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    This Is the Best Budget Laptop You Can Buy

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    After considering all the major laptops in its price range, I decided that if I had to buy a Windows laptop for $600 or less, I’d get the ~$580 version of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 2 14.

    It’s not perfect—because all budget laptops have trade offs—but it’s the best of its kind. And for its price it succeeds in a lot of the most important areas: it’ll easily handle day-to-day tasks, it’s light enough to carry around, and it has enough battery to last you an entire work day.

    Our Pick

    For $580 you get a dual-core Haswell Intel Core i5-4210U processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 500GB hybrid hard drive with 8GB of cache, which is to say that it is fast enough for most tasks that don’t involve gaming or heavy photo or video editing.

    As we configured it, the Flex 2 14 also has a 14-inch multitouch panel with a decent 1366x768 resolution, 7.5 hours of battery life, a good enough keyboard and trackpad, and all the ports you’ll want: HDMI, Ethernet, USB 3.0, two USB 2.0 ports, a card reader, and an audio jack. The cache will make it feel a little speedier than a regular hard drive, but not as fast as an computer with a solid state drive (otherwise known as an SSD).

    At 0.8 inches thick and 4.4 pounds, it’s lighter and slimmer than most 14-inch laptops in its price range. It's possible (but not easy) to upgrade the hard drive and RAM (if you’re into that kind of thing) so you can squeeze more life out of the machine later.

    It’s a great basic machine that we settled on after a lot of consideration and testing.

    This Is The Best Wi-Fi Router

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If your laptop, smartphone, or tablet uses the latest wireless-AC networking technology and you’re shopping for a new router, you should get the Netgear R6250. The benefits of wireless-ac are great: super-fast performance that can be stronger at longer distances than wireless-n routers. More than 100 hours of combined testing and research led us to the $150 R6250, which boasts the best combination of speed, price, and features of any router in its price range, and unlike more expensive and newer routers, has technology your most modern gear can actually take advantage of.

    How we decided on the R6250

    Our pick supports two data streams for wireless-n and three for wireless-ac. Our research indicates that two-stream wireless-N and -AC technology are the most common connection types for laptops, tablets, and smartphones, while three-stream wireless-ac is what you'll find on new top-of-the-line laptops like the latest MacBook Pro.

    How did we pick this price point? Basically, a $200 router can be faster than our main pick, but only if your devices can take advantage of it—most things we own today can’t. On the other hand, paying less than $100 for a wireless-ac router means sacrificing speed and/or range, and you might also lose a number of useful features, like media streaming, parental controls, and remote access.

    Our router finalists for speed and features, based on a lot of research and interviewing with the best wireless gear testers, were the Netgear R6250 ($150), Asus RT-AC56U ($112), Asus RT-AC66U ($170), and TP-Link Archer C7 ($99). We tested them by running performance benchmarks at four different testing stations inside a 2,700 square-foot, one-story house.

    Making a B.F. Goodrich Mercury Mark IV Helmet, Part 1

    When Adam commissioned us to make a hybrid NASA Mercury space program suit, we didn’t give much thought to the helmet or really any of the “hard parts” with the exception of the neck and wrist rings. We just figured that if anyone was interested in buying another suit, they would have to find a helmet on their own, and that we’d probably have to re-cast or find standalone MIG neck rings. Adam advised us they would be hard to find.

    But initial feedback from prospective customers indicated that we might not be able to sell many suits without including helmets and accessories. Pictured below are Adam’s suits. One with rings on the left and one without rings on right:

    Since Adam supplied the neck ring for the first build and we returned it to him, we had to find another for our third suit. We weren’t really in a hurry to find one but weeks passed and we saw nothing except MIG helmets with rings, so we bought one hoping maybe we could sell the MIG helmet later. The upside of buying the helmet and ring was understanding how the ring locked onto the helmet as Adam never sent us his helmet at this point for scrutiny. Now that we’ve had a closer look at his helmet during the Comic-Con Incognito walk, we can see he manufactured a similar locking system we have based on the MIG helmet and neck ring design.

