Quantcast
Latest StoriesAndroid
    Testing: Samsung Galaxy S6 Smartphone

    The new Samsung Galaxy S6 released last Friday sure looks more like an iPhone than any of Samsung's Galaxy phones before it. Unibody aluminum construction, glass front and back, and nary a screw or chunky piece of plastic in sight. Is the design an egregious rip-off? That's for lawyers to argue. But it is absolutely a concession by Samsung that the design ethos we've seen from Apple since the iPhone 4 has merit: a beautiful unibody phone is worth the omission of "power-user" features like a user-replaceable battery and memory card slot. And in this case, I think the tradeoffs may be worth it. There's so much to like in the new GS6.

    I picked up my Galaxy S6 from Best Buy when it was released and have been using it for the past three days. That's not enough time for a thorough evaluation of its technical performance and nuances of long-term use, but enough to share some impressions of the attributes that stand out. Let's run through those, starting with the design.

    The GS6's Design is Beautiful

    Regardless of how Samsung came to the design of the Galaxy S6, they ended up with one of the best-looking and feeling Android phones I've used. It looks especially fetching in white, where the illuminated menu and back buttons fade into the glass of the front face. But it's less about the glass on the front and back of the phone than it is about the aluminum band wrapped around the phone. Yes, from the bottom, it looks very much like an iPhone 6, speaker grille, headphone jack, and all. But the aluminum on the long sides of the phone is a flat edge, making it much easier to grip than the fully-curved sides of the latest iPhones. The GS6 is light, thin, and doesn't make me worry that it'll slip out of my hands when typing single-handed.

    Using glass for the phone's back may be the most questionable design decision for this phone. Glass may be prettier than aluminum, but this is a phone that will shatter if you drop it on concrete. I'm not going to get a case for it, but I am definitely treating it more carefully than the OnePlus One and Moto X I was using before. And no, I'm not going to try to bend it to the point of breaking.

    Google Play App Roundup: Office Remote, Corridor Z, and Dragon Hills

    It's time once again to find out what's going on in the Play Store. This is the Google Play App Roundup where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just hit the links below to head right to the Play Store on your device.

    This week Office gets official remote control, the zombies are coming, and dragons erupt from the ground.

    Office Remote

    Microsoft has lately been all about expanding its products beyond the consistently underperforming Windows Phone platform. The latest feature to reach Android is the Office Remote app, which can be used to access and control documents in the Office 2013 desktop suite. You'll need Bluetooth on your PC and a full version of Office, but the results are neat.

    Office Remote connects to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. The idea is that you'll use this as a way to control a presentation, which is mostly a PowerPoint thing. However, anyone who has ever sat through meetings as part of the daily grind know that there's not always time to turn something into a Powerpoint. As such, it's nice there's support for all three of the core Office apps.

    Setup is fairly easy -- turn on Bluetooth on your Android device and PC, then install the Office Remote add-on from Microsoft. The app will send you a link to download it. That places an Office Remote tab in your desktop Office apps. Just go there and enable remote access to your open documents. Next, you need to pair your devices, which can be fussy depending on your setup. You might need to manually pair your PC and phone from the system menu before it will show up in the list of available devices in the Office Remote app.

    If you're connecting to Powerpoint, you get the most options including advancing slides, thumbnail view, and virtual laser pointer control using the phone's screen (this is more fun than you think). With Excel, you're basically moving around the document in various ways. You can jump between worksheets, go to named objects, filter data, and more. Word lets you scroll around, zoom, jump to comments/headings, and a few other things.

    Once you're connected, Office Remote seems very stable and reliable. I did have some issues getting it to refresh the list of open files, but closing and reopening the app seemed to fix it. If you ever have to show an Office document to others, you should definitely consider using Office Remote. It's much easier than most of those third-party presentation management apps out there. It's also free, aside from the cost of Office.

    Google Play App Roundup: Infinit, Tetrobot and Co, and DuckTales: Remastered

    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.

    This week we look at sending big files, a robo-puzzler, and a classic game remastered.

    Infinit

    So you've got a file on your phone or tablet, and you want it somewhere else? You could upload it to a cloud storage service, send an email, or set up a local WiFi share. A new app called Infinit promises to handle all the legwork for you, and do so super-fast.

