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    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.

    Tested In-Depth: Amazon Fire Phone

    We were curious when Amazon announced their Fire phone, and intrigued by the Dynamic Perspective and Firefly features that Amazon claims sets its handset apart from other flagship smartphones. So we bought a Fire phone to test and show you how those features work--or rather, how they don't really work well. Here's why we couldn't wait to return this phone for a refund after testing.

    Testing: Instagram's Hyperlapse App for iOS

    Instagram today announced and released a new iOS video app called Hyperlapse. It was a pet project of Instagram engineers Thomas Dimson and Alex Karpenko, and impressed Instagram founder Kevin Systrom enough that the company developed it into a full-fledged app. Wired Design's Cliff Kuang has an exclusive story about the app's origins, if you're curious. But after a morning of testing, here's what you need to know about it.

    Hyperlapse is a time-lapse app for iOS, much like Studio Neat's Frameographer or the time-lapse feature built into many smartphones. Unlike those apps, three isn't much to configure--you don't set the interval time between snaps, nor the framerate of your output video. You just hit record and Hyperlapse starts record, at a default rate of five frames a second (assuming 30fps output). That translates to one second of video for every six seconds of time passing--pretty fast for a time-lapse. But what makes these time-lapses a "hyperlapse" is the stabilization between captured frames, making it look like your time-lapse video was shot on a gyro-stabilized gimbal. And technically, your video is gyro-stabilized, since the app takes into account the iPhone's gyro data to match frame angles and smooth out the video movement. The result is smoother time-lapses that you'd get than just putting your phone on a tripod, without using complex motion-correction algorithms like Microsoft Research's hyperlapse project.

    I shot a few Hyperlapse videos to post on Instagram, and frankly wasn't very impressed by the output. The gyro-stabilization works to some extent, but doesn't do a good job compensating for very shaky movement. You still have to try to keep your hands still or your phone held steady against a fixed object. Also, the video output on my iPhone 5 took a long time to process for a minute-long clip, and compressed the hell out of it. Hyperlapse is really only ideal if you're shooting the Instagram-preferred 15 second clips (about three minutes in real time), and if you don't care about video compression whisking away HD details. Full clips are saved to the iPhone's camera roll, like the video I uploaded to Vimeo and embedded below. A two minute clip ended up being only 120MB on my phone, and looked worse than a stationary time-lapse I shot and exported with Frameographer.

    Testing: Pros and Cons of the LG G3's 2560x1440 Screen

    When 1080p screens came to phones, the general consensus was that the resolution race could be coming to an end. After all, who needs more than full HD resolution on a phone? Whether or not we need it, LG took the stage a few months ago and announced the LG G3 with a quad HD (QHD) screen clocking in at 2560x1440 pixels. The G3 is the first device in the US market with a QHD panel, but LG had to make some sacrifices to get there. So is it all marketing nonsense, or did LG win the resolution race?

    More Retina than Retina

    The conventional wisdom has long been that anything north of 300 pixels per inch would be sufficiently high resolution that the average human would be unable to make out the individual pixels at arm's length (the G3 is 534 PPI). This is absolutely true if you're talking about picking out pixels, but reality is a bit more muddled than that.

    While 300 PPI makes it impossible to see pixels for virtually everyone, the images displayed on the screen might benefit from a higher resolution. For example, the eye can detect very small changes in the angle of a line that are well below the normal "retina resolution." Likewise, the alignment of two parallel lines can be seen with a startling degree of clarity--on the order of 4-5 times that of normal visual acuity. So, you might conceivably need 1500 PPI to account for all these cases.

    A QHD screen might also perform better when it comes to rendering curves--antialiasing, basically. The mathematical relationship between discrete points (pixels) and continuous elements (lines) is murky at best, but when you toss human vision into the mix, it can be hard to come to any firm conclusions. So what does this mean? A straight line made up of pixels you can't see is just a line. However, a curve made up of pixels exactly the same size might not look continuous as the pixels will produce a very subtle aliased (jaggy) edge. It would be up to software to clean that up, and having more pixels to work means better results.

    The way the eyes and brain process this visual data probably varies from person to person, but some analyses of the numbers point to roughly double the resolution requirements to prevent visible aliasing. So we're talking about 600 PPI, and the G3 gets close with 534 pixels per inch.

