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    Testing: Pro Boat Shockwave 26 RC Boat

    Last year, I presented an introduction to RC boats that focused on smaller models. This time around, I'll be stepping up in size and power. The boats featured in the previous article (Aquacraft Reef Racer 2 and Minimono) measure about 17" long. The 26" Pro Boat Shockwave 26 ($230) I'm reviewing today is significantly larger. The greater size allows for additional capabilities and performance tuning while also introducing more maintenance overhead.

    The Pro Boat Shockwave 26 is a fast, brushless powered boat that provides a logical step up from smaller, beginner-oriented designs.

    Shockwave 26

    The Shockwave 26 is only available as a Ready-To-Run (RTR) package that includes the fully-assembled boat and a pistol-grip transmitter. You have to provide a 2-cell or 3-cell LiPo battery and a charger. I think that I fall right into the target demographic for this boat: sport boaters who are ready to step up in size and power from beginner models.

    The hull of the Shockwave is made of molded ABS plastic. All of the running gear and radio equipment is located on an internal tray. There is a sealed hatch cover that keeps water from seeping in (mostly). Thumb screws are used to secure the hatch in place. On my model, the e-clips that make the thumb screws captive were prone to fall off. So I tacked them to the screws (carefully) with CA glue.

    Power for the Shockwave comes from a 2000kV (rpm/volt) brushless motor. The motor is regulated by a surprisingly small 30 amp ESC. Both of these components are water-cooled, using a pickup system located in the rudder. Sitting astride the ESC is a 2-channel 2.4GHz radio receiver. Further aft is a Spektrum S603 steering servo that actuates the rudder. The receiver and servo are waterproof units.

    Tested: DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter

    After flying and testing the Phantom 3 Professional for a few months, we review DJI's latest consumer quadcopter. The Phantom 3 is a worthwhile upgrade to last year's Vision+, improving on flight system, gimballed camera, and integrated wireless video transmission. But if you can't edit 4K video, we would get the Advanced model. Plus, plenty of sample footage!

    Testing: Pebble Time Steel Smartwatch

    Our testing and review of the Pebble Time left us a bit underwhelmed. The second-generation smartwatch, equipped with a new color display, felt half-baked. Functionality was fragmented between iOS and Android users. Promised features like voice notes didn't make it to launch. Battery life was a little worse than the original Pebble. And annoying flaws like an aggressive vibration motor and recessed screen made the Pebble Time difficult to recommend at its $200 price.

    Since our initial review, Pebble has released two significant software updates to its platform, as well as a new $250 Pebble Time Steel model. Together, they address the many of the problems I had with the Pebble Time. I've had the steel model for about a week, and wanted to share some thoughts now that both models are available to order.

    First, the software fixes. Pebble's 3.2 and 3.3 firmware updates--along with corresponding smartphone app updates--provide some stability and bug fixes as well as useful features. Notably, users can adjust the intensity and time-out duration of the backlight (medium works great for me), tweak system font size, and set the strength of the vibration motor to one of three settings. Putting the motor on low feels right for my wrist and doesn't rattle my side table in the morning when emails start flooding in. Additionally, notifications are now synced between Android phones and the Pebble, so any notifications dismissed on the phone go away on the watch as well. Good stuff.

    Testing: DJI Phantom 3 Pro Quadcopter Drone

    Earlier this year, DJI released its third-generation Phantom quadcopter. The Phantom line is perhaps the most well-known ready-to-fly quads you can buy, and the Phantom 3 Advanced and Phantom 3 Professional models are significant upgrades to the last generation. These quadcopters are amazing devices; they combine aerial, sensor, and imaging technologies to make a user-friendly remote-controlled flying camera that would not have been possible a decade ago. That ease-of-use is partly what makes these ready-to-fly quadcopters so compelling. While hobbyists have been building RC multi-rotors for fun and sport, the low barrier to entry offered by RTF quads has exploded the market for new products--not unlike the first years of the modern smartphone. And the rapid pace of DJI's product iterations, along with the proliferation of quadcopter-produced photos and videos--further bootstraps a fast growing community of new flyers.

    So to answer one frequently-asked question: yes, the Phantom 3 line is a significant and worthwhile upgrade to the Phantom 2. Our first Phantom was last year's Vision+, which amazed us by being easy to fly, incorporating a built-in stabilized gimballed HD camera system, and tying flight and sight together with an integrated FPV video feed. All three of these features are markedly improved in the Phantom 3. Let's go over the changes in depth.

