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    Google Play App Roundup: Socratic, Battle Bay, and Desert Island Fishing

    There's no reason you wouldn't want the best apps on your Android device, but the Google Play Store makes that hard sometimes. Don't worry, though. That's what the weekly app roundup here on Tested is all about. This is where you can go to find out what the best apps are, and why they're the best. Click on the app name to go right to the Play Store web site to grab the app for yourself.

    Socratic

    School is just getting out for most kids, but there's a new app in the Play Store that could be of great use once classes are in session again. Socratic is an app that snaps photos of homework questions, then offers up answers from a variety of sources. This app has been in beta testing for a while, but now it's available to everyone.

    Socratic is essentially about saving time. You could look up the answer to most questions with some Google searching, but this app makes it easy—you don't even have to type anything. And really, typing mathematical expressions is annoying. After opening Socratic for the first time, it will ask to be granted camera access, which is necessary for scanning in questions.

    Just point the viewfinder at the question and tap the capture button. Don't worry about the framing; after capturing the image you have a chance to drag the border to crop out anything that isn't part of the question.

    Socratic is supposed to work for math, science, English, and history questions. I've found it to be most accurate with math, which should give you answers for anything up through advanced algebra. The answer interface is displayed as a series of cards that scroll left to right across the screen. The first card will offer a definitive answer, if one is available. In the case of math problems, it shows you the solution step by step. Scrolling over to other cards includes additional background information from the web, as well as videos.

    I've found Socratic to be excellent at reading the text. It gets the right input virtually every time, even if it sometimes doesn't have an answer. Math is the best right now, as long as you don't throw anything too heavy at it. Basic scientific and history queries are solid too, as long as they're formatted as a standard question.

    Socratic has a lot of potential in this first release. The developers plan to add more advanced math skills later this summer as well.

    Tested: Thermal Imaging CPU and GPU

    To visualize how a gaming PC's CPU and graphics card ramp up under load and dissipate heat, Sean and Norm open up a computer case and put its components under the lens of a high-resolution FLIR thermal camera. We're able to visualize throttling when a processor gets too hot!

    Testing the Fat Shark Transformer HD FPV System

    Not so long ago, purchasing the ground equipment for First Person View (FPV) flying meant that you had to decide between a tripod-mounted monitor and wearable goggles. Recent developments have removed that fundamental decision. New systems, like the Fat Shark Transformer HD ($249), give you both viewing options with the same equipment.

    The Fat Shark Transformer HD allows you to view FPV video as a standalone high-definition monitor, full-screen headset, or binocular viewer.

    Actually, the Transformer offers three viewing possibilities. I suspect that this adaptability is the root of its name. The system's display module can be used as a standalone monitor. There are also two different ways to use the monitor with head gear. The full-panel viewer masks out the rest of the world and gives you a 720p view of your video stream. Using the binocular viewer provides an even more immersive experience with a 55-degree field of view. If using the full-panel viewer is like sitting in the middle of a movie theater, the binocular viewer is like being in the front row.

    The Monitor

    The heart of the Transformer is a high-definition (1280x720) LCD monitor with a 5.5-inch (140mm) screen. Female ¼-20 threads on the bottom of the housing let you mount the monitor on a tripod. Using a standalone monitor is great for flyers who are just getting used to FPV flight. They can alternate between FPV and line-of-sight flying just by deciding whether to focus on the model or the monitor. Monitors are also perfect for giving spectators a taste of FPV.

    The integrated 5.8GHz receiver utilizes two antennas. Using different antenna types betters your chances for a clean signal.

    You can choose from three video input sources. When using the monitor for FPV flying, you'll take advantage of the built-in 5.8GHz video receiver. There are two antenna mounts for the receiver. The idea is that you can simultaneously attach both a high-gain directional antenna and an omni-directional antenna. This gives you the benefits of both antenna types since the system automatically uses the best signal at any given time.

