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30
Apr

Six robots inspired by real-life animals


By Cat DiStasio

Many scientific and engineering developments were lifted right out of nature, but none more so than robots built to act like real-life animals. Biomimicry is the term for innovations like these, which draw inspiration from the power of nature to solve the toughest human problems. Robots can take on some pretty unlikely tasks, from pollinating flowers as bee populations decline to detecting pollution in waterways. Other robots are designed purely for fun, like this 12-legged robot that walks like a crab and is powered by the sun.

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30
Apr

Garmin’s ‘Varia Vision’ headset is the Google Glass of cycling


The thing about cycling is that it’s only as complicated a pastime as you make it. An $80 Huffy performs the same basic function as a carbon-fiber street racer costing 100 times more, just with a lesser degree of effectiveness. Similarly, you can go the old-school way of glancing down at the cycling computer mounted on your handlebars whenever you want an update on your ride — or you could strap this tiny $400 monitor from Garmin to the side of your face and get a continuous stream of telemetry data without taking your eyes off the road.

The Varia Vision is Garmin’s recent addition to its ANT+ cycling accessory collection, ANT+ being the proprietary wireless standard that Garmin’s various devices leverage to share data with one another. The Vision is a heads-up display that pairs with select models in the company’s line of cycling computers. I tested the Varia Vision with the Garmin 520 computer, though it’s also compatible with the flagship model 1000. There’s also the possibility that other ANT+ community members will integrate it with their own bike computers in the future. Plus, if you’re already using Garmin’s Varia Rear Radar device, the Vision will also display incoming-car warnings in addition to the standard mix of speed, distance and performance metrics from the computer itself.

The device weighs a scant 1.1 ounces, lasts about eight hours on a charge and can be mounted on most any pair of sport-style sunglasses using a strap-on base plate that the HUD twist-locks into. The 428-by-240-pixel screen automatically reorients itself whenever the device powers on, and it can be mounted ambidextrously on either the left or right temple of your glasses. I did find that putting it on the left side, however, completely blocked my peripheral vision on that, side which made it difficult to glance over my shoulder for cars while overtaking other cyclists.

Also, the Vision really does need a set of sport glasses. I initially installed it on my Ray-Ban Wayfarers and, while the Vision did work, the placement and orientation of the screen was less than ideal. I mean, the screen arm bends in only about 80 degrees, and there’s no way to really angle it up or down, so if the glasses arm sits high compared with the lens itself, part of the screen is blocked by the bottom edge of the display’s mount.

The color LED display itself is impressive. The clarity is great, as are the brightness and the interface navigation. You control the screen’s display by swiping a finger forward and back across the Vision’s body. Even through dark or polarized lenses, I was able to easily see the Vision’s readout. It is a bit weird to get used to, though, because when you have both eyes open, the image ghosts and you wind up seeing a semi-transparent data screen overlying reality. That said, it’s not particularly distracting once you acclimate.

I ran into some minor hiccups while setting up the Vision. As with most connected devices, the Vision was an utter brat when I paired it with my cycling computer. I spent a half hour alternately swearing at it and begging it to just pair already before figuring out that the HUD needed a firmware update in order to talk to the 520. I then spent another hour tracking down the necessary Garmin Connect desktop software (and the Android mobile app), creating a Connect account, registering devices and updating firmware before finally getting the cycling computer and HUD to get on speaking terms. That’s a lot of work just to get two companion devices from the same manufacturer — and using the same pairing scheme, no less — to do what they’re supposed to do out of the box.

That said, the Varia Vision system is good at what it does. I often find myself squinting at my cycling computer during rides, and that issue is even worse in the morning, when I’m wearing sunglasses to counter the glare of the sun. This combination of myopia, screen reflection and dark lenses can make accurately reading the computer — while dodging absentminded drivers and entitled hipster cyclists, natch — a lot harder than it should be. But with the Varia on my face, all I need to do is wink my off eye closed for a second to see exactly how my splits are stacking up, and without taking my eyes off the road.

As impressive as the Vision is, I should point out that it’s not the sort of accessory you toss into your shopping cart while waiting in the checkout line. The Vision does not lend itself well to the stop-and-go action of city commutes. Rather, it’s better suited for longer open-road training rides. It’s a serious training tool that requires a serious budget.

As mentioned, the Vision alone will set you back $400. That’s more than I paid for my 40-inch TV and is on par with what you’d pay for a next-gen gaming console. What’s more, the Vision is useless by itself; it really is just a Bluetooth screen that straps to your glasses. In order for it to display information, you have to pair it with a $300 to $500 cycling computer and mount it onto glasses that start at around $50. You’re looking at an initial startup cost of $750 to $900 — which is about the difference between that Huffy and a pretty decent road bike. Would you rather get the best bike you can afford, or ride the Huffy with a tiny screen attached to your temples?

