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    Show and Tell: Seek Thermal Imaging Camera

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm tests out a thermal imaging camera accessory for his Android phone. The Seek Thermal camera connects to a smartphone over microUSB to gauge the temperature of anything in its sights--like Predator vision! The image resolution is a little low, but we've been using it for laptops, tablet, and phone testing.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (January 2015)

    We took a month off from bombarding you with phone recommendations over the holiday season, but now it's time to dive back in. This is a crucial time if you're up for contract renewal or have saved up the cash to get a new device. Flagship phones are going to be announced in the coming weeks, which could make you feel quite behind the times with your previously top-of-the-line device. Let's try to keep that from happening.

    AT&T

    Ma Bell has taken a more cautious approach to updates than many of the other carriers, so there's not much movement amongst the top phones. I think your best bets right now are the Moto X or the LG G3. However, we know that HTC's upcoming flagship, which will probably be announced in mere weeks, will be for sale soon on AT&T. Samsung too is probably a little further off, but not much. That affects the calculus.

    Starting with the LG G3, You're looking at a 5.5-inch LCD with an excellent 2560x1440 resolution. A fwe months ago this was a huge device, now it simply feels big. I even feel like a giant after using the G3 after carrying around a nexus 6. The bezels are incredibly thin and there are no buttons around the edges. Instead, LG stuck those on the back, and that's a good place for them. The frame and back are entirely plastic, but they're very solid premium-feeling plastics. I don't feel like I'm going to break the G3 when I take the back panel off. Speaking of, that's where the removable battery and microSD card slot are.

    The LG G3 is packing some impressive hardware including 3GB of RAM, a 3000mAh battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. It's a fast device, and LG's skin is mostly free of bloat. The battery life is very good in standby, but you won't get as much screen time as you would with a 1080p screen. 4-5 hours is still doable on the G3. The software is also very reliable in that it won't start wakelocking for no reason.

    The G3's 13MP camera is the same resolution as the Moto X and the Nexus 6, but it's probably a better overall camera. Low light performance is solid, if perhaps a little aggressive with noise reduction. The laser autofocus system totally works and outdoor images are stunning.

    I find myself not disliking LG's Android skin, and what I've seen of the impending Lollipop update has me excited. Most of the strange UI choices LG made on the G3 (and there aren't many) are being covered up by proper Lollipop elements. The fact that LG is now finally using the proper on-screen buttons setup is hugely encouraging too. LG also didn't spend time on crappy features no one will care about. Instead we get cool stuff like guest mode and Knock Code. Knock Code is a particularly cool feature that lets you securely unlock the phone while also waking it up with a series of taps on the screen.

    The G3 is still $149 on-contract from AT&T, but it does go on sale fairly often. It compares favorably to the competition.

    Testing: Google Nexus 6 Smartphone

    For most of 2014 it looked like we weren't going to see a new Nexus phone at all, but the rumors turned out to be wrong and Google announced the Nexus 6 alongside the Nexus 9. The Nexus 6 is the most expensive Nexus flagship phone ever made, and it's also by far the largest. It marks Motorola's first attempt at a Nexus as well.

    With so many changes to the Nexus strategy, you're probably wondering how it all turned out. Well, let's dig in.

    Yes, It's a Very Large Phone

    The Nexus 6 packs a 5.96-inch AMOLED display clocking in at 2560x1440. This has become the new top-of-the-line for a premium smartphone, but it hasn't always turned out well. For example, the LG G3 has a 1440p LCD, but it's rather dim. The Nexus 6's screen compares favorably to the competition with average brightness and power consumption. The pixel density is a whopping 493 PPI, which is all you could ever need on a screen that size. As for burn-in, I'm not seeing any.

    Surrounding that huge screen are narrow bezels that keep the device itself from being as huge as it might have been. Don't get me wrong, it's a big phone, but Motorola has improved its industrial design lately and can manage slimmer bezels. It also helps that the screen glass curves down to meet the edge of the phone just like the new Moto X. You can hold the Nexus 6 in one hand, and even use it a little if you've got an average size mitt, but any prolonged use needs to be done with two hands.

    It actually does feel a lot like a blown-up Moto X--even the buttons on the right side are a dead ringer for the Moto X's buttons. The only difference here is that they've been moved down toward the middle of the device so they're easier to reach. One improvement from the Moto X is the inclusion of stereo front-facing speakers. The Moto X only has one.

    The back panel feels like the Moto X too. It's made of a soft, somewhat grippy plastic emblazoned with the traditional Nexus logo. I wasn't as in love with the larger dimple on the 2014 Moto X, but happily, the Nexus 6 has the smaller plastic dimple seen in the first-gen Moto X. It's in just the right place for your index finger to rest and helps to stabilize the device while you're holding it.

