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    Google Play App Roundup: Microsoft To-Do, Invert, and Card Thief

    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.

    Microsoft To-Do

    Microsoft has a habit of buying the developers behind popular apps, then killing the app they just bought. As counterintuitive as that is, Microsoft has done it more than once. Remember Sunrise Calendar? So do many others, which is why Microsoft's release of Microsoft To-Do is so concerning. See, the company recently acquired the maker of the popular to-do manager Wunderlist. Could this be the beginning of the end for Wunderlist?

    Microsoft To-Do bears a superficial resemblance to Wunderlist, and there's even support for importing your current lists from Wunderlist. This app lets you create to-do lists, set reminders, and keep track of your lists and projects over time. To create a new to-do, just hit the floating action button in the lower right corner. To create a new list, open the slide-out navigation panel and tap "New list" at the bottom. This is also where you'll find all your existing lists.

    The big draw for Microsoft To-Do is the My Day feature. It's an attempt to help users focus on daily tasks by offering a new list each day. In addition, there's a suggested to-do feature. It will allegedly learn from your usage and offer frequent tasks for quick adding to My Day. I have only seen a few things pop up here, but it might become more useful after using it longer.

    Microsoft To-Do is available on the web, iOS, and Android. The Android app has a proper material interface with the aforementioned navigation panel, FAB, and a soothing purple-blue theme. This is totally unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but I like the little "ding" sound when tasks are checked off. It makes me feel like I really accomplished something.

    The app is tied into your Microsoft account and integrated with Office 365 and Outlook. It's still in the early stages, so it's hard to say if it'll rival Wunderlist eventually. Right now, it's lacking many of the features that made that app popular. Microsoft hasn't announced the demise of Wunderlist, but it can't be long for this world with Microsoft To-Do around. It's free and very polished, though. If you are looking for a to-do manager, this is a capable one.

    Google Play App Roundup; Volume Notification, Lumino City, and Zombie Offroad Safari

    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.

    Volume Notification

    The volume of your Android phone is not a monolithic setting—there's media, ringtone, notifications, alarms, and more. Changing the right one at the right time can be annoying, but Volume Notifications can help. It's a simple app that gives you two ways to quickly access specific volume controls.

    All devices can run Volume Notification as a notification, as the name would imply. That means it shows up as an item in the notification shade, but the location and style of that notification can be controlled from the app's settings. The main screen of those settings includes a list of volume types, which you can rearrange and enable/disable as you like. These control which shortcuts appear in the notification version of Volume Notification.

    You should also check out the full settings for this app, which allow you to tweak the performance of several of the buttons. For example, the default behavior when you press the buttons is to bring up a slider to control that particular volume setting. If you prefer, you can have the media or ring buttons simply toggle mute when you press them. The theme of the notification can be changed as well.

    When you're using the notification version of the app, you might also want to check the notification priority settings. The app can be set to produce a status bar icon, which keeps it at the top of your list. I think it looks nicer when you have the notification shade open to have Volume Notification at the top. That way you can theme it to match your phone's settings UI.

    Your other option for using Volume Notification requires Android 7.0 or higher. With Nougat, you can modify the quick settings on your phone and add third-party tiles. Installing Volume Notification adds the tiles to your list automatically. Simply open the editing UI and drag the tiles up into your quick settings. These tiles operate the same way as the notification—tap to get a popup volume slider.

    Volume Notification is not a complex app, but it could potentially fix a big pain point when using your phone. It doesn't hurt that it costs absolutely nothing.

    Google Play App Roundup: YouTube TV, Quantum Revenge, and Tempest

    We're really getting spoiled these days. There are great Android apps 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.

    YouTube TV

    Google is trying to worm its way into your living room again, but not with a new piece of hardware. It's just launched the YouTube TV streaming service, and the associated Android app. The Android app is a vital piece of the experience because there's no Android TV version, nor will it work on streaming devices like Roku. Luckily, the app is pretty good.

    First thing's first—YouTube TV is only available in five markets right now (Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area). It costs $35 per month, and for that you get about 40 channels of live streaming TV. That includes all the local channels as well as ESPN, USA, FX, NatGeo, and many more. There's also an online DVR with unlimited storage. It's one of the missing pieces of the cable cutting puzzle.

