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    Google Play App Roundup: Calendar Widget: Agenda, Rodeo Stampede, and Zombieville USA 2

    Another week is upon us, and that means it's time to check out the state of the Google Play Store. Your phone is only a shadow of itself without the best apps, so it's a good thing we're here to save the day. Just click on the app name to pull up the Google Play Store so you can try things out for yourself.

    Calendar Widget: Agenda

    A few years ago, Candl Apps released the "Month" calendar widget, and it was a pretty big success. Now, the developer has published Calendar Widget: Agenda. You can probably guess what it does from the name. Like Month, this app comes with a multiple skins and a couple extra features but directly related to your schedule.

    There's no entry for Agenda in your app drawer after installing. It's settings are only available from the widget after you've placed it in there home screen, so go ahead and do that. There's only one size in the weather list, but it's resizable to add small as 2x2 or as large as whatever your device's maximum grid size is. To change the theme, tap the settings gear on the widget.

    There centerpiece of this app is the assortment of neat themes for the widget. A few look like tweaked versions of the stock Google Calendar widget, and none of them are super-weird or unattractive. I particularly like the ones that separate the days out as cards. When selecting a theme, you also have the option of tweaking the colors and opacity.

    Like other agenda widgets, you can scroll through to get a look at all the event coming up on your calendars. In the settings, you can choose which calendars you want shown on the widget if you've got more than one attached to your account. There's also an option to have weather shown next to each day. This is part of the full version upgrade, though.

    You get a handful of themes in the free download. Most of them are the note generic ones, but for $1.49 you can get another dozen themes and the aforementioned weather feature.

    Meet the 2016 BattleBots, Part 2

    We're back in the builders' pit at this year's BattleBots, where we catch up with some teams from last season and meet some new competitors and their innovative bots. Check out one humanoid BattleBot that's puppetted like an animatronic boxing robot! The new season premieres tonight on ABC!

    Meet the 2016 BattleBots!

    The new season of BattleBots premieres this week! We were on set during the filming of this year's BattleBots, and met with some of the teams, old a new, backstage in the builder's pit area. Meet their new bots!

    Google Play App Roundup: ADW Launcher 2.0, Lost Frontier, and _PRISM

    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 links to head right to Google Play.

    ADW Launcher 2.0

    Anyone who has used Android devices for a few years has probably heard of ADW Launcher. It was one of the best custom home screens for Android in the days before Nova appeared on the scene. It hasn't been updated in years, but the developer has reappeared with a beta release of ADW 2.0, and you can give it a shot right now.

    This is a completely redesigned version of ADW that seems competitive with the top alternative launchers today. Note: you'll have to opt into the beta test for this app before the new version will show up for you. It's using the same listing as the original app, so install that one and your devices will update to the beta automatically.

    ADW 2.0 is highly configurable and colorful, a good mix of qualities from other launchers. At the top of your screen is a Google search bar, but that's actually a custom widget. You can modify it, or even create entirely new widgets for that spot or anywhere else on your home screen. These widgets aren't as powerful as the various standalone apps that let you build custom widgets, but you can do some neat stuff. It does lead to some unnecessary complication, though. An example: ADW's custom all-in-one widget add-on defaults to celcius. If you want to use Fahrenheit, you have to actually go into the widget editor, find the temperature layer, and change it to imperial. It's a very "power user" way to do things.

    The launcher also has an automated theme engine built-in, which is one of the things I really like about Action Launcher. By default, it's based on your wallpaper image. Your search bar, app drawer, and folder background will pull colors from the wallpaper. You can change the colors in settings if you like. In another nod to Action Launcher, you can set folders to show only the top icon (launched with a tap), but still make the rest of the folder accessible with a swipe.

    I really like the way ADW groups widgets and makes managing your home screens easier. However, some of the features here aren't completely obvious. For instance, it took me a minute of experimenting to figure out how to get rid of a home screen panel. It's beta, so I assume that the tutorial will be fleshed out before the final release. In the app drawer, there's also a categorization option for apps, but it's all manual. That's fine if you want things a certain way and don't mind organizing everything by hand.

