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28
Oct

LG V30 review: LG’s latest flagship needs more polish


The LG V30 caught me by surprise. The G6 was a strong contender when it was released earlier this year, but we’ve seen so many flashy flagships hit store shelves since then that I almost forgot LG was preparing another phone for the fall. And when the V30 finally showed up, I couldn’t quite believe it. This? This is an LG phone?

Well, yes, it is. And by excising gimmicks and rethinking its designs, LG has cooked up one of its most impressive smartphones ever. The level of polish on display is generally excellent too, which, unfortunately, throws the flaws this phone does have into sharp relief.

Hardware

With each new model, LG’s V series has grown more conventional. It all started with the über-masculine V10 two years ago. The V30 is much tamer, and you’d never guess they were related. That’s actually a good thing. The V30 is supremely sleek by LG standards, with rounded edges and panes of Gorilla Glass 5 that gently curve to meet a gleaming metal frame. It helps that LG ditched the gimmicky second screen that its predecessors used — it was of dubious value to start, and the phone is more streamlined without it. It’s not the most striking smartphone out there — Samsung devices generally have more of that wow factor — but LG has dramatically refined its approach to design, and the V30 feels great as a result.

It’s surprisingly comfortable, too, especially considering it has a 6-inch OLED screen. It wasn’t that long ago that phones with screens that large were enough to make your hand hurt, but the V30 is perfectly usable with one hand. It doesn’t hurt that the V30’s fingerprint sensor is located on the phone’s back, since it’s very easy to reach with an index finger that’s usually resting right next to it.

Despite the fact that the V30 is remarkably slim and light, LG didn’t skimp on the good stuff either. Unlike some other flagship phones we’ve tested this year, the V30 still has a headphone jack and a spot for microSD cards as large as 2TB on its SIM tray. Our review unit came with 64GB of internal storage, and that’s plenty for most people, but I’m not going to turn my nose up at expandable storage options.

The V30’s body is also rated IP68 for water and dust resistance, a feature last year’s V20 notably lacked. It comes at a cost, though: the phone’s 3,300mAh cell is sealed so you can’t swap batteries like you could with the V10 and V20. At first I was a little disappointed, but it’s not hard to see why LG changed course. Removable batteries make phones bigger, and people are used to plugging in whenever they can.

Display and sound

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

When you crank up the brightness on the V30’s 6-inch, quad HD screen, it looks pretty nice: colors are punchy without being lurid, and you can pick out lots of detail on this pixel-dense (538ppi) panel. That’s the nicest thing I can say about this screen. See, LG has caught a lot of flak for the panels it put in the Pixel 2 XL, but the situation is worse in the V30. As with the XL, the V30’s screen has a noticeable blue cast from odd angles. I didn’t mind it much on the Pixel 2 XL, and I don’t mind it much here. It’s a notable shortcoming for a phone of this caliber, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a deal-breaker.

What’s more troublesome is the level of grittiness and uneven lighting that’s apparent on the V30’s screen. It’s less noticeable when the panel’s brightness is cranked, but it’s quite annoying when it’s dark and I’m trying to read in bed. At first I actually thought my screen was dirty, but it soon became clear that that’s just how it was made. I ran into this issue with our pre-production V30 test unit too. The egregious banding I saw on the pre-release phone is gone, but I hoped LG had started using better panels.

Thankfully, the audio situation is much better. Listening to music through the phone’s single, bottom-firing speaker is pleasant enough, but everything changes when you plug in a pair of headphones and fire up the built-in Hi-Fi DAC. Not only does music get substantially louder, but it sounds a little more natural and lively too. And that’s with the sound profile set to the flat, “normal” mode. If your tastes are a little more particular, there are four other EQ presets to choose from, as well as a handful of “digital filters” that let you further tweak the sound. That’s overkill for most people, but there’s no denying that even leaving the DAC’s settings alone produces better audio. It’s gotten to the point where, even on days when I’m testing other phones, I make sure to keep the V30 in my bag to help drown out the din of the subway.

Software

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

Sorry, Oreo fans — while the V20 was the first device to ship with Nougat last year, the LG couldn’t finagle the same sweetheart deal for the V30. Instead, it runs the most recent version of Nougat (7.1.2, for those keeping count). Still, multi-window mode is handy as ever for running two apps at the same time, and they get more room to breathe, thanks to the V30’s 18:9 aspect ratio. Google’s Assistant is present as well, and remains (to me, at least) the gold standard for smartphone virtual assistants.

There are a few things that you’ll need to get used to, though. By default, the V30 doesn’t have an app launcher, so all your newly downloaded apps get splayed across your home screen. It’s easy enough to revive the traditional launcher, and it’s worth the effort if only for the handy app search bar.

And remember how earlier V-series phones had the weird second screen above the main display? That’s gone. LG stuck those shortcuts and controls into what it calls a “floating bar.” It’s off by default, and I’m really not surprised. The ability to change tracks or add an event to your calendar is nice, but since there isn’t a dedicated screen that’s always on to access those shortcuts from, you have to unlock the phone before you can get at them. I appreciate LG trying to maintain some feature parity between its new and older devices, but the floating bar is a poor replacement for a gimmick that was of debatable utility in the first place.

The rest of LG’s built-in apps are as colorful and useful as always, and some widgets have been slightly redesigned to make use of the bigger screen. They’re nothing to write home about, though.

What is worth discussing, however, is the bloatware situation. Our review unit was provided by Verizon, and as such, it’s filled to the brim with apps nobody asked for. There are seven apps in a home screen folder conveniently labeled “Verizon,” two pre-loaded games and four Yahoo apps. (Just a reminder: In addition to owning Engadget, Verizon also owns Yahoo’s media properties. Verizon has no editorial control over us, though, so I’m going to keep blasting it for its obnoxious pre-loaded apps.)

