Quantcast
Latest StoriesHow-To
    The Best Wireless IP Camera Today

    After 20 hours of researching, interviewing experts, and testing, I found the Dropcam Pro to be the best wireless IP camera for most people. Though it's not an all-encompassing security solution, the $200 Dropcam Pro hits the sweet spot for those looking for a basic piece of monitoring kit that’s easy to set up and use indoors. In addition, the latest Dropcam has a robust set of improvements over the previous Dropcam, including better image quality at 1080p, a 130-degree field of view, a new zoom function that lets you focus with clarity on a particular area, and even better night vision. Oh, and it will soon communicate with other smart devices in your home.

    Who should get this?

    If home security is your primary reason to get a network camera, Dropcam is not for you…

    If you’re looking to check in periodically on your home, pet, business or tiny human being with the best possible picture quality, and you’re interested in the burgeoning connected/smart home market, then the Dropcam Pro is for you. This is not, however, for the security buff or those looking for wired IP camera networks or full CCTV systems. It also doesn’t tie into connected home security systems (like our pick, FrontPoint Interactive), which typically use Z-Wave or Zigbee-compatible security cameras. And, of course, it can’t see anything if the power or Wi-Fi goes out. If home security is your primary reason to get a network camera, Dropcam is not for you—instead consider, you know, a home security system.

    This is geared towards those wanting a basic monitoring system that’s easy to use, set up, and monitor from anywhere. There’s no need to run Ethernet cables, figure out your IP address or configure your firewall. You don’t have to worry about setting up a home server or swapping memory cards to record and view footage either because it’s all done in the cloud. Just set it and forget it.

    If you would prefer a more tinker-friendly setup and are willing to put in the effort, that’s cool too, but we think most people are better served by an easier-to-use, all-inclusive package. That said, we did look at a few less-user-friendly options and you can read our takes on them in the competition section.

    Bits to Atoms: Your 3D Printing Software Options

    When you first get a 3D printer, the immediate reaction is to print something awesome. But if you don't have a lot of experience with 3D modeling, where are you going to find the files to print? Fortunately, there is a massive amount of free 3D models that you can download and print at home, in repositories like Thingiverse. And in fact, MakerBot and others have already dipped their toes into selling models to download and print in their own marketplaces.

    But there's something extremely satisfying about printing a creation of your own design. Unfortunately, 3D modeling has traditionally required expensive and intimidating software that requires a relatively steep learning curve. It's not as easy as LEGO. The good news is that with the 3D printing boom there are suddenly a lot more accessible options and most of them are free! There is still a lot of learning to do so let's get you started down the path.

    There are quite a few software choices available to create your own 3D models, the trick is finding the one that works for you. When it comes to creating three-dimensional objects digitally there are two main choices: CAD and polygon modelers.

    The Art of Photogrammetry: How To Take Your Photos

    Last week, we introduced you to the concept of photogrammetry--using a series of photo images to computationally map a 3D model or space. We discussed the current state of photogrammetry, including what software is available for consumers and what kind of hardware you need. Turns out, photogrammetry is pretty accessible, and you can do a lot even with free tools like Autodesk's 123D Catch and your smartphone camera. Of course, more advanced software, more processing power, and better camera equipment can go a long way to improving your models. But so can the simple act of taking better source photos. Today, I'm going to give you some tips about how to best take your photogrammetry photos to give that computing software the best references to output a clean(ish) 3D mesh.

    By far, the biggest impact on the final output file is what happens in the shooting phase. In fact, it is usually easier to reshoot a new series of source photos of your subject then try to save a computed capture that’s not working right away. Take some time, think, try to visualize the computer aligning your photos. Try to think of angles you have missed. When you are done shooting, I recommend loading up the images and see how well the images align as soon as possible. If certain images are off or are confusing the software, re-shoot them while you still have access to your subject. It may be necessary to reshoot multiple times for one model.

    Ideal Conditions for Photogrammetry Software

    This part isn't too complicated. Your software will want a nice, clean, sharp, evenly lit image, with every surface of your subject visible from three or more angles. The software will also like a good amount of parallax (different positions and angles) between those images to do its calculation. And it'll really be happy if undesired parts of the image, not part of the subject, are masked off, either with a green screen or in an image editor.

