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    In Brief: HBO to Offer Stand-Alone Streaming Service in 2015

    This is it! At a Time Warner investor meeting today, HBO's CEO Richard Plepler announced that the company will offer a stand-alone HBO streaming service (likely HBO Go) in 2015. Citing the growing number of US households that don't pay for cable or satellite television, but are broadband only--10 million and growing--Plepler said that it was time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO. The plan was only announced for the US market, with no word on pricing. What do you think they'll charge for a monthly HBO Go streaming subscription? What would you pay? My guess is $15 a month.

    Norman 7
    Google Play App Roundup: Autodesk SketchBook, Haegemonia: Legions of Iron, and Tower Dwellers

    You probably want more apps, but more than that, you want the right ones. That;s what we're here to deliver with the weekly Google Play App Roundup. This is where you'll find the best new and newly updated apps and games on Android. Just click the link to head right to Google Play

    This week there's a new drawing tool, a classic space RTS, and a new take on tower defense.

    Autodesk SketchBook

    Autodesk has had a number of drawing tools in the Play Store for a few years, but recently it decided to change up its offerings. The previously available Pro version of SketchBook has been pulled--as in, it's not even listed for previous buyers. In its place is a new freemium version of Sketchbook with a much more robust set of tools.

    If you bought the original SketchBook app, you really ought to request a refund through Google. Completely separate from the new app, the removal of the old version was not a very user-friendly decision. Now that we have that out of the way, I'll just say the new app is a marked improvement over the old one. It's the mobile version of AutoDesk's professional level desktop app for artists and designers. That version costs $60 for a license, but the full version of the Android app is only $3.99.

    Even if you don't want to upgrade, SketchBook offers a lot of good features. The interface is pushed toward the edges of the screen and is configurable, which is an improvement over the old SketchBook Pro, which could get in the way a bit. Toward the left are your basic tools like the brushes and erasers. There are 10 presets included in the free version too. This is a drawing app first and foremost, so there aren't going to be Photoshop-style editing tools. If you sign in with a free SketchBook account, the app will enable a few more features to make your doodles ever better including layer control, symmetry mode, and selection tools.

    You can use a finger or stylus to draw in SketchBook, but there's enhanced support for the pressure-sensitive S Pen on Samsung devices. This adds palm rejection support, but you can also have multitouch gestures (for zooming, rotating, and panning) on at the same time. There's synthetic pressure-sensitivity for everyone else, and it works fairly well. Basically, the larger the area covered by a touch input, the greater the assumed pressure. The ink laid down on the simulated canvas behaves like the real thing--you can blend and smudge it to produce the desired effects.

    That full version upgrade adds over 100 brushes to the app, and you can tweak them all to your liking. Line thickness, hardness, opacity, and more are all fully configurable. The enhanced selection tools will be familiar to anyone who has used Photoshop. There's a lasso, magic wand, and the traditional rectangle/ellipse tools. This is just scratching the surface of what's included in the full version upgrade. Serious artists (i.e. not me) will probably appreciate features like the custom guidelines and full Copic color library.

    The new SketchBook for Android is a great drawing app, but it's probably overkill for most people. If you're artistically inclined, though, $3.99 is a good price for everything you get.

    Show and Tell: Ultimate Ears Boom Speakers

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will tests Logitech's Ultimate Ears Boom, a step up from the mini Bluetooth speaker we reviewed last year. The larger speaker is durable and meant to be used on the road, like for camping trips. Its 15-hour battery can last a weeklong road trip, but it's also great for backyard use.

    Little Known Origins of 10 Common Household Objects

    If you’re anything like us, you spend your life surrounded by stuff. And most of that stuff you take for granted. But every object in your life had to come from somewhere, and the stories behind them can often be a little unusual. Today, we’ll delve deep into the origin stories of some of the most common household objects to see how they came to be.

