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    Star Wars Battlefront 2 Messenger Droid Cosplay!

    In partnership with EA's Star Wars Battlefront II, we made a cosplay of the Messenger Droid character for New York Comic Con! Frank and his team took on the challenge of bringing this imposing character to life, simulating its distinct holographic head with beautiful practical effects. The resulting effect was stunning! (This video was sponsored by Electronic Arts.)

    Test Driving a Retro RC Racer: The Kyosho Optima

    The Kyosho Optima is one of several classic RC cars that have recently been put back into production. These reboots give you the nostalgia of owning an 80s-era racer, but without the cobwebs or impossible-to-find spare parts. In my previous article, I covered the process of building the Optima into a functional vehicle. This time around, I'll take it out for a spin and see how this baby performs!

    Finding New Shoes

    My plan was to test the Optima in different driving conditions. I took it to a track designed specifically for off-road cars. I also let it loose at a park in my neighborhood. But before hitting the ground with my new retro racer, I figured that it would be prudent to analyze the tire situation. Having the right tires for specific conditions can make all the difference in how a car performs.

    A significant aspect of the Optima's enduring image is its set of 5-spoke "twisted star" wheels wrapped with fat, studded tires. While Kyosho's re-issued rollers definitely resemble the original parts, they are actually quite different. First of all, the wheels are now a 1-piece design. The legacy wheels consisted of inner and outer halves that were screwed together to pinch the tire in place. Going with the 1-piece approach produces lighter, stronger parts, but the tires must be glued to the wheel--not a big deal.

    The Optima's wheels and tires look like the legacy units, but they have been updated.

    The primary change to the tires is that they are now made of a softer rubber. In fact, the tires are so soft that they require foam inserts to help them hold their shape. Tire inserts are common nowadays, but I don't recall them ever being used when I was an active RC racer in the early 90s. The benefit of soft tires is better traction. One of the fundamental tradeoffs is durability. Simply put, softer tires wear out faster. That's not usually a concern for racers. Traction trumps longevity every time.

    Just as off-road RC cars have evolved over the years, so have the tracks they race on. In the 80s and 90s, it was common for off-road tracks to have a layer of relatively loose dirt on the top surface. That's why the Optima's tires (and many others) featured prominent spikes. They could really dig into the fluff and get moving. Modern tracks are typically made of very smooth and hard-packed dirt. Some even use carpet or astroturf. Many racers use tires that look more like drag-racing slicks than traditional studded off-road tires. It was obvious that even with softer rubber, the Optima's prickly paws weren't going to cut it on a modern RC track.

    Oculus Connect 4 Chat with Nate Mitchell, Oculus' Head of Rift

    Oculus Connect 4, Facebook's developer conference for VR, is wrapped, and we're still digesting all the information we learned and demo time with the Santa Cruz prototype we experienced during our visit. While Oculus didn't have anything to say about a follow-up to its flagship Rift headset, the announcements it made about standalone VR hardware left us with plenty of questions about the company's product strategy, state of technolgy R&D, and approach to the spectrum of virtual reality experiences on the path to getting a billion people into VR. We were able to ask some of those questions in our annual check-in with Oculus' Head of Rift Nate Mitchell--a lively and enlightening conversation that's a highlight of our Oculus Connect coverage. But policy changes this year prevented us from filming the interview, so we shared some takeaways in our event recap video. In reviewing our interview notes, several points stood out that we didn't convey or stress enough in our day-of recap, so we're sharing those here for clarification and posterity.

    We started off asking about Oculus Go and the Santa Cruz prototype and how they fit in a future product lineup for Oculus. Nate talked a bit about how the feature set for Go was determined, and how it, along with Santa Cruz, are on a mobile product track that's separate from Rift. Said Nate, "As you can see with Project Santa Cruz, that may not be our only offering in the standalone product category. You can imagine over time, a good, better, or even a good, better, best approach. But sort of like the most affordable, best experience standalone device you can build, we think Go really competes right there."

