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    Google Play App Roundup: Underburn, Turretz: Planetz, and Reigns: Her Majesty

    I don't know if you could say there are too many apps out there, but there are certainly enough that it can be hard to find the ones worth your time. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup is seeking to solve. Every week we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.

    Underburn

    Smartphones have allowed billions of people to access the whole of human knowledge at any moment, communicate openly in the blink of an eye, and avoid going to sleep as they stare at the warm glow of the internet in their hand. On that last count, screen brightness is a constant issue. Even when you think you've set a nice dark theme on your device, something bright can pop up and scorch your retinas. No more with Underburn. This app monitors the colors displayed on your screen and intelligently modifies the brightness to save your eyes from the light.

    To make this work, Underburn does need to ask for some rather serious permissions. It needs access to your system settings and the ability to record your screen. It'll ask for the screen permission every time you start it, though. It's not just going to start watching you in the background, and the developer removed the internet access permission to further put your mind at peace.

    The reason Underburn needs this sort of access is that it's actually taking a screenshot every quarter of a second. Those images are checked to see how many bright colors are displayed. When it seems the content getting brighter, Underburn lowers the brightness of your screen to compensate. I haven't noticed any performance impacts from running Underburn in the background, but you might want to watch carefully if your phone is already a bit slow. This could make it worse.

    This app makes the most sense when you're using a dark system UI or app theme. Then, whenever an image or message appears that's mostly white, the screen dims to save your eyes. I also find it very useful for checking the notifications, which are much lighter than most of the apps I'm using.

    Underburn takes a fraction of a second to adjust the brightness, and there's an optional floating button that can tweak the brightness setting. Before you activate Underburn, you can also change what the light and dark cutoffs are, as well as how much it will adjust the brightness in automatic mode. It does require a persistent notification, but that makes sense considering the nature of the app. I also like that you can plug Underburn into Tasker for full automation.

    Underburn is $1.49 in the Play Store, but it solves a common problem. You might not even realize you had this problem until Underburn solves it for you.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 33: Rift Core 2.0 + Front Defense: Heroes!

    We review Oculus' overhaul of their VR user interface, which was launched this week in beta. To learn more about the development and future of Rift Core 2.0, we visit Oculus' headquarters to chat with project manager Brandon Dillon and Nate Mitchell about this latest version of the Oculus platform. Plus, Jeremy and Norm play the 5v5 shooter Front Defense: Heroes on Vive.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (December 2017)

    Most of us aren't running out to buy a new phone every time something new comes out. Thus, it's important to make the right call when the time to upgrade comes around. You'll probably have to live with that phone for at least a year or two, so making the wrong call will lead to plenty of frustration. There are plenty of choices, but we've got you covered. Samsung is still offering some great devices on all the major carriers, and Google has a new generation of Pixel phones. At the same time, OnePlus has refreshed its flagship phone yet again. Let's break it all down.

    Carrier phones: Samsung Galaxy S8 or Note 8

    If you want to get a phone directly from your carrier, Samsung's high-end phones are probably your best bet. If you're looking for something a on the less expensive end, there are a lot of extremely compelling deals on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. If price is no object, the Galaxy Note 8 is an even better phone.

    One of the main selling points for Samsung phones is the display, which cannot be beaten. 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. LG's OLEDs aren't bad, but the V30 just can't compare in the screen department, and it's priced as even higher than Samsung's phones. That's disqualifying in my eyes.

    I'm not personally a fan of glass phones, but that seems to be the trend lately. The GS8 is comfortable to use with the symmetrically curved front and back glass. It fits nicely in the hand, but it's slippery. If you drop it, the curved glass is vulnerable to breakage. Broken Galaxy S8s are apparently common, so a case is a good idea.

    The larger display on these phones meant Samsung had to ditch the physical nav buttons, which I'm quite happy about. 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. However, I'm not happy with the location of the fingerprint sensor (previously in the physical home button). It's on the back way up next to the camera. Even when you find the sensor after fumbling around and smudging your camera lens, it's not very accurate. A cheap phones like the Moto G5 Plus or OnePlus 5T have better sensors than this.

    Google Play App Roundup: Datally, Hoppenhelm, and Puzzle Fighter

    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.

