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    5 Lollipop Problems Google Should Address in Android 5.1

    Right from the start it was clear Google had big plans for Android 5.0 Lollipop. The entire UI had been rethought and some long-awaited features were finally being added. Sure, there were a few gripes over this or that minor feature, but Lollipop looked like a win. Now that we've got the advantage of hindsight, let's look back at Lollipop and see what Google still has to fix in the impending Android 5.1 update.

    The Infamous Memory Leak

    Google's initial deployment of Android 5.0 seemed to be going swimmingly. Mere days after Nexus devices got their customary updates LG, Nvidia, and Motorola started sending out the first wave of OTAs. Then things got weird and the updates slowed to a crawl, and from what I've been told it was because of memory usage.

    Most Android devices still ship with 2GB of RAM, and that's more than enough most of the time, but Lollipop has a particularly nasty memory leak that doesn't show up in system process tracking. Basically, RAM is not being reclaimed properly after process are closed, leading to a memory constrained environment. Background services that you want running (ex. music playback) are mysteriously closed and the home screen redraws frequently. A device like the Nexus 6 with 3GB of RAM seems to be immune from any ill effects, but it's an ongoing issue for many others.

    This bug has been reported to Google thousands of times and is one of the most "starred" items in the public Android issue tracker. While Google has marked the defect as minor, it's the sort of thing that can ruin a user experience if a build of Lollipop isn't specifically designed to avoid it. This is probably one of the main reasons the Lollipop rollout has stalled for months. OEMs were waiting on a fix, and now there is one.

    Google has listed this bug as "future release," meaning it should be patched in the next major release. That means Android 5.1, as long as it was done in time.

    Tested In-Depth: LG Ultra-Widescreen 21:9 Monitor

    Will reviews a new ultra widescreen computer monitor from LG--the first we've tested that's both a 21:9 display and also curved. We discuss what you can do with that extra screen real estate, software that helps manage your desktop, and what movies and games look like at that aspect ratio.

    What You Should Know about FAA’s Proposed Drone Rules

    Drones, quadcopters, multi-rotors…call them what you wish. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prefers the term sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial Systems). As businesses anxious to use the technology have been awaiting guidance from the FAA on what will be legal practice, the agency’s actions have hinted that they intended to rule commercial sUAS users with an iron fist. In response, the drone industry and its advocates have been circling the wagons in preparation for a looming battle against the FAA.

    Even under recent congressional pressure, FAA personnel refused to indicate when they would release their sUAS rules. It therefore came as a surprise when the FAA suddenly announced a media conference call to unveil the details of their sUAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). That the call was hastily set for Sunday on a holiday weekend only stoked fears that the government’s hammer was about to fall. Yet, when the FAA laid their cards on the table, drone enthusiasts had more to praise than to complain about.

    Cliff Whitney is the owner of Atlanta Hobby, one of the busiest multi-rotor dealers and repair shops in the country. In a phone interview following the FAA announcement, Whitney said “The proposal got a lot of things right. The FAA has obviously been listening to the feedback people have been giving them.”

    Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) must be maintained at all times!

    Multi-rotor manufacturers are breathing a sigh of relief as well. Jon Resnick, a policy and marketing representative for DJI, echoed a common response seen all across the internet, “Overall, while it's not perfect, the proposal is far less onerous than many of us expected.”

    The FAA’s proposal is just that--an offering. It will take some time before actual laws are in the books. The proposal will first be published to the Federal Register, where it will be open to public comment for 60 days. The FAA will then need some time to review the comments and incorporate any changes. Optimists estimate that we could see the proposal become law as soon as late 2015. Until then, here's how we feel about the specifics of the proposal.

    The Best Smartwatch (For Now)

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    A good smartwatch connects to your smartphone, but it actually untethers you from nervously checking that phone. The smartwatch (for now) that best augments your Android or iPhone, and looks good doing it, is the Pebble Steel.

