Latest StoriesTech
    Google Play App Roundup: Firefox Focus, Altered Beast, and Rider

    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.

    Firefox Focus

    Most browsers for Android seem to focus on adding more features, but Firefox is focusing on something else with the aptly named Firefox Focus. This is a stripped down browser that preserves your privacy and offers a fast browsing experience.

    When you open Firefox Focus, all you have is a bar in the middle of the screen for a search term or URL. The default search engine is Yahoo, which is kind of weird at this point. You can change it to Google, and I'm sure most people will. The app has an interesting purple and pink color scheme with a gradient sweeping across all the UI elements. Gradients usually look pretty old-fashioned, but I think it kind of works here. Firefox Focus has a neat 80s vibe.

    Firefox Focus uses ad-blocking and do-not-track by default on all pages. Additionally, it saves no data locally. While you're browsing, there's a floating action button in the lower right corner with a trashcan on it. You can tap that at any time to close your page and delete all browsing data. Additionally, there's a notification whenever Firefox Focus is running. There's even a "Stealth" mode that prevents screenshots and app previews in overview. You can turn that off, though.

    You only get a single page at a time in Focus, so no tabbed browsing. That makes sense considering the mission of Focus to provide simple, fast browsing. The overflow menu shows you how many trackers were blocked on each page, and there's a toggle right there to shut blocking off. That's useful on pages where there's ad-block detection that blocks you from seeing content. The menu also includes options to open a page in Firefox or your default browser.

    Using Focus for all your browsing is tedious seeing as there's no bookmark system, history, or tabbed browsing. You can set it as default, if you want (there's a toggle in the settings). However, it's a good choice for opening links from other apps as it'll block all tracking and doesn't keep history. Some of the privacy features are a bit heavy-handed, but that's what you get in a privacy-oriented browser.

    Everything You Need to Know about the Formlabs Fuse 1 SLS 3D Printer

    Earlier this month, Formlabs brought me out to the MIT Media Lab for The Digital Factory, their first digital fabrication conference in conjunction with Desktop Metal. At the event, Formlabs unveiled its Fuse 1 SLS printer and we were given an exclusive behind-the-scenes look of the machine. Here's everything we know so far about how it works and the prints you can get out of it.

    Photo credit: Formlabs

    The Technology

    Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) uses a laser to bind together thin layers of a powdered medium (typically nylon) to form a finished model. The finished nylon model is very strong and can have relatively thin walls while retaining strength and flexibility. Any powder that is not sintered by the laser acts as support for the model allowing complex geometries to be printed successfully. Additionally, the entire volume of the print chamber can be packed with models - unlike other technologies that can only utilize the surface area of the print bed. When finished the print is encapsulated by all the loose powder in the build chamber. The print must be allowed to cool in the chamber as it will remain somewhat pliable until cool. The chamber is emptied and all the loose powder is cleaned away from the print. If the model is hollow it will need drain holes in order to remove any loose powder.

    Due to the printing process, SLS parts will have a slightly rough surface texture and won't resolve very fine details as well as SLA resin prints. However, prints will be much stronger than most resin prints and cost less. In addition, parts do not need post-curing and are not UV-reactant like resin parts.

    Typically SLS technology has only been available as large, industrial machines at $150,000+ so a four-figure benchtop unit is pretty exciting. While Formlabs isn't the first to introduce a benchtop unit at a price under six digits, they are the first U.S. based company to do so and at $10,000--a very reasonable price for a SLS machine.

    Testing the Immersion RC Vortex 150, Part 2

    In a previous article, I examined the features and assembly process of the Vortex 150 race quad. This time around, I'll get this little beast in the air and see how it performs.

    Flight Modes

    The Vortex's flight controller has three default flight modes: Angle, Acro, and Horiz. You can select any of these modes during flight with a 3-position switch on your transmitter. Angle mode limits the quad's maximum pitch and roll angles and provides self-leveling when the controls are neutralized. While this is the easiest and most forgiving flight mode, the angle limits rule out any aerobatics.

    Acro mode is the same thing that many flyers call Rate mode. It provides no self-leveling features or angle limits. Acro is definitely the most challenging mode to fly. Yet, it also provides the most precise control of the quad. It's like the difference between driving a car with an automatic transmission (Angle mode) and one with a manual transmission (Acro mode). It takes practice to get the feel of it, but the results are worth it.

