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    Tested: Amazon Echo Dot Review

    One of our favorite devices from last year was Amazon's Echo, a Bluetooth speaker with Amazon's Alexa digital assistant. At half the price of the Echo, the Dot offers the best of Alexa at a fraction of the size and cost. Here's why we think this is an essential gadget if you have connected hubs like Nest, SmartThings, or Hue.

    Oculus Rift Virtual Pinball Cabinet Mod!

    Our virtual reality correspondent Jeremy Williams is also a huge pinball enthusiast. So when he first played Pinball FX 2 VR on the Oculus Rift, he knew he had to build a custom cabinet to play the game. Here's his "PinSim", a cabinet controller to play VR pinball with tactile controls and even an acclerometer-based nudge system!

    The State of Monitors in the Age of VR

    With all the hype surrounding virtual and augmented reality, we'll still be using monitors as our primary visual tool for using our PCs going forward. Given that, I thought a quick update on what's going on in the world of PC displays might be useful.

    First, the good news: IPS and other high quality panels (SVA, etc.) are getting less expensive by the day. You can find 25-inch, 2560 x 1440 pixel (WQHD) displays for under $300 now, if you're willing to forego amenities such as adjustable stands and VESA mounts. I picked up an Acer G257HU for $258 recently. While the stand is terrible, the display itself, complete with ultra-thin bezel, looks pretty good. Color rendition isn't all that accurate, but for an inexpensive display, it looks pretty good.

    If you want something a bit larger, you can find 27-inch WQHD IPS, MVA, or SVA panels for under $500. So unless you're on a super-tight budget, you can avoid those terrible TN panels.

    PC gaming monitors continue a trend towards higher refresh rate, but remain locked in a war between Nvidia's G-Sync and AMD's FreeSync. The VESA standards body adopted FreeSync as an optional feature for DisplayPort, but until a universal standard exists, users will need to commit to one brand of video card to exploit the full capabilities of these high-refresh rate displays. G-Sync and FreeSync aren't just about higher refresh rates, but instead adapts the refresh rate of the display rate to the frame rate of the game. They also incorporate techniques to minimize frame collision, reducing stutter. This standards battle also comes with another problem: most of these displays are pretty pricey compared to standard 60Hz panels, commanding a 25-100% price premium, depending on manufacturer.

    However, if the displays EDID (extended display identification data) exposes the higher refresh rate, you can at least get that higher refresh rate, even if your graphics card can't take advantage of the more advanced features.

    Behind the Scenes: How We Light Our Videos!

    Tested producers Joey and Adam Isaak give you a behind-the-scenes look at our lighting setup in the Tested studio and on location. Here's how our videos are lit using a combination of fluorescent, tungsten, and LED sources. Plus, Joey and Adam discuss the Fotodiox Pro FlapJack, a new bi-color studio light that we've been liking a lot!

    Tested: Avegant Glyph Personal Theater Headset

    Norm reviews the Avegant Glyph, a headset that uses tiny DLP projectors to put a personal video theater on your face. It's not a virtual reality headset, but has sensors for head-tracking for 3D and 360-degree video from your phone. But the best use of it may be with camera-equipped quadcopters.

    In Brief: The Science of Making Keyboards Feel Great

    When we test gear, we look beyond the specifications listed by manufacturers to compare a product with its competitors. Each product has both quantitative and qualitative attributes that require testing--some which are not clearly apparent and others that are difficult to measure. "Squishiness" and "clickyness" aren't the most scientific of terms. Popular Mechanics posted this great exploration into the measurable attributes of keyboard feel. Attributes like travel and snap are clearly important, but there's also discoverability, pitch, and dish of the keys.

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    Meet Dell's New 30-Inch OLED Monitor

    We meet up with Patrick Norton while at CES to check out Dell's new 30-inch OLED monitor. This is only of the most beautiful desktop displays we've ever seen--a prestige product priced at a whopping $5000. Plus, we quickly check out Dell's new 2-in-1 Core-M notebook.