    After more than 40 hours of research, wearing and comparing nine smartwatches, and keeping a close eye on battery life and Bluetooth connections, we found the Pebble Steel to be the most adaptable watch for most wrists and lifestyles. Its battery lasts nearly an entire work-week—the longest of any we tested—it has the most useful apps, and it holds up to abuse.

    How we decided what to test

    We tested smartwatches primarily on how they did their main job: showing notifications from your phone, and controlling a few parts of it. We also put a good deal of weight on the visibility of the screen, the interface of the watch, and the ability to keep running all day.

    But looks matter, too, when you wear something every day. The size, heft, and visual appeal of each watch was considered, as well as its bands and clasps. We fastened our smartwatches on many friends' wrists, male and female. And we considered the external experience with each watch: the connection-managing app that came with every watch, the charging dock and cable, and the third-party apps and tools compatible with each watch. Our full guide has more details on what we did to narrow down the field and test smartwatches.

    Experimenting with Fluid Assembly Furniture

    The latest from MIT's Self-Assembly Lab: "Fluid Assembly is part of a series of investigations by MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab looking at autonomous assembly in complex and uncontrolled environments (water, air, space etc). In this experiment a number of components are released into a tank of turbulent water. Each of the components is completely unique from one another and has a precise location in the final structure. The process was filmed over 7 hours, after which a full assembled, precise chair was created." More details on this project here. (h/t Wired)

    In Brief: Sony Releases Its SmartEyeGlass Developer Kit

    Sony is making available the first developer kits for its SmartEyeGlass initiative, with the hopes that developers will make apps for it ahead of a commercial release. The glasses connect to an Android smartphone and integrate numerous sensors to display data in the wearer's line of sight, via a monochrome translucent display. This isn't the SmartEyeGlass Attach prototype we tried on at CES, but the version that debuted in late 2014. That Attach prototype had potential for consumer use, but the glasses available today are for industrial applications. Given our experiences with the Google Glass Explorer's Edition, we're unlikely to be purchasing this developer's kit for testing. But I'm curious to see what the response will be and what kind of apps the devs who do purchase it will make.

    Norman
    CoeLux Artificial Skylight Mimics Sunlight

    Unveiled at a lighting conference late last year, CoeLux is a lighting system that simulates a natural light through a skylight. And based on initial impressions and photographs, it's a convincing representation of the kind of scattered natural light you would see through a window. The artificial skylight will cost over $65,000 to install, and the current product consumes a whopping 340W of power. The next versions will bring power consumption and cost down with the use of LEDs, and CoeLux is also looking to allow users to adjust color temperature (golden hour on command!) and the angle of illumination. This is awesome and scary technology; the photography implications are exciting, but I can't help but imagine how it'll affect the design of dense high-rises (and prison cells) of the future. (h/t Petapixel)

    In Brief: Tactus’ Shapeshifting Keys for Your Tablet

    Touchscreen keyboards on our smartphones and tablets are totally serviceable, but there are still people who prefer the tactile response of physical keys. For example, if you have long nails, it's still easier to type on a Blackberry than it is on a small touchscreen. One technology that may give users the best of both worlds is transforming screens, which spring pronounced keys on command for typing, but can lay flush when not in use. Tactus Technology has the first consumer product using this kind of technology, in an iPad mini case called Phorm. As Wired explains, Phorm's pop-up keys are like small bubbles embedded in a thin transparent panel (akin to a screen protector). Switching it on pumps microfluids into those bubbles, propping them up for tactile typing. The whole process is hydraulic--it doesn't require batteries because the switch to activate these buttons is basically a pump on the back of the iPad case. And while Tactus' products will initially be tablet and smartphone cases, they're also experimenting with making their own tablets with integrated transforming screens for more than just key typing.