    The app is one of the cleanest and most interesting Google has put out recently. It's split up into three tabs: Library, Home, and Live. The Home tab is where you land when opening the app. It includes a feed of popular live channels at the top, followed by several tiers of suggestions below that. The live stream thumbnails are actually animated; they reflect what's happening on the channel at that moment. So, it's more like channel surfing on a cable box.

    The live tab lists all your channels in a vertical column. Like the Home tab, there are live thumbnails for each channel as you scroll through. All the animated thumbnails play silently, which I'm very pleased about. Tapping on one will open the full player interface. Rotating the device to landscape will set the video to full screen automatically. If that's not big enough, tap the Chromecast button at the top and pick a display to move the stream.

    The Library tab is where you'll go to see all your recorded content (which is stored for nine months) and find out what upcoming recordings you have. Throughout the app, there are "plus" icons next to program titles. You can tap to add a subscription, which automatically records all upcoming instances of it on live TV. There's also some on-demand content available in YouTube TV, and that is bundled in with your recorded content when you subscribe.

    The YouTube TV app is fast, and easy to get around in. It really is fantastic compared to the awful streaming apps that most networks and cable providers have. The only real drawback is availability. You have to be in one of those supported markets to sign up, and the local channel feeds are disabled whenever you leave. Still, it's the most robust live TV streaming service available right now.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (April 2017)

    The first wave of 2017 flagship Android phones is finally upon us. It's been hard to make a solid recommendation for the last few months with so many phones just on the verge of release. Now, you've got your choice of the best from 2016 and the latest and greatest from Samsung and LG. Which phone is the best for you, though? Let's break it down.

    Carrier Phones: LG G6 vs. Samsung Galaxy S8

    The LG G6 is fully on sale and Samsung Galaxy S8 is up for pre-order. By my own self-imposed rules, that means both are eligible for consideration in this guide. Let's start with the LG G6, which is a huge improvement over last year's LG G5. LG really did what it had to do in order to come back from that disaster. It ditched the modular system, improved its build quality, and kept the price a bit under Samsung's.

    The LG G6 has a 5.7-inch LCD display, but it's very different than past LG displays. The phone's bezels have been shrunken way down, and the screen has rounded corners. The display as an 18:9 ratio and a resolution of 1440 x 2880, so it's taller than most phones. That allows for more screen area without making the phone as wide. It makes a difference, too. The G6 is very comfortable to hold, and you can use it fairly well with one hand. That's not something you can usually say about phones with a 5.7-inch display.

    Gone is LG's trademark removable battery—the G6 has an aluminum and glass frame with a sealed-in battery. It's a little larger than past LG phones with a capacity of 3300mAh. It makes it through the day with no trouble. One upshot of the design is that this phone is now IP68 water and dust resistant. It does feel like a very solid device.

    On the back is a fingerprint sensor that doubles as the power button. It's fast enough, but I wish the volume buttons were still back there. I miss when LG phones did that. There are also two cameras on the rear, just like the V20. One is a standard 13MP shooter and the other is a 13MP wide-angle sensor. The G6's photos are good, but not as good as what I've seen from Samsung and Google lately. The processing has a tendency to lose detail. For most applications, it should be more than good enough.

    How to Protect Your Privacy on Android Without Making Your Smartphone Dumb

    Your Android phone knows where you are and what you're doing, and it'll share that data with Google and any number of app developers. If you're a privacy-minded individual, you might not want to fling your data around freely. At the same time, you bought a smartphone in order to make use of all its cool features. There is a middle ground between being completely open and shutting off all your phone's features. Let's try to find it.

    Secure your location data

    You will hear plenty of people advocating turning off location completely to enhance privacy, but I don't think you need to go that far on newer version of Android. There are plenty of times you do want an app to be able to access your location. It's better to make use of Android's built-in permission system and disable automatic tracking through Google.

    You may not realize, but Google maintains a full history of where your phone has been. You can see it in the Maps app under "Your Timeline." If you don't like the idea of your phone constantly uploading your location to Google, you can disable that in the settings. It's under Settings > Location > Location History. You can turn it off with the toggle at the top, and your phone will stop uploading your location to Google.

