Latest StoriesTech
    Hands-On with Rick and Morty VR

    We play the first demo of Rick and Morty VR, a roomscale virtual reality game made by Owlchemy Labs and Adult Swim. Here are our impressions, along with a chat with Owlchemy's Alex Schwartz about narrative VR game design, comedy script writing, and VR puzzles.

    What's in Our Camera Bag for Comic-Con 2016!

    We're down in San Diego for Comic-Con! As we prep for a week of travel and production, Joey shows you the camera gear he's packed to shoot and edit the videos we're making from the convention. We discuss how we go about shooting our show floor videos, and what new gear we're excited to test on location!

    Google Play App Roundup: Storm it, Dead Venture, and Super Stickman Golf 3

    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.

    Storm it

    Some would argue that Twitter's main strength over the years has also been its main limitation. Tweets can only be 140 characters in length (at least for now). Every time the company has speculated about making tweets longer, the reaction from the community has been swift and negative. Still, there are times you might want to express an idea on Twitter that's longer than 140 characters. Posting multiple tweets is a pain, but "Storm it" makes the process easier.

    The name of the app comes from "tweetstorm," which is the term often used when someone posts multiple tweets in quick succession on a single topic. The problem is figuring out where to split things up and posting them quickly enough that they'll appear nearby in the stream. Storm it does all the hard work for you.

    After you log into your Twitter account in Storm it, you'll get a blank canvas upon which you can scrawl your ideas -- rant, rave, or just a thought that's too long for one tweet. The cool thing here it that Storm it will be smart about where to break your text up into individual tweets. It won't just stop mid-word, but your sentences will still get chopped in half if they don't fit in one tweet. It also adds numbering so people can tell which order to read the tweets.

    Down at the bottom is a Storm it button. Now, I would have thought that this would give you some sort of preview of confirmation dialog, but it doesn't. When you press that button, all your queued tweets are sent. You'll get a status screen to show you as each one is posted. If you want to preview the chopped up version of your text, you can tap the eye icon on the far left of the Storm it button. It's probably a good idea to do that.

    The settings are sparse -- all you have is the choice of two different formats for the numbering appended to your tweets. There's also a history menu that shows you past tweetstorms, both sent (stormed) and unsent (forecasted -- ha). Unsent storms can be edited and sent from this menu.

    Storm it has admittedly narrow appeal, but it does it's job well without a bunch of added cruft. It's also free.

    Adam Savage Visits the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition!

    After making its way around the world, the incredible exhibition of Stanley Kubrick's work has arrived in San Francisco. Adam Savage tours the exhibit to show you some of his favorite items. From rare camera equipment to pre-production artwork and film props, these objects connect us to one of cinema's greatest minds.

    How To Get Started with RC Sailboats

    I know what some of you are thinking: At a time when the RC hobby offers excitement such as speedy FPV racing quads, 20-pound gas-powered dune buggies, and even robots that fight to the death, how can anyone get jazzed about a silent sailboat meandering across a pond? I get it. I used to think the same thing. Although I've known about the existence of RC sailboats for decades, they never captured my attention enough to actually give one a try. I really should have known better after my similar experience with rock crawlers. I soon discovered that even though sailboats are not fast (relatively speaking), they offer abundant technical and skill-oriented challenges that keep drawing me in deeper.

    RC sailing clubs are a great resource to get started in the hobby. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

    Diving In

    Once I had decided to give RC sailing a try, I didn't think twice about going at it by myself. After all, I was fairly competent with the Sunfish sailboat that I had as a kid. Plus, RC sailboats only require 2 channels to control. So how hard could it possibly be? As I'm sure you've guessed by now, the reality of my introduction to RC sailing was much different. It involved a few missteps, some humble lessons, and plenty of help from experienced sailors.

    One of the things I learned early on is that there is a lot is specific terminology used in sailing circles. I'm still learning the meaning of most of these foreign-sounding words. For any of you experienced sailors who may be reading this, I'll ask your forgiveness in advance since I'll endeavor to use layman's terms whenever possible here.

