a treat for you – Skiers and snowboarders, the Apple Watch is your new best friend. Mashable

Microsoft joins forces with Intel to beat Spectre – In a fresh move to further shore up security, Microsoft is providing Intel’s Spectre fix for PCs with Skylake processors running Windows 10 – with further patches to be delivered for older generation CPUs in the future. Techradar

Don’t get your hopes up about seeing Nvidia’s next-gen graphics cards this month – Previous speculation has pointed to Nvidia being set to launch its next-gen graphics cards later this month, but a new rumor is claiming that this won’t happen – and indeed we may not see a hard launch (i.e. products actually becoming available) until July, or possibly even later. Techradar

Alibaba Cloud Launches ‘Bare Metal,’ HPC Instances in Europe – Alibaba, the e-commerce giant from China, is taking a run at AWS in the global public cloud computing market with new offerings aimed at the surging demand for AI and HPC solutions among European enterprises. HPCWire

GitHub falls victim to largest DDoS attack ever recorded – GitHub was hit yesterday by what is reported to be the biggest distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack ever. According to GitHub Engineering, the site was shut down by the attack from 17:21 to 17:26 UTC on February 28. Afterwards, the website maintained intermittent functionality between 17:26 and 17:30 before fully recovering. Techspot

Mobile upgrade cycles will stretch to 33 months by next year – Market saturation and disinterest due to slowed innovation are just a few of the many hurdles plaguing the smartphone industry. As The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted, slumping sales can also be attributed to the fact that older devices are remaining popular for longer than anticipated. Techspot

Microsoft’s Xbox spring update adds 1440p support and new Mixer features – Microsoft today detailed its upcoming Xbox spring update, which is available now for those who are part of the Xbox Insider’s “alpha ring” group. The most notable addition in the update is support for 1440p video output, which is a popular resolution choice for PC gamers who prefer to keep high frame rates instead of prioritizing 4K visuals. With 1440p support on Xbox One S and X, those with compatible monitors should be to make the most out of 2560 x 1440, or “QHD,” displays. The Verge

Friday Tech News Roundup #28

Below are 10 tech news that I found interesting and are related to topics I care about.

1Password bolts on a ‘pwned password’ check – Password management service 1Password has a neat new feature that lets users check whether a password they’re thinking of using has already been breached. At which point it will suggest they pick another. Techcrunch

Snips brings its privacy-focused voice assistant to cars – French startup Snips is announcing two things for its voice assistant SDK. Techcrunch

Tinder vulnerability let hackers take over accounts with just a phone number – A newly published attack let researchers take over Tinder accounts with just a user’s phone number, according to a new report by Appsecure. The Verge

Google Assistant will soon detect what language you’re speaking in – Google Assistant is getting some important language upgrades this year. The Verge

Apple’s AirPower said to be released next month, pricing info still unclear – Alongside the iPhone 8 and iPhone X last September, Apple showcased its wireless charging accessory called AirPower. The charging mat will allow Apple users to charge their iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch on the same surface. At the time, Apple teased a 2018 debut, and now it looks like we’re inching closer to that release…. 9to5Mac

New AirPods reportedly coming this year with ‘Hey Siri’ support, water resistant model in development – Apple is working on a new version of the AirPods truly wireless earbuds for release later this year, featuring a new wireless chip and support for ‘Hey Siri’ activation, according to a report from Bloomberg today. 9to5Mac

Nvidia is creating surveillance cameras with built-in face recognition. Uh, great? – Nvidia has partnered with AI developer AnyVision to create facial recognition technology for “smart cities” around the world. Mashable

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre – The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penalties to HPC applications. HPCWire

Windows 10 updates could be installed much more quickly in the future
Microsoft is working to make the major updates for Windows 10 more streamlined, so that these currently twice-yearly upgrades don’t take nearly as long to install and configure. Techradar

Tim Cook Says Apple is Always Focused on ‘Products and People’ Over Wall Street Expectations – Apple’s CEO primarily reflected on the iPhone maker’s culture and approach that has led to products such as the iPhone X, Apple Watch, AirPods, and HomePod, and as to be expected, he talked up the company he runs. Macrumors

Friday Tech News Roundup #27

Below are 10 tech news that I found interesting and are related to topics I care about.

