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    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Android Wear

    For the ninth day of Tested Christmas, Norm extols the virtues of Android Wear. We've tested both the Pebble and two Android Wear watches, and the latter platform is proving the case for smart watches as useful complements to smart phones.

    Google Play App Roundup: Action Launcher 3, Inferno 2, and Scrolls

    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.

    This week it's time for a home screen makeover, shooters get glowing, and Mojang is back.

    Action Launcher 3

    The original Action Launcher came out a few years back, aiming to do things a little differently than the other AOSP-based home screens. The way Action Launcher handled (and continues to handle) widgets is unique among similar apps, and it adopted a different approach to finding your apps. Now Action Launcher has been redesigned around more modern Android code, and the result is the big v3 update. There are a few new features, and some old features are being left behind.

    Action Launcher took its name from the Android action bar, which it implemented on the home screen. This was in the early-ish days of Holo, so people (read: nerds) were all over the idea of the action bar. It was a unifying force in Android UI design. Action Launcher 3 still offers the action bar UI (with a Lollipop flair), but the default layout is more straightforward. There's a search bar with a hamburger icon that, when pressed, reveals the Actino Launcher Quickdrawer with all your apps.

    I'm quite fond of the Quickdrawer UI. There's an alphabetical column that you can drag up and down to scroll through the list, or just tap and drag the old-fashioned way. There's something new about the Quickdrawer and search box--they're really colorful. The big new fUI tweak in Action Launcher 3 is called Quicktheme. The launcher can pull colors out of your background image and apply them automatically to folders, the search box, Quickdrawer, and status bar (if you have the full action bar UI turned on). It even works with the excellent Muzei live wallpaper.

    Covers and Shutters are also carried over from the old version of Action Launcher. Shutters are pop-up versions of widgets that you can trigger by swiping up on the icon of an app on your home screen. I find these pretty useful as I tend to run a widget-heavy home screen. It only takes one or two pages in Action Launcher to accommodate everything I need. Covers are basically folders that show a single app icon. Tap on it to launch that app, or swipe to open the hidden folder.

    Action Launcher also drops a few features from the older version including the Quickpage, which was a slide-out home screen panel on the right side of the screen. Icon scaling and Icon pack support is also missing at launch. The developer says icon packs will probably be supported in early 2015, but there's no easy way to change your icons now without root.

    The new Action Launcher is also very snappy in my testing with a variety of phones and tablets. It does lack a few features that were in the previous build, but this is a complete rewrite of the app, and several of those features were labeled as experimental anyway. This is a paid update, though. That doesn't particularly bother me because Action Launcher 3 really overhauls the look and feel.

    The old version will continue to exist as the unlocker app is being updated as a full version of the paid AL2. Action Launcher 3 is free to try, but all the cool features are behind a $4.99 paywall.

    In Brief: Android Wear Gets Major Update

    Woot! As promised, Google is releasing a huge update to Android Wear today that'll finally allow developers and users to create custom watch faces. As outlined in this blog post, the update includes an official Watch Face API that lets devs program any watch face design, just like they would an app. And just like apps, Android Wear users can download those faces from Google Play--a bunch of new faces have already been released to coincide with this launch. Other updates include the ability to undo swiping away a Google Now card, a theater mode to completely dim the screen and mute notifications, and a new quick settings menu that you activate by swiping down on a watch face. All really useful stuff that Google has learned from user requests and feedback. The updates are rolling out this week to the existing six Android Gear watches.

    Norman 2
    Google Play App Roundup: Shou.TV, World of Tanks Blitz, and Jet Car Stunts 2

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

    This week streaming your gameplay gets easier, the tanks roll in, and it's time to strap rockets to your car.

    Shou.TV

    You are probably aware of Twitch, the game streaming service that Amazon recently acquired for nearly $1 billion. Nvidia is the only OEM that has built Twitch into its Android build so you can stream games, but Shou.TV wants to offer a similar service for all Android users to enjoy. Well, not all, but more. This app uses the screen recording functionality built into Android 5.0 (and with root for earlier versions) to stream and save gameplay videos. Of course, you could use it to make screen recordings of whatever you want.