    Sounds simple, right? Well that's because it's easier to explain what photogrammetry software likes by giving you examples of what kind of imagery it doesn't like. That's because a lot of photography flourishes--depth of field, dramatic lighting, wide-angle distortion, etc.--are actually counter-productive to the task of photogrammetry. Below, I'll go in-depth through the image qualities that will confuse your software and produce bad models.

    How To Use the Xposed Framework for Android

    There are a lot of things you can do with root access on an Android phone, but many users are eventually pushed to flashing a ROM for the ultimate in customization. Well, things have been changing a bit over the past year with the introduction and expansion of the Xposed framework. This tool makes customizing a device considerably easier without all that tedious flashing, but is Xposed all it's cracked up to be?

    Like with all things root, there are important things you need to know before you go wild tweaking every app and setting on your device. Let's explore the possibilities.

    Photo credit: Flickr user zallio via Creative Commons.

    What Is Xposed?

    Xposed isn't just another root app, though it comes in the form of an APK that you sideload on a rooted device. This simple action deploys the Xposed framework in your system directory. It reaches into the core components of Android and allows you to make changes that give you a ROM-like experience without leaving the stock software completely behind.

    Xposed uses modules, which themselves are also sideloaded on the device. You can think of these as feature packs -- chop up a ROM like Paranoid Android or CyanogenMod into its assorted components, and that's a bit like a module you would install for Xposed. If you want to alter the look of your notification shade, there are modules for that. Additional lock screen shortcuts? Yes, you can get a module for that too. The list goes on and on.

    The Xposed Framework has a frontend installer app that lists modules for download and allows you to enable and disable them as needed. There are also plenty you can grab online from places like the Xposed Repo and XDA. There are even some in Google Play. Most of the modules have their own settings UI that you can use to configure the tweaks they offer.

    The Best Surge Protector Today

    If I were recommending a surge protector for general home office or audio/video use, I’d suggest the APC Surgearrest 3020J. It offers best-in-class surge protection and enough outlets for almost any application. But depending on what you’re going to do with your surge protector—and even on where you live—another model may work better for you.

    We also liked the Belkin BG108000-04 Conserve, a close second in our surge protection tests. The Belkin comes with a wireless switch that lets you turn off 6 of its 8 outlets from up to 60 feet away. And if you want something more portable for travel, we discovered that our pick for best mini USB power strip (or alternatively, the Tripp-Lite SK120USB, which appears to be the same thing, but was in stock at the time of testing) also provides a respectable amount of surge protection for its size.

    Finally, if all you want is a couple of extra outlets and you don’t care to pay extra for outlet-access-maximizing design, we found that your typical $10 surge strip isn’t all that much worse than many of the fancier, more expensive models we tested when it came to clamping down on power surges.

    How To Get Started with Hobby RC Vehicles

    The hobby of radio-controlled (RC) cars, boats, and aircraft has long been a gravitational pull for inventive makers. In fact, being a do-it-yourselfer was a prerequisite in the early days of RC. Not only did you have to build your own vehicles, you had to build the radio equipment too! A lot has changed about RC since then, but it is still a great avenue for creative minds to put their vehicular ideas and designs into tangible form.

    This is the first of a series of articles that will serve to explain the basics of RC and illustrate the scope of its creative possibilities. I recognize that some of you may be completely new to the RC scene, so I’ll start out with the essential rudiments. Just like any other electronics-based industry, RC has seen enormous technological advancements in recent years. For that reason, even those of you with previous RC experience may want to tune in and see what’s new.

    My goal is to keep the first several guides focused on mainstream RC equipment and activities. Once everyone is up to speed on the basics, we’ll start to explore more diverse and advanced topics. Eventually, I’ll make some excursions to the lunatic fringe of RC (trust me; it’s a long, strange trip). I think you will be amazed by some of the unique things folks have come up with, and perhaps be inspired to create your own innovative designs.

    Toy-Grade vs. Hobby-Grade

    Before I dive in to explaining the different types of RC vehicles, I think it is important to make the distinction between toy-grade and hobby-grade RC stuff. You can expect just about any RC gadget purchased from Radio Shack or a big-box store (Target, Wal-Mart, etc.) to be a toy-grade item. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun (I own several), but such items are meant to be disposable. They are not designed to accept performance-enhancing hop-ups or customizations. When they break, you may or may not be able to get replacement parts to keep them going.

