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    Google Play App Roundup: Google Camera, Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Hopeless: Space Shooting

    There are a ton of great apps and games in Google Play, and they're not just going to download themselves. Are they? If they are, we have something of a mystery to solve. In the meantime, let's see what's cooking in the Play Store with the weekly Google Play App Roundup. Just click the links to head right to the Play Store page and check out the apps for yourself.

    This week we've got a new stock camera app, a game with spider men, and a space shooter with marshmallow men.

    Google Camera

    Google's camera revamp didn't come soon enough to help the Nexus 5 at launch, but now Mountain View's camera app has been updated and launched in the Play Store. That means you can install it on any device, but Nexus and Google Play Edition devices will benefit the most. This app removes some of the more advanced features that had little use and adds afew new things along with a spiffy new interface,

    The first thing to address is the capture button, which is pretty big now. This is good as it's easy to press, but some seem like a poor use of space. However, this big button solves a major issues with Nexus device cameras. The Nexus 5 takes 4:3 images (as do most other devices in the line) at 8MP. The old camera app filled the viewfinder, but it's a 16:9 screen. Thus, the top and bottom of the frame were cut off in the preview. This made it very hard to frame a shot well. With this update, the camera viewfinder now has a true 4:3 ratio. On devices that do take 16:9 images, the button is semi-transparent so you can still see the whole frame.

    The settings are now off to the left and can be brought up with a swipe. This is where all the main capture modes are found, and also links to the main app settings (not very easy to find there, Google). You have stills, video, Photosphere, panorama, and lens blur. Yes, the lens blur option is new -- apparently that's the hot new thing for a camera to do.

    The lens blur effect in the Google Camera is a bit awkward, but the results are pretty good. All you have to do is snap a picture and slowly pan the phone upward, keeping it pointed at the subject. After that you can tap on areas of the photo to focus and apply lens blur behind that point. It's not as easy to capture, but still does what it says. There is also a bit of rendering time for each image and they are scaled down to about 2000 pixels tall.

    With lens blur effect

    The image quality will vary depending on your device, but I'm seeing a modest improvement on the Nexus 5. The Galaxy S5 doesn't seem to like the focus system in the Google Camera, though. You can still take HDR shots in the still camera and Photospheres are now much higher resolution. Unfortunately, some settings like white manual white balance are not included at this time.

    The Google Camera is free and it's worth checking out to see if it does better on your device than the included solution. Of course, anyone running a stock device or an AOSP-based ROM should get on this ASAP.

    Google Play App Roundup: Today Calendar, The Walking Dead, and Wind-up Knight 2

    A new week has dawned, and there are new smartphones hitting the streets. You want to have the latest and greatest apps for your new purchase, right? That's what we bring in the weekly Google Play App Roundup -- all the content that's fit for your Android device. Just lick the links to head right to the Play Store.

    This week we've got a new calendar, a game with zombies, and a fabulous platformer.

    Today Calendar

    Your phone comes with some version of the Android calendar app, whether it's a custom solution from the OEM with Google's account back end added, or the Play Store version of the Google app. Today Calendar is freshly out of beta and could give all those other solutions a run for their money. However, you're going to have to part with a little of YOUR money to find out.

    Today Calendar is based on the AOSP calendar app, but has some UI tweaks and additional features built-in. The interface has been cleaned up in this app when compared to the stock app. The gray-on-gray UI is gone, replaced instead with accented whites and a blue action bar. It's interesting that this app now looks a little more like a modern Android app than Google's own calendar app.

    There are still weekly and agenda views, and they haven't changed much beyond some performance and UI optimizations. The month view is where all the really cool things are happening in Today Calendar. Rather than have a stretched-out month-long calendar taking up the entire screen, Today Calendar integrates an agenda with the calendar. The developer calls this the All-In-One view, which pretty much explains it. You can tap on any day from the calendar in the top half of the screen to see the agenda for that day in the bottom half. It's really the best of both worlds, and much more useful than other views. You can also swipe to move between days in the All-In-One view.

    The app itself is great, but that's only part of what you get with Today Calendar. Buying this app also gives you the Today Widgets, which are available as a separate purchase as well. These are highly-configurable, scroallable calendar widgets -- both month and agenda view -- with multiple themes and options. Settings for these widgets are available when you place them, or from within the Today Calendar app.

    Today Calendar will run you $2.99, but it's definitely something you should consider as a replacement for your current calendar app. Even if you end up not liking the app, the widgets can be used independently and linked with a shortcut to the stock app.

    Google Play App Roundup: Javelin Browser, AirFighter Pro, and Inkling

    A new week means a new batch of Android apps and games for your consideration. This is the Google Play App Roundup, which brings you the best new and newly updated content in the Play Store every week. Just hit the links to head right to the Play Store and download for yourself.

    This week we have a new browser that might become your default, a game for the best pilots, and an app that makes books more interactive.

    Javelin Browser

    Chrome for Android is better than it once was, but it still doesn't perform perfectly on some devices. There are many alternatives in the Play Store based on AOSP, but Javelin Browser isn't just another clone. This app offers some interesting functionality and a very modern UI. What's more, you can check it out for free.