    When you open Shou.TV on your Lollipop device, it will ask for permission to start capturing the screen. You'll have to make an account or use Google/Facebook to sign in. This sets up a Shou.TV profile page for you where others can go to watch your live game streaming. It's worth checking out the settings before you make your first video, though. For some reason the developers decided to set MKV as the default video container. You'll probably want to change that to MP4 for better compatibility. You can also adjust the resolution and bitrate--the default is 720p and 8 Mpbs.

    The app has three tabs for checking out featured videos and filtering by game. When you're ready to broadcast, just head to that tab in the app. Add a name for the stream and what game you're playing, then hit broadcast. The stream will go live on your Shou.TV page with a delay of about 10 seconds. A small floating widget on the screen will let you chat with viewers and toggle the front camera on and off. You also have access to privacy settings, which require you enable Shou.TV as an accessibility service.

    You should definitely take a look at the privacy options. It lists all the apps on your device so you can choose which ones you want to exclude from recordings. So, for example, you're playing a game, and you hop into a flagged app like Gmail. The video feed will blur out (with a privacy message) until you're back in an approved app. It's very handy.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (November 2014)

    The top OEMs have now laid their cards on the table. All the major phones of late 2014 are available for purchase, and you've got some decisions to make. We won't see anymore big announcements until CES in January, but more likely February at Mobile World Congress. This is one of those rare times you can buy a phone and not immediately feel like you missed out when something better comes along two weeks later. But which one to get?

    The Nexus 6 is big news this month, but a number of other phones still have a lot to offer.

    AT&T

    If you're on AT&T, you've got a number of really good options. The Nexus 6 is certainly one of them, but it's a huge phone. There's also the much smaller Moto X and the somewhat smaller LG G3. Truly an embarrassment of riches.

    Let's start with the LG G3 before we got to Motorola's offerings. At 5.5-inches, the LG G3 is a sizeable phone. That big LCD does come with an excellent 2560x1440 resolution. Surprisingly, LG manages to make the overall device not feel too huge. The bezels are incredibly thin and there are no buttons around the edges. Instead, LG stuck those on the back, and they're quite useful in that position. The back is smooth plastic, but it's not of the sketchy Samsung variety--it actually feels solid for a phone with a removable back.

    The LG G3 is packing some impressive hardware even several months after launch including 3GB of RAM, a 3000mAh battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. The device is fast, but probably not quite as snappy as the Moto X or Nexus 6. The battery life is very good, though. The high resolution of the G3 limits screen time to about 5 hours, but it can make it a few days in standby. The software is also very reliable in that it won't start wakelocking for no reason.

    The G3's 13MP camera is the same resolution as the Moto X and the Nexus 6, but it's probably a little better than either in actual performance. Low-light shots are good and it focuses super-quick with the laser range-finder right next to the lens.

    LG's Android skin has gotten surprisingly good in the last year. It's no longer just aping Samsung, and there aren't too many unnecessary additional features. The skin isn't very heavy and the choice of colors isn't nearly as garish as TouchWiz. The fact that LG is now finally using the proper on-screen buttons setup is hugely encouraging too. LG didn't load the G3 down with marginally useful features, instead sticking with a few good ones like guest mode and Knock Code. Knock Code is a particularly cool feature that lets you securely unlock the phone while also waking it up with a series of taps on the screen.

    Testing: Google Nexus 9 Android Tablet

    Google's Nexus 9 is a big departure from past Android tablets in several ways, not least of which that it has a 4:3 aspect ratio. It's also a 64-bit tablet with a more premium price point. There's no followup to the 2013 Nexus 7 with its low price. A lot of the early reviews were mixed, but does the N9 seem better after a few updates? I've been living with the Nexus 9 as my main tablet for the last few weeks, so let's figure it out.

    Design and Build Quality

    You've probably heard it said many times that the Nexus 9 bears a striking resemblance to a scaled up Nexus 5. Well, that's definitely true. The back is made of the same soft touch plastic as Google's 2013 flagship phone. The rim around the edge is made of aluminum, though. It seems like there's some variation in how that plastic back sits. Some units have a little bit off give as the plastic pops out from the frame in the middle. This isn't an issue in my unit, and I suspect it won't happen on newly manufactured tablets. Even in the worst cases, it doesn't seem like a structural issue, just annoying.

