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    Google Play App Roundup: Underburn, Turretz: Planetz, and Reigns: Her Majesty

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

    Underburn

    Smartphones have allowed billions of people to access the whole of human knowledge at any moment, communicate openly in the blink of an eye, and avoid going to sleep as they stare at the warm glow of the internet in their hand. On that last count, screen brightness is a constant issue. Even when you think you've set a nice dark theme on your device, something bright can pop up and scorch your retinas. No more with Underburn. This app monitors the colors displayed on your screen and intelligently modifies the brightness to save your eyes from the light.

    To make this work, Underburn does need to ask for some rather serious permissions. It needs access to your system settings and the ability to record your screen. It'll ask for the screen permission every time you start it, though. It's not just going to start watching you in the background, and the developer removed the internet access permission to further put your mind at peace.

    The reason Underburn needs this sort of access is that it's actually taking a screenshot every quarter of a second. Those images are checked to see how many bright colors are displayed. When it seems the content getting brighter, Underburn lowers the brightness of your screen to compensate. I haven't noticed any performance impacts from running Underburn in the background, but you might want to watch carefully if your phone is already a bit slow. This could make it worse.

    This app makes the most sense when you're using a dark system UI or app theme. Then, whenever an image or message appears that's mostly white, the screen dims to save your eyes. I also find it very useful for checking the notifications, which are much lighter than most of the apps I'm using.

    Underburn takes a fraction of a second to adjust the brightness, and there's an optional floating button that can tweak the brightness setting. Before you activate Underburn, you can also change what the light and dark cutoffs are, as well as how much it will adjust the brightness in automatic mode. It does require a persistent notification, but that makes sense considering the nature of the app. I also like that you can plug Underburn into Tasker for full automation.

    Underburn is $1.49 in the Play Store, but it solves a common problem. You might not even realize you had this problem until Underburn solves it for you.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (December 2017)

    Most of us aren't running out to buy a new phone every time something new comes out. Thus, it's important to make the right call when the time to upgrade comes around. You'll probably have to live with that phone for at least a year or two, so making the wrong call will lead to plenty of frustration. There are plenty of choices, but we've got you covered. Samsung is still offering some great devices on all the major carriers, and Google has a new generation of Pixel phones. At the same time, OnePlus has refreshed its flagship phone yet again. Let's break it all down.

    Carrier phones: Samsung Galaxy S8 or Note 8

    If you want to get a phone directly from your carrier, Samsung's high-end phones are probably your best bet. If you're looking for something a on the less expensive end, there are a lot of extremely compelling deals on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. If price is no object, the Galaxy Note 8 is an even better phone.

    One of the main selling points for Samsung phones is the display, which cannot be beaten. The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch curved display, whereas the Plus has a 6.2-inch curved panel. These screens are taller than old 16:9 panels with a resolution of 1440 x 2960. They're crisp, bright, and have fantastic colors. LG's OLEDs aren't bad, but the V30 just can't compare in the screen department, and it's priced as even higher than Samsung's phones. That's disqualifying in my eyes.

    I'm not personally a fan of glass phones, but that seems to be the trend lately. The GS8 is comfortable to use with the symmetrically curved front and back glass. It fits nicely in the hand, but it's slippery. If you drop it, the curved glass is vulnerable to breakage. Broken Galaxy S8s are apparently common, so a case is a good idea.

    The larger display on these phones meant Samsung had to ditch the physical nav buttons, which I'm quite happy about. The on-screen buttons can be reorganized to display in the right order. The home button is also pressure-sensitive. Hard-pressing on that area of the screen will always trigger the button, even if the phone is asleep. However, I'm not happy with the location of the fingerprint sensor (previously in the physical home button). It's on the back way up next to the camera. Even when you find the sensor after fumbling around and smudging your camera lens, it's not very accurate. A cheap phones like the Moto G5 Plus or OnePlus 5T have better sensors than this.

    Google Play App Roundup: Datally, Hoppenhelm, and Puzzle Fighter

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

    Datally

    Many smartphone users try to keep their bills lower by sticking with capped data plans from carriers or MVNOs like Project Fi. Making sure you don't use too much data can be a pain, though. Android has some built-in data tracking tools, but they're not very user-friendly. Google's latest app lets you exert more control over your data usage by plugging into these system features. The app is called Datally, and it's available on virtually all devices.

