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    Testing: Apple's 12-Inch MacBook (2015)

    We'll be shooting and publishing our MacBook (2015) review later this week, but I wanted to jot down some thoughts from my testing and experience living with it for the past week and a half. Consider these testing notes a preview of my impressions on the laptop, and an opportunity for you to ask specific questions about it.

    For context, prior to the MacBook, I've been using Macs as my primary work computers since 2008, starting with a 15-inch MacBook Pro. In 2011, I switched to the 11-inch Air, which was a maxed-out Core-i7 model. I really loved that formfactor and a balance between portability and performance--it was lightweight and yet had near performance parity with the 13-inch Air and even the entry-level MacBook Pros. At the office, I would plug it into a 24-inch 1080p display and peripherals, while also able to use it while traveling as a full-fledged work computer for writing and photography.

    In 2013, I upgraded to the first Haswell model of the 11-inch Air, which had longer battery life and a zippy PCI-E SSD. Performance on that machine has been very satisfactory over the past two years, and I've even edited a few short videos on it in Adobe Premiere. The speed and usability of that stalwart machine is what I'm primarily basing the new MacBook on today. Just in terms of portability, the new MacBook and the refreshed 11-inch Air are the nearest competitors. Whether or not the differentiating factors warrant the significant price delta is what we'll be discussing in-depth in our review video. We'll talk about price last.

    So in terms of that differentiating factors, the features I'm most interested in are as follows: screen, performance, battery life, keyboard, and the single-port form factor. We'll start off with the display, since that's the one area where I think the new MacBook has a clear-cut advantage over its Air counterpart.

    Shooting and Editing a Mini-Documentary in One Day

    Last week I got the opportunity to fly out to B&H superstore, in New York, to take part in a three-day documentary workshop put on by filmmaker Philip Bloom. This It gave me a chance to freshen up on some skills, get together with other video professionals to talk shop, and wander the streets of New York to put together a mini-documentary.

    The structure of the class was pretty simple. The first day was all at B&H, talking, sharing, educating, as well as screening and dissecting numerous mini-docs, many filmed by Philip himself. The second day we were all out on our own, tasked with finding an interesting story to capture (we would also have to edit the entire piece that day). The third day was a regroup back in the classroom to review the 25 films with Philip Bloom, Peter Reynolds, and Bill Weir, host of CNN's The Wonder List.

    The subject I found was a guitar maker by the name of Rick Kelly, out of Carmine Street Guitars. We talked for about 30-45 minutes on various topics, including the guitars he makes out of the reclaimed lumber from New York City. While this in itself is a fascinating story, I was really interested in him as a personality—why he hand makes guitars, what's it like teaching apprentices, and how he runs his shop—which you'll see distilled in this four-minute piece. Let me know what you think!

    Milling Time: The (Near) Future of Desktop CNC Milling

    Over the past month and a half, we've explored a variety of desktop CNC options, including an affordable ready-to-cut mill, a build-it-yourself hackable kit, and a pricey 4 axis machine. But what does the (not too distant) future of desktop CNC milling look like?

    Things are moving very fast these days. It seems every week there is another new CNC mill project on Kickstarter--a little reminiscent of the desktop 3D printer boom. In the next few months, half of the machines listed below are expecting to start shipping. And new versions of established machines are already coming our way. Needless to say, there are a lot of options out there. I've read up on most of them, and the following mills are the ones I'm most excited about.

    Note: aside from the Othermill Version 2, I have not worked with any of these machines in person, yet. What you are about to read is mostly based on information from the companies, secondhand accounts, or are just my initial takes on what I've seen so far.

    Othermill Version 2

    Photo credit: Other Machine Co.

    ITP got the latest Othermill a few weeks ago, and it has already become a key part of our shop. It does everything the Othermill Version 1 does with some nice additional features. The cutting spindle is more powerful and cuts aluminum beautifully. This model is a bit more enclosed, and this makes a big difference in noise and mess. And now there are T-slots on the mill bed, perfect for fixtures and jigs.

    It's available for purchase now, and costs $2,200.

    Google Play App Roundup: Overam, Does not Commute, and Beatdown

    There are far too many apps flowing into the Play Store on a daily basis to find all the good stuff yourself. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup seeks 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.

    This week we've got a new photo editor with a cool vibe, a game about commuting, and a good old-fashioned beat-em-up.


