Impress your friends and family by doing some high-tech cooking for the holidays! We explain how sous vide cooking works, test the $200 Anova immersion circulator, and walk you through the steps to cook a perfect steak.
Impress your friends and family by doing some high-tech cooking for the holidays! We explain how sous vide cooking works, test the $200 Anova immersion circulator, and walk you through the steps to cook a perfect steak.
The latest amazing invention out of MIT's research labs is a 3D imaging nanocamera in the vein of Microsoft's Kinect, with one key difference: it's smarter. In 2011, MIT researchers invented a $500,000 camera that could track the movement of light in a scene at approximately 1 trillion frames per second. This camera costs only about $500, but can achieve a similar effect. The camera's advantage over Kinect comes from the types of objects it can accurately scan, or measure. Movement or transparency can throw off the Kinect's readings, but they won't affect the nanocamera.
"The camera is based on 'Time of Flight' technology like that used in Microsoft’s recently launched second-generation Kinect device, in which the location of objects is calculated by how long it takes a light signal to reflect off a surface and return to the sensor," writes MIT News. Because we know the speed of light, Time of Flight makes it simple to calculate location. Unless something interferes--like smoke or a transparent or translucent object, for example. MIT News explains "Changing environmental conditions, semitransparent surfaces, edges, or motion all create multiple reflections that mix with the original signal and return to the camera, making it difficult to determine which is the correct measurement."
The MIT team figured out how to perform calculations that would account for those issues. Associate professor Ramesh Raskar explains "We use a new method that allows us to encode information in time. So when the data comes back, we can do calculations that are very common in the telecommunications world, to estimate different distances from the single signal.”
Because the code is the major breakthrough, the hardware used in the nanocamera is pretty much off the shelf.
Another team member compared the technique to the algorithms used to unblur photographs that were caused by shaky hands. Adobe first showed off that feature for Photoshop in 2011. In the nanocamera, it's the paths light takes between the camera and the objects it encounters that are deblurred. The code applied to the data that comes back effectively isolates different paths of light, so an image that would be blurred or confused by a translucent object comes out clean and clear.
As for why it's so cheap compared to MIT's last supercamera--because the code is the major breakthrough, the hardware used in the nanocamera is pretty much off the shelf. Simple LEDs are used to emit constant light pulses to survey a scene.
Check out MIT's video below for a look at the camera in action.
There are lots of ways to stream your gaming session online, and we’ve talked to a bunch of prominent members of the streaming community to get their recommendations for the easiest way to get started. Their recommendation for the best flexible, powerful, and free way: streaming on Twitch.tv using the Open Broadcaster Software. Getting this set up isn’t difficult, and we’re going to walk you through the process to make sure you get every setting optimized. Our goal is to broadcast the game itself, plus video and audio of the player. That's you! Well, me, for the purposes of this guide. Here's what you need, and how to set it up.
Encoding and streaming your game, your voice, and your ugly mug takes processing power and RAM. As I mentioned in my last story, Twitch recommends an Intel Core i5-2500K CPU (or "AMD equivalent") or higher, plus 8GB of RAM. This is to ensure you have enough processing power and memory to encode while playing your game. djWHEAT says, "You could stream using lower-rated hardware, but the quality output will suffer." You also need a graphics card powerful enough to play the game, and an internet connection with enough upstream bandwidth to stream your video. The Open Broadcaster Software website has an estimator to help you figure out what streaming settings to use. The higher the resolution and the frame rate, the more CPU- and memory-intensive the encoding process will be.
I'm using a desktop PC with an i5-2500K, 16GB DDR3/1600, Windows 8.1, and a GeForce GTX 680. My upstream bandwidth is about 6Mbps. In order to get decent frame rates, I'm going to aim for a broadcast resolution of 1280x720. This isn't the resolution I'll be gaming at, just the resolution I'm sending to Twitch's servers. Further down I'll discuss how increasing your resolution impacts your computer's performance.