    The bottom line is that there's SOME basis for thinking that a QHD screen could offer a better viewing experience. Although, it's definitely not going to be a marked improvement in quality like jumping past 300 PPI.

    Tested In-Depth: Android Wear LG G Watch

    Will and Norm sit down to discuss Google's Android Wear platform, testing the new LG G Watch, and compare Google's smart watch to our experience living with the Pebble Steel watch. Here's why we think smart watches have the potential to be really useful accessories for smartphones.

    Scratch Testing an Alleged iPhone 6 Screen

    YouTube tech reviewer Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) recently posted two videos with what he claims is the front panel of Apple's as yet unannounced iPhone 6. The panel was supplied to him by Sonny Dickson, an Australian who has a history of procuring prototype phone components from suppliers in China. In Brownlee's testing, he found that the screen was much more scratch resistant than the iPhone 5S', using two different types of sandpaper. The alleged 4.7-inch iPhone screen was not impervious to damage, though, which Brownlee attributes to it being a sapphire-glass composite as opposed to being pure sapphire, like the iPhone 5S Touch ID/home button.

    Android Auto vs. iOS CarPlay: How Your Car Will Get Smarter

    Google's announcement of Android Auto at the recent Google I/O conference should surprise exactly no one. Apple is gearing up for its own in-car infotainment service later this year called CarPlay. It's long past the time when Google would hang back and see how Apple's approach to a new market worked out -- Android Auto is going head-to-head with CarPlay later this year.

    Both companies want their mobile platform with you all the time, but how are they going to convince people to embrace connected cars?

    Touchscreens separated at birth

    If there is something surprising about Apple and Google's move into in-car entertainment, it's the overall similarity of the approach. The implementations don't rely on hardware inside the car to do any of the thinking -- the smarts are all packed into your phone so you can upgrade your apps and features independent of the car. This circumvents one of the long-time weaknesses of pricey in-car infotainment.

    What good is that fancy touchscreen if Apple changes its connector and makes your whole system obsolete? Oh, your car only works with USB mass storage devices? Sorry Android doesn't do that anymore. Since your phone's mobile data connection is used for the dash system, you also won't have to worry about getting yet another data plan for your car, which I'm sure is a sad turn of events for Verizon executives.

    When Apple announced CarPlay, it sounded at first like you'd have to get a new car to have CarPlay-compatible setup, but thankfully component makers like Pioneer have stepped up to develop aftermarket decks that will support Apple's platform. Google announced several car audio companies right from the start including Alpine, Pioneer, and JVC. This is a technology segment that has seen decline in recent years as people simply made do with smartphones tethered to inexpensive decks and stock audio systems via Bluetooth or even an audio cable. CarPlay and Android Auto are an opportunity to make aftermarket decks interesting again. This is just another thing Android and iOS in the car have in common.

    In Brief: Samsung's VR Gear Solution Could Launch at IFA

    Engadget's report that Samsung is developing a virtual reality solution in partnership with Oculus VR to work with its Galaxy phones is becoming more believable. While neither Samsung nor Oculus have confirmed that a device is in the works, SamMobile claims to have the first images of the device design, along with details about its name and debut. The Gear VR name sounds believable, as well as the purported IFA unveil (Sept 5-10). Three new technical details stand out from this leak: first that Gear VR would use a cushioned elastic band to hold the headset in place, that it would have a dedicated button to activate the Galaxy phone's camera to let users "see through" the HMD, and that the side controls would be a touchpad. The latter two make sense as good UI, especially the see-through button--something I hope the consumer Oculus Rift will include. If calibrated properly with a camera lens, the see-through option opens up augmented reality potential for this kind of HMD.

    I'm still unconvinced that smartphone screens (as run through smartphone GPUs) can achieve the low persistence of vision that Oculus fans are expecting, but that's based on my experience using Google's Cardboard with an LCD-based phone, not Samsung's AMOLED screens. The other weird thing about this is that we're not expecting the Oculus consumer release any time soon, so Samsung's Gear VR may be the first Oculus-related virtual reality device to hit the consumer market. I'm not sure that would be a good thing for Oculus and the VR community if the reception isn't anything but glowing. If Gear VR does get announced at IFA, it'll be something that may distract from Oculus' agenda just two weeks later at their first Connect conference.

    Norman