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    Tested: Microsoft Surface Book Performance Base Review

    While Microsoft didn't announce a proper successor to its Surface Book for this holiday, they released an update to the laptop with a Performance Base model. We test the Surface Book with increased battery capacity and a new discrete GPU, as well as update you on what the past year has been like using the Surface Book as a primary work laptop.

    Tested: Kyosho’s Pistol Grip Drone Racer

    Cutting edge innovations continue to emerge from the multi-rotor industry at a hectic pace. Frankly, it's sometimes difficult to keep track of all the new stuff. A few things are bound to get lost in the noise from time to time. But the upcoming Drone Racer by Kyosho ($220) really caught my attention. My interest has nothing to do with the fact that this quad looks like a race car. I'm captivated by the notion that you drive it like a race car. Rather than the standard 2-joystick transmitter that is typically used for airborne models, this multi-rotor takes its commands from a pistol-grip transmitter like you would find at an RC racetrack. You're probably wondering how that is even possible. Keep reading and I'll explain!

    Under The Hood

    Kyosho provided a pre-production unit of the Drone Racer for me to evaluate. It is planned for release in late November and will be available in two body styles. The G-Zero model, which I received, is obviously inspired by Formula One race cars. The Zephyr version channels an angular, flat-paneled Batmobile.

    The Drone Racer is not a toy-grade novelty item. It is made of legit hobby-quality stuff. But it isn't meant to trade paint with traditional high-powered racing quads. Despite the similarity in name, they are totally different beasts. If there is such a thing as a beginner-friendly airborne racing basher, the Drone Racer is it. It is at home zipping around over your driveway or competing with friends on an impromptu parking lot race course.

    This ship reminds me of many of the beginner-oriented quads that I have flown. Its plastic frame measures 233mm between diagonal rotor shafts. Each 5"-diameter (127mm) prop is driven by a tiny brushed motor via a single-stage gearbox. Power comes from a 1-cell, 1000mAh LiPo battery.

    The Drone Racer's Formula One-like styling is unique, but its most innovative feature is the 2-channel control system.

    No assembly is required, but you will likely be turning screws at some point to make tuning adjustments. For instance, you can set the forward tilt of the rotors to 0 (default), 10, or 20-degrees. The 10 and 20-degree options provide faster forward speeds. Making the change requires swapping out plastic mounts for the frame arms. It's a quick process involving just 8 screws.

    All of the onboard electronics are configured as well. Once again, there are a few tuning options. You can choose between Easy and Active flight modes. Obviously, the Active mode offers more aggressive maneuvering. There is also an option to configure specific settings via a Windows or Android utility. A micro-USB cable is included to bridge the physical connection between the quad and your PC. The program, however, is not complete as I write this. So I was not able to utilize that feature during my testing.

    Everything You Need to Know about HDR TVs

    If you follow consumer technology news, you may have noticed increasing mentions of high dynamic range, or HDR. It's a technical term used to express a large range of luminosity in an image. Typically, HDR describes the quality of a photographic image. But it also describes video images--and with recent advancements in display technologies, HDR televisions and monitors are becoming a new confusing option for shoppers. Let's explore what this all means for you if you're in the market for a new display.

    HDR for Still Images

    When you take a picture with a smartphone, DSLR, or anything in between, the image is captured with fixed values for the shutter speed, ISO, exposure value, etc. In short, these all affect how much light the camera captures, and therefore how bright or dark the picture is.

    If you're trying to take a picture of something with an extreme range of luminosity, you will find yourself with details being washed out in bright areas or lost in the shadows of dark areas. Imagine yourself indoors on a sunny day in a room with a large window. Or, looking at a person outside when the sun is behind them. The human eye is able to simultaneously see detail both inside and out, or the person's face despite the sun, but a camera taking a single image at fixed settings cannot.

    It's these types of scenarios you want an HDR image. All high-end smartphones today can create one. Hit the toggle to turn it on, and now your phone magically takes pictures with a better dynamic range. Well, not quite. You've probably noticed that taking a picture on your phone with HDR turned on takes a bit longer. That's because it's actually taking multiple pictures: one overexposed, one underexposed, and one at a normal exposure, and then the camera software stitches them together for one great looking picture.