    ADW 2.0 does all the basic stuff you'd expect from a custom launcher like gestures, page transition effects, and icon packs. Almost all of this is available for free in the new beta, but you can upgrade to the full version for $2.99. The free version does have a "promo apps" icon, which is essentially an ad. You can remove it from your "all apps" category to hide it, though.

    Hands-On with Raw Data's New Multiplayer VR Demo

    We visit the offices of Survios, a VR game company making a sci-fi multiplayer shooter for the HTC Vive and Oculus Touch. The new demo of Raw Data includes teleportation for moving around the map, hero classes, and special powers. We chat with Survios' Chief Creative Officer about some of their VR design ideas.

    Hands-On with Manus VR Virtual Reality Gloves

    Seeing your hands and arms in virtual reality is going to be a big deal, but there's no perfect solution yet for accurate and robust hand presence. That's what Manus VR is trying to achieve with its VR gloves, which we test at this year's E3. We learn how the gloves work and how it integrates with HTC Vive and Steam VR.

    Oculus Touch Hands-On and Interview at E3 2016

    We stop by the Oculus booth at E3 2016 to get hands-on time with Oculus Touch games, including Wilson's Heart and The Unspoken. Here's some of that gameplay, our impressions on those demos, and our hopes for hand presence in virtual reality. Plus, a chat with Palmer Luckey and Nate Mitchell about the Oculus Rift's launch, game exclusivity, and what's coming next.

    Hands-On with Razer OSVR HDK 2 Virtual Reality Headset

    We're at E3 this week checking out new virtual reality games and hardware. First up is Razer's new OSVR Hacker Development Kit 2. We learn about its display and lens system, how Razer is making this more of a consumer device, and get a hands-on demo. Here's why we're hopeful but cautious about this $400 headset.

    Just the Essentials: Sony’s E3 2016 Announcements

    Sony capped off a day of E3 press conferences with a surprisingly short event. They had a fairly decent showing in terms of overall software, but only showed a few VR game trailers.

    For the PlayStation faithful there was a strong line-up of exclusives including God of War with Kratos now as a Viking, another great looking Horizon Zero Dawn demo, Crash Bandicoot remastered, and an exclusive Spider-Man game made by Insomniac Games.

    The PlayStation VR segment was brief, especially when compared to previous showings, and was devoid of any context for the trailers shown. Resident Evil 7, which looks more like Silent Hills rather than any of the previous games in the RE series, will be completely playable in VR. You'll have to wait until January 24th, 2017 to crap your pants to that one though.

    Farpoint, a PS VR exclusive from Impulse Gear, is a first person shooter that takes place on an alien world. The game is meant to be played with the new Aim Controller, which is a vaguely gun shaped accessory with the Move controller bits built in. Sony claims it will provide one to one tracking accuracy. But you wouldn't know that if you had watched the press conference because they didn't talk about it or show the game being played.

    And those two games were the only seemingly full length titles shown during the briefing. Criterion Games, famous for the Burnout series, is making a VR X-Wing expansion for Battlefront. The trailer was really cool! But it's going to be only one mission.

    What You Should Know: Microsoft’s E3 2016 Announcements

    The annual E3 video game conference is underway, and Microsoft showed up in a big way. They announced not one, but two new consoles. All of the first party titles showed off will be cross-buy on Xbox and Windows 10. And more features coming to Xbox expands it from a console service to a platform.

    Old hardware gets a facelift

    Microsoft's live briefing kicked off with the announcement of the Xbox One S, a slim model of the launch Xbox One. This sleek, white box is 40% smaller, has an internal power supply, and the ability to function vertically. It supports 4K Ultra HD media and blurays, as well as HDR for both media and games (meaning an increase from 8-bit to 10-bit for color range and contrast). There's also an IR blaster on the front for use in controlling TVs and audio systems.

    It's worth noting that the Kinect port has been removed. If you'd still like to use a Kinect, a USB to Kinect adapter will be available for $49. However, if you provide Microsoft with the serial number of your original Xbox One console, your Kinect, and your new S model, they'll send you one for free. If it's the same adapter as the one for PCs, then it will be a couple of small boxes and will need to be plugged into an outlet, so something to keep in mind.

    A slightly improved controller will come packed in featuring a similar textured grip on the back as with other standalone Xbox One controllers, improved analog sticks, and bluetooth support to more easily connect to PCs.

