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    Tested Builds: $540 3D Printer, Part 3

    In part three of our PrintrBot Simple 3D printer build, we reach a few steps that are deceptively complex. We also use this time to review the steps taken so far, and find some mistakes that need to be fixed before we can continue. No disassemble! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

    Android Auto vs. iOS CarPlay: How Your Car Will Get Smarter

    Google's announcement of Android Auto at the recent Google I/O conference should surprise exactly no one. Apple is gearing up for its own in-car infotainment service later this year called CarPlay. It's long past the time when Google would hang back and see how Apple's approach to a new market worked out -- Android Auto is going head-to-head with CarPlay later this year.

    Both companies want their mobile platform with you all the time, but how are they going to convince people to embrace connected cars?

    Touchscreens separated at birth

    If there is something surprising about Apple and Google's move into in-car entertainment, it's the overall similarity of the approach. The implementations don't rely on hardware inside the car to do any of the thinking -- the smarts are all packed into your phone so you can upgrade your apps and features independent of the car. This circumvents one of the long-time weaknesses of pricey in-car infotainment.

    What good is that fancy touchscreen if Apple changes its connector and makes your whole system obsolete? Oh, your car only works with USB mass storage devices? Sorry Android doesn't do that anymore. Since your phone's mobile data connection is used for the dash system, you also won't have to worry about getting yet another data plan for your car, which I'm sure is a sad turn of events for Verizon executives.

    When Apple announced CarPlay, it sounded at first like you'd have to get a new car to have CarPlay-compatible setup, but thankfully component makers like Pioneer have stepped up to develop aftermarket decks that will support Apple's platform. Google announced several car audio companies right from the start including Alpine, Pioneer, and JVC. This is a technology segment that has seen decline in recent years as people simply made do with smartphones tethered to inexpensive decks and stock audio systems via Bluetooth or even an audio cable. CarPlay and Android Auto are an opportunity to make aftermarket decks interesting again. This is just another thing Android and iOS in the car have in common.

    The Best Television You Can Buy Today

    If I was in the market for an awesome television, I’d get the Samsung F8500 series, either in 51-, 60-, or 64-inch sizes (about $1,800, $2,400, or $3,100, respectively). This is a fantastic looking television, with a punchy brights, deep darks, lifelike and accurate color, excellent detail, and great performance in rooms with lots of light. While pricey, it has one of the best pictures of any TV in recent years according to all the major TV reviewers.

    The F8500 is likely the last great plasma TV (more on this later). We think that those looking for the “best” TV will love the F8500. Its combination of a bright image, dark black levels (and correspondingly high contrast ratio), lack of motion blur, and highly realistic color make for an addictively gorgeous image.

    If it doesn’t fit the bill, we have some other options that may suit you. However, this is still early in the year for TV reviews, so we strongly recommend you wait if you can. We can recommend some “good” TVs, but we won’t know what’s the (truly) best runner-up until more models are reviewed.

    The Samsung F300 is a good step-down pick if you want to save at least $1,000 (or more, depending on which size you buy). It’s not as bright and doesn’t have as good contrast ratio as our pick, but it still has very good picture quality.

    If stepping down, we recommend the F5300 from Samsung, which costs much less, though it doesn’t have quite the same level of picture quality. It comes in 51-inch ($1,000 cheaper), 60-inch($1,500 cheaper), and 64-inch ($1,800 cheaper) screen sizes. The F5300 isn’t as bright as the F8500, doesn’t have as good a contrast ratio, and doesn’t look as good in bright rooms, but still has very good picture quality.

    If saving a lot of money is your goal, we recommend getting our pick for Best $500 TV, which is only 720p but has excellent picture quality for the price. And it is, you know, $500. Similar to the F5300, the F4500 (our $500 pick) isn’t as bright as the F8500, nor is its contrast ratio as high. And it’s got that lower resolution of 720p (the F8500 and F5300 are both 1080p sets). So the F8500 looks a lot better, for a lot more money.

