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    Google Play App Roundup: HomeUX, Please Don't Touch Anything, and Last Horizon

    It's time again to dive into the Google Play Store and see what apps we can find. Every week we find the best new and newly updated apps for the Roundup, and this week is no exception. Just click on the app name to head to the Play Store.


    You don't have to look long to find numerous home screen replacements in the Play Store. Third-party launchers have been one of the most prominent customization options on Android since its inception, and now there some very diverse options. Most home screens are based on the AOSP Android launcher on some level, and they feel like it. HomeUX (previously a closed beta) has a different vibe, though. This home screen has a clean and efficient UI that focuses on organization and search.

    The basic layout of HomeUX is very different than what you're probably used to. At the top of the screen is a section called the action panel. This is where you'll find a clock, but also the settings (swipe left) and custom groups (swipe right). You also have the option of adding shortcuts to this area that will be available at all times, sort of like the favorites tray on other launchers.

    The bottom three-quarters of the screen is where all the action happens. By default, you have a list of all your apps here in scrollable pages. There's an action button-style search button straddling the border between the two areas, and it does what you'd expect. Tap it, and you can search your phone for apps. Again, this is only the default behavior, though. You can change the long-press action and icon of this button to do all sorts of things. For example, have it launch the Google apps.

    Things get interesting when you start adding custom folders to HomeUX. Let's say I want all my work apps together. I make a folder, give it an icon, and select some apps. You switch between folders by swiping up and down in the app list. So a swipe down, and I'm in the work folder. It's essentially a way to filter your app list. You can also add widgets to these folders, which is a cool way to keep that information easily accessible without cluttering up the UI.

    The free version of HomeUX has some solid customization options including custom grid size, hiding apps, icon packs, and configurable wallpapers/themes. A pro upgrade for $1.49 adds things like icon scaling, notification badges, and clock UI adjustment.

    This is still a beta app, and as such, there are a few rough edges to be worked out. I've seen some graphical glitches and the way certain features are accessed could be clearer. Still, you should give this launcher a shot because it's a refreshing change of pace.

    Testing: In-Depth with the Nexus 5X and 6P Cameras

    Nexus phones have always had great software and innovative hardware features, but even when the camera specs looked good, performance has been mediocre at best. Google has been happy to point out that it prioritized the cameras in the Nexus 5X and 6P, though. They use excellent sensors and the software processing has been heavily revamped. So how good are they? Let's take a closer look at this year's Nexus cameras.

    The Hardware

    The Nexus 6P and 5X have a lot in common when it comes to the camera. In fact, they have identical hardware. We're talking about a Sony IMX377 image sensor with a resolution of 12.3MP. That's a little lower than the Nexus 6's resolution last year, and there's one other feature missing from these cameras -- optical image stabilization. We'll get to that later.

    These Sony sensors have large 1.55μm pixels and a f/2.0 aperture. These features both make for theoretically better low-light performance compared to past Nexus phones. The pixel measurement isn't something you hear about a lot, but HTC has pushed it as an important metric for its Ultrapixel sensor. Those cameras have 2.0μm pixels, which allows them to pick up a lot of light. However, the resolution was only 4MP. The IMX377 is ahead of most sensors in pixel size, commonly 1.1-1.2μm.

    Next to the camera on these phones you also get a laser autofocus module. It's out in the open on the 5X, but it's behind the glass cover on the 6P. This is similar to LG's phones in that it helps you zero in on targets, even in weird lighting conditions. A number of other high-end flagship phones use phase detection tech to focus the camera, but the laser option has proven to be better overall.

    Several of the differences between the Nexus 6P and 5X cameras have to do with the internal hardware, not the camera modules themselves. The 5X has a Snapdragon 808 and the 6P runs a Snapdragon 810. According to Google, several of the processing technologies it chose to implement don't work well enough on the 808, so they're exclusive to the 6P. Specifically, electronic image stabilization, smart burst, and 240fps slow-motion video.

    Google Play App Roundup: Audify, Horizon Chase, and Call of Champions

    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.


    Android's notification system is great… when you're looking at the phone. But what happens when your attention is focused elsewhere? A beep and flashing light only provides so much information. With Audify, you can have your notifications read aloud, and unlike some similar services and apps, this isn't just for messaging. Audify can read all your notifications.

