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    Google Play App Roundup: Clip Layer, Battleship Lonewolf, and Samorost 3

    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.

    Clip Layer

    Android has always supported copying text, even back when that was unusual on mobile devices. However, there are still lots of places in the OS that text isn't accessible. There are a few apps that let you grab that text, but Microsoft's Clip Layer seems to be the best at it. There is, however, a drawback. You'll lose Google Now on Tap. Okay, admittedly that's a pretty minor drawback.

    Clip Layer is bound to the long-press home button shortcut—it takes over the Assist command in the system settings. On most phones, that's still Google Now on Tap. The lone exception being the Pixel phones. On those devices, the long-press action launches Assistant. Assistant is useful, so I don't know that I'd recommend using Clip Layer on the Pixel. Everyone else is only losing access to Now on Tap (AKA screen search), which Google has effectively abandoned.

    Your screen is overlaid with a grid showing all detected text when you long-press to launch Clip Layer. To select text, just tap the boxes. These can be app icon labels, contents from widgets, or just text in an app that doesn't expose it for selection. Then, tap the floating text icon in the upper right corner to see all the text you've selected.

    Like other apps, Clip Layer can only grab an entire block of text at a time. However, you can edit a bit in the text popup. You can long-press here to select and copy just a part of the text you've pulled out of the screen.

    At the bottom of the screen in Clip Layer mode are several action buttons including copy, task, email, and share. The copy button is self-explanatory. Task plugs into Wunderlist to turn the text into a to-do (you have to log into Wunderlist first). Email drops the text into a new email, and share simply opens the system sharing menu so you can send the text anyplace else.

    Clip Layer is free, and it's a good solution if you often find yourself needing to copy text from odd places. Losing the long-press shortcut is a minor drawback right now for most phones. If Assistant comes to more devices in the future, you may be less keen on it, though.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (December 2016)

    As we coast through the final weeks of the year, you may be eyeing deals on smartphones and wondering which one you should get. It's a big decision, and one that's harder than ever to make. New phones are constantly coming out, but this is the perfect time to pick one up. We're still months out from the 2017 flagships, and we've seen all the big 2016 releases. Google is making it easier than ever to pick up its latest and greatest, but Samsung is really trying to make up for that Note7 fiasco with some good deals. What's a smartphone buyer to do?

    Carrier phones

    Despite the issues with Samsung's Note 7 release this fall, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have held up well and don't (as far as I'm aware) blow up any more often than other phones. That's a good thing. The GS7 continues to be the best overall phone that you can get from your carrier, or at least from all carriers. Verizon customers can get the Pixel from Big Red, but we'll get into that later. First, let's talk about why the Galaxy S7 is still worthy of your attention.

    The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. These are still the best panels you can get on a smartphone, though the gap is closing. They're bright, have perfect viewing angles, and the colors are very accurate. Then there's the Edge, which is so named because the screen curves down on both the left and right sides. It looks cool, but it's actually less comfortable to hold. The Pixel XL's display is almost as good, but samsung still wins on this front.

    Samsung used to build phones that felt cheap, but I'm still impressed when I pick up the GS7. The front and back are both Gorilla Glass, but it feels so well put together. It's IP68 water resistant, and feels very dense in the hand. It's a little heavier than you probably expect when you pick it up, but it has a slight curve, making it much more comfortable to hold.

    This phone is slightly thicker than Samsung's 2015 flagship, allowing for a larger battery. The GS7 has a 3000mAh battery and the GS7 Edge has 3600mA. In both cases, these cells perform very well. I've been using a GS7 Edge on and off for months and it easily lasts a day with heavy use. The smaller GS7 is almost as good. Both phones support Quick Charge 2.0 and wireless charging, but they have microUSB ports. That's increasingly odd as time goes on.

    The GS7 has held up well in terms of performance. It was never a blazing-fast phone, but it's fast enough. The Snapdragon 820 has shown up in a lot of phones, but Samsung lowered the clock speed a bit to make the device more power efficient. There are no issues with multitasking thanks to the 4GB of RAM, though.

    Google Play App Roundup: Contextual App Folder, Jade Empire, and Hopeless 3

    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.

