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    Print the Mystery Object: Tip of the Hat

    Let's finish this week with a mystery object printed from our PrintrBot! You know the drill: place your best guess as to what's being printed in the comments below. This week's build is holiday appropriate!

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Portal 2 Atlas + P-Body

    For the eleventh day of Tested Christmas, Norm shares a recent find: highly detailed articulated figures of Portal 2's Atlas and P-Body characters. These sixth scale figures were made by a collaboration between Valve and 3A, a maker of incredible collectibles. Time to set these figures and their Portal guns up for display in the office!

    Tested In-Depth: Boosted Electric Skateboard!

    Many futuristic ideas seem too farfetched to be practical, but this electric skateboard really works and turned out to be both fun and useful. Norm learns to skate with the Boosted electric longboard and we discuss how this board is more than just motors and batteries attached to a normal longboard. (Thanks to Jeremy Williams for helping with video coverage in this review!)

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Earphone Upgrade

    On the tenth day of Tested Christmas, Will recommends a way to improve the comfort of your existing earphones. By using fitted foam tips by Comply you can get your earphone closer to your ear canal and block out external noise. They're a great stocking stuffer!

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Android Wear

    For the ninth day of Tested Christmas, Norm extols the virtues of Android Wear. We've tested both the Pebble and two Android Wear watches, and the latter platform is proving the case for smart watches as useful complements to smart phones.

    Google Play App Roundup: Action Launcher 3, Inferno 2, and Scrolls

    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.

    This week it's time for a home screen makeover, shooters get glowing, and Mojang is back.

    Action Launcher 3

    The original Action Launcher came out a few years back, aiming to do things a little differently than the other AOSP-based home screens. The way Action Launcher handled (and continues to handle) widgets is unique among similar apps, and it adopted a different approach to finding your apps. Now Action Launcher has been redesigned around more modern Android code, and the result is the big v3 update. There are a few new features, and some old features are being left behind.

    Action Launcher took its name from the Android action bar, which it implemented on the home screen. This was in the early-ish days of Holo, so people (read: nerds) were all over the idea of the action bar. It was a unifying force in Android UI design. Action Launcher 3 still offers the action bar UI (with a Lollipop flair), but the default layout is more straightforward. There's a search bar with a hamburger icon that, when pressed, reveals the Actino Launcher Quickdrawer with all your apps.

    I'm quite fond of the Quickdrawer UI. There's an alphabetical column that you can drag up and down to scroll through the list, or just tap and drag the old-fashioned way. There's something new about the Quickdrawer and search box--they're really colorful. The big new fUI tweak in Action Launcher 3 is called Quicktheme. The launcher can pull colors out of your background image and apply them automatically to folders, the search box, Quickdrawer, and status bar (if you have the full action bar UI turned on). It even works with the excellent Muzei live wallpaper.

    Covers and Shutters are also carried over from the old version of Action Launcher. Shutters are pop-up versions of widgets that you can trigger by swiping up on the icon of an app on your home screen. I find these pretty useful as I tend to run a widget-heavy home screen. It only takes one or two pages in Action Launcher to accommodate everything I need. Covers are basically folders that show a single app icon. Tap on it to launch that app, or swipe to open the hidden folder.

    Action Launcher also drops a few features from the older version including the Quickpage, which was a slide-out home screen panel on the right side of the screen. Icon scaling and Icon pack support is also missing at launch. The developer says icon packs will probably be supported in early 2015, but there's no easy way to change your icons now without root.

    The new Action Launcher is also very snappy in my testing with a variety of phones and tablets. It does lack a few features that were in the previous build, but this is a complete rewrite of the app, and several of those features were labeled as experimental anyway. This is a paid update, though. That doesn't particularly bother me because Action Launcher 3 really overhauls the look and feel.

    The old version will continue to exist as the unlocker app is being updated as a full version of the paid AL2. Action Launcher 3 is free to try, but all the cool features are behind a $4.99 paywall.

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Anker 5-Port USB Charger

    For the fifth day of Tested Christmas, Will shares his solution for charging all his mobile devices at his desk and nightstand. Instead of using multiple wall warts and chargers, he uses a single 5-port USB charger that can power phones tablets, and other USB devices at their fastest charging speeds.