    Taking photos is definitely one of the primary uses for a smartphone these days. In fact, most people don't even buy dedicated cameras any more. There are plenty of apps that will help you edit photos to make them look a little nicer, but Overam just makes them more funky. I can get behind that.

    As with most photo editing apps, you can use a photo you've taken previously, or you can use the app itself to take a photo. If you think you might want to use said photo for anything else ever, you might want to take it with the built-in camera app from your device. Overam will apply the filters and overlays to the original image when taken with its camera.

    If you choose an existing photo, the app gives you an opportunity to crop it. The default mode is custom aspect ratio, but you can also limit it to certain ratios, which is handy if you're planning to share to Instagram (kids still use that, right?). Overam's distinctive image manipulations are based on geometric shapes. There are the more standard squares, pentagons, and trapezoids, as well as more exotic barbell and Pac Man shapes. You can set the position, rotation, and scale of the shape as you like. This serves as the base of your image transformations.

    Along the bottom of the editing interface are buttons for the various effects. The main event after adding the shape is the blur effect. This is applied to either the inside or outside of the shape, which you can still move around and re-scale at any point using swiping and multitouch. Some of the blur effects are a little generic, but the ones that apply transformations are neat--like the stacked overlay one or the expanding blur in the screenshot there. You also have filters, glow effects, and color overlays. All of this can be applied outside or inside the shape, whatever fits with your artistic vision.

    Again, these photos look cool, but they aren't archival quality. You can probably guess that by how fast the filters are applied (really fast). Even a full crop of a high-resolution photo will only be about 1200 pixels high. That's fine if you're sharing it online, though.

    Overam is free to use, as long as you don't mind an ad hovering at the bottom of the screen. You can remove it for $0.99, and that's it. There are no paid filters or additional in-app purchases.

    Testing the Apple Watch: How it Works

    We're starting to test the new Apple Watch for our long-term use review. Today, we run through some common questions about its basic features, how app integration works, connectivity with our phones, and Siri functionality that you can't demo in stores. What questions do you have about the Apple Watch?

    FPV Racing Quadcopter Raw Practice Session

    Charpu, who we interviewed last year and taught us how to build our first racing quad, posted footage of a recent practice session in an empty park. His aerial control and flight speed are incredible as always. Make sure to play it back at 1080p 60fps!

    Tested: Self-Balancing Electric Unicycle

    We've been testing the Focus Designs Self-Balancing Unicycle, which you may have seen Adam ride on an episode of Mythbusters. The latest V3 model can speed up to 12 miles per hour and ride uphills, all without any pedaling. Will's become proficient at riding the SBU, and shows us how it works!

    Google Announces Project Fi Wireless Service

    Google is now selling cellular internet service. Kind of. Today, they announced Project Fi, a MVNO service that taps into multiple-cellular networks as well as Wi-Fi. As a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, Google doesn't own the network it's selling service on--Project Fi piggybacks on Sprint and T-Mobile, and the trick is that compatible phones and SIM cards can seamlessly switch between the networks and open Wi-Fi hotspots without a break in connection (with data encrypted), even if you're making a phone call or streaming video. The catch is that this kind of network switching only works with certified hardware, of which Google's own Nexus 6 is the only device to support at launch. Here's Google's promo video for the service, which doesn't go into many details of how it works:

    Splitting data connections between multiple networks can theoretically increase coverage, but the real advantage here is pricing. Project Fi starts at $20 a month for unlimited talk, text, and Wi-Fi tethering, and cellular data is priced at $10 a GB. Google has worked out a deal so that you're only charged based on how much cellular data you use--so you'll be refunded for unused data, prorated. For example, if you sign up for 3GB of data for $50 a month ($20+$30), but only use 800MB, you'll be credited $22 at the end of the billing cycle. Project Fi will also come with a companion app for data usage tracking. Learn more about Project Fi at its website, where you can also request an invite to test the service.

    How to Get into Hobby RC: Testing AS3X Artificial Stabilization

    Of all the recent innovations in RC technology (and there have been many), one of the most substantial has been the development of artificial stabilization systems. They began several years ago as 1-axis gyros intended to tame the often unwieldy yaw behavior of RC helicopters. Now these devices are offered in 3-axis designs that can also assist the pilots of multi-rotors and all types of airplanes.

    As artificial stabilization systems have become more refined, capable, and affordable, they have gained wide acceptance in the RC community. Many pilots initially viewed stabilization systems as a crutch for ham-fisted pilots. I think we've turned the corner, and the majority of RC modelers now recognize artificial stabilization as a useful tool with potential applications for pilots of all skill levels.