    You might know Datally as Triangle, which was the name during Google's geo-limited testing period. Now the app is done and has a new name for its global rollout. Unlike most other data monitoring apps, Datally doesn't need to run for multiple days accumulating data before it's useful. It pulls in all the historic LTE usage info from your system-level features to help you figure out what's using the most data.

    Datally shows you how much cellular data has been used each day and by each app on your phone. Should your data usage get out of hand, Datally also includes a data saver feature. Again, this is similar to functionality already included in the settings of most phones, but it's implemented in a much clearer way.

    There are toggles throughout the app to turn on data saver, so Google seems to really want you to use it. This feature uses a VPN to control which apps can use data, but the app promises Google isn't examining your data. It's up to you to take Google at its word there. By default, no app can use data in the background when Data Saver is turned on. Only the apps you have up and are actively using can do that. In addition, there's a floating bubble on the screen to show you how much data the app has used in the current session.

    Data Saver is completely configurable as well. If you want an app to have unrestricted background access in Data Saver, you can unlock it in the app. You can also completely disable cellular data in an app even if you open it. That's handy for apps that you know use a lot of data and you might open without realizing you're on cell data.

    Datally also offers a list of local WiFi hotspots if you need to get a lot of downloading done while you're out. This list includes shortcuts to Maps so you can get directions.

    This is a great app, and one that could actually save you money if you're on a limited or pre-paid data plan.

    Google Play App Roundup: Focus Go, Jump Drive, and Morphite

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

    Focus Go

    All phones come with a gallery app of some sort, but they're often clunky and overflowing with features you don't want. Focus has long been one of my favorite replacement gallery apps, and now there's a faster, simpler version of the app called Focus Go. It's a quick way to review images without unnecessary features getting in your way.

    Focus Go is very stripped down, but that might appeal to some people. There's no folder structure or restricted directories. All the images on your device are shown in the main interface. It's just wall-to-wall photo thumbnails, but you can tap the grid button at the top to change the size of the thumbnails. The default setting is in the middle, so there's a more compact option and one with larger thumbnails. Also at the top of the app is a camera shortcut button.

    The image list is chronological and separated by month. Since it shows all the images on your device (photos, screenshots, etc.), it can get quite long. If you scroll down from the top, the action bar falls off the screen, and it's literally all photos. It's a neat look, actually. Of course, you can tap on any image to expand it in full-screen mode.

    In full-screen mode, you can zoom in for a better look at the photo. At the bottom of the screen are a few buttons. You can delete photos, share, set as wallpaper, and there's even integration with the Graphice app I covered recently (it's the same developer). I also like the info button, which pulls up EXIF data for the image in a small popup that doesn't take focus away from the photo.

    Focus Go is really a hint of what we can expect from the upcoming full rewrite of the Focus app. That complete gallery replacement has been lagging for a while, but it's going to be much more modern very soon. In the meantime, Focus Go is good for taking a quick peek at your pics.

    Google Play App Roundup: Graphice, Tower Fortress, and Faraway 2

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

    Graphice

    What color is that in your photo? It can be hard to say, what with the variance in display calibration and our own woefully inaccurate eyeballs. Graphice is a new app in the Play Store that can tell you, objectively, what colors are in a photo. It's free to try, but there's also a paid upgrade with more features.

    Graphice looks and works a bit like your standard gallery app. Open it up, and you see all the images on your device. You can tap on any of the thumbnails to open in full-screen. At the bottom of the screen is a toolbar, which expands with a tap. It opens a full palette of colors from your image. Each one has a swatch and the hex value of the color. A long-press on any square copies the hex value, which you can then paste into other apps. As an aside, Google search understands hex values, so you can get more info on the color.

    The toolbar also includes a share button, but this isn't just a regular photo sharing feature. This button brings up the image along with your color palette. You can tap on as many hex values as you like, which are then included at the bottom of the image. This new JPEG is what's shared via Graphice. You can send it to any of the apps on your phone that plug into Android's share menu.

    So, that's neat, and it's all free. If you pay for the $2.49 pro license, the app gets substantially more useful. With the upgrade, you can specify areas of your photo to generate multiple palettes. These are all saved in the app, and you can do the same things with those palettes (eg. sharing and copying hex codes). The multi-palette options are grayed out if you don't pay the license fee.

    Graphice seems like a solid way to obsess about colors. The free version will be fun to play around with if you're not super-serious about design. There are no ads, either.