    Even though I knew that RC sailboats were only 2-channel machines, I lacked a fundamental understanding of how the controls worked. The various rigging that I had seen on some sailboats caused me to envision their control systems to be much more complex than they actually are. It turns out that most of the visible rigging on a sailboat consists of static lines that only serve to stabilize the sail mast.

    RC sailboats have simple control systems. But until I had one of my own, the various rigging had me convinced otherwise. (Lewis Dunn photo)

    The two main controls of a RC sailboat are the rudder and sail trim. The rudder is used to control the direction of the boat in the water. A single servo actuates the rudder through direct linkages.

    Sail trim refers to the angle of the sails in relation to the boat hull. Both sails can pivot side to side about their leading edge. Rather than a rigid connection, the sail servo is connected to a pair of rope-like lines that terminate near the midpoint of the booms along the bottom edge of each sail. The servo controls the length of these lines, which subsequently determine how far out the sails can swing. At its shortest length, the sails may only have a few degrees of sway. With the line fully relaxed, the sails could approach 90-degrees of travel. Based on the direction of the wind and the orientation of the boat hull, sail trim is adjusted to harness the wind and keep the boat moving forward.

    Tested: Radeon RX480 Video Card Review

    Going for second place seems like a weird business strategy, but the RX480 GPU fits in with AMD's CPU strategy of trying hard to stay in second place in a race where only two major players exist.

    It's also a smart strategy, at least on the GPU end. Make the most of what you have, and go for the mass market. The potential volume for $200 graphics cards dwarfs that of cards like the GTX 1070, which costs about twice as much.

    So can a $240 graphics card deliver performance necessary for modern DX12 gaming? Let's take a look at the numbers – first, the GPU specs, then performance.

    By the Numbers

    Nvidia's GTX 970 looks to be AMD's main target for the RX480 when it comes to performance. So let's take a look at the specs of the two GPUs side-by-side (chart below).

    Nvidia shader ALU (called CUDA cores by the company), and AMD's shader cores (which AMD refers to as stream processors) differ architecturally, so you can't really compare performance based on the number of ALUs. The clock frequency for the RX480 disappoints a little – I'd expect more from 14nm FinFET logic. The good news lies with the die size. At 230mm2, AMD likely has some pricing flexibility.

    I also appreciate the fact that AMD finally dumped the DVI port. Owners of older displays may be disappointed, but it's really time to move beyond DVI to a more modern interface. An owner of a DVI-only monitor will need to buy an adapter, however, unless they're willing to replace said monitor.

    Beyond the raw specs, AMD offers several interesting features which Nvidia can't quite match. The Polaris GPU includes native support for FP16 (16-bit floating point, aka half-precision), which can be useful in certain types of GPU compute applications, but unlikely to factor in much with games. Nvidia's Pascal converts FP16 to FP32, then uses that converted format, which reduces FP16 performance a bit.

    The geometry engine includes features supporting small, instanced objects, such as an index cache. That will help games which uses instancing, mostly real-time or turn-based strategy games which might throw hundreds of similar objects onto the screen.

    Punished Props' Foam Viking Axe Build

    Tested contributor Bill Doran (Punished Props) worked with Frank Ippolito to build this giant viking axe for Ubisoft's For Honor E3 booth. In this video, Bill, shows how he made the axe using the techniques he teaches in his great Foamsmith book. Check it out!

    Testing the Mantis Drone Claw Accessory

    We introduce Simone to a Tested tradition--opening mystery mailbags from viewers! This week's package contains an accessory for our quadcopter: a beautiful drone claw manufactured via a Kickstarter campaign. We have fun testing it in the the office though a series of challenges--what could go wrong?

    Google Play App Roundup: ASAP Launcher, Pokémon GO, and Titan Quest

    You probably want more apps, but more than that, you want the right ones. That's what we're here to deliver with the weekly Google Play App Roundup. This is where you'll find the best new and newly updated apps and games on Android. Just click the link to head right to Google Play.

