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    My 10 VR Takeaways from Oculus Connect 2

    Last week's Oculus Connect 2 conference was perhaps a pivotal event in the story of virtual reality. It was the last developer conference before the floodgates of consumer VR opens next year when three platforms: Oculus, Steam VR, and PlayStation VR make their way into our homes and offices. In some ways, it felt like Apple's WWDC before the App Store and iOS SDK launched in 2008. Developers and users are on the cusp of a new frontier--there's so much we don't know, but the eagerness and excitement for this new platform is palpable. The lessons of early VR experiences are just starting to compound and fuel a feedback loop that will eventually lay out the foundation for our understanding of what works in virtual reality. There's a whole lot of figuring out to do, which is really exciting.

    This year, the emphasis of Oculus Connect wasn't on unveiling new hardware. This Holiday's Samsung Gear VR isn't all that much different from the past models. We didn't see new Rift headsets or controller prototypes--the first consumer release is pretty much set. More interesting were the software demos, both first and third party. These demos show not only the state of VR gaming and social experiences, but where developers' heads are at in fleshing out ideas and focusing their efforts for experimentation. Oculus Story Studio, Medium, and the Twitch social experience are the best examples of that, and there are insights to be gleaned from each, even from a short demo session. As with last year's Connect and our GDC hands-on with the HTC Vive, I'm going to share the takeaways that stood out to me most. If you followed along the announcements at Oculus Connect 2 or attended the conference, I'd love to hear your own takeaways in the comments.

    Job Simulator: Making VR Games for Oculus Touch and HTC Vive

    Since Oculus, SteamVR, and PlayStation VR will each have different tracking capabilities and handheld controllers, how will virtual reality game developers make software that will work across all platforms? We chat with the devs at Owlchemy Labs, whose upcoming Job Simulator game will work on HTC Vive and Oculus Touch. Here's how they see cross-platform VR working, and what they think about each system so far.

    In Brief: iPhone Camera Improvements Over 9 Generations

    Photographer and iOS developer Lisa Bettany (co-founder of Camera+) has been running an ongoing test of the cameras on every generation of iPhone. Every year, she boots up every previous iPhone and runs them through a series of photo tests to compare their quality with the latest release. This year's test, featuring the iPhone 6S, shows how the new 12MP sensor and image processing improves color accuracy, auto-focus speed, and low light sharpness. Even though her comparisons are constrained to the iPhone cameras, it's educational to see what series of tests she runs and how Apple refines its image processing software from year to year.

    Tested: How the BB-8 Sphero Toy Works

    We recently visited the workshop of Mike Senna, a droid builder who has made his own R2-D2 and Wall-E robots. Mike's next project is recreating the BB-8 droid featured in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens! We discuss what's known so far about how BB-8 was built for the film, how a remote-controlled model could be built, and take apart a BB-8 Sphero to see if we can learn anything from the small-scale toy!

    Tested In-Depth: Google OnHub Router

    We test and review the Google OnHub, a $200 home router with a unique barebones cylindrical design. We talk about how its antenna configuration is supposed to make it a good access point, and the merits of an app-based router interface. Here's how Google's router performs alongside other 802.11ac routers!

    Google Announces Nexus 5X and 6P, New Chromecast

    The worst kept secrets in recent tech memory are now official. This morning, Google announced two new phones for this Nexus lineup. The first is the Nexus 6P, made by Huawei. It's the larger of the two, with a 5.7-inch 1440p AMOLED display running off of an eight-core Snapdragon 810 with 3GB of memory. Its standout feature is a 12MP world-facing camera with laser autofocus and a pretty big Sony sensor. Of course, it'll ship with the latest version of Android, 6.0 Marshmallow. That OS release bring integrated fingerprint support, Google Now On Tap, improved Chrome integration with apps, and USB-C support. Yep, the USB-C flagships that the OnePlus Two threatened to kill are finally here. Nexus 6P will start at $500 (32GB of storage, off-contract), and is available for pre-order now.

