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    Tested In-Depth: PCIe Solid State Storage

    How fast do you need your desktop storage device to be? We sit down this week to discuss the state of PCIe solid state drives, like Intel's new 750 Series with the NVMe controller. This 1.2TB drive delivered incredible bandwidth and benchmark performance, but you should know a few things about this technology before thinking about upgrading.

    The State of App and Game Backup on Android: Not Pretty

    Comparing the Android we have today to what was available several years back is stark not just in terms of UI. Google has addressed many pain points in the realm of usability and features over time. Many of the things we used to need root access to get done are now possible on completely stock devices, even on the stripped down Nexus variant of Android. One notable exception is the state of application backup on Android. It's an absolute mess, and Google has tried to fix it with little success. Let's go over your options and find out where things stand.

    What is app data?

    When people talk about app data, they are usually referring to the content stored under each application or game's folder in the system directory of Android. You can see how much data an app has accumulated by going into the application settings. Android gives you the option to delete this data, but that's all. If you do so, it reminds you that you're going to lose all your settings, accounts, and so on. That's what we're talking about -- your stuff.

    For an app, this directory might contain your account information for an app that needs you to log in. It also contains any data you've input into the app since you started using it. For example, a fitness tracker app will have all your workout records and history. If you delete the app or clear the data, that's all gone. The developer needs to specifically make allowances to back that data up in such instances (more on the alter). For games, the app data folder contains save games and settings. Again, if you delete the data or uninstall the game, your progress is gone with it.

    So why can't you simply copy the data from these directories and save it somewhere? App data is all in the system partition, meaning you need to have root access to do anything with it. That might seem like a kick in the pants, but it's a common security measure. You don't want one app being able to just snoop around in the data of another app. The only way to back up and restore app data is through rooting or a system component. Google has thus far really dropped the ball on the latter.

    SteamVR's "Lighthouse" for Virtual Reality and Beyond

    One of the most important aspects of virtual reality will be accurate positional tracking of the headset and user motion. Valve Software's SteamVR--the best virtual reality implementation we've tried so far--uses a beacon-based tracking system called Lighthouse. We chat with Lighthouse engineer Alan Yates about how Lighthouse and its components work, the technology's strengths and limitations, and how it could be used in other applications outside of VR.

    The Best Hybrid Bike for Most People

    This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a list of the best gear for your home. Read the full article at TheSweethome.com.

    After 50 hours of research and testing conducted over the past 2 years, we've determined that if you want a versatile bike for riding around town, a performance hybrid like the $490 Trek 7.2 FX is likely the right bike for you. In a world congested with countless nearly-identical bikes, the 7.2 FX is our top choice for the second year in a row, and it can work for anything from short road rides to commuting moderate distances to work. It's nimble, lightweight, and better-equipped for the price than any other brand-name bike in its price range.

    How we decided

    As bike people with decades of combined experience working on, with, and riding bikes professionally and casually, the writers of this guide know a thing or two about bikes. But we also spoke to Sarai Snyder, founder of Girl Bike Love and CycloFemme; David Studner, project manager for Trek's City Bike division; and the staff members at more than seven Bay Area bike shops, including Roaring Mouse Cycles, Missing Link, Bay Area Bikes, City Cycle of San Francisco, Mike's Bikes, REI, and Performance Bicycle. We then spent hours poring over the spec sheets of all the fitness hybrid bikes we could find in the $500 range to pick out the small differences that separate the great values from the mediocre. We then threw our legs over about a dozen top contenders over the past two years to figure out which would be best for most people.