    As I write this, the Transformer HD bundle does not include antennas for the receiver. I used an ImmersionRC omni-directional antenna and an ImmersionRC Mini Patch Antenna. I am told that future bundles of the Transformer HD will include antenna options.

    What You Should Know about Microsoft's Surface Laptop

    With the Surface Pro, Microsoft designed a tablet that they argued could replace a laptop. Then, they released the Surface Book, which was a high-end laptop that could double as a tablet. And now Microsoft has announced… the Surface Laptop. We've come full circle. And this may be the gimmick-free computer that people have been asking for Microsoft to make for years.

    The Surface Laptop is a 13.5 inch (2256x1504, 3:2 aspect ratio) ultrabook starting at $1000, coming June 15th with pre-orders available now. The base model has an Intel core i5 U processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Configurations currently go up to a core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD for $2200. Microsoft also stated that a 1TB version would be made available. Those specs are pretty run of the mill for ultrabooks, but Microsoft is also claiming 14.5 hours of battery life, and that no charge will be lost when the device is sleeping. Impressive if true.

    This thin laptop weighs 2.76 pounds, but it's also slim on ports sporting only a USB-A port, a Mini DisplayPort, a headphone jack, and the usual Surface connector port. The Laptop has a touchscreen using Microsoft's Pixelsense tech, a Windows Hello camera system, and supports both the Surface Pen and Dial accessories. It comes in four colors; Burgundy, Platinum, Cobalt Blue, and Graphite Gold. For some reason, only the higher of the two i5 models is available in all of the colors, and all other models are only available in Platinum (for now?). It's made out of Aluminum, which is a departure from the Surface line's signature Magnesium. And the Laptop even has an Alcantara fabric finish on the entire keyboard/palmrest area.

    The build quality was exquisite and it felt very sturdy, despite being so light.

    I managed to see the Surface Laptop for myself at my local Microsoft Store. Wow. When Panos Panay said his team poured everything they had into all of the little details, he wasn't exaggerating. The build quality was exquisite and it felt very sturdy, despite the fact that it's so light. It felt about the same weight and thickness as my Surface Pro 3 (with a Pro 4 Type Cover), which is a tablet with a 12 inch screen. The keyboard quality was about on par with the Pro 4, so fairly decent, and the trackpad was similar as well, albeit noticeably larger.

    The Alcantara finish looked great, and felt smoother than the keyboard side of a normal Type Cover. There are actually no perforations in it for speakers either. Microsoft used new technology to put the speakers underneath the keyboard. A public space obviously isn't the best place to judge laptop speaker quality, but from what I could hear there was no muffling of the sound.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (May 2017)

    The first round of flagship phones in 2017 are in the open and the reviews are in. So, which one is most deserving of your money? And what about those phones from the tail end of 2016? Maybe one of those is best. It can be hard to know what to buy when there are so many solid phones, but you can (probably) only get one, and it should be the right one. Let's break it down.

    Carriers Phones: Samsung Galaxy S8 vs. LG G6

    Of all the phones you can get from carriers, there are two that stand out: the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6. They're available everywhere, have powerful hardware, and nice design. They are not completely equal on all things, though.

    The LG G5 was a flop—I think we can all agree on that now. LG did what it had to do in order to remain competitive in the face of Samsung's non-stop onslaught. LG has left a few anachronisms behind and improved its design to claw its way back with the LG G6. Firstly, this phone looks nice. It has a glass and aluminum frame, similar to Samsung phones. There's no more removable battery on this phone, just a 3300mAh seal-in li-ion cell. It'll make it through the day, but not much more. The non-removable battery made it feasible for LG to make this phone water-resistant as well.

    When you first look at the G6, it's clear there's something unusual going on. But it's unusual in a good way. The LG G6 has a 5.7-inch LCD display, but it has a different aspect ratio of 18:9. That means the display is very tall. The phone's bezels have been shrunken way down, and the screen has rounded corners. The display has a resolution of 1440 x 2880, so some apps render a bit oddly. The upshot: you get a lot more screen area in the same footprint. 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.