A high-end 1080p phone for $350 off contract sounds too good to be true, but here it is. We sit down for an in-depth conversation about the hardware in Google's new Nexus 5 smartphone, what's different about Android 4.4 KitKat, and how the Nexus 5 compares with phones like the Nexus 4 and HTC One.
Google wants Android cameras to be better. While camera quality varies from one Android device to another, Android phones have consistently been a step behind Apple and Nokia phones when it comes to image quality and low-light performance. The recently released Nexus 5 has been criticized for poor color contrast and slow focusing, especially in low light. In our testing, it came up short of the HTC One's camera.
Google wants to make things better. And not just for the Nexus 5. Google is now talking about two features recently built into Android's source code: RAW support and burst mode shooting. Google spokeswoman Gina Scigliano told CNET "Android's latest camera HAL (hardware abstraction layer) and framework supports raw and burst-mode photography. We will expose a developer API in a future release to expose more of the HAL functionality."
In other words, the HDR+ mode available in the Nexus 5 (or the mode's underlying technology), which supports burst photography, will eventually be available for other phonemakers to incorporate in their own customized versions of Android. HTC's Sense could incorporate Google's camera software improvements instead of making their own. Recent Android releases have allowed for more control over the camera software, making it easier for third-party apps to use the Android camera and make solid third-party camera applications. For the first few years Android was on the market, the camera app was less accessible, and resulted in some pretty terrible camera software.
Depending on how it supports raw photographs, the new Android API could result in far better-looking photos. Google hasn't offered a timetable for when the new API will be available. Retooled image processing could save the Nexus 5 camera from mediocrity. Sensor and lens quality still play a huge part in photography, of course, but improved image processing can only be good news. And if Google can't make the camera better by itself, there's a strong chance that someone else--perhaps HTC or Samsung--will run with the new API and make the best Android camera software yet.
If you want to get the best mirrorless camera and are willing to pay for that excellence, the way to go is the Olympus OM-D E-M1. Its combination of speed, rock-hard build quality, optical excellence, a huge lens library and an advanced control scheme makes it perfect for the high-end enthusiast or pro. It’s $1,400 for just the body of the camera, but it’s worth the investment.
The mirrorless camera market right now is going through a blossoming of high-end devices. Over just the last couple of months, a number of pricey and excellent cameras have been announced that promise to push mirrorless cameras more firmly into the world of professional shooters. We now have tougher bodies, larger sensors and more lenses. Where mirrorless cameras for a while were pushing up against the low-end DSLRs, now they’re aggressively going after the much bigger and better models, too.
With all these new models popping up, our previous pick of the OM-D E-M5 ($1,230 with lens, $1000 body only) has been eclipsed, and we need to figure out which camera is now the best. Despite falling in rank, the OM-D E-M5 is still a very good camera; if you don’t see yourself benefiting from pro-oriented features like super-tough build quality and external control dials, it remains our pick for a step-down option.
The time has come again to shine a light into all the shadowy corners of Google Play to find the best new and newly updated stuff for your phone or tablet. The Google Play App Roundup is where you can come every week to see what's cool on Android, and this week is no exception. Click on the links to head right to Google Play and download for yourself.
This week we've got an app that gives you more privacy control, a top racing sim, and a game with a ninja in it.
Google introduced an interesting feature called App Ops with version 4.3, but then seemed to do away with it in KitKat 4.4. App Ops is a hidden system menu in Android that allows you to see and control the permissions used by each app. This menu is easy to launch in 4.3, but it has been hiding in 4.4. Now developer Color Tiger has found a way to bring it out, and is beginning to graft new features onto it for rooted users of Android 4.3 and 4.4.
Before we get into the app, let's talk about how App Ops works. Each Android app you install has to declare permissions. Sometimes an app doesn't need any permissions, a live wallpaper for instance. A system tool, on the other hand, will have a ton of permissions for accessing the SD card, reading the phone state, reading contacts, and more. During installation, you get to see the permissions, but there is no way to revoke them for an app and still install it.