    Keith Sparks is an RC flyer who typically prefers realistic looking models. He even added a wing-walking Susan Sarandon (as Mary Beth) to his Curtiss Jenny model inspired by the movie “The Great Waldo Pepper”.

    Hobby-grade equipment will cost you more up front, but it will perform better and last longer. Obviously, a hobby shop is the place to go for these items. I still have my first RC plane, and it is in flyable condition. This poor airplane has been wrecked and repaired several times during its 30-year life of hard knocks, but the abuse isn’t evident from a casual glance. It has also been host to all sorts of radio gear and propulsion systems through the years. My collection also features several RC cars that are more than twenty years old and still going strong thanks to periodic maintenance and replacement parts when needed. This stuff is tough.

    My point is not to kick sand in the face of toy-grade RC stuff…it definitely has its place. The focus of this series, however, will be on hobby-grade items.

    The Best Point-and-Shoot Camera Under $500 Today

    The best $500 camera you can get isn’t actually a $500 camera—it’s a $550 camera that you can often get on sale. The original Sony RX100 mk I (also available at Overstock,Adorama, and B&H, whichever’s cheapest), is one of the greatest pocket cameras ever produced, surpassed only by its successor, the mk II, and will take higher quality pictures than anything else near this price. But if you can’t find it on sale and aren’t willing to wait, then the $450 Canon G16 does a pretty good job of keeping up.

    Approximately a year ago, we wrote an article about how the Sony RX100 is the best point-and-shoot camera for less than $1000. Everything we said in that write-up remains true, except that there’s now a better, newer version of that camera. But with a bit of hunting, you can now find the original RX100 for less than $500, and it’s by far the best around at that price, thanks to the biggest sensor in the business (which means low image noise, and lots of dynamic range) and a fast, f/1.8 aperture lens. And it’s still small enough to fit in your pocket.

    Photo credit: Flickr user 130miz via Creative Commons.

    But if you’re not having any luck tracking that one down, you can reliably get the Canon G16 for $450. It’s a bit bigger, the sensor’s a bit smaller, and the image quality isn’t quite as good. But in its favor, it has an (admittedly basic) optical viewfinder, WiFi capabilities, a flash hot-shoe, and a longer 5x zoom with a wider aperture across most of its range.

    Finally, if you want something that will fit in your jeans’ pocket, get the Panasonic LF1, which has similar quality to the vaunted Canon S-series but has a longer 7x zoom lens and built-in electronic viewfinder for eye-level shooting.

    Bits to Atoms: Making a MintyBoost USB Charger

    [Norm's note: Every other week, 3D printing expert (and Inventern competition champion!) Sean Charlesworth will share some of his insight and experience of 3D design and printing. He started last month discussing modern 3D printing technologies, and will alternate between those guides and walkthroughs of his past print projects to show applications of those tips. Here's the first project walkthrough.]

    I am a huge fan of Adafruit Industries, which was founded right here in NYC by MIT engineer, Limor ‘Ladyada’ Fried and is a supplier of great DIY electronics projects and an excellent source of information. Adafruit hand-picks quality electronic components, designs their own boards and kits and has an amazing tutorial section. I am no electronics wiz and have managed to put together some pretty cool stuff with their guidance. I love this place.

    One of Adafruit’s first kits was the MintyBoost USB charger which you solder together yourself, runs off of two AA batteries and fits in an Altoids mint tin. Throw one in your bag and they are super handy when you need an emergency phone charge. It’s worth the looks you get when plugging your phone into an Altoids tin. I’ve built five of these and from those builds thought of two improvements I wanted to make. The first problem was if the batteries were left in for an extended period of time they would eventually discharge to the point that they would leak and I killed two MintyBoosts this way. The second thing I wanted was enough room in the case to fit a small charge cable, so I decided to design and 3D print my own enclosure.

    Today I'm going to show you how I approached this project and printed this custom MintyBoost charge pack.

    I've Got a Plan

    To solve the battery meltdown problem, I decided to install a switch to completely cut power when not in use. I found a small switch at RadioShack (yes, some still have electronics parts) and the perfect short USB cable from Newegg. With these in hand, the first task was to build stand-ins for the all the parts so I could layout the box. I measured everything with calipers and used simple shapes to represent the greenboard, batteries, switch and cable and screws. I could shuffle these around to determine the best layout.

