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    Google Play App Roundup: Palabre, Swap Heroes 2, and Draw Slasher

    Android devices do a lot of neat stuff out of the box, but you can always load them up with new apps to make them do more stuff. And maybe some games for good measure. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new on Android. Just hit the links to head to the Play Store.

    This week RSS is prettier, heroes are swapped, and pirate zombies are slashed.

    Palabre

    A number of feed readers have appeared to fill the void left by Google Reader, but Feedly seems to be one of the top options. The Feedly app is okay, but it's not yet updated for Android Lollipop's design features. Luckily, Feedly supports third-party apps like the newly released Palabre. This feed reader lets you add sources as standard RSS within the app, or access and manage a Feedly account. Plus, it looks great.

    This app comes from LevelUp Studio, developer of the mega popular Beautiful Widgets. When you open it, you can immediately start adding feeds or log into your Feedly account. The app's layout is straight out of the material design playbook. We're still early enough in the Lollipop era that this is a fine approach. Maybe in a few years the cookie cutter approach to material design will feel a little dated, but for now it's a very pretty app compared to the competition.

    Your articles are shown in a grid of cards by default, but you can switch it to a list view. I actually feel like this could be a little nicer as some of your articles might have tiny thumbnail images that don't look good blown up to a full-width card. Whichever way you go, tapping on one of the articles loads up at least part of the article. Most sites only put part of posts into the RSS, so you'll have to click through to get the full version. Palabre has a fine built-in webview browser, though.

    You can navigate through your various sources and groups using the navigation drawer on the left of the screen. I like that you can mark all the articles in your current view read with the button in the action bar. Make sure you check the drop down menu at the top to set your view as all, unread, or saved. This is the only slightly clunky part of the design.

    Palabre has a clean teal and white interface with yellow accents. There are material animations everywhere, as well as a proper status bar and hero color. You'll only see that stuff on Lollipop, though. There's also a dark UI mode in the settings that flips from a white to black background. Additional features hiding in the settings include refresh interval, navigation, and notifications.

    Palabre is free to use without limitations, but there will be occasional ads in your feeds. They aren't too annoying, but it's worth the $2 upgrade price.

    Google Play App Roundup: Lock Me Out, Limbo, and Grey Cubes

    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 or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

    This week we lock you out, leave you in limbo, and drop some cubes.

    Lock Me Out

    Self-control is not something we all possess in abundance at all times. That's especially true when you account for these tempting little supercomputers in our pockets with an endless supply of games and information. Sometimes you just need to get things done, and your phone can get in the way. Lock Me Out helps by removing the temptation.

    First thing's first--this app with really and truly lock you out of your phone for the predetermined length of time. All you'll have access to is the lock screen, widgets, and emergency dialer. You can also answer incoming calls while Lock Me Out is active.

    It does this by using the Android accessibility service to change the PIN code on your device. Lock Me Out chooses a random PIN when you trigger the lock. After the timer counts down, the PIN will be changed back to the one you have set. If you don't set one, the PIN will be disabled completely.

    This app works remarkably well because it's not relying on any third-party locking mechanisms. Non-native lock screens are almost universally broken and easy to circumvent. With Lock Me Out, the only way to get around the lock would be to reboot the device, which removes the lure of instant gratification. Removing the Lock Me Out app without authorization would require booting into safe mode to disable admin rights, which is also more trouble than it's worth.

    You can use Lock Me Out free for up to 10 minutes at a time. To set a longer lockout than that, you need to pay $0.99 via an in-app purchase to upgrade to the full version.

    Google Play App Roundup: Power Button Flashlight, Day of the Vikings, and Air Control 2

    Apps move quickly on Android. No sooner have you found an app you can get cozy with, a better alternative has come along. We're here to make sure you're ahead of the curve--that you're always on the bleeding edge. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is for. Just click on the links to head to Google Play and get the best new apps and games for your device.

    This week there's light, a game about vikings, and an airport in need of control.

    Power Button Flashlight

    This app actually came out a few weeks ago, but I haven't had a chance to get it into the roundup until now. It really deserves to be here, though. Oh, not because it's an entirely new idea or anything, but just because it's so darn convenient. This app lets you turn on the LED flash in your phone with three presses of the power button. This works even when the screen is off, and it doesn't require root access.

    The app itself works as a regular flashlight app--you can open it and press the button to toggle the flash on. The headlining functionality doesn't require you have the app open at all. At any time you can triple tap the power button to activate the flash. This is part of the free feature set. To turn it back off, you need to buy the full version via a $0.99 in-app purchase. Well, you can turn it off from inside the app for free, but that rather defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

    Upgrading to the full version adds a few other interesting options like increasing the power button count to four when the screen is on. That way you don't end up with the screen in the off state when the flashlight is activated. As an aside, you'll probably want to get into the system security settings to set a timeout for the lock screen and disable instant locking with the power button.

    I've found Power Button Flashlight to be quite reliable. It sometimes takes about a second to activate after the last press, but it still comes on. As long as all three presses happen within three seconds, you're good. Some devices with very soft buttons might be much faster to press, in which case you should change the lower limit cut off in the app to a quarter second.