That's where App Ops comes in. This is in the open source version of Android, so it should be hidden away in most devices. It's a settings screen split into swipable columns for different permission categories like personal, messaging, location, and so on. Each screen lists the apps that take advantage of it. You can tap on any of them and see a full list of the permissions they have, as well as the last time each one was used. The thing to note here is that you can hit the toggle next to each permission to turn it off without affecting anything else the app does.
The App Ops app from Color Tiger is notable because it can launch App Ops in both Android 4.3 and 4.4 (where we thought it was missing). This allows you to go through an kill off permissions as you like, even though it's not officially supported. In addition to the regular App Ops, this app can install the developer's new App Ops eXtended package on rooted devices.
App Ops eXtended is going to be expanded over time to add new features, but right now it includes a search interface to find the app you're looking to reign in without digging through the columns. There are also paid upgrades to add batch grant/revoke ops/permissions, notifications to let you know if your fiddling has blocked any features of the currently in-use app, and the ability to disable certain permissions system wide, Also coming are Tasker integration and widgets.
App Ops from Color Tiger gives basic App Ops access back to Android 4.4 users, and will make this functionality much more robust for those with root. Keep an eye on this app -- it's going to be a very big deal.
Back in early 2010, I flew to Orlando, Florida for the CTIA wireless convention to see the debut of two big smartphones. Big in the sense that they were notable, but also their physical size. The first was Sprint's EVO 4G, a 4.3-inch third-generation Android phone that some billed as the iPhone 4 killer. 4.3-inches was considered massive for a smartphone screen back then, before Apple shifted the conversation to screen resolution and pixel density. And while the Android community had high hopes for the HTC-made EVO 4G, another big phone shown at CTIA became more of a joke. That was the Dell Streak, otherwise known as the Mini 5. With a then unheard-of 5-inch screen, it was more punchline than phenom--a tablet that you can make phone calls on!
But a 5-inch phone today is no joke, as demonstrated by Samsung's popular Note phones and its Galaxy S4, which has a 5-inch 1080p screen. iPhone users like myself were eased into larger screens with the 4-inch iPhone 5. And as I transitioned from that to the 4.7-inch Nexus 4 and HTC One phones, incremental bumps in screen sizes were offset by the phones themselves getting smaller overall. It's reached a point where Google's Nexus 5 is almost exactly the same size as the HTC One, even though its equipped with a larger screen and a faster processor. And it's a far cry from the bulkiness of the Dell Streak, both in build and billing. Nexus 5 has no pretensions of being a tablet or even an alternative to one. What LG and Google have made is a showcase of the best internal hardware and software that an Android phone has to offer today, sold at an ultra-competitive off-contract price. But that doesn't necessarily make buying it a no-brainer.
I've been using the Nexus 5 for the past few weeks, replacing the HTC One that got me to convert from iOS to Android. The differences between these two phones are very incremental, and by and large the things that make the Nexus 5 a technically superior phone to the HTC One don't matter in day to day use. But those attributes are all worth talking about, especially in their relation to last year's popular Nexus 4 (which has been discontinued).
We'll start with the screen, which is the feature that stands out most. LG, the manufacturer of the Nexus 5, managed to put a 4.95-inch 1080p screen (445ppi) into a chassis that has the same dimensional footprint as the HTC One, which "only" has a 4.7-inch 1080p screen. They did that by cutting away as much unnecessary bezel space as possible. And with its edge-to-edge front panel Gorilla glass, The Nexus 5 has this remarkable look of being almost all-screen in the front. No speaker grill, no physical buttons, no other flourishes. Sitting next to the Nexus 5, the HTC One's aluminum bezels and buttons really stand out. Optical bonding on the Nexus 5's LCD panel is also excellent, and the glossy black bezel helps hide any depth--screen images look like they're pressed up right on the glass. In terms of panel quality, the IPS LCD used here is sharp, bright, and colorful. The slight drop in pixel density between the HTC One and the Nexus 5 doesn't uncover any text aliasing, though I found the color temperature of the Nexus 5 slightly warmer than that on the HTC One's S-LCD panel. In a direct comparison of high-resolution photos taken with my DSLR, I thought the color saturation on the HTC One's screen was slightly more pleasing. Both are significant improvements over the Nexus 4's 1280x768 screen.