30
Apr

Huawei P9 review – CNET


The Good The dual-lens camera takes great photos, particularly in black and white, and the phone’s slim design makes it easy to carry around.

The Bad Huawei’s Android skin is awkward to use and loaded with bloatware. The screen resolution should be higher, given the price.

The Bottom Line It might take fancy photos, but the Huawei P9’s high price means it’s not a good choice over the similarly priced Samsung Galaxy S7.

Huawei’s flagship P9 is perhaps best seen as a camera with a smartphone attached.

Sporting not just the Leica brand name — one of the most well-respected names in the photography industry — it also has not one but two cameras on its back. One lens shoots exclusively in black and white, while the two together provide a DSLR-style shallow depth of field.

It can take some great shots, and those of you who love taking those moody shots of your morning latte will relish playing around with the black-and-white mode.

But that’s where the excitement ends.

Huawei has loaded the phone with the same clunky, bloatware-laden Emotion UI it’s used on previous handsets. The display’s resolution is lower than most other flagship handsets, too, which is disappointing, given that the P9 comes with a high-end price tag.

In the UK, you can pick the phone up, SIM free for £450 ($656), putting it only marginally below the superb Samsung Galaxy S7 (£485 on Amazon UK, $615 on Amazon US) and LG’s modular G5 (£490, $650). (Availability and pricing for Australia haven’t been announced, but its UK price converts to about AU$865 for the SIM-free version.)

Two cameras

  • Dual 12-megapixel rear cameras
  • 8-megapixel front camera
  • Dedicated black-and-white mode

I was immediately excited by the fact that Huawei has the Leica brand name on the camera. Leica is one of the most trusted names in photography, making as it does some of the best cameras money can buy. The partnership however doesn’t go too far beyond the name though. Leica hasn’t provided any hardware for the phone, but Huawei explained that Leica has confirmed that the materials and manufacturing methods used are of a good standard.

Both cameras have 12-megapixel resolutions, but only one of them shoots in colour — the other is for black and white. While LG’s G5 uses a two-lens camera, LG’s phone uses the lenses to swap between wide-angle and close-up views. As well as being able to take more impressive black-and-white photos than simply converting a colour image, the P9 is able to combine shots from both sensors, resulting in a rich colour photo with plenty of contrast and detail.

While that does sound like a whole heap of marketing nonsense, it does actually work and quite well.

Shooting in the monochrome mode, I’ve been able to snag some gorgeous-looking black-and-white shots, with deep black levels and rich contrast across the whole scene, without needing to do any kind of editing. I’ve spent most of my time in this mode and have thoroughly enjoyed walking London’s streets capturing everything in black and white.

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Huawei P9 black-and-white camera test (click to see full size)


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Huawei P9 black-and-white camera test (click to see full size)


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Huawei P9 black-and-white camera test (click to see full size)


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It does do an impressive job with colour, too. Shots are vibrant and rich with a natural colour balance to them. Exposure is good, and the HDR mode works well when you stumble across a scene containing very bright and very dark areas.

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Huawei P9 colour camera test (click to see full size)


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Huawei P9 colour camera test (click to see full size)


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Huawei P9 colour camera test (click to see full size)


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Another benefit of the two lenses is that you can artificially change the depth of field for your shots — the effect is similar to what you’d achieve by changing the aperture on a DSLR. It mostly works well, though it can create an unrealistic blur with some subjects.

30
Apr

Mobile Nations Community Update, April 2016


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Time again for the Mobile Nations Community Update! That’s right, it’s time to roundup some of the best stuff happening around Android Central, Connectedly, CrackBerry, iMore, and Windows Central.

30
Apr

6 things to look for in an icon pack


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Icon packs are like graphic t-shirts. You can never have too many.

Want to make your phone look new without completely changing up your home screen layout or trying a bunch of new widgets? Just switch icon packs. Finding an icon pack that perfectly matches your theme is cool. You know what’s really cool? Finding an icon pack that’ll go with five themes, or 10. Or finding an icon pack that doesn’t leave any awkward gaps in your app drawer.

Good icon packs are out there. Here’s how I find them.

Style

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Above all other things, a pack’s icons have to look good to you. I don’t care how awesome the support is. I don’t care how masterfully they handle unthemed icons. I don’t care if they have the best icon picker known to Android. If the icons don’t look good to me, it’s not going to matter because I will hardly ever use them.

Icons are something you look at every day, so the icons in a pack need to be something that you like and something you won’t tire of too quickly. Don’t get what’s popular if you don’t like it. I still haven’t bought some of the most popular packs on the store because I personally just don’t like them.