    In Brief: Google Announces $200 OnHub Router

    A few bits of Google news this week, including one product launch. First, Google announced that Android 6.0 is officially named Marshmallow. The final SDK for this 'M' release will be out soon for developers to get their apps working on it--we're crossing fingers for a Nexus phone release as well (rumored to be by LG). You'll have to wait longer for Google's Ara phones, as that project is now pushed back to at least 2016. And finally, Google launched a home router, made in partnership with TP-Link. The premise is that this OnHub is a router that's meant to be kept in the open, not stuck in a closet. Managed and controlled with an app, it supports Bluetooth 4.0 and a few smart home and IOT protocols (Thread and Zigbee). Looking at it makes me think of Amazon's Echo, and OnHub even has a speaker. The only thing it's missing is a microphone system, but Google probably wants you to communicate with it with your phone or its app. I think that underestimates the usefulness of a built-in microphone and the ability to send hands-free voice commands to a central connected smart home hub without having to fumble with devices. OnHub will cost $200, and is available for pre-order now. Here's Google's promo video for the router, which borderlines a as-seen-on-tv commercial.

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    The Best Bluetooth Keyboard

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article here .

    After testing 20 Bluetooth keyboards with a four-person panel, and using our favorites for months of daily work, we found the Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard K810/K811 (Windows/Mac) is the best Bluetooth keyboard for most. The Easy-Switch has a rechargeable battery that lasts a few weeks to several months, and is able to instantly switch between three devices, a feature the competition universally lacked. At $100 it's expensive for a keyboard, but no other Bluetooth option comes close to matching the Easy Switch's versatility, comfort, and features.

    The Logitech's concave keys comfortably cup your fingers.

    Who is this for?

    A Bluetooth keyboard is a great option if you need a keyboard that can connect to any device—desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, television. If you have a keyboard that you're happy with, and you only need to use it with a computer, or don't mind sacrificing a USB port, then you don't need to upgrade.

    Testing: Electric Objects Digital Art Frame

    Last year, I backed the Electric Objects Kickstarter, a campaign to produce a digital picture frame built from a 23-inch 1080p panel and integrated ARM computer. It's something that, on paper, sounds like something you could just build yourself--you can buy a similarly-sized IPS panel for under $150 and attach it to a $35 Raspberry Pi. What Electric Objects is going for, however, seems to be an elegant and intentional design in both the hardware and software--a complete solution that works right out of the box. That box arrived earlier this month, and I've been using the Electric Objects EO1 frame for the past week. As a screenprint collector, here's what I think about it so far, and what it's trying to accomplish.

    On the hardware side, the display itself is a matte 23-inch 1080p panel with a 250 nit backlight--pretty standard for 16:9 monitor you can get from monitor makers like Dell. The custom stuff is all in the frame around that panel to make it look like a framed piece of art. The 3/4-inch bezel is in line with the frames I like for my 18x24 screenprints, is even on all sizes, and has a slightly angled taper toward the back. The "frame" itself isn't as thick as most monitors, but the computer hardware--a 1GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 system with built-in Wi-Fi and bluetooth--bulges from the back, so it does float a little bit off the wall. Mounting hardware is included.

    The quality of the screen is good, with all the perks of an IPS panel: good color reproduction, high contrast, and wide viewing angles. It being matte also helps a lot with visibility in daylight, though it will look washed out from certain reflective angles. Of course, the LCD has downsides as well, as images with black backgrounds don't look completely black in the dark (even with auto-brightness), and 250 nits isn't bright enough to make images pop in a fully day-lit room. I didn't notice any backlight bleed, though. With the intent of keeping the hardware as simple as possible, there's no OSD for calibrating the display--only a single button for putting the EO1 to sleep when you don't want it on.

    Other than the fact that this is an active backlit display, the most obvious difference between this and a piece of printed art is the image resolution. 1080p is sufficient for putting up photos or animated GIFs and appreciating them from afar, but get up close to the EO1 and you're going to notice the pixels. One of the things I love about screenprints is being able to scrutinize the minute details and nuances natural to the printing process. Even with fine digital prints, there's a physicality in the CMYK separations that lets you know how an artist intended the work to be seen when you put your eyeball up to the paper. You can't do that here--art on the EO1 is meant to be appreciated from at least a few feet away.

