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    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.

    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.

    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.

    Show and Tell: Testing Camera Slider Gear

    For today's Show and Tell, Joey and Norm give you a behind-the-scenes look at some of the camera gear we use to film Tested videos. Specifically, camera sliders and motorized mounts that we use in the studio at on location. We've been testing the Redrock Micro One Man Crew motorized slider, which you may have seen used in previous Show and Tell videos!

    The Best Portable USB Battery Pack for Daily Use

    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.

    Smartphone batteries don't always last through a busy day, but a pocket-size USB battery pack can give your handset enough of a boost to survive the evening. After 40 hours of research and 65 hours of testing, the one we like the most is Anker's 2nd Gen Astro 6400. It fits in any pocket or purse, and it charges phones and small tablets about as fast as any pocket-friendly pack out there. At 6,400 mAh, it has a larger capacity than most, too.

    The Anker 2nd Gen Astro 6400 can slide into a relaxed-fit pants pocket alongside a smartphone, though a jacket pocket or purse will be a more comfortable fit.

    The Anker 2nd Gen Astro 6400 can slide into a relaxed-fit pants pocket alongside a smartphone, though a jacket pocket or purse will be a more comfortable fit.

    How we decided

    We started by looking for packs that could slide into a relaxed-fit jeans pocket without bulging too much. We also wanted a pack that could fully charge power-hungry phones like the Apple iPhone 6, Motorola Moto X, and Samsung Galaxy S6 at least once, and at full speed. From there, we favored packs with the best cost-to-capacity and size-to-capacity ratios and higher-current power output (up to a point).

    Hands-On: Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller

    What makes up a $150 game controller? We go hands-on with Microsoft's new Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller, a customizable gamepad that will work on the console and desktop. We explain how it competes with custom gamepads like the SCUF system, with programmable buttons, adjustable triggers, and new paddles.

    The Best Multi-Port USB Wall Charger

    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.

    After surveying more than 1,100 Wirecutter readers and using six iPads to test 18 top models, we can safely say that Anker's 36W 4-Port USB Wall Charger is the best USB wall charger for most people. At only $20, it's essentially the same price as Apple's single-port 12W USB Power Adapter, but the Anker model can push out three times as much power and charge four devices at once. In fact, it can simultaneously charge three full-size iPads at full speed while also charging a smartphone. Our readers said they prefer chargers that plug directly into an outlet, and this is the most powerful one we tested to do so. Additionally, Anker's charger allows connected devices to draw the advertised amount of power; some of the competition does not.

    How we decided

    A selection of the chargers we tested.

    We quickly whittled down an initial list of 45 chargers by knocking out those that had only one or two high-speed-charging ports (except for super-compact chargers, mentioned below); had no high-speed-charging ports at all; or had a mix of faster- and slower-charging ports, requiring you to figure out which one is the "right" port if you want to charge your tablet as fast as possible.

    Show and Tell: Living Room Couch Keyboard

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his pick for a keyboard to use with a living room media PC. The Microsoft Wireless All-in-One Media Keyboard has a built-in trackpad and it's the best of all the couch keyboards Will's tested, and it's not expensive to boot.

    Tested In-Depth: Apple Watch Long-Term Review

    After living with the Apple Watch for over a month, Will discusses what features he finds most useful about it and what has disappointed him. Typical of first-gen products, the watch is a mix of successes and missteps. Here's what early adopters should expect and what we hope will change in future versions.

    The Best Water-Resistant Bluetooth Speakers

    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.

    If you are looking for the best all-around value in a water-resistant Bluetooth speaker today, the best one to buy is the UE Megaboom. While there are lots of less expensive models, most that truly approach the Megaboom's performance cost about the same, and none that we've seen can offer its mix of sound quality, features and ruggedness. We came to this conclusion after narrowing down 50-some Bluetooth speakers to 13 water-resistant finalists and testing each of them with the Wirecutter AV team and a deep swimming pool. The $300 Megaboom is pricey, but if you have other budgetary or functional needs, we have a few other picks as well.

    Who should buy a water-resistant Bluetooth speaker?

    Water-resistant Bluetooth speakers are intended for outdoor or indoor use. This might seem like a feature everybody would want, but it can come with a price: Most water-resistant Bluetooth speakers don't sound as good as the best conventional portable Bluetooth speakers, which we tested in our Best Portable Bluetooth Speaker guide.

    In general, portable Bluetooth speakers are a great buy for people who own smartphones and tablets, so you can play music from them. The rechargeable battery built into the speakers lets you take them anywhere, and water resistance expands your options even further, especially in the summer months or on vacation near beaches and pools.

    Searching for Home Theater 3D Audio That Doesn’t Suck

    Dolby 7.1 surround sound was pretty easy for me to resist; $700 plus for a new AV Receiver and another $700 in speakers to add two more channels behind my head? Nope. I'm good sticking with 5.1 surround sound. So to even think about 9.1? Hah!

    But Atmos, Dolby's latest sound technology seems a lot more impressive, and may be a lot harder to resist. Think of it, literally, as 3D audio. The system is designed to deliver sound from above you, not just around you. When utilized properly, it fills a room with sound, and gives filmmakers the tools to place individual sounds exactly where they want them in the theater space and move them around.

    And, unlike 3D movies, I don't think it's a sucktastic gimmick. (All due apologies to Mr. Cameron and Avatar, but, most movies didn't do 3D nearly so well.)

    That said, this was going to be a really simple column. Dolby Atmos sounds really cool, but my fear was that you would have to spend a grand or more on a receiver that supports Atmos. And then you'd have to mount FOUR speakers in your ceiling. And there's not much content mixed for it yet. Like 7.1, it could be an easy pass.

    Turns out I was wrong on two of those counts. You can have Atmos even if you a) don't have all the money, and b) aren't allowed to cut holes or pull cable through the ceiling (with caveats). But before we talk bargain receivers and Atmos enabled speakers, let's talk about the Atmos technology itself.