    Norman
    Jamie's Racing Spiders, Episode 2: The Build

    Just before leaving for his tour in Australia, a delighted Jamie stops by Kernerworks to see an early comp of his racing spiders design in action for the first time. For additional behind-the-scenes footage, Jamie's original build notes and project photos, click here.

    Google Play App Roundup: Lock Me Out, Limbo, and Grey Cubes

    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.

    This week we lock you out, leave you in limbo, and drop some cubes.

    Lock Me Out

    Self-control is not something we all possess in abundance at all times. That's especially true when you account for these tempting little supercomputers in our pockets with an endless supply of games and information. Sometimes you just need to get things done, and your phone can get in the way. Lock Me Out helps by removing the temptation.

    First thing's first--this app with really and truly lock you out of your phone for the predetermined length of time. All you'll have access to is the lock screen, widgets, and emergency dialer. You can also answer incoming calls while Lock Me Out is active.

    It does this by using the Android accessibility service to change the PIN code on your device. Lock Me Out chooses a random PIN when you trigger the lock. After the timer counts down, the PIN will be changed back to the one you have set. If you don't set one, the PIN will be disabled completely.

    This app works remarkably well because it's not relying on any third-party locking mechanisms. Non-native lock screens are almost universally broken and easy to circumvent. With Lock Me Out, the only way to get around the lock would be to reboot the device, which removes the lure of instant gratification. Removing the Lock Me Out app without authorization would require booting into safe mode to disable admin rights, which is also more trouble than it's worth.

    You can use Lock Me Out free for up to 10 minutes at a time. To set a longer lockout than that, you need to pay $0.99 via an in-app purchase to upgrade to the full version.

    Show and Tell: Seek Thermal Imaging Camera

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm tests out a thermal imaging camera accessory for his Android phone. The Seek Thermal camera connects to a smartphone over microUSB to gauge the temperature of anything in its sights--like Predator vision! The image resolution is a little low, but we've been using it for laptops, tablet, and phone testing.

    Tested In-Depth: Sling TV Streaming Service

    Sling TV is a new live video streaming service from Dish, which may be interesting for people who want to cut their reliance on cable subscriptions. We discuss what you get in the basic $20 package, Sling's device compatibility, and the viewing experience. It's a step in the right direction, but also could use much improvement.

    The Best $500 TV You Can Buy Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If I were looking for a good, inexpensive, 50-inch TV, I’d get the Vizio E500i-B1. It has above-average picture quality—better than many more expensive models—with impressively dark blacks (a rarity in this price range of LCD), bright whites, decent motion resolution, and reasonably accurate colors. It also consistently gets top marks from the best TV reviewers on the web.

    If the Vizio is sold out, or otherwise unavailable, the Panasonic 50AS530U offers almost as good picture quality but costs a bit more money ($600 as of this writing). Its contrast ratio isn’t quite as good as the Vizio, but the motion resolution is decent.

    Who should get this TV?

    If your TV is dying, has died, or you’re looking for something larger, this TV offers pretty good performance for a low price.

    In terms of picture quality, this TV is generally better than most LCDs in this price range. Upgrading to more expensive models will result in better motion resolution, better contrast ratios, and more accurate colors. (In other words, that makes a more lifelike, realistic picture.)

    Keep in mind, though, that for around $500, when it comes to a 50-inch TV, there is no clear winner in terms of picture quality. All have strengths and weaknesses. And stepping down slightly in size doesn’t get you enough of an increase in picture quality to offset the loss in size. So even a great looking 40-inch TV doesn’t look enough better than the Vizio to make up for how much smaller it is.

    Jamie's Racing Spiders, Episode 1: The Pitch

    When given the opportunity by Evernote to build anything he wants, Jamie chooses a complicated exercise in engineering that he's mulled for years: racing robotic spiders. But the project comes at a time when Jamie and Adam will be abroad, so it's Evernote and a solutions shop called Kernerworks to the rescue. For additional behind-the-scenes footage, Jamie's original build notes and project photos, click here.