    The buttons are positioned on the right side (in portrait mode) and they aren't awesome. I'm not sure why so many OEMs have trouble getting buttons right, but it happens all the time. The N9's buttons are mushy and have low travel. On some units, they are almost flush with the side of the tablet. Mine isn't that bad, all things considered. It could be better, though. It's sounding like newer tablets aren't suffering from this particular defect.

    The question you have to ask is, does the Nexus 9 feel premium? The unsatisfying answer is "kind of." The device itself is solid and doesn't flex. It feels dense, but not too heavy. The buttons are definitely a sticking point and the back will be divisive. I really like soft touch surfaces, myself. I'll take a soft touch plastic device over metal any day--they're just easier to hold. It does get fingerprint-y, but that's the price you pay.

    Google says the nexus 9 is 7.95mm thick, but I feel like that might be a tiny bit generous. It's still definitely under 10mm and it seems better balanced than most tablets. Overall, the Nexus 9 doesn't quite feel like a $399 tablet. That's not to say it feels lousy, or anything.

    Google Play App Roundup: Opera Mini Beta, Godus, and Sleep Attack TD

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

    This week your browsing gets fast and experimental, you become a god, and there's a new tower defense in town.

    Opera Mini Beta

    Opera Mini has existed longer than Android itself, having originally been used as a lightweight browser for feature phones that couldn't handle full websites. It has found other uses over the years, and still has a large following, even on modern devices thanks to its bandwidth-saving features. Now there's a new beta listing for Opera Mini and it's a substantial improvement over the stable release.

    The basic premise is not terribly dissimilar from a feature Google has built into Chrome. Instead of accessing a web page directly, data is received by a remote server and compressed before hitting your device. This can result in an overall increase in loading speed, but also big bandwidth savings. Google swaps out images with smaller webp files and streamlines the code. However, Opera Mini kind of takes a scorched Earth approach. It lowers image quality, removes most scripts, and simplifies the page layout. This can save as much as 90% of the bandwidth on a heavy page.

    The Opera Mini Beta includes three different layout options--classic, phone, and tablet. The classic option is the default, and it's most like what you see on the current stable version (but with a cleaner white UI). Classic has a persistent bar at the bottom of the screen with access to forward/back, quick dial shortcuts, and Opera settings. The phone layout maximizes the available space by putting everything in the address bar and pop out settings menu. This is basically what Chrome does. The tablet layout is like the phone option, but it has the tabs visible at the top of the screen rather than behind a button. It doesn't matter what device you have, you can use any of these.

    The Opera menu button includes a neat little pie chart showing you how much data you're saving overall. The app says that I'm saving about 60% compared to what I would have otherwise used. That compares to about 35% with Chrome. Tapping on the graph takes you to a timeline for the week so you can track your usage and see savings over time. This is also where you can adjust the quality of images. I left it on high, but turning that down could probably push that 60% savings quite a lot higher.

    Page formatting seems better in the beta than in Opera Mini's stable release. It's definitely still a little bit wonky, though. The way text is laid out in columns is usually awkward and any clever CSS trickery is probably going to be busted. Video also doesn't work in Opera Mini. On the upside, performance is crazy-good. These stripped down pages scroll smoothly even on older devices.

    The main draw here is the data saving, which is great if you're stuck on a slower/throttled connection or have a very low data cap. The speed boost might be of interest to users of slower phones and tablets too. If you've been using the stable version, there's no reason to avoid the beta.

    Google Play App Roundup: Kingdom Rush Origins, Sleep Better, and The Banner Saga

    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.

    This week the king of tower defense returns, you get to sleep better (maybe), and probably the prettiest game ever on Android.

    Sleep Better

    Runtastic is known for, as its name implies, running-oriented apps. However, the developer's newest app has nothing to do with running. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sleep Better is a sleep tracking app that uses your phone's accelerometer to monitor your sleep habits and wake you up at the right time.

    This isn't really a new idea, but all you have to do with Sleep Better is plug in your phone at night and set it next to your pillow at night. Plugging it in is necessary because the app wakelocks the phone so it can monitor movement with the accelerometer. Likewise, you want to keep it close to you and not a significant other who may also be in the bed. It is, after all, supposed to be responding to your tossing and turning.