Most troubling is the addition of AppFlash, a home screen panel that offers quick access to frequently used apps, news stories and a search bar that surfaces local hotspots. It sounds useful enough, and it is, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation is firm in its belief that AppFlash amounts to spyware. Thanks, but no thanks, Verizon — it’s all pretty easy to uninstall or disable.

Camera

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

The V30’s main draw is its dual camera, and with good reason: It’s one of the best LG has ever made. The star of the show is a 16-megapixel main shooter with a f/1.6 aperture, and it’s complemented nicely by a 13-megapixel wide-angle camera. Other smartphone makers have invested in other kinds of dual-camera setups (most notably Huawei and its secondary monochrome sensors), but I’ve always preferred the telephoto/wide-angle combo, since it offers more flexibility.

Images captured with the main camera feature lots of detail and bright, natural colors when there was lots of light around. Consider me impressed. Low-light performance wasn’t amazing on the pre-production V30 we tested, though, and it hasn’t gotten much better here. The main camera has optical image stabilization and a very wide aperture — that’s normally a winning combination, but it’s not perfect here. Sometimes I’d get a great shot without thinking about it. Most of the time, though, the V30 struggled to pick up fine details in dim lighting that the Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone 8 Plus gathered with no problem. Sadly, that’s not the kind of thing LG’s myriad photo modes and filters can fix.

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Meanwhile, the wide-angle camera routinely churned out pleasant-looking landscapes, and being able to capture more of the space around you without moving is definitely helpful. It struggled to pick up detail in some situations, but that’s not a surprise, since it shoots at a lower resolution. Even so, it’s a big improvement over the V20’s wide-angle camera, which produced a ton of distortion around the edges of photos. It also churns out passable wide shots in dim lighting, especially if you’re willing to fiddle with settings, but your best bet is to stick to the main camera. Devices like the Note 8 and Google’s new Pixel 2 series are better all-around still cameras, but respectable image quality and nuanced controls mean the V30’s camera is a serious contender.

More than anything, though, LG built the V30 to shoot video, and it shows. The V30 offers a truly remarkable level of control over the footage you capture — perfect for YouTubers and would-be videographers. We did a separate deep dive into the V30’s cinematographic chops here, so I won’t rehash everything we learned. Long story short, the V30 can do more than stand in for a proper video camera in a pinch — it could feasibly replace one for some people. Ultimately, it’s all about the control, and there is a lot of that available here.

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Of course, you don’t need to be a Kubrick wannabe to get great video results. A handful of features help imbue footage with an almost professional flair, like color presets that can drastically change the feel and atmosphere of your shots. Personally, I’ve fallen in love with LG’s slick point-zoom feature. Tapping on the screen locks a focal point, and you can zoom in and out of it, even if that point is off in the corner of the frame. It’s these little additions that no one else has thought of that make the V30 such a pleasure to use. Here’s hoping LG makes still-image quality as much of a priority as video next time.

Performance and battery

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

Like a lot of other flagships this year, the V30 runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chipset, along with the Adreno 540 GPU and 4GB of RAM. It’s a well-worn combination, to be sure, but it’s definitely an effective one. The V30 has been a speedy, smooth companion — lag was virtually nonexistent as I bounced between apps. And it didn’t break a sweat when I fired up intense games like Afterpulse and Tempest.

AnTuTu (total) 145,783 159,382 141,065 16,673
3DMark IS Unlimited 28,193 39,235 30,346 38,960
GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps) 49 52 42 55
CF-Bench 61,958 N/A 24,748 67,415

When it comes to day-to-day use, the V30 is pretty average. On a typical day, I’d pull the V30 off the charger at around 8 AM, take it to work, run it through my usual routine, and get a low-battery warning at around 9 PM. That’s not bad — I got similar results out of the Galaxy Note 8, and I’ve occasionally found the V30 still clinging to life after nights when I had forgotten to charge it. Thankfully, the phone is pretty quick to charge: When it’s completely dead, a 15-minute top-up was enough to get the V30’s up to between 25 and 30 percent. Another 15 minutes on top of that usually pushed the phone close to 55 percent. A bigger battery would’ve been nice, but you won’t have trouble getting through the day if you make at least one pit stop at a wall outlet.

The competition

The V30 is the most appealing phone LG has made in a long time, but the smartphone competition this year is incredibly fierce. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 Plus runs with the same chipset but pairs it with an almost flawless Infinity Display — the V30’s OLED screen simply doesn’t stack up. Samsung arguably also wins on design, and the S8 Plus packs a first-rate 12-megapixel camera. Then there’s Google’s Pixel 2 XL, a device that’s very closely related to the V30. The Pixel display is similar to the V30’s, but thankfully, it doesn’t have the same grainy look as the LG. Plus a cleaner version of Android means the Pixel just feels a little bit faster. There are strong reasons to pick either of these phones over the V30, but here’s what it boils down to: If you’re serious about audio and video quality, the V30 wins.

Wrap-up

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

When I first took the V30 for a spin, I was surprised by my own optimism. At last, LG had made a phone that seemed to tick all the right boxes. After more prolonged testing, I’m not quite as enamored — thanks mostly to its questionable screen. Still, I’m impressed with what LG has managed to accomplish. The V30’s design and build quality are first rate, performance is up to snuff for a flagship, and I’m in love with the way this thing sounds. Hopefully, LG irons out these sketchy screen issues, because otherwise the V30 is a worthy phone in danger of being overshadowed.

28
Oct

Grovemade unveils a beautiful new Wireless Charging Pad


Why it matters to you

You shouldn’t have to sacrifice the aesthetics of your interior design for modern-day technology.

Wireless charging is on the rise (and Apple’s on board at last), but you don’t have to sacrifice the aesthetics of your interior design for modern-day technology. That’s where Grovemade steps in — with The Wireless Charging Pad.