    First, the new flight system. The Phantom 3 looks a lot like the Phantom 2, with only a slightly bigger airframe (it will fit in many existing Phantom 2 cases). But the brushless motors, DJI speed controllers, and 4S battery system that power it under the hood are new, and grant the quad more power. It's not that the Phantom 3 flies a lot faster than the Phantom 2 (16m/s max speed vs 15m/s max) or can ascend and descend quicker; that power manifests itself as improved stability and control during flight. Unlike DJI's Inspire 1, the Phantom 3 doesn't fly like a hovering tank--it feels nimble and responsive, even when taken to heights where the motors are fighting winds. And that's power you can take for granted--it wasn't until I switched back to the Phantom 2 for a day that I realized how rock solid the new quad is by comparison.

    Key to the Phantom's flight system is GPS-stabilization. In the Phantom 2, this allowed the quadcopter to calculate where it should be in positional space, automatically adjusting its motor power in real-time to compensate for external forces. We've demoed this before by dragging a flying Phantom by its landing struts to simulate wind and feeling the motors "fight back". Phantom 3 taps into both GPS and Russian GLONASS satellites for a wider range of coverage, though that accounts for faster satellite acquisition moreso than increased positional accuracy. More notable is the Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional's (I've been testing the latter) use of an ultrasonic and visual positioning system for low-altitude stabilization. This is the same system that was introduced in the Inspire 1--a combination of sonar and downward-facing camera to stabilize the quad when it's lower than 10 feet above ground. This is tech that other RTF quads simply don't have.

    Tested In-Depth: Nest Cam Security Camera

    We review Google's Nest Cam, their 1080p connected camera built for home or office monitoring. We compare its features to the previous Dropcam models, discuss the merits of home security subscription services, and try to figure out who this product is made for. Is this any more than just a pricey webcam?

    Testing: Electric Objects Digital Art Frame

    Last year, I backed the Electric Objects Kickstarter, a campaign to produce a digital picture frame built from a 23-inch 1080p panel and integrated ARM computer. It's something that, on paper, sounds like something you could just build yourself--you can buy a similarly-sized IPS panel for under $150 and attach it to a $35 Raspberry Pi. What Electric Objects is going for, however, seems to be an elegant and intentional design in both the hardware and software--a complete solution that works right out of the box. That box arrived earlier this month, and I've been using the Electric Objects EO1 frame for the past week. As a screenprint collector, here's what I think about it so far, and what it's trying to accomplish.

    On the hardware side, the display itself is a matte 23-inch 1080p panel with a 250 nit backlight--pretty standard for 16:9 monitor you can get from monitor makers like Dell. The custom stuff is all in the frame around that panel to make it look like a framed piece of art. The 3/4-inch bezel is in line with the frames I like for my 18x24 screenprints, is even on all sizes, and has a slightly angled taper toward the back. The "frame" itself isn't as thick as most monitors, but the computer hardware--a 1GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 system with built-in Wi-Fi and bluetooth--bulges from the back, so it does float a little bit off the wall. Mounting hardware is included.

    The quality of the screen is good, with all the perks of an IPS panel: good color reproduction, high contrast, and wide viewing angles. It being matte also helps a lot with visibility in daylight, though it will look washed out from certain reflective angles. Of course, the LCD has downsides as well, as images with black backgrounds don't look completely black in the dark (even with auto-brightness), and 250 nits isn't bright enough to make images pop in a fully day-lit room. I didn't notice any backlight bleed, though. With the intent of keeping the hardware as simple as possible, there's no OSD for calibrating the display--only a single button for putting the EO1 to sleep when you don't want it on.

    Other than the fact that this is an active backlit display, the most obvious difference between this and a piece of printed art is the image resolution. 1080p is sufficient for putting up photos or animated GIFs and appreciating them from afar, but get up close to the EO1 and you're going to notice the pixels. One of the things I love about screenprints is being able to scrutinize the minute details and nuances natural to the printing process. Even with fine digital prints, there's a physicality in the CMYK separations that lets you know how an artist intended the work to be seen when you put your eyeball up to the paper. You can't do that here--art on the EO1 is meant to be appreciated from at least a few feet away.

    But these limitations, in the eyes of EO1's creators, are features inherent to their vision of the digital canvas. Digital art is fundamentally different than printed art, and maybe you're supposed to experience and enjoy it differently. And the most notable "feature" of the Electric Objects display is its inability to run slideshows.

    Tested In-Depth: Ultimaker 2 3D Printer

    Interested in 3D printing? Our rapid prototyping expert Sean Charlesworth has been testing the Ultimaker 2, and sits down with Will to review this new printer. Its prints are really great! We discuss how the Ultimaker 2 compares with other FDM printers and what you should look for when researching and shopping for a 3D printer.

    Show and Tell: Remote Controlled Bionic Bird

    Remember the Tim Bird toy from way back? Its successor is the Bionic Bird, a remote-controlled ornithopter that flaps its wings to flight. This crowdfunded toy was created by the son of the original Tim Bird inventor, and works great indoors. It's kind of like a toy bat!