    Contextual App Folder

    As you install more apps and games, your app drawer will increasingly become a pain to navigate. You can add shortcuts to your home screen, but eventually you end up with the same problem—too many things and not enough space. Contextual App Folder can help with a simple folder that changes its contents based on triggers like time, location, and connected devices.

    To start, Contextual App Folder comes with a "Default" folder and one for "Headphones." All you get in default is a link to the Contextual App Folder settings. The Headphones folder will include any apps Contextual App Folder recognizes as audio or music-related. Default is the folder what appears on your home screen when no other of your contextual settings have been triggered. You can change the name of this folder, as well as what's in it. The same goes for the Headphones folder.

    Those two are just the start. Contextual App Folder includes conditions for the time of day, location, various device status triggers like being on a phone call, getting a notification from certain apps, and charging. When you select a new condition to create a folder, you have to choose which apps you want included in it. The order of these apps can also be changed.

    To use Contextual App Folder, just add it as a widget to the home screen. One thing I've always disliked about similar dynamic folder apps is that they don't look like folders. That's not the case with Contextual App Folder. It looks and acts like a regular folder on your home screen, but you can also tweak the style to use different colors, font sizes, and layouts.

    As for the basic functionality, I'm very impressed with Contextual App Folder. The folder updates to the right context extremely fast—within a second or two of plugging in headphones, for example. This app is still in early access, but it seems really solid. It's free right now, although I imagine there will be an in-app upgrade option when it's officially released.

    Google Play App Roundup: PhotoScan, NYTimes - Crossword, and Space Marshals 2

    There's always something awesome happening on Android. There are killer apps, amazing games, and utilities unlike you'll find on other platforms. The goal of the Google Play App Roundup is to find the best of the best in all those categories so you don't have to hunt them down manually. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store.

    PhotoScan

    Digital cameras have been a mainstream consumer item for over a decade at this point, and smartphone cameras have been fantastic in recent years. As such, the use of film cameras is essentially zero, but many of us still have mountains of old photo albums in the attic. These photos won't last forever, and now Google has released an app that aims to make digitizing them easier. It's called PhotoScan.

    There are several apps in the Play Store that claim to scan your photos, but Google says it's approach is better. PhotoScan leverages the power of machine learning to intelligently recreate the physical photo in digital format with no glare or perspective distortion.

    If you've ever tried to take a photo of a photo, you know how bad the quality usually is. You're forced to either take a picture head-on and deal with glare, or take it at an angle and end up with a screwed up perspective. PhotoScan eliminates both of those issues because it's not taking a single photo.

    To start, you set the photo down and take a picture of it with the app. I know I said you aren't taking a photo of the photo, but this is just to help the app detect the general layout. Four dots will be overlaid in the viewfinder toward the corners of the photo. Simply move the phone to point at each one of those dots until the circle fills up. This is where all of Google's AI magic happens. It filters out all the glare from different individual captures, then slices the photo up into segments. Each one is transformed slightly and reassembled to correct for the subtly different perspectives of each capture.

    Your in-app camera roll shows the results from each photo almost instantly, which is quite impressive. There are times when the app can't quite detect the corners of the photo—this usually happens when the original doesn't take up very much of the frame. You can crop the image down manually to adjust the corners, which should give PhotoScan what it needs to output the final image.

    Photos that you create with this app can be uploaded to Google Photos and saved to your device. I think the quality of the photos is very good overall. You should try to do your scans in good natural light as the LED on the phone tends to make images cooler than the original. However, the images created by PhotoScan do look like photos, and not photos of photos. It's a free app, so give it a shot.

    Google Play App Roundup: Fingerprint Gestures, Party Hard Go, and Skyhill

    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.

    Fingerprint Gestures

    Google's new Pixel phones include a gesture to open the navigation pane by swiping the fingerprint sensor. It's neat but largely inconsequential to your daily use. However, when Google noted that this feature would not come to other devices on Android 7.1, people were not pleased. It was the principle of the thing. Well, now there's an app that can replicate that feature on a lot of devices with a little hackery.

    Fingerprint Gestures is a service that runs in the background and plugs into Google's fingerprint API, which was added in Android 6.0. Not all phones have the standard fingerprint implementation, but the vast majority of phones that ship with Marshmallow do. I tested Fingerprint Gestures on an LG V20, and it worked as expected. It functions by running as an accessibility service, so you'll be prompted to enable that the first time Fingerprint Gestures is configured.