Grovemade is known for its hand-crafted accessories made from all-natural materials. We’ve followed the team since way back when, most recently gushing over the company’s speakers and amp. Its new Wireless Charging Pad features a stainless steel base and soft, natural cork top that’s hand-sanded. Depending on your style, you can choose between two color variants, Light and Dark.

Now that Apple has released the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and soon the iPhone X, wireless charging pads are another accessory to add to the list. While many already offer a variety of capabilities on the inside, very few focus on the design of the outside. Most look like black hockey pucks.

Both color variants were designed, manufactured, and hand-assembled in Grovepad’s workshop in Portland, Oregon. The Dark color option is hand-stained with Japanese Calligraphy ink to provide depth and richness.

You may notice that many other wireless charging pads have a 7.5-watt output. Grovepad’s Wireless Charger has a 5-watt power rating — which fits in line with next-generation iPhone users whose devices are currently only capable of taking in 5 watts.

To avoid clutter and tangled chords, it also comes equipped with a nylon braided power cord that wraps around the dock. You’ll be able to wrap almost the entire cord underneath the charger’s base so that it’s hidden from sight.

If you’re looking to add a wireless charging pad that’s also subtle, Grovemade could do the trick. It’s constructed in a slim but also secure enough size that it will compliment your desk aesthetic rather than look out of place.

For those that have a case on their phone, the charger still works with all Grovemade iPhone cases and additional cases up to 3mm thick. Even if you don’t have an iPhone, the charging pad supports all Qi-compatible devices.

Grovemade’s Wireless Charging Pads are currently available online. Either color option will cost you $80 and can be purchased from the company’s website.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Mophie vs. Belkin vs. RavPower: Who has the best wireless charging pad?
  • Charge up your iPhone or Android with the best wireless phone chargers
  • No cables, no hassle: Wi-Charge’s in-room wireless charging is coming next year
  • Now just $15 on Amazon, the Satechi wireless charging pad is sleek and fast
  • Samsung patent filing reveals interest in a dual wireless charging mat




28
Oct

Eight great robot kits for kids you can find right now


You say you’re a parent or teacher investigating robot kits for children? And you don’t want a simple solution with a single purpose: you want the child to experience science, technology, engineering, and math? We get it. You want a kit that teaches all four categories, from piecing together the foundation to wiring the appendages to programming the “brain” using software. That’s where our list of robot kits for kids comes in.

Most of the robot kits listed below are tied to terms such as STEM, Arduino, and Blockly. Here are a few explanations of those and other terms before we get started:

Arduino: an open-source hardware and software platform. It consists of boards that read inputs and convert data into outputs. This data is managed through the Arduino programming language and Arduino-based software. Arduino was built for beginners but is sophisticated enough for advanced users, making it a widely used platform in the educational system. Even Intel is on the Arduino bandwagon.

Scratch: a programming language designed for kids ages 8 to 16. It’s separate from Arduino but still widely used in schools for creating games, programming robots, designing animations, and more. Instead of writing code from scratch, kids piece together blocks of commands ranging from motions to events to sensing. Scratch can be downloaded and installed directly to a PC, or used online via Flash.

Blockly: another programming language for kids, Blockly relies on blocks of code that can be strung together to create a program. It now resides under Google’s umbrella and is typically web-based, although dedicated apps have appeared for Android and iOS. Of the two, Blockly is a simpler programming language; Scratch provides additional features.

STEM: this is short for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It’s a “movement” set forth by the U.S. Department of Education to help teachers and parents prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow. It’s designed for student interaction with real-world programs, providing experimental learning activities that push students to investigate, understand, and create solutions. Check out our list of the best STEM-based toys here.

Now on to the robots!

Elegoo UNO Project Smart Robot Car Kit ($74)

As the name implies, the final product is a “smart” robot car based on the Arduino platform. The kit includes 24 different modules, such as an infrared receiver for using a remote control, Bluetooth for connecting via a smartphone or tablet, line tracking, and obstacle avoidance. With kids in mind, it boasts a minimal design for a faster build and less errors.

According to Elegoo, the kit includes instructions and software, showing kids how to load the programs and command the robot to perform a handful of standard modes. But the kit is expandable, enabling you to add sensors not included for a customized robot. These third-party sensors must include a 3-pin XH2.54 interface to be compatible with this kit.

Meccano-Erector MeccaSpider Robot Kit ($100)

This kit is designed for kids ages 10 and older, packing 291 parts that can be pieced together in one to three hours to create a cool robotic spider. The kit also includes two “smart” motor modules, one “brain” module, and an infrared sensor module that detects movement. There’s even a built-in reservoir for holding water so it can shoot “venom” to fend off its enemies.

On the programming side, there are built-in physical buttons for activating pre-set modes, including five basic modes, two guard modes, and one game mode. Kids can customize these through the on-board buttons, or by using apps provided on Android and iOS devices. This kit falls under the STEM umbrella with an intermediate complexity level.

Tenergy Odev Tomo ($100)

Here’s another kit that falls under the STEM umbrella: a 2-in-1 transformable, programmable robot from battery maker Tenergy. Designed for kids ages eight and older, it includes an ultrasonic sensor, a tracking sensor, the main control box, and more that are color-coded and labeled clearly. The kit creates a two or three-wheeled robot that can roam freely or track specific lines you create, or you can control it through Tenergy’s free ODEV Explorer mobile app.

To manually program the robot, you’ll need the free Odev Blockly app for Android or iOS. Anything you create for the robot can be uploaded and shared with other owners in the cloud. Moreover, Tomo’s “brain” has enough ports for extending its capabilities through third-party modules.

Robolink Rokit Smart ($120)

Here’s a STEM-focused kit for Arduino learners to build a programmable robot in 11 different forms: as a crab, a clapping monkey, a pirate ship, a gorilla, and more. It’s backed by an online tutorial with instructions on how to build the robot using each design, the programming basics using Arduino software, and even how to use the kit to build a robot for “sumo” one vs one competition.

