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    Testing the Form 1+ 3D Printer

    Norm visits New York to check in with Tested's 3D printing columnist Sean Charlesworth, who has been testing the new Form 1+ 3D printer. Unlike 3D printers like the MakerBot and PrintrBot, the Form 1 uses a laser-based resin curing system that can produce prints up to four times the resolution of FDM printers. But as Sean explains, this printer was a bit challenging to get working properly.

    Tested In-Depth: SmartThings Home Automation

    Will's been testing the SmartThings system since its successful Kickstarter campaign, and shares his experience setting up home automation for his family. SmartThings lets you set a house up to be contextually aware of a variety of events, with no reoccurring fees. We discuss what aspects of home automation may make sense for most people, and how home control works via the app.

    In Brief: iPad Air 2 Has Tri-Core CPU, 2GB of RAM

    The first reviews of Apple's new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 went online yesterday, and they're looking mostly positive. The consensus on the Mini seems to be that it's not worth the $100 premium over the now-$400 Mini 2, just for TouchID and the gold color option. But the improvements made to the iPad Air line is pretty significant. iPad Air 2 is Apple's first tablet with a tri-core SoC, the A8X. It's not just a clock speed bump over the iPhone 6's A8, and synthetic benchmarks peg performance far above the latest iPhones in both single-core and multi-core usage. iPad Air 2 is also Apple's first iOS device with 2GB of RAM. According to some reviewers, it's as fast an old MacBook Air (at least for web browsing). Those devices aren't really comparable, since their core users buy them for very different reasons and usage scenarios. While I'm not excited for the new Mini, nor am in the market for a new full-size iPad, I think it looks promising as an upgrade for my parents' 3rd-generation iPad (the heavy one that got the Retina display). They can't stand the small screen of the Mini, and will appreciate the sub-1 pound weight of the new Air 2. But the best thing for them is that they will be able to get 128GB of storage at the previous 64GB price--essential for photos. They're the kind of people who use their iPads as their sole computers, and never delete or move photos off of them. My guess is that there are a lot of iPad users who fall into that category too.

    Norman
    Tested In-Depth: Moto X (2014)

    After testing the new Moto X Android smartphone for a month, Will and Norm sit to down to discuss how its three most important features: the display, camera, and battery life compare against today's top Android phones. How does Motorola's spin on Android compare to the stock version? Plus, does the custom wood back look and feel any good?

    Research Robots Versus the Volcano

    The last time NASA scientists sent a robot into the crater of a volcano was 1994.

    It’s name was Dante II, an autonomous, eight-legged crawler packed with video cameras, lasers and other sensors. It was designed by scientists from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute to rappel and hobble down the inside of the active Alaskan volcano Mount Spurr – a proof-of-concept for encounters with the types of hostile environments that NASA robots might deal with in space.

    Photo credit: Phil Hontalas/NASA

    But a tumble towards the end of Dante’s mission and subsequent helicopter rescue offered a stark reminder that “the possibility of catastrophic failure is very real in severe terrain,” the robot’s designers wrote. Even with today’s technology – we have self-driving cars now! – there hasn’t been another Dante since.

    “To get a robot to go over the varied and often difficult terrain is very challenging. Robotics has come a long way since Dante, but […] it’s just not quite at the level where they can handle volcanic terrain yet,” explained Carolyn Parcheta, a volcanologist and NASA postdoctoral fellow sponsored by Tennessee’s Oak Ridge Associated Universities. It’s part of the reason that the U.S. Geological Survey still believes that "experienced volcanologists are a better and more cost-effective alternative for monitoring dangerous volcanoes” than robots – at least, for now.

    In a volcanic environment, there are myriad materials of different sizes and shapes. You’ll find small round rocks where each step is like walking on the shifting sands of a beach. On the more extreme end of the spectrum is lava that’s sharp and jagged, making it near impossible to find space both flat and wide enough for a human foot. You’re always walking at an angle. In the middle, you have what Parcheta describes as “the slow, oozing, ropy looking stuff” that’s still difficult to walk on, but less so than the jagged stuff.

    Photo credit: Phil Hontalas/NASA

    “Volcanic terrain is much more complicated than just a set of stairs or an inclined slope, because it’s often all those different things combined,” Parcheta explains. “There’s no regular pattern to the landscape. It feels random. And to the robot it will be random. It needs to learn how to assess that before it can take its steps, and humans do this on the fly, naturally.” This is, as you might expect, difficult – and one of the big problems that Dante’s designers had. So, for years, humans have instead sufficed.