    Various phones have similar ways of activating the flashlight, and Lollipop has a toggle in the quick settings, but Power Button Flashlight is faster. It's not really worth using without the full version upgrade, but it's only a buck.

    Google Play App Roundup: BLINQ, Odd Bot Out, and CaastMe

    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.

    BLINQ

    It can be hard to keep track of what all your friends and acquaintances are up to, but BLINQ takes some of the guess work out. If you've got a few social accounts to connect, it can even make you look like you're really on the ball. The idea is that BLINQ pulls in recent social posts by your friends and makes them easy to access when you get a new message. The way it does this is pretty clever.

    Setup with BLINQ is a bit tedious, but not really out of the ordinary for something that needs to plug into multiple services. It contains logins for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. After you get logged into one or more of those, you'll want to sync your contacts with BLINQ, which allows it to recognize the senders of messages and connect them with the social accounts you provided.

    The last step is granting BLINQ access to your notifications. So, each time a new message arrives, BLINQ will read the sender's name and check it against the people attached to all those social networking accounts. If there's a match, that's the data BLINQ will make available.

    When matching messages arrive, BLINQ pops up as a small dot in the corner of the screen. You can ignore it, and it will simply go away, but tap and you get an expanded window with recent posts from the person who sent the message. For example, you get a message from a friend and BLINQ contains a post made to Facebook with some bit of important news--the sort of stuff you should maybe comment on, like a new job. You offer congratulations and no one knows you completely forgot. Sure, it's kind of cheating, but people often expect their friends on social networks to pay close attention to the things they post, at least implicitly.

    BLINQ works with a wide variety of messaging apps including, Whatsapp, Hangouts, SMS, Facebook, and more. These can be enabled and disabled on an individual basis if you don't want the BLINQ icon to show up. I've found BLINQ to be mostly reliable with pulling up the proper social data. A few times it had had me narrow down which contact matches which social account. That's handy, but there's no way to fix an incorrect match. The only thing that seems to work is clearing app data and starting from scratch.

    BLINQ is a free app with no pro version upgrades. I imagine there will be additional paid features at a later date, but for the moment it's all yours.

    Google Play App Roundup: Falcon Pro 3, The Witcher Battle Arena, and Flockers

    I don't know if you could say there are too many apps out there, but there are certainly enough that it can be hard to find the ones worth your time. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup is seeking to solve. Every week we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.

    This week a Twitter classic returns, the battle is on, and the sheep want out.

    Falcon Pro 3

    The much anticipated Falcon Pro 3 Twitter client came out a recently, but I decided to give this one a few weeks to bake. The developer, for whatever reason, decided to release the app barely a month after he announced he was working on it. It was missing some very basic features, and in the process the dev lost much of the goodwill he had gained from the original Falcon Pro. That app is famous for being the first to fall victim to Twitter's API limits, but now it's back as a new app. Is it worth checking out yet?

    Falcon Pro 3 will look familiar to anyone who clung to the original Falcon Pro even after it was pulled from the Play Store. The UI is dark gray with a very clean overall look. The redesign includes support for material design UI touches and animations, but it doesn't look out of place on older versions of Android either. The status bar is dark blue, and the nav bar is set to translucent.

    The app is split up into scrollable columns, with the main timeline being on the left. Scrolling is buttery smooth and I quite like the subtle separation between the tweets. Some apps seem to run together too much and it can be hard to tell at a glance which tweet an in-line image is associated with. You also get a column for mentions be default, but you can add more with lists, searches, favorites, and so on.

    On the left is a slide-out nav bar, but it's not actually a nav bar. It just looks like one. This is actually a list of interactions on Twitter like replies, favorites and retweets. Falcon Pro 3 uses a smart refresh setting to update more or less live in the background. It was similar with the old FP app, and it seems to work well. You have the option to set a standard refresh interval, though.

    The app itself is reliable and has all the features you'd expect from a Twitter client now. At launch it didn't have any settings or support for DMs, which was really odd. There are still no options for themes, which doesn't bother me too much. Falcon Pro 3 looks fine as is. One thing I am missing is a widget. That's not a deal breaker for everyone, but it irks me. When a widget is added, I could see Falcon Pro 3 becoming my go-to client.

    You can give the app a try for free with sample lists, but you can't add an account until you buy the full version via an in-app purchase ($3.99). Each additional account you add costs $1.99, but that transfers to all your devices. This might seem weird, but each of those accounts takes up a Twitter API token. With a limited supply, the extra IAP keeps people from using more than they absolutely need. I'm fine with this, personally.

    Google Play App Roundup: Lightroom Mobile, Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders, and Manual Camera

    Apps move quickly on Android. No sooner have you found an app you can get cozy with, a better alternative has come along. We're here to make sure you're ahead of the curve -- that you're always on the bleeding edge. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is for. Just click on the links to head to Google Play and get the best new apps and games for your device.

    This week you can take better pics, edit them more skilfully, and shot down some unrelated planes.

    Lightroom Mobile

    Adobe launched a version of its popular Lightroom photo processing app on iOS last year, but now its finally on Android too. You'll need a Creative Cloud subscription to use it past 30 days, but you can give it a shot for free. I can't claim this app is everything we might have wanted--I will get to its shortcomings soon.

