Quantcast
Latest StoriesTech
    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: Microsoft Windows 10 Pro

    Windows 10 is out today, and I've been using the new OS near-constantly over the last couple of weeks. I really like most of what Microsoft has done with the latest version if Windows, it's mostly fixes the mess that Microsoft made with Windows 8, while adding a handful of great new features. Windows 10 represents a big departure for the operating system.

    Microsoft is calling Windows 10 the last version of Windows. Don't worry, Windows isn't going anywhere, but Microsoft is getting rid of the big annual releases. Instead of upgrades you need to shell out cash for, you can expect to see smaller, more regular, free updates to the OS. While Microsoft reps wouldn't commit to a specific timeline for updates, they said we could expect to see three to four updates annually.

    The problem with Windows 8 was simply that the OS that Microsoft shipped was designed to be used with touch devices--that sounds great, except it didn't work well with the billion or so computers that didn't include touch and the touch-capable devices didn't really exist at launch. The result was an OS that was based around a decent first attempt at a touch-first operating system that was frustrating for anyone who used it with a mouse and keyboard.

    With Windows 10, Microsoft is attempting to atone for its tablet-first error. The OS is smarter and more configurable than either of its direct predecessors. Windows 10 behaves like a tablet OS when the keyboard and mouse are missing and shifts to a traditional Windows desktop when you use it with a keyboard and mouse. With widespread support for touchscreens on laptops and a user interface that shifts seamlessly between touch and traditional controls based on the type of input you're using, I can finally see the promise of the convertible laptop.

    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?

    Intel and Micron Announce New, Fast Non-Volatile Memory

    In most modern systems, there are two types of storage, volatile and non-volatile memory. Volatile storage is very fast, but is expensive and requires constant power to retain data, if the power drops, the data disappears. For this reason, it's typically used as system RAM and provides the working storage for the system's processor. Non-volatile storage, which typically takes the form of a hard drive or solid-state drive, retains your data without power to the system, but it is much, much slower than typical RAM.

    Today, Intel and Micron announced XPoint memory (pronounced: crosspoint). The companies are promising that XPoint is 1000x faster than the NAND flash used in today's SSDs and because the structure is simplified, they can be packed 10x denser than the chips used in SSDs today. In terms of performance, this puts XPoint somewhere between the DRAM used for system memory and the NAND flash used in SSDs. Cost for XPoint memory will be somewhere between that of NAND and DRAM as well.

    This kind of advancement has real potential to move bottlenecks inside the PC, but the current PC ecosystem can't accommodate the scale of performance that Intel and Micron are promising. Current PCI-Express SSDs are already able to saturate PCI-Express, so making the storage inside a drive faster won't show a performance benefit without upgrading the drive's connection to the PC. If XPoint succeeds, we'll eventually see significant architectural changes to the PC to take advantage of the new technology, but that will take time. At first, I'd expect to see the new technology integrated in next-generation PCI-Express SSDs, but as DRAM density growth is slowing down, it's good to see new potential technologies that can scale come online to replace or supplement it.

    So when will you be able to get XPoint in your PC? Intel and Micron didn't share any details about potential product integrations, but they did say that they're manufacturing now and will ship products in 2016. Given what we know about the technology, I'd expect to see this show up first on SSDs destined for the data center, but we'll likely find out more about product plans in a few weeks at the Intel Developer Forum.

    Tested Builds: DIY Arcade Cabinet Kit, Part 1

    Time to start more weeks of builds! This week, we're joined by Jeremy Williams to assemble his new Porta-Pi DIY Arcade Cabinet Kit. the Porta-Pi is a desktop-sized arcade emulator that runs on either a Raspberry Pi or mini computer. Jeremy had built an earlier version, but the new model has a larger screen and more powerful computer inside. Let's get to building! (Follow along the rest of the week by joining the Tested Premium member community!)

    Google Play App Roundup: WiFiMapper, Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf, and Piloteer

    Another week is upon us, and that means it's time to check out the state of the Google Play Store. Your phone is only a shadow of itself without the best apps, so it's a good thing we're here to save the day. Just click on the app name to pull up the Google Play Store so you can try things out for yourself.

    OpenSignal WiFiMapper

    Mobile networks are more robust than they used to be, but capped data plans are also considerably more common. If you need a WiFi connection on the go, it's not always easy to find one. That's where the OpenSignal WiFiMapper app comes into play. You can probably guess what it does -- WiFiMapper shows you nearby WiFi hotspots and tell you whether or not you'll be able to access them.