    Sleep Better can estimate from your movement when you're sleeping lightly, deeply, or just awake for short periods of time. When you start the app, there's an option to set an alarm time, but it won't actually wake you right at that time. Sleep better waits until it detects that you're not sleeping deeply, and tries to gently rouse you from slumber with a fade-in alarm. This should, ideally, make you feel less groggy when you wake up.

    When you've shaken off the last remnants of sleep, there's a graph you can check out to see how well you slept (along with weather, which is a nice touch). The graph shows yellow as light sleep, green as deep sleep, and the red peaks are times you were awake. Either before or after waking up, you can add tags to your sleep like stressful day, high caffeine consumption, worked out, and so on. This helps you track the activities that have the most impact on your sleep.

    Sleep Better also matches your sleep up to phases of the moon, which allegedly has some effect. I'm skeptical, though. There's also a dream journal, which you can use if you like. Although I feel like the the basic sleep tracking and data aggregation is the more attractive aspect. It seems to work well enough.

    All the basic stuff is free, but a $1.99 in-app pro upgrade is required to access some of the long-term stats and to remove the ad at the bottom of the screen. The app itself is rather attractive with a mostly material design theme with nice animations and a slide-out nav bar.Sleep Better is worth checking out.

    Google Play App Roundup: C Notify, Flyhunter Origins, and Turbo Dismount

    It's time for another installment of the Google Play App Roundup. This is the weekly event where we tell you what's new and cool in on Android. Fire up your phone and click the app names to head right to the Google Play Store so you can try things for yourself.

    This week notifications go for a trip outside the status bar, flies must be swatted, and crashes are encouraged.

    C Notice

    The enhanced notification access that Google rolled out in 4.3 has allowed a whole new generation of apps to put your notifications in more places. Sometimes that ends up not being a very good idea, and others it fills a niche that needed attention. I'm not positive which of these describes C Notice, but it's at least really neat to try. This app puts all your notifications in floating chat head-like bubbles that can be managed with swipe gestures.

    So here's the gist of it--you grant C Notice notification access and choose the apps that it can display. The next time one of those apps produces an Android notification, it appears in a floating bubble at the edge of the screen. Multiple apps will stack up under a little three-dot header that you can use to drag the stack around. Tapping on an individual icon opens a popup window with the notification text, from which you can open the app that spawned the notification.

    When you've got one or more floating notification bubbles, you also have the option of managing them with a quick swipe. If you swipe up on an icon, you dismiss that one notification, Swipe down and all notifications are dismissed. Clearing notifications from this app also clears them from the system notification shade. Swiping to the left on an icon will immediately open the app it came from, but this is just the basic functionality.

    There's also a prime version of the app that can be unlocked with a $1.49 in-app purchase. This unlocks individual app notification icons. You don't have to turn this on, but it could be quite useful in some instances. The individual icons can be moved around the screen however you like, rather than being tethered to that three-dot header. I probably wouldn't recommend this on smaller phones, but on a phablet or tablet, the individual icons could be really useful.

    C Notice can also be set to wake the screen when a new notification comes in, which some people consider an indispensable feature. You'll only want to do that if you limit the apps that can appear in C Notice. Maybe just messaging and social apps. The app is smart enough to use the proximity sensor to keep the screen off should the phone be in your pocket or face down.

    There's plenty of functionality in C Notify, and you can access most of it for free. It's worth a look.

    Why Android Tablets are Finally Moving to 4:3 Screen Aspect Ratios

    The very first true Android tablet was the original 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, which was announced more than four years ago. Samsung actually sneaked that one in under Google's radar as the search giant wasn't technically prepared for non-phone Android devices. Still, the form factor stuck, and most of the Android slates we've seen over the years have looked very much like that device--they've all been widescreen. Well, until now.

    The Nexus 9 is the first mainstream Android tablet that has come with a 4:3 screen ratio (like the iPad) instead of 16:9 (like a TV). So, why'd it take so long?

    Supply and Demand

    Android tablets started to pop up in Asia a few months before the Galaxy Tab was official. These were not "real" Android tablets in the sense that there were no Google services built in. In fact, many of them weren't even referred to as tablets, but as MIDs (mobile internet devices) or PMPs (personal media players). These too were widescreen devices because that's what was available.