    Next, it's time to take advantage of the permission system Google rolled out in Marshmallow. Head to the settings and find the app permissions list. Sometimes this is hidden in the overflow menu. One of the entries in the permission list will be location. Tap that and you get a list of all apps on your phone that request the location permission. You can turn all of them off here if you want, or just leave the essentials on. Apps will request location when you open them, but that can be denied.

    Google Play App Roundup: Oversec, Chicken Jump, and Stellar Wanderer

    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.

    Oversec

    Encrypted communications are available in various apps on Android, but that requires you to get your friends to actually use those apps. Not everyone is going to be keen on switching from their preferred messaging app just because of privacy concerns. Oversec offers an alternative. It uses accessibility and screen overlays to add encrypted communication to almost any app.

    After granting access to Oversec to read your screen, you'll get a list of compatible messaging apps. It works with most of the big ones, and you can also enable it to work with many others. You can set which apps you want Oversec to be active in via the settings. I tested Oversec with Hangouts, but it should work the same with most others. There are some tutorial popups that appear as you begin using Oversec, but in general it's a bit confusing at first.

    Rather than actually encrypting what the app sends, Oversec just runs encryption and decryption on the local devices. Everything is still sent as plain text. It just happens to be nonsense text. Here's how it works: you enter a message, tap the encryption button floating on top of your messaging app, and Oversec turns the text into junk. On the other end, your friend's copy of Oversec decrypts the junk and displays the original text as an overlay. That's how Oversec works with all these unencrypted apps. It's pretty clever.

    Oversec requires a bit of setup before it will work. Specifically, you have to decide on an encryption key. This has to be shared with your friend ahead of time, preferably in person (the app has a QR scanner for importing keys) or via some secure method. The app includes several options for setting up a key. There's a simply password version where you choose the phrase you want to use for encryption. This is the weakest but fastest to set up. You can also have a random key generated in the app, or use a PGP provider.

    Oversec isn't the prettiest app with the bright orange overlays and floating buttons all over, but it does what it says it'll do. The concept is a bit confusing at first, but it really can encrypt your communication via any app. The basic functionality is free, but you can buy a full version license for a few bucks. The recommended fee depends on what you're going to do with it. A Student license is a buck and a government license is $109. I'd wager a lot of "students" will buy Oversec.

    Google Play App Roundup: Toucano, Super Mario Run, and Crash of Cars

    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.

    Toucano

    It's an unwritten rule that Twitter apps need to be named after birds. Thus, the newest Twitter option on Android is called Toucano. Why Toucano and not Toucan? No clue. At any rate, Toucano is a very new (and still beta) Twitter client. It's clean, fast, and offers a few unique features.

    The main feed in Toucano looks a lot like other Twitter clients. A series of tabs are arrayed across the top with the main timeline on the left, then mentions, and so on. The "so on" is a little different here. The activity tab isn't like the activity tab in other apps. It's a stats-based approach to tracking the impact your tweets have. It shows you how many favorites, replies, retweets, and more elicited by your postings.

    In a similar vein, you can view stats for any profile (your own included). There's a tab that shows you how many tweets have been posted, follower stats, and other interesting bits of data. You can also add notes to specific user profiles to be viewed later. If you need to keep tabs on any accounts, you can add them to your favorites. These will remain at the top of your timeline as profile links.

    The default theme is white and blue, just like the official Twitter client. However, there are plenty of other themes included, and you can build your own by choosing different primary and secondary colors. There's also a handy night mode toggle in the settings.

    Toucano does some cool stuff, but it's very clearly a young app. It lacks things like layout customization, widgets, and background sync. The notification controls are also rather rudimentary.

    It might be worth picking up if you're bored with your current Twitter client. Toucano is currently priced at $2.99.

    Google Play App Roundup: GrammarPal, Cosmic Express, and Too Many Dangers

    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.

    GrammarPal

    In the age of the internet, grammar has taken a backseat to memes and emoji. Let's bring it back. GrammarPal can help. This app scans the text you write on your device, looking for more than simple misspellings. It offers corrections to your grammar in a handy popup window. I could point out the irony of a grammar app having a CammelCase name, but let's just move one.

