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    Testing: In-Depth with the Nexus 5X and 6P Cameras

    Nexus phones have always had great software and innovative hardware features, but even when the camera specs looked good, performance has been mediocre at best. Google has been happy to point out that it prioritized the cameras in the Nexus 5X and 6P, though. They use excellent sensors and the software processing has been heavily revamped. So how good are they? Let's take a closer look at this year's Nexus cameras.

    The Hardware

    The Nexus 6P and 5X have a lot in common when it comes to the camera. In fact, they have identical hardware. We're talking about a Sony IMX377 image sensor with a resolution of 12.3MP. That's a little lower than the Nexus 6's resolution last year, and there's one other feature missing from these cameras -- optical image stabilization. We'll get to that later.

    These Sony sensors have large 1.55μm pixels and a f/2.0 aperture. These features both make for theoretically better low-light performance compared to past Nexus phones. The pixel measurement isn't something you hear about a lot, but HTC has pushed it as an important metric for its Ultrapixel sensor. Those cameras have 2.0μm pixels, which allows them to pick up a lot of light. However, the resolution was only 4MP. The IMX377 is ahead of most sensors in pixel size, commonly 1.1-1.2μm.

    Next to the camera on these phones you also get a laser autofocus module. It's out in the open on the 5X, but it's behind the glass cover on the 6P. This is similar to LG's phones in that it helps you zero in on targets, even in weird lighting conditions. A number of other high-end flagship phones use phase detection tech to focus the camera, but the laser option has proven to be better overall.

    Several of the differences between the Nexus 6P and 5X cameras have to do with the internal hardware, not the camera modules themselves. The 5X has a Snapdragon 808 and the 6P runs a Snapdragon 810. According to Google, several of the processing technologies it chose to implement don't work well enough on the 808, so they're exclusive to the 6P. Specifically, electronic image stabilization, smart burst, and 240fps slow-motion video.

    Mobile vs. Desktop: Apple iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface

    I've been testing the iPad Pro for the past week and a half now, using it not only as a go-to tablet, but also as an alternative to a notebook for as many day-to-day tasks as possible. I strapped it inside a Logitech Create keyboard and brought it as my sole computer for a weekend work trip to LA. There's a lot more testing to do--my Apple Pencil hasn't even shipped yet--but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on how the device performs, and where it fits and doesn't fit into my work and home use. Specifically, I want to discuss how it, along with other devices, are changing the conversation and role of what are typically classified as mobile and desktop-class computers.

    The release of Microsoft's new Surface devices (Surface Book and Surface Pro 4), along with the release of the iPad Pro has renewed the idea of mobile vs. desktop. You can find many reviews that boil their evaluation down to whether the iPad Pro can replace a laptop, or whether Microsoft's Surface laptops can replace the need for a tablet. I'm not interested in that head-to-head comparison--the products are set at different price points, and in my mind serve different purposes. Their hardware and software design illustrate different priorities for Microsoft and Apple for their respective families of computing devices. It's those priorities and design approaches that are really interesting; I want to compare what the iPad and Surface lines stand for: a future that's mobile first vs. one that's desktop first.

    To do that, we should first define our terms. So much of this discussion can get muddled in pointless semantic disagreements. When talking about the iPad and Surface, what categorizes one as mobile, and what categorizes the other as a desktop device? Is it the physical formfactor and size? Having a built-in keyboard? Long battery life? Processor architecture? Touchscreen? App selection? All of the above are important to varying degrees, but I think the difference currently boils down to windowed applications and input models, and how those implementations affect how you can use those machines.

    Windows and a Desktop: Multitasking for Productivity

    For me, the biggest difference in the way you currently use a desktop-class device (eg. a notebook) and a mobile device (eg. smartphone and tablet) depends on whether the operating system employs a desktop model of running programs and file management. As opposed to runnings apps full-screen, Desktop OSes allow for windowed applications to run alongside each other, on top of a virtual and visualized desktop surface. It's a really simple concept to understand, and yet there are grey areas. For example, the home screen on iOS doesn't count as a desktop--it's just an application list, like the Start Menu in Windows. Simple. But on Android OS, being able to arrange files and shortcuts around a launcher screen and run apps in windows makes those devices more akin to desktop OSes, even though Android is typically classified as a mobile OS.

    Tested: $50-$100 Entry-Level Quadcopters

    I recently reviewed a handful of multi-rotors costing less than $50. All of those units were beginner-oriented and best-suited for indoor flying. This time around I'll be looking at some quads in the $50-100 price range. As you will see, doubling your budget doesn't necessarily buy you better products--just different ones. On average, these costlier models have similar features to the sub-$50 crowd, but they are larger and more powerful.

    With one exception, the quads showcased here are meant for outdoor flying. They have geared motors spinning sizeable propellers. Whereas a mini-quad might simply bounce off of a picture frame on the mantel, one of these ships would probably send that frame crashing to the floor. You're better off flying these larger models outdoors unless you have access to a vacant warehouse or basketball gym.