    You need to sign up for an Infinit account before you can use it, which isn't uncommon. However, the app only allows you to use an email address or Facebook. Google sign-in would be appreciated. At any rate, the app itself is very straightforward to use. It's arranged into a series of tabs, with the main one being a list of files you've transferred. There's a floating action button to initiate file transfers (the only real material element in the app).

    After choosing a file, you have the option of sending it to your own devices (Android and desktop) or to any of your contacts. This is one of the cool things about Infinit. You don't need to have other people set up with the app ahead of time. When you send them the transfer request by email or SMS, they will get a unique link to download the app and link their account with yours. After this first transfer, they will just receive a notification for each new transfer, which can be accepted or rejected.

    Infinit claims its transfers are faster than simply using the cloud, although that's what it uses most of the time. What I suspect they mean is that the app is smart enough to know if two devices are on the same local WiFi network. If that's the case, they will connect over the local network for a much faster transfer. Another advantage, according to the developers, is that there is absolutely no limit on the file type or size you can send. That really makes it stand out from most file transfer tools.

    The functionality seems to all be there, but I feel like the app could use a redesign to look more suited to Android. The icons and styling look a little too much like iOS for my taste. The FAB only helps a little. Still, this is worth checking out if you need to send big files with a minimum of hassle.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (March 2015)

    The season for 2015 flagship phones is upon us, and it's hard to make a bad choice. Truth be told, most Android phones are quite good now. You'll probably be satisfied with most of them, but we want more than good enough. We want the best. Most people don't pick up a new phone every six months, so you need to get something that has staying power.

    Samsung and HTC are both taking pre-orders for their flagship phones, and you can get them on all four big US carriers. Before we dig in, we need to sort out which one of those is best.

    Photo credit: Flickr user bestboyzde via Creative Commons

    The HTC One M9 and the Samsung Galaxy S6

    This is a strange time for Android as OEMs are finally figuring out how important it is to make your phone available to everyone. The days of carrier exclusives for flagship phones are well and truly gone, and that means you can pick up the HTC One M9 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 on any carrier of your choice. Let's see how these two stack up before we dive down into the specifics.

    Samsung has completely redesigned the Galaxy S6 this year after a lackluster showing from the GS5 last year.

    The first wave of reviews for these devices have started to hit, so we've got a good idea how they will perform if you opt to buy one on your carrier of choice. Samsung has completely redesigned the Galaxy S6 this year after a lackluster showing from the GS5 last year. The entire phone is metal and glass, and it really and truly does feel like a premium piece of hardware. It has the precision and elegance of Apple's engineering with a little Samsung flair thrown in.

    Toward the bottom of the front of this device Samsung has placed its customary physics home button and capacitive multi-tasking and back buttons. The home button is a little larger this year and has a proper touch-based fingerprint sensor. It's very clicky and feels solid. The buttons on the side are also extremely tactile and tight. Around back is a camera hump for Samsung's new 16MP image sensor. It has a wider aperture than last year for better low-light shots, and it performs every bit as well as you'd expect. Samsung's HDR photos are second to none.

    Google Play App Roundup: Open Imgur, Frozen Synapse Prime, and Overpaint

    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.

    This week you can share images more easily, hack the system, and mix up some colors.

    Open Imgur

    Seldom will you see a more negative reaction on the internet than if you post a link on Reddit that does not go to Imgur. The image sharing site has become the go-to way to host images for Reddit, as well as many other sites and services. There is an official Imgur app, but it's really just okay. Open Imgur, on the other hand, seems pretty great.

    This app comes to the Play Store packing a fully material interface with an "imgur green" action bar and light backdrop. That's just the default, though. As with most material apps, you can change the action/status bar color in the settings. There's also a dark theme, which actually looks a bit more like the Imgur website.

    The main screen when you open the app is a feed of recent galleries posted by users in a grid layout. To get around, there's a slide-out nav menu on the left. Again, this is done with proper material styling. From here you can log in if you have an Imgur account, as well as access different areas of the app. You can view images by topic, subreddit, or random. When viewing individual images you can add comments and favorite posts.

    Open Imgur also has a meme generator built-in, which comes with a selection of all the big memes. There's Scumbag Steve, Insanity Wolf, Skeptical Third-World Kid, and more. If you're already tired of all the memes you've ever seen, feel free to avoid this section of the app. Actually, why are you using Imgur at all? I kid.

