At the heart of most custom keyboards is a PCB, or printed circuit board. The PCB determines how you program a board and what switch layouts it supports. The Zeal60 from ZealPC is one of the most popular PCBs for a compact custom keyboard project right now. It does not come cheap, and that's not just because of the pretty purple color. It runs powerful firmware with one of the most advanced lighting setups available in a DIY keyboard.
A keyboard's PCB is roughly analogous to the motherboard in your PC—it's where everything connects to make your keyboard work. In a high-end custom board, the PCB includes a microcontroller with user-programmable features. In the case of the Zeal60, it's an ATmega32U4 chip. Unlike many PCBs, this one is not part of a full kit (case, plate, switches, etc.). If you buy a Zeal60, that's just the start of your keyboard adventure. However, it's compatible with a wide variety of parts.
You'll need to work some magic with function layers if you build with the Zeal60. It only supports 60% layouts similar to the popular Poker 3 and HHKB2 boards. That means you don't have arrows, an F-row, or a number pad. All those actions still exist, but they're in function layers. For example, the arrows are accessed via Fn1+WASD in the default configuration. Many people prefer 60% boards because they're compact and require less hand movement.
Last week, technology companies gathered in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronic Show to unveil their latest products, prototypes, and pitches for your attention (and dollars). It seems like more real, big, product announcements were made this year compared to the past few years. And while we weren't at the show this year to cover the event in person, here is the computer hardware that caught our attention.
HTC Vive Pro
When the likes of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive launched, it was unknown how often the hardware of this new era of VR headsets would be updated. Well, almost two years after the launch of the Vive, HTC has taken off the wraps of the Vive Pro. Releasing sometime in Q1 of this year, the new headset has been redesigned and features a massive resolution increase.
The Pro has two OLED displays for a combined resolution of 2880x1600, which is a 78% increase over the base Vive's resolution of 2160x1200. The ergonomics of the strap have been redesigned to better distribute the weight of the headset, and it now includes a dial to adjust the sizing. It'll also be hard to miss the addition of integrated headphones, as well as a second outward facing camera. The Pro will be lighter than the original model, but HTC has yet to say by how much.
HTC will also be releasing 2.0 base stations, although it sounds like they may not be released until sometime after the Pro. The Vive Pro, when combined with four 2.0 base stations, will be able to operate in a space as big as 10 square meters. HTC has yet to say whether or not we'll see the release of updated controllers in 2018, but if we do, hopefully they'll be based on Valve's knuckle controllers.
A price for the Vive Pro hasn't been announced at this time. The base Vive bundle currently retails for $600. That's a $200 premium over the Oculus Rift. I'd be surprised if the base Vive's price didn't drop in the next couple of months, but I also won't be holding my breath for a Vive Pro bundle to come in at $600.
Announced alongside the Vive Pro is the Vive Wireless Adapter. HTC has partnered with Intel to utilize their WiGig technology to make a first party solution for wireless VR use. It will work with both Vive headsets and ship sometime in Q3 2018. HTC has not announced a price.
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 right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.
Your privacy on the internet used to be assumed, but we live in a much more complicated world these days. Your ISP sees all your unencrypted traffic, and the only way to prevent that is to stick a VPN between you and the ISP. However, you need to actually trust that VPN. The makers of ProtonMail have released an Android VPN client, and plenty of people already trust the ProtonMail developers, who came from CERN and MIT. The app happens to be pretty solid, too.
ProtonVPN can be used completely free, but there are paid plans that include faster connectivity and more features. Regardless of your plan type, you still get access to Proton's secure servers. The app plugs into Android's built-in VPN system, so all you need to do is log in and tap the dialogs to allow access.
The app's main interface is broken up into three tabs. There's countries, map view, and profiles. The countries tab just lists all the places where servers are available. Each one is a collapsible list with the individual servers listed. Each one has a capacity indicator so you can choose a good one. However, most of the time it's easier just to tap the action button at the bottom of the screen and select the "fastest" option. The exception is, of course, when you need to connect to a certain country. The map view tab lets you connect to the country of your choice in a single tap. The profile tab is basically a list of your favorite servers. There are stock options for fastest and random, but you can create new ones with servers of your choice.
