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    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 2

    In the first installment of this series, I assembled most of the frame components of the Strider Mini Quad. I also installed and soldered the motors and ESCs. Although the flight controller was installed in the frame, it still required attachment of the various wires and configuration of the firmware within. Let’s focus on those tasks and keep moving.

    Plugging in the CC3D

    The flight controller is the nerve center of any multi-rotor. It takes your control inputs and the data from its onboard sensors and translates it all into commands for each of the ESCs. There are several different brands of flight controllers. Considering all that they do, most of these units are incredibly small. The flight controller I chose is the OpenPilot CC3D (CopterControl 3D), which fits perfectly on the Strider’s stock flight controller mount.


    From a wiring standpoint, the flight controller is situated between the radio receiver and the quad’s ESCs. First I attached the ESCs to the CC3D. The CC3D has a bank of pins that accept the standard receiver plugs found on most consumer RC equipment. The quad’s motors are numbered sequentially as you go clockwise, with the #1 motor being the front left. I attached the plug from this motor’s ESC to the #1 pins on the CC3D and then followed suit with the other ESCs.

    To connect the CC3D to my Futaba R617FS receiver, I used the 8-wire harness included with the flight controller. The colors of my wires didn’t match those on the OpenPilot diagram, so I just referenced the pin order. The first two pins are negative and positive power. The remaining pins are signals for channels 1-6 respectively.


    PPM (Pulse Position Modulation) receivers like the FrSky model shown in the Strider manual, and Sbus receivers like some Futaba models require only one signal wire for all of the channels. The R617FS is a standard PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) receiver. As such, it has three pins for each channel: positive, negative and signal. The positive and negative connections from the CC3D can be connected to any channel on the receiver. The signal wires must be connected to their assigned channels.

    In addition to the connections to the CC3D, I made a signal wire connection from the receiver to a pin on the Strider’s frame. This wire allows a 3-position switch on the transmitter to operate the Strider’s built-in LED lights, lost model alarm, and also toggle crosshairs in the OSD function. I used channel 7 for this, since it was already mapped to a 3-position switch on my Futaba 7C transmitter. By going this route, I did not need the channel 6 signal wire from the CC3D.

    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 1

    Racing quadrotors have captured the interest of a lot of people. They’re fast, nimble, and tough. Best of all, having a First Person View (FPV) system installed lets you get a sense of what it’s like to be onboard your speed machine. In the past, we’ve presented a video of Norm building a racing quad with the help of Carlos Puertolas (Charpu). We’ve also given you a buyer’s guide that outlined all the equipment you need for your own racing quad. This week, I’ve prepared a four-part series that will cover each aspect of getting a racing quad built and flight-tested:

    • Part 1: Frame Assembly
    • Part 2: Flight Controller Setup
    • Part 3: Configuring the FPV System
    • Part 4: Flight Testing and Tuning

    A friendly reminder: if you are new to multi-rotors, racing quads are a horrible place to start. Get yourself something a little more sedate to help you learn the basics. Once you’ve honed your flying skills, racing quads are much more practical and enjoyable.

    Frame Assembly

    The quad that I’ll be building for this series is a Strider Mini Quad provided by Red Rotor RC. The Strider is a 250mm-class ship with a carbon fiber frame. There are a few features on the Strider that negate purchasing some of the common components found on racing quads. The Power Distribution Board (PDB), lost-model alarm, and On-Screen Display (OSD) are all integrated into the frame itself. This saves you the cost of buying those components separately, as well as the hassle of installing them.


    Red Rotor provides an online assembly manual, so make sure you are using the latest version. In addition to what’s provided in the kit, you will need a few basic tools and supplies: metric Allen wrenches, zip ties, heatshrink tubing, soldering iron, etc…pretty basic stuff. To prepare for the build, I sorted all of the included hardware in a plastic ice tray. There are four different length screws in the kit and this helped me keep them all distinct.