    Of course, Imgur is all about sharing your pics, and you can do that with Open Imgur. There's a section of the app where you can get images from your device uploaded and share the links. A FAB on the main page also lets you upload images. If you're logged in, you can access all your past uploads from the app as well.

    One last thing, this is called Open Imgur, right? Well, it's open source, You can go to the Github and download the code, fork it, file changes, and so on. You can get the finished app free in the Play Store.

    Android Tablet Roundup: Which Tablet Is Right for You?

    Android tablets are going through an interesting transition right now. We're seeing the first few hints of 64-bit support, 4:3 screens, and some powerful gaming features. However, these products are still imperfect. I don't think there's such a thing as the perfect Android tablet for everyone right now, but there are a few good ones that might work well for you.

    Let's check out all the top tablets on the market and see what they all have going for them.

    Nexus 9

    If you like having access to the latest software and dig the 4:3 form factor, the Nexus 9 might be an appealing option. This tablet runs on a Denver dual-core Nvidia Tegra K1 chip with 2GB of RAM and 16-32GB of storage. The centerpiece is clearly the screen, which is above average compared to most Android tablets. It's an 8.9-inch LCD with a resolution of 2048x1536, just like the iPad. At 8.9-inches, a widescreen tablet would be awkward to use in portrait orientation, but the the N9 is quite comfy.

    The Nexus 9 runs Android 5.0/5.1 Lollipop without any OEM junk added. This is Android as Google intended with updates more or less guaranteed for at least two years. The Nexus 9 might fall back to second priority in a year or so when new devices come out, but you won't be left to rot on an old version of Android within the expected life of this tablet. There are also full system images for the Nexus 9 and an unlockable bootloader, making for easy modding (and fixing your mistakes so you don't end up with a brick).

    I think the biggest knock against the Nexus 9 is that the build quality simply isn't where it needs to be for a $400 and up tablet. The buttons are a little mushy, the soft touch plastic feels a little cheap, and it's slightly heavy. More recent production runs of the Nexus 9 are much more solid. It still takes a weirdly long time to charge, though.

    More problematic is the state of the Nexus 9's software. It's overall a better experience than many Android tablets, but the N9 still stutters and hangs more than it should. Nvidia's Denver CPU core has a lot of power, but it seems like it's not being fully harnessed in the N9. Hopefully a future software update gives this tablet the extra boost it needs to be a better experience.

    The Nexus 9 is a good tablet, but it's pricey. If you can find one on sale, it might be a good buy. Even if you can't the form factor makes it worth considering.

    Google Play App Roundup: Tinkerplay, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Boss Monster

    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.

    This week we finally put that 3D printer to use, visit the past, and become a boss monster.

    Tinkerplay

    In my day we didn't have any choice in the design of our action figures. We took what we were given and we liked it. Also snow, uphill both ways, and so on. With the advent of 3D printing, it has become possible to make real world objects dreamed up on a computer from the comfort of your own home. Autodesk's new Tinkerplay app lets you create characters from a plethora of interchangeable parts, then export a file to have it 3D printed. The future is now.

    All the parts are available in the arc-shaped menu in the top right corner. From here you can choose any of a number of torsos to use at the starting point of a design. There are also categories for arms, legs, hands, weapons, and other miscellaneous parts. To attach something new, simply drag it from the list and to the general vicinity of the connection point. The app will display an arc of electricity to show where it will snap on if released at that moment.

    You can start from scratch and build whatever you like, but the app also comes with some complete advanced models that can be tweaked to your liking. However you decide to use the app, you can move the parts around to pose your creation by tapping and dragging. If you need to precisely position a single component without affecting everything it's attached to, you can double tap to get a 3D rotation interface. You might want to zoom in to do this more effectively.

    Tinkerplay also has full support for adding colors and textures to your models. This is all reflected in the final file export as well. Speaking of the file export, you can select the type of printer you're using to get the proper format, but all you really need to worry about is getting a .stl or .thing file. You can change the scale of the parts, separate by color, and more. The app also gives you an approximate printing time.

    Google Play App Roundup: Source, Table Tennis Touch, and Dungeon Hunter 5

    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 Google Play.

    This week there's a lovely new news reader, a game about a game, and a new dungeon crawler.

    Source

    Source is a feed reader client from the developers of the popular Talon for Twitter. The two apps have a lot in common, meaning a strict adherence to material design aesthetics and plenty of colors. Source has been in beta for a few months, but now it's ready for primetime. This isn't meant to be a replacement as your main RSS hub, but it plugs into services like Feedly, The Old Reader, and others to provide a clean, attractive interface for keeping an eye on those feeds.

