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    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (April 2017)

    The first wave of 2017 flagship Android phones is finally upon us. It's been hard to make a solid recommendation for the last few months with so many phones just on the verge of release. Now, you've got your choice of the best from 2016 and the latest and greatest from Samsung and LG. Which phone is the best for you, though? Let's break it down.

    Carrier Phones: LG G6 vs. Samsung Galaxy S8

    The LG G6 is fully on sale and Samsung Galaxy S8 is up for pre-order. By my own self-imposed rules, that means both are eligible for consideration in this guide. Let's start with the LG G6, which is a huge improvement over last year's LG G5. LG really did what it had to do in order to come back from that disaster. It ditched the modular system, improved its build quality, and kept the price a bit under Samsung's.

    The LG G6 has a 5.7-inch LCD display, but it's very different than past LG displays. The phone's bezels have been shrunken way down, and the screen has rounded corners. The display as an 18:9 ratio and a resolution of 1440 x 2880, so it's taller than most phones. That allows for more screen area without making the phone as wide. It makes a difference, too. The G6 is very comfortable to hold, and you can use it fairly well with one hand. That's not something you can usually say about phones with a 5.7-inch display.

    Gone is LG's trademark removable battery—the G6 has an aluminum and glass frame with a sealed-in battery. It's a little larger than past LG phones with a capacity of 3300mAh. It makes it through the day with no trouble. One upshot of the design is that this phone is now IP68 water and dust resistant. It does feel like a very solid device.

    On the back is a fingerprint sensor that doubles as the power button. It's fast enough, but I wish the volume buttons were still back there. I miss when LG phones did that. There are also two cameras on the rear, just like the V20. One is a standard 13MP shooter and the other is a 13MP wide-angle sensor. The G6's photos are good, but not as good as what I've seen from Samsung and Google lately. The processing has a tendency to lose detail. For most applications, it should be more than good enough.

    How to Protect Your Privacy on Android Without Making Your Smartphone Dumb

    Your Android phone knows where you are and what you're doing, and it'll share that data with Google and any number of app developers. If you're a privacy-minded individual, you might not want to fling your data around freely. At the same time, you bought a smartphone in order to make use of all its cool features. There is a middle ground between being completely open and shutting off all your phone's features. Let's try to find it.

    Secure your location data

    You will hear plenty of people advocating turning off location completely to enhance privacy, but I don't think you need to go that far on newer version of Android. There are plenty of times you do want an app to be able to access your location. It's better to make use of Android's built-in permission system and disable automatic tracking through Google.

    You may not realize, but Google maintains a full history of where your phone has been. You can see it in the Maps app under "Your Timeline." If you don't like the idea of your phone constantly uploading your location to Google, you can disable that in the settings. It's under Settings > Location > Location History. You can turn it off with the toggle at the top, and your phone will stop uploading your location to Google.

    Next, it's time to take advantage of the permission system Google rolled out in Marshmallow. Head to the settings and find the app permissions list. Sometimes this is hidden in the overflow menu. One of the entries in the permission list will be location. Tap that and you get a list of all apps on your phone that request the location permission. You can turn all of them off here if you want, or just leave the essentials on. Apps will request location when you open them, but that can be denied.

    Google Play App Roundup: Oversec, Chicken Jump, and Stellar Wanderer

    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.

    Oversec

    Encrypted communications are available in various apps on Android, but that requires you to get your friends to actually use those apps. Not everyone is going to be keen on switching from their preferred messaging app just because of privacy concerns. Oversec offers an alternative. It uses accessibility and screen overlays to add encrypted communication to almost any app.

    After granting access to Oversec to read your screen, you'll get a list of compatible messaging apps. It works with most of the big ones, and you can also enable it to work with many others. You can set which apps you want Oversec to be active in via the settings. I tested Oversec with Hangouts, but it should work the same with most others. There are some tutorial popups that appear as you begin using Oversec, but in general it's a bit confusing at first.

    Rather than actually encrypting what the app sends, Oversec just runs encryption and decryption on the local devices. Everything is still sent as plain text. It just happens to be nonsense text. Here's how it works: you enter a message, tap the encryption button floating on top of your messaging app, and Oversec turns the text into junk. On the other end, your friend's copy of Oversec decrypts the junk and displays the original text as an overlay. That's how Oversec works with all these unencrypted apps. It's pretty clever.

    Oversec requires a bit of setup before it will work. Specifically, you have to decide on an encryption key. This has to be shared with your friend ahead of time, preferably in person (the app has a QR scanner for importing keys) or via some secure method. The app includes several options for setting up a key. There's a simply password version where you choose the phrase you want to use for encryption. This is the weakest but fastest to set up. You can also have a random key generated in the app, or use a PGP provider.

    Oversec isn't the prettiest app with the bright orange overlays and floating buttons all over, but it does what it says it'll do. The concept is a bit confusing at first, but it really can encrypt your communication via any app. The basic functionality is free, but you can buy a full version license for a few bucks. The recommended fee depends on what you're going to do with it. A Student license is a buck and a government license is $109. I'd wager a lot of "students" will buy Oversec.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 5: Horror in Virtual Reality

    Jeremy and Norm discuss the effectiveness of horror and tension in virtual reality experiences, and how developers have tapped into VR for both cheap and immersive thrills. Plus, we playtest the narrative horror game Wilson's Heart and share our impressions!