    Tested Builds: $540 3D Printer, Part 2

    The build of the PrintrBot Simple Metal 3D printer continues! In this second episode, Will and Norm wade through photo-instructions for this low-cost 3D printer, working up from the build platform to the Z-axis and plastic extruder. Along the way, we explain the purpose of each component. Follow along in our 3D printer building adventure! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

    Google Play App Roundup: QCast Music, Leo's Fortune, and Lost Toys

    There's no need to scrounge around the new section of the Play Store hoping to pick up the handful of worthwhile additions. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is here to do. This is where you can come for the best new and newly updated stuff in the Play Store. Just hit the links to open the Play Store on your device.

    This week there's an app that makes Chromecasting more social, a game with serious polish, and a puzzler that

    QCast Music

    The Chromecast is a cool way to get some tunes going when you have people over, but it doesn't have any native multi-user functionality. Usually when someone else connects to the device, it switches over completely to that input. A new app called QCast Music is a little different. It pushes a playlist to the Chromecast that can be built by everyone in the room. All you need is one Google Play Music All Access account to make it all happen.

    To start using QCast, the "host" needs to connect to the Chromecast first using the QCast app. Host in this situation doesn't refer to the actual host of the party, just someone who wants to have full control of the playlist and also happens to have an All Access subscription. The app will request Google account access, and you're ready to start playing. Simply use the search button to find songs you want to add to the queue and they'll be played via the Chromecast (whatever it's plugged into).

    Other people can connect to the Chromecast to join the party and add songs to the queue, but you only need the one All Access account, which is really the beauty of this app. The songs are being added from the host's account, the other partygoers just have temporary access through the Qcast connection.

    As the songs cycle through, everyone connected to the party can use the app to downvote tracks they don't like. If a majority agree, the song is instantly skipped. It's a bit like Turntable.fm back when it launched, but for real life gatherings. The host always has the ability to manually remove tracks from the queue and control the volume.

    QCast is completely free to use, other than the All Access subscription. As for other services, the developers are investigating ways to plug into services like Spotify, but official Chromecast support for that service hasn't even arrived yet. Google Play All Access is the best solution for casting right now.

    Tested Builds: $540 3D Printer, Part 1

    We're testing a new video series this month: Tested Builds. Through the rest of July and first half of August, Will and Norm work together to build four awesome maker kits, filming the whole process and releasing a new episode every day on Tested. The first project is a Printrbot Simple, a relatively low-cost 3D printer. We're curious about what kind of prints you can get from a $540 printer today, and how easy an entry-level 3D printer is to set up and maintain. Follow along and post your thoughts about build projects in the comments below! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

    MakerBot Mystery Build: Hot Potato

    It's time for another mystery object to be printed by our 3D printer! You're going to like this week's print--it's a replica of a great prop from a classic film. Place your best guess as to what's being printed in the comments below!

    In Brief: Samsung's VR Gear Solution Could Launch at IFA

    Engadget's report that Samsung is developing a virtual reality solution in partnership with Oculus VR to work with its Galaxy phones is becoming more believable. While neither Samsung nor Oculus have confirmed that a device is in the works, SamMobile claims to have the first images of the device design, along with details about its name and debut. The Gear VR name sounds believable, as well as the purported IFA unveil (Sept 5-10). Three new technical details stand out from this leak: first that Gear VR would use a cushioned elastic band to hold the headset in place, that it would have a dedicated button to activate the Galaxy phone's camera to let users "see through" the HMD, and that the side controls would be a touchpad. The latter two make sense as good UI, especially the see-through button--something I hope the consumer Oculus Rift will include. If calibrated properly with a camera lens, the see-through option opens up augmented reality potential for this kind of HMD.