    Google Play App Roundup: Files Go, Monument Valley 2, and South Park: Phone Destroyer

    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.

    Files Go

    Google announced a new budget phone initiative at I/O last year called Android Go. The "Go" build of Android is intended to run on lower-specced devices and will include a special suite of Google apps. One such app is apparently the newly launched Files Go. This app showed up in the Play Store recently, and Google has now opened it up to almost all devices. It's not a full file manager, but it includes several features that could help keep your device storage tidy.

    When the eventual Android Go phones launch, they will have a limited amount of internal storage. Thus, many of the features of Files Go have to do with clearing out old files that you no longer need. Even if your phone has plenty of internal storage, you may eventually run low. Files Go is a fine way to clear space on any phone.

    Upon opening the app, you are greeted with a number of suggested actions in a vertically scrollable list. They're all based on the actual files on your device, not just general actions. For example, you might have a card that suggests you clear temporary files from your app cache to save a certain amount of space. On my phone, that's 500MB. The app also detects duplicate files on your internal storage, allowing you to delete one of the copies. If you grant usage access in the system settings, Files Go can also alert you to unused apps that you can safely remove from your phone.

    That's all in the Storage tab, but moving over to the files tab reveals an entirely new set of features. You can tap on the various file type options to see a list of all matching files on your device. Again, this isn't a full file manager, but it offers essential tools to find out what's on your phone. There's also a built-in option to send files to other nearby devices with Files Go without using the internet. It uses Bluetooth, so it's not going to be fast. It's obviously more geared toward usage in places where mobile data is scarce or expensive, but you can use it simply as a convenience.

    This app is still in beta, so Google is liable to add features and improve the ones that are already there. If this is indicative of what we can expect from the other Android Go apps, it'll be a fascinating platform to watch.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (November 2017)

    There have been a ton of phone releases in the last few weeks, so it's even harder than usual to figure out which phone is the best purchase. While LG's phones have been getting better, Samsung is reaching new heights with the Note 8. Meanwhile, OnePlus has something big planned for the near future, and Google has encountered some push-back with its Pixel 2 launch. What's an Android fan to do?

    Carrier phones: Samsung Galaxy S8 or Note 8

    If you want to get a phone directly from your carrier, the latest offerings from Samsung are the way to go. If you don't want to spend as much, there are a lot of extremely compelling deals on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. If price is no object, the Galaxy Note 8 is an even better phone.

    The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch curved display, whereas the Plus has a 6.2-inch curved panel. They both have a resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels, among the highest you can get on a smartphone. Despite the large screen sizes, the tall aspect ratio and small bezels make the phones easy to hold. They have an even higher screen-to-body ratio than the iPhone X. Samsung's AMOLED displays are still the best you can get with incredibly high brightness and (optional) accurate colors.

    This phone is very comfortable to use with the symmetrically curved front and back glass— there's nothing pointy or angular on the phone. Although, the curved glass is vulnerable to breakage when dropped. Broken Galaxy S8s are apparently common, and the glass back is very slippery.

    The Galaxy S8 was the first Samsung phone to move to on-screen navigation buttons. Thankfully, there's an option in the settings to change the order of buttons to the "correct" one used on most other phones. The home button is also accessible at any time thanks to a pressure-sensitive region on the screen. Even when the phone is asleep, simply pressing harder will trigger the home button—this is a great feature. I really like this feature, and I find myself missing it when I use a different phone.

    Google Play App Roundup: Notification History, Ahead, and Turn Undead

    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.

    Notification History

    Android's notification system is usually a joy to use, but there's no way to recall notifications after they've been dismissed. Sometimes you regret swiping something away, but the system logs only basic information about the notification, and you can't even access that very easily. Notification History makes your past notifications more accessible and actionable, and you can give it a shot for free.

    This app requires just a little setup, but it's easier to get running than I expected. After opening, you have buttons at the bottom for the "advanced history" and "notification history." The notification history option isn't technically part of the app—it's just a link to the hidden settings menu in Android that logs the basic data from all your notifications. It's not very useful for actually doing anything with your old notifications, but you can see what apps have produced notifications and when.

    For the Advanced option, you'll have to grant the app access to your notifications. After that's done, the app will continuously log all the notifications that pop up on your phone. Since it's connected to the system-level feature, Notification History doesn't need to run a service of its own or a persistent notification to stay alive.

