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iPhone 4 Eyes

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The best camera is always the one you have with you, and lately that means your phone. These add-on lenses will up your mobile photo game.

The Basics

Why do I need an aftermarket lens for my iPhone?

With a five-element f2.4 lens grabbing light for its CMOS sensor, the iPhone 4S is a true 8-megapixel camera that rivals many point-and-shoots. One thing it’s missing, though, is an optical zoom, which would require a telescoping lens. The iPhone’s 5X digital zoom can get you in a bit tighter — walking closer is still the best solution — but it can’t go any wider.

What’s the difference between digital and optical zoom?

Digital zooms crop the middle section of what the sensor sees and then enlarge it to fill the frame; image quality degrades noticeably. Optical zooms use telescopic elements to magnify the image before it reaches the sensor. Results depend on the quality of the glass, but optical will always trump digital.

How do these lenses attach?

The lenses in our review use cases, clips, and threaded mounts to fit over the built-in iPhone lens. The low tech approaches may have some Apple engineers cringing, but even the worst lens here handles photographic situations that the iPhone can’t on its own. How that lens attaches is probably the most important factor to consider.

Buying Advice

Wide-angle lenses are a smart addition. They’re small and portable and make it possible to shoot in confined spaces like cars and restaurant booths. We’re less excited by the telephoto options. Those heavy lenses generally require a tripod or some other means of stabilization. Besides, holding an iPhone up to a good pair of binoculars works just as well.

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Roundup: E-Ink Readers

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When it comes to book-length reading, no glowing LCD tablet screen can hold a backlight to the eye-saving e-ink of these readers.

The Basics

Why not a full-fledged tablet?

Entry-level e-readers have become better, faster, and more stylish. Considering their low cost, featherweight portability (6 to 7 ounces), battery life (up to a month per charge), and superior readability, it’s easy to justify having an e-reader and a tablet. Also, the lack of distractions on a dedicated reader is nice.

Are these really that much better than my first-gen e-reader?

Yes. It’s comparable to the differences in smartphones before and after the iPhone. E-readers used to have tiny QWERTY keyboards; today, most have touchscreens or navigation buttons instead. Manufacturers have reduced both the length and the number of the obnoxiously distracting flashes as the screen refreshes between pages. The devices are also about 40 percent lighter now.

What about their associated ebookstores?

Every dedicated e-reader worth buying is tied to an ebookstore—Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and so on. This means you’re generally limited to that store’s selection and prices. Publishers make most new books available at the same price for each retailer, but there are gaps between catalogs. For example, Kobo’s ebookstore has 41 newspapers and magazines, while the Amazon store has more than 300.

Buying Advice

Don’t worry about memory. Even the cheapest readers can hold hundreds of books. Your two factors are bookstore and price. If you’ve already bought a bunch of ebooks from Barnes & Noble, why switch to a Kindle? After that, get the cheapest unit you’re comfortable with. But note that some e-readers flicker more between pages than others. If you think a flicker is slightly annoying in the store, it will drive you absolutely nuts by page 200 of that Murakami novel.

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Fold Up and Roll Out

The iPad is a conundrum. On one hand, its main selling point is that it’s not a laptop, that it’s done away with old-fashioned, creaky technology like keyboards. On the other hand, every iPad user, no matter how proud, sometimes wishes the device were just a bit more, well, laptoppy.

It’s like dating an outlaw biker — you might be thrilled by his freedom from society’s rules and constraints, but you still wish he’d replace the toilet paper when he uses the last of it.

Luckily, you have any number of options if you want to type on real, actual keys with bumps on the F and J. Any Bluetooth keyboard will happily fill in, but the Logitech Fold-Up Keyboard is custom-made to make the iPad 2 a little less visionary and a little more practical.

The tablet — iPad 2 only, tough luck, early adopters — slips into the fold-up keyboard’s form-fitting frame. It’s easy to lock your iPad into place, but it takes a bit of patient effort to pull it out again. The frame is cleverly designed to not only allow access to all the buttons and jacks on the iPad, but to accommodate the Smart Cover as well.

At this point, you have a thicker-than-usual iPad case in basic black. But with the touch of a button on the back — and a bit of coaxing — the screen tilts up, and two sides of a full-sized keyboard slide in from the rear and fit themselves together jigsaw-style. It’s such a clever bit of engineering, you want to make a Transformers “whooch-whooch-whooch” noise the first few times you do it.

The keyboard itself is Bluetooth and uses its own internal battery. The charge lasts for hundreds of hours of active use, and you can recharge it with a standard micro-USB cable. The case and keyboard seem pretty rugged. I haven’t launched it from a catapult or anything, but I emptied most of a glass of water on it — on purpose, thank you very much — and it didn’t complain in the least.

Downsides? It’s landscape-only. The volume and orientation switches are difficult to reach when the keyboard is out, which is a pain if you had it locked in portrait mode. And fresh out of the box, the keys had a tendency to bounce and type the same letter twice, though that grew increasingly rare as I broke it in.

The big issue though, is that an iPad in a thick black case that folds out is no longer a tablet computer; it’s a notebook with a corporate-controlled software selection and no USB data ports. If you want to slide your tablet into an exoskeleton for work during the day and pry it out at night to watch Netflix in bed, this might be just the solution for you. At $130, it’s a lot cheaper than a laptop.

As someone who types for a living and who hasn’t taken his MacBook on the road in months, I prefer to pair my iPad 2 with the now-defunct iGo Stowaway folding keyboard. I can leave the keyboard in my satchel, so it’s there when I hit Peet’s for caffeinated inspiration, and the iPad remains sleek and light so I can switch from writing columns to reading supernatural romance novels without skipping a beat.

Alternately, you can save at least 50 bucks by picking up a basic folder-style case with a built-in keyboard. The keyboard won’t be as spacious as the Fold-Up, but it won’t be tiny, either.

Still, if you want a hard case, a bit of wow factor and a full-sized keyboard when you force your iPad 2 into double duty as a plain old boring netbook, Logitech has something that will make you smile to yourself every time you hit the magic button and unfold your gadget like Grad Student Batman.

WIRED Mechanism to flip out the keyboard is brilliantly engineered. No need to remove and stash your Smart Cover. Rugged enough to survive the terrors of backpacks and briefcases. USB-rechargeable battery lasts and lasts.