    I'm still unconvinced that smartphone screens (as run through smartphone GPUs) can achieve the low persistence of vision that Oculus fans are expecting, but that's based on my experience using Google's Cardboard with an LCD-based phone, not Samsung's AMOLED screens. The other weird thing about this is that we're not expecting the Oculus consumer release any time soon, so Samsung's Gear VR may be the first Oculus-related virtual reality device to hit the consumer market. I'm not sure that would be a good thing for Oculus and the VR community if the reception isn't anything but glowing. If Gear VR does get announced at IFA, it'll be something that may distract from Oculus' agenda just two weeks later at their first Connect conference.

    Norman
    Testing: Waypoint Navigation on Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter

    Last night, we posted a video showing our test of the DJI Phantom 2's new waypoint navigation feature, which lets it fly without direct control from a transmitter. I decided to pull the video after getting some feedback from Tested readers and quadcopter enthusiasts. There were a few concerns not only over the legality of the FPV (first-person video) flight, but the appropriateness of the test location. We flew it out over the San Francisco bay, but the quadcopter passed over city streets in doing so, and briefly left our field of view behind some tall trees. According to the new FAA guidelines, operators have to maintain line of sight with their craft, and follow community guidelines like the model aircraft safety code instituted by the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

    In retrospect, I made a mistake in choosing where to fly the Phantom for this video, especially in testing a new feature that is not without its bugs. Even though I had the ability to take manual control of the drone at any time, the video made the flight look more risky than we're comfortable with, and reflects poorly on the quadrotor hobbyist community. It's difficult striking a balance between creating informative videos to demonstrate new technology and engaging viewers with visually striking footage, but the latter should not come at the expense of safety--even if it's just the perception of risk. I apologize for that, and am currently looking into other locations and best practices for us to test future quadrotor gear. In the Bay Area, our options are getting increasingly limited; we recently heard of a hobbyist getting cited for flying a Phantom over Ocean Beach, which is under the purview of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservatory.

    In terms of the actual waypoint navigation feature of the Phantom, the feature works as advertised, but isn't without its problems. You can set up to 16 GPS waypoints using a satellite map overlay in the Vision app, but the map relies on you to determine if the flight path may intersect with any tall structures. It was also difficult to zoom into give the Phantom very precise waypoints--it's not accurate to get a Phantom circling around the bases of a baseball field, for example. We also experienced the unintended problem of both Will and my phones stealing the Wi-Fi connection from the transmitter, which accounted for our failure to send the flight path to the Phantom on several tries. Waypoint Nav on the Vision+ also doesn't have feature parity with DJI's Ground Station accessory, like the ability to set different flight speeds between waypoints. The best thing about the updated Vision app is the automatic "Return Home" button that tells the Phantom to return home and slowly land from almost exactly where it took off.

    Here's the unlisted video of our test if you want to watch it. For enthusiasts who've had more experience flying autonomous drones and using FPV, I'd love to hear your input about the best places and ways to test these new machines.

    Bits to Atoms: 3D Printing Rubber for Octopod Tentacles

    Consider this scenario: while cleaning out your parents’ basement you find your G1 Optimus Prime Transformer (in the original box, natch) only to discover the rubber tires have dry-rotted and fallen apart. Noooooo! What can you do!? Have no fear, the technology to restore Optimus to his former glory is now available in the form of 3D printing: simply print some new tires out of rubber!

    My first encounter with modern 3D printing was at the 2010 World Maker Faire in New York. There, I saw a lot of RepRap-based printers and MakerBot introduced their second machine, the Thing-o-matic. All of these printers used ABS or PLA plastic filament. Aftermarket modifications were soon introduced that allowed you to extrude (print) other materials, like frosting, peanut butter, and chocolate or any other gooey, non-food material--that was awesome. Later, I was introduced to the high-end machines that printed with plaster or plastic resins and even metal. But the material that really took me by surprise was rubber. To my mind that just didn’t seem possible--could printed parts really bend and stretch and be as resilient as real rubber? Online printing service Shapeways uses EOS printers that can print in an elasto plastic material that is translucent and very flexible but still pretty stiff--not what I’d call truly rubbery.