    To make an HDR image from pictures taken with a DSLR it requires more steps. At the very least multiple images taken at different exposures are needed. Next you'll need image processing software. The most recent versions of both Photoshop and Lightroom from Adobe are capable of automatically creating HDR images. If you don't want to go through the process of manually putting them together with layers and the whole nine yards, you can use the merge to HDR feature and the software will automatically create an HDR image with what you've provided. Some DSLRs can do "in-camera HDR"; merge three bracketed images. However, they won't look as good compared to creating them with computer software.

    No matter the device, or more specifically, the display, you're viewing an HDR image on you can see the benefits. This is thanks to a process called tone mapping. It's a technique used to bring down the dynamic range of an image or video, and can preserve most of the detail while allowing the content to be viewed properly on a standard dynamic range display.

    Google Play App Roundup: Brave Browser, The Trail, and Asphalt Xtreme

    Apps move quickly on Android. No sooner have you found an app you can get cozy with, than a better alternative has come along. We're here to make sure you're ahead of the curve, that you're always on the bleeding edge. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is for. Just click on the links to head to Google Play and get the best new apps and games for your device.

    Brave Browser

    You may be thinking, Brave already exists, and you are technically correct. Brave came into existence when the Link Bubble browser was acquired by Brave Software, but now that app has turned back into Link Bubble. There's a new Brave Browser, and it's a bit more conventional.

    Brave Browser is a traditional tabbed browser with all the enhanced security and privacy features that Brave has been pushing since its inception. This app is not based on any of the code acquired in the Link Bubble deal. Instead, it uses Chromium as a base—currently v54, which is the same as mainline stable Chrome.

    So, if you've used Chrome on Android, you'll notice a lot of similarities in Brave. One thing you will not notice is ads. Brave blocks all ads, trackers, and 3rd party cookies by default. You can also optionally block all scripts on the page. It enforces HTTPS everywhere too.

    Brave made news a year or so ago when it announced its ambitious plan to replace ads in web pages with its own individually vetted ads, which would still result in revenue for publishers. Brave would also take a cut of the revenue. However, that feature has still not been implemented. For the time being, Brave is just an ad-blocking browser.

    The most prominent difference between Chrome and Brave is the Brave logo in the action bar at the top. Tapping on this opens up the menu for Brave Shield—essentially all the privacy features the app promotes. At the top is a slider that lets you set shields up or shields down for a particular domain. It shows you the number of ads and trackers it blocks as the site loads. You can also individually toggle trackers/ads, cookies, scripts, and HTTPS.

    Is Brave fast? Sure, it's based on Chromium and has been slimmed down a little bit. None of Google's sync features are included. The lack of ads also makes page loads faster, of course. If you're on the lookout for a new browser, Brave is worth a shot.

    Making Laser-Cut Mechanized Hands for Creature Effects

    We visit Frank's shop to check out his latest project: mechanized hand extensions inspired by the props built by Rick Baker's team for creature performances in film. Frank walks us through how he deconstructed the design of these mechs and recreated them using his Universal Laser Systems cutter!

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (November 2016)

    The choice has never been harder when buying an Android phone. There aren't many flagship phones that are bad, but there are clearly some that are better than others. We're lucky to be choosing between good and great experiences, but you still want the great one, right? It's lame to regret a purchase for the next year or two.

    This month, Google is back in the phone market, Samsung falls back to the GS7, and LG aims to put the G5 in the rearview mirror.

    Carrier Phones

    The Samsung Galaxy S7 has had the carrier pick locked up for the last few months as the LG G5 and HTC 10 both failed to make a splash. Interestingly, the GS7 is still the best phone that's available on all carriers, but that varies a bit depending which one you're which. The Pixel is available on Verizon, and the LG V20 is a fine addition to LG's flagship lineup. Let's detangle all this.

    First a brief refresher on the GS7. It's a very attractive phone, probably the nicest looking and best built device Samsung has ever come out with. The front and back are both Gorilla Glass, but it feels so well put together. It's IP68 water resistant, and the metal rim around the edges makes it feel substantial in the hand. It's a little heavier than you probably expect when you pick it up, but it has a slight curve, making it much more comfortable to hold.