    You have to go through a few steps to set up and use GrammarPal, but it does a good job of walking you through the process. When enabled, GrammarPal shows up as a floating button next to your text input field. You can safely ignore it if you're just typing a few words that don't need to be checked, though it's bright green and there's no option for transparency. It kind of sticks out. At least you can move it around, and GrammarPal will remember that position for each app.

    After you type something out, tap the GrammarPal button and it'll scan your text. It does spell checking, but your phone probably does that too. The value here is that it uses the context of your sentences to figure out if you made any typos that are technically correctly spelled words. For example, using "to" when you meant "too." The GrammarPal icon will indicate the number of detected problems after scanning. Tap it again to open the editing panel at the bottom of the screen.

    The expanded GrammarPal interface shows you the text with color coded highlights for the various issues. Misspellings are red, style issues are blue, and all others are yellow. Tap on any of the highlights to get a suggestion of what to change. The buttons at the top allow you to copy the new text or automatically replace the old text. You can also just close this panel without changing anything. Unrecognized words can be added to the GrammarPal dictionary too.

    I've found GrammarPal's corrections to be right most of the time, and it does catch things that normal spell checking misses. It could be useful, depending on how concerned you are with using proper grammar in text messages and Facebook posts. The app is free and has no ads. There's a $1.99 in-app purchase that adds a few new features like dictionary backups and layout customization.

    Google Play App Roundup: Focus Timer Reborn, Mushroom 11, and Hardway

    A new week has dawned, 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.Just hit the links to zoom right to the Play Store.

    Focus Timer Reborn

    Making time to get work done is not always easy. In fact, your phone can sometimes be a tempting distraction that keeps you from digging in and making some progress. With Focus Timer Reborn, it might be quite the opposite. This app helps you split up your time for more efficient work.

    Focus Timer Reborn is based on the idea that you can be more productive if you use a series of short break and slightly longer work periods. The app defaults to using 25 minute periods of focused work, short 5-minute breaks, and longer 25 minute breaks. This is based loosely on the pomodoro method. The app includes options to set goals, configurable lengths of time, and stats to help you do this. The customization lets you use whatever version of work timers you like. Some people prefer the a 52-minute session of work followed by a 17-minute break.

    The main screen in Focus Timer Reborn is the timer, which makes sense for an app that's supposed to help you get work done. Just tap the start button and get to it. You can also choose a short or longer break from this screen. Again, these lengths of time can be changed in the app's settings. There's also a handy notification available when the timer is running. It includes the remaining time and a stop button.

    All your work periods are automatically logged in the Log tab, accessible at the bottom of the UI. This is a scrollable week view showing all the work blocks you entered. If for some reason you forget to start the app, you can manually enter a block of time in the log. The far right tab is for tracking goals. The default setting for each day is 8 blocks of focused work per day.

    Focus Timer Reborn is also available online, and it syncs with the app. The app supports Google login. Thus, you can start a session on one device and pick it up on another, as long as you log into the app and web with the same account. Focus Timer Reborn is a solid app if you want to give a time management scheme a shot. It's free and there are no ads.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (March 2017)

    Buying a new phone is a big decision, especially now that there are so many good choices. You don't just want a good one, though. You want the best phone that will serve you well for at least a year or two. As we head into the first round of 2017 phone releases, you've got some decisions to make. Buying a phone right now comes with a higher than usual risk of buyer's remorse, but that's not a sure thing.

    In a few months we'll have all-new flagship phones on the market, but you can still get something right now. Let's break it down.

    Carrier Phones

    If you want to go through your carrier to get one of the various payment plan or promo deals, your options are a little limited right now. The Galaxy S7 is still just as good as it was a month ago, but we're now mere weeks away from the Galaxy S8 announcement. Then there's the V20, which has been superseded by the LG G6 announcement. On Verizon, you can still get the Pixel, and there's no newer version of that coming any time soon.

    Here's my advice. If you need to get a carrier phone right now and you're not on Verizon, get a Galaxy S7. The S7 and S7 Edge are perfectly capable pieces of hardware with Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. Inside is a Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. The GS7 battery is 3,000mAh and the GS7 Edge is 3,600mAh.

    Google Play App Roundup: GlassWire, Linia, and Island Delta

    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.