    While you certainly could use any of these quads for learning to fly, I still think that is the domain of the less-expensive indoor ships (or a simulator). Indoor flying generally presents fewer variables, allowing you to better focus on flying. The ships presented here are at their best when you're flying just for the fun of flying.

    As before, this is not a comparison where I'll rank the models first to worst. The intent here is to illustrate what your money buys in this price range. I'll also point out any notable capabilities or detriments as they pop up. Let's get to the testing!

    Testing the Lulzbot Mini 3D Printer

    This post was originally published on Overworld Designs and is republished here with permission. Follow Michelle on Facebook and find her work on Instagram.

    Back in March, Freeside Atlanta won a LulzBot Mini 3D printer during a hackerspace giveaway. We already have one of LulzBot's older machines, an AO-100, so we were very familiar with their printers and how easy they were to use. I've used several of LulzBot's printers before - I own an AO-101 myself - and I was really interested to see what the Mini brought to the table.

    As I said in my Cube 3D review, I really dislike the idea of "just press go" type of machines. 3D printing is still too young of a technology for mass adoption, and pushing fickle equipment on to the unsuspecting masses will put 3D printing in a negative light. Having said that: the Mini is probably the best printer I've ever used.

    The Mini's name comes from it's generally small build platform of roughly 6" cubed. Normally this would really deter me from using it as I am generally printing large costume pieces, but the small printing volume is the only negative I can possibly say about the machine. The machine comes fully built and ready to use, the frame is attractive and everything is very well constructed. It took us about 20 minutes between unboxing and pulling our first print off of the bed.

    Included is a LulzBot branded install of Cura slicing software which has all of the settings for the Mini included, so the time between unboxing and printing was incredibly fast. There are several preset quality options, and the highest detail option at 0.1mm produces amazing results. You can go under the hood and tweak all of the print options, but the default settings produce great objects on their own.

    But really, the two best features are the PEI printing surface, and the self leveling bed.

    Testing: Valve's Steam Controller

    This is not a review of Valve's Steam Controller. It it was a review of the controller, my recommendation would be not to buy it. Even though the controllers (and Steam Link set-top box) have been shipping to early customers for a few weeks now, Valve has stressed that the hardware availability is simply the beginning of its ongoing development work to take Steam and PC gaming outside of your home office and into place like the living room. You can buy the hardware, but just don't think of it as the final final product experience yet--more updates are coming!

    If that sounds sketchy to you, you're not alone. We've always said that products should be evaluated for what you're getting when you pay for them, not for the potential they hold or the promises of their makers. And Valve made some lofty promises with the Steam Controller. It's supposed to be the kitchen-sink device that can replace the keyboard and mouse for playing games of any genre. That requires not only a novel controller concept (which this certainly is), but also the software integration and game design compliance to seamlessly support it. That's the part that's not done yet. So this is not a review of that promised catch-all living room game controller. That device is not here yet. These are notes and current impressions from my ongoing testing of the Steam Controller, as released to the public.

    You know the story of the Steam Controller. Originally announced back in 2013 with a laundry list of concepts including a touchscreen, the design of the controller has been pared down to something that resembles a console gamepad, kinda. There are ABXY action buttons, triggers, shoulder buttons, and even an analog stick. But it differentiates itself with two large haptic touchpads that can be programmed to simulate a variety of inputs, as well as two big paddle grips under the controller. Ergonomically, the controller feels really good, even though you don't hold it exactly the same way you do an Xbox or PlayStation gamepad. Adjusting to it from those devices is easy.

    What's a little more difficult to adjust to are the large touchpads at the top of the controller. Those utilize linear actuators (magnets) to not only provide haptic response to your thumb movements, but convincing surface resistance to guide those movements. It's a strange sensation to glide the tip of your thumb across the pad and feel subtle pulsing feedback that makes it feel like you're rolling a trackball or spinning a clicky dial. That haptic response makes using the relatively-small touchpad as a mouse cursor a much satisfying and effective than a zero-resistance touchpad, like the large glass rectangles you'd find on a laptop. And if I was just using the Steam Controller to move a mouse cursor around and click menu icons, I'd be very happy. But it's meant for playing games. Not just any game--all the games. And that's where I started getting frustrated.

    Tested In-Depth: 3Doodler 3D Printing Pen

    What the heck is a 3D printing pen? Will and Sean sit down to discuss the 3Doodler 2.0, a handheld plastic extrusion tool that can be used to draw shapes, build simple three-dimensional structures, and even repair existing plastic models. Here's what changed in version 2.0, and what we think it could be good for.

    Show and Tell: Halo 5 Needler Full-Size Replica

    The new Halo just came out, and along with it comes this full-size Needler prop from NECA toys. It's based on official game files from 343 Industries, and impressively scaled too. We compare this official prop with the one built by Volpin Props back in 2013, and show some unique things about each model. Place a comment below for a chance to win this NECA Halo Needler replica!