TIRED Landscape-only. iPad’s volume rocker and rotation lock switches are tough to reach when tablet is mounted in typing mode. Bulky as a case.

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Pico Projectors for Presentations on the Fly

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Plug your smartphone into a portable pico projector and use any wall
for movies, presentations, or life-sized Angry Birds.

When these pocket-sized movie machines first started popping up a few
years ago, the earliest models were dim, chunky-looking, and had poor
color balance. Not only have the optics and the display technologies
improved significantly since then, but our source files have gotten a
bump as well. We’re carrying around hours and hours of HD video in our
pockets or on our iPads, and pico projectors have stepped up their
game accordingly.

The newest generation of projector tech affords better color control,
contrast, and focus. The latest crop is also brighter. Most picos pump
out between 15 and 50 lumens—you’ll still need a dark room, but
that’s a big improvement. Some models will also dress up your visuals
with additional processing like white balance correction and auto
keystone correction.

And what fun is Office Space on your cubicle wall without
great sound to match? Some of the units we tested glossed over that
part of the equation, but some of them crank out the decibels at a
level that rivals the best speaker docks.

Photo: Jens Mortensen

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Let’s Get Small: HP’s Tiny WebOS Smartphone

The Veer is ridiculously small. Almost Zoolander ridiculously small.

When you first grip the thing in your hand and try out the keyboard, you think, “Oh man, this is never going to work.” But after a few initial typos, it’s actually not that bad at all.

At 3.25 inches long, the Veer is tiny, stealthy and unassuming. It’s so small, it’ll even fit in the coin pocket of your jeans. The back of the black model has a rubberized texture that keeps your brain from mistaking it for a large, smooth pebble.

The 2.6-inch touchscreen is minuscule compared to giant 4.3-inch stunners like that of the HTC ThunderBolt. But as long as you’re not dead set on streaming a lot of movies or TV onto your device, it’s just large enough to do most anything else.

The phone’s screen-sliding mechanism feels solid, but it is still easy enough to operate with one hand or one thumb. And although the super-small keyboard takes a bit of practice — and a lot of trust, because your thumb covers up half the keyboard — I was surprised at how often I was able to compose typo-free messages and e-mails on the raised keys.

Palm’s webOS really shines on a device with such a small form factor. Instead of the standard menu screens seen on other smartphones, webOS uses an array of cards that can be accessed with a single tap on the gesture pad, located right under the display. Opening a new instance of an application creates a new card. A swipe upward removes the card from the deck, otherwise it’s there waiting for you when you want to return to it. Related cards (like multiple Facebook pages, for example) stack on top of one another.

Unfortunately, the implementation suffers from a few unpleasant hiccups. Finger flicks need to be deliberate, or they won’t be registered by the device. While scrolling through the photo roll, images take a second to deblur. App loading occasionally stutters, and sometimes freezes — I found this particularly true when loading the web browser. Since games and apps functioned perfectly fine once opened, this seemed like more of a software issue than a problem with the Veer’s 800 MHz Snapdragon processor.

The HP Veer comes with a couple useful features baked in: integrated messaging and Just Type, which is standard to all webOS devices. Integrated messaging allows conversations with the same contact on different services, for instance, on Google Chat and SMS, to be synced up and displayed in the same timeline, providing a seamless record of your chats. And if you don’t feel like flipping through your cards or scrolling through your apps, you can use Just Type to begin typing an app name or search item, and the phone will bring it up for you.

The Veer can act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five wireless devices on AT&T’s HSPA+ 4G network. It also takes decent photos with its 5-megapixel camera — as long as there’s not excessive sunlight, which made my shots look overexposed and washed out.

The HP Veer is a pretty great phone, despite its diminutive appearance. Wired’s first impressions of the device were spot on: This would make a great phone for a teenager or anyone who wants to stay connected, but doesn’t need a large, super-crisp display for video playback.

WIRED Fantastically small form factor fits comfortably in almost any pocket. Magsafe-style charger — why isn’t this standard on all phones yet?

TIRED If the box didn’t say 4G on it, I never would have guessed. Palm’s app store has a woefully dismal selection — only the biggest names are there. The battery is non-removable.

Photos: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

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Kid-Tested: Three Projectile Weapons for Indoor Warfare

Father and daughter warfare in the halls of Wired.com

Editor’s note: Zing Toys sent us several boxes of its newest office weapons this week. We took advantage of “Take Our Children to Work Day” to kid-test the toys with the children of various Wired employees. These are their unedited reactions.

Z-X Crossbow ($26)
Z-X Crossbow by Zing Toys
“I think it’s awesome and I really want it. It shoots hecka far and it sticks to stuff.” –Jude, age 7

“It can’t stick to people. That’s what makes it suck.” –Luc, age 8

“It’s interesting. It shoots for you, so you don’t have to worry about getting your hand whacked.” –Clara, age 10

“This is awesome. You just trigger it, and it goes really far, and it sticks.” –Isabel, age 11

“The trigger is stuck.” –Clara, age 10

Zip-Bak Bow ($20)
Zip-Back Bow by Zing Toys
“This thing is awesome! It gives you really good aiming. I also like how light it is and easy to carry. It’s made from really light materials so it can go a long distance.” –Isabel, age 11

“The fact that you have to pull it back so hard to get a good shot.” –Isabel, age 11, when asked about any downsides

“When it shoots.” –Ophelia, age 4, when asked what her favorite thing about it was

“Easier.” –Sadelle, age 3 3/4

Zing-Shot Launcher ($10)
Zing-Shot Launcher by Zing Toys
“The slingshot’s cool.” –Clara, age 10

“Yeah.” –Ophelia, age 4, when asked if she liked it

“When you let go.” –Ophelia, age 4, when asked what her favorite thing about it was

“This thing’s hard on aim. The chances of me breaking something are about 48 to 100.” –Isabel, age 11

“The shooting part.” –Ennio, age 4, when asked what his favorite thing about it was

Nerf Dart Gun (not actually being reviewed)

“The shooting part.” -Ennio, age 4, when asked what his favorite thing about it was

Photos by Jon Snyder/Wired.com

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What Would You Do With 80 Million Pixels?

