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    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (October 2015)

    We're heading into the holiday season, and the device lineup is pretty much locked down. You can also expect carriers and retailers to start tossing out deals on smartphones, but you don't just want to get whatever's cheapest. You want what's best, and that's what we want to find by examining the Android phone landscape like we do every month. So let's take a look at what phones are available on your carrier of choice so you can get the right device.

    Photo credit: Flickr user bestboyzde via Creative Commons

    Carrier-branded phones

    We are thankfully no longer living in a world where carrier exclusives rule the smartphone market. Most phones can be had on any of the big carriers, and that's the case with most of the top Android devices. There are two phones that still warrant your attention and can be purchased directly from the carriers. I speak, of course, of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4.

    The GS6 has a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED panel, and it's one of the best screens available on a smartphone at 2560x1440. It's small enough that most people should be able to use it comfortably one-handed, which is an increasing rarity. This continues to be one of the primary selling points of this phone. There are devices you can get with better software or longer battery life, but none of them are as pleasant to look at.

    Samsung also continues to impress when it comes to the camera. The Samsung Galaxy S6 has a 16MP shooter with optical image stabilization and an f/1.9 lens. This sensor is still one of the best you can get in a phone. I'm constantly floored by how well exposed images are, and the accuracy of colors in even poor light. I've actually started taking a lot of my review photos with a Galaxy S6 because it's easier than dragging out my DSLR for a minor improvement in image quality.

    The Galaxy S6 has an aluminum frame and Gorilla Glass front and rear panels. There aren't any weird gaps or spaces in the casing as there have been with some past Samsung phones -- it's a solid little phone. The glass back panel is another thing to break, but I've dropped mine a few times and no catastrophic failures yet.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Real Flight Drone Simulator

    I focus a lot of my writing on the techniques and tools that can help you become a better multi-rotor pilot. There's good reason for my fixation on training. No matter how fancy and advanced your model may be, the skill with which you operate it is the greatest single factor in determining your success and safety. When things go south, competency trumps hope every time.

    RealFlight Drone includes 14 different multi-rotor models to fly. Each has unique capabilities and performance.

    I've mentioned the RealFlight RC flight simulator in a previous article. RealFlight has historically been a tool for pilots of RC helicopters and fixed wing airplanes. Multi-rotor models were introduced only in the most recent versions of the program. Real Flight's latest release is a simulator package that is intended specifically for multi-rotor pilots, Real Flight Drone ($130).

    What You Get

    RealFlight Drone (RFD) comes bundled with a Futaba InterLink Elite controller. This is a USB device with the same look and feel as a standard RC transmitter. If you have a particular attachment to your actual RC transmitter, the InterLink Elite includes patch cords that allow you to use a Futaba, JR, or Spektrum brand transmitter to operate the simulator.

    The InterLink Elite device is a USB controller with the look and feel of a standard RC transmitter.

    The actual software is on a single DVD. It is compatible with Vista or later versions of Windows. The program will not work on Macs…even when using a Windows emulator. The system requirements are pretty low. So you shouldn't have any problems if you're machine is relatively new. I've been using RFD on an aging Sony Vaio laptop (1.6GHz CPU, 6GB RAM, GeForce GT330M video) and it runs just fine.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: 5 Multi-Rotor Models Under $50

    I've always said that mini-quads are the best way to get started with multi-rotors. They provide a low-cost way to learn fundamental piloting skills before you put an expensive flying machine (and innocent bystanders) at risk. Additionally, their small size lets them be flown indoors. So you can hone your skills night and day, regardless of the weather. When I first began advocating the use of mini-quads as trainers, a hobby-quality unit would typically cost $100 or more. The price bar has come way down. Numerous mini-quads can now be had for less than $50. We'll look at a handful of those choices today.

    My intent with this article is not to rank the different models, but rather to illustrate the range of options, as well as the limitations that are found at this price point. I think that someone with zero flying experience could be successful with any of the multi-rotors that I tested. With that said, I felt that one of the quads stood out as an exceptional choice for new pilots. You'll have to keep reading to see which one!

    I tried to approach my testing with the mindset of a rank beginner. I think that stable hovering and docile control response are the best attributes to facilitate flight training. So I focused heavily on those aspects. Pilots who already have some stick time may put greater emphasis on other qualities such as aerobatic ability or toughness. Decide what factors are most important to you and choose accordingly. Even within this small sample of multi-rotors, I observed significant differences that could impact which is the best fit for different pilots.