    When you first open Source, it asks you to add feeds via whatever service you have previously used. It lists any groups you may have set up in Feedly or something else, and allows you to choose which ones you want synced to Source. If you don't have an account at one of the established services, you can add RSS feeds individually to Source.

    The main interface for checking articles in Source, is very clean--there's not even a slide-out navigation menu, just a list of cards. You can tap on any article to have it expanded in-line (similar to Talon). If the site only provides a snippet of text you can open the full article in a browser, but there isn't one built into Source. Source has background sync for articles, and it can be limited to only work on WiFi to control your data usage.

    Where this app truly shines is with the interface--it's really pretty. The default theme is a white background with an orange status/action bar. In the settings you can change to a dark theme and pick from a dozen different accent colors. The navigation bar can be colored as well. Just about every button and card in the interface has a touch effect attached to it too.

    Source's last trick is something that's becoming increasingly popular--Wear integration. When you connect an Android Wear watch, a Source module will sync over that lets you view the entire feed on your wrist. You can scroll through cards for each article and tap on them to view all the available text. I don't know that I'd want to do this very much on such a small screen, but it's an option.

    Source is a very attractive app with solid, though basic functionality. Although, I think it's going to be a somewhat hard sell for $2.99 when it lacks some of the features of a full-featured client. If you already use Feedly or a similar service, Source could be a great way to see your pre-built feeds in a better app.

    Google Play App Roundup: Ampere, Dark Echo, and Blockwick 2

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

    This week you can see power, sound, and illuminated blocks.

    Ampere

    It used to be that all microUSB phone chargers were created equal, but that's no longer the case. There are power adapters with different ratings, and then there are all those Quick Charge-compatible chargers. Wireless chargers complicate matters even more. Ampere is a simple app that tells you what kind of juice you're getting from your charger with a pleasant material interface.

    Ampere is not the first app to display battery current on Android. The system exposes this information to apps, but few have ever implemented it in a compelling way. This app is geared only toward showing you your battery's state. At the top is a display of the current as measured in milliampere hours. If you're discharging, that number is negative. Plugged in, it's positive. Alongside that value are the minimum and maximum for the current observation period, which can be reset by tapping the "x" under the current value.

    Below the measurement area is some basic system information like the type of charging reported by the system (USB, AC, wireless), battery health, and device model. There's also a floating action button that links to the system battery stats interface. Settings are sparse, and you can't really do anything with the free ad-supported version of the app. It's $1 up upgrade via in-app purchase, which grants you an optional notification that shows you the charge information at all times and a few other small tweaks.

    Device support is not universal because of the different power control ICs that are used in some phones and tablets. I've tested it on a few devices like the Nexus 6, Nexus 9, and LG G3 without issue. The developer has an official list of supported devices on the app description page, but I suspect it's intentionally conservative. You'll probably be fine, but you don't have to pay anything to try it out.

    With this app you can easily figure out how much power you're getting from different chargers without looking at the regulatory markings on them. Even if you did know the specs, not all chargers work as advertised. Keep in mind this app is displaying the power measured at the battery, so it won't exactly match the specs of any charger due to inefficiencies in the hardware.

    I can see a clear difference between standard AC adapters and Quick Charge ones with Ampere, but more interesting is the difference between various wireless chargers. Wireless charging is slower than wired, of course, but some of the ones I've tested are more than twice as fast as others. It's times like that Ampere comes in handy.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (February 2015)

    This is a strange time in the Android world. Big phones are on the way, but there are already so many great ones out there. Getting a new phone can be a two-year investment (at least for most people). You don't want to get the wrong thing and regret it on a daily basis. What's a phone nerd to do? Well, let's try to figure that out.

    Photo credit: Flickr user janitors via creative commons.

    This month is all about playing the waiting game or jumping on something that seems good enough.

    Wait it out? The HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6

    If you think you need a new phone right now, I would urge you to consider if need is really the right word. Maybe you just really want one. If that's the case, you should wait. Samsung and HTC have both announced updated versions of their flagship devices, and they'll probably be on sale in just a few weeks -- probably late March or early April.