    Testing Apple's Touch ID with Fake Fingerprints

    How secure is Apple's Touch ID? We explain how it recognizes your fingerprints, and then put it to the test by making fake fingers and fingerprints of our own. A German computer club claimed to have spoofed the security system last year, and we retrace their methods as well as experimenting with a few of our own. (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Thanks to our members who've supported us. Learn more about memberships here.)

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Anker 5-Port USB Charger

    For the fifth day of Tested Christmas, Will shares his solution for charging all his mobile devices at his desk and nightstand. Instead of using multiple wall warts and chargers, he uses a single 5-port USB charger that can power phones tablets, and other USB devices at their fastest charging speeds.

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Tile Bluetooth Tracking Beacon

    For this fourth day of Tested Christmas, Will shares a clever gadget that can be used to locate commonly misplaced objects around your house. Tile is a tiny Bluetooth dongle that you can attach to your keychain, remote controls, bag, or anything you commonly lose. Activate the Tile with an app and it'll chime a sound to help you find it.

    How To Replace a Cracked Smartphone Screen!

    How many of you have ever dropped and cracked your smartphone? For some phones, the process of replacing a shattered display isn't as daunting as your might think. Will walks through the repair of a broken Samsung Galaxy S4 phone, using iFixit tools and explaining each step along the way. Follow along the teardown and reassembly! Plus--giveaways!

    In Brief: Samsung Announces Project Beyond VR Camera for Gear VR

    Oculus and Samsung have announced that Gear VR, the virtual reality headset accessory developed by both companies to work with Samsung's Note 4 phone, will be released early next month for an MSRP of $200 ($250 for the bundle with the Bluetooth controller). That's for what the company is calling the "Innovator Edition", which is essentially a commercially available developer kit for early adopters and developers. This announcement coincides with the release of the Oculus Mobile SDK (v0.4.0), specifically designed to work with the Note 4 and supporting several key VR features like Asynchronous Timewarp). Gear VR will ship with the Oculus Home interface, as well as the VR theater and a panoramic photo players. Samsung also used this opportunity to announce a camera system called Project Beyond, which is a 3D 360-degree camera designed to capture video and photos for viewing on Gear VR. The tripod-mounted camera houses 16 HD cameras, collecting a gigapixel of 3D data every second. The coolest part is that the camera apparently processes these images in realtime, streaming the imagery to Gear VR users with what Samsung claims to be minimal lag. The video teaser for Project Beyond is below.

    Norman
    The Best iPhone 6 Case (So Far)

    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 almost 1,000 Wirecutter readers and testing 60 iPhone 6 cases over a period of about 30 hours (so far), our current pick for the best all-around case is the NGP from Incipio. The NGP has protected several generations of iPhones (and many other devices) and has a reputation for providing solid protection and a good fit. It’s slim enough to not detract from the iPhone 6’s svelte dimensions, while still offering comprehensive protection for the handset’s body, including its buttons. Openings along the bottom allow for compatibility with a wide range of accessories.

    Update: We’ve added two cases as also-great picks: STM’s Harbour, and Apple’s leather case.

    How we decided

    Truth is, there are plenty of good iPhone cases out there. A bad case is actually a pretty rare thing. But in looking for a few cases that work for most people, we sought out a case that can adequately protect your phone without adding too much bulk or unnecessary embellishments while doing so. Apple sets forth very specific guidelines for case developers. The main thesis: “A well-designed case will securely house an Apple device while not interfering with the device’s operation.” It goes into much deeper specifics.

    A respectable degree of shock absorption is important, as is a tight fit. The case should cover as much of the iPhone’s body as possible, including a raised lip around the glass display to keep it from laying flat on a surface. The best cases offer button protection with great tactility, mimicking or in some instances even enhancing what you’d feel with a bare iPhone. Based on these criteria, plastic shells are automatically out of the picture.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (October 2014)

    In a world with dozens of interesting Android phones, you need to go in with a good idea of what's on offer so you don't end up regretting your decision. Most phones these days come with a 2-year contract or a payment plan that takes about that long to complete. With that in mind, it's time to take stock of the state of Android smartphones on the top US carriers and figure out which ones are the best bets.

    The Nexus 6 is on the horizon for some carriers, but others are being more coy. Is it worth waiting, or does another phone do well enough?

    AT&T

    You've got a ton of options on AT&T--too many perhaps, if there is such a thing. AT&T is getting the Nexus 6, but there's no release or pre-order date. As such, I'll hold off on making an official proclamation on it this time around. Right now it's down to the Moto X and LG G3. Let's get started with the new Moto X.