Cameras are like paintbrushes — they’re just creative tools with no inherent magical powers. No amount of megapixels or sexy German lenses will make you a better photographer.

But you can certainly make some pretty badass pictures with a $50,000 paintbrush.

Meet the IQ180, the new digital back from Phase One, a Danish company known for making high-end medium format camera systems for professional photographers. This most recent addition to the Phase One fleet boasts an 80-megapixel sensor, the highest resolution sensor the company has ever offered.

We got the chance to test it for a week. It’s remarkably easy to use, and it’s capable of capturing more image detail than you’ll likely ever need. Quite simply, it’s one of the sickest camera systems you can buy for any money — and we’re talking about some serious coin here. For $47,990, you get the back, the body and a Schneider Kreuznach 80 mm LS f/2.8 lens.

What you’re left holding is the photographic equivalent of a Bentley-Ferrari pickup truck — it’s sexy and elegant and expensive and you’re kind of afraid you’re going to run it into a tree, but its virtually limitless utility makes it capable of handling almost any job.

The images produced by the 80-megapixel digital back are massive — upwards of 500MB each. If you were to pull a file straight out of the camera and print it out at full print resolution, your image would be about 34 inches wide. That amount of depth adds a level of clarity and definition to your images that’s truly stunning.

Like most camera systems in this price range, the Phase One IQ180 is made for professional commercial photographers, or any other lucky souls who can afford to buy one. But it’s not just some precious totem of exclusivity. It is most definitely a workhorse meant for long hours in the studio and on location.

To pull the images off this camera, you have to use Phase One’s software — either Capture One DB, which comes with the camera, or Capture One Pro. If you’ve already got the software, the company is issuing updates to support the new IQ series hardware. The MacBook Pro I used during testing has a 2.53GHz Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, and it could manage the files just fine. I wouldn’t want to open up more than four images simultaneously without more RAM, though.

Capture One Pro on the Mac. Click for larger size

The Phase One IQ180 uses a 645 format body, and if you’ve ever used a medium format 645 body, you’ll know your way around this camera. For our testing, Phase One also sent a couple of Schneider Kreuznach prime lenses (a 55mm and a 110mm) in addition to the 80mm that comes with the camera.

But the IQ180 digital back is the real star here. It’s one of the easiest-to-use pieces of photographic capture equipment that I’ve ever laid my hands on. It powers on quickly, and the 3.2-inch touch screen comes to life. Four giant buttons come up on the display: one to play back your images, one for your ISO adjustment, one to adjust white balance, and one for a menu screen, which leads you to other custom settings.

The responsiveness of the touchscreen is as fast as my iPhone 4, and it’s easy to see even outside in sunlight. Remarkably, the camera back only crashed once during a week of testing, and it wasn’t during a shoot — I had to reset it when it got hung up while I was formatting some CF cards.

I used it in the field on several editorial assignments for print and online, and I took it to my friend’s house for some casual shooting at an Easter brunch just for fun. Image capture was super fast, whether it was tethered to my laptop or sending files directly to a CF card. To tether it, all I had to do was turn on the capture software, plug in a FireWire 800 cable to the camera and the images started popping up on my laptop’s screen as I shot. I thought for sure that setting up a tether was going to be more difficult than that.

Also, if you want to run it untethered, you can flip through your shots on the camera by swiping your finger. You can double tap to zoom in to a 100 percent view of the image where you can test for sharpness.

I shot more than 900 frames during the testing period, and I found the camera to be extremely reliable. The last thing you want to worry about while you’re working is whether your gear is going to behave properly, and in any every situation, I was able to concentrate on the creative task at hand and just forget about the tech. Never once did I have to stop and try to figure out some complicated technical issue, interrupting my work flow. Never once did I get the feeling that it was too much of a hassle to have taken outside of the studio (though I probably wouldn’t take it to the beach for fear it would get gunked up with sand).

I should note that it’s bulky, and that the motor drive isn’t as fast as my 35mm. But if you’re used to using 645 medium format systems, the bulk and speed won’t be a surprise. Plus, this guy isn’t supposed to be waterproof or shoot five frames per second — it’s supposed to be the easiest-to-use hi-definition still camera system you can get. And it does a pretty great job at that.

When the test kit first arrived at my desk at Wired, I posted a photo of it on Instagram to do a little bragging. I tried to be funny by captioning the picture, “But does it come with Instagram?”

One of my photographer friends posted an astute comment in rebuttal: “But does it come with a client base?”

That’s the thing — this camera is really only accessible to you if you’re a pro with enough assignments to cover the cost. The rest of us will just rent one to use for a few hours on an as-needed basis.

But, if you want to rule Instagram and you have 50 grand lying around, you certainly couldn’t do any better than this.

WIRED Huge, badass 80-megapixel files let you see skin pores from 20 paces. Big touch screen with a simple interface. Solid build. Remarkably easy to use — provided you understand the mechanics of photography, as is the case for any serious camera.

TIRED When shooting untethered, the batteries are sapped faster than Bukowski’s beer supply — you get two, but you’ll have to keep a backup charged and swap them often. Best to pre-format your cards before heading out on a shoot.

Photos: Jon Snyder/Wired.com

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LG Pulls Out the Big Guns With Dual-Core Android Phone

Like some geekier version of the Cold War, the mobile phone arms race of 2011 has manufacturers stockpiling as much brawn as possible into the limited space of a handset.

And with its G2x Android smartphone, LG has outed itself as a superpower.

LG’s flagship phone is running on Nvidia’s Tegra 2 dual-core 1-GHz processor. Are two cores really better than one? After playing with the G2x, I sure think so.

Right off the bat, the power of this chip is noticeable. Switching back and forth between different menu screens is seamless, and speedier than ever. Scroll downward through the pre-loaded catalog of apps, and the icons cascade like a waterfall. When I played the Halo-esque game that comes with the phone — a taxing first-person shooter in HD — it ran with minimal choppiness while handling some fairly intense animations.

With such a powerful processor at work, it’s a bit surprising the phone only comes with 512 MB of RAM installed. That might not prove to be enough for any especially resource-hungry apps and games that will arrive in the future. But for now, the phone ran the apps I threw at it like a charm.

One downside to all that power is that the back of the handset tends to get toasty after extended periods of use. So, unless you frequently suffer from cold ears, this is probably not a desirable attribute.

