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    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.

    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.

    The Best Fitness Tracker 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.

    If you're looking for the best way to track your activity and exercise, the $150 Fitbit Charge HR is the fitness tracker we'd recommend for most people. According to our tests—which included 60 hours of research and 10 days of real-world testing—the Charge HR is more accurate at counting steps than most other wrist-worn trackers, and it works seamlessly with Fitbit's popular social ecosystem. It has continuous heart rate monitoring for both resting and active use; automatically activated sleep tracking with vibrating alarms; and a legible OLED screen with caller ID. And unique among trackers in this price range, the Charge HR uses a strap modeled after a traditional watch band, which means it won't fall off accidentally.

    For a deeper dive into the full research and testing we did on our picks, (as well as a longer list of trackers we looked at), check out our full version of this guide.

    Show and Tell: Mpow Streambot Bluetooth FM Transmitter

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm shares a car accessory that has been essential in numerous road trips this year. If you don't have bluetooth or a line-in jack for media in your car, the Mpow Streambot FM transmitter is an easy way to play podcasts and music over your stereo system. The Wirecutter recently selected it as a great Bluetooth car stereo pick for music streaming! (Thanks to B&H for providing the One Man Crew system for this video. Find out more about it here!)

    Show and Tell: Favorite Helping Hands Set

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares with us his new favorite set of helping hands for the workshop. We've all see those small third-hand tools sold at electronics and craft stores, but the best set is the one we've used at Adam's shop. This precision tool is made for jewelers, and are great for big soldering projects too. (Thanks to B&H for providing the One Man Crew system for this video. Find out more about it here!)

    Tested Builds: ErgoDox Mechanical Keyboards, Part 1

    Time for another Tested Build series! All this week, Will and Norm are going to work on building their own mechanical keyboards, using parts sourced from the ErgoDox design. These split ergonomic keyboards can be customized to use your favorite mechanical key switches, with potential for modding. In this first episode, we go over all the components and start assembly! (Follow along the rest of this week of build by joining the Tested Premium member community here!)

    Tested In-Depth: Connected LED Light Bulbs

    The cost of switching your incandescent or CFL bulbs to LED ones is lower than ever, and new technology is making it more practical to buy connected bulbs. We sit down to discuss the state of the "smart home," review several connected LED bulbs, and talk about the potential benefits of using smart locks. What are your thoughts on connected home devices?

    The Best Bluetooth Car Stereo 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 80 hours researching more than 60 Bluetooth-equipped car stereo receivers, surveyed hundreds of Wirecutter readers, and bench-tested a half-dozen front-runners to see which models were the easiest to use and offered the best bang for the buck. The $100 Pioneer MVH-X370BT is the one we'd recommend for most people. It doesn't have a CD player, but it does have the best Bluetooth smartphone support, easiest setup, and the simplest interface out of any of the six finalists we tested—some of which cost over twice as much.

    How we decided

    I started by reading what few car stereo reviews remain from CNET, CarAudioNow, Crutchfield, and customer reviews from Amazon and Best Buy. I then interviewed experts from Crutchfield, about what to look for and conducted a reader survey to figure out what you wanted from a great stereo. This narrowed the list down from the over 100 available options down to a handful of representatives from each major company that places ease of use, robust Bluetooth capabilities, and value above fancier features like satellite radio and touchscreens. We focused on smaller single-DIN units because while you can use a single-DIN stereo in a double-DIN car, the reverse is not true. Also single-DIN units are the most ubiquitous among the population of cars on the road. Eventually I settled on representatives from most of the major brands: Alpine's UTE-52BT; Pioneer's DEH-X8700BS, DEH-X6700BT, MVH-X560BT, and MVH-X370BT; JVC's KD-AR959BS, Kenwood's KDC-X998 and KDC-X598, and Sony MEX-N5000BT.