    To be clear, this app works without root, which surprised me at first. I suppose it makes sense in the context of an app with accessibility access. However, there are a few extra features you can enable if you do have root on your phone. Whether or not you have root determines which functions you can associate with tapping, double-tapping, and swiping the sensor.

    Without root, you can do things like open the notification panel, trigger the home button, open recent apps, and access the device power menu. There's also an option to create a shortcut panel that can be accessed from one of the sensor gestures. With root, you can scroll up and down or put the phone to sleep.

    You will have to put up with a persistent notification while Fingerprint Gestures is running. If you can get over that, it works pretty well. Although, if you have a phone with the sensor on the back, it's easy to accidentally brush it and trigger the app. It feels more useful for a phone where the fingerprint sensor is on the front or side.

    Google Play App Roundup: Brave Browser, The Trail, and Asphalt Xtreme

    Apps move quickly on Android. No sooner have you found an app you can get cozy with, than 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.

    Brave Browser

    You may be thinking, Brave already exists, and you are technically correct. Brave came into existence when the Link Bubble browser was acquired by Brave Software, but now that app has turned back into Link Bubble. There's a new Brave Browser, and it's a bit more conventional.

    Brave Browser is a traditional tabbed browser with all the enhanced security and privacy features that Brave has been pushing since its inception. This app is not based on any of the code acquired in the Link Bubble deal. Instead, it uses Chromium as a base—currently v54, which is the same as mainline stable Chrome.

    So, if you've used Chrome on Android, you'll notice a lot of similarities in Brave. One thing you will not notice is ads. Brave blocks all ads, trackers, and 3rd party cookies by default. You can also optionally block all scripts on the page. It enforces HTTPS everywhere too.

    Brave made news a year or so ago when it announced its ambitious plan to replace ads in web pages with its own individually vetted ads, which would still result in revenue for publishers. Brave would also take a cut of the revenue. However, that feature has still not been implemented. For the time being, Brave is just an ad-blocking browser.

    The most prominent difference between Chrome and Brave is the Brave logo in the action bar at the top. Tapping on this opens up the menu for Brave Shield—essentially all the privacy features the app promotes. At the top is a slider that lets you set shields up or shields down for a particular domain. It shows you the number of ads and trackers it blocks as the site loads. You can also individually toggle trackers/ads, cookies, scripts, and HTTPS.

    Is Brave fast? Sure, it's based on Chromium and has been slimmed down a little bit. None of Google's sync features are included. The lack of ads also makes page loads faster, of course. If you're on the lookout for a new browser, Brave is worth a shot.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (November 2016)

    The choice has never been harder when buying an Android phone. There aren't many flagship phones that are bad, but there are clearly some that are better than others. We're lucky to be choosing between good and great experiences, but you still want the great one, right? It's lame to regret a purchase for the next year or two.

    This month, Google is back in the phone market, Samsung falls back to the GS7, and LG aims to put the G5 in the rearview mirror.

    Carrier Phones

    The Samsung Galaxy S7 has had the carrier pick locked up for the last few months as the LG G5 and HTC 10 both failed to make a splash. Interestingly, the GS7 is still the best phone that's available on all carriers, but that varies a bit depending which one you're which. The Pixel is available on Verizon, and the LG V20 is a fine addition to LG's flagship lineup. Let's detangle all this.

    First a brief refresher on the GS7. It's a very attractive phone, probably the nicest looking and best built device Samsung has ever come out with. The front and back are both Gorilla Glass, but it feels so well put together. It's IP68 water resistant, and the metal rim around the edges makes it feel substantial in the hand. It's a little heavier than you probably expect when you pick it up, but it has a slight curve, making it much more comfortable to hold.

    Samsung fixed its battery life problems this year. The GS7 is a little thicker than the GS6 was to accommodate a larger battery— the GS7 has a 3000mAh battery and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. Both phones easily make it through the day, but the GS7 Edge is noticeably better. Both phones support Quick Charge 2.0 and wireless charging as well.

    Samsung is using a Snapdragon 820 this year, which is a quad-core 64-bit SoC. The 820 has shown up in a lot of phones, but Samsung lowered the clock speed a bit to make the device more power efficient. This isn't a slow phone, but it's slow-er than most other Snapdragon 820 devices I've used. The 4GB of RAM ensures that you don't have to wait for apps to needlessly reload when multitasking.