    Flexible shoe printed with Shapeways’ Elasto Plastic. CREDIT: Alan Hudson

    The EOS material is very nice, but as far as I know the only 3D printer that will do a true rubber-like material is the Stratasys Objet Connex line of machines. I was very lucky to have access to one of these at the NYU Advanced Media Studio. At the time, I was preparing to do my thesis project and was waffling between ideas, one of which was the Octopod that ended up being my Inventern submission. A deciding factor for building the Octopod was the Connex500 printer the AMS lab had just purchased which could print in multi-materials, including rubber which would be perfect for dynamic tentacles. Here's what I learned about printing in rubber for that project.

    Why Google's Android TV Might Succeed Where Google TV Failed

    Google has built Android into the dominant platform for smartphones and tablets, but other markets have proven more elusive -- none more so than the living room. Google has made multiple attempts to get on the biggest screen in your house, learning a bit more from each try. The just-announced Android TV platform is the culmination of all that success and failure (mostly failure). If Mountain View did things right, it will avoid the missteps of Google TV and leverage the strengths of Chromecast, but the future is still uncertain, and Google has a lot to prove.

    A History of Failure

    Google's first real swing at the living room was Google TV, which was announced way back in 2010 as a Honeycomb-based platform for set-top boxes and smart TVs. There were issues right from the start, due largely to the incomplete state of the software. Google chose to launch the first wave of devices (from OEMs like Logitech and Sony) without the Play Store (still Android Market in those days). Instead, Google TV relied on the browser and a few built-in apps like Netflix.

    The embedded GTV browser was supposed to simply allow users to stream content from Hulu and other streaming platforms, but it turns out content owners didn't much care for that idea. The Google TV user agent was quickly blacklisted by virtually every streaming provider and network. Google should have seen that coming -- these services wanted to sell people premium services for TV streaming. It took almost a year after launch for the Android Market update to come along, but the software was still based on the archaic Honeycomb release of Android, and performance was severely lacking. A later update to Ice Cream Sandwich did nothing to salvage Google's living room hopes.

    Testing: OnePlus One Android Smartphone

    We just posted our OnePlus One phone review, and I wanted to distill some of those thoughts in a post for anyone searching on Google or looking to find more information about the phone. As I said in the video, this is one of the best Android phones I've ever used. It's faster than the HTC One M8 and costs less off-contract than even Google's Nexus 5. And as of today, I'm still using it as my primary phone, as the benefits of its awesome battery life outweighs the disadvantages of its massive size.

    Aside from its price, here are some of my positive take-aways from testing the OnePlus One.

    1080p is lovely for a 5.5-inch screen. I've seen the LG G3 in person, and couldn't tell the difference between icons, text, and photos on that high-density screen and the images on my 5-inch 1080p Nexus 5. Only 1400p video was noticeably better. The OnePlus One also has a 5.5-inch screen, but 1080p suits it just fine. In a blind test (covering up the bezels), text and photos on OnePlus looked indistinguishable from those on the Nexus 5, reinforcing my opinion 1080p is an optimal resolution for smartphones.

    The camera is top-notch. One of the reason's I'm sticking with the OnePlus over the Nexus 5. It has a smartphone camera that I actually want to use on a regular basis. I haven't felt that way about a smartphone camera since switching over to Android from the iPhone 5. The 13MP Sony camera takes great HDR photos in good light conditions. Low light photos tax the shutter, and photos can get blown out if shooting toward the light source. I'm just a little bummed by the heavy JPEG compression, and am looking forward to Android L's RAW support. Also, shooting 4K video actually makes sense on this phone because I can pipe it directly to YouTube, which supports 4K video playback. (These still aren't clips I'm going to sync back to my desktop to edit.)

    Battery life is unbelievably great. The big win for OnePlus. The OnePlus One is the first phone I've used that I haven't been able to fully drain in a day without forcing it. Outside of a video playback test where I was streaming a high-def video over a cellular connection, the OnePlus has never gone below 25% battery in any day I've used it. I'm a pretty heavily phone user, and use several milestones throughout the day to gauge battery depletion--when I get to the office, noon, early afternoon, and leaving work. With my use, the battery on other phones typically dip below 70% by noon, but it takes until 3pm or so to get to that point on the OnePlus. It's been consistently above 35% by the time I reach home at around 7:30pm.