    The Best Ways to Watch Your Video Files on Android

    Android has come a long way with its managing and playing your personal video files. Of course, it was always a preferable experience to other platforms that lacked user-accessible file systems all together. With web technologies and apps advancing nonstop, what's it like watching video on Android these days? Well, it's pretty good, especially now that the Chromecast is in the mix.

    Let's take a look at the various methods of watching video on Android and figure out what makes sense for you.

    Ideal Video Formats

    Android devices have various levels of video codec support. For example, Samsung phones usually know how to decode files encoded in all sorts of formats like DivX, Windows Media, and MPEG4. The thing to be aware of here is that most of these formats are being decided in software. It's the same as if you install a third-party video player that is capable of decoding these files. It's basically using the CPU to do all the work of playing the file.

    The quality you get with this approach is probably going to be fine. The thing you have to watch out for is battery life. This is more of a concern with phones than tablets, which usually have juice to spare. A video that is encoded with H.264 (usually in a .MOV or .MP4 wrapper) has special status on a mobile device. There is hardware support for deciding this type of video, which is much more efficient when it comes to battery life.

    So the first decision you have to make is whether or not you're going to bother with re-encoding all your video to H.264. Luckily, this format has become considerably more common, so hopefully you won't have many AVIs sitting around. If you are in that unenviable situation, converting with Handbrake is a good idea. It has a handy automatic setting for Android phones and tablets, so all the work is done for you. When ripping your media, H.264 is the way to go -- it's just easier in the long run.

    How to Get Started with Circuits and Electronics

    As you get started building projects with electronic components like Arduino, you can make some progress without knowing much about electricity and circuits. By following online guides you can attach sensors, displays and motors to an Arduino or other microcontroller, without fully understanding what it is you’re actually doing. However, if you want to get past the beginner stage, and start making exciting, custom projects, you’re going to have to start to learn the basics of electrical engineering.

    If you've ever encountered online discussions about circuitry, the prospect of joining in might seem pretty daunting—there’s a lot of jargon, a lot of arcane symbols, and a lot of math. And, truthfully, it’s a complex topic, with a lot to learn. Fortunately, you don’t have to jump into the deep end all at once. In this starter guide, I’m going to cover the most basic principles of circuit-building, with just enough detail to get you ready to build and understand some simple circuits of your own.

    First, I’m going to cover a few topics that you have to understand, then I’ll describe how to use these concepts to build a simple circuit with Arduino.

    What is a Circuit?

    There’s a lot of very interesting science about how, exactly, electricity works, but for a practical understanding of simple electrical circuits, you don’t need to get into the really low-level stuff. The thing that you need to understand is simply that electrical charge flows through conductors, like wires, and through all sorts of electrical components, having various effects on those components as they flow through them. A simple electrical component is a light bulb—the effect of an electrical charge flowing through a light bulb is that the bulb lights up. If your various wire and components are hooked up so that they form a loop—so that the electrical current can keep flowing around and around—you've created a circuit.

    The Best Budget Laptop Today

    If I had to buy a Windows laptop for $600 or less, I'd get the ~$550 configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 or something very similar. But first I'd think long and hard about whether I needed a full-sized Windows laptop at all.

    Who Should(n’t) Buy This?

    If you have regular access to a full Windows or Mac computer and want a secondary machine for web browsing, email, and basic document editing (i.e. something more than a tablet but less than a full-sized Windows computer), don’t buy a $600 Windows laptop as your secondary machine. Consider a $250 Chromebook or a $400 Windows convertible tablet instead. Neither can do quite as much as a full Windows laptop, but they often give a better experience in the things they do than a more expensive general-use machine.

    But if you do need a real computer—if this is your primary, do-everything computer—and you need the best all-around thing you can get for under $600, you should get something like the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14.

    Our Pick

    We like the $550 configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 (listed on Lenovo’s site as the “Flex14-59393810“). It’s not perfect, but for its price it hits “pretty good” levels in a lot of important areas while managing to avoid deal-breaking flaws. It is powerful enough for day-to-day tasks, portable enough to bring with you without breaking your back, and has enough battery power to last all day. It also has a hinge that bends back around 300 degrees, just in case you wanted to use it like that.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (January 2014)

    The news never stops rolling in when it comes to Android. With so many different companies and business interests affecting the device ecosystem, things can change from one week to the next. That's why you need to be careful when the time comes to get a new phone. It's a big investment that you want to last you at least until the next great device shows up. Just like we do every month, it's time to look back at the recent history of Android and see what you should get on each of the big US carriers.