    Tested In-Depth: Pebble Time Smartwatch

    The second-generation Pebble smartwatch is here, and brings with it a color screen and microphone. We sit down and discuss how the new Pebble Time compares with the original, the Apple Watch, and Android Wear. All-week battery life is great, but this watch has many caveats, especially if you're an iPhone user.

    Hobby RC: Testing the Kyosho Blizzard SR

    Regular readers of this column will know that I am a fan of rare and offbeat RC vehicles. This review definitely fits that mold. The Kyosho Blizzard SR ($350) blends my eccentric taste with a built-in capability for FPV driving. This vehicle provided my first taste of surface FPV and the Blizzard's pedestrian speeds were welcome.

    The Blizzard is actually not a new design. This Snowcat-like RC vehicle was originally introduced by Kyosho in 1981. There have been several iterations of the Blizzard since then, but the core of the design has changed very little. The latest version reviewed here features a Wi-Fi radio link for control in lieu of the traditional 75MHz or 2.4GHz systems used for surface RC vehicles. The Wi-Fi link lets you drive the Blizzard via a smart phone app while also providing a real-time video link from the onboard camera. A 2.4GHz radio-equipped version of the Blizzard ($308) is also available, but you forfeit the camera.

    Viscera of the Beast

    In spite of the complexity suggested by the wide tracks and multitude of wheels, the Blizzard is deceptively simple. Just as with full-scale tracked vehicles, steering is accomplished by varying the relative speed of the right and left tracks. In this case, each track is driven by a dedicated motor and ESC. So controlling the speed of individual tracks is easy.

    This top view of the Blizzard illustrates the simple and uncluttered layout of the design. The wide tracks provide great traction on many surfaces.

    The Blizzard is mostly assembled at the factory. You will need to attach the plow mechanism, which takes just a few minutes. The remaining steps deal with installing the iReceiver app on your phone or tablet and then linking it to the vehicle. I alternately used an iPhone 4S, iPhone 6, and an iPad Mini with the Blizzard. All three systems were configured without any trouble. The process was not intuitive to me, but the steps in the manual are accurate.

    Tested In-Depth: Microsoft Windows 10

    Microsoft's Windows 10 is finally here! We've been testing the beta for months as part of the Insider's Program, and sit down with the latest build right before public release to talk about our experience. We show off the new features, compare it with Windows 7 and 8, and give our thoughts as to whether you should install it. What are your thoughts on Microsoft's latest OS?

    Hobby RC: Testing the AquaCraft Cajun Commander

    Last summer, I reviewed the AquaCraft Mini Alligator Tours RC airboat. While not a powerhouse, it was (and still is) a fun boat that can go where most other boats dare not venture. The Mini Alligator Tours even inspired me to build a propeller-driven vehicle from scratch.

    The AquaCraft Cajun Commander is styled after full-scale swamp-running airboats. You can add to the scale features if you choose.

    AquaCraft recently released a new airboat design, the Cajun Commander ($280). This boat is considerably larger and has much more relative power than the Mini Alligator Tours. It definitely provides a different kind of RC boating experience.

    What's in the Box

    The Cajun Commander is prebuilt and features a camouflaged plastic hull. The only assembly steps are to remove the parts from the box and install the required batteries. The proportions of this boat are quite similar to the full-scale airboats I've seen roaring around the waterways of Central Florida. To enhance its scale appearance, two seats are included. Human figures to fill the seats are not part of the package, but I suppose that a properly-sized action figure or two would do the trick.

    If you're really into the scale aspect of RC boating, AquaCraft also offers 3D print files of other scale accessories for download. As you will see, I'm not much into making my boats life-like. So, I didn't bother adding action figures or printed items.

    The Cajun Commander is powered by a brushless motor with a 9" diameter 3-bladed propeller. A metal cage surrounds the propeller to keep aquatic vegetation and your fingers from being pureed. I really like that the cage has a built-in handle for carrying the boat.

    Show and Tell: TinyCircuits Micro Arcade Cabinet

    This week, Norm shares a microcontroller system that's designed to run truly tiny electronics projects. Tinycircuits is an Arduino-compatible hardware platform with stackable expansion boards that allow you to make wearable lights, a simple smartwatch, or even a tiny arcade cabinet. It's really neat!

    Testing: Pebble Time Smartwatch

    The recently released Pebble Time is Pebble's third smartwatch, after the original Kickstarter model and the Pebble Steel. That gives the company a leg up on other smartwatch makers--its large backer and customer base has informed Pebble about usage patterns on the watch, so follow-ups can play on its strengths. And in the case of Pebble Time, the relatively few changes to the platform indicates that Pebble is confident in its core strength: putting your smartphone's notifications on your wrist. That's something that Android Wear watches and the Apple does too, but with Pebble, it's the most important feature, and one that's streamlined with physical button interactions.