    Tested In-Depth: Apple iPhone 6S and 6S Plus

    We've been testing the Apple iPhone 6S and 6S Plus for over a month, and share our long-term takeaways. Jeremy and Norm go over the 12 most important things learned from using the new iPhones, from both the perspective of an annual iPhone buyer and an Android user. Here's why we think that this year's iPhone features don't have a huge impact on our daily use of the phone.

    Tested: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Review

    Even though the Surface Book is getting a lot of attention for its unique design, the new Surface Pro 4's refinement of Microsoft's proven tablet-laptop hybrid is just as impressive. The device is every bit an improvement over last year's model, packing an Intel Skylake processor into a chassis that's even thinner than the Atom-based Surface tablet. Its screen, keyboard, and stylus are also better, and we test it in the hands of working artists. Thanks to Marty Cooper for assisting with this review!

    Tested: Microsoft Surface Book Review

    We're excited to test and review Microsoft's new Surface Book laptop! We've had one in the lab for about two weeks, and shared it with some artists and professional sculptors to get their thoughts on the laptop's graphics performance and pen responsiveness. Here's what we think about Microsoft's design for a two-in-one tablet/laptop, and how it compares to other Windows PCs.

    Show and Tell: Valve Software's Steam Controller

    Two years after it was announced, Valve's Steam Controller is finally out! But before you think about spending $50 on this PC gamepad for your living room, here's our early testing impressions. We tried the gamepad with first person shooters, third-person action games, and point-and-click adventure games. The haptic touchpads work as promised, but there's definitely a learning curve.

    Tested In-Depth: DxO One Camera for iOS

    This week, we're testing an interesting new camera that's made for iOS devices. The DXO One has the same camera sensor as awesome RX100, but packed in a much smaller housing and uses a phone or tablet as its display. That means you can take and share much better photos than with just an iPhone, without having to carry a larger mirrorless or DSLR camera. Here's how it performed for us on a recent trip.

    Show and Tell: Microsoft Universal Folding Keyboard

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his experience with the Microsoft Universal Folding Keyboard, a portable Bluetooth keyboard that works with multiple devices and operating systems. It can connect up to two tablets, and works with Windows or iOS. It's really small and thin, but has good-size keys and feels nice to type on.

    Show and Tell: Electric Objects EO1 Digital Picture Frame

    For this week's Show and Tell, we take a look at a new digital picture frame made by startup Electric Objects. The EO1 is a 23-inch 1080p display with a small computer built into it for downloading and displaying images and animated GIFs from the internet. One way it distinguishes itself from other digital photo frames is that its makers have intentionally not included slideshow functionality.

    Tested In-Depth: Google OnHub Router

    We test and review the Google OnHub, a $200 home router with a unique barebones cylindrical design. We talk about how its antenna configuration is supposed to make it a good access point, and the merits of an app-based router interface. Here's how Google's router performs alongside other 802.11ac routers!

    Bits to Atoms: Ultimaker 2 3D Printer Review

    We spent a month with the Ultimaker 2, a high-end FDM 3D printer and it was a positive experience all around. Ultimaker is a Netherlands based company that introduced the Ultimaker printer kit in 2011 - a standard at Maker Faire along with the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, introduced in 2010. Aside from the many RepRap kits available at the time, Ultimaker and MakerBot were the ones people like myself were looking at. Both kits had a similar look with lasercut plywood bodies, but the Ultimaker used a different approach to how the filament was fed through the extruder and how the larger print bed operated. From the start, Ultimaker was know (and still is) for very nice, high resolution prints. The only thing that kept me from buying the Ultimaker over the Thing-O-Matic (which I loved) was the fact that MakerBot was located right in my neighborhood, Brooklyn, and Ultimaker was way over in the Netherlands with no real US-based support at the time.

    Photo credit: Ultimaker

    The Ultimaker 2

    Ultimaker Original+ Kit CREDIT: ULTIMAKER

    Things have changed quite a lot since then, with MakerBot being bought by Stratasys and becoming a household name and Ultimaker expanding across Europe. Ultimaker has now secured a U.S. partner, Fbrc8, which assembles, distributes and supports printers domestically. Currently Ultimaker offers the Go, 2 and Extended models as well as the Orginal +, an updated version of the first kit!

    All of the printers use 2.85mm PLA filament with a .1mm (100 micron) standard layer resolution, down to an amazing .04mm (40 micron) fine resolution. On many FDM printers .1mm is the 'high' setting. All printers have a removable, glass printbed for easy print removal and clean up. The $2500 Ultimaker 2 has a 22.3cm x 22.3cm x 20.5cm heated print bed which expands the printable materials. The Extended is identical to the 2 but adds 10cm to the printable height and runs $3000. The tiny Go has a 12cm x 12cm x 11.5cm build volume and does not have a heated print bed, so is restricted to PLA filament--it runs $1300.

    Tested In-Depth: Apple iOS 9 for iPhone and iPad

    Apple's latest mobile operating system is out, and even if you've already installed it, you may not know about all its features and changes. We sit down to review what's new and notable in iOS 9, showing off multi-tasking on the iPad Air 2, the new Siri, and important changes in default apps like Safari. Here's what we think about the pace of iOS changes.