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    Everything You Need to Know About Custom Mechanical Keyboards

    Mechanical keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, many of which you can find on Amazon or via some other retailer. If you need a new board, buying a pre-built one is the cheapest and easiest way. However, building a custom keyboard gives you the chance to choose everything from the case material, to the switches, to the keycaps.

    A WhiteFox with GMK Hyperfuse caps

    The popularity of custom keyboards has exploded in the last few years, making it a confusing and intimidating hobby to pick up. Let's break it all down.

    Layouts and firmware

    One of the things you'll notice about custom keyboards rather quickly is they tend to have unusual layouts, and they're often tiny compared to the standard full-sized 104-key layout. There are tenkeyless (80%) boards that lack a number pad, but also 65%, 60%, and smaller. A 60% is fairly common these days—these boards have only the main alphas, number row, and modifiers. The arrows and other keys are accessible via a function layer. A 65% board adds back the arrows and a few extra keys, but 40% boards go the other way with the alpha keys and a just a few modifiers. Then there are various split and ergonomic boards, like the Ergodox.

    Some of these are available as niche pre-built keyboards, but there's one main difference between those and a truly custom board. A custom board is programmable, meaning you can have any of the keys do whatever you want. This is extremely important when you're dealing with fewer physical keys because you will need at least one robust function layer to fit in all the standard keyboard commands.

    A RedScarf II with DSA Overwatch caps

    The firmware on a custom keyboard offers much more power than the desktop clients many fancy "gamer" keyboards use. After a board is programmed with your preferred layout, it doesn't rely on any software on a computer. It works exactly the same no matter which device you plug it into. The things you can do are also much more advanced. Some boards include advanced macro support or the option to control the mouse cursor.

    A smaller keyboard layout can be much more efficient than a full sized one. By relegating some commands to a function layer, your hands don't have to move as far while typing, and your mouse stays closer to your hands. True, some people can't get by without a full layout and number pad, but most people who think they do are wrong. It's much easier to scale back the size of your board than you think.

    Google Play App Roundup: Microsoft To-Do, Invert, and Card Thief

    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.

    Microsoft To-Do

    Microsoft has a habit of buying the developers behind popular apps, then killing the app they just bought. As counterintuitive as that is, Microsoft has done it more than once. Remember Sunrise Calendar? So do many others, which is why Microsoft's release of Microsoft To-Do is so concerning. See, the company recently acquired the maker of the popular to-do manager Wunderlist. Could this be the beginning of the end for Wunderlist?

    Microsoft To-Do bears a superficial resemblance to Wunderlist, and there's even support for importing your current lists from Wunderlist. This app lets you create to-do lists, set reminders, and keep track of your lists and projects over time. To create a new to-do, just hit the floating action button in the lower right corner. To create a new list, open the slide-out navigation panel and tap "New list" at the bottom. This is also where you'll find all your existing lists.

    The big draw for Microsoft To-Do is the My Day feature. It's an attempt to help users focus on daily tasks by offering a new list each day. In addition, there's a suggested to-do feature. It will allegedly learn from your usage and offer frequent tasks for quick adding to My Day. I have only seen a few things pop up here, but it might become more useful after using it longer.

    Microsoft To-Do is available on the web, iOS, and Android. The Android app has a proper material interface with the aforementioned navigation panel, FAB, and a soothing purple-blue theme. This is totally unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but I like the little "ding" sound when tasks are checked off. It makes me feel like I really accomplished something.

    The app is tied into your Microsoft account and integrated with Office 365 and Outlook. It's still in the early stages, so it's hard to say if it'll rival Wunderlist eventually. Right now, it's lacking many of the features that made that app popular. Microsoft hasn't announced the demise of Wunderlist, but it can't be long for this world with Microsoft To-Do around. It's free and very polished, though. If you are looking for a to-do manager, this is a capable one.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 8: Dexmo's VR Haptic Exoskeleton

    In this episode of Projections, Jeremy and Norm discuss how hand presence has presented itself to consumers over the past three years of virtual reality hardware. We get a demo of Dexmo, a wireless exoskeleton controller that tracks individual fingers and promises to provide haptic feedback to let you actually feel objects in VR. Jeremy chats with Dexta Robotics' CEO about challenges to haptics technology and how they're tackling the problem.