    I remember Adam saying he needed another neck ring so I kept looking and eventually found one and bought it. Because it was expensive we considered recasting it in four-part molds for future projects. It wouldn’t be functional but may look good enough for some buyers.

    When I told Adam what we were planning and asked him where he got his helmets he offered to send us his spare helmet blank to re-cast but we would have to return it as it was his only one. I’ve never had quite this experience before. We’ve been lent stuff in the past but nothing that couldn’t be replaced easy enough. It was very generous for Adam to send his helmet so we didn't have to sculpt one from scratch, and really aligns with his philosophy of opening these projects up to makers. Above is a photo of what he sent over. We were absolutely thrilled to have access to it!

    Building and Testing a Custom RC Airboat

    Sometimes you seek inspiration. Sometimes inspiration smacks you in the face. As I was walking down the clearance isle at Walmart, I was smacked in the face. They had a few kid’s kickboards on clearance. With my Mini Alligator Tours airboat experiences still fresh on the brain, I immediately thought that one of these kickboards could be the starting point of a scratchbuilt airboat.

    Sitting next to the Mini Alligator Tours, the wide stance and minimalist design of my DIY airboat is apparent.

    There were a few features of this kickboard that I particularly liked, in addition to its clearance price. First of all, it has a very wide stance. That would serve to prevent tipovers--hopefully. Another appealing aspect was its slippery plastic shell. I thought that would help it slide the water, as well as grass and other surfaces. The other kickboards that I saw had a nylon mesh-type covering. That’s probably great if you are actually using it as a kickboard, but not so great in airboat mode.

    The one thing that I did not like about the kickboard was its very pronounced curvature (as viewed from the side). Most airboats use flat-bottomed hulls. I figured I would give it a try anyway and see what happened.

    Keeping It Simple

    Early on, I decided that my focus with this project would be to make the simplest airboat that I possibly could. That proved to be a surprisingly elusive goal. I discarded numerous design sketches over the course of an afternoon before I felt that I had shaved my concept down to the bare essentials.

    The Zoidberg Project, Part 12 (Finale and Recap!)

    Even though The Zoidberg Project has been wrapped up for a while now, it’s not over. I got sidetracked back in May with the Gore Magala build for Capcom's Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate display, and I still owe you all one more article!

    So let's back track a bit….back to early April. Leading up to the debut at WonderCon, I had a ton of finishing to do on the Zoidberg costume. The feet that Carson and I sculpted and molded needed to be cast up and painted. We opted for a simple latex and polyfoam casting. To make this cast, we brushed in about four or five good coats of latex into the mold, giving plenty of time for them to dry between layers. If you don't let the previous layer dry enough, you will end up with wet layers sandwiched between dry layers, which will make the skin too soft and prone to stretching out of shape.

    Since this mold for the feet are stone, I could have just filled it up with latex and let it set for an hour to form a "skin" around the outer edge, then dump the excess latex back out into the bucket and let it dry. But I felt that manually brushing in a few layers and drying them with a hair dryer between layers would be the fastest route. Once this layer of latex skin is set up, I mixed up a batch of Flex Foam 3 from Smooth-On and just rolled it on the surface until it started foaming up. I didn't need it to be a solid foam casting because I still need room for my food and ankle inside.

    This finishes the casting, which could then be demolded and trimmed up while the second foot was being done. I like to use an electric turkey cutter sometimes when I'm trimming foam, and it helps to hog out big sections quickly. Once I find the right fit for my foot, I used a little Barge glue to tack the latex down to the foam, as sometimes it can delaminate. That was it for the feet, but we all know that Zoidberg doesn't walk barefoot.

