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    Google Play App Roundup: Chrooma Keyboard, Crashlands, and AppLock

    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.

    Chrooma Keyboard

    Google's stock keyboard is a good alternative if you want a faster, simpler keyboard than the one that came with your phone. Then there's SwiftKey for themes and customization. What if you want a little from column A and a little from column B? That's sort of what Chrooma Keyboard is. It's a keyboard that adapts its theme to the app you're using without any configuration on your part.

    Starting in Android 5.0, developers have the option of theming the status and navigation bars in their apps. However, most only add colors to the status bar. Chrooma Keyboard simply looks at the color specified by the app and matches it. The result is a really neat, colorful UI. It might be to everyone's liking, but there's not really anything else like it.

    An app like SwiftKey has plenty of themes, but let's face it, most of them are ugly. Even the ones that aren't might clash with the theme of various apps. Chrooma always matches, and it has a lot in common with Google's light, fast stock keyboard. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's based on the AOSP keyboard (it's released under the Apache license). That means you get word prediction, swipe input, a voice input button, and more.

    Chrooma's headlining feature is obviously the context-aware theming, and there are a few settings to tweak it. The default is single-color mode, but you can change to palette mode where Chrooma uses lighter and darker shades of the app's accent color on each row of the keyboard. I think this looks pretty snazzy. There's also a night mode that uses darker colors. The other settings are slim with a few layout tweaks, UI settings, and icons. There are plenty of languages, though.

    Text input using Chrooma seems to be just as good as the stock Google keyboard, of which I'm generally quite fond. Swipe input is also solid. In fact, Chrooma retains the multi-word swipe input that Google dropped a few versions ago.

    Chrooma is $1.99 in the Play Store, and I think it's worth checking out if you like the stock keyboard, but would like something a little more colorful.

    In Brief: The Science of Making Keyboards Feel Great

    When we test gear, we look beyond the specifications listed by manufacturers to compare a product with its competitors. Each product has both quantitative and qualitative attributes that require testing--some which are not clearly apparent and others that are difficult to measure. "Squishiness" and "clickyness" aren't the most scientific of terms. Popular Mechanics posted this great exploration into the measurable attributes of keyboard feel. Attributes like travel and snap are clearly important, but there's also discoverability, pitch, and dish of the keys.

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    Tested: Xiro Xplorer Aerial Photography Multi-Rotor

    As we start to make some headway into 2016, the popularity of multi-rotors shows no sign of easing up. In fact, numerous new multi-rotors are currently hitting the market full of eager buyers. I'll be bringing you reports on as many of these units as I can get my hands on. I'll start off with the Xiro Xplorer, an aerial photography (AP) quad. The Xplorer's 350mm size puts it in the same class as popular AP units such as the DJI Phantom 3 and Blade Chroma.

    The Xplorer's plastic outer shell features flat, dark grey sides with sharp angular lines, giving it an appearance somewhat like a stealth fighter. It's a fresh look for the now-familiar quad-rotor profile. This ship is available in two ready-to-fly versions. The "Xplorer G" model ($700) includes a 3-axis gimbal that is designed to hold a GoPro Hero 3 or Hero 4 camera. The "Xplorer V" model ($800) has a 3-axis gimbal with a built-in camera. This camera is capable of 1080P/30FPS video and 14.4MP still photos. Hobbico (US importers of the Xplorer) provided a V model for this review.

    Explaining the Xplorer

    The Xplorer V is a very complete AP system. Other than a smart phone or tablet used to run an interface application, all of the required components are in the box. It even includes an 8GB-Class10 microSD memory card for the camera.

    My first impression of the Xplorer was very positive. The fit and finish of the parts is excellent. Nothing has a cheap feel or appearance to it. Even the packaging is well-executed.

    The Xplorer V's camera is attached to a convenient clip-on 3-axis gimbal. It provides very good image quality with resolution up to 1080P for video and 14.4MP stills.

    With so many contenders in the AP quad market, it's getting increasingly tough to stand out from the herd. The Xplorer, however, does have some unique features. One thing that I found useful is the quick-release nature of the gimbal. The gimbal simply clips to the bottom of the quad and all of the necessary electrical connections are automatically made. The process of attaching or removing the gimbal is literally a 5-second task.

    Designing a 3D-Printed Ducati Motorcycle

    3D printing expert Jacky Wan returns to our studio to share his amazing Ducati superbike print--a model consisting of over 40 3D-printed pieces using his Ultimaker. Jacky explains the process of converting a visual effects model into this print, how the pieces fit together, and how he painted and finished it. You can even download the model to print for yourself! (The rider was designed by Mike Balzer of slo 3D creators)

    Google Play App Roundup: SKWRT, The Room Three, and Pocket Mortys

    There are far too many apps flowing into the Play Store on a daily basis to find all the good stuff yourself. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup seeks to solve. Every week we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.