    Audify should work on any phone running Android 4.3 or higher. That's because it needs the notification listener, which you'll be prompted to enable upon opening the app for the first time. This lets Audify read the text of the notification, which it then runs through the standard text-to-speech engine on your phone. It's not going to be like having a conversation with a human, but the default voice on most phones isn't bad anymore. It's like a very polite female robot.

    There are multiple settings to control how and when Audify activates. Once you set these rules, you don't have to fiddle with the app at all. The default behavior is to start Audify when you plug in headphones or connect a Bluetooth audio device. This implies that you're not going to be looking at the screen and it might be advantageous to have your notifications read to you. There's also a setting to only read when the screen is off. Again, this is probably the most likely use case. However, you can have the audio go through the speakers and work all the time, even when the screen is awake. It's your call.

    Audify will read all high-priority notifications (the ones that trigger alert sounds). If an app isn't important enough that you want the notifications read aloud, no problem. Just add it to the muted list. Audify will smartly ignore repeated notifications from the same app in a short period of time too.

    Some people will be annoyed by the active notification in the shade when Audify is active. I don't think there's anyway to get around that, though. If you want the app to work, it needs a foreground notification to remain alive. You can give Audify a shot for free with 250 notifications. After that, you have to buy the full version for $0.99. You can also get 100 more free notifications by referring a friend.

    Google Play App Roundup: YouTube Music, Soda Dungeon, and Crimsonland

    There's no reason you wouldn't want the best apps on your Android device, but the Google Play Store makes that hard sometimes. Don't worry, though. That's what the weekly app roundup here on Tested is all about. This is where you can go to find out what the best apps are, and why they're the best. Click on the app name to go right to the Play Store web site to grab the app for yourself.

    YouTube Music

    As part of Google's big YouTube Red push, it has released a new YouTube app called YouTube Music. This was promised a few weeks ago when Red was announced, and now it's here. In the same way YouTube Gaming is an app focused on gaming videos on YouTube, the YouTube Music app is focused on music on YouTube. What the app can do for you is dependent on whether or not you have a subscription to Red/Play Music.

    The main advantage to using YouTube as a source of music is that there's a lot of unusual stuff on there. You get all the usual albums and whatnot you will find on other services, but there's also a wealth of remixes, live concerts, covers, and so on. This is why a lot of people just use the YouTube website for their music needs in the first place. The app makes this easier by surfacing only music and music videos. The home tab lists things that you might be interested in based on what you've listened to in Google's ecosystem in the past. The next tab over shows you all the hottest music on YouTube, then there's a tab of all your liked music videos.

    When you're listening to your recommended music, there's a cool feature on the Now Playing screen that lets you determine how much variety you want in the station. More variety means Google ventures further from the taste profile it has built for you, and less means that it will mostly show you things you've liked in the past.

    All the above is available to all users of YouTube Music. If you've got a Red or Play Music subscription (both services are included for the $10 price), you get some cool bonuses. First and foremost, you can do background and screen-off audio streaming. If you leave YouTube Music or shut off the screen, the app will automatically switch to audio streaming mode and keep going. You even get playback controls in the notifications like a standard music app. There's a persistent toggle at the top of the screen to switch between video and audio-only mode too.

    Premium users can also cache music offline with a feature called Offline Mixtape. This isn't quite the same as the Play Music offline feature where you explicitly save tracks you want. Instead, YouTube Music grabs a set amount of music that it thinks you'll like based on your past behavior. The default setting for this is 80MB or about 20 tracks. The only semblance of manual control I can find here is that it does include your most recently liked videos. It's kind of a neat feature for offline listening.

    Perhaps most important here is that YouTube Music is ad-free for subscribers. Everyone else gets regular YouTube-style ads. They might not be on every video, but they're going to be there. Honestly, Google's $10 deal with Play Music streaming, YouTube Red, and now YouTube Music is such a fantastic deal, I can't think of a good argument against it.

    The Budget Android Revolution: Pros and Cons of Going Cheap

    Not that many years ago, buying an Android phone off-contract for $250 would assure you of a terrible experience. Buyer's remorse was almost inevitable, and the only way to avoid it was to spend two or three times more on a "proper" android phone. My, how times have changed. A new era of Android has dawned, and the price of solid mid-range devices has come down dramatically. It's not all roses, though.

    Let's take a look at what you gain and what you lose with these budget-friendly Android phones.