    GlassWire

    Android has tools for tracking data usage, but they're clunky and haven't been improved much in years. GlassWire is a new app that tracks your data usage with higher precision with an eye toward monitoring your privacy. You can see which apps use data, when they do it, and understand how that fits with your overall data usage patterns.

    After granting the app usage access it will begin logging data usage in real time. That means an ongoing (but low-priority) notification to keep the service alive. The main screen in GlassWire is a graph that shows data usage over time as a series of peaks, color coded for up and download. Below that is a list of each app that has used data, also with color coding for up and down. The data displayed on this screen can be set to various lengths of time from five minutes to 90 days. The graph also has options for all data, WiFi only, and mobile only. On the shorter time scale, you can actually see the graph change as apps run tasks in the background.

    You can get additional info including a graph of just the data usage for that app with the same controls as above. You also get information about when it was installed, updated, and when data usage was first detected. There's a permission settings link as well.

    The usage section of the app breaks down all your data by month with a smaller graph, a pie chart, and an individual list of apps. Then there's the data plan monitor, which you need to set up with your plan details. Tell it your cap, plan reset data, and set up alerts. The app can tell you when you're almost out of data. There are custom alerts as well.

    GlassWire is a free app, which naturally leads you to wonder what they're after. GlassWire is not a marketing or advertising company, so the devs claim they don't want your data. There's a desktop version of GlassWire (linked in the app) that has a premium upgrade. There's no such upgrade in the Android version, but I would not be surprised to see that happen later. So, if you believe what the company says, your data is not being collected. For now, it's just free.

    GlassWire looks like the best of these data logging apps. It has a modern material design, good features, and it's not after your personal data.

    Google Play App Roundup: Shortcutter, Avalanche, and Gravity Galaxy

    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.

    Shortcutter

    Google's included quick settings tiles are pretty robust these days, and some OEMs even add a few more for good measure. They don't have everything, though. That's where Nougat's new quick settings tile API comes in. Shortcutter is one of a new breed of apps that add additional tiles to the quick settings. This app has a lot of features in the free version, and there are some goodies exclusively for rooted users.

    After installing Shortcutter, you'll need to open the app to run through a quick setup process. The app needs access to modify your settings and change the do not disturb features. It only takes a few seconds and the app is very clear about what you have to do. The only settings in the app to be modified are the custom URL and app shortcuts. There's only one of each in the free version, but the upgraded premium app (a $2.99 ad-on) increases that the four of each.

    Adding Shortcutter tiles to the quick settings works just like managing the stock tiles. Open the editing panel and long-press to drag in the new tiles. If you're not rooted, you get a reasonable selection of tiles (in addition to the aforementioned custom URL and app shortcuts). There's next alarm, screen timeout, ring mode, haptic feedback, camera launcher, and more. With root, you get tiles for things like Reboot, ADB, ambient display, and network mode.

    It's quite robust for a free app. One thing I would like to see added is a way to disable Shortcutter toggles you don't intend to use. The list of tiles in the quick settings edit panel can be a little unwieldy, especially if you install a few tile managers.

    Google Play App Roundup: EasilyDo Email, Splitter Critters, and unWorded

    Money doesn't grow on trees, and those $0.99 app purchases do add up. It's best to go into the Play Store with some idea of what's up your alley and what isn't. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is here to do. We bring you the best new and newly updated app and games every week. Just click on the app name to head to the Play Store and test it out yourself.

    EasilyDo Email

    Your phone came with the Gmail app, and maybe you've since branched out to the Inbox app. Support for non-Google email accounts in Inbox is poor, but the new Email app from EasilyDo is a bit like Inbox for whatever email account you want to use. It's essentially an email app wrapped around the EasilyDo Assistant app.

    Adding an account is very quick, especially for Gmail accounts you already have on your phone. Just select it and you're done. There's also a guided setup process for popular apps like Yahoo, Outlook, and AOL Mail. You can also plug in any other account via IMAP. Syncing and general app navigation are quite fast.

    Your inbox defaults to a Gmail-style conversation view—the app doesn't try to imitate Inbox's bundling. The style is a little different, though. Instead of seeing all the emails collapsed in one screen, tapping on an email brings up a new screen with a list of all threaded messages. I don't know if I like it more than Gmail's approach, but it's something new.