    Lightroom is the de facto way to process and tweak photos on the desktop. The mobile version isn't as robust, even on iOS, but it's a cool additional perk for Creative Cloud subscribers. In the desktop client, you can check off one or more collections to automatically sync to the mobile app. This lets you make changes to photos on the go, which then sync back to the full-resolution files on the desktop.

    When you're working with Lightroom on Android, its not actually making changes to a RAW file. Adobe does some behind-the-scenes magic to generate a smaller image based on a .DNG file. Manipulating a real RAW file on a mobile device would be pretty slow. Of course, it would be nice to have the option. You can't drop RAW files from your phone into the Lightroom app directly. That's really only a problem for Lollipop phones that can spit out RAW files directly, but you could still move those to your computer to sync. You get better results with RAW files synced from the desktop Lightroom, but you can import JPEGs from the phone locally as well.

    Another weird issue with Lightroom is that you can't install it on tablets. Yeah, that's a big lolwut for me. If anything, it seems backward. It works on almost any phone, and you can actually sideload the APK on a tablet. However, the app's UI isn't really designed for a tablet. It works, but doesn't make good use of the screen space.

    When you select a photo from one of your collections, Lightroom shows three (unlabeled) icons at the bottom--adjustments, filters, and cropping. Each icon pulls up a row of controls at the bottom in the screen. You can tap with two fingers to see image metadata and three to see what the image looked like before you started making changes.

    The draw of Lightroom is simply that it tends to offer very good results. If you shoot RAW, it can help you produce some great images. Even if you're editing JPEGs with it, the filters are very high-quality. You shouldn't think of this as an app that you need to pay $10 per month for photo editing on the go. It's an accessory for those using Lightroom and Photoshop on the desktop. Both programs are included with the basic $10 Photographer's plan, but the more expensive plans for the full suite of Adobe apps give you access to Lightroom Mobile too.

    Google Play App Roundup: Fliktu, Crossy Road, and Spectrum

    Grab your phone and prepare to shoot some new apps and games over to it from the Google cloud. It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store. Just click the links to head to each app's page to check it out for yourself

    This week sharing gets better, a chicken crosses the road, and you avoid touching the sides.

    Fliktu

    There have been various attempts to improve Android's sharing menu, which has long been a strength of the platform. Even Google has made some changes to the way it works in Android 5.0, but Fliktu takes things a step further. This app replaces the system dialog completely and adds some interesting new gesture-based features.

    Fliktu actually ties into three different actions--sharing, links, and the clipboard. You have to enable each one individually, which might take a few minutes, but the app guides you through setting all the defaults. When you're set up with sharing, the Fliktu interface simply pops up at the bottom of the screen instead of your native system UI. This gives you three sharing targets in the top row, but you can drag up to see the rest of the list. This is similar to what you get with most stock implementations, but it's just the tip of the iceberg.

    This app learns which apps you share to the most, but it also takes into account the context in which you hit the share button. This should allow for better sorting of the share options in the list, but you can also pin targets in the top three spots, if you like. Selecting anything from the list hands the data off to the other app normally. The only shortcoming here is that some apps (like Chrome) implement their own sharing menu separate from the system UI, so Fliktu can't replace them.

    Links also plug into Fliktu quite nicely, and this is where the gestures come into play. When you tap a link, Fliktu is actually acting as the default link handler. If you do nothing, it passes the link along to your default browser a second later. If you flick or shake the phone after tapping, Fliktu opens and you can direct the link to any other app that has registered itself with the system as a browser or sharing target.

    As a rule, I don't like shaking as a user interaction. It tends to disrupt the experience of using a phone, and you might have to change your grip on the device. It simply takes too long. However, Fliktu has configurable sensitivity settings, and I find the lower ones quite reasonable. You really just have to jostle the device a bit to trigger Fliktu at the right moment.

    The clipboard integration works in much the same way. After copying a link, you can shake the device to pull up Fliktu and send it off to a sharing target.

    Fliktu is only $0.99, and it does some neat stuff. Even if you don't want to mess around with shaking your phone, the regular sharing menu enhancements are worth checking out.

    Google Play App Roundup: Tutanota, Knights of the Old Republic, and SXPD

    Your Android phone is capable of a lot of cool things, but not because of what Google built in. Developers have access to all sorts of hooks in the system to make your phone do amazing things, you just have to find the right apps. That's what the weekly Google Play App Roundup is all about--helping you find the right apps. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store and pick it up yourself.

    This week we've got secure email, the force, and comic book biker chicks.

    Tutanota

    Secure messaging sometimes comes with an annoying amount of setup, but the newly arrived Tutanota app for Android makes it all relatively simple. After you set up a Tutanota account, you can send email instantly with the option to include end-to-end encryption. You can send secure messages to any address, and the recipient doesn't have to jump through too many hoops.

    When composing a message in Tutanota, there is a button above the body field where you can set "confidential" or not. All messages sent to other Tutanota users are automatically end-to-end encrypted and can be read without any extra steps. For other emails, that confidential switch comes with a password option. This should be a phrase or code that you've agreed upon ahead of time, presumably in-person or via some other secure means.

