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    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Small-Scale Cars and Upgrades

    When I first got into RC cars in the late 1980s, the vast majority of vehicles were 1/10-scale. There were a few 1/12-scale carpet racers, a handful of nitro-powered 1/8 scale cars, and some very rare gasoline-powered 1/4-scale jobs – but it was overwhelmingly a 1/10-scale hobby. It was a good fit for the motor, battery and radio technology of the era.

    While tenth-scale has remained king over the years, new technology has allowed other scales (both larger and smaller) to blossom. One of the most popular new scales to emerge is 1/18. These vehicles are small enough that they are practical for indoor use, while still being large enough to handle most outdoor terrain. Best of all, many 1/18-scale vehicles are designed just like their bigger brothers, with the same array of replacement and hop-up parts.


    The Dromida MT4.18 and DB4.18

    To illustrate the inner workings of 1/18-scale, I've tested a pair of vehicles from Dromida, the MT4.18 and DB4.18. Like other 1/18-scale Dromida vehicles, these cars are based on the same 4-wheel-drive chassis, with only wheel/tire, gearing, and styling differences among them. Don't let their small stature fool you. These are hobby-grade products with full-ball bearings, a 2.4GHz radio system, oil-filled shocks, etc. They can be found for around $100 ready-to-run.

    The MT4.18 and DB4.18 (let's just call them "MT" and "DB") are factory-built and ready to run when you open the box. There's just the small detail of charging the included 6-cell 1300mAh NiMH battery. That quickly brings us to my only real gripe of these vehicles. The provided charger is pretty lame. It's an AC charger that takes four hours to charge a depleted battery—four hours!


    The battery can certainly withstand a much faster charge rate. I'm a big fan of multi-chemistry chargers that can do it all, but their expense can be hard to justify for beginners. An inexpensive no-frills charger such as the Duratrax Onyx 110 would be a big step up here. With the Onyx, you're now down to 78 minutes at a 1 amp charge and 39 minutes at 2 amps (which I'd only do occasionally). Also, since it has AC/DC input, you can charge from your car battery if you're away from home.

    The Best In-Ear Headphones Under $40

    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

    If you're looking for the best in-ear headphones on a budget, get the Brainwavz Delta with Mic. After 32 hours of research on hundreds of in-ear headphones under $40, seriously considering 179, and testing 68 with our panel of audio experts, we found the Brainwavz Deltas are the best for the money. Our panel unanimously voted them the best-sounding of all the ones tested in this category, plus they fit comfortably in most ears, and are a steal at $22. They sound better than the Apple Earpods, so if you're looking to upgrade or replace those, or want something decent and inexpensive, these are your best bet.

    How Did We Choose What To Test?

    After doing research on existing professional reviews, I looked to the user reviews on Amazon, Crutchfield, etc. to see what real people had liked and had come out since our last post.

    We then brought in a faceoff panel consisting of audio professionals and musicians who were asked to listen and give me their top picks. From there we took into account price and features, and in the end, chose a winner.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (March 2015)

    The season for 2015 flagship phones is upon us, and it's hard to make a bad choice. Truth be told, most Android phones are quite good now. You'll probably be satisfied with most of them, but we want more than good enough. We want the best. Most people don't pick up a new phone every six months, so you need to get something that has staying power.

    Samsung and HTC are both taking pre-orders for their flagship phones, and you can get them on all four big US carriers. Before we dig in, we need to sort out which one of those is best.

    Photo credit: Flickr user bestboyzde via Creative Commons

    The HTC One M9 and the Samsung Galaxy S6

    This is a strange time for Android as OEMs are finally figuring out how important it is to make your phone available to everyone. The days of carrier exclusives for flagship phones are well and truly gone, and that means you can pick up the HTC One M9 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 on any carrier of your choice. Let's see how these two stack up before we dive down into the specifics.

    Samsung has completely redesigned the Galaxy S6 this year after a lackluster showing from the GS5 last year.

    The first wave of reviews for these devices have started to hit, so we've got a good idea how they will perform if you opt to buy one on your carrier of choice. Samsung has completely redesigned the Galaxy S6 this year after a lackluster showing from the GS5 last year. The entire phone is metal and glass, and it really and truly does feel like a premium piece of hardware. It has the precision and elegance of Apple's engineering with a little Samsung flair thrown in.