    OpenSignal gets its vast location data on WiFi access points from users of the app, and this collection happens automatically in the background. If you're not cool with that, no problem. You can open the settings and disable automatic collection of AP locations. However, that's the only setting in the app. Everything else takes place in the main UI.

    At the top of the screen is a map that shows your location as well as the approximate location of the access points your phone can see. Gray icons are private and green ones are public. Less common are the paid access points, which are pink. Tapping on any of the icons lets you open the detail page on the AP (or scrolling down below the map). Depending on where you are, there might not be any data about a network. However, most public spaces I've checked have some indexed networks.

    The app can tell you if a network is run by a business, if it needs a password, and if it's completely private. For business networks, the app ties in with FourSquare to show user comments. There are also comments within the OpenSignal system related specifically to the WiFi (i.e. whether or not it's usable).

    If a network doesn't have any details listed, you can fill in the details yourself (requires a Google login). The app also keeps a log of the networks you've connected to in the MY History section so you can go back and add availability information to them. Again, this is optional. You can turn off the background canning and clear your history.

    WiFiMapper has a material UI and performance seems good. I haven't seen any detectable battery drain from letting it save AP locations. It's a handy tool to have around if you're watching your mobile data closely.

    Behind the Scenes of the BattleBots Production

    The BattleBots season finale is tonight, and we were on location during the filming of the final match-ups. Here's what you didn't see on TV. We chat with some of the competitors after their matches, learn how they prepare and repair their bots, and stick around for the unaired grudge matches!

    The Anatomy of a Modern BattleBot

    What does it take to build a BattleBot, and what technology makes a good combat robot? We chat with BattleBots competitor Will Bales about his matches and examine the parts of his HyperShock robot. From chassis to circuitry to weapons systems, we run through each component to give you an idea of how these 250-pound machines work!

    FPV Quadcopter Racing at the 2015 Drone Nationals

    The California State Fair recently hosted the first ever Drone Nationals--a FPV quadcopter racing competition that brought together pilots from all around the world. After two days of races and freestyle stunt performances, we chat with the event's director and the competition's eventual winner about the developing sport of FPV aerial racing.

    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.

    Hackers Take Remote Control of a Jeep SUV

    In a video for Wired, writer Andy Greenberg invited security engineers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek to hijack a stock Jeep Cherokee over a hacked internet connection. The two were able to control various functions on the Jeep--even its steering and brakes--by tapping into a vulnerability in the car's internet-connected entertainment system. Chrysler has just issued a fix for this vulnerability--a software patch that must be manually installed.

    In Brief: Testing the Usability of Electronics in Water

    Craig Hockenberry's post about testing the waterproof claims of the Apple Watch is a good read even if you don't own a smartwatch. He dives into what affects electronics in water use, and how waterproofing works in modern touchscreen devices. There are some interesting UI implications for wearables in underwater use as well, which may inform how smartwatches adapt input and output for different environments in the future.

    Norman
    Testing: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Laptop

    A few months ago, Lenovo sent me their ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop to test. While I ran it through our usual suite of benchmarks at the office, I've been waiting for a proper place to test it in the field. That opportunity came during Comic-Con, where I brought the ThinkPad along to complement my 12-inch MacBook. The MacBook, which has been my travel computer for the past few months, has been serviceable for most daily activities--web browsing, writing, and image editing. But I knew its Core-M processor would slog over more intensive tasks like exporting hundreds of photos at once or rendering video clips. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon's Broadwell-U processor--a Core i7-5600U in this loaner unit--was more suited for the job. And what a difference it made. After months of working on low-powered systems like the Core-M MacBook, UX305, and even the Atom-based Surface 3, this laptop reminded me of the joys of computing on a workhorse laptop.

    And a workhorse is exactly what a ThinkPad is supposed to be. The ThinkPad X1 line, which we first tested in 2011, has been in a awkward and elongated transitional period where it's straddled the line between Ultrabook and workhorse. What's the difference? A workhorse laptop is designed around performance and battery life, with ports galore and business-friendly features like fingerprint readers. They're no-compromise laptops--essentially the anti-2015 MacBook. Ultrabooks, though, are an Intel classification, denoting the use of a low-wattage Core CPU along with a thin-and-light chassis. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon line, with its tapered unibody design and non-removeable battery, has been more Ultrabook than workhorse--at least in the eyes of some ThinkPad enthusiasts. That was definitely the case with the previous ThinkPad X1 Carbon generation, which had a controversial keyboard redesign and touch function key strip.

