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    Testing: Surface Pro 3 and Shield Tablet's Styli

    Two things struck me while testing the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and Nvidia's Shield Tablet, devices I ended up really liking. Both are ostensibly tablets, but the way I used each of them differed from how I used my iPad Mini. First, I rarely used held either of them like a notepad, with one or two hands gripping the sides. Most of the time, I had the Surface propped up in its "canvas" position using its kickstand on a flat surface, and kept the Shield Tablet propped up on a small makeshift kickstand as well. They were tabletop computers, not handheld ones. Second, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed using the stylus on each of these devices, and not necessarily as writing instruments. For both the Surface and the Shield Tablet, the stylus actually became a second navigational tool, used to swipe through the home screen and browse the web. These use cases became as intuitive as touch pointing and gestures--still the primary physical for iPads. And it made me think about how much Apple is limiting the potential of its iPads by staunchly sticking to touch.

    Let's start with the Surface Pro 3, which has an active stylus. As I said in our video, my limited digital drawing abilities don't allow me to discern the difference between the Wacom-based digitizer used in the last Surface Pro and the N-Trig one used here. What matters to me isn't degrees of pressure sensitivity, it's accuracy and latency. And the Surface Pro 3's stylus was completely sufficient for note-taking in OneNote--my chicken scratch handwriting looked on-screen like they would have on paper. The ability to manipulate those scribbles as vectors and use the stylus to crop/copy/paste images with annotations made those notes more useful than the ones in my paper notebook after having made my jots.

    But my favorite way to use the Surface Pro 3's stylus was actually as an extension of my fingers on the touchscreen. On the Windows desktop, the stylus became a proxy for my mouse cursor. Even with Windows' improved touch tracking for tapping small buttons, the one thing that touch can't facilitate is a cursor hover. With the active stylus, I could hover the tip over the screen and see where the cursor is before making a pinpointed tap. Even when I had I mouse connected to the Surface, I would use the Stylus in combination with my fingers to browse the web--tapping Chrome's UI and scrolling with the pen and easily still pinching to zoom on pages with my fingers. That complementary use of fingers and stylus felt completely natural. Much like how I've found touchscreens to be a delightful complement to the primary keyboard and mouse interface on a laptop, I've found the stylus to be an intuitive complementary input method to finger touch on tablets. You can have the cake and eat it too.

    The only thing I wish is that Microsoft could have found a better way to store the stylus to the Surface Pro 3. In past versions of the Surface Pro, the stylus stuck magnetically to the side of the device, attached to its charging port, actually. It wasn't particularly secure, and meant that you had to remove the stylus to charge the Surface. On the Surface Pro 3, the stylus has no docking port--only a sleeve on the type keyboard accessory to slip into. I realize that given the thickness of the stylus and the densely packed design of the tablet's guts, there's no space for a recessed stylus dock. It's the problem that Steve Jobs bemoaned when mandating a touch-only interface on the iPad, but not an impossible task. Lenovo's ThinkPad 2, for example, is a hybrid device with a built-in stylus dock.

    Building and Testing a Custom RC Airboat

    Sometimes you seek inspiration. Sometimes inspiration smacks you in the face. As I was walking down the clearance isle at Walmart, I was smacked in the face. They had a few kid’s kickboards on clearance. With my Mini Alligator Tours airboat experiences still fresh on the brain, I immediately thought that one of these kickboards could be the starting point of a scratchbuilt airboat.

    Sitting next to the Mini Alligator Tours, the wide stance and minimalist design of my DIY airboat is apparent.

    There were a few features of this kickboard that I particularly liked, in addition to its clearance price. First of all, it has a very wide stance. That would serve to prevent tipovers--hopefully. Another appealing aspect was its slippery plastic shell. I thought that would help it slide the water, as well as grass and other surfaces. The other kickboards that I saw had a nylon mesh-type covering. That’s probably great if you are actually using it as a kickboard, but not so great in airboat mode.

    The one thing that I did not like about the kickboard was its very pronounced curvature (as viewed from the side). Most airboats use flat-bottomed hulls. I figured I would give it a try anyway and see what happened.