    But these limitations, in the eyes of EO1's creators, are features inherent to their vision of the digital canvas. Digital art is fundamentally different than printed art, and maybe you're supposed to experience and enjoy it differently. And the most notable "feature" of the Electric Objects display is its inability to run slideshows.

    The Best Voice Recorder

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article here.

    After 36 hours of research, testing eight different devices in a number of real-world settings and then playing the audio we collected to a four-person blind listening panel to evaluate its sound quality, we've determined that the best audio recorder for taping meetings, lectures, and interviews is the $100 Sony ICD-UX533. It recorded the most intelligible and truest-to-life sound clips of all the recorders we tested. It's easily pocketable and its intuitive, easy-to-press function buttons combined with a legible, backlit screen gave it the best user interface out of all the models in our test group.

    Who is this for?

    If you want to record a lecture, meeting, or interview, this pick is for you. It's ideal for students, radio journalists, and anyone who needs to record meetings for future reference. On the other hand, if you're a musician, a professional podcaster, a radio journalist or if you belong to some other profession that requires the use of a high-quality audio recorder on a regular basis, this pick isn't for you.

    In Brief: For the Love of Clicky Keyboards

    What's the best computer keyboard ever made? For me, an old favorite was Microsoft's Natural Keyboard Pro, but the 30-year old IBM Model M is the only answer for some mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Wired recently profiled Brandon Ermita, who restores the Model M and sells the five-pound keyboards to diehards. And while it's not peculiar to have a favorite keyboard, there are also users who covet rare vintage keys. The story of the Cherry Red Doubleshot Esc key follows that obsession. But for those of you who want the feel of a mechanical key without the clickiness, Cherry and Corsair announced the MX Silent switch last week.

    Norman
    Tested In-Depth: Pebble Time Smartwatch

    The second-generation Pebble smartwatch is here, and brings with it a color screen and microphone. We sit down and discuss how the new Pebble Time compares with the original, the Apple Watch, and Android Wear. All-week battery life is great, but this watch has many caveats, especially if you're an iPhone user.

    In Brief: Testing the Usability of Electronics in Water

    Craig Hockenberry's post about testing the waterproof claims of the Apple Watch is a good read even if you don't own a smartwatch. He dives into what affects electronics in water use, and how waterproofing works in modern touchscreen devices. There are some interesting UI implications for wearables in underwater use as well, which may inform how smartwatches adapt input and output for different environments in the future.

    Norman
    The Best iPad Stylus Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    We spent 10 hours testing a total of 11 iPad styluses with a graphic designer and independently arrived at the same conclusion: The best stylus for most people is Adonit's newly redesigned Jot Pro ($30). The Jot Pro's unique clear plastic plastic tip allows for precise input; it doesn't block the iPad's screen like other rubber-tipped styluses so you can see what you're drawing as you draw. It's also comfortable to hold, and a number of small details, such as a spring-loaded tip that better mimics the feel of pen on paper, make the overall experience a pleasure.

    How We Decided

    You want a stylus with enough weight and glide to move freely, but with enough friction to be predictable. The idea is to replicate the feeling of pen on paper. We tested each stylus by navigating a maze, tracing the alphabet, sketching a variety of items, and tapping around a tablet. After our initial assessment, we started all over again, testing the pens in a different order to reduce any chance that becoming acclimated to a stylus might have skewed the results.

    Testing: Pebble Time Smartwatch

    The recently released Pebble Time is Pebble's third smartwatch, after the original Kickstarter model and the Pebble Steel. That gives the company a leg up on other smartwatch makers--its large backer and customer base has informed Pebble about usage patterns on the watch, so follow-ups can play on its strengths. And in the case of Pebble Time, the relatively few changes to the platform indicates that Pebble is confident in its core strength: putting your smartphone's notifications on your wrist. That's something that Android Wear watches and the Apple does too, but with Pebble, it's the most important feature, and one that's streamlined with physical button interactions.

    Get notifications, and then be able to respond to or act on them. That's what I need a smartwatch to do well, and the Pebble Time excels at it. I've been using the $200 watch for the past month instead of my Asus ZenWatch, and have taken it on numerous work trips, including last week's Comic-Con. But I'm ready to go back to Android Wear. Despite differentiating features that Pebble Time brings to the table, the hardware makes some glaring missteps. Let's start by going over some of those new features.