    Samsung fixed its battery life problems this year. The GS7 is a little thicker than the GS6 was to accommodate a larger battery— the GS7 has a 3000mAh battery and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. Both phones easily make it through the day, but the GS7 Edge is noticeably better. Both phones support Quick Charge 2.0 and wireless charging as well.

    Samsung is using a Snapdragon 820 this year, which is a quad-core 64-bit SoC. The 820 has shown up in a lot of phones, but Samsung lowered the clock speed a bit to make the device more power efficient. This isn't a slow phone, but it's slow-er than most other Snapdragon 820 devices I've used. The 4GB of RAM ensures that you don't have to wait for apps to needlessly reload when multitasking.

    Tested: PowerUp FPV RC Paper Airplane

    We've been following the development of the PowerUp FPV ever since the project was launched on Kickstarter in late 2015. The primary goal of the PowerUp FPV package ($200) is to provide an FPV flying experience using a paper airplane as the vehicle and your phone as the controller. This concept builds on the success of the PowerUp 3.0, a product that enables line-of-sight remote control of paper airplanes. I was recently given an opportunity to try out a pre-production version of the PowerUp FPV. Actual production units should start shipping sometime in mid-November.

    An Inside Look

    The soul of the PowerUp FPV is its FPV module. This plastic and carbon fiber unit clips on to a folded paper model to provide power and control. The only moving surfaces are the propellers attached its twin motors. Differential thrust is used to turn the model in flight, while the overall throttle setting determines whether the airplane climbs or descends.

    The PowerUp FPV provides a first-person-view experience using your smart phone and a paper airplane.

    The FPV module is completely assembled at the factory. Fit and finish of the plastic parts is quite good. I appreciate that the nose of the module has a soft rubber bumper to help minimize damage in a crash. A camera is perched on top of the front end of the module. The view from this camera is downlinked to your phone for FPV flying. Video can also be recorded at 320x240-resolution to an onboard micro-SD card.

    A 1S-550mAh LiPo battery is used to energize the PowerUp FPV. This battery is removable, so you can keep a few batteries on hand for more flight time. The battery is charged via a micro-USB connection through the FPV module.

    Why Google is Embracing Mesh Networking with Google Wifi

    As more and more devices have started relying upon internet connectivity, it's much more important that all the nooks and crannies of your home have proper WiFi coverage. The routers of old simply aren't up to the task, but new models have implemented a variety of clever antenna technologies to make coverage better. However, mesh networking might be the wave of the future.

    Google has joined other companies like Eero and Netgear in making a mesh networking product. It's called Google WiFi, and it's coming out just a year after the OnHub. What's going on with that?

    Jumping on the mesh networking bandwagon

    So, why is mesh networking suddenly the hot new thing? A few years ago, routers were not very smart. They'd blanket an area with signal, and hopefully you were able to pick it up on your device, because the router wasn't going to give you any help. Beamforming was added in the 802.11n specification, and it allowed routers to focus a signal at active devices. It wasn't a requirement, so there was no guarantee a router would support this technology. Smart home devices might not always be in a convenient place for wireless coverage because you usually have other considerations when adding things like cameras, lights, and so on.

    At the same time, we've moved beyond 2.4GHz WiFi frequencies to 5GHz. This allows for much more data bandwidth, but the higher frequency also loses power more quickly as it passes through walls and other obstacles. At first 5GHz was at least relatively uncongested with traffic, but now there's plenty. Routers with higher power output and technologies like beamforming are necessary to maintain high throughput for applications like HD video streaming and large file transfers.

    Google Play App Roundup: ActionDirector, Dustoff Heli Rescue 2, and PinOut

    Android devices do a lot of neat stuff out of the box, but you can always load it up with new apps to make if do more stuff. And maybe some games for good measure. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new on Android. Just hit the links to head to the Play Store.

    ActionDirector Video Editor

    Video editing on Android is one of those things that never really took off. Google had a video editing app for a while, but it fell into disrepair rather quickly. As everyone moved to shooting shorter videos for services like Instagram and Snapchat, the necessity for these apps diminished somewhat. There are still times you need to make some changes to a video, but doing so is much harder than editing a photo. Cyberlink has released a new video editing app that might do what you need, and it's not hellishly expensive, either.