    Creating Time-Lapse Videos from Crowd-Sourced Photos

    Introduced at this year's SIGGRAPH imaging conference, researchers from Google and the University of Washington have developed an approach to creating seamless time-lapses videos not from the images of a single camera, but from the publicly shared photos from the crowd. In their tests, they sorted through 86 million photos to group them into collections by location, and automated a process to warp and color-correct photos taken from the same viewpoint. Those photos were then ordered chronologically and stitched together into a time-lapse video. It's a similar idea to what Microsoft had done with its Photosynth program, but the output is a video showing the passage of time instead of a 3D map. Read more at the project's website. (h/t Engadget)

    In Brief: Fujifilm and Panasonic's New Compact Cameras

    Over the past decade, mirrorless cameras emerged as a photography platform to challenge the leading DLSR makers. And while they've been successful at forcing the Canons and Nikons to innovate, the category has gone through growing pains of its own, most notably increasingly bulky body sizes that limit their advantages over shrinking entry-level DSLRs. Prices have risen as well, as MILC makers figure out how to segment their models and adjust to shorter product cycles. But a new trend seems to be bringing mirrorless cameras back to their compact roots, with Panasonic and Fujifilm both announcing interchangeable lens cameras today that look like great entry models. The Panasonic G7 is a smaller version of the popular GH4, and is equipped with a micro four-thirds sensor with 4K video recording. Fujifilm's X-T10 is a more compact version of the awesome X-T1, with the same 16MP APS-C sensor. Both retail for $800 (X-T10 body only), and aim to be more than just companion cameras for DSLR shooters.

    Norman
    Show and Tell: Favorite Helping Hands Set

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares with us his new favorite set of helping hands for the workshop. We've all see those small third-hand tools sold at electronics and craft stores, but the best set is the one we've used at Adam's shop. This precision tool is made for jewelers, and are great for big soldering projects too. (Thanks to B&H for providing the One Man Crew system for this video. Find out more about it here!)

    Google Play App Roundup: Bleep, Knights of Pen & Paper 2, and Sunburn!

    We're really getting spoiled these days. There are great Android apps coming out all the time, but it can still be hard to find them amid all the clutter. The Google Play App Roundup is all about clearing the junk out of the way so you can find the best apps. Just click on the app name to go straight to the Google Play Store and pick up the app yourself.

    Bleep

    BitTorrent's various projects are mostly about leveraging the power of many individuals to create decentralized services. However, the newly released Bleep messaging app is a little different. Rather than dealing with the many, this secure messaging client relies on direct one-on-one connections and local encryption.

    Bleep was released as an Alpha several months ago, but now it's "done." BitTorrent has cleaned up the interface, squashed some bugs, and added new featured over the course of the beta. What we have now seems like a capable messaging service, and it supports completely anonymous usage. You can install Bleep and pick a nickname without adding your phone number or email. This is simply the name others will see when chatting with you.

    Should you choose, you can also verify your information with Bleep so any of your friends who sign up will see you in their contact lists. Otherwise, adding Bleep contacts is done by sharing your ID or letting the other party scan your QR code if you meet them in meatspace. All messages sent over Bleep are encrypted locally and sent directly to the recipient, making it difficult to eavesdrop on the conversation. You can also send pictures and initiate VoIP calls.

    The big new feature added for the launch of Bleep is called Whisper. It's basically an off-the-record chat with Snapchat-like automatic deletion. Any message or image you send will be deleted 25 seconds after it is viewed. BitTorrent opted for an odd method of privacy protection for Whispers. The message only shows up when the sender's name is hidden. If you toggle the name display on, the message is blurred. This is intended to disassociate the sender and message in screenshots and photos taken of the Whisper. It's a nice sentiment, but I can't help but note you can take two screenshots and match them up pretty easily.

    Bleep messages seem to come in reliably in just a few seconds, and I'm not seeing any appreciable impact on battery life. It seems like a really neat service, but you'll have to convince your friends to use Bleep before you can do much with it. It's worth a shot if you've got privacy concerns with services like Hangouts and WhatsApp.

    In Brief: Kickstart These RC Flying Versions of X-Prize Winners

    Burt Rutan is well known for his large portfolio of innovative aircraft and spacecraft designs. In fact, Rutan was the visionary responsible for the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne and its mothership, White Knight. RutanRC is a startup company looking to produce flying models of SpaceShipOne (SS1) and White Knight (WK). Rutan, who is an advisor to the company, points to his childhood aeromodeling as the fuel that fed his lifelong passion and success. The company hopes that these models will inspire a new generation of young people to take an interest in aviation and aerospace.