    Simply open the advanced history to see your notifications organized from most recent to oldest. It logs all the notifications too. That means even something like the Google Camera app that pops up a temporary notification when it's processing a photo will be included in the list. You can tap on any notification to open the app, pull up the app info, or open the Play Store page.

    If you want to clear the clutter a bit, the pro upgrade is going to appeal to you. For $1.49, the advanced history menu lets you swipe to remove notifications, blacklist apps from appearing, and removes all the ads in the app. It seems like a good deal.

    The Biggest Features to Look Forward to in Android Oreo

    Android 8.0 Oreo is only beginning to make its way out to devices. Pixel and Nexus devices from recent years have gotten their updates, and the Pixel 2 and 2 XL have launched with Oreo. Otherwise, there's not a lot of Android 8.0 around, and now version 8.1 is in testing.

    Not everything that's new in Google's version of Android will ever show up in the modified builds that hit other devices. When it does come to your phone, it'll bring with it several important features, not all of which are as obvious as the headlining features in past versions. Here are the most important things Oreo will bring to your phone (whenever you finally get it).

    The Autofill API

    Remembering your passwords is tough, especially if you're doing the smart thing and using complex, unique passwords on every site. That's why many of us have turned to password managers like LastPass and Google's own Chrome password manager. Android apps have used some messy hacks to make those passwords more accessible while you're using the phone, but Oreo finally makes password managers an officially supported feature.

    Deep in the language and input submenu of Oreo lurks the autofill app settings. Most of the major password managers are testing this feature in beta, and a few have rolled it out to the public version of their Android apps. If you have only been using Google's Chrome manager, that's also available as "Smart Lock" in the autofill settings.

    With an autofill app selected, apps with login fields should pop up an option to login via your chosen password service. Some will have extra layers of security like fingerprint authentication before they paste in your username and password. It's a great experience when it works right, but some of the beta apps are still very beta. Google's version is a safe bet for now.

    Google Play App Roundup: One-Handed Mode, Ready For Reddit, and Battlevoid: Sector Siege

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

    One-Handed Mode

    Some Android phones come with a built-in mode for one-handed use. These features vary a bit in implementation, but they all aim to make it easier to use the phone by shrinking the UI down to a smaller part of the screen. The new One-Handed Mode app lets you do this on any phone or tablet, but it comes with a bit more setup than most apps.

    One-Handed Mode takes advantage of a permission called "Write Secure Settings" that is usually only granted to system apps. If you're rooted, the app can be enabled automatically by granting it root access. For non-rooted devices, you'll have to plug the phone into your computer to enable the permission. The developers link to instructions for this, but it's only a single command in ADB. If you already have the Android SDK tools on your computer, it takes about 10 seconds.

    With One-Handed Mode turned on, The screen shifts downward to place everything in reach of your thumb. The top section of screen is just filled with a solid block of color based on the app you're using. Some apps won't tolerate this change very well, but most of the apps I've tried behaved fine. The home screen is probably going to do some strange things due to the DPI scaling, though.

    In the settings, you can adjust the size of the screen when the app is active. The default layout still spans the entire width of the screen, so you might want to adjust that to "justify" the screen to one corner or the other. You can also turn off DPI scaling if that's causing issues with an app you want to use with One-Handed Mode.

    One-Handed Mode can be turned on by opening the app, but there's also a floating toggle. The toggle is only available with an in-app purchase of $0.99, though. If you're not turning one-handed mode on and off all the time, the toggle isn't strictly necessary. Let's face it, the app is a bit of a hack, but it works well enough to drop a buck on.

    Google Play App Roundup: Lawnchair Launcher, Another Widget, and Dragon Hills 2

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

    Lawnchair Launcher

    There are various third-party Android launchers than can make your device more configurable and "Pixel-y." The most popular options are Action Launcher and Nova Launcher, but those both have paid upgrades that are needed to unlock all the features. The new Lawnchair Launcher doesn't have quite the same feature set, but it's respectable and costs nothing.

    After installing Lawnchair Launcher, you'll get a home screen that looks a whole lot like the Pixel Launcher. That's possible with other launchers, but you need to do some configuration. This is already done for you with Lawnchair. The app drawer is accessed via a swipe-up, there are launcher shortcuts, and you can even get the Google Feed on the left of your main panel. Note: that requires you install a separate app from the launcher developer, which isn't listed in the Play Store. It's the same setup Nova and Action Launcher use.