    Testing: Sling TV Streaming Service

    We heard a lot of excitement coming out of CES for Sling TV, Dish Network's online TV streaming service that promised an a la carte model for live cable channel subscriptions for a reasonable price. The service officially launched late last month, with a $20/month starting package that includes ESPN, CNN, Cartoon Network, and a dozen other channels. AMC was even added to the lineup this morning (though still as yet not available for Sling users). With the service opening up to everybody this morning, I want to share some thoughts from my testing of it over the weekend, as well as answer any questions you may have about it.

    The service as it stands is offered as the aforementioned base package of 16 channels, with add-ons segmented by interest (sports, news, kids) for $5 more each. Anchoring the package is ESPN and ESPN2, but the rest of the selection aren't throwaway channels; there's AMC, TNT, TBS, Food Network, Travel Channel, HGTV, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, ABC Family, Disney, CNN, and a few boutiques. I tested Sling on every device it currently supports, which includes the iOS and Android devices, Windows and Mac OS, and the latest Roku boxes and stick. There's no browser streaming support, and Sling says that Chromecast and Xbox One playback is coming later. You can stream over cellular networks or Wi-Fi, but each account only lets you stream to one device at a time (even if your devices are on the same local network/IP address).

    Boston Dynamics' Autonomous "Spot" Robot

    Holy moly, it's been over a year since we've seen a new video from Boston Dynamics, the now-Google-owned robotics company. The wait has been worth it: "Spot is a four-legged robot designed for indoor and outdoor operation. It is electrically powered and hydraulically actuated. Spot has a sensor head that helps it navigate and negotiate rough terrain. Spot weighs about 160 lbs." Note the spinning LIDAR sensor at the head of the robot, which helps it autonomous navigate, as well as its armored padding.

    Google Play App Roundup: Power Button Flashlight, Day of the Vikings, and Air Control 2

    Apps move quickly on Android. No sooner have you found an app you can get cozy with, a better alternative has come along. We're here to make sure you're ahead of the curve--that you're always on the bleeding edge. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is for. Just click on the links to head to Google Play and get the best new apps and games for your device.

    This week there's light, a game about vikings, and an airport in need of control.

    Power Button Flashlight

    This app actually came out a few weeks ago, but I haven't had a chance to get it into the roundup until now. It really deserves to be here, though. Oh, not because it's an entirely new idea or anything, but just because it's so darn convenient. This app lets you turn on the LED flash in your phone with three presses of the power button. This works even when the screen is off, and it doesn't require root access.

    The app itself works as a regular flashlight app--you can open it and press the button to toggle the flash on. The headlining functionality doesn't require you have the app open at all. At any time you can triple tap the power button to activate the flash. This is part of the free feature set. To turn it back off, you need to buy the full version via a $0.99 in-app purchase. Well, you can turn it off from inside the app for free, but that rather defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

    Upgrading to the full version adds a few other interesting options like increasing the power button count to four when the screen is on. That way you don't end up with the screen in the off state when the flashlight is activated. As an aside, you'll probably want to get into the system security settings to set a timeout for the lock screen and disable instant locking with the power button.

    I've found Power Button Flashlight to be quite reliable. It sometimes takes about a second to activate after the last press, but it still comes on. As long as all three presses happen within three seconds, you're good. Some devices with very soft buttons might be much faster to press, in which case you should change the lower limit cut off in the app to a quarter second.

    Various phones have similar ways of activating the flashlight, and Lollipop has a toggle in the quick settings, but Power Button Flashlight is faster. It's not really worth using without the full version upgrade, but it's only a buck.

    10 Tracking Technologies You Should Know About

    “Big Brother,” the surveillance state posited by George Orwell in his prescient novel 1984, was a fantasy at the time. But now it seems all too real. Just about every piece of technology you interact with has the ability to monitor you in some way and transmit that information to the government or private entities. Here’s a quick rundown of the latest tracking tech to be aware of.