The phone’s 4-inch capacitive touchscreen displays color brilliantly, though I couldn’t help but wish for a larger screen for gaming. HDMI-out is always an option, and full HD mirroring lets you use the phone as a gyroscopically sensitive controller while playing on your big screen. But an extra half-inch or so of pixel real estate would have sated my thirst just the same.

The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera takes some of the clearest, crispest photos I’ve seen on a smartphone, while the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera worked well enough for chats. My biggest camera gripe: The delay between hitting the photo button and the “shutter” closing is far too long to accurately capture that spur-of-the-moment goofy face your friend is making.

LG went with a stock version of Android 2.2 Froyo for the G2x. Frankly, not having to deal with another manufacturer’s skin is a big plus: Interfaces like HTC’s Sense or Motoblur just feel chunky compared to the bare-bones version of the OS (and to Android purists, they’re practically a sin). Although it’s not running the latest version of Android (Gingerbread) quite yet, this phone is slated to receive the OS update sometime this summer.

T-Mobile’s network performance on the phone was adequate, but left me wanting. T-Mobile markets its HSPA+ as “4G” — a term which has grown quite murky — with “theoretical peak download speeds reaching 21 Mbps and peak upload speeds of up to 5.7 Mbps.”

But you probably won’t be seeing those speeds. Over the course of two weeks of testing in the San Francisco Bay Area, I averaged download speeds ranging between 2.5 and 5.5 Mbps, and upload speeds anywhere from 0.2 Mbps to 2.2 Mbps.

My only major quibble with the hardware design is the phone’s backbone: It’s got too damn much of it. A thin metal strip tapers up the back of the handset into the edge of the camera. In theory, the edge works perfectly as a rest for your index finger while taking a call. In practice, it just feels freaking weird.

But my minor complaints about the G2x are far outweighed by its superior under-the-hood firepower. If this is the direction that LG is taking its phones — stock operating system, beefy hardware specs, peripheral-friendly — we’re eager to see more.

WIRED HDMI-out and DLNA compatibility make for cozy communication with peripherals and HDTVs. Expandable micro SD to 32 GB leaves room for tons of tunes.

TIRED Non-skinned interface without the latest version of Android (Froyo, not Gingerbread) makes us sad. Screen forebodingly froze up on us twice during testing, requiring reboot.

Photos: Jon Snyder/Wired.com

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Sidekick 4G Brings Legacy Smartphone Up to Speed, Sort Of

You could say the original Sidekick was the first shot fired in the smartphone revolution.

With a flip of the thumb, you could expose the physical keyboard hidden behind the screen. It was aligned horizontally to make typing easier, but it wasn’t too bulky. And the large screen — bigger than most other phones in 2002 — made tasks like browsing the web and writing e-mails on your phone actually seem like ideas worth getting used to.

Over the years, the Sidekick and its successors ended up losing out to the newer breed of smartphones ushered in by the iPhone — devices with advanced operating systems and apps, and with touch displays in place of physical keyboards.

So, can the Sidekick make a comeback? Samsung hopes so: The latest iteration of the old classic, the Sidekick 4G for T-Mobile, stays true to its heritage while bumping up its specs and adding a host of media and entertainment perks.

It’s an Android phone built for the 4G now, but it has some hardware and software quirks that make it feel several steps behind.

Samsung stuck with the traditional Sidekick silhouette, with two buttons placed on either side of the 3.5-inch 480 x 800 resolution touchscreen. A Home button and Jump button grace the left side. A Menu key and Back key are situated on the right, with a small optical track button sandwiched in the middle.

Being right handed, it took a while to get used to this button placement. I really wanted the Home button to be on the bottom right when it’s held in landscape orientation, with the Back button above that and the Menu and Jump keys on the left. My thumbs got lost often.

The phone has about the same heft as an iPhone 4, but is slightly longer and about 50 percent thicker. It fits in a front pocket, but it is a bit chunky. That thickness comes from the physical keyboard under the screen. The Sidekick’s screen slides out using a unique “pop-tilt” mechanism, revealing the display’s sassy pink underside, after it’s snapped into a comfortable viewing angle.

Sliding the screen out takes a bit of practice: You need to use both thumbs, applying pressure to the crack between the screen and keyboard. But all you have to do is nudge it free of the body, and the screen springs out the rest of the way on its own. You can’t apply the force horizontally, which is a departure from other slide-out keyboards, and from the swivel screen on older Sidekicks.

Also, the volume rocker and power button sit just a hair below where you need to place your thumbs to push the display out. This leads to a lot of unintended volume adjustments, screen shut-offs and other accidental button-presses when flipping the screen up. Sliding the screen back in without pressing any of the buttons also takes some getting used to.

For my dainty lady thumbs, the QWERTY keyboard was a little uncomfortably spaced out, dropping my texting speed a few notches. Male friends with longer — normal-sized? — thumbs thought the keyboard size was just right.

The Sidekick 4G comes with Samsung’s Kick UX skin for Froyo onboard. It’s less than intuitive — there are three ways to access just about every app or feature of the phone, which can be a little confusing. But it’s fine once you find one method you prefer over the others.

The Jump key (a Sidekick legacy) was particularly handy in this respect: It lets you switch from one recently used application to another while bypassing the home screen. It’s not exactly multitasking, but it is a timesaver.

Once inside an app or widget though, you lose those options. With some apps, like the Facebook widget, you have no choice but to use the Back button (heavily) to navigate. That’s a bit of a shame on a touchscreen device. And although the handset is clearly meant to be used primarily in landscape mode, several apps and functions require it to be in portrait orientation.

The Sidekick 4G stays true to its chat roots with a slew of messaging options, including Google Talk and the phone’s signature Group Text and Cloud Text Features. Group Text provides functionality similar to that of other app- or web-based group texting services like GroupMe, allowing you to create and manage a group of contacts and send mass SMS messages. This is great for getting a message out to a specific group of people (your family, your co-workers, a circle of friends) speedily and easily.

But those subscribed to limited texting plans may not appreciate the barrage of texts that result from the reply-all nature of the service. Cloud Text is similar, but works across platforms, so you can text from your PC or the Sidekick.