    So we're going to do things a little differently this month. Since both these devices will be going up against each other, let's talk about what each one brings to the table so you can get a feel for them. They'll be on all four major carriers, so you can take you pick in a month or so when they come out, if that's what you decide to do. If you're ready to buy a phone right now, we'll go over an alternative on each carrier.

    How To Keep Your Android 5.0 Lollipop Phone Secure

    Android has come a long way with regard to security in the last few years. Not only can you more easily secure your device to protect personal data, there are more tools that make all your other devices and accounts safe. Of course, none of that does you any good if you aren't taking advantage of it. Let's go over everything you can do to make Android as secure as it can be.

    Lock Screen and Pinning

    Some of your built-in security options will vary from one device to the next depending on OEM and Android version. As Android 5.0 Lollipop is finally starting to roll out en masse, it's worth going over the new security features you'll find. One of the most significant changes is the way the lock screen is handled. It will show your notifications by default, and if you choose to have a pattern, PIN, or password, lock, you can restrict which notifications show up there.

    In Lollipop, you can control which apps contain "sensitive" content in the sound and notification menu. Under "App Notifications" you'll find a list of everything installed on your phone. Each entry includes an option to mark it as sensitive, which keeps it from showing up on the lock screen. No matter what version of Android you have, the secure lock screen is your first line of defense. Some OEMs like LG and Samsung add extra unlock methods like Knock Code and the fingerprint reader, respectively. If security is even a passing concern, you should use one of the available methods.

    So what if you don't want to enter your unlock code every single time? On all recent versions of Android there's a handy little feature in the Security menu. The "Automatically Lock" setting lets you choose how long after the screen goes off that the secure lock should kick in. There's also a toggle to have the power button automatically lock or not. This way you can wake up your phone a few times without entering the password constantly. However, if you leave it sitting for a certain amount of time, it locks.

    Android 5.0 Lollipop adds a new set of lock screen features called Smart Lock. You can set a location, device, or face that the phone will consider "trusted." When this criteria is met, you can just swipe to unlock. Location is straightforward--simply choose a location and the phone will remain unlocked there but will revert to your secure lock screen when it leaves. The trusted device setting lets you mark a Bluetooth or NFC connection as trusted so when that device is connected, the phone will unlock without asking for your code.

    Google Play App Roundup: iA Writer, Magic Touch: Wizard for Hire, and Chrooma

    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 there are fewer distractions, more magic, and a moderate number of FABs.

    iA Writer

    I fancy myself a writer, as you might have guessed. I've been doing it for a long time using a variety of programs on the desktop and mobile devices. There are a few apps out there designed to combat distracted while writing, but iA Writer is probably one of the most popular. It's been on Mac and iOS for a while, but now it has come to Android. I'm going to write this post in iA Writer to see how it goes because I'm not sure I'm sold on this low-distraction thing.

    iA Writer offers a bare bones interface, but it's not really lacking in functionality. This app simply courses very carefully the features it thinks you need. When you've got the keyboard up, iA Writer gifts the action bar completely. There's a small menu icon that can pull it back up, but if you're using iA Writer the way it was intended, that shouldn't come up much. The idea is that you just write, and take your hands (or thumbs) off the keyboard as little as possible.

    There are no formatting controls in iA Writer. Instead, it uses markdown in plain text documents. So you still have things like italics and lists, but you enter them with special characters like asterisks and underscores. The app does change the formatting as you go so you'll know if you've entered things correctly.

    In the action bar you have undo and redo buttons, share, new document, and focus mode. You can probably figure out what all those do except for focus mode, but the name is self-explanatory. Turn this on and iA Writer will gray out every sentence except the one you're working on. It's supposed to help you focus, thus focus mode.

    iA Writer outputs, as mentioned above, plain text documents. The default format is a .md file, which you can open in a variety of ways. The share button can also be used to export your text in a variety of ways. iA Writer also has built-in Dropbox sync so you can keep your files safe in the cloud.

    This app could be a great way to stay on task if you're prone to distraction, and it's really snappy. All the Android keyboard auto-correction features and spell checking works fine as well. I don't know if I'll use iA Writer full-time on Android, but i appreciate the effort that went into making this a proper Android version and not simply a messy iOS port. It's worth the $4.99 asking price if distraction-free writing is what you seek.

    Tested In-Depth: Dell Venue 8 7000 Android Tablet

    Dell's new tablet isn't just one of the best-designed tablets we've used, it's our new favorite Android tablet. We discuss how the thin bezel and high-resolution OLED display affects content consumption, the differences between ARM and x86 on Android, and expected battery life for today's tablets.