    One of my favorite things about EasilyDo Email is the customizable swipe gestures. Each message in the inbox can be swiped left or right. You can have those gestures do things like archive, delete, and mark read/unread. The assistant functionality is neat as well. You'll find this in the navigation panel. The app automatically finds emails that fit into categories like travel, subscriptions, and packages. Tap on any of them to get a filtered view of your inbox. Some of these lists will include a handy breakdown of all the relevant details. For example, flights found in the travel list have flight numbers, reservations, seat numbers, and times. The assistant seems reasonably smart, but it does miss some things.

    The subscriptions section also showcases one of Email's main features; one-tap unsubscribing. You'll see this button at the top of any email it detects as a subscription with a supported method of removing yourself from the list. It seems to work on most of my email subscriptions. Simply tap the button, the app thinks, and you're unsubscribed.

    EasilyDo Email is free, so check it out if you want to get a different take on your email.

    Google Play App Roundup: Peek Launcher, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Glitchskier

    If you're going to be supporting app development on Android (and you should), you might as well pay for the best content you can. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is all about. This is where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just follow the links to the Play Store.

    Peek Launcher

    Most of the alternative home screens on Android are generally similar, but every now and then a developer just goes in a different direction. Such is the case with Peek Launcher. It eschews many of the things that other launchers have, relying almost entirely on T9 text input. It's an interesting minimalist take on the home screen.

    When you start up Peek Launcher the first time, you'll get a regular phone dial pad at the bottom of the display and two rows of icons. The icons that show up are predictions based on what you've been using most lately. Newly installed apps will also pop up here. To find an app, just start tapping the keys to spell out the name. So for Gmail you'd tap 4, 6, 2, and at that point you'd probably be left with just Gmail. It filters the list of apps live as you tap.

    There are other launchers that include features like this, then there are some apps that just do this alone. Peek Launcher is the only one I'm aware of that is based almost entirely on T9 input. In addition to filtering apps, you can long-press the icons to pin important apps so they'll always show up on the main page. There are swipe gestures too. Drag down to get your Google search bar, and drag up to reveal a full scrollable app list.

    Peek Launcher includes options to change the background and button color of the keyboard. It will also change automatically when you set a new background to match the colors. You can set a custom icon pack as well.

    This app is still early in its development, and it's changing fast. It is a little light on features right now, but it's free. I'll be watching to see what Peek can do down the line.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (February 2017)

    The 2017 phone season is just starting to spin up. The lineup is almost unchanged right now, but there are a big couple of months right around the corner. We expect flagship phones from Samsung, HTC, and LG to show up, and that means you have to be more picky than ever when buying a phone. You could wait it out and see what these upcoming phones look like, but there are still good choices right now. Let's break it down.

    Carrier phones

    Despite being almost a year old, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is still the best overall choice for a carrier phone. Samsung is in the process of rolling Android 7.0 Nougat out to the GS7, which makes it a bit more appealing. It's not the only choice you have, though. Verizon customers have the Pixel, and there's the LG V20.

    Let's start with the Galaxy S7, which is still worth considering. The hardware is still fantastic. I pick up the GS7 Edge sometimes and am still wowed by the curves. The front and back are both Gorilla Glass, but it feels so well put together. The phone is IP68 water resistant, so it can take a quick dip and be fine. It's a little heavier than you probably expect when you pick it up, but the back has a slight curve, making it comfortable to hold.

    The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. They are still the best panels you can get (now that the Note 7 is dead). They're bright, have perfect viewing angles, and the colors are very accurate. Then there's the Edge with a screen that curves down on both the left and right sides. It looks cool, but it's actually less comfortable to hold. The Pixel XL's display is almost as good, but it's not as bright and the colors are flatter. Samsung still wins on this front.

    Bad Robots: How Gimmicks Shaped the Android Ecosystem

    Google devised Android in a way that allows device makers to take the lead on modifying the software to support whatever crazy hardware gimmicks they want to try. Sometimes this has led to some interesting innovations, and other times it's been a mess.

    Some of the hardware fads over the years look bizarre and even foolish in retrospect, but this is all part of the process. Some fads ended up changing the nature of the Android devices we have today.