    In previous articles, I provided overviews of the SAFE (Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope) system in the HobbyZone Delta Ray, Blade 350 QX2, and Blade 350 QX3. I have also reviewed the finer points of the Open Pilot CC3D unit. Over a series of articles, we will be looking at some of the other stabilization systems available today. We'll begin with a peek at the AS3X (Artificial Stabilization 3-Axis) system from Horizon Hobby.

    What is AS3X?

    As I began mapping out my plan to write about AS3X, I quickly realized that there are way too many different aspects of the system to cover in one article. So I decided to pare it down to its simplest form and provide a broad overview. Consider this an introduction. If there is interest, I will put together a follow-up article that explains some of the customization options that are available.

    AS3X works to keep the airplane on its current commanded path, compensating for the wind's impact on the model.

    The intent of AS3X is somewhat unique among stability systems. It is not meant to sense the horizon and level the wings to prevent a crash, as some other systems do. So there's no panic button to rescue your model from a piloting mistake. Rather, AS3X works to keep the airplane on its current commanded path, whatever it might be. If the integrated gyros sense a change in orientation due to an outside force (wind), the system provides corrective control inputs to the servos. This makes it seem as if the wind is having no impact on the model.

    With few exceptions, modelers typically want their aircraft to be as light as possible. Lightly-loaded models take off and land slower, require less power to stay airborne, climb faster, stall less harshly…the list of benefits goes on and on. The prime drawback is that the lighter a given model is, the more easily its flight path is disturbed by wind.

    Living with Photography: Adobe Lightroom 6 Review

    The image management and editing options for enthusiast and professional photographers is fairly limited. There are a few really good open-source applications for processing RAW photos, but with the demise of Apples Aperture, Adobe's Lightroom is the most popular choice. It's become the go-to program for photographers to need process the hundreds or even thousands of photos from day and event shoots, and it's what I've been using for all of my photo work since I got my DSLR. I've said it before: post-processing is an essential half of the photography equation that completes the picture. And for new photographers, it shouldn't be a daunting process--smartphones and apps like Instragram have trained a generation of young shooters the basic language of post-processing.

    Photoshop may have better name recognition and be more powerful as an image-editor, but Lightroom is my preferred app because it puts the editing tools in the context of a photography workflow. It streamlines the digital photo development process to quickly turn the photos you take into the images you want to keep or publish. And with the latest release of Lightroom, Adobe is putting more of those tools you'd typically have to run in Photoshop and incorporating them into the Lightroom workflow.

    The last major release of Lightroom was version 5 back in 2013. That release brought two features that have been essential to the way I use the program: Smart Previews and radial gradients. I've written about how the former allowed me to use Lightroom across multiple computers, and the latter for compensating for fill lighting on location shoots without the use of a flash. Last year's Lightroom update was less impressive, emphasizing camera compatibility, the launch of mobile apps, and the Lightroom website. It honestly felt more of a push for the Creative Cloud subscription services than traditional "box" features.

    This latest release doesn't feel as significant as 2013, and is a mix of new photo editing tools and mobile/service enhancements. The biggest difference for my workflow so far are the performance boosts in editing and exporting--it's genuinely speedy. I've been running Lightroom 6 (or CC 2015, if you're a Creative Cloud subscriber) for the past week on both my MacBook Air and desktop PC--here's what I think of its new features.

    The Best Smart Thermostat

    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.

    Three years after the Nest Learning Thermostat's debut, the second-gen Nest continues to offer the best combination of style and substance of any thermostat. Its software and apps are solid and elegant, it learns your routines and the particulars of your house, and it's easy to change the temperature from your phone or computer so you won't have to get up from your cozy spot on the couch. It's (still) the best smart thermostat for most people, though the competition is catching up.

    Why a smart thermostat?

    If you upgrade to any smart thermostat after years with a basic one, the first and most life-changing difference will be the ability to control it from your phone. No more getting up in the middle of the night to turn up the A/C. No dashing back into the house to lower the heat before you go on errands (or vacation). No coming home to a sweltering apartment—you just fire up the A/C when your airplane touches down.

    The fact is, a cheap plastic thermostat with basic time programming—the kind we've had for two decades—will do a pretty good job at keeping your house at the right temperature without wasting a lot of money, as long as you put in the effort to program it. But that's the thing: Most people don't.