    The second new Nexus is the 5X, which is made by LG (who made the popular Nexus 5). This phone is equipped with a 5.2-inch 1080p LCD (LG loves its LCDs) display and runs off of a Snapdragon 808 with 2GB of RAM. That makes it sound like the little brother of the LG G4, and it unfortunately doesn't share the same awesome 16MP camera sensor from the G4. That phone starts at $380, which puts it closer to the $400 pricing of Lenovo/Motorola's received 2015 Moto X Pure Edition. Nexus software notwithstanding, that phone still seems like the Android flagship to buy right now. We'll let you know when we get our hands on them. Which of these phone are you most interested in?

    In Brief: Netflix Pitches the 'Switch' D-I-Y Project

    Coinciding with this past weekend's New York Maker Faire, Netflix released a video and design plans for what it calls the NetFlix Switch--a programmable button that you would use to activate your living room A/V system, Netflix set-top box, and connected home devices like room lights. A neat idea to give its streaming service a little more appeal to the maker crowd, but it doesn't solve the problem of not knowing what to watch! I want a button that will queue up and play any random episode of my favorite shows. Netflix's video below:

    Norman 1
    Bits to Atoms: Ultimaker 2 3D Printer Review

    We spent a month with the Ultimaker 2, a high-end FDM 3D printer and it was a positive experience all around. Ultimaker is a Netherlands based company that introduced the Ultimaker printer kit in 2011 - a standard at Maker Faire along with the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, introduced in 2010. Aside from the many RepRap kits available at the time, Ultimaker and MakerBot were the ones people like myself were looking at. Both kits had a similar look with lasercut plywood bodies, but the Ultimaker used a different approach to how the filament was fed through the extruder and how the larger print bed operated. From the start, Ultimaker was know (and still is) for very nice, high resolution prints. The only thing that kept me from buying the Ultimaker over the Thing-O-Matic (which I loved) was the fact that MakerBot was located right in my neighborhood, Brooklyn, and Ultimaker was way over in the Netherlands with no real US-based support at the time.

    Photo credit: Ultimaker

    The Ultimaker 2

    Ultimaker Original+ Kit CREDIT: ULTIMAKER

    Things have changed quite a lot since then, with MakerBot being bought by Stratasys and becoming a household name and Ultimaker expanding across Europe. Ultimaker has now secured a U.S. partner, Fbrc8, which assembles, distributes and supports printers domestically. Currently Ultimaker offers the Go, 2 and Extended models as well as the Orginal +, an updated version of the first kit!

    All of the printers use 2.85mm PLA filament with a .1mm (100 micron) standard layer resolution, down to an amazing .04mm (40 micron) fine resolution. On many FDM printers .1mm is the 'high' setting. All printers have a removable, glass printbed for easy print removal and clean up. The $2500 Ultimaker 2 has a 22.3cm x 22.3cm x 20.5cm heated print bed which expands the printable materials. The Extended is identical to the 2 but adds 10cm to the printable height and runs $3000. The tiny Go has a 12cm x 12cm x 11.5cm build volume and does not have a heated print bed, so is restricted to PLA filament--it runs $1300.

    Virtual Reality and 'Bullet Train' with Epic Games' Tim Sweeney

    We're extremely thrilled to be able to chat with Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games, about his work on Unreal Engine 4 and its use in virtual reality! We get Tim's thoughts on modern graphics hardware for VR, first-person shooters in world-scale, and the mechanics of Epic Games' new Bullet Train VR demo.

    In Brief: Designing a Robot to Assemble an IKEA Chair

    MIT Technology Review reports on the experiments of roboticists who are determined to develop a system that allows a robot to autonomously assemble an IKEA chair. Why that particular task? Because while robots can work in factories putting together automobiles in highly controlled situations, that environment doesn't require the machine vision intelligence and fine motor control required to sort and identify components from a scattered kit of pieces and then put them together. The highly dexterous task of "pin insertion" requires complex new protocols for object recognition and manipulation--the culmination of which the researchers demonstrate in the video below. (h/t Gizmodo)

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    Testing: iPhone 6S Plus (After Years on Android)

    I was on board with the iPhone when the first 4GB gen 1 model was released in 2007. I bought every new model through the fifth generation: the 3G for wireless speed, the 3GS for performance, 4 for high-resolution screen, 4S for Siri, and the 5 for the elongated formfactor. But two years ago, Android phones started to look really appealing, starting with my testing of the first HTC One. The high-resolution screens, highly-integrated Google services, customizable lock and home screen, and increasing refined OS of subsequent Android devices convinced me to stay. Since then, I've been very happy with phones like the Nexus 5, OnePlus One, Moto X, Samsung GS6, and most recently, the LG G4 (love that camera).

