Quantcast
Latest StoriesAndroid
    Google Play App Roundup: Amazon Instant Video, Block Fortress, and Phantom Rift

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

    Amazon Instant Video

    What universe is this? It's hard to believe, but there is finally a way to play Amazon Instant Video on your non-Amazon Android phone. Don't get too excited--Amazon is going about this in its characteristically bizarre way. There's not an Instant Video app in the Play Store, but Amazon has updated the standard shopping app to be something of an omnibus of all its digital content. That's kind of interesting in and of itself.

    The Amazon app will now include a play button when viewing listings for Instant Video titles. This includes things you'd have to buy or rent, as well as free video for those with a Prime account. The first time you try to play a video, something unusual will happen. Rather than loading the video, you will be asked to install the Instant Video app. However, it's not in the Play Store. Instead, it will be downloaded by the Amazon app and you'll have to allow unknown sources in the settings to install it. Why it wouldn't just be put in the Play Store is beyond me.

    Another thing to know--the Instant Video app is only officially available on phones. If you are using the tablet version of Amazon's app, you won't see the video content at all. Even installing the phone version on a tablet won't offer the option to install the Instant Video client. It's not the end of the world, though. The Instant Video APK can be sideloaded, but it won't allow you to stream any videos because of a "license error." This is an artificial blockade by Amazon.

    The playback interface is about what you'd expect. It has support for captions and hides on-screen nav buttons correctly. It also pulls up a thumbnail preview when you scrub through the timeline. Video quality was solid on all the devices I tested with as well. One more missing piece of the puzzle is Chromecast support--Amazon would probably prefer you bought a Fire TV. The main Amazon app also includes its other Appstore content, but you still need the actually Appstore client for licensing purposes.

    It's frustrating to see so many limitations on Instant Video for Android, but it's better than nothing. I can only hope that Amazon wises up and makes this content available on the platforms on which people want to use it.

    Google Play App Roundup: Boxer, CounterSpy, and Bio Inc

    There are far too many apps flowing into the Play Store on a daily basis to find all the good stuff yourself. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup seeks to solve. Every week we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.

    This week there's a cool new mail client, a game about sneaking, and a biomedical strategy simulator.

    Boxer

    The official Gmail app does a pretty good job when it comes to managing email on Android, but maybe you want something with a few more options, or you don't use a Google address all the time. There are plenty of options out there, but the newly released Boxer email client is one of the best I've ever come across. It might even be good enough to replace the Gmail app for some.

    Boxer supports Gmail, Exchange, Outlook, Yahoo, Hotmail, iCloud, AOL, Office 365, and generic IMAP and POP3 accounts. The setup process is painless and configures the settings automatically based on the type of email address you add. Like the regular Gmail app, it has push notifications for new messages and includes rich Android notifications.

    If you're using a Gmail account, Boxer has built-in support for labels, stars, and threaded messages. Although, I've noticed a few threads broken up for some reason. The interface is very light and clean with a modern Android aesthetic. The navigation panel provides quick access to all your labels and folders too. Boxer scales appropriately to phones and tablets, with a two-pane UI for tablets.

    The message list is typical of mail clients at first glance, but there's something very cool going on behind the scenes. Boxer has swipe controls that can be used to manage messages, but they're much more powerful than the swipe actions for Gmail and other apps. The left and right swipe directions are split up into short and long swipes. For example, a short swipe to the left might archive a message, whereas a long swipe deletes it. The right swipes can add a label for a short swipe, and trigger a quick reply for a long one.

    What's more, you can use the swipe controls on more than one message at a time by multi-selecting and then swiping on any of the selected messages. It's an incredibly powerful tool, but you have to pay up to take full advantage of it. The free version of Boxer does not include the option to change the default swipe actions, but you can get the pro version for $9.99 through an in-app purchase. Yeah, that's a lot for a mobile app, but inviting five of your friends will also unlock the pro version. It's also $9.99 for Exchange support, unfortunately.

