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    Google Play App Roundup: Adapticons, Miracle Merchant, and Flippy Knife

    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.


    Icon packs have existed on Android since time immemorial, but they require you to jump through some hoops like using a third-party home screen (usually) and making do with a lot of icons you might not particularly like. Adapticons is a new app for Android that lets you create custom icons in just a few steps, and you can use them on any home screen you want.

    Adapticons includes an assortment of icons shapes, which is the basis for all of your custom icons. Simply find the app you want to edit in the list and tap on it to advance to the editing screen. The shapes range from the typical circle and square to a more exotic squircle and far weirder stuff like puzzle pieces and pentagons.

    The shape will act as a frame by default, and it's themed to match the icon's default colors. So, if you have an app with a square icon and no included circle version, you can create a version that has a circular frame to match all your other round icons. It gets better, though. You can also change the size of the icon, which is sort of like zooming it within the frame. That lets you crop out the square edges so the logo is all you can see in the round frame. You can also reposition the icon within the frame. Although, there are times the frame looks better, so don't be afraid to play around. Adapticons includes an assortment of other tweaks like icon size, rotation, color, grayscale, and icon text.

    Once you've created the perfect icon, you can use it in several ways. There's an option to export as a PNG, which you can then apply in certain launchers. Alternatively, you can export an icon pack file to be applied. Again, only with certain launchers. The most intriguing option is just to use it on the home screen instantly. This places your icon in the next open space, ready for use.

    The way Adapticons makes your icons work is clever. The shortcut is technically for Adapticons itself, but the activity is passed off to the app for which you made the icon. Happily, this handoff doesn't cause any confusion with the multitasking interface, and there's no discernable delay when pressing the icon.

    Adapticons is free with a limited set of icon shapes. A $0.99 in-app purchase unlocks a dozen more shapes (mostly the wacky ones), and includes the option to edit more than one icon in the same batch. The upgrade also lets you grab and edit icons from icon packs you have installed. Even if you only have a handful of icons that are bugging you, Adapticons is really neat and worth the upgrade.

    5 Trade-Offs of Buying a Budget Smartphone

    If you've been buying smartphones for a while, you probably remember a time when buying a cheap phone was a sure sign you were going to be disappointed. In those early days of Android, anything with a retail price of less than $500 was sure to have underpowered hardware and outdated software. That started to change a few years ago when phones like the Moto G showed us that cheap phones don't have to be terrible experiences.

    For many phone buyers, spending $700 on a new phone seems pointless when a $230 phone like the Moto G5 Plus is so good. And it is good, but it's not good at everything. Some features are still lacking on budget phones, and you should know what to expect before jumping in with both feet.

    The Camera

    A phone like the Galaxy S8 can easily replace a point-and-shoot camera, but a cheap phone has to prioritize other things. Here, we go back to the age-old debate about megapixels. While a budget phone might have the same number of pixels, that's only a small part of what makes a camera good or bad.

    Some more important metrics are the aperture, which is below f/2.0 on high-end phones. Budget phones tend to have narrower apertures, which allow in less light. That means poorer exposure in dim settings. The size of pixels on the sensor is also notable. The larger pixels on expensive phones like the GS8 (1.55µm) can take clear photos with less light than a Moto E4 (1.12µm).

    Tested: E-flite X-Vert VTOL RC Airplane

    Aircraft designers have long recognized the benefits of an airplane than can take off vertically like a helicopter and then transition to speedy forward flight. The only problem is that Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) performance is a tough nut to crack. There are lots of engineering challenges and tradeoffs standing in the way. Airplanes like the Convair XFY Pogo and Hawker Harrier helped set the stage for more modern VTOL-capable ships like the V-22 Osprey and F-35B. But VTOL remains a rare and very expensive capability.

    The high power-to-weight ratio of most RC models makes achieving VTOL a little easier. Yet, there are still countless challenges to building a practical VTOL machine. For example, I owned a simple foam model of the Pogo about 10 years ago. It was a great performer in forward flight, but a real bear to control during those vertical takeoffs and landings. Crashes were common. Any landing where the model remained upright was cause for celebration.

    X-Vert Overview

    The X-Vert from E-flite is a new model that provides a unique solution to the challenges of VTOL flight. The airframe is a simple flying wing with twin brushless motors for propulsion. All of the magic comes from the onboard electronics. A single circuit board on the model combines a radio receiver, two brushless motor controllers, and a flight controller with stabilization features. It is the flight controller with its integrated gyros that allows the X-Vert to take off vertically from the ground and then automatically transition to forward flight.

    The X-Vert comes factory-assembled with just a few final steps to complete.

    There are two versions of the X-Vert. A Ready-To-Fly (RTF) version ($200) comes with everything you need to get the model in the air. This includes the pre-built model, Spektrum transmitter, 2S-800mAh LiPo battery, and charger. If you already have a 6+-channel DSMX-compatible transmitter and a LiPo charger, you can save a few bucks by going with the Bind-N-Fly variant ($150). It omits the transmitter, battery, and charger. Batteries are available separately for $17. You'll probably want to grab a few spare batteries with either kit option.