    Google Play App Roundup: ActionDirector, Dustoff Heli Rescue 2, and PinOut

    Android devices do a lot of neat stuff out of the box, but you can always load it up with new apps to make if do more stuff. And maybe some games for good measure. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new on Android. Just hit the links to head to the Play Store.

    ActionDirector Video Editor

    Video editing on Android is one of those things that never really took off. Google had a video editing app for a while, but it fell into disrepair rather quickly. As everyone moved to shooting shorter videos for services like Instagram and Snapchat, the necessity for these apps diminished somewhat. There are still times you need to make some changes to a video, but doing so is much harder than editing a photo. Cyberlink has released a new video editing app that might do what you need, and it's not hellishly expensive, either.

    ActionDirector gives you two options for getting videos into the app. You can shoot with the built-in camera or simply import a video you shot previously. The UI is a little confusing when you import a video—there's a small "+" next to the video title after you tap on it. That takes you to the editing interface with the various tool categories along the bottom of the display.

    The app's tool categories are trim, action, color, title, and audio. The trim command should be straightforward. Simply drag the bars to indicate the section you wish to keep, and the remainder will be discarded. The action tab is where most of the fun stuff is. You can speed up, slow down, repeat, and reverse sections of the video. It's the same deal as above—use the sliders to indicate the section you want to modify. You can also alter the brightness, saturation, or contrast.

    The title and music are both customizable. The former includes some cool pre-defined intro, outro, and credit layouts, which you can edit as you like. The audio feature even includes options to import an audio file and mix it with the video's audio.

    When you're done, the video can be exported and saved locally to your device, or saved and shared in a single step. Exporting appears to happen fairly fast and supports resolutions up to 1080p and 60 fps. All this is available for free, but there's a Cyberlink watermark in the corner. If you want to remove that, it costs $2.99. If you only need to get rid of the watermark for this one project, you can watch a video ad to remove it. That's pretty clever.

    Google Play App Roundup: Wallpapers, Plants vs Zombies Heroes, and Break Liner

    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.

    Wallpapers

    I would not usually feature a wallpaper app, but this isn't just any wallpaper app. This is Wallpapers by Google. Just a few days before the Pixel shipped, Google decided to release the Wallpaper chooser from that phone as a standalone app that anyone can install.

    The app includes access to all the photos stored on your device, as well as stock wallpapers that came with it. The focus, though, is the Google-provided wallpapers. There are five categories in the app: Earth, Landscapes, Cityscapes, Life, and Textures. Each one has a couple dozen photos, and Google says it will continue adding more images over time.

    When you tap on an image to view it, the app downloads it from the web. It takes a second or two, depending on your connection speed. Each image comes with embedded source data allowing you to learn more about it. In the case of images that came from a partner like 500px, you'll be linked to the image on the artist's page. For the Google Earth snapshots (my personal favorite), the explore link opens Maps and takes you to the location.

    Each category has the option of setting a daily wallpaper as well. Choose that option, and the app will rotate in a new image each day. While you can install this app on any Android device running 4.1 or higher, it has special capabilities on devices running Nougat. Google added native support for different wallpapers on the home and lockscreen in Android 7.0. So, this app lets you set an image for one or the other, or both. I tested this on an LG V20, and it worked perfectly.

    If you like the style of Google's wallpapers as of late, this app is a must-have. The selection of images is great, and it's only going to get better. It is, of course, free.

    How Google Assistant is Different from 'OK Google'

    We've been able to talk to our Android phones in a conversational manner for years thanks to the power of Google search. However, Google has been focusing more on voice over the years with features like the "OK Google" commands. Then at Google I/O, the company started talking about Assistant, but it neglected to really explain what Assistant is and how it's different from the Google search features you already have on your phone. Let's see if we can work it all out.

    Google Everywhere

    At its heart, Assistant is an impressive artificial intelligence engine. It's like Google search, but more powerful and aware of context. Google's voice and text search features in the past have always been built into the Google Search app on Android. However, Assistant is designed to be integrated into more places, and it will be explicitly labeled as Assistant instead of just being some amorphous "Google" thing that can go by any number of names depending on the context (eg, Google Now, voice actions, and so on).