    The Vortex 150's flight controller is preprogramed with three flight modes. The Acro (rate) mode is especially smooth.

    Horiz mode is a hybrid of Angle and Acro modes. During normal flying, it behaves like Angle mode. When you input large control movements, however, the bank limits disappear and it responds as if in Acro mode. You get the safety net of self-leveling, along with the ability to perform flips and other aerobatics. If you intend to eventually master Acro mode, Horiz is a great way to transition away from Angle mode.

    Google Play App Roundup: CineTrak, Mr Future Ninja, and Infinity Merge

    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.

    CineTrak

    Have you ever heard someone online or in real life talk about a movie and think it sounds like something you should check out, and then, months later you realize you completely forgot about it? CineTrak might be able to help you avoid that. It's a movie watchlist tracker and info browser that pulls in data from various sources and syncs to the Trakt.tv service.

    The app is done in Google's material design from top to bottom. The main interface is the "Discover" page. At the top are a series of tabs that show movies based on criteria like trending, popular, most watches, and box office. You can use the app without Trakt.tv login, but your lists and watch stats won't be available on other devices. You can switch to upcoming, my lists, or my collection in the navigation menu.

    Whenever you come across a movie, you can add it to your watch list by tapping the floating action button. That same button then becomes a "check-in" button. You can tap that indicate that you're watching the movie, and share that activity with the app of your choice. When it's over, tap again and the movie goes into your previously watched list. To undo all of that, tap one more time and the movie is removed.

    The info page for each film includes the sort of data you'd get on something like IMDB, but I find the interface much more pleasant. It has ratings aggregated from Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, Metacritic, and Trakt.tv. There's also a cast list and a trailer.

    The bookmark icon at the top of the info page lets you add a film to your library. It seems like this should get a more prominent button as it's one of the main features of the app. When adding, you get to pick the format, resolution, and date of acquisition. Then, you can scroll through the collection page to see all your stuff.

    CineTrak is free to use, and you don't have to sign into Trakt.tv if you don't want. However, there are a few ads in the app by default. A $2.99 in-app purchase will remove them and add staff picks and additional curated lists.

    Alonso Martinez's 3D-Printed Animated Robots!

    We're gushing with grins and delight at the sight of these adorable animated robots created by artist Alonso Martinez. Sean chats with Alonso to learn how he designed and engineered his family of robots, using processes like 3D printing, mold-making, and silicone casting. They're amazing!

    Microsoft's Project Scorpio is XBox One X

    At last year's E3 Microsoft teased the next chapter of Xbox, code named Project Scorpio. In the months following they continued to release more information, culminating in a deep technical dive two months ago. We finally have a name and face to put to that top of the line hardware. The Xbox One X will launch November 7th worldwide for $500.

    As a reminder, the Xbox One X is packing a custom Polaris based AMD GPU with 40 compute units running at 1172MHz, providing 6 teraflops of performance. The eight core CPU runs at 2.3GHz, there's 12GB of GDDR5 RAM, the memory bandwidth clocks in at 326GB/s to transfer those 4K textures, and it also includes a 1TB hard drive.

    The usual technical specs you see for a game console don't tell the entire story however. Every piece inside the Xbox One X is either custom made or fine tuned in order to achieve Microsoft's claim of native 4K gaming. A new GPU command processor has DirectX 12 built in, and drastically reduces the number of instructions the CPU must send the GPU by orders of magnitude creating a highly efficient system. Microsoft is allowing developers a variety of options for utilizing the One X's hardware. They most recently announced a bump to the available memory for games to 9GB, with only 3GB now reserved for the system. If a developer chooses to only use 8GB, that extra 1GB will be used as an additional level of cache.

    The design of the One X is a bit surprising in a number of ways. It's the smallest Xbox Microsoft has made, even smaller than the One S. That being said it's also very dense weighing 8.4 pounds, only a tenth less than the original Xbox. And for the first time since that original Xbox there are no ventilation holes in sight on top of the machine, giving it a clean look. Air is pulled in from the sides then exhausted out the back, and the cooling system utilizing a vapor chamber to keep temperatures in check. Microsoft's hardware engineers that work on Surface devices probably had a hand in designing this box.

    Chris Larkin's Working Miniature Apple II Replica

    Game developer Chris Larkin found the perfect project for the $9 CHIP computer: turning it into a mini Apple II replica that emulates the classic computer. We chat with Chris about his open-source design and work with him to build one of these computers for the office! Find the files and instructions to make your own here!