    Bits to Atoms: Testing the Form 1+ SLA Desktop 3D Printer

    3D printing keeps getting bigger, better and more accessible every day--you can now buy a MakerBot or Dremel 3D printer at Home Depot. Plastic filament printers are, by far, the most common type you will find at makerspaces and home garages, but high-resolution resin printers are slowly creeping into the mainstream. One of the most promising, is the Formlabs Form 1+ SLA printer developed by a team from the MIT Media Lab. I had the chance to put a Form 1+ through it’s paces for two months and here’s how it went.

    You will need a dedicated, clean workspace for the Form 1+.

    First, a little backstory on the company. Formlabs was founded in 2011 by a group of MIT grads who were frustrated by the fact that there was no economical way for most people to experience the highly-detailed prints that SLA and DLP resin printing offered. Unlike filament printers, which were popping up everywhere at relatively consumer-friendly prices, SLA printers cost tens of thousands of dollars and were simply out of reach of most users. Formlabs set out to make a desktop SLA printer that would rival the big machines and cost only slightly more than many filament printers. At the end of 2012 they successfully completed a $100,000 Kickstarter campaign, eventually bringing in over 2.9 million dollars. Nothing like being too successful--now the pressure was on with a lot of machines to build. Production delays happened and then they got hit by a patent infringement lawsuit from 3D Systems, the inventors of SLA printing. I am happy to hear that the parties have settled, and the case was just dismissed with prejudice on December 1. Formlabs is free to forge ahead.

    Photo CREDIT: Formlabs

    Having met the Formlabs team a few times at Maker Faire and other events, I have always been impressed. Everyone at the booth knew their stuff, answering in-depth anything I threw at them. One particular staffer was really killing it with thorough and informative answers--turns out she was their material scientist. The machine was sharp looking and all the prints looked great--I really wanted to buy one, almost backed the Kickstarter for an early unit, but chickened out. Recently I contacted Formlabs to request a sample unit to test. So for the past few months, I've had a Form 1+ in my possession and was able to put it through it’s paces!

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Tile Bluetooth Tracking Beacon

    For this fourth day of Tested Christmas, Will shares a clever gadget that can be used to locate commonly misplaced objects around your house. Tile is a tiny Bluetooth dongle that you can attach to your keychain, remote controls, bag, or anything you commonly lose. Activate the Tile with an app and it'll chime a sound to help you find it.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: A Snapshot of the Multi-Rotor Market

    Buying a multi-rotor can be a daunting experience. There are so many different models already on the market, with more emerging every day. Those choices represent a wide range of sizes, capabilities and quality, not to mention price points. In an effort to make the candidate pool a little less overwhelming, I have compiled an overview of currently-available multi-rotors. Consider it a snapshot of this ever evolving scene. Obsolescence will come quickly.

    To make the list more manageable it has been abridged to include only those aircraft that meet the following criteria:

    • Hobby Grade – Parts can be replaced or upgraded as needed.

    • Ready-to-Fly (RTF) – The multi-rotor is ready to fly, or very nearly so when purchased. A transmitter is included. Smart phone controllers don’t count (sorry Parrot).

    • Available from US retailers – No offense to our foreign readers. This criteria is meant to weed out the clones, and knock-offs of dubious origin.

    The multi-rotors shown here have been divided into two categories: small and medium. The primary difference being that medium multi-rotors are capable of carrying an action camera such as a GoPro. Of course there are multi-rotors that would fit into large, X-Large, Jumbo, etc. categories. These ships are intended for hauling high-quality video equipment. Due to their complexity and cost, they should really only be considered by experienced pilots. So they have been omitted from this list.

    I have chosen to include only RTF models simply because that is what most people prefer. With small quads, RTF is really the only option. There is nothing wrong with using an unassembled kit for your medium multi-rotor. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that building your own aircraft will provide you with a much better understanding of its inner workings and abilities. You just have to be willing to dedicate the time and effort required to get it assembled, outfitted and tuned.

    Please note that this is not a ranking. I have personal experience with only a handful of the listed models. So any type of hierarchy would be disingenuous. Comparing listed features is one thing. Actually flying and exercising those features is quite another.

    In Brief: Android Wear Gets Major Update

    Woot! As promised, Google is releasing a huge update to Android Wear today that'll finally allow developers and users to create custom watch faces. As outlined in this blog post, the update includes an official Watch Face API that lets devs program any watch face design, just like they would an app. And just like apps, Android Wear users can download those faces from Google Play--a bunch of new faces have already been released to coincide with this launch. Other updates include the ability to undo swiping away a Google Now card, a theater mode to completely dim the screen and mute notifications, and a new quick settings menu that you activate by swiping down on a watch face. All really useful stuff that Google has learned from user requests and feedback. The updates are rolling out this week to the existing six Android Gear watches.