    LG is still doing the rear-facing fingerprint sensor/power button combo, and it works quite well. This is the right place for a fingerprint sensor, in my opinion. It's infinitely better than the Galaxy S8's fingerprint sensor, which is far too high up on the back.

    My Favorite Production Gear from NAB 2017!

    This year I got to attend the 2017 National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas, otherwise known as NAB. This is one of the biggest production industry events bringing filmmakers, cinematographers, editors, grips, gaffers, manufacturers, business folk, and gear heads all together to talk shop and show off new gear and innovations in the industry.

    This year was less about the camera announcements (which is refreshing), instead focusing more on the major leaps that the existing technologies are taking. Things like IP broadcast signals, LED lighting advancements, and HDR video.

    Below are a few of my favorite things from the show floor this year.

    Aputure 300d Light Storm Light ($TBA)

    What Aputure is doing with LED lights is pretty incredible. They're not only making high quality and high lumen light systems, but they're exploring ways of manufacturing single LED sources (as opposed to the "grid" of LED lights) to reduce unwanted multiple shadowing. On top of that, the Light Storm lights (I currently own the 120d), have a mounting point at the front of the unit that allows you to easily add different modifiers for the light. Current options are fresnel lenses, sofboxes in different sizes, and now a cylindrical area light (made possible with the very wide and even angle that the beam comes out at).

    I've been using the 120D like crazy (video on that coming up shortly), and for how compact it is, it puts out a real strong beam of light. The 300 is supposed to be double that strength; Aputure claims it's equivalent to the power of a 2k HMI, with a price point that aims to be at a fraction of what that HMI light would be. We got to high quality cameras come way down in price over the last 5 years or so, I'm really excited in seeing high quality lights do the same.

    Google Play App Roundup: Mobile Witness, Penarium, and Neon Chrome

    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.

    Mobile Witness

    There may be times when you'd like to have some sort of digital record to back up your own words. Evidence, you might say. That's where Mobile Witness comes in. This app can record location data, audio, or video even if your phone is asleep.

    The setup process is a bit more laborious than you think, but there's a good reason for that. Mobile Witness needs a few permissions and settings tweaks, and it takes you through each of them individually. Most apps just throw up the system permissions one after the next, so I appreciate the explanation of each permission. The app needs to access your location, microphone, and camera to work. Additionally, Mobile Witness asks to be exempted from Doze Mode. This is what allows it to continue recording when the app is not in the foreground or your phone is asleep.

    The app has three tabs across the top for location, audio, and video. You can visit any of them to start a new data collection. You can also have it record data at regular intervals. And of course, everything the app does is silent—no shutter sounds to give you away. I've done some testing, and the app does indeed continue to record when it is closed or when the screen is turned off.

    Collecting this information is of little use when your phone might be taken away or damaged, so Mobile Witness includes a number of cloud backup solutions. It has built-in support for Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and OneDrive on the third-party side. Plus custom settings for a personal server. Recordings are uploaded to your preferred cloud as you take them, so you'll have the data even if you don't have your phone. However, I've noticed the video files are a bit on the large side; a few hundred megabytes for a 1 minute video.

    I suppose you need to live with a certain amount of paranoia to feel like you need Mobile Witness, but it's good at what it does. It's completely free, but you can donate to the developer or upgrade to a "premium" version of the app that includes a few experimental features.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 9: Meta's Augmented Reality Glasses

    We visit the headquarters of Meta, the company making augmented reality glasses and already shipping their second product. The Meta 2 is a tethered HMD that can track and display holograms in any environment--we go hands-on with the developer kit and chat with Meta VP Ryan Pamplin about how their AR technology differs from the Hololens and other products. Plus, in-depth impressions!