    The Elephant in the Room

    Okay, let's talk about the Moto X really quick. Yes, Google sold Motorola to Lenovo, and that's kind of a bummer, I guess. I'm personally a little worried about how Motorola is going to work going forward, but the Moto X is still one of the best phones I've ever used. Let's not get carried away and condemn the phone before anything has happened. So, I'm going to stick to the facts here and talk about the Moto X as it currently exists, not speculate endlessly on what the sale might mean for Motorola in a year or two.

    Lifehacks To Make Your Job Easier

    Work – it’s tough on a body. But even though you’re stuck at a desk for eight hours a day, there are things you can do to make things more pleasurable and efficient. And you can even use science to do it. Here are ten lifehacks that will make your job easier.

    The Zoidberg Project, Part 7: Sculpting the Details

    A lot of sculptors I know agree that the major shapes and forms of a sculpt are more important than the smaller details. You have to get the macro design right before you work on the micro. I think about sculptors like Henry Alvarez who did a ton of the sculptures for Rob Bottin back in the day. If you look at Henry's sculpt of the Darkness makeup from the movie Legend, there is practically no texture or fine detail. It's all about the forms. But like with other aspects of art, poor finishing can ruin a sculpture.

    The good news is that I have the form of Zoidberg pretty well-figured out. I landed at more of a smooth and cartoony interpretation of the character than some of the more intricate or monster-y designs that I dug up as reference and inspiration. I'm still trying to incorporate some natural human and animal anatomy--always thinking about that bone, cartilage, or muscle structures might be going on underneath the “skin” of the sculpt.

    In some of my photos from past updates, you can see a line carved down the middle of his face--this helps to keep things symmetrical. It's sometimes difficult to notice if I'm sculpting one side lower or heavier than the other, and I tend to favor my left side (the sculpture’s right side) because I'm predominantly left-handed. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to sculpt and paint ambidextrously, but I still favor my left. Once I get the forms raked out and uniform between those sides, I want to start smoothing out the surface. This happens in a few steps. First I’ll start with larger rakes and move to smaller rakes, eventually moving down to a scotchbrite pad.Then maybe I’ll apply a little bit of naphtha with the scotchbrite pad to get it very smoothed out, or at least good enough for the next step.

    In terms of sculpting, I often get asked about what solvents to use with clay. I spoke about WED clay when I was making the arm sculptures, and the solvent for that clay is water (since it's a water based clay). When I use Chavant, Kleen Klay, or Roma (which are oil-based clays), I will use 99% alcohol as the solvent. And with Monster Clay, which is technically an oil-based clay, but much more like a wax, I use naphtha.

    Solvents should be used sparingly, though. When I was starting out, I had the tendency to slurry up all of my sculptures and just scrub everything down. But as I became more aware of my sculpting technique, I use the solvents much less, or only to achieve certain finishes. Sometimes you have to just let the clay do what the clay is going to do.

    The Best Indoor HDTV Antenna (For Cities) Today

    According to our tests, the HD Frequency Cable Cutter is the best-performing indoor antenna you can buy if you live in the thick of a city. It outperformed 12 other models in midtown Manhattan as part of a test pool that included both amped and unamped antennas.

    In Manhattan, the unamped Cable Cutter pulled in the most stations with very little interference and offered a perfect-looking picture for many channels. The antenna also fared well in our follow-up tests in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area.

    However, it’s worth noting that the antenna didn’t perform well in our Brooklyn tests, where it finished near the bottom of the pack (although it performed decently in subsequent Chicago and Bay Area suburban tests). This antenna is also pretty big, costs $90 to $100, and doesn’t come with a stand.

    If you live more than 10 miles from a broadcast tower, have a ground-level unit, or care how your antenna looks in your living room, you should go with one of the better-amped models that also did well in our tests: the Mohu Curve 50 or the budget but high-performing Monoprice 7976 MDA Indoor/Outdoor Antenna With Low Noise Amplifier.

    The Trouble with Antenna Recommendations

    TV antennas are notoriously hard to recommend; a recent Consumer Reports roundup concluded that they couldn’t really rank antennas based on performance.