    Apple has long had a stranglehold on its supply chain. Hardware manufacturers happily line up to build whatever part Apple wants because they know Apple's going to want a zillion of them. That means steady business and an improved reputation in the industry. It was no problem finding suppliers for the iPad's 4:3 screen, but an Android OEM that only needed a few thousand panels wouldn't have such an easy time at a point when almost all LCDs were widescreen.

    As tablets were starting to take off, another product category was dying a long overdue death. Of course I'm referring to Netbooks. These machines were the hot new thing only a few years before, but the abysmal performance and razor-thin profit margins caused OEMs and users to collaboratively call it quits. That left plenty of 7-10-inch Netbook panels sitting around that could be repurposed for cheap tablets. That's what a lot of these early devices were using, which served to solidify the idea that Android tablets were wide.

    Google Play App Roundup: QKSMS, Civilization Revolution 2, and Car Breakers

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

    This week SMS goes material, the future of an empire is in your hands, and cars are crashing.

    QKSMS

    Google added SMS to hangouts a while back, but it's not ideal. For one, the Hangouts app is a little awkward, and it lacks some features users have come to expect from a text messaging app. There are still plenty of third-party messaging apps, and now there's one more to consider, especially if you're on Lollipop. QKSMS has been in testing for a few months, but now it's in the Play Store with a ton of features and all the material design you can handle (and maybe more).

    The first thing you'll notice about QKSMS is that it's super-colorful. You can even pick from a number of different colors in the settings. If the dozen or so included for free aren't good enough, you can upgrade to the pro version via an in-app purchase to unlock multiple shades for each color. The color changes the action bar, status bar, and even the nav buttons on Android 5.0. QKSMS still runs on older versions of Android, but it won't be quite as colorful. There's also a night mode that's easier on the eyes.

    This app uses a floating action button (a la Lollipop) to begin new messages, but the placement is weird. For some reason, the developers opted to put a slide-out panel on the right for quick access to the most recent conversation. It's not that this is a bad idea, but having it take up a sliver of screen space on the right pushes the FAB unnaturally to the left. It just looks awkward. Luckily, you can turn this feature off in the settings, thus placing the FAB in the right place.

    QKSMS also supports a feature many find indispensable when it comes to messaging apps--a floating reply box (this app calls it QKReply). When a message comes in, you can choose to get a popup box that lets you type and send a reply without opening the QKSMS app. On Lollipop devices, QKSMS also has support for floating heads-up notifications. If you do a lot of messaging, there's an option to add a quick compose notification to the shade that makes it easy to send new messages. I wouldn't want to waste the space on it, but I'm sure some people will. You also get enhanced notification support on Android Wear.

    Probably the coolest thing about QKSMS is that you can try it for free and never see an ad. The only thing missing from the free version is the timed night mode and all the additional theme colors. If you end up using this as your default messaging client, it might make sense to upgrade.

    Battery Life on Android: Does the mAh Rating Tell the Whole Story?

    Smartphones have gotten faster and larger over the years, but we still often struggle with battery life even on flagship Android devices with gigantic batteries. The device in your pocket is more powerful that supercomputers in the early 90s and might have four times as many pixels as your TV, but most of them still beg for a charger in a day or so. Is it really worth it? More importantly, can you tell how well a phone will perform based solely on the size of the battery? Let's take a look at how battery size figures into usage on modern Android smartphones.

    Photo via iFixit.

    Battery inflation

    A few years ago, Android phones--even flagship devices--came with tiny batteries compared to today's. The Samsung Galaxy SII had a meager 1650mAh battery, but that was enough to keep it running for a solid day and then some. The Motorola Droid X had an even smaller 1540mAh lithium-ion cell.

    These days, Motorola gets derided for announcing a phone with a 2300mAh battery. People are used to seeing phones that have much larger batteries, but it's more than the size of the battery. If we can glean anything from the performance of the dozens upon dozens of Android smartphones that have rained down on us in recent years, it's that optimization and hardware have a huge impact on battery life.

    Basically, the increase in battery life to 2600, 2800, and 3000+ milliamp-hours has gone into powering the improved specs we all crave. You won't get twice as much battery life on a flagship phone with a giant battery than you will on a modest mid-range phone with a battery half as large. So where's all the power going?

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (October 2014)

    In a world with dozens of interesting Android phones, you need to go in with a good idea of what's on offer so you don't end up regretting your decision. Most phones these days come with a 2-year contract or a payment plan that takes about that long to complete. With that in mind, it's time to take stock of the state of Android smartphones on the top US carriers and figure out which ones are the best bets.