    I haven't had any issues sending or receiving messages in Boxer, and I've actually gotten quite used to the swipe actions. I also really appreciate the integration with Evernote and Dropbox. I'm not sure if Boxer will replace Gmail for me, but it's an impressive app nonetheless.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (August 2014)

    Big things are happening in the Android phone ecosystem these days. With a gaggle of phone announcements in the last few days, it's time to check in on the options you have on the big four US carriers. There are plenty of compelling options, but is now the time to wait it out? Let's go over your options.

    AT&T

    AT&T will be carrying the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the new Moto X in the next few weeks. If you find yourself on Ma Bell, you need to decide if the current options are compelling enough to take the plunge or if you need to wait it out. If you're in need of a new device right now, there are two options--the LG G3 and the Samsung Galaxy S5.

    Starting with LG's new flagship, the G3 is pushing past 1080p as the first major OEM to put a 1440p screen on a smartphone.The G3 is plastic with a removable back and a 3000mAh (removable) battery, but the plastic LG uses actually feels rather nice as far as plastic goes. The design is overall very slick and the rear-facing buttons work extremely well. The narrow bezels also make the large screen somewhat manageable.

    As for the specs, you're looking at a Snapdragon 801, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a 5.5-inch 2560x1440 LCD. It's a real beast of a phone. I like the screen in general, but it is a little on the dim side. The colors are more dull than you'd see on AMOLED and the contrast could be higher. On the subject of battery life, the G3 seems to perform about the same as the GS5 over the course of a day. Note, the screen will suck down more power when it's running, but the standby time is great.

    The 13MP camera on the G3 uses laser autofocusing and it actually works as advertised. Even in a dark room, the G3 can focus when other devices simply fail. It also takes above average low-light shots. In bright light, it takes fabulous pictures.

    LG has also cleaned up its software act this year. The version of KitKat on the G3 is responsive and mostly free of junk you won't use. Samsung still includes more stuff you'll never use, but LG seems focused on a few things. One of the main selling points is Knock Code, which lets you wake and unlock the phone with a series of screen taps. It's really neat.

    This is a $200 phone on contract, and I'd say it's safe to buy this device on AT&T right now, even with big things on the way.

    Testing: The LG G3 Android Smartphone

    Just a few years ago LG was not considered a serious player in most smartphone markets. The most desirable devices the company made all wore Google's Nexus badge, but its own phones fell victim to questionable software and the whims of partner carriers. The LG G2 won some fans for its slick design and passable software, but it's the new LG G3 that might have a shot at completing LG's Android turnaround.

    LG isn't playing second banana to Samsung in South Korea or anywhere else this time around. In fact, the G3 is a contender for the best flagship phone of 2014. Let's take a closer look at what it's like to live with this device and its 5.5-inch 1440p screen.

    Surprisingly Small for a Huge Phone

    The LG G3 has a huge 5.5-inch screen, which makes it one of the larger phones we've used. However, the size of the overall device is within a few millimeters of the Galaxy S5 with its 5.1-inch display. LG has been focusing on slimming down its devices in recent years, and the G3 is the culmination of those efforts. It's almost all screen on the front. I'm not aware of another phone that has narrower bezels than the G3 (other than that new Sharp Aquos device).

    One of LG's favorite hardware twists is the rear-facing button cluster. Whereas most phones have the power and volume buttons on the side, LG places them on the back. This helps make the sides a bit slimmer and it turns out to be surprisingly convenient. The power button is almost exactly where your finger falls when you hold the device. It's reminiscent of Motorola's dimple on the back of the Moto X, except it actually does something.

    Google Play App Roundup: Google News and Weather, Back to Bed, and Month

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

    This week Google finally updates one of its old apps, you go back to bed, and calendars get pretty.

    Google News and Weather

    Google included a neat news and weather widget in stock Android back in the Froyo days. This widget has continued to exist over the years, but never saw an update--until now. The News and Weather Widget had been updated and added to the Play Store for most devices. It's pretty awesome.

    This is actually an app and a widget, but the app portion has been expanded quite a bit with this update. It used to do almost nothing. You've got two choices for widgets. One is a simple 3x1 widget that can be set to display weather, news, or both. This one isn't resizable, though. That makes it a little hard to fit into your homescreen layout.