App/Launcher Support

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Icon packs are handled different ways by different launchers. That’s why even if you buy an icon pack in Google Play, it might not work properly work in every Android launcher you try. Depending on what launchers accept the access intent required to see and act on masks and shaders, a launcher might take all, part, or none of the masking a developer has programmed for their pack. This is why icon packs may also look better on some launchers than others, like PLAY on Nova (right) versus PLAY on ZenUI (left).

There are also millions of apps out there. Icon pack developers don’t have time to theme them all. While we’ll get to unthemed icons in a minute, it is worth noting that when trying to see how many apps you use are themed in a pack, you cannot go strictly on the number of icons the pack contains. MY PACK HAS OVER 9,000 ICONS … but it’s actually just 900 apps in 10 colors (Not that that isn’t an accomplishment in itself). Look through the pages of sample apps in their Google Play listing, and if all else fails… . Buy the pack, apply it, and count the holes. You have 15 minutes to see if there are too many for your liking.

Speaking of holes…

How holey is your icon pack?

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Again, you can’t theme every po-dunk game some high schooler coded in class and put in Google Play on a dare. I get that. That’s fine. But that doesn’t mean that there have to be big gaping holes in my app drawer between your shiny silver icon pack and the boring old icon my app came with.

The way developers used to get around this was by putting a mask over the unthemed app icons. Most packs still do this, to varying levels of success. See the pack in the middle here? It’s using square icon masks to tint all app icons, but the masks are almost worse than the holes. Now take a look at Noctum. You see any holes? No? That’s because instead of an old-school mask, MLV uses shader.xml to tint unthemed icons using the same color scheme as his pack. I wish all icon packs did this, but even if they did, not all launchers would support it.

Some packs with specialty shapes also have icon masks that will have the app conform to the shape of the pack. Sometimes, these work really well, like in PLAY. Sometimes… not so much.

We also have variant or alternate icons. Alternate icons can be generic icons that you can use to sub in for apps that weren’t themed. Some icon packs have a few dozen alternates, some packs have a few thousand alternate icons. I am still waiting for icon pack developers to start adding Google emoji to their alternate icons … Waiting and waiting …

How many times can you use this pack?

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I am perfectly fine blowing a few buck on an icon pack that I’ll use for a month and never touch again… but I absolutely adore finding new packs that I can re-use from theme to theme. Golden Icons was a pack I downloaded for my Aladdin theme last Halloween, but I keep coming back to it when I find walls in Wallpaper Wednesday.

Solid color packs like Zwart and Whicons have been suggested multiple times in my previous articles, because solid white and solid black icons are easy to match to themes. I also keep Glim on my devices for when I want to use color-variants on my home screen for a theme.

What kind of support is the developer giving this pack?

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Supporting an icon pack can be a full-time job if your pack is popular, but icon pack support isn’t always quite as necessary as it is for other apps. If an icon pack has enough of my icons themed, enough custom/variant icons to fill the holes, and fits my theme, then it doesn’t matter if it was last updated at the beginning of 2015 or 2014, I’m using it. I use what fits.

However, if an icon pack is getting decent support, I’m more likely to apply themes that’ll use it. I’m not saying an icon pack needs monthly updates with 300 new icons, but the occasional ‘we answered some icon requests, and we fixed these icons that’ve gotten updated designs’ update really makes me happy to use a developer’s pack. Icon requests are a double-edged sword for icon pack developers, because they help fill gaps that their users are seeing, but they also take up a lot of time if the tool is abused. If you’re submitting requests, limit yourself to five apps.

I prefer paid packs.

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Yeah, free icon packs are great, and considering icon packs are about as luxury an app as it comes, free icon packs will continue to be what the bulk of the market uses. The bulk of the market is wrong. Paid packs are where it’s at.

Icon packs are exhausting to develop and maintain. Developers deserve to have that work compensated. If that’s in the form of a separate paid pack or a donate button in the app, fine. But if you’re turning away from an icon pack because it’s three dollars, I’d like to throw something at you. Like some exploding kittens. Paid packs have a tendency to get more long-term support, better quality support, and better quality product. So skip your third Monster of the day and pay for the app. Or just download Google Opinion Rewards and use the rewards to pay for icon packs. That’s what I did for a long time before my themes outpaced my surveys.

Do not confuse this for saying all paid icon packs are gems. They are not. There are a lot, a LOT of crap icon packs out there that cost money just like the good ones. But hopefully using the other criteria listed in this article, you can figure out which are which before you give them your money.

30
Apr

Intel is getting out of the smartphone market with cancellation of SoFIA and Broxton chips


Intel has confirmed that it has canceled plans to release its SoFIA and Broxton chips that were being made primarily for smartphones. This means that Intel currently has no chips that will be used in future smartphones.