    Lawnchair Launcher includes plenty of tweaks for your icons, which is table stakes for Android launchers these days. You can toggle labels, change the size, and apply an icon pack in the settings. You can also add a dedicated Assistant button to the search bar, which is neat. Don't want the search bar? You can just get rid of it. There are also some ways to adjust the dock, but it mostly stick to Pixel styling.

    You get some basic theme settings in Lawnchair Launcher, but this is one of the weaker aspects of the app compared to more mature options—just light, dark, and black themes. However, you can pick and choose which parts of the launcher get the theme applied. So, you can get the handsome dark search bar without making the rest of the UI dark-themed.

    There's not a ton of custom stuff running behind the scenes of Lawnchair Launcher, so there's not much opportunity for things to get janky and buggy. It's a mostly stock launcher, and it runs like one. That is to say, performance is great. Sometimes I forget I'm not using the real Pixel Launcher. There's just enough customization that it'll satiate a good number of Android users, and it's free.

    Google Play App Roundup: Microsoft Edge, Into the Dead 2, and KickAss Commandos

    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.

    Microsoft Edge

    Internet Explorer was a staple of Microsoft Software for many years, but it was replaced by Edge with the release of Windows 10. With Microsoft focusing on other mobile platforms so much, it was only a matter of time until Edge branched out from the desktop, and now is that time. Edge is currently rolling out for iOS and Android, but these two versions are slightly different.

    On Android, Edge is based on the Chromium project, which itself serves as the base for Google's Chrome. On the desktop, Microsoft has its own EdgeHTML engine, but that's not designed to operate on Android. The iOS version, meanwhile, uses Apple's WebKit engine as required by Apple's developer guidelines.

    Chromium is open source, so Microsoft has been able to make ample changes to the way it looks and works. However, some of the basics are the same. Upon opening Edge, you get a search/URL bar at the top of the screen and some frequently accessed sites right below that. Scroll down further, and you have a feed of top news stories. This is similar to Chrome, but it's all tied to your Microsoft account.

    You don't have to sign in with a Microsoft account to use Edge, but it adds to the experience. Down at the bottom of the screen is a "continue on PC" button. That sends your current page from the phone to one of your synced devices. However, this feature requires the new Fall Creators update on desktop, which is still rolling out. Your bookmarks, history, and reading list also sync across devices in Edge.

    Pages load quickly in Edge, and it keeps multiple tabs in memory well. The navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen allow for quick access even on large devices. Speaking of larger devices, there's a dedicated tablet UI that moves some of the controls up to the top more like a traditional browser. If you want to access a site without saving it in your account, there's built-in private browsing mode, too.

    Edge is still in beta, but it's a perfectly capable browser. If you're deeply tied into the Microsoft ecosystem, it's something to check out.

    How The Pixel 2 Stacks Up Against The Best of Android

    The first-generation Google Pixel phones had a lot to live up to after the Nexus program was discontinued. Android enthusiasts were not pleased, but the quality of the Pixel and Pixel XL won most of them over. In fact, the Pixels have been some of the best phones available for the last year. Now, the Pixel 2 and 2 XL are about to launch, but are they still strong competitors with devices like the Galaxy S8 and V30 around? Let's see who these devices stack up.

    The 2 New Pixel Phones from Google

    Design refinements

    Phones like the Galaxy S8 and G6 have shown just how far industrial design has come in the mobile arena. These phones have tiny bezels and big screens that fill almost all of the available surface area. Last year's Pixels looks rather old-fashioned by comparison. With the Pixel 2 XL, Google is stepping up its design game. The regular Pixel 2, not so much.

    The Pixel 2 XL has a 6-inch 1440p display with a taller 18:9 aspect ratio. That means it fills the device frame better, and the bezels have been shrunken considerably. It looks vastly more modern than the OG Pixel XL. I dare say it's a beautiful device. The Pixel 2, meanwhile, has a 5-inch 1080p display and keeps the big top and bottom bezels from last year's phone. However, both devices have front-facing speakers. So, at least there's a little rationale for the large bezels on the Pixel 2. These phones are now water-resistant with an IP67 rating. That's good enough, but current phones from Samsung and LG have IP68 ratings for more protection.