    Building an AMD Ryzen PC for Video Editing!

    Time to build a new PC! Our latest system build tests AMD's Ryzen series of CPUs, putting 8 core and 16 threads toward our video editing workloads. The 1700X processor impressed us for its $300 street price. Norm and Tested's video producer Gunther assemble the PC and put it to work at this year's Comic-Con.

    Tested: Lulzbot TAZ 6 3D Printer

    Sean and Norm review the Lulzbot TAZ 6, a 3D printer with a pretty massize print bed size. We talk about how it works out of the box, features like the self-leveling PEI bed, and the benefits of it being an open-sourced design. But the printer does come at a premium price.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 20: Lone Echo Review and VR Cover

    Jeremy and Norm review what we think is the first killer app for VR: Lone Echo and its multiplayer game Echo Arena. We discuss the narrative and gameplay mechanics that make this game so memorable, and its locomotion could be applied to other game genres. Plus, a review of VR Covers that make the Rift more comfortable to wear.

    Google Play App Roundup: Hurry, Fowlst, and Questy Quest

    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.


    Countdown apps are not usually something I think of as innovative, but leave it to Sam Ruston, developer of Weather Timeline to prove me wrong. The new app "Hurry" provides a number of cool features in a countdown app that will make you actually want to use it.

    The basic concept is not dissimilar to other countdown apps that you'd use to keep track of events like a vacation or birthday. However, it's much cleaner and feature-rich than others. It's also not crawling with intrusive ads like a lot of the competition is. So, we're off to a good start here.

    To start a countdown, just open Hurry and press the plus button in the corner. This app uses the material design guidelines wherever possible, and the floating action button is just the start. To get set up, just create an event name, choose a type, location, time, and pick a photo source. Technically, all you have to do is set a name and date, and the countdown will work. However, Hurry is a lot more fun if you fill in all the spaces. After creating an event with photos from the web selected, you get to choose which ones the app uses in your countdown widgets and hero images. This is a nice touch, but you can also use your own photos if you prefer.

    There are several ways to view your countdowns, including just opening the app. Your countdowns show up in a list, with active timers ticking down. You can tap on to open any of them and see all the other info you provided. There's also a clever little minigame where you can guess how many times you could perform certain activities in the remaining time. Hurry also pings you occasional notifications so you don't forget about your upcoming event, but those can be disabled on this screen.minigame where you can guess how many times you could perform certain activities in the remaining time. Hurry also pings you occasional notifications, so you don't forget about your upcoming event, but those can be disabled on this screen.

    The other way to see what's happening with your countdowns is to use widgets, and I suspect this is how most serious users of countdown apps (is that a thing?) will do it. There are seven different designs, many of which provide access to multiple countdowns and have background images. They're all resizeable with dynamic layouts, too.

    Hurry is incredibly well-designed from top to bottom. It's completely free right now, but it looks like an ad-supported/upgrade model will be added later.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (August 2017)

    Buying a new phone can be a big, scary commitment. You're probably going to be using that device every day for at least a year or two. What if you get the wrong one and hate every minute of it? That's what we're aiming to prevent. Let's get a sense of what's out there and what your best bet is.

    Carrier phones: The Galaxy S8

    Carriers have come up with some interesting ways to keep people coming back for new phones even when there are so many good unlocked options. You can usually pay monthly, and there are frequent deals when you switch or add a line. If you go this route, there are two solid choices on all carriers right now, the Galaxy S8 and the LG G6. These are both good phones, and LG has improved since last year. Still, the Galaxy S8 is an overall better option for most people.

    The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch curved display, but it also comes in a 6.2-inch curved "Plus" variant. They both feel much smaller in the hand than you'd expect and have a resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels. The Plus variant is just a little too tall to be used comfortably in one hand, even with the incredibly narrow bezels. Samsung's AMOLED displays are still the best you can get, and DisplayMate confirms that Samsung's GS8 panel has the most accurate colors and highest brightness. The phone works with both Daydream and Gear VR.

    This phone is very comfortable to use with the symmetrically curved front and back glass, although the rounded glass frame means it's very exposed should you ever drop it. Broken Galaxy S8s are apparently common, but I'm more irked by the way glass feels on a phone. You can't touch the device without getting it all oily from your skin.

    Letting Go: A Look at Free-Flight Model Airplanes

    Most of the time, my interest in model airplanes is focused on the latest and greatest products and trends for radio control aircraft. It seems that there is always some type of new battery, composite building material, or electronic widget to check out. The cutting-edge stuff is all very interesting, but it can also be overwhelming. So, it is often refreshing to examine a simpler, less-technical side of the hobby. I recently checked that box in a big way at an event where I was surrounded by delicate flying models that were covered in tissue paper and powered by rubber bands.

