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Episode 51: Drones and the S4 ActiveIn this week's episode, we explore unmanned aerial vehicles, Molly brings us a mini rant, and we unbox the S4 Active.
-You guys are like the Blue Angels of drone pilots. This week on Always On-- There it is-- Come here. Oh, nice. Oh, mayday. I should totally stop taking pictures and focus on this important story. These things are awesome. Hi. I'm Molly Wood and welcome to Always On, the show where we take tech into the real world. This week, we're unboxing the sporty Galaxy S4 Active with its waterproof camera. But first, I got a chance to geek out with some unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones. -Drones. Sure. Predator, reaper, huge $100-million unmanned aerial vehicles that take high-altitude photos and rain down death from above, right? Well, yes. But that is not the end of the drone story. A new wave of smaller, low-cost, and hopefully, civilian-friendly drones could soon be flying in the skies above. At 3D Robotics in Berkeley, California, former Wired editor-in-chief, Chris Anderson, is flying high with this new trend. -So, cameras are everywhere. They're in your pockets. They're on our street corners except for the sky. -Uh-huh. -Why aren't cameras in the sky 'cause it's too expensive, too dangerous. Drones are an opportunity to pick sensors which is what cameras are and put them in a place where they have a new perspective on our world and what we do with that data is up to us. -These kinds of drones started as DIY hobbyist projects. Anderson made his first UAV out of a Lego robot kit and toy plane with his kids a few years back. -We just did this around the kitchen table and then we put it on a plane. -Oh, my gosh. -And this is now in the Lego Museum in Billund, Denmark. It's the world's first Lego unmanned aerial vehicle. -Today, Anderson's startup designs open-source drones for use in all sorts of fields like real estate, search and rescue, aerial photography, and even literally in the fields with agriculture. Do you feel like there will become a tipping point where people might start noticing drones whizzing by their car windows or whatever it is? -No. -Where we'll-- -I think in five years' time, if you ask, you know, my kids what-- well, they know what drones are, but yes,-- -Sure. -our neighbor kids, you know, what drones are and they say, "Oh, those are the things that buzz over farm fields. -Yeah. -They think them as farm equipment 'cause when you think about it, you know, the place where we don't have a problem with drones is away from people. -I confess to feeling a little bit terrified with the drones whizzing overhead, but I have complete faith in my pilots. And this one looks like it's quadcopter? -Yup. This one right here is a quadcopter, meaning it has four rotors. -Okay. -So, right now, that closer quadcopter is flying itself. It's in a mode called loiter. It's about, I'd say, you know, 20 feet, 30 feet off the ground. -Right. -Just kind of hovering there. It's compensating for the wind. -And so, what's in there, like there is-- -Inside? -a gyroscope-- -There is a-- -There's a rotor, like-- -Yeah. There's the 3DR autopilot. The ArduPilot is inside there and that has an IMU so that includes a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, GPS, so all of those things. -3D Robotics sells complete UAVs that range from $500 to $700 plus individual components and a stand-alone autopilot module that runs about 200 bucks. The goal is to simplify and also crowdsource autonomous flying robots and then see what happens. -You've got this touchscreen interface-- -Yeah. -and it's really high level in the sense that, if you wanna plan a mission, you know, you click here, point, point, point. You get all these waypoints. I'm gonna change this waypoint to a land waypoint and then we could, if we wanted to, now just click go and that plane would go fly over the hill-- -Okay. -and would do that loop and would come back and would just land at our feet. What's great about our software? So, it's open source as you know,-- -Yup. -and because of that, I think it fosters this, you know, people who wanna come out and just build cool applications. -Program-based autonomous flying that anyone can implement and I mean anyone. Imagine drones delivering pizza. Oh, nice. You guys are like the Blue Angels of drone pilots. You're killing it right now. Oh, mayday. I should totally stop taking pictures and focus on this important story. These things are awesome. The possibilities for virtual reality are dizzying, literally. The 3D Robotics field ops team let me try out their test plane equipped with an Oculus Rift AR headset. All right. So, this is my first-person virtual reality perspective flying an plane. -Yup. That's it. Put it on. Hop in the Rift. -All right. So, we got-- we got the Oculus Rift. -Yup. -Controlling what? -All right. So, we have the Oculus Rift here which is a first-person view virtual reality headset and it displays video, but it also does head tracking so that is actually controlling the camera over here on the front of the plane. -Okay. -And with that, you can fly this plane far, far, far out of the field of view over the hills and you can see where it's going through the perspective of the plane. -So, when I turn my head or these goggles,-- -Yup. -that camera is moving. Can I try it on? -Yeah. -Okay. Oh, my goodness. All right. This is-- -Yup. So, you can move your head to the right and to the left. -Weird. Of course, all of this cool technology is right now kind of bordering on illegal. FAA guidelines state that drones can only fly up to 400 feet, even though many can and do soar as high as a thousand feet. Add to that the privacy implications and concerns over domestic surveillance and you have a few red flags. But with the new legislation, like it or not, we might be seeing these $600 drones flying in all kinds of unexpected places in the not-so-distant future. Time for a quick break. When we come back, I'm talking about drones and privacy because I just don't think that this kind of personal surveillance ought to be inevitable. Welcome back, everybody. It's time for this week's Mini Molly Rant. Now, while I appreciate Chris Anderson's insistence that the 3DR Drones are primarily meant for agriculture uses, I think we can all agree that that is adorably naÃ¯ve. After all the history of technology is the history of people coming up with ways to use technology that were never originally intended. And I can already think of some uses for drones that I'm not completely comfortable with. I mean, this is new technology and I think all of us can imagine that they might be flying outside the window equipped with all kinds of stuff like cameras and Wi-Fi onboard. But this tech is still working itself out. And we shouldn't write a bunch of bad laws that could infringe on