    The other widget is 2x2, but that's just the default size. It can be changed and the content will be reorganized dynamically. Weather is up at the top and there's a scrollable list of news stories below. Tapping on any of the headlines sends you straight to the browser, but the weather boots you to the full News and Weather app.

    You won't get as much weather data in this app as you would in a dedicated app. Expanding the weather section at the top offers weather and precipitation graphs. Each news story has a drop down that shows related headlines as well. The default view is all the top stories, but the slide out navigation menu can be used to change news categories.

    I've tested this app on devices like the LG G3 and Nexus 5 and it works the same on both. It's responsive and very modern looking. This is another example of Google bringing its preferred Android experience to more devices. The app works well, but I'd say the reason to use it is the cool widgets. It's free, so check it out.

    Tested In-Depth: Amazon Fire Phone

    We were curious when Amazon announced their Fire phone, and intrigued by the Dynamic Perspective and Firefly features that Amazon claims sets its handset apart from other flagship smartphones. So we bought a Fire phone to test and show you how those features work--or rather, how they don't really work well. Here's why we couldn't wait to return this phone for a refund after testing.

    Google Play App Roundup: Afterlight, Deep Under the Sky, and Snapshot

    It's time to make your phone better not through hard work and determination, but by installing some apps. That's a lot easier. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we find the best new and newly updated stuff on Android. Hit the links to open the Play Store.

    This week we've got a few new ways to get better photos, plus some alien jellyfish.

    Afterlight

    In the realm of image editing on iOS, Afterlight is one of the most popular options. This app has amassed a huge number of downloads in spite of the $0.99 price tag in a sea of free alternatives. Surely there must be something to it then, right? Now is your chance to find out as this image editor has arrived in the Play Store.

    Afterlight, like many other editing apps, lets you either choose an existing image from your device, or snap a new one on the spot. The built-in camera app is reasonably good, but on Android you're further ahead to use the stock camera interface on your phone. You can use the gallery app of your choice to select the image, and I quite like that it gives you a larger preview of the selected image before importing. It's great if you've taken a few pics of the same scene to make sure you got a good one.

    The buttons along the bottom of the screen open up different sets of tools in a row directly above them. As you can probably guess, each one tweaks a different facet of the image. The far left button is for general edits. There are tools for brightness, saturation, color temperature, highlights, exposure, and so on. Afterlight has more tools than most other apps, but it's still a long way from something like Photoshop Touch. Cropping, rotation, and other tools of that sort are available under a different button. There's also an auto-fix tool that seem fairly accurate, though it seems to have a tendency to blow some images out. Annoyingly, the icons for individual tweaks aren't all easy to work out, and there are no labels.

    One of those buttons down there opens the filter menu, which will be contentious as usual. If you're into adding filters to photos, the ones in Afterlight are pretty good. There are a few dozen of them split up into categories, and you can change the strength of each. They don't seem to destroy detail like some filters do. There's an irksome little detail here--several of the filters are locked until you share Afterlight on Facebook. Technically, you just have to tap the share button and back out, but still. The only other bit of walled-off content is the instant film effect pack. If that's the sort of thing you need (why), you will have to pay an additional $0.99 via an in-app purchase.

    At the end of all your tweaking, Afterlight gives you direct sharing to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a local save option. The Android sharing menu is also supported. The tree-level quality selector at the top of the screen is a nice touch as well. If you're just sending something to Instagram, there's no reason to save it at full res. Note, the default top setting maxes out at 2048 px wide, but you can change that in the settings so you don't lose any quality.

    Tested In-Depth: Nvidia Shield Tablet and Wireless Controller

    Nvidia's first Shield device was a good showcase of the Tegra 4 processor, but was limited as a dedicated gaming device. We test the new Shield Tablet and wireless controller, and show off its gaming and productivity features. We also evaluate the stylus, Nvidia's new Grid Beta, and Shield's built-in Twitch streaming capabilities. This ends up being one of our favorite Android tablets, with few compromises for all of its features.

