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    Watch: How a Neural Network AI Perceives the World

    NeuralTalk is a github project that runs images through a recurrent neural network and predicts a sentence description for new images in the form of captions. The models can be improved with larger data sets and longer training times, but the accuracy and results are impressive, especially when new images are fed to it in real-time. That was the experiment of Kyle McDonald, who ran NerualTalk through his laptop's webcam during a walk through Amsterdam. (h/t Gizmodo)

    In Brief: Taking Apart the ToyTalk Barbie

    Super interesting: security blog Somerset Recon recently took apart Mattel's Hello Barbie, a new doll that incorporates IoT technology to allow children to have conversations with it. The communications tech comes from ToyTalk, a startup (founded by ex-Pixar folks) that has spent the past five years working on ways to develop software to make more interactive toys. They've released interactive apps before, but the Hello Barbie has communications hardware built-in, allowing it to record a user's voice interactions, send it to ToyTalk's servers, and feed back a response from a library of over 8,000 line of recorded content. Somerset Recon found a small circuit board with Wi-Fi, flash memory, LEDs, and a Marvell controller. This is essentially a Marvell IoT board that can is internet-ready and can drop into a variety of different toys. The next step for Somerset is to dive into the system architecture and evaluate its security implications.

    Testing: In-Depth with the Nexus 5X and 6P Cameras

    Nexus phones have always had great software and innovative hardware features, but even when the camera specs looked good, performance has been mediocre at best. Google has been happy to point out that it prioritized the cameras in the Nexus 5X and 6P, though. They use excellent sensors and the software processing has been heavily revamped. So how good are they? Let's take a closer look at this year's Nexus cameras.

    The Hardware

    The Nexus 6P and 5X have a lot in common when it comes to the camera. In fact, they have identical hardware. We're talking about a Sony IMX377 image sensor with a resolution of 12.3MP. That's a little lower than the Nexus 6's resolution last year, and there's one other feature missing from these cameras -- optical image stabilization. We'll get to that later.

    These Sony sensors have large 1.55μm pixels and a f/2.0 aperture. These features both make for theoretically better low-light performance compared to past Nexus phones. The pixel measurement isn't something you hear about a lot, but HTC has pushed it as an important metric for its Ultrapixel sensor. Those cameras have 2.0μm pixels, which allows them to pick up a lot of light. However, the resolution was only 4MP. The IMX377 is ahead of most sensors in pixel size, commonly 1.1-1.2μm.

    Next to the camera on these phones you also get a laser autofocus module. It's out in the open on the 5X, but it's behind the glass cover on the 6P. This is similar to LG's phones in that it helps you zero in on targets, even in weird lighting conditions. A number of other high-end flagship phones use phase detection tech to focus the camera, but the laser option has proven to be better overall.

    Several of the differences between the Nexus 6P and 5X cameras have to do with the internal hardware, not the camera modules themselves. The 5X has a Snapdragon 808 and the 6P runs a Snapdragon 810. According to Google, several of the processing technologies it chose to implement don't work well enough on the 808, so they're exclusive to the 6P. Specifically, electronic image stabilization, smart burst, and 240fps slow-motion video.

    In Brief: DxO One Gets Major Update with 1.2 App

    Since reviewing the DxO One earlier this Fall, I've been warming up to the device. My criticism of it still stand--it's a boutique product that's pretty expensive and has short battery life. But like other specialty cameras (eg. Ricoh Theta, Lytro), it's something I've begun to carry around in my backpack on a daily basis, and have turned to when I go to events and don't want to carry my DSLR all day. It's not a replacement for my full-frame camera, but a replacement for the iPhone camera (and a reason not to upgrade to the 6S).

    As promised, DxO is releasing software updates that expand on the functionality of the One; a new 1.2 app will enable loupe-based manual focus, expanded shutter range (30 sec to 1/20000), continuous shooting mode, new video modes, and a redesigned viewfinder. And for Apple Watch users, you can trigger the shutter from the watch to snap a photo or start video recording--no live view there, though. This flurry of updates is another reason the DxO and app-tethered cameras are interesting: the product can improve dramatically without buying new hardware. The camera is still $600, and I believe Amazon is running a promotion for the camera with a bundled 32GB microSD card. The 1.2 app will go live in early December.

    Mobile vs. Desktop: Apple iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface

    I've been testing the iPad Pro for the past week and a half now, using it not only as a go-to tablet, but also as an alternative to a notebook for as many day-to-day tasks as possible. I strapped it inside a Logitech Create keyboard and brought it as my sole computer for a weekend work trip to LA. There's a lot more testing to do--my Apple Pencil hasn't even shipped yet--but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on how the device performs, and where it fits and doesn't fit into my work and home use. Specifically, I want to discuss how it, along with other devices, are changing the conversation and role of what are typically classified as mobile and desktop-class computers.