    In the new Allo chat app, Assistant is what powers the Google chatbot. On the Pixel (and maybe more Android phones in the future), Assistant is the omnipresent voice-activated search tool. In Google Home, Assistant can do voice searches and control connected smart home devices like Hue lights and the Chromecast.

    The way Google Assistant and all of Google's other voice tools is really unchanged. Your words are transcribed locally on the device, then uploaded as text snippets. That's faster than streaming the raw audio to be processed in the cloud. That's why Assistant in its chatbot form and conversational voice form work in mostly the same fashion. So, when you hear about Google Assistant, it's not really a replacement for Google voice search or OK Google—it's more of an evolution.

    Google Play App Roundup: Flychat, The Banner Saga 2, and I am Bread

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

    Flychat

    Facebook has come up with a lot of ideas over the years, but few of them have had the staying power of chat heads. These floating messaging icons were unveiled as part of the now-defunct Facebook Home interface, but chat heads came to the Messenger app, and subsequently were adopted by various other apps. Flychat is an app that essentially adds chat heads to all of the top messaging apps on Android, so you can have the benefit of chat heads without using Facebook Messenger.

    The app supports 10 chat clients so far including Hangouts, WhatsApp, Telegram, and more. In setting up Flychat, you'll have to grant the app access to your notifications. This allows it to read messages as they come in and replicate them in the floating bubble. That means you won't get full chat history from the apps it supports, only the messages that have come in since you started using it.

    When messages from a valid app come in, the bubble will appear unless you're in an app that you have blocked Flychat from appearing on top of. Tap on the bubble, and you get a full chat window from which you can reply. When you exit, the bubble remains so you can easily access the chat. To close, drag it down to the bottom of the screen. The app produces a separate icon for each app it supports, assuming you use more than one. It can be a useful way to unify all the various chat apps you are forced to use.

    Because Flychat is handling the on-screen notifications, you'll probably want to disable peeking notifications on any compatible chat apps you use to avoid duplicates. However, you can also choose to enable and disable the various chat apps Flychat supports. So, you can use Flychat for Hangouts, but continue using WhatsApp as you always have.

    Flychat is free to use with some ads in the settings, but a $0.99 in-app purchase gets rid of that. The full version also unlocks more customization like changing the bubble sizes and custom colors.

    The Android 7.1 Nougat Update Might be the First One You Won't Crave

    The release of a new version of Android is usually something Google loves to go on about, but it didn't even mention Android 7.1 Nougat at the Pixel announcement the other day. And yet, that's what the Pixel and Pixel XL will be running when they are released. Google wasn't anxious to talk about the software itself, but the features were discussed at length in the presentation. That's because Android 7.1 is Google's attempt to skin Android.

    The Pixel Exclusives

    When Google talked about all the neat things the Pixel (and only the Pixel) would be able to do, it was talking about Android 7.1. First and foremost, Android 7.1 will come with the Pixel Launcher pre-installed. This home screen has a simpler vibe with an app drawer that slides up from the bottom and a smaller Google "pill" widget at the top of the screen. It also has Google Now built-in just like the Google Now Launcher.

    Maybe you can survive without the launcher, and you'll probably be able to sideload it anyway. Google Assistant will be at the heart of the Pixel's Android 7.1 experience, and that won't be available as a sideload. Instead of binding the Now on Tap contextual search to the long-press home button, the Pixels on Android 7.1 will call up Assistant. It's the same chatbot you get in Allo right now, but it's geared toward voice interaction and is available at any time. You'll also be able to get the On Tap-style cards by swiping up in Assistant. It's the best of both worlds.

    The support and backup features of Android 7.1 are exclusive to the Pixel as well. Users will be able to access text and phone support 24/7 from a built-in menu. All your photos and videos in Android 7.1 on the Pixel will be saved to Google Photos at original quality. This is free and unlimited, even for 4K video. The device will also offer to delete old backed up photos on your phone if you start to run low on space.

    Google Play App Roundup: Ivy, Dan The Man, and Burly Men at Sea

    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.

    Ivy

    Samsung's edge display phones have a few software features that try to justify the curved display technology, but let's face it, it's there entirely because it looks cool. One of the more useful features Samsung includes is the edge panel. With a swipe, you can get access to apps, contacts, news, and more. Now, there's a third-party app that brings very similar (and more expansive) features to any phone, curved display or not.

