Latest StoriesHow-To
    The Best Alternative Home Screen Apps on Android

    From the earliest days of Android, alternative home screens have been one of the most interesting app categories. So much of what you do on your phone starts with the launcher, and Android let's you completely change it. The top replacement home screens have changed a lot over the years with old classics like Launcher Pro falling into disrepair. At the same time, new home screens like Nova appear in the Play Store to fill in the gaps. Let's take a look at the top Android home screens and see what they offer.

    Nova Launcher

    Nova is considered by many to be the most customizable and fully fleshed out launcher for Android. It's a true chameleon among launchers that can be made to look almost any way you want with an intimidatingly long list of features. Once you get acclimated to Nova, you'll probably find a lot to like here.

    I think Nova probably adheres the best to Android ever-changing design guidelines. As soon as Google has a new quirk, Nova is updated with a matching option. And it usually is an option. Almost every visual element in Nova can be tweaked to your heart's content. There are dozens of ways to display folders, a ton of home screen scrolling effects, at least 15 or 20 ways to display the Google search bar, and that's just scratching the surface.

    Some of the distinctive features in Nova include an automated night mode that makes most of the launcher less hard on your eyes, an extremely comprehensive gesture system that lets you operate almost every function with a swipe, and icon scaling that makes oddly sized icons fit in with everything else. I'm particularly impressed with how accurate the icon scaling is. Nova's gestures are cool too, but they can make you phone almost completely unusable for someone else. If you control everything with a gesture, no one will know where anything is. Maybe you want that, though?

    Because Google has not opened the search features up, you won't get easy access to Google Now. The closest you can get is opening the search app with a gesture. Nova Launcher is free to try with a limited feature set, and you can upgrade to the full version for $4.99.

    How To Slush Cast a Prop Helmet

    This week's special project is all about casting! We're in Frank's shop to show you how to create a hollow resin cast of a helmet using slush casting. Here's how slush casting compares to other methods, a demonstration of the full process, as well as tips for your own projects!

    Shop Tips: Respirators vs. Dust Masks

    This week, Frank explains the difference between a dust mask and a respirator, and shows us the proper way to put them on. It's a simple yet essential tip--safety never takes a vacation! Post your own shop tips in the comments below!

    How To Create Custom Fasteners for RC Projects

    My time as an engineer in the aerospace business taught me that using the right fasteners can have a huge impact to the functionality and serviceability of an item. Sure, a common pan head machine screw will work to hold an access panel in place. But using a custom screw with an oversized Rosette head allows an astronaut in a spacesuit to quickly remove the panel without tools. I'm sure you can imagine what a tremendous advantage that is.

    I often find that specialized hardware can provide similar benefits with my RC projects. The main difference boils down to a question of availability. If the specialty fastener that I want is even manufactured, it is usually prohibitively expensive or is only sold in large quantities. Other times, I need a special fastener "right now". Ordering online or even driving to the hardware store just won't cut it. More often than not, I end up making my own specialty fasteners by modifying common nuts and bolts that I already have in my workshop.

    Making a thumb screw out of a Phillips head screw requires purposeful cutting of a plastic tab.

    In this article, I will illustrate my techniques for creating three different types of custom fasteners.

    Thumb Screws

    Whether I'm going on a week-long vacation or just an afternoon trip to the flying field, I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to packing. I take only the bare essentials and try not to weigh myself down with accoutrements to deal with "what if" scenarios. This probably means that I'll be among the first to succumb to a zombie apocalypse. Until that brain-eating day, I'll live happily unencumbered.

    Translating my streamlined packing approach to RC means that I aim to carry very few tools with me. If a specialty fastener lets me do a job without tools, then I'm game. That's why I often find myself turning normal screws into thumb screws. If you're not familiar with thumb screws, they are fasteners that are designed to be turned by hand rather than with tools. Thumbs screws are super-convenient as long as you don't have high torque requirements…which I almost never do for RC applications.

