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    Google Play App Roundup: CTRL-F, Particular, and CELL 1

    If you're going to be supporting app development on Android (and you should), you might as well pay for the best content you can. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is all about. This is where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just follow the links to the Play Store.


    I would not usually feature a wallpaper app, but this isn't just any wallpaper app. This is Wallpapers by Google. Just a few days before the Pixel shipped, Google decided to release the Wallpaper chooser from that phone as a standalone app that anyone can install.

    The app includes access to all the photos stored on your device, as well as stock wallpapers that came with it. The focus, though, is the Google-provided wallpapers. There are five categories in the app: Earth, Landscapes, Cityscapes, Life, and Textures. Each one has a couple dozen photos, and Google says it will continue adding more images over time.

    When you tap on an image to view it, the app downloads it from the web. It takes a second or two, depending on your connection speed. Each image comes with embedded source data allowing you to learn more about it. In the case of images that came from a partner like 500px, you'll be linked to the image on the artist's page. For the Google Earth snapshots (my personal favorite), the explore link opens Maps and takes you to the location.

    Each category has the option of setting a daily wallpaper as well. Choose that option, and the app will rotate in a new image each day. While you can install this app on any Android device running 4.1 or higher, it has special capabilities on devices running Nougat. Google added native support for different wallpapers on the home and lockscreen in Android 7.0. So, this app lets you set an image for one or the other, or both. I tested this on an LG V20, and it worked perfectly.

    If you like the style of Google's wallpapers as of late, this app is a must-have. The selection of images is great, and it's only going to get better. It is, of course, free.

    Here is Nintendo's Switch Hybrid Console, Due March 2017

    In an age where it's nigh impossible to keep a new product secret, the Nintendo Switch, previously known by its codename NX, was generally a known quantity. In a short video released by Nintendo, we can finally see this new hybrid console in action, coming March 2017.

    The device itself is essentially a tablet, with a screen size of around 7 inches. On either side are the Joy-Con controllers and they have a fairly traditional layout. Unlike the Razer Edge, these controllers are naturally integrated with the Switch. Physical games will come on carts, and are inserted into the top via a covered port.

    Whether you're on the go or at home, the controllers can slide off the device and be used wirelessly. They can still act as one controller this way, and there will even be a controller shell, the Joy-Con Grip, available for the Joy-Cons to slide into. Or, they can function independently for multiplayer games, kind of like a smaller Wii Remote. Wait, this is a tablet, isn't it? How will you hold it if you're using the controllers detached? POW, kickstand.

    The Switch also doubles as Nintendo's new home console. Included is a dock with various ports that the tablet slides into. This dock covers the screen of the Switch, so this isn't like the Wii U. You won't have a game displaying on your TV and still interact with the screen on the tablet. You can then detach the Joy-Con controllers as previously mentioned, or use the new Pro Controller that Nintendo will also sell.

    How Google Assistant is Different from 'OK Google'

    We've been able to talk to our Android phones in a conversational manner for years thanks to the power of Google search. However, Google has been focusing more on voice over the years with features like the "OK Google" commands. Then at Google I/O, the company started talking about Assistant, but it neglected to really explain what Assistant is and how it's different from the Google search features you already have on your phone. Let's see if we can work it all out.

    Google Everywhere

    At its heart, Assistant is an impressive artificial intelligence engine. It's like Google search, but more powerful and aware of context. Google's voice and text search features in the past have always been built into the Google Search app on Android. However, Assistant is designed to be integrated into more places, and it will be explicitly labeled as Assistant instead of just being some amorphous "Google" thing that can go by any number of names depending on the context (eg, Google Now, voice actions, and so on).

    In the new Allo chat app, Assistant is what powers the Google chatbot. On the Pixel (and maybe more Android phones in the future), Assistant is the omnipresent voice-activated search tool. In Google Home, Assistant can do voice searches and control connected smart home devices like Hue lights and the Chromecast.

    The way Google Assistant and all of Google's other voice tools is really unchanged. Your words are transcribed locally on the device, then uploaded as text snippets. That's faster than streaming the raw audio to be processed in the cloud. That's why Assistant in its chatbot form and conversational voice form work in mostly the same fashion. So, when you hear about Google Assistant, it's not really a replacement for Google voice search or OK Google—it's more of an evolution.