    The Nexus 6 is on the horizon for some carriers, but others are being more coy. Is it worth waiting, or does another phone do well enough?

    AT&T

    You've got a ton of options on AT&T--too many perhaps, if there is such a thing. AT&T is getting the Nexus 6, but there's no release or pre-order date. As such, I'll hold off on making an official proclamation on it this time around. Right now it's down to the Moto X and LG G3. Let's get started with the new Moto X.

    The basic design of the Moto X hasn't changed much from last year, but it has seen an increase in screen size from 4.7-inches to 5.2-inches. The AMOLED panel used here is 1080p and has great colors and clarity. The larger display isn't as easy to use in one hand as its predecessor, but it's more than manageable. The curved back also helps the Moto X sit nicely in your hand.

    The new Moto X also has 2GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801, and a 2300mAh battery. The battery is a little on the small side for a flagship device, but it will still be good enough to get you through a day and then some. The design of the Moto X is also really great. The metal frame feels solid and tight. The way the glass front curves down to meet the edges makes the phone very pleasant to use too. Moto Maker customizations are also killer if you want to create a more distinctive device.

    On the software side, the Moto X ships with Android 4.4.4 with a promised update to Android L as soon as it's ready. This is Android more or less the way Google intended it. There are no UI skins, no features changed for the sake of brand differentiation, and no lag to speak of. Motorola instead adds useful features that work alongside what Android already does well. For example, Moto Display shows notifications on the screen while the device is asleep. You can even wave your hand over the phone to wake the screen up. It also listens for voice commands while asleep, whether it's charging or not. Other Android devices can only do that when charging.

    Google Play App Roundup: djay 2, Haunt the House: Terrortown, and Battleheart Legacy

    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.

    This week we get ready to get down, get scared, and get questing.

    djay 2

    I cannot claim to know much about DJing, not can I even say I'm particularly worried about audio performance on Android devices. However, i can certainly see why some people are. Phones and tablets have become more than content consumption devices--you can actually create cool things with the right software. Android has been lacking music mixing and creation apps, but djay 2 has now come over from iOS with turntables ready to spin.

    Djay 2 is a music app that gives you two virtual turntables on which you can load any song in your library. it then works just like a real life digital turntable. You can play, spin, skip, and fade between the two tracks. And that's just scratching the barest surface of what this app includes. Before I get to all that, it's worth noting how much work went into making djay 2 possible on Android.

    From the start, iOS was built with low-latency audio in mind, but Google has struggled a lot more with this feature over the years. From the time you tap on something to the time the system can produce a corresponding sound can easily be 20-30ms on Android. For music performance, that's far too long. The delay can actually be pretty disorienting. Android 5.0 should finally patch this, but djay 2 developer Algoriddim says this app has been painstakingly designed to offer super-low latency on almost all modern Android devices. To my (admittedly untrained) ear, it certainly seems like they nailed it.

    Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 vs. Nvidia Tegra K1: The Value of 64-bit on Android

    Odds are good that if you buy a high-end Android device in the next few months, it's going to be packing either the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 or Nvidia Tegra K1 SoC. We're at a pivotal moment in Android hardware as OEMs begin gearing up for the switch to 64-bit architectures, but only one of these chips has a 64-bit option. Let's take a look at where Nvidia and Qualcomm are going with their respective platforms, and whether or not you should hold out for a 64-bit device.

    ARM, but not from ARM

    The overwhelming majority of computing hardware in Android devices is ARM-based. Intel has successfully muscled its way into the market with updated x86 Atom parts. Android supports x86 and a few OEMs make tablets with Atom, but it's nowhere near as popular as ARM. All throughout the recent history of mobile devices, ARM has been the core architecture, but not all ARM chips are created equal.

    When we're talking about ARM SoCs (systems-on-a-chip), we're actually talking about more than the CPU component. There's also the GPU, memory controller, digital signal processor, and more. We'll get to that later--the first point of distinction between the Snapdragon 805 and the Tegra K1 is in the way they implement the ARM architecture.