According to Robolink, each design has a specific purpose: One can shoot rubber bands, one can detect edges, one follows lines, and so on. Batteries aren’t included in the kit, but you’ll find all the circuit boards, motors, and frames you need to build a cool, working robot. Robolink actually uses this kit at its Robotics Learning Center for kids in San Diego.

UBTECH Jimu Robot DIY Buzzbot & Muttbot Robotics Kit ($135)

By default, you can use this kit to create BuzzBot, or his faithful companion, MuttBot (but not both). But there are enough pieces in the kit to build whatever you want, including 271 parts, one “brain,” six servos, and a battery. You can purchase two additional servos if needed as a two-piece kit for $40, or a non-robotic animal companion for $50.

Once kids build the robot, they can record different poses and play them all in a string via the PRP system using the Jimu app for Android and iOS. But that’s boring, right? Using the app, kids can string blocks of commands together using Blockly-based coding as well. The app even provides step-by-step instruction on how to piece both robots together.

HEXBUG VEX IQ Robotics Construction Kit ($239)

From the makers of the popular mechanical bug family is a STEM-approved robot you can build. This high-dollar kit contains more than 750 pieces you can snap together, along with motors with built-in rotational sensors, the main “brain” with 12 self-configuring input/output ports, and more. The company provides instructions for eight basic designs here, including Clawbot IQ, V-Rex, Slick, and Stretch. There are instructions for designing larger robots too using additional parts.

Included with this kit is the online version of the Modkit for VEX programming software (typically $50), a tool designed for kids that relies on drag-and-drop programming. Also thrown into the mix is the ROBOTC VEX IQ curriculum packed with step-by-step instructions, videos, and animations. Once you learn the basics, you can move on to build and program anything you want with this kit. You’ll need six AA batteries to power your robot (sold separately), but the included game-style remote control comes with a rechargeable battery.

Makeblock DIY Ultimate Robot Kit ($350)

This is Makeblock’s flagship robot kit, packing anodized 6061 aluminum mechanical parts with threaded-slot designs. The kit includes instructions for ten different designs, such as the robotic arm tank, the robotic bartender, and the self-balancing robot. These designs are backed by the Arduino-based MegaPi mainboard that’s capable of handling 10 servos or eight DC motors simultaneously. The kit is also compatible with the Raspberry Pi board.

On the programming front, kids use the company’s Scratch 2.0-based mBlock software for PCs and mobile devices. This tool provides a drag-and-drop environment where kids string together blocks of code. Advanced users can use Python via the Raspberry Pi board, Node JS, or Arduino IDE. The parts list includes a Bluetooth module, so you can program and control your creation from any Bluetooth-based PC or mobile device.

LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 31313 ($350)

This kit consists of LEGO-based bricks, a programmable EV3 “brick” that serves as the brain, four sensors, a handful of motors, and loads more pieces. The EV3 brick includes a built-in display showing the wireless connection, battery level, what the robot is currently doing, and more. Overall, you can build 17 different robotic designs, such as a slithering snake (R3ptar), a walking dinosaur (Dinor3x), a shooting scorpion (Spik3r), and a humanoid robot (Ev3rstorm).

By default, each design comes with its own unique features and programmed behaviors. They can also be steered using the included remote control. But users can program their creation using the LEGO Mindstorms Ev3 software for PC, and download their commands to the robot using a USB cable, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi. The software provides five programming “missions” to get kids started using icon-based programming blocks that are strung together. LEGO provides a programming app for mobile devices too.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Just in time for Halloween, this spooky robot mask will help teach you to code
  • Get your child ready for school with these 5 best educational toy deals
  • With Pixel, you can customize a robot and learn to code all at once
  • Artificial robot muscle may look creepy, but it’s incredibly versatile
  • How do you get kids into coding? Tynker and Parrot let them use it to fly drones




28
Oct

Eight great robot kits for kids you can find right now


You say you’re a parent or teacher investigating robot kits for children? And you don’t want a simple solution with a single purpose: you want the child to experience science, technology, engineering, and math? We get it. You want a kit that teaches all four categories, from piecing together the foundation to wiring the appendages to programming the “brain” using software. That’s where our list of robot kits for kids comes in.

Most of the robot kits listed below are tied to terms such as STEM, Arduino, and Blockly. Here are a few explanations of those and other terms before we get started:

Arduino: an open-source hardware and software platform. It consists of boards that read inputs and convert data into outputs. This data is managed through the Arduino programming language and Arduino-based software. Arduino was built for beginners but is sophisticated enough for advanced users, making it a widely used platform in the educational system. Even Intel is on the Arduino bandwagon.

Scratch: a programming language designed for kids ages 8 to 16. It’s separate from Arduino but still widely used in schools for creating games, programming robots, designing animations, and more. Instead of writing code from scratch, kids piece together blocks of commands ranging from motions to events to sensing. Scratch can be downloaded and installed directly to a PC, or used online via Flash.

Blockly: another programming language for kids, Blockly relies on blocks of code that can be strung together to create a program. It now resides under Google’s umbrella and is typically web-based, although dedicated apps have appeared for Android and iOS. Of the two, Blockly is a simpler programming language; Scratch provides additional features.

STEM: this is short for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It’s a “movement” set forth by the U.S. Department of Education to help teachers and parents prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow. It’s designed for student interaction with real-world programs, providing experimental learning activities that push students to investigate, understand, and create solutions. Check out our list of the best STEM-based toys here.

Now on to the robots!

Elegoo UNO Project Smart Robot Car Kit ($74)

As the name implies, the final product is a “smart” robot car based on the Arduino platform. The kit includes 24 different modules, such as an infrared receiver for using a remote control, Bluetooth for connecting via a smartphone or tablet, line tracking, and obstacle avoidance. With kids in mind, it boasts a minimal design for a faster build and less errors.

According to Elegoo, the kit includes instructions and software, showing kids how to load the programs and command the robot to perform a handful of standard modes. But the kit is expandable, enabling you to add sensors not included for a customized robot. These third-party sensors must include a 3-pin XH2.54 interface to be compatible with this kit.

Meccano-Erector MeccaSpider Robot Kit ($100)

This kit is designed for kids ages 10 and older, packing 291 parts that can be pieced together in one to three hours to create a cool robotic spider. The kit also includes two “smart” motor modules, one “brain” module, and an infrared sensor module that detects movement. There’s even a built-in reservoir for holding water so it can shoot “venom” to fend off its enemies.

On the programming side, there are built-in physical buttons for activating pre-set modes, including five basic modes, two guard modes, and one game mode. Kids can customize these through the on-board buttons, or by using apps provided on Android and iOS devices. This kit falls under the STEM umbrella with an intermediate complexity level.

Tenergy Odev Tomo ($100)

Here’s another kit that falls under the STEM umbrella: a 2-in-1 transformable, programmable robot from battery maker Tenergy. Designed for kids ages eight and older, it includes an ultrasonic sensor, a tracking sensor, the main control box, and more that are color-coded and labeled clearly. The kit creates a two or three-wheeled robot that can roam freely or track specific lines you create, or you can control it through Tenergy’s free ODEV Explorer mobile app.

To manually program the robot, you’ll need the free Odev Blockly app for Android or iOS. Anything you create for the robot can be uploaded and shared with other owners in the cloud. Moreover, Tomo’s “brain” has enough ports for extending its capabilities through third-party modules.

Robolink Rokit Smart ($120)

Here’s a STEM-focused kit for Arduino learners to build a programmable robot in 11 different forms: as a crab, a clapping monkey, a pirate ship, a gorilla, and more. It’s backed by an online tutorial with instructions on how to build the robot using each design, the programming basics using Arduino software, and even how to use the kit to build a robot for “sumo” one vs one competition.

According to Robolink, each design has a specific purpose: One can shoot rubber bands, one can detect edges, one follows lines, and so on. Batteries aren’t included in the kit, but you’ll find all the circuit boards, motors, and frames you need to build a cool, working robot. Robolink actually uses this kit at its Robotics Learning Center for kids in San Diego.

UBTECH Jimu Robot DIY Buzzbot & Muttbot Robotics Kit ($135)

By default, you can use this kit to create BuzzBot, or his faithful companion, MuttBot (but not both). But there are enough pieces in the kit to build whatever you want, including 271 parts, one “brain,” six servos, and a battery. You can purchase two additional servos if needed as a two-piece kit for $40, or a non-robotic animal companion for $50.

Once kids build the robot, they can record different poses and play them all in a string via the PRP system using the Jimu app for Android and iOS. But that’s boring, right? Using the app, kids can string blocks of commands together using Blockly-based coding as well. The app even provides step-by-step instruction on how to piece both robots together.

HEXBUG VEX IQ Robotics Construction Kit ($239)

From the makers of the popular mechanical bug family is a STEM-approved robot you can build. This high-dollar kit contains more than 750 pieces you can snap together, along with motors with built-in rotational sensors, the main “brain” with 12 self-configuring input/output ports, and more. The company provides instructions for eight basic designs here, including Clawbot IQ, V-Rex, Slick, and Stretch. There are instructions for designing larger robots too using additional parts.

Included with this kit is the online version of the Modkit for VEX programming software (typically $50), a tool designed for kids that relies on drag-and-drop programming. Also thrown into the mix is the ROBOTC VEX IQ curriculum packed with step-by-step instructions, videos, and animations. Once you learn the basics, you can move on to build and program anything you want with this kit. You’ll need six AA batteries to power your robot (sold separately), but the included game-style remote control comes with a rechargeable battery.

Makeblock DIY Ultimate Robot Kit ($350)

This is Makeblock’s flagship robot kit, packing anodized 6061 aluminum mechanical parts with threaded-slot designs. The kit includes instructions for ten different designs, such as the robotic arm tank, the robotic bartender, and the self-balancing robot. These designs are backed by the Arduino-based MegaPi mainboard that’s capable of handling 10 servos or eight DC motors simultaneously. The kit is also compatible with the Raspberry Pi board.

On the programming front, kids use the company’s Scratch 2.0-based mBlock software for PCs and mobile devices. This tool provides a drag-and-drop environment where kids string together blocks of code. Advanced users can use Python via the Raspberry Pi board, Node JS, or Arduino IDE. The parts list includes a Bluetooth module, so you can program and control your creation from any Bluetooth-based PC or mobile device.

LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 31313 ($350)

This kit consists of LEGO-based bricks, a programmable EV3 “brick” that serves as the brain, four sensors, a handful of motors, and loads more pieces. The EV3 brick includes a built-in display showing the wireless connection, battery level, what the robot is currently doing, and more. Overall, you can build 17 different robotic designs, such as a slithering snake (R3ptar), a walking dinosaur (Dinor3x), a shooting scorpion (Spik3r), and a humanoid robot (Ev3rstorm).

By default, each design comes with its own unique features and programmed behaviors. They can also be steered using the included remote control. But users can program their creation using the LEGO Mindstorms Ev3 software for PC, and download their commands to the robot using a USB cable, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi. The software provides five programming “missions” to get kids started using icon-based programming blocks that are strung together. LEGO provides a programming app for mobile devices too.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Just in time for Halloween, this spooky robot mask will help teach you to code
  • Get your child ready for school with these 5 best educational toy deals
  • With Pixel, you can customize a robot and learn to code all at once
  • Artificial robot muscle may look creepy, but it’s incredibly versatile
  • How do you get kids into coding? Tynker and Parrot let them use it to fly drones




28
Oct

How to stream on Mixer with Xbox One, Windows 10, or even Nintendo’s Switch


Microsoft made an interesting move in August 2016 when it acquired interactive livestreaming service Beam. The purchase seemingly cemented the company’s promise to better support its revenue-generating gaming customers, a promise that saw an integration of game broadcasting in the Creators Update for Windows 10. Microsoft renamed the service to Mixer in May 2017 while injecting it with new features. Here’s our handy guide on how to stream on Mixer.

Creating an account

Chances are, you’re reading this guide on a Windows 10 PC. That makes the process of creating a Mixer account easier given that Microsoft owns the service. When you hit the “Sign Up” button, a window will appear sporting a “Sign up with your Microsoft account” button. Click on it, and provide the credentials that you use to sign into Windows 10 (if you use a Microsoft account), or the Xbox One console.

Once that’s done, your Windows 10 PC and Xbox One are automatically linked to Mixer, and ready to stream to the service. You won’t need to provide any stream keys – unique numbers that ties your broadcast channel to the output of your software – unless you option to use third-party software instead of the integrated tools in Windows 10 and Xbox One.

One factor we’d like to point out is that although Mixer is free to use, there is a “premium” version for $8 per month. This subscription provides you with premium technical support, early access to new features, the removal of advertisements, and a 2x experience (EXP) multiplier. This EXP system is means for unlocking new features — the more you watch and broadcast, the more features you can unlock.

In addition to experience points, you generate an on-site currency called “sparks” when you stream or watch another broadcast on Mixer. This virtual currency can be used to enable games like Minecraft, purchase apps created by the Mixer community, and even create a team from a group of friends who stream together.

Outside the broadcasting aspect of your new Mixer channel, the customization portion is limited to setting your avatar, your channel intro, and adding social profiles. Your account also provides an analytics section for viewing your broadcasting statistics, such as the number of followers, how many views you’ve raked in, and the number of hours streamed. The “Your Network” section simply lists all the broadcasters you’re following.

That all said, it’s time to broadcast!

Editor’s Recommendations

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  • HBO GO vs HBO Now: Which is right for you?
  • How to watch NFL games online, with or without cable
  • What is Wi-Fi calling and how does it work?
28
Oct

Whiffing on every pitch? Adjust your swing with Garmin’s Impact sensor


Why it matters to you

Hitting a baseball is a tough skill to perfect but the Impact sensor gives you a lot of data to help you become better at it.

Since baseball’s inception, there have been three definitive ways to teach you how to swing the bat proficiently: Your parents, your coach, and Ted Williams’ The Science of Hitting. But for those of us who wanted to take a more independent, self-discovery-type approach to improve our ability to get the ball out of the infield, the options were more limited.

In the spirit of baseball and softball’s constant tradition of learning through failure comes Garmin’s Impact bat swing sensor. The device, which costs $150 and weighs 34 grams, is attached to the end of your bat grip to deliver all the analytical data you could ever want on how ugly your swing is. No longer will your parents, coaches, or teammates have to watch you in the batting cages, delivering pointed critiques of how your underwhelming swing is incapable of catching up to a Little League fastball. Instead, the device will break down that information to you gently, and give you objective information on how to improve your chances of making solid contact.

After every swing, the Impact sends information on bat speed, hand speed, time to impact, elevation angle, and attack angle to the on-screen display. After every three swings, the device will offer coaching tips and drills that were developed by professional hitting coaches and are adapted to your hitting profile — whatever it may be.

And if you’re really a glutton for punishment, the Impact offers a free app on your mobile device of choice that offers deeper analytical insights. The app gives 3D insights into your swing trajectory and highlights whether the bat is going too slow through the strike zone. If there is more than one slugger hoping to improve their swing, the app allows you to create multiple profiles.

“Garmin has seen great success with our other sports products, like the golf swing sensor, so the addition of the Impact bat swing sensor to the performance training market seemed like a natural fit,” Dan Bartel, Garmin’s vice president of worldwide sales, said in a statement. “Whether playing baseball or softball, or coaching players, the on-device display and auditory cues on the Impact bat swing sensor allow batters to quickly make adjustments, so come game time, they can step up to the plate with confidence.”

But if your hitting confidence ever goes down the tubes, you can always switch to pitching with a smart baseball.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Improve your golf swing with the sensors from SwingLync
  • Gen i1 is a smart golf ball that can help improve a player’s putting
  • Garmin Fenix 5X review
  • Curious what traits your unborn child will have? Send HumanCode your spit
  • Garmin Speak Review




28
Oct

Google Pixel 2 XL: How it stacks up to my lofty expectations


The good, bad, and ugly of using the Pixel 2 XL as my daily driver for five days.

Earlier this month, I wrote an article here on Android Central titled “Why Google’s Pixel 2 XL will be my next phone.” I laid out my reasons for preordering the Pixel 2 XL the day of its announcement and why I was excited for it to be my daily driver going into 2018. I’ve now been using the phone for five days, and this is what I’ve learned during that time.

These are the best cameras you can get on a phone right now

I’m not the most avid photographer when it comes to smartphones, but the Pixel 2 XL has started to change that. Smartphone cameras have been really, really good for a while now, but Google has raised the bar to an entirely new level this year.

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This is one of those cameras that you can whip out of your pocket, press the shutter button, and get an image that will consistently look awesome. Last year’s Pixel also did this, but the Pixel 2 XL also introduces excellent low-light performance, handles varying degrees of exposure while keeping all of your subjects in clear detail, and can pull off impressive portrait mode shots without the need for a second lens.

This praise applies to both the front and rear-facing cameras, and it’s praise that’s more than deserved here. The Pixel 2 XL has made me want to actively seek out things to take pictures of, and as it stands, it easily offers the best photo/video experience available in a smartphone right now.

Dat battery life

The camera package is the same between the Pixel 2 and 2 XL, and as such, some of you might be wondering why in the world you’d want to go for the XL and it’s myriad of display qualms (more on that later). Easy – the battery life.

Battery performance on most flagships over the past year or two has been good, but nothing amazing. The Pixel 2 XL changes that.

You can check out Andrew’s full review to get exact details on the battery (and everything else), but in short, this is a phone that can easily last through two full days of regular use. That’s not something that can be said for most flagships, and for someone that relies so heavily on their phone for work and personal use, having so much stamina is outstanding.

All of the other bits

The battery life and camera are what I’ve noticed most about the Pixel 2 XL during my time with the phone, but that’s not all that it gets right.

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Although not everyone is thrilled with Google’s decision to use a special coating over the aluminum body, it’s a move I’ve come to really appreciate. The phone feels grippy no matter how you hold it, and while it may not be quite as “premium” as naked metal, it’s nowhere near as slippery as last year’s phone.

Great design, blazing performnace, and fun software goodies make the Pixel 2 XL a complete package.

Performance is just as fast and responsive as you’d expect from the Snapdragon 835 and Google’s ability to meld hardware and software together for an unrivaled user experience. Apps open in the blink of an eye, multitasking is buttery smooth, and not once have I come across any sort of lag or stutter.

Squeezing the sides of the phone to bring up Google Assistant with Active Edge is surprisingly useful at times, and Now Playing is wickedly cool. Being able to look down at my phone and see what song is playing around me without having to manually do anything is pure magic, and while it’s a fun party-trick, it’s also crazy practical.

Oh, front-facing speakers are also wonderful and amazing and every single phone should have them.

My issue with the display

You’ve undoubtedly heard a thing or two about the Pixel 2 XL’s display, and before I go too much further about my personal opinion, this is what we know so far.

Google is “actively investigating” the issues surrounding the phone’s screen, but at this point, we aren’t entirely sure what that means. Google will more than likely release an update at some point to add an option for more vivid colors, but not everything can be fixed with software.

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Our own Alex Dobie recently conducted a pretty thorough test of the Pixel 2 XL’s screen, and while this has yet to be confirmed by Google, it does appear that permanent burn-in is happening on the screen after just days of use. Burn-in is to be expected with all OLED and AMOLED panels at some point, but only after months or years, not days.

Not everyone will be as sensitive to the display as I am, but for me personally, it’s a deal-breaker.

I’ve noticed a similar effect on my own device, and while it’s not visible in most use cases, just the fact that the shadow of the navigation bar is either showing image retention or screen burn-in after just a few days has me incredibly worried for how the panel will fare after months of use as a daily driver.

Current status of Pixel 2 XL display pic.twitter.com/Xl4h0jEJ0K

— Joe Spooky Maring (@JoeMaring1) October 22, 2017

Possible burn-in aside, the display is serviceable and isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen. With that said, for a phone that costs at least $849 USD before tax, its quality does not match its asking price. The display is subpar, and while you can get used to it, I don’t want to have to “get used” to a display on a phone that costs this much. I should be wowed by the display each time I turn on the Pixel 2 XL, but that simply doesn’t happen.

Some of you might not care about these complaints, and if that’s the case, more power to you. Unfortunately, it’s something I cannot get past and likely never will.

A learning experience

Because of the circumstances I just outlined, I ended up returning my Pixel 2 XL and replaced it with the Galaxy S8. I considered swapping out the 2 XL with the regular Pixel 2, but I’ve sailed too far away on the minimal bezel train to go back to something with a forehead and chin that big.

Is the Galaxy S8 perfect? Nope. Does it have all of the software features that I loved so much on the Pixel 2 XL. Not at all. However, each time I power on its display, I smile and feel like I’m holding a piece of the future – a feeling I never once had with the Pixel 2 XL.

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It’s a true shame that the Pixel 2 XL ended up the way it is, but here’s to hoping Google can fix as many of its problems as it can and use this as a learning experience for next year with the Pixel 3.

As for me personally, I’ll be using this as an example of why I usually don’t preorder devices sight-unseen.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

  • Pixel 2 FAQ: Everything you need to know!
  • Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL review: The new standard
  • Google Pixel 2 specs
  • Google Pixel 2 vs. Pixel 2 XL: What’s the difference?
  • Join our Pixel 2 forums

Google Store
Project Fi
Verizon
Best Buy

28
Oct

How to use V360: Editing your 360-degree videos is finally fun


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Edit your 360 videos with just a few taps!

360 videos are one of the big perks off watching clips in VR. While it’s easy to snag great video with different 360 cameras, editing those videos has been a bit more complicated. V360 aims to fix that problem by delivering an app that makes editing your 360 videos easy, no matter where you are. You’re able to easily clip videos, add music and text, and export your videos so they can be shared on social media.

We’ve got everything you need to get started right here!

See V360 at Play Store

Read more at VRHeads

28
Oct

Kinect: Seven years of strange experiments


Kinect is dead. The writing has been on the wall for years, at least since Microsoft de-bundled the motion-tracking system from the Xbox One in 2014, knocking $100 off the price tag and making the system more competitive with the PlayStation 4.

The Kinect debuted in 2010 with the Xbox 360, and it had a good run, overall: Microsoft sold roughly 35 million devices in total. However, across its iterations and upgrades, the Kinect never quite found its market — the one application that would turn the hardware into an essential piece of home technology. It wasn’t a conversational, connected, voice-activated system like Google Home or Amazon Alexa, and game developers lost interest in the device as virtual and mixed reality rose to the fore. The Kinect was a product out of time.