    This isn't just another photo editor app for Android. SKWRT will have more limited appeal, but it's really the only app built specifically to correct for lens distortion in smartphone photos. If you don't know what that means, you aren't alone. However, it's one of those things you might not be able to unsee once it's pointed out. Lucky for you SKWRT exists now.

    Smartphone cameras have come a long way in recent years, but it's important to note that the short fixed focal length is bound to cause a little distortion. This can cause lines that are parallel in real life to end up slightly bent. They appear to converge somewhere off-frame. This is particularly noticeable when taking skyline or architectural photos, and it's not always easy to fix. This is where SKWRT comes in.

    When you open the app, it offers you the option of taking a new photo or opening an existing one. I will say I'm not overjoyed about the layout of the app. It does the same thing VSCO does with the unlabeled buttons and dials. Once you figure out where everything is, it's not so bad.

    Across the bottom of the screen are all the transformations SKWRT includes. There are basic things like vignette adjustment and rotation. I'm particularly impressed with the rotation with automatic cropping that preserves the frame and won't leave you with empty pixels in the corners. You can also adjust the horizontal and vertical perspective lines, and of course, do lens correction. SKWRT has built-in modes for adjusting smartphone, GoPro, wideangle, and fisheye lens photos.

    SKWRT shows you a live preview of the photo as you're making adjustments. When you're satisfied, you can tap the export button at the bottom of the screen (which is uncomfortably close to the navi bar, by the way) and save it to your device or share directly to Instagram. You can optionally replace the original photo too.

    SKWRT will cost you $0.99 in the Play Store, and that's it -- no in-app purchases for filter packs, more tools, or anything else. This app has limited utility, but for those who are serious about their photos, it's an important tool.

    Meet the Hexo+ Autonomous Camera Drone

    This aerial camera holds a GoPro on a three-axis stabilizing gimbal and flies autonomously based on smartphone commands. We ask its creators how its flight algorithms work and why they chose not to enable direct transmitter control.

    Chatting with Legendary Speaker Designer Andrew Jones

    At this year's CES, we had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Jones, audio engineer and legendary speaker designer who has worked at KEF and Pioneer. Now the Vice President of Engineering at ELAC America, Jones is redefining the home speaker market with the ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 series. We were completely enamored with these bookshelf speakers, which are priced at just $500 for a pair. Patrick Norton chatted with Mr. Jones about the challenges of designing speakers, which we've transcribed below.

    Tested: This is kind of a serious geek out treat for me. We're here with Vice President of Engineering at ELAC, Andrew Jones. I've enjoyed your work for a long time. It turns out you're kind of big into maker culture. I asked you when you started designing speakers and you said forever. How young when you started building speakers?

    Andrew Jones: I guess it was around twelve, thirteen I got interested in hi-fi and I have a identical twin brother. We'd both got interested in hi-fi together. His interest veered towards electronics and mine to the speakers, but I like to say we started off at birth, because with being identical twins, it's not only that, we're mirror twins. He's left handed and I'm right handed, so we were born in stereo.

    That's crazy. He's building amplifiers, you're building speakers. What was the challenge when you first started?

    The challenge was understanding, first of all. It's fine to go and buy something but it's knowing how it works, so when you're young you start taking things apart, realize you don't know how to put them back together again, so you're going to have to learn that process. All through school I studied maths, physics, and chemistry. I went to university to do physics with acoustics, because I knew that's what I was going to need for speakers, and then I did a few years' research in both speaker techniques but also anti-noise. You know all the modern day noise-cancelling headphones? I was working on big speakers on ships to cancel the noise from the engines, that kind of thing, but my real interest was hi-fi so I joined KEF.

    KEF was, at the time in England, the speaker university, and my mentor, Laurie Fincham, was the technical director there. I learned everything there, and we got to know everybody in the industry that was important and knew things, so you could just ask questions of anybody. If I was stuck on something, I could ask Peter Walker from Quad. He'd just give me a call, "Andrew, I was thinking about what you said the other day," and lay out a beautifully simple explanation. It was a wonderful training that set me up for everything I've done since then.

    Meet the Acton Blink Electric Skateboard

    Last year, we checked out Acton's motorized "Rocket Skates" at CES, which were a bit impractical for regular use. Acton's new electric skateboard, the Blink, may be more useful. We chat with Acton co-founder Peter Treadway about what makes Blink different from other electric skateboards, and give it a quick test ride!

    Meet the ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 Bookshelf Speakers

    Meet Andrew Jones, legendary speaker designer who's now engineering amazing audio gear for ELAC. At CES, Patrick Norton could not stop gushing about ELAC's new Uni-Fi UB5 bookshelf speakers, which only cost $500 for a pair (but sound like they cost thousands). Patrick gets the opportunity to chat with Andrew about speaker design and what makes for good home audio.