    The recipient of a secure message at their regular email address will actually just get a message from you stating there is a confidential message available with a link. This opens Tutanota in the browser and asks for the password. After entering it, the message is decrypted and can be viewed and replied to. Alternatively, they can make a new Tutanota address to carry on the conversation. You can, of course, leave off the encryption and send a regular email too.

    Tutanota is handy because there's little to no set up to deal with aside from pre-sharing the password. If both parties have Tutanota, it's just like a regular email thread. Even attachments are encrypted. If you're a more technical user, Tutanota is open source, so you can head over to GitHub and audit the service's code.

    The app itself is pretty barebones. You can send emails, attach files, invite contacts, and that's pretty much it. It seems fast enough, but it doesn't understand the Android back button. Instead of going back a screen, it just exits. I'd like to see a few more tweaks to the UI and functionality, but for sending secure emails, Tutanota seems like a good option.

    The 10 Best Android Apps and Games of 2014

    We've seen a ton of great apps on Android in the last 12 months, but some of them stand out from the rest. After whittling down the contenders, we're left with the best things you can install on your phone or tablet, and here are all 10 of them -- the best apps and games of 2014.

    Today Calendar

    Google's official Android calendar app has been updated for Lollipop, but Today Calendar was there first. This app was originally based on the AOSP calendar and has since been heavily modified. It has a great split month/agenda view rather like Fantastical on iOS and the UI looks amazing on Android 5.0. Even on earlier version you get a lot of great visuals. The full version costs $5, but it's worth the price.

    Link Bubble

    Few apps have saved as much time in small increments as Link Bubble. This app works within the fundamentally modal nature of most Android devices to make web browsing more convenient. When a webpage loads, you're stuck looking at a blank screen during the wait. Link Bubble is essentially a floating browser that loads pages in the background so you can continue doing other things until you're ready to view it. Until then it sits in a chat head-like bubble. You can even stack multiple pages to read later. The full version will run you $3.99.

    Google Play App Roundup: Cram, Hearthstone, and GTA: Chinatown Wars

    You phone or tablet might be cool, but it could be a lot cooler with the right apps. So what? Spend like mad until you find the apps that suit your needs? Nah, just read the weekly Google Play App Roundup here on Tested where we work to bring you the best new apps on Android. Just click links to head to the Play Store

    This week your pictures shrink, car collecting gets serious, and it's time for theft of the grand auto variety.

    Cram

    Device makers are constantly increasing the megapixel counts of cameras, but the size of internal storage is still hovering around 16GB. Bigger images take up a lot more space, and not all devices even have removable storage as an option. Enter Cram, which promises to reduce the size of your snapshots by 60% or more without making them look like junk.

    A jpeg is already a compressed image file, the quality of which depends on how the compression algorithm used. Cram is simply a way to compress the image further, and it claims that can be done without affecting the overall quality or reducing the resolution.

    There are a few ways to use Cram, the safest being manually, one image at a time to start. Simply choose the folder and file you want to shrink, and let the app do its thing. The images themselves are added to a new folder on your device, but the app gives you the option of deleting the old version at the end of the process. There's also a toggle in the settings to have this happen automatically.

    As for the quality of the reduced images, you've got three tiers to choose from--quality, balanced, and size. The default mode favors quality, but even then I'm seeing upward of 60% file size reductions. If you crank it up to favor size, the resulting file is even smaller. Try as I might, I can't detect any difference between old and new with the app set to favor quality. Since the resolution is unaffected, you can still crop the photo as needed.

    If you're mainly sharing photos from your phone to online services, I think you could get away with decreasing the file size even more. I can tell the difference between the original and compressed image when the settings favor size reduction, but only when cropping and zooming. That's not going to matter so much on Instagram or Facebook.

    Cram offers 300 image reductions for free, at which time you can get unlimited use for a single $1.99 in-app purchase. At that point, it's safe to allow the app to process an entire folder of images. Cram is definitely something you should check out if you find yourself struggling to make it work with a 16GB phone.

    Google Play App Roundup: Action Launcher 3, Inferno 2, and Scrolls

    Your Android phone is capable of a lot of cool things, but not because of what Google built in. Developers have access to all sorts of hooks in the system to make your phone do amazing things, you just have to find the right apps. That's what the weekly Google Play App Roundup is all about -- helping you find the right apps. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store and pick it up yourself.

    This week it's time for a home screen makeover, shooters get glowing, and Mojang is back.

    Action Launcher 3

    The original Action Launcher came out a few years back, aiming to do things a little differently than the other AOSP-based home screens. The way Action Launcher handled (and continues to handle) widgets is unique among similar apps, and it adopted a different approach to finding your apps. Now Action Launcher has been redesigned around more modern Android code, and the result is the big v3 update. There are a few new features, and some old features are being left behind.

    Action Launcher took its name from the Android action bar, which it implemented on the home screen. This was in the early-ish days of Holo, so people (read: nerds) were all over the idea of the action bar. It was a unifying force in Android UI design. Action Launcher 3 still offers the action bar UI (with a Lollipop flair), but the default layout is more straightforward. There's a search bar with a hamburger icon that, when pressed, reveals the Actino Launcher Quickdrawer with all your apps.