    Get a smart thermostat if you're interested in saving more energy and exerting more control over your home environment. If you like the prospect of turning on your heater when you're on your way home from work or having your home's temperature adjust intelligently without having to spend time programming a schedule, these devices will do the job. And if your thermostat is placed in a prominent place in your home, well, these devices just look cooler than those beige plastic rectangles of old.

    Engineering the Ideal Robotic Fish

    From Motherboard: "When NYU's Professor Maurizio Porfiri looks at fish, he sees more than just a bunch of aquatic animals - he sees an animal that could someday replace the rat as the key to better studying and understanding human and animal behaviors in laboratory research. But fish can be unpredictable, which is why Porfiri has dedicated his life's work to building the ultimate robotic fish." Read more about Porfiri's research here.

    In Brief: Ikea's Concept Kitchen 2025 Exhibit

    Ikea's vision of the future kitchen isn't based on furniture that's easier to assemble, but furniture that's more versatile. In its Concept Kitchen 2025 project, the swedish retailer collaborated with design students and design firm Ideo to produce four prototype pieces for a future where home living space is anticipated to be scarce. A multi-purpose projection-mapped table, a grey water recycling sink, a smart recycling system, and sensor-imbued shelving system populate this kitchen. Ikea's video showing off these concepts is embedded below. (h/t Gizmodo)

    Android Wear's Second Big Update Adds Wi-Fi Support

    Google today announced a that its Android Wear smartwatch software would be getting a major update in the coming weeks--the second since the platform's launch last year. All seven of the current Android Wear devices will get some of these features, which include a streamlined app list, wrist-flicking gestures, emoji drawing (to send canned symbols, not actual sketches), and always-on apps (like the low-power mode of the watch face). Watches that have a Wi-Fi radio (including many existing models) will get Wi-Fi pairing support, meaning the watch doesn't have to be close to the phone to get updates, as long as they're both connected to the internet.

    Wi-Fi pairing is the feature I'm most excited about, but I would still prefer Google optimize Android Wear for smoother performance over adding new features. After using the Apple Watch in store for a little bit, the UI on my Asus Zenwatch feels sluggish. LG's Watch Urbane will be the first device to get this update, and I expect that rollout to other devices to be just as slow as the last major software patch.

    Google Play App Roundup: Trepn Profiler, Space Marshals, and Implosion

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

    This week Qualcomm demystifies your phone's hardware, there's a prison break in space, and a battle suit gets serious.

    Trepn Profiler

    Qualcomm is mostly known as a maker of ARM chips, cellular radios, and other bits of silicon that power many phones and tablets. However, the company has also produced a few system tools of Android. These are usually exclusive to Snapdragon chips made by Qualcomm, but the new Trepn Profiler app runs on all chips to help you take a closer look at your hardware and system performance.

    Trepn Profiler includes six different system monitoring tools. You get a CPU frequency overlay, mobile data analysis, performance graph, CPU usage monitor, CPU load overlay, and network activity monitor. Several of these profiling presets can be used in the app as a way to monitor system activity while you do other things. For example, you can start a profile for CPU usage, and use your phone normally for a few minutes. When you check back with Trepn Profiler, you can see if an app you don't need is eating up a chunk of your CPU with background processes.

    Most of the tests in Trepn Profiler can be activated in overlay mode, which positions a floating chart or graph on top of whatever you're doing. This is great for seeing what your phone or tablet is up to internally while you're actively using it. The CPU tests are particularly cool in overlay mode as you get a small graph for each main core in your device. Each of the graphs can be collapsed and moved around to keep them out of the way temporarily.

    This is just the simple "presets" mode of Trepn Profiler. More technical users and developers might want to dig around in the advanced mode, which allows you to build your own presets to see how an app or the total system is working. When you create one of these custom presets, there are more than 30 different data points that can be logged including individual CPU core frequencies, memory use, screen state, battery power, and more. There are also a few extra automation and code auditing features for developers who are testing apps.

    The app has a persistent notification when a profile is active, which you'll want to watch for. Accidentally leaving Trepn running in the background will chew through battery. It should shut down fine as long as you don't leave any floating windows or background profiles active. Trepn Profiler is a little more complicated than other system diagnostic tools, but there's a lot more power too. The app is completely free in the Play Store.

    How and Why of Aluminum Cans

    This video is interesting on two fronts. It explains the physics and logistics forces that shaped the design of the ubiquitous aluminum can with incredible information density. (via kottke)