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    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.

    Show and Tell: Testing Camera Slider Gear

    For today's Show and Tell, Joey and Norm give you a behind-the-scenes look at some of the camera gear we use to film Tested videos. Specifically, camera sliders and motorized mounts that we use in the studio at on location. We've been testing the Redrock Micro One Man Crew motorized slider, which you may have seen used in previous Show and Tell videos!

    Testing: Asus ZenFone 2 Smartphone

    In the United States, on-contract subsidies for phones is slowly being supplanted by leasing and "easy-pay" deals where users can get new phones for no money down--the full price of the phone is amortized over the term of the contract. It's another way that carriers are trying to hide the fact that the latest flagship phones are more expensive than most people think--$600 and up in the bottom line. That's why we take note when phones like the Nexus 5 and OnePlus One are released for half that price, off-contract and unlocked for use with any GSM carrier. The latest of these low-cost high-end phones is Asus' ZenFone 2, which I've been using for the past few weeks. Its recent US release turned heads because of its price: $200 for a 1080p phone with really good technical specs. Sounds great on paper, and I'm happy to report that there aren't many catches (at least not any you can't work around).

    The Asus ZenFone 2 is also interesting because it runs on an Intel Atom processor. The quad-core SoC is on the top end of Intel's Silvermont architecture, paired with a PowerVR graphics component. It's actually the same chip found in the Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet I tested at the beginning of the year, which was a great performer. As with the Dell tablet, you shouldn't have to worry about Android app compatibility with X86--Android Lollipop's ART runtime takes care of that. And running on a 1080p smartphone, the performance of the chip is competitive with the latest ARM SoCs from Qualcomm and Samsung. My benchmarks showed it fitting between the performance of the Galaxy S6 and LG G4--definitely flagship material. At that level, I couldn't notice performance differences in day to day use, even in gaming.

    I should mention that the ZenFone 2 does come at two price points, with meaningful differences. The $200 entry-level runs a slightly slower 1.8GHz processor, with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. The $300 model I tested has a 2.33GHz Atom, 4GB of RAM, and four times the storage at 64GB. RAM and SoC are the notable differentiators between the models, since you can expand storage on both with a microSD card. Both models also have dual microSIM slots. But even at 1.8GHz and 2GB of RAM, you're going to be able to run any new Android app and game without problems.

    The respectable performance doesn't come as a surprise, so we turn to the areas that really differentiate the day-to-day use of a smartphone: display quality, camera, and battery life. On these counts, the Asus ZenFone is above average, but doesn't claim any crowns. Let's start with the screen.

    Testing: Blade 200QX, A Multi-Purpose Multi-Rotor

    A good indicator of the success of any multi-rotor model is the number of different accessories and hop-ups that are offered for it. By that measure, the Blade 200QX is a big hit. Blade and several other companies offer an array of products for pilots who want to personalize their 200QX and/or change how it performs.

    I've been testing a 200QX for about two months. It is definitely a widely versatile multi-rotor, even without modification. Today, I'll share my opinions of the 200QX in stock form. I will also illustrate three add-ons that allowed me to try new things with this quad.

    Honey, I Shrunk the Skids

    The first thing that I noticed about the 200QX is that it looks a lot like my Blade 350 QX3 – only smaller (200mm diameter vs 350mm). Both feature a plastic shell as the main structural component and they share very similar styling. Although both quads are intended for Spektrum brand radios, the 200QX is only available as a Bind-N-Fly model. I linked the little quad to my DX8 transmitter.

    The 200QX presents a unique combination of size, weight, and power that makes it difficult to categorize. If a defining label is truly necessary, I think "Mini Sport Quad" would encompass the primary features of the 200QX. It is only slightly larger than several of my indoor quads, but its brushless motors and 2-cell LiPo battery make it much more powerful. Living room flights are probably taboo. Yet, I found an indoor basketball court to be a fun and comfortable flying spot.

    The 200QX offers styling similar to Blade's larger quad-rotors. Brushless motors and a 2-cell LiPo battery provide ample power.

