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    Hands-On with Looking Glass Volume, a True Volumetric 3D Display!

    We get up close with Volume, a true volumetric display that can be used for creating 3D content, viewing depth-enhanced videos, and playing holographic games. Its inventors stop by our office to explain how the display works and how they hope volumetric imaging can change how we interact with computer graphics and imagery.

    Hands-On with DJI Mavic Foldable Quadcopter Drone!

    We go hands-on with the DJI Mavic, a foldable drone that's half the size and weight of the Phantom 4 quadcopter. We take it for a test flight, check out its 4K video quality, and chat with DJI about its unique features, including a new computer vision tracking system and wi-fi transmitter control. Here's our hopes and fears for this new category of compact quads.

    How To Make A Custom Drone Landing Pad

    Many of the sites I use for multi-rotor flying have very rough ground. This sometimes makes it tough to find a suitable spot for launching and landing. Even if I do uncover a patch of level ground, I'm sure to kick up a cloud of dusty West Texas topsoil as soon as the props start spinning. After years of improvising with cardboard boxes, beach towels, or whatever else I happened to have on hand, I finally decided to build a proper landing pad.

    My Requirements

    I looked for commercial options before deciding to build my own pad. There are numerous landing pads on the market, but none seem to fit my needs. First of all, most of them are smaller than I wanted. If I used a circular pad of just 16" (406mm) or 20" (508mm) diameter I would still create dust storms when I flew my larger ships. It also seems that most of the commercial offerings are not rigid. This would not help me deal with rough, uneven ground.

    Once I had decided to build my own landing pad, I considered what material options I had available. I didn't really want to use any type of wood because I felt that the pad should be totally weatherproof. The solution presented itself during a recent trip to my local Tractor Supply Company store. One of the sale items stacked out front was a .5" (13mm)-thick rubber mat measuring 4' (1219mm) by 3' (914mm). I didn't want a pad quite that big, but I figured I could cut it down to the size I needed. For only $20, it was worth a shot.

    The raw 4' x 3' rubber mat was larger than I needed and weighed almost 40 pounds. I cut it into three smaller sections using a utility knife.

    When I picked up the mat, I wasn't quite ready for its nearly 40-pound weight. This is a substantial piece of recycled rubber! I just hoped that it wouldn't be too heavy to handle once I had cut it to size. Once I got the mat home, I decided that I could make three separate landing pads with it. I made one larger pad measuring 3' (914mm) by 2' (610mm), and two 2' (610mm) by 1.5' (457mm) pads. The large pad would be useful for my 350mm-class and larger multi-rotors at particularly rough sites. The small pads were intended for my racing quads, or even the larger ships when I fly from relatively smooth areas.

    I made the two cuts using a regular utility knife. It took numerous swipes of the blade to cut all the way through the thick rubber, but it was not difficult to do. If you're a minimalist, you could actually be done with the project at this point. Turning a big mat into little mats is not very challenging or time consuming. I decided, however, that I wanted to personalize my new landing pads.

    How Google's Pixel Phones Can Succeed Where Nexus Failed

    For nearly seven years, Google's Nexus program has been the showcase for Android in its purest form. There was some concern after the Nexus One flopped that Google wouldn't do another one, but every year since we've had at least one Nexus device—except this year. All signs point to the end of Nexus and the expansion of the Pixel brand. This is Google's chance to take what was great about the Nexus line and shake things up to push Android as a whole forward in new ways. Here's how that might go down.

    Dual Pixels

    Google seems set to launch two phones on October 4th, the Pixel and Pixel XL. Both will be manufactured by HTC, but there won't be the usual OEM branding as there always was on Nexus phones. The party line this time around is "Designed by Google." The Nexus program was about making Android look good, but Pixel is about Google.

    Even by the most optimistic measurements, Nexus phones have been a niche product at best. Google has essentially been subsidizing the Nexus program to promote Android. Android has grown up now, so it doesn't need that kind of coddling. With the Pixel re-branding, Google may be looking to actually compete with OEMs. This is something Android enthusiasts have been hoping for all along. No more compromises, no more "good for the price" Nexus devices. These could be viable flagship-level devices.

    Google Play App Roundup: Allo, The Bug Butcher, and Dog Sled Saga

    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.

