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    Episode 431 - No Transitions Necessary - 1/11/18
    Norm is away in New Zealand, so Kishore and Jeremy are joined by game development legend Mike Mika of Other Ocean Interactive. We chat about the Vive Pro and other VR announcements from CES, the pre-blackout most interesting hardware at CES so far, and its award season, so we hand out the 1st ever Tested awards for our favorite media, games, and hardware of 2017. RIP Tested transition music.
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    Quick Look at the Shaper Origin Handheld CNC!

    We have the new Shaper Origin CNC machine in our workshop! This is a handheld CNC that uses computer vision to align itself to the material you're routing, like plywood or MDF. We take it for a spin with a simple test project to show you the basics of how it works and the quirks of its operation.

    Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Input Club Hako Switches

    You might not give much thought to the keyboard under your fingers, but there's a community of dedicated enthusiasts who spend a great deal of time thinking about their keyboards. The custom mechanical keyboard community can be confusing and downright imposing, but there are some genuinely cool things out there. In the Keyboard Spotlight, we seek to show off the coolest things happening in the custom mech scene one switch, keyboard, and keycap at a time.

    This week we're taking a look at the innovative new Hako switches from Input Club and Kailh.

    These switches are basically an alternative to the Cherry Browns or Blues with which you're most familiar. There are also similar switches from companies like Gateron and Kaihua (Kailh). It's become increasingly common for keyboard designers to create custom switch designs and have them produced by one of these manufacturers. The latest to do that is Input Club, which is responsible for creating keyboards like the WhiteFox and K-Type.

    The Hako True (salmon stem) and Hako Clear (white stem) are both based on Kailh's new BOX designs. These switches have a standard Cherry-style cross stem inside a box-shaped frame. So, they work with standard Cherry-compatible keycaps, but the switch housing is "self-cleaning" and IP56-rated. Dust and moisture can escape out the bottom through drainage holes, and the metal contacts are in a separate compartment from the stem—see below for a detailed shot of the Hako Clear.

    Google Play App Roundup: UpThere Home, Peace, Death!, and BBTAN2

    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.

    UpThere Home

    Cloud storage services are a dime a dozen lately, but storage monolith Western Digital is looking to get into this space by charging less than a dime. Its UpThere cloud storage service costs just $1.99 per month for 100GB of space, which is the same as many competing services. However, there's more flexibility here. There's even a new Android app to use, and it's pretty good.

    Like other cloud storage apps, Western Digital wants you to import files from your phone as you create them. One of the first things suggested by UpThere is linking your gallery, which creates backups of all your photos on the UpThere servers. You can also designate other folders to back up to the cloud via UpThere.

    The app has a clean monochrome look with a bottom tab bar for navigation. Yes, that's an acceptable part of the material design guidelines these days. Although, I'm not sure about WD's decision to leave the buttons unlabeled. The far left tab is your "home screen" for UpThere, but it's called Flow. It's a sort of timeline where you can see all the activity on your account. In general, UpThere has fancy names for several basic concepts.

    The other tabs are for file types like images, documents, and music. In the case of music, you can use UpThere to stream your tracks at full quality. The last tab is for "Loops," which seem to just be folders by another name. You can add items to a Loop to see them all in one place. Loops also plug into UpThere's sharing system. You can still share files the old-fashioned way, but you can basically create shared Loops for other people to view as you add new things to them.

    You can try UpThere free for three months. After that, it's $1.99 per month for 100GB, but interestingly, that's the rate for every 100GB. If you need another 100GB, it's just another $1.99 per month. This looks like a much more flexible pricing model than something like Drive, which jumps from 100GB to 1TB.

    If you're not already married to a cloud storage service, you might want to give UpThere a shot.

    Looking Back at Google in 2017: Android, Machine Learning, and More

    Google started as a search engine, as we put 2017 behind us, it's all the more clear just how far the Mountain View company has come. Android has grown into the most popular computing platform in the world, and Google Assistant is running on a huge number of those devices. Machine learning backs so much of what Google did in 2017, making it clear this is no longer about impressive hypothetical research. Machine learning is the future of Google, and it's having huge impacts on the way we use technology right now.

    Oreos on the "Go"

    No discussion of Google's efforts in 2017 can ignore the continued importance of Android. In 2017, Android surpassed Windows as the most popular operating system on Earth. People who buy smartphones are much more likely to buy one running Android than iOS when you look at the global numbers, and people buy a lot of smartphones.

    Google is looking toward the future with Android, as well, In 2017, Google announced the Android Go platform, a stripped down version of Android designed to run on ultra-budget phones with limited storage and processing power. Android Go, which will be a variant of Android 8.1, even has its own suite of apps like Maps and Gmail that run smoother and use less data.