    ASAP Launcher

    There are plenty of alternative launchers on Android, some of which are very mature and feature-rich. They all have a lot of features in common, though. ASAP Launcher is brand new, and it's markedly different than those other launchers. It has a very clean material look with custom "cards" on the home screen for features like weather, contacts, and calendar. One thing it doesn't have is widgets. How very odd.

    There's one regular home screen panel in ASAP Launcher, and even that one has some unusual modifications. At the top is a single built-in widget with the date, google voice search button, weather, and music controls. At the bottom are five app icons of your choosing. You can drag up from the bottom or open an expanded dock that has two more rows of icons for the apps you use most. This improves over time, but you can also manually pin apps to the list.

    If you want to get at the rest of your apps, drag in from the left to open the scrollable drawer. This reminds me very much of the QuickDrawer in Action Launcher, which I really like. You can scroll along normally, or drag along the letters toward the right to fast-scroll. A search bar at the top of the list lets you type the first few letters of an app as well. Drag in from the right side of the screen and you get a configurable quick settings panel.

    The cards are what you see if you swipe left or right instead of more home screen panels. There's one for frequent contacts, weather, calendar, and notes. You can rearrange or disable any of them from the settings. I think the weather one is very well-done, as is the frequent contact card. The calendar is fine, but frankly a whole screen is overkill for just a scrolling list. If there were more details shown, then we'd be in business. The notes panel feels unnecessary to me.

    All the above features are included for free, but a sub-$2 pro upgrade adds things like unread counts, custom icon packs, and additional themes. ASAP has a lot of potential, and I hope the developer keeps the improvements coming.

    Testing a Micro RC Model Bomber Plane

    It wasn't so long ago that small, lightweight RC models simply didn't exist. It took some pretty significant leaps in the miniaturization of batteries and radio components before anyone dared to dream that tiny RC aircraft were even possible. Now, these ultra-micro (UM) ships are wildly popular and can be had in a wide range of off-the-shelf kits.

    My first UM model was the ParkZone Vapor. It looked a lot like you would expect for a model that could be comfortably flown in most living rooms. It had a spindly skeletal frame made of plastic and composite materials. The tail surfaces and 14.75 inch wing were loosely draped with thin Mylar. It looked more like a kite than an airplane. But looks can be deceiving.

    My first ultra-micro model was the ParkZone Vapor, a fun model with looks that reflected its slow flying abilities.

    That first Vapor (and others) proved to be a great flying model at indoor venues and in calm outdoor weather. It was so lightweight (.5 ounce) that it was nearly impossible to damage from a crash. The Vapor flew slowly enough that you could walk beside it. This model was a success story in nearly every respect. I credit the Vapor with kickstarting widespread interest in the UM class of RC models.

    My latest UM model, the E-flite UMX B-25 Mitchell ($120), provides a yardstick to illustrate the huge strides that have been made in small model design and technology. You don't have to look very hard to find traces of the Vapor in the B-25, but the differences are more apparent. The Mitchell has an onboard stabilization system, two motors, and removable landing gear. This airplane is more sophisticated than some of my models that are many times its size.

    Analyzing the UMX B-25

    This is how the UMX B-25 looks out of the box. It just requires radio set-up to be ready for flight.

    The aspect of the Mitchell that is perhaps most appreciated by RC pilots is that this is a recreation of the famous WWII bomber by the same name. With a 21.7 inch wingspan, the E-flite B-25 is about 1/38 scale. It lacks the level of detail that you would find in a static plastic model, but it is quite good for an RC model of any size. The scale outline is very accurate, so there is no question what airplane this model represents. The designers even captured the characteristic gull wing of the real Mitchell.

    Like most UM models, the B-25 is completely assembled at the factory. The packaging doubles as a storage and travel container. This model also comes with a factory paint job which represents the typical olive drab color scheme and insignia used early in the war. The kit includes a set of decals that allows you do replicate the specific markings of any of the Mitchells used in the famous Doolittle Raid.

    Hands-On with BattleBots RC Toys!