    Google Play App Roundup: TapPath, Duet, and Afterlight

    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 there's a new way to manage links, a killer rhythm game, and an app for making pretty pictures.

    TapPath

    The "complete action with" dialog in Android isn't perfect, but it's a problem several apps are trying to fix. The recently featured Better Open With is one way, but noted developer Chris Lacy is giving it a shot now as well. TapPath lets you send web links to different apps based on the number of times you tap it, which is pretty cool.

    Like most of these solutions, you need to set TapPath as the default handler for web links. Once that's done, you can open the TapPath app and choose your tap settings. It recognizes single, double, and triple taps. Simply set each one to a different app. So for example, I have a single tap set to open Chrome Beta, a double-tap for Link Bubble, and triple-tap for the share menu.

    TapPath can save you a lot of time when dealing with web links, but it's not perfect. If you are in an app that allows double-tap zooming, you have to be fairly precise with your taps. If you miss the link (in Gmail for example), the app will zoom instead of triggering Tap Path. Otherwise, TapPath should work as expected in any app system-wide. The app isn't just for browsers, though. You can set a different number of taps for anything from Pocket to Push Bullet.

    A small toast notification will pop up to tell you which tap sequence was recognized, just as confirmation everything is working as expected. TapPath works very well overall. It will occasionally see a single-tap for a double or triple, but there is a setting for the tap delay, which can be lengthened if you're having issues.

    TapPath will cost you a buck in the Play Store. It's at least worth checking out.

    Testing: Android Wear Battery Life

    Since we shot our video review of the LG G Watch, I've spent more time testing the watch and Android Wear. It's now my primary watch, replacing both the Timex Weekender I had been wearing since December and the Pebble Steel (a loaner unit since returned back to Pebble). The biggest problem I had with the LG G Watch was battery life--with default notification settings and brightness set to 30%, I couldn't get the watch to last a full day of use. Granted, that's because I'm a pretty heavy email user and am constantly managing (checking, archiving, replying to) email through the watch, but that's one of the reasons I liked it over the Pebble in the first place. Having the watch switch off on me before my phone battery died sucked, and I didn't want to carry the proprietary charger around.

    The battery life is largely attributed to the LCD use. By default, LG's watch LCD is on all the time. It switches between a dark display that only shows the time to a brighter one when you lift your wrist up or tap the screen, but in both states, the LCD is active and the backlight is on. There is, however, a setting on the watch that turns the active LCD off when its in the dormant state, meaning that you can't casually check the time unless you tap the screen or trigger the wake state. In this mode, the battery life is significantly improved, lasting even over two days without going back to the charging dock. I ran several test scenarios: an extended session with minimal watch use, and one with heavy use. Under minimal use (only using the watch for time and notifications), the LG G Watch lasted two and a half days before powering off. In the heavy use scenario (constantly checking email and using navigation for daily commutes), the watch still lasted to the end of the second day.

    This extra full day of use--which still falls short of the Pebble's battery life--made a big difference in my day-to-day appreciation of the watch. This sounds really silly to say about a watch, but I was no longer worrying whether I would be able to check the time during my drive home. That's just the unfortunate state of this first generation of smart watches. Having to tap the watch to activate the screen is a reasonable trade-off, though it makes me hope for some kind of LCD/E-Paper hybrid in future models that can display the time in a low-power state. I really don't need a fancy full-color display running at 30Hz to see what time it is.

    And then there's that Apple wearable that we're expecting, which may or may not even be a watch.

    Google Play App Roundup: Unclouded, Watercolors, and Skull of the Shogun

    Time once again to check in on what's new 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 cloud storage gets more convenient, puzzles get more colorful, and the souls of your enemies will litter the battlefield.

    Unclouded

    There are official Dropbox and Drive apps, but they are far from the ideal interfaces for managing your files. The Dropbox app is looking increasingly ancient with each passing day, and the Drive app is better suited to messing with documents and spreadsheets. That's why Unclouded is a neat option for managing your online files. You can log into both Drive and Dropbox from this one app, and it has a free trial mode.