    Oculus was also coy about the hardware running Go, and its performance targets. For example, would Go offer the equivalent performance of a Samsung Galaxy S7, S8, or better? Nate would only say that it would be comparable: "You can just think of it roughly as equivalent to Gear VR. Roughly [Gear VR as it is shipping today]. I mean, we support a number of past generations of Gear VR today, but you can imagine it's on the same compute envelope as Gear VR."

    "Not all of the hardware's locked down" was the reason given for not sharing information like the screen refresh rate on Go, though we suspect it'll be 60Hz like on Gear VR. Also unclear was whether the Android UI would be surfaced at all to users, or the interface when putting on the headset. "We are committed to making it an even better experience than Gear VR. Which is not a very high bar, but a really good experience. So we're doing a lot of neat stuff that we're excited about," said Nate.

    Google Play App Roundup: Microsoft Edge, Into the Dead 2, and KickAss Commandos

    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.

    Microsoft Edge

    Internet Explorer was a staple of Microsoft Software for many years, but it was replaced by Edge with the release of Windows 10. With Microsoft focusing on other mobile platforms so much, it was only a matter of time until Edge branched out from the desktop, and now is that time. Edge is currently rolling out for iOS and Android, but these two versions are slightly different.

    On Android, Edge is based on the Chromium project, which itself serves as the base for Google's Chrome. On the desktop, Microsoft has its own EdgeHTML engine, but that's not designed to operate on Android. The iOS version, meanwhile, uses Apple's WebKit engine as required by Apple's developer guidelines.

    Chromium is open source, so Microsoft has been able to make ample changes to the way it looks and works. However, some of the basics are the same. Upon opening Edge, you get a search/URL bar at the top of the screen and some frequently accessed sites right below that. Scroll down further, and you have a feed of top news stories. This is similar to Chrome, but it's all tied to your Microsoft account.

    You don't have to sign in with a Microsoft account to use Edge, but it adds to the experience. Down at the bottom of the screen is a "continue on PC" button. That sends your current page from the phone to one of your synced devices. However, this feature requires the new Fall Creators update on desktop, which is still rolling out. Your bookmarks, history, and reading list also sync across devices in Edge.

    Pages load quickly in Edge, and it keeps multiple tabs in memory well. The navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen allow for quick access even on large devices. Speaking of larger devices, there's a dedicated tablet UI that moves some of the controls up to the top more like a traditional browser. If you want to access a site without saving it in your account, there's built-in private browsing mode, too.

    Edge is still in beta, but it's a perfectly capable browser. If you're deeply tied into the Microsoft ecosystem, it's something to check out.

    How The Pixel 2 Stacks Up Against The Best of Android

    The first-generation Google Pixel phones had a lot to live up to after the Nexus program was discontinued. Android enthusiasts were not pleased, but the quality of the Pixel and Pixel XL won most of them over. In fact, the Pixels have been some of the best phones available for the last year. Now, the Pixel 2 and 2 XL are about to launch, but are they still strong competitors with devices like the Galaxy S8 and V30 around? Let's see who these devices stack up.

    The 2 New Pixel Phones from Google

    Design refinements

    Phones like the Galaxy S8 and G6 have shown just how far industrial design has come in the mobile arena. These phones have tiny bezels and big screens that fill almost all of the available surface area. Last year's Pixels looks rather old-fashioned by comparison. With the Pixel 2 XL, Google is stepping up its design game. The regular Pixel 2, not so much.