The larger screen is also a way to show off Android 4.4 KitKat, which comes installed on the Nexus 5. KitKat is slowly making its way to other Nexus and Google Play devices, with HTC promising that One users will get KitKat by the end of January. This isn't a review of KitKat, since I'm not as well-versed in the minutia of the operating system as experts who've been using Android from the start. But of the user-facing changes, most are net positive. The removal of opaque notification and navigation bars makes the default launcher look beautiful with edge-to-edge wallpaper. Google Now is now built-in as a dedicated home screen on the far left, so it's even easier to access at a glance. Google Search on the Nexus 5 can also be activated with a voice command in the home screen without tapping any buttons, though it doesn't have the same passive listening functionality as the Moto X. And the integration of Google's knowledge graph with the dialer for making phone calls to businesses (and caller ID) is the right kind of synergy that doesn't feel forced.
It's weird to think of television being permanently lost. Today we can access modern television broadcasts and movies in so many formats, on so many devices, that video feels eternal. But for decades, television broadcasts, particularly news broadcasts, weren't recorded or preserved. Many of them are gone forever, unless they were preserved by private citizens like Marion Stokes. Fastco has the story of Marion Stokes, who began recording news broadcasts onto VHS tapes in 1977. Once she started, she never stopped.
Stokes died in late 2012, but she left behind a staggering archive of 140,000 VHS tapes packed into four shipping containers. Her legacy is a vast archive of television news, potentially totaling somewhere in the vicinity of 800,000 hours. Before she began religiously archiving the news, Stokes was a librarian and co-produced a television show. Recording the news eventually became the cornerstone of her life--she would run as many as 8 television and VCRs in her home at once, feeding in new tapes every six hours.
It's the kind of obsession that could have easily gone to waste after Stokes passed away; those tapes could've been trashed or left to rot away in storage. Thankfully, that didn't happen. Roger Macdonald, who oversees the television branch of the Internet Archive, found out about the collection and reached out to Stokes' son. Now the Stokes estate is shipping the 140,000 VHS tapes to the Archive in Richmond, California, where it will take years to digitize them all. Hopefully, that will eventually lead to the entire collection being available online.
John Lynch, the director of the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, explained why Stokes' collection is such an important slice of history. Fastco writes: "Early broadcast news isn’t easy to find, Lynch says, because while networks often did a good job of archiving the footage they used to make the show, they were less meticulous about saving the show itself--a pattern he attributes to 'a sense of modesty on their part.' More recent news reports are more likely to be available from stations themselves, but stations typically charge an access fee."
When cable news became popular, Stokes recorded CNN, Fox, CSPAN, MSNBC and CNBC, catching as much of the 24-hour news cycle as she could. As the Internet Archive digitizes her collection, hopefully we'll be able to see more than the news about any given historical event--we'll be able to see how many different news organizations covered that event, and potentially trace the impact those broadcasts had on public perception and popular culture.
Sometimes it seems like technology’s moving faster than we can ever hope to keep up with it. In just a few generations, we’ve seen incredible strides forward in everything from medicine to entertainment. Today, we’ll try to provide illustrations of exactly what we mean by comparing early takes on common devices we use every day with their modern, high-tech counterparts.
In the WipEout sci-fi racing games, angular futuristic ships fly through through tightly wound race courses, blasting one another with rockets and shockwaves and other weapons. When that damage adds up, ships can detour into the pit lane, a glowing energy field that recharges ships in the few seconds it takes them to traverse its length. It's wonderfully quick and effortless, because WipEout is a fast-paced racing game. But wouldn't it be cool if you could do the same thing with a Tesla, or another electric car?
Researchers at North Carolina State University think so. They're experimenting with ways to provide wireless charging to electric vehicles while those vehicles are in motion. Instead of plugging your car in, or precisely positioning it over an inductive charging pad, you'd just drive. Chargers located underneath the road would charge the car as you truck along.