    The Best Exercise Headphones

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If I were looking for a pair of headphones to use in my workout, I’d want the Relays by Sol Republic. They are hands down the most comfortable headphones to wear while being active. They sound good, stay put without chafing or tugging, are light and resistant to sweat, and have a lifetime of free tips (because you know those lil’ buggers love to get lost in a gym bag).

    I base this conclusion after extensively testing 38 models. Our tests involved a professional listening panel, three stress tests, and real workout tests. After all that, I’m confident the Sol Republic are the best fit for your fitness routine.

    Who’s this for / should I upgrade?

    Exercise headphones are for people who want to run, hike, bike, or hit the gym while listening to music, podcasts, or other media. That means they should be able to withstand a variety of stressors like sweat, rain, strain from dropping media players, and abuse from being thrown in a bag. The headphones should also sound decent, feel good, stay put, and stay out of the way when you’re being active.

    How To Mold and Cast Resin Copies of 3D-Printed Figures

    We do a lot of 3D printing at Tested, but it's a time-consuming process best used for prototyping, not mass production. To replicate our 3D prints, we invited Frank Ippolito up to Adam's shop to teach us how to make simple rubber molds and cast awesome resin copies. It's really not difficult to get started! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about memberships here!)

    How To Make A Replica Hybrid Mercury IV Pressure Suit

    (Editor's note: One of Adam's favorite costumes is his Mercury program spacesuit, which we've previously featured here on Tested. It's one of the costumes he wore at this year's Comic-Con. Elizabeth Galeria of The Magic Wardrobe, who made the costume in collaboration with Adam, reached out to us to share the process of designing and patterning this suit to meet Adam's specific needs and requests. This is the first in a series of articles in which Elizabeth and her partner explain their fabrication process fort his project. Feel free to ask Elizabeth--Tested user "antylyz"--questions directly in the comments section below.)

    An accurate replica of any costume or prop is only as good as the source images and what budget a “detail enthusiast” is willing to spend to get what’s envisioned. When Adam approached me to make him a Mercury suit, his celebrity factored into my quote. I really wanted to do this project having been a fan of MythBusters for many years.

    Adam had no shortage of images to show me so quoting him was pretty easy. It’s not often you get 100+ high-res images of the actual suits from the Smithsonian so I was able to count stitches-per-inch as is often the case needed for detail enthusiasts.

    Adam was very specific that all he wanted was someone to do the “soft parts” and he would provide all the “hard parts,” which made the project easy. Adam was also very specific about what details he liked about the various iterations of suits used by NASA in the Mercury space program, and he focused on the following image in particular.

    The biggest challenge in almost any replica costume or prop is finding the same or similar fabrics and materials used to make the original. Adam was very specific in describing the fabric he thought the original suit was made of. It's something he has described in his videos about the suit.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Testing and Upgrading an Airboat

    A few months ago, we took a look at the RC boating hobby by dissecting two small, electric setups from AquaCraft: the beginner-friendly Reef Racer II and the speedy Minimono. Both boats are still going strong and my family continues to enjoy them. In fact, I decided that I wanted to bring along at least one RC boat on our summer trip to Florida.

    As I was mentally justifying the cargo space for toy boats and thinking of the different lakes we could visit, I remembered fishing at many of those same lakes as a kid. I recalled that most of them had grass, lily pads, reeds, and even cypress knees all along the shoreline. While all of that aquatic flora is what I miss most about living in Florida, it would cause nothing but headaches with the submerged propellers of my RC boats. I decided that I needed a boat that was designed to traverse this kind of environment…an airboat, to be exact.

    If you’re not familiar with the basic design of an airboat, I’ll elaborate. They utilize a wide, flat-bottomed hull. Rather than a submerged water propeller, airboats have a large airscrew like you would find on a Cessna. One or more large rudders are stuck right in the propwash to provide turning authority. This configuration allows an airboat to ignore most vegetation on the water. It just skims right over it all. Many can even claw their way across dry land. In short, airboats are loud, obnoxious, and extremely useful machines.