    The Pixel 2 XL has a 6-inch 1440p display with a taller 18:9 aspect ratio. That means it fills the device frame better, and the bezels have been shrunken considerably. It looks vastly more modern than the OG Pixel XL. I dare say it's a beautiful device. The Pixel 2, meanwhile, has a 5-inch 1080p display and keeps the big top and bottom bezels from last year's phone. However, both devices have front-facing speakers. So, at least there's a little rationale for the large bezels on the Pixel 2. These phones are now water-resistant with an IP67 rating. That's good enough, but current phones from Samsung and LG have IP68 ratings for more protection.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 26: Oculus Connect 4, Santa Cruz Prototype Hands-On

    Lots to talk about this week as Norm and Jeremy head to Oculus Connect 4! At this year's annual VR conference, Facebook announces two new standalone headsets and big updates to the Rift interface. We go hands-on with the Santa Cruz prototype and share our impressions, along with things we learned in an interview with Oculus' Nate Mitchell. (Apologies, we were not given permission to film our demo and interview.)

    Episode 419 - Quadcast - 10/12/17
    Will joins us this week for a special quadcast! Because we missed recording last week, there's lots to catch up on, including Google's Pixel 2 announcement event, New York Comic Con, Elon's Mars colony dreams, and the release of the SNES Classic. Plus, Norm talks about the Westworld experience he went to in New York. (Recorded Tuesdsay so Oculus Connect 4 news will be discussed next week!)
    00:00:00 / 02:21:31
    Building a Retro RC Racer: The Kyosho Optima

    It's a little funny to think that there are such things as "classic" RC cars, but it's true. Off-road RC racing really blossomed during the 1980s. Many of the popular designs from that era are now sought after by collectors. These enthusiasts restore their machines with the same attention to detail that one might dote on a numbers-matching 1969 Charger Daytona.

    You don't have to scour thrift stores or eBay to own a retro RC racer. Several companies have re-opened the production lines for a selection of 80s-era kits. You can find classics from Tamiya, Associated Electrics, Schumacher, and others. Kyosho has actually reintroduced several of their legacy off-roaders. There is the Scorpion, Turbo Scorpion, Tomahawk, Beetle, and the low-slung model you see here: the Optima. I always wanted an Optima as a kid. It just took me a few decades to get my hands on one!

    About the Optima

    The Optima was introduced in 1985. At the time, it was a revolutionary design for 4-wheel-drive racing. It spawned a long line of descendants that remained popular and competitive for many years.

    Kyosho's re-release of the Optima ($300) is not a carbon copy of the original. It's mostly the same, but a few concessions have been made to reflect modern RC norms. For instance, ball bearings were an upgrade on the original Optima, but they now come as standard equipment.

    The Kyosho Optima represented cutting-edge racing technology when it was first introduced in 1985. The modern re-release has only a few minor changes.

    There were certainly powerful motors back in the day, but modern systems kick the horsepower potential up a few notches. Kyosho implemented a couple of changes to accommodate monster set-ups. The transmission now includes a slipper clutch that protects the driveline from heavy power surges. The clutch also helps to improve traction. Additionally, the kit includes both the original chain drive system and an upgraded belt drive.

    There are no factory-assembled components here. The Optima is packaged today just as it was 30+ years ago. You get a box full of aluminum and nylon components that you put together piece by piece. It also comes with a clear Lexan body that must be painted. Don't look at the assembly process as a chore. Take your time and enjoy the experience. It's all part of the fun.

    Google Play App Roundup: Microsoft Launcher, Stranger Things, and Modern Combat Versus

    It's time again for us to dive into the Google Play Store and see what treasures we can dredge up. The Google Play App Roundup brings you the best new and newly updated Android apps and games each week. Just click on the links to head right to the Play Store.

    Microsoft Launcher

    When gave up on keeping its software and services exclusive to Windows Phone some years ago. It even started an incubator called Microsoft Garage to come up with new apps for iOS and Android. One of the products that came out of the Garage was Arrow Launcher for Android. Now, this alternative home screen has graduated to being a full-fledged Microsoft product called Microsoft Launcher. It's not just a name change—the new update includes new features, a new look, and more.

    It should come as no surprise, but Microsoft Launcher works best if you log in with a Microsoft account. That's technically optional, but many of the included widgets and features will be inert without that connection. There's also a folder of Microsoft apps on the home screen, even if you don't have them installed. In that case, they're links to download the apps.