    The Economics of Ergonomics

    The radio transmitters for most larger multi-rotors (i.e. those bigger than mini-quads) are quite standardized in terms of size, form factor and functionality. They follow the decades-old standard that is used for RC airplanes and helicopters. You may have switches and dials for various functions, but the core controls consist of a pair of 2-axis joysticks on the face of a box measuring approximately 6"x6".

    If your end game is to step up to a larger multi-rotor it would make sense to start out with a transmitter made in that image.

    If your end game is to step up to a larger multi-rotor (and thus, one of these standardized transmitters) it would make sense to start out with a transmitter made in that image. The problem is that most inexpensive mini-quads come with transmitters that are nothing like the norm. Some are ridiculously tiny. Others look like gamepads. Most have thumb rests atop the joysticks, making the common "pinch" grip impractical. Regardless of how well the multi-rotor may fly, using these off-nominal transmitters limits the quad's effectiveness as a training tool. You may even pick up bad habits.

    The good news is that an awkward transmitter isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. I have yet to find a transmitter that could not be easily (and cheaply) modified to adequately resemble the standard form factor. In most cases, it's just a matter of attaching the housing to a piece of foam and replacing the thumb rests with aluminum tubing. Of the five quads tested here, I found it "necessary" to modify all but one of them. Three received the foam and aluminum treatment, while one received only aluminum joysticks. See last year's review of the Dromida Kodo for details on my transmitter modification technique.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Indoor RC Cars

    Being able to operate an RC vehicle inside the comfort of your own home provides a lot of benefits. There is much to be said for having a little RC fun night or day, regardless of the weather outside. In the case of RC cars, the tradeoff for such convenience is usually sub-par performance. In fact, many living room-capable RC cars are toy–grade rather than hobby-grade.

    The good news is that more and more small and feature-rich, hobby-quality cars are hitting the market. Some are downright tiny. Although not the smallest, Kyosho's Mini-Z line of cars certainly has the best scale-like appearance. It turns out that these minis are rather sporty too.

    The Kyosho Mini-Z line of cars provide hobby-quality components in a small scale RC vehicle.

    Mini-Z Features

    I should start off by saying that there are several types of Mini-Z models. The can be had in 2-wheel-drive or 4-wheel-drive versions and as cars, trucks, buggies, or formula 1 racers. There are further subdivisions within each of those categories. It would take much too long to discuss them all.

    Kyosho USA provided a Mini-Z version of the Ferrari LaFerrari from their MR-03 Sports series ($160) for this review. At 1/27 scale, it measures right at 7" long. Not only does this model compare in size to the 1/24 and 1/25-scale plastic car models that I built as a kid, but the level of detail is right there as well. Most RC cars utilize vacuformed Lexan bodies. Those bodies are extremely tough and resilient, but are short on detail. The LaFerrari wears a complex, injection-molded body that looks better than any static model I ever built.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Recording FPV Video

    Most First Person View (FPV) aircraft have two cameras. One of those cameras is typically an action camera such as a GoPro or Mobius. Its job is to record the flight in unflinching high definition. The other camera is a small security-type camera which creates the video feed that is downlinked to the pilot's goggles or monitor. Although the latter cameras offer much less in the way of image quality, they work well for downlink because they adapt quickly to changing light conditions and provide very low signal latency. Today, we'll look at solutions to record video from those cameras.

    While most FPV models have a dedicated camera for HD recording, there are good reasons to record the lower resolution video from the FPV camera as well.

    Why Record

    When it comes time to share video of our FPV flights, we typically reach for the GoPro footage. After all, what's the point of schlepping around an extra camera if you're not going to utilize the hi-def footage that it collects? There are times, however, when you may want to record the downlinked video from your FPV camera as well.

    Even with the help of a spotter who has eyes on your aircraft, a downed model can be difficult to locate. Being able to play back the final seconds of a flight from the aircraft's perspective can reveal vital clues to help find the missing model. Another purpose for recording your video stream is to troubleshoot or tweak the performance of a model. This is especially true if you use an On-Screen Display (OSD) to provide a data overlay on the video downlink. This allows you to have a dashboard that correlates performance data with each moment of the flight. Since it's recorded, you can analyze the data after the flight - without the real-time overhead of piloting.

    Several smaller FPV options, such as this modified Blade 200QX, can't carry two cameras. Recording the FPV stream is the only way to capture in-flight video.