    Snake Robot Helps Roboticists and Herpetologists

    Howie Choset's team built Elizabeth, a snake-like robot designed to explore parts of caves that were unsafe, or too small, for humans. Elizabeth performed really well in most situations, but it had problems climbing sandy slopes. As is often the case, the roboticists looked to the natural kingdom for engineering help. By mimicking the movement of sidewinder rattlesnakes, Elizabeth can now climb steep, sandy slopes. Ed Yong has a full writeup about the project.

    In Brief: Hacking Star Wars: Yoda Stories

    You don't have to be a video game programmer to appreciate this post by Zach Barth. Like many of us, Barth tinkered with computer game data files and modifications back in the late 90s. Remember how easy it was to dive into .pak files and swap out textures in games like Quake? Open up config files and change variables with Notepad? Well it's not so easy when a game's data file can only be read with a hex editor. That's the case with the LucasArts adventure game Star Wars: Yoda Stories, which stored all its assets in a 4MB file. Barth explains how he parsed through the data--a vast matrix of ASCII--to extract and color correct 2000 game character sprites and maps. I could only follow along a bit of his problem-solving, but what a fun experiment in data archeology!

    Norman 3
    Tested In-Depth: Windows 10 Technical Preview

    The next release of Windows is going to be...Windows 10. We install the Technical Preview and show off the its new features, including refined touch on the Desktop, new multiple Desktop management, and the return of the Start Menu! This is software we don't recommend running on production systems, but we like what we see so far!

    In Brief: Hands-Free Systems In Cars Are Still a Major Distraction

    The AAA and University of Utah released a pair of studies this week that attempted to quantify the the mental workload required to use voice-activated, in-car entertainment systems. For the first time, they used the actual systems found in cars, as well as Apple's Siri.

    Their results indicate that the voice-activated systems require enough mental processing on the part of the driver that they present a significant degradation to a driver's performance, even if he's able to keep his eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. The only good news is that the amount of degradation seemed directly tied to the number of errors on the part of the in-car system. Systems that had less trouble understanding what the user wanted rated better than systems that required correction. Toyota's Entune system rated best, while Chevy's MyLink was the worst in-car system. What about Siri? It caused the most distraction of anything that was tested. (via Ars Technica)

    Will
    Google Play App Roundup: MyScript Smart Note, Hellraid: The Escape, and Nimble Squiggles

    There are a great many apps in the Play Store. Some of them are good, and some of them are not so good. Which ones are which, though? The best way to find out is to check our Google Play App Roundup. Every week we bring you the best new, and newly updated apps in the store. Just click the links to head right to the Play Store and download everything for yourself.

    MyScript Smart Note

    I don't always need to calculate things on my phone or tablet, but sometimes I play with the MyScript Calculator just for fun. It uses incredibly good handwriting recognition to create and solve mathematical equations as you input them. Now the developer has turned that technology to the note taking arena with MyScript Smart Note. It's still scary accurate--it even understands things I have trouble reading immediately after I write them.

    You can have multiple notebooks to organize your thoughts in MyScript Smart Note, but the free version limits you to a single entry with 10 pages. Upon opening a notebook, the app presents you with two toolbars at the top of the screen. One is for writing input and the other is drawing. The only difference is that the app won't try to turn your drawings into letters. Both have adjustable colors and line thickness, but the writing panel also includes font options.

    When you start writing in MyScript Smart Note, the app will transcribe your words into text, but only behind the scenes. So you can still have your own handwriting, while also having the text searchable. Writing on a touchscreen is never quite as easy as writing on paper, so I find my handwriting is a little less legible, which is why the font transcription is so useful. Just pick a font from the list and Smart Note will turn your writing into standard text as you go.

    The app also has a series of gestures that can be used to edit text without resorting to any keyboard nonsense. For example, a strikethrough will delete something, and drawing a vertical line through a word will insert a space. But what about the actual writing? You can use your finger or a stylus. Devices with their own built-in styluses like the Galaxy Note series and Nvidia Shield will probably work best as they have proper palm rejection. Smart Note does include this functionality, but it's not perfect.