    Hobby RC Testing: ARRMA Nero 6S Monster Truck

    I've been excited to get my hands on the ARRMA Nero 6S monster truck ($700) ever since it was released a few months ago. First of all, being a 1/8-scale vehicle, the Nero is bigger than any of my previous RC ground-pounders. With a large brushless motor and 6-cell LiPo battery, the Nero also promised to be much more powerful than anything I'd ever driven.

    Size and power are certainly alluring, but the real reason I was intrigued by the Nero had to do with a feature called Diff Brain (a version of the Nero without Diff Brain is also available). This package provides the ability to lock and unlock the Nero's differentials on the fly. I've never seen such a feature on any RC vehicle before. I had no idea if this was a useful capability or just marketing hype. I couldn't wait to test it myself.

    Nero 6S Overview

    The Nero is pre-built and comes equipped with everything except batteries. You'll need two 3-cell LiPo batteries of about 5000mAh capacity. I used a pair of Duratrax Onyx 3S-5400mAh packs. You'll also want to make sure that your batteries have a high discharge capability, since the Nero will pull a lot of amps under hard acceleration. The 50C discharge rating for these Onyx units seems to be more than adequate.

    The difference between a common RC truck in 1/10-scale and one in 1/8-scale doesn't seem like it would be that significant. After all, the physical dimensions aren't that far apart. I soon found that assumption to be false. The Nero has more than double the mass and power of most of my 1/10-scale rides. Moving up to a 1/8-scale vehicle brings a whole new level of performance and significantly beefier components. You'll also need to be prepared for increased maintenance overhead.

    The ARRMA Nero 6S is a completely prebuilt model that includes a 3-channel radio system.

    Two red-anodized aluminum plates comprise the backbone of the Nero's chassis. All of the other chassis components are made of black nylon. The suspension is damped by four large, oil-filled shocks. The shocks are in a horizontal orientation with bellcranks and pushrods connecting them to the suspension arms.

    Tested: Lenovo Yoga Book Review

    We review Lenovo's Yoga Book, a 2-in-1 that's one of the smallest hybrid computers we've used. Patrick and Norm evaluate its capacitive glass keyboard, which also doubles as a wacom drawing tablet.

    Google Play App Roundup: Flychat, The Banner Saga 2, and I am Bread

    There are far too many apps flowing into the Play Store on a daily basis to find all the good stuff yourself. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup seeks to solve. Every week we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.


    Facebook has come up with a lot of ideas over the years, but few of them have had the staying power of chat heads. These floating messaging icons were unveiled as part of the now-defunct Facebook Home interface, but chat heads came to the Messenger app, and subsequently were adopted by various other apps. Flychat is an app that essentially adds chat heads to all of the top messaging apps on Android, so you can have the benefit of chat heads without using Facebook Messenger.

    The app supports 10 chat clients so far including Hangouts, WhatsApp, Telegram, and more. In setting up Flychat, you'll have to grant the app access to your notifications. This allows it to read messages as they come in and replicate them in the floating bubble. That means you won't get full chat history from the apps it supports, only the messages that have come in since you started using it.

    When messages from a valid app come in, the bubble will appear unless you're in an app that you have blocked Flychat from appearing on top of. Tap on the bubble, and you get a full chat window from which you can reply. When you exit, the bubble remains so you can easily access the chat. To close, drag it down to the bottom of the screen. The app produces a separate icon for each app it supports, assuming you use more than one. It can be a useful way to unify all the various chat apps you are forced to use.

    Because Flychat is handling the on-screen notifications, you'll probably want to disable peeking notifications on any compatible chat apps you use to avoid duplicates. However, you can also choose to enable and disable the various chat apps Flychat supports. So, you can use Flychat for Hangouts, but continue using WhatsApp as you always have.

    Flychat is free to use with some ads in the settings, but a $0.99 in-app purchase gets rid of that. The full version also unlocks more customization like changing the bubble sizes and custom colors.