people's First Amendment rights or shut down this technology before it even gets started. States are working on their own laws and that's a good thing. If you see your neighbor flying a drone over your house and pointing a camera at you, by all means, call the cops. But, maybe, we should have a conversation before we bring in the big gun of the law. I think we can probably work this thing out. Excuse me. Come here. Time for this week's unboxing. Now, earlier this year, Samsung released the Galaxy S4 which immediately became its best-selling smartphone in history. Now, there are 10 or 15 different Galaxy variants, but this week, I'm looking at this sporty and waterproof S4 Active. Another day, another version of the Samsung Galaxy S4. This time, it's the Active which is a more rugged version of the S4 line. Let's get it out of here. Before we do, actually, can I just say, I don't know why all of the Galaxy S4 phones are not active or rugged in some way. I don't know why you need a different version of a phone that's more dustproof, drop-proof, or waterproof since it's been my experience that all phones could benefit from being dustproof, drop-proof, and waterproof. Nevertheless, just gets by a slightly different version if you want it to stand up to everyday life. Rant over. Let's get to the gadget. You know this packaging, right? -Yeah. -I'm kind of over it. There it is. Quad-core CPU, etcetera, etcetera. Let's get it out of the box here. Now, even though it's slightly more ruggedized, it actually doesn't feel much larger and heavier. There are some slight physical differences that we'll get to in a little bit, but it's basically the same sleek, thin design as the regular S4 or the S4 Mini or whichever S4 you happen to encounter. Unlike your usual S4s, you've got a sticker back here to tell you sort of how to sit the back cover. For maximum protection against humidity and water, firmly seal battery cover and USB cover before use. Make sure to press below the LED flash to make sure it gets nice and secured through here. There've been a lot of different tests of the waterproofness of this camera and we will, of course, conduct our own. But spoiler sounds like, although it can take a splash, dunking might be slightly more questionable. Case has a slightly different design and then you can see that there's sort of like a rubberized seal all around the inside of that back case there. It looks a little tougher on the inside than the usual ones. Okay, let's get our battery here. I will say that for those of you who complain that the S4 in the Galaxy line are a little flimsy feeling, although the back is plastic, it feels a little sturdier, and overall, the phone has a little bit more heft which is actually kind of reassuring. Let's turn it on. One other physical difference that you see right off the bat is that there are physical buttons as opposed to the touch buttons because those are not always conductive under water. I don't think you're gonna be swimming with this thing, but-- Nevertheless, I actually really like the kind of brushed aluminum look of this compared to something like obviously the white Galaxy S4 as a slightly different look overall. It doesn't have that brushed metal. The darker versions have obviously darker bezels, but this kind of has a cool, sophisticated, slightly kind of tougher bod that I'm kind of digging, although size-wise, you can see basically the same, just a tiny bit thicker, not bad. Usually, ruggedized means bulky and ugly, although, to me, that's just another reason why this could be just as tough as this. Let's do the specs. The Galaxy S4 Active has a 5-inch TFT display with 1920x1080 pixel resolution. That's pretty good resolution, but this is not Samsung's usual AMOLED display. In fact, reviewers say it's considerably less vivid than the S4. It runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, and of course, has Samsung's proprietary TouchWiz interface. The processor is, no joke, 1.9-gigahertz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 which is one of the fastest currently available on mobile phones. It also has 16 gigs of internal storage and a microSD card slot that's expandable to hold up to 64 gigs. It also has micro-USB for charging and 2 gigs of internal RAM. The battery is 2600 milliamp hours which is rated to 17 hours of talk-time and up to 13 days on standby, like that would ever happen. The S4 Active has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and the back camera is 8 megapixels. That's a lower resolution than the original Galaxy S4, but again, it's all about the sensor. The camera also features a new Aqua Mode which lets you control and take photos underwater. The Active includes all the extra software features of the S4 such as Air Gestures, Air View, Smart Gestures, Smart Pause, Smart Scroll, Smart Unlock, and TouchWiz Widgets. It costs $199 with a two-year contract. Setting aside my rage about the actual existence of this phone or really the fact that there are two to choose from at all, I'm thinking if I was in the store and I was trying to choose between the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy S4 Active and I wasn't totally obsessed with having my buttons, you know, on the screen, haptic feedback instead of physical buttons, there is no reason not to get the S4 Active. You can drop it. It's dustproof. You could take it in the water. To me, that's exactly what I want my phone to do and it also does all of the same things as the regular Galaxy S4. This seems like the obvious buy. Life is hard on gadgets. For the full review though, head on over to CNET and check out what our editors have to say. And now, it's time to answer some of your mail. "I'm sure you're getting a lot of mail about Jeff being off the show. I'm guessing the budget was cut and he couldn't be brought back. But whatever the reason, it's not the same show without the interplay between Molly and Jeff about the products. I'm sure you'll have a lot fewer bloopers too. Tom from Dublin, Ohio." Tom, you're totally right and Jeff has a lot of awesome projects going on. And I agree, there are a lot fewer bloopers. Jeff is a super fun guy to be having around and I know that a lot of you miss him. I miss him too, but please try to keep up with him and his new show over at JeffCannata.com. All right. That's it for this week, everybody. Keep the feedback coming. AlwaysOn@CNET.com is our e-mail address. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. That's it for this week, everyone. Next week on the show, I'll be comparing the Martian Passport smartwatch with the Pebble watch. That should be interesting. We also have a wild and adventurous torture test. That's all coming up next week. Thanks so much for watching Always On. -[unk] -Yes. -In like 20 minutes, [unk] -Oh. -Yes. -[unk] -[unk] -What am I doing? -Oh, yeah. You're on-- You're the pilot.