    A third rationale for recording your video stream is that it may be your only image source. There are a handful of ultra-small and lightweight FPV platforms that just don't have the capacity to carry a dedicated hi-def camera. The Blade 200QX, and FPV Nano QX are just two examples among many. Whatever these set-ups may lack in video quality, they more than make up for with versatility. It's perhaps the only way to record an FPV flight that takes place indoors!

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (September 2015)

    Your phone is something you more than likely carry with you at all times and use to run every aspect of your day to day life. It's fine to spend a little money on the perfect phone, but which phone is that? There are a ton of options, and it's only getting increasingly complicated as more unlocked phones start hitting the market. As we do every month, let's dive in and see which phones are available on your carrier of choice, and which of those might be best for you.

    Carrier-branded Phones

    Carrier exclusives are mostly a thing of the past. There are occasional bespoke phones designed for one network or another, but the big flagship phones are usually available on all the major US carriers. I think your best overall option if you're going through the carriers is still the Galaxy S6, which you can get on all of them for $20-30 per month on a payment plan.

    The GS6 has a Super AMOLED panel, and it's really just fantastic. It's 5.1-inches and 1440p in resolution, which is small enough that most people should be able to use it comfortably one-handed. It's a stunningly beautiful screen, and I have no doubt it's the best you can get on a smartphone right now. This continues to be one of the primary selling points of this phone. There are devices you can get with better software or longer battery life, but none of them are as pleasant to look at.

    Everything You Should Know about Android Pay

    Android has had NFC payments since way back in 2011 with the Sprint Nexus S 4G. In the intervening years Google Wallet's usage hasn't exactly rocketed upward, and then Apple Pay happened. To offer a more full-featured alternative for Apple Pay, Google announced a revamped version of its payment platform at I/O this year -- Android Pay. This new way to pay via NFC is now rolling out to devices, but what's different other than the name? Here's everything you should know about how Android Pay works.

    Separating Wallet and Pay

    Before you can start using Android Pay, you'll need to receive an update to Google Play Services. That's the framework that makes all your Google apps and services work. It should happen automatically in the background in the coming weeks, and when it does, the Play Store will update your Wallet app, turning it into Android Pay.

    Going forward, Android Pay is your NFC payment app and Wallet is for sending money to others.

    So the new Android Pay app is actually the same package name that Wallet was using before, which is why it completely overwrites it. Wallet still exists, but it's a new app listing in the Play Store, and it's not for paying in stores. From now on, Android Pay is your NFC payment app and Wallet is for sending money to others via your Wallet balance, as well as managing your Wallet debit card.

    This is very narrow functionality for each app, and I'm really not sure why Google bothered separating them. Couldn't the money sending just be bundled into Pay? At any rate, you'll need to open Android Pay to set everything up, and that's where things get tricky.

    Let's Compare the No-Contract Plans from US Mobile Carriers

    For many years, the two-year contract was king in the US mobile industry. You'd pay $200 to get a shiny new phone, and you'd be stuck for two years. If you broke it or needed to change carriers, you'd have to spend a whole lot more money, and there really were no viable early upgrade options. Contracts also hid the true cost of smartphones, but as no-contract payment plans and early upgrade policies take over, we're faced with a whole new kind of calculation.

    How can you get the best deal? Let's check out the current offerings from the big four US carriers and see if we can figure it out.


    AT&T is the only carrier that's still fully committed to selling 2-year contract phones, although only AT&T stores can offer them. All the third-party sellers of AT&T devices have to use Next, AT&T's payment plan option. I dare say this is one of the more confusing payment plans offered right now as AT&T has bundled the payment plans and early upgrade stuff into one oddly named package. Note, AT&T will not buy out any payment plans or ETFs you have with other carriers. There's a "buyback" program for your old phone, but it's really not a good deal.

    Phones on Next: For your new AT&T Next plan, you pick a phone and the total cost of the device determines how much you'll pay monthly. There are four different versions of AT&T Next. For all of them you own the device and only pay tax (on the full value) at the time of purchase.

    Next 24 is divided into 30 monthly payments (I know, it's dumb) and you can upgrade to a new phone after 24 payments (ah, that's where 24 comes from). You also have Next 18 and Next 12 with a total of 24 payments and 20 payments, respectively. They have upgrade options at 18 and 12 months. Finally, there's Next with down payment. This one has a 30% down payment and smaller monthly fees. You can upgrade here after 12 months.