    Just like the edge display, Ivy places a small translucent tab on the right side of the screen. You can change the size, position, and opacity of this tap. To open Ivy, simply swipe the tab. The interface is obviously very similar to what you get with Samsung's version. The bar on the far right has a list of apps, which you can alter as you wish.

    Instead of having a ton of "ribbon" lists that you swipe through, Ivy tries to have more of a dashboard look. The only features that show up as edge panel are apps and contacts. There are a number of features that can be activated, including an RSS ticket for the bottom. There are a number of pre-configured feeds in Ivy, but you can also add feeds manually. If you see a headline you want to investigate, tap on it and the browser will open. You also have an optional clock/date display in Ivy. It goes a step further with support for full widgets in the Ivy interface. After adding your favorite widgets, you can access them by tapping the widget button after opening Ivy. Anything you don't want active can be disabled, of course.

    This is not the first app to provide some way to access certain apps and features from any screen, but Ivy manages to do it without being as annoying as others. There's always a chance that you'll accidentally trigger one of these floating on-screen buttons, but Ivy stays out of the way with such a slim activation area. Still, it's easy to open when you want to.

    Ivy is free to download, and there are no in-app purchases or ads. I would not be surprised to see a pro version show up eventually. I've certainly seen less useful versions of the same thing with a price tag.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (October 2016)

    So your phone is old and busted, and it's time for an upgrade? Your timing is good, because the last big phone announcements of the year are in the rear view mirror. You can now make a fully informed decision about which device you should spend your hard-earned cash on. There are still some excellent devices from Samsung, and an upcoming flagship from LG. However, the Google Pixel phones are now a reality too. Let's dig in and see what's your best bet.

    Photo credit: Flickr user pestoverde via Creative Commons

    Carrier Phones

    Most carrier smartphones are available on all the major networks, but not always. Luckily, the Samsung Galaxy S7 is sold everywhere. You'll also be able to get the LG V20 from anyone when it launches in a few weeks. The newly announced Pixel phones will only be soldi directly by Verizon on the carrier side, but we'll get to that in the next section.

    If you're going through the carriers, the GS7 and LG V20 are the best carrier choices for most people. The V20 isn't available in the US yet, so we can't compare directly to the Galaxy S7. For the time being, I think getting the GS7 is a safe bet right now.

    Google Play App Roundup: News Pro, Looty Dungeon, and Pumped BMX 3

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

    News Pro

    There have been a number of news aggregation apps over the years that I've like, but it's hard to make a news app a viable project. For example, Circa News threw in the towel a while back after failing to generate profit. Microsoft certainly has no issues with cash flow, which has allowed the tech behemoth to devote some resources to its semi-experimental Garage project. The newst app from the Microsoft Garage is News Pro, which aims to pull together news from around the web, along with context that helps you dig deeper.

    News Pro includes logins for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and just an email address. If you add a social media account, News Pro will tailor the news it displays to your interests, or so it says. When you open News Pro, you get a list of highlights—basically stories the algorithm thinks you'll like. There's always a main source for a story, then below that is a scrolling carousel of in-depth coverage. When you get to the end of the slider, there's a link to view more, which opens a list of related articles.

    When you tap on a thumbnail to view the full story, News Pro loads the full website in a built-in-browser. A lot of apps are using Chrome custom tabs for rendering these days, but not News Pro. I suppose the developers did this so they could add a few things on top of the standard browsing experience. When the page is loading, you can tap the "speedy view" button at the bottom to switch to a stripped down version of the page. You'll basically just see images and the body text. There won't be any ads, social buttons, relates story slideshows, or any of the other clutter news websites seem so keen on lately. This version of the page is indeed speedy.

    The articles you read in News Pro also have a custom sharing interface. Tap the share button and you'll get a weirdly iOS-style menu offering options to annotate and share, or just comment and share. Annotation lets you draw over top of a screenshot of the article, then share it to Twitter or Facebook. There are different colors and line widths available. Comment and share is a more traditional link with text.

    There's a menu button on each story that appears in the highlight feed so you can mute a site you don't like or express a desire to see more or less things like it. The default stories I'm seeing after logging into News Pro range from very close to my interests to almost totally unrelated. There are more of the former than the latter, though. News Pro is solid for a first release, It'll be interesting to see what Microsoft does with it going forward, assuming it continues to work on it.