"The system uses a specialized receiver that induces a burst of power only when a vehicle passes over a wireless transmitter. Initial models indicate that placing charging coils in 10 percent of a roadway would extend the driving range of an EV from about 60 miles to 300 miles," Technology Review writes. With this kind of charging system, magnetic coils emit a field that's picked up by another set of coils embedded in the car. Sensors ensure that the two coils are lined up before charging. At least, that's how it works with stationary pads.
"Precisely controlling when the roadway coils produce a magnetic field is important for safety reasons; if the field misses the car’s receiving coils, it could attach to parts of the car or attract stray objects," writes Technology Review. The researchers hope to build wireless chargers that can provide up to 50 kilowatts of power, the equivalent of direct current fast chargers. Of course, there are still some massive obstacles between this technology existing and a realistic implementation. How many miles of road would have to be outfitted with chargers to make this technology practical?
Thankfully, there are some other technologies in the pipe that will make EV batteries better. The batteries needed to power electric vehicles are bulky and expensive, and improving those batteries would make electric vehicles much more affordable (and much more practical for people who live in rural areas).
In 2012, it was GIF. In 2009, unfriend. In 2005, podcast. The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year often represents an important or ubiquitous piece of Internet culture, usually at the point it has grown out of Internet slang and into everyday life. Oxford Dictionaries continued that trend this week by unanimously picking "selfie" as the 2013 Word of the Year. Time to get your phone out and snap a pic for Instagram--selfies are officially recognized, now.
This isn't Oxford Dictionaries' way of recognizing selfie as a word for the first time. The word is already in Oxford Dictionaries Online, and got a few days in the spotlight last year in a Words on the Radar feature. The Word of the Year award recognizes that selfie is now a prominent word.
"By [Oxford Dictionaries'] data, 'selfie'—which they define as 'a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media'—saw a 17,000 increase in usage over the past year," writes Vice. Katherine Martin, the head of dictionaries at Oxford University Press, told Vice "this is a word that’s been around for a decade, but it’s suddenly become a mainstream word. That’s something that happens a lot. To take another word that everyone’s been talking about this year, 'twerk,' that goes back to the 1990s, but there’s barely a whisper of evidence for it until the past couple of years.”
Oxford Dictionaries traced the first known usage of selfie back to a 2002 Internet post made on an Australian forum:
2002 ABC Online (forum posting) 13 Sept. “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”
Apparently we all have Australia to thank for popularizing the ie abbreviation, in this case. Some people have tried out selfy, but it's never stuck.
The lexigraophical science (and data) behind the Word of the Year competition is more intense than you'd expect when the end result is picking a word that's plastered all over social media. Vice writes that "researchers start with something called the Oxford Dictionaries New Monitor Corpus, a programme that collects some 150 million words in use every month by scanning new web content. In addition to tracking how often a word is used, it analyzes how it’s being employed—in what context, register, and so on."
That scan keeps track of what words are in popular use and has the ability to spot up-and-comers like selfie. But beyond those 150 million, Oxford Dictionaries maintains a corpus of two billion words, which is, well, a lot.
Remember when leaks of Logitech's iOS game controller went around the web in early June, just days after Apple's reveal of iOS? Turns out that those controllers were part of an Apple developer outreach program to get game devs educated about the new gamepad API support introduced in iOS 7. That Logitech gamepad has finally been announced. It's called PowerShell (great name), and it's a $100 accessory that wraps around an iPhone 5, 5S, or 5th generation iPod Touch to give you physical buttons for supported games. It also doubles as a battery extender with a built-in 1500mAh battery, all connected through the Lightning port. Logitech stopped by our office to bring a near-final build of the controller for us to try out.
Two things make this controller notable and different from previous hardware gaming accessories for iOS. First is the use of iOS 7's game controller API, which means it sends signals through the Lightning connector instead of over Bluetooth. That theoretically is more power efficient for both controller and phone, and also minimizes latency--and indeed, we didn't notice any lag. Second is the use of analog buttons. The PowerShell has a D-pad, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, and a pause button. Kind of like the Super NES controller, but a fair bit wider. There are no analog thumbsticks for dual-stick shooters, but the games we played--Air Wings and Pac-Man--were responsive and easy to play with the accessory. (Logitech's blog has a list of PowerShell supported games, which includes Bastion). The face buttons didn't have a lot of throw (how much you can depress it), nor a lot of resistance. The d-pad was also a little bit mushy.