    The main screen in Unclouded shows you a cool pie graph of the currently selected storage account. It's a quick way to see how much free space you have, but it doesn't break things down any further on this screen. You can pull up the file explorer if you just need to move things around in your storage space. The interface for doing this is much more friendly than many apps--roughly a zillion times better than the Dropbox app. Unclouded has both list and grid views, but a dual pane option for landscape would have been nice.

    No matter how you sort the files, you can always tap on a file to download it to your device, but you can also share directly to a compatible app through the Android sharing menu. The only thing I'm missing here is the option to export to a specific folder on the device. As it currently stands, Unclouded automatically puts everything in a separate downloads folder on the phone or tablet. It might also be nice to have Unclouded as a sharing target for uploading files to Drive or Dropbox, but it's not necessary.

    One of the threads throughout in Unclouded is keeping abreast of how much free space you have. To that end, one of the coolest features available in the app is the duplicate file checker. Just select it from the nav menu and you'll get a list of all the matching files organized by size, Tapping on each line brings up all the dupes so you can decide which one to keep and which to toss. Likewise, you can sort the entire storage container by file types to figure out where all the space is going.

    The speed and ease of use here is far above what you'd find in the official Dropbox app, and still a little better than Drive. The interface is appropriately modern--it's a sort of newer Holo/card thing, not Material Design. The app certainly looks good and it makes it easy to see what's taking up all your cloud storage space. The basic version of Unclouded only has read access to your files. If you want to write files (i.e. actually manage anything) you'll need to buy the pro upgrade via an in-app purchase for $1.99. I'd say it's worth the price if you're fed up with substandard official cloud storage apps.

    Testing: Pros and Cons of the LG G3's 2560x1440 Screen

    When 1080p screens came to phones, the general consensus was that the resolution race could be coming to an end. After all, who needs more than full HD resolution on a phone? Whether or not we need it, LG took the stage a few months ago and announced the LG G3 with a quad HD (QHD) screen clocking in at 2560x1440 pixels. The G3 is the first device in the US market with a QHD panel, but LG had to make some sacrifices to get there. So is it all marketing nonsense, or did LG win the resolution race?

    More Retina than Retina

    The conventional wisdom has long been that anything north of 300 pixels per inch would be sufficiently high resolution that the average human would be unable to make out the individual pixels at arm's length (the G3 is 534 PPI). This is absolutely true if you're talking about picking out pixels, but reality is a bit more muddled than that.

    While 300 PPI makes it impossible to see pixels for virtually everyone, the images displayed on the screen might benefit from a higher resolution. For example, the eye can detect very small changes in the angle of a line that are well below the normal "retina resolution." Likewise, the alignment of two parallel lines can be seen with a startling degree of clarity--on the order of 4-5 times that of normal visual acuity. So, you might conceivably need 1500 PPI to account for all these cases.

    A QHD screen might also perform better when it comes to rendering curves--antialiasing, basically. The mathematical relationship between discrete points (pixels) and continuous elements (lines) is murky at best, but when you toss human vision into the mix, it can be hard to come to any firm conclusions. So what does this mean? A straight line made up of pixels you can't see is just a line. However, a curve made up of pixels exactly the same size might not look continuous as the pixels will produce a very subtle aliased (jaggy) edge. It would be up to software to clean that up, and having more pixels to work means better results.

    The way the eyes and brain process this visual data probably varies from person to person, but some analyses of the numbers point to roughly double the resolution requirements to prevent visible aliasing. So we're talking about 600 PPI, and the G3 gets close with 534 pixels per inch.

    The bottom line is that there's SOME basis for thinking that a QHD screen could offer a better viewing experience. Although, it's definitely not going to be a marked improvement in quality like jumping past 300 PPI.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (July 2014)

    You don't usually get do-overs after you choose a new phone. That privilege only comes along once every year or two, so you've got to make it count. It's getting hard to make a truly bad choice when it comes to Android phones, but why settle for good enough when you can have the best? It's time to check out the lineup on the big four US carriers and see which devices are worth your time and money.

    This month Samsung finally gets some serious competition from LG, and the Nexus continues to ride high.