    If you buy the full version upgrade via in-app purchase for about $3, the app will gain unlimited notebooks and pages, drag and drop between notebooks, and data export to PDF, Evernote, and more. If you are taking a lot of notes, MyScript Smart Note is something you should consider incorporating into your life.

    Show and Tell: Astro A38 Bluetooth Headset

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares a new bluetooth headset that he's been testing: Astro Gaming's A38. While the company is known for its gaming headphones, these wireless headsets are made to be worn outside the home, with good active noise-cancellation. Here's what Will thinks about them after some use.

    Living with Photography: The Nonprofessional

    Surprise, time for a long overdue Living with Photography column--I missed writing this regularly. I'm returning this week to talk about something that's been on my mind for a while now--a question I've been struggling to wrap my thoughts around since the summer: what defines a professional photographer? Or more specifically: what's the line that separates an amateur and a professional photographer?

    This question started bothering me at this year's Comic-Con, where I met a bunch of Tested readers at our Incognito party. A few of you brought up the photo galleries I post on on the site (mostly praise--thanks!), and there was even a request to schedule a photo shoot back in San Francisco. I had to respectfully decline, because I honestly don't think I would be qualified to do so as a hired photographer. I really don't consider myself a professional photographer.

    In the work I do for the site and in my own time, I've taken thousands of photos of products, events, and people. Through that experience, there are types of photos that I'm well on my way to having spent the requisite 10,000 hours of practice taking. If you need a photo of a smartphone for an article, my brain can immediately pull up the dozen different ways to illustrate its features to a viewer. If you need a photo of a cosplayer posing outside the San Diego Convention Center on one of the last weekends of July, I'll know how to frame a few good shots. There are photos in my Lightroom library that I really like, and some that I think could be considered "professional" in quality. But I am not a professional photographer. No way. And every time I get a compliment from people I respect, I feel like an impostor.

    Which leads to my original question, which I want to discuss and explore with you guys: what defines a professional photographer? Maybe the best way to start is to consider the attributes that I don't think define a Professional with a capital P.

    Education is probably the most logical attribute belonging to a professional photographer. The study and practice of photography under an academic setting--whether it's a photojournalism class or at one of those photography seminars or retreats run by notable photogs. Education is great, and goes a long way to giving you a structured understanding of the important technical aspects of taking photos. I've always wanted to take a few weekend classes for myself. But I don't think it's a requirement. It's not essential. There are plenty of working photographers who are self-taught or never had any formal training.

    Ah, so maybe that phrase--working photographers--can point us in the right direction. Is a photographer a professional if they've been paid for their work? I suppose that in the strictest sense, making money from photography would define you as a professional. But I don't think that's the case, either. Paid photography says as much about the photographer as it does about the client purchasing the photos. It's subjective. And just because someone liked a photo you took enough to pay you to license it, doesn't necessarily mean you would be qualified to do the same kind of work again. I've sold two photos before, but they were far from my favorite photos--they just suited what the licensee needed. Just because you see a great photo on Flickr doesn't mean that the photographer would be capable of taking an assignment to produce the same caliber of work. Photography is fickle, and new technology has made it easier than ever to take a good photo without explicitly knowing what you're doing.

    That's not to say I don't take the photos I shoot for Tested seriously. When I shoot product photos for stories, YouTube thumbnails, or behind-the-scenes materials, my mind is absolutely "on-assignment." So can the definition of a professional photographer be something literal: a sense of responsibility and professionalism? Again, I think that falls short of a proper definition. Professionalism and a purposeful approach to photography are valued qualities of a professional photographer, but not what I would consider essential for professional practice. We're getting closer, I know it.