    Upgrading: AT&T's upgrading system doesn't seem very fair to me. When you've made the required number of payments (or paid that much in a lump sum), you can trade in your phone and get a new one. The payments start over again and AT&T waves the few remaining payments on the old phone. They're basically buying the device back for almost nothing.

    The Best Business Laptops Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer's guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

    If you need a business laptop that's tougher and more serviceable than an ultrabook, you should get the Lenovo ThinkPad T450s. After more than 30 hours of research and testing, it's the one we recommend, because it offers the best mix of a great keyboard, speed, durability, configuration options, and user-serviceability over the competition.

    Who is this for?

    Most people, even business people, don't need a traditional business laptop anymore—an ultrabook will be smaller, lighter, and good enough for most people. But some people still need more battery life, more power, more ports, or security features that you just can't get on an ultrabook, and they're willing to deal with a thicker, heavier laptop in exchange for those things and for greater durability.

    How we decided

    Most business laptops have the same guts as ultrabooks. We tested performance just to make sure there were no surprises, but we focused on the things that make business laptops great: the keyboard and trackpad, build quality, battery life, display, upgradeability and serviceability, and warranty and support.

    The Best Wi-Fi Router (for Most People)

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy.
    Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    After spending a total of 200 hours researching and testing over 20 Wi-Fi routers, plus analyzing reader comments and feedback, the $100 TP-Link Archer C7 (v2) is the router we recommend for most people right now. This dual-band, three-stream wireless-ac router usually costs between $80 and $100—the same price as many older, slower routers. But unlike those slower routers, the C7 supports the fastest connections of every major device you can buy today.

    We compared the Archer C7 against 21 different routers over a 10-month testing period. On most of our tests, the Archer C7 was the fastest—outperforming routers that cost twice as much. You won't find a better-performing router than the Archer C7 for less, and you'll have to spend a lot more money to get a better one.

    The Best Mirrorless Camera for Beginners

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article here.

    After 60 hours of research and 25 hours of testing, we found the $600 Sony a5100 is the best mirrorless camera for beginners. It stands out from the dozens of competitors we considered by delivering superior photo quality while being easier to use right out of the box thanks to simple menus and controls. Plus, it offers enough flexibility to keep up with a new photographer's developing skills.

    The Sony a5100 takes photos as well as cameras that go for hundreds more by employing a sensor that rivals DSLRs.

    How we decided

    We looked over the entire range of mirrorless cameras currently available for less than $600 and narrowed the field down to four final candidates for hands-on testing: the $550 Olympus E-PL7, Samsung's $400 NX3000, the $500 Panasonic GF7 and the Sony a5100. We toted them around everywhere to see how they performed in the situations most novice shooters find challenging, putting each camera's autofocus, low light and flash capabilities to the test.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Mounting Action Cameras

    I've been attaching small digital video cameras to my RC vehicles for several years. I started with one of the original Flip cameras--remember those? Since then, cameras have shrunken in size and grown in ability. My knack for successfully utilizing on-board cameras has similarly improved. In this guide, I will share some of the lessons I've learned over the years.

    Although I can utilize the same mounts for both cameras, the weight and frontal area of the GoPro Hero 3 and Mobius are very different, making them suited for different applications.

    The Camera Equipment

    My current cameras for onboard filming are a GoPro Hero 3 Black, a wide-angle Mobius action camera, and a Mobius with the standard lens. The wide-angle Mobius gets much more use than the other two. Its small size (2.4"x1.4"x.7"), bantam weight (1.4 oz), and good video performance make it applicable to a wide range of RC applications. The camera's $80 price tag also makes me more willing to strap it to a fast-moving object, as opposed to the much more costly GoPro.

    There are times, however, when I want the image quality that only a GoPro can provide. When the Hero 3 is locked in its housing, it is more than three times the weight of the Mobius and has about four times the frontal area (aerodynamic drag). I just have to be more selective with the vehicles that I choose for the GoPro. Not all of them can handle the extra burden gracefully. The new Hero 4 Session looks promising, with a weight (2.6 oz) and frontal area falling in the gap the between the Mobius and Hero 3. As soon as I can justify the expense, I'm sure I'll have a Session in my camera bag as well.

    Using a collection of GoPro mounts, nylon fasteners, and various homemade bits, I can attach a small video camera to nearly any RC vehicle.