    The How and Why

    One of the primary reasons you can get a device like the Asus Zenfone 2, Alcatel Idol 3, or Moto G for well under $300 is that chipset makers have finally caught up to Android's software requirements. Mid-range SoCs like the Snapdragon 410, 615, and MediaTek Helio X10 have enough power to keep Android running smoothly in most instances. Most of these chipsets even support LTE. NAND flash and memory has come down in price dramatically as well.

    There has also been a shift at the top of the market that has sent some OEMs looking for a new angle. It's actually very difficult to make a $600 smartphone and turn a profit while competing with Samsung, LG, and the other big players. Even some notable names in Android have had trouble competing in the premium bracket as of late (see: HTC). So what's an OEM to do? Well, go cheap, sometimes with the help of hardware partners.

    There's an interesting dynamic playing out in the supply chain right now that has pushed hardware costs even lower than they might otherwise have been. Intel is looking to make a name in phones, and its latest generation Atom SoCs are actually quite good. Qualcomm is stumbling right now with the toasty Snapdragon 810, so Intel has partnered with OEMs like Asus to get its chips into budget phones quickly and cheaply. The price of a device like the Zenfone 2 might not have been as reasonable were it not for Intel's aggressive moves as of late.

    Google Play App Roundup: Cinnamon, Fallout Shelter, and Shooting Stars

    Your Android phone is capable of a lot of cool things, but not because of what Google built in. Developers have access to all sorts of hooks in the system to make your phone do amazing things, you just have to find the right apps. That's what the weekly Google Play App Roundup is all about -- helping you find the right apps. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store and pick it up yourself.


    Shopping lists are one of the few use cases we all have in common when it comes to mobile devices. You've got a touchscreen computer in your pocket at the store, so why not use it to keep track of purchases. Annoyingly, many of the shopping list apps on Android are clunky, missing features, or just plain ugly. Cinnamon is a new shopping app that has none of those shortcomings, and you can try it for free.

    You'll notice straight away that Cinnamon is a fully material design app. The status bar, navigation menu, FAB, and everything else is in line with the guidelines. You can add items quickly with the FAB in the lower right corner. Cinnamon keeps a list of possible items so you only have to type a few characters to find the right one. When you add things to your list, they're automatically categorized, but you can choose how you want the list sorted in the overflow menu (a handy feature). To mark items complete, you swipe to the right. Swiping to the left deletes an item completely.

    Cinnamon is, in some ways, more than just a shopping list app. When you mark items complete on your list, they go into the cart section of the app. When you clear the cart, those items are moved into the pantry. You can use this to keep track of what you've purchased recently and what you've still got at home. I also quite like the bundles feature where you can add several items to a bundle, then add all of those items to the list. You can also attach costs to all the items on your list to see a running total while you shop.

    This is all for the main list, but you can, of course, add additional lists to the app. Those lists can be synced to multiple devices, but only if you've got a premium version of the app (it only costs a buck). While Cinnamon is rather full featured for being a new app, I still wish there was Android Wear support. List apps are one of the few truly useful applications for a smartwatch in my estimation. A widget might be a nice extra as well. The developer has already committed to getting Android Wear support, barcode scanning, and support for notes.

    Cinnamon is worth checking out as the free version does have a fair bit of functionality. Note, there are ads in the free version, but the premium upgrade removed them.

    Google Play App Roundup: Snowball 2.0, Cosmonautica, and GLITCH

    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.

    Snowball 2.0

    Google Ventures tossed some serious money at the messaging manager app Snowball late last year, but at the time its utility was limited. It's been evolving over time, and now v2.0 is out with a much more robust feature set. Not only does it make your messaging easier to deal with, it actually takes over for the stock Android notification shade to manage all your notifications.

    With the default settings, Snowball remains on top of your status bar all the time (alternatively, it's an invisible overlay), so the tinted status bar on Lollipop won't work. It does this to filter the icons shown there to only be "important." It's actually very unobtrusive and has all the proper icons and information. Frankly, it might be an improvement over the status bar UI on some phones. I haven't decided if I like that feature personally, but a lot of people don't care one way or the other.

    When you pull down the shade, you get Snowball instead of your device's usual shade. It has three tabs, with the middle one being the main Snowball notification manager. You will need to grant notification access to the app, but that only takes a moment. All the notifications that would be in the native notification shade are in Snowball, but it ranks them by importance. You can swipe to the right to clear them and to the left to either hide or mark something as important/not important.