    The first few steps of assembly are very straightforward. They involve fastening the bottom plate of the frame to the center plate. They’re simple assembly tasks with nuts, bolts and spacers. All of the parts lined up perfectly, so things progressed quickly.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Starter FPV Quadcopters

    I’ve written countless times that I think beginning multi-rotor pilots should learn the ropes with a small, inexpensive quad. More and more of those small quads are now being offered with built-in First Person View (FPV) systems. Although they’re not quite as inexpensive as their non-FPV cousins, they can do a little more. If flying via FPV is one of your goals in the hobby, these machines can serve two useful purposes:

    1. Provide a stress-free way to learn the basics of multi-rotor flight

    2. Provide a stress-free transition to the challenges introduced by going FPV

    Today, I will look at four FPV starter quads that take different paths to the FPV destination. My goal is not to rank these models, but rather to illustrate the choices that are available, so that you can decide what suits you. All of the models are available as complete ready-to-fly packages. Also, none of the included FPV systems require an amateur radio license for operation.


    For a few months, it looked as if FPV would soon become an illegal activity. The FAA made known that they intended to outlaw any form of FPV used by the pilot. More recent communications from the FAA have taken a much more relaxed stance, except in regard to over-the-horizon FPV activities. FPV is still legal as pending regulations are still being ironed out, yet the outlook for the future of FPV flying is once again promising. The uncertainty is moot with these indoor-oriented models, however, as indoor airspace is not regulated by the FAA. As long as you’re under a roof, you can fly FPV all you wish.

    The FPV “Problem”

    The first challenge posed by FPV is the limited situational awareness that it affords.

    Before introducing the models, I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the hurdles that I’ve faced while learning the nuances of FPV flight. I consider myself a fairly competent pilot, but there have been times that I was completely flummoxed by FPV. I wouldn’t say it’s like learning to fly all over again, but the transition has been tougher than I expected.

    The first challenge posed by FPV is the limited situational awareness that it affords. Your only perspective comes from a single camera. Having your camera on a gimbal with the ability to pan and/or tilt, helps somewhat, but those actions take time are a distraction from actually flying the vehicle. It’s like driving a car with no rearview mirrors…while wearing a neck brace.

    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.

    How we picked

    Wireless-ac, or IEEE 802.11ac, is the latest mainstream Wi-Fi version, and your new router should have wireless-ac. It's the new standard in many laptops, smartphones, and tablets from 2013 and later, including many of our recommendations at the Wirecutter. New MacBooks and high-end Windows laptops have wireless-ac, and so do almost all flagship smartphones from the past year: the iPhone 6, HTC One, Moto X, Samsung Galaxy S5, and more. Unless you go very cheap, your next gadget with Wi-Fi will probably have wireless-ac.

    Our Wi-Fi router pick is dual-band, which means it supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz signals—giving you a way to escape 2.4GHz wireless interference from your neighbors' Wi-Fi networks and giving you access to the much faster speeds of 5GHz wireless-ac. The vast majority of laptops, phones and tablets support one or two streams, but high-end laptops like the MacBook Pro support three. A three-stream wireless-ac router ensures that you're going to get the fastest connection on any device you own—or plan to buy in the near future.

    Any router you buy should be dual-band: a 2.4GHz band for wireless-n and earlier, and a 5GHz band for wireless-n and -ac (5GHz faster, but it can have worse range than 2.4GHz and not every device supports it).

    Milling Time: Testing the Othermill Desktop CNC Machine

    If you're familiar with 3D printing (you're reading Tested, chances are you're probably pretty familiar with the topic), it isn't too difficult to understand the basics of CNC milling. Instead of building up a form layer by layer, milling carves away from a block of stock material. Replace the plastic extruder of an FDM 3D printer with a high speed spindle turning a sharp cutting bit. CNC milling also requires CAD models of the desired form. And just like 3D printing, CNC mills have been moving from the workshop to the desktop. These machines have become affordable, small, and relatively easy to use.

    Milling--subtractive fabrication--is often louder, messier, and let's be honest, not nearly as “magical” as additive 3D printing. The results don’t have the same wow factor as a Yoda bust you can make with a basic 3D printer. But this process creates more accurate and durable parts from a much wider selection of materials.