    The Xbox One S launches August 2nd, first with a limited edition 2TB model for $399. Soon thereafter 1TB and 500GB models will be made available for $349 and $299 respectively.

    And if you're a fan of Moto Maker, there's something like that now for your Xbox controller. Xbox Design Lab gives you a plethora of color options to customize a controller. Unique controllers will start at $79 and ship this fall.

    Google Play App Roundup: Opera News and Search, Heroes of Loot 2, and PKTBALL

    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.

    Opera News and Search

    Opera has been making browsers for Android since the early days, and there are several versions of its existing mini and standard browsers in the store right now. The new Opera News and Search browser is a little different. It focuses on recommending content in the browser and making it easier to read. It's a bit like a browser with a stripped down RSS feed inside.

    When you first open Opera News and Search, you'll see a start screen with a search/URL field at the top and news headlines below that. Right now the biggest issue is that some of the content Opera shows you be default is kind of garbage. I don't personally care about a "crazy hack that will dry your nails in seconds." Luckily, that's just the main feed. You can slide over to the Discover tab to see specific topics like technology, design, and so on. You can check them out there or subscribe to get dedicated news tabs and a better mix of things in your main list. When you tap on a story, you have the option of loading it in a text-only reading mode too.

    Your main search/news tabs remain open at all times in the home tab, but you can open others and use Opera like any other browser. Simply use the search bar or the tab button in the bottom toolbar to get on your way. The home button will always take you back to the main tab with all the news content. You'll get notifications for breaking news as well.

    If you have an Opera account, this browser can sync your tab history, reading list, and bookmarks. As is customary in Opera browsers, there's also an option to enable server-side compression to save mobile data while browsing. Private browsing is supported as well via the tab management screen. Anything loaded in private mode will not be saved in cache or your browsing history.

    The new Opera is experimental, so there are probably going to be some bugs. It's also only available in the US right now (at least officially). At its heart, the new Opera is running the same engine as the other full-scale version (non-Mini), meaning Chromium. The Opera implementation is fast and page rendering is spot-on.

    It does seem rather well put together for a first release. If Opera improves user control over the news feed, this could be a capable alternative to Chrome and a nice improvement over the current Opera browser.

    In Brief: Valve Launches VR Destinations Workshop Tools

    This is really neat. Today, Valve software is releasing a Steam app called Destination Workshop Tools, which will allow anyone to create roomscale VR environments like the Destinations experience in The Lab. The tool doesn't include photogrammetry software, so you still have to composite photographs using something like PhotoScan or Autodesk ReMake, but FBX model files can be imported into Valve's tool to format it for the Source engine and add things like teleportation markers and a skybox. The tool should work for more than just environments too--you can plot yourself in VR on any mesh. Check out Valve's Destinations tutorial for more--we're definitely going to be trying this out!

    Norman
    Testing: Racing FPV Quadcopters at Night

    As you know from my recent article about night flying, I am of the opinion that sunset isn't necessarily quitting time at the flying field. Sometimes that's when the fun is just beginning. As I was writing that article, I received two products that sparked a new idea for flying in darkness: nighttime FPV.

    Now, I'm not talking about flying a race quad through a course with a well-illuminated path and obstacles (as we saw at the recent World Drone Prix). Rather, my goal was to fly at my normal flying spots after sundown using just the view afforded by a low-light FPV camera. I had no idea if it would actually work--which is the best reason to give it a shot!

    The Camera: RunCam Owl

    The RunCam Owl ($45) looks a lot like most other analog mini FPV cameras. In many ways, it actually is quite ordinary. What's unique about the Owl's specs is a parameter called "minimum illumination". It is essentially a measure of how sensitive the camera is to light. The lower the minimum illumination value, the better the camera will perform in low-light situations. The problem is that there any many variables involved to determine minimum illumination, making the numbers easy for manufacturers to fudge, if they choose to.

    Having never dealt with minimum illumination before, I didn't have a yardstick to understand the scope of the provided numbers anyway. The fact that the Owl's advertised value of .0001 Lux was 1/100 the minimum illumination of my other FPV cameras really didn't mean anything to me. I figured the best way to determine any differences between these cameras was to test them.

    The Owl includes the necessary cables for attaching it to a VTX or monitor.

    I turned off the lights in my windowless workshop and couldn't see a thing! When I viewed this scene on a monitor using a Sony PZ0420 camera (a very popular FPV camera), the only things I could see were the overlaid telemetry numbers of my on-screen display. I couldn't see anything within the workshop. Repeating that test with the Owl yielded much different results. With this camera, I was able to see everything quite clearly. There was very little color depth (like watching a black and white TV), but I could easily navigate around the room using the Owl's imagery. Based on that success, I moved forward on my night FPV quest.

    In Brief: Comparing the Digital Cartography of Apple and Google Maps

    Designer Justin O'Bierne, who worked at Apple and led the development of Apple's Cartography team (ie. the makers of Apple Maps), begins the exercise of comparing the nuanced differences between Apple and Google Maps. In the first part of this analysis, O'Bierne compares how each platform labels cities, roads, and points of interest on phone and tablets--including density of information and sheer content. This study is important because over a billion people use these maps on their computers--they're competing to be the world's first Universal Map. One consideration that I hope he addresses is the devices that these maps appear on. Apple designs its maps to be used on hardware (ie. displays) it makes, and Google Maps is designed to scale to any computer, app, or web browser.

    Norman 1
    Show and Tell: SixKeyBoard Custom Keyboard

    For this week's Show and Tell, Patrick stops by (our old office!) to share this custom keyboard set by TechKeys. The SixKeyBoard is a programmable keyboard with yep, just six keys. But instead of requiring desktop software, macros and shortcuts can be saved right to the keyboard to work on any system.

    In Brief: The Making of Giant Action Figures for Overwatch

    I know a bunch of you out there are deep into Blizzard's Overwatch (Jeremy, talking about you). Even though I haven't jumped into the game yet, I definitely took note of the giant action-figure style statues commissioned for the game's launch last month. Those statues were made by Steve Wang's Alliance Studio, and this blog post on Mold3D details the fabrication of the "colossal collectibles" for the promotion, including extensive SLS printing for the statue's many pieces.

    Norman
    Google Play App Roundup: Flamingo, Sky Force Reloaded, and NeoWars

    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.

    Flamingo

    Twitter recently resurrected the much-loved app Fenix from the grave after it ran out of tokens. From this we learned that the company is now willing to work with developers who have run out of auth tokens, so it's a bit safer for developers to invest their time and energy into Twitter apps. The first new Twitter app of interest in a long time is Flamingo, which was made by the developer of the fabulous Weather Timeline app. It's still in beta, but Flamingo get a lot of things right.

    Flamingo has three main columns across the top, and they're the right columns. You have the timeline, mentions, and messages. So many apps clutter the main interface with unnecessary streams. You can, however, rearrange, add, and remove columns from the main app UI. Flamingo puts all the other stuff in the slide-out navigation menu where it's supposed to be. You can swipe to navigate between columns or tap on the headers. Tapping on the header will also move you to the top of your current stream, an essential feature for me in Twitter apps.

    The way you interact with tweets is well-designed in Flamingo as well. Tapping on a tweet pulls up in-line action buttons to reply, retweet, like, and so on. A long-press opens the tweet in a new screen with full conversation history. I love that you can drag down to close these screens, as well as images that you've opened. If you are supposed to see replies to something in your timeline (i.e. you follow both people) those will be shown in-line, which is very handy. I also quite like the way links and quoted tweets show up in colorful boxes in the timeline tweet. It's easy to follow what's going on at a glance here.

    One of Flamingo's main selling points is the abundance of themes. It comes with a dozen presets, and you can design your own theme by picking colors. The default "blue bird" theme is pretty good, but there are plenty of other nice ones including an AMOLED dark theme.

    Flamingo doesn't have settings for refresh speed, so I'm assuming the notifications are handled as push messages. The only toggle I can find is one to defer notifications to save battery. Presumably this batches notifications so your phone won't wake up constantly to deliver them. I'd like a little more clarity on this.

    I'm really impressed with the design and reliability of Flamingo at such an early stage. I'm personally missing a widget. I use home screen widgets to browse Twitter almost as much as I use the actual app, so it's a must have feature for me. If the developer can get that sorted out, i could easily make Flamingo my full-time Twitter client, and it's only $0.99.