As Stripe backs away from crypto payments, Coinbase offers a new solution for e-commerce – Popular payment enabler Stripe announced plans to end support for bitcoin last month, but crypto exchange Coinbase is stepping into the gap after it released a new option for online merchants. Techcrunch

Apple and Android are destroying the Swiss Watch industry – In Q4 2017 – essentially during the last holiday season – market research firm Canalys found that more people bought Apple watches than Swiss watches. Two million more, to be exact. Brian Heater has more data but this news is quite problematic for the folks eating Coquilles St-Jacques on the slopes of the Jura mountains.Techcrunch

Microsoft’s next Windows 10 update will include high-performance mode – Microsoft is adding a new enhanced power mode to Windows 10 Pro for users who need to squeeze every ounce of performance out of their computer. Mashable

Facebook’s new slogan: ‘If you think we’re not good for your business, leave’ – Facebook is famous for the mantra “move fast and break things.” But these days, the tech giant is all about time well spent, and with that comes a new tagline for everyone to follow: If you don’t like us, leave. Mashable

Intel’s new graphics drivers automatically optimize game settings – Intel is introducing a new feature for its processors with integrated graphics, allowing games to be automatically optimized on systems. The Verge

Apple says new apps must support the iPhone X Super Retina display – Today, Apple informed developers that all new apps that are submitted to the App Store must support the iPhone X’s Super Retina display, starting this April, reports 9to5Mac. The Verge

Facebook using 2FA cell numbers for spam, replies get posted to the platform – Facebook is reportedly spamming some users by text, using a cell number they provided only for use in two-factor authentication. 9to5Mac

Receiving an Indian character crashes Messages and other apps in iOS 11 [U: Mac & Watch too] – There have been a number of cases where sending a particular message to an iOS device causes the Messages app to crash, leaving users unable to re-open it – and a new one has emerged in iOS 11. 9to5Mac

Researchers discover two new Spectre and Meltdown variants – Spectre and Meltdown are two serious, recently discovered security flaws tied to CPU hardware. Techspot

MIT’s new chip makes neural networks practical for battery-powered devices – Researchers at MIT have developed a chip capable of processing neural network computations three to seven times faster than earlier iterations. Techspot

Friday Tech News Roundup #26

Below are 10 tech news that I found interesting and are related to topics I care about.

Apple AirPods are the latest tech product that can allegedly explode – Another tech product, another explosive allegation. Mashable

Some iPhone source code just hit GitHub, and Apple isn’t pleased – Apple’s legal team has been busy. Mashable

10 things you (probably) didn’t know about Apple’s HomePod – Apple HomePod sounds really great, works with Apple Music, Siri is still meh, and it requires an iOS device to set up. The end, right? Mashable

Microsoft is testing authenticator logins for Windows 10 S users – It seems Microsoft may be aiming to ditch passwords sooner than some may have thought. The company first made their anti-password goals clear back in 2015 with the release of Windows 10 which launched with the “Windows Hello” facial recognition system for logins. Techspot

Intel rolls out random reboot-free Spectre microcode updates for Skylake chips – Back in January, we covered Google Project Zero’s disclosure of massive CPU security flaws Spectre and Meltdown. If you’ve never heard of these vulnerabilities before, here’s the gist: Spectre and Meltdown are two serious CPU security vulnerabilities that allow hackers to steal personal data from computers, mobile devices and servers without a given machine’s owner ever realizing it. Techspot

Hacker group manages to run Linux on a Nintendo Switch – Hacker group fail0verflow shared a photo of a Nintendo Switch running Debian, a distribution of Linux (via Nintendo Life). The group claims that Nintendo can’t fix the vulnerability with future firmware patches. Techcrunch

Nvidia up 10% after Q4 earnings beat, says cryptocurrency demand ‘exceeded expectations’ – Nvidia’s successes are continuing to pile on as the company’s gaming and data center businesses drove revenues up 34 percent year-over-year. Techcrunch

From July, Chrome will flag all unencrypted websites as ‘not secure’ – Google’s fight for a more secure internet continues with the announcement that its Chrome 68 update – to be released in July this year – will see all unencrypted websites (HTTP sites) marked with a ‘not secure’ label. Techradar

Surface Pro 5 release date, news and rumors – You might suspect that the Surface Pro (2017) is the closest we’ll ever get to the Surface Pro 5, but if Microsoft itself is anything to go by, you would be dead wrong. The Surface Pro 5 doesn’t exist right now, as Microsoft Surface leader Panos Panay confirmed last May, but it will when more meaningful changes erupt from the geniuses at Microsoft’s hardware design lab. Techradar

Microsoft is reportedly shifting its Windows strategy as it tries to outmaneuver Apple and Google – Last weekend, long-time Microsoft blogger Brad Sams reported that Windows 10 S – the latest version of the operating system, launched in mid-2017 – is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Business Insider

A thought on improving voice user interface while ensuring privacy

Voice user interface is going to be one of the ways we interact with our devices as we go about our daily lives. It is just a very intuitive way for us because we communicate primarily via voice with text and images to complement.