    Google Play App Roundup: Microsoft Launcher, Stranger Things, and Modern Combat Versus

    It's time again for us to dive into the Google Play Store and see what treasures we can dredge up. The Google Play App Roundup brings you the best new and newly updated Android apps and games each week. Just click on the links to head right to the Play Store.

    Microsoft Launcher

    When gave up on keeping its software and services exclusive to Windows Phone some years ago. It even started an incubator called Microsoft Garage to come up with new apps for iOS and Android. One of the products that came out of the Garage was Arrow Launcher for Android. Now, this alternative home screen has graduated to being a full-fledged Microsoft product called Microsoft Launcher. It's not just a name change—the new update includes new features, a new look, and more.

    It should come as no surprise, but Microsoft Launcher works best if you log in with a Microsoft account. That's technically optional, but many of the included widgets and features will be inert without that connection. There's also a folder of Microsoft apps on the home screen, even if you don't have them installed. In that case, they're links to download the apps.

    Getting started with Microsoft Launcher is quick, and users of Arrow Launcher will notice many of the old features have remained in the new version. There's nothing particularly wacky about Microsoft's approach to the Android home screen. You can place apps and widgets on the home panels wherever you like, add new panels, and your apps are accessible in a vertically scrollable app drawer. There's a search bar at the top of the screen that, no surprise, goes to Bing. I also like the nifty swipe up system info bar at the bottom of the screen.

    To the left of the main home screen panel is Microsoft's customizable feed. Several of the included widgets here won't do anything without a Microsoft account login, so feel free to remove them. If you do log in, you get things like weather and integration with news. The feed also has widgets for your calendar, recent contacts, recent apps, and recent actions (photos, app installs, and so on).

    You do have to grant a lot of permissions for all these features to work, so that's up to you. However, using Microsoft's included widgets makes the themes look very nice. You can pick from several styles and accent colors to make the home screen and feed look just how you want.

    Microsoft Launcher is free, and there are no in-app upgrades. It should come through as a regular update to Arrow Launcher, but you can install the new version directly by joining Microsoft's testing group in the Play Store.

    Google Play App Roundup: Network Speed, Karl2, and Raceway Heat

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

    Network Speed

    Whether you're troubleshooting a problem or just showing off, there are times you want to know exactly how fast your phone's data connection is. There are a number of tools for finding that out, but few of them are as clean and easy to use as Network Speed. This app not only tracks data speeds across your phone, it offers a cool floating widget so you can obsess over data speeds non-stop.

    This app needs usage access in order to track data usage across your device, but there's nothing unexpected about that. Grant the requested permissions and Network Speed will start tracking your up/down speeds and logging your bytes. It doesn't tell you which apps and services are using the data, but you get a breakdown of when data usage is happening.

    The main screen has a chart that shows your speed history over the last few minutes. There's also a listing for your current speed, fastest speed, and network type. Below that are counters for how much data you've used in various intervals of time. Tapping on any of them opens the detailed view, which breaks down your data usage by day. You can use Network Speed to alert you to high data usage if you don't like the built-in Android tools as well.

    My favorite part of the app is the floating data monitor widget. This display updates as often as you like (the default 1 second update is too fast) with up and down speeds. It appears up in the status bar, but you can move it elsewhere. In the middle of the status bar, it's mostly out of the way of other things, though. Several different looks and layout settings for the widget are available in the settings. It can also be configured to hide automatically in full-screen mode.

    Network Speed uses a persistent notification to stay alive. By default, it has a status bar icon with your speed. If you want to use the much better widget, this is rather redundant. You can set the notification to low-priority instead, and it will be collapsed at the bottom of the shade. That should be good enough for most users.

    Network Speed is free to use with ads, but a $0.99 gets rid of them.

    How Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 S Pen Works

    It would have been understandable if Samsung never produced another Galaxy Note smartphone after the disastrous recall of the Note 7 last year. And yet, Note fans are some of the most committed mobile enthusiasts out there. The people demanded a new Note, and Samsung has obliged with the nearly $1,000 Note 8. And you know what? People are buying it in droves.

    What is it about the Note series that sets people's hearts aflutter? It's a big phone for one, but it's also the only phone with a stylus you'd actually want to use. The S Pen is Samsung's secret sauce, and it's a fascinating technology. Here's how the S Pen on the Note 8 works and what you can do with it.