    I’ve been testing several CNC mills for my work at NYU’s ITP program, and wanted to share some of my results. Some of these machines work right out of the box, some are kits (like the first home 3D printers). I’ll also discuss the difference between home mills and higher-end models designed for workshops, as well as my thoughts on the future of desktop milling. But this week, we’ll start off with a machine you may have seen on Tested before: the Othermill.

    The Best Portable Document Scanner

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

    If you’re looking to buy a scanner that lets you digitize all of your personal and business documents without taking up much desk space—and that is light enough to take on the road—the $255 Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i is the way to go. The S1300i offers the best combination of speed and accuracy when creating searchable PDF files. Plus, it comes with the most comprehensive and user-friendly scanning software of any of its competitors, allowing you to easily convert documents, receipts, and business cards into formats that can be read by word processing, financial, and contact management software.

    We came to this conclusion after more than 70 hours of research and hands-on testing, including analyzing scanned texts for accuracy over a variety of typefaces and font sizes. For more information on how we chose what to test, check out our full guide.

    RC Battery Guide: The Basics of Lithium-Polymer Batteries

    With appealing attributes such as low weight, high energy density, and ever greater discharge rates, Lithium-Polymer (LiPo) batteries have transformed all facets of RC. The emergence and continual improvement of these batteries has provided a significant performance boost for RC cars, boats, airplanes, and helicopters, while also paving the way for new vehicles such as multi-rotors. All of this electric goodness does not come without a cost. If not handled and utilized properly, LiPo batteries can quickly become damaged or even catch on fire. Today, I'm sharing some of the basic things you should know about making the most of LiPo batteries. I will also provide techniques to mitigate the risks that these batteries pose.


    Understanding the LiPo Lingo

    When talking about a LiPo, the primary characteristics to understand are the battery’s voltage and capacity. This is typically noted in a shorthand such as “4S-2200”. In this example, “4S” denotes that the battery has four cells in series. The nominal voltage of each cell is 3.7 volts (4.2v fully-charged), so the total pack voltage is:

    4 cells x 3.7v = 14.8v.

    When talking about a LiPo battery, the primary characteristics to understand are the battery’s voltage, capacity, and discharge rate.

    The second number denotes the capacity of the battery in milliamp-hours (mAh). A fully charged 2200mAh pack is rated to provide a current of 2200 milliamps (2.2 amps) for one hour before it is fully discharged. This capacity value is completely independent of how many cells are in series. In simple terms, the capacity value allows you to estimate how long a battery will provide useful power in a given application. In practical terms for RC use, the capacity rating is typically only helpful for rough comparisons of different batteries. i.e. a 2S-5000 battery will provide about double the run time of a 2S-2500 lipo in the same RC car.

    While it was quite common 10 years ago, is now rare to find a RC LiPo battery that uses cells in parallel. Let’s look at an example in case you happen across one. A 4S2P-2200 battery would consist of two 4S-1100 batteries wired in parallel to provide a total 2200mAh capacity. All other things being equal, you would care for and use this battery the same as you would the previous 4S-2200 example (which is really a 4S1P-2200, but we ignore the 1P). There may be a difference in physical size, but a 4S-2200 and a 4S2P-2200 are functionally equivalent. The differences will really only matter to the guy at the factory who has to assemble the battery.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (February 2015)

    This is a strange time in the Android world. Big phones are on the way, but there are already so many great ones out there. Getting a new phone can be a two-year investment (at least for most people). You don't want to get the wrong thing and regret it on a daily basis. What's a phone nerd to do? Well, let's try to figure that out.

    Photo credit: Flickr user janitors via creative commons.

    This month is all about playing the waiting game or jumping on something that seems good enough.

    Wait it out? The HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6

    If you think you need a new phone right now, I would urge you to consider if need is really the right word. Maybe you just really want one. If that's the case, you should wait. Samsung and HTC have both announced updated versions of their flagship devices, and they'll probably be on sale in just a few weeks -- probably late March or early April.

    So we're going to do things a little differently this month. Since both these devices will be going up against each other, let's talk about what each one brings to the table so you can get a feel for them. They'll be on all four major carriers, so you can take you pick in a month or so when they come out, if that's what you decide to do. If you're ready to buy a phone right now, we'll go over an alternative on each carrier.

