After 60 hours of research and 25 hours of testing, we found the $600 Sony a5100 is the best mirrorless camera for beginners. It stands out from the dozens of competitors we considered by delivering superior photo quality while being easier to use right out of the box thanks to simple menus and controls. Plus, it offers enough flexibility to keep up with a new photographer's developing skills.
We looked over the entire range of mirrorless cameras currently available for less than $600 and narrowed the field down to four final candidates for hands-on testing: the $550 Olympus E-PL7, Samsung's $400 NX3000, the $500 Panasonic GF7 and the Sony a5100. We toted them around everywhere to see how they performed in the situations most novice shooters find challenging, putting each camera's autofocus, low light and flash capabilities to the test.
Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab unveiled MultiFab, a prototype 3D printer that can work with up to 10 materials. That allows it to fabricate complex components and even embed electronics directly in what it's printing. Because different materials require different print parameters, MultiFab manages its print heads by building in a 3D scanning step into each print layer, which allows the machine to detect errors and self-correct. Read more about the MultiFab printer here.
Technology historian Benj Edwards (who writes the great Vintage Computing blog) celebrates the 20th anniversary of Nintendo's Virtual Boy with an exhaustive history of the failed game console for Fast Company. Edwards chronicles the development of Reflection Technologies' PrivateEye display which was featured in Virtual Boy, and the vision of its creators to build a true head-tracked HMD like today's virtual reality headsets. It's a great read that gives context to why the LED display tech was so interesting to Nintendo, despite its color limitations. To get a closer look at that tech, iFixit also did a teardown of the Virtual Boy a few years back.
Well, your phone or tablet might be cool, but it could be a lot cooler with the right apps. So what? Spend like mad until you find the apps that suit your needs? Nah, just read the weekly Google Play App Roundup here on Tested. We strive to bring you the best new, and newly updated apps on Android. Just click the app name to head to the Play Store.
Android 5.0 added the heads-up notification paradigm and did away with our beloved statusbar ticker text. We mourn its loss, but life goes on. Floatify came out a while ago to make heads-up notifications a bit less annoying, and a new update (V8.0) really takes it to a whole new level. I haven't had a chance to cover this one in the past, so now seems as good a time as any.
After setting up Floatify as a notification handler, it can essentially take over for the heads-up notifications built into Android 5.0 and higher. When you get a notification, the floatify banner will slide in from the top of the screen. You can do several things with this, depending on your settings. You can swipe up to hide, to the side to dismiss, and down to open all your notifications.
What's new in this update is an improved version of quick reply called direct reply. Confusing names aside, what this means is that you can swipe down on a messaging notification to get a quick reply box. Just type your message and send it off. Yes, basically like iOS. The direct reply feature is a way to add some canned responses to your messaging drop-down. You can configure these in the settings to say whatever you want. Want to reply "okay, cool" or "you smell" without typing? That can be arranged.
Floatify also extracts media playback controls from the stock notifications now. So each time a new song starts playing, you get a heads-up with the artist/song and playback controls in case you want to pause or skip. These can be hidden like any other heads-up too.
Floatify is designed to work on the lock screen as well as elsewhere in the UI. You can disable the lock screen feature if you want, but leaving it enabled means you'll want to turn off the stock notification content so you don't double up. Floatify also tends to pop up notifications far unimportant things by default. You can tweak all that stuff in the settings as well. The basic settings are free, but a pro unlocker app ($2.49) is needed to access everything.
Let's face it: remembering to plug your cell phone in at the end of the day is kind of a pain in the butt. For all the freedom that the mobile revolution has given us, we're still tethered to those damn wall chargers and watching our power bill increase. Thankfully, alternative energy is one of the hottest industries of the 21st century, and dozens of companies are working on products to replace the old-fashioned charger. Today, we'll show you ten amazing inventions that charge your phone in very different ways.
Today SmartThings and Amazon announced that the Amazon Echo can now control SmartThings-connected devices. After a short setup process, I was able to control individual lights (or groups of lights) in my house using the power of my voice. I'll discuss in more depth on the podcast next week, once I've had some more time with it, but my initial results are very positive. This means if you want voice-controlled lighting in your home, you just need a SmartThings hub, some relatively inexpensive Cree Connected bulbs, and Alexa. While it isn't a cheap solution, that setup costs a fraction of a comparable home automation rig from a few years ago. The only bummer is that you can only adjust things (or groups of things), you still have to switch modes for the house using the SmartThings app. (via @Uncle_Spooky)1
Most virtual reality demos we've tried have been single-player experiences, but we get a sense of the potential of multiplayer in VR with the Real Virtuality platform. Developed by motion-capture firm ArtAnim, Real Virtuality allows for free (and wireless) movement in a large physical space, with the ability to interact with tracked objects and other participants. We chat with its creators to hear what they've learned from testing it.