    In my last-minute search for an airboat, I found that there are several wood kits that are available, as well as varied plans to DIY. But I was in a hurry and needed something off the shelf. I realized that there aren’t many hobby-quality RC airboats available as turnkey packages. In fact, I could find only two: the Alligator Tours and Mini Alligator Tours. Both are also AquaCraft products. The larger version of the Alligator Tours is powered by a fuel-burning motor, while the mini version is electric. I chose the electric version.

    The Best Handheld Vacuum

    This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome. Read the original full article at TheSweethome.com

    For small spills and tight spots that a regular vacuum can’t reach, we recommend using the Black & Decker BDH2020FLFH 20 V MAX Flex Vac ($130). Its powerful 20-volt lithium-ion battery delivers about 16 minutes of strong, steady suction, which means better cleaning for longer than most of the competition can muster. Equally important, its 4-foot flexible hose reaches where other hand vacuums (including our previous pick) can’t, like under car seats. And it even accepts clip-on attachments like a regular vacuum would. It’s the most versatile portable vacuum out there.

    We spent a total of 56 hours researching and 20 hours testing hand vacuums over the past few years. Of the roughly 40 models we’ve found, this new Flex Vac has proven to be the best bet for most people.

    Who needs a portable vacuum?

    A portable vacuum excels as a smaller, lighter, nimbler sidekick to a plug-in upright or canister vacuum. It cleans spots that a big vac doesn’t easily reach: countertops or the floor of a car, for example. And since there’s no cord to unravel, it’s super easy to grab off the charging dock for 10 seconds to suck up a few dust bunnies or grains of spilled cereal. However, if you think you can replace a floor vacuum with one of these, you will be sorely disappointed. They’re simply not designed for that kind of heavy lifting.

    (That being said, some new battery-powered vacuums are designed as all-purpose cleaners, meant to pull double-duty as an all-house upright and a hand vacuum. This guide does not cover these types of vacuums.)

    The Best SSD Today

    If I bought a solid-state drive (SSD) today, I'd get the 512GB Crucial MX100 for about $220. It's not the fastest SSD you can get, but it's close. More importantly, it has the best combination of price, performance, and capacity. Additionally, Crucial makes its own NAND flash memory and its SSDs have a history of reliability. It's about $30 cheaper than the 500GB Samsung 840 EVO and has the best price per gigabyte of all those we looked at, so it's the best choice for most people who are upgrading a laptop or desktop today.

    If anything goes wrong, the MX100 has a three-year warranty. And it includes TCG/Opal full-disk self-encryption, if that matters to you. There’s no shortage of great SSDs these days, but some are better values than others, as we learned after spending more than 30 hours of research coming to this conclusion.

    The MX100 is one of the best, but if you can’t get the MX100, the Samsung 840 EVO is still good and is our overall runner-up. (It is, after all, our previous pick for this guide.) It’s cheap and fast, just not as cheap or fast as the MX100. It’s also still your best choice for a 1TB drive, since the MX100 only goes up to 512GB.

    If you’re a video and photo editor or 3D modeler, consider a step-up option like the Samsung 850 Pro. It has a 10-year warranty and higher write endurance rating. Its quoted speeds aren’t much different than the Crucial’s, but it can be nearly twice as fast (373 MB/s vs 190 MB/s) in some high-intensity benchmarks like AnandTech’s “Destroyer.” It’s the fastest SATA SSD you can get, but it’s not worth the price increase for most people.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (July 2014)

    You don't usually get do-overs after you choose a new phone. That privilege only comes along once every year or two, so you've got to make it count. It's getting hard to make a truly bad choice when it comes to Android phones, but why settle for good enough when you can have the best? It's time to check out the lineup on the big four US carriers and see which devices are worth your time and money.

    This month Samsung finally gets some serious competition from LG, and the Nexus continues to ride high.