    Photo credit: Flickr user janitors via Creative Commons.

    AT&T

    The LG G3 wasn't even up for pre-order on AT&T last month, but this time it's available and has a lot to offer a connoisseur of mobile devices. Of course, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is also on AT&T as a similar price point and a slightly different approach to the high-end market. So where should your money go?

    Let's start with the Samsung Galaxy S5. This is simply the best phone Samsung has ever made. It might have the same plastic shell most of Samsung's devices rock, but it's more solid than past offerings largely because it's built to be water and dust-resistant. The GS5 is IP67 certified, assuming you've got the back and port covers fastened down. It has a midframe inside that most of the components are mounted to and rubber gaskets protect the internals around the back cover.

    Around front are Samsung's signature hardware buttons, but this time the OEM has finally gotten with the times and replaced the menu button with multitasking. The home button also houses a fingerprint scanner. It's a bit of a novelty (as is the heart rate monitor on the back), but it's something to be aware of.

    Inside you'll find 2GB of RAM, a 2800mAh removable battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 16GB of storage. The screen is a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED at 1080p, and it's a great panel. Samsung has done a lot to fix the white balance and saturation on AMOLED this time, and it really shows. The screen also has very good maximum and minimum brightness. The 16MP camera on this device is awesome in every situation except low-light.

    Samsung's TouchWiz Android UI isn't the abomination it once was--in fact, I'd say the ROM on the GS5 is pretty good. It's fast, the tweaks to Android's UI are not outrageous, and some of the additional features (like Ultra Power Saver) are awesome. Under all the Samsung code is Android 4.4.2 with all the goodies you'd expect from that. AT&T does have a nasty habit of loading you up with bloatware, but that's the case with all phones on Ma Bell.

    Google Play App Roundup: Better Open With, Thomas Was Alone, and Solarmax 2

    You can stop wading through the mess of new apps arriving in the Play Store. This is the Google Play App Roundup, your weekly source for all things new and cool on Android. Just hit the links to open the Play Store on your device. See? Isn't that easier?

    This week we've got a new way to open links, a game about shapes, and a game with strategic appeal.

    Better Open With

    Android's "Complete action using" menu is used to choose specific apps to handle a type of link or file, but it can also set a permanent system-wide default. The two buttons "always" and "just once" are a little limiting, though. Better Open With replaces the standard menu in a clever way by providing you the option of rerouting links to different apps without giving up your default actions.

    To use Better Open With, you simply have to set it as the default for all your link types. So you'll select Better Open With and tap the "always" button. In the Better Open With application, you can set your preferred apps for each type of intent--audio, web, video stream, and so on. This allows Better Open With to pop up instead of the standard menu and route your selections itself.

    So why is it better if it's just another popup? When you've selected your preferred apps for Better Open With to feed links to, they will be highlighted in the popup. There's also a countdown at the bottom of the frame that tells you how long until the default option is automatically launched. You can still tap on a different app to use that one, but just give it a second and your link goes through without any additional fuss.

    The countdown for each link type is customizable, and you can pause the countdown at any point if you need a moment to decide. There are also a few interface options for color schemes and layouts.

    I was quite surprised how well Better Open With integrates with the system. Trying to replace system dialogs on Android has a tendency to be messy, but this works very well. If Better Open With doesn't have a protocol for a particular link, the system won't try to open it. You automatically fall back to the standard dialog.

    This app is a little light on settings at the moment, but it was spawned from a discussion on Reddit very recently. Better Open With is free and has no ads or sketchy permissions, so take it for a spin.

    Tested In-Depth: Android Wear LG G Watch

    Will and Norm sit down to discuss Google's Android Wear platform, testing the new LG G Watch, and compare Google's smart watch to our experience living with the Pebble Steel watch. Here's why we think smart watches have the potential to be really useful accessories for smartphones.

    Google Play App Roundup: Bamboo Paper, Wayward Souls, and Madefire

    Get ready to fire up the Play Store and load up some new apps and games, because it's time once again for the Google Play App Roundup. This is where you can come each and every week to find out what's cool and new on Android. Just hit the links to open the Play Store on your device.