    How about that Gladwell-notion of mastery, then. Is the number of photos taken or how many hours you've spent practicing the craft that makes you a professional photographer? I don't doubt that 10,000 hours spent taking photos would give anyone a technical mastery of photography, but this is still talking about experience in terms of quantity, and not quality. There's likely a strong correlation between quantity and quality that converges as you reach a certain amount of experience, but this still is too abstract an association that doesn't satisfy a concrete personal definition. As someone who isn't a professional photographer, I want a objective definition that doesn't feel like an arbitrary goal.

    So after much thought, here's my proposed definition of a professional photographer--the standard I hold myself against as an amateur:

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (September 2014)

    So many phones, but most people only get the chance to decide which one to buy every year or two. It's a tough decision, and one you don't want to screw up. If you must have the best of the best, you've come to the right place. We're going to dissect the current state of the Android offerings on each of the big four US carrier and tell you what your best bet is.

    This month the Moto X is on the scene, the Note 4 is ready to ship, and LG continues to impress.

    AT&T

    There are a few new devices that have hit AT&T stores in the last few weeks, not least among them is the new Moto X. Not all carriers offer the device, so AT&T customers in particular should take a close look at this phone. Of course, the LG G3 is still a top phone on AT&T with a different feature set. So which one should you get?

    Let's start with the new Moto X, which just started shipping in the last week or so. The device looks similar to last year's Moto X, but the screen size has been bumped up from 4.7-inches to 5.2-inches. The resolution has increased as well to 1080p. The AMOLED panel used here is very similar to the one on the Galaxy S5, so it's very nice. The device isn't as good for one-handed use, but the curved design feels very comfortable to hold. The curved glass edges are also a joy.

    The new Moto X also has 2GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801, and a 2300mAh battery. The smallish battery is a sticking point for some--it won't be able to eke out multi-day battery life like the LG G3 can, but it will get you through a full day with a bit to spare. The more sophisticated metal casing and ample customization choices are awesome too. You can get different back/front colors, materials, and accents. The Moto Maker stuff is a big selling point.

    On the software side, the Moto X ships with Android 4.4.4 with a promised update to Android L as soon as it's ready. Motorola is keen on saying the X runs "pure" Android without andy heavy skins or unnecessary features. Motorola instead adds new features to Android that really make a difference in the way the device works. For example, Moto Display shows notifications on the screen while the device is asleep. You can even wave your hand over the phone to wake the screen up. It also listens for voice commands while asleep, whether it's charging or not. Other Android devices can only do that when charging.

    Motorola's 13MP camera is still not the finest sensor on an Android device, but it's better than it was last year. The stock interface should also make it easier for Motorola to get the phone updated to Android L in a timely manner. AT&T is offering the new Moto X for just $99 on contract.

    The other device you should consider is a big departure from the Moto X. The LG G3 is a phone that creeps solidly into phablet territory with a 5.5-inch 1440P LCD. The device does, however have very narrow bezels that makes it feel less gigantic than you'd expect. LG is also continuing with its tradition of placing the power and volume buttons on the back. They're really easily accessible, and the presence of this structure gives you a bit more leverage when holding the device.

    In Brief: Check Out This Amazing 3D Printed Samus Armor

    Before you do anything else, go look at the finished pictures of this amazing Metroid armor 3D printed by RPF user Talaaya. Go on, I'll wait.

    If you want to know the story behind such an incredible build, head over to her blog, where she shows a bunch of in-progress photos, including the project's origins as a pepakura build, the process for finishing the prints (she and Matt Serle used a pair of Zcorp 450 printers and did tons of finish work), painting, and using EL wire to create the appropriate accents. I hope I get a chance to see this incredible costume in person someday.

    Will 11
    Testing Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980 Video Card

    The final piece of Norm's new Haswell-E system build is the graphics card, and as it turns out, Nvidia has just released its new GeForce 900 series of GPUs. We run through what's new in the high-end Maxwell architecture, how the GTX 980 performs, and give recommendations for practical upgrades. What graphics card are you currently using, what screen resolution do you run at, and do you play games with AA turned on?