    Testing the Tower Hobbies P-51 Mustang Mk. II RC Fighter Plane

    Like most fans of aviation, I have a soft spot for the P-51 Mustang. It's pretty much the quintessential WWII fighter plane. For some, it's the only WWII fighter plane. When it comes to RC models, however, I tend to stay away from the Mustang. The problem is that I usually favor rare and unique subjects. With oodles of RC P-51s in the world, they're hardly rare and seldom unique.

    Tower Hobbies recently released an updated version of their electric-powered Mustang. I thought that this new model was distinctive enough to warrant further inspection. The most noticeable attribute of this P-51 is that the same basic airframe is available four different ways. You can buy it in the popular P-51D model with a bubble canopy. This variant is offered in military or racing paint schemes. Next up is a version representing the earlier "B" model Mustang with a greenhouse canopy. The final option is the one I chose. "Racer Red" emulates a post-war P-51s that has been modified and streamlined for air racing. Basically, this kit offers all the appeal of a P-51 along with the dash of variety that I crave.

    What's in The Kit

    Tower's Mustang ($120) is a receiver-ready kit made of molded foam. It includes everything except a transmitter, receiver, and flight battery. With a 40" wingspan, this P-51 can be considered a park-flyer or club field model.

    The servos and power system are all factory-installed. Some of the variants also have the decals pre-applied. Racer Red, however, comes with a sheet of self-adhesive decals that you can apply yourself.

    I used my Futaba 14SG transmitter with an R617FS receiver. Although the 14SG has tons of different programming options, I didn't need to dig very deep for the Mustang. The basic model is a 4-channel airplane. There are options for utilizing more channels by adding flaps and retractable landing gear. I didn't add flaps, but did take advantage of the available retracts. More on that later.

    My kit had a slight bit of shipping damage. The rudder had been torn free from the vertical stabilizer. These things happen. The fix was super easy and quick. It's still holding strong after a lot of flight testing.

    Google Play App Roundup; Volume Notification, Lumino City, and Zombie Offroad Safari

    I don't know if you could say there are too many apps out there, but there are certainly enough that it can be hard to find the ones worth your time. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup is seeking to solve. Every week we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.

    Volume Notification

    The volume of your Android phone is not a monolithic setting—there's media, ringtone, notifications, alarms, and more. Changing the right one at the right time can be annoying, but Volume Notifications can help. It's a simple app that gives you two ways to quickly access specific volume controls.

    All devices can run Volume Notification as a notification, as the name would imply. That means it shows up as an item in the notification shade, but the location and style of that notification can be controlled from the app's settings. The main screen of those settings includes a list of volume types, which you can rearrange and enable/disable as you like. These control which shortcuts appear in the notification version of Volume Notification.

    You should also check out the full settings for this app, which allow you to tweak the performance of several of the buttons. For example, the default behavior when you press the buttons is to bring up a slider to control that particular volume setting. If you prefer, you can have the media or ring buttons simply toggle mute when you press them. The theme of the notification can be changed as well.

    When you're using the notification version of the app, you might also want to check the notification priority settings. The app can be set to produce a status bar icon, which keeps it at the top of your list. I think it looks nicer when you have the notification shade open to have Volume Notification at the top. That way you can theme it to match your phone's settings UI.

    Your other option for using Volume Notification requires Android 7.0 or higher. With Nougat, you can modify the quick settings on your phone and add third-party tiles. Installing Volume Notification adds the tiles to your list automatically. Simply open the editing UI and drag the tiles up into your quick settings. These tiles operate the same way as the notification—tap to get a popup volume slider.