    Google Play App Roundup: Audvel, ZOMBIE AnnihilatoR, and Topsoil

    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.

    Audvel

    The Play Store has a number of popular podcast apps, but it's been a while since a new contender has emerged, but Audvel is promising despite its newness. It might not have as many features as the more mature alternatives, but it's free. That counts for something.

    One of the cool things about Audvel is that you don't have to set up a separate account—it supports Google account logins, but a standard email account login is available too. After logging in, your subscription data will be synced to new devices upon setting up the app. After opening the app for the first time, Audvel offers up some suggested podcasts in categories like tech, science, and business. I think the top picks are pretty universally liked, but there aren't many in each group. A few more suggestions would be nice.

    Once you've got some subscriptions, you can view them all on a single page with big thumbnail icons. Each podcast has a details page that lists recent episodes, a description, and controls to unsubscribe and refresh. I like that the page is themed to match the podcast's thumbnail as well. You can tap on an episode to stream it, or hit the arrow to download it. There are also settings in the app to have new episodes downloaded automatically. Unfortunately, you can't import a podcast list from other apps, but you can add custom feed URLs.

    While some of the advanced features from other apps are missing (importing, Android Auto, themes, etc.), you do have built-in support for multiple playback speeds. You can increase to 1.2, 1.5, or 2.0x speed. The app correctly downshifts the pitch to compensate for the higher speed as well. There are also persistent playback controls at the bottom of the app while you've got an episode going.

    Audvel still has a way to go before it's the match of something like Pocket Casts, but it's already impressive. When you consider it's also free, that's even better.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 14: Inside Nomadic VR's Physical Playground

    We visit the production stages of Nomadic, where this location-based virtual reality company is developing a physical, tactile, VR experience that they hope to bring to malls and theaters. Their immersive demo surprised us with all of its tracked objects, and we sit down with Nomadic's head of physical production and executive producer to learn how they're experimenting in this space.

    Hands-On with Formlabs' Fuse 1 SLS 3D Printer!

    We visit the headquarters of Formlabs, makers of the Form 2, to check out their newest 3D printer. The Fuse 1 is a SLS printer, which can make highly detailed and complex models with nylon using a process that has not been accessible to prosumers. Sean gets an in-depth look at the Fuse 1, several of its prints, and sends one of his own models through the SLS process to inspect its print quality! (Disclaimer: Formlabs provided our travel for this preview trip.)

    Testing the Immersion RC Vortex 150 Racing Quadcopter, Part 1

    Multi-rotors that are designed for First Person View (FPV) racing and sport flying continue to evolve. The Immersion RC Vortex 150 is a new machine that reflects many of the latest trends in the hobby. First of all, it's small. It measures just 156mm between diagonal motor shafts. This gives the quad a significantly smaller footprint than the 250mm-class ships that used to dominate quad racing. Yet, as you will see, the Vortex 150's bantam size does not make it any slower or less nimble.

    The Vortex 150 is considerably smaller than the 250-class machines that used to be the norm for quad racing.

    Another innovative aspect of the Vortex 150 is that it is mostly prebuilt. A fair amount of building, soldering, and programming used to be required when setting up a racing quad. While those are all useful skills to have, they are no longer a prerequisite. You can learn as you go.

    Vortex 150 Overview

    The 150 is currently available as an Almost Ready-To-Fly (ARF) package ($300). It includes most of the components that would normally be purchased separately (carbon-fiber frame, brushless motors, propellers, electronic speed controls, flight controller, FPV camera, video transmitter). The only things left to add are a radio system with a micro-receiver, a 5.8Ghz video receiver (goggles or a monitor), and flight batteries.

    The brushless motors may be tiny, but they provide a lot of power for the Vortex.

    Like the frame itself, all of the onboard components are similarly downsized. The tiny brushless motors are only 17mm in diameter and spin 76mm-diameter (3") 3-blade propellers. The flight battery is small too. You can fly with 3-cell or 4-cell packs with a capacity of about 500mAh. I've flown the Vortex 150 with a few different batteries, but my primary power sources have been Lumenier 4S-460mAh 45C batteries. This battery and the power lead on the quad come equipped with XT30 connectors.