    Tested In-Depth: OnePlus One Android Smartphone

    We test the new high-end Android smartphone from OnePlus that's unique because it comes with Cyanogen built-in, and only costs $300 off-contract. And with a 5.5-inch screen, it's also one of the largest phones we've used. Here's what you need to know about the OnePlus One if you're vying for an invite for buy it.

    In Brief: Google to Expand Its Same-Day Delivery Service

    Last week, I made my monthly trip to Costco to buy house supplies and food in preparation of the July 4th weekend. But in my haste to get out of the place before I wanted to kill myself, I forgot to pick up ketchup and gallon bags--essential picnic supplies. That was OK--I simply placed an order with Google Shopping Express on Thursday morning and had those items hand-delivered to my door by the end of the day, crowds avoided, shipping fee waived. "This simply can't last forever" is the thought I had in my head, and yet Google seems to be committed to its same-day delivery service, with plans spend over half a billion dollars to expand it beyond San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.

    Re/Code's report on Google's delivery service plans explains how the logistics of the same-day delivery system currently works--Google has employees package orders in existing B&M stores, and centralized warehouses distribute them--as well as what Google and its retailer partners hope to gain from program. As for my own experience, Google Shopping Express has taken precedence over Amazon for many needs, since it supports some local businesses like Nob Hill Foods and Google keeps extending the promotion that waives the $5 per retailer delivery fee. Google is unsurprisingly in it for the ad business--Re/Code says the search company has no plans to cut out the B&M middle men--but wants to take high-value marketing campaigns away from those merchants. There's also that valuable individual shopper data too, which Google is keeping to itself. A year into the program, Shopping Express proves that same-day delivery can work, but I'm still skeptical that it has legs to become a business Google will care about in the long run.

    Norman
    In Brief: Here Is the Latest in Credit Card Skimmer Tech

    Computer security reporter and expert Brian Krebs has been tracking the state of credit card skimmers--devices used to steal users' credit card information and PIN number at ATMs--for years, and his latest update cites a new report from the European ATM Security Team that shows just how small and discreet the newest generation of ATM skimmers can be. One design, made to work on US manufacturer NCR's machines, hides below the card reader "throat", making it difficult to detect. Skimmers are used in tandem with small pinhole cameras that record a user's PIN entry, with that plastic camera system mounted on ATMs to look like part of the chassis. Krebs notes that ATM skimmers are less of a problem for European banks that have switched over to "chip & PIN"-based debit cards, which unfortunately haven't been widely adopted stateside. But one good practice that may protect you from skimmers is simply to shroud your fingers with one hand when entering your PIN with the other.

    Norman 1
    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (June 2014)

    We're in the thick of new phone season right now, which makes it a particularly perilous time to buy anything at all. Whether you're signing on for a two-year ride or doing a payment plan, it's a big commitment, and you don't want to regret it. Just like we do every month, we're going to go over the best devices on each of the big four US carriers and see what you should do.

    The Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8 are hitting their stride, but there's new reason to consider a device like the Nexus 5. And what about that LG G3? Let's dig in.

    Photo credit: Flickr user punk17er via Creative Commons.

    AT&T

    Ma Bell is keeping things comparatively easy for us by dragging its feet announcing new devices. We know the G3 is coming to AT&T, but there are no pre-orders yet. That takes it out of the running for our purposes. That leaves us with the continued struggle between the HTC One M8 and the Samsung Galaxy S5. Both are excellent phones -- there's no doubt many people will be perfectly happy with each of them for different reasons. At this point, I think we need to identify the strong points so you know which one works for you.

    Let's start with the Galaxy S5, but first some specs. The Galaxy S5 comes with a Snapdragon 801 processor clocked to 2.5GHz, 2800mAh battery, 2GB of RAM, and a killer 5.1-inch Super AMOLED screen. I think the screen in particular is great and fixes many of the long-standing issues with AMOLED tech. The whites are whiter and the colors are more accurate, but still vibrant.