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    In Brief: What You Should Know about Police Body Cams

    You may have heard about President Obama's recently announced plan to assist local law enforcement's acquisition, education, and use of new equipment. In addition to using Federal funds to help bolster frayed relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve, the pitch also called for funding of body cameras to be worn by police officers--a $75 million investment for 50,000 cameras. But what does the use of those cameras mean in practice? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great breakdown of their concerns for the use of body cameras, and what they and the ACLU think needs to be addressed before implementation. And as for how body cameras have affected police departments already using them, The Atlantic has a report on the police department of Post Falls, Idaho, where body cameras use became mandatory in 2011.

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    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Favorite Starter Quadcopter

    For this third day of Tested Christmas, Norm shares his pick for a starter quadcopter to learn basic flying techniques. We've tested several micro quads like the Estes Proto X and Heli-Max 1SQ, but the Hubsan X4 offers a sweet spot for price and flight ability. You can fly it indoors!

    The Best Carry-On Bag for Travel

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

    No matter how much you travel, the right carry-on luggage should last you for years. On the inside it should fit enough clothes for at least a five-day trip with room for a little more, but on the outside it should be small enough that it won’t get you gate-checked. For the majority of flyers (people who fly under 25,000 miles annually), we recommend the $165 Travelpro Platinum Magna 22-inch Expandable Rollaboard Suiter. For those who fly more than that (or less), we have picks for you too.

    How We Decided

    Over the years, we’ve spent hundreds of hours on research and testing. To determine what the perfect bag should have, we consulted a host of industry experts, including travel writers from other publications and flight attendants who know what to look for. We even took bags to a flight attendant training facility, walked them around mock airplane cabins, and had experienced flight attendants try their hand with them and give us feedback. We then took our own measurements, and did our own load, usability, and ruggedization testing.

    What we concluded is that you’re looking for a bag that has a fabric exterior (not a hard shell) which makes it tough yet flexible. You want two, seal-bearing wheels (four wheelers sacrifice storage space for their overall footprint). You want YKK zippers, aluminum telescoping handles, roomy suiter compartments, good warranties, user-replaceable parts, and maybe most importantly, maximum cubic volume while taking up minimum space.

    With all that in mind, we came up with three bags as our picks, for three levels of travel frequency and budget.

    How I Light Tested's In-Studio StandUp Videos

    This will be a weekly three-part behind the scenes series: Lighting, Shooting, and Editing.

    "Standups" are what I call the solo presented video segments we do at Tested--a term taken from the news industry, in which a reporter addresses the camera, usually to another anchor, or the audience. It's become a common internet video format: one person, in frame, talking to camera (audience) with coverage layered over. We do them with our Makerbot videos, Show and Tells, Product reviews, etc. Everyone approaches the lighting, shooting, and editing of these segments differently; whether it be natural lighting, close-up center frame (ie, webcam), lighting quick hard cuts, etc. Today, I'd like to share my process on how I approach the lighting for these segments, specifically the 12 Days of Tested Christmas video series for 2014.

    Let me start off with this amazing illustration of my light direction and placement.

    For this shoot I used 5 lights: 2 Background Lights, 1 Rear-Key Back Light, 2 Fills

    • #1 Background Light, 650watt Arri, CTB half, medium flood/spot
    • #2 Background Light, Kino Flo Diva-Light, half-cranked
    • #3 Rear-Key Back Light, 650 Arri, CTB half, full flood
    • #4 Lowel Rifa-Light Softbox, 75%
    • #5 Kino Flo 4' Double

    I wanted to stick with traditional omni-lit studio lighting for this shoot, while adding harder lights to help sculpt the subject. We recently redesigned and painted the set with much more color and props, naturally I wanted to show it off with background lights, but still contrast that with the subject.

    Above is a short video I put together of each light's specific contribution to the scene. Let's walk through what each of those lights does for the shot.

    3D Printer Programed to Play Imperial March

    Anyone who's worked around 3D printers should know that they have a certain "tune" when they run. There's the chime that starts on MakerBots when a print starts up and finishes, but even the movements of the three printer axes make a sort of machine music as the printer operates. YouTube user Zero Innovations is working on a way to convert MIDI music files to G-code that printers can read to replicate any song. This demo shows his Printrbot Simple Metal playing John Williams' Imperial March with just its stepper motors!