    In many places, smartphone usage has reached saturation. Many of us still pick up new devices every year or two, but there are many places where smartphone usage is still picking up steam. Google wants Android to be running on the "next billion" smartphones, and Android Go is how we get there.

    Of course, it's not all about the entry-level phones. Google also released Android 8.0 and 8.1 Oreo in the fall after starting a developer preview in spring 2017. It was a little disappointing Google didn't do a big promotional push for Oreo like it did for KitKat a few years back, but aside from the awkward launch, Oreo is a good update.

    There aren't as many headlining features in Oreo as in some past version of Android, but the under-the-hood improvements will make a big impact going forward. Google is cracking down on background processes to improve battery life, and users now have more control over how apps push notifications. There's also Project Treble, which aims to solve the problem of fragmentation once and for all. This modular system framework will run on all phones that ship with Oreo, allowing OEMs to make system updates that don't require new hardware drivers. That means faster updates and longer support.

    How To Make Tire Chains for RC Cars

    Snow is still quite a novelty to me. Until recently, I've only lived in Florida or Texas. Now I'm in Buffalo, New York, where the average yearly snowfall is 95 inches. The transition has been relatively painless so far (knocking on wood), but there is definitely some adaptation required for my RC activities! This article highlights a recent example. I was originally intending to do a straightforward review of the Kyosho Outlaw Rampage RC truck. Snow was hampering my test drives, so I improvised.

    Why Snow Chains?

    There was only a little bit of snow on the ground the first time I took the Outlaw out for a spin (quite literally). In fact, it was the same outing where I photographed the Ultima RB6.6 at the park. While the Ultima's Goose Bumps tires hooked up really well in the snow, the Outlaw's stock treads were nearly useless. The truck would constantly spin out or get stuck. I definitely needed to find better traction one way or another.

    I'm sure that there are off-the-shelf tires that would fit the Outlaw's wheels and provide better traction in snow. However, I thought it would be more fun to try a DIY approach. I've seen examples of tire chains on RC trucks before. So I decided to create my own version. It is a simple and inexpensive project that actually works quite well.

    Those of you in warmer climates may be wondering just what the heck tire chains are. It's all new to me too. Apparently, there are many different types of tire chains (aka snow chains), but all stick to a common theme. As the name implies, they are chains that you attach to your car or truck tires. The profile of the chain acts like a paddle to give you extra traction in really bad winter conditions. Tire chains are obviously intended for temporary use and only when necessary.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (January 2018)

    So, the time has come to get a new phone. Before you toss the old one out and head to your local phone retailer of choice, you should get the lay of the land. There are dozens of Android phones worth considering, but only a few are the "good," and even fewer will be the best for you. Let's break it all down and call out the top devices on the big carriers as well as the best among unlocked phones.

    Carrier Phones:The Galaxy S8 or Note 8

    Getting a phone from the carrier is what most people do for one primary reason: it's easy. You walk in, and walk out with a new phone on a monthly payment plan. However, you don't have as many good choices on the carriers. One consistently good choice in the last year has been the latest devices from Samsung like the Galaxy S8 and more recently, the Note 8. These are, right now, the best overall choices on the big carriers.

    One of Samsung's biggest selling points is the display. The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus have some of the most incredible OLED panels available, and they're a bit more curvy than the Note 8. The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch curved display, whereas the Plus has a 6.2-inch curved panel. These screens are taller than old 16:9 panels with a resolution of 1440 x 2960. They're crisp, bright, and have fantastic colors. The rounded corners and smooth glass frame of these phones makes them so visually interesting. They're gorgeous.

    The glass housing looks nice, but it comes with some drawbacks. It's slippery, and it picks up fingerprints immediately. On the other hand, the shape and size of the GS8 and S8 Plus are comfortable with the symmetrically curved front and back glass. The glass is also prone to breaking when dropped because there's so much of it. A case is a very good idea if you're going to be out and about.

    Samsung finally switched to on-screen navigation buttons with the Galaxy S8, but the fingerprint scanner (formerly in the home button) has ended up in a rather awkward spot on the back of the phone. It's way up next to the camera instead of below it. The on-screen buttons can be reorganized to display in the right order. The home button is also pressure-sensitive. Hard-pressing on that area of the screen will always trigger the button, even if the phone is asleep.

    Google Play App Roundup: Fluctuate, Arena of Valor, and Remindee

    Your phone 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.


    Buying things on the internet can save you a lot of money if you wait for a good deal to come along, but you could be out of luck if you don't hop on a hot deal fast enough. Fluctuate is a new app that tracks prices for things you want to buy, and pushes alerts for pricing changes. The basic functionality is free, but several advanced features will cost you.