    Keeping It Simple

    Early on, I decided that my focus with this project would be to make the simplest airboat that I possibly could. That proved to be a surprisingly elusive goal. I discarded numerous design sketches over the course of an afternoon before I felt that I had shaved my concept down to the bare essentials.

    In Brief: How Long Will Your CDs Last?

    Media archiving is a noble yet labored pursuit, as archivists struggle to find and adopt new technologies and mediums that won't go obsolete. We've previously discussed the US Library of Congress's approach to archiving millions of pieces of video. Back in the 90s all sorts of analog media was being transferred to what was then thought to be an enduring platform: the compact disc. NPR's All Things Considered recently interviewed the LoC's head of Preservation, Research, and Testing Division to learn about how those CDs have held up in the two decades since, and what surprising deterioration has occurred on the now dated format.

    Norman
    Tested In-Depth: Nvidia Shield Tablet and Wireless Controller

    Nvidia's first Shield device was a good showcase of the Tegra 4 processor, but was limited as a dedicated gaming device. We test the new Shield Tablet and wireless controller, and show off its gaming and productivity features. We also evaluate the stylus, Nvidia's new Grid Beta, and Shield's built-in Twitch streaming capabilities. This ends up being one of our favorite Android tablets, with few compromises for all of its features.

    Airplanes Taking Off and Landing in Time-Lapse

    Photographer Milton Tan was granted access to a restricted runway at the Singapore Changi Airport to shoot this time-lapse compilation of planes taking off and landing at one of the busiest airports in the world. Tan details the technical aspects of his shoot on his blog, explaining that he used long exposure shots with a Canon 5D III and 7D with a range of zoom lenses. 7000 photos were processed in Lightroom and edited in Premiere. This is how I imagine a Star Trek-style spaceport to look like in real-time, with planes warping off as beams of light. (h/t Petapixel)

    The Best Exercise Headphones

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If I were looking for a pair of headphones to use in my workout, I’d want the Relays by Sol Republic. They are hands down the most comfortable headphones to wear while being active. They sound good, stay put without chafing or tugging, are light and resistant to sweat, and have a lifetime of free tips (because you know those lil’ buggers love to get lost in a gym bag).

    I base this conclusion after extensively testing 38 models. Our tests involved a professional listening panel, three stress tests, and real workout tests. After all that, I’m confident the Sol Republic are the best fit for your fitness routine.

    Who’s this for / should I upgrade?

    Exercise headphones are for people who want to run, hike, bike, or hit the gym while listening to music, podcasts, or other media. That means they should be able to withstand a variety of stressors like sweat, rain, strain from dropping media players, and abuse from being thrown in a bag. The headphones should also sound decent, feel good, stay put, and stay out of the way when you’re being active.

    How To Mold and Cast Resin Copies of 3D-Printed Figures

    We do a lot of 3D printing at Tested, but it's a time-consuming process best used for prototyping, not mass production. To replicate our 3D prints, we invited Frank Ippolito up to Adam's shop to teach us how to make simple rubber molds and cast awesome resin copies. It's really not difficult to get started! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about memberships here!)

    Real-Time Face Tracking and Projection Mapping

    This is one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time. PICS, a Japanese video production company, experimented with face tracking and projection mapping to animate and transform the face of a model in real-time. The model's face was marked with tracking dots and painted in reflective make-up, which allowed a computer system to match an 3D animation with her head movements. From afar, the positional matching and low latency of the projection create a mesmerizing and surreal illusion. It's the kind of effect that I would love to see used in movies, shot in-camera instead of done in post with CGI.

    In Brief: Witness the Kilobot Swarm

    Earlier this month, we wrote about how roboticists use swarms of ants as models for programming collective groups of robots, but past experiments in swarming bots (or drones) have only utilized dozens of machines. In a new demonstration of the open-source kilobots project, Harvard roboticist Mike Rubenstein shows off how a system of over a thousand tiny robots could organize themselves to elegantly form two-dimensional shapes. The kilobots--which unfortunately sound like "killerbots"--are to be a test bed for new algorithms that govern swarms of autonomous robots. And rest assured, the only way these robots could hurt you is if you tried to eat one, said Rubenstein in an NPR interview. Watch a video of the kilobots in action below.