    I'm quite fond of the Quickdrawer UI. There's an alphabetical column that you can drag up and down to scroll through the list, or just tap and drag the old-fashioned way. There's something new about the Quickdrawer and search box--they're really colorful. The big new fUI tweak in Action Launcher 3 is called Quicktheme. The launcher can pull colors out of your background image and apply them automatically to folders, the search box, Quickdrawer, and status bar (if you have the full action bar UI turned on). It even works with the excellent Muzei live wallpaper.

    Covers and Shutters are also carried over from the old version of Action Launcher. Shutters are pop-up versions of widgets that you can trigger by swiping up on the icon of an app on your home screen. I find these pretty useful as I tend to run a widget-heavy home screen. It only takes one or two pages in Action Launcher to accommodate everything I need. Covers are basically folders that show a single app icon. Tap on it to launch that app, or swipe to open the hidden folder.

    Action Launcher also drops a few features from the older version including the Quickpage, which was a slide-out home screen panel on the right side of the screen. Icon scaling and Icon pack support is also missing at launch. The developer says icon packs will probably be supported in early 2015, but there's no easy way to change your icons now without root.

    The new Action Launcher is also very snappy in my testing with a variety of phones and tablets. It does lack a few features that were in the previous build, but this is a complete rewrite of the app, and several of those features were labeled as experimental anyway. This is a paid update, though. That doesn't particularly bother me because Action Launcher 3 really overhauls the look and feel.

    The old version will continue to exist as the unlocker app is being updated as a full version of the paid AL2. Action Launcher 3 is free to try, but all the cool features are behind a $4.99 paywall.

    Google Play App Roundup: Shou.TV, World of Tanks Blitz, and Jet Car Stunts 2

    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 or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

    This week streaming your gameplay gets easier, the tanks roll in, and it's time to strap rockets to your car.

    Shou.TV

    You are probably aware of Twitch, the game streaming service that Amazon recently acquired for nearly $1 billion. Nvidia is the only OEM that has built Twitch into its Android build so you can stream games, but Shou.TV wants to offer a similar service for all Android users to enjoy. Well, not all, but more. This app uses the screen recording functionality built into Android 5.0 (and with root for earlier versions) to stream and save gameplay videos. Of course, you could use it to make screen recordings of whatever you want.

    When you open Shou.TV on your Lollipop device, it will ask for permission to start capturing the screen. You'll have to make an account or use Google/Facebook to sign in. This sets up a Shou.TV profile page for you where others can go to watch your live game streaming. It's worth checking out the settings before you make your first video, though. For some reason the developers decided to set MKV as the default video container. You'll probably want to change that to MP4 for better compatibility. You can also adjust the resolution and bitrate--the default is 720p and 8 Mpbs.

    The app has three tabs for checking out featured videos and filtering by game. When you're ready to broadcast, just head to that tab in the app. Add a name for the stream and what game you're playing, then hit broadcast. The stream will go live on your Shou.TV page with a delay of about 10 seconds. A small floating widget on the screen will let you chat with viewers and toggle the front camera on and off. You also have access to privacy settings, which require you enable Shou.TV as an accessibility service.

    You should definitely take a look at the privacy options. It lists all the apps on your device so you can choose which ones you want to exclude from recordings. So, for example, you're playing a game, and you hop into a flagged app like Gmail. The video feed will blur out (with a privacy message) until you're back in an approved app. It's very handy.

    Google Play App Roundup: Opera Mini Beta, Godus, and Sleep Attack TD

    Well, your phone or tablet might be cool, but it could be a lot cooler with the right apps. So what? Spend like mad until you find the apps that suit your needs? Nah, just read the weekly Google Play App Roundup here on Tested. We strive to bring you the best new, and newly updated apps on Android. Just click the app name to head to the Play Store.

    This week your browsing gets fast and experimental, you become a god, and there's a new tower defense in town.

    Opera Mini Beta

    Opera Mini has existed longer than Android itself, having originally been used as a lightweight browser for feature phones that couldn't handle full websites. It has found other uses over the years, and still has a large following, even on modern devices thanks to its bandwidth-saving features. Now there's a new beta listing for Opera Mini and it's a substantial improvement over the stable release.

    The basic premise is not terribly dissimilar from a feature Google has built into Chrome. Instead of accessing a web page directly, data is received by a remote server and compressed before hitting your device. This can result in an overall increase in loading speed, but also big bandwidth savings. Google swaps out images with smaller webp files and streamlines the code. However, Opera Mini kind of takes a scorched Earth approach. It lowers image quality, removes most scripts, and simplifies the page layout. This can save as much as 90% of the bandwidth on a heavy page.

    The Opera Mini Beta includes three different layout options--classic, phone, and tablet. The classic option is the default, and it's most like what you see on the current stable version (but with a cleaner white UI). Classic has a persistent bar at the bottom of the screen with access to forward/back, quick dial shortcuts, and Opera settings. The phone layout maximizes the available space by putting everything in the address bar and pop out settings menu. This is basically what Chrome does. The tablet layout is like the phone option, but it has the tabs visible at the top of the screen rather than behind a button. It doesn't matter what device you have, you can use any of these.