    The basic design of the Moto X hasn't changed much from last year, but it has seen an increase in screen size from 4.7-inches to 5.2-inches. The AMOLED panel used here is 1080p and has great colors and clarity. The larger display isn't as easy to use in one hand as its predecessor, but it's more than manageable. The curved back also helps the Moto X sit nicely in your hand.

    The new Moto X also has 2GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801, and a 2300mAh battery. The battery is a little on the small side for a flagship device, but it will still be good enough to get you through a day and then some. The design of the Moto X is also really great. The metal frame feels solid and tight. The way the glass front curves down to meet the edges makes the phone very pleasant to use too. Moto Maker customizations are also killer if you want to create a more distinctive device.

    On the software side, the Moto X ships with Android 4.4.4 with a promised update to Android L as soon as it's ready. This is Android more or less the way Google intended it. There are no UI skins, no features changed for the sake of brand differentiation, and no lag to speak of. Motorola instead adds useful features that work alongside what Android already does well. For example, Moto Display shows notifications on the screen while the device is asleep. You can even wave your hand over the phone to wake the screen up. It also listens for voice commands while asleep, whether it's charging or not. Other Android devices can only do that when charging.

    Tested In-Depth: Moto X (2014)

    After testing the new Moto X Android smartphone for a month, Will and Norm sit to down to discuss how its three most important features: the display, camera, and battery life compare against today's top Android phones. How does Motorola's spin on Android compare to the stock version? Plus, does the custom wood back look and feel any good?

    Show and Tell: Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Adapter

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his current solution for playing back music and making calls from his phone in his car. While his car has an auxiliary audio jack, he prefers using this Kinivo hands-free receiver as an intermediary. Its decent audio, built-in micrphone, and music playback controls are why it's Will's pick for an aftermarket car Bluetooth solution. What do you use to listen to music from your smartphone while driving?

    Tested In-Depth: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

    After living with the new iPhone 6 Plus for a while, Will sits down with Norm to discuss the merits of Apple's biggest smartphone. How well does iOS 8 work on a 5.5-inch screen? Does the stabilized camera and extra battery life matter? We compare the new iPhone models and help Will decide if he wants to stick with the Plus or return it.

    iPhone 6 Plus Impressions and Most Common Questions Answered

    We're in the process of testing the Apple iPhone 6 Plus for our in-depth review, but wanted to show you how the phone compares to previous iPhones and other Android phones, as well as some distinguishing physical characteristics. We also answer the most commonly asked questions about the phone, including battery life, camera, and whether it bends.

    Hands-On with Samsung Gear VR at Oculus Connect

    At Oculus Connect, Norm gets to try out the upcoming Gear VR virtual reality headset, a collaboration between Samsung and Oculus. It uses a Galaxy Note 4 for its brains and screen, with VR software and optimizations designed by John Carmack. Norm shares his opinion of display performance on the Note 4's 60Hz 1440p screen, and whether the phone's technology is sufficient for a good mobile virtual reality experience.

    The Best Wireless Carriers 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 in the U.S. and looking for a carrier with good coverage, fast bandwidth and—this may surprise you—affordable single-line plans, you should consider Verizon Wireless. We found it has the widest coverage map, the fastest network, and the lowest costs for individuals. But it’s not the only answer for everyone: Some situations call for other carriers, and we discuss that below.

    How We Decided

    We reached that conclusion after a good 70 hours poring over the large and small print of wireless plans, checking coverage maps, and calculating the cost of smartphone service: 500MB of data per month, 2GB and 4GB. We did the math for all those scenarios with expensive and affordable phones, ran the numbers for two and four phones on the same plan and recalculated again for those who want to use their own device not purchased through the carrier.

    Finally, we inspected prior research and testing from a host of reputable sources and publications. We also consulted experts from around the industry.

    Why Verizon is best for most people on an individual plan

    Verizon has the widest coverage map, the fastest network, and the lowest costs for the medium solo-usage scenario.

    Our endorsement rides on some assumptions: coverage where you need it trumps all else; then the lowest total cost of ownership for your typical usage; and that tethering and a wide choice of Android phones aren’t necessarily deal-breakers. (Though we have other recommendations if they are deal-breakers.)