    There are tons of mounting gadgets made for the GoPro. Between the parts made by GoPro, aftermarket mounting kits, and the simple foam/wood adapters that I've made myself, there are limitless options for mounting a GoPro to an RC vehicle.

    Mobius cameras include a plastic cradle with a 1/4-inch female insert on the bottom (the standard thread found on tripods). In my review of the Mobius, I explained how a simple modification of a GoPro pivot arm allows me to mount the smaller camera to any of the GoPro mounts--a handy, and much-used capability.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Recording Flight Data

    Last month, we covered the basics of RC telemetry systems – including how they work and why they're useful. Despite the apparent benefits, telemetry is not for every modeler or every RC aircraft. In fact, many hobbyists feel that only large, high-dollar models warrant the expense and added complexity of telemetry components. That opinion is debatable, but there are alternatives for those who would like the benefits of in-flight performance data without the overhead of telemetry. One way is to use a GPS recorder.

    Modelers often wonder how fast their airplane can fly or how far it travels during a flight. A GPS logger can answer these questions without the need for a real-time telemetry system.

    There are numerous GPS recording devices available, and many are tailored for the demands of specific activities such as hiking or driving. The Hobbico Big 5 GPS Meter ($90) is intended for use in RC airplanes. It collects time, location, altitude (present and peak values), and speed (present/average/peak) data. Following a flight, you can scroll to read selected parameters on the Big 5's LCD screen. Or, you can upload the data to a computer and plot out the entire flight on Google Earth.

    The Unit

    The Big 5 unit measures 2.56" x 1.57" x 0.82" (65mm x 40mm x 21mm) and weighs 1.4 ounces (40 gr). To invoke a common yardstick, it is very nearly the same physical size as a GoPro Hero 3 (but lighter). This size and weight make the Big 5 unit compatible with a wide array of RC airplanes. I'd say that most models weighing at least 12 ounces are fair game.

    Power for the Big 5 comes from a built in 200mAh LiPo battery that is recharged via USB. You can expect up to 150 minutes of operating time. This is adequate for any RC application that I can think of. It may fall short, however, if you want to repurpose the Big 5 for something else, such as a long bike ride. In any event, you can operate the unit with external power via the USB port or the 3-pin RC-style plug.

    The Hobbico Big 5 is a GPS recording device created specifically for use in RC airplanes.

    Up to six hours of data can be saved to the built-in flash memory. There is no provision to expand the storage capacity.

    This GPS unit can be attached to your model using whatever method you like. I use self-adhesive Velcro. The prime consideration when mounting the device is to avoid placing it such that electrically conductive material (metals, carbon fiber) are blocking the signal path up to the orbiting GPS satellites. You will also want to ensure that the Big 5 does not upset the model's center of gravity.

    The Best Bluetooth Keyboard

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article here .

    After testing 20 Bluetooth keyboards with a four-person panel, and using our favorites for months of daily work, we found the Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard K810/K811 (Windows/Mac) is the best Bluetooth keyboard for most. The Easy-Switch has a rechargeable battery that lasts a few weeks to several months, and is able to instantly switch between three devices, a feature the competition universally lacked. At $100 it's expensive for a keyboard, but no other Bluetooth option comes close to matching the Easy Switch's versatility, comfort, and features.

    The Logitech's concave keys comfortably cup your fingers.

    Who is this for?

    A Bluetooth keyboard is a great option if you need a keyboard that can connect to any device—desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, television. If you have a keyboard that you're happy with, and you only need to use it with a computer, or don't mind sacrificing a USB port, then you don't need to upgrade.

    The Best Voice Recorder

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article here.

    After 36 hours of research, testing eight different devices in a number of real-world settings and then playing the audio we collected to a four-person blind listening panel to evaluate its sound quality, we've determined that the best audio recorder for taping meetings, lectures, and interviews is the $100 Sony ICD-UX533. It recorded the most intelligible and truest-to-life sound clips of all the recorders we tested. It's easily pocketable and its intuitive, easy-to-press function buttons combined with a legible, backlit screen gave it the best user interface out of all the models in our test group.

    Who is this for?

    If you want to record a lecture, meeting, or interview, this pick is for you. It's ideal for students, radio journalists, and anyone who needs to record meetings for future reference. On the other hand, if you're a musician, a professional podcaster, a radio journalist or if you belong to some other profession that requires the use of a high-quality audio recorder on a regular basis, this pick isn't for you.