    Getting started with Microsoft Launcher is quick, and users of Arrow Launcher will notice many of the old features have remained in the new version. There's nothing particularly wacky about Microsoft's approach to the Android home screen. You can place apps and widgets on the home panels wherever you like, add new panels, and your apps are accessible in a vertically scrollable app drawer. There's a search bar at the top of the screen that, no surprise, goes to Bing. I also like the nifty swipe up system info bar at the bottom of the screen.

    To the left of the main home screen panel is Microsoft's customizable feed. Several of the included widgets here won't do anything without a Microsoft account login, so feel free to remove them. If you do log in, you get things like weather and integration with news. The feed also has widgets for your calendar, recent contacts, recent apps, and recent actions (photos, app installs, and so on).

    You do have to grant a lot of permissions for all these features to work, so that's up to you. However, using Microsoft's included widgets makes the themes look very nice. You can pick from several styles and accent colors to make the home screen and feed look just how you want.

    Microsoft Launcher is free, and there are no in-app upgrades. It should come through as a regular update to Arrow Launcher, but you can install the new version directly by joining Microsoft's testing group in the Play Store.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 25: Windows Mixed Reality

    Norm and Jeremy attend Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality launch event to check out the slate of VR headsets being released this year for Windows 10. Especially notable is the Samsung HMD Odyssey, a headest with a high-resolution OLED display. We discuss our hands-on impressions of these headset's inside-out tracking, image quality, and the promise of a VR version of Windows.

    Testing: PowerUp Dart RC Paper Airplane

    PowerUp Toys has been developing modules that clip on to paper airplanes to give them power and control. Yes, remote control paper airplanes. The Dart is their third variation on the theme. This latest model is intended to bring aerobatic capabilities to the wildly-popular PowerUp fleet.

    As I write this, we are two weeks into the Dart's 30-day Kickstarter campaign. The project quickly met its $25,000 funding goal and additional support keeps coming in. That the campaign has already exceeded the initial target by more than $800,000 is a clear indication that people are excited about the Dart.

    I received a pre-production sample of the Dart for review. I'll reveal some of the technical details of this unit. Of course, I'll also tell you how it flies!

    Dart Overview

    PowerUp's previous model, the PowerUp FPV, utilizes two tiny electric motors and has an integrated camera for first-person-view flying. The Dart is considerably different. It more closely resembles the company's first RC offering, the PowerUp 3.0. That model has just one motor and no camera. The Dart and PowerUp 3.0 appear very similar, but there are a few significant differences that make the Dart a sportier flyer. Think of the Dart as the PowerUp 3.0 "Turbo".

    The PowerUp Dart is the third in a series of popular remote-controlled paper airplanes.

    The overall concept of the Dart is rather simple, even if the technology within is somewhat complex. The front of the clip-on module has a circuit board and tiny LiPo battery housed within a plastic case. At the rear, you will find a small electric motor with a propeller. There is also a plastic rudder that is driven by a magnetic actuator. The front and rear components are rigidly linked with a square carbon fiber tube.

    Google Play App Roundup: Network Speed, Karl2, and Raceway Heat

    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.

    Network Speed

    Whether you're troubleshooting a problem or just showing off, there are times you want to know exactly how fast your phone's data connection is. There are a number of tools for finding that out, but few of them are as clean and easy to use as Network Speed. This app not only tracks data speeds across your phone, it offers a cool floating widget so you can obsess over data speeds non-stop.

    This app needs usage access in order to track data usage across your device, but there's nothing unexpected about that. Grant the requested permissions and Network Speed will start tracking your up/down speeds and logging your bytes. It doesn't tell you which apps and services are using the data, but you get a breakdown of when data usage is happening.

    The main screen has a chart that shows your speed history over the last few minutes. There's also a listing for your current speed, fastest speed, and network type. Below that are counters for how much data you've used in various intervals of time. Tapping on any of them opens the detailed view, which breaks down your data usage by day. You can use Network Speed to alert you to high data usage if you don't like the built-in Android tools as well.