    This year's generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a return to form, at least for the Carbon line (Wirecutter still recommends the ThinkPad T450s for business users). It's still very Ultrabook-y, with no replaceable battery and a intentionally slim 3-pound chassis. And while the laptop is equipped with HDMI and DP video output and two USB 3.0 ports, there's no internet SD card slot. Ports like Ethernet and VGA are reserved for adapters that plug into the wide power+I/O jack. The 14-inch 2560x1440 screen may not be as overkill as the 3200x1800 QHD+ screen found in Lenovo's Yoga Pro line, though I still think 1080p is a sweet spot for a laptop this size. This X1 Carbon also has a fantastic backlit chiclet keyboard with ample travel and a smooth glass trackpad. The trackpoint nub is still around, too, which complements the touchscreen for precision cursor control. Elements of ThinkPad remain, balanced between the design constraints of Ultrabooks. But what tips the X1 Carbon more toward the workhorse category is its performance. This laptop is fast.

    The Best iPad Stylus Today

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

    We spent 10 hours testing a total of 11 iPad styluses with a graphic designer and independently arrived at the same conclusion: The best stylus for most people is Adonit's newly redesigned Jot Pro ($30). The Jot Pro's unique clear plastic plastic tip allows for precise input; it doesn't block the iPad's screen like other rubber-tipped styluses so you can see what you're drawing as you draw. It's also comfortable to hold, and a number of small details, such as a spring-loaded tip that better mimics the feel of pen on paper, make the overall experience a pleasure.

    How We Decided

    You want a stylus with enough weight and glide to move freely, but with enough friction to be predictable. The idea is to replicate the feeling of pen on paper. We tested each stylus by navigating a maze, tracing the alphabet, sketching a variety of items, and tapping around a tablet. After our initial assessment, we started all over again, testing the pens in a different order to reduce any chance that becoming acclimated to a stylus might have skewed the results.

    In Brief: Five Interesting Things Today

    After a week-long exhale from Comic-Con, we're back to a regular schedule and looking forward to upcoming events, product testing, and more projects! Here are some stories currently sitting my browser tabs that I thought were worth sharing. First, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced that he would be spending $100 million over the next ten years to amp out the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Steven Hawking's on board. I also enjoyed this NPR story about the research into the curious sound of screaming. Windows 10 comes out in a week, and Microsoft has released an invite-only beta of its Cortana app for Android--Arstechnica has tested it. Boingboing's exploration of vintage Star Wars clothing collecting strikes a chord. And the best custom LEGO build in recent memory may be David Szmandra's enormous RC construction crane. "Massive erection" indeed.

    Norman 1
    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!

    Google Play App Roundup: Native Clipboard, This War of Mine, and Redden

    Another week is upon us, and that means it's time to check out the state of the Google Play Store. Your phone is only a shadow of itself without the best apps, so it's a good thing we're here to save the day. Just click on the app name to pull up the Google Play Store so you can try things out for yourself.

    Native Clipboard

    There was a time some years ago that copying and pasting on a mobile device was a big deal. Now you can pretty easily select, copy, and paste text on Android and other mobile platforms, but nothing much has changed in the last few years. Native Clipboard is an app that tries to beef up your clipboard, and it does a nice job of it. If you're got the root-only Xposed Framework, it's even more powerful too.

    Native Clipboard will need to be added as an accessibility service after installation, which allows it to read the contents of your clipboard. So it can see all the text you copy, but it's open source and nothing shady is going on. The basic idea is that if you need to paste some text, you can double-tap in a field and Native Clipboard will pop up at the bottom of the screen.

    The UI will cover up the keyboard, but you can drag it up out of the way if you need to type something before dismissing it. Your recently copied items will be in cards inside the Native Clipboard interface. Tapping on any of them will paste it into the selected field, and a long-press will expand it so you can see the full text of a longer snippet. From the expanded view, you can also pin something. Pinned text will remain at the top of the list (if you've selected that in the settings) and won't be automatically cleared. A swipe will clear any non pinned card in the list.

    There are a lot of customization options in Native Clipboard, including full control of the theme/colors. The size of the text, height of the pop up, and number of items to save are also configurable. For Xposed users, you can use the Native Clipboard module to blacklist certain apps, edit clips directly, and use the app inside a web browser. Note: regular users can use Native Clipboard in the address bar of a browser, just not within the page itself. That's coming to 5.0/5.1 devices soon, though.

    Native Clipboard is completely free and there are no in-app purchases. There's definitely enough functionality here to charge money for, so it's pretty cool that you can use it at no cost.

    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.