Quantcast
Latest StoriesTech
    In Brief: Amazon's Smartphone May Have 3D Interface

    First tablets, then a settop box, and now a smartphone. Amazon is increasingly becoming not only a services company, but a devices one as well. There have been many rumors in the past few weeks indicating that Amazon is almost ready to reveal its first smartphone, with the Wall Street Journal claiming a June announcement for a product release before the end of the year. BGR today posted not only many more details about this potential upcoming phone, but also what they claim are photos of the device. The high-end phone will run a heavily-forked version of Android, run on hardware similar to that found in other new Android phones, and have a 4.7-inch 720p screen. That relatively low resolution is likely to its big differentiating feature: four IR cameras on the front of the phone used for face and eye tracking. Ostensibly, these cameras will track the user to facilitate a glasses-free 3D interface. BGR's sources claim that this 3D effect will not be like the parallax filters used in the Nintendo DS. Instead, it'd be more like the faux 3D parallax effect (and nauseating side effects) of iOS 7's wallpaper, but one that responds based on where you head is instead of how you tilt your phone. The increased battery drain from processing and rendering this effect is likely why the phone would have a 720p display (also likely heavily subsidized), and my guess is that this novel interface effect is a trojan horse to let Amazon track user behavior when using their phones. Amazon wants to know not only how you're browsing the web and using your phone, but where your attention is, as well. More scary than exciting stuff.

    Norman
    The Best Entry-Level DSLR Today

    The Nikon D3300 is, simply put, the best low-end DSLR on the market. It combines some of the best image quality we’ve ever seen at this price with excellent battery life, easy to use controls, and a guide mode to help you learn to use it—all for the extremely reasonable price of $650. Mirrorless cameras are still more portable, but if image quality is your focus, you can’t beat the D3300 for the price.

    Photo credit: Flickr user hrns via Creative Commons.

    Last year, when we put together a previous version of this recommendation, we begrudgingly said the Canon SL1 was the best pick. But honestly, none of them were really worth it as they were all too expensive, lacked image quality, or didn’t have the features we wanted. That has now changed thanks to the D3300. Just look at these comparison photos—it’s not even close.

    But, for a lot of people, a mirrorless camera will do just as well as a DSLR.

    But, for a lot of people, a mirrorless camera will do just as well as a DSLR. If you’re looking for something smaller, lighter, and more affordable, an entry-level mirrorless camera will provide you with the same sharp, bright images as this camera. You just won’t have an optical viewfinder or quite as many lenses to choose from.

    Testing: Logitech G502 Proteus Core Gaming Mouse

    Wait, wasn't it just one year ago that Logitech released the G500s, the rebirth of its venerated G5 line of gaming mice? Hold on for just a second while I check my review. Yep, that was just last March. But here we are, with another new high-end gaming mouse, the G502. And this year, Logitech's given it a fancy moniker: the Proteus Core. I'm not sure if that's meant to evoke a certain StarCraft faction in gamers' minds, or simply a take on the SAT-friendly word 'protean', meaning versatile or adaptable. The latter's likely the case, given the G502's ability to be calibrated for different mousing surfaces (glass and mirrors notwithstanding). Regardless, Logitech's new flagship is an aggressive product, an $80 mouse that not only succeeds last year's G500s, but revamps the design of Logitech's gaming mouse line. That curvy G5 design that I was so hot on last year has once again been retired (at least temporarily).

    I've been testing the G502 for about a week, in first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, and lots of desktop imaging work. I'm not a MOBA player, so my perspective may not reflect those playing the dominant PC gaming game type today. And as I've said before, a gaming mouse is an accessory that most people rarely change--they find the one that works for them and stick with it. If you like the Razer DeathAdder, Mad Catz R.A.T., or even Logitech's own previous G-series, mice, there's really not a lot of reason to spend another $80 on a new gaming mouse unless your current one breaks. Gaming mice technology has really reached a point where every new generation of product offers fewer new benefits; product engineers really feel like they're reaching when they push the boundaries of sensor DPI or add more configurable buttons. And the G502 has plenty of those new back-of-box features, for sure. Let's run through them and evaluate whether they truly add any benefit to your gaming experience.