    Norman 3
    Google Play App Roundup: TapPath, Duet, and Afterlight

    A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

    This week there's a new way to manage links, a killer rhythm game, and an app for making pretty pictures.

    TapPath

    The "complete action with" dialog in Android isn't perfect, but it's a problem several apps are trying to fix. The recently featured Better Open With is one way, but noted developer Chris Lacy is giving it a shot now as well. TapPath lets you send web links to different apps based on the number of times you tap it, which is pretty cool.

    Like most of these solutions, you need to set TapPath as the default handler for web links. Once that's done, you can open the TapPath app and choose your tap settings. It recognizes single, double, and triple taps. Simply set each one to a different app. So for example, I have a single tap set to open Chrome Beta, a double-tap for Link Bubble, and triple-tap for the share menu.

    TapPath can save you a lot of time when dealing with web links, but it's not perfect. If you are in an app that allows double-tap zooming, you have to be fairly precise with your taps. If you miss the link (in Gmail for example), the app will zoom instead of triggering Tap Path. Otherwise, TapPath should work as expected in any app system-wide. The app isn't just for browsers, though. You can set a different number of taps for anything from Pocket to Push Bullet.

    A small toast notification will pop up to tell you which tap sequence was recognized, just as confirmation everything is working as expected. TapPath works very well overall. It will occasionally see a single-tap for a double or triple, but there is a setting for the tap delay, which can be lengthened if you're having issues.

    TapPath will cost you a buck in the Play Store. It's at least worth checking out.

    Filming The Light and Dark Side of The Godfather

    Gordon Willis, who passed away on May 18, 2014, will always be best known as the cinematographer of The Godfather films. At least one recent poll ranked The Godfather as Hollywood's top movie of all time, and it’s not surprising Coppola's epic crime drama is still revered after all this time. The incredible scope and power of the story still holds up, and it gave a generation of new actors like Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and James Caan their career breakthroughs. Not to mention it was one of Marlon Brando’s best roles, and the movie that revived his career.

    The Godfather also made cinema history by introducing a new style of cinematography.

    Before Willis shot The Godfather, movies were vastly overlit so they could be seen in the drive-ins and not disappear into the dark of the night. But Willis’ cinematography was a bold step forward, changing the look of movies forever. Because of The Godfather, studios actually had to make two sets of prints, a lighter one for drive-ins, and a darker one for theaters.

    It’s easy to take this for granted today because dark cinematography is an accepted norm, and with the latest digital cinema cameras you can shoot with almost no available light. But for the time, Willis’ approach was very groundbreaking, and many cinematographers followed his lead into the dark.

    Willis had shot several films before The Godfather, including Loving, which was directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back), and The Landlord, which was directed by Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude). The Godfather was going to be filmed in New York, which meant that Coppola had to hire a cinematographer from the New York unions. Willis was recommended to Coppola by Matthew Robbins, a friend from the Bay Area who went on to write The Sugarland Express for Spielberg, as well as direct the fantasy Dragonslayer. (Robbins knew Kershner from USC, where the latter taught film.) Willis was also picked for the job because Coppola wanted a cinematographer that could capture a period look.

    In interviews, Willis made it clear there was no master plan to change cinema with his approach to the film.

    Tested In-Depth: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

    Will and Norm sit down to discuss the new Microsoft Surface Pro 3. We compare it to previous Surface Pro devices and how it fares as both a laptop and tablet alternative. The one thing we like the most about it: note-taking with the pen digitizer is a lovely experience.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Testing and Upgrading an Airboat

    A few months ago, we took a look at the RC boating hobby by dissecting two small, electric setups from AquaCraft: the beginner-friendly Reef Racer II and the speedy Minimono. Both boats are still going strong and my family continues to enjoy them. In fact, I decided that I wanted to bring along at least one RC boat on our summer trip to Florida.