    You might be best off trying the cheapest antenna and then upgrading to our higher-priced recommendation if the cheapie isn’t up to snuff.

    That’s because there are a lot of variables to consider: how close you are to a broadcast tower, which direction your window is facing, how many tall buildings are between you and the transmitter, what the terrain is like in your immediate environment, which stations are most important to you, how much you’re willing to spend, and whether you care what the antenna looks like. When you throw in the unpredictable performance variations between locations, it’s nearly impossible to come up with a “one size fits all” pick.

    We knew all this going into our tests, but that’s exactly why we wanted to take on the challenge. So while we recommend the Cable Cutter and the two alternate picks for city-dwelling folks, be prepared to experience very different results in your own location. You might be best off trying the cheapest antenna you can find, seeing how it performs, and then upgrading to our higher-priced recommended models if the cheapie isn’t up to snuff.

    The Best Bluetooth On-Ear or Over-Ear Headphones

    If I really needed a pair of Bluetooth headphones, I’d get the Jabra REVOs (also available from Apple), which (currently) carry an average price tag but have better build and sound quality than your average Bluetooth headphones. However, as relatively good as they are compared to peers, you can get better wired headphones for a lot less. Unless you really need wireless capabilities, you’re better off with traditional headphones.

    After researching extensively, considering 50 pairs and testing the best-reviewed 16, our panel of experts all agreed they liked our pick. Not only did the REVOs sound great, they were comfortable and built to last, and they have some really nice extra features: NFC pairing, cool touch controls, a cord with a remote and mic, a free app that allows you to tweak the EQ, and a helpful voice prompt that talks you through pairing.

    How Did We Pick a Winner?

    First, I interviewed a number of experts. However, many headphone enthusiasts are loath to use/recommend Bluetooth headphones because of the audio quality and cost. In fact, one well-known reviewer replied to my inquiries with a simple “Sorry, I’m no fan of BT.” That was the entire email. Another reviewer, Tyll Hertsens of Innerfidelity, could only recommend one pair of Bluetooth headphones. As a result, identifying a pool of headphones to test was an uphill battle.

    I then took to user reviews on Amazon, Best Buy, CNET, Crutchfield and more to see what real people had liked. From there, I looked to see what was new on the market and untested; based on that list, I came up with 16 that looked the most promising and called them in to put them through their paces.

    Each of the panelists…spent several hours pairing, listening…and then selecting their top three.

    We then brought in a faceoff panel consisting ofGeoff Morrison, A/V Editor for the Wirecutter and writer for CNET, Forbes, and many other AV magazines; John Higgins, a session musician and music/audio teacher at The Windward School, and me, Lauren Dragan, a writer for Wirecutter and Sound&Vision and a professional voice actor with a dual bachelors degree in music and audio production.

    Each of the panelists brought their own device and music selections and spent several hours pairing, listening, adding the cord, listening again and then selecting their top three. After I took into account price and features, we had a clear winner.

    The Best Gear for The New Year

    After the caloric free-for-alls of Thanksgiving and Christmas, how many of us resolve to be more fit on New Year's Eve? Don’t worry, we’re not trying to pile on the guilt. But we try to prioritize fitness and stress-reduction in our personal lives here at the Wirecutter and the Sweethome, and the new year is a great time to hit the reset button.

    Think of fitness as an investment in the rest of your life and the lives of your loved ones. Even a bit of weight loss and as little as 75 minutes of activity every week can prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S.

    Good health is free to maintain and difficult to “buy” back once it’s gone. But it also just makes the rest of your life more enjoyable. Although just acquiring this gear isn’t enough to get you in shape, having the right stuff can make the process more convenient and fun.

    The Best Instant Camera Today

    With a smartphone, showing a photo to hundreds of your followers is as easy as pressing the share button. But if you want to create something tangible and more exclusive to share with those close to you, an instant film camera can add a fun and welcome dose of analog charm to your digital world. The best instant film camera we’ve found is the $93 Fujifilm Instax Mini 50S.

    What Is an Instant Camera?

    Instant cameras use packs of film emulsion that include all the chemical developers and substrates needed to print a photographic image within minutes of pressing the shutter button. Each film pack includes the negative to capture the image and the positive paper needed to produce the finished print.

    As the print emerges from the camera, the development process begins. Soon, a blank sheet turns into a color photograph.