    But there’s also another reason that volcano crawling robots haven’t exactly been subject to pressing demand. According to Dr. Peter Cervelli, associate director for science and technology at the USGS Volcano Science Center, his agency has had “limited need for ground based robotics” – in large part because the majority of volcanoes in the United States don’t presently pose a threat to human volcanologists.

    Racing Mini-Quads with FPV Control

    Looks like the speeder bike chase on the forest moon of Endor, but it's really FPV quad enthusiasts racing their mini-quads in a fairly dense park. FPV flying is thrilling, but somewhat of a controversial practice when it comes to the quadcopter hobby. It's one of the things that the FAA is looking to heavily regulate. Still, the high-speed flights (and crashes) make for great video. Now imagine if these were shot with very wide-angle lenses, allowing for Parrot Bebop-style VR support.

    Tested Asks: How are Holograms Made?

    While in New York, Norm stops by Holographic Studios, one the last remaining independent holography galleries and holography studios still operating. Its founder, Jason Sapan, has spent almost 40 years practicing the art of holographic imagery. We figure he's the best person to explain to us what exactly is a hologram, and how they're painstakingly made.

    Google Play App Roundup: Potential, iPollute, and Talon Plus

    It's that time of the week again. Time to shake off the weekend vibe and get back to work. But you can probably spare a few minutes to check out some new apps. This is the Tested Google Play App Roundup, which is where we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just follow the links to Google Play.

    This week your battery has a new best friend, clay gets dirty, and Twitter gets pretty.

    Potential

    As the cost of Android devices come down, it's increasingly likely that you might find yourself in possession of more than one of them. However, have you ever picked one up to find the battery is dead? Well, that won't happen if you install Potential on them.

    Potential runs a background service that syncs the state of your battery between devices. Just open Potential and you get a card for each of your connected devices (you need to make an account) with the battery level and state of Bluetooth and WiFi. Each device should sync the battery percentage on a regular basis, and the length of time since the last update will be listed on each card.

    You can remotely toggle WiFi or Bluetooth on and of your devices to save power, but that's as far as the direct interaction goes. Well, you can choose a name for each phone or tablet. By default it's just the device model ID.

    The above functionality is free, but a small in-app purchase is required to enable what I would say is the coolest feature of Potential--push notifications. In the settings of Potential you can choose a battery threshold at which you'd like to be notified. When one of your devices hits that number, you'll find out about it no matter which one you're actively using. So if you've got your phone handy during the day, Potential will let you know if your tablet is running low on juice.

    The app itself is nice and clean. I've already mentioned the cards, but Potential also includes a few Material Design animations and UI elements. There aren't a ton of options yet, but the developer cautions it's still a beta product. With that in mind I'd also note there have been a few instances where one of my devices decided it was going to stop syncing. For the most part, though, Potential is a solid app.

    Show and Tell: Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Adapter

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his current solution for playing back music and making calls from his phone in his car. While his car has an auxiliary audio jack, he prefers using this Kinivo hands-free receiver as an intermediary. Its decent audio, built-in micrphone, and music playback controls are why it's Will's pick for an aftermarket car Bluetooth solution. What do you use to listen to music from your smartphone while driving?

    NIkon's D750 Temps me to Switch from Canon

    Early last month, Nikon announced its D750 full-frame DSLR camera. It sits between the popular D810 and entry level full-frame D610. The two aforementioned cameras are the Nikon equivalents of the Canon's successful Canon 5D MK III and 6D, but there's no comparable camera in Canon's lineup to the D750. And now that I've read some early reviews of the D750, this is beginning to worry me as a Canon user. First off, some specifications. The D750 is a 24MP full-frame camera running Nikon's EXPEED 4 processor. It basically combines the 24MP sensor of the D610 with the 51-point autofocus system of the D810. The processor bumps the framerate up to 6.5fps (using appropriate SD cards), and video recording features are adopted from the higher-end D810. New for Nikon FF DSLRs is a tilting LCD display and Wi-Fi for photo transfers. It's on sale now for $2400 (body only). This video below does a good job giving an overview of its specs.

    I've been very happy with my Canon 6D, and was looking forward to upgrading to Canon's next 5D release, if that happens in a year or two. For these full-frame cameras, upgrading the body every 3-4 years or so makes sense, since the lenses are where the money's at. But this new review by photographer Ross Harvey gives me a little bit of envy. Harvey demonstrates the tremendous low-light auto-focusing abilities of the D750 in a wedding shoot, and the image quality of photos he shot at ISO 9000 made my jaw drop.