But there still are various problems that need people to work on them to improve the overall experience. One of it is related to how the AI behind voice user interface can interact with us more naturally, like how we interact with fellow human beings.

A premium Medium article written by Cheryl Platz got me thinking about that. It also covered a little on privacy and why it is a contributing factor that make it difficult for current generation of AIs to speak more naturally and understand the context when we speak. Unless, companies don’t give a shit about our privacy and start collecting even more data.

In this article, I am going to share what I thought could help improve the AI and ensure user privacy.

Current Implementations and Limitations

What an AI needs to be better at understanding and responding in ways most useful to us are processing power, a good neural network that allows it to self-learn, and a database to store whatever it has learnt.

The cloud is the best way for an AI to gain access to a processing power and huge enough database. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft offer cloud computing and storage services via their AWS and Azure platform respectively at very low cost. Even Google offers such services via their Compute Engine.

The problem with the cloud is reduced level of confidence when privacy is involved. Anything you store up there is vulnerable, available for retrieval through security flaws or misconfigurations. Companies could choose to encrypt those data via end-to-end encryption to help with protect user’s privacy but the problem is the master keys are owned by said companies. They could decrypt those data whenever they want.

Or you could do it like what Apple did with Siri, storing data locally, and use Differential Privacy to help ensure anonymity but it reduces the AI capabilities because it doesn’t have access to sufficient amount of personal data. Two, Siri runs on devices like Apple Watch, iPhones and iPads, which could be a problem when it comes to processing and compute capabilities, and having enough information to understand the user.

Although those devices have more processing power than room-sized mainframes from decades ago, it’s still not enough, energy-efficiency and capability wise, to handle highly complex neural networks for better experience with voice user interfaces.

Apple did try to change that with its A11 Bionic SoC that has a neural engine. Companies like Qualcomm, Imagination Technologies, and even NVIDIA are also contributing to increase local processing power with energy efficiency for AI through their respective CPU and GPU products.

Possible Solution

The work on the hardware by companies should continue so that there will be even more powerful and energy efficient processors for AI to use.

In addition to that, what we need is a standard, wireless-based protocol (maybe bluetooth) for the AI on our devices, irrespective of companies, to talk to each other when they are near to each other and in our home network. This way, the AI on each of those devices can share information and perform distributed computing, thereby improving its accuracy, overall understanding of the user, and respond accordingly.

A common software kernel is also necessary to provide different implementation of neural network a standardized way of doing distributed computing efficiently and effectively.

So now, imagine Siri talking to Alexa, Google Assistant or even Cortana via this protocol and vice versa.

Taking privacy into account, information exchanged via this protocol should be encrypted by default with keys owned only by the user. Any data created or stored should only reside on device also encrypted and nowhere else. Taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, the generated keys should come from some kind of hardware-based “Secure Enclave”.

To further improve the neural network, Differential Privacy should be applied on any query or information sent by the AI to the cloud for processing.

Conclusion

The above is really just a thought of how current the AIs powering voice user interfaces can be improved.

At the end, it’s really up to the companies to decide if they want to come together and improve all our lives taking into account our privacy and security.

10 Tech News Roundup #13

Here are 10 tech news that I found interesting.

Twitter fixes another important problem with support for 50-character usernamesTwitter has followed up its move to double the character limit of tweets to 280 by increasing the length of a username to 50 characters. Techcrunch

China’s Toutiao is buying Musical.ly in a deal worth $800M-$1BMusical.ly, the lip-syncing app popular with teens and young people, has been sold to Chinese social media giant Toutiao, according to an announcement made today. Techcrunch

Apple expands its ‘Everyone Can Code’ initiative to over 20 colleges outside the U.S. – Apple wants to teach people all around the world to code, so the company is making the move to colleges worldwide. Mashable

Nvidia’s huge run continues as its data center business surges – Nvidia continues to ride the wave of a myriad of huge success stories for the company, like the rapid adoption of the Nintendo Switch and demand for technology to power AI computation within data centers, as it saw yet another quarter where its business continued to expand significantly. Techcrunch