There’s a VGA front-facing camera you can use to video-chat through Qik’s service. Around the back, there’s a heftier 3.2-megapixel camera. That’s subpar by today’s standards, but the software offers multiple settings that photo geeks can use to tweak images. You can shoot photos in black and white, sepia and panoramic modes, and adjust the exposure, white balance, contrast, saturation and sharpness. Video quality is nothing special.

If you actually use your phone to make calls, you’ll be happy to hear that the call quality is superb. The phone’s noise cancellation is so well-implemented that during a lull in conversation with my dad on my bus ride home, the line became so silent that he thought the call had been dropped.

During my testing, I found T-Mobile’s network speeds — HSPA+ 4G or otherwise — to be generally good. The latest episode of 30 Rock downloaded in minutes, and web pages loaded at least as quickly as on comparable smartphones. T-Mobile says you’ll get 5-to-10-Mbps download speeds wherever it can connect to 4G, and I found no reason to dispute that claim. The Sidekick will also act as a mobile hot spot for up to five devices.

Overall, the Samsung Sidekick 4G gives a modern update to the traditional look and feel of the old Sidekick handsets, but it suffers a bit from some odd hardware-design choices, and from software quirks. Viewed as just another Android phone, it’s tough to recommend it over other Android handsets out there. However, longtime Sidekick users or Blackberry owners transitioning to Android will like the Sidekick’s big keyboard, and they should be pleased enough with the user experience.

WIRED Physical keyboard will keep thumb warriors happy. Tons of media options and chat features keep you entertained and connected. Speedy 1-GHz Hummingbird processor gets things moving: Games like Angry Birds Rio don’t stutter in the slightest. Battery life easily lasts all day for normal mixed usage. Background noise? What background noise?

TIRED Screen-popping mechanism is a bit tricky. Button placement is downright poor. The mix of onscreen-touch and physical-button navigation is perplexing and redundant. It takes a lot of work to get a good photo –- if I wanted to mess with that many settings, I would have gotten an actual digital camera.

Photo by Jon Snyder/Wired.com

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These 3-D Specs Cover You From Cineplex to Sofa

Photo: Jens Mortensen

Theater loaners are lousy: Buy your own 3-D eyewear. Plus, in the home market, passive TV technology seems to be winning out over battery-powered active options, meaning these specs will cover you from cineplex to sofa.

1. Oakley 3D Gascan

Oakley’s polarizing looks are always an issue. But there’s no denying the company’s optical precision. Some brands suffer distortion from curved lenses; Oakley delivers full wraparounds without eyestrain. The Gascan bends sharply at the temples to keep the frame out of the periphery, but there’s no perceptible image shift. And only the Gunnars could compete when it came to clarity and color fidelity. These are the best all-around 3-D glasses we’ve tried. They’d be even better with a matte frame to cut glare.

WIRED: Distortion-free light transfer. No noticeable ghosting between left and right images. Lightweight, sport-inspired design for no-fuss fit.

TIRED: Aggro design not for everybody. Glossy frame bounces light.

$120, Oakley

Rating: 8 out of 10

2. Gunnar Midnight 3D

Our favorite in the style department, the Midnight was at or near the top in terms of image quality, too. Though it doesn’t wrap as extensively as the Gascan, the metal frame boasts a superthin construction and matte finish that combine to reduce disruption in the periphery. True to Gunnar’s tech-eyewear heritage, the Midnight fights eyestrain with minimal tinting, precision geometry, and hard coatings that survived two drops onto a concrete floor without any visible scratches. They do cost a lot of scratch, though.

WIRED: Slick design would be at home on the streets of Stockholm. Spring-loaded hinges snap into place.

TIRED: Smallish lenses leave the frame visible in all directions. Nose pads pinched some testers. Costly.

$149, Gunnar

Rating: 8 out of 10

3. Polaroid VIP

The cheapest glasses in our lineup certainly felt that way. The plastic frame seems more kids’ toy than performance eyewear. But that might be the point: If you’ve got kids and a 3-D TV, you’re going to have kids breaking 3-D glasses. The VIPs are inexpensive enough to replace but not so cheap that image quality is unacceptable. The high, full-wrap frame delivered the most unobstructed view in our test, and the lenses let through as much light as pricier options. They add a yellow tint, though—faint but noticeable.

WIRED: Lusciously wide field of view. Hard-shell carrying case. Competitive with glasses that cost five times as much.

TIRED: Give everything a mild sepia wash. White frame produces more glare.

$30, Polaroid

Rating: 6 out of 10

4. Marchon EX3D

Each time our testers tried these on, the reaction was the same: five to 10 awkward seconds as their eyes adjusted. That’s not just image shift; it’s different shifts in each lens, meaning your brain has to work to realign everything into a single image. Like the VIPs, these rely on flimsier materials and construction to keep costs down. But ghosting is minimal, and color transmission approaches that of high-end models—bright with a faint cool-blue tint. Definitely better than the loaners you get at theaters, but frequent use would be a struggle.

WIRED: Snug frame and rubberized nosepiece for possibly the most comfortable fit of the bunch.

TIRED: Hinges don’t feel like they’ll last long. Tear-inducing eyestrain.

$35, Marchon

Rating: 4 out of 10

Dual-Driver Earbuds That Won’t Break the Bank

Photo: Jens Mortensen

There’s a reason most cheap in-ear headphones sound that way: They only use one driver in each ear, which limits the audio range. If you want more life, more spaciousness, and more oomph out of your favorite
tracks, upgrade to some dual-driver earbuds.

On these models, each earpiece contains two separate speakers—one to handle the high and mid frequencies, and one to handle the bass. This separation creates a more rich and filled-out sound that makes
any kind of music sound better. A dual-driver design is also especially good for listening to high-quality audio from lossless rips, HD videos, or other high-bitrate sources.

The earphones have circuitry inside of them to split the signal path appropriately, so there’s no extra equipment to buy. Almost every design on the market will slot right into a standard headphone jack, and many of them come with familiar controls on the cord so you can pause the music, change tracks, and talk on the phone.

Because there’s twice as much speaker tech crammed into the same tiny space, dual-driver earbuds tend to be more expensive than their single-speaker cousins. But we’ve tested four pairs that will do justice to your tunes without blasting your savings.