    Arguably the most important component in a gaming mouse is its sensor, and the G502's optical (IR) sensor was apparently designed from the ground up to introduce two notable features. The first is DPI (dots per inch, or technically counts per inch) sensitivity that ranges from 200 to 12000. You read that correctly: this mouse is sensitive to past 10,000 DPI, which I believe is a first for a gaming mouse. (Consider that the G5, circa 2005, topped out at 2000 DPI). At that maximum setting, the tiniest flick of the wrist will send the cursor all the way across a 1080p panel; it's meant for gamers who want to make extremely large movements quickly, or desktop users running multiple monitors spanning many thousands of pixels wide. Of course, high DPI doesn't denote accuracy, just sensitivity. A mouse set to 10,000 DPI isn't useful if it isn't accurate at that "resolution"--the trick is testing the mouse's accuracy at the sensitivities that you find most useful.

    Google Play App Roundup: Today Calendar, The Walking Dead, and Wind-up Knight 2

    A new week has dawned, and there are new smartphones hitting the streets. You want to have the latest and greatest apps for your new purchase, right? That's what we bring in the weekly Google Play App Roundup -- all the content that's fit for your Android device. Just lick the links to head right to the Play Store.

    This week we've got a new calendar, a game with zombies, and a fabulous platformer.

    Today Calendar

    Your phone comes with some version of the Android calendar app, whether it's a custom solution from the OEM with Google's account back end added, or the Play Store version of the Google app. Today Calendar is freshly out of beta and could give all those other solutions a run for their money. However, you're going to have to part with a little of YOUR money to find out.

    Today Calendar is based on the AOSP calendar app, but has some UI tweaks and additional features built-in. The interface has been cleaned up in this app when compared to the stock app. The gray-on-gray UI is gone, replaced instead with accented whites and a blue action bar. It's interesting that this app now looks a little more like a modern Android app than Google's own calendar app.

    There are still weekly and agenda views, and they haven't changed much beyond some performance and UI optimizations. The month view is where all the really cool things are happening in Today Calendar. Rather than have a stretched-out month-long calendar taking up the entire screen, Today Calendar integrates an agenda with the calendar. The developer calls this the All-In-One view, which pretty much explains it. You can tap on any day from the calendar in the top half of the screen to see the agenda for that day in the bottom half. It's really the best of both worlds, and much more useful than other views. You can also swipe to move between days in the All-In-One view.

    The app itself is great, but that's only part of what you get with Today Calendar. Buying this app also gives you the Today Widgets, which are available as a separate purchase as well. These are highly-configurable, scroallable calendar widgets -- both month and agenda view -- with multiple themes and options. Settings for these widgets are available when you place them, or from within the Today Calendar app.

    Today Calendar will run you $2.99, but it's definitely something you should consider as a replacement for your current calendar app. Even if you end up not liking the app, the widgets can be used independently and linked with a shortcut to the stock app.

    Tested: SaneBox Email Prioritization

    Email has a unique problem. In the beginning, when the Internet was new, email’s general usefulness increased as each new person created an account. It was inexpensive, relatively easy to use, and faster than the alternative. But email had a fatal flaw baked in, it was designed for use on a network where every node was trusted. For a while, the general guidelines that evolved from users for acceptable behaviors on the service were good enough. But as more people connected to the service and the stakes for taking advantage of email's weaknesses increased. Eventually email’s ubiquity became its downfall, and spammers and marketers destroyed the signal-to-noise ratio of the service. Behind every single real email message you receive from someone who you actually want to hear from, there are a dozen or two email newsletters and updates from services and likely several hundred unsolicited spam messages.

    Over the last twenty years, the email problem has gotten progressively worse, until it’s almost beyond the ability of people to imagine. There are dozens of services designed to help people manage their email problem, tools that are built into popular email services, and third-party clients designed explicitly to help you manage email. If you have a common address, you regularly get urgent email from people you've never communicated with before, or your email is posted publicly on the web (like mine is), your email situation is probably even worse. Over the last decade, I’ve tested dozens of different tools to manage email, and I’ve found a service that has made a huge positive impact on my email use.

    The service is called SaneBox. SaneBox filters messages into folders based on relative priority. Messages from users that require immediate attention stay in your inbox, while less urgent emails are moved to a separate folder for you to look at at your convenience. SaneBox monitors your inbox and learns which emails you open quickly, which emails you delete or archive, and which emails you ignore. You can also filter emails into more specialized folders—I’ve added a folder for newsletters and press releases and another folder for notification emails from social networking services, online stores, and financial institutions. SaneBox automates the daily triage that I’ve been doing on my inbox for years, and the big benefit is that I’m able to glance at the contents of these folders quickly, read and act on the email or two that I need from them, and mass archive the rest in just a few moments. Consider me a fan.