    Apps that you decide to hide from the main notification list go in the right side tab, which keeps them from cluttering up the UI. The tab on the left is for settings and toggles, because you can't access the native shade at all with Snowball running. It has a brightness slider, WiFi, flashlight, a few app shortcuts, and more. There aren't any settings to configure the selection here, but it seems to work quite well by default.

    The other side of Snowball is all about messaging. The app used to rely on a floating bubble to contain all of your messaging apps, but now they're in the notification stream. The cool thing is that all of them have quick reply features -- Hangouts, WhatsApp, and even Gmail. Just tap the reply button and send your message. This is probably my favorite part of Snowball.

    The app is free and has some really interesting features. You should give it a shot and see how it treats your notifications.

    Tested In-Depth: Pebble Time Smartwatch

    The second-generation Pebble smartwatch is here, and brings with it a color screen and microphone. We sit down and discuss how the new Pebble Time compares with the original, the Apple Watch, and Android Wear. All-week battery life is great, but this watch has many caveats, especially if you're an iPhone user.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (July 2015)

    It's about to be fall phone season, and that means you need to be extra cautious about buying a new device. Getting a new phone can be a two-year investment (at least for most people). You don't want to get the wrong thing and regret it on a daily basis. What's a phone nerd to do? Well, let's try to figure that out.

    The Galaxy S6, LG G4, and what's on the horizon

    The days of carrier exclusives have not come to a close, but they're very much waning. There are several great phones that are available on all four major carriers, and more on on the way. Both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 are available everywhere right now, so we'll hit those first. But in just a few weeks the new Moto X Style will arrive direct from Motorola. After we hash out the "universal choices, we'll see if any carrier-specific devices stand out.

    Samsung is using a its customary Super AMOLED screen on the Galaxy S6 (and S6 Edge) and it's really just fantastic. It's a 5-inch 1440p AMOLED, which is small enough that most people should be able to use it comfortably. It's a stunningly beautiful screen, and I have no doubt it's the best you can get on a smartphone right now. It gets very bright, very dim, the colors are good, and it's extremely crisp. It's really impossible to find a fault with this display.

    LG has stuck with an LCD for the G4 as its AMOLED panels still aren't very good (you need look no further than the G Flex 2 to see that). The only unique thing about this panel is the slight top to bottom curve it has. It doesn't really seem useful to me, but it does look kind of neat. Its 5.5-inches and 1440p in resolution. LG has bumped up the brightness and colors compared to the LCD on the G3, which is a good thing.

    Google Play App Roundup: Boxer Calendar, Sparkle 3, and SPACECOM

    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 apps and games every week. Just click on the app name to head to the Play Store and test it out yourself.

    Boxer Calendar

    You may know Boxer from the popular email app it released a while back but now the developer has returned with a free calendar app, and it seems quite impressive. It's called Boxer Calendar (duh), and it plugs in neatly to all the calendars already synced to your phone, including Google and Exchange.

    There's no setup required in Boxer Calendar. After it's installed, the app will simply plug into the calendar data already synced to your phone. You can control which calendars are shown in the app, but it doesn't have dedicated sync settings. Opening that menu option routes you to the system-level settings. So Boxer will work with any calendar service that can be synced to the phone. Boxer also has settings for notifications, timezones, and so on.

    The main interface for Boxer Calendar is split into two sections. At the top is a week view, and at the bottom is an agenda layout of the currently selected day. Several other apps do this, but Boxer's UI has a nifty trick. You can expand the top section to show a full month, which isn't all that distinct, however the bottom section can be customized with different views. You'll find the view options in the overflow menu at the top.

    The bottom section can show a week, day, or agenda layout. I like this setup because you get to keep the month/week calendar at the top of the screen whereas most apps will only show other layouts in full screen. There's also a tablet UI that places the two sections side-by-side. Boxer is a material app, but it's a bit dull compared to others. It certainly doesn't look bad, though.

    The app is most useful if you're also using Boxer's email app. That app has a feature that lets you reply to messages with availability times for a meeting or get together. If you have the Boxer Calendar app, it can automatically generate your available times and send them in a message.

    If you use Boxer email, you should definitely take a look at Boxer Calendar. Even if you don't, it's a solid option in an already crowded field.

    Google Play App Roundup: WiFiMapper, Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf, and Piloteer

    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.