That’s not to say it didn’t contribute to some truly wild experiences over the years. Developers quickly applied Kinect to surgery, physical therapy and a range of other medical uses. Three years after its debut, the Kinect was able to read sign language. Musicians flocked to the technology, applying it to live shows and videos. And then there were the games: Fantasia: Music Evolved, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die and Fru were brilliant examples of the breadth of experience possible via Kinect’s gesture-tracking interface. Even Kinect Sports Rivals, for all of its flaws, laid the groundwork for local multiplayer in motion-controlled gaming.

Below, we’ve collected a handful of trippy, strange and downright cool Kinect experiments from its seven years on the market. The Kinect is dead; long live Kinect.

Bathtub touchscreen

The Aquatop projector turned a bathtub into a touchscreen surface, powered by bath salts and Kinect. From researchers at the Koike Laboratory at Tokyo’s University of Electro-Communications, Aquatop let people pinch and drag the water to manipulate images and play games — all without the fear of getting a phone or tablet wet.

Furry mirror

You could also call this one the “Chewbacca cosplay simulator,” if you’re feeling saucy. New York-based artist Daniel Rozin created a “mirror” out of nearly 1,000 black and white pom-poms, using the Kinect to track people’s movements and power 464 servos to respond in kind. This is the artistic side of Kinect — something ridiculous, thought-provoking and completely impractical.

Sustainability wonderland

Once upon a time, the New York Hall of Science hosted a sprawling, interactive forest designed to help kids better understand the core tenets of sustainability. Connected Worlds featured six different digital biomes, including a 40-foot waterfall and movable “logs” lying about the play space. It took a dozen Kinect cameras, dangling in midair, to make the whole thing possible.

Playing a four-story pipe organ

Old, meet new. Composer Chris Vik added Kinect to a huge 83-year-old pipe organ in Melbourne, Australia, and he was able to play it with gestures alone. The Town Hall organ had been retrofitted to accept MIDI input in the 1990s, so Vik wrote some code, hooked up a Kinect, and voilà.

Dino bones

In July, scientists at the Field Museum of Natural History had a problem: They needed to scan the skull of a Tyrannosaurus rex, but their equipment wouldn’t fit around the beast’s massive jaw. Enter: Kinect. Researchers were able to scan the entire five-foot fossil and investigate a series of holes in its jaw, all for thousands of dollars less than using traditional scanning systems.

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails’ frontman, Trent Reznor, and art director Rob Sheridan are pretty big nerds, and they took the Kinect under their wings on a festival tour in 2013. During his set, the Kinect tracked Reznor’s movements and projected them onto a series of mobile screens as a distorted kind of mirror. We talked with Sheridan this week about the death of the Kinect; read his thoughts right here.

Guarding the Korean border

Self-taught South Korean programmer Jae Kwan Ko took the Kinect to a new level of militaristic might, applying the hardware to the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea. The Kinect system monitored the border for movement, and it was even able to discern the difference between animals and humans.

KOREAWAR-ANNIVERSARY/SOUTHKOREA

RoomAlive

RoomAlive was an internal project from Microsoft that represented the dreams of gaming and sci-fi fans worldwide. It essentially turned a living room into a Star Trek-style holodeck, projecting interactive objects and environments on the walls and floors. RoomAlive never made it to the stage where it was ready for consumer consumption, but the fact that this type of technology existed — in 2014, even — was incredibly exciting.

Let it go

Finally, there’s this: The best use of Kinect in the history of mankind.

28
Oct

The Morning After: Weekend Edition


Hey, good morning! You look fabulous.

Welcome to the weekend. We’ll recap this week’s news highlights, like Amazon’s latest service: a security camera and smart lock combo that will let its delivery people inside your house.

How do you feel about living in a cave?Getting to and living on Mars will be hell on your body

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To learn more about what it will take for humans to live on Mars, Engadget spoke with NASA scientist Laura Kerber and Spaceworks COO John Bradford at the Hello Tomorrow symposium in Paris. It’s time to find out what a “torpor” is and why you’ll want to be in one to make the trip.

Alexa still reigns as the queen of assistants.Amazon Echo review (2017)

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First, the good news: Amazon’s latest Echo is plugged into the ever-evolving Alexa AI that currently leads the pack of “smart” assistants, and at $99 it’s cheaper than last year’s model. The bad news? Despite some attractive, interchangeable shells, this smaller Echo puts out subpar audio compared to other smart speakers on the market.

The first qualifying event is in November — it’s time to train.FIFA and EA will put on the first-ever ‘eWorld Cup’ next year

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FIFA and Electronic Arts are taking their partnership to the logical conclusion point: the pair will put on the first-ever eWorld Cup next August. Competition starts next month on November 3rd.

Think it over.WhatsApp lets you delete your embarrassing texts, if you’re quick

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Have you ever accidentally sent a message on WhatsApp that you wish you hadn’t? Well, starting today, you can delete it — as long as you catch it within the first seven minutes. If you do, however, your recipient will instead see a “This message was deleted” alert.

Good luck.iPhone X pre-orders are open

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Now the expected wait time has stretched to 5 – 6 weeks.

What could possibly go wrong?Bad Password: Great, now there’s ‘responsible encryption’

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Trump’s Department of Justice is trying to get a do-over with its campaign to get backdoors onto iPhones and into secure messaging services. The policy rebrand even has its own made-up buzzword. They’re calling it “responsible encryption.”

But wait, there’s more…

  • Which 4K OLED sets are worth buying?
  • Amazon Key opens your home for indoor deliveries
  • Now T-Mobile is working with Project Loon in Puerto Rico
  • Microsoft ceases production of the Kinect
  • Amazon vs. Roku: Which $70 4K streaming device is best?
  • The real consequences of Patreon’s adult content crackdown
  • ‘Stranger Things 2’ basically gives everyone a cellphone

The Morning After is a new daily newsletter from Engadget designed to help you fight off FOMO. Who knows what you’ll miss if you don’t subscribe.

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