    There are two ways to add items to Fluctuate. You can either share a URL to the app via Android's built-in permission system, or you can open the app and tap the floating action button to paste a URL manually. Fluctuate reads the page and looks for a price, which it usually finds. You have the option to tell the app that the detected price is not the correct one. In that case, the app loads the page, and you can tap on the name of the item and the price to correct the record.

    With your item set up in the app, you'll see a notification in the event the price changes… at all. Depending on the site, that might mean a lot of notifications. You can, instead, set a threshold at which you'll receive a notification. Each item on your Fluctuate list shows the current price, and tapping on it lets you buy or view the product. When selecting "Buy now," the app will track how much you've saved based on the price drop since an item was added to the list. That running tally appears at the top of the app.

    All of this functionality is free, and there are no ads in Fluctuate. The app will track pricing data over time for your saved items, but you can only see the graph if you upgrade to the pro version for $3.49. There's a separate $1.99 IAP for backup and restore support. That lets you save your tracked items so you won't lose them when migrating to a new device. If you want both, there's a single $4.99 everything upgrade.

    Fluctuate has performed well for me with a variety of sites including Amazon, the Google Store, and B&H. I think the IAPs are a bit high, but the free functionality is already very solid. It would have been easy to toss some contextual ads in Fluctuate, but the devs didn't do that. Thumbs up there.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 36: Best of VR Picks + Visit to Pixar!

    In our final episode of Projections for 2017, we look at the past two years of consumer virtual reality and share our favorite VR games, experiences, and innovations. From VR "classics" that nailed this new medium years ago to breakthrough experiences that changed how we understood presence, here's what new VR owners should try out. Plus, we visit Pixar Animation Studios to chat with the producer of Coco VR about Pixar's foray into virtual reality!

    Tested in 2017: Sean's Favorite Things!

    Our 3D printer expert Sean's favorite things of the past year include a modelmaking guide book, earbuds, custom LEGO minifigs, a handy driver, and a sculpt he found at a convention this year. Plus, an MP3 player pick!

    Tested in 2017: Norm's Favorite Things!

    It's that time of the year again! As 2017 comes to a close, the Tested team share some of their favorite technologies, tools, toys, and discoveries of the past year. Norm kicks it off with camear gear, a game console, and his new favorite headphones. Merry Christmas and we'll see you in the new year!

    Google Play App Roundup: Haven, Bridge Constructor Portal, and Fit

    A new week has dawned, but you can ease the transition with some new apps and games. You've come to the right place, too. This is the Google Play App Roundup, the weekly feature where we tell you what's new and cool in Google Play. Just hit the links to zoom right to the Play Store.


    Many of us have spare Android phones around collecting dust, but a new app from The Guardian and Edward Snowden could give those devices a new lease on life. Haven lets you leverage all the sensors in your phone to monitor your personal space, and unlike cloud-connected security cameras, you're completely in control.

    Haven installs on any Android phone, using the microphone, cameras, and orientation sensors to detect changes. When you first open the app, it asks you to choose sensitivity levels for motion and sound. You can move the phone around and make noise to find a level that makes sense for your situation. For the camera, you can choose between front and rear.

    You'll probably need a stand or mount of some sort to keep the camera pointed at a door or whatever else. The camera on a smartphone (usually) isn't nearly as wide angle as a security camera. However, maybe you want Haven to be more surreptitious. You can just set the phone on a desk where it will capture anyone who sits down or moves the phone out of the way.

    Getting notifications is what makes haven truly interesting. You can set up the app to send SMS alerts, but that's only good if you have a SIM card in it and don't mind the insecure nature of text messages, A more secure option is to set up a Signal profile on the phone. This encrypted messaging service lets you push messages via WiFi to devices without anyone eavesdropping. There's also a Tor hidden service upload, if you want to check on the camera like that.

    When you activate, Haven, you get a 30-second countdown before it's armed (this is configurable). I've set this app up on a few phones to test, and it seems very good at detecting sound and motion based on the calibration settings. The camera features work well enough, but there are a few bugs. Using the rear camera on some phones seems to produce a lot of alerts when nothing is actually moving. This doesn't happen as much when stationary objects are not close to the device. There's supposed to be an ambient light trigger as well, but I don't see it in the app.

    Haven is still in beta, so these small bugs will hopefully be worked out. It's free and could perform an important service.

    PROJECTIONS, Episode 35: TPCast Wireless VR Review

    We review TPCast, the VR headset accessory that untethers the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift from your desktop computer. Jeremy and Norm discuss the setup, latency, and visual quality of the TPCast system, and why the increased freedom of movement can be a big deal for some games. Plus, we review L.A. Noir VR Case Files, the port of the popular Rockstar game that plays even better in virtual reality.