    Javelin is based on the open source fan favorite Lightning Browser, an Android browser optimized for tablets that has a very minimal footprint and clean UI. Javelin beefs up the feature set of Lightning a bit, but it also maintains the responsive performance. The most noticeable change for anyone who is accustomed to Chrome on Android will be the exposed tab bar up top. You can tap on the plus button to add more, and move between tabs with a tap. There is also a two-finger swipe gesture to move one tab left or right. The interface takes advantage of the transparent nav and status bars in KitKat as well.

    As for loading speed, it seems about as fast as Chrome Beta, possibly a little faster when you have a few tabs open. Javelin isn't doing as many things in the background -- there's no cloud syncing or Google account control, so naturally it can get things done slightly quicker. There is also a reading mode that strips out all the ads and superfluous bits sort of like Readability or Pocket. As for the quality of regular page rendering, I have no complaints. Javelin is running a standard version of mobile WebKit, so there should be no issues with things looking wonky.

    The free version of Javelin includes basic browsing capabilities, but your homepage is locked to the default Javelin page. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- it's just a pretty picture and a search bar. Javelin pro also allows unlimited tabs, but the free version has a generous limit of 10 tabs. Pro will also include (eventually) Android Wear integration.

    So this is all pretty conventional browser stuff, but Javelin has another cool extra -- a built-in VPN. You have to pay a monthly fee of $1.99, but there are free VPNs out there if you don't care about quality. The VPN service in Javelin can get around web blocks and hide your traffic, bu it's also very fast. which makes a VPN actually worth using. I saw no degradation in speeds when connected to the VPN, and latency was only a bit higher (about 90ms vs. 60ms).

    Javelin does a good job as a free browser, but the extra stuff is there via an in-app purchase if you want it. Oh, it also has built-in ad blocking, if that's a thing you're cool with. Javelin Browser is definitely worth a look as an alternative to Chrome.

    Google Play App Roundup: LastPass, Epoch 2, and Castle Doombad

    Your phone or tablet is a significant investment, and it just won't do to have it running substandard applications. No, we can't have that. That's why the Google Play App Roundup comes your way every week with the best new stuff in Google Play. Just click the links to head directly to the Play Store.

    This week passwords get easier, robots get violent, and princesses get kidnapped.

    LastPass

    The LastPass password management app came out a few years ago, but it saw a significant update this past week that makes it absolutely worth checking out. LastPass used to support various methods of copying and pasting usernames and passwords into your regular web browser, but by far the fastest way to use it was to open sites with the built-in LasPass browser. That's far from ideal, but you don't have to bother with that anymore. The new LastPass can autofill into any app on your device.

    When you install or update the LastPass app, it will ask you to enable it in accessibility settings. This is a common requirement for apps that need to enter or read text from your device. It links you to the correct menu, and it should only take a second. From there, each time you tap on a password field in the browser or most apps, LastPass will pop up a floating window and ask if you want it to log you in.

    The app contains various settings for the master password and PIN code so you can make sure your logins are kept secure, so this feature doesn't make things any locked down. With the web browser it simply checks for matching URLs among your passwords just like the desktop browser extension. If there are multiple accounts for a particular service, you can choose between them. This aspect works like a charm.

    As for apps (which is probably even more impressive), it works most of the time. LastPass essentially has mappings for a lot of popular apps that connect the package name to a specific service. So if you try to log into the official Twitter client, the LastPass app recognizes it and fills in your details automatically. If you try it with Talon, it won't know which account you are trying to access. Not to fear, though. There's a search button in the popup that will let you find the account in your vault and permanently link it with the app.

    All the pre-existing options for using LastPass in the browser are still there, so go with that if you're more comfortable. However, I feel like the universal autofill is what makes this the perfect solution. Not only is LastPass an established company with a pretty good security record, this app makes it very easy to log into all your accounts and add new ones.

    The LastPass app is free to try with a 14 day trial. After that you need to have a subscription to LastPass premium for $1 per month. With the autofill, it's definitely worth that.

    Google Play App Roundup: Link Bubble, God of Light, and Mount and Blade: Warband

    There is a never ending stream of new content showing up in the Play Store, but that makes it easy to miss the really good stuff. Luckily, we're stationed there to filter out the best apps and games to serve up weekly in the Google Play App Roundup. Just hit the links to go right the Play Store.

    This week we've got a excellent new way you browse the web, a game filled with delightful puzzles, and a PC game shrunken down to Android.

    Link Bubble

    It might only take a few seconds at a time, but have you ever thought about how much of your life you spend looking at blank loading page in your browser? It really adds up, but Link Bubble is a new app that makes Android act a little more like a desktop with true multitasking. Rather than clicking a link and waiting on the page to redirect and load, the link loads in the background and waits for you in a floating bubble. When you want to check it out, Link Bubble opens a nifty floating browser.

    Why would you want to do this? Imagine that you're browsing Twitter and you want to check out a link in your timeline. Normally you'd tap it and the link would go directly to Chrome (or whatever your default browser is). You would wait through the Twitter link shortener redirect, the page load, and maybe another redirect as the mobile version of the page is pulled up. With Link Bubble, all that happens in the background and you can keep scrolling through the timeline. You can even stack up more pages inside the bubble and switch between them.

    The bubble can be maximized at any time by tapping. When minimized it remains floating on top of whatever app you have up. It's a lot like a Facebook chat head -- you can move it around and dock it on the edge of the screen, or just toss it around for fun. The browser window fills most of the screen when maximized, except for the very top where your various bubbles are lined up like tabs. This makes it very convenient to open a bunch of links and go through them after you're done in your current app.

    In addition to viewing the content in Link Bubble, you can manage each bubble individually. There are three active zones on the screen -- two configurable share links at the top and a close icon at the bottom. Drag a bubble down and hold to close all, or just flick one down to close only that bubble. The sharing links are great for adding content to Pocket, opening in Chrome, or sending a link in a message.

    Using Link Bubble really changes how you use an Android device. It can intercept links from any app, but it doesn't get in the way of specialized content. In the settings you can view and modify the default apps for links to Google+, YouTube, Facebook, and more. It also has a YouTube button in the action bar of the floating window that links you directly to the YouTube app if there are embedded videos in the page.

    The convenience of Link Bubble cannot be overstated. It's an excellent experience and well worth your time to check out. The app is free to try with only a single bubble and app at a time. The $4.99 pro upgrade gives you unlimited use.

    Google Play App Roundup: Minuum Keyboard, Rochard, and Beyond Space

    A new week has dawned and that means it's time to check in on the Play Store. The best of Android is waiting, but first you have to find it. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is all about -- pointing out the best new and newly upgraded apps and games. Just click the links to head right to the Google Play Store.

    This week we've got an unusual new keyboard, a console-quality platformer, and a space shooter with all the right moves.

    Minuum Keyboard

    Most third-party keyboard on Android follow a design that simply builds on a traditional keyboard. There are a few that eschew that idea, but the learning curve that comes with that makes it hard to take advantage of any features the keyboard might have. Minuum was crowd funded last year and hit Android as a beta shortly thereafter. Now it's out of beta and has a free one-month trial. This alternative doesn't completely abandon the traditional keyboard, but it does make a lot of interesting tweaks.

    The goal of Minuum is to allow you to reclaim some of your screen real estate from the on-screen keyboard. Instead of a full multi-row layout, Minuum crunches QWERTY down to a single staggered row. You just have to get close to the right letters and Minuum uses aggressive spell check to figure out what you mean.

    Because this is still technically QWERTY, the learning curve is not as steep. You just have to adjust to remembering where on the horizontal each key is. The autocorrect is make or break in Minuum, and it's actually pretty impressive. Nine times out of ten it selects the right word from whatever nonsense I've typed in. Other times the right term is in the suggestion bar and requires a tap to select it.

    If you need to enter specific words, just drag up from a key and you can select any letter or special character from a certain area. Minuum includes a few layout settings, including an option to expand it to a full keyboard. I don't see the use of that unless you're typing a lot of non-dictionary words, though.

    I feel like I'm about as fast with Minuum as I am with a regular keyboard, but my brain gets a little derailed when I need to type something that isn't recognized as a real word. This keyboard seems like it has real potential and doesn't require you relearn how to type. Check out the free trial and see if it works for you. The full version will run you $3.99.

    Google Play App Roundup: Blimps, Smash Hit, and Out There

    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 make calls easier, smash stuff, and explore out there.

    Blimps

    Trends are shifting away from communicating via phone calls, but there are still times you need to use your phone as a phone. Android makes it easy to get something else done while you're stuck on the phone, but controlling the call is still a bit of a pain. Blimps makes it a little more convenient by placing floating controls on your screen.

    Blimps is always running in the background, but it only comes to life when you start a call. You get a small call end and speakerphone button. Each one is its own separate unit and you can move them around the screen to wherever you want. They'll stay on top of whatever you're doing so you can manage the call easily. It's certainly a lot better than hopping back to the dialer of messing around in the notification shade.

    This app has another neat trick too -- when the proximity sensor is triggered, the buttons quickly disappear to prevent accidental touches. It's really slick. The entire experience of using Blimp is the same way. The buttons respond immediately upon tapping and work exactly as intended.

    Blimp is still very new, so the options are a bit sparse. If you only want one or the other button, there are toggles for them in the settings. You can also disable the app completely, but I don't see any need. It runs well and doesn't seem to affect battery drain at all.

    The developer says more features are coming, but what we have now is free. I wouldn't be surprised if in-app purchases are implemented later for whatever comes next. You should definitely check it out, but be aware some OEM skins might interfere with how Blimps works.

    Google Play App Roundup: Google Now launcher, Superior Tactics, and Solid Explorer Chromecast Plugin

    The Play Store just keeps accumulating new apps and games. So many that you have little hope of finding all the good stuff just casually poking around. That's why we have the Google Play App Roundup. This is where you can come to find out about all the cool new stuff on Android. Just click the links to head right to the Play Store.

    This week we get the next generation of launchers, a game with lasers, and more Chromecasting.

    Google Now Launcher

    We've known Google was planning big things with its updated Google Now-infused launcher, but there's finally some movement. The official Google Now Launcher has shown up in the Play Store, but it won't work on all devices just yet. I suspect it's just a matter of time, though. This isn't app isn't technically the launcher itself, but it unlocks the potential already in the Google Search app.

    The Google Now Launcher (GNL) comes stock on the Nexus 5, but this update adds all other Nexus phones and tablets running Android 4.4 as well as all current Google Play Experience devices. That's the OFFICIAL list, but it also sounds like any device running a custom ROM based on KitKat should also be able to get the new launcher from Google Play. There are ways to install this on almost all Android devices, but finally having GNL in Google Play is a huge deal.

    The new launcher will offer to import your layout from the old launcher, so migration shouldn't be too bad. GNL only uses the number of screens necessary for what you keep there. To add more just drag an icon or widget to the right and drop it on the screen that appears. The far left panel is always the main panel, then there is Google Now one swipe to the left.

    Having Google Now on the home interface might not seem like a big change, but it ends up getting a lot more use, at least for me. The swipe up gesture on devices with on-screen buttons still works as expected too. The "Okay Google" trigger phrase for voice search works on the home screen in addition to the search app. The Google panel can't be moved, but all the others can be reordered in the long-press menu. That's also where widgets have ended up.

    For phones and smaller tablets, GNL works very well. You won't have as many options as with Nova or the other third-party apps, but it integrates Google search in a way unofficial apps can't. On 10-inch slates, it's kind of a toss up. The grid size seems a bit odd -- not quite taking advantage of the space. However, it feels a little more modern.

    If you have a compatible device, this is at least worth checking out. The Google Now Launcher is Google's home interface going forward.

    Google Play App Roundup: Type Machine, Colin McRae Rally, and Pathogen

    The time has come for yet another Google Play App Roundup. This is where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just click the links to head right to Google Play.

    This time we've got a system utility you'll love, a different kind of racer, and a strategy game sure to frustrate you in a good way.

    Type Machine

    How often have you typed out a bunch of text only to have the app or website throw an error and eat all your words? Well, there is a new app that will make sure that never happens again. Type Machine makes a backup of everything you type into your device, but it does so in a secure fashion. The presentation and feature set is also killer.

    Installing this app requires a quick trip to the accessibility settings where you can enable Type Machine. This is how it makes a copy of the text you enter. Almost everything you type will be dumped into the Type Machine app and organized by the app it came from. You can open Type Machine and use the navigation pane to select the app and see all the text you've entered. The only thing this app won't slurp up by default is passwords.

    When reviewing a snippet of text, Type Machine presents you with a timeline at the bottom of the screen. You can scrub through to see the entire text entry process. So if you deleted something and reworded, the app still has the text that didn't make it into the final version -- you simply have to rewind to a time when it existed. Any text in Type Machine can be copied and used elsewhere.

    Now, you're probably thinking this sounds crazy. Why would you trust an app to keep all your text entries? The first thing to know -- Type Machine doesn't have the internet access permission, so it couldn't send your text anywhere even if it wanted to. You are also able to blacklist apps in the settings to prevent Type Machine from monitoring them. Everything it saves is deleted once per day by default, but you can turn that up to 7 days, or disable the auto-delete completely. Finally, there is a PIN lock function that keeps any unauthorized party from getting at your words.

    Type Machine has a very clean Android-style layout and it scales correctly to phones and tablets. There was a similar app some years ago that did the same basic thing, though with fewer features. It was abandoned by the developer, but it was never this slick or useful.

    After checking out Type Machine, I immediately put it on all my devices. This is a must-have at only $1.99.

    Google Play App Roundup: Muzei, The Room Two, and Amateur Surgeon 3

    The spring phone season is spinning up, so you may well have your eye on a new device very soon. In advance of that, you might want to stock up on good apps and games to enjoy when you finally have it in your hands. We can help you with that first part. Every week in the Google Play App Roundup we check out what's new and cool in Google Play. Just click the links to head right to the Play Store.

    This week we have a new live wallpaper from a noted developer, a game with plenty of puzzles, and some questionable medical practices.

    Muzei

    Googler Roman Nurik is known among Android users for making the excellent DashClock widget. Now he's back with a different kind of app -- a live wallpaper called Muzei. Unlike some (okay, most) live wallpapers, Muzei isn't some sort of constantly moving image. It uses Android's live wallpaper functionality to create a blurred backdrop behind your icons that changes throughout the day. The images behind the blur effect are the magic of Muzei.

    The default setting for Muzei will download a new piece of art each day -- the launch image was Van Gogh's Starry Night. Muzei lowers the brightness and applies a Gaussian blur to make sure the background on your home screen isn't too busy. The results look great, and you can bring the real image forward for a few seconds at any time by double-tapping on the screen. The Muzei app can also be used to view the unfiltered image in all its glory.

    This would be a nice trick all by itself, but maybe not worthy of a spot in the Roundup. However, like DashClock, this app has a developer API for building extensions. The daily art feed is just one of many sources for backgrounds. There are already standalone extensions for the Astronomy Picture of the Day, Flickr, 500px, Reddit, and more. Some apps like Reddit Sync have added extensions too. Yes, there is also support for local images in Muzei, but the online streams are more fun.

    Each extension has its own settings, but most include a way to refine the source (for example, picking specific sub-Reddits in the Reddit extensions) and change the refresh time. Muzei itself includes the settings to change the blur and dim effect universally, which is a nice option to have.

    I have installed this on all my devices, and I love it. It's just a very clever way to get attractive backgrounds rotating on your device that don't make it harder to see what's going on with the icons and widgets. Developers seem to be taking to Muzei pretty well, which makes for a ton of choices. Muzei and all the current extensions are completely free.

    Google Play App Roundup: TimePIN, Line Of Defense Tactics, and Mountains Now LWP

    With an ocean of apps to wade through, you're going to have trouble finding the best new and newly updated stuff on Android. That's why the Google Play App Roundup is still chugging along after all these years -- to make sure you get the best apps possible. Just click the links to head straight to Google Play.

    This week we've got a great security enhancement, a game with wars in space, and a Googley live wallpaper.

    TimePIN

    There are all manner of ways to secure your phone, but there's always the chance someone will spy you unlocking it or just figure out a PIN or pattern lock. TimePIN makes that pretty much impossible. This app updates your Android device's unlock PIN every single minute to match the current time.

    That may not sound terribly secure at first, but its unlikely anyone who picks up your phone is going to think to try the time as the unlock PIN. It's a completely new idea -- there is a Cydia addon for jailbroken iOS devices that does something similar. TimePIN has a lot more options, though.

    Installing this app is almost business as usual. You don't need root access for any of the current features -- you will have to grant administrative access to the app, but that only takes a second. The app also has you set a default PIN, which is used for accessing the settings and recovering in the event of an accident with the time codes.

    The default behavior just sets your PIN to the current time. So if it's 4:35, your PIN is 0435. If you use a 24 hour clock, that's supported too. That's probably enough for most people, but TimePIN offers another layer of security. There are modifiers that take the time, and tweak it to create your PIN. The app includes the reverse modifier for free. So, 4:35 becomes 5340. A $1.99 in-app purchase unlocks the other filter including doubling, mirror, and custom offset.

    Should you fiddle with the modifiers and forget what you set it to,the first unlock after a reboot is always your default PIN, which is used to access the settings. That way you only need to reboot to fix your mistake. Some upcoming features in TimePIN could include support for pattern unlock and encrypted devices, but these may require root. More modifiers, trusted WiFi networks, and alphanumeric passwords are also on the way.

    Even if you don't want to upgrade, this app is completely functional, which is cool. The developer definitely deserves your support, though. TimePIN is really neat.

    Google Play App Roundup: App in the Air, Minigore 2, and Photoshop Express 2.0

    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 we've got a new travel companion, a game with zombies, and a big update to an old favorite.

    App in the Air

    Most major airlines have their own apps these days, but I can't think of a single one that's any good. There's something about the way big companies develop apps that far too often leads to terrible design. So if you want to actually reduce the stress you experience at an already tense trip to the airport, third-party apps are your best bet for keeping on top of things. A new arrival in Google Play, App in the Air, might be what you're looking for.

    This app comes over from iOS, but the developers have avoided my ire by making this app native to Android. The main interface is based around three tabs for the departure location, current status, and destination. The origin and destination tabs are interesting additions to the usual flight tracking genre that give you weather information and tips for security, luggage, internet access and more.

    The flight tracking tab changes based on the status of your currently selected flight. There is a vertical scroll with times for check-in, boarding, take-off, and landing. As each of those deadlines passes, they drop off the list. You can also tap to toggle between the actual time and a countdown timer. This tab also alerts you to any changes in flight status like delays or cancellations.

    You can keep track of multiple flights and add new ones from the navigation panel on the left. Adding a new flight can be done in a few ways. If you use TripIt to manage flight reservations, you can log in through App in the Air. Otherwise, you can search by flight number or with the departure/arrival locations and date. Facebook logins are supported, but there's actually a reason to use it in this app. If you log in, App in the Air can backup your flight data online and sync to other devices.

    You get all this stuff for free, and there are no ads. App in the Air includes an in-app purchase for push notifications of flight status updates. You can subscribe for $29.99/yr, or just $2.99 for a month or five flights for $3.99.

    Google Play App Roundup: AirPlay Recorder, Worm Run, and EvolveSMS

    Another week has dawned, and that means it's time to take a look at the comings and goings of the Play Store. There's plenty of new stuff to check out on a weekly basis, but it's hard to find without a little help like you get from the Google Play App Roundup. Just click on the links below to head right to the listings in Google Play.

    This week we record tunes, run from worms, and send better text messages.

    AirPlay Recorder

    If you really wanted to, you could probably find an old cassette deck and record songs from the radio. It's perfectly legal as fair use, but technology has moved on to more advanced methods of music distribution. You can still record the radio with AirPlay Recorder… well, iTunes Radio. This app from doubleTwist acts as an AirPlay receiver that saves the audio output of iTunes Radio as a sound file. Neat, right?

    All you have to do is get iTunes Radio up on your AirPlay-capable device (like a computer) and launch AirPlay Recorder on Android. Your phone should appear in the AirPlay list as a device you can play to, and that's what you do -- just connect and play.

    The app is smart enough to tell the difference between songs and the ads, sounders, and interstitial filler -- that stuff is all skipped automatically. It will also skip and songs you activate AirPlay Recorder part way through. When everything looks good, AirPlay Recorder will archive the files in your music folder automatically.

    One potential downside is that you can't actually hear the music while it's being recorded. You're saving it to listen to later, and that process basically diverts the sound output. The file you get is AAC encoded with no DRM (obviously). The file name is set as [artist] - [song] and the tags are filled in. You can let the recording go in the background and it doesn't seem to really drag the device down at all.

    There are numerous points of failure with this setup, but I got it to work with iTunes on Windows and a Moto X without issue. The free version of AirPlay Recorder lets you record in low quality (32kbps) to test the functionality. It you like it and want to record in full quality VBR AAC, then you can make an in-app purchase for $4.99.

    Google Play App Roundup: Talon, Tank Riders 2, and 12Hours

    Another week, another batch of notable apps and games. Not everything in Google Play is worth your time, but this is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what actually is worth investigation. Just hit the links to go right to the Play Store.

    This week we've got a new Twitter client, a game with exploding tanks, and a handy little widget.

    Talon

    Twitter clients have been a touchy subject for developers ever since Twitter moved to the new API with the 100,000 user limit. That hasn't stopped Klinker Apps from making Talon, a new Twitter client that has a metric ton of features out of the gate. The general vibe you'll get from Talon is that of the now banished Falcon Pro, and that's a good thing.

    The default theme in Talon is dark gray, but there are also white and black themes. Additionally, there is a theming engine that you can use to import new themes made by other developers. There is an action bar up top and a hamburger menu on the left for navigating to all parts of the app. You can also just swipe between the various columns. There are picture and link timelines in addition to the usual main timeline, mentions, and DMs. If you don't want those extra ones, they can be disabled in the settings. That's a theme you'll see a lot in Talon -- don't like something? It can be changed.

    One of the particularly interesting things about this client is that it uses the transparent navigation and status bars on Android 4.4 devices. So your navigation bar at the bottom is always transparent, but the status and action bars are there when you are scrolling down -- they hide when you scroll up. That might seem backward, but that's actually the direction you usually read twitter -- from oldest to newest. There is still some uncertainty in the dev community about how the transparent status bar should work. Some devs like to have the color of the action bar extend up to the top, but others (like Talon) simply have the content slide under the clear gradient bar. I prefer the first way, myself, but Talon's approach is still good.

    I quite like that there is a tablet UI in Talon already, though it disables the transparent status bar because of the persistent left-side navigation panel. All the tweeting and replying works as expected, and Talon has a neat little floating window for most of these functions. However, the browser is also in this floating window, which I feel is unnecessary. You can disable this, though.

    Talon's default notification style is a live push system with a persistent notification item. If you need really fast notifications, I can see this being awesome. Otherwise it's wasted space. Luckily, there are conventional pull notifications as well, and a quick update after release vastly expanded the options here. The one remaining omission from Talon is URL shortening. The developer is aware of its absence, but it hasn't made it into a build yet.

    Lastly, Talon has a wonderful scrollable home screen widget. So many apps miss this crucial element, but not Talon. It's absolutely worth the $1.99 asking price. I'd hurry before it runs out of tokens, though.

    Google Play App Roundup: Rec, Kami, and Archangel

    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 we take a look at a new way to record your screen, a casual puzzler, and a game with fireballs and flaming swords.

    Rec

    Android 4.4 introduced a lot of really interesting features, but one of the additions that flew under the radar was the new native screen recording functionality. It's not hard to see why it hasn't gotten a lot of press, though. The tool is targeted at developers and requires the use of a computer and the ADB command line interface. However, now that the native functionality exists, developers can take advantage of it in a number of ways. Rec is the first app I've seen that successfully adds value to native screen recording, and it's only going to get better over time.

    This is a root app for Android 4.4 users, so let's get that out of the way first. Since most 4.4 devices are in the Nexus, GPE and Moto families, I suspect there's a lot of overlap with rooted users. This app needs root because without it the native screen recorder is only accessible via ADB. So why go to all this trouble for the native system?

    It is true that there have been various screen recorders over the years, but they've always been buggy and sluggish. The native functionality can produce amazing, buttery smooth videos at your device's actual resolution. Rec picks up where Google left off by allowing you to control how that recording is made.

    Rec's main screen has a variety of basic settings for bitrate, length, rotation, and file name. You can set and capture recordings with a 10 second delay, so you can get in position in the app you want to film. This part of the app is all free. The settings panel offers some useful tweaks like showing touches automatically and shake to stop recordings. Of course, this is only for the paid upgrade. Still, the stock command line functionality only works for three minutes max, so you're already ahead of the curve with the free version of Rec.

    Another perk of upgrading to the full version is that you can save your videos settings as presets. So you can have one preset for quick bug capture videos, and another for high-quality demos that you're planning to share. If you boost the bitrate up to 20Mbps, the resulting file looks fabulous -- easily twice as good as any of the root apps making use of their own screen recording systems.

    The main drawback to this app right now is that it doesn't capture audio. That's not part of the native screen recording system, but the developer is working on it. It's probably going to involve recording a separate MP3 and mixing it with the final video file. Even without that ability, Rec is a really cool app that's worth a few bucks to root users.

    Google Play App Roundup: Event Flow Calendar Widget, The Cave, and Aaaaaa!

    It's a new year and a new batch of apps in the weekly Google Play App Roundup. This is where we tell you all about the best new and newly updated stuff happening on Android. Just click the links to head right to Google Play and pick up these beauties for yourself.

    This week your appointments get prettier, the cave beckons, and there is a lot of screaming.

    Event Flow Calendar Widget

    Google added a scrollable calendar widget to Android way back in the big 4.0 update to Ice Cream Sandwich. At the time, it was better than all the other calendar widgets in Google play because almost nothing supported the new scrolling behavior. It continued to be a good option for a while, but Google hasn't done much to improve it since then. A new app called Event Flow Calendar Widget offers numerous themes and features that make it a fine replacement for the stock widget, and you can try it out for free.

    You add Event Flow to the home screen like you would any other widget, but the configuration options are extensive. There are both Agenda and Month view widgets -- the Agenda version is more or less the same layout as the stock widget.

    You get the basic stuff that even Google's own widget can do, for example displaying only a few of the calendars synced to your device and resizing on the home screen. However, it also gives you the choice of four different themes (two in the free version). The Agenda widget is very clean looking and the themes let you integrate it into your home screen aesthetic.

    One feature I find quite handy is the built in weather info. Next to each day you'll get a small forecast icon with high and low temperature. The font colors, size, and spacing are also configurable. Though, I'd like to be able to justify text more to the left to fit better on a narrow widget.

    The month view is more useful if you don't have a ton of content on your calendars and can devote an entire screen to the widget. It highlights the current day and shows appointments with colored blocks. Tapping on a day opens it in your chosen calendar app. The settings button at the top of the app lets you make changes to the UI and settings at any time without removing and re-adding the widget.

    Even with the free options, Event Flow is a capable replacement for the stock calendar widgets included on most Android devices. It only costs $1.50 to unlock all the good stuff, though.

    Google Play App Roundup: Opera Max, Colossatron, and GTA: San Andreas

    As the year draws to a close, the Android developer community isn't slowing down. New apps and games continue to flow into Google Play, but you could never keep up on your own. That's why we're here to filter out the junk and serve up only the best in new apps and games with the Google Play App Roundup. Just click the links to head right to Google Play.

    This week we wreck up the place, save some bandwidth, and turn to a life of crime.

    Opera Max

    The Opera browser has been popular on mobile largely due to its really handy compression features. If you're worried about going over your tiered data plan, Opera is a big help. But Opera can't help you if you want to use Chrome, or pull in a lot of data through another app. That's why the company is now testing Opera Max, a VPN that can compress most of the data coming into your phone to save bandwidth.

    This app is in testing, which means you'll have to join the Opera testing community. It only takes a few minutes, but be aware the link above won't work until you do so. Once you're up and running, Opera Max will have you add it as a VPN provider on the device (Android 4.0 and later only).

    Two notifications keep you appraised of what Max is up to: one entry lists your data usage and savings with a link to the app, and the other offers quick access to network stats and disconnection. I'd like to see these condensed to a single item, though. The app itself has daily and monthly tabs to show you how much data has been used and saved for each app. I'm very pleased to see that the app is well designed and follows the Android design guidelines.

    The daily stats in particular are interesting -- it's laid out like a timeline showing which app sucked down bytes when. Additionally, you can tap on any of the app listings to see the historical usage pattern and even block mobile data through the VPN.

    Opera Max is mainly geared toward compressing images, video, and text. So it won't affect your file downloads or uploads. The compression isn't terribly noticeable on most images -- it's more obvious with subtle gradients, which will exhibit some banding. Video does look more obviously pixelated going through the Opera VPN, but that's the price you pay for saving bandwidth.

    It will be up to you whether or not the slight reduction in image quality is worth the savings, but it's nice to have the option. Some fine tuning of the compression might be nice, but a one-size-fits-all approach is probably easier for Opera to implement. The beta is completely free, but the final product will be ad-supported with an option to pay $1 per month for an ad-free subscription.

    Google Play App Roundup: Android Device Manager, Dead Ahead, and Savant - Ascent

    The year is drawing to a close, but the Play Store is open for business all through the holiday season. There's plenty of stuff to choose from under the Android tree, though, and we're here to sort through it. The Google Play App Roundup brings you only the best. Just click on the links to head straight to the Play Store to check things out for yourself.

    This week we find our phones, stay ahead of the dead, and climb skyward.

    Android Device Manager

    Google rolled out a cool feature to all Android devices a few months ago called Android Device Manager. When enabled in the Google Play Services Administrator settings, it allows you to use the Android Device Manager (ADM) website to track, lock, ring, and even remote wipe your devices. It's cool, but missing was the mobile component -- until now. An official Android Device Manager app has finally hit Google Play.

    To fully utilize ADM, you need to allow it access to the device administrator menu. If you haven't done this, the app will be able to send you a link to show you where to toggle the setting. It's in Settings > Security > Device Administrators. From there, you can enable Android Device Administrator, which lets it do more than just track your phone or tablet.

    Obviously, this app is only of use if you have more than one Android device -- like a phone and a tablet. If you activate the location tracking for the device in your hand, the app will tell you right where it is -- in your hand. Google likes a good joke as much as the next multinational conglomerate. There is a drop down to select from a list of your devices, which will then pop up on the map in the middle of the screen.

    There is a mobile version of the ADM website, but it's a little sluggish. The native app has the advantage of being more responsive and can switch between accounts on the fly. It should not be surprising in a Google app, but ADM scales very well from phones to tablets. The UI rearranges on tablets to have a larger map with a floating window for device selection, for example.

    Getting a device location only takes a few seconds most of the time, and the same goes for pushing down commands to ring the phone so you can find it, or lock/wipe it when it's a lost cause. Google's back end will continue sending a command until the device shows up. So even if it has no connectivity when you try to wipe it, the command will go through the next time it's online. It's not an ideal solution, as wiping the device disconnects it from your Google account and ADM, but it's better than nothing.

    Google Play App Roundup: VSCO Cam, Assassin's Creed Pirates, and Clash of Puppets

    The holiday season is here, so how about buying yourself a little something this year? An app or game that's actually worth your money would be nice, and the Google Play App Roundup is a great place to find that special something. Just click on the links to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.

    This week we've got a new camera app, a game set on the high seas, and some B-movie mayhem.

    VSCO Cam

    Taking pictures with an Android phone is a bit hit or miss -- some devices take great shots in certain conditions and not so great in others. Still others have good sensors, but don't have the software to truly take advantage of it. iPhone users have been raving about VSCO Cam since it debuted on that platform, and now it's on Android for all to use.

    VSCO Cam is a camera app that takes things back to basics. There aren't a ton of user-facing settings to tweak. You basically just have guideline overlays, flash, and focus. When you tap to focus, the app will set the exposure white balance, and so on as it sees fit. The developers claim to have spent a lot of time tuning this behind the scenes stuff. In fact, your device will churn for about 20 seconds the first time you open VSCO Cam as it optimizes for your device… or so they say.

    The image quality seems good -- I'd say better than most third-party cameras. The colors seem a bit more accurate and it has a good sense of white balance. The thing that really seems to get everyone hot for this app is the selection of filters. There are a ton of them, if you're willing to pay.

    You get about a dozen filters for free, plus a few more free packs with a handful of looks. If you really want to go filter wild, there are almost 20 more packs for $0.99 each. Each pack has three filters with a particular theme. I don't consider myself a filter person, but VSCO Cam does have very good filters, if that's your thing. They don't seem to hurt the detail of your snapshots, and you can vary the strength of the effect.

    VSCO Cam has a gallery built-in where you manage the filters, and also edit images in the more traditional way. All the pictures you take are kept in this gallery only, but you can export them to the regular Android gallery app as you like. There are a lot of editing options from the regular crop/rotate/brightness stuff, to the more esoteric highlight tint and grain. When you're done, VSCO Cam can share directly to Instagram, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.

    My only issue with the gallery is that the minimalist UI is a little TOO minimalist -- I'd kill for some button labels. Sometimes you just have to tap something to see what it does because there's no way to tell what a circle means from only the shape.

    VSCO Cam is free to try, and you can still do plenty of snapping and filtering with the included filters. I suppose if I had to look at filtered photos, I'd prefer them to be from VSCO Cam -- it does the best job of any app I've seen.

    Google Play App Roundup: Ridiculous Fishing, SidePlayer, and Badland

    Some weeks there are a few cool things showing up on Android, and other weeks are like this one -- an embarrassment of riches. There are some amazing things going on in Google Play, and the weekly Google Play App Roundup is a pretty good place to find out about them. Just click on the links to head right to the Play Store.

    This week we've got fun fishing, easier listening, and a game that almost defies description.

    SidePlayer

    So lets say you're playing a game on your device and listening to music at the same time. Ah, the joys of multitasking. On most Android devices, you can't easily access the player controls from a full-screen app. So what do you do? go back to the home screen just to change songs? Heck, no. What is this, the stone age? SidePlayer puts some handy music controls just a tap away.

    SidePlayer has support built-in for some of the top music players on Android. There's Google Play All Access, of course, but also PowerAmp, Shuttle, Spotify, and many of the OEM music apps. Other than selecting the app you prefer to use, there's no special configuration necessary to make SidePlayer work.

    The default behavior is to open the playback control buttons when you swipe in from the right of the screen. You get play/pause and skip forward/back buttons. These buttons will float on top of your app until you dismiss them with a swipe in the opposite direction. If they aren't in the way, you can even leave them up -- they'll just stay off to the right as you're doing other things.

    I've had no issue using SidePlayer with any apps. It's been pretty responsive with everything, and I don't find myself triggering it by accident much. You really have to deliberately do an edge gesture to open it -- an errant tap on the right edge isn't enough to trigger SidePlayer.

    This behavior is all covered by the free version of SidePlayer. If you get the $1.75 pro version, it adds a fair number of configuration options. You can choose from various skins, change the location of the buttons/gesture, change the button layout, and more. Perhaps the biggest selling point of the pro version is the ability to display song info on the screen when the controls are up. That's great if you're playing a radio station or have shuffle turned on.

    This is a handy app to have around if your device doesn't have its own way of exposing notification controls in full-screen apps. You should definitely give the free version a shot to see if you groove to it.