    OpenSignal WiFiMapper

    Mobile networks are more robust than they used to be, but capped data plans are also considerably more common. If you need a WiFi connection on the go, it's not always easy to find one. That's where the OpenSignal WiFiMapper app comes into play. You can probably guess what it does -- WiFiMapper shows you nearby WiFi hotspots and tell you whether or not you'll be able to access them.

    OpenSignal gets its vast location data on WiFi access points from users of the app, and this collection happens automatically in the background. If you're not cool with that, no problem. You can open the settings and disable automatic collection of AP locations. However, that's the only setting in the app. Everything else takes place in the main UI.

    At the top of the screen is a map that shows your location as well as the approximate location of the access points your phone can see. Gray icons are private and green ones are public. Less common are the paid access points, which are pink. Tapping on any of the icons lets you open the detail page on the AP (or scrolling down below the map). Depending on where you are, there might not be any data about a network. However, most public spaces I've checked have some indexed networks.

    The app can tell you if a network is run by a business, if it needs a password, and if it's completely private. For business networks, the app ties in with FourSquare to show user comments. There are also comments within the OpenSignal system related specifically to the WiFi (i.e. whether or not it's usable).

    If a network doesn't have any details listed, you can fill in the details yourself (requires a Google login). The app also keeps a log of the networks you've connected to in the MY History section so you can go back and add availability information to them. Again, this is optional. You can turn off the background canning and clear your history.

    WiFiMapper has a material UI and performance seems good. I haven't seen any detectable battery drain from letting it save AP locations. It's a handy tool to have around if you're watching your mobile data closely.

    Google Play App Roundup: Native Clipboard, This War of Mine, and Redden

    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.

    Native Clipboard

    There was a time some years ago that copying and pasting on a mobile device was a big deal. Now you can pretty easily select, copy, and paste text on Android and other mobile platforms, but nothing much has changed in the last few years. Native Clipboard is an app that tries to beef up your clipboard, and it does a nice job of it. If you're got the root-only Xposed Framework, it's even more powerful too.

    Native Clipboard will need to be added as an accessibility service after installation, which allows it to read the contents of your clipboard. So it can see all the text you copy, but it's open source and nothing shady is going on. The basic idea is that if you need to paste some text, you can double-tap in a field and Native Clipboard will pop up at the bottom of the screen.

    The UI will cover up the keyboard, but you can drag it up out of the way if you need to type something before dismissing it. Your recently copied items will be in cards inside the Native Clipboard interface. Tapping on any of them will paste it into the selected field, and a long-press will expand it so you can see the full text of a longer snippet. From the expanded view, you can also pin something. Pinned text will remain at the top of the list (if you've selected that in the settings) and won't be automatically cleared. A swipe will clear any non pinned card in the list.

    There are a lot of customization options in Native Clipboard, including full control of the theme/colors. The size of the text, height of the pop up, and number of items to save are also configurable. For Xposed users, you can use the Native Clipboard module to blacklist certain apps, edit clips directly, and use the app inside a web browser. Note: regular users can use Native Clipboard in the address bar of a browser, just not within the page itself. That's coming to 5.0/5.1 devices soon, though.

    Native Clipboard is completely free and there are no in-app purchases. There's definitely enough functionality here to charge money for, so it's pretty cool that you can use it at no cost.

    Google Play App Roundup: Hooks, Atomas, and Quadrush

    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.


    There's a whole world of information out there, and your phone probably has an active internet connection all day long, If only there was some way to get notifications about all those events sent to your phone. That's exactly what Hooks is for--it's a notification service for multiple services and data sources. Want to be notified when a new episode your favorite show airs or when it's going to rain tomorrow? Hooks can tell you that.

    Hooks feels like a bit of a mix between Pushbullet channels and IFTTT. It's not a configurable as IFTTT, but it's somewhat more flexible than Pushbullet. To create a new notification, you have three columns that present different options. There's a full list of all available notifications, one of suggested notifications, and one with the most popular notifications.

    The notifications available in Hooks usually have a few settings you can tweak, but you're mostly at the mercy of the developers with regard to the selection. There's a pretty good list so far, though. You've got feeds that can watch for newly released movies with a certain rating, nearby concerts and events that match certain keywords, weather alerts, sports scores, popular news from various sources, and various tag/keyword alerts for social networks.