    Transforming a slotted screw into a thumb screw is often as easy as gluing a scrap piece of plastic into the slot.

    Converting a common slotted machine screw into a thumb screw is very easy. You just make an appropriately-sized tab out of scrap material and glue it into the slot of the screw. The tab becomes your grip for turning the screw. I have a sheet of 1/32"-thick Kydex plastic that I typically use to make tabs. I have also used craft sticks, thin plywood and scrap aluminum for the same job. You're bound to have something that will work. GOOP adhesive is great for gluing the tab to the slot.

    How to Paint a Latex Zombie Mask!

    Frank walks us through the painting of this great latex zombie mask made by his friend Tim Shea. There are many different ways to paint it, and Frank shows us how to use rubber cement paint to bring out the sculpture's details and layer on a fun color scheme. (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Thanks to our members who've supported us. Learn more about memberships here.)

    Shop Tips: Mixing Superglue and Baby Powder

    This week, Frank teaches us a tip he learned while working for toy companies. By mixing different amounts of superglue and baby powder, you can make a putty that can be used to patch resin castings, almost like makeshift body filler!

    The Best Android Smartphones for Your Network (June 2016)

    There have already been some big device launches this year, and several of 2015's Android flagships are starting to get a bit long in the tooth. So, what are you supposed to do if the time has come to upgrade? You can get something a bit older that costs a bit less and appeals to you more, or pick up the latest and greatest. And of course, there's always something big just around the corner. Let's get the lay of the Android land.

    Carrier Phones

    On the carrier side, I think there are only two devices to seriously consider; the Galaxy S7 and the HTC 10. If you're on AT&T, that decision is even easier, which I'll get to shortly. First, the Galaxy S7 has some strong points regardless of the carrier you're on.

    Samsung is using a metal and glass unibody design for the GS7, which feels extremely solid. However, you will collect fingerprints like mad and you could damage the body of the phone if you drop it. The designers took an unusual step this year. Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker than the GS6 so the camera hump is flush with the back, and there's more room inside for a bigger battery. The glass panel on the back also has curved edges to make it more comfortable in your hand.

    The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery, and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. Both phones are also water resistant, which is a feature Samsung dropped from the GS6. There's also a microSD card slot in these phones, another improvement over the Galaxy S6, but it doesn't support adoptable storage in Android 6.0.

    The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have new Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. The Edge, of course, has a screen that curves down on the left and right edge. The Edge phone does look very nice, but it's not as comfortable to hold thanks to the larger size and narrower metal band around the perimeter due to the Edge screen. None of the software features that are supposed to take advantage of the Edge display really do anything special. Most of them would work on the regular phone too. It's just an arbitrary attempt to justify the design.

    Tested Builds: Foam Propmaking, Part 5

    We finish this week's build by painting our foam weapons and adding some leather handles. They turned out wonderfully! Thanks to Bill Doran for coming by our office to give us this tutorial, and thanks to all of you for following along with the build. Hope you learned something! We'll be back next month with another fun week of building, so stay tuned!

    Avoiding RC Transmitter Switch Mistakes

    At the most recent meeting of my RC club, several pilots got into a discussion about the embarrassment of accidentally flipping the wrong switch on their radio transmitter. The consequences of this mistake ranged anywhere from scuffed paint to a full-bore crash into the turf. Given the complexity of modern radios and the forest of protruding switches, it's easy to understand how even a seasoned pilot could mistake one switch for another. It is even more understandable when you realize that many pilots are reluctant to take their eyes off of their aircraft. The myriad switches are often navigated purely by muscle memory and feel.

    Nearly everyone had a story to share about causing damage to a favorite model from an absent-minded switch throw. Most stories were followed by a description of what was done afterward to mitigate the risk of future mistakes. The majority of pilots chose to modify a critical switch in order to differentiate it from its neighbors.

