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    Tested: Overcast Podcast App for iOS

    I've spent the last week testing Overcast, a new podcast player from Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper. I spend most of my time in the car listening to podcasts, but I've never found a client that worked exactly as I expect. While there are several apps out there that should provide what I want in a podcast player--a constantly updated list of the shows I listen to, downloaded when I'm on Wi-Fi, and ready to play whenever I hop in the car or hit the play button on my earbuds--every client I've tested has had problems.

    In my week of testing, Overcast hasn't had any of the issues I've come to expect from my other podcast players. Whenever I press play in my car or on my earbuds, the last show I was listening to starts playing. When a new version of one of the shows I subscribe to is uploaded, the app downloads it automatically so it's waiting when I want to listen. And once I created an Overcast account (the process is free and took about 15 seconds), my podcast subscriptions and current progress in each episode were synced automatically between my phone, iPad, and the rudimentary web client at http://overcast.fm.

    The dynamic playlists are the real heroes of Overcast. The playlists collect the most recent or In addition to all the sorting options that are common to many podcasting apps, when you create a new playlist, you can choose which shows to include (or which of the shows you're subscribed to exclude) and note that a subset of those shows are priority shows. When you play the playlist, it plays episodes you've listed from priority podcasts first, then keeps going down the list of podcasts that are part of that playlist, until a new priority episode hits. Many podcast apps include similar features, but this is the first one I've used that consistently worked the way I expected.

    The app is brand new, and has a handful of rough edges. I'd love to be able to set my own defaults for the per-podcast episode retention and notification settings. It's a hassle to have to open settings and adjust the retention from 3 to 1 and turn notifications off for every show I subscribe to. I also encountered some inconsistent behavior when setting shows to be included or excluded from playlists. It took a few times for my changes to stick.

    Overcast is free, with a single $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock a handful of advanced features: variable speed playback, voice compression for shows with audio issues, and a nifty feature that shortens shows by removing some of those pregnant pauses. There aren't any ads, but you do need to sign up for a free account if you want syncing to work. If you give Overcast access to your Twitter account, it will pull recommendations for new shows to listen to from your feed. The free version of Overcast is already the best podcast client I've used for iOS and it's well worth the $5 if you want any of the additional features or just want to support people who make great software.

    Hands-On with Nvidia's Shield Tablet

    Nvidia's first Shield was a dedicated gaming handheld, but its new model is a high-end tablet with gaming accessories. We spend a little time with Nvidia's new Android gaming tablet, compare it to the original Shield portable, and give our thoughts on this device's appeal to PC and mobile gamers.

    The Best Blu-ray Player Today

    After spending almost 20 hours with the best new Blu-ray players for 2014, the $90 LG BP540 came out on top after our previous pick was discontinued. The LG fits our criteria for a good player thanks to integrated Wi-Fi and the most popular streaming apps. More importantly, it has a better interface and video quality than the competition and offers the best combination of price and performance of those we looked at.

    Who am I to make that claim? I’ve been handling almost all the Blu-ray reviews for Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity since 2010 and have had nearly three dozen players come through my hands. I’ve subjected them to countless objective and subjective tests. I’ve even thrown them on a $15,000 HDMI Analyzer to verify their performance. Often, as is the case with the LG, the picture from a cheap player is 100 percent identical to an $8,000 player’s.

    If the LG BP540 sells out, the $90 Sony BDP-S3200 is our runner-up choice that is almost as good. The menu system is more confusing than our top pick’s and the overall interface leaves a lot to be desired, but it offers a wide selection of streaming content, and Blu-ray content does very well. Be warned, though: The Sony shows some jaggies while watching DVD content with diagonal lines.

    With more expensive players, you’re usually paying for better CD playback quality or niche features. Along those lines, and if you also want the absolute best in audio and video quality, the $600 Oppo BDP-103D is the best high-end player you can buy. It has better DVD scaling than any other tested player, performs flawlessly even with foreign content and weird frame rates, and supports all audio formats as well. The integrated Darbee video processing is a favorite of most reviewers, including video purists, and Oppo has better service and support than other companies. For most people, though, the price difference isn’t justified.

    Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured.

    If you only want Blu-ray playback and don’t care about streaming whatsoever, the Samsung BD-H5100 is our step-down choice at $63. It does fine with Blu-ray content and the lack of Wi-Fi saves you some money, though it also means you’ll have to perform firmware updates manually or have hardwired Ethernet to do so. You’ll want to have updated firmware since it may affect your ability to play newer Blu-ray discs in the future.

    Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured, but alas, it is not. It was less expensive than the LG, had the same streaming options, and loaded discs faster. If you bought our pick from last year, or you happen to find it somewhere on closeout, there is no real need to upgrade.

    How To Build a Life-Size Dragon

    Norm's note: Frank first showed us his Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate dragon sculpt before this year's E3. Frank has since written up his build, which we wanted to share ahead of this week's Comic-Con--where the Gore Magala creature will be on display at the Capcom booth.

    I love video games and video game culture, and last year was stoked to be asked to be a part of a team doing the Zombie makeups for Capcom's Dead Rising 3 booth at E3. It was there that I befriended the creative services team in charge of all of these cool trade show events and displays. Jump ahead to a few months ago, when I received a call from the team lead at Capcom to bid on the making of a display sculpture for one of their upcoming games: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate!

    The concept was to have a 20-foot tall backdrop with a huge image of one of the game’s monsters, and have the front third of it coming out of the backdrop. Big is sort of an understatement here; once I did some quick math to put it into scale, the sculpture I would have to create would be almost 8 feet tall, 14 feet wide, and 12 feet long. To bid on something of this size is really tough. Most trade show displays are carved or milled out of bead foam and then hard coated, which leaves very little finished detail. But this monster has a lot of detail. So I had to figure a solution that could provide that kind of detail while keeping costs reasonable. After that came an engineering problem: how would this thing support itself? Additionally, it has to be transported to multiple venues and be durable enough for the public to interact with. So it also needed to come apart. Not easy!

    After some back-and-forth details of the deliverables and specifications, and some careful planning and budgeting, I was awarded the job, which would be guilt in my newly expanded shop. Here is what my team and I came up with for the design of this build.

    Karakuri Puppets, Japan's Automata

    "Japans modern day robots can be traced back to the Karakuri. Today Hideki Higashino is one of the few remaining craftsmen who is determined to keep the history and tradition of Japanese Karakuri alive." This past Saturday, production house Bot & Dolly hosted the fourth annual Robot Film Festival in San Francisco (MCed by friend of Tested Veronica Belmont). It was a celebration of films starring and documenting our fascination with robots, with showings of short films and the 2005 Japanese science fiction film Hinokio. The film festival has made past entries available online, and 2013's films--including the one above on Japanese Karakuri--are just wonderful. I especially like that there's a category for Best Human as Robot Actor.

    Scratch Testing an Alleged iPhone 6 Screen

    YouTube tech reviewer Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) recently posted two videos with what he claims is the front panel of Apple's as yet unannounced iPhone 6. The panel was supplied to him by Sonny Dickson, an Australian who has a history of procuring prototype phone components from suppliers in China. In Brownlee's testing, he found that the screen was much more scratch resistant than the iPhone 5S', using two different types of sandpaper. The alleged 4.7-inch iPhone screen was not impervious to damage, though, which Brownlee attributes to it being a sapphire-glass composite as opposed to being pure sapphire, like the iPhone 5S Touch ID/home button.

    Google Play App Roundup: Notific, Fish Out of Water, and Magic 2015

    Time to check in on what's new in the Play Store. This is the Google Play App Roundup where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just hit the links below to head right to the Play Store on your device. This week there's another way to check your notifications, a game with fish, and a king of collectible card games is back.

    Notific

    Developers have really embraced Android's notification listener service in the last year, and Notific is yet another app that takes advantage of it to make your notifications a little more accessible. Notific will wake your display and let you manage incoming notifications without unlocking the device. This app borrows a bit from the Moto X's Active Display system in implementation, though not so much in actual appearance.

    If you've used an app like Peek or DynamicDisplay, you'll get the basic gist of Notific. After installing you need to enable the notification service and grant admin access so the app can shut your screen off after the appropriate length of time. By default, Notific reproduces all the high-priority notifications on your device (i.e. those with icons in the status bar) and wakes the screen. The full version also has a blacklist for apps you don't want to show up in Notific's management interface. There's also a whitelist mode that only produces notifications from the apps you select -- this is probably the best way to go if you have a lot of apps intsalled.