The back of the PowerShell, which we couldn't photograph because it wasn't final, has a nice rubberized texture and finger-conforming grip. The cradle held both the iPhone 5 and iPod Touch securely, even with aggressive waving around to try to knock it loose. Logitech also put the Lightning connector on a hinge so it doesn't snap when you remove the Phone. Ejecting the iOS device is just a matter of pushing it out of the cradle from a hole in the rear of the pad, a slot that also lets you still use the iPhone's camera. There are other smartly designed features, like a notch to press the iPhone's power button, holes to route audio from the speakers, and an audio dongle for access to the recessed audio jack. PowerShell charges its battery over micro USB, and will charge your iPhone/iPod Touch when it's plugged in as well.
The weirdest thing about playing with the PowerShell in our limited time with it was the overall width of the controller. As you can see in the photo below, the "forehead" and "chin" of the 5th-Gen iPod Touch becomes unused horizontal bezel space when you're playing a game, as opposed to the place where you grip when you game with the touchscreen. The width of the controller doesn't make it difficult to hold, but it does make it a pretty big accessory to carry around with you, even as a battery pack.
The other thing that felt weird about playing with the PowerShell is that it calls to attention just how simple most iOS games really are. Arcade games that are designed to work with virtual thumbsticks and buttons aren't as demanding of precision aiming and button timing as console games, so there's a chance that PowerShell's potential won't be realized if developers keep making iOS games for the lowest common denominator. My hope is that with a ton of these in developers' hands (and more iOS 7 hardware controllers from other manufacturers), we'll see some killer apps that are designed with physical controls in mind.
NASA's satellites and astronauts take some great photographs. NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day is often a striking picture of the cosmos, but NASA's satellites also point back towards mother Earth. NASA's Earth Observatory posts an image of the day, and those images can be just as breathtaking as NASA's astronomy photos. Wednesday's is a crimson thermal emission image of the Philippines, showing a dramatic change in vegetation over the past decade.
On Monday, the Earth Observatory posted an informative guide to better understanding its satellite photos. Or any satellite imagery, really. The basics are good tips: "Look for a scale, Look for patterns, shapes, and textures, Define the colors (including shadows), Find north, Consider your prior knowledge." It's easy to scroll around Google Earth and get the exact coordinates of any location, but when all you have is a single satellite image, it can take some intelligent analysis to identify some key information.
Color, for example, can tell you a ton about the geography in an image. Water absorbs light, so it usually appears dark blue or black. But "sediment reflects light and colors the water," Earth Observatory explains. "When suspended sand or mud is dense, the water looks brown. As the sediment disperses, the water’s color changes to green and then blue. Shallow waters with sandy bottoms can lead to a similar effect. Sunlight reflecting off the surface of the water makes the water look gray, silver, or white. This phenomenon, known as sun-glint, can highlight wave features or oil slicks, but it also masks the presence of sediment or phytoplankton."
Agricultural land shows up as a brighter shade of green than natural vegetation. Fall vegetation takes on red, brown and orange hues. Some high, thin clouds are only visible by the shadows they leave on the ground.
Patterns in land offer clues as to what an image contains. On a basic level, square and rectangular features and straight lines are almost certainly manmade. Identifying familiar features, or unique features, that can be compared to a map can help you identify the scale. ID a lake in a satellite image, and you can compare that lake to a map to extrapolate the satellite's scale. Identifying familiar features can also help establish which direction is north.
Earth Observatory's images already include scale, but it's still fun to dig through the archive of more than 10,000 photos.