    Toward the bottom of the front of this device Samsung has placed its customary physics home button and capacitive multi-tasking and back buttons. The home button is a little larger this year and has a proper touch-based fingerprint sensor. It's very clicky and feels solid. The buttons on the side are also extremely tactile and tight. Around back is a camera hump for Samsung's new 16MP image sensor. It has a wider aperture than last year for better low-light shots, and it performs every bit as well as you'd expect. Samsung's HDR photos are second to none.

    Tested In-Depth: Feiyu G3 Ultra 3-Axis GoPro Gimbal

    This week, we test a motorized stabilizer for GoPro cameras: the Feiyu-Tech G3 Ultra. Like the gimballed mounts used for quadcopter cameras, this handheld rig can keep a GoPro Hero 3 or 4 fixed on its rotational axes. The result is video that is relatively stable compared to footage from GoPros attached with rigid mounts. Akin to a portable steadicam. We discuss its potential uses and compare some test footage. (Thanks to B&H for loaning us this unit for testing.)

    Site Maintenance This Afternoon - 1PM PDT/4PM EDT

    We just wanted to let you all know that this afternoon at 1PM PDT/4PM EDT, we'll be setting Tested to read-only mode, so we can do some work on the software that drives the site. During the maintenance window, you'll be unable to post new comments or messages in the forums and you won't be able to create new user accounts or upgrade to a premium membership. Edit: It looks like everything is done. Go about your commenting as normal. We expect the whole thing to take less than four hours, but I'll update this post as soon as the work is done.

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    In Brief: Google Announces Chromebit Computer-On-a-Stick

    In addition to announcing a slew of new entry-level Chromebooks, Google today revealed the Chromebit, a $100 HDMI stick made by Asus that runs Chrome OS. Like the Chromecast, the dongle plugs into any display via HDMI and gets its power over USB (a full-sized USB port instead of micro), and turns that monitor into a Chrome OS device. Peripherals connect over Bluetooth, and the stick runs on a Rockchip RK3288 quad-core SoC with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. It'll go on sale this summer for $100, and Google is partnering with other PC makers to make Chrome OS sticks as well.

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    Microsoft Announces Atom-Based Surface 3 Tablet

    Even though Windows 10 isn't coming out until later this year, Microsoft is launching a new Surface tablet next month. This isn't the follow up to the Surface Pro 3 that I liked so much last year, nor is it a new ARM-based RT tablet like the Surface 2. Instead, it's simply called Surface 3, and it'll run a full version of Windows 8.1 (upgradable to Windows 10). What separates it from the Surface Pro lines is its processor: Surface 3 is equipped with Intel's Atom x7 Z8700 CPU, which is clocked at 1.6GHz and turbos to 2.4GHz. Atom has come a long way since its netbook days, and Cherry Trail just launched earlier this year. The advantages of using an X86-based SoC mean Surface 3 can run a fully-capable version of Windows, while keeping power down to as low as 2 watts in "Scenario Design Power". That gives Surface 3 a claimed battery life of 10 hours, while keeping the weight and thickness below Surface 2 RT's specs. Along with a new hardware platform is the use of a 3:2 display (like the Surface Pro 3), with a 1920x1280 touchscreen, and an N-trig pressure sensitive digitizer. Unfortunately, the Surface Pro 3's versatile hinge doesn't make it to this model--this hinge only snaps to three positions.

    The interesting thing for me is what this may indicate about the next-generation Surface Pro model. Surface Pro 4 will presumably come out before the end of the year and make a great Windows 10 launch device. But Microsoft can go either the Broadwell U route for hardware (a direct follow-up for the Haswell chips in the current Surface Pro 3) or Core M/Broadwell-Y, which is what's in laptops like the Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 and Apple's upcoming MacBook. My hope is that Microsoft will use Broadwell U chips for that model, given the ultra-low power needs are somewhat satisfied with this Surface 3. But my gut says that they'll design Surface Pro 4 around Core M to take advantage of its low power consumption, at the cost of performance. Given my experience with Broadwell U vs. Y, I'm much more inclined to buy a Broadwell U-based laptop if it's going to be my dedicated computer. We'll just have to wait and see.