    The release of Microsoft's new Surface devices (Surface Book and Surface Pro 4), along with the release of the iPad Pro has renewed the idea of mobile vs. desktop. You can find many reviews that boil their evaluation down to whether the iPad Pro can replace a laptop, or whether Microsoft's Surface laptops can replace the need for a tablet. I'm not interested in that head-to-head comparison--the products are set at different price points, and in my mind serve different purposes. Their hardware and software design illustrate different priorities for Microsoft and Apple for their respective families of computing devices. It's those priorities and design approaches that are really interesting; I want to compare what the iPad and Surface lines stand for: a future that's mobile first vs. one that's desktop first.

    To do that, we should first define our terms. So much of this discussion can get muddled in pointless semantic disagreements. When talking about the iPad and Surface, what categorizes one as mobile, and what categorizes the other as a desktop device? Is it the physical formfactor and size? Having a built-in keyboard? Long battery life? Processor architecture? Touchscreen? App selection? All of the above are important to varying degrees, but I think the difference currently boils down to windowed applications and input models, and how those implementations affect how you can use those machines.

    Windows and a Desktop: Multitasking for Productivity

    For me, the biggest difference in the way you currently use a desktop-class device (eg. a notebook) and a mobile device (eg. smartphone and tablet) depends on whether the operating system employs a desktop model of running programs and file management. As opposed to runnings apps full-screen, Desktop OSes allow for windowed applications to run alongside each other, on top of a virtual and visualized desktop surface. It's a really simple concept to understand, and yet there are grey areas. For example, the home screen on iOS doesn't count as a desktop--it's just an application list, like the Start Menu in Windows. Simple. But on Android OS, being able to arrange files and shortcuts around a launcher screen and run apps in windows makes those devices more akin to desktop OSes, even though Android is typically classified as a mobile OS.

    The 10,000 Year Clock of the Long Now Foundation

    From the documentarians of Public Record, a beautiful video about the goal and building of the Long Now Foundation's 10,000 year clock project: "The Clock of the Long Now is a portrait of Danny Hillis and his brilliant team of inventors, futurists, and engineers as they build The 10,000 Year Clock-a grand, Stone Henge-like monolith, being constructed in a mountain in West Texas."

    In Brief: Designing a Game You Could Learn without Instructions

    Laura Hudson, writing for the awesome BoingBoing Offworld blog, shares the work of artist Nova Jiang. Jiang has designed a Chess set where the 3D-printed pieces convey the rules of the game. The shape and size of the customized pieces indicate how that piece moves, and its importance to the game--the idea is that players could learn a variation of Chess (of which there are many, across different cultures) without being explicitly given instructions.

    Introducing a New Tested Gear Shop

    Hey everybody, Norm here. I wanted to let you know that we're trying something new this week--launching a gear store in partnership with Stack Commerce. That means we'll be able to offer you cool and useful products that we think you'll like, often at pretty big discounts from their retail price. You can find stuff like phones, cameras, robotics kits, and essential accessories in the gear shop, take software courses and acquire skills in the eLearning shop, and even get some freebies and enter giveaways. I've been able to discover some neat gear in the shop just from browsing around, like a laser pointer attachment for a phone that can fit into a headphone jack!

    Photo credit: Flickr user furyksx via Creative Commons

    One of the best deals I've found so far: 100 Duracell AA batteries and 52 Duracell AAA batteries for sixty bucks! Free shipping too? Donezo. And by shopping in the store, you'll be directly supported the work we do on the site. We're also offering a 10% discount this week with the coupon code Tested10. That can get you $50 off of an already heavily discounted Lytro Illum. The code is valid until next Monday at 11pm PST, and the deals have limited lifespans too. Thanks for checking the store out, and thanks again for supporting Tested! And if you pick up anything or find a particularly good deal, please post in the comments so other people can get in on it too.

    Google Play App Roundup: Audify, Horizon Chase, and Call of Champions

    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.


    Android's notification system is great… when you're looking at the phone. But what happens when your attention is focused elsewhere? A beep and flashing light only provides so much information. With Audify, you can have your notifications read aloud, and unlike some similar services and apps, this isn't just for messaging. Audify can read all your notifications.