    One of my biggest challenges when building a racing quad is keeping all of the wiring neat and tidy. Space is always at a premium. And it's not just a matter of vanity. A stray wire can foul a prop or become damaged during a routine landing. None of that is a concern with the Vortex 150. Other than the receiver antennas and the power lead, all of the wiring is housed internally.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (June 2017)

    When the time comes to get a new Android device, you want to make sure you get the right one. After all, phones are expensive and you carry them with you all the time. It's worth spending money to get the best when you use it so much. Still, there are so many phones out there. Let's break it down and see what's the best right now.

    Carriers Phones: Samsung Galaxy S8 vs. LG G6

    Buying a phone from your carrier is less onerous than it used to be. All major carriers offer payment plans so the cost of your new phone is spread out over two years. That makes it easy to get a nice phone, and there are often promotional offers when you buy from the carrier. If you go this route, there are two solid choices right now, the Galaxy S8 and the LG G6. Unlike past years, these two competitors are very close.

    The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch curved display. There's no "flat" version of the phone this year; both the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus have have the curved design that minimizes the bezel. The GS8 Plus bumps the display size to 6.2-inches, but they both feel much smaller in the hand. Both have a resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels. It's similar to the G6 with the taller screen, but the Plus variant is just a little too tall to be used comfortably in one hand. Samsung's AMOLED displays are still the best you can get, and DisplayMate confirms that Samsung's GS8 panel has the most accurate colors and highest brightness.

    This phone feels great in the hand with the symmetrically curved front and back glass, although I don't personally love glass backs on phones. They pick up fingerprints like no one's business. Finally, Samsung has ditched the physical nav buttons. Now they're all on-screen. Thankfully, that means you can change the order to the "correct" one. Additionally, the screen has a pressure-sensitive region where the home button pops up. Even if the button is hidden, you can hard-press that area to trigger the home button. I love this feature, and tend to miss it when I use other phones. It's still IP68 water resistant.

    Getting rid of the physical home button meant Samsung had to move the fingerprint scanner, and the new location is no good. It's on the back next to the camera, rather than under it like many rear-facing sensors are. Even when you reach it without smudging up the camera, it's not very accurate. The iris scanner makes up for that a little bit, but it's not ideal and won't work in some environments.

    Hands-On with the Cinder Grill Precision Cooker

    Kishore and Norm test the Cinder, a counter-top grill that's quite a bit more advanced than the ones we had in our dorm rooms. Cinder's ability to precisely cook at specific temperatures makes it like sous vide, but without the water bath. Let's go for a taste test with some pork chops!

    Google Play App Roundup: Adobe Scan, Galaxy on Fire 3, and Epic Little War Game

    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.

    Adobe Scan

    Adobe offers various PDF viewing and editing capabilities in its app, but surprisingly it has never released a document scanner app until now. Adobe Scan lets you use your phone to scan documents and convert them instantly to a PDF. It also plugs into various Adobe online services and apps.

    Scanning a document with Adobe Scan is very slick. Just set the page down and point your device's camera at it. The built-in scanner identifies the edges and captures only the document. I've seen a lot of apps try this, but Adobe Scan is one of the best at detecting edges; I hardly ever have to readjust the crop. To add more pages, simply move the sheet and place another one in the camera's frame. Adobe Scan only captures an image when it sees a document.

    By default, Adobe Scan places all the pages in the order you scanned them. However, you can easily reorder them before converting to a PDF—it's drag and drop. You can also apply filters like grayscale and high-contrast. Tap the save button at the top, and you get a PDF of all the images. It only takes a few seconds even with a lot of pages. I tested this with a 24 page document, and it worked like a charm. It's also impressive how well the app straightens and rotates the images. They look more like pages captured by a traditional scanner than what you get from most Android apps.

    Annoyingly, you have to sign in with an Adobe account to use Adobe Scan. You don't need to have a paid membership, though. By signing in, all your PDFs will be synced to Creative Cloud. You can also share them with the app of your choice on Android.

    Adobe Scan runs text recognition on your documents, but you'll need Adobe Acrobat for Android to do anything with it. The app links you to the Play Store if you don't have it. I would have preferred to have basic text selection in the scanner app as Acrobat does a lot of things I don't need. Still, if you work with PDFs a lot, Acrobat is probably already something you use.

    Adobe Scan is completely free. I think it'll be my new go-to for document scanning on Android.