    Photo credit: Flickr user janitors via Creative Commons.

    AT&T

    The LG G3 wasn't even up for pre-order on AT&T last month, but this time it's available and has a lot to offer a connoisseur of mobile devices. Of course, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is also on AT&T as a similar price point and a slightly different approach to the high-end market. So where should your money go?

    Let's start with the Samsung Galaxy S5. This is simply the best phone Samsung has ever made. It might have the same plastic shell most of Samsung's devices rock, but it's more solid than past offerings largely because it's built to be water and dust-resistant. The GS5 is IP67 certified, assuming you've got the back and port covers fastened down. It has a midframe inside that most of the components are mounted to and rubber gaskets protect the internals around the back cover.

    Around front are Samsung's signature hardware buttons, but this time the OEM has finally gotten with the times and replaced the menu button with multitasking. The home button also houses a fingerprint scanner. It's a bit of a novelty (as is the heart rate monitor on the back), but it's something to be aware of.

    Inside you'll find 2GB of RAM, a 2800mAh removable battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 16GB of storage. The screen is a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED at 1080p, and it's a great panel. Samsung has done a lot to fix the white balance and saturation on AMOLED this time, and it really shows. The screen also has very good maximum and minimum brightness. The 16MP camera on this device is awesome in every situation except low-light.

    Samsung's TouchWiz Android UI isn't the abomination it once was--in fact, I'd say the ROM on the GS5 is pretty good. It's fast, the tweaks to Android's UI are not outrageous, and some of the additional features (like Ultra Power Saver) are awesome. Under all the Samsung code is Android 4.4.2 with all the goodies you'd expect from that. AT&T does have a nasty habit of loading you up with bloatware, but that's the case with all phones on Ma Bell.

    The Best Cheap Printer Today

    Color is swell, but for most documents, black and white look just fine. Monochrome laser printers and avoid the waste and hassle of inkjet machines (no cleaning purges!), the cost and bulk of color laser (only one toner cartridge!), and still churn out a couple dozen pages per minute with razor-sharp text. For students, small-office denizens, or anyone with modest printing needs, the Samsung Xpress M2835DW is the most efficient way to make hard copies of term papers, tax forms, or any other documents that look great in grayscale.

    I spent more than 20 hours researching the mono laser category, looking over dozens of expert reviews and hundreds of user testimonials for the best, most affordable black-and-white printers. Meanwhile, Wirecutter researcher Audrey Lorberfeld spent another 32 hours analyzing existing professional printer reviews and comparing them to user reviews to identify how we could improve upon them with our own testing. With her findings in mind, I’ve spent 23 total hours testing a handful of the top contenders, jumping through hoops to set them up on a smorgasbord of devices and operating systems and printing stacks of monochrome documents to measure speed and print quality.

    Like any worthwhile laser printer, the M2835DW spits out crisp text fast and at a wicked low cost per page.

    Like any worthwhile laser printer, the M2835DW spits out crisp text fast and at a wicked low cost per page. It’s affordable to buy, yet still includes cost- and time-saving features like automatic two-sided printing and wireless networking, which are often missing from some pricier models. And for what it’s worth, it’s the candidate least likely to send you into fits of rage, Office Space-style, during setup.

    How To Shop for a Home 3D Printer

    3D printing's popularity continues to grow and more people are taking the plunge into this new consumer technology. With Will and Norm having built a Printrbot Simple for us, I thought it would be a good time to talk about buying your own printer. There are a many choices out there and it can be a lot of confusing misinformation which overwhelms you. It's not possible to cover all the printers out there, so we'll cover the basics and things to consider when buying a printer and places to look for information.