Today, Google released an early sneak peak of its Glass Developer Kit, the collection of APIs that will allow developers to tap into Glass's camera, microphone, and other hardware in creating immersive or augmented reality apps. That means we'll be able to download apps that are meant to take up your full attention (eg. games, cooking recipes) and those that augment the world around you. Notable demos shown at Google's preview event included Strava, a fitness app for bicyclists and runners that show speed and distance data in real-time, and Word Lens, the awesome visual translation app we tested on smartphones. Word Lens on Glass will let you look at a street sign in the real world and automatically see the translated text overlaid in your peripheral vision. That's awesome.
Here we go. With new tablet season in full swing, we take an in-depth look at Apple's flagship tablet, the iPad Air. Here's how it compares to every single iPad before it, in size, weight, and everyday performance. And while the design improvements are impressive, it's not a tablet upgrade that we can recommend for everyone.
FiftyThree, the developer of the slick Paper app for iOS, has announced a companion accessory called Pencil. It's a Bluetooth Stylus designed to work with Paper, with several unique design features. The $60 stylus ($50 for a graphite finish) is shaped like a flat carpenter's pencil, meaning its core is more oval than circular, with flat sides on its long edge. This shape ensures that it doesn't roll off of smooth surfaces, but FiftyThree claims that it's more comfortable to grip than a circular stylus, like Studio Neat's $25 Cosmonaut. It's also different from other passive capacitive styluses in that uses a Low Energy Bluetooth connection to send data to the iPad, but this data doesn't include pressure sensitivity. In the Paper app, the thickness of your line stroke is determined by the speed at which you sketch, not how hard you push down on the page. Data is needed to account for palm rejection on the iPad, as well as an eraser function on the back of Pencil. That also means you have to charge it, but FiftyThree says a 90 minute charge will last a month of use.
We're still unsold on the idea of iPads and other "dumb" capacitive screens as drawing surfaces; digitizers on tablets by Wacom and Microsoft have done a better job at reproducing the effect of writing and drawing on paper. Pencil's potential lies in its pairing with the Paper app, even though it will work with other iOS drawing apps. And if you recall, the founders at FiftyThree were part of J Allard's team at Microsoft working on the Courier project before it was cancelled, so this is interesting as a version of their original vision for digital productivity. We're also interested to see how it'll compare to other popular iOS styli like the Adonit Jot Mini, The Wirecutter's current pick. Pencil is on sale now and will ship to buyers before Christmas.
The PlayStation 4 looks cool. No matter what games it plays or what exclusives it has to offer, almost everyone agrees that the PlayStation 4 is a rare feat of engineering and design--a sleek, incredibly compact console that looks futuristic compared to the bulky slab that is Microsoft's Xbox One. Unless the PS4's compact design reveals long-term heating issues, there's no question it's the more impressive box.
But how would a real design firm judge Sony's latest PlayStation? The answer: Not quite as warmly, but with plenty of praise for its strong points. A pair of designers from design consultancy Teague wrote about the PlayStation 4 for Fastco, praising the overall look of the console but critiquing a few of Sony's decisions. "Sony designed both a beautiful console and a much improved controller, but it's almost as if these two components were designed discretely, and they never combined to create a truly cohesive system," the designers wrote.
Ironically, Teague is the design firm that helped Microsoft create the original Xbox. You know, the giant black box with ribbed sides and a giant X across the top that cried eXtreme, and a controller so big that Microsoft quickly replaced it with a smaller model. The Xbox console and the Duke controller did, at least, form a truly cohesive system.
Teague's designers started by praising the PS4's overall look and size: "In terms of the PS4’s console design, it’s clear Sony is paying homage to its finest moment, the PS2 Slim--a super svelte, super powerful system that remains the greatest technical marvel of console hardware to this day. The PS4's matte/gloss dissected box is a subtle nod to PlayStation heritage that signals Sony is serious about returning to its gaming roots. It’s nowhere near as small as the Slim, but the PS4 is still compact enough to feel at home in and around the entertainment center."
They also praised its light bar, how well it works in both horizontal and vertical orientations, and the matte/glossy interplay. They did note that the plastic materials used for the console look uneven, and that the sloped design, while cool in form, negatively impacts function by making it a bit more difficult to plug cables into the back of the console.