    The Opera menu button includes a neat little pie chart showing you how much data you're saving overall. The app says that I'm saving about 60% compared to what I would have otherwise used. That compares to about 35% with Chrome. Tapping on the graph takes you to a timeline for the week so you can track your usage and see savings over time. This is also where you can adjust the quality of images. I left it on high, but turning that down could probably push that 60% savings quite a lot higher.

    Page formatting seems better in the beta than in Opera Mini's stable release. It's definitely still a little bit wonky, though. The way text is laid out in columns is usually awkward and any clever CSS trickery is probably going to be busted. Video also doesn't work in Opera Mini. On the upside, performance is crazy-good. These stripped down pages scroll smoothly even on older devices.

    The main draw here is the data saving, which is great if you're stuck on a slower/throttled connection or have a very low data cap. The speed boost might be of interest to users of slower phones and tablets too. If you've been using the stable version, there's no reason to avoid the beta.

    Google Play App Roundup: Kingdom Rush Origins, Sleep Better, and The Banner Saga

    If you're going to be supporting app development on Android (and you should), you might as well pay for the best content you can. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is all about. This is where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just follow the links to the Play Store.

    This week the king of tower defense returns, you get to sleep better (maybe), and probably the prettiest game ever on Android.

    Sleep Better

    Runtastic is known for, as its name implies, running-oriented apps. However, the developer's newest app has nothing to do with running. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sleep Better is a sleep tracking app that uses your phone's accelerometer to monitor your sleep habits and wake you up at the right time.

    This isn't really a new idea, but all you have to do with Sleep Better is plug in your phone at night and set it next to your pillow at night. Plugging it in is necessary because the app wakelocks the phone so it can monitor movement with the accelerometer. Likewise, you want to keep it close to you and not a significant other who may also be in the bed. It is, after all, supposed to be responding to your tossing and turning.

    Sleep Better can estimate from your movement when you're sleeping lightly, deeply, or just awake for short periods of time. When you start the app, there's an option to set an alarm time, but it won't actually wake you right at that time. Sleep better waits until it detects that you're not sleeping deeply, and tries to gently rouse you from slumber with a fade-in alarm. This should, ideally, make you feel less groggy when you wake up.

    When you've shaken off the last remnants of sleep, there's a graph you can check out to see how well you slept (along with weather, which is a nice touch). The graph shows yellow as light sleep, green as deep sleep, and the red peaks are times you were awake. Either before or after waking up, you can add tags to your sleep like stressful day, high caffeine consumption, worked out, and so on. This helps you track the activities that have the most impact on your sleep.

    Sleep Better also matches your sleep up to phases of the moon, which allegedly has some effect. I'm skeptical, though. There's also a dream journal, which you can use if you like. Although I feel like the the basic sleep tracking and data aggregation is the more attractive aspect. It seems to work well enough.

    All the basic stuff is free, but a $1.99 in-app pro upgrade is required to access some of the long-term stats and to remove the ad at the bottom of the screen. The app itself is rather attractive with a mostly material design theme with nice animations and a slide-out nav bar.Sleep Better is worth checking out.

    Google Play App Roundup: C Notify, Flyhunter Origins, and Turbo Dismount

    It's time for another installment of the Google Play App Roundup. This is the weekly event where we tell you what's new and cool in on Android. Fire up your phone and click the app names to head right to the Google Play Store so you can try things for yourself.

    This week notifications go for a trip outside the status bar, flies must be swatted, and crashes are encouraged.

    C Notice

    The enhanced notification access that Google rolled out in 4.3 has allowed a whole new generation of apps to put your notifications in more places. Sometimes that ends up not being a very good idea, and others it fills a niche that needed attention. I'm not positive which of these describes C Notice, but it's at least really neat to try. This app puts all your notifications in floating chat head-like bubbles that can be managed with swipe gestures.

    So here's the gist of it--you grant C Notice notification access and choose the apps that it can display. The next time one of those apps produces an Android notification, it appears in a floating bubble at the edge of the screen. Multiple apps will stack up under a little three-dot header that you can use to drag the stack around. Tapping on an individual icon opens a popup window with the notification text, from which you can open the app that spawned the notification.

    When you've got one or more floating notification bubbles, you also have the option of managing them with a quick swipe. If you swipe up on an icon, you dismiss that one notification, Swipe down and all notifications are dismissed. Clearing notifications from this app also clears them from the system notification shade. Swiping to the left on an icon will immediately open the app it came from, but this is just the basic functionality.

    There's also a prime version of the app that can be unlocked with a $1.49 in-app purchase. This unlocks individual app notification icons. You don't have to turn this on, but it could be quite useful in some instances. The individual icons can be moved around the screen however you like, rather than being tethered to that three-dot header. I probably wouldn't recommend this on smaller phones, but on a phablet or tablet, the individual icons could be really useful.

    C Notice can also be set to wake the screen when a new notification comes in, which some people consider an indispensable feature. You'll only want to do that if you limit the apps that can appear in C Notice. Maybe just messaging and social apps. The app is smart enough to use the proximity sensor to keep the screen off should the phone be in your pocket or face down.

    There's plenty of functionality in C Notify, and you can access most of it for free. It's worth a look.