    The main screen in Hooks is a timeline of what's been going on in your account lately. It shows recently added notifications, as well as all the notifications that have been triggered. When something pops up, it appears in the notification shade and links you to Hooks. From there, you can open the relevant content in the browser or another app if you want more information.

    Individual notifications can also be edited after you've added them. Maybe you want to change a keyword or alter the rating threshold for a movie alert. You can also enable and disable notification sounds for each one.

    Hooks is a mostly material app. It looks fine, but there's no colored status bar for some reason, and the use of two separate slide-out nav menus seems confusing. Still, it's a neat way to track various events on your phone without wasting battery. Since Hooks is sending push notifications, it's only active when something actually happens. It's free, so give it a look.

    Google Play App Roundup: Solid Explorer 2.0, Vainglory, and Inputting+

    Your Android phone is capable of a lot of cool things, but not because of what Google built in. Developers have access to all sorts of hooks in the system to make your phone do amazing things, you just have to find the right apps. That's what the weekly Google Play App Roundup is all about -- helping you find the right apps. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store and pick it up yourself.

    Solid Explorer 2.0

    It's been in closed beta for a very long time, but the new and completely redesigned Solid Explorer app has finally been released. This is a separate listing from the classic Solid Explorer, which you can continue using if you like. The new one comes with a fully material UI, dual-pane interface, and much more.

    The dual-panel layout is something that made the original Solid Explorer an excellent option. Other file managers had this too, but Solid Explorer's implementation always seemed faster and more fluid. That's still in the new version, of course, and makes it easy to move files from one location to another. If you're using your device in landscape, you can also have both panes up at the same time for even faster file management. In portrait mode you just swipe back and forth to switch between panes.

    As part of the material redesign, the UI of Solid Explorer has been vastly simplified. That's certainly nice to see as the old app had a really convoluted series of buttons and menus at the bottom. The new app makes proper use of the action bar and overflow menu to list all the actions you can take in each folder and when files are selected. And just subjectively, it's a much more attractive app now. The UI can be customized with a few different color themes and it's got all the usual material touches like a colored status bar, floating action button, and nav drawer.

    The only thing that's a little confusing about the UI is the extra set of buttons in the nav drawer. When you open that on the left, there's a settings icon and a separate overflow button with links to several of the built-in tools.

    If you need a way to manage your cloud storage accounts, Solid Explorer is ready to help there too. The new version has built-in support for all the basics like Dropbox, Drive, and so on. Simply log in and you can have your cloud storage up as a pane and easily move files back and forth. Local network storage can also be added. You'll need to install the plug-in for FTP, but the Chromecast support is no longer a plug-in, it's just part of the app. That means you can easily beam pictures and videos from your phone (or cloud) to a TV.

    This is a new listing, so users of the classic app can stick with the old one if they like. Downloading the updated Solid Explorer will still work with the unlocker app, if you paid for that. Otherwise, there's an in-app purchase to get the full version (there's a 2 week trial when you download it). The full version is only $1.99, which is a good deal. As of now, there are also a few paid plug-ins that you can buy if you want. Right now just Mega access and two icon packs.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (June 2015)

    There are a ton of Android phones available for purchase, and new ones are coming out all the time. You don't want to get the wrong thing and regret it on a daily basis. What's a phone nerd to do? Well, let's try to figure that out.

    This month is still a close call between the LG G4 and the Galaxy S6, but there are a few options beyond these two flagships for the discerning buyer.

    The Galaxy S6 and LG G4

    Both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4 are available on all four major US carriers, so I'm breaking these two out for a direct comparison. After laying all this out, we'll figure out an alternative for each carrier, just in case neither of these is the right fit for you.

    Samsung is using a new version of its Super AMOLED screen on the Galaxy S6 (and S6 Edge) and the company has reason to gloat a little. It's a stunningly beautiful screen. It gets very bright, very dim, the colors are good, and it's extremely crisp. It's really impossible to find fault with. Perhaps down the line it will develop some burn-in as AMOLEDs sometimes do, but Samsung has been working on that. It does consume a lot of power, but that's what you get with a 5-inch 1440p AMOLED.

    LG has stuck with an LCD for the G4 as its AMOLED efforts are still lacking compared to Samsung. The only unique thing about this panel is the slight top to bottom curve it has. I don't know that there's any usability advantage here, but there you go. It's 5.5-inches and 1440p in resolution. LG has bumped up the brightness and colors compared to the LCD on the G3, which is a good thing.