    Something we were surprised to encounter at this season's filming of BattleBots were RC toy versions of fan-favorite robots. Hexbug was on site in the builder's pit to show off their upcoming BattleBot toys, based off of four competitors. We chat with Jason from Hexbug to learn how these toys were designed from the originals, and see what we can do in the tabletop battlebox.

    Making Historical Fantasy Cosplay Armor for E3

    For this year's E3, our very own Frank Ippolito was charged with fabricating three cosplay costumes for Ubisoft's upcoming game For Honor. The three costumes of wildly different historically inspired characters with varying armor, helmets, and weapons, which require a wide range of materials and build processes. We stop by Frank's shop ahead of E3 to learn about these builds!

    The Best Alternative Home Screen Apps on Android

    From the earliest days of Android, alternative home screens have been one of the most interesting app categories. So much of what you do on your phone starts with the launcher, and Android let's you completely change it. The top replacement home screens have changed a lot over the years with old classics like Launcher Pro falling into disrepair. At the same time, new home screens like Nova appear in the Play Store to fill in the gaps. Let's take a look at the top Android home screens and see what they offer.

    Nova Launcher

    Nova is considered by many to be the most customizable and fully fleshed out launcher for Android. It's a true chameleon among launchers that can be made to look almost any way you want with an intimidatingly long list of features. Once you get acclimated to Nova, you'll probably find a lot to like here.

    I think Nova probably adheres the best to Android ever-changing design guidelines. As soon as Google has a new quirk, Nova is updated with a matching option. And it usually is an option. Almost every visual element in Nova can be tweaked to your heart's content. There are dozens of ways to display folders, a ton of home screen scrolling effects, at least 15 or 20 ways to display the Google search bar, and that's just scratching the surface.

    Some of the distinctive features in Nova include an automated night mode that makes most of the launcher less hard on your eyes, an extremely comprehensive gesture system that lets you operate almost every function with a swipe, and icon scaling that makes oddly sized icons fit in with everything else. I'm particularly impressed with how accurate the icon scaling is. Nova's gestures are cool too, but they can make you phone almost completely unusable for someone else. If you control everything with a gesture, no one will know where anything is. Maybe you want that, though?

    Because Google has not opened the search features up, you won't get easy access to Google Now. The closest you can get is opening the search app with a gesture. Nova Launcher is free to try with a limited feature set, and you can upgrade to the full version for $4.99.

    Fun With Thermal Imaging and Graphics Cards

    I've recently been using the Seek Thermal Compact IR camera sensor to shoot photos of graphics cards under load. I received one of this nifty devices after being a beta tester, but it languished on a shelf for months. I recently dug the device out and used it to capture thermal images of graphics card under load. What follows is by no means a rigorous assessment of GPU thermal patterns, but it's certainly interesting to take a look at what the thermal output "looks" like.

    The Seek compact uses a 206 x 156 pixel autofocus sensor which also captures temperature data in either Fahrenheit or Celsius with a stated range of -40 degrees F to 626 degrees F (-40C to 330C). The iOS version I use attaches to the phone via a Lightning connector; the Android version uses a micro-USB connector. Seek requires an app, which you download for free; the list price of the Compact is $249. The app can shoot still images or video and can select the color palette, which I just left at the default orange-red setting. The app also scales the images up to a more useful 824 x 464 pixels.

    Despite the relatively small size of the resulting images, you can still pick up definite patterns. I captures these images while running the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark at 4K with 4x MSAA and all the various graphical quality settings maxed out. I did attempt to capture the thermal images at roughly the same time in the benchmark, during the second scene inside an enormous cavern with running waterfall.

    I shot these thermal images looking at the back of the card, so not all images will be equal. For example, some of the Nvidia-based cards include a back plate which spreads out the heat a bit more than a bare PCB. While I attempted to collect a temperature reading at the hottest point, this is just a momentary capture in time. I may shoot thermal video capture another time.