    Hands-On with Superhot VR

    Norm and Jeremy play Superhot VR, a virtual reality shooter that turns the concept of bullet time into almost a puzzle game. We show how the innovative mechanic seens suited for VR, discuss our different play styles, and then chat with the game's developer about the scope of Superhot VR.

    Toward the Unknown: The North American X-15

    This story originally appeared on The High Frontier and is republished here with permission.

    By any measure the North American X-15 was an amazing aircraft. By the end of the decade long, 199 flight programme the three aircraft had pushed airspeed and altitude records way beyond all previous marks. Many X-15 pilots qualified astronauts on their high altitude flights and the wealth of operational knowledge that was gained continues to influence aerospace programmes to this day.

    Yet for all this, the X-15 is often overshadowed by NASA's other activities during the 1960s and its legacy overlooked. It could never go as high or as fast as the capsules launched from the Cape, but the fact remains, at the time it was designed the X-15 looked like it would provide America's first forays in human spaceflight and as Tom Wolfe points out in The Right Stuff, they would FLY their vehicle there and back.

    The X-15 ready to go under the wing of the NB-52 (credit: NASA)

    Mach 1 and beyond

    The story of the X-15 really starts as an extension of the high speed research programs being carried out by the NACA, Air Force and Navy beginning at the end of World War 2. Following the advent of effective liquid-fuelled rocket propulsion, the development of the jet engine and advances in aerodynamics during that conflict, it became clear that aviation would be pushing into new flight regimes. Famously the Bell X-1 (originally the XS-1) marked the first in a long line of experimental aircraft constructed to explore these new regimes and gather data which could later be applied to the design of operational aircraft.

    Although research aircraft of the time were not exclusively concerned with high speed flight, many of the early X-planes such as the X-1 series and their Navy equivalents the Douglas Skystreak (D-558-1) and Skyrocket (D-558-2) were designed to examine the transonic and supersonic region. These designs tended to be purely functional and highly conservative serving to access a flight regime and gather the data safely while offering high margins of structural strength to cope with any unknowns that may be encountered. They weren't generally designed to act as prototypes for future operational types – their role was to gather data and extend knowledge. Very rapidly though, the contemporary fighter types of the late 1940s and early 1950s began to match and often exceed the performance of the early research aircraft calling their practicality into question, but while designs such as Kelly Johnson's F-104 Starfighter could now reach speeds in excess of Mach 2 on a routine basis, it was recognised that it would take a rocket powered research craft to probe speeds above Mach 3 and altitudes in excess of 100,000ft.

    Some of the early research planes at Edwards AFB including the X-1A, Skystreak and Skyrocket. (credit: NASA)

    The much delayed Bell X-2 was anticipated to provide valuable data in these areas, but this troubled aircraft didn't manage to make its first powered flight until 1955. On September 7th 1956, Air Force pilot Iven Kincheloe took the X-2 to a new altitude record of 126,200ft and it looked like the X-2 might start to make good on its promise, but on the very next flight just 20 days later, Milburn Apt was killed after reaching a speed in excess of Mach 3. Apt had fallen victim to a high speed aerodynamic phenomenon known as inertia coupling, where the aircraft's control surfaces lose their ability to counteract the inertia of the fuselage resulting in a loss of control and tumbling in all three axis. Chuck Yeager had managed to survive an encounter with inertia coupling after he exceeded Mach 2.5 in the X-1A, but although Apt was able to recover control and separate the X-2s escape capsule, he became incapacitated and was unable to parachute to safety.

    Although the X-2 had provided some data on high altitude flight and aerodynamic heating it was clear that much work remained for the next planned research vehicle.

    Tested: Hover Camera Passport Drone Review

    We review the Hover Camera Passport, a lightweight foldable quadcopter that uses computer vision technology to track your face and body as it flies around you. We love its compact design and ease of use, and take the drone out for test flights around the city. Here's what we think of the resulting footage.

    The Android 7.1 Nougat Update Might be the First One You Won't Crave

    The release of a new version of Android is usually something Google loves to go on about, but it didn't even mention Android 7.1 Nougat at the Pixel announcement the other day. And yet, that's what the Pixel and Pixel XL will be running when they are released. Google wasn't anxious to talk about the software itself, but the features were discussed at length in the presentation. That's because Android 7.1 is Google's attempt to skin Android.