    ActionDirector gives you two options for getting videos into the app. You can shoot with the built-in camera or simply import a video you shot previously. The UI is a little confusing when you import a video—there's a small "+" next to the video title after you tap on it. That takes you to the editing interface with the various tool categories along the bottom of the display.

    The app's tool categories are trim, action, color, title, and audio. The trim command should be straightforward. Simply drag the bars to indicate the section you wish to keep, and the remainder will be discarded. The action tab is where most of the fun stuff is. You can speed up, slow down, repeat, and reverse sections of the video. It's the same deal as above—use the sliders to indicate the section you want to modify. You can also alter the brightness, saturation, or contrast.

    The title and music are both customizable. The former includes some cool pre-defined intro, outro, and credit layouts, which you can edit as you like. The audio feature even includes options to import an audio file and mix it with the video's audio.

    When you're done, the video can be exported and saved locally to your device, or saved and shared in a single step. Exporting appears to happen fairly fast and supports resolutions up to 1080p and 60 fps. All this is available for free, but there's a Cyberlink watermark in the corner. If you want to remove that, it costs $2.99. If you only need to get rid of the watermark for this one project, you can watch a video ad to remove it. That's pretty clever.

    Episode 373 - Dongle Required - 10/27/16
    Norm and Jeremy record a duocast to catch up on this past week in technology news. It's been a busy week, from Tesla's autopilot announcement to Nintendo's new console, not to mention the big two unveils from Microsoft and Apple. We chat about Surface Studio, the new MacBooks, and our hopes and fears for each. Plus, did we mention we're putting on a live show this weekend?
    00:00:00 / 01:36:28
    Microsoft’s 2016 Windows 10 Event: Everything You Need to Know

    In what's becoming an annual affair, Microsoft recently held an event in New York City to talk both hardware and software. Highlighting the presentation was the Surface Studio, an all-in-one PC for digital artists launching this holiday, and the Windows 10 Creators Update, bringing 3D creative tools to everyone in early 2017. Here's what you need to know about what was announced at the event.

    Surface Studio and Surface Book

    From the beginning, Surface has been about making people more productive, to provide the technology and tools for anyone to make anything. As Panos Panay said at the event, "[Surface] moves seamlessly throughout your day. It's about you at the center." The Surface Studio is a high end all-in-one computer, Microsoft's first desktop computer, aimed at digital artists.

    The Surface Studio differs from many other AIO PCs by putting the components in the base, which ranges from an Intel Skylake core i5 and Nvidia GT965M up to an i7 and GT980M. Paired with this is a 28" 4.5K (4500x3000) 3:2 touchscreen display. It also supports the DCI-P3 color space, which is the most possible of current display technologies. (However, at only 350 nits, the Studio doesn't support any HDR video standards.) One last important aspect to the display itself is its 192 DPI. This, along with scaling done by Windows, makes for a true to life scale on screen. In other words, one inch on screen is equal to one inch in the real world. The Surface Studio starts at $3000 and ships this December.

    Of course, there's more to it than just that. The screen is on what Microsoft calls a zero-gravity hinge, allowing the display to effortlessly move from upright, down to a drafting angle, and any position in between. The palm rejection software in Windows even allows for you to lay your entire arm across the display for when you really want to get into something with the Surface Pen.

    Microsoft's Surface Studio and Windows 10 Creator Update

    We head to New York for Microsoft's announcement of the Windows 10 Creator Update and its shiny new all-in-one Surface Studio computer. Norm sits down with Engadget's Devindra Hardawar to discuss what we've learned about these products and our initial impressions.

    Show and Tell: Laser Cutting Norm's Wedding Favors

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm shares the homemade wedding favors that Frank helped make for Norm's recent wedding ceremony using his Universal Laser Systems cutter. The project was straightforward and simple to execute, and Norm couldn't be happier with the results!

    Google Play App Roundup: Wallpapers, Plants vs Zombies Heroes, and Break Liner

    If you're going to be supporting app development on Android (and you should), you might as well pay for the best content you can. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is all about. This is where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just follow the links to the Play Store.