    The Color Display is a Step Back

    The big "improvement" in Pebble Time is the color display. The original Pebble used an always-on memory LCD, which, like an e-paper display, was only readable with an external light source. Pebble Time's new memory LCD is a 1.25-inch display with the same resolution as the original (144x168, for app compatibility), but now can display 64 colors. That may not sound like a lot, but with dithering, the palette extends to a few thousand color. It's essentially the resolution and quality of a Nintendo Game Boy Color (which actually had a 15-bit display), but squeezed onto a 1.25-inch screen. I thought the range of colors is good, but images look muted and flat because of the way the memory LCD works. When used properly, the images look good, but this is something meant for displaying pixel art, not photos.

    While there's nothing inherently worse in using the color memory LCD over the black and white screen, visibility is actually worse on Pebble Time. Pebble Time's screen needs a good amount of light to read clearly, and more importantly, that light needs to be reflected at a good angle. Unfortunately, the sweet spot for reflection is limited--angle the Pebble off-axis by 30 degrees and the screen becomes difficult to read. Unlike any backlit display, you're actually trying to angle the screen in a position to get the most glare for readability.

    Show and Tell: Palette Modular Controller

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm shares a new custom modular controller he's been testing for photo editing. Palette is a system of programmable buttons, dials, and sliders that tap into Adobe's suite of apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, and Premiere Pro. It's proven pretty useful for processing convention photos!

    Testing: Palette Modular Controllers

    I was recently sent Palette, a modular controller system designed to assist with photo and video editing. The freeform system, which raised funds for development and production on Kickstarter, just launched pre-orders to the general public. I've been testing it with my Lightroom photo editing, and found that it's sped up parts of my workflow. Additionally, it's changed the way I think about some photo-tweaking settings, like color temperature, for the better. Here's how it works.

    Palette is a system of physical buttons, dials, and sliders that, though its Mac or Windows desktop software, tap directly into keyboard shortcuts or compatible Adobe apps. Its innovation (and cost) lies in the modular design--each module is housed in a beautiful and lightweight aluminum chassis. An OLED-equipped core power module is the only thing that plugs into your computer via USB; the rest of the modules snap together with magnetic connections. Each module has one data connecting side that needs to be adjacent to another module for the daisy-chaining to work, but the result is that the system is fairly freeform. Up to 16 modules can be powered off of one power core.

    On the desktop side, the companion app actually recognizes the physical arrangement of modules, showing your configuration on screen. From there, you can create profiles for compatible (or custom) programs, assigning functionality to each of the modules, as well as adjusting the color of the module's LED light border. For example, in my Lightroom profile, I assigned one arcade-style button to toggle a zoom, another to alternate between original and edited photos, and the sliders and dials to various Develop tools. The physical design of these modules dictates their purpose to three basic types of control: the button is suited for toggling functions, the slider for adjusting a limited range, and the dial for bi-directional adjustment of incremental values. The upshot is that Palette works best if you are already familiar with the tools in your Adobe apps and have an idea of how where your workflow can be optimized.

    Testing: Nest Cam Wireless IP Camera

    We first tested the Dropcam Wi-Fi video camera three years ago. Since then, the company released a Dropcam Pro model, was bought up by Google's Nest division, and has now rebranded itself Nest Cam. Its new eponymous flagship was just launched last month, and I've been using it for the past week and a half. It's a neat device: $200 gets you a webcam that pipes 1080p video through your Wi-Fi network to Nest's servers, which you can monitor and review on a smartphone app or its website. A subscription plan allows you to scrub through saved video and grants some other cloud-enabled features. You never store the video locally; a trade-off for ease of set-up and a seamless app experience. By and large, Nest Cam is just like the Dropcam Pro with a new camera sensor and redesigned chassis--not an essential upgrade if you've already spent $200 on the previous model.

    But for new users and those interested in home security-lite, Nest Cam is an easy way to set up video monitoring of a room in your home, office, or even the sidewalk outside your window. After using the camera for a little bit, here's what stuck out to me about the experience.