    Allo

    After months of waiting, Google has finally released the much-anticipated Allo chat app. It was a surprised when Google announced Allo at I/O this year. It had been trying to merge its disparate chat platforms into a single entity in recent years, but Hangouts has become a lumbering behemoth because of it. Allo is a completely different—it's faster, simpler, and has Google AI built-in. Can you actually get people to use it, though?

    Allo is based on your phone number, thus it's only for phones. That's the first major hurdle to switching, actually. Hangouts works on the web, on tablets, and on phones. With Allo, you register your phone number, then input a confirmation code that is delivered. After that's done, anyone that has your phone number you in their Allo contact list. It's a bit like WhatsApp.

    The basic chatting features are fun. You can do things like make text larger or smaller to shout/whisper or send a huge number of stickers. Allo also offers smart replies based on the context of your conversations, which can help speed up idle chitchat. This is all part of the Google Assistant, which is manifested as a chatbot you can call upon at any time.

    When you're chatting with someone else, you can use @google to issue commands to the bot. You can ask it for restaurant listings, directions, weather reports, and general search data. In these chats, both parties can see the responses from Google. There's also a dedicated Assistant chat where it's just you and the bot. This is handy if you want to have Google set calendar appointments or pull up your recent photos in private.

    Speaking of private, Allo offers a truly private communication mode. If you start an Incognito chat in the app with one or more of your contacts, it will be end-to-end encrypted and the messages expire after a set amount of time. Because Google can't access the content of these chats, you won't have access to the Assistant.

    Allo still feels a little early—it doesn't support SMS, except to send Allo invites to your contacts and relay messages across an awkward SMS relay. Then there's the single-device approach. Not only can you only use Allo on phones, but it only works on a single phone. That means if you get a new device or simply switch to another one, you have to re-register with Allo and all your chats, settings, and profile information are reset. It's a real pain if you switch devices.

    Allo is definitely something to try, but it's only going to be useful if you can convince your friends to start using it. Right now, I don't think there's a compelling reason to stop using Hangouts, but Assistant has some potential.

    Tested: Yuneec Breeze 4K Quadcopter

    I've left my fingerprints on a lot of different multi-rotors. So it's rare for me to come across a product so unique that it nudges me out of my comfort zone. The new Breeze 4K ($500) from Yuneec is one of those products. It is unlike any quad I've flown before. In some respects, it forced me to rethink my preconceived notions about what an aerial photography platform could be. At the same time, it challenged me with issues that I couldn't overlook.

    The Yuneec Breeze 4K is a compact multi-rotor that is intended to create high-end selfies.

    Who is the Breeze 4K For?

    While it definitely has many hobby-quality attributes, the Breeze is not intended for model aviation enthusiasts. In fact, it seems that Yuneec has tried very hard to remove much of the burden of becoming a skilled pilot. Most of the built-in flight modes involve some degree of automated control over the quad. Just keep in mind that there is still a minimum level of proficiency required. It is necessary to understand and become competent with the software that augments any lack of flying skill. In other words, read the manual and watch the tutorials before you hit the skies.

    It appears that this quad is primarily for people looking to elevate their selfie game. The flight modes are tailored to put the user, more than anything else, in the camera lens. Think of the Breeze as a long selfie stick…a really long selfie stick!

    The marketing material for the Breeze notes that it is capable of outdoor or indoor flight. It has special sensors on the bottom side to improve its indoor capability in the absence of GPS signals. One photo even suggests that it is okay to fly within the limited confines of a high-rise apartment. Personally, I would be very uncomfortable flying a multi-rotor of this size and power inside my house.

    Bits to Atoms: Printing My Custom Cutaway Lightsaber

    With all the design work done for my Custom Cutaway Lightsaber, it's time to 3D print everything on the Form 2 SLA printer. We were lucky enough to get a pre-production Form 2 from FormLabs and had been printing a ton of projects before the official release. We were very pleased with all the prints as Formlabs had upgraded all of the items (and then some) on my wishlist from my time with the Form 1+. The Form 2 had been living up to my expectations but I designed some of the lightsaber parts to torture test it further.