    As the print emerges from the camera, the development process begins. Soon, a blank sheet turns into a color photograph. Film packs come in bundles of 10 exposures and the cameras have countdown windows that let you know how many shots are left before you’ll need to swap in a new pack.

    Referred to most commonly as a “Polaroid” (after the company that popularized the technology) the instant camera foreshadowed some of the convenience that digital cameras would later bring. With an instant camera you could see your photograph within minutes of taking a picture instead of having to take a roll of film to the lab and wait for it to be developed.

    Although digital cameras have made the instant camera obsolete in almost every way, there is an undeniable charm and whimsy to pressing the shutter button and having a physical print emerge from the camera, watching an image develop right before your very eyes. Even for a photographer like myself who remembers spending hours in the darkroom, the whole process still feels like magic. No, you won’t get the brilliant colors and wide range of highlight and shadow tones that even an entry-level digital camera can offer, but each print is a one-of-a-kind memento that can be physically passed around and shared in a face-to-face, rather than virtual, environment.

    6 Android Projects to Try This Holiday Break

    No matter which Android device you've chosen as your daily driver, it's jam packed with a variety of neat features. However, if you've got a little time this holiday season and curiosity to tinker, you can expand on the stock functionality or even completely change the experience. With many folks getting new Android phones and tablets over this holiday break, what better way to spend that free time than embarking on an Android project or two? Here are some tweaks that you shouldn't be afraid to try out. And don't worry, nothing's permanent!

    Get the Google Experience Launcher

    Let's start off slow with an easy one. If you're not looking to get your hands too dirty, but you still want to try something new on your device, install the still semi-secret Google Experience Launcher. It only takes a few minutes and it should work on almost every Android phone and tablet out there.

    It's more or less common knowledge now that Google is readying a new home screen launcher for Android devices, and it's probably already on your phone. The Google Search app, which started as just a quick search box, became a full app, then evolved into Google Now, is also a launcher these days. To access the Google Experience Launcher in your search app, you'll need to get the GEL stub app and install it on your phone or tablet.

    Make sure Unknown Sources is enabled in your device's security settings, then download the APK linked above. After it is installed, your device will ask you which home screen you want to use, just like installing any number of third-party launchers. The difference here is that updates to the Google Search app through the Play Store will actually tweak your home screen.

    This is a work in process -- in fact, Google just recently made some major changes to GEL on tablets. You're seeing the bleeding edge of Android if you sideload the Google Experience Launcher, and making your home there is a fun and low-risk project.

    Which Headphones Should I Get?

    As The Wirecutter’s resident headphone tester and an audio engineer by training, I hear a lot of the same questions over and over again. Like: “How much should I spend on headphones?” and “Are Beats By Dre good?” and “What’s the difference between in-ear and over-ear headphones?” Let me answer these questions for you.

    Why Should I Buy In-Ear Headphones?

    In-ear headphones are portable, help seal out the noises around you and are light for wearing during a commute, a workout, or really any activity that involves moving around. This is in comparison to over-ears, which are much bulkier and heavier, and which take up more space in your bag. Buy in-ears if you are someone who likes music on-the-go and don’t mind having things inside of your ear canal for more than a few minutes. What you give up versus over-ear headphones is sound quality in any price range, as it is harder to make things both smaller and sound as good.

    Whay Should I Buy Over-Ear Headphones?

    Over-ear headphones are made for more prolonged, often stationary listening.

    Let me begin by saying that some people just dislike the feeling of in-ear headphones. If that’s you, problem solved. Get yourself some over-ears. Over-ear headphones are made for more prolonged, often stationary listening. They’re bulkier than their in-ear counterparts, and carrying case or no, they’re still going to take up much more precious bag space. In-ears and (closed back) over-ears solve the same problem in a different way. In-ears seal out external sounds from the inside, over-ears seal out external noise by covering the ear from the outside.

    A word about sound quality. Not too long ago, the argument would be made that in-ears simply could not reproduce the same sound quality as over-ears. And to be fair, it is definitely more difficult to make drivers small enough and delicate enough to make for a similar listening experience. In more recent years, the technology has gotten better; you can get in-ears that rival over-ears in terms of sound quality. However, be prepared to pay for it. Conversely, one could argue that you can get better sound quality for less money when investing in over-ear headphones as compared to in-ear headphones.