    Verizon has the widest coverage map, the fastest network, and the lowest costs for the medium solo-usage scenario—analysts estimate that this ranges between less than 1.5GB a month and 1.2GB. Its “Single Line Smartphone” plans limit the two-year total cost of a new iPhone with 2GB of data a month to $1,640, versus $1,680 at Sprint (that’s an iPhone 6/6 Plus exclusive lease deal, while non-Apple high-end phones cost $2,090), $1,730 at T-Mobile, and $2,120 at AT&T.

    iPhone 6 Plus Mockups and Size Comparisons

    Apple announced its new iPhone 6 smartphones yesterday, both of which are larger than the current iPhone 5/S/C design. To get a sense of how the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screen phones fit in our hands, we 3D printed mockups based on Apple's posted spec dimensions and compare them to our current phones. Plus, the jeans pocket test! (Thanks to Jeremy Williams for the 3D printing!)

    Apple Announces iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

    As expected, Apple has announced its iPhone 6 line of phones, with two sizes. Here's what's new about them, with our thoughts coming later today.

    The two phones are the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, in 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches. 1334x750 resolution with a 326ppi for the 4.7-inch model, which is the same pixel density of the current iPhones. The larger iPhone 6 Plus has a 1080p display (401ppi), not the 2208 × 1242 resolution that some had hoped. Both phones are thinner than the current iPhone 5S, at 6.9mm and 7.1mm. The larger phones will show more on the home screen (as well as a horizontal view), as well as a landscape mode for apps to show multiple panes. Kind of like the iPad. Apple also talked about its new iPhones using a better screen than previous generations, with an "ion-strengthen" glass, better polarizer, and ultrathin backlight.

    To accommodate the new phone sizes, the sleep/power buttons are now located on the right side of the phones for thumb access. Apple also decided to add a one-handed "reachability" function to the phones--double-touching the home button slides the whole display down so users can access the top of their app pane with the thumb. For the 1080p display that's not the same pixel density as the past phones, apps scale up to full screen using a software scaler.

    Other new hardware is Apple's A8 processor, which Apple claims to be 50% faster than the last generation. Battery life for the iPhone 6 is slightly improved over the 5S, but the iPhone 6 Plus has two hours of extra battery life for web browsing (12 hours from 10). 802.11AC is built-in, along with a new LTE chip that supports up to 20 LTE bands and voice over LTE.

    The iPhone 6's camera is still a 8MP sensor with a f/2.2 lens and dual-tone flash, but the sensor is redesigned for faster autofocus with phase detection and better tone mapping. The iPhone 6 uses digital image stabilization, but the iPhone 6 Plus has built-in optical image stabilization. The camera lenses also protrudes out from the back of the phone a little bit. 1080p video capture is capped at 60fps, but high-speed recording at 720p jumps to 240fps (8X slow mo). With the phase-detect sensor, continuous autofocus now works in video.

    The phones will come in Silver, Space Grey, and Gold, and pricing for the iPhone 6 starts at $200 on contract for 16GB, with the step up being 64GB for $300. The iPhone 6 Plus costs $100 more for each corresponding model, starting at $300 on contract for 16GB. Pre-orders open this Friday, and the phones will be released on the 19th.

    In Brief: Amazon Drops the Price on the Fire Phone

    After only a couple of weeks, Amazon has addressed one of our complaints about the Fire Phone, its high price. The 32GB model is now $0.99 with a two year contract, and the 64GB model is $100 on-contract. Amazon also dropped the off-contract price down to $450, $100 more than the entry-level Nexus 5. Even if you're tempted by the new lower price, don't be. You still shouldn't buy a Fire Phone.

    Will 2
    Samsung and Oculus VR Announce the Gear VR Innovator Edition HMD

    At this week's IFA conference in Berlin, Samsung and Oculus VR announced the long-rumored VR headset that we've been hearing about for months. It's called the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition, and will be an accessory to Samsung's new Galaxy Note 4 smartphones. As expected, you plug in Samsung's phone--which utilizes a massive 5.7-inch 1440p AMOLED display--into the headset for an untethered VR experience. Apparently, Oculus has been working with Samsung for over a year on the device, including a mobile SDK to optimize Android to run VR software. Because the mobile setup uses the sensors in the phone, users will experience wireless VR tracking in 3DOF instead of 6DOF, though Oculus and Samsung are promising a sub-20ms motions-to-photons latency (similar to that in the Oculus DK2). Oculus is also launching several VR software experiences with the Gear VR, including an Oculus Home interface, Oculus Cinema virtual movie theater, and Oculus 360 Videos and Photos viewer for panoramic content.

    This Gear VR is called the Innovator's Edition because it'll be an early-access beta SKU of the hardware for early adopters and developers, much like Oculus' own Development Kits. Samsung hasn't announced pricing for the Gear VR, but the Galaxy Note 4 is set to be released worldwide this October and the Gear VR add-on promised to be released this year. We'll be looking to get one of these devices to test, but this announcement says to us that Oculus won't settle for anything less than a 1440p display when the consumer edition of the Rift is ready.