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    Google Play App Roundup: Promo Codes, Merged, and Space Grunts

    It's time again to dive into the Google Play Store and see what apps we can find. Every week we find the best new and newly updated apps for the Roundup, and this week is no exception. Just click on the app name to head to the Play Store.

    Promo Codes

    In case you haven't heard, Google has finally started offering promo codes for apps and games in the Play Store. That means developers can produce promo codes that grant the user (that's you) a free copy of an app/game or in-app content. This is handy for reviewer (that's me) of course, but it's also going to lead to more giveaways. There's already an app from a noted developer that seeks to take advantage of this feature called Promo Codes. Can you guess what it does? Yep, distributes promo codes… if you're lucky.

    This app was created by Jack Underwood, the developer of the popular Today Calendar app. It's an incredibly simple app, but an interesting idea. When you open Promo Codes, you have a chance of winning a free copy of an app or game, provided via a Play store promo code. that means you own the content completely and will continue getting updates normally.

    To play, just tap the I'm Feeling Lucky button and wait. More than likely, you'll be taken to the Play Store listing for the promoted app, and see a popup message stating that you didn't win. If, however, you are the lucky winner of a code, it will be automatically copied into your clipboard. Simply open the Redeem menu in the Play Store and paste it in to get your free app or game.

    Promo Codes only gives you one chance to win per day, and there's an option in the settings to have it notify you when you can try again. Actually, that's the only setting right now. I did say this is a simple app, right?

    Underwood is basically looking for developers to sponsor Promo Codes and have their apps featured as the prize you can win. Whether or not they respond positively will determine the fate of Promo Codes, but it's already given away some licenses to good stuff. You might as well install it and give it a look.

    Google Play App Roundup: Guides by Lonely Planet, Downwell, and Punch Club

    Another week is upon us, and that means it's time to check out the state of the Google Play Store. Your phone is only a shadow of itself without the best apps, so it's a good thing we're here to save the day. Just click on the app name to pull up the Google Play Store so you can try things out for yourself.

    Guides by Lonely Planet

    Planning some travel? If planning is the operative word there, you might want to get the new Lonely Planet app on your mobile device. Lonely Planet is the largest publisher of travel guides in the world, making it a great resource for getting your trip lined up in advance, or even spur of the moment.

    The Lonely Planet app includes comprehensive guides for a lot of cities (a few dozen), but not everywhere you might visit. If you can't find a guide for a city, the app can notify you if a guide is released. The guides you want will be downloaded locally to your device for offline accessibility. That's handy for those times when you're visiting a place where you won't have reliable (or reasonably priced) internet access on your phone.

    The app shows your downloaded city guides right at the top. Upon opening it, there are categories for food, entertainment, shopping, attractions, and so on. There's also a map at the top you can view that has all the points of interest on it. Importantly, this map is also available offline. Below the categories are "interests, " which are specific groups of places like museums and historic points of interest.

    This is a material app with proper implementation of the slide-out navigation menu with different sections of the guide. The default view is Discover, but there's also Need to Know with basic overview information and cost data. It's impressive how deep these guides go. You can drill down to get reviews of individual restaurants and attractions. The app itself is a bit plain (predominantly white), but there are various material animations and the content is all native, not webframe. It's fast and easy to get around in if you've used any other modern Android app.

    If Lonely Planet has a guide for your destination, it's a no-brainer to download and use it. The guides are great and the app is free.

    Google Play App Roundup: Chrooma Keyboard, Crashlands, and AppLock

    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.

    Chrooma Keyboard

    Google's stock keyboard is a good alternative if you want a faster, simpler keyboard than the one that came with your phone. Then there's SwiftKey for themes and customization. What if you want a little from column A and a little from column B? That's sort of what Chrooma Keyboard is. It's a keyboard that adapts its theme to the app you're using without any configuration on your part.

    Starting in Android 5.0, developers have the option of theming the status and navigation bars in their apps. However, most only add colors to the status bar. Chrooma Keyboard simply looks at the color specified by the app and matches it. The result is a really neat, colorful UI. It might be to everyone's liking, but there's not really anything else like it.

    An app like SwiftKey has plenty of themes, but let's face it, most of them are ugly. Even the ones that aren't might clash with the theme of various apps. Chrooma always matches, and it has a lot in common with Google's light, fast stock keyboard. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's based on the AOSP keyboard (it's released under the Apache license). That means you get word prediction, swipe input, a voice input button, and more.

    Chrooma's headlining feature is obviously the context-aware theming, and there are a few settings to tweak it. The default is single-color mode, but you can change to palette mode where Chrooma uses lighter and darker shades of the app's accent color on each row of the keyboard. I think this looks pretty snazzy. There's also a night mode that uses darker colors. The other settings are slim with a few layout tweaks, UI settings, and icons. There are plenty of languages, though.

    Text input using Chrooma seems to be just as good as the stock Google keyboard, of which I'm generally quite fond. Swipe input is also solid. In fact, Chrooma retains the multi-word swipe input that Google dropped a few versions ago.

    Chrooma is $1.99 in the Play Store, and I think it's worth checking out if you like the stock keyboard, but would like something a little more colorful.

    Google Play App Roundup: SKWRT, The Room Three, and Pocket Mortys

    There are far too many apps flowing into the Play Store on a daily basis to find all the good stuff yourself. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup seeks 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.

    SKRWT

    This isn't just another photo editor app for Android. SKWRT will have more limited appeal, but it's really the only app built specifically to correct for lens distortion in smartphone photos. If you don't know what that means, you aren't alone. However, it's one of those things you might not be able to unsee once it's pointed out. Lucky for you SKWRT exists now.

    Smartphone cameras have come a long way in recent years, but it's important to note that the short fixed focal length is bound to cause a little distortion. This can cause lines that are parallel in real life to end up slightly bent. They appear to converge somewhere off-frame. This is particularly noticeable when taking skyline or architectural photos, and it's not always easy to fix. This is where SKWRT comes in.

    When you open the app, it offers you the option of taking a new photo or opening an existing one. I will say I'm not overjoyed about the layout of the app. It does the same thing VSCO does with the unlabeled buttons and dials. Once you figure out where everything is, it's not so bad.

    Across the bottom of the screen are all the transformations SKWRT includes. There are basic things like vignette adjustment and rotation. I'm particularly impressed with the rotation with automatic cropping that preserves the frame and won't leave you with empty pixels in the corners. You can also adjust the horizontal and vertical perspective lines, and of course, do lens correction. SKWRT has built-in modes for adjusting smartphone, GoPro, wideangle, and fisheye lens photos.

    SKWRT shows you a live preview of the photo as you're making adjustments. When you're satisfied, you can tap the export button at the bottom of the screen (which is uncomfortably close to the navi bar, by the way) and save it to your device or share directly to Instagram. You can optionally replace the original photo too.

    SKWRT will cost you $0.99 in the Play Store, and that's it -- no in-app purchases for filter packs, more tools, or anything else. This app has limited utility, but for those who are serious about their photos, it's an important tool.

    Google Play App Roundup: Open Link With, Worms 4, and Defenders 2

    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.

    Open Link With

    Android offers you a lot of power to install multiple apps that handle the same types of links, and even replace the defaults. However, that can sometimes backfire when a link is opened in a browser when you meant to open it in a dedicated app. It's not always easy to get to the right place, but Open Link With can fix that. It does what the name implies.

    To get a handle on what this app does, here's a scenario. You tap on a short URL in a message or news feed that turns out to be a YouTube URL. However, it is resolved in the browser. You can either watch it in the browser, which is a pretty mediocre experience, or try to search for it in the YouTube app, save it to a list for later, and so on. It's just kind of a mess. Open Link With remembers your app preferences so you can just share a link to it, and the right app will open. If you wanted to have the Medium app always open Medium posts, you can do that too.

    The nice thing about using this app is you don't have to reset your default apps. Just share to Open Link With and it remembers your preferred defaults. Open Link With works best if you grant it usage permissions, which is requests during initial setup. That lets it see what other apps you're running and make it easier to open links in the right place.

    To use Open Link With, just use the Android share menu to share a link with it. This can be a little confusing, but the next dialog popup actually lets you set the preferred app in Open Link With, not the system. As long as you select "Always" in that dialog, the app will remember your choice and always open links to that domain in the chosen app. If you ever want to change a preferred app, the list of domains is in the settings.

    Open Link With doesn't need to run a service in the background or monitor your browsing. All it's doing is relaying a request automatically to the right place in a single tap. It's straightforward and free. Can't argue with that.

    Google Play App Roundup: AutoMate, Ambient Battery, and Rust Bucket

    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.

    AutoMate

    Android Auto is in the wild now, but the aftermarket head units are expensive, and not all new cars have it as an option. What's an Android user to do behind the wheel? Well, there's AutoMate. This app has been in closed beta for a few months, and now it's available in the Play Store for everyone to try. It's basically Android Auto on your phone.

    If you've ever seen Android Auto, AutoMate will look familiar. It has almost the same layout, but it actually does more. Android Auto is designed to be safer to use than hopping back and forth between apps, and sometimes that means features you are used to having are not available. AutoMate is in the middle, acting as a hub for certain features and apps, but there are still times when you're going to be forced to mess with the phone more than you should. It can be set as the default action when a car USB cable is connected, though.

    The app is laid out across five tabs, which are accessible at the bottom of the UI. From left to right you've got maps, phone, home, music, and favorites. The map tab is just a standard Google Maps frame with access to search and turn-by-turn navigation. It actually works surprisingly well. Then there's the phone tab, which actually makes it easier to access your contacts by touch than Android Auto's inexplicably limited system of voice commands. The audio tab grabs whatever media you have playing via notification access, so it works with everything. By comparison, Android Auto only works with apps that have been updated with specific support. Then there's the favorite tab which links to commonly used apps and settings. This one seems not particularly useful as you shouldn't be mucking around in a bunch of apps while driving.

    You'll probably spend most of your time in AutoMate looking at the central home tab. This has a series of cards in a Google Now-style list. There are ongoing cards for the weather and your speed/location, but also things like appointments, reminders, navigation directions, and media playback. It's not quite as smart about pulling up cards as Android Auto, but it tends to have a lot more stuff in general.

    AutoMate has a huge, huge number of settings so you can make it work however you like. Most of them are unlocked in the free version too. Some of these features are just things that Google wouldn't do for liability reasons, though. For example, AutoMate will offer speeding alerts and notifications of red light cameras (premium feature). This is a good alternative if you don't have a smart screen in your car already, and the premium upgrade is only about $3.

    Google Play App Roundup: Clipboard Actions, Cavernaut, and The Beggar's Ride

    There was a time when the Google Play Store was lacking in content. Now there are many, many apps, and quite a few of them are good, and best way to find them is to check our Google Play App Roundup. Every week we bring you the best new, and newly updated app in the store. Just click the links to head right to the Google Play Store and download everything for yourself.

    Clipboard Actions

    Android has had copy and paste support since the early days, but there are some apps that can be used to make the clipboard more than a tool for moving text around. Clipboard Actions parses the text you copy and lets you trigger a variety of actions right from the notification shade.

    Clipboard Actions is extremely straightforward -- after it's installed, you can just go along and copy text like always. If you don't need to do anything else with it. the notification can be ignored. However, just a quick swipe down and you might save some time. If you've just copied a single word or term, the Clipboard Actions notification will have a definition and link to more info online. it can also detect currency and automatically convert it in this top section. The buttons at the bottom of the notification are where things get really interesting, though.

    The notification has a series of buttons for different actions along the bottom. Some will be more useful than others, depending on what you've copied. On the far left is the option to share using the system sharing intent. You can also do a web search with the clipboard contents, which is useful for a wide variety of things.

    If you've copied an address or name of a location, you can tap the map button to search in Google Maps. The translate button will dump your clipboard contents into the Translate app for instant translation as well. It also recognizes content info like a phone number or email address, offering links to the dialer and email respectively. Similarly, if you copy a link, there's a quick option to shorten it. This full turns the link into a bit.ly link and copies that to the clipboard. You can also create a QR code with a link (or text, but that's less useful) right from the notification.

    All the features of Clipboard Actions are configurable, so you don't have to keep everything active. If all you need is sharing and link shortening, all the rest can be turned off. It also doesn't need any crazy permissions, though keep in mind it is reading your clipboard contents. There's no reason to think it's up to no good, but still.

    Clipboard Actions is clever, and it's completely free.

    Google Play App Roundup: Chromer, Scribblenauts Unlimited, and Star Skater

    The time has come again to shine a light into all the shadowy corners of Google Play to find the best new and newly updated stuff for your phone or tablet. The Google Play App Roundup is where you can come every week to see what's cool on Android, and this week is no exception. Click on the links to head right to Google Play and download for yourself.

    Chromer

    Android has supported webviews as an alternative to launching a full browser for the last several versions, but more recently Google created the Chrome custom tab. This became available to users in Chrome v45, so it should work on virtually all devices (the stable channel is already at v47). The problem is waiting for developers to start using Chrome custom tabs, but Chromer lets you do it all yourself.

    Chrome custom tabs are a middle ground between the extremely stripped-down webview and the full Chrome browser. A custom tab is still rendered by the Chrome Blink engine, but it doesn't have to load all the extra stuff that comes along with a browsers. This means a Chrome custom tab can load a page extremely quickly and accurately. It also has access to Chrome data like fill forms and passwords.

    Developers are advised to use custom tabs for all external URLs, but we're still a long way from universal adoption. Chromer lets you set it as a default browser in Android, essentially routing all URL intents through a custom tab. There will probably be situations where this isn't convenient, but when you think about the links you click on, how often do you really jump from that page to another site or access your bookmarks in the same tab? I find that I often back out of these pages and simply open chrome manually when I'm going to be poking around multiple sites. So, why have the whole browser startup just to look at a single link?

    The main advantage of using Chromer is that it's really fast to load pages -- noticeably faster than Chrome or a webview. The rendering is also spot-on and I like having access Chrome services including data saver and the aforementioned personal datastores. The custom tab has a menu option to jump into the full browser as well.

    There's very little configuration to be managed in Chromer. The app includes settings to toggle the colored status bar, page title, and a slide animation. Otherwise, it's all in Google's hands. Chromer (i.e. Chrome custom tabs) will get better as Chrome itself does. This is a free utility and something you should definitely take a look at.

    Google Play App Roundup: Cortana, A Good Snowman, and Cardboard Camera

    We care about your phone almost as much as you do, so we're here very week with more apps and games to make it better. This is the Google Play App Roundup, which is where we tell you about all the best new stuff on Android. Just click the links to head right to Google Play.

    Cortana

    After several months in beta, Microsoft has seen fit to release Cortana on Android officially. Users of Windows Phone and Windows 10 are likely familiar with this virtual assistant, but Android already has Google voice search and Google Now built-in. Can Cortana hope to live up to that? Well, I can tell you right now Microsoft still has some work to do.

    When you open the app, it'll have you sign into your Microsoft account if you've got one. This allows the app to sync your notebook content from the cloud. You might not realize you have anything of the sort, but if you've ever told Microsoft your location or the things you're interested in, you probably have some data already in Cortana. It's a bit like Google Now (but less contextual) with links to news, the weather, and other bits of data.

    At the bottom of the screen is the search box, which is really the centerpiece of what Microsoft is trying to do here. You can type in your query or tap the microphone button to launch the voice input. Then you just start talking. Cortana tries to be more conversational than Google -- it's more like Siri in that respect. You can ask it to tell you a joke or just ask dumb questions to get a funny reply. That's all well and good, but the functionality is what matters, and Cortana does okay in that department.

    You can have it send messages, place calls, and add events to your calendar. I do quite like being able to set reminders that sync over to my PC running Windows 10. Strangely, you'll still have to type or select options for some of these features. For example, I can tell it to text someone, but I still have to type the message in Cortana after it sets up the contact info. That's not super-helpful. For general queries, it does well. Bing doesn't have as much natural language smarts as Google does, but it's usually fine for general knowledge.

    Like Google search, you can call up Cortana from any screen with a hot word, in this case "hey Cortana." I'd say this works about 75% of the time right now, which isn't high enough for me to trust it. That might be a device-specific bug, though. There are also some crashes and general sluggishness when using the app.

    Despite the issues, Cortana is an interesting app to have on Android. Microsoft traditionally kept these features within its own device ecosystem as a selling point. Now you can get it everywhere. With a few more updates, I could see Cortana being a viable alternative for someone who wants to use fewer Google services on Android.

    Google Play App Roundup: Storehouse, The Executive, and Adobe Premiere Clip

    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.

    Storehouse

    The cameras in Android phones have gotten much, much better in the last few years. Consequently, you've probably been taking a lot of nice photos. But what to do with all of them? You can dump them on Instagram or Facebook one at a time, I suppose, but the new Storehouse app lets you use all those pics to create cool, sharable albums.

    To get started, you can choose up to 50 images and videos on your phone for each "story." Unfortunately, these have to be stored locally on your device. I'd love to see an option to grab media from Google Photos or Dropbox, but you can download the files in advance. The first photo you pick will be the header image, which will have a title and subhead overlaid on it. Everything else is added in a series of full-width images below.

    The default layout isn't really anything special, but what you do with it is. Tapping on a photo lets you resize it right there on the page. You can also long-press and drag it around. The other photos will move around to accommodate it, sort of like resizing a widget on your home screen. The images are being cropped as you do this, but the full resolution still exists, as I'll get to shortly. In addition to moving pictures and videos around, you can add text with a variety of formatting options. These blocks of text can also be moved around on the page.

    My only real issue with Storehouse's layout editor is that moving objects around on the page can be somewhat tedious. This may be a bug, but the page doesn't scroll if you try to drag something up or down to a different area. That means you have to drop it and pick it up several times to move it very far.

    So, what do you do with it when you're done? When you share something like this, there's no guarantee the other party will have Storehouse installed. Luckily, they don't need it. This is where a lot of apps like this go wrong. The link produced in the app opens a private web page with the full story on it. This works in desktop and mobile browsers. Remember all those photos you resized and cropped down to clean up the layout? When viewing the story, you can click on any of them to expand the full resolution version. Additionally, the videos you upload are embedded as HTML5 clips, so they should play on anything.

    Storehouse also has an option to add stories to "spaces," which you can share with friends so they can see all the stories you post to it. It's a neat idea and executed fairly well. It's free, so give it a look.

    Google Play App Roundup: HomeUX, Please Don't Touch Anything, and Last Horizon

    It's time again to dive into the Google Play Store and see what apps we can find. Every week we find the best new and newly updated apps for the Roundup, and this week is no exception. Just click on the app name to head to the Play Store.

    HomeUX

    You don't have to look long to find numerous home screen replacements in the Play Store. Third-party launchers have been one of the most prominent customization options on Android since its inception, and now there some very diverse options. Most home screens are based on the AOSP Android launcher on some level, and they feel like it. HomeUX (previously a closed beta) has a different vibe, though. This home screen has a clean and efficient UI that focuses on organization and search.

    The basic layout of HomeUX is very different than what you're probably used to. At the top of the screen is a section called the action panel. This is where you'll find a clock, but also the settings (swipe left) and custom groups (swipe right). You also have the option of adding shortcuts to this area that will be available at all times, sort of like the favorites tray on other launchers.

    The bottom three-quarters of the screen is where all the action happens. By default, you have a list of all your apps here in scrollable pages. There's an action button-style search button straddling the border between the two areas, and it does what you'd expect. Tap it, and you can search your phone for apps. Again, this is only the default behavior, though. You can change the long-press action and icon of this button to do all sorts of things. For example, have it launch the Google apps.

    Things get interesting when you start adding custom folders to HomeUX. Let's say I want all my work apps together. I make a folder, give it an icon, and select some apps. You switch between folders by swiping up and down in the app list. So a swipe down, and I'm in the work folder. It's essentially a way to filter your app list. You can also add widgets to these folders, which is a cool way to keep that information easily accessible without cluttering up the UI.

    The free version of HomeUX has some solid customization options including custom grid size, hiding apps, icon packs, and configurable wallpapers/themes. A pro upgrade for $1.49 adds things like icon scaling, notification badges, and clock UI adjustment.

    This is still a beta app, and as such, there are a few rough edges to be worked out. I've seen some graphical glitches and the way certain features are accessed could be clearer. Still, you should give this launcher a shot because it's a refreshing change of pace.

    Google Play App Roundup: Audify, Horizon Chase, and Call of Champions

    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.

    Audify

    Android's notification system is great… when you're looking at the phone. But what happens when your attention is focused elsewhere? A beep and flashing light only provides so much information. With Audify, you can have your notifications read aloud, and unlike some similar services and apps, this isn't just for messaging. Audify can read all your notifications.

    Audify should work on any phone running Android 4.3 or higher. That's because it needs the notification listener, which you'll be prompted to enable upon opening the app for the first time. This lets Audify read the text of the notification, which it then runs through the standard text-to-speech engine on your phone. It's not going to be like having a conversation with a human, but the default voice on most phones isn't bad anymore. It's like a very polite female robot.

    There are multiple settings to control how and when Audify activates. Once you set these rules, you don't have to fiddle with the app at all. The default behavior is to start Audify when you plug in headphones or connect a Bluetooth audio device. This implies that you're not going to be looking at the screen and it might be advantageous to have your notifications read to you. There's also a setting to only read when the screen is off. Again, this is probably the most likely use case. However, you can have the audio go through the speakers and work all the time, even when the screen is awake. It's your call.

    Audify will read all high-priority notifications (the ones that trigger alert sounds). If an app isn't important enough that you want the notifications read aloud, no problem. Just add it to the muted list. Audify will smartly ignore repeated notifications from the same app in a short period of time too.

    Some people will be annoyed by the active notification in the shade when Audify is active. I don't think there's anyway to get around that, though. If you want the app to work, it needs a foreground notification to remain alive. You can give Audify a shot for free with 250 notifications. After that, you have to buy the full version for $0.99. You can also get 100 more free notifications by referring a friend.

    Google Play App Roundup: YouTube Music, Soda Dungeon, and Crimsonland

    There's no reason you wouldn't want the best apps on your Android device, but the Google Play Store makes that hard sometimes. Don't worry, though. That's what the weekly app roundup here on Tested is all about. This is where you can go to find out what the best apps are, and why they're the best. Click on the app name to go right to the Play Store web site to grab the app for yourself.

    YouTube Music

    As part of Google's big YouTube Red push, it has released a new YouTube app called YouTube Music. This was promised a few weeks ago when Red was announced, and now it's here. In the same way YouTube Gaming is an app focused on gaming videos on YouTube, the YouTube Music app is focused on music on YouTube. What the app can do for you is dependent on whether or not you have a subscription to Red/Play Music.

    The main advantage to using YouTube as a source of music is that there's a lot of unusual stuff on there. You get all the usual albums and whatnot you will find on other services, but there's also a wealth of remixes, live concerts, covers, and so on. This is why a lot of people just use the YouTube website for their music needs in the first place. The app makes this easier by surfacing only music and music videos. The home tab lists things that you might be interested in based on what you've listened to in Google's ecosystem in the past. The next tab over shows you all the hottest music on YouTube, then there's a tab of all your liked music videos.

    When you're listening to your recommended music, there's a cool feature on the Now Playing screen that lets you determine how much variety you want in the station. More variety means Google ventures further from the taste profile it has built for you, and less means that it will mostly show you things you've liked in the past.

    All the above is available to all users of YouTube Music. If you've got a Red or Play Music subscription (both services are included for the $10 price), you get some cool bonuses. First and foremost, you can do background and screen-off audio streaming. If you leave YouTube Music or shut off the screen, the app will automatically switch to audio streaming mode and keep going. You even get playback controls in the notifications like a standard music app. There's a persistent toggle at the top of the screen to switch between video and audio-only mode too.

    Premium users can also cache music offline with a feature called Offline Mixtape. This isn't quite the same as the Play Music offline feature where you explicitly save tracks you want. Instead, YouTube Music grabs a set amount of music that it thinks you'll like based on your past behavior. The default setting for this is 80MB or about 20 tracks. The only semblance of manual control I can find here is that it does include your most recently liked videos. It's kind of a neat feature for offline listening.

    Perhaps most important here is that YouTube Music is ad-free for subscribers. Everyone else gets regular YouTube-style ads. They might not be on every video, but they're going to be there. Honestly, Google's $10 deal with Play Music streaming, YouTube Red, and now YouTube Music is such a fantastic deal, I can't think of a good argument against it.

    Google Play App Roundup: Texpand, Shooty Skies, and 1 Volt

    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.

    Texpand

    Typing things out on even the best software keyboard can be tedious. It can be helpful to keep some frequently used snippets of text in a note app for quick copying and pasting, but Texpand makes it even easier to insert text with fewer keystrokes. As the name implies, it's a text expander app, and you can try it for free.

    Setting up Texpand will only take a minute, but it varies from one version of Android to the next. On Lollipop and earlier it only needs to be added as an accessibility service, but on Marshmallow it also needs access to drawing on top of other apps. Texpand will link you to the appropriate menus to get that done. After it's enabled, Texpand will work with just about any keyboard (even a Bluetooth keyboard) by reading the text you're inputting and watching for the shortcuts you've created.

    So, you need to make some shortcuts, right? For each one just create a short string of letters, for example "adr" for your full address. Texpand lets you create up to 10 of these with the free version, After that, it's $2.99 for the pro upgrade to make unlimited shortcuts. A small floating button will pop up when Texpand detects that you're typing what might be one of your shortcuts. Tapping that when you've not yet completed a shortcut gives you suggestions, but once the shortcut is completely out there, tapping will insert your desired text. There's also an option when setting up a shortcut to have it expanded automatically.

    The manual text entry is Texpand is cool, but it goes a step further with dynamic values. You can have the app insert the date, day of the week, time, or even the contents of your clipboard when you trigger a shortcut. I'd like to see more of the dynamic values added, but this is a good start. The clipboard shortcut in particular is really handy. By default, Texpand works in any app, but you can block it from reading the text in an app by adding it to the exemption list in the settings.

    There are a ton of cool extras in Texpand to round out the feature set. You can back up your shortcuts to Google Drive, move the floating UI around, make shortcuts case-sensitive, and more. It's really great even without the full version upgrade, but I think you'll run through the 10 free shortcuts quickly when you see how useful it is.

    Google Play App Roundup: Custom Quick Settings, In Between, and Arrow Launcher

    It's time again to dive into the Google Play Store and see what apps we can find. Every week we find the best new and newly updated apps for the Roundup, and this week is no exception. Just click on the app name to head to the Play Store.

    Custom Quick Settings

    Android 6.0 introduced the hidden UI tuner in the system settings. With this tool, you can change what shows up in the quick settings and status bar, but developers can also fiddle with these settings a bit. Custom Quick Settings does what the name implies and adds custom quick settings tiles to your device, and it doesn't need root. Be aware, this will only work on Marshmallow devices.

    Before using Custom Quick Settings, you need to activate the UI tuner, which is accomplished by long-pressing the settings shortcut in the notification shade. You don't have to go into the menu that is added to use Custom Quick Settings, but it will link you there when the time comes. Simply open the app and tap the action button to add a new toggle.

    Custom Quick Settings asks you to add a new "broadcast" button with placeholder text before it creates the custom action. It opens the UI tuner so you can do that in just a few taps, then it's back to Custom Quick Settings to create your button. There are three types of actions that can be performed -- app link, settings toggle, and URL shortcut. Each tile you create can have any text you want and a custom icon from the app's built-in selection. adding your own icon doesn't seem to be possible at this time. You can also set different actions for a tap and a long-press.

    The URL and app shortcuts work extremely well. I have one set to open the Play Store and another that pulls up a few frequently visited websites (one for tap and another for long-press). Toggles are limited to the stock functions, so it's easier just to use the included ones unless you really want to use a different icon or custom text. Using the UI tuner, you can move the custom tiles around with all your stock ones, but they only display the placeholder text. That can make it a little strange to get things organized.

    The UI tuner is an experimental component of Android, which is why it's something you have to manually enable. The features are incomplete right now, but Custom Quick Settings helps make them a little more robuts. As with all experimental features, there's a chance Google will break Custom Quick Settings in a future update. For the time being, it does its job well, and the developer promises more updates are on the way. It's free to use with ads, or you can pay about $1.50 to remove them. There will also be some pro features in the future (like Tasker support) that require the upgrade.

    Google Play App Roundup: Perch, Prune, and Pixolor

    Another week is upon us, and that means it's time to check out the state of the Google Play Store. Your phone is only a shadow of itself without the best apps, so it's a good thing we're here to save the day. Just click on the app name to pull up the Google Play Store so you can try things out for yourself.

    Perch

    If you've got an old, unused Android phone or tablet around, Perch might be a great way to repurpose it. This is a new app in beta that turns your Android device into a web-connected security camera. Simply set up the app, place your old phone on a stand or prop it up on a shelf, and you're ready to go.

    After installing the Perch app on your device, you'll be asked to sign in or create a Perch account. Next, you get to choose a name for your camera and decide if you want to have the device record audio along with video. Once you've started the feed, you can view it on other devices via the Perch app, or by going to the Perch website and logging in.

    Using the website on a computer offers the most functionality including scheduled recordings and alert settings. You can even set up motion detection zones in the camera feed so you can get a push notification on your phone when something moves in that region of the frame. Ideally, you'll plug the phone or tablet into power so you can leave it set up 24/7. It's handy for keeping an eye on kids or dogs.

    You can add more cameras to your Perch account, each one with a live feed that can be viewed from your other devices. Even if one of your cameras is offline, you can scan back and look at the video it captured in the recent past. I'm not sure how much history Perch saves as they don't list it anywhere, but I'd wager on a day. Longer retention times will probably be a paid service in the future. Again, just a guess.

    The video quality will vary based on your internet connection, but it won't be as good as one of those dedicated security cameras. It's somewhat pixelated, especially in low light. Some phones are terrible in poor lighting, so you'll only find Perch of use with the lights on. All the dedicated security cameras on the market have night vision.

    For a free service, Perch has a lot of features, and it works as advertised. If you've got an old phone, you might as well install Perch and see how it works.

    Google Play App Roundup: KnockOn, Viva Sancho Villa, and Dim Light

    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.

    KnockOn

    One of my favorite features on Android devices is double-tap to wake, and specifically LG's implementation that also allows you to double-tap to put the phone back to sleep. LG calls this Knock Code (r Knock On for older devices). this is very similar to the name of a new app in the Play Store that works with most Android devices. KnockOn lets you wake your device and put it back to sleep without touching the power button.

    Depending on the version of Android you're running, setting up KnockOn will require a few steps. It will need to be granted administrator access in order to control the screen, then it will need usage access on most phones as well. The double-tap to sleep should work on all devices, but it's limited to the home screen. This makes sense as a lot of apps use double-taps for various features.

    So with the default settings, you can double-tap in an empty area of the home screen or on the status bar to put the phone to sleep immediately. If you have a big phone, this can be a nice convenience. The double-tap to wake feature is limited to OLED phones, at least officially. You can turn it on no matter what phone you use, but it will keep the display "on" black in order to watch for a tap. With an OLED, that's not much of a problem. An LCD powers the whole backlight in that situation, though.

    Both features seem to work as intended, but you'll burn a little battery with the tap to wake feature (this is of course assuming your phone doesn't already do this). I haven't noticed much impact just using the tap to sleep feature with an LCD phone.

    All the above functionality is free, but there's also a pre version upgrade that adds sleep timers to improve battery life and an adjustable tap speed slider. Also note the app runs a notification to stay in memory, which might be necessary on Samsung devices with their aggressive memory management. Other phones it might not be a problem.

    You should give the free version a shot and see how it behaves on your phone. It's a neat idea.

    Google Play App Roundup: SwiftKey Neural Alpha, Bridge Constructor Stunts, Freeze! 2

    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.

    SwiftKey Neural Alpha

    When SwiftKey first came out a number of years ago, I remember being quite impressed with the quality of the text prediction. This was a time before Google had decided to take the default keyboard seriously, and most of the other third-party keyboards weren't particularly reliable. SwiftKey's predictions have gotten better over the years, but they aren't noticeably better than Google's. In fact, it seems like SwiftKey is prone to certain mistakes that its competitors aren't. Enter, SwiftKey Neural Alpha. It's an experimental new keyboard for Android that uses neural networks to generate better predictions.

    I was, to put it mildly, incredibly skeptical of this keyboard when it was announced a few days ago. I mean, it sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo. Neural networks are certainly a thing, and they've been used to improve things like computer vision and speech recognition. Google is also big in the developments of artificial neural networks as a way to improve its search algorithm and for the development of its self-driving cars. An artificial neural network is a different approach to computing that uses layers of nodes programmed to behave more like a living brain. After using SwiftKey Neural Alpha for a bit, I'm convinced they're doing something really interesting. The predictions are helpful and sometimes downright creepy.

    SwiftKey's old model for text prediction was called n-gram--this is still what's used in the standard SwiftKey app. It relies on having a lot of data about the way you type and the things it has seen before. That's why you can connect all your cloud accounts to the app. The more data it has, the better its predictions. However, if you look at a half completed sentence, you can probably figure out some likely words without all that data. Your brain is just better at predicting patterns than a traditional algorithm. The SwiftKey Neural Alpha seems capable of that too.

    This app looks at the context of your sentence in order to predict the next word, and it seems noticeably better at it than the standard app. When sending a text message about picking up food, SK Neural Alpha suggested the phrase "What do you want," when I just typed a "W." The suggestions aren't always right, but they always make sense at least. That's more than I can say for the regular SK app.

    One issue I still have with SwiftKey is the swipe input, which I use often on the Google Keyboard. It just never seems as accurate or forgiving as Google's implementation. It doesn't appear to be any different in the experimental Neural Alpha either. This is an alpha, though, so maybe the neural network stuff won't be fully integrated into the typing experience until later. There are only two themes included with the Neural Alpha, a standard black one and the default purple-ish Neural Alpha theme. It's free and doesn't have any of SK's usual in-app purchases.

    Google Play App Roundup: ClickMe, Ski Safari 2, and Paper Monsters Recut

    Android devices do a lot of neat stuff out of the box, but you can always load it up with new apps to make if 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.

    ClickMe

    Your phone rides around in your pocket all day most likely, so it's an ideal vehicle for personal reminders. There are tons of apps that offer this functionality, and even Google Now offers a reminder feature. ClickMe doesn't have as many features as most reminder apps, but it lets you set reminders insanely fast.

    There are several ways to access the reminder features of ClickMe, the most obvious being to simply open the app. There isn't much to get the hang of in ClickMe. The app defaults to listing your last phone call as the "subject" of the reminder, but you can also tap the new reminder or contact button to remove the phone number. Simply fill in a subject and tap the button below with the desired time until you'll be reminded. That can be as little as 10 minutes or as long as a week in a single tap. There's a calendar button if you want to do a different amount of time. If you use one of the default buttons, that's it -- the reminder is set.

    I think what makes ClickMe interesting is the way it inserts itself into the user experience when you're doing other things. For example, when you finish on a call, ClickMe pops up a small bar at the bottom of the screen that allows you to set a reminder to call the person back in a single tap. This bar times out in a few seconds, and you can disable it completely if you want. The other optional integration is with screenshots. Whenever you take a screenshot, ClickMe pops up (in full screen this time) so you can set a reminder with the screenshot attached. This might be handy if you want to remind yourself to deal with an email or text message. Just take a screenshot and tap a single button in ClickMe to set a reminder.

    In the app, you've got a section where all your active and completed reminders can be found. The app also contains a voice input button if you want to speak instead of type. Next to that is the camera button if you want to attach a photo to the reminder. Whenever you set a reminder (however you do it) ClickMe closes immediately afterward. It's designed to get out of your way as much as possible.

    The reminders pop up with a UI that lets you quickly mark as complete, or place a call/send a message if there's a contact or phone number attached. I only wish the visual style was a little more consistent with Android. ClickMe is also free and has no in-app purchases.

    Google Play App Roundup: DAEMON Sync, Lost Qubixle, and HoPiKo

    The week is just getting started, 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 the Play Store.

    DAEMON Sync

    Google, Dropbox, and many others offer data backup services on Android, but most solutions rely on the cloud, even if all you want is a quick way to get files to your PC. They go up to the internet, then back down to an internet-connected computer. Why bother with that if all you want is local sync? That's what DAEMON Sync offers.

    DAEMON Sync comes from the developers of that popular disc image manager of yesteryear, DAEMON Tools. I know it still exists, but does anyone really use it anymore? At any rate, DAEMON Sync connects to a desktop client on your local WiFi and sends files over without using the internet. The setup process is incredibly quick too. All you need to do is download the app, install the desktop client, and enter the PIN code provided by the PC client in the phone. That ties them together for sync. There's no account to set up and no passwords to remember.

    The desktop software doesn't have a lot of settings, but I'd suggest you move the data folder to a more logical location. The default is in the public users folder of Windows (I'm not sure where it is on OS X). The app has most of the sync settings, and there are a few cool things there. During the setup process, you'll be able to decide what you want to sync, with the defaults being images, videos, and screenshots. Each one gets its own folder on the computer, which is nice. They're also broken out be device, which is great if you have several phones syncing to a single PC. There's also a handy option to add custom folders, so anything you add there will be sent over to the PC.

    Having individual folders for each device is useful when browsing the server, which you can do from the DAEMON Sync app. It has a tab for photos, one for videos, and another for other files. In the nav menu, you can toggle between viewing all devices and a single one of your choosing.

    Because this is all happening over the local network, the sync speed is fantastic. New images pop up on your computer in a fraction of the time it would take for the to be uploaded to a cloud service, then downloaded by the computer. Obviously, the main drawback here is that your files are not being kept off-site. Your safeguards are only as strong as your personal backup solution.