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Intel’s shift away from the smartphone market was first announced by analyst Patrick Moorhead, via Forbes, and later confirmed by Intel itself in a statement from a spokesperson to AnandTech:

I can confirm that the changes included canceling the Broxton platform as well as SoFIA 3GX, SoFIA LTE and SoFIA LTE2 commercial platforms to enable us to move resources to products that deliver higher returns and advance our strategy. These changes are effective immediately.

The move follows Intel’s announcement last week it was laying off 12,000 of its employees, or about 11% of its workforce, by mid-2017. While the company did have chips inside a few Android-based smartphones in the past several years, including the ASUS ZenFone 2, Intel’s share of the phone market was just a fraction of the amount claimed by ARM-based processors made by Qualcomm and others.

30
Apr

Amazon’s Alexa devices can tell you what happened on your favorite Syfy TV show


Syfy is the first cable TV network to add support for Amazon’s family of devices that use the Alexa digital assistant such as the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot speakers and the Fire TV boxes.

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Syfy’s website has the details on its support for Alexa:

Alexa has exhaustive knowledge of Syfy’s schedule as far out as 14 days in the future. Plan your schedule and never miss the next episode of your favorite Syfy shows. Alexa knows everything about the most recent episodes of current Syfy shows. If you need a quick refresher, just ask her what happened and Alexa will give you the lowdown. Alexa can see into the future! Alexa is prepared to give you a quick sneak peek on the next episode of your favorite Syfy shows, all you have to do is ask!

See at Amazon

30
Apr

Marshmallow updates for the AT&T HTC One M8 and M9 get delayed


HTC M8 and HTC M9 owners on AT&T will have to wait a bit longer to get their promised software update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

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HTC’s Mo Versi posted the news on the delay via his Twitter account:

HTC One M8 & M9 AT&T owners – there’s been a slight delay on M OS. We’re in lab but looking at approval within the next couple weeks.

— Mo Versi (@moversi) April 29, 2016

The Marshmallow updates for the HTC One M9 have already rolled out for Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile owners.

HTC One M9 Central

HTC One M9 Essentials

  • Beginner’s guide to the M9
  • Read our full review
  • HTC One M9 specs
  • HTC One series specs
  • Get the latest M9 News
  • Join the M9 discussion
  • Shop for accessories

AT&T
HTC
Sprint
Verizon

30
Apr

Recommended Reading: Why can’t we stream more black TV shows?


Why Are so Many Great
Black TV Shows Missing
From Streaming Services?

Alyssa Rosenberg,
The Washington Post

Streaming services are great for providing a seemingly endless supply of movies and television shows. However, there are a ton of notable black TV series missing from those subscription plans. If you’re looking for The Jeffersons, Good Times, Living Single or Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, you’ll be disappointed. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg set out to discover why that’s the case.

Inside One of the World’s Most Secretive iPhone Factories
Shai Oster, Bloomberg

Apple may have opened up a Shanghai iPhone factory in response to labor concerns, but other questions remain.

How to Become the Next Prince
Russ Bengtson, Complex

This piece from Complex takes a look at what made Prince so great, and how difficult it will be for someone attempting to fill those shoes.

What to Read After Watching Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’
Nichole Perkins, Fusion

Queen Bey’s new album arrived with a striking visual component chock full of influences you won’t see a lot folks discuss. As Fusion’s Nichole Perkins puts it, “Lemonade is basically a video version of Black Feminist Lit 101.”

A Lone Bullet’s Long Toll
C.J. Chivers, New York Times Magazine

Ten years after being shot in the mouth in Iraq, Navy corpsman Dustin (Doc) Kirby is still recovering. Here’s a look at his story and some of the tech that’s being used to help him manage pain, speech and eating.

30
Apr

ICYMI: Barely hoverbiking, new hair dryer tech and more


ICYMI: Barely hoverbiking, new hair dryer tech and more

Today on In Case You Missed It: YouTuber Colin Furze teamed up with Ford to build a working hoverbike within just a few weeks, from his shed. It runs off of two diesel engines so granted, it’s probably not the most mass-production friendly item, but does beg the question: What’s holding everyone back, then?
Photographer Levon Biss worked with Oxford University to take incredibly detailed, microscopic photos of bugs, which were then blown up and printed into large posters. And Dyson has released its first personal care device and it is a re-imagined hair dryer, called the Supersonic, which is far less noisy and heavy compared to modern day dryers. They will cost $400.

Make sure you can talk with some authority about the military’s digital strike against ISIS, but also know all about why a teenaged girl is being sued (along with Snapchat) after crashing while going more than 100 miles per hour in her daddy’s Mercedes. As always, please share any great tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.

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