    The company's Kickstarter campaign has about one week to go and lots of cash to raise. Watch the video and you may find a familiar face. Backers can get early production units of the models. The WK model is a free-flight glider, while SS1 is an electric-powered RC model. The duo can be mated together for controlled flights as well.

    Terry
    Tested Builds: ErgoDox Mechanical Keyboards, Part 1

    Time for another Tested Build series! All this week, Will and Norm are going to work on building their own mechanical keyboards, using parts sourced from the ErgoDox design. These split ergonomic keyboards can be customized to use your favorite mechanical key switches, with potential for modding. In this first episode, we go over all the components and start assembly! (Follow along the rest of this week of build by joining the Tested Premium member community here!)

    Oculus Announces Some Rift Specs, System Requirements

    As promised, Oculus is revealing a few more technical details about the consumer Rift virtual reality headset that it announced would be shipping in the first quarter of next year. First off, the company posted a blog post last Friday listing the recommended system requirements for running an Oculus Rift on a PC. An Intel i5-4590 or equivalent CPU is required as a bare minimum, as is 8GB of RAM. That part isn't surprising. But Oculus is also recommending a graphics card at least as powerful as an Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD 290 GPU, with HDMI 1.3 video output. System will also need two USB 3.0 ports. As Oculus notes, that's beyond the specs of any current gaming laptop, though it doesn't rule out mobile systems that'll be out by next year. And as a reminder, all of the Oculus Crescent Bay prototype demos we last saw at GDC were running Nvidia GeForce Titan X GPUs.

    The high system requirements were expected, as rendering for VR requires approximately three times the GPU power of 1080p gaming at 60Hz. The consumer Rift actually uses two screens running a combined 2160x1200 display resolution at 90Hz--the same display specs as SteamVR's HTC Vive (though it's not clear how their panels actually compare). Virtual reality is much less tolerant for framerate drops than gaming on a desktop monitor, so 90 frames per second is required as a floor. We also don't know what games and software will actually render at before being pushed to the displays, since downsampling may also be an option (meaning the visuals actually render at higher than 2160x1200 for anti-aliasing and text readability purposes).

    Oculus founder Palmer Luckey also wrote on Twitter that the displays in the consumer Rift are "on the cutting edge of current display fabrication", which means that it should look better than what we've seen so far on prototypes. His note that high frame rates actually substantially increases perceived resolution of the display is interesting as well--we'll be on the look out for that if we get a CV1 demo at E3. Plus, we want to know more about the positional tracking and input solutions!

    In Brief: Google's Self-Driving Cars Begin Public Road Testing this Summer

    After last week's informative status update from Chris Urmson, the director of Google's self-driving car program, Google has announced that it will soon be taking a few of its prototype self-driving cars onto the public streets of Mountain View for tests. Public road tests is essential to the program, and Google has already been testing modified autonomous Lexus SUVs in California since last September. Those cars have logged almost a million miles of autonomous driving, data which will help Google's own "bubble" car. While Google claims that none of the 11 reported minor accidents that have occurred during private road testing were its cars' faults, the company is taking precautions for public road tests by ensuring that humans have manual control over the car if necessary--even though the prototype car is designed not to have a steering wheel. They'll also have a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour. I'm interested to see these cars tested in real-world conditions, as long as Google is transparent about the results of its testing. Watch Google's video announcing the next step in its self-driving car program below.

    Norman
    Tested In-Depth: Connected LED Light Bulbs

    The cost of switching your incandescent or CFL bulbs to LED ones is lower than ever, and new technology is making it more practical to buy connected bulbs. We sit down to discuss the state of the "smart home," review several connected LED bulbs, and talk about the potential benefits of using smart locks. What are your thoughts on connected home devices?