    My favorite part of the app is the floating data monitor widget. This display updates as often as you like (the default 1 second update is too fast) with up and down speeds. It appears up in the status bar, but you can move it elsewhere. In the middle of the status bar, it's mostly out of the way of other things, though. Several different looks and layout settings for the widget are available in the settings. It can also be configured to hide automatically in full-screen mode.

    Network Speed uses a persistent notification to stay alive. By default, it has a status bar icon with your speed. If you want to use the much better widget, this is rather redundant. You can set the notification to low-priority instead, and it will be collapsed at the bottom of the shade. That should be good enough for most users.

    Network Speed is free to use with ads, but a $0.99 gets rid of them.

    How Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 S Pen Works

    It would have been understandable if Samsung never produced another Galaxy Note smartphone after the disastrous recall of the Note 7 last year. And yet, Note fans are some of the most committed mobile enthusiasts out there. The people demanded a new Note, and Samsung has obliged with the nearly $1,000 Note 8. And you know what? People are buying it in droves.

    What is it about the Note series that sets people's hearts aflutter? It's a big phone for one, but it's also the only phone with a stylus you'd actually want to use. The S Pen is Samsung's secret sauce, and it's a fascinating technology. Here's how the S Pen on the Note 8 works and what you can do with it.

    Capacitive versus inductive

    You can get a stylus for any smartphone on Amazon for a pittance. However, these styli operate just like your finger. They are conductive like your finger, so touching the screen registers a press. That's all they can do—there's no pressure-sensitive functionality and no improved precision over a finger. NVIDIA tried to fake these features with capacitance on the original Shield Tablet, which used post-processing of the capacitive stylus input to apply a pressure variable. It never worked very well, and virtually no third-party apps supported it.

    An inductive stylus is harder to pull off because the phone or tablet needs to have an active digitizer under the display panel. The digitizer provides power to the stylus' internal circuitry in the same way a powered NFC reader provides power to a passive NFC tag. When you get the S Pen close to the screen, the magnetic field of the digitizer induces a current, and the Pen comes alive.

    A Short History of Personal Flying Machines

    It seems that there has been a recent surge in small, personal aircraft. Whether it be hover bikes, man-carrying drones, wing-suits, or even water-spewing hydro-jet backpacks, these machines are intended to get you airborne with a minimum of encumbrances. It's the closest you can get to flapping your arms and taking off.

    My examples represent some very recent advancements in technology. Yet, the concept of personal, even wearable, aircraft stretches back many decades. I don't mean that starry-eyed visionaries were merely dreaming of these types of devices. They were actually building them and making them fly!

    Here are some examples of those personal flying machines from yesteryear.

    Pentecost HX-1 Hoppi-Copter

    During WWII, Horace Pentecost worked as an aeronautical engineer in Seattle. Helicopters were still in their infancy at this time. Pentecost spent his days at Boeing helping to overcome the substantial design challenges that rotary-wing flight presented. His off time was spent in much the same way, just on a smaller scale.

    Pentecost's after-hours goal was to develop a compact, wearable helicopter. His HX-1 Hoppi-Copter used a small, 20-horsepower gasoline engine. This engine powered a pair of 12'-diameter (3.7m) contra-rotating blades to provide lift. The 88-pound (40kg) contraption was fitted to a small tubular frame that was worn like a backpack. A single control stick dangled in front of the pilot. If you can picture Inspector Gadget's Gadget 'Copter, you're pretty close to the Hoppi-Copter.

    Intel Responds to AMD’s Ryzen with 8th Generation Core CPUs

    Intel's previous generation processors, code named Kaby Lake, weren't much of an improvement on the desktop side compared to Skylake before it. In fact, Kaby Lake desktop CPUs were essentially factory overclocked Skylake chips. Now Intel is introducing the latest generation of their Core processors for desktops, Coffee Lake, featuring more cores and launching October 5th.