    So when I bought an iPhone 6S Plus to test and review for the site, it felt like a strange and awkward homecoming. Not only is there new hardware and hardware-specific features here to evaluate, this isn't the same phone interface I was familiar with using on a day to day basis back in 2013 on the iPhone 5. Even though I had followed iOS's updates through version 7, 8, and most recently iOS 9 on my iPad Mini, I had a lot to re-familiarize myself with on the phone side. The past three days has also been an exercise in reconfiguring my brain to not look at the phone from purely an Android user's perspective. There are some aspects of the iOS user experience I can directly compare to Android, but Apple's UX paradigms are just fundamentally different in many areas (most notably the use of home screen as app manager and single dedicated button). Not better or worse, just different. It's like the comparison between two languages--being bilingual requires adapting the lexicon and grammar of one to another.

    Over the next month, I'll be sharing that experience of testing the iPhone 6S Plus from those multiple perspectives. We'll start with some early impressions and the data migration process.

    Google Play App Roundup: DAEMON Sync, Lost Qubixle, and HoPiKo

    The week is just getting started, but you can ease the transition with some new apps and games. You've come to the right place too. This is the Google Play App Roundup, the weekly feature where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store.

    DAEMON Sync

    Google, Dropbox, and many others offer data backup services on Android, but most solutions rely on the cloud, even if all you want is a quick way to get files to your PC. They go up to the internet, then back down to an internet-connected computer. Why bother with that if all you want is local sync? That's what DAEMON Sync offers.

    DAEMON Sync comes from the developers of that popular disc image manager of yesteryear, DAEMON Tools. I know it still exists, but does anyone really use it anymore? At any rate, DAEMON Sync connects to a desktop client on your local WiFi and sends files over without using the internet. The setup process is incredibly quick too. All you need to do is download the app, install the desktop client, and enter the PIN code provided by the PC client in the phone. That ties them together for sync. There's no account to set up and no passwords to remember.

    The desktop software doesn't have a lot of settings, but I'd suggest you move the data folder to a more logical location. The default is in the public users folder of Windows (I'm not sure where it is on OS X). The app has most of the sync settings, and there are a few cool things there. During the setup process, you'll be able to decide what you want to sync, with the defaults being images, videos, and screenshots. Each one gets its own folder on the computer, which is nice. They're also broken out be device, which is great if you have several phones syncing to a single PC. There's also a handy option to add custom folders, so anything you add there will be sent over to the PC.

    Having individual folders for each device is useful when browsing the server, which you can do from the DAEMON Sync app. It has a tab for photos, one for videos, and another for other files. In the nav menu, you can toggle between viewing all devices and a single one of your choosing.

    Because this is all happening over the local network, the sync speed is fantastic. New images pop up on your computer in a fraction of the time it would take for the to be uploaded to a cloud service, then downloaded by the computer. Obviously, the main drawback here is that your files are not being kept off-site. Your safeguards are only as strong as your personal backup solution.

    Tested at Oculus Connect 2: New Demos and Impressions

    We're at Oculus Connect 2 this week to test Oculus' new game and hardware demos, chat with VR developers, and check in on some familiar faces in the virtual reality community! We get an update from Oculus' VP of Product Nate Mitchell, and then run through our impressions of the new games, VR multiplayer content, and Touch demos at the conference!

    Meet the Glowforge 3D Laser Printer

    Four months ago, we visited the offices of Glowforge, a company developing a new kind of 3D laser printer. The Glowforge simplifies laser cutting by moving software to the cloud and making use of smartphone sensors. That both lowers the price and allows for incredible user features that makes the Glowforge extremely easy to use. As Glowforge readies to launch, we check in to check out the final product!

    It's Time for Something New!