    Everything You Need to Know About Custom Mechanical Keyboards

    Mechanical keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, many of which you can find on Amazon or via some other retailer. If you need a new board, buying a pre-built one is the cheapest and easiest way. However, building a custom keyboard gives you the chance to choose everything from the case material, to the switches, to the keycaps.

    A WhiteFox with GMK Hyperfuse caps

    The popularity of custom keyboards has exploded in the last few years, making it a confusing and intimidating hobby to pick up. Let's break it all down.

    Layouts and firmware

    One of the things you'll notice about custom keyboards rather quickly is they tend to have unusual layouts, and they're often tiny compared to the standard full-sized 104-key layout. There are tenkeyless (80%) boards that lack a number pad, but also 65%, 60%, and smaller. A 60% is fairly common these days—these boards have only the main alphas, number row, and modifiers. The arrows and other keys are accessible via a function layer. A 65% board adds back the arrows and a few extra keys, but 40% boards go the other way with the alpha keys and a just a few modifiers. Then there are various split and ergonomic boards, like the Ergodox.

    Some of these are available as niche pre-built keyboards, but there's one main difference between those and a truly custom board. A custom board is programmable, meaning you can have any of the keys do whatever you want. This is extremely important when you're dealing with fewer physical keys because you will need at least one robust function layer to fit in all the standard keyboard commands.

    A RedScarf II with DSA Overwatch caps

    The firmware on a custom keyboard offers much more power than the desktop clients many fancy "gamer" keyboards use. After a board is programmed with your preferred layout, it doesn't rely on any software on a computer. It works exactly the same no matter which device you plug it into. The things you can do are also much more advanced. Some boards include advanced macro support or the option to control the mouse cursor.

    A smaller keyboard layout can be much more efficient than a full sized one. By relegating some commands to a function layer, your hands don't have to move as far while typing, and your mouse stays closer to your hands. True, some people can't get by without a full layout and number pad, but most people who think they do are wrong. It's much easier to scale back the size of your board than you think.

    Google Play App Roundup: Microsoft To-Do, Invert, and Card Thief

    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.

    Microsoft To-Do

    Microsoft has a habit of buying the developers behind popular apps, then killing the app they just bought. As counterintuitive as that is, Microsoft has done it more than once. Remember Sunrise Calendar? So do many others, which is why Microsoft's release of Microsoft To-Do is so concerning. See, the company recently acquired the maker of the popular to-do manager Wunderlist. Could this be the beginning of the end for Wunderlist?

    Microsoft To-Do bears a superficial resemblance to Wunderlist, and there's even support for importing your current lists from Wunderlist. This app lets you create to-do lists, set reminders, and keep track of your lists and projects over time. To create a new to-do, just hit the floating action button in the lower right corner. To create a new list, open the slide-out navigation panel and tap "New list" at the bottom. This is also where you'll find all your existing lists.

    The big draw for Microsoft To-Do is the My Day feature. It's an attempt to help users focus on daily tasks by offering a new list each day. In addition, there's a suggested to-do feature. It will allegedly learn from your usage and offer frequent tasks for quick adding to My Day. I have only seen a few things pop up here, but it might become more useful after using it longer.

    Microsoft To-Do is available on the web, iOS, and Android. The Android app has a proper material interface with the aforementioned navigation panel, FAB, and a soothing purple-blue theme. This is totally unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but I like the little "ding" sound when tasks are checked off. It makes me feel like I really accomplished something.

    The app is tied into your Microsoft account and integrated with Office 365 and Outlook. It's still in the early stages, so it's hard to say if it'll rival Wunderlist eventually. Right now, it's lacking many of the features that made that app popular. Microsoft hasn't announced the demise of Wunderlist, but it can't be long for this world with Microsoft To-Do around. It's free and very polished, though. If you are looking for a to-do manager, this is a capable one.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 8: Dexmo's VR Haptic Exoskeleton

    In this episode of Projections, Jeremy and Norm discuss how hand presence has presented itself to consumers over the past three years of virtual reality hardware. We get a demo of Dexmo, a wireless exoskeleton controller that tracks individual fingers and promises to provide haptic feedback to let you actually feel objects in VR. Jeremy chats with Dexta Robotics' CEO about challenges to haptics technology and how they're tackling the problem.