    SaneBox also adds a feature that should be part of every email service, the black hole. Move an email to the Black Hole folder and you’ll never see anything from that sender again. Getting marketing spam you didn’t sign up for an can’t unsubscribe to? Black hole it. What about emails from your college’s alumni association? Yup. Once you add it to the black hole, you’ll never see it again. I even use the black hole for PR people who continually blast me with stuff that we’re unlikely to cover—enterprise switches, for example. Of course, if you accidentally add something you need to the black hole list, you can remove them manually. SaneBox also includes a variety of other options, including email-based reminders (bumping messages back into the inbox after a specified length of time) and attachment management (automatically removing attachments from your emails and saving them in a Dropbox or Box account).

    After a week of training, the sorting and prioritization from SaneBox worked better than Gmail's new filtering tabs, with only an occasional mistake. After a month of regular use, I trust it implicitly. It's saving me time, it helps me answer more urgent queries from both people I know and people I don't know.

    SaneBox works on the server side with any IMAP email provider, which is both a pro and a con for the service. On the positive side, it means that the service is totally client-agnostic—it works on desktop clients, web clients, mobile devices, any client that can move messages between folders on an IMAP server. You don’t need to transfer settings between different machines, since all of the settings are stored on SaneBox’s servers. Of course, running on the server side raises some problems as well. The biggest problem, at least from a security standpoint, is that you have to give SaneBox access to your email accounts in order to use the service.

    SaneBox's pricing seems unnecessarily convoluted. They price based on the number of accounts you want to cover, as well as the number of special folders you want to use, and some other special features. The $100/year plan was the one I chose because it would cover my two email accounts. I also have access to the attachment stripping service and reminders, which I didn't find particularly useful. While I initially thought $100 a year was pricey for this kind of service, dealing with email is one of my least favorite tasks, and the time saved has already justified the cost. For what it's worth, with a service that's as important to me as email, I'd much rather pay for the service than use something that was trying to monetize my most private data. If you want a free two-week trial and a $5 credit, you can click my referral link to sign up. (Full disclosure, I get a $5 credit for everyone who signs up using this link.)

    If you don't constantly struggle with email, SaneBox probably isn't worth paying for. For my fairly unique circumstances, it's an incredible tool.

    MakerBot Mystery Build: Something Isn't Quite Right Here

    It's Friday, so that means it's time for another MakerBot mystery build! Something went slightly awry in this week's print, but you'll have to watch and see to find out what exactly went wrong. Place your best guess as to what's being printed in the comments below!

    Behind the Scenes at Kernerworks' Workshop

    What do special effects veterans do when Hollywood relies increasingly less on practical effects and more on computer generated imagery? The effects experts at Kernerworks (who have worked with Jamie and Adam in the past) turned their fabrication experience into developing and building realistic trauma mannequins the military to train field medics. These robots not only behave realistically to simulate injuries, they look incredibly lifelike as well--some even have the capability to spurt blood from their wounds. Here are some photos of our visit to Kernerworks' workshop earlier this year.

    Almost Human: Trauma Mannequins for Medic Training

    They breathe and they bleed, but they're not real human beings. These robots, built by the especial effects and fabrication experts at Kernerworks, are incredibly lifelike trauma mannequins used by the military to train field medics. We visit Kernerworks' workshop to learn how these robots are built and get a demo of their trauma simulation capabilities. See photos from our visit here.

    10 Uniquely Interesting Places To Mount A GoPro Camera

    As human progress marches on, things that were once enormous and expensive get tiny and cheap. Case in point: cameras. What used to be a family heirloom that would break if you looked at it funny is now a powerful, essentially disposable recording device like the GoPro camera. People do all kinds of things with these little buggers – here are ten of the most interesting.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Car Basics and Monster Truckin'

    After a few months of lightly tapping, it’s finally time to pound the drum about RC cars. Of course, there are countless styles of cars that you can get into. For now, I will focus on the type of cars that I recommended for beginners in the first article of this series: 2-wheel-drive, electric-powered, monster trucks.

    Just like every other facet of RC, cars have benefited from recent advancements in radio, motor and battery technology. As I looked over my aging collection of well-used cars, I realized that none in my fleet reflected any of these modern advancements. So I took a two-pronged approach. I procured a new monster truck and I also modernized one of my older cars. Between this guide and a follow-up next week, I will cover my experiences with both projects.