    How To Build a Home Server Using FreeNAS

    I've been running home servers in one form or another for about a decade. For me, the server has shifted from a convenience--a place to store files that I want to access anywhere and an easy way to stream music to the office for free--to a necessity. Today, my home server is a place to back up my family’s computers and the home for all of my media--a few hundred ripped DVDs and Blu-rays plus my family’s music collection and all of the photos and home videos we’ve shot. Like any other server, it also serves as a good place to store the files I need access to all the time, as well as host any services that work better when they’re always running—stuff like dynamic DNS, streaming servers, and game servers.

    My first home server was simply an old gaming PC that I repurposed by installing Linux and setting up a few shared folders and an FTP server so I had access to files at home when I was at the office or travelling. For the last five or six years, I’ve been running a lightweight Windows Home Server v1 machine packed with hard drives. The WHS box had some real advantages—it’s novel filesystem made it so simple to add storage that I eventually ended up with about 8TB of available space. Unfortunately, its ancient Celeron processor was woefully underpowered to stream 1080p video, and the OS has been effectively abandoned by Microsoft.

    Photo credit: Flickr user kwl via Creative Commons.

    When I decided to build a new server late last year, the first thing I did was figure out what I wanted to use it for. Easy backups for a handful of Macs (and one PC) across the network was a must. I also wanted a machine that would be able to stream all of my media--using Plex Media Server to stream ripped movies and TV shows and Subsonic to stream my music collection. I needed a safe and secure place to store my personal media--photos and home videos I've shot. Finally, I wanted to offload the heavy lifting of DVD and Blu-ray transcoding from my main desktop PC, and the ability to add new stuff to the machine that I haven’t even thought of yet.

    When I was deciding what operating system to use for my next home server, I investigated a handful of Linux options, briefly considered Windows Home Server 2011, and finally settled on FreeNAS, which is a customized version of FreeBSD. FreeNAS makes it relatively simple to set up a multi-purpose machine that can run headless—that is, without a video card or monitor connected. After taking FreeNAS for a test drive in a virtual machine, I was sold. As an added benefit, FreeNAS’s native filesystem, ZFS, makes it easy to add multiple hard drives to a single volume, and even supports using a SSD as a smart cache for the volume. And yes, if you want, you can even add redundancy to the system (I don’t recommend it, but we’ll get into that later).

    Figuring out the hardware for the FreeNAS machine was tricky. While you can buy dedicated network-attached storage devices that come pre-configured with FreeNAS, none of the options in my price range had the kind of high-powered CPU I was hoping for. After spending the last two years wishing my server was faster, my goal is to make this motherboard and CPU last at least five years, maybe more. Knowing that, the option I was left with was to build a machine and install FreeNAS on it myself.

    First, I had to figure out the hardware part.

    How To Keep Your Android 5.0 Lollipop Phone Secure

    Android has come a long way with regard to security in the last few years. Not only can you more easily secure your device to protect personal data, there are more tools that make all your other devices and accounts safe. Of course, none of that does you any good if you aren't taking advantage of it. Let's go over everything you can do to make Android as secure as it can be.

    Lock Screen and Pinning

    Some of your built-in security options will vary from one device to the next depending on OEM and Android version. As Android 5.0 Lollipop is finally starting to roll out en masse, it's worth going over the new security features you'll find. One of the most significant changes is the way the lock screen is handled. It will show your notifications by default, and if you choose to have a pattern, PIN, or password, lock, you can restrict which notifications show up there.

    In Lollipop, you can control which apps contain "sensitive" content in the sound and notification menu. Under "App Notifications" you'll find a list of everything installed on your phone. Each entry includes an option to mark it as sensitive, which keeps it from showing up on the lock screen. No matter what version of Android you have, the secure lock screen is your first line of defense. Some OEMs like LG and Samsung add extra unlock methods like Knock Code and the fingerprint reader, respectively. If security is even a passing concern, you should use one of the available methods.

    So what if you don't want to enter your unlock code every single time? On all recent versions of Android there's a handy little feature in the Security menu. The "Automatically Lock" setting lets you choose how long after the screen goes off that the secure lock should kick in. There's also a toggle to have the power button automatically lock or not. This way you can wake up your phone a few times without entering the password constantly. However, if you leave it sitting for a certain amount of time, it locks.