Nvidia today announced the GeForce GTX 950, a $160 video card aimed at MOBA players. It's a 90W part with 2GB of RAM, 768 CUDA cores, and a base clock of 1024MHz. In Nvidia's lineup, it sits between the 750Ti and GTX 960. Along with the card, Nvidia's GeForce Experience software now offers a low-latency feature for MOBA games, achieved by limiting the maximum prerendered frames in the GPU buffer so it's no longer the bottleneck in the graphics pipeline. According to Nvidia, tightening up the rendering cycle reduces click to action latency by up to 35ms, with minimal frame loss. This isn't something that'll affect the majority of gamers, but competitive MOBA players may find it useful.
Additionally, an upcoming beta of the GFE software will come with a Share feature, utilizing Maxwell's built-in H.264 encoder to record 4K 60fps gameplay videos and send versions of them directly to YouTube or a Twitch streaming account. Share also has a unique "Stream" function, which gives you a private URL to send with one person who can then watch a direct stream of your gameplay via a Chrome extension. The advantage of this direct connection over streaming via Twitch is the real-time playback, as well as the ability of the viewer to play along with you with guest controls. This is pretty neat: the extension can send back gamepad or keyboard/mouse commands and effectively let you play a shared-screen multiplayer game (like Trine 3) remotely--though not on a Chromebook, yet. Direct game sharing is limited to 720p 30fps, and you can only share full-screen experiences (to prevent the guest from accessing your desktop). But Nvidia confirmed that it's not just limited to games--anything that uses the Maxwell GPU and runs full screen can be shared. This evolution of Nvidia's Shadowplay feature is a novel use of Maxwell's video encoder. You'll be able to try it out in the GeForce Experience beta coming early September.
While reviews of two desktop Skylake processors have been out in the wild for weeks, the launch of Intel's 6th generation Core processor lineup is far from final. And to the disappointment of PC builders, Skylake didn't get its big debut at this week's IDF, either. Intel reserved much of yesterday's IDF keynote to talk of IOT and smart home devices. But in a separate briefing, some new Skylake architecture details were released. As PC World's Gordon Ung reports, Intel is touting three features in the upcoming chips: power savings via a new "Speed Shift Technology", performance improvements from the use of "eDRAM+" cache in the CPU, and integrated graphics that can drive multiple 4K panels and encode/decode 4K video in hardware. How these features translate to real-world performance--especially on the mobile side--wasn't explicitly stated, so we'll have to wait a few weeks when Intel will likely give Skylake a proper launch at IFA.
Marc Raibert, founder of Boston Dynamics (now owned by Google), shares some updates about the current state of its Atlas robot at the recent Fab Lab conference in Boston. The company has been testing Atlas outdoors--though still tethered--to demonstrate its mobility in uncontrolled environments. You can watch the full hourlong presentation, including talks from MIT and Harvard roboticists, here.
Not that many years ago, buying an Android phone off-contract for $250 would assure you of a terrible experience. Buyer's remorse was almost inevitable, and the only way to avoid it was to spend two or three times more on a "proper" android phone. My, how times have changed. A new era of Android has dawned, and the price of solid mid-range devices has come down dramatically. It's not all roses, though.
Let's take a look at what you gain and what you lose with these budget-friendly Android phones.
One of the primary reasons you can get a device like the Asus Zenfone 2, Alcatel Idol 3, or Moto G for well under $300 is that chipset makers have finally caught up to Android's software requirements. Mid-range SoCs like the Snapdragon 410, 615, and MediaTek Helio X10 have enough power to keep Android running smoothly in most instances. Most of these chipsets even support LTE. NAND flash and memory has come down in price dramatically as well.
There has also been a shift at the top of the market that has sent some OEMs looking for a new angle. It's actually very difficult to make a $600 smartphone and turn a profit while competing with Samsung, LG, and the other big players. Even some notable names in Android have had trouble competing in the premium bracket as of late (see: HTC). So what's an OEM to do? Well, go cheap, sometimes with the help of hardware partners.
There's an interesting dynamic playing out in the supply chain right now that has pushed hardware costs even lower than they might otherwise have been. Intel is looking to make a name in phones, and its latest generation Atom SoCs are actually quite good. Qualcomm is stumbling right now with the toasty Snapdragon 810, so Intel has partnered with OEMs like Asus to get its chips into budget phones quickly and cheaply. The price of a device like the Zenfone 2 might not have been as reasonable were it not for Intel's aggressive moves as of late.
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?
Last month, we covered the basics of RC telemetry systems – including how they work and why they're useful. Despite the apparent benefits, telemetry is not for every modeler or every RC aircraft. In fact, many hobbyists feel that only large, high-dollar models warrant the expense and added complexity of telemetry components. That opinion is debatable, but there are alternatives for those who would like the benefits of in-flight performance data without the overhead of telemetry. One way is to use a GPS recorder.
There are numerous GPS recording devices available, and many are tailored for the demands of specific activities such as hiking or driving. The Hobbico Big 5 GPS Meter ($90) is intended for use in RC airplanes. It collects time, location, altitude (present and peak values), and speed (present/average/peak) data. Following a flight, you can scroll to read selected parameters on the Big 5's LCD screen. Or, you can upload the data to a computer and plot out the entire flight on Google Earth.