    The Case for RC Cars

    I received my first RC car, a Kyosho Ultima, when I was in middle school. I really just wanted something to play with, but the Ultima turned out to be much more than a toy. Hobby-grade cars like the Ultima are meant to be worked on, and actually require some maintenance. As time went on, I found that I enjoyed wrenching on the car as much as driving it. It was also fascinating to make adjustments to the car and see how they affected its performance. That poor car endured countless modifications at my hand. Some ideas worked, but many didn’t. The Ultima always emerged relatively unscathed, and I got a little smarter each time. More than 25 years later, I still have most of the parts for that Ultima (in working order).

    If a chemistry set is an ideal toy for aspiring chemists, then RC cars will cultivate the minds budding engineers.

    If a chemistry set is an ideal toy for aspiring chemists, then RC cars will cultivate the minds budding engineers. Sure, they can teach you many lessons that carry over to full-size cars, but there is so much more. I learned about 2-stroke engines, electric motors, batteries, gearing, torque, and above all: the value of working with my hands. Countless times while working on space hardware in my professional career, I was able to apply a lesson learned from that Ultima. If, like me, you have a young tinkerer in your house, RC cars may be just the thing to let them explore relatively risk free.

    In Brief: Diagnosing iOS Battery Drain

    Scotty Loveless, an ex-Genius Bar employee, recently posted this comprehensive guide to diagnosing and solving iOS battery issues, based on his two years working for Apple and hundreds of Genius Bar appointments with users complaining about their iPhone's battery. There's a lot of practical advice here, such as how to test your iOS battery drain rate by noting down usage and standby times, but Loveless also offers some very specific tips that he claims make a big difference. Disabling Location and Background App Refresh for the Facebook app tops his list, but the most useful recommendation may be to stop manually quitting apps in the multi-tasking view. Apps that don't use Background App Refresh don't actually pull power when they're in the background, and quitting them just means that your iPhone will have to use more power to relaunch them the next time. There's also the tip to turn off battery percentage to stop getting freaked out about battery, but I don't think that's a tip that's going to stick. Regardless, the guide is well worth reading and bookmarking.

    Norman 4
    Tested Explains: What Does it Mean to Call on a "Secure Line"?

    If decades of televised White House dramas and Hollywood espionage thrillers have taught us anything, it's that barking "Get me a secure line!" into your phone is about all it takes to establish a private, encrypted call.

    Alas, security is rarely so simple – and for decades, encrypting phone conversations actually took a great deal of work. Only in recent years has encryption become more accessible, and it's still a lot more effort than pop culture would have you believe.

    The secure line's earliest days can be traced back to the development of a machine called SIGSALY at Bell Telephone Laboratories during World War II. It was meant to replace the seemingly scrambled, high-frequency radio communication then–employed by the Allies – which, it turned out, eavesdropping Axis forces had already managed to decrypt.

    So what was SIGSALY? "Consisting of 40 racks of equipment, it weighed over 50 tons, and featured two turntables which were synchronized on both the sending and the receiving end by an agreed upon timing signal from the U.S. Naval Observatory," according to the National Security Agency's historical account of the device.

    The two turntables played identical copies of randomly generated noise that was mixed into a call. "One would mix in noise, and the other would basically subtract out that noise. And anybody listening would just hear noise," explained Matthew Green, an assistant research professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute. "But somebody who subtracted out the noise would hear the phone call."

    The system, of course, had its flaws. There were only a handful of SIGSALY machines scattered around the globe, and synchronization between the two ends records required millisecond precision. That was even assuming, of course, that the person you wanted to call had the most up-to-date record, or key – delivery, understandably, "always a problem" recounts the NSA.

    "It was basically what we call a one-time pad," says Gord Agnew, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo's school of electrical and computer engineering, where his past research has focused on communication and cryptography.

    Testing: Adobe Lightroom Mobile for iPad

    You could hear my cheers resonate throughout my house last night when I read that Adobe had finally released a mobile version of its Lightroom photo processing application for iOS. This wasn't an unexpected move--there were leaked mentions and details of this program back in January--but it's still exciting to finally see and use it in person. Lightroom mobile is currently an iPad-only app (iPhone version coming soon, but no word on Android) that's available to download right now from the app store. I've been testing it since it became available last night and all this morning, and wanted to run through its features and share my initial thoughts.

