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Google Play App Roundup: ProtonVPN, Let Them Come, and SpotOn Alarm

A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

ProtonVPN

Your privacy on the internet used to be assumed, but we live in a much more complicated world these days. Your ISP sees all your unencrypted traffic, and the only way to prevent that is to stick a VPN between you and the ISP. However, you need to actually trust that VPN. The makers of ProtonMail have released an Android VPN client, and plenty of people already trust the ProtonMail developers, who came from CERN and MIT. The app happens to be pretty solid, too.

ProtonVPN can be used completely free, but there are paid plans that include faster connectivity and more features. Regardless of your plan type, you still get access to Proton's secure servers. The app plugs into Android's built-in VPN system, so all you need to do is log in and tap the dialogs to allow access.

The app's main interface is broken up into three tabs. There's countries, map view, and profiles. The countries tab just lists all the places where servers are available. Each one is a collapsible list with the individual servers listed. Each one has a capacity indicator so you can choose a good one. However, most of the time it's easier just to tap the action button at the bottom of the screen and select the "fastest" option. The exception is, of course, when you need to connect to a certain country. The map view tab lets you connect to the country of your choice in a single tap. The profile tab is basically a list of your favorite servers. There are stock options for fastest and random, but you can create new ones with servers of your choice.

Across all three tabs is a popup menu at the bottom of the display. You can slide that up to see your current connection stats. There's IP, server, a traffic graph, and so on. There's also a disconnect button and an option to save the server as a profile.

ProtonVPN has several service tiers. The free level only offers access to three of 12 countries and just low speeds (no P2P). It's single-device, too. You get higher speeds and 2 devices for $4 per month, and five devices runs you $8 per month. When you sign up for a new account, there's a trial of the faster speeds, but the app doesn't say how long it lasts. I'd assume a week or so. It's plenty fast for just about anything you could want to do on your phone. ProtonVPN says its servers are all 1-10Gbps, so even desktop usage should be fine.

This seems like a genuinely compelling VPN option for Android users now that there's a native app. At $4 per month, you can get ProtonVPN protecting your computer and phone. That's cheaper than a lot of other services.

Episode 431 - No Transitions Necessary - 1/11/18
Norm is away in New Zealand, so Kishore and Jeremy are joined by game development legend Mike Mika of Other Ocean Interactive. We chat about the Vive Pro and other VR announcements from CES, the pre-blackout most interesting hardware at CES so far, and its award season, so we hand out the 1st ever Tested awards for our favorite media, games, and hardware of 2017. RIP Tested transition music.
00:00:00 / 01:43:19
Quick Look at the Shaper Origin Handheld CNC!

We have the new Shaper Origin CNC machine in our workshop! This is a handheld CNC that uses computer vision to align itself to the material you're routing, like plywood or MDF. We take it for a spin with a simple test project to show you the basics of how it works and the quirks of its operation.

Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Input Club Hako Switches

You might not give much thought to the keyboard under your fingers, but there's a community of dedicated enthusiasts who spend a great deal of time thinking about their keyboards. The custom mechanical keyboard community can be confusing and downright imposing, but there are some genuinely cool things out there. In the Keyboard Spotlight, we seek to show off the coolest things happening in the custom mech scene one switch, keyboard, and keycap at a time.

This week we're taking a look at the innovative new Hako switches from Input Club and Kailh.

These switches are basically an alternative to the Cherry Browns or Blues with which you're most familiar. There are also similar switches from companies like Gateron and Kaihua (Kailh). It's become increasingly common for keyboard designers to create custom switch designs and have them produced by one of these manufacturers. The latest to do that is Input Club, which is responsible for creating keyboards like the WhiteFox and K-Type.

The Hako True (salmon stem) and Hako Clear (white stem) are both based on Kailh's new BOX designs. These switches have a standard Cherry-style cross stem inside a box-shaped frame. So, they work with standard Cherry-compatible keycaps, but the switch housing is "self-cleaning" and IP56-rated. Dust and moisture can escape out the bottom through drainage holes, and the metal contacts are in a separate compartment from the stem—see below for a detailed shot of the Hako Clear.

Offworld, Episode 1: Contact with Dr. Jill Tarter

Welcome to Offworld, a new show we're making that explores the fun places where space and pop culture intersect! In each episode, we'll examine a science fiction story and discuss how it holds up under some scientific scrutiny. For our inaugural episode, we talk about the 1997 film Contact with special guest Dr. Jill Tarter, whose work at SETI was the inspiration for the main character of the book and film.

Google Play App Roundup: UpThere Home, Peace, Death!, and BBTAN2

You probably want more apps, but more than that, you want the right ones. That's what we're here to deliver with the weekly Google Play App Roundup. This is where you'll find the best new and newly updated apps and games on Android. Just click the link to head right to Google Play.

UpThere Home

Cloud storage services are a dime a dozen lately, but storage monolith Western Digital is looking to get into this space by charging less than a dime. Its UpThere cloud storage service costs just $1.99 per month for 100GB of space, which is the same as many competing services. However, there's more flexibility here. There's even a new Android app to use, and it's pretty good.

Like other cloud storage apps, Western Digital wants you to import files from your phone as you create them. One of the first things suggested by UpThere is linking your gallery, which creates backups of all your photos on the UpThere servers. You can also designate other folders to back up to the cloud via UpThere.

The app has a clean monochrome look with a bottom tab bar for navigation. Yes, that's an acceptable part of the material design guidelines these days. Although, I'm not sure about WD's decision to leave the buttons unlabeled. The far left tab is your "home screen" for UpThere, but it's called Flow. It's a sort of timeline where you can see all the activity on your account. In general, UpThere has fancy names for several basic concepts.

The other tabs are for file types like images, documents, and music. In the case of music, you can use UpThere to stream your tracks at full quality. The last tab is for "Loops," which seem to just be folders by another name. You can add items to a Loop to see them all in one place. Loops also plug into UpThere's sharing system. You can still share files the old-fashioned way, but you can basically create shared Loops for other people to view as you add new things to them.

You can try UpThere free for three months. After that, it's $1.99 per month for 100GB, but interestingly, that's the rate for every 100GB. If you need another 100GB, it's just another $1.99 per month. This looks like a much more flexible pricing model than something like Drive, which jumps from 100GB to 1TB.

If you're not already married to a cloud storage service, you might want to give UpThere a shot.

Looking Back at Google in 2017: Android, Machine Learning, and More

Google started as a search engine, as we put 2017 behind us, it's all the more clear just how far the Mountain View company has come. Android has grown into the most popular computing platform in the world, and Google Assistant is running on a huge number of those devices. Machine learning backs so much of what Google did in 2017, making it clear this is no longer about impressive hypothetical research. Machine learning is the future of Google, and it's having huge impacts on the way we use technology right now.

Oreos on the "Go"

No discussion of Google's efforts in 2017 can ignore the continued importance of Android. In 2017, Android surpassed Windows as the most popular operating system on Earth. People who buy smartphones are much more likely to buy one running Android than iOS when you look at the global numbers, and people buy a lot of smartphones.

Google is looking toward the future with Android, as well, In 2017, Google announced the Android Go platform, a stripped down version of Android designed to run on ultra-budget phones with limited storage and processing power. Android Go, which will be a variant of Android 8.1, even has its own suite of apps like Maps and Gmail that run smoother and use less data.

In many places, smartphone usage has reached saturation. Many of us still pick up new devices every year or two, but there are many places where smartphone usage is still picking up steam. Google wants Android to be running on the "next billion" smartphones, and Android Go is how we get there.

Of course, it's not all about the entry-level phones. Google also released Android 8.0 and 8.1 Oreo in the fall after starting a developer preview in spring 2017. It was a little disappointing Google didn't do a big promotional push for Oreo like it did for KitKat a few years back, but aside from the awkward launch, Oreo is a good update.

There aren't as many headlining features in Oreo as in some past version of Android, but the under-the-hood improvements will make a big impact going forward. Google is cracking down on background processes to improve battery life, and users now have more control over how apps push notifications. There's also Project Treble, which aims to solve the problem of fragmentation once and for all. This modular system framework will run on all phones that ship with Oreo, allowing OEMs to make system updates that don't require new hardware drivers. That means faster updates and longer support.