    The Basics

    As a refresher, let's walk through the fundamentals of a typical home 3D printer. Most are going to be Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) machines that use plastic filament pushed through a heated extruder which 'draws' onto a print bed, layer by layer until the model is finished. Many machines print with Polylactic Acid (PLA), a biodegradable, non-toxic plastic that produces nice, but semi-brittle prints. The other common plastic is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)--the same stuff LEGO is made from. ABS is a little trickier to print with and does produce some fumes but it's also more flexible and durable than PLA.

    A higher-end choice but still in the realm of home printers are some SLA (Stereolithography) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) machines which print with liquid resin which is cured with light. They produce highly detailed prints but tend to cost more for both the printer and materials and we'll cover those in a later article.

    The Best Blu-ray Player Today

    After spending almost 20 hours with the best new Blu-ray players for 2014, the $90 LG BP540 came out on top after our previous pick was discontinued. The LG fits our criteria for a good player thanks to integrated Wi-Fi and the most popular streaming apps. More importantly, it has a better interface and video quality than the competition and offers the best combination of price and performance of those we looked at.

    Who am I to make that claim? I’ve been handling almost all the Blu-ray reviews for Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity since 2010 and have had nearly three dozen players come through my hands. I’ve subjected them to countless objective and subjective tests. I’ve even thrown them on a $15,000 HDMI Analyzer to verify their performance. Often, as is the case with the LG, the picture from a cheap player is 100 percent identical to an $8,000 player’s.

    If the LG BP540 sells out, the $90 Sony BDP-S3200 is our runner-up choice that is almost as good. The menu system is more confusing than our top pick’s and the overall interface leaves a lot to be desired, but it offers a wide selection of streaming content, and Blu-ray content does very well. Be warned, though: The Sony shows some jaggies while watching DVD content with diagonal lines.

    With more expensive players, you’re usually paying for better CD playback quality or niche features. Along those lines, and if you also want the absolute best in audio and video quality, the $600 Oppo BDP-103D is the best high-end player you can buy. It has better DVD scaling than any other tested player, performs flawlessly even with foreign content and weird frame rates, and supports all audio formats as well. The integrated Darbee video processing is a favorite of most reviewers, including video purists, and Oppo has better service and support than other companies. For most people, though, the price difference isn’t justified.

    Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured.

    If you only want Blu-ray playback and don’t care about streaming whatsoever, the Samsung BD-H5100 is our step-down choice at $63. It does fine with Blu-ray content and the lack of Wi-Fi saves you some money, though it also means you’ll have to perform firmware updates manually or have hardwired Ethernet to do so. You’ll want to have updated firmware since it may affect your ability to play newer Blu-ray discs in the future.

    Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured, but alas, it is not. It was less expensive than the LG, had the same streaming options, and loaded discs faster. If you bought our pick from last year, or you happen to find it somewhere on closeout, there is no real need to upgrade.

    How To Build a Life-Size Dragon

    Norm's note: Frank first showed us his Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate dragon sculpt before this year's E3. Frank has since written up his build, which we wanted to share ahead of this week's Comic-Con--where the Gore Magala creature will be on display at the Capcom booth.

    I love video games and video game culture, and last year was stoked to be asked to be a part of a team doing the Zombie makeups for Capcom's Dead Rising 3 booth at E3. It was there that I befriended the creative services team in charge of all of these cool trade show events and displays. Jump ahead to a few months ago, when I received a call from the team lead at Capcom to bid on the making of a display sculpture for one of their upcoming games: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate!

    The concept was to have a 20-foot tall backdrop with a huge image of one of the game’s monsters, and have the front third of it coming out of the backdrop. Big is sort of an understatement here; once I did some quick math to put it into scale, the sculpture I would have to create would be almost 8 feet tall, 14 feet wide, and 12 feet long. To bid on something of this size is really tough. Most trade show displays are carved or milled out of bead foam and then hard coated, which leaves very little finished detail. But this monster has a lot of detail. So I had to figure a solution that could provide that kind of detail while keeping costs reasonable. After that came an engineering problem: how would this thing support itself? Additionally, it has to be transported to multiple venues and be durable enough for the public to interact with. So it also needed to come apart. Not easy!