Vulnerability in hundreds of messaging apps leaves user data exposed – Mobile threat protection firm Appthority discovered an exploit in almost 700 iOS and Android apps that could expose the private messages and calls of users. The company said that up to 180 million Android devices could be affected, along with an unknown number of iOS devices. Techspot

Windows 10 Insider Build shows off AirDrop-style sharing feature, mutable tabs, more – Microsoft has made the Windows 10 Insider Preview Build (17035) available to Insiders in the Fast Ring, revealing a handful of new features and fixes, including what looks like the company’s own version of Apple’s AirDrop system. Techspot

Co-Design Center Develops Next-Gen Simulation Tools – The exascale architectures on the horizon for supercomputing pose intricate challenges to the developers of large-scale scientific applications. Running efficiently at exascale will not only require porting and optimizing code but also rethinking the design of core algorithms to take advantage of the greater parallelism and more efficient calculation capabilities that exascale systems will offer.HPCWire

Apple has acquired imaging sensor startup InVisage Technologies – As Apple continues to work on ever-smaller but more powerful computing devices, it has acquired a startup focusing on nanotechnology, and specifically as it relates to image sensors. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Apple has picked up InVisage Technologies, a startup that develops solutions to improve imaging capabilities on space-constrained devices, like smartphones. Techcrunch

MyInfo extended to private sector, allowing businesses to tap citizen data for digital services – SINGAPORE: From next year, consumers can expect a hassle-free experience when it comes to applying for a credit card across different banks, or even a new mobile phone SIM card. Channel Newsasia

IBM makes 20 qubit quantum computing machine available as a cloud service – IBM has been offering quantum computing as a cloud service since last year when it came out with a 5 qubit version of the advanced computers. Today, the company announced that it’s releasing 20-qubit quantum computers, quite a leap in just 18 months. A qubit is a single unit of quantum information. Techcrunch

10 Tech News Roundup #7

Here are 10 tech news that I found interesting.

Apple would like to remind the FCC that it can’t activate imaginary FM radios that iPhones don’t have – Apple responded today to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who issued a statement that “urged” Apple to activate the FM chips that he claimed are in iPhones in the name of public safety. Techcrunch

Amazon still has no idea why Google pulled Youtube from the Echo Show – Even as Amazon unveiled a whole new collection of Echo devices, it was still smarting from one major partner’s decision to block video content from its big-screen Echo Show. Mashable

Apple could bring the iPhone X’s best feature to future models — without the OLED screen – Apple’s newest iPhones force customers to make a difficult choice: Should they upgrade immediately to the iPhone 8, or spend $1,000 and wait for the iPhone X and leave bezels behind with its glorious edge-to-edge OLED display? Mashable

NASA delays launch of the world’s most powerful space telescope, again – NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has experienced another delay. The Verge

US Exascale Program – Some Additional Clarity – The last time we left the Department of Energy’s exascale computing program in July, things were looking very positive. HPCWire

BlackBerry, yes BlackBerry, is making a comeback as a software company – When you think about dead companies walking, BlackBerry was clearly one that came to mind, but under the leadership of CEO John Chen, the company is actually making a comeback as a software company focused on security, and it’s latest quarterly earnings report suggests the pivot is working splendidly. Techcrunch

Oracle’s board will unanimously reject a shareholder request for a gender pay gap audit – Et tu, Safra? When Oracle meets for its annual shareholder meeting on November 15, the board of directors will vote to reject a shareholder proposal requesting that the company do a payroll audit to check for a gender pay gap. Business Insider

Nvidia boss: Moore’s Law is dead, GPUs will soon replace CPUs – Nvidia boss Jensen Huang has become the latest expert to declare that Moore’s Law is dead. Speaking at the GPU Technology conference in Beijing, China, the CEO also said that advancements in graphics processors mean GPUs will soon replace CPUs, DigiTimes reports. Techspot

GovTech signs deal with Tableau to equip public officers with visual analytics skills – SINGAPORE: At least 1,500 public officers in Singapore will be equipped with skills in visual analytics over the next three years, after the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) signed a memorandum of intent with Tableau Software on Friday (Sep 29). Channel Newsasia

The list grows: Whole Foods hit by hackers – Whole Foods Market — which was recently acquired by tech giant Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) — said Thursday that hackers were able to gain access to credit card information for customers who made purchases at some of its in-store taprooms and restaurants. CNN