    How Google's Pixel Phones Can Succeed Where Nexus Failed

    For nearly seven years, Google's Nexus program has been the showcase for Android in its purest form. There was some concern after the Nexus One flopped that Google wouldn't do another one, but every year since we've had at least one Nexus device—except this year. All signs point to the end of Nexus and the expansion of the Pixel brand. This is Google's chance to take what was great about the Nexus line and shake things up to push Android as a whole forward in new ways. Here's how that might go down.

    Dual Pixels

    Google seems set to launch two phones on October 4th, the Pixel and Pixel XL. Both will be manufactured by HTC, but there won't be the usual OEM branding as there always was on Nexus phones. The party line this time around is "Designed by Google." The Nexus program was about making Android look good, but Pixel is about Google.

    Even by the most optimistic measurements, Nexus phones have been a niche product at best. Google has essentially been subsidizing the Nexus program to promote Android. Android has grown up now, so it doesn't need that kind of coddling. With the Pixel re-branding, Google may be looking to actually compete with OEMs. This is something Android enthusiasts have been hoping for all along. No more compromises, no more "good for the price" Nexus devices. These could be viable flagship-level devices.

    Google Play App Roundup: Allo, The Bug Butcher, and Dog Sled Saga

    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.

    Allo

    After months of waiting, Google has finally released the much-anticipated Allo chat app. It was a surprised when Google announced Allo at I/O this year. It had been trying to merge its disparate chat platforms into a single entity in recent years, but Hangouts has become a lumbering behemoth because of it. Allo is a completely different—it's faster, simpler, and has Google AI built-in. Can you actually get people to use it, though?

    Allo is based on your phone number, thus it's only for phones. That's the first major hurdle to switching, actually. Hangouts works on the web, on tablets, and on phones. With Allo, you register your phone number, then input a confirmation code that is delivered. After that's done, anyone that has your phone number you in their Allo contact list. It's a bit like WhatsApp.

    The basic chatting features are fun. You can do things like make text larger or smaller to shout/whisper or send a huge number of stickers. Allo also offers smart replies based on the context of your conversations, which can help speed up idle chitchat. This is all part of the Google Assistant, which is manifested as a chatbot you can call upon at any time.

    When you're chatting with someone else, you can use @google to issue commands to the bot. You can ask it for restaurant listings, directions, weather reports, and general search data. In these chats, both parties can see the responses from Google. There's also a dedicated Assistant chat where it's just you and the bot. This is handy if you want to have Google set calendar appointments or pull up your recent photos in private.

    Speaking of private, Allo offers a truly private communication mode. If you start an Incognito chat in the app with one or more of your contacts, it will be end-to-end encrypted and the messages expire after a set amount of time. Because Google can't access the content of these chats, you won't have access to the Assistant.

    Allo still feels a little early—it doesn't support SMS, except to send Allo invites to your contacts and relay messages across an awkward SMS relay. Then there's the single-device approach. Not only can you only use Allo on phones, but it only works on a single phone. That means if you get a new device or simply switch to another one, you have to re-register with Allo and all your chats, settings, and profile information are reset. It's a real pain if you switch devices.

    Allo is definitely something to try, but it's only going to be useful if you can convince your friends to start using it. Right now, I don't think there's a compelling reason to stop using Hangouts, but Assistant has some potential.

    Google Play App Roundup: Solid Explorer, One More Jump, and Monolithic

    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.

    Solid Explorer

    Solid Explorer is obviously not a new app, but it's just gotten a big update, which has been in testing for months. We haven't talked about this app for a long time, so it's time to check in on what is, I think, undeniably the best file manager on Android. Front and center in the latest update are some Nougat improvements and support for fingerprint-based file encryption. This is the most robust implementation of this feature I've seen yet on Android.

    Solid Explorer's original claim to fame was its fantastic multi-pane implementation. You can have two locations open at once, and easily move items between the two. That's still present in the new v2.2 update of course, but there's added support for Nougat's split-screen mode. That means it'll open in split screen without any annoying warnings and will behave itself without any weird crashing or UI errors.