    After some back-and-forth details of the deliverables and specifications, and some careful planning and budgeting, I was awarded the job, which would be guilt in my newly expanded shop. Here is what my team and I came up with for the design of this build.

    How to Get Into Hobby RC: Taking Off with Airplanes

    Previous installments of this series have covered tips for getting started with RC quadrotors, cars and boats. While those are all fun RC vehicles (and there is more to come regarding each of them), my greatest enthusiasm for RC revolves around airplanes. The reasons for this are difficult to pin down. I suppose I was born with an incurable fascination for flying things. Aeromodeling has always provided an avenue for hands-on exploration of that interest on a practical and affordable scale.

    The Delta Ray’s SAFE stabilization system does indeed make the airplane very easy to fly…even for beginners. It does not, however, remove all crash risks.

    In a more cerebral sense, creating RC airplanes simultaneously feeds my cravings for scientific and artistic stimulation. On top of all that is the excitement and challenge of actually flying these widely varied machines. I don’t expect that all RC enthusiasts share my depth of interest and satisfaction in the hobby, and that’s OK. It’s an activity that you can simply mingle in if you choose. There are, however, a few initial summits that you must climb in order to get started at a practical level.

    Choosing the Right Path

    The most common misconception about RC airplanes is that flying them is intuitive…it’s not.

    The most common misconception about RC airplanes is that flying them is intuitive…it’s not. Even pilots of full-scale aircraft often lack all of the key skills to be RC flyers. There are countless stories of a father and son bringing their new RC plane to the park the day after Christmas. They arrive full of excitement, perhaps fueled by Snoopy-like dreams of vanquishing the Red Baron. More often than not, those dreams end up in the same garbage bag as their short-lived model aircraft. It’s a shame to hear these stories because a little guidance on the front end can often make the difference between disgruntled one-timers and enthusiastic rookies.

    In my opinion, making a successful first flight in this hobby requires three basic things:

    1. A rudimentary understanding of aerodynamics

    2. An airworthy model suitable for beginners

    3. Basic piloting skills

    There are many ways to attain this triad. Some roads are worn, while others are less-travelled. I will attempt to explain a few of these approaches and you can choose the path that suits you.

    The Best Television You Can Buy Today

    If I was in the market for an awesome television, I’d get the Samsung F8500 series, either in 51-, 60-, or 64-inch sizes (about $1,800, $2,400, or $3,100, respectively). This is a fantastic looking television, with a punchy brights, deep darks, lifelike and accurate color, excellent detail, and great performance in rooms with lots of light. While pricey, it has one of the best pictures of any TV in recent years according to all the major TV reviewers.

    The F8500 is likely the last great plasma TV (more on this later). We think that those looking for the “best” TV will love the F8500. Its combination of a bright image, dark black levels (and correspondingly high contrast ratio), lack of motion blur, and highly realistic color make for an addictively gorgeous image.

    If it doesn’t fit the bill, we have some other options that may suit you. However, this is still early in the year for TV reviews, so we strongly recommend you wait if you can. We can recommend some “good” TVs, but we won’t know what’s the (truly) best runner-up until more models are reviewed.

    The Samsung F300 is a good step-down pick if you want to save at least $1,000 (or more, depending on which size you buy). It’s not as bright and doesn’t have as good contrast ratio as our pick, but it still has very good picture quality.

    If stepping down, we recommend the F5300 from Samsung, which costs much less, though it doesn’t have quite the same level of picture quality. It comes in 51-inch ($1,000 cheaper), 60-inch($1,500 cheaper), and 64-inch ($1,800 cheaper) screen sizes. The F5300 isn’t as bright as the F8500, doesn’t have as good a contrast ratio, and doesn’t look as good in bright rooms, but still has very good picture quality.