    The best way to use a camera is to adjust your shooting style to the capabilities of your equipment. Camera performance dictates best practices. For example, the FF sensor on the 6D and a wide zoom lens lets me shoot pretty great low light photos, but I know I have to frame and compose my shots quickly because of the limited autofocus points. I shoot center point focus because I can't rely on full auto. A 51-point AF system that can lock in focus at -3EV, as well as the tilting LCD would absolutely change my shooting style, or at least expand my shooting options. It's like unlocking new abilities in a photography skill tree.

    Since I'm actually in no rush to buy a new DSLR body, all I can hope is that Canon has a good answer to the D750 in the next year. Based on recent trends, I'm not sure that's going to happen. Canon has been putting a lot of effort into video recording, from the 7D Mark II to its professional Cinema cameras (and respective lenses). The last Canon product that really excited me was its PowerShot G7X, and that was a response to Sony in the point-and-shoot market. Nikon is really impressing with its continuing innovation in traditional DSLRs, while Sony has lead the way in new format cameras like the A7r.

    In terms of ecosystem, I'm about $4000 invested in the Canon EF format. That's not a lot compared to some photographers, but it makes switching to Nikon and Sony something I can't just do on a whim. For those of you who have switched, how did you go about doing it and how was the transition?

    Print the Mystery Object: Who Said That? - 10/17/2014

    The Printrbot is still in play, but we've returned to the original camera angle, mounted on the plate. What did Will print? Post your best guesses in the comments below! And if you'd like to check out the full, 4k version of the mystery build, it's here: http://youtu.be/X99sWKcD1mE

    Tested In-Depth: Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite

    Mac OS X Yosemite is out today! We've been running and testing the various betas leading up to the final release, and sit down to discuss what's new and noteworthy in the latest version of Apple's desktop and laptop operating system. There's more than just a few cosmetic changes!

    Apple Announces New iPads, Retina iMac, and Mac Mini

    Despite the product leaks via its own store yesterday, Apple managed to surprise us with the announcements at this morning's press briefing. We'll start off with the annual iPad updates, which fall into two categories. On the full-size iPad, Apple didn't announce any "pro" model, sticking with improvements to the iPad Air. It's now 6.1mm thick, uses an optically bonded LCD, supports 802.11AC MIMO Wi-Fi, and runs off of the expected A8X. Weight finally drops below one pound at 435 grams. TouchID also comes to the iPad Air 2, but no NFC for mobile payments (though Apple Pay will be supported). Apple made a big deal about the new 8MP f/2.4 camera in the iPad Air 2, which shoots better 1080p video and has a burst mode. It'll also come in gold. The iPad Air 2 is available for pre-order this Friday and will ship by the end of next week. Pricing is familiar--$500 for 16GB--but $100 more gets your 64GB, like with the iPhone 6. Last year's iPad Air stays in the lineup, getting a $100 price cut.

    The iPad Mini 3 only got a brief mention at the presentation--it has now a TouchID home button. It's otherwise exactly the same as last year's popular Mini with Retina, down to the A7 processor. We were impressed that Apple put the same internal hardware in the iPad Air and Mini lines, but it looks like they're segmenting their lines again this year. That's a little disappointing. Last year's iPad Mini gets a price cut to $300 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, while the Mini 3 starts at $400. $100 is a LOT to pay for TouchID, especially since there's no NFC chip in the Mini 3, either. If you're in the market for a new iPad (eg. still using the first iPad Mini or an iPad 3 or older), my recommendation would be to get the iPad Mini 2.

    A Retina iMac also made its debut today, in a 27-inch iMac equipped with a 5120x2880 screen. It has the same formfactor as the existing iMacs, but the high-density LED backlit display now runs off of AMD's Radeon R9 M290X GPU (a mobile GPU). The base configuration has a 3.5GHz Haswell Core i5 (upgradeable to a i7 4GHz), 1TB Fusion drive, and 8GB of RAM. It starts at a whopping $2500. It's available today. Apple didn't upgrade the 21-inch iMac, though we're expecting refreshes in the spring with Intel's Broadwell CPU release. A 5K desktop iMac indicates that Apple could release a standalone Retina Cinema Display in the future as well. Update: this Anandtech hands-on explains why this display (which is likely the same panel as what's in Dell's 27-inch 5K monitor) would not work off of a single DisplayPort connection. MaximumPC got a closer look at the Dell 5K panel in September, which retails alone for $2500 and requires two DisplayPort 1.2 connections.

    Finally, the Mac Mini got a long-awaited upgrade. It now runs on a Haswell CPU (1.4GHz dual-core i5 standard), 802.11AC, and two Thunderbolt ports. PCI-e storage is an upgrade option, as is a i7 CPU. It also goes on sale today, and the base price has dropped from $600 to $500.

