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    How To Control and Manage Your Android Phone from Your Desktop

    Your smartphone may very well be the hub of your digital life, but there are still times we all need to sit down at a computer to get some work done. At times like that, you don't want to constantly pick up the phone to check notifications, retrieve files, and send messages. There are ways to avoid that by installing a few apps that let you control and manage your Android device from a computer. Your options vary a bit based on how you balance control and convenience.

    Notifications

    One of the core features of Android is the notification framework. Google has added some awesome new features in the last few revisions, but there is one that doesn't get a lot of praise -- the notification listener. This feature was introduced in Android 4.3, so you'll have to be on that version or higher to take advantage of most of these apps and services.

    The notification listener provides a secure way for an app to mirror notifications in both directions. That is, duplicate the notification from the system UI, and also tell the system when a notification has been dismissed so you don't see it in the regular notification shade as well. This framework can be used to duplicate notifications anywhere -- even on a desktop.

    There are a few apps that can be used to monitor all your Android notifications on a computer, but the most popular might be Pushbullet. This app is good for more than just keeping track of your notifications. It can send text, links, addresses, and files between your devices as well. To set up the notification service, just make sure you have the Pushbullet extension running in Chrome or Firefox (yes, that's required) and enable Pushbullet on the phone or tablet you want to monitor.

    The Best Utility Knife Today

    If you’re looking for a utility knife for general around-the-house use, we recommend the Milwaukee Fastback II ($15). After 25 hours of research and hands-on testing of 20 different knives, we found that, simply put, this knife has it all. It can be easily (and quickly) opened and closed with one hand. It has a comfortable grip with all the right contours and finger notches. Changing blades is easy and it has a nice, springy belt hook. For increased safety, the knife locks in both the open and closed position. And finally, despite its thin profile, it still has room to store one additional blade.

    If you’re heading down the path of an aggressive DIY lifestyle and feel that the ability to store multiple blades on a knife is essential, we recommend that you go with the Olympia Turbopro ($16). Even with its extremely compact body (thinner than the Fastback II), it still has the capability to house five additional blades. It also has an auto-load feature to make blade changes freakishly easy. It’s a nice durable knife and the butt end has a small carabiner clip so it can be hooked on a belt loop.

    For those of you who aren’t comfortable handling a utility knife and will only use it for really basic tasks, we recommend the Milwaukee Self-Retracting Knife ($12). This knife has a spring-loaded blade that withdraws into the handle as soon as the thumb slide is released. While this feature makes it a very safe knife to use, it also limits the ways you can hold it, making it difficult for anything more than very basic cutting.

    The Zoidberg Project, Part 9: All About Molding

    To be honest, I have been kind-of putting off creating the final mold for the Zoidberg project. It’s probably a little bit out of fear that I’ll get it wrong; once the sculpt is molded, there’s very little I can do to change it. But, I’m finally doing it this week.

    Molding the Zoidberg head with his tentacles attached would not be the best way to do it. There is too much detail on the inside of the mouth that is unfinished. I would never get the clay out of the long tendrils, it would be tricky to core out the tentacles for the animatronics to fit in, and would be a pain in the neck to cast up in foam latex--just to name a few possible issues. So the first thing I need to do is cut his upper mouth off so I can mold the head in two separate pieces.

    I'm going to be as delicate as possible and try not to disturb any of the major forms. Once the upper mouth is fully removed, I want to clean up the spot where the two pieces of the sculpture would meet up. Kind of like making a blending edge on a prosthetic appliance. This will help when the final tentacle part is reattached.

    Once this is all cleaned up, I use some Body Double SILK silicone to mold the area of the face where the tentacles will attached. This will give me an accurate reproduction of that area to sculpt the tentacles onto. To do this, I just mix up a small batch of the silicone and carefully brush it onto the sculpture, being careful so I don’t scratch up the surface. I’ll apply two coats of this silicone, then I'll take some plaster bandages and carefully lay them up to make a rigid shell. This will keep the silicone in the correct shape after I take the mold off.

    Bits to Atoms: 3D Modeling Best Practices for 3D Printing

    So you’ve managed to build your first 3D creation using modeling software. You send it to the printer and it comes out looking like something sent through a cosmic spatial anomaly. What the heck happened? Building your model on the computer is just the first step to ensure a proper 3D print. Today, we'll go over best practices for modeling and how to prep those models for a good print.

    Photo credit: Tony Buser

    Neatness Counts

    Taking the time to sculpt a neat, clean computer model will prevent headaches down the road. This is particularly true of polygon models where deleting an edge, face, or vertex can quickly make a model unprintable. Using boole operations (adding and subtracting part together) is often used while building models, but can lead to messy models since two pieces of geometry are being combined or subtracted from one another.