    As I was mentally justifying the cargo space for toy boats and thinking of the different lakes we could visit, I remembered fishing at many of those same lakes as a kid. I recalled that most of them had grass, lily pads, reeds, and even cypress knees all along the shoreline. While all of that aquatic flora is what I miss most about living in Florida, it would cause nothing but headaches with the submerged propellers of my RC boats. I decided that I needed a boat that was designed to traverse this kind of environment…an airboat, to be exact.

    If you’re not familiar with the basic design of an airboat, I’ll elaborate. They utilize a wide, flat-bottomed hull. Rather than a submerged water propeller, airboats have a large airscrew like you would find on a Cessna. One or more large rudders are stuck right in the propwash to provide turning authority. This configuration allows an airboat to ignore most vegetation on the water. It just skims right over it all. Many can even claw their way across dry land. In short, airboats are loud, obnoxious, and extremely useful machines.

    In my last-minute search for an airboat, I found that there are several wood kits that are available, as well as varied plans to DIY. But I was in a hurry and needed something off the shelf. I realized that there aren’t many hobby-quality RC airboats available as turnkey packages. In fact, I could find only two: the Alligator Tours and Mini Alligator Tours. Both are also AquaCraft products. The larger version of the Alligator Tours is powered by a fuel-burning motor, while the mini version is electric. I chose the electric version.

    Augmenting Your Hand with Two Robot Fingers

    I missed this while at Comic-Con, but a cool example of one of the many human-robot interaction experiments being conducted at MIT: "Researchers at MIT have developed a robot that enhances the grasping motion of the human hand. The device, worn around one's wrist, works essentially like two extra fingers adjacent to the pinky and thumb. The robot, which the researchers have dubbed "supernumerary robotic fingers," or "SR fingers," consists of actuators linked together to exert forces as strong as those of human fingers during a grasping motion." More information here.

    In Brief: USB Promoter Group Finalizes Design of Next USB Connector

    Arstechnica reports that the USB Promoter Group and the USB Implementers Forum have completed the design and spec for the next-generation of microUSB connector. Dubbed the Type-C, the plug will be similar in size to the current MicroUSB 2.0 connector, but will support the USB 3.1 spec with speeds up to 10GBps and power delivery up to 100W. The design is also reversible, much like Apple's Lightning plug, and is designed to be upgradable and scale with future USB spec changes. The USB Promoter Group promises that adapters for existing Type-B plugs will be readily available. And there's no word of changes to the venerable "standard" A plug--the end on desktops and laptops--which is really the one that needs to support reversibility.

    Norman
    The Best Handheld Vacuum

    This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome. Read the original full article at TheSweethome.com

    For small spills and tight spots that a regular vacuum can’t reach, we recommend using the Black & Decker BDH2020FLFH 20 V MAX Flex Vac ($130). Its powerful 20-volt lithium-ion battery delivers about 16 minutes of strong, steady suction, which means better cleaning for longer than most of the competition can muster. Equally important, its 4-foot flexible hose reaches where other hand vacuums (including our previous pick) can’t, like under car seats. And it even accepts clip-on attachments like a regular vacuum would. It’s the most versatile portable vacuum out there.

    We spent a total of 56 hours researching and 20 hours testing hand vacuums over the past few years. Of the roughly 40 models we’ve found, this new Flex Vac has proven to be the best bet for most people.

    Who needs a portable vacuum?

    A portable vacuum excels as a smaller, lighter, nimbler sidekick to a plug-in upright or canister vacuum. It cleans spots that a big vac doesn’t easily reach: countertops or the floor of a car, for example. And since there’s no cord to unravel, it’s super easy to grab off the charging dock for 10 seconds to suck up a few dust bunnies or grains of spilled cereal. However, if you think you can replace a floor vacuum with one of these, you will be sorely disappointed. They’re simply not designed for that kind of heavy lifting.

    (That being said, some new battery-powered vacuums are designed as all-purpose cleaners, meant to pull double-duty as an all-house upright and a hand vacuum. This guide does not cover these types of vacuums.)