The PS4 controller received the opposite criticism. It nailed functionality, improving the triggers and joysticks and overall heft of the classic PlayStation controller. But they weren't as sold on its form. "We couldn’t help but notice a fundamental design disconnect between the controller and the PS4 console; so extreme in some cases that it was almost as though they were designed separately."
Circular patterns define the controller, while the console is primarily square. They also argued that the DualShock was iconic, synonymous with the PlayStation brand, and that this controller has lost that power and identity. But if function is what truly matters most, the Dualshock 4 is probably the best controller Sony has ever made.
The iPad Mini with Retina has arrived, and that means it's time for another DisplayMate tablet shoot-out. The Mini's competitors are Google's second-gen Nexus 7, refreshed in July, and the latest Kindle Fire HDX 7, refreshed in September. Both the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 cost $230, while the iPad Mini with Retina is much more expensive at $400. But DisplayMate's shoot-outs don't have anything to do with app ecosystems or prices or what's going to sell the best this holiday season. They're all about the screens.
All three tablets go beyond 1080p in resolution--1920x1200 for the Android tablets, and 2048x1536 for the iPad Mini. Resolution isn't everything, however, and even though Apple kicked off the trend of high density displays in mobile devices, DisplayMate has found them lagging behind with the Retina Mini. It had the worst screen of the bunch.
"Two innovative Tablet manufacturers, Amazon and Google, have significantly leapfrogged Apple by introducing Tablet displays using LTPS (in the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and the new Nexus 7), and they are significantly outperforming the IGZO and a-Si displays in the current iPads," DisplayMate writes. "Apple was once the leader in mobile displays, unfortunately it has fallen way behind in both Tablets and Smartphones. This should be a wakeup call…"
LTPS and IGZO are two important pieces of transistor technology that are used in displays. We wrote about them recently. While IGZO is better than the traditional amorphous polysilicon used in many displays, it's not as good as LTPS, or low-temperature polysilicon. The problem with LTPS technology is that it's more expensive, and difficult to implement in devices with larger screens (tablets, as opposed to smartphones).
However, both Amazon and Google have managed to get LTPS technology into tablets--the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and Nexus 7, respectively. Amazon's 7-inch Kindle Fire actually uses another technology, which we'll get to in a second. As DisplayMate summarizes: "Amazon and Google, have significantly leapfrogged Apple by introducing Tablet displays using LTPS...and they are significantly outperforming the IGZO and a-Si displays in the current iPads. Apple is now lagging in displays, an area where it was once the leader."
So what's so good about the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and Nexus 7 displays? DisplayMate writes that the Nexus 7 is the brightest tablet display it's yet measured, and that thanks to LTPS technology it also has a 100 percent color gamut. The Kindle Fire also has a 100 percent color gamut, but it's using a different type of technology: a quantum dot display. This is important, as DisplayMate explains:
Quantum dots "produce highly saturated primary colors that are similar to those produced by OLED displays. They not only significantly increase the Color Gamut to 100 percent but also improve the power efficiency at the same time. Instead of using White LEDs (which have yellow phosphors) that produce a broad light spectrum that makes it hard to efficiently produce saturated colors, Quantum Dots directly convert the light from Blue LEDs into highly saturated primary colors for LCDs...Quantum Dots are going to revolutionize LCDs for the next 5+ years."
Amazon's working with some high tech stuff with the Kindle Fire HDX 7, but based on DisplayMate's charts, the Nexus 7 performs nearly as well when it comes to color gamut and accuracy. It even scored slightly higher marks for contrast, black levels and screen reflectance. Best of all, it won out on power usage, drawing only 1.8 watts at max brightness compared to the Kindle Fire's 2.3 watts.
While Apple still has a good display in the iPad Mini with Retina, Android's rapid advancements have easily surpassed it. Other than size, a smoother gamma scale, and an unnoticeable edge in pixel density, the iPad Mini falls behind the great displays in both $230 Android tablets. If you buy either one, you're not going to be disappointed by the screen. Check out DisplayMate's full comparison for charts and graphs galore.