The Big 5 unit measures 2.56" x 1.57" x 0.82" (65mm x 40mm x 21mm) and weighs 1.4 ounces (40 gr). To invoke a common yardstick, it is very nearly the same physical size as a GoPro Hero 3 (but lighter). This size and weight make the Big 5 unit compatible with a wide array of RC airplanes. I'd say that most models weighing at least 12 ounces are fair game.
Power for the Big 5 comes from a built in 200mAh LiPo battery that is recharged via USB. You can expect up to 150 minutes of operating time. This is adequate for any RC application that I can think of. It may fall short, however, if you want to repurpose the Big 5 for something else, such as a long bike ride. In any event, you can operate the unit with external power via the USB port or the 3-pin RC-style plug.
Up to six hours of data can be saved to the built-in flash memory. There is no provision to expand the storage capacity.
This GPS unit can be attached to your model using whatever method you like. I use self-adhesive Velcro. The prime consideration when mounting the device is to avoid placing it such that electrically conductive material (metals, carbon fiber) are blocking the signal path up to the orbiting GPS satellites. You will also want to ensure that the Big 5 does not upset the model's center of gravity.
At Luke Air Force Base, USAF pilots learn to fly the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet in this immersive simulator. (via Sploid) Lockheed Martin, the makers of the F-35, also released a video of its cockpit simulator last fall.
A few bits of Google news this week, including one product launch. First, Google announced that Android 6.0 is officially named Marshmallow. The final SDK for this 'M' release will be out soon for developers to get their apps working on it--we're crossing fingers for a Nexus phone release as well (rumored to be by LG). You'll have to wait longer for Google's Ara phones, as that project is now pushed back to at least 2016. And finally, Google launched a home router, made in partnership with TP-Link. The premise is that this OnHub is a router that's meant to be kept in the open, not stuck in a closet. Managed and controlled with an app, it supports Bluetooth 4.0 and a few smart home and IOT protocols (Thread and Zigbee). Looking at it makes me think of Amazon's Echo, and OnHub even has a speaker. The only thing it's missing is a microphone system, but Google probably wants you to communicate with it with your phone or its app. I think that underestimates the usefulness of a built-in microphone and the ability to send hands-free voice commands to a central connected smart home hub without having to fumble with devices. OnHub will cost $200, and is available for pre-order now. Here's Google's promo video for the router, which borderlines a as-seen-on-tv commercial.1
After testing 20 Bluetooth keyboards with a four-person panel, and using our favorites for months of daily work, we found the Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard K810/K811 (Windows/Mac) is the best Bluetooth keyboard for most. The Easy-Switch has a rechargeable battery that lasts a few weeks to several months, and is able to instantly switch between three devices, a feature the competition universally lacked. At $100 it's expensive for a keyboard, but no other Bluetooth option comes close to matching the Easy Switch's versatility, comfort, and features.
A Bluetooth keyboard is a great option if you need a keyboard that can connect to any device—desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, television. If you have a keyboard that you're happy with, and you only need to use it with a computer, or don't mind sacrificing a USB port, then you don't need to upgrade.
Your Android phone is capable of a lot of cool things, but not because of what Google built in. Developers have access to all sorts of hooks in the system to make your phone do amazing things, you just have to find the right apps. That's what the weekly Google Play App Roundup is all about -- helping you find the right apps. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store and pick it up yourself.
Shopping lists are one of the few use cases we all have in common when it comes to mobile devices. You've got a touchscreen computer in your pocket at the store, so why not use it to keep track of purchases. Annoyingly, many of the shopping list apps on Android are clunky, missing features, or just plain ugly. Cinnamon is a new shopping app that has none of those shortcomings, and you can try it for free.
You'll notice straight away that Cinnamon is a fully material design app. The status bar, navigation menu, FAB, and everything else is in line with the guidelines. You can add items quickly with the FAB in the lower right corner. Cinnamon keeps a list of possible items so you only have to type a few characters to find the right one. When you add things to your list, they're automatically categorized, but you can choose how you want the list sorted in the overflow menu (a handy feature). To mark items complete, you swipe to the right. Swiping to the left deletes an item completely.
Cinnamon is, in some ways, more than just a shopping list app. When you mark items complete on your list, they go into the cart section of the app. When you clear the cart, those items are moved into the pantry. You can use this to keep track of what you've purchased recently and what you've still got at home. I also quite like the bundles feature where you can add several items to a bundle, then add all of those items to the list. You can also attach costs to all the items on your list to see a running total while you shop.
This is all for the main list, but you can, of course, add additional lists to the app. Those lists can be synced to multiple devices, but only if you've got a premium version of the app (it only costs a buck). While Cinnamon is rather full featured for being a new app, I still wish there was Android Wear support. List apps are one of the few truly useful applications for a smartwatch in my estimation. A widget might be a nice extra as well. The developer has already committed to getting Android Wear support, barcode scanning, and support for notes.
Cinnamon is worth checking out as the free version does have a fair bit of functionality. Note, there are ads in the free version, but the premium upgrade removed them.
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.