    Google Play App Roundup: QKSMS, Civilization Revolution 2, and Car Breakers

    Apps move quickly on Android. No sooner have you found an app you can get cozy with, a better alternative has come along. We're here to make sure you're ahead of the curve -- that you're always on the bleeding edge. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is for. Just click on the links to head to Google Play and get the best new apps and games for your device.

    This week SMS goes material, the future of an empire is in your hands, and cars are crashing.

    QKSMS

    Google added SMS to hangouts a while back, but it's not ideal. For one, the Hangouts app is a little awkward, and it lacks some features users have come to expect from a text messaging app. There are still plenty of third-party messaging apps, and now there's one more to consider, especially if you're on Lollipop. QKSMS has been in testing for a few months, but now it's in the Play Store with a ton of features and all the material design you can handle (and maybe more).

    The first thing you'll notice about QKSMS is that it's super-colorful. You can even pick from a number of different colors in the settings. If the dozen or so included for free aren't good enough, you can upgrade to the pro version via an in-app purchase to unlock multiple shades for each color. The color changes the action bar, status bar, and even the nav buttons on Android 5.0. QKSMS still runs on older versions of Android, but it won't be quite as colorful. There's also a night mode that's easier on the eyes.

    This app uses a floating action button (a la Lollipop) to begin new messages, but the placement is weird. For some reason, the developers opted to put a slide-out panel on the right for quick access to the most recent conversation. It's not that this is a bad idea, but having it take up a sliver of screen space on the right pushes the FAB unnaturally to the left. It just looks awkward. Luckily, you can turn this feature off in the settings, thus placing the FAB in the right place.

    QKSMS also supports a feature many find indispensable when it comes to messaging apps--a floating reply box (this app calls it QKReply). When a message comes in, you can choose to get a popup box that lets you type and send a reply without opening the QKSMS app. On Lollipop devices, QKSMS also has support for floating heads-up notifications. If you do a lot of messaging, there's an option to add a quick compose notification to the shade that makes it easy to send new messages. I wouldn't want to waste the space on it, but I'm sure some people will. You also get enhanced notification support on Android Wear.

    Probably the coolest thing about QKSMS is that you can try it for free and never see an ad. The only thing missing from the free version is the timed night mode and all the additional theme colors. If you end up using this as your default messaging client, it might make sense to upgrade.

    Google Play App Roundup: djay 2, Haunt the House: Terrortown, and Battleheart Legacy

    It's that time of the week again. Time to shake off the weekend vibe and get back to work. But you can probably spare a few minutes to check out some new apps. This is the Tested Google Play App Roundup, which is where we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just follow the links to Google Play.

    This week we get ready to get down, get scared, and get questing.

    djay 2

    I cannot claim to know much about DJing, not can I even say I'm particularly worried about audio performance on Android devices. However, i can certainly see why some people are. Phones and tablets have become more than content consumption devices--you can actually create cool things with the right software. Android has been lacking music mixing and creation apps, but djay 2 has now come over from iOS with turntables ready to spin.

    Djay 2 is a music app that gives you two virtual turntables on which you can load any song in your library. it then works just like a real life digital turntable. You can play, spin, skip, and fade between the two tracks. And that's just scratching the barest surface of what this app includes. Before I get to all that, it's worth noting how much work went into making djay 2 possible on Android.

    From the start, iOS was built with low-latency audio in mind, but Google has struggled a lot more with this feature over the years. From the time you tap on something to the time the system can produce a corresponding sound can easily be 20-30ms on Android. For music performance, that's far too long. The delay can actually be pretty disorienting. Android 5.0 should finally patch this, but djay 2 developer Algoriddim says this app has been painstakingly designed to offer super-low latency on almost all modern Android devices. To my (admittedly untrained) ear, it certainly seems like they nailed it.

    Google Play App Roundup: Inbox, République, and Deep Loot

    A new week has dawned, but you can ease the transition with some new apps and games. You've come to the right place, too. This is the Google Play App Roundup, the weekly feature where we tell you what's new and cool in Google Play.Just hit the links to zoom right to the Play Store.

    This week email is changing again, they are watching, and there's treasure to be found.

    Inbox

    There is no denying that Gmail completely changed the way we think about using email, but that was all the way back in 2004. It's about time for Google to take another shot at improving email communication, and Inbox is it. Google has been working on Inbox behind the scenes for a while now under the codename Bigtop. This service plugs into your Gmail account and applies many of the features and algorithms used in Google Now to make your email less about when messages arrive and more about what they mean.

    Inbox is based around bundles, or types of messages that fall into general categories. If you use the Gmail categories that were added last year, this is a similar idea, but much more expansive. For example, you've got a bundle for purchases where all the messages you receive that look like receipts will end up. Maybe a meeting invitation will produce a handy calendar reminder with Inbox. When emails come in, you can open the thread from your main inbox view, but something in a bundle opens the full bundle as a timeline (today, yesterday, etc). Using Inbox is definitely an adjustment--there's no doubt about that.

    All your labels from Gmail are there, but they are of secondary importance in Inbox. The bundles can't really be altered as they're looking for specific things in your email to categorize. Inbox also pulls out relevant information in a very Google Now sort of way. For example, you could get tracking information for a package right in the main inbox screen. You can add conversations to any of the bundles, though. Anything you think is particularly important, be it bundled or not, can be pinned in the app. Those pinned messages and reminders can be accessed by toggling the pin switch at the top of the app.