    Dual screens

    Plenty of people use multiple displays on their computers, but on Android devices? This was another famously poor example of mobile hardware gimmickry. A number of Android devices with dwo displays were launched in 2011 and 2012 including the Kyocera Echo, LG Flip II, and the Sony Tablet P.

    Even today, Android doesn't really support dual-screens, and it barely even supported large format screens in 2011. That meant all the code managing the secondary displays of these phone and tablets was integrated by the OEM. Therefore, the only apps that could take advantage of the special features enabled by the hardware were the ones built-into the device. Oh, there were APIs for developers to add support, but guess how many did. Yeah, none.

    This idea was left behind, at least for the most part. The Russian YotaPhone bumped around a few markets until 2015. This device had an e-paper rear-facing display. It was a little better supported, but the niche wasn't very interesting to consumers in practice. Now, there are a few phones with secondary ticker displays (more on that later).

    Google Play App Roundup: BitTorrent Live, A Normal Lost Phone, and Xenoraid

    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.

    BitTorrent Live

    There are a number of services that offer access to live TV streams on Android, but they tend to want money. BitTorrent Live is a streaming TV service from, you guessed it, BitTorrent. It's completely free. It's been available on some streaming boxes and desktops for several months, but the app has now showed up in the Play Store.

    As with most things BitTorrent does, this streaming video app is based on the company's p2p technology. It uses many of the same techniques that have allowed Torrent sites to become so prominent as sources for… well, everything. BitTorrent itself is a legitimate business, though. The content on BitTorrent Live is fully licensed.

    Because this is based on p2p technology, the quality of the stream will vary based on how many people are viewing it. Just like with a Torrent download, you both download and upload to keep the swarm of watchers going. The result is a system that's much easier on the video source. How does it look? From my testing, I'd say it ranges from middling to good. Some channels look like a standard 480p stream, and other are almost as good as what you'd get streaming HD video from a source like YouTube.

    The interface is minimal, and I think it could use a bit of work. You can tap to bring up the current stream info, then tap the arrow at the bottom to get the full channel list. There are nearly 20 channels, some of which are not going to have wide appeal, like the far, far right One America News network. You do get the NASA TV and NASA UHD stream, though. Scrolling through the horizontal channel guide is not pleasant. Inertial scrolling is ramped way up, and any downward movement is interpreted as a swipe to close the guide.

    There are some other bugs here too. For example, the stream fails to load on mobile data, so you need WiFi right now. It also strikes me as odd there's no Chromecast support at launch. Still, the app is free and it does offer free streaming video as advertised.

    Google Play App Roundup: System Panel 2, Soul Knight, and PixelTerra

    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.

    System Panel 2

    Sometimes you need to know what's going on inside your phone, and System Panel is one of the apps that helps you do that. However, the original System Panel app hasn't been updated in ages. Now, there's a new version available in the Play Store. It's actually a completely new listing and rewritten app. That means you'll have to buy it again if you had the original.

    There will be some concern over the new version so I'll just point out the original System Panel was supported for about 6 years. That's not bad for an app people spent a buck on. The new one has better support for modern versions of Android and has a vastly improved UI. However, changes to the way Android works will limit your ability to track and manage running processes (you shouldn't be "managing" them anyway). You need root access for System Panel 2 to access these tools.

    Even without root, there are a lot of cool things to do in System Panel 2. On the main screen you have a dashboard of your phone's current activity. At the top are read-outs of what's going on with your processor, RAM, storage, battery, and network connection. Below that is a historic graph of battery charge and CPU usage. This can be useful troubleshooting an app or performance issues. At the bottom is a panel showing how many apps you have installed, and your device's ID.

    Tapping on any of the panels in the main app UI will open additional information. For the top few, you'll get the live streamed data with additional information. Opening the history panel (also accessible from the nav menu) lets you drill down into more historical stats. The device ID panel gives you access to system information like reported specs, network conditions, and location data.

    The app manager is one of the most interesting parts of System Panel 2, I think. It has sections for your installed apps, system apps, archived apps, and a permission list. Tapping on any app in the list shows you the package name, install date, last update date, and more. You can archive any app, saving the APK for the current version. The APK is placed on your SD card in a simple folder hierarchy so it's easy to find. With archived apps, you can compare the package stats using the drop down in the app details screen. You can, of course, install those old APKs or export them elsewhere. Note: paid apps can be archived, but the licensing will prevent them from working on devices without a valid account license.