    The Pixel Exclusives

    When Google talked about all the neat things the Pixel (and only the Pixel) would be able to do, it was talking about Android 7.1. First and foremost, Android 7.1 will come with the Pixel Launcher pre-installed. This home screen has a simpler vibe with an app drawer that slides up from the bottom and a smaller Google "pill" widget at the top of the screen. It also has Google Now built-in just like the Google Now Launcher.

    Maybe you can survive without the launcher, and you'll probably be able to sideload it anyway. Google Assistant will be at the heart of the Pixel's Android 7.1 experience, and that won't be available as a sideload. Instead of binding the Now on Tap contextual search to the long-press home button, the Pixels on Android 7.1 will call up Assistant. It's the same chatbot you get in Allo right now, but it's geared toward voice interaction and is available at any time. You'll also be able to get the On Tap-style cards by swiping up in Assistant. It's the best of both worlds.

    The support and backup features of Android 7.1 are exclusive to the Pixel as well. Users will be able to access text and phone support 24/7 from a built-in menu. All your photos and videos in Android 7.1 on the Pixel will be saved to Google Photos at original quality. This is free and unlimited, even for 4K video. The device will also offer to delete old backed up photos on your phone if you start to run low on space.

    TIE Fighters, Night Flights, and More at The 2016 BEST RC Event

    One of my favorite RC events to attend is Best Electrics in South Texas (BEST). This annual meet for electric-powered models is held in New Waverly, Texas, about 50 miles north of downtown Houston. It always attracts a sizeable contingent of hobbyists from Dallas, Houston, and all points in between. When I lived in Houston, BEST was a never-miss appointment on my calendar. Now that I live 500 miles away in Lubbock, I've had to skip the previous three BESTs. This year was different. I managed to break free for a few days and make the southbound drive.

    BEST is a weekend occasion. The 2016 event it fell on October 1st and 2nd. Per my old routine, I camped at the Tri-County Barnstormer's field with my podcasting partners Lee Ray and Fitz Walker. We are always sure to arrange a camping spot close to our like-minded buddy from Fort Worth, Keith Sparks. We all arrived and set up camp a day early. The extra time provided an additional day of fun, and a chance for us to test fly our new and/or dusty models before the official start of the event.

    One of the reasons that I like BEST so much is that it falls in a very desirable sweet spot attendance-wise. With 50-60 registered pilots, you are guaranteed to see an eclectic display of models and flying skills. At the same time, it is not so crowded that it ever feels hectic. Goldilocks would approve.

    I did not originally plan to do a write-up of BEST. I went just to have fun. However, I saw several very cool and innovative things that I thought were worth sharing. I'll cover some of these noteworthy models and events that I witnessed over the weekend.

    Aviation's Ridiculously Tiny Airplanes

    One of the big hurdles to owning an airplane is that most of the commercially-available options are relatively big machines. Even a modest 2-seater will likely have a 100-horsepower engine and wings spanning more than 30 feet. Sizeable portions of your budget must be allocated just to keeping the bird fueled and stored. The obvious solution is to create a smaller airplane – something like a moped of the skies. With that goal in mind, many cost-conscious aviators have designed a motley collection of impossibly small airplanes. Here are four examples of downsized birds that will make you thankful for the middle seat on your next airline flight.

    Flying Flea

    Frenchman Henri Mignet set out to design an airplane that would be as affordable and easy to operate as a Ford Model T car. Mignet wasn't afraid to try new ideas. His diminutive HM.14 Pou du Ciel (Louse of the Sky, aka Flying Flea) emerged in 1933 with a very unusual tandem wing configuration. The method for controlling the HM.14 was also unique. The entire forward wing was pivoted up or down to control the pitch of the airplane. Movement of the large rudder was accomplished through the control stick (rather than traditional rudder pedals) and there were no ailerons for roll control. The Pou du Ciel would roll into a turn naturally when rudder was applied due to the dihedral effect of the wings' upward curvature (when viewed from the front).