    Datally

    Many smartphone users try to keep their bills lower by sticking with capped data plans from carriers or MVNOs like Project Fi. Making sure you don't use too much data can be a pain, though. Android has some built-in data tracking tools, but they're not very user-friendly. Google's latest app lets you exert more control over your data usage by plugging into these system features. The app is called Datally, and it's available on virtually all devices.

    You might know Datally as Triangle, which was the name during Google's geo-limited testing period. Now the app is done and has a new name for its global rollout. Unlike most other data monitoring apps, Datally doesn't need to run for multiple days accumulating data before it's useful. It pulls in all the historic LTE usage info from your system-level features to help you figure out what's using the most data.

    Datally shows you how much cellular data has been used each day and by each app on your phone. Should your data usage get out of hand, Datally also includes a data saver feature. Again, this is similar to functionality already included in the settings of most phones, but it's implemented in a much clearer way.

    There are toggles throughout the app to turn on data saver, so Google seems to really want you to use it. This feature uses a VPN to control which apps can use data, but the app promises Google isn't examining your data. It's up to you to take Google at its word there. By default, no app can use data in the background when Data Saver is turned on. Only the apps you have up and are actively using can do that. In addition, there's a floating bubble on the screen to show you how much data the app has used in the current session.

    Data Saver is completely configurable as well. If you want an app to have unrestricted background access in Data Saver, you can unlock it in the app. You can also completely disable cellular data in an app even if you open it. That's handy for apps that you know use a lot of data and you might open without realizing you're on cell data.

    Datally also offers a list of local WiFi hotspots if you need to get a lot of downloading done while you're out. This list includes shortcuts to Maps so you can get directions.

    This is a great app, and one that could actually save you money if you're on a limited or pre-paid data plan.

    Testing: My New 4K Home Theater

    When the first 4K HDTVs arrived a few years back, I stuck with my tried-and-true LG plasma display and it's seemingly obsolete 1080p resolution. I had several reasons. The industry delivered the first 4K displays using LCD technology, which has problems with black levels and viewing angles. The lack of availability of 4K content proved to be another roadblock. So I waited.

    LG delivered its first OLED TV in 2010, a puny 15-inch unit. OLED technology looked like the most promising technology, but scaling up resolution, cost, and limited lifetime of blue OLEDs proved daunting. The advent of "white OLED" – really a sandwich of red, green, and blue which use color filters and sub-pixel switching to generate colors – addressed both cost and lifetime issues. By 2016, LG OLED TVs had dropped from stratospheric pricing to merely very expensive. Sony and Panasonic began using LG OLED panels in their HDTVs.

    I still waited.

    By 2017, LG HDTVs had started dropping in price. The cost wasn't quite to the point where I would pull the trigger, but the trendline looked clear. So I began planning my 4K home theater pipeline.

    It's All About Content

    It's been interesting to see how 4K content has been slow in coming until the advent of HDR standards.

    Content has historically trailed technology. Color TVs arrived when most of the existing shows used black-and-white. Television remained at a 4:3 aspect ratio even as DVDs moved to support widescreen. HDTVs hit the market long before 1080p content became the default. If the technology is good enough, content hits an inflection point where the new features begin arriving rapidly.

    That time is now for 4K HDR (high dynamic range). All of Netflix's new shows are now available in 4K HDR. UltraHD Blu-ray is finally trickling in, with new movies shipping in the new format. It's been interesting to see how 4K content has been slow in coming until the advent of HDR standards. I'd argue that HDR offers a notable improvement in image quality and presence beyond simple resolution scaling. The combination of 4K with HDR can be stunning.

    It's this inflection point in content availability plus hardware costs dropping that finally made me jump on the 4K bandwagon.

    Garner Holt's Animatronic Abraham Lincoln!

    This incredibly lifelike animatronic Abraham Lincoln is the work of Garner Holt Productions, which has been making robots for theme parks, museums, and other attractions for 40 years. We get up close to this robot and chat with its creator, Garner Holt, about the state of animatronics you see in places like Disneyland and what's to come.

    Google Play App Roundup: Focus Go, Jump Drive, and Morphite

    Your phone or tablet 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.

    Focus Go

    All phones come with a gallery app of some sort, but they're often clunky and overflowing with features you don't want. Focus has long been one of my favorite replacement gallery apps, and now there's a faster, simpler version of the app called Focus Go. It's a quick way to review images without unnecessary features getting in your way.