    Capacitive versus inductive

    You can get a stylus for any smartphone on Amazon for a pittance. However, these styli operate just like your finger. They are conductive like your finger, so touching the screen registers a press. That's all they can do—there's no pressure-sensitive functionality and no improved precision over a finger. NVIDIA tried to fake these features with capacitance on the original Shield Tablet, which used post-processing of the capacitive stylus input to apply a pressure variable. It never worked very well, and virtually no third-party apps supported it.

    An inductive stylus is harder to pull off because the phone or tablet needs to have an active digitizer under the display panel. The digitizer provides power to the stylus' internal circuitry in the same way a powered NFC reader provides power to a passive NFC tag. When you get the S Pen close to the screen, the magnetic field of the digitizer induces a current, and the Pen comes alive.

    Google Play App Roundup: Can't Talk, Gladiator Rising, and Flat Pack

    We're really getting spoiled these days. Great Android apps are coming out all the time, but it can still be hard to find them amid all the clutter. The Google Play App Roundup is all about clearing the junk out of the way so you can find the best apps. Just click on the app name to go straight to the Google Play Store and pick up the app yourself.

    Can't Talk

    Sometimes it can seem like you only get calls and text messages when you can't pick up the phone. There's nothing to indicate to the person on the other end of the line what you're up to or why you can't answer the phone. That's where Can't Talk comes into play. This app runs in the background to automatically fire off a custom reply when you get a call or message.

    Setting up Can't Talk can be a little intimidating because it does need a lot of access to your data. It can't work without plugging into the notification listener, but it links you to the right menu to grant that. You also have to allow permissions for calls, contacts, and messaging if you want all the features. None of this feels like overstepping, considering what the app does.

    The functionality is split up into three groups for calls, SMS, and app messages. For calls and SMS, the app sends an SMS reply when active. In both cases, you can choose which contacts get auto-replies from Can't Talk. There's also a "rate limiter" option that controls how often replies will be sent to the same contact, which is a thoughtful bonus.

    The app reply functionality is my favorite aspect of the app as most of my contacts have moved away from calls and traditional SMS. To get this working, you simply need to tell Can't Talk which apps you want it to reply to. Anything that uses standard Android notifications for messages should work, so Hangouts, Facebook, and more are supported.

    When Can't Talk is running in the background, there's an ongoing notification to make sure you're aware. I'm not usually a fan of this behavior from a UX perspective, but it's necessary to keep apps from being killed by the system. And in this case, it makes a lot of sense. You don't want to accidentally leave your auto-responder running when you're no longer unavailable. The notification has a handy "disable" button so you can turn Can't Reply off. To get rid of the notification, just turn the main toggle in the app to the "off" position.

    Can't Talk is completely free in the Play Store. It's technically in beta right now, so maybe it'll get in in-app upgrades at a later date. For now, there's no reason not to give it a shot.

    Google Play App Roundup: Fenix 2, Iron Marines, and To:War

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

    Fenix 2

    Fenix 2 was my go-to Twitter client for a number of years, but there was some drama related to Twitter's third-party app limits in 2016. That was worked out eventually, but the developer has since embarked on a complete rewrite of the app. The result is Fenix 2, which has just launched after a few months in beta. This is a new app with a new listing, so you will have to buy it again, even if you already bought the first one. It's worth the price, though.

    Twitter clients are pretty well fleshed out at this point, so I'm not going to tell you that Fenix 2 is breaking any new ground. However, it has all the features you could want in a Twitter client, and it looks great. Not that the old Fenix didn't look good, but it was adapted to material design after the fact. Fenix 2 was born into it. There are multiple light and dark themes with various accent colors, and you can set a schedule for switching from light to dark. The great design extends to the widget, which is scrollable and includes various themes.light and dark themes with various accent colors, and you can set a schedule for switching from light to dark. The great design extends to the widget, which is scrollable and includes various themes.

    Like many Twitter apps, Fenix 2 uses multiple columns in the main UI to make all your tweets, replies, and other content available. You can change up the default arrangement, and even add new columns like saved searches and lists to feeds. The way you interact with tweets (eg. taps, swipes, and long-press) is configurable as well.

    I'm particularly fond of the way Fenix 2 handles conversation views. Some apps make it hard to tell who a reply is directed at, but Fenix 2 has a clear "in reply to" header for each block of tweets. Replies to your tweets are delivered as the app updates in the background, and you can, of course, choose how often that happens. However, Fenix 2 also supports intercepting notifications from the official Twitter app. That app has special push notifications from the Twitter servers, so you can get faster pings via Fenix 2 if you have both installed.