    The Pou du Ciel (Flying Flea) was intended as a low-cost option for people interested in owning an airplane

    Mignet self-published plans for his unusual design. With just a 20' (6.1m) wingspan, the Flying Flea could be built in a barn or garage. Numerous amateur builders throughout Europe and the US began doing just that. Problems started to arise, however, when builders made modifications to Mignet's original design. Some builders, ignorant of how the curvature of the wings was vital for the airplane's stability and control, assembled flat wings. Other builders utilized engines that were much more powerful than the 17-horsepower motorcycle engine originally used by Mignet. The higher speeds afforded by these engines sometimes caused control reversal situations. When this happened, pulling the control stick back to climb would actually cause the airplane to dive. The situation would quickly degrade from that point on…often ending in a crash.

    Oculus VR 'Santa Cruz' Prototype Impressions

    We go hands-on with Oculus' new 'Santa Cruz' standalone VR headset prototype, and share our thoughts and impressions from the demo. We also chat with Oculus' Nate Mitchell about the future of virtual reality and rate our favorite games from Oculus Connect!

    Google Play App Roundup: Ivy, Dan The Man, and Burly Men at Sea

    A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.


    Samsung's edge display phones have a few software features that try to justify the curved display technology, but let's face it, it's there entirely because it looks cool. One of the more useful features Samsung includes is the edge panel. With a swipe, you can get access to apps, contacts, news, and more. Now, there's a third-party app that brings very similar (and more expansive) features to any phone, curved display or not.

    Just like the edge display, Ivy places a small translucent tab on the right side of the screen. You can change the size, position, and opacity of this tap. To open Ivy, simply swipe the tab. The interface is obviously very similar to what you get with Samsung's version. The bar on the far right has a list of apps, which you can alter as you wish.

    Instead of having a ton of "ribbon" lists that you swipe through, Ivy tries to have more of a dashboard look. The only features that show up as edge panel are apps and contacts. There are a number of features that can be activated, including an RSS ticket for the bottom. There are a number of pre-configured feeds in Ivy, but you can also add feeds manually. If you see a headline you want to investigate, tap on it and the browser will open. You also have an optional clock/date display in Ivy. It goes a step further with support for full widgets in the Ivy interface. After adding your favorite widgets, you can access them by tapping the widget button after opening Ivy. Anything you don't want active can be disabled, of course.

    This is not the first app to provide some way to access certain apps and features from any screen, but Ivy manages to do it without being as annoying as others. There's always a chance that you'll accidentally trigger one of these floating on-screen buttons, but Ivy stays out of the way with such a slim activation area. Still, it's easy to open when you want to.

    Ivy is free to download, and there are no in-app purchases or ads. I would not be surprised to see a pro version show up eventually. I've certainly seen less useful versions of the same thing with a price tag.

    Hands-On: Lone Echo for Oculus Touch

    At this year's Oculus Connect, we played a new VR game that may be our favorite virtual reality experience yet. Lone Echo is the first game we've played that lets us travel in real-time around its world without getting us sick. Its movement mechanic is ingenious!

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (October 2016)

    So your phone is old and busted, and it's time for an upgrade? Your timing is good, because the last big phone announcements of the year are in the rear view mirror. You can now make a fully informed decision about which device you should spend your hard-earned cash on. There are still some excellent devices from Samsung, and an upcoming flagship from LG. However, the Google Pixel phones are now a reality too. Let's dig in and see what's your best bet.

    Photo credit: Flickr user pestoverde via Creative Commons

    Carrier Phones

    Most carrier smartphones are available on all the major networks, but not always. Luckily, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is sold everywhere. You'll also be able to get the LG V20 from anyone when it launches in a few weeks. The newly announced Pixel phones will only be soldi directly by Verizon on the carrier side, but we'll get to that in the next section.

    If you're going through the carriers, the GS7 and LG V20 are the best carrier choices for most people. The V20 isn't available in the US yet, so we can't compare directly to the Galaxy S7. For the time being, I think getting the GS7 is a safe bet right now.

    Hands-On with Epic Games Robo Recall for Oculus Touch

    Epic Games--the makers of Unreal--have just announced their first full VR game: Robo Recall. We playtest a demo of this virtual reality shooter at Oculus Connect, using the new Touch motion controllers. After chatting with Epic Games about the gameplay design ideas in Robo Recall, Jeremy and Norm share their impressions.