    This week you can take notes and doodle in a new way, go on a quest that is sure to end in death, and experience comics in a whole new way.

    Bamboo Paper

    Wacom released the "memo" version of Bamboo paper for phones a few months ago, but now Android tablet users have access to the real deal. Bamboo Paper is a notebook app that lets you take notes, sketch, or just get your thoughts down on (virtual) paper quickly. The interface is designed for tablets, so it won't install on phones. If you check out Bamboo Paper now, you can get all the features for free too.

    The home screen in Bamboo Paper is just a scrollable list of your notebooks. You can change the colors, paper types, and names of each one. The notebook theme is carrier through the rest of the app, but it's not overbearing. I suppose I'd say Paper uses skeuomorphism to an acceptable degree--it never gets too out of hand.

    The notebooks work like, well... notebooks. You can swipe in from the edges to navigate between pages and choose if you want plain, lined, graph or dotted paper. A real notebook certainly doesn't have a menu bar at the top like the app does. This is where you choose the brush type, line thickness, and color. These are "brushes" in the technical sense, but they're mostly for writing and doodling. You won't find any advanced Photoshop-style brushes, but that's not really what Paper is all about.

    The menu bar also has controls for undo/redo, sharing, eraser, and image importing. Images are actually quite cool in Paper. You can pull in pictures from any service that has registered itself correctly with the OS. That means all your gallery apps, file managers, and the camera app should be there as options. You can paste these images into a notebook however you like by resizing, moving, and tilting with a multitouch gesture.

    You can use Bamboo Paper with a regular capacitive stylus or one of the ten capacitive styluses that are attached to your hand, but Wacom's Bamboo-branded styluses are the best way to do it. These devices connect to the tablet via Bluetooth and provide pressure-sensitive input and allows the app to ignore other inputs, like your palm resting on the screen. They're neat tools, but you'll pay $20-80 for the good ones. Anyone with a Galaxy Note tablet will be able to take advantage of some of that same functionality without buying a new stylus, though Wacom will sell special versions that offer an improved Paper experience on those devices as well.

    If you download Bamboo Paper now, you'll get all the tools for free. The iOS version sells most of the brushes and features as in-app add-ons. These will be added to the Android app later, but you can keep all of them on your device permanently as long as you act quickly.

    Hands-On with Nvidia's Shield Tablet

    Nvidia's first Shield was a dedicated gaming handheld, but its new model is a high-end tablet with gaming accessories. We spend a little time with Nvidia's new Android gaming tablet, compare it to the original Shield portable, and give our thoughts on this device's appeal to PC and mobile gamers.

    Google Play App Roundup: Notific, Fish Out of Water, and Magic 2015

    Time to check in on what's new 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 there's another way to check your notifications, a game with fish, and a king of collectible card games is back.

    Notific

    Developers have really embraced Android's notification listener service in the last year, and Notific is yet another app that takes advantage of it to make your notifications a little more accessible. Notific will wake your display and let you manage incoming notifications without unlocking the device. This app borrows a bit from the Moto X's Active Display system in implementation, though not so much in actual appearance.

    If you've used an app like Peek or DynamicDisplay, you'll get the basic gist of Notific. After installing you need to enable the notification service and grant admin access so the app can shut your screen off after the appropriate length of time. By default, Notific reproduces all the high-priority notifications on your device (i.e. those with icons in the status bar) and wakes the screen. The full version also has a blacklist for apps you don't want to show up in Notific's management interface. There's also a whitelist mode that only produces notifications from the apps you select -- this is probably the best way to go if you have a lot of apps intsalled.

    Notific isn't quite as minimalist as most of the other implementations of this idea, but that might be okay for some users. It actually replications almost all the UI from the standard Android notification including buttons and full text previews. When the screen is woken up, you have the opportunity to deal not only with the new notification, but any others that might be waiting for you. you can swipe between notifications and dismiss, open, or use one of the action buttons. The lock icon at the bottom is used to either open or dismiss each notification individually.