1. Galaxy Audio EB10

Don’t jog with the EB10s; they’re bulky and tough to keep in place while moving quickly. But if your main goal is listening to high-end audio formats, you’d have to spend hundreds more to find anything better. They pulled the richest sounds from OGG and Apple lossless files of anything we tested, with deep, clear separation and bass that’s lower than the Mariana Trench. They’re not up for marathon listening sessions, though; the ear pads feel the opposite of the smooth tones that pour from them.

WIRED: Mellifluous sound from nearly any file format. Thick cord stands up to repeated abuse. Handsome carrying case.

TIRED: Rough ear pads are brutally uncomfortable for some users.

$280, Galaxy Audio

Rating: 8 out of 10

2. NOCS NS800

These low-profile slugs form a tight, almost symbiotic bond with your ear canal, scotching outside noises and transmitting sparkling tones. They sound like heaven, right? Sure, if your idea of bliss is light on bass. Deep lows are almost nonexistent, and the passive noise canceling can be a little disconcerting. Our advice? Rock these where it doesn’t matter if the external din is muffled to a whisper.

WIRED: Stainless steel construction is as handsome as it is durable. So comfortable you’ll actually look forward to wearing them. Simple, minimalist mic/remote combo.

TIRED: Hermetic seal kills too much ambient sound; it gets disorienting. Dude, where’s my bass?

$200, NOCS

Rating: 7 out of 10

3. Ultimate Ears UE700

Lightweights in heft but not quality, the UE700s were our top choice for the gym. The dainty pills insert neatly without closing off the outside world. We could hear shouts from a personal trainer (“Three more, prom queen!”) while getting down with some Wiz Khalifa. Audio quality is adequate in the low range but gets muddled in the mids. Highs are superb, though—as good as or better than anything else we tested.

WIRED: Lithe and extraportable. Generous ear-pad options ensure proper fit for everyone from kids to cauliflower-eared wrestlers.

TIRED: No volume control or mic on the (surprisingly flimsy) cord. Occasionally distracting levels of ambient noise.

$150, Ultimate Ears

Rating: 6 out of 10

4. Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic

Yes, they’re two years old. But Apple’s dual-driver headphones are the cheapest decent ones we’ve found, and they crush the white iCruds included with every audio device coming straight outta Cupertino. The clear mids hold their own against the thump-heavy lows—great for, say, Wu-Tang or Wagner. But pop fans take note: The highest highs come out muddy.

WIRED: Stay planted firmly in ear even when jogging or sweating profusely. Responsive on-cord volume adjustment. Feather-soft silicone ear pads are easy to change.

TIRED: Trouble at the Aguilera end of the sound spectrum. White hue attracts grime and keeps it there.

$79, Apple

Rating: 6 out of 10

‘Scuse Me While I Touch This Guy

Specs can sometimes speak for themselves, and any computer would be lucky to have all of this stuff under the hood: a 2.93-GHz Core i7 CPU, 8 GB of RAM, a terabyte hard drive, a Radeon 5570 graphics card, a TV tuner, a slot-loading Blu-ray player and DVD burner (with LightScribe), and both 802.11n and Bluetooth built-in.

But the computer in question is not a high-test gaming machine, it’s a touchscreen all-in-one desktop, the latest in HP’s TouchSmart line.

The TouchSmart 610 represents perhaps the top of the line of all-in-ones on the market today. Its feature list is untouchable and its benchmark scores run rings around everything else in the category, but that’s just the beginning.

The 23-inch display (1920 x 1080 pixels) is unbelievably spacious, and it features a first-of-its-kind swiveling system that lets it recline from dead-upright to a 60 degree angle. Why would you want your monitor screen to point nearly at the ceiling? Why, so you can use it standing up. This clever design feature makes the machine much better for use while standing than other machines, as the usual hunch-and-squint required to read them is avoided. I’d suggest the 610 is perfect for displaying recipes in the kitchen, but I don’t know what kitchen would be big enough for it.

My only real complaint from a hardware standpoint is that the swivel hinge is surprisingly difficult to manipulate. The sheer size and weight of the machine really makes it a three-handed job, and I expect users of less physical stature won’t be comfortable making regular changes to its positioning. Even I was worried about knocking the whole thing over when trying to simply kick the viewing angle back a bit.

My only other complaint about the 610 is aimed at its price tag. While $899 gets you in the door, you’ll have to shell out almost twice that for the full effect, and that’s a tough sell in a world where most vendors are putting out solid all-in-ones for around $1,000. Demerits given for greed.

WIRED Amazing performance for an all-in-one. Beautiful design and gorgeous, responsive screen. Thumping audio courtesy of Beats by Dre.

TIRED Simply too expensive. Access to rear USB ports is tricky. Swivel mechanism needs a little spit and polish. Included keyboard is too thin; keys have minimal travel.

Photo by Jon Snyder/Wired

Lenovo’s Wedgetop Burns Twice as Bright, Half as Long

For years, many people felt that buying a ThinkPad meant sacrificing looks for durability. But the truth of the matter is that Lenovo has been experimenting with design, including machines that come in various colors (besides black, I mean) and at least one that had a titanium lid. The striking butterfly keyboard on the IBM-era ThinkPad 701 even earned it a place in New York Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

The ThinkPad X1 may be Lenovo’s most eye-catching laptop to date. With a bold, angular design — not to mention impressive thinness and a bevy of new features — the X1 spits in the face of today’s all-curves laptops and says: Yeah, to hell with it, we really liked Tron.

The bold design choice will be love-it-or-hate-it, but I suspect most shoppers who would consider ThinkPad at all will ultimately fall for its charms. That said, in actual use I found myself torn over the wedge-like design. It is very striking but it sacrifices a bit too much usability in its quest for head-turning looks.

The biggest problem is that ports on both sides are impossible to get to without flipping the computer onto one edge. This is a particularly big problem for ports on the left side — a USB port and a headset jack — which are inexplicably covered with a plastic flap.

Fortunately, there’s plenty to like in this mostly top-notch machine. It is reportedly (more on that later) the thinnest ThinkPad ever, packing a 13.3-inch (1366 x 768 pixels) screen into a 3.8 pound package — about a pound heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Air. The feature set is worthwhile and impressive, including a 2.5-GHz Core i5 CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and a 320-GB hard drive.