    Focus Go is very stripped down, but that might appeal to some people. There's no folder structure or restricted directories. All the images on your device are shown in the main interface. It's just wall-to-wall photo thumbnails, but you can tap the grid button at the top to change the size of the thumbnails. The default setting is in the middle, so there's a more compact option and one with larger thumbnails. Also at the top of the app is a camera shortcut button.

    The image list is chronological and separated by month. Since it shows all the images on your device (photos, screenshots, etc.), it can get quite long. If you scroll down from the top, the action bar falls off the screen, and it's literally all photos. It's a neat look, actually. Of course, you can tap on any image to expand it in full-screen mode.

    In full-screen mode, you can zoom in for a better look at the photo. At the bottom of the screen are a few buttons. You can delete photos, share, set as wallpaper, and there's even integration with the Graphice app I covered recently (it's the same developer). I also like the info button, which pulls up EXIF data for the image in a small popup that doesn't take focus away from the photo.

    Focus Go is really a hint of what we can expect from the upcoming full rewrite of the Focus app. That complete gallery replacement has been lagging for a while, but it's going to be much more modern very soon. In the meantime, Focus Go is good for taking a quick peek at your pics.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 32: The Rig VR and Virtual Boy!

    What's it like for an indie developer making their first VR game? This episode, we meet up with the team at Sunset Division, who just revealed their space-noir adventure VR game The Rig. We chat about their lessons learned making the game so far, and why they're excited about VR for storytelling. Plus, a tribute to Virtual Boy!

    Testing: SmartPlane Pro FPV Fixed-Wing RC

    The thrill of First Person View (FPV) flying is a big draw for many aspiring RC hobbyists. Everybody wants to experience the sensation of flying from their model's perspective. While there are lots of beginner-oriented FPV multi-rotors on the market, there are very few fixed-wing options. A new entry in the fixed-wing column is the SmartPlane Pro FPV from TobyRich ($300).

    I'll be honest. I didn't expect much from this model. The marketing material made it seem like something you might find in a Sky Mall catalog…plenty of cool factor, but no real substance. I've tested enough of those types of products to know that I shouldn't get my hopes up.

    You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the SmartPlane Pro FPV (SPPF) is actually a great-flying little airplane. In fact, the entire package works much better than I expected. I've really been enjoying it. Keep reading to find out what makes the SPPF stand out. I'll also share some things that could use improvement.

    Hands-On with HoloPlayer One Display

    The inventors at Looking Glass Factory experiment with different ways we can interact with three-dimensional computer images, and their latest product is able to generate a convincing holographic display. Looking Glass's CEO Shawn Frayne stops by our office to demo the HoloPlayer One and chat with us about his dreams of making holograms.

    Google Play App Roundup: Graphice, Tower Fortress, and Faraway 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.

    Graphice

    What color is that in your photo? It can be hard to say, what with the variance in display calibration and our own woefully inaccurate eyeballs. Graphice is a new app in the Play Store that can tell you, objectively, what colors are in a photo. It's free to try, but there's also a paid upgrade with more features.

    Graphice looks and works a bit like your standard gallery app. Open it up, and you see all the images on your device. You can tap on any of the thumbnails to open in full-screen. At the bottom of the screen is a toolbar, which expands with a tap. It opens a full palette of colors from your image. Each one has a swatch and the hex value of the color. A long-press on any square copies the hex value, which you can then paste into other apps. As an aside, Google search understands hex values, so you can get more info on the color.

    The toolbar also includes a share button, but this isn't just a regular photo sharing feature. This button brings up the image along with your color palette. You can tap on as many hex values as you like, which are then included at the bottom of the image. This new JPEG is what's shared via Graphice. You can send it to any of the apps on your phone that plug into Android's share menu.

    So, that's neat, and it's all free. If you pay for the $2.49 pro license, the app gets substantially more useful. With the upgrade, you can specify areas of your photo to generate multiple palettes. These are all saved in the app, and you can do the same things with those palettes (eg. sharing and copying hex codes). The multi-palette options are grayed out if you don't pay the license fee.

    Graphice seems like a solid way to obsess about colors. The free version will be fun to play around with if you're not super-serious about design. There are no ads, either.

    The Art of Custom Mechanical Keyboard Keycaps

    We meet a 3D artist who models and 3D prints custom keycaps for mechanical keyboards! Robert, who runs Clackeys, explains to us how he designs unique keycaps inspired by video games and pop culture, treating the surface of a key as his canvas. We about talk his approach to printing these designs and the amount of complexity he can get from an SLA print.