    Sloppy modeling can easily occur just in the process of figuring out how to build something. I will often build a quick, rough model to work through the layout, what parts need to be made, and how to build them. I will rebuild the whole thing as a much cleaner model based on the rough version. One of the best pieces of advice I got from my modeling mentor is, ‘don’t be afraid to rebuild something’. It sounds like a drag but rebuilding a model from scratch always goes quicker than the original and it will be a cleaner model, using what was learned from the first version.

    If modeling with polygons, it’s in your interest to keep the mesh in quads (each face is four-sided) and avoid “n-gons” (in modeling, any polygon that is not 4-sided). Modeling with quads makes adjusting the model much easier, whereas n-gons will kind of mess things up. In general, any modeling program will make it easy to model in quads since any primitive (cube, sphere, cone, torus, etc) created will automatically be made out of quads.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Radios and Motors

    This is the second in a series of guides that will walk you through the wonderful hobby of radio-controlled (RC) vehicles. We started off last month with an overview of the different types of RC vehicles, but still have some basics to cover before we get into the actual cars, boats, and airplanes. Specifically, this installment will deal with the radio equipment that controls your model and the types of motors that could power it. It’s crucial to have a basic understanding of both of these subjects before making your first purchase. You don’t want to blindly purchase something now that limits you down the road.

    Putting the “R” in RC

    No matter what type of RC vehicle you plan to use, you will need a radio system to operate it. The essence of RC is that you send radio signals from a hand-held transmitter to a matching receiver that is onboard the vehicle. The receiver translates those signals into commands. The commands are passed on to hardwired components that execute the orders either mechanically or electronically. Sounds simple enough, right? Even the most complex RC set-ups are just an extrapolation of this basic concept.

    Each separate function that you want to perform on a vehicle requires a discrete channel within the radio signal.

    Each separate function that you want to perform on a vehicle requires a discrete channel within the radio signal. Cars and boats typically operate with two channels; one each for throttle and steering duties. Most airplanes use four channels to control throttle, roll, pitch, and yaw. Discussing the radio needs of helicopters, multi-rotors, and robots will probably just cloud the issue at this point, so I’ll hold off on that for now.

    For many years, RC equipment has operated in specific frequency bands allocated by the FCC just for that purpose. Surface vehicles (cars and boats) use the 27MHz and 75MHz bands while aircraft use 72MHz. Each radio set operates on a specific frequency within that band. For instance, a car radio may be tuned to 27.145MHz, while a helicopter radio operates at 72.390MHz. That all works fine as long as there is only one transmitter broadcasting on any specific frequency in the general vicinity (a few miles radius). If someone else turned on a 72.390MHz transmitter while that pilot was flying his helicopter, there would likely be a very sudden and very expensive crash!

    The Best Computer Speakers Today

    If someone asked me what’s the best all-around buy in a 2.0-channel computer or desktop speaker system today, I’d recommend the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40. It offers sound that’s competitive with everything we’ve heard under $300, yet it’s readily available for just $119.

    That said, the AV 40s can be a bit large and not very nice to look at, so we have some alternative picks as well. The Audioengine A2+ is sleekly designed, super-compact, and sounds fantastic, although it isn’t real loud and doesn’t have a lot of bass. The Grace Digital GDI-BTSP201 sounds good (although not as good as the AV 40 or the A2+) and adds Bluetooth wireless plus a user-friendly design and control layout. The Edifier Spinnaker has a cool, cutting-edge design with a handy wireless remote, Bluetooth, and pretty good sound.

    Photo credit: Flickr user mikeporesky via Creative Commons.

    Unfortunately, while all these speakers have okay bass response, if you want really big bass, you’ll probably want a 2.1 system, which will include a separate subwoofer. (It’s difficult or impossible to add a subwoofer to most 2.0 computer speaker systems.) We expect to test 2.1 systems soon.

    The Best Standing Desk Mat (So Far)

    If you use a standing desk, you should also be using an anti-fatigue mat. This will provide support for your feet and relieve pressure on your heels, back, legs, and shoulders, which in turn helps you stand for longer. After hours of research and weeks of foot-on testing, we recommend the Imprint CumulusPro for just under $100. We found it was the most supportive out of the dozens considered and five tested. What’s more, it won't off-gas toxic chemicals, has a ten-year warranty, and feels great to stand on.

    And if our main pick is sold out, we recommend the WellnessMats Original—it’s a little less supportive than our main pick, but it’s a good alternative if you need to buy something now.

    The best way to keep your body happy and healthy while working and reduce the risk of ailments caused by sitting on your butt all day is to split your work day between sitting and standing. You can read more about the dangers of constant sitting in our standing desk guide and blog post about how to stand at your desk.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (February 2014)

    Sure, you could wait a few months and pick up a next-generation flagship Android device, but if you need a new phone now, there are plenty of great options. So many, in fact, that you might be a little overwhelmed. Not to worry -- we're here to help you sort through the dozens of Android phones on each of the big US carriers.

    Prices are continuing to come down as new devices are on the horizon, and that means you can save some cash on a phones that's still really excellent.

    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.