    System Panel 2 is still in beta, but it seems really solid for what it is. I'd like to see some widgets, and a few alternative data filters might be nice. If you need a system info app, this one is a good choice and it's free. If you want to remove the ads, it's a $1.99 in-app purchase.

    Google Play App Roundup: Weather Wiz, Towaga, and Dynasty Warriors: Unleashed

    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.

    Weather Wiz

    Weather apps with a lot of data tend to be not very attractive, and apps with attractive design tend to be lacking in data. Weather Wiz seems like a good compromise between pretty and functional. It's also completely free, at least for now.

    Weather Wiz reminds me a little of the weather app HTC builds into its phone, but it has a lot more data and features than that app. In the main view, there's a temperature readout at the top along with some notes on the current conditions. At the bottom is an hourly forecast that can be scrolled through to see what's coming up in the future. I really appreciate having this data so easily accessible in the app.

    The animated background image on the main screen is controlled by the theme you've chosen. It will, of course, change based on the current conditions. This is where you'll encounter the upsell—some of these themes cost $0.99. There are about 12 themes right now, and five appear to be paid. They don't seem any better than the free ones, though. I'm particularly into the Material theme (right) and the space theme.

    If you scroll down from the main screen, you'll find all the other data in Weather Wiz. Oddly, you have to scroll from the bottom section with the temperature timeline. Swiping on the background doesn't work, which seems awkward and wrong. At any rate, the background is blurred as the new weather readings slide into view. You get more details about current conditions at the top, then as you scroll down there's a rundown of weather for tomorrow. Below that is a 10-day forecast. At the very bottom is a cool sunrise/sunset graphic.

    Weather radar is accessible from the navigation menu, and it'll get the job done. It is very pretty with animated wind patterns, but there's no true animations for radar changes over time. The accuracy of the precipitation (the most important radar use case, I think) seems lacking. This data comes from a third-party, so this isn't necessarily the developer's fault.

    Lastly, there's a full suite of widgets for Weather Wiz that are mostly very good. There are several different sizes, and each theme has its own backgrounds for them. However, you can also use the more generic stock ones if you like. There's an add that pops up when you add a widget, but after you've cleared it, you won't see it again until you add another Weather Wiz widget. Overall, I think this is a great weather app with a not too annoying monetization setup.

    Google Play App Roundup: Stringify, Road Not Taken, and War Commander: Rogue Assault

    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.

    Stringify

    Many of us have ended up with various smart internet-connected things. Cameras, lights, and of course our smartphones. There are a number of services that tie these things together, but Stringify is a new take on this with a more visual and potentially powerful approach. Simply link up your services and start playing around.

    If you've used something like IFTTT or Tasker, you'll be able to figure out Stringify pretty fast. It's sort of a combination of those two (although it can actually plug into IFTTT as well). Stringify uses "flows" to control your devices and services. You can use one of the flows from the starter pack to get familiar with the process, but ideally you will want to create new flows based on the things you have.

    I've been playing around with Stringify and my Arlo home security cameras. In a few minutes I was able to create flows to arm and disarm the cameras based on my location and manually trigger a video recording when I tap a special Stringify button. One thing that really sets Stringify apart from services like IFTTT is that it can have multiple triggers and actions, and they're pretty easy to follow with the flowchart setup process. IFTTT by comparison only allows a single trigger and action. You can even plug into IFTTT to integrate recipes within your flows.

    To create flows, you pick the services you want to use, and drop them on the provided grid of circles. There are plenty of built-in triggers like time, location, and so on. The ones needing configuration have gear icons to let you know. After all your icons are set up, you can drag between them to create the flow. I've found Stringify to be very reliable, but there are still some bugs. A few services are also unsupported in the Android client. Not surprising as this is a beta app. If you choose to use a button trigger in Stringify, you can access those from the app's control center. Although, I've had trouble getting the home screen widget version working.

    Despite the issues with this early build, Stringify is something you should keep an eye on. It could potentially be a very powerful automation app.