    Android 5.0 Lollipop adds a new set of lock screen features called Smart Lock. You can set a location, device, or face that the phone will consider "trusted." When this criteria is met, you can just swipe to unlock. Location is straightforward--simply choose a location and the phone will remain unlocked there but will revert to your secure lock screen when it leaves. The trusted device setting lets you mark a Bluetooth or NFC connection as trusted so when that device is connected, the phone will unlock without asking for your code.

    RC Transmitter Guide: The Basics of Computer Radio Systems

    Once the RC bug has bitten and you know that you’ll be in the hobby for a while, buying a good quality computer radio system is one of the best investments that you can make. These radios have onboard processors that enrich them with many features not usually found on “dumb” units. The benefits of some of these features are self-evident, such as the ability to use the same transmitter for multiple models. Other features found on computer radios are a bit tougher to grasp. Consequently, many modelers simply ignore them—and forfeit some very useful capabilities.


    Today, I will cover a few of the basic features that are afforded by computer transmitters: what they are and how/when they are helpful. I won’t be covering any specifics on how to program these features on your particular radio--that’s what the owner’s manual is for. My focus will be on radios for aircraft, but surface computer radios (for cars and boats) share many of the same features!

    How Many Channels Do You Need?

    Most computer radio systems have six or more channels, with 6-channel models being very popular among rookie hobbyists. Up until recently, I would have endorsed that decision. Now I suggest going with no less than seven channels – preferably eight. The reason for my change of heart is that the average flying model is evolving into an ever more complex machine.


    Powered aircraft need no more than four channels to fly (pitch, roll, yaw, & throttle). Additional operations (retractable landing gear, flaps, lost model alarms, lighting systems, sound systems, gimbals, gyros, bomb releases, etc.) are becoming much more prevalent in off-the-shelf models, and they require additional channels to make them function. These add-ons aren’t necessary to fly, but they sure are fun. So why should your radio keep you from enjoying them? I know several flyers who initially purchased a 6-channel radio, only to upgrade a few months later. Consider where your RC interests might lead and invest in a radio that will accommodate those needs.

    The Best Budget Gaming Laptop (So Far)

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

    There’s no such thing as a perfect budget gaming laptop, and every one we’ve tested so far has at least one serious flaw. But after 40 hours of research and testing, we determined that the $1,000 Asus ROG GL551JM is the budget gaming laptop we’d recommend for most people because it has the best gaming performance and best build quality among the competition, and for the lowest cost.

    The GL551 has uncommonly good build quality compared to nearly everything else in this category. Plus, it keeps the most important parts of a gaming laptop at a reasonable temperature—which cannot be said for the competition—and has a comfortable keyboard.

    Who’s this for?

    Expensive gaming laptops aren’t for everyone. Desktop computers offer better gaming performance per dollar, and ultrabooks are slimmer, lighter, and have much better battery life. Budget gaming laptops are a good fit for students and others who want to play games but have a tight budget and need a portable PC.

    How did we pick what to test?

    First, we determined the best possible combination of components that fit in our budget. Our ideal budget gaming laptop costs under $1,200 and has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics card or better, an Intel Core i7 4700HQ CPU or higher, 8 to 16 GB of RAM, and at least 500GB of storage. We looked at every gaming laptop currently available, tested three finalists ourselves, and concluded that the Asus ROG GL551-JM DH71 is the best for those on a budget.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Racing Quad Buyer's Guide

    Back in December, we put together an overview of ready-to-fly quad-rotors. I intended to follow that article with a similar piece that focused on racing quads. It quickly became apparent, however, that racing quads are a very different kind of beast and would require an altered form of presentation. What I provide here is a beginner's buyers guide for aspiring quad racers. I’ll cover the components that you’ll need, some of the different equipment options, and a few recommended retailers for you to get started.

    Before We Get Start

    It should be noted that racing quads are not for beginners. They are small, fast, and maneuverable. Those traits are what make racing quads fun, but they also exaggerate the difficult aspects of learning to fly multi-rotors. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that racing quads are rather expensive as well. You can easily spend $1000 for all of the equipment that you’ll need to get started.

    I’ve preached my suggested route for beginners several times, so I won’t repeat it here. I’m just starting to explore racing quads myself, so I’m hardly qualified to make any skill-level recommendations. However, I can say that I would personally feel uneasy about trying racing quads if I didn’t already have significant experience flying slower quads outdoors (without GPS aids) and with First Person View (FPV) gear.

    Most modern racing quads are in the 250mm class, although it isn’t uncommon to find models ranging from 230-270mm. This measurement denotes the distance between the propeller shaft of a front rotor and the propeller shaft of the rear motor on the opposite side. At less than 10”, a 250mm racing quad is rather small compared to a DJI Phantom 2 or Blade 350 QX. In fact, they are only slightly larger than many of the beginner-oriented mini-quads. The difference is that racing quads pack a lot more relative power into a very small footprint.


    In general, racing quads are offered as kits that must be assembled. Some vendors offer only specific components such as frames or motors. Other shops provide everything you’ll need in one box. In a few instances you will find stores that offer pre-built and flight tested racing quads. Keep in mind that quad racing is a contact sport, so crashes and repairs are inevitable. This spawns two schools of thought regarding pre-built racers. On one hand, the education and familiarity provided by building your quad will be useful assets when the time comes to fix it. On the other hand, going pre-built removes the variables posed by rookie set-up blunders. Choose your poison.

    Before shopping for a racing quad, I suggest that you seek out other quad flyers in your area. See what equipment they are using and what works for them. Having access to someone with first-hand experience is one of the best ways to sort through the overwhelming array of options. Locals can also help you clear any hurdles you may experience during the build and set up of your racer.

    The Best Smartwatch (For Now)

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

    A good smartwatch connects to your smartphone, but it actually untethers you from nervously checking that phone. The smartwatch (for now) that best augments your Android or iPhone, and looks good doing it, is the Pebble Steel.

    After more than 40 hours of research, wearing and comparing nine smartwatches, and keeping a close eye on battery life and Bluetooth connections, we found the Pebble Steel to be the most adaptable watch for most wrists and lifestyles. Its battery lasts nearly an entire work-week—the longest of any we tested—it has the most useful apps, and it holds up to abuse.

    How we decided what to test

    We tested smartwatches primarily on how they did their main job: showing notifications from your phone, and controlling a few parts of it. We also put a good deal of weight on the visibility of the screen, the interface of the watch, and the ability to keep running all day.

    But looks matter, too, when you wear something every day. The size, heft, and visual appeal of each watch was considered, as well as its bands and clasps. We fastened our smartwatches on many friends' wrists, male and female. And we considered the external experience with each watch: the connection-managing app that came with every watch, the charging dock and cable, and the third-party apps and tools compatible with each watch. Our full guide has more details on what we did to narrow down the field and test smartwatches.

    The Best $500 TV You Can Buy Today

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

    If I were looking for a good, inexpensive, 50-inch TV, I’d get the Vizio E500i-B1. It has above-average picture quality—better than many more expensive models—with impressively dark blacks (a rarity in this price range of LCD), bright whites, decent motion resolution, and reasonably accurate colors. It also consistently gets top marks from the best TV reviewers on the web.

    If the Vizio is sold out, or otherwise unavailable, the Panasonic 50AS530U offers almost as good picture quality but costs a bit more money ($600 as of this writing). Its contrast ratio isn’t quite as good as the Vizio, but the motion resolution is decent.

    Who should get this TV?

    If your TV is dying, has died, or you’re looking for something larger, this TV offers pretty good performance for a low price.

    In terms of picture quality, this TV is generally better than most LCDs in this price range. Upgrading to more expensive models will result in better motion resolution, better contrast ratios, and more accurate colors. (In other words, that makes a more lifelike, realistic picture.)

    Keep in mind, though, that for around $500, when it comes to a 50-inch TV, there is no clear winner in terms of picture quality. All have strengths and weaknesses. And stepping down slightly in size doesn’t get you enough of an increase in picture quality to offset the loss in size. So even a great looking 40-inch TV doesn’t look enough better than the Vizio to make up for how much smaller it is.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (January 2015)

    We took a month off from bombarding you with phone recommendations over the holiday season, but now it's time to dive back in. This is a crucial time if you're up for contract renewal or have saved up the cash to get a new device. Flagship phones are going to be announced in the coming weeks, which could make you feel quite behind the times with your previously top-of-the-line device. Let's try to keep that from happening.


    Ma Bell has taken a more cautious approach to updates than many of the other carriers, so there's not much movement amongst the top phones. I think your best bets right now are the Moto X or the LG G3. However, we know that HTC's upcoming flagship, which will probably be announced in mere weeks, will be for sale soon on AT&T. Samsung too is probably a little further off, but not much. That affects the calculus.

    Starting with the LG G3, You're looking at a 5.5-inch LCD with an excellent 2560x1440 resolution. A fwe months ago this was a huge device, now it simply feels big. I even feel like a giant after using the G3 after carrying around a nexus 6. The bezels are incredibly thin and there are no buttons around the edges. Instead, LG stuck those on the back, and that's a good place for them. The frame and back are entirely plastic, but they're very solid premium-feeling plastics. I don't feel like I'm going to break the G3 when I take the back panel off. Speaking of, that's where the removable battery and microSD card slot are.

    The LG G3 is packing some impressive hardware including 3GB of RAM, a 3000mAh battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. It's a fast device, and LG's skin is mostly free of bloat. The battery life is very good in standby, but you won't get as much screen time as you would with a 1080p screen. 4-5 hours is still doable on the G3. The software is also very reliable in that it won't start wakelocking for no reason.

    The G3's 13MP camera is the same resolution as the Moto X and the Nexus 6, but it's probably a better overall camera. Low light performance is solid, if perhaps a little aggressive with noise reduction. The laser autofocus system totally works and outdoor images are stunning.

    I find myself not disliking LG's Android skin, and what I've seen of the impending Lollipop update has me excited. Most of the strange UI choices LG made on the G3 (and there aren't many) are being covered up by proper Lollipop elements. The fact that LG is now finally using the proper on-screen buttons setup is hugely encouraging too. LG also didn't spend time on crappy features no one will care about. Instead we get cool stuff like guest mode and Knock Code. Knock Code is a particularly cool feature that lets you securely unlock the phone while also waking it up with a series of taps on the screen.

    The G3 is still $149 on-contract from AT&T, but it does go on sale fairly often. It compares favorably to the competition.

    The Best TV You Can Buy Today

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

    If you’re looking for a really great, solid TV, the Sony X900B series is the one we recommend for most people, plus it has near universal praise from the top reviewers. It has a colorful, rich, vibrant image that is lauded by experts from across the web. It has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market, and has few (if any) real issues.

    It is, however, very expensive: $2,800 for a 55-inch television. So if you don’t absolutely need the best picture quality available today, we have a cheaper recommendation too.

    Who should get this TV?

    Someone looking for the best picture quality currently available without spending even more per-screen-inch on an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TV. If you just want a good-looking TV, one that doesn’t have quite the X900B’s contrast, brightness, or resolution, check out our pick for Best $500 TV. If you’re looking for something bigger, consider a projector in $500, $1,000, or $2,500 “Awesome” forms. These will give you a great and significantly larger image than any TV.

    The Best Umbrella You Can Buy Today

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

    After more than 35 hours of research, followed by testing of every noteworthy umbrella currently available. we found that the EuroSCHIRM Light Trek is the best umbrella for most people. It was among the widest and deepest umbrellas when open, and among the smallest when closed. That means it provides better rain protection without sacrificing portability. Combine that with superb build quality and strong, lightweight materials–like fiberglass and anodized aluminum–and you have one truly excellent umbrella that will survive the elements and the test of time.

    How we decided

    There’s definitely a tradeoff between protection and portability, but the best umbrella is the one you have with you. Big enough to keep your upper body dry and small enough to tuck away when you go indoors. We wanted something that could easily be slipped into a coat pocket, bag, or purse, but we ignored really tiny umbrellas.