The ultrabright screen is made of infinity Gorilla Glass, and Lenovo has stuffed the machine to the gills with extras, including its new RapidCharge battery (giving you an 80 percent charge in half an hour); a spill-resistant, backlit keyboard; and MIL-SPEC certification.

Ports in addition to those mentioned above include one USB 3.0 port, one combo eSATA–chargeable USB port, HDMI and a mini DisplayPort. There’s an SD card slot on the right side and a user-accessible SIM card slot on the back, too, for (optional) WWAN features.

Performance is exemplary: Benchmarks meet or beat those on some of the highest-end rigs we’ve tested in the last year — thanks largely to the inclusion of the Sandy Bridge–class microprocessor. Sure, gaming is hardly a standout, but considering the computer has integrated graphics, it’s surprisingly capable in a pinch.

So what about the negatives? Battery life is an outright flop: 2 hours, 44 minutes, which pales next to what you’ll get from most lightweight machines without optical drives. You can adjust some sliders to stretch the battery longer, but performance suffers.

And I’m extremely confused how Lenovo can claim the machine is just 16.5 mm thick: Unless my ruler is somehow defective, it’s at least 22 mm thick — 28 mm if you include the little plastic offset nubs on the bottom. Which I do. Also, bafflingly, while the X1 has a pretty quiet keyboard, Lenovo’s supposed noise-suppression technology that “ensures only your voice is heard in a web conversation” simply didn’t work in my Skype tests.

While the X1 is a sleek and supersvelte machine that shouldn’t need any truth-stretching braggadocio, it makes you wonder if anyone is policing the marketing department. The price tag is also high — $1,400 — but that’s not unexpected. You’re getting a high-end build with the X1, with power to spare and a design that impresses. Now if only everything actually worked as promised …

WIRED A top pick for the road-warrior CEO: Dazzling performance in an impressively portable package. Clickpad performance greatly improved since March’s X220.

TIRED Not totally sold on the angular design. Island-style keyboard looks cool (and variable brightness backlighting is nifty) but touch typing isn’t up to ThinkPad standards. Very weak battery: 2 hours, 44 minutes. Sloppy finishing: For example, no raised nubs on arrow keys, so cursor control requires extra attention.

See Also:

Designing a case for iPad 2? 3D model file available here

If you need the 3D file for iPad 2 it is available for $50 from the 3D Studio.com.  This link will take you there http://www.the3dstudio.com/product_details.aspx?id_product=432397iPad2 3D image

Sennheiser’s Bluetooth Cans Take Travel in Stride

Some headphones are built for kicking back on the couch and melting into the music. Others are built for the road, whether it’s a long flight, or just cruising around the hood.

Sennheiser’s travel-minded MM 550 wireless Bluetooth headphones fit the latter category — they’re some street-ready cans that can handle the rigors of the road while offering solid sound quality.

The MM 550s have a closed back design that’s light but sturdy, with a good amount of flex. They also have a slim profile and can fold up into a shape and size that’s similar to a banana. Unlike a banana, the Sennheisers come with ten pages of instructions on how to operate them — I’ve rigged up A/V receivers with less verbiage. Suffice to say, these headphones have plenty of features to maximize sound and minimize noise, depending on the listening situation, and some other handy bells and whistles.

When you put the MM 550s on, you feel their grip. These will hang on just fine on a bike ride across town. The build quality is solid, and could likely endure some abuse on far-flung travels. The earpieces are somewhat compact, so if you have large ears, it might even feel like they’re too snug for comfort. On the right ear pad are the MM 550’s controls, including power/play/pause, track skip, volume, noise canceling, Bluetooth and the “SRS WOW HD enhancer.” On the left ear pad is a micro-USB charging port.

The wireless Bluetooth connection is simple enough to set up, and in my testing there were no hiccups or interference when pairing it with an iPhone. Using the headset to take phone calls was fairly painless too, although I did hear some street noise while cruising down the sidewalk. Callers reported that they could hear me easily, but were also picking up ambient noises in the background. When you’re playing music and a call comes in, the MM 550s interrupt the music and return you when the call is terminated.

While some noise-canceling cans introduce hissing and other sounds, Sennheiser’s NoiseGard 2.0 technology does a fine job of blocking out external, ambient noises. The MM 550s blocked everything while I sat in a cafe and walked around outside. However, while some other noise-canceling cans will block out 99 percent of external noise, the MM 550s only block 90 percent, which is noticeable on airplanes and other heavy-duty-noisy environments. One of the somewhat unique features is, when the noise-canceling is in effect, you can press the “Talk Through” button to hear external sounds come through the cans, which saves you the trouble of taking them off to have a conversation.

The expectation has long been that you won’t get the same level of sound quality with wireless headphones as you would with wired cans, and in this case, you have the option of wiring into an audio source to compare the sound quality. In both wired and wireless modes, the MM 550s offered sharp and balanced sound, with enough bass response to handle hip hop and other boomin’ tracks. Since these are sealed cans, they offer some isolation from the outside world, even with the noise-canceling feature off. But as with many other “closed” headphones, they sound less lively and dynamic than most high-quality, open-air headphones. If you’re looking for more pizzazz, the SRS WOW HD enhancer delivers more in the higher frequencies and punchier bass.

At $500, the Sennheiser MM 550s are quite pricey, but if you have use for all the travel-handy features, they might fit the bill. The build quality and styling are top-notch, and the sound quality, while not superior, can be adjusted to your preferences.

WIRED Slick design. Compact and foldable. Loaded with travel features for different listening environments.

TIRED Non-standard cord could be a hassle to replace. Closed design and tight grip may cause ear fatigue during long listening sessions. Steep price tag.

Photo by Jim Merithew/Wired

See Also:

iPad 2 first hands-on! (update: even more video!)

Well there you have it folks — the absurdly thin new iPad 2. We just got our hands all over the next greatest tablet from Apple and it’s… very much the same, save for that new body. There’s no question that the industrial design is top notch, and we did notice some speedier behavior when jumping around — but the core OS remains unchanged, so this won’t be a major shock. We’re spending more time with the device and getting impressions, but for now, feast your eyes on the galleries below.

Update: Okay, we’ve had a chance to play around the with iPad 2 some more, and here are our big takeaways from the experience.