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

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

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

    Palabre

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

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

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

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

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

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

    5 Lollipop Problems Google Should Address in Android 5.1

    Right from the start it was clear Google had big plans for Android 5.0 Lollipop. The entire UI had been rethought and some long-awaited features were finally being added. Sure, there were a few gripes over this or that minor feature, but Lollipop looked like a win. Now that we've got the advantage of hindsight, let's look back at Lollipop and see what Google still has to fix in the impending Android 5.1 update.

    The Infamous Memory Leak

    Google's initial deployment of Android 5.0 seemed to be going swimmingly. Mere days after Nexus devices got their customary updates LG, Nvidia, and Motorola started sending out the first wave of OTAs. Then things got weird and the updates slowed to a crawl, and from what I've been told it was because of memory usage.

    Most Android devices still ship with 2GB of RAM, and that's more than enough most of the time, but Lollipop has a particularly nasty memory leak that doesn't show up in system process tracking. Basically, RAM is not being reclaimed properly after process are closed, leading to a memory constrained environment. Background services that you want running (ex. music playback) are mysteriously closed and the home screen redraws frequently. A device like the Nexus 6 with 3GB of RAM seems to be immune from any ill effects, but it's an ongoing issue for many others.

    This bug has been reported to Google thousands of times and is one of the most "starred" items in the public Android issue tracker. While Google has marked the defect as minor, it's the sort of thing that can ruin a user experience if a build of Lollipop isn't specifically designed to avoid it. This is probably one of the main reasons the Lollipop rollout has stalled for months. OEMs were waiting on a fix, and now there is one.

    Google has listed this bug as "future release," meaning it should be patched in the next major release. That means Android 5.1, as long as it was done in time.

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

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

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

    Lock Me Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Power Button Flashlight

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

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

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

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

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

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (January 2015)

    We took a month off from bombarding you with phone recommendations over the holiday season, but now it's time to dive back in. This is a crucial time if you're up for contract renewal or have saved up the cash to get a new device. Flagship phones are going to be announced in the coming weeks, which could make you feel quite behind the times with your previously top-of-the-line device. Let's try to keep that from happening.

    AT&T

    Ma Bell has taken a more cautious approach to updates than many of the other carriers, so there's not much movement amongst the top phones. I think your best bets right now are the Moto X or the LG G3. However, we know that HTC's upcoming flagship, which will probably be announced in mere weeks, will be for sale soon on AT&T. Samsung too is probably a little further off, but not much. That affects the calculus.

    Starting with the LG G3, You're looking at a 5.5-inch LCD with an excellent 2560x1440 resolution. A fwe months ago this was a huge device, now it simply feels big. I even feel like a giant after using the G3 after carrying around a nexus 6. The bezels are incredibly thin and there are no buttons around the edges. Instead, LG stuck those on the back, and that's a good place for them. The frame and back are entirely plastic, but they're very solid premium-feeling plastics. I don't feel like I'm going to break the G3 when I take the back panel off. Speaking of, that's where the removable battery and microSD card slot are.

    The LG G3 is packing some impressive hardware including 3GB of RAM, a 3000mAh battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. It's a fast device, and LG's skin is mostly free of bloat. The battery life is very good in standby, but you won't get as much screen time as you would with a 1080p screen. 4-5 hours is still doable on the G3. The software is also very reliable in that it won't start wakelocking for no reason.

    The G3's 13MP camera is the same resolution as the Moto X and the Nexus 6, but it's probably a better overall camera. Low light performance is solid, if perhaps a little aggressive with noise reduction. The laser autofocus system totally works and outdoor images are stunning.

    I find myself not disliking LG's Android skin, and what I've seen of the impending Lollipop update has me excited. Most of the strange UI choices LG made on the G3 (and there aren't many) are being covered up by proper Lollipop elements. The fact that LG is now finally using the proper on-screen buttons setup is hugely encouraging too. LG also didn't spend time on crappy features no one will care about. Instead we get cool stuff like guest mode and Knock Code. Knock Code is a particularly cool feature that lets you securely unlock the phone while also waking it up with a series of taps on the screen.

    The G3 is still $149 on-contract from AT&T, but it does go on sale fairly often. It compares favorably to the competition.

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

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

    BLINQ

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

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

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

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

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

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