Across all three tabs is a popup menu at the bottom of the display. You can slide that up to see your current connection stats. There's IP, server, a traffic graph, and so on. There's also a disconnect button and an option to save the server as a profile.
ProtonVPN has several service tiers. The free level only offers access to three of 12 countries and just low speeds (no P2P). It's single-device, too. You get higher speeds and 2 devices for $4 per month, and five devices runs you $8 per month. When you sign up for a new account, there's a trial of the faster speeds, but the app doesn't say how long it lasts. I'd assume a week or so. It's plenty fast for just about anything you could want to do on your phone. ProtonVPN says its servers are all 1-10Gbps, so even desktop usage should be fine.
This seems like a genuinely compelling VPN option for Android users now that there's a native app. At $4 per month, you can get ProtonVPN protecting your computer and phone. That's cheaper than a lot of other services.
We have the new Shaper Origin CNC machine in our workshop! This is a handheld CNC that uses computer vision to align itself to the material you're routing, like plywood or MDF. We take it for a spin with a simple test project to show you the basics of how it works and the quirks of its operation.
You might not give much thought to the keyboard under your fingers, but there's a community of dedicated enthusiasts who spend a great deal of time thinking about their keyboards. The custom mechanical keyboard community can be confusing and downright imposing, but there are some genuinely cool things out there. In the Keyboard Spotlight, we seek to show off the coolest things happening in the custom mech scene one switch, keyboard, and keycap at a time.
This week we're taking a look at the innovative new Hako switches from Input Club and Kailh.
These switches are basically an alternative to the Cherry Browns or Blues with which you're most familiar. There are also similar switches from companies like Gateron and Kaihua (Kailh). It's become increasingly common for keyboard designers to create custom switch designs and have them produced by one of these manufacturers. The latest to do that is Input Club, which is responsible for creating keyboards like the WhiteFox and K-Type.
The Hako True (salmon stem) and Hako Clear (white stem) are both based on Kailh's new BOX designs. These switches have a standard Cherry-style cross stem inside a box-shaped frame. So, they work with standard Cherry-compatible keycaps, but the switch housing is "self-cleaning" and IP56-rated. Dust and moisture can escape out the bottom through drainage holes, and the metal contacts are in a separate compartment from the stem—see below for a detailed shot of the Hako Clear.
You probably want more apps, but more than that, you want the right ones. That's what we're here to deliver with the weekly Google Play App Roundup. This is where you'll find the best new and newly updated apps and games on Android. Just click the link to head right to Google Play.
Cloud storage services are a dime a dozen lately, but storage monolith Western Digital is looking to get into this space by charging less than a dime. Its UpThere cloud storage service costs just $1.99 per month for 100GB of space, which is the same as many competing services. However, there's more flexibility here. There's even a new Android app to use, and it's pretty good.
Like other cloud storage apps, Western Digital wants you to import files from your phone as you create them. One of the first things suggested by UpThere is linking your gallery, which creates backups of all your photos on the UpThere servers. You can also designate other folders to back up to the cloud via UpThere.
The app has a clean monochrome look with a bottom tab bar for navigation. Yes, that's an acceptable part of the material design guidelines these days. Although, I'm not sure about WD's decision to leave the buttons unlabeled. The far left tab is your "home screen" for UpThere, but it's called Flow. It's a sort of timeline where you can see all the activity on your account. In general, UpThere has fancy names for several basic concepts.
The other tabs are for file types like images, documents, and music. In the case of music, you can use UpThere to stream your tracks at full quality. The last tab is for "Loops," which seem to just be folders by another name. You can add items to a Loop to see them all in one place. Loops also plug into UpThere's sharing system. You can still share files the old-fashioned way, but you can basically create shared Loops for other people to view as you add new things to them.
You can try UpThere free for three months. After that, it's $1.99 per month for 100GB, but interestingly, that's the rate for every 100GB. If you need another 100GB, it's just another $1.99 per month. This looks like a much more flexible pricing model than something like Drive, which jumps from 100GB to 1TB.
If you're not already married to a cloud storage service, you might want to give UpThere a shot.