    Leading the pack of these new processors is of course the i7-8700K (bulk order price: $359). The new flagship i7 now has 6 cores and 12 threads, up from the 4/8 it's been for many years. It's now a 95W TDP part, but even with a 4W TDP bump Intel had to make another trade off for the additional cores by dropping the base clock to 3.7GHz from the 4.2GHz of the i7-7700K. The new i7 is able to boost up to 4.7GHz, and has 12MB of L3 cache. Intel claims it'll provide up to 25% more frames per second in games compared to the 7700K, and be up to 2x faster than a three year old PC (so Broadwell) when "mega-tasking" (gaming+streaming+recording). The non-overclockable 65W i7-8700 ($303) is a little slower with a base clock of 3.2GHz and a boost of 4.6GHz.

    The mid-range i5-8600K ($257) is also getting two more cores, bringing it up to 6, but still lacks hyperthreading. Base clock speed drops only 200MHz from Kaby Lake, now 3.6GHz and boosts up to 4.3GHz. This 95W CPU as well as the 65W i5-8400 ($182) have 9MB of cache. The later's clock speed is much slower at only 2.8GHz base frequency and a 4GHz boost.

    The i3-8350K ($168) might be the most interesting of them all, believe it or not. This desktop i3 part now has 4 cores and a clock speed of 4GHz. It doesn't have Intel's Turbo Boost feature, nor is it hyperthreaded like its Kaby Lake predecessor. That being said, 4 cores at 4GHz is just right for playing AAA games at higher settings these days. With a 91W TDP and being unlocked by Intel, it should overclock decently for anyone that wants to squeeze out a little more power. The i3-8100 ($117) 65W variant's clock speed it locked at 3.6GHz, and both i3s have 6MB of cache.

    Google Play App Roundup: Can't Talk, Gladiator Rising, and Flat Pack

    We're really getting spoiled these days. Great Android apps are coming out all the time, but it can still be hard to find them amid all the clutter. The Google Play App Roundup is all about clearing the junk out of the way so you can find the best apps. Just click on the app name to go straight to the Google Play Store and pick up the app yourself.

    Can't Talk

    Sometimes it can seem like you only get calls and text messages when you can't pick up the phone. There's nothing to indicate to the person on the other end of the line what you're up to or why you can't answer the phone. That's where Can't Talk comes into play. This app runs in the background to automatically fire off a custom reply when you get a call or message.

    Setting up Can't Talk can be a little intimidating because it does need a lot of access to your data. It can't work without plugging into the notification listener, but it links you to the right menu to grant that. You also have to allow permissions for calls, contacts, and messaging if you want all the features. None of this feels like overstepping, considering what the app does.

    The functionality is split up into three groups for calls, SMS, and app messages. For calls and SMS, the app sends an SMS reply when active. In both cases, you can choose which contacts get auto-replies from Can't Talk. There's also a "rate limiter" option that controls how often replies will be sent to the same contact, which is a thoughtful bonus.

    The app reply functionality is my favorite aspect of the app as most of my contacts have moved away from calls and traditional SMS. To get this working, you simply need to tell Can't Talk which apps you want it to reply to. Anything that uses standard Android notifications for messages should work, so Hangouts, Facebook, and more are supported.

    When Can't Talk is running in the background, there's an ongoing notification to make sure you're aware. I'm not usually a fan of this behavior from a UX perspective, but it's necessary to keep apps from being killed by the system. And in this case, it makes a lot of sense. You don't want to accidentally leave your auto-responder running when you're no longer unavailable. The notification has a handy "disable" button so you can turn Can't Reply off. To get rid of the notification, just turn the main toggle in the app to the "off" position.

    Can't Talk is completely free in the Play Store. It's technically in beta right now, so maybe it'll get in in-app upgrades at a later date. For now, there's no reason not to give it a shot.