    Fenix 2 is priced at $1.99 in the Play Store, which is a fantastic price. A lot of comparable Twitter apps cost $5 or so. This is an excellent purchase if you're not feeling great about your current Twitter experience.

    Google Play App Roundup: Split-screen Creator, Data Wing, and Run-A-Whale

    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.

    Split-screen Creator

    Android 7.0 added support for split-screen apps, and it's relatively quick to get two apps up on the screen as long as you've had both of them open recently. If not, you have to launch them, and then go into split-screen mode. It can be a bit of a pain, but Split-screen Creator is here to help. This app lets you make shortcuts to instantly launch two apps in split-screen mode, even if they aren't running.

    Split-screen Creator itself has very little interface. There's just a single page of settings and a page for settings up shortcuts. The app uses Android's widget system and accessibility controls to make its split-screen magic happen. As long as you enable accessibility from the app's settings, everything should work fine. It almost goes without saying, but you need to be running Android 7.0 or higher for Split-screen Creator to function.

    To create a new split-screen shortcut, simply open your home screen widget menu and add Split-screen Creator's 1x1 widget. The settings page will appear, asking you to choose which apps you want the shortcut to launch. You can choose any installed app you want, but remember that not all of them work in split-screen mode. Additionally, Split-screen Creator warns that certain apps like Chrome and the Play Store don't like being launched in split-screen via the shortcut. However, I've tried both and they seem to work fine. The last step in setting up a shortcut it to pick a name.

    When you tap on the shortcut, it will launch your chosen apps in split-screen mode. Sometimes you might need to reverse the order to ensure they open correctly, but I've seen very few issues in my testing. Be default, Split-screen Creator generates an icon composed of the two apps you've chosen. However, you can pick a custom icon via icon packs. That's a premium feature, though. It only costs $0.99 to unlock the full version, but there's not much else to it. There aren't any ads in the app, so you're mostly paying to support the developer of an app you (presumably) like.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (September 2017)

    In some ways, there's never been a better time to buy an Android phone, but I mean that in the grand scheme of things. It's hard purchase a phone that you end up hating, but it's still possible you'll make the wrong choice. With the price of phones ever-increasing, you need to think things through carefully. That's what we're going help you sort out. Let's get the lay of the land and see which Androids are worth getting, and which are a skip.

    Carrier Phones: Galaxy S8

    If you want to get a phone directly from your carrier to take advantage of various deals and financing options, the Galaxy S8 is still the best device to get. That's not to say the LG G6 is a bad phone. In fact, it's the best phone LG has ever made. The Galaxy Note 8 looks like a beautiful, capable smartphone, too. However, several ongoing developments lead to the GS8's continued dominance.

    The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch curved display, but it also comes in a 6.2-inch curved "Plus" variant. They both have a resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels, among the highest you can get on a smartphone. Despite the large screen sizes, the tall aspect ratio and small bezels make the phones easy to hold. The Plus variant is just a little too tall to be used in one hand, even with the incredibly narrow bezels. Samsung's AMOLED displays are still the best you can get, and DisplayMate confirms that Samsung's GS8 panel has the most accurate colors and highest brightness. The phone works with both Daydream and Gear VR, too.

    This phone is very comfortable to use with the symmetrically curved front and back glass, although the rounded glass frame means it's very exposed should you ever drop it. Broken Galaxy S8s are apparently common, and the glass back is so slippery. It's a bummer you pretty much have to put a case on such a lovely piece of design, but it's sort of mandatory with this phone.

    Samsung has finally ditched the physical nav buttons on the GS8. Now, they're all on-screen, and that means you can change the order to the "correct" one. The home button is also accessible at any time thanks to a pressure-sensitive region on the screen. Even if the button is not visible (like the phone is asleep or playing a fullscreen video), simply pressing harder will trigger the home button. I really like this feature, and I find myself missing it when I use a different phone. I'm not so pleased with what happened to the fingerprint sensor that previously occupied the physical home button. It's on the back way up next to the camera, which is not a very comfortable location. Even when you find the sensor after fumbling around and smudging your camera lens, it's not very accurate. The iris scanner makes up for that a little bit, but it's not ideal and won't work in some environments.