    Our recommendation defies the cliché of inverted umbrellas piled into trash cans on city streets. According to lifelong umbrella maker, Gilbert Center, these days fiberglass is the most durable material out there. “It doesn’t break and it doesn’t rust.” Combine that with a shaft made of tempered steel, instead of the more typical aluminum, and you’ve got a good umbrella that isn’t going to break when you need it most. Still, in the case that yours fails, it should have a decent warranty.

    The Best External Blu-Ray Drive

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

    The $80 Samsung SE-506CB is the best external Blu-ray drive for most people—if you need one at all. It’s the best Blu-ray drive you can get for the least amount of money, and it’s the quietest one we tested. The Samsung is well-liked by Amazon buyers, and it’s conveniently thin, light, and compact.

    Who needs this?

    If you have a laptop without a disc drive and want to back up music and movies from discs to your computer, or need a disc drive for work, you should pick up one of our recommendations. If you're trying to backup or transfer files from your computer, you should use a USB hard drive or flash drive instead.

    You shouldn’t buy one of these for a desktop computer that has room for an internal drive, because internal drives are generally faster and cheaper than portable ones. You also shouldn’t buy an external drive to use with a tablet.

    What makes a good Blu-ray drive?

    We surveyed hundreds of Wirecutter readers to find out what people care most about in an external Blu-ray player. Using this information, we came up with a set of criteria to decide which drive is best for most people.

    For starters, it must read and write dual-layer DVDs and Blu-rays. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed use their external drive only at home, but size and weight are still important. A lighter, more compact drive is easier to store when you’re not using it.

    Some older laptops don’t provide enough juice to power the Blu-ray drive. It’s not necessary for most people, but for these older machines you’ll need a Y-cable that plugs into two USB ports.

    What You Should Know about Getting an FCC License for Flying FPV

    As much as we love to give you an inside look at all sorts of cool toys and gadgets, the job also includes a responsibility to educate you on the finer points of using those toys responsibly and lawfully. Such is the case with our recent videos featuring Carlos Puertolas (Charpu). Those videos have captured the attention of many readers who are now interested in First Person View (FPV) quad-rotor racing--including me. What you might not know is that one of the prerequisites for most types of FPV flying is obtaining an amateur radio license (aka “ham radio license”) from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Don’t let that fact quench your FPV ambitions. Getting a license is easy, and maybe even a little bit fun.

    Why Do I Need a License?

    Assuming that you are using a standard, off-the-shelf radio system, just flying a multi-rotor (or operating any other type of RC vehicle) with a line-of-sight perspective does not require a FCC license. That is because RC systems sold in the US go through a certification process with the FCC. The certification ensures that the system does not create interference with other equipment. The FCC also verifies that the radio works acceptably well in the presence of interference from other sources. As long as you do not modify any part of the system, you can be reasonably sure that an RC system will perform as intended, while not stepping on the signals of any other flyers or drivers.

    The license comes into play when you introduce an FPV system into the mix. Most video transmission systems used for FPV do NOT have a FCC certification. Therefore, the FCC places the burden of preventing and tolerating signal interference on the operator. The amateur radio license is the FCC’s way of determining that users of this equipment have demonstrated adequate training and proficiency to uphold that responsibility. It’s the same logic that’s behind getting a driver’s license.


    As I write this, there are only a handful of FPV systems that do not require a license. Most of them are Wi-Fi-based systems such as those seen on the Phantom 2 Vision+ and Blade 350QX2. Wi-Fi video systems typically have limited range and measurable latency. This may be ok if your only goal is to cruise around shooting video. But the latency alone makes Wi-Fi systems inadequate for racing.

    I am only aware of one non-Wi-Fi FPV system that is FCC certified and can be used without a license. The operational range for this system is estimated to be about 600’. Of course, variables such as your flying altitude and any solid obstacles between the video receiver and the aircraft could impact that value. If this system meets your performance requirements, then you’re all set. Certainly, the future holds other FPV systems with FCC certification. Until then, your license-free options are limited. Unless a video transmitter has specific markings stating that it is compliant with FCC Part 15 requirements, you will need a license to operate it legally.