    Modern RC transmitters are often complex. Hitting the wrong switch can cause an embarrassing and costly mishap.

    For many pilots, their target switch to modify is the one which activates retractable landing gear. Obviously, you want to be able to easily locate that switch so that you can safely lower the gear when it's time to come in for a landing. This is especially true if you're already dealing with an in-flight emergency such as a dead engine.

    Correct operation of the landing gear is also vital when the model is on the ground. One pilot relayed an incident where he intended to retract the wing flaps while taxiing his expensive jet model. He inadvertently hit the landing gear switch instead. As the landing gear tucked itself away, his jet belly-flopped onto the hard runway, causing considerable mechanical and cosmetic damage. Another flyer talked about the time he accidentally retracted a model's landing gear while the engine was warming up. His transgression ruined a very costly propeller.

    You want to be able to quickly identify switches by feel.

    Many multi-rotor models have switches that control flight modes and/or the 'return home' function. Changing either of those could fundamentally alter how the model responds to your control inputs. Correct positioning of the switch is vital.

    Whatever your hot-button (or two) may be, the intent of modifying the corresponding switch is the same. You want to be able to quickly identify that switch by feel so that you can move it when you need to and leave it alone when you don't. What follows are three proven methods to modify a critical switch.

    Tested Builds: Foam Propmaking, Part 1

    Welcome to a Tested week of builds! We're joined in the studio by prop and armor maker Bill Doran (Punished Props), who shares with us his techniques for making awesome foam weapons. Throughout the week, we'll be designing, fabricating, and painting foam props that can be used for cosplay! (This first video is available for everyone--watch the rest of the build by signing up with the Tested Premium member community!)

    Shop Tips: Save Your Silicone Pads

    We're back with another shop tip from Frank Ippolito's new shop space! This week, Frank explains why he saves silicone pads from the bottom of his mixing containers, and how those pads can be used for future projects. Post your own shop tips in the comments below!

    How To Fly Illuminated RC Models at Night

    The first time that I flew an RC plane at night, it was illuminated by a few chemical glow sticks that had been hastily taped in place. Unsure of success, I used an old model that wouldn't be missed if things went badly. It was a seat-of-the-pants, half-baked experiment by any measure. Looking back on that experience, it's hard to believe that the soft light of the glow sticks was adequate for me to see the model very well. Yet, the concept was sufficiently proven, and so began my still-active interest in night flying.

    The E-flite Brave is a newly-released ARF night flyer using foam construction. (photo courtesy of Horizon Hobby)

    These days, modelers can choose from a variety of very bright off-the-shelf lighting systems to illuminate their favorite airplane. There are also several Almost Ready to Fly (ARF) models with factory-installed lighting systems. Today, we'll take a look at some of the choices that are available for a moonlight stroll around the flying field.

    Lighting Choices

    The easiest method to make a model suitable for night flying is to add LED light strips. Many electric models already have a 12-volt power source for the lights. (photo courtesy of Hobbico)

    My use of glow sticks was limited to just a few experimental flights. I soon moved to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to brighten my night flyers. LEDs are ideal because they are adequately bright, very efficient, and they are available in a wide variety of colors. My initial experiences with LEDs required that I pair each diode with a resistor to establish the desired amperage. Setting up a simple model with a couple dozen LEDs required a little Ohm's Law and a lot of soldering.

    Before long, prefabricated strings of LEDs became available. These lights have the LEDs and resistors integrated together on a flexible strip with an adhesive backing. You just snip off the length of light strip that you want and attach a 12-volt DC power source. LED strips are not an RC-specific product. They have been embraced by the DIY crowd for custom PC cases, car accents, home theater lighting, and many other applications.

    While they are not the only lighting option available, LED light strips make the task of creating a night flyer a real no-brainer. Many electric-powered airplane models use a 3-cell Lithium-Polymer battery, which has 12.6 volts at full charge. It is a simple matter to tap into this battery to also power the lights.