    While the Form 2 was more than capable of printing out an entire half of the saber in one piece, I broke it up into many parts for a few reasons. First, I wanted to show off various resins and designed the saber to make use of the black, grey, clear and flexible materials, most of which had just had formulation upgrades. Second, I wanted to see what the tolerances and fit quality were like for assemblies. Third, as we have talked about before, prints tend to look better when all the parts aren't globbed together but instead printed as individual pieces. Plus, the quality of parts can sometimes be affected by orientation and printing everything as one piece is not always optimal.

    Mesh repair - problem areas highlighted

    Once modeling was finished, the next step was to export all the parts as STL files - generally the standard for 3D printing. The grips and pommel were exported as a whole piece and then cut in half using Netfabb - this was a case of using the right tool for the job. Netfabb (recently acquired by Autodesk) is also my goto program for mesh repair which is a vital part of 3D printing. Any holes, flipped polygon faces or other irregularities can cause a print to fail. Formlabs PreForm software has Netfabb repair functionality built in and will warn you and offer to fix possible issues upon model import.

    Google Play App Roundup: Solid Explorer, One More Jump, and Monolithic

    Grab your phone and prepare to shoot some new apps and games over to it from the Google cloud. It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store. Just click the links to head to each app's page to check it out for yourself.

    Solid Explorer

    Solid Explorer is obviously not a new app, but it's just gotten a big update, which has been in testing for months. We haven't talked about this app for a long time, so it's time to check in on what is, I think, undeniably the best file manager on Android. Front and center in the latest update are some Nougat improvements and support for fingerprint-based file encryption. This is the most robust implementation of this feature I've seen yet on Android.

    Solid Explorer's original claim to fame was its fantastic multi-pane implementation. You can have two locations open at once, and easily move items between the two. That's still present in the new v2.2 update of course, but there's added support for Nougat's split-screen mode. That means it'll open in split screen without any annoying warnings and will behave itself without any weird crashing or UI errors.

    As for the file encryption feature, there are several reasons I think this is the best implementation on Android. When you choose the file or folder you want to encrypt, the app will pull up a dialog so you can set a password. Encryption is done with AES256, which is essentially uncrackable. The only potentially weak link is your password, but with Solid Explorer, you don't have to worry about that.

    Devices with a fingerprint scanner on Android 6.0 or higher can set the secure unlock method for a file to be the user's registered fingerprint. There's a checkbox in the encryption dialog to allow this. If you enable it, you can decrypt a file simply by touching the sensor, allowing you to use a long and annoying password to encrypt as you don't have to type it in every time. The files you encrypt also keep their file name, simply gaining a .sec extension. That makes it easy to know what you're opening. There's also an option to have the source file scrubbed when you encrypt.

    After decrypting a file, you can open it normally. However, Solid Explorer smartly re-encrypts automatically when you close it. This is not a particularly flashy aspect of the feature, but probably one that makes it actually useful. If you had to re-encrypt files every time, you probably wouldn't use them as much.

    Solid Explorer includes a 14-day trial of all the features, if you want to give it a shot. After that, it's a $1.99 in-app purchase to unlock permanently. If you're looking for a good file explorer and have any interest in protecting your files, this is a good method.

    Bits to Atoms: Designing a Custom 3D-Printed Lightsaber

    We've been using the Formlabs Form 2 SLA 3D printer since its release and have loved our experience with it so far. The Form 2 produces high-resolution models using liquid resin cured via laser. Formlabs recently introduced new formulations of most of their resins and various software and firmware updates, which I wanted to put to the test. So when the opportunity came to create a custom project with Formlabs, I wanted to see how far I could push the detail and precision of the Form 2.

    Since I've always wanted to make a Star Wars lightsaber and love seeing how things work, I proposed the Cutaway Lightsaber Project. The first decision was choosing what kind of lightsaber to make. The movie sabers have been done many times over, so I decided to design my own--like a true Jedi... or Sith. The lightsabers from the Star Wars prequels tended to be more sleek and refined, but I wanted the chunkier look of the original movies that I grew up with. As most fans know, many of the original props, including the lightsabers, were designed from found objects such as Graflex camera flash handles. Additional details, known as greeblies, were added to complete the prop and make it look appropriately sci-fi. With my background in film & TV repair, I have collected a lot of oddball and cool-looking parts, so I decided to start in the same way.