    Surface 3 will ship in May, and starts at $500 for 64GB of storage or $600 for 128GB and twice the RAM. LTE models will also be available for $100 more.

    Milling Time: Testing the Shapeoko 2 CNC Machine

    Over the past few months, I've been working with various desktop CNC milling machines. I first tested the Othermill, which I really enjoyed using. The next desktop CNC machine I tested was the Shapeoko 2. Shapeoko is an affordable, open source CNC kit that has been on the market for a few years. Originally a Kickstarter project, it grew into a robust product originally sold through Inventables, and now the Shapeoko 3 is about to launch--sold exclusively through shapeoko.com.

    Given that the company is on its third generation product, there is already a large online Shapeoko community. Tips, tricks, and mods can all be found on the site’s forums. Numerous videos on YouTube show you everything from step-by-step mill assembly to machine calibration, and even material-specific best practices. That’s a compelling asset.

    My Shapeoko 2

    The mill itself is also very user friendly and lends itself well to modification. If nothing else, the Shapeoko is a very robust X, Y, Z plotter that is incredibly hackable. If you have plans to build your own job-specific machine, the Shapeoko’s parts would be great bones to start with. I have seen watercolor painting CNC’s, DIY laser cutters, even Zen garden sand printers built from this chassis.

    If the Othermill is Eve, then the Shapeoko is Wall-E.

    Google Play App Roundup: Open Imgur, Frozen Synapse Prime, and Overpaint

    The time has come again to shine a light into all the shadowy corners of Google Play to find the best new and newly updated stuff for your phone or tablet. The Google Play App Roundup is where you can come every week to see what's cool on Android, and this week is no exception. Click on the links to head right to Google Play and download for yourself.

    This week you can share images more easily, hack the system, and mix up some colors.

    Open Imgur

    Seldom will you see a more negative reaction on the internet than if you post a link on Reddit that does not go to Imgur. The image sharing site has become the go-to way to host images for Reddit, as well as many other sites and services. There is an official Imgur app, but it's really just okay. Open Imgur, on the other hand, seems pretty great.

    This app comes to the Play Store packing a fully material interface with an "imgur green" action bar and light backdrop. That's just the default, though. As with most material apps, you can change the action/status bar color in the settings. There's also a dark theme, which actually looks a bit more like the Imgur website.

    The main screen when you open the app is a feed of recent galleries posted by users in a grid layout. To get around, there's a slide-out nav menu on the left. Again, this is done with proper material styling. From here you can log in if you have an Imgur account, as well as access different areas of the app. You can view images by topic, subreddit, or random. When viewing individual images you can add comments and favorite posts.

    Open Imgur also has a meme generator built-in, which comes with a selection of all the big memes. There's Scumbag Steve, Insanity Wolf, Skeptical Third-World Kid, and more. If you're already tired of all the memes you've ever seen, feel free to avoid this section of the app. Actually, why are you using Imgur at all? I kid.

    Of course, Imgur is all about sharing your pics, and you can do that with Open Imgur. There's a section of the app where you can get images from your device uploaded and share the links. A FAB on the main page also lets you upload images. If you're logged in, you can access all your past uploads from the app as well.

    One last thing, this is called Open Imgur, right? Well, it's open source, You can go to the Github and download the code, fork it, file changes, and so on. You can get the finished app free in the Play Store.

    Show and Tell: Parrot Rolling Spider Mini-Quadcopter

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm flies the Parrot Rolling Spider, a tiny quadcopter controlled by your smartphone. Made by Parrot, this "minidrone" is definitely more of a toy than hobbyist multi-rotor, but it's very simple to fly and impressively stable. Plus, it rolls on ceilings!

    Hands-On with FOVE Eye Tracking VR Headset

    We've tried several virtual reality headsets that track your head movement, but FOVE is the first that also tracks your eye movement. At this year's Game Developers Conference, we put on FOVE's latest prototype headset and chat with the company's CTO to learn what eye tracking can bring to VR.