    Managing your email with Inbox is also atypical of a traditional email app. You can't delete anything with Inbox. Instead, it has options to mark things as done or snooze them. Done is essentially the equivalent of archiving in regular Gmail, but triggered with a swipe to the right. It basically treats emails as tasks. You can also snooze an email with a swipe to the left. That will present options to have it reappear at the top of Inbox at a certain time.

    The app itself is very in-line with Google's new material design aesthetic. There's a floating action button for composing new messages, the slide-out nav menu, and plenty of bold colors. On Lollipop devices, it also has the full hero color up top for the status bar and app switcher header (but not in the dev preview build). Interestingly, some of the Android L animations are missing from the buttons.

    Inbox is currently invite only, but Google is handing out quite a few now and all current users have three invites each. I feel like Inbox could make a lot of sense for those who don't get a ton of email or who haven't worked to organize their mail already. If you've already got a system of labels and actions in place to deal with a large volume of email, Inbox would be more of an adjustment.

    Google Play App Roundup: Potential, iPollute, and Talon Plus

    It's that time of the week again. Time to shake off the weekend vibe and get back to work. But you can probably spare a few minutes to check out some new apps. This is the Tested Google Play App Roundup, which is where we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just follow the links to Google Play.

    This week your battery has a new best friend, clay gets dirty, and Twitter gets pretty.

    Potential

    As the cost of Android devices come down, it's increasingly likely that you might find yourself in possession of more than one of them. However, have you ever picked one up to find the battery is dead? Well, that won't happen if you install Potential on them.

    Potential runs a background service that syncs the state of your battery between devices. Just open Potential and you get a card for each of your connected devices (you need to make an account) with the battery level and state of Bluetooth and WiFi. Each device should sync the battery percentage on a regular basis, and the length of time since the last update will be listed on each card.

    You can remotely toggle WiFi or Bluetooth on and of your devices to save power, but that's as far as the direct interaction goes. Well, you can choose a name for each phone or tablet. By default it's just the device model ID.

    The above functionality is free, but a small in-app purchase is required to enable what I would say is the coolest feature of Potential--push notifications. In the settings of Potential you can choose a battery threshold at which you'd like to be notified. When one of your devices hits that number, you'll find out about it no matter which one you're actively using. So if you've got your phone handy during the day, Potential will let you know if your tablet is running low on juice.

    The app itself is nice and clean. I've already mentioned the cards, but Potential also includes a few Material Design animations and UI elements. There aren't a ton of options yet, but the developer cautions it's still a beta product. With that in mind I'd also note there have been a few instances where one of my devices decided it was going to stop syncing. For the most part, though, Potential is a solid app.

    Google Play App Roundup: Autodesk SketchBook, Haegemonia: Legions of Iron, and Tower Dwellers

    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

    This week there's a new drawing tool, a classic space RTS, and a new take on tower defense.

    Autodesk SketchBook

    Autodesk has had a number of drawing tools in the Play Store for a few years, but recently it decided to change up its offerings. The previously available Pro version of SketchBook has been pulled--as in, it's not even listed for previous buyers. In its place is a new freemium version of Sketchbook with a much more robust set of tools.

    If you bought the original SketchBook app, you really ought to request a refund through Google. Completely separate from the new app, the removal of the old version was not a very user-friendly decision. Now that we have that out of the way, I'll just say the new app is a marked improvement over the old one. It's the mobile version of AutoDesk's professional level desktop app for artists and designers. That version costs $60 for a license, but the full version of the Android app is only $3.99.

    Even if you don't want to upgrade, SketchBook offers a lot of good features. The interface is pushed toward the edges of the screen and is configurable, which is an improvement over the old SketchBook Pro, which could get in the way a bit. Toward the left are your basic tools like the brushes and erasers. There are 10 presets included in the free version too. This is a drawing app first and foremost, so there aren't going to be Photoshop-style editing tools. If you sign in with a free SketchBook account, the app will enable a few more features to make your doodles ever better including layer control, symmetry mode, and selection tools.

    You can use a finger or stylus to draw in SketchBook, but there's enhanced support for the pressure-sensitive S Pen on Samsung devices. This adds palm rejection support, but you can also have multitouch gestures (for zooming, rotating, and panning) on at the same time. There's synthetic pressure-sensitivity for everyone else, and it works fairly well. Basically, the larger the area covered by a touch input, the greater the assumed pressure. The ink laid down on the simulated canvas behaves like the real thing--you can blend and smudge it to produce the desired effects.

    That full version upgrade adds over 100 brushes to the app, and you can tweak them all to your liking. Line thickness, hardness, opacity, and more are all fully configurable. The enhanced selection tools will be familiar to anyone who has used Photoshop. There's a lasso, magic wand, and the traditional rectangle/ellipse tools. This is just scratching the surface of what's included in the full version upgrade. Serious artists (i.e. not me) will probably appreciate features like the custom guidelines and full Copic color library.

    The new SketchBook for Android is a great drawing app, but it's probably overkill for most people. If you're artistically inclined, though, $3.99 is a good price for everything you get.