    Cobbling parts together with Luke's replica as reference

    I used Luke's Return of the Jedi saber replica as a size reference and started cramming my junk parts together until I had a rough lightsaber that I liked. There was a little of everything: optics, camera parts, hard drive spindles, electrical connectors and miscellaneous gears. I knew this wasn't the final form, but there were a lot of features that I liked. I started recreating approximations of these in 3D, adjusting as needed to accommodate size and other features that I wanted. Early on I knew I wanted to include what I refer to as 'Death Star Grate' which many will recognize as the distinctive pattern of cutouts used as windows, lights, grates, etc throughout the Star Wars Universe. Typically it's used in facilities of the Empire, so I figured this was going to be a bad guy's saber. I wanted it to be beefy and look like it could mess you up even when it wasn't ignited--kind of like a D&D mace.

    Towing Tiny Aerial Banners

    One of the things I love most about RC airplanes is that so many aspects are scalable. When I want to try a new idea, I can whip up a small proof-of-concept model cheaply and easily. The results of that first prototype will often determine whether I want to invest the time and money to build a larger version.

    Things were a little different when I decided to try banner towing. In this case, going small was the end goal rather than the first step. I already knew that towing banners is a plausible idea. People have been doing it with full-scale and RC planes for years. In fact, I had a friend with RC banner towing experience jot down some of the basics so that I could build a banner rig for myself. The only problem was that the sizes and materials he proposed were only suitable for very large and powerful models. His banners are made of fabric and actually have the letters sewn on individually. I took the fundamental design parameters and interpreted them into a much smaller banner that is easy to make and easy to tow.

    The tow plane I used is the Dromida Voyager, a very well-built and attractive ultra-micro RC model that easily handles the additional burden of towing the banner. (Bryan McLarty photo)

    Dromida Voyager

    Before I get into the actual banner, I should introduce the airplane that I used to tow it, the Dromida Voyager ($90). After a few successful test flights of the airplane by itself, I thought that the Voyager would make a worthy banner tug. So I sized my banner components to complement the model's capabilities. Since the Voyager is a newly-released product, I'll also provide some information that prospective buyers may be looking for … even if they're not planning to use it as a tow plane.

    Google Play App Roundup: Conscient, Outfolded, and Bit Bit Blocks

    Your phone or tablet might be cool, but it could be a lot cooler with the right apps. So what? Spend like mad until you find the apps that suit your needs? Nah, just read the weekly Google Play App Roundup here on Tested. We strive to bring you the best new, and newly updated apps on Android. Just click the app name to head to the Play Store.

    Conscient

    Automation apps have been one of the best selling point for Android as a whole over the years. With a little setup, you can make your phone respond to your real world situation in a very cool way. The apps that do this have varying levels of complexity. Tasker is popular for instance, but it's very difficult to learn. Conscient aims to make it quick and easy to setup simple automation features without a heavy service running in the background. Interested? It's free to try.

    Conscient uses the Google Awareness API, which means the app itself doesn't need to run its own service in the background to keep track of what you're doing. That means better performance and battery life without any of the bugs you see with third-party implementations. Google's Awareness API can relay various device conditions (contexts) to the app like headphones plugged/unplugged, running, walking, in a vehicle, and cycling.

    To set up a "fence" in Conscient, you have to choose a context or a combination of contexts. You might want to have something happen when headphones are plugged in or you're in a car. There are also options for things like running and headphones plugged in. The next step is picking an action to trigger when a context is activated. You can have an app or shortcut launched. This is not as powerful as what you can get with other automation apps, but it's not supposed to be. If you use another automation app like Tasker, you can plug activities from that into Conscient as the trigger.

    There are two ways to launch fences in Conscient; immediate and notifications. The default is notification, which pops up a notification when a context is active you you can launch it in a single tap. The immediate version simple triggers the action.

    I've tested Conscient with a number of different settings, and all of them see to work reliably. It sometimes takes a few seconds for the app to recognize that I'm in a vehicle, for example, but that's down to the Awareness API more than the app. I haven't noticed any impact on battery life, either.

    The free version can run up to three concurrent fences at a time. After that, you need to upgrade to the pro version for $0.99 (but you can pay more if you want to support the dev). It's worth checking out if you're in the market for a simple automation app that won't murder your device's performance.