    The default behavior is to have your homescreen background up behind the notification UI, but that can be changed. There's even an option in the newest version to change it to all black, which is better for AMOLED screens. For everyone else, the brightness of the background is adjustable.

    If you're on Android 4.4, Notific supports immersive mode and an "Android Wear" theme that (I think) looks much more modern than the standard Holo Dark theme. It separates the selection slider from the notification card and basically has a much more open design.

    I've been using DynamicNotifications for a number of months on several devices, but I find myself rather content with Notific. It has all the necessary options and the new theme is great. It's a bargain at $0.99 and there's even a trial on XDA.

    Android Auto vs. iOS CarPlay: How Your Car Will Get Smarter

    Google's announcement of Android Auto at the recent Google I/O conference should surprise exactly no one. Apple is gearing up for its own in-car infotainment service later this year called CarPlay. It's long past the time when Google would hang back and see how Apple's approach to a new market worked out -- Android Auto is going head-to-head with CarPlay later this year.

    Both companies want their mobile platform with you all the time, but how are they going to convince people to embrace connected cars?

    Touchscreens separated at birth

    If there is something surprising about Apple and Google's move into in-car entertainment, it's the overall similarity of the approach. The implementations don't rely on hardware inside the car to do any of the thinking -- the smarts are all packed into your phone so you can upgrade your apps and features independent of the car. This circumvents one of the long-time weaknesses of pricey in-car infotainment.

    What good is that fancy touchscreen if Apple changes its connector and makes your whole system obsolete? Oh, your car only works with USB mass storage devices? Sorry Android doesn't do that anymore. Since your phone's mobile data connection is used for the dash system, you also won't have to worry about getting yet another data plan for your car, which I'm sure is a sad turn of events for Verizon executives.

    When Apple announced CarPlay, it sounded at first like you'd have to get a new car to have CarPlay-compatible setup, but thankfully component makers like Pioneer have stepped up to develop aftermarket decks that will support Apple's platform. Google announced several car audio companies right from the start including Alpine, Pioneer, and JVC. This is a technology segment that has seen decline in recent years as people simply made do with smartphones tethered to inexpensive decks and stock audio systems via Bluetooth or even an audio cable. CarPlay and Android Auto are an opportunity to make aftermarket decks interesting again. This is just another thing Android and iOS in the car have in common.

    Google Play App Roundup: QCast Music, Leo's Fortune, and Lost Toys

    There's no need to scrounge around the new section of the Play Store hoping to pick up the handful of worthwhile additions. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is here to do. This is where you can come for the best new and newly updated stuff in the Play Store. Just hit the links to open the Play Store on your device.

    This week there's an app that makes Chromecasting more social, a game with serious polish, and a puzzler that

    QCast Music

    The Chromecast is a cool way to get some tunes going when you have people over, but it doesn't have any native multi-user functionality. Usually when someone else connects to the device, it switches over completely to that input. A new app called QCast Music is a little different. It pushes a playlist to the Chromecast that can be built by everyone in the room. All you need is one Google Play Music All Access account to make it all happen.

    To start using QCast, the "host" needs to connect to the Chromecast first using the QCast app. Host in this situation doesn't refer to the actual host of the party, just someone who wants to have full control of the playlist and also happens to have an All Access subscription. The app will request Google account access, and you're ready to start playing. Simply use the search button to find songs you want to add to the queue and they'll be played via the Chromecast (whatever it's plugged into).

    Other people can connect to the Chromecast to join the party and add songs to the queue, but you only need the one All Access account, which is really the beauty of this app. The songs are being added from the host's account, the other partygoers just have temporary access through the Qcast connection.

    As the songs cycle through, everyone connected to the party can use the app to downvote tracks they don't like. If a majority agree, the song is instantly skipped. It's a bit like Turntable.fm back when it launched, but for real life gatherings. The host always has the ability to manually remove tracks from the queue and control the volume.

    QCast is completely free to use, other than the All Access subscription. As for other services, the developers are investigating ways to plug into services like Spotify, but official Chromecast support for that service hasn't even arrived yet. Google Play All Access is the best solution for casting right now.