    Big Boats, Big Airplanes: A History of Large Aircraft Flown from Carriers

    It was just a few years after the Wright Brother's historic 1903 flight when people began flying airplanes off of ships. By the start of World War I, rudimentary aircraft carriers were already being used. In those early years, the airplanes were hardly more than spindly collections of spruce, linen, and castor oil. Likewise, their host ships had been built for other duties and then hastily modified to include add-on flight decks.

    Aircraft carriers soon became purpose-built ships from the keel up. This set off a century-long evolution that would mold them into ever larger and more complex machines. The same is true of the airplanes they carried. You can begin to appreciate the scope of this change by comparing the 1,200 pound Sopwith Pup that flew from British ships in WWI to the 66,000 pound F/A-18E Super Hornet used by several modern navies.

    A left front view of a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft parked on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS AMERICA (CV 66).

    An overview of the airplanes that have operated from aircraft carriers reveals a handful of outliers that were exceptionally large and/or heavy for their time. Let's take a look at a few examples and see what made them so unique.

    1942 – B-25 Mitchell

    WWII was the conflict that first illustrated the immense offensive capabilities of aircraft carriers. A prime example is the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor – a raid carried out solely by aircraft launched from six Japanese carriers. Immediately after the raid, President Roosevelt desperately wanted to deliver a retaliatory blow.

    America's three Pacific-based aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor during the attack and were thus still operational. Yet, short of staging a large (strategically risky) multi-carrier attack, the US had very little offensive muscle in the Far East.

    US Navy Captain Francis Low concocted the idea of flying twin-engine US Army Air Corps bombers from the deck of a carrier. These aircraft had a much greater bomb load and range than the Navy's single-engine carrier-based bombers and torpedo planes of the time. The army bombers would ride aboard a single carrier to deliver a one-time jab to the Japanese mainland. The idea quickly developed into the famous Doolittle Raid.

    A B-25 takes off from the USS Hornet on its way to Tokyo. After the Doolittle Raid, B-25s were never again flown from aircraft carriers. (US Navy photo)

    The aircraft carrier selected for the raid was the new USS Hornet. Mission commander Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and his men flew in North American B-25 Mitchell bombers. Studies determined that B-25s with a 2,000 pound bomb load and sufficient fuel for a 2,000 mile trip could indeed takeoff from the Hornet's flight deck. After dropping their bombs on Tokyo, the planes would continue westward to land in China. So the B-25's inability to land aboard the carrier was not a concern.

    Testing: Gear VR for Galaxy S6 Impressions

    I just got the new Samsung Gear VR for Galaxy S6, the second Innovator Edition developer headset released in partnership with Oculus. We had tested the first Gear VR with the Note 4 earlier this year, in time for the launch of paid apps in the Oculus store. Since then, few new apps have been introduced to the store, though events like the current Mobile VR Jam is encouraging devs to put their ideas in front of early adopters. Momentum in software and hardware is leading up to Oculus' consumer release in the first quarter of next year, but they've also said that the next Gear VR release will be a consumer-ready one. So while this new Innovator Edition is still a developer kit, it's interesting to see how Samsung is iterating its hardware based on some short-term feedback and also adapting it to fit the 5.1-inch 1440p display in the new Galaxy S6. 577 PPI!

    The physical design of the Gear VR for GS6 (I'll just call it "new Gear VR" from now on) is slightly improved from the original. Yes, it's a little smaller, but the ergonomic improvements aren't night and day. Much of the reduced size is due to the lack of the bulky plastic cover plate that fit over the Note 4 when mounted in the headset, which I don't think many people used anyway. In its place is a smaller plastic protector plate that fits into the slot where the GS6 sits when not in use, to protect the lenses. You don't have a way of covering up the phone when it's slotted in the new Gear VR, and that's just fine. Overall, the headset weighs a little less with the phone plugged in, partly due to the GS6 being significantly lighter than the Note 4 as well. I still found the head straps a little too short for my liking, though. With enough slack, the whole unit fits relatively comfortably over my glasses, but I ended up using it without glasses for tonight's tests.