    Chip makers have the option of licensing ARM's Cortex cores and building a chip around them. That's what Samsung and many smaller firms do. Qualcomm has for a long time licensed the ARM instruction set, which is ARMv7 for 32-bit and ARMv8 for 64-bit. These licenses are considerably more expensive than just getting a stock ARM core, but it allows Qualcomm to design its own custom CPU core for SoCs, and that's just what it's been doing ever since its Scorpion core for the original Snapdragon SoC in late 2008.

    Everything You Should Know About Android 5.0 Lollipop

    Google took the unprecedented step of offering an early developer preview of Android L (now Android 5.0 Lollipop) last spring. We knew this version of Android was going to be a big shift, something for which developers would need to plan. However, it wasn't until the recent official announcement that it became clear how massive this change would be. Android 5.0 is a break from the past, and in many ways a complete reinvention of the platform.

    Here's what you need to know about Android 5.0, the most significant update the platform has ever seen. It's enough to change what most people think of Google's mobile operating system, and I'm really excited about it.

    Bye-bye battery woes

    If you can recall one of the long-time complaints about Android, it's very possible Android 5.0 addresses it. For example, don't you hate how Android phones always seem to have questionable battery life unless they're equipped with a huge battery? Well, no more. Lollipop is supposed to improve battery life noticeably.

    I've been testing the latest developer preview of Android Lollipop, which is API-complete according to Google. Both the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 are managing at least a third more battery life than before. This is thanks to Google's so-called Project Volta, an initiative in Android 5.0 to address those nagging battery life concerns. Granted, this is not the final version of Lollipop, but the difference is astounding.

    A major component of the battery life improvements have to do with a better system of managing background processes. Android does multitasking by permitting any app to wake the phone and keep it awake so it can perform an action. In the event of an error or incompatibility, these "wakelocks" can last too long and drain the battery. I tend to follow the sleep stats of my devices closely because I have to install so many apps on a daily basis. Android 5.0 appears to keep things running incredibly smoothly. When devices are in sleep mode, the processor is in deep sleep (i.e. not wakelocked) about 90% of the time. Absolutely amazing.

    Android 5.0 also includes an approximation of remaining battery life in the settings and on the lock screen when charging. After letting the Nexus 7 calibrate for a few cycles, it reports a full week of standby time, and I believe it. In the event you do run low on battery life, there's a new system-level battery saver mode that disables animations, background data, vibration, and lowers the screen brightness.

    Google Play App Roundup: Inbox, République, and Deep Loot

    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.

    This week email is changing again, they are watching, and there's treasure to be found.

    Inbox

    There is no denying that Gmail completely changed the way we think about using email, but that was all the way back in 2004. It's about time for Google to take another shot at improving email communication, and Inbox is it. Google has been working on Inbox behind the scenes for a while now under the codename Bigtop. This service plugs into your Gmail account and applies many of the features and algorithms used in Google Now to make your email less about when messages arrive and more about what they mean.

    Inbox is based around bundles, or types of messages that fall into general categories. If you use the Gmail categories that were added last year, this is a similar idea, but much more expansive. For example, you've got a bundle for purchases where all the messages you receive that look like receipts will end up. Maybe a meeting invitation will produce a handy calendar reminder with Inbox. When emails come in, you can open the thread from your main inbox view, but something in a bundle opens the full bundle as a timeline (today, yesterday, etc). Using Inbox is definitely an adjustment--there's no doubt about that.

    All your labels from Gmail are there, but they are of secondary importance in Inbox. The bundles can't really be altered as they're looking for specific things in your email to categorize. Inbox also pulls out relevant information in a very Google Now sort of way. For example, you could get tracking information for a package right in the main inbox screen. You can add conversations to any of the bundles, though. Anything you think is particularly important, be it bundled or not, can be pinned in the app. Those pinned messages and reminders can be accessed by toggling the pin switch at the top of the app.

    Managing your email with Inbox is also atypical of a traditional email app. You can't delete anything with Inbox. Instead, it has options to mark things as done or snooze them. Done is essentially the equivalent of archiving in regular Gmail, but triggered with a swipe to the right. It basically treats emails as tasks. You can also snooze an email with a swipe to the left. That will present options to have it reappear at the top of Inbox at a certain time.

    The app itself is very in-line with Google's new material design aesthetic. There's a floating action button for composing new messages, the slide-out nav menu, and plenty of bold colors. On Lollipop devices, it also has the full hero color up top for the status bar and app switcher header (but not in the dev preview build). Interestingly, some of the Android L animations are missing from the buttons.

