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

    Grab your phone and prepare to shoot some new apps and games over to it from the Google cloud. It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store. Just click the links to head to each app's page to check it out for yourself.

    Microsoft Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How The Pixel 2 Stacks Up Against The Best of Android

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

    The 2 New Pixel Phones from Google

    Design refinements

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

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

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

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

    Microsoft Launcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Network Speed

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 S Pen Works

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

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

    Capacitive versus inductive

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

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

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

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

    Can't Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Fenix 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Split-screen Creator

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

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

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

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

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (September 2017)

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

    Carrier Phones: Galaxy S8

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

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

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

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

    Google Play App Roundup: Clockwise Smart Alarm, YOSUL, and Jazz Smash

    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.

    Clockwise Smart Alarm

    Waking up in the morning is not likely to be anyone's favorite part of the day. Thus, the app that wakes you up can become a source of scorn and maybe even outright hatred. It takes a lot of careful work to make a likable alarm app, but Clockwise Smart Alarm has a pretty good shot. This app includes plenty of thoughtful features and you can give it a shot for free.

    When you first start setting up an alarm, Clockwise Smart Alarm seems like any other app. You can pick from various sounds, use your own music, and control on which days the alarm is active. I'm not overly thrilled with the app's UI, which doesn't conform to any Android guidelines I've ever seen. It's usable, but the locations of menus and other features are not intuitive. You'll get the hang of it, but you shouldn't even be worrying about this stuff. That's what design guidelines are for.

    At any rate, after you've created the alarm, you can add modules. This is what sets Clockwise Smart Alarm apart from the competition. There are currently ten modules listed in the app that will trigger each time the selected alarm goes off. These are all alerts and bits of info that are read to you after the alarm. For example, you can have the app read off the weather forecast or list the top titles from your favorite subreddit. These require setup, but there are simpler ones like a fact of the day and this day in history.

    The modules don't just trigger instantly once the alarm is dismissed, but there's a notification you can tap to begin the playback. Keep in mind, the order of modules can also be changed. If you want to snooze your alarm, Clockwise Smart Alarm has a neat feature called Quick Snooze. Rather than looking at the display and tapping something, all you need to do is put your hand over the top half of the screen. It uses the proximity sensor to activate snooze and get you a few more minutes of blissful slumber with a minimum of fuss.

    Clockwise Smart Alarm Is free and full featured, but there is an in-app upgrade. $0.99 gets you the full version of the app, but the only difference is no ads. In the free version, full-screen ads will occasionally pop up on the screen while you're using the app. That's a bit annoying, but the upgrade is cheap.

    Google Play App Roundup: Island, Framed 2, and JetCrash

    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.

    Island

    Android has support for work profiles, which can be used by a business to deploy and manage apps on employee devices. This keeps personal and work data separate, but you can also leverage these features for personal use with Island. This app creates a "work" profile on your device that can be managed to copy apps and run multiple copies in parallel.

    Setting up Island is easy, but a little counterintuitive. It creates a "work" profile, but it's not attached to any corporate accounts, and there are no "administrators" who can access your data. The app uses the metaphor of an island to make usage easier to understand. The "island" is where all your cloned apps live. They use the same binary as your "mainland" apps, but the data and accounts are totally separate.

    When you start using Island, you get a few stock apps in the list including the Play Store, contacts, and downloads. These are all empty until you start using them, and you will need to log in with your Google account all over. Remember, no data carries over from the mainland. A folder is placed on the home screen with all your Island apps, but you can get rid of that if you don't want to use it.

    You can manage apps in your island using the Island app. Use the drop-down at the top to choose either mainland or island lists. To create an island version of a mainland app, just tap on it in the list and hit the "plus" button. The Android package installer pops up briefly to install the app into your island, and that's it. Island apps can be run from the home screen folder, or you can use the app list in the Island app itself. The apps also appear in your app Drawer with a work badge to indicate which icon is which. Apps in your island can also be frozen, preventing them from running until unfrozen.

    Island allows you to test different settings and configurations in an app without screwing up your main installation. You might also want to use a cloned app for privacy purposes, keeping that data sandboxed from other apps and services. It can be used to run a second instance of an app side-by-side with the first as well.

    Island is a neat app with a lot of potential utility, and it's completely free. It's still in beta, so it's possible some paid features will be added later.

    Google Play App Roundup: Adapticons, Miracle Merchant, and Flippy Knife

    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.

    Adapticons

    Icon packs have existed on Android since time immemorial, but they require you to jump through some hoops like using a third-party home screen (usually) and making do with a lot of icons you might not particularly like. Adapticons is a new app for Android that lets you create custom icons in just a few steps, and you can use them on any home screen you want.

    Adapticons includes an assortment of icons shapes, which is the basis for all of your custom icons. Simply find the app you want to edit in the list and tap on it to advance to the editing screen. The shapes range from the typical circle and square to a more exotic squircle and far weirder stuff like puzzle pieces and pentagons.