    Your TV is Too Small (Why You Should Get a Projector)

    That weird little rainbow circle on a motor thing in the picture below? That's the color wheel for a DLP projector. More to the point, it's the color wheel that's going into my projector. It's twee and fragile, and I'm sure the old one made the tiniest ping when it shattered. I didn't hear it... but I didn't need to. The results were pretty obvious when I fired up the projector to watch a movie, and the screen was 50 shades of grey. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    The wall of grey led to two things. First, I borrowed a gorgeous 55" Samsung Plasma TV. Second, the realization that 55" is way too small for an HDTV when you're used to 100 glorious inches of 1080p color blanketing the wall in my living room.

    We'll talk about the color wheel another time, but it was the 55" TV that got me thinking: most people buy televisions that are way too small for the room they put 'em in. So, my simple advice: buy a bigger TV than you think you need. Seriously. All too many people say "gosh, that thing is huge" or "60 inches? That's ridiculous!" while they're wandering through the TV aisle at Costco or Best Buy.

    This makes some sense. People who grew up with standard definition televisions remember a time when a 37” TV was too big. That’s a fair association; back in the CRT days, 37 inches was massive. A TV that size was also a couple feet deep, so it literally took up a lot of space in the room. And more often than not, living room CRTs were stuffed inside some huge piece of furniture to hide it when it wasn't on--which took up even more space.

    People who grew up with big CRTs need to rewire how their brains think about screen space in relation to TV sizes.

    Going much for a bigger screen in the days of VHS and DVD usually meant rear projection. These were massive boxes that hulked against the wall. We're talking a couch worth of floorspace...great for baseball games. Not, to paraphrase Loyd Case, so great for the Spousal Acceptance Factor.

    And in defense of spouses, husband or wife, a big blank 60" screen tends to really overpower a small living room. Which is a shame, because the higher resolution of HDTV (much less UHD/4K) means you can sit much much closer that before bigger screen stops looking really good. A 1080p screen displays 1920x1080 pixels, nearly six times as many pixels as 480i (let's agree that 480i, or 704x480 at 60 interlaced frames is roughly 'standard def' in a digital format). People really need to rewire how their brains think about screen space in relation to TV sizes.

    Epic 18 Month SSD Endurance Test Is Over

    We've advocated using SSDs in most PCs for several years, the benefits of having a drive with virtually no latency and a ton of bandwidth are obvious. But the longevity of flash memory used in SSDs has been worrisome--each flash memory cell can only be written to a finite number of times. That number of writes is large and SSDs use a variety of techniques to manage wear and keep your data safe when cells inevitably fail, but the manufacturer's endurance estimates for most SSDs range from writing a few dozen terabytes to several hundred.

    To test SSD endurance in the real world, The Tech-Report has spent the last eighteen months writing petabytes of data to a sextet of SSDs, noting the total amount of data written and the condition at the time of their failure. The results are in, and the Samsung 840 Pro was ultimately the winner, but seeing how the different drives failed might be informative when you're deciding between MLC and TLC drives or different controllers for your next SSD purchase.

    Of course, as the price per gigabyte for SSDs continues to drop, longevity isn't that much of an issue for home users. Typically people upgrade to larger SSDs before they have an opportunity to wear out. However, with new processes coming that promise to dramatically increase the density of flash memory, SSD endurance will become much more important.

    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 4

    The previous three articles of this series were all about getting the Strider Mini Quad assembled into an aerial racing machine. With all of those steps complete, it is now time to put the Strider in the air. I will cover my initial test flights, some configuration changes I made, and my thoughts on flying a quad racer.

    Test Flights

    I planned for my initial test flight of the Strider to be a quick, knee-high hover in my backyard, lasting only long enough to confirm that the controls operated correctly. Things started off well and all of the controls worked perfectly. Things worked so well in fact, that I spent more time hovering than I anticipated.

    A few minutes into the flight, the Strider unexpectedly tumbled into the grass and I heard something bounce off of the fence. In my excitement to get the quad in the air, I had neglected to adequately tighten the prop nuts…a rudimentary task that I really should not have missed. Remember when I mentioned that I was much too astute and diligent to need CCW-version motors? I guess I asked for it.

    There was zero damage to the Strider, and I quickly found the flyaway prop. The offending prop nut is another story. It is definitely somewhere in my back yard, but I gave up looking for it. Lawn mowers are great at finding (and hurling) such things, so it’s only a matter of time before we are reunited. Luckily, I had a pair of replacement prop nuts that, while not the same color, fit the threads on the prop shaft.