    Audify should work on any phone running Android 4.3 or higher. That's because it needs the notification listener, which you'll be prompted to enable upon opening the app for the first time. This lets Audify read the text of the notification, which it then runs through the standard text-to-speech engine on your phone. It's not going to be like having a conversation with a human, but the default voice on most phones isn't bad anymore. It's like a very polite female robot.

    There are multiple settings to control how and when Audify activates. Once you set these rules, you don't have to fiddle with the app at all. The default behavior is to start Audify when you plug in headphones or connect a Bluetooth audio device. This implies that you're not going to be looking at the screen and it might be advantageous to have your notifications read to you. There's also a setting to only read when the screen is off. Again, this is probably the most likely use case. However, you can have the audio go through the speakers and work all the time, even when the screen is awake. It's your call.

    Audify will read all high-priority notifications (the ones that trigger alert sounds). If an app isn't important enough that you want the notifications read aloud, no problem. Just add it to the muted list. Audify will smartly ignore repeated notifications from the same app in a short period of time too.

    Some people will be annoyed by the active notification in the shade when Audify is active. I don't think there's anyway to get around that, though. If you want the app to work, it needs a foreground notification to remain alive. You can give Audify a shot for free with 250 notifications. After that, you have to buy the full version for $0.99. You can also get 100 more free notifications by referring a friend.

    Episode 327 - Hero with a Thousand Faces - 11/19/15
    How do you stream your music and video from today's services? This week, Norm, Jeremy, and Patrick discuss data encryption, the fall of Rdio, tablet displays, and the endurance of Star Wars! Also, we mull over Oxford Dictionaries word of the year selections and share what we've been testing. Apologies for the video going out in the last five minutes--an office munchkin pushed our mixer buttons!
    00:00:00 / 02:10:18
    Bits to Atoms: Designing the 3D Printed Gowanus Monster

    Prowling Brooklyn's polluted Gowanus Canal, the Monster sinks innocent kayakers and grabs unaware hipsters, pulling them down into the depths. The Gowanus Monster was a commission I did for Bold Machines, a product development workshop headed by Bre Pettis, one of the founders and former CEO of MakerBot. The Monster was done as one in a series of proof of concept characters for an animation, all of which can be downloaded for free. This is how I created it.

    Sean's 3D-Printed Gowanus Monster

    Bold Machines was very interested in my Octopod design and tasked me with designing another submarine to fit their storyline. Initially they wanted to add some local flavor and referenced the Quester I, a homemade sub built in the 1960's by a Brooklyn shipyard worker. A local legend that never did launch and is currently marooned in the middle of Coney Island Creek. They were also really interested in having some type of tentacles for grabbing ships. I was not getting much design inspiration from the Quester I, but tried to stick to a small craft and took some inspiration from lampreys. Mechanical arms would fold back into the body, springing open to grab ships or treasure.

    Version 1 with Quester I and lamprey inspirations

    They liked it, but wanted something more like the Octopod--in fact, they wanted the Octopod, but I wasn't ready to let go of my baby and it would have needed a tremendous amount of work to print on an FDM machine. Going back to the drawing board, I decided to create something that would be found in the same fleet as the Octopod and based it on a fellow cephalopod--the cuttlefish.

    Tested: $50-$100 Entry-Level Quadcopters

    I recently reviewed a handful of multi-rotors costing less than $50. All of those units were beginner-oriented and best-suited for indoor flying. This time around I'll be looking at some quads in the $50-100 price range. As you will see, doubling your budget doesn't necessarily buy you better products--just different ones. On average, these costlier models have similar features to the sub-$50 crowd, but they are larger and more powerful.

    With one exception, the quads showcased here are meant for outdoor flying. They have geared motors spinning sizeable propellers. Whereas a mini-quad might simply bounce off of a picture frame on the mantel, one of these ships would probably send that frame crashing to the floor. You're better off flying these larger models outdoors unless you have access to a vacant warehouse or basketball gym.

    While you certainly could use any of these quads for learning to fly, I still think that is the domain of the less-expensive indoor ships (or a simulator). Indoor flying generally presents fewer variables, allowing you to better focus on flying. The ships presented here are at their best when you're flying just for the fun of flying.

    As before, this is not a comparison where I'll rank the models first to worst. The intent here is to illustrate what your money buys in this price range. I'll also point out any notable capabilities or detriments as they pop up. Let's get to the testing!

    Testing the Apple iPad Pro Display

    The key element for a great Tablet has always been a truly innovative and top performing display, and the best leading edge Tablets have always flaunted their beautiful high tech displays.

    For 2015 there is a new broad product line of iPads – from the small mini up to the new large Pro model, with display sizes that span almost 3 to 1 in screen area. The displays have different applications and performance criteria that we will measure and analyze below. The differences and similarities in performance between the 3 iPad displays are really interesting and surprising...