    Google Play App Roundup: CloudPlayer, Xenowerk, and Geometry Wars 3

    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.


    There are a dozen different subscription music services, but what if you've already got a large music library and you don't want to mess around with something new? CloudPlayer from doubleTwist can turn your existing cloud storage accounts into a handy online music library.

    CloudPlayer works with Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive. Simply dump your music (supports all major formats including lossless) into whichever cloud account you have with sufficient storage, and log into it via the CloudPlayer app. The first indexing will take a while, especially if you have a lot of music. Once you've got everything ready to go, the app acts very much like other music players.

    You can see all of your music filtered in various ways by opening the navigation drawer on the left. It has quick links for artist, album, song, playlists, and so on. CloudPlayer pulls down artist images automatically and shows everything in a card layout. Starting playback seems very quick with my Dropbox test account and WiFi/LTE, but that will vary based on your connection. There's also an option to cache songs offline so you can listen without a connection.

    When listening to music via the app, there's a persistent playback bar at the bottom that brings up the Now Playing screen. You get the album art, playback controls, and everything else you'd expect from a music app. I will note that the way you drag up to see the full queue is really neat, though. There's also a built-in 10-band EQ that's accessible from the Now Playing screen.

    One of my favorite parts of the app is its built-in Google Cast and AirPlay support. Just hit the cast button on the main screen to select a device on your local network and send audio there. This has been working very well for me and really makes the app a viable alternative to Play Music.

    My only real concern with the way CloudPlayer works is that it scans the entire online storage directory. There's no way I can see to point it to a specific folder. So if you've got audio files in your Dropbox (or whatever service) that you don't want showing up in CloudPlayer, you'll have to move them elsewhere.

    Cloud Player is free to try for 7 days, but after that it costs $4.99 to buy the full version of the app.

    Testing: Asus ZenFone 2 Smartphone

    In the United States, on-contract subsidies for phones is slowly being supplanted by leasing and "easy-pay" deals where users can get new phones for no money down--the full price of the phone is amortized over the term of the contract. It's another way that carriers are trying to hide the fact that the latest flagship phones are more expensive than most people think--$600 and up in the bottom line. That's why we take note when phones like the Nexus 5 and OnePlus One are released for half that price, off-contract and unlocked for use with any GSM carrier. The latest of these low-cost high-end phones is Asus' ZenFone 2, which I've been using for the past few weeks. Its recent US release turned heads because of its price: $200 for a 1080p phone with really good technical specs. Sounds great on paper, and I'm happy to report that there aren't many catches (at least not any you can't work around).

    The Asus ZenFone 2 is also interesting because it runs on an Intel Atom processor. The quad-core SoC is on the top end of Intel's Silvermont architecture, paired with a PowerVR graphics component. It's actually the same chip found in the Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet I tested at the beginning of the year, which was a great performer. As with the Dell tablet, you shouldn't have to worry about Android app compatibility with X86--Android Lollipop's ART runtime takes care of that. And running on a 1080p smartphone, the performance of the chip is competitive with the latest ARM SoCs from Qualcomm and Samsung. My benchmarks showed it fitting between the performance of the Galaxy S6 and LG G4--definitely flagship material. At that level, I couldn't notice performance differences in day to day use, even in gaming.

    I should mention that the ZenFone 2 does come at two price points, with meaningful differences. The $200 entry-level runs a slightly slower 1.8GHz processor, with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. The $300 model I tested has a 2.33GHz Atom, 4GB of RAM, and four times the storage at 64GB. RAM and SoC are the notable differentiators between the models, since you can expand storage on both with a microSD card. Both models also have dual microSIM slots. But even at 1.8GHz and 2GB of RAM, you're going to be able to run any new Android app and game without problems.

    The respectable performance doesn't come as a surprise, so we turn to the areas that really differentiate the day-to-day use of a smartphone: display quality, camera, and battery life. On these counts, the Asus ZenFone is above average, but doesn't claim any crowns. Let's start with the screen.

    Google Play App Roundup: Portal, TransPlan, and Chronology

    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.


    Pushbullet has been one of the most consistently useful apps on my devices for a long time, and now the developers have released a new app that addresses one of the shortcomings of Pushbullet. It's called Portal, and it provides a quick and easy way to send big files from your computer to your phone.