    The Flying Aces Club (FAC) is a national organization that promotes events featuring nostalgic free-flight model airplanes. I attended their annual gathering held at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, New York. Although I've always been somewhat aware of FAC and free-flight models in general, this was my first exposure to an organized event. It turns out that this event was a great choice for a first-timer. I had an opportunity to see several of the best free-flight modelers in the world doing their thing. There was also the bonus of having several rare full-scale airplanes on display to enjoy.

    A Small Slice of the Pie

    Free-flight models have no external means of controlling them during flight. Once it has been launched, the trajectory of a free-flight airplane is dependent on how it has been configured by the pilot and the fickle whims of Mother Nature. These machines represent just one small spectrum of the model airplane universe. Yet, there are still countless sub-categories within free-flight.

    Thayer Syme is a hobbyist who enjoys many types of model airplanes. His collection includes everything ranging from camera-equipped multi-rotors to giant-scale RC models powered by gasoline engines. Free-flight models are in his collection too. I asked Thayer what he finds most appealing about free-flight.

    Google Play App Roundup: Caffeine, Subdivision Infinity, and Touchdowners

    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.


    Caffeine is a simple app; so simple in fact there's very little "app" to it. However, it solves a problem I've long had with Android and requires zero setup. With just a few taps, you can keep your screen on for a predetermined length of time using Caffeine. Sound good? It's free, too.

    Caffeine plugs into Android 7.0's customizable quick settings, so you need to be using a phone or tablet running Nougat or higher. That's still far from everyone, but we're getting to the point that even super-cheap phones like the Moto E4 are shipping with current software. All phones have to support the custom quick settings API, so Caffeine will work with anything on the right versions.

    To use Caffeine, just open your quick settings and tap the edit button. On some phones (eg. Samsung), that option might be hidden under a menu icon. You should have the Caffeine icon in your list of unused toggles. Long-press and drag it up to a suitable position and close the editing interface.

    Tapping on the Caffeine icon in quick settings instantly overrides the screen timeout setting with a five, ten, or thirty-minute timer. Another tap also flips it over to unlimited mode, so be careful you don't accidentally leave that one activated. Caffeine saves you from digging into the setting when you want to extend the screen-on time temporarily. Maybe you're reading something long, or you have a live feed of some sort running. This way, you don't have to constantly touch the screen to keep the phone awake.

    The icon helpfully counts down so you know when the screen timeout will return to normal. After you've closed the quick settings, going back and tapping Caffeine will disable the timeout. So, cycling through the various timers has to be done all at once when activating it.

    Caffeine Is a clever app that I've already used quite a few times. It's something I play to install on all my devices.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 19: Bigscreen VR and GunHeart Hands-On!

    Jeremy and Norm review Bigscreen VR, a free app that lets users share their desktops and videos over virtual reality. We discuss the social and human-computer interaction implications of Bigscreen, and how an operating system might look like in VR. Plus, we go hands-on with Gunheart in a demo session with the developers!

    Google Play App Roundup: Motion Stills, Leap On, and Vista Golf

    Grab your phone and prepare to shoot some new apps and games over to it from the Google cloud. It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store. Just click the links to head to each app's page to check it out for yourself.

    Motion Stills

    Google released an app last year for iPhone called Motion Stills, which jived nicely with Apple's Live Photo feature. Still, Android users like GIF photos, too. So, Google has finally gotten around to releasing an Android version of Motion Stills with an improved image processing pipeline. That means it's faster, and fast things are good.

    Motion Stills is basically a GIF camera, but it's a really good GIF camera. It's got amazing image stabilization, which results in very smooth animations that look like you had your phone on a tripod. All you need to do is tap the capture button, and the app takes a three second video. You can scroll down to see the video, and it's ready instantly. Google's improved processing renders each frame as it's captured to make this happen.

    The clips default to having the super-stabilization on, but you can turn it off just for fun. The app basically crops a bit out of each frame and lines up the action so nothing moves in an undesired way. The videos can be exported as the native MP4 or as GIFs. You'll probably do GIFs because they're more easily shared, and that's what this app is aimed at. Make sure to take a peek at the settings to tweak the GIF quality. You can increase this setting for a smooth GIF and it's only a little bigger.

    The gallery itself is rather mesmerizing after you've taken a few videos. All the clips play as you scroll through with stabilization enabled. It just feels very alive. Sort of like live photos for iOS, but with longer clips and higher quality animation.

    In addition to the motion stills, this app also supports "fast forward" mode. Think Microsoft Hyperlapse, but from Google. Here, you can take videos up to a minute long, then adjust the speed of playback between 2x and 8x. Just as above, you get Google's powerful image stabilization features.

    Motion Stills is a simple app, but it does what it's supposed to do. There's nothing to complain about here, and Motion Stills is free.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 18: Marvel Powers United VR, Oculus Interview

    In this on-location episode, we attend a preview event to get hands-on time with Marvel Powers United VR, co-op brawler that lets you feel like a superhero. We chat with the game's developer and give initial impressions, and then sit down for a longer interview with Oculus' Nate Mitchell about the state of Rift.