    As you may have heard, Will's leaving in a few weeks to start his new VR adventure. We're incredibly excited for him, and will be keeping an eye on what he's working on in this new and exciting medium. He'll still be participating in our upcoming October live shows (we're going to be podcasting on Alcatraz!), and will still be a regular contributor to Still Untitled. But as many of you may be wondering, what does this mean for Tested? To be honest, we don't have all the answers yet. Some things are undoubtedly going to change, but many things are also going to stay the same. I'm not going anywhere. Joey is still going to be kicking ass producing our videos. We're still going to be reviewing gear, showcasing projects, podcasting, documenting One Day Builds, and reporting from events. We're going to continue experimenting with storytelling formats and trying new shows and types of content. We're never going to stop trying to show and tell the most interesting stories we can about technology, science, art, and makers. In short, we'll always be testing.

    What will change, though, are the people that make up Tested. While we'll strive to tell the stories that interest us in the same fun, optimistic, and critical way you've come to expect, we want to tell those stories with more (and more diverse) voices. Tested has never been about just Will, me, Joey, Adam, and Jamie--it's always been bolstered by a group of like-minded enthusiasts and obsessives. We're privileged to have writers like Terry, Erin, and Ryan who share their perspectives and discoveries on topics we're not necessarily experts in--seriously, read their stuff! Those voices, along with Tested "Special Teams" members like Frank, Jeremy, and Sean have become family.

    Going forward, we're hoping to expand that family, both on and off camera. We're looking for correspondents, reporters, and writers who want to share their enthusiasm for technology, science, food, movies, and making stuff. It doesn't matter if you're not local to the Bay Area, or have no previous experience in whatever the heck "new media" is supposed to be. If you have something interesting to say about a specific area of expertise or obsession, we'd love to hear from you. Send me an email at norman@tested.com with "Tested Family" in the subject line and introduce yourself. Show me what you love to do and include some samples of your work. I can't wait to meet you.

    And for Tested readers and members of the Premium community, thank you so much for your support and enjoying the content that Will and I have made over the past five years. Change is always scary, but I'm really excited about what we're going to be able to do with Tested in the next year and beyond. (Some premium video updates coming!) Finally, if there's an idea or project you'd love to see us tackle, never hesitate to drop me a line or just let me know in the comments below!

    Pebble Time Round Smartwatch Announced

    Pebble likes its surprises. It announced the Pebble Time Steel as an upsell smack in the middle of its successful Pebble Time Kickstarter campaign, and today the smartwatch maker has announced the Pebble Time Round, before those Pebble Time Steels have even finished shipping to backers. The new watch, which Pebble says has been in development for a year, is a radical departure from the rectangular design that has been consistent across all of Pebble's previous products. The round display runs the same low-power color LCD as the one in Pebble Time, along with the same software, but the Round decidedly looks more like an analog watch. Its face is 38.5mm in diameter, including what looks to be a considerable bezel, and flanked by the same physical controls found in previous Pebbles. But other than its circular shape, two other physical differences may make this more appealing than the Pebble Time Steel: the watch is just 7.5mm thick, and offers two band size options--14mm and 20mm.

    Those physical changes come at a cost, though. The Pebble Time Round only lasts for two days on a full charge, as opposed to the weeklong battery life of its predecessors. To compensate, the Round has a quick charge battery that gets 24 hours of use with only 15 minutes on the charger. It's also a little less water resistant--no showers with this one strapped on. Developers will need to use a new SDK to port their existing Pebble apps to the new display, though some of the Round models have printed numbers on the bezel to accommodate new round "analog" watchfaces.

    The $250 Time Round is available for pre-order now and will start shipping to North America in November. Unlike with the Time Steel, Pebble isn't giving Kickstarter backers to "upgrade" their existing orders, but are offering a $50 discount to Time Steel backers as well as a 30-day trial period. During that time, you can send back the Pebble Time Steel and get a refund for the order.

    Tested In-Depth: Apple iOS 9 for iPhone and iPad

    Apple's latest mobile operating system is out, and even if you've already installed it, you may not know about all its features and changes. We sit down to review what's new and notable in iOS 9, showing off multi-tasking on the iPad Air 2, the new Siri, and important changes in default apps like Safari. Here's what we think about the pace of iOS changes.