    Volume Notification is not a complex app, but it could potentially fix a big pain point when using your phone. It doesn't hurt that it costs absolutely nothing.

    Why Microsoft's Next XBox Will Be More like a Gaming PC

    Last year when Sony launched the PlayStation 4 Pro, a new console with full backwards compatibility and providing upgraded visuals to those with 4K/HDR screens, Microsoft also announced a new console, codenamed Project Scorpio, with similar goals in mind. But unlike Sony, Microsoft didn't release their new console last year. Instead they only touted what Scorpio would deliver with native 4K visuals and high fidelity VR among them. This new Xbox One console won't be available until Holiday of this year, but Microsoft is already detailing some of the hardware specs for Project Scorpio.

    The Scorpio Engine

    For any system to push a game out with native 4K resolution assets at a steady framerate requires serious hardware. This only just became possible with desktop computers within the last year or two, and the components required there aren't exactly cheap. For Microsoft to do the same on a console and not run the cost of the device so high no one will buy it requires low level customization of every component.

    The System on a Chip in Project Scorpio utilizing AMD architecture is what Microsoft refers to as the Scorpio Engine. This 16nm FinFET chip produced by TSMC features an eight core CPU (two clusters of four) clocked at 2.3GHz with 4MB of L2 cache. Even though the CPU (likely) stems from the same Jaguar cores found in both PlayStation and Xbox, Microsoft's customization has resulted in a 31% faster processor over the original Xbox One hardware. This is also clocked 200MHz higher than the PS4 Pro's CPU.

    But of course, the real horsepower is coming from the GPU. The custom Radeon silicon has 40 compute units clocked at 1172MHz. That blows right past the Xbox One's 12 CU at 853MHz (or 914MHz for the S), and is a leg up over the PS4 Pro's 36 CU at 911MHz. This even rivals the latest graphics card from AMD, the RX 480, which has 36 CU and a maximum boost clock a mere 94MHz higher.

    In order to hit Microsoft's target of 6 teraflops of performance they can't just slap down more silicon on a board with higher frequencies and call it a day. All of this 4K data has to be moved around quickly, and efficiently. Project Scorpio will run with 12GB of GDDR5 memory, whereas both the original Xbox One and PS4 Pro only have 8GB of DDR3 and GDDR5 respectively. Games on Scorpio will have access to 8 of the 12GB, a 3GB increase over the Xbox One. The rest will be reserved for the OS in order for the dashboard to be rendered at a native 4K. With increases in bit sizes, number of channels, and frequencies, the memory bandwidth of Project Scorpio is at 326GB/s. The Xbox One's lowly DDR3 only allowed for 68GB/s, but that was partially offset by Microsoft's odd ESRAM that could operate at 204GB/s (or 219GB/s in the S). The PS4 Pro's memory bandwidth comes in at 218GB/s. The included 1TB hard drive in Scorpio will also be 50% faster.

    There are a lot of other additions as well to squeeze the most out of the hardware that you wouldn't normally see. The GPU command processor (think of it as a co-processor that receives instructions from the CPU for the GPU to draw) has DirectX 12 built in for the highest possible levels of efficiency. This addition drastically changes the number of instructions needed between the CPU and GPU from hundreds of thousands down to only 11.

    Google Play App Roundup: YouTube TV, Quantum Revenge, and Tempest

    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 yourself.

    YouTube TV

    Google is trying to worm its way into your living room again, but not with a new piece of hardware. It's just launched the YouTube TV streaming service, and the associated Android app. The Android app is a vital piece of the experience because there's no Android TV version, nor will it work on streaming devices like Roku. Luckily, the app is pretty good.

    First thing's first—YouTube TV is only available in five markets right now (Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area). It costs $35 per month, and for that you get about 40 channels of live streaming TV. That includes all the local channels as well as ESPN, USA, FX, NatGeo, and many more. There's also an online DVR with unlimited storage. It's one of the missing pieces of the cable cutting puzzle.