    X-15: The Other Spaceplane

    When it comes to winged spaceships, the list of successful vehicles is rather small. The space shuttle is the most obvious example, with the Soviet Buran also making the cut. Let's not forget the more recent examples of SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo. But there is another, often overlooked spaceplane that began to take shape even before NASA existed. This unsung trailblazer, the North American Aviation X-15, carried eight humans into space (more than Project Mercury). Between 1959 and 1968 the X-15 completed 199 flights and achieved results that far exceeded the project's original charter. The successes and failures of the X-15 program provided critical lessons that shaped the US spacecraft (and numerous airplanes) that followed.

    The X-15 was a rocket-powered airplane that explored hypersonic flight and carried eight test pilots into space. (NASA photo)

    Genesis of the X-15

    The mid-20th century was an era of vigorous research and rapid discoveries in aeronautics. A series of American rocket-powered "X-planes" successively pushed top speeds and maximum altitudes ever higher. In 1952, even before Mach 2 had been exceeded, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA – the aeronautical research arm of the federal government and precursor to NASA) initiated a project to explore hypersonic flight (faster than Mach 5). This effort would ultimately result in the creation of the X-15.

    PlayStation Meeting 2016: Everything You Need to Know

    At a (very) short and concise event in New York City, Sony revealed to the world what it already knew for the most part. Head of PlayStation Andrew House and lead system architect Mark Cerny were on stage to talk about Sony's new hardware.

    First up was the PS4 Slim. It's smaller than the original PlayStation 4, officially hits stores starting September 15th, and will cost $300. It was also mentioned that this will be the new standard PS4 model going forward. Other than that, nothing else was said about it.

    What we really care about though is the long rumored Neo hardware. Officially called PlayStation 4 Pro, this noticeably bigger box was built with 4K and HDR displays in mind. Confirming leaked documentation, the CPU's clock speed has been increased over the original PS4 and the GPU is using AMD's new Polaris technology. It launches November 10th with a 1TB hard drive for $400.

    As expected, all existing PS4 titles will work on the Pro, and all new games will work on both systems for the foreseeable future. Some previously released games will be receiving updates to take advantage of the new hardware, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, and Sony plans on updating at least six of their own titles, including Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. They also showed upcoming games like Mass Effect: Andromeda and Insomniac's Spider-Man game running on the new hardware.

    When addressing the new potential for visuals with games running on the Pro and 4K displays, Cerny said, "Brute force rendering techniques can of course be used to support these displays, but they have unfortunate consequences for console cost and form factor. So with PS4 Pro our strategy has instead been to foster streamlined rendering techniques that can take advantage of custom hardware. When coupled with best in breed temporal and spatial anti-aliasing algorithms, the results can be astonishing."

    To me that sounds a lot like the Pro won't render games at a native 4K resolution, and will instead use new development techniques to upscale content for these new screens. In fact that makes sense given the new GPU. Earlier this year a lot of technical information was leaked about the PS4 Pro. Now with new graphics cards from AMD out using the same technology as what's found in the Pro, an approximate system using PC hardware can already be tested.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (September 2016)

    It's a tumultuous time for Android phones; new Nexus (or Pixel?) phones are expected in the next few weeks, the Note 7 is exploding, and LG is getting ready to move on from the disappointing G5. If you're in the market for a new phone, you might be wondering what to get. Well, you should probably still try to wait it out for unlocked phones, but on the carrier side the choice is still clear. Let's break it down.

    Carrier phones

    In recent months, I've recommended the Galaxy S7 with the HTC 10 as a solid alternative. Well, the HTC 10 appears to be falling flat. T-Mobile has already dropped it, and the price hasn't really come down to competitive levels. At this point, I think you're much better off getting the Galaxy S7, or you can wait just a little longer for the V20.

    Let's go over what makes the Galaxy S7 a good purchase right now. It has some of the best hardware you'll find on a smartphone right now. Despite being made largely of glass, the Galaxy S7 is a surprisingly solid phone. It's IP68 water resistant, and the metal rim around the edge gives it some heft. The rear glass panel is curved slightly to make it more comfortable in the hand.

    Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker than the GS6, but that leaves more room inside for a bigger battery now. The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. With the aid of Android 6.0's Doze Mode, both these devices have great battery life. That'll only get better with Android 7.0 Nougat, which I'll get to later.