    Portal works over your local WiFi to send files of any size to Android. This is not a completely new idea, but Portal improves things quite a bit. For example, Pushbullet allows you to send files, but the process is a little cumbersome and the file size is functionally unlimited. I also recall an app some years back that had very similar functionality called Awesome Drop. The company was acquired by HTC and the app was eventually killed. Portal is like a turbo charged version of that.

    Using Portal is really slick. Just install the app on your phone or tablet and open the Portal website on your computer. The site will generate a unique QR code that connects your phone and computer. Tap the scan button in the app and point it at the screen to pair them -- it recognizes the QR code almost instantly. The browser window will become a drag-and-drop target so you can take any file on your computer and push it to the phone or tablet.

    I've tested this with files up to several gigabytes in size, and they transferred fine. This only works over WiFi, remember. So you won't use your data plan to send the files. Portal is light on settings because it really just does this one thing. You can optionally have images and music routed to different folders to keep your storage a little more tidy. The general Portal download folder can also be specified. If you're on Lollipop, it can also request SD card access to put files there.

    Portal is a handy thing to have around, and like Pushbullet, it's completely free.

    Everything You Need to Know about RAW Photography on Android

    Android camera hardware has gotten very good in the last few years, but the quality of the images you get are largely dependent on the processing technology that a device maker has chosen to implement. When most phones have very similar image sensors, this software can make a huge difference. Slowly but surely, the power to produce better images is being granted to the users with support for RAW image capture.

    If your phone can capture in RAW, you don't have to worry about substandard processing algorithms in the phone. You can take matters into your own hands. Here's how to make RAW photo capture work for you on Android.

    What is RAW and which phones support it?

    Most Android phones are only set up to spit out processed images that have been compressed into JPEGs. This is usually fine, but you're relying on the ability of the stock software to do the scene justice. A lot of data is thrown away in the process, and a RAW file gives you access to all of that. A JPEG from a high-resolution camera sensor might be 4-5MB on Android, but a RAW file could easily be upwards of 30MB.

    These files come with file extensions like .dng and .nef (Android uses .dng). They contain virtually all the data from the sensor, so they're not ready to be tweaked with a standard image editing program or posted on your favorite social network. You need to work with each file and make changes to the colors, white balance, exposure, and more. It can be a significant amount of work, but you're not doing this because it's easy.

    On Android, RAW image capture can be done in a few ways. Both LG and HTC have opted to add the ability for users to snap both JPEG and RAW with the stock camera app on the G4 and One M9. You don't need to do anything other than pop into the settings to make this work. When you press the shutter, the phone outputs a DNG to the internal storage (or microSD card in the case of the G4) along with the JPEG. Samsung is supposed to be adding RAW support to its stock camera app in Android 5.1 for the Galaxy S6, which should be out in a month or so.

    Google Play App Roundup: Pounce, Feed Me Oil 2, and Outside World

    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.


    There may be times when you see something you want in real life, but you're not sure what it's called. Maybe you're also simply too lazy to type it into a search. No problem, there's Pounce. This new app lets you take a photo of objects to have them identified almost instantly. Then the app shows you where you can buy that item and similar ones on the spot. It's not the first app to do it, but Pounce seems like it might be the most accurate yet.

    When you open Pounce, it goes right to a camera viewfinder. To begin a search, simply point it at a thing you might be interested in buying and press the capture button. There's a switch to turn on the flash in the event there's not enough light, and it does seem somewhat picky about focusing on certain phone. For example, the Nexus 6 is fine, but the One M9 seems to lose focus entirely too quickly. There is an option to use an existing photo from your device as well, which might be a better option if it doesn't like your phone's camera.

    The image will be uploaded and processed on Pounce's servers. The technology backing it has been used in a few apps before (called Slyce visual search). It looks for general shapes and logos to figure out what things are. It's actually surprisingly good at a number of things. I pointed it at some game controllers, phones, and other things, and it got the gist. A few times it knew the exact product. Other times it was more generic (like gray HTC phone for the M9).

    The next step is where Pounce makes its money. It shows you shopping results with the thing you snapped a photo of, or at least some similar listings. The items come from a variety of stores like Amazon, Best Buy, and eBay. Should you see something you like, you can buy it instantly (after adding payment and shipping details in Pounce). Alternatively, it can be saved to your favorites.

    Pounce is a free app and it does what it says. It's worth checking out if only to see if you can fool it.