    Around back is another of the Galaxy S5's selling points -- a 16MP camera that takes some of the best images I've ever seen come out of a phone. It has live HDR capture, 4K video recording, and nails the exposure almost every time in good light. It could be better in dim indoor light, but it is otherwise top of class. The thin plastic shell making up the rest of the back is less great, but maybe you can forgive that.

    The Samsung Galaxy S5 is IP67 water and dust resistant so you'll notice less flex in the overall design than some past Samsung devices. It's still a plastic Samsung phone, but it's definitely more solid. It can technically withstand 30 minutes in one meter of water, but I wouldn't put that to the test.

    On the software side of things, Samsung is currently rocking Android 4.4.2 with TouchWiz on the Galaxy S5. That's close enough to the current Nexus build that it's probably safe to say it's up to date. TouchWiz on the GS5 is not ideal, but it's greatly improved compared to some past devices. The colors are more cohesive and most of the stock apps are usable. There's still plenty of carrier bloatware to be killed, though. Features like Ultra Power Saving Mode and Private Mode are cool innovations that make this device more desirable.

    The Galaxy S5 is sure to fall behind in the software department later this year when Android L comes out, but Samsung has been doing a fairly good job getting updates out the door. This device is $200 on contract from AT&T.

    Google Play App Roundup: Cyanogen Gallery, 99 Bricks Wizard Academy, and Blek

    It's time to make your phone better not through hard work and determination, but by installing some apps. That's a lot easier. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we find the best new and newly updated stuff on Android. Hit the links to open the Play Store.

    This week we've got a new gallery app, the anti-Tetris, and a game all about lines.

    Cyanogen Gallery

    Usually apps that start with "Cyanogen" have to do with installing a custom ROM, but not so with the new Cyanogen Gallery app. Well, it's not entirely new. This app was first posted when the OnePlus One began shipping and was exclusive to that phone, but it was recently expanded to all Android devices running 4.2 or higher. Considering some devices don't even have the stock Gallery app included anymore, this could be a worthy replacement.

    The layout of the Cyanogen Gallery app is nothing groundbreaking -- the slide-out nav bar on the left gives you access to an album view, all media, and moments. The moments view is essentially a cleaned up month-by-month layout, which is what the app defaults to. Moments also get split up by location, if you have geotags on your images. Below the view modes are your services, but that's a little misleading. After installing the app you have "internal" in that list, but you can also add cloud services like Google+, Facebook, and Dropbox.

    Once you've dropped more sources into Cyanogen Gallery, you can choose between them, then set your view. it's a nice way to handle your images if you've got a lot of duplicates on various services (ex. if you're using an auto-backup tool). When you open any of the photo groups (however you've decided to sort them) there will be a slideshow button up at the top, which is a nice touch. There's also Chromecast support backed into the app for throwing your images up on a bigger screen.

    Cyanogen Gallery seems to perform very well, even with big files. The cloud images take a moment to populate in the thumbnail view, but the full resolution version loads quickly when you tap. The only thing I'm really missing is a built-in image editor. A lot of gallery apps have some simple tools to crop or brighten a picture, but Cyanogen Gallery directs you to other installed apps when you choose Edit from the menu.

    Overall this is a solid replacement for the stock gallery app on most devices. I'm not sure it will become my go-to, but it's worth checking out.

    Show and Tell: 3D Messenger Bag

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will picks up a unique bag that he saw someone wearing at Maker Faire. It's a messenger bag that looks like a 2D drawing. But after searching for one online, the one he ended up with doesn't exactly meet his needs. Have you seen bags designed with this concept before?

    MakerBot Mystery Build: Cubicle

    Happy July 4th! This week's build involves the use of a coin, but you'll have to watch to the end to see its purpose. Place your best guess as to what's being 3D-printed in the comments below!