    Get notifications, and then be able to respond to or act on them. That's what I need a smartwatch to do well, and the Pebble Time excels at it. I've been using the $200 watch for the past month instead of my Asus ZenWatch, and have taken it on numerous work trips, including last week's Comic-Con. But I'm ready to go back to Android Wear. Despite differentiating features that Pebble Time brings to the table, the hardware makes some glaring missteps. Let's start by going over some of those new features.

    The Color Display is a Step Back

    The big "improvement" in Pebble Time is the color display. The original Pebble used an always-on memory LCD, which, like an e-paper display, was only readable with an external light source. Pebble Time's new memory LCD is a 1.25-inch display with the same resolution as the original (144x168, for app compatibility), but now can display 64 colors. That may not sound like a lot, but with dithering, the palette extends to a few thousand color. It's essentially the resolution and quality of a Nintendo Game Boy Color (which actually had a 15-bit display), but squeezed onto a 1.25-inch screen. I thought the range of colors is good, but images look muted and flat because of the way the memory LCD works. When used properly, the images look good, but this is something meant for displaying pixel art, not photos.

    While there's nothing inherently worse in using the color memory LCD over the black and white screen, visibility is actually worse on Pebble Time. Pebble Time's screen needs a good amount of light to read clearly, and more importantly, that light needs to be reflected at a good angle. Unfortunately, the sweet spot for reflection is limited--angle the Pebble off-axis by 30 degrees and the screen becomes difficult to read. Unlike any backlit display, you're actually trying to angle the screen in a position to get the most glare for readability.

    Show and Tell: Palette Modular Controller

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm shares a new custom modular controller he's been testing for photo editing. Palette is a system of programmable buttons, dials, and sliders that tap into Adobe's suite of apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, and Premiere Pro. It's proven pretty useful for processing convention photos!

    Testing: Palette Modular Controllers

    I was recently sent Palette, a modular controller system designed to assist with photo and video editing. The freeform system, which raised funds for development and production on Kickstarter, just launched pre-orders to the general public. I've been testing it with my Lightroom photo editing, and found that it's sped up parts of my workflow. Additionally, it's changed the way I think about some photo-tweaking settings, like color temperature, for the better. Here's how it works.

    Palette is a system of physical buttons, dials, and sliders that, though its Mac or Windows desktop software, tap directly into keyboard shortcuts or compatible Adobe apps. Its innovation (and cost) lies in the modular design--each module is housed in a beautiful and lightweight aluminum chassis. An OLED-equipped core power module is the only thing that plugs into your computer via USB; the rest of the modules snap together with magnetic connections. Each module has one data connecting side that needs to be adjacent to another module for the daisy-chaining to work, but the result is that the system is fairly freeform. Up to 16 modules can be powered off of one power core.

    On the desktop side, the companion app actually recognizes the physical arrangement of modules, showing your configuration on screen. From there, you can create profiles for compatible (or custom) programs, assigning functionality to each of the modules, as well as adjusting the color of the module's LED light border. For example, in my Lightroom profile, I assigned one arcade-style button to toggle a zoom, another to alternate between original and edited photos, and the sliders and dials to various Develop tools. The physical design of these modules dictates their purpose to three basic types of control: the button is suited for toggling functions, the slider for adjusting a limited range, and the dial for bi-directional adjustment of incremental values. The upshot is that Palette works best if you are already familiar with the tools in your Adobe apps and have an idea of how where your workflow can be optimized.

    Testing: Nest Cam Wireless IP Camera

    We first tested the Dropcam Wi-Fi video camera three years ago. Since then, the company released a Dropcam Pro model, was bought up by Google's Nest division, and has now rebranded itself Nest Cam. Its new eponymous flagship was just launched last month, and I've been using it for the past week and a half. It's a neat device: $200 gets you a webcam that pipes 1080p video through your Wi-Fi network to Nest's servers, which you can monitor and review on a smartphone app or its website. A subscription plan allows you to scrub through saved video and grants some other cloud-enabled features. You never store the video locally; a trade-off for ease of set-up and a seamless app experience. By and large, Nest Cam is just like the Dropcam Pro with a new camera sensor and redesigned chassis--not an essential upgrade if you've already spent $200 on the previous model.

    But for new users and those interested in home security-lite, Nest Cam is an easy way to set up video monitoring of a room in your home, office, or even the sidewalk outside your window. After using the camera for a little bit, here's what stuck out to me about the experience.