    Notific isn't quite as minimalist as most of the other implementations of this idea, but that might be okay for some users. It actually replications almost all the UI from the standard Android notification including buttons and full text previews. When the screen is woken up, you have the opportunity to deal not only with the new notification, but any others that might be waiting for you. you can swipe between notifications and dismiss, open, or use one of the action buttons. The lock icon at the bottom is used to either open or dismiss each notification individually.

    The default behavior is to have your homescreen background up behind the notification UI, but that can be changed. There's even an option in the newest version to change it to all black, which is better for AMOLED screens. For everyone else, the brightness of the background is adjustable.

    If you're on Android 4.4, Notific supports immersive mode and an "Android Wear" theme that (I think) looks much more modern than the standard Holo Dark theme. It separates the selection slider from the notification card and basically has a much more open design.

    I've been using DynamicNotifications for a number of months on several devices, but I find myself rather content with Notific. It has all the necessary options and the new theme is great. It's a bargain at $0.99 and there's even a trial on XDA.

    Show and Tell: Favorite Slim Wallet

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his pick for his favorite slim wallet. The Bellroy Card Sleeve wallet keeps his pocket bulk to a minimum, and the leather has aged well over the two months Will has been testing it. Are you someone who keeps your wallet in the back or front pocket?

    MakerBot Mystery Build: New Studs

    It's time for this week's edition of Print the Mystery Object! This week's print is for a wearable accessory that's a twist on a familiar object. Place your best guess as to what's being printed in the comments!

    Tested Builds: $540 3D Printer, Part 5

    Our build of the Printrbot Simple 3D printer is finally complete! Time to calibrate it and set it up for a first print. Will and Norm go over the software, load up a model, cross fingers, and test the new printer! Thanks for joining us this week through our build, and hope you learned something about 3D printers along the way. (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

    Jibo Puts a Friendly Face on Home Robotics

    We're pretty excited for this product. Jibo is a new robot developed by MIT Media Lab's Cynthia Breazeal, a roboticist on the forefront of social robotics research. (Here's a great TED talk she did on the rise of personal robots in 2010.) Breazeal is now taking that research into the marketplace, with a robot that she wants to be suitable for the home. At its core, it's a connected digital assistant that performs many of the same actions as a smartphone, like checking email, playing music, and making VOIP calls. But its also very expressive--the robot's three-axes of motorized rotation brings it to life, and lets it do things like track your voice or movement to take photos or communicate. There's a lot of Chumby, Romo, and Keepon here, in a design that evokes Wall-E's Eve robot (minus the anti-gravity hovering). Jibo is launching as an Indiegogo project today, with a $500 contribution securing a unit for delivery by the end of 2015. IEEE Spectrum has more details and an interview with Breazeal about Jibo here.

    In Brief: The Invention of the Modern Bathroom

    Lloyd Alter, the editor of Treehugger, wrote this insightful feature about the history and design of the typical household bathroom. It traces the origins of the modern plumbing system that weaves through our cities, and explains why the many design defects of the current standard bathroom setup. For one, ergonomics is poor--toilets are too tall for a comfortable squat--and sinks are too low. But more importantly, the modern bathroom is extremely wasteful. Alter suggests alternatives like composting systems that split off greywater from blackwater, and a shower setup that only dispenses water when you need it. Of course, this doesn't take into consideration the other activities that currently happen in many bathrooms; the water closet is now a place where many people get their work done. Smartphones and tablets in the bathroom are still gross, by the way.

    Norman
    Tested Builds: $540 3D Printer, Part 4

    Our build of the PrintrBot Simple Metal 3D printer is almost complete! After some unexpected setbacks, we continue piecing together the Z-axis of the printer, attach all the components of the plastic extruder, and get all of our wiring done. It's really coming together! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

    How to Get Into Hobby RC: Taking Off with Airplanes

    Previous installments of this series have covered tips for getting started with RC quadrotors, cars and boats. While those are all fun RC vehicles (and there is more to come regarding each of them), my greatest enthusiasm for RC revolves around airplanes. The reasons for this are difficult to pin down. I suppose I was born with an incurable fascination for flying things. Aeromodeling has always provided an avenue for hands-on exploration of that interest on a practical and affordable scale.

    The Delta Ray’s SAFE stabilization system does indeed make the airplane very easy to fly…even for beginners. It does not, however, remove all crash risks.