    Google Play App Roundup: Toucano, Super Mario Run, and Crash of Cars

    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.

    Toucano

    It's an unwritten rule that Twitter apps need to be named after birds. Thus, the newest Twitter option on Android is called Toucano. Why Toucano and not Toucan? No clue. At any rate, Toucano is a very new (and still beta) Twitter client. It's clean, fast, and offers a few unique features.

    The main feed in Toucano looks a lot like other Twitter clients. A series of tabs are arrayed across the top with the main timeline on the left, then mentions, and so on. The "so on" is a little different here. The activity tab isn't like the activity tab in other apps. It's a stats-based approach to tracking the impact your tweets have. It shows you how many favorites, replies, retweets, and more elicited by your postings.

    In a similar vein, you can view stats for any profile (your own included). There's a tab that shows you how many tweets have been posted, follower stats, and other interesting bits of data. You can also add notes to specific user profiles to be viewed later. If you need to keep tabs on any accounts, you can add them to your favorites. These will remain at the top of your timeline as profile links.

    The default theme is white and blue, just like the official Twitter client. However, there are plenty of other themes included, and you can build your own by choosing different primary and secondary colors. There's also a handy night mode toggle in the settings.

    Toucano does some cool stuff, but it's very clearly a young app. It lacks things like layout customization, widgets, and background sync. The notification controls are also rather rudimentary.

    It might be worth picking up if you're bored with your current Twitter client. Toucano is currently priced at $2.99.

    Behold the New Tested Workshop Laser Cutter!

    We have a new laser cutter in our office! Sean's been setting up our digital fabrication shop in the Tested studio, and gives us a look at the 60 watt Univeral Systems laser cutter that we just installed. Join us for our first test cut: making the Tested sign!

    Collegiate Teams Compete at RC Airplane Heavy-Lift Challenge

    Who knew that RC flying and weightlifting could be morphed together? All you have to do is omit the dumbbells and tight Lycra outfits of weightlifting. Then get rid of the aerobatics and crashes of RC flying. Oh, wait…keep the crashes. There are lots of those in RC heavy-lifting!

    The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has been hosting heavy-lift competitions for collegiate teams since the 1980s. It has grown to include two events each year, SAE Aero Design East and West. Not only is the competition fierce, just getting in can be a challenge. Spots fill up fast and many teams are pushed to a waiting list.

    SAE Aero Design West for 2017 took place in Fort Worth, Texas during the second weekend in March. SAE and the Fort Worth Thunderbirds RC club hosted more than 70 teams from colleges and universities all over the world. Most of the teams had been preparing for months to get to this point. Some would find success as aerial pack mules. Others, well…not so much.

    Mighty Micros

    The event is divided into three distinct classes: Micro, Regular, and Advanced. While the overall goal for every team is to carry a relatively heavy load, each class has its own specific rules and objectives. In the Micro class, the airplanes could be disassembled into subcomponents. These pieces were stored in a tube no more than 6 inches (15.2 cm) in diameter. The length of the tube was not defined, but the overall weight of the loaded tube could not exceed 10 pounds (4.5 kg). The scoring system encouraged smaller tubes. Some teams managed to pack their model into tubes as short as 3.5 inches (8.9 cm)!

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 4: Full Body Tracking in VR

    We demo Cloud Gate Studio's custom full-body tracking system using the HTC Vive tracker accessories. With our hips and feet put into the game, the developers are able to create a convincing full-body avatar and enable new interactions like kicking virtual dinosaurs! Plus, a discussion on the concept of presence and why we're obsessed with Rec Room.

    Google Play App Roundup: GrammarPal, Cosmic Express, and Too Many Dangers

    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.

    GrammarPal

    In the age of the internet, grammar has taken a backseat to memes and emoji. Let's bring it back. GrammarPal can help. This app scans the text you write on your device, looking for more than simple misspellings. It offers corrections to your grammar in a handy popup window. I could point out the irony of a grammar app having a CammelCase name, but let's just move one.

    You have to go through a few steps to set up and use GrammarPal, but it does a good job of walking you through the process. When enabled, GrammarPal shows up as a floating button next to your text input field. You can safely ignore it if you're just typing a few words that don't need to be checked, though it's bright green and there's no option for transparency. It kind of sticks out. At least you can move it around, and GrammarPal will remember that position for each app.

    After you type something out, tap the GrammarPal button and it'll scan your text. It does spell checking, but your phone probably does that too. The value here is that it uses the context of your sentences to figure out if you made any typos that are technically correctly spelled words. For example, using "to" when you meant "too." The GrammarPal icon will indicate the number of detected problems after scanning. Tap it again to open the editing panel at the bottom of the screen.