    The Tablet revolution began with the launch of the first iPad in 2010, and over the years the iPad displays have taken the lead with several major innovations, but they have also periodically lagged behind the displays on competing Tablets. Looking back, the iPad displays have gotten major performance enhancements every two years (just like the iPhones but without the S designations). To understand the various performance aspects of the latest iPad displays we'll first take a look at how they have evolved…

    Early 9.7 inch iPads in 2010 – 2013

    For 2010, the original iPad had a [1.0] leading edge 1024x768 display with 132 Pixels Per Inch (ppi) and a smallish 62 percent Color Gamut that had noticeably lower color saturation. The next [2.0] cutting edge development for Tablet displays arrived in 2012 on the iPad 3, which not only doubled the resolution and ppi up to what Apple classifies as a Retina Display, but also provided a much larger 99 percent Color Gamut, which delivered full color saturation images.

    Up through 2013 all of the iPads had relatively high screen reflections, primarily from an air gap between the outer cover glass and the display, resulting in a high Reflectance of 8.7 percent of the ambient light falling on the screen, which was reduced with each succeeding generation down to 6.5 percent for the iPad Air 1 in 2013. That may seem like a small percentage difference, but it is their ratio that matters, so 6.5 percent reflects 25 percent less ambient light than 8.7 percent.

    In Brief: Parrot Announces BeBop 2 Consumer Quadcopter

    Last summer, Parrot released the Bebop, a consumer quadcopter that was a departure from its earlier smartphone-controlled AR.Drone quads. The Bebop was interesting because of its use of a fisheye lens, which allowed for digital stabilization and digital panning without the use of a mechanical gimbal. That also allowed it to be paired with an HDM for FPV flight. Today, Parrot announced the second generation Bebop, a $550 quad that doubles the flight time of the original (25 minutes from 12 minutes) and increases the max speed to 37 mph. It can record 1080p video on 8GB of onboard storage. Like Parrot's other RC quads, you fly it with an app, which also has in-app purchases to unlock features like waypoint flight plans. Alternatively, you can use the dedicated transmitter, which also then allows for an HMD to be connected for FPV flying.

    The Robot-Arm Prosthetic Controlled by Thought

    The latest update on Johns Hopkin's Modular Prosthetic Arm, by way of Bloomberg Business: "Johnny Matheny is the first person to attach a mind-controlled prosthetic limb directly to his skeleton. After losing his arm to cancer in 2008, Johnny signed up for a number of experimental surgeries to prepare himself to use a DARPA-funded prosthetic prototype." Unlike previous versions of the prosthetic, this version is controlled through nerve signals detected on the skin, as opposed to deep neural implants.

    My Problem with Set-Top Streaming Boxes and TV Apps

    We're in the middle of testing the new crop of set-top streaming boxes, including the new Apple TV, Google Chromecast (though technically not a box), Amazon Fire TV, Roku 4, and even Steam Link. These devices are all vying to be the hardware interface for which you view most, if not all, of your TV content. Put another way, they want to be your "HDMI 1" device--the primary piece of hardware connecting content to your television. Currently, none of these boxes are plugged into my receiver's HDMI 1 port. And unless you're someone who's completely cut the cord with cable or satellite, they're probably not your HDMI 1 device either.

    Look at your own living room (ie. primary) TV or receiver setup. Do you have a cable or satellite box plugged into HDMI 1, streaming box into HDMI 2, and game console plugged into HDMI 3? Chances are you're not alone. That hierarchy of set-top boxes sums up the battle between device makers who want to control the gateway between you and video content. The content itself isn't mutually exclusive between those devices. You can watch HBO on a cable box, streaming box, and game console. Streaming boxes have been trying to shoehorn games into their platforms and controllers for years. And the Xbox One wants to leapfrog its place in the HDMI input line by convincing you to pass through your cable box through it. They're all nice tries, and yet in my house, Comcast still owns that first input slot.

    Every time we test a new streaming box, we've asked ourselves if this piece of hardware, its user interface, and library of available content make it compelling enough to drop cable. The new Apple TV, which now supports its own ecosystem of apps, makes a good--but not good enough--case for HDMI 1. And testing it helped me realize why the cable box has been so compelling. It's not about how much content is available on that platform, it's about how that content is grouped, organized, and made accessible to users. When content is split and duplicated into different an ever growing list of apps and services, complexity and choice works against the viewing experience. Cable's advantage isn't quantity or even quality of content, it's convenience of access.