Google started as a search engine, as we put 2017 behind us, it's all the more clear just how far the Mountain View company has come. Android has grown into the most popular computing platform in the world, and Google Assistant is running on a huge number of those devices. Machine learning backs so much of what Google did in 2017, making it clear this is no longer about impressive hypothetical research. Machine learning is the future of Google, and it's having huge impacts on the way we use technology right now.
No discussion of Google's efforts in 2017 can ignore the continued importance of Android. In 2017, Android surpassed Windows as the most popular operating system on Earth. People who buy smartphones are much more likely to buy one running Android than iOS when you look at the global numbers, and people buy a lot of smartphones.
Google is looking toward the future with Android, as well, In 2017, Google announced the Android Go platform, a stripped down version of Android designed to run on ultra-budget phones with limited storage and processing power. Android Go, which will be a variant of Android 8.1, even has its own suite of apps like Maps and Gmail that run smoother and use less data.
In many places, smartphone usage has reached saturation. Many of us still pick up new devices every year or two, but there are many places where smartphone usage is still picking up steam. Google wants Android to be running on the "next billion" smartphones, and Android Go is how we get there.
Of course, it's not all about the entry-level phones. Google also released Android 8.0 and 8.1 Oreo in the fall after starting a developer preview in spring 2017. It was a little disappointing Google didn't do a big promotional push for Oreo like it did for KitKat a few years back, but aside from the awkward launch, Oreo is a good update.
There aren't as many headlining features in Oreo as in some past version of Android, but the under-the-hood improvements will make a big impact going forward. Google is cracking down on background processes to improve battery life, and users now have more control over how apps push notifications. There's also Project Treble, which aims to solve the problem of fragmentation once and for all. This modular system framework will run on all phones that ship with Oreo, allowing OEMs to make system updates that don't require new hardware drivers. That means faster updates and longer support.
We check out Microscape's striking 1:5000 scale models of Manhattan and Chicago. These miniatures were made from aerial photogrammetry, cleaned up for 3D printing and offer a unique perspective of the layered density and landscape of these cities. (Find the Chicago models here.)
Snow is still quite a novelty to me. Until recently, I've only lived in Florida or Texas. Now I'm in Buffalo, New York, where the average yearly snowfall is 95 inches. The transition has been relatively painless so far (knocking on wood), but there is definitely some adaptation required for my RC activities! This article highlights a recent example. I was originally intending to do a straightforward review of the Kyosho Outlaw Rampage RC truck. Snow was hampering my test drives, so I improvised.
There was only a little bit of snow on the ground the first time I took the Outlaw out for a spin (quite literally). In fact, it was the same outing where I photographed the Ultima RB6.6 at the park. While the Ultima's Goose Bumps tires hooked up really well in the snow, the Outlaw's stock treads were nearly useless. The truck would constantly spin out or get stuck. I definitely needed to find better traction one way or another.
I'm sure that there are off-the-shelf tires that would fit the Outlaw's wheels and provide better traction in snow. However, I thought it would be more fun to try a DIY approach. I've seen examples of tire chains on RC trucks before. So I decided to create my own version. It is a simple and inexpensive project that actually works quite well.
Those of you in warmer climates may be wondering just what the heck tire chains are. It's all new to me too. Apparently, there are many different types of tire chains (aka snow chains), but all stick to a common theme. As the name implies, they are chains that you attach to your car or truck tires. The profile of the chain acts like a paddle to give you extra traction in really bad winter conditions. Tire chains are obviously intended for temporary use and only when necessary.
So, the time has come to get a new phone. Before you toss the old one out and head to your local phone retailer of choice, you should get the lay of the land. There are dozens of Android phones worth considering, but only a few are the "good," and even fewer will be the best for you. Let's break it all down and call out the top devices on the big carriers as well as the best among unlocked phones.
Getting a phone from the carrier is what most people do for one primary reason: it's easy. You walk in, and walk out with a new phone on a monthly payment plan. However, you don't have as many good choices on the carriers. One consistently good choice in the last year has been the latest devices from Samsung like the Galaxy S8 and more recently, the Note 8. These are, right now, the best overall choices on the big carriers.