    The shape will act as a frame by default, and it's themed to match the icon's default colors. So, if you have an app with a square icon and no included circle version, you can create a version that has a circular frame to match all your other round icons. It gets better, though. You can also change the size of the icon, which is sort of like zooming it within the frame. That lets you crop out the square edges so the logo is all you can see in the round frame. You can also reposition the icon within the frame. Although, there are times the frame looks better, so don't be afraid to play around. Adapticons includes an assortment of other tweaks like icon size, rotation, color, grayscale, and icon text.

    Once you've created the perfect icon, you can use it in several ways. There's an option to export as a PNG, which you can then apply in certain launchers. Alternatively, you can export an icon pack file to be applied. Again, only with certain launchers. The most intriguing option is just to use it on the home screen instantly. This places your icon in the next open space, ready for use.

    The way Adapticons makes your icons work is clever. The shortcut is technically for Adapticons itself, but the activity is passed off to the app for which you made the icon. Happily, this handoff doesn't cause any confusion with the multitasking interface, and there's no discernable delay when pressing the icon.

    Adapticons is free with a limited set of icon shapes. A $0.99 in-app purchase unlocks a dozen more shapes (mostly the wacky ones), and includes the option to edit more than one icon in the same batch. The upgrade also lets you grab and edit icons from icon packs you have installed. Even if you only have a handful of icons that are bugging you, Adapticons is really neat and worth the upgrade.

    5 Trade-Offs of Buying a Budget Smartphone

    If you've been buying smartphones for a while, you probably remember a time when buying a cheap phone was a sure sign you were going to be disappointed. In those early days of Android, anything with a retail price of less than $500 was sure to have underpowered hardware and outdated software. That started to change a few years ago when phones like the Moto G showed us that cheap phones don't have to be terrible experiences.

    For many phone buyers, spending $700 on a new phone seems pointless when a $230 phone like the Moto G5 Plus is so good. And it is good, but it's not good at everything. Some features are still lacking on budget phones, and you should know what to expect before jumping in with both feet.

    The Camera

    A phone like the Galaxy S8 can easily replace a point-and-shoot camera, but a cheap phone has to prioritize other things. Here, we go back to the age-old debate about megapixels. While a budget phone might have the same number of pixels, that's only a small part of what makes a camera good or bad.

    Some more important metrics are the aperture, which is below f/2.0 on high-end phones. Budget phones tend to have narrower apertures, which allow in less light. That means poorer exposure in dim settings. The size of pixels on the sensor is also notable. The larger pixels on expensive phones like the GS8 (1.55µm) can take clear photos with less light than a Moto E4 (1.12µm).

    Google Play App Roundup: Hurry, Fowlst, and Questy Quest

    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.

    Hurry

    Countdown apps are not usually something I think of as innovative, but leave it to Sam Ruston, developer of Weather Timeline to prove me wrong. The new app "Hurry" provides a number of cool features in a countdown app that will make you actually want to use it.

    The basic concept is not dissimilar to other countdown apps that you'd use to keep track of events like a vacation or birthday. However, it's much cleaner and feature-rich than others. It's also not crawling with intrusive ads like a lot of the competition is. So, we're off to a good start here.

    To start a countdown, just open Hurry and press the plus button in the corner. This app uses the material design guidelines wherever possible, and the floating action button is just the start. To get set up, just create an event name, choose a type, location, time, and pick a photo source. Technically, all you have to do is set a name and date, and the countdown will work. However, Hurry is a lot more fun if you fill in all the spaces. After creating an event with photos from the web selected, you get to choose which ones the app uses in your countdown widgets and hero images. This is a nice touch, but you can also use your own photos if you prefer.

    There are several ways to view your countdowns, including just opening the app. Your countdowns show up in a list, with active timers ticking down. You can tap on to open any of them and see all the other info you provided. There's also a clever little minigame where you can guess how many times you could perform certain activities in the remaining time. Hurry also pings you occasional notifications so you don't forget about your upcoming event, but those can be disabled on this screen.minigame where you can guess how many times you could perform certain activities in the remaining time. Hurry also pings you occasional notifications, so you don't forget about your upcoming event, but those can be disabled on this screen.

    The other way to see what's happening with your countdowns is to use widgets, and I suspect this is how most serious users of countdown apps (is that a thing?) will do it. There are seven different designs, many of which provide access to multiple countdowns and have background images. They're all resizeable with dynamic layouts, too.

    Hurry is incredibly well-designed from top to bottom. It's completely free right now, but it looks like an ad-supported/upgrade model will be added later.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (August 2017)

    Buying a new phone can be a big, scary commitment. You're probably going to be using that device every day for at least a year or two. What if you get the wrong one and hate every minute of it? That's what we're aiming to prevent. Let's get a sense of what's out there and what your best bet is.