    On the bottom of the new Gear VR is a micro-USB port for charging the GS6 while it's mounted. That's a much-needed addition from the Note 4, and my GS6 was draining its battery really quickly when running VR demos unplugged. I don't have the Note 4 any more for a direct power consumption comparison, but I'll be conducting a VR battery test soon with Oculus Cinema and Hero Bound.

    The touchpad is a tad smaller on the new Gear VR, and now has an indent to help guide your finger to its center point. For some reason, the back button was also moved slightly toward the front of the headset. These changes didn't affect my use of the touchpad, and I still prefer using a bluetooth gamepad for both UI navigation and games.

    On the left side of the headset, Samsung added a small fan and opening for airflow. When I first heard about this, my thought was that the fan would be used for cooling down the mounted phone, since the Note 4 had a tendency to overheat and slow games down in long sessions. However, the fan in the new Gear VR--which is powered by the phone--is actually used to reduce lens fogging. In practice, it works really well, too. I didn't have to wipe the inside of the Gear VR once while running demos tonight, something I had to do every 15 minutes or so with the Note 4. Some people have reported that their new Gear VR arrived with a busted fan, but it's really just quiet. It also only activates when your face triggers the proximity sensor on the inside of the headset.

    Testing: Bionic Bird Remote Controlled Ornithopter

    I've gotten a few questions about this small RC bird since sharing it on the podcast last week, so I wanted to share some thoughts from testing it that you should know before rushing out and buying your own. The Indiegogo funded Bionic Bird was something I first learned about at this year's CES, after seeing (and hearing) it fly around by the company's booth. It's the invention of Edwin Van Ruymbeke, who's the son of Tim Bird toy inventor G de Ruymbeke. And in function, the Bionic Bird is very similar to the Tim Bird ornithopter popularized in the 70s and 80s.

    An ornithopter is an aircraft that flies by flapping wings--a very basic example of biomimicry. That design yields flight characteristics that are advantageous for small flying devices--the ability to take off without a lot of power, and to stay for long periods in the air by gliding. The Bionic Bird builds on the principles introduced in the Tim Bird, except it has a built-in battery for motorized flight and a radio for directional control (through wing deformation). Looking closer, the Bionic Bird is actually just a tweaking of the $120 Avitron V2.0 RC ornithopter released by Ruymbeke's company in 2012. The primary difference is that Bionic Bird is controlled via a smartphone over Bluetooth, and the Avitron comes with its own dedicated transmitter. For most people, the Avitron is the simplest solution for an RC ornithopter.

    Tested's Quadcopter and Hobby RC Guides

    We've watched awareness and enthusiasm for quadcopters explode over the past year and a half--this is a really exciting branch of hobby RC. For our part, we've done our best to keep up with the hobby, from testing ready-to-fly quads to building our own multi-rotors. But between that videos that we've produced and Hobby RC guides written by Terry Dunn, there's a lot of material to digest if you're just getting started. So I'm putting all of our multi-rotor and RC coverage on this landing page as a beginner's resource and formal archive of topical content.

    I'll be updating this on a monthly basis, and please use this page's comments section to continue a discussion of all things multi-rotor-related.

    How to Get Into Hobby RC Guides

    This is Terry Dunn's bi-weekly column exploring all facets of the RC hobby, including multi-rotors. A great place to start is his first guide to getting started with general RC vehicles. The following guides cover multi-rotors specifically, with boats, planes, and car guides below it. I've marked what I consider to be essential reading with asterisks.

    Our videos covering some of these topics are embedded below.

    The State of Digital Comics

    The latest episode of The Verge's "Top Shelf" series is a great dive into the state of digital comics. Hosts Arielle Duhaime-Ross and Ross Miller interview Understanding Comics author Scott McCloud and comics app makers at Comixology and Symbolia to discuss the state of the medium. As a comics fan who still prefers reading physical graphic novels over comics on phones and tablets, I really enjoyed this!