    Testing the Tower Hobbies P-51 Mustang Mk. II RC Fighter Plane

    Like most fans of aviation, I have a soft spot for the P-51 Mustang. It's pretty much the quintessential WWII fighter plane. For some, it's the only WWII fighter plane. When it comes to RC models, however, I tend to stay away from the Mustang. The problem is that I usually favor rare and unique subjects. With oodles of RC P-51s in the world, they're hardly rare and seldom unique.

    Tower Hobbies recently released an updated version of their electric-powered Mustang. I thought that this new model was distinctive enough to warrant further inspection. The most noticeable attribute of this P-51 is that the same basic airframe is available four different ways. You can buy it in the popular P-51D model with a bubble canopy. This variant is offered in military or racing paint schemes. Next up is a version representing the earlier "B" model Mustang with a greenhouse canopy. The final option is the one I chose. "Racer Red" emulates a post-war P-51s that has been modified and streamlined for air racing. Basically, this kit offers all the appeal of a P-51 along with the dash of variety that I crave.

    What's in The Kit

    Tower's Mustang ($120) is a receiver-ready kit made of molded foam. It includes everything except a transmitter, receiver, and flight battery. With a 40" wingspan, this P-51 can be considered a park-flyer or club field model.

    The servos and power system are all factory-installed. Some of the variants also have the decals pre-applied. Racer Red, however, comes with a sheet of self-adhesive decals that you can apply yourself.

    I used my Futaba 14SG transmitter with an R617FS receiver. Although the 14SG has tons of different programming options, I didn't need to dig very deep for the Mustang. The basic model is a 4-channel airplane. There are options for utilizing more channels by adding flaps and retractable landing gear. I didn't add flaps, but did take advantage of the available retracts. More on that later.

    My kit had a slight bit of shipping damage. The rudder had been torn free from the vertical stabilizer. These things happen. The fix was super easy and quick. It's still holding strong after a lot of flight testing.

    Google Play App Roundup; Volume Notification, Lumino City, and Zombie Offroad Safari

    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.

    Volume Notification

    The volume of your Android phone is not a monolithic setting—there's media, ringtone, notifications, alarms, and more. Changing the right one at the right time can be annoying, but Volume Notifications can help. It's a simple app that gives you two ways to quickly access specific volume controls.

    All devices can run Volume Notification as a notification, as the name would imply. That means it shows up as an item in the notification shade, but the location and style of that notification can be controlled from the app's settings. The main screen of those settings includes a list of volume types, which you can rearrange and enable/disable as you like. These control which shortcuts appear in the notification version of Volume Notification.

    You should also check out the full settings for this app, which allow you to tweak the performance of several of the buttons. For example, the default behavior when you press the buttons is to bring up a slider to control that particular volume setting. If you prefer, you can have the media or ring buttons simply toggle mute when you press them. The theme of the notification can be changed as well.

    When you're using the notification version of the app, you might also want to check the notification priority settings. The app can be set to produce a status bar icon, which keeps it at the top of your list. I think it looks nicer when you have the notification shade open to have Volume Notification at the top. That way you can theme it to match your phone's settings UI.

    Your other option for using Volume Notification requires Android 7.0 or higher. With Nougat, you can modify the quick settings on your phone and add third-party tiles. Installing Volume Notification adds the tiles to your list automatically. Simply open the editing UI and drag the tiles up into your quick settings. These tiles operate the same way as the notification—tap to get a popup volume slider.

    Volume Notification is not a complex app, but it could potentially fix a big pain point when using your phone. It doesn't hurt that it costs absolutely nothing.