    This quad has plenty of power and control authority for outdoor flights, but its small size will force you to keep it relatively close in. On the flip side, the bare 200QX weighs less than 7 ounces. Its light weight was a confidence builder for me. When flying over reasonably tall grass, I felt like I could push my comfort zone without much concern over breaking parts if I had a hiccup.

    Tested In-Depth: Microsoft Surface 3 Review

    We loved using the Surface Pro 3 as a primary laptop, though it was a little too big to use with the stylus as a portable digital notepad. The new Surface 3, though, hits a lot of sweet spots for power and portability. We sit down to discuss its use of Intel's latest Atom processor, the new form factor, and how it stacks up against dedicated laptops and tablets.

    Show and Tell: Living Room Couch Keyboard

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his pick for a keyboard to use with a living room media PC. The Microsoft Wireless All-in-One Media Keyboard has a built-in trackpad and it's the best of all the couch keyboards Will's tested, and it's not expensive to boot.

    Tested In-Depth: Apple Watch Long-Term Review

    After living with the Apple Watch for over a month, Will discusses what features he finds most useful about it and what has disappointed him. Typical of first-gen products, the watch is a mix of successes and missteps. Here's what early adopters should expect and what we hope will change in future versions.

    Tested In-Depth: LG G4 Smartphone Review

    We test the new LG G4, an Android flagship that may have the best camera we've ever seen in a smartphone. Plus, it has a removable battery and expandable storage--something missing from other flagships. Will and Norm sit down to talk about how its photos compare with ones taken on the Samsung GS6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and whether the high-resolution LCD screen is needed.

    Show and Tell: New Nintendo 3DS XL

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will and Norm check out the new Nintendo 3DS XL that was released in the US earlier this year. We evaluate its new head-tracking 3D display and talk about a strange hardware omission. Here's what you need to know if you're an existing 3DS owner or newly interested in the handheld console. (Thanks to B&H for providing the One Man Crew camera slider system for this video.)

    Testing: GeForce GTX 980 Ti 4K Benchmarks

    In terms of high-end PC gaming, two technologies are really pushing the need for gamers to spend $500 or more on a video card: 4K gaming and virtual reality. People who are playing games on 1080p or even 1440p displays should be satisfied with the performance of cards in the Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 or GTX 970 range, even with graphics turned up. The increase in pixels needed to be rendered for 4K and upcoming VR headsets are more demanding, but we're only starting to see cards that can run games at smooth framerates at those native resolutions. Nvidia's Titan X, which was only released two months ago, was the first card I tested that could run 4K at close to 60 frames per second on the latest games. But maxed-out Maxwell costs $1000. Today's announcement and release of the GeForce GTX 980 Ti fills in the gap between the 980 and Titan X, and the good thing is that its price is closer to the former while its performance is closer to the latter.

    From a technical specifications perspective, there's actually not a lot to say about the GTX 980Ti. Based on the same Nvidia GM200 GPU found in the Titan X, it's actually a very close sibling to that flagship--almost a twin. They both share the same 1GHz core clock (1075MHz boost), 7GHz memory clock, 96 ROPs, and 250W TDP. The differences lie in two areas: CUDA cores and VRAM. For this release of GM200, Nvidia simply turned off 2 of the chip's 24 streaming multiprocessors (SMM), so the GTX 980Ti has 8% fewer CUDA cores and Texture Units (2816 and 176, respectively). RAM is also cut in half from the Titan X's future-proofing (read: ridiculous) 12GB of GDDR5 to 6GB, still 2GB more than the GTX 980. No game today needs 12GB of VRAM, but games like GTA V, Shadow of Modor, and the Witcher III will guzzle up video memory if you want to enable supersampling on high-resolution displays. Theoretically, the technical delta means performance should just be scaled down by 8% from a Titan X. But in my tests, the framerate differences are even smaller.

    I've been benchmarking the GTX 980Ti for the past few days, running it specifically at the UHD resolution of 3840x2160. Here's what you should know about the this new card, and my recommendations for what you should get if you need to buy a video card today vs. if you want to get a card for 4K and VR.