    As for the file encryption feature, there are several reasons I think this is the best implementation on Android. When you choose the file or folder you want to encrypt, the app will pull up a dialog so you can set a password. Encryption is done with AES256, which is essentially uncrackable. The only potentially weak link is your password, but with Solid Explorer, you don't have to worry about that.

    Devices with a fingerprint scanner on Android 6.0 or higher can set the secure unlock method for a file to be the user's registered fingerprint. There's a checkbox in the encryption dialog to allow this. If you enable it, you can decrypt a file simply by touching the sensor, allowing you to use a long and annoying password to encrypt as you don't have to type it in every time. The files you encrypt also keep their file name, simply gaining a .sec extension. That makes it easy to know what you're opening. There's also an option to have the source file scrubbed when you encrypt.

    After decrypting a file, you can open it normally. However, Solid Explorer smartly re-encrypts automatically when you close it. This is not a particularly flashy aspect of the feature, but probably one that makes it actually useful. If you had to re-encrypt files every time, you probably wouldn't use them as much.

    Solid Explorer includes a 14-day trial of all the features, if you want to give it a shot. After that, it's a $1.99 in-app purchase to unlock permanently. If you're looking for a good file explorer and have any interest in protecting your files, this is a good method.

    Google Play App Roundup: Conscient, Outfolded, and Bit Bit Blocks

    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.

    Conscient

    Automation apps have been one of the best selling point for Android as a whole over the years. With a little setup, you can make your phone respond to your real world situation in a very cool way. The apps that do this have varying levels of complexity. Tasker is popular for instance, but it's very difficult to learn. Conscient aims to make it quick and easy to setup simple automation features without a heavy service running in the background. Interested? It's free to try.

    Conscient uses the Google Awareness API, which means the app itself doesn't need to run its own service in the background to keep track of what you're doing. That means better performance and battery life without any of the bugs you see with third-party implementations. Google's Awareness API can relay various device conditions (contexts) to the app like headphones plugged/unplugged, running, walking, in a vehicle, and cycling.

    To set up a "fence" in Conscient, you have to choose a context or a combination of contexts. You might want to have something happen when headphones are plugged in or you're in a car. There are also options for things like running and headphones plugged in. The next step is picking an action to trigger when a context is activated. You can have an app or shortcut launched. This is not as powerful as what you can get with other automation apps, but it's not supposed to be. If you use another automation app like Tasker, you can plug activities from that into Conscient as the trigger.

    There are two ways to launch fences in Conscient; immediate and notifications. The default is notification, which pops up a notification when a context is active you you can launch it in a single tap. The immediate version simple triggers the action.

    I've tested Conscient with a number of different settings, and all of them see to work reliably. It sometimes takes a few seconds for the app to recognize that I'm in a vehicle, for example, but that's down to the Awareness API more than the app. I haven't noticed any impact on battery life, either.

    The free version can run up to three concurrent fences at a time. After that, you need to upgrade to the pro version for $0.99 (but you can pay more if you want to support the dev). It's worth checking out if you're in the market for a simple automation app that won't murder your device's performance.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (September 2016)

    It's a tumultuous time for Android phones; new Nexus (or Pixel?) phones are expected in the next few weeks, the Note 7 is exploding, and LG is getting ready to move on from the disappointing G5. If you're in the market for a new phone, you might be wondering what to get. Well, you should probably still try to wait it out for unlocked phones, but on the carrier side the choice is still clear. Let's break it down.

    Carrier phones

    In recent months, I've recommended the Galaxy S7 with the HTC 10 as a solid alternative. Well, the HTC 10 appears to be falling flat. T-Mobile has already dropped it, and the price hasn't really come down to competitive levels. At this point, I think you're much better off getting the Galaxy S7, or you can wait just a little longer for the V20.

    Let's go over what makes the Galaxy S7 a good purchase right now. It has some of the best hardware you'll find on a smartphone right now. Despite being made largely of glass, the Galaxy S7 is a surprisingly solid phone. It's IP68 water resistant, and the metal rim around the edge gives it some heft. The rear glass panel is curved slightly to make it more comfortable in the hand.

    Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker than the GS6, but that leaves more room inside for a bigger battery now. The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. With the aid of Android 6.0's Doze Mode, both these devices have great battery life. That'll only get better with Android 7.0 Nougat, which I'll get to later.