    Subsequent flights took place at my RC flying field, where I have plenty of room to let the Strider run free. I began with a few line-of-sight flights in Attitude Mode so that I could get a feel for the quad’s speed and handling. I don’t know how my Strider compares to other racing quads, but it’s fast! Because of the quad’s small size, I had to be very careful to keep it in relatively close, or it would quickly morph into a tiny black blob in the sky.

    I soon became comfortable flying the Strider in Attitude Mode, so I switched to Rate Mode. The stock Rate Mode settings in the CC3D felt pretty aggressive to me. So, I toned down the rotation rates and added about 30% exponential (using Open Pilot GCS) for subsequent flights. Even though that helped tame the quad, I decided that I still wanted an easier transition to Rate Mode. The solution was using Rattitude Mode.

    Slow Mo Guys Film Shattering CD at 170,000FPS

    The Slow Mo Guys put a 170,000FPS camera on a CD shattering from the stresses of rotational motion. At that framerate, four seconds of real-time translated to over seven hours of footage--96GB of data. Gav and Dan run their test at multiple framerates and from different angles--the shot of the CD warping off-axis before it cracks is super cool. BBC's Earth Unplugged channel also put up its latest high speed video test yesterday, showing a panther chameleon tongue attack at 1500fps. It's all about finding the appropriate framerate to capture what you want to show off.

    In Brief: 2015 GPP Photography ShootOut Competition

    Every year at the GPP Dubai Photography Festival, three guest photographers are challenged to shoot a mystery subject in just 20 minutes, from start to publish. The event--the GPP ShootOut--has featured amazing photographers like Gregory Heisler, David Hobby, and Zack Arias, to name a few. This year's surprise subject was the idea of "intimacy between strangers." It's a great look into the thought process and execution of professional photographers, each with their own specialties and style. You can watch it on Vimeo(embedding wasn't allowed on this video).

    Flying FPV Multi-Rotors with Team Blacksheep

    We met up with Team Blacksheep pilot Raphael Pirker (AKA Trappy) to talk about his FPV flying exploits, videos, and new ready-to-fly hexacopter. Pirker talks frankly about his dealings with the FAA, views on multi-rotor safety, and the newly proposed guidelines for RC flyers. We also do some flying and racing!

    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 3

    Through the first two articles of this series, I assembled the bulk of the Strider Mini Quad frame, installed the propulsion system, and configured the flight controller. This time around, I will concentrate on the components of the First Person View (FPV) system, as well as the camera used to record in-flight videos.

    The FPV System

    The components that I chose for the Strider’s FPV system are quite common. The camera is a PZ0420 with a 2.8mm lens and IR filter. It mounts directly to the camera mounting plate that is provided in the Strider kit. The mounting plate is then sandwiched between the center plate and top plate of the frame. Since the center plate of the Strider frame features an integrated Power Distribution Board (PDB) there are 5-volt and 12-volt power taps for the camera located directly behind the camera mount. There are also inputs for the video and audio (if your camera has it) signal wires from the camera.

    The camera I used does not have audio capability. It includes a 3-wire pigtail for power, ground, and the video signal. I shortened the pigtail considerably to reduce unnecessary wire on the airframe. The camera can accept 5-17 volts, so I plugged the pigtail into the 12-volt tap of the Strider.

    My video transmitter (VTX) is a TS832 5.8GHz 600mW unit. Like most VTXs for FPV, it requires a FCC amateur radio license to operate. I attached the VTX to the bottom side of the top plate using self-adhesive Velcro. The rear end of the Strider center plate includes another set of power taps and nodes for connecting the video and audio signals. I again used the 12-volt tap and video signal.

    I upgraded the stock VTX antenna with a circular polarized model. I also added a 7cm long extension between the VTX and antenna. The extension provides a flexible link between the antenna and its mount on the VTX. This isolates the VTX from the hard knocks that the protruding antenna is bound to endure.

    When you are shopping for VTXs, antennae, and accessories, be sure to pay close attention to the gender of the connectors. Some components use standard SMA connectors, while others use reverse polarity (RP-SMA) connectors. You want your equipment to have the minimum number of connections and adapters, so get equipment with compatible connectors from the start.