    If saving a lot of money is your goal, we recommend getting our pick for Best $500 TV, which is only 720p but has excellent picture quality for the price. And it is, you know, $500. Similar to the F5300, the F4500 (our $500 pick) isn’t as bright as the F8500, nor is its contrast ratio as high. And it’s got that lower resolution of 720p (the F8500 and F5300 are both 1080p sets). So the F8500 looks a lot better, for a lot more money.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (June 2014)

    We're in the thick of new phone season right now, which makes it a particularly perilous time to buy anything at all. Whether you're signing on for a two-year ride or doing a payment plan, it's a big commitment, and you don't want to regret it. Just like we do every month, we're going to go over the best devices on each of the big four US carriers and see what you should do.

    The Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 are hitting their stride, but there's new reason to consider a device like the Nexus 5. And what about that LG G3? Let's dig in.

    Photo credit: Flickr user punk17er via Creative Commons.

    AT&T

    Ma Bell is keeping things comparatively easy for us by dragging its feet announcing new devices. We know the G3 is coming to AT&T, but there are no pre-orders yet. That takes it out of the running for our purposes. That leaves us with the continued struggle between the HTC One M8 and the Samsung Galaxy S5. Both are excellent phones -- there's no doubt many people will be perfectly happy with each of them for different reasons. At this point, I think we need to identify the strong points so you know which one works for you.

    Let's start with the Galaxy S5, but first some specs. The Galaxy S5 comes with a Snapdragon 801 processor clocked to 2.5GHz, 2800mAh battery, 2GB of RAM, and a killer 5.1-inch Super AMOLED screen. I think the screen in particular is great and fixes many of the long-standing issues with AMOLED tech. The whites are whiter and the colors are more accurate, but still vibrant.

    Around back is another of the Galaxy S5's selling points -- a 16MP camera that takes some of the best images I've ever seen come out of a phone. It has live HDR capture, 4K video recording, and nails the exposure almost every time in good light. It could be better in dim indoor light, but it is otherwise top of class. The thin plastic shell making up the rest of the back is less great, but maybe you can forgive that.

    The Samsung Galaxy S5 is IP67 water and dust resistant so you'll notice less flex in the overall design than some past Samsung devices. It's still a plastic Samsung phone, but it's definitely more solid. It can technically withstand 30 minutes in one meter of water, but I wouldn't put that to the test.

    On the software side of things, Samsung is currently rocking Android 4.4.2 with TouchWiz on the Galaxy S5. That's close enough to the current Nexus build that it's probably safe to say it's up to date. TouchWiz on the GS5 is not ideal, but it's greatly improved compared to some past devices. The colors are more cohesive and most of the stock apps are usable. There's still plenty of carrier bloatware to be killed, though. Features like Ultra Power Saving Mode and Private Mode are cool innovations that make this device more desirable.

    The Galaxy S5 is sure to fall behind in the software department later this year when Android L comes out, but Samsung has been doing a fairly good job getting updates out the door. This device is $200 on contract from AT&T.

    The Best Wi-Fi Router (for Most People)

    If you have a laptop or smartphone that uses wireless-ac technology and you're ready to upgrade your router, you should get the Netgear R6250. The R6250 has the best combination of speed, price, stability, and features of any router in its price range. It can make your new device's Wi-Fi connection up to three times faster than a wireless-n router could. It's a smidge more expensive than the sweet spot for a router of its class (hovering around $130-$145 on Amazon), but we feel the benefits are worth the slightly higher cost.

    A $200 router can be faster, but only if your devices can take advantage of the improvements it provides. If you don’t have anything that can (like most people), you’d be paying for performance you’ll never use. And don’t buy more than you need with the idea of futureproofing your network. Prices will drop over time and networking tech will improve before you know it. On the flip side, if you pay less than $100 for a wireless-ac router, you’ll lose out on features, speed, or range (or all three). The best combination of price and performance right now is in the $100 to $130 range.