    The app is one of the cleanest and most interesting Google has put out recently. It's split up into three tabs: Library, Home, and Live. The Home tab is where you land when opening the app. It includes a feed of popular live channels at the top, followed by several tiers of suggestions below that. The live stream thumbnails are actually animated; they reflect what's happening on the channel at that moment. So, it's more like channel surfing on a cable box.

    The live tab lists all your channels in a vertical column. Like the Home tab, there are live thumbnails for each channel as you scroll through. All the animated thumbnails play silently, which I'm very pleased about. Tapping on one will open the full player interface. Rotating the device to landscape will set the video to full screen automatically. If that's not big enough, tap the Chromecast button at the top and pick a display to move the stream.

    The Library tab is where you'll go to see all your recorded content (which is stored for nine months) and find out what upcoming recordings you have. Throughout the app, there are "plus" icons next to program titles. You can tap to add a subscription, which automatically records all upcoming instances of it on live TV. There's also some on-demand content available in YouTube TV, and that is bundled in with your recorded content when you subscribe.

    The YouTube TV app is fast, and easy to get around in. It really is fantastic compared to the awful streaming apps that most networks and cable providers have. The only real drawback is availability. You have to be in one of those supported markets to sign up, and the local channel feeds are disabled whenever you leave. Still, it's the most robust live TV streaming service available right now.

    Testing the LG G6 Smartphone!

    We test and review the LG G6, the first of 2017's major flagship Android smartphones. Norm focuses on two features that differentiate it from other phones--G6's wide-angle camera lenses, as well as its 2:1 aspect ratio display. Here's why we think taller screens and minimal bezels will be a trend that's here to stay. (LG G6 review unit provided by LG.)

    Testing: The Windows 10 Creators Update

    Microsoft's new service model for Windows is now in full swing. The Creators Update is the third major update to Windows 10 since it launched a little under two years ago. Beginning April 11th users of Windows 10 devices will find themselves with a few new features to play with and improvements all around. While not as substantial as last year's Anniversary Update, there are still some things worth checking out.

    Paint 3D

    The biggest addition without a doubt is the new Paint 3D app. At first glance it seems familiar with various tools at your disposal like a pen, brush, spray can, and the trusty ol' paint bucket. The next tool tab over however opens up an entirely new world: 3D objects. Here you're granted the ability to place in a few pre-made 3D models like a man, a woman, or a dog. There are some simple shapes, including a cube, a sphere and a doughnut. You can also free draw 3D shapes with either sharp or smooth edges.

    Like with the old drawing tools, once you learn the limitations of the 3D objects is when you can start creating real nightmares masterpieces. Aside from stretching in the x or y direction, there's no way to modify an object once it is created. In order to make complex shapes you'll have to think about how to combine the simple shapes and 3D doodles, the later of which will have some depth to it, but not much.

    The one aspect that I feel really gets in my way is that while doing any drawing or editing your view is fixed to the "front". You can click a button to view your creation from all sides, but you can't interact with them from different perspectives. Objects can be rotated in three planes, moved around in the X-Y plane, or shifted forward and back in the Z plane. This makes for combining objects in just the right way to be grouped immensely frustrating.

    For example, I struggle greatly with rotating objects. I found myself constantly rotating an object to the point that I thought was what I wanted, changed my perspective to see that I went too far, and repeated this process for a few minutes. I can understand the constraint of creating only in a fixed place, but not being able to move objects at any time from any angle feels like an oversimplification of an otherwise decent toolset in a free, packed in 3D modeling program.

    Tested: UE Wonderboom Bluetooth Speaker Review

    Here's a short and sweet review--we test the newest Bluetooth speaker from Ultimate Ears, the makers of the Roll 2 and Mini Boom. This new Wonderboom speaker is waterproof, sounds great for its size, and pretty durable.