    Before last night's release, I had been looking for a good way to incorporate my iPad into my RAW photo workflow. Back when I was shooting JPEGs, the iPad was a great device to import photos, using the SD card accessory to transfer full-res JPEGS onto the tablet and Apple's Photostream to get those on my desktop PC. When I started saving hefty RAW files, the iPad became much less useful. Yes, you can import RAW photos using the camera card adapter onto the iPad, but the native Photo app isn't smart enough to differentiate between JPEG and RAW duplicates, so you end up with two copies of every photo (I still save JPEG for fast reviewing purposes). iPhoto for iOS could ingest RAW files, but editing was slow, even on the new iPad Air. Plus, there was no easy to to get those RAW files back to my desktop.

    My photo processing workflow then became desktop-oriented, using Adobe's Lightroom to manage all my photos, pushing the ones I wanted to share to Flickr, and manually downloading some to my iPad to review in full-resolution. For the purposes scanning through my photo library, I had been using Moasic Archive, a paid web-service that works as a plug-in in Lightroom, uploading your library to its servers to review and make metadata edits on an iOS app. It wasn't for photo editing; it's just for photo reviewing and tagging. Mosaic has a free option that syncs previews of your latest 2000 photos to review online or through its app--I used it as a PhotoStream substitute.

    But now there's Lightroom mobile, which does offer RAW photo editing capabilities. Well, sort of. Lightroom mobile uses the same Smart Preview system that I love about Lightroom 5. Basically, whenever you import a RAW photo into the desktop version of Lightroom, you have the option to automatically create a small 2.5MB DNG file--a digital negative--that's a resized version of the original photo. Its limited to 2560 pixels wide, but you can edit them just as you would the original RAW file, and Lightroom will sync those edits. Smart Previews are how I can sync up my Lightroom library between multiple computers in Dropbox, so edits made on my Macbook Air appear on my desktop library, where the originals are saved. Lightroom mobile works in a similar way, but instead of using Dropbox to sync those Smart Previews, it uses Adobe's Creative Cloud storage system.

    Yes, Lightroom mobile requires that you have a Creative Cloud subscription.

    The Best Wi-Fi Router (So Far)

    If you need to pick up a new router today, you should get the Asus RT-AC56U. It’s not the absolute fastest router on the market, so why do we like it? It turns out that most Wi-Fi tests are performed using technology that even the absolute latest laptops won't see for years, and the speeds touted on the box and in many reviews don't actually reflect real-world speeds. Most of us don’t own devices that would take advantage of that extra technology—even if you own the latest MacBooks, Lenovos, or iPads, according to our (light) tests—so you'd be paying extra for performance you're not likely to experience. Future-proofing yourself at twice the cost (or more) today is not only a bad idea—specs often drift over time—it's also more cost-effective to just upgrade your router again in the future when you get newer technology.

    According to our research, the RT-AC56U offers the best overall performance for the price, and it has an easy-to-use interface to boot.

    Rise of the Patent Troll

    Kirby Ferguson, the filmmaker behind the excellent "Everything is a Remix" video series, produced and directed this new short explaining the US patent system and the rise of patent trolling companies that target small businesses and individuals in costly litigation. It's an important PSA about a topic most people don't think about, even though patent trolling threatens the growth of our economy and stifles innovation. Adam Carolla's podcast show is currently being sued for allegedly infringing on a patent for a "system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence"--essentially podcasting. Carolla has a legal defense campaign set up to fight this lawsuit, and you can find out more about how to encourage government to reform the patent system here.

    In Brief: Gender Responses to Virtual Reality Simulations

    While the internet has a laugh over the White Guys Wearing Oculus Rifts Tumblr, there's some genuine discussion about the potential differences in the way that biological factors may affect a person's experience of virtual reality. To put it bluntly, there's the possibility that women may not be as responsive to current virtual reality tech as men. Danah Boyd, a researcher at Microsoft Research and Assistant Professor at New York University, recently shared the results of a 2000 study she conducted about the how individuals respond to the 2D cues that virtual reality systems use to simulate 3D space. Boyd, who had poor experience with her university's CAVE system, found that biological men were more likely to prioritize one type of VR cue--motion parallax--than women, who were more susceptible to shape-from-shading as a spatial cue. VR tech relies heavily on motion parallax, which could broadly explain why Boyd other female research subjects were getting disoriented more easily in her tests. The results aren't by any means conclusive about gender differences in VR use, but Boyd's point is that more research should be conducted by companies like Oculus so that they can take these factors into consideration.

    Norman 4