    In a more cerebral sense, creating RC airplanes simultaneously feeds my cravings for scientific and artistic stimulation. On top of all that is the excitement and challenge of actually flying these widely varied machines. I don’t expect that all RC enthusiasts share my depth of interest and satisfaction in the hobby, and that’s OK. It’s an activity that you can simply mingle in if you choose. There are, however, a few initial summits that you must climb in order to get started at a practical level.

    Choosing the Right Path

    The most common misconception about RC airplanes is that flying them is intuitive…it’s not.

    The most common misconception about RC airplanes is that flying them is intuitive…it’s not. Even pilots of full-scale aircraft often lack all of the key skills to be RC flyers. There are countless stories of a father and son bringing their new RC plane to the park the day after Christmas. They arrive full of excitement, perhaps fueled by Snoopy-like dreams of vanquishing the Red Baron. More often than not, those dreams end up in the same garbage bag as their short-lived model aircraft. It’s a shame to hear these stories because a little guidance on the front end can often make the difference between disgruntled one-timers and enthusiastic rookies.

    In my opinion, making a successful first flight in this hobby requires three basic things:

    1. A rudimentary understanding of aerodynamics

    2. An airworthy model suitable for beginners

    3. Basic piloting skills

    There are many ways to attain this triad. Some roads are worn, while others are less-travelled. I will attempt to explain a few of these approaches and you can choose the path that suits you.

    In Brief: Why You Always Seem to Choose the Slowest Line at the Supermarket

    Adam shared this awesome story yesterday: an explanation for why it's so difficult to choose the shortest line at the supermarket. The answer lies in queueing theory, or the mathematical study of how people wait in lines to best optimize and predict wait times. According to queueing theorists, simple probability explains why your chances of choosing the fastest line in an scenario with lots of line options is small. In a perfect world, a single long line at the supermarket that funnels into the next available checkout counter would be the most optimal (like a bank or post office line), but human psychology rejects that. We would prefer to take the gamble of trying to find the fastest of multiple lines at the store--it gives us the illusion of control and the hope that we can beat the system.

    Norman 3
    Microsoft's Adam: A New Deep-Learning AI System

    From Microsoft Research: "Project Adam is a new deep-learning system modeled after the human brain that has greater image classification accuracy and is 50 times faster than other systems in the industry." Wired has an in-depth story about how this new approach to running neural networks--using a technique called asynchrony--allows its deep learning system to train computers to do things like recognize images. Skynet jokes aside, advances in machine intelligence is something we can get behind.

    Tested Builds: $540 3D Printer, Part 3

    In part three of our PrintrBot Simple 3D printer build, we reach a few steps that are deceptively complex. We also use this time to review the steps taken so far, and find some mistakes that need to be fixed before we can continue. No disassemble! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

    Android Auto vs. iOS CarPlay: How Your Car Will Get Smarter

    Google's announcement of Android Auto at the recent Google I/O conference should surprise exactly no one. Apple is gearing up for its own in-car infotainment service later this year called CarPlay. It's long past the time when Google would hang back and see how Apple's approach to a new market worked out -- Android Auto is going head-to-head with CarPlay later this year.

    Both companies want their mobile platform with you all the time, but how are they going to convince people to embrace connected cars?

    Touchscreens separated at birth

    If there is something surprising about Apple and Google's move into in-car entertainment, it's the overall similarity of the approach. The implementations don't rely on hardware inside the car to do any of the thinking -- the smarts are all packed into your phone so you can upgrade your apps and features independent of the car. This circumvents one of the long-time weaknesses of pricey in-car infotainment.

    What good is that fancy touchscreen if Apple changes its connector and makes your whole system obsolete? Oh, your car only works with USB mass storage devices? Sorry Android doesn't do that anymore. Since your phone's mobile data connection is used for the dash system, you also won't have to worry about getting yet another data plan for your car, which I'm sure is a sad turn of events for Verizon executives.

    When Apple announced CarPlay, it sounded at first like you'd have to get a new car to have CarPlay-compatible setup, but thankfully component makers like Pioneer have stepped up to develop aftermarket decks that will support Apple's platform. Google announced several car audio companies right from the start including Alpine, Pioneer, and JVC. This is a technology segment that has seen decline in recent years as people simply made do with smartphones tethered to inexpensive decks and stock audio systems via Bluetooth or even an audio cable. CarPlay and Android Auto are an opportunity to make aftermarket decks interesting again. This is just another thing Android and iOS in the car have in common.