    So with all these caveats in mind, let's take a look at the images. I present these in order of oldest to newest GPU.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (July 2016)

    We are quickly approaching a new Android release with the official unveiling of Android 7.0 Nougat, and not all phones will be getting that software quickly. That makes your decisions at this time somewhat more complicated. There are some great phones available from your carrier, but unlocked phones get updates faster. What's an Android nerd to do? Let's sort it all out.

    Carrier Phones

    Things are simpler on the carrier side this month with very little change. You should consider the Galaxy S7 and the HTC 10. If you're on AT&T, you won't be able to get the HTC 10 direct, so that's an easier choice. What of the LG G5? I think the only reason you should pick that phone up is if you really, truly cannot live without a removable battery.

    Let's start with the Galaxy S7, and why you might want it. Samsung is still using a solid metla and glass design for the GS7. The glass back will collect fingerprints like mad and you could damage the body of the phone if you drop it. Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker than the GS6, which might not sound desirable, but there's more room inside for a bigger battery now. The glass panel on the back also has curved edges to make it more comfortable in your hand.

    The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery, and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. Both phones are also water resistant, which the Galaxy S6 wasn't. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have new Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. The Edge, of course, has a screen that curves down on the left and right edge. The Edge phone does look very nice, but it's not as comfortable to hold thanks to the larger size and narrower metal band around the rim due to the Edge screen. None of the software features that are supposed to take advantage of the Edge display really do anything special. Most of them would work on the regular phone too. It's just an arbitrary attempt to justify the design.

    Samsung is using a Snapdragon 820, which is a quad-core 64-bit SoC that's easily as fast as last year's octa-core parts. The GS7 also has 4GB of RAM, and it multitasks much better than the GS6. There's also a microSD card slot in these phones, another improvement over the Galaxy S6, but it doesn't support adoptable storage in Android 6.0.

    Samsung is using a 12MP camera sensor this year, and the performance is really impressive. It has excellent low-light clarity and color balance, and the outdoor shots are realistic and vibrant. Samsung also implemented an autofocus technology that lets it use all the available pixels to locate the subject. I've found this to be faster than any other phone, even those with laser autofocus sensors.

    Test Riding the Segway MiniPro Personal Transporter

    Norm and Simone test the new Segway MiniPro electric personal transporter. Here's how it works, our first impressions from riding, and our confusion of what to do with our hands while standing on it. We're not calling it a hoverboard, so it's up to you to come up with a better name for this kind of device!

    Google Play App Roundup: Smart Wallpapers, Redungeon, and CSR Racing 2

    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.

    Smart Wallpapers

    Live Wallpapers have existed since Android 2.1, and I'm always mildly surprised when a new version of Android comes out with support for them. Google has essentially ignored live wallpapers for years, but third-party developers have managed to do some cool things without completely killing battery life. The latest example of innovative live wallpaper design is Smart Wallpapers. They behave like static images, except there are embedded live device stats.

    You can set Smart Wallpapers like any LWP by going through the system interface. However, to customize you should open the Smart Wallpapers app itself. At the top you can pick which data points you'd like to add to the wallpaper (up to 8). The free version of the app only includes a few, but the full version ($0.99) includes things like network speed, steps (Google Fit), missed calls, message count, storage usage, and so on.

    You can access this information is other ways, of course. You could even use widgets to see it on the home screen. The advantage of Smart Wallpapers is that the stats are part of the background. That means you can place other icons and widgets around (or on top of) the readouts. The settings app even has an interface where you can preview and move the data widgets around. Wherever you place them is where they'll be on the actual wallpaper applied on your device. This works fine for the most part, but I really wish the app could snap the widgets into columns or rows so it wasn't such a pain to line things up.

    Adding a wallpaper image is the other side of customizing Smart Wallpapers. It includes a few options, but you can also add your own. The readouts are white, so a darker image is best. The color of the numeric values can be changed, but not the gauges.

    I think Smart Wallpapers is very interesting, and could be ideal for someone working on a minimalist home screen setup. It works nicely with the Marshmallow UI tuner, which allows you to remove icons from the status bar. With Smart Wallpapers, you can just put that data on the home screen.