    Carrier phones: The Galaxy S8

    Carriers have come up with some interesting ways to keep people coming back for new phones even when there are so many good unlocked options. You can usually pay monthly, and there are frequent deals when you switch or add a line. If you go this route, there are two solid choices on all carriers right now, the Galaxy S8 and the LG G6. These are both good phones, and LG has improved since last year. Still, the Galaxy S8 is an overall better option for most people.

    The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch curved display, but it also comes in a 6.2-inch curved "Plus" variant. They both feel much smaller in the hand than you'd expect and have a resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels. The Plus variant is just a little too tall to be used comfortably in one hand, even with the incredibly narrow bezels. Samsung's AMOLED displays are still the best you can get, and DisplayMate confirms that Samsung's GS8 panel has the most accurate colors and highest brightness. The phone works with both Daydream and Gear VR.

    This phone is very comfortable to use with the symmetrically curved front and back glass, although the rounded glass frame means it's very exposed should you ever drop it. Broken Galaxy S8s are apparently common, but I'm more irked by the way glass feels on a phone. You can't touch the device without getting it all oily from your skin.

    Google Play App Roundup: Caffeine, Subdivision Infinity, and Touchdowners

    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.

    Caffeine

    Caffeine is a simple app; so simple in fact there's very little "app" to it. However, it solves a problem I've long had with Android and requires zero setup. With just a few taps, you can keep your screen on for a predetermined length of time using Caffeine. Sound good? It's free, too.

    Caffeine plugs into Android 7.0's customizable quick settings, so you need to be using a phone or tablet running Nougat or higher. That's still far from everyone, but we're getting to the point that even super-cheap phones like the Moto E4 are shipping with current software. All phones have to support the custom quick settings API, so Caffeine will work with anything on the right versions.

    To use Caffeine, just open your quick settings and tap the edit button. On some phones (eg. Samsung), that option might be hidden under a menu icon. You should have the Caffeine icon in your list of unused toggles. Long-press and drag it up to a suitable position and close the editing interface.

    Tapping on the Caffeine icon in quick settings instantly overrides the screen timeout setting with a five, ten, or thirty-minute timer. Another tap also flips it over to unlimited mode, so be careful you don't accidentally leave that one activated. Caffeine saves you from digging into the setting when you want to extend the screen-on time temporarily. Maybe you're reading something long, or you have a live feed of some sort running. This way, you don't have to constantly touch the screen to keep the phone awake.

    The icon helpfully counts down so you know when the screen timeout will return to normal. After you've closed the quick settings, going back and tapping Caffeine will disable the timeout. So, cycling through the various timers has to be done all at once when activating it.

    Caffeine Is a clever app that I've already used quite a few times. It's something I play to install on all my devices.

    Google Play App Roundup: Motion Stills, Leap On, and Vista Golf

    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.

    Motion Stills

    Google released an app last year for iPhone called Motion Stills, which jived nicely with Apple's Live Photo feature. Still, Android users like GIF photos, too. So, Google has finally gotten around to releasing an Android version of Motion Stills with an improved image processing pipeline. That means it's faster, and fast things are good.

    Motion Stills is basically a GIF camera, but it's a really good GIF camera. It's got amazing image stabilization, which results in very smooth animations that look like you had your phone on a tripod. All you need to do is tap the capture button, and the app takes a three second video. You can scroll down to see the video, and it's ready instantly. Google's improved processing renders each frame as it's captured to make this happen.

    The clips default to having the super-stabilization on, but you can turn it off just for fun. The app basically crops a bit out of each frame and lines up the action so nothing moves in an undesired way. The videos can be exported as the native MP4 or as GIFs. You'll probably do GIFs because they're more easily shared, and that's what this app is aimed at. Make sure to take a peek at the settings to tweak the GIF quality. You can increase this setting for a smooth GIF and it's only a little bigger.

    The gallery itself is rather mesmerizing after you've taken a few videos. All the clips play as you scroll through with stabilization enabled. It just feels very alive. Sort of like live photos for iOS, but with longer clips and higher quality animation.

    In addition to the motion stills, this app also supports "fast forward" mode. Think Microsoft Hyperlapse, but from Google. Here, you can take videos up to a minute long, then adjust the speed of playback between 2x and 8x. Just as above, you get Google's powerful image stabilization features.

    Motion Stills is a simple app, but it does what it's supposed to do. There's nothing to complain about here, and Motion Stills is free.

    Google Play App Roundup: Camera Roll, A Planet of Mine, and Virtua Tennis Challenge

    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.

    Camera Roll

    Every phone comes with a gallery app of some sort, but they're usually quite barebones and some are downright ugly. There are several good alternatives in the Play Store, including the new Camera Roll app. The name will probably appeal to recent iOS converts, but it's more than just a name. This