    Inbox is currently invite only, but Google is handing out quite a few now and all current users have three invites each. I feel like Inbox could make a lot of sense for those who don't get a ton of email or who haven't worked to organize their mail already. If you've already got a system of labels and actions in place to deal with a large volume of email, Inbox would be more of an adjustment.

    Tested In-Depth: Moto X (2014)

    After testing the new Moto X Android smartphone for a month, Will and Norm sit to down to discuss how its three most important features: the display, camera, and battery life compare against today's top Android phones. How does Motorola's spin on Android compare to the stock version? Plus, does the custom wood back look and feel any good?

    Google Play App Roundup: Potential, iPollute, and Talon Plus

    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.

    This week your battery has a new best friend, clay gets dirty, and Twitter gets pretty.

    Potential

    As the cost of Android devices come down, it's increasingly likely that you might find yourself in possession of more than one of them. However, have you ever picked one up to find the battery is dead? Well, that won't happen if you install Potential on them.

    Potential runs a background service that syncs the state of your battery between devices. Just open Potential and you get a card for each of your connected devices (you need to make an account) with the battery level and state of Bluetooth and WiFi. Each device should sync the battery percentage on a regular basis, and the length of time since the last update will be listed on each card.

    You can remotely toggle WiFi or Bluetooth on and of your devices to save power, but that's as far as the direct interaction goes. Well, you can choose a name for each phone or tablet. By default it's just the device model ID.

    The above functionality is free, but a small in-app purchase is required to enable what I would say is the coolest feature of Potential--push notifications. In the settings of Potential you can choose a battery threshold at which you'd like to be notified. When one of your devices hits that number, you'll find out about it no matter which one you're actively using. So if you've got your phone handy during the day, Potential will let you know if your tablet is running low on juice.

    The app itself is nice and clean. I've already mentioned the cards, but Potential also includes a few Material Design animations and UI elements. There aren't a ton of options yet, but the developer cautions it's still a beta product. With that in mind I'd also note there have been a few instances where one of my devices decided it was going to stop syncing. For the most part, though, Potential is a solid app.

    Google Announces Nexus 6 Phone, Nexus 9 Tablet

    Nexus 6. Nexus 9. Nexus Player. All made their official debut today in Google's announcement of the next generation of Nexus devices. They all, of course, run Android L. Or as it's now officially named, Android 5.0 Lollipop. The Nexus 6 is made by Motorola, and looks like a larger version of the recently-released Moto X (my review next week!). It has a Quad HD 2560x1440 OLED display, which is likely the same screen used in Samsung's Galaxy Note 4. It'll run Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 805 processor, clocked at 2.7GHz, which is a step up from the 801 processor found in the majority of 2014 flagship phones. But most importantly, it'll have a 3220 mAh battery, a significant boost from the 2300 mAh battery in the current Moto X. That may be its most important feature. The Nexus 6 will be available for preorder on Oct 29th, under contract for all major US carriers and also sold as an unlocked GSM phone for $650. Ouch. For users of [relatively] smaller phones, Google will continue to offer the Nexus 5, though no updates in internal hardware are expected.

    On the tablet side, HTC is making Google's Nexus 9, which has a 8.9" 2048x1536 IPS LCD screen. That's a 4:3 ratio screen, which is a good thing for a tablet this size. It'll run Nvidia's Tegra K1 SoC, with 2GB of RAM, and a 6700mAh battery. Pricing is listed at $400 for 16GB and $480 for 32GB, with an LTE model selling later this year for $600. No microSD storage. Pre-orders begin on Friday and it'll ship on November 3rd. I think the pricing on this tablet makes the Nvidia tablet that much more appealing, especially with its expandability and media output options.

    Finally, Google announced a streaming box that'll run Android TV--their latest effort in the set-top space. Nexus Player will be made by Asus and looks like your typical set-top puck with power, HDMI, and 802.11AC MIMO Wi-Fi connectivity for your standard slew of streaming services. It has 8GB of internal storage and a simple remote that supports voice search, and Google is selling a gamepad accessory to support Android games. The Nexus Player will go on sale on November 3rd

    Watch Google's announcement video for the new line of Nexus devices below.