    The expanded GrammarPal interface shows you the text with color coded highlights for the various issues. Misspellings are red, style issues are blue, and all others are yellow. Tap on any of the highlights to get a suggestion of what to change. The buttons at the top allow you to copy the new text or automatically replace the old text. You can also just close this panel without changing anything. Unrecognized words can be added to the GrammarPal dictionary too.

    I've found GrammarPal's corrections to be right most of the time, and it does catch things that normal spell checking misses. It could be useful, depending on how concerned you are with using proper grammar in text messages and Facebook posts. The app is free and has no ads. There's a $1.99 in-app purchase that adds a few new features like dictionary backups and layout customization.

    Martin Müller Designs RC Vehicles that Fly at Appropriately Scaled Speeds

    I'm sure we've all had the experience of watching a huge airliner fly overhead at what appears to be an impossibly slow speed. Most of these jets have to be moving at least 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) just to get off the ground. Although we certainly realize that they are actually flying quite swiftly, that knowledge doesn't jibe with the tortoise-like pace that our eyes are seeing.

    Martin Müller's Airbus A310 model is able to fly at super-slow scale airspeeds thanks in part to its helium-filled fuselage.

    We can recreate flying replicas of airplanes in just about any imaginable size and level of detail. Yet, that illusion of speed (or lack thereof) almost never translates well. Most RC models appear to be flying much faster than their full-scale brothers. Martin Müller decided to address that disconnect.

    Martin's idea was to create a scale model of an Airbus A310 airliner that would fly at scale speeds. This meant that his 2-meter-span (79 in) Airbus (approximately 1/22-scale) would have a takeoff speed of about 3 meters per second (6.7 mph). Martin knew that creating a model capable of flying at such slow speeds would require an extreme emphasis on shedding weight and more than a little bit of clever thinking.

    Müller is no stranger to innovation in the RC world. Around 2003, he developed the Ikarus Shock Flyer, a series of highly aerobatic models made of simple sheet foam with carbon fiber bracing. While the Shock Flyers were meant for indoor aerobatic competitions, they unintentionally spawned a whole new genre of RC models: profile foamies. These types of models can be dreamt, designed, and built in a matter of a few hours. More-traditional balsa designs often require weeks or months to get off the ground. Martin also designed several molded-foam models for Multiplex, including the Park Master, Gemini, and uber-popular Fun Cub.

    How Weta Workshop Made Ghost in the Shell's Robot Skeleton!

    Adam Savage gets up close with the one-of-a-kind 3D-printed endoskeleton Weta Workshop made for the upcoming Ghost in the Shell. Chatting with Weta Workshop technician Jared Haley in the studio's 3D modeling room, Adam learns about the experimentation and prototyping necessary to make this gobsmackingly beautiful prop.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 3: Sprint Vector Multiplayer VR Racing!

    This week, Jeremy and Norm dive into a discussion about the challenge of locomotion in VR--how different games allow players to travel around their virtual worlds. We talk about a new game we demoed at GDC, which combines four different locomotion mechanics for multiplayer sprint races.

    Google Play App Roundup: Focus Timer Reborn, Mushroom 11, and Hardway

    A new week has dawned, but you can ease the transition with some new apps and games. You've come to the right place, too. This is the Google Play App Roundup, the weekly feature where we tell you what's new and cool in Google Play.Just hit the links to zoom right to the Play Store.

    Focus Timer Reborn

    Making time to get work done is not always easy. In fact, your phone can sometimes be a tempting distraction that keeps you from digging in and making some progress. With Focus Timer Reborn, it might be quite the opposite. This app helps you split up your time for more efficient work.

    Focus Timer Reborn is based on the idea that you can be more productive if you use a series of short break and slightly longer work periods. The app defaults to using 25 minute periods of focused work, short 5-minute breaks, and longer 25 minute breaks. This is based loosely on the pomodoro method. The app includes options to set goals, configurable lengths of time, and stats to help you do this. The customization lets you use whatever version of work timers you like. Some people prefer the a 52-minute session of work followed by a 17-minute break.

    The main screen in Focus Timer Reborn is the timer, which makes sense for an app that's supposed to help you get work done. Just tap the start button and get to it. You can also choose a short or longer break from this screen. Again, these lengths of time can be changed in the app's settings. There's also a handy notification available when the timer is running. It includes the remaining time and a stop button.

    All your work periods are automatically logged in the Log tab, accessible at the bottom of the UI. This is a scrollable week view showing all the work blocks you entered. If for some reason you forget to start the app, you can manually enter a block of time in the log. The far right tab is for tracking goals. The default setting for each day is 8 blocks of focused work per day.

    Focus Timer Reborn is also available online, and it syncs with the app. The app supports Google login. Thus, you can start a session on one device and pick it up on another, as long as you log into the app and web with the same account. Focus Timer Reborn is a solid app if you want to give a time management scheme a shot. It's free and there are no ads.

    Making a Laser-Cut Nintendo Switch Stand

    Here's a simple and timely project for your laser cutter: a custom Nintendo Switch stand that holds it at more usable angle than the built-in kickstand and allows USB-C port access for charging. Frank sketches out the design and puts it together using threaded rod. Download the SVG file here!