    Wallpapers

    I would not usually feature a wallpaper app, but this isn't just any wallpaper app. This is Wallpapers by Google. Just a few days before the Pixel shipped, Google decided to release the Wallpaper chooser from that phone as a standalone app that anyone can install.

    The app includes access to all the photos stored on your device, as well as stock wallpapers that came with it. The focus, though, is the Google-provided wallpapers. There are five categories in the app: Earth, Landscapes, Cityscapes, Life, and Textures. Each one has a couple dozen photos, and Google says it will continue adding more images over time.

    When you tap on an image to view it, the app downloads it from the web. It takes a second or two, depending on your connection speed. Each image comes with embedded source data allowing you to learn more about it. In the case of images that came from a partner like 500px, you'll be linked to the image on the artist's page. For the Google Earth snapshots (my personal favorite), the explore link opens Maps and takes you to the location.

    Each category has the option of setting a daily wallpaper as well. Choose that option, and the app will rotate in a new image each day. While you can install this app on any Android device running 4.1 or higher, it has special capabilities on devices running Nougat. Google added native support for different wallpapers on the home and lockscreen in Android 7.0. So, this app lets you set an image for one or the other, or both. I tested this on an LG V20, and it worked perfectly.

    If you like the style of Google's wallpapers as of late, this app is a must-have. The selection of images is great, and it's only going to get better. It is, of course, free.

    Here is Nintendo's Switch Hybrid Console, Due March 2017

    In an age where it's nigh impossible to keep a new product secret, the Nintendo Switch, previously known by its codename NX, was generally a known quantity. In a short video released by Nintendo, we can finally see this new hybrid console in action, coming March 2017.

    The device itself is essentially a tablet, with a screen size of around 7 inches. On either side are the Joy-Con controllers and they have a fairly traditional layout. Unlike the Razer Edge, these controllers are naturally integrated with the Switch. Physical games will come on carts, and are inserted into the top via a covered port.

    Whether you're on the go or at home, the controllers can slide off the device and be used wirelessly. They can still act as one controller this way, and there will even be a controller shell, the Joy-Con Grip, available for the Joy-Cons to slide into. Or, they can function independently for multiplayer games, kind of like a smaller Wii Remote. Wait, this is a tablet, isn't it? How will you hold it if you're using the controllers detached? POW, kickstand.

    The Switch also doubles as Nintendo's new home console. Included is a dock with various ports that the tablet slides into. This dock covers the screen of the Switch, so this isn't like the Wii U. You won't have a game displaying on your TV and still interact with the screen on the tablet. You can then detach the Joy-Con controllers as previously mentioned, or use the new Pro Controller that Nintendo will also sell.

    How Google Assistant is Different from 'OK Google'

    We've been able to talk to our Android phones in a conversational manner for years thanks to the power of Google search. However, Google has been focusing more on voice over the years with features like the "OK Google" commands. Then at Google I/O, the company started talking about Assistant, but it neglected to really explain what Assistant is and how it's different from the Google search features you already have on your phone. Let's see if we can work it all out.

    Google Everywhere

    At its heart, Assistant is an impressive artificial intelligence engine. It's like Google search, but more powerful and aware of context. Google's voice and text search features in the past have always been built into the Google Search app on Android. However, Assistant is designed to be integrated into more places, and it will be explicitly labeled as Assistant instead of just being some amorphous "Google" thing that can go by any number of names depending on the context (eg, Google Now, voice actions, and so on).

    In the new Allo chat app, Assistant is what powers the Google chatbot. On the Pixel (and maybe more Android phones in the future), Assistant is the omnipresent voice-activated search tool. In Google Home, Assistant can do voice searches and control connected smart home devices like Hue lights and the Chromecast.

    The way Google Assistant and all of Google's other voice tools is really unchanged. Your words are transcribed locally on the device, then uploaded as text snippets. That's faster than streaming the raw audio to be processed in the cloud. That's why Assistant in its chatbot form and conversational voice form work in mostly the same fashion. So, when you hear about Google Assistant, it's not really a replacement for Google voice search or OK Google—it's more of an evolution.