    Flying FPV Drones with Avegant Glyph Headset

    Avegant's Glyph was conceived of as a way to watch movies and play games in a head-mounted display, but its more interesting use is as a FPV viewer for camera-equipped drones. We check out the final production version of the Glyph and test it with the DJI Phantom 3 and Inspire 1 with head-tracking.

    Meet Dell's New 30-Inch OLED Monitor

    We meet up with Patrick Norton while at CES to check out Dell's new 30-inch OLED monitor. This is only of the most beautiful desktop displays we've ever seen--a prestige product priced at a whopping $5000. Plus, we quickly check out Dell's new 2-in-1 Core-M notebook.

    Testing SAFE Plus Stabilization for RC Aircraft

    If you've ever flown a fixed-wing RC model with artificial stabilization such as SAFE or WISE, then you know that these systems are not some magic wand that prevents all crashes and makes new pilots expert flyers overnight. Artificial stabilization is merely a useful training tool. When used correctly, it can significantly shorten a rookie pilot's learning curve—and perhaps help avoid some carnage along the way.

    Artificial stability systems continue to become more sophisticated and capable. The SAFE Plus (SAFE+) system installed in the Hobbyzone Sportsman S+ model is a prime example. This system is unique in that it utilizes GPS and a compass in order to realize heretofore unseen capabilities in fixed-wing models. In some cases, those new capabilities address shortcomings that I found in other stability systems.

    My original plan for this article was to exercise the various features of SAFE+ and report how well it performs. I'm still going to do that. Yet, as I spent more time flying the Sportsman S+, I slowly began to realize that artificial stability has turned a very significant corner. I think that these systems which are meant to assist new flyers could actually make learning more difficult and confusing for some pilots. I'll explain my reasoning for that opinion as well.

    Why GPS and Compass?

    The core functionality of a fixed-wing stability system is to know what straight and level flight is and then command the model to get there when asked. If a pilot gets disoriented or puts the airplane in a bad attitude, the system will execute recovery maneuvers and save the day. The pilot can then resume control with no harm done. One problem that I've found with these systems is that they still require the pilot to execute turns to keep the model in sight. Even a few seconds of unsure hesitation on the controls could be sufficient to send the perfectly stabilized model flying off into the horizon. That's one reason why it is still a good idea to have an experienced pilot on hand to coach you through those first awkward steps.

    This GPS module permits the SAFE+ system to overcome the shortcomings of other fixed-wing stabilization units.

    By integrating GPS and compass into SAFE+, the dreaded "fly away" scenario is mitigated. We've become accustomed to (and perhaps dependent on) the GPS and compass-enabled features in multi-rotors. By knowing where the model is and which way it is pointing, multi-rotors can automatically hold their position in the sky when the wind blows or return to their takeoff location with the push of a button. SAFE+ brings similar capabilities to fixed-wing aircraft.

    Designing 3D-Printed Mechwarrior Mechs

    We're joined in the office by 3D modeler and designer Jacky Wan, who shares with us his 3D printed Mechwarrior online mechs. These figures were created on his Ultimaker by extracting in-game models and then modifying and adapting them for printing. Jacky chats with us about what it takes to turn game files into printable objects!

    Meet the Mcor Arke Full-Color Paper 3D Printer

    Traditional desktop 3D printers use melted plastic as their build material, but Mcor's printers layer sheets of paper on top of each other to create their models. We check out the new Mcor Arke, a printer that cuts from a large spool of paper, glues those sheets together, and then prints color on them to turn digital files into large paper models!

    Beastcam Photogrammetry Rig Scans Live Animals

    Biology processor Duncan Irschick of UMass Amherst introduces the Beastcam, a four-camera rig that can rapidly take photos of live animals for generating 3D photogrammetry models. The rig, which was conceived of when Irschick found it challenging to 3D model a live shark, can shoot 60 photos in about 15 seconds. The photos are sent through software like Autodesk's 123D Catch and used to study body form in animals and complex movements. Irschick hopes to take it back to Florida to test it on a shark!

    In Brief: Disney Applies to Fly Drones in Theme Parks

    It's currently illegal to use unmanned aerial systems--commonly known as drones--for commercial purposes, unless a company gets approved for an FAA Section 333 exemption. That's how videographers are allowed to use camera-mounted drones to film clips for commercials as well as things like Apple's new AppleTV screensaver videos. Disney has just filed a public application for Section 333, in which it describes how it would use up to 50 LED-equipped drones to light up the sky and complement evening fireworks shows at its theme parks. Those "flixel" drones would fly above areas inaccessible to visitors, under 150 feet, and for no longer than five minutes at a time. Disney has also stated that it would be using quads, hexe, and octo-rotors made by 3D Robotics. That company's Solo quadcopter just received a new reusable parachute accessory that can automatically deploy if it detects the drone falling at an unsafe speed.