    Hobby RC: Testing High-Voltage LiPo Batteries

    Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries are presently the standard power source for most hobby-grade RC vehicles. These batteries have seen steady improvement since they were first introduced to the hobby around the turn of this century. Most of that progress has been related to increasing their fast discharge and charge capabilities. During the last year or so, we have seen the emergence of LiPo cells that evolved in a slightly different direction. High-Voltage LiPo batteries (LiHV) look and perform much like contemporary LiPo cells, but have a tad more voltage.

    More voltage fed your electric motor equals more RPMs. That will give your RC toy a zippy performance boost, right? Well, maybe. There is more to consider than just voltage. I recently tested a LiHV battery to determine whether these types of cells are an overall advantage for me.

    What is LiHV?

    Standard LiPo batteries have 4.2 volts per cell when fully-charged. LiHV cells go up to 4.35 volts. That extra .15 volts may not seem like much, but it could make a significant difference in some applications. Most RC vehicles use two or more cells in series. So the extra voltage of a LiHV battery is multiplied by the number of cells.

    A regular LiPo is considered discharged when it drops to 3.2 volts per cell under load. This usually equates to about 3.7 volts at rest. LiHV cells have the same bottom end values. So, LiHV cells operate over a slightly broader voltage range than standard LiPo variants.

    LiHV batteries have slightly more voltage than LiPo cells. This presents potential performance benefits as well as new considerations.

    There are numerous LiHV options available on the market. From what I can tell, most of these batteries are very similar in size, weight, price, and discharge capabilities to their normal-voltage contemporaries. Yes, there are some differences. But I think most of those deltas would be insignificant to the average hobbyist.

    Hyperion provided two similar batteries for testing, one LiPo and one LiHV. The LiPo is their G5 3-cell (12.6 volts) 850mAh unit that is rated for 70C maximum discharge (59.5 amps). On the LiHV side is a G7 3-cell (13.05 volts) 900mAh battery rated for 60C discharge (54 amps). Before getting into my results from using these batteries, we should cover a few things to think about regarding LiHV cells.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 30: Jedi Challenges AR Review

    Jeremy and Norm review Lenovo and Disney's Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, which is the first mass market consumer AR headset. We discuss its use of the Star Wars license, and what this implementation says about the early days of wearable AR technology. Plus, we share our impressions of the first few hours of the highly anticipated VR game From Other Suns!

    Google Play App Roundup: Files Go, Monument Valley 2, and South Park: Phone Destroyer

    It's that time of the week again. Time to shake off the weekend vibe and get back to work. But you can probably spare a few minutes to check out some new apps. This is the Tested Google Play App Roundup, which is where we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just follow the links to Google Play.

    Files Go

    Google announced a new budget phone initiative at I/O last year called Android Go. The "Go" build of Android is intended to run on lower-specced devices and will include a special suite of Google apps. One such app is apparently the newly launched Files Go. This app showed up in the Play Store recently, and Google has now opened it up to almost all devices. It's not a full file manager, but it includes several features that could help keep your device storage tidy.

    When the eventual Android Go phones launch, they will have a limited amount of internal storage. Thus, many of the features of Files Go have to do with clearing out old files that you no longer need. Even if your phone has plenty of internal storage, you may eventually run low. Files Go is a fine way to clear space on any phone.

    Upon opening the app, you are greeted with a number of suggested actions in a vertically scrollable list. They're all based on the actual files on your device, not just general actions. For example, you might have a card that suggests you clear temporary files from your app cache to save a certain amount of space. On my phone, that's 500MB. The app also detects duplicate files on your internal storage, allowing you to delete one of the copies. If you grant usage access in the system settings, Files Go can also alert you to unused apps that you can safely remove from your phone.

    That's all in the Storage tab, but moving over to the files tab reveals an entirely new set of features. You can tap on the various file type options to see a list of all matching files on your device. Again, this isn't a full file manager, but it offers essential tools to find out what's on your phone. There's also a built-in option to send files to other nearby devices with Files Go without using the internet. It uses Bluetooth, so it's not going to be fast. It's obviously more geared toward usage in places where mobile data is scarce or expensive, but you can use it simply as a convenience.

    This app is still in beta, so Google is liable to add features and improve the ones that are already there. If this is indicative of what we can expect from the other Android Go apps, it'll be a fascinating platform to watch.