One of Samsung's biggest selling points is the display. The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus have some of the most incredible OLED panels available, and they're a bit more curvy than the Note 8. The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch curved display, whereas the Plus has a 6.2-inch curved panel. These screens are taller than old 16:9 panels with a resolution of 1440 x 2960. They're crisp, bright, and have fantastic colors. The rounded corners and smooth glass frame of these phones makes them so visually interesting. They're gorgeous.
The glass housing looks nice, but it comes with some drawbacks. It's slippery, and it picks up fingerprints immediately. On the other hand, the shape and size of the GS8 and S8 Plus are comfortable with the symmetrically curved front and back glass. The glass is also prone to breaking when dropped because there's so much of it. A case is a very good idea if you're going to be out and about.
Samsung finally switched to on-screen navigation buttons with the Galaxy S8, but the fingerprint scanner (formerly in the home button) has ended up in a rather awkward spot on the back of the phone. It's way up next to the camera instead of below it. The on-screen buttons can be reorganized to display in the right order. The home button is also pressure-sensitive. Hard-pressing on that area of the screen will always trigger the button, even if the phone is asleep.
Your phone might be cool, but it could be a lot cooler with the right apps. So what? Spend like mad until you find the apps that suit your needs? Nah, just read the weekly Google Play App Roundup here on Tested. We strive to bring you the best new, and newly updated apps on Android. Just click the app name to head to the Play Store.
Buying things on the internet can save you a lot of money if you wait for a good deal to come along, but you could be out of luck if you don't hop on a hot deal fast enough. Fluctuate is a new app that tracks prices for things you want to buy, and pushes alerts for pricing changes. The basic functionality is free, but several advanced features will cost you.
There are two ways to add items to Fluctuate. You can either share a URL to the app via Android's built-in permission system, or you can open the app and tap the floating action button to paste a URL manually. Fluctuate reads the page and looks for a price, which it usually finds. You have the option to tell the app that the detected price is not the correct one. In that case, the app loads the page, and you can tap on the name of the item and the price to correct the record.
With your item set up in the app, you'll see a notification in the event the price changes… at all. Depending on the site, that might mean a lot of notifications. You can, instead, set a threshold at which you'll receive a notification. Each item on your Fluctuate list shows the current price, and tapping on it lets you buy or view the product. When selecting "Buy now," the app will track how much you've saved based on the price drop since an item was added to the list. That running tally appears at the top of the app.
All of this functionality is free, and there are no ads in Fluctuate. The app will track pricing data over time for your saved items, but you can only see the graph if you upgrade to the pro version for $3.49. There's a separate $1.99 IAP for backup and restore support. That lets you save your tracked items so you won't lose them when migrating to a new device. If you want both, there's a single $4.99 everything upgrade.
Fluctuate has performed well for me with a variety of sites including Amazon, the Google Store, and B&H. I think the IAPs are a bit high, but the free functionality is already very solid. It would have been easy to toss some contextual ads in Fluctuate, but the devs didn't do that. Thumbs up there.
Tested's production coordinator Ryan shares some of his favorite things of 2017, including a favorite backpack, a memorable trip from this year, and something priceless! (Please consider contributing to the ASPCA here.)
In our final episode of Projections for 2017, we look at the past two years of consumer virtual reality and share our favorite VR games, experiences, and innovations. From VR "classics" that nailed this new medium years ago to breakthrough experiences that changed how we understood presence, here's what new VR owners should try out. Plus, we visit Pixar Animation Studios to chat with the producer of Coco VR about Pixar's foray into virtual reality!
Our 3D printer expert Sean's favorite things of the past year include a modelmaking guide book, earbuds, custom LEGO minifigs, a handy driver, and a sculpt he found at a convention this year. Plus, an MP3 player pick!
One of the first projects we do to test Frank's new CNC Router Parts plasma cutter is making the Tested logo out of metal. Drew Cairn guides us through the process of preparing our vector file to be plasma cut, and chats with us about the mission of CNC Router Parts while we watch the machine at work!
Joey shares some of his favorite things from the past year, including a new home pizza oven, workshop tool, tabletop game, and some new production gear!
Jeremy shares some of his favorite things of 2017, including his love of classic video games, VR, and a new favorite 3D printer!