    We'll be testing the new iPad Air 2, though the iMac Retina likely won't be sufficient for the kind of video editing we do. iPads have always had great LCD displays, so I'm curious to see how that holds up with the new optical bonding on the Air. Let us know what from the presentation interests you, and how you feel about this year's new iPads and iMac.

    NYCC: Triforce's Video Game Replica Props

    We've met and worked with independent replica prop makers who specialize in video game props, but here's a company working directly with game developers to bring digital characters, armor, and weapons to reality. At New York Comic Con, we stopped by Triforce's booth to check out their newest scale statues and full-size replicas, as well as learn about their production process.

    Bits to Atoms: 3D Printing Quicksilver's Stereobelt

    Remember a few months ago when I spent time obsessing over Quicksilver’s audio gear from X-men: Days of Future Past? I thought that exploration was enough to get it out of my system--until my friend Hadley told me that she would be cosplaying as Quicksilver for New York Comic Con. Without missing a beat, I proclaimed that I had to build her an accurate Stereobelt prop. And so my obsession began anew.

    Prototype - designing multiple parts - more work for better results

    To recap: the Stereobelt, a little-known predecessor to the Walkman, predating Sony's portable cassette player by seven years and cobbled together from existing tech. Only one picture and a patent document of it can be found in all of the interwebs, yet the savvy production designers on Days of Future Past based Quicksilver’s unit on the Stereobelt, therefore giving him probable audio gear for 1973.

    Setting out to create my own Stereobelt, I ran into an immediate problem: a lack of good reference material. Other than the magazine cover of Quicksilver, which showed only one side of the belt, I was unable to find any good reference of the other side or back. At this point, the Blu-ray hadn’t been released and unlike every other Marvel movie, there was no “Making-of” book. So, I started work on what I had reference for, figuring that I may have to improvise the opposite side and revise it when I could get ahold of the movie. I didn’t have a lot of time to build the Stereobelt, so my original intention was to keep it simple and print it as one solid piece. The front and back caps would cause some print issues since they were both tapered and would have to use supports to print as one piece. The caps would also print better if the slopes were oriented upwards, so I decided to compromise and print the body and caps separately and assemble using simple square pins and glue.

    Solid body with caps connected via pins.

    Unlike the Hellboy Millenbaugh Motivator, for which I took meticulous measurements using Photoshop, I totally eyeballed the size and proportions of the Stereobelt on paper. Once it looked right, I started building in 3D and quickly realized another issue - if I built this as one piece, painting and finishing would be difficult since it had a lot of trim pieces. I also liked the idea of being able to print this out in two colors, assemble with no painting and still have it look good, so I decided to break it up into more pieces.

    Google Announces Nexus 6 Phone, Nexus 9 Tablet

    Nexus 6. Nexus 9. Nexus Player. All made their official debut today in Google's announcement of the next generation of Nexus devices. They all, of course, run Android L. Or as it's now officially named, Android 5.0 Lollipop. The Nexus 6 is made by Motorola, and looks like a larger version of the recently-released Moto X (my review next week!). It has a Quad HD 2560x1440 OLED display, which is likely the same screen used in Samsung's Galaxy Note 4. It'll run Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 805 processor, clocked at 2.7GHz, which is a step up from the 801 processor found in the majority of 2014 flagship phones. But most importantly, it'll have a 3220 mAh battery, a significant boost from the 2300 mAh battery in the current Moto X. That may be its most important feature. The Nexus 6 will be available for preorder on Oct 29th, under contract for all major US carriers and also sold as an unlocked GSM phone for $650. Ouch. For users of [relatively] smaller phones, Google will continue to offer the Nexus 5, though no updates in internal hardware are expected.

    On the tablet side, HTC is making Google's Nexus 9, which has a 8.9" 2048x1536 IPS LCD screen. That's a 4:3 ratio screen, which is a good thing for a tablet this size. It'll run Nvidia's Tegra K1 SoC, with 2GB of RAM, and a 6700mAh battery. Pricing is listed at $400 for 16GB and $480 for 32GB, with an LTE model selling later this year for $600. No microSD storage. Pre-orders begin on Friday and it'll ship on November 3rd. I think the pricing on this tablet makes the Nvidia tablet that much more appealing, especially with its expandability and media output options.

    Finally, Google announced a streaming box that'll run Android TV--their latest effort in the set-top space. Nexus Player will be made by Asus and looks like your typical set-top puck with power, HDMI, and 802.11AC MIMO Wi-Fi connectivity for your standard slew of streaming services. It has 8GB of internal storage and a simple remote that supports voice search, and Google is selling a gamepad accessory to support Android games. The Nexus Player will go on sale on November 3rd

    Watch Google's announcement video for the new line of Nexus devices below.