  • This thing is insanely fast. We’re not joking — it’s blazingly fast. Everything the iPad 2 does feels like it’s on turbo. We’re uploading a video of the some evidence of this, you’ll be appropriately stunned.
  • The design feels great in your hands. Sleek, super thin — much nicer to hold than the previous version. Definitely has more of a magazine than book feel. Everything is tight and solid. It is pretty amazing how thin they’ve gotten the device.
  • Even software made for the first generation device feels better here. Safari is definitely sped up. Games looked great on-screen, though obviously there are no updates to the resolution of screen technology here.
  • This is an evolutionary step, but we definitely don’t feel like it’s lacking for features. People are going to gobble these up when they see the new apps.

Update 2: We’ve got some video after the break!

Update 3: More videos!

Gallery: Apple iPad 2 hands-on

Gallery: iPad 2, more close-ups

Continue reading iPad 2 first hands-on! (update: even more video!)

iPad 2 first hands-on! (update: even more video!) originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 02 Mar 2011 14:26:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Apple iPad 2 Smart Cover vs. InCase Convertible Magazine Jacket… Fight!

By now you’ve seen Apple’s Smart Cover, right? The mind blowing cover (don’t call it a case) pretty much stole the show during yesterday’s iPad 2 press event, causing children to weep at the sight of our exploded bodies. Thing is, we’ve seen the design before. Oh sure, Apple improved upon it significantly, but there’s no mistaking its InCase Convertible Magazine Jacket heritage. See the two slug it out on video after the break in some kind of weird reverse KIRF cage match. We guess 2011 really is the year of the copycats.

Continue reading Apple iPad 2 Smart Cover vs. InCase Convertible Magazine Jacket… Fight!

Apple iPad 2 Smart Cover vs. InCase Convertible Magazine Jacket… Fight! originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 03 Mar 2011 08:02:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Audio-Editing Apps for Bedroom Beatmasters

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Overview


Some of Top 40′s biggest hooks were born in the bedroom.

But the days of the Tascam cassette studios and the delicate Nagra reel-to-reels are long gone. Now, the freshest ideas don’t get cut to tape, they get converted directly to bits, and there are a slew of software apps available for building songs from scratch.

Some musicians only use software as a sketchpad for quick demos. Others sweat over their keyboards until they’ve crafted a full-fledged, radio-ready jam. As a result, there are a wide range of capabilities to be found in today’s selection of studio software. From the beginner-level GarageBand and the Tascam PortaStudio app for the iPad, all the way up to top-tier production suites like ProTools and Audition, there’s an app to match whatever level of depth you need.

We asked Victor Krummenacher — Wired magazine designer by day, songwriter and Camper Van Beethoven bassist by night — to test some of the more popular ones here. Victor went the extra mile and composed a song using each of the apps he reviewed. You can hear the resulting tracks at the bottom of each review.

The lesson we learned is that whether you’ve got an iPad, a notebook PC or a pricey studio rig, there’s a piece of software out there to suit your need. And while you’re shopping around, maybe grab an app to help you tune that guitar, m’kay?

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iPad 2 vs. Motorola Xoom vs. HP TouchPad vs. BlackBerry PlayBook: the tale of the tape

You might recall we ran this comparison about a month back when HP’s TouchPad was announced, but now we’re back with a full set of 2011 devices as Apple’s brand new iPad 2 has joined the fray. There’s no need for excessive introductions, really, just leap past the break to get swalloped up by an avalanche of next-generation tablet specs.

Continue reading iPad 2 vs. Motorola Xoom vs. HP TouchPad vs. BlackBerry PlayBook: the tale of the tape

iPad 2 vs. Motorola Xoom vs. HP TouchPad vs. BlackBerry PlayBook: the tale of the tape originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 02 Mar 2011 14:58:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Master Your Craft With This Massive Sewing Machine

This ain’t your grandma’s sewing machine — unless nana owns a ten-needle, $14,000 embroidery robot that blasts through complex designs like a thread-loaded AK-47.

Brother’s Entrepreneur Pro PR-1000, which follows in the footsteps of the impressive six-needle PR-650, is a serious machine at a serious price. But with the ability to hammer out 1,000 stitches per minute, the Entrepreneur Pro definitely ranks as one of the most badass crafting products on the market.


          

Despite its daunting appearance, the machine is surprisingly easy to use. So easy, in fact, that a craftless hack like myself could figure it out — or at least sort of figure it out. That’s mostly thanks to the intuitive technology built into the machine.

There’s a high-definition touch screen front and center. It displays easy-to-follow instructions that take you all the way from threading the first needle to embroidering your favorite dragon design onto the back of your jean jacket.

And if dragons — or any of the 110 images that come pre-loaded on the machine — aren’t your thing, you can upload an image of your choosing from a USB drive. You can go to one of several embroidery websites and purchase a design, or you can make your own using the PE-Design Next software, which digitizes an image you pick into a compatible, ready-to-sew format. I ran into a few problems when uploading my own image. But Brother sewing machines are sold through regional dealerships — there’s a dealer in most big cities — and they usually offer free classes and tutorials that can help demystify the process. There are also some video tutorials you can call up on the touchscreen.

The stitching itself is effortless. The machine threads itself with minimal human assistance. Bright LED lights at the base of each spool show you which color thread goes on which spool. Five LED runway lights illuminate the work area, but if you really want to get up close, you can watch the stitching on screen thanks to a digital camera that sits above the needle and captures the action.

That digital camera can also be used to help align the machine if you’re stitching something at an angle. Just indicate the plane you want to use as the design’s baseline by putting one of the included alignment stickers on the target fabric. The camera reads the orientation, then the machine’s robot brain rotates the design appropriately.

If you get tripped up — which will probably happen despite screen prompts and audio cues — you can always reference the built-in troubleshooting videos. Because let’s face it, even with a machine as intuitive as this one, when you’re dealing with ten needles moving faster than the eye can see, there’s bound to be a learning curve.

WIRED Fast and efficient. Can embroider designs up to 14 by 14 inches. Awesome enough for professionals to lust over, and easy enough that sewing novices aren’t intimidated. Built-in videos and user guides.

TIRED With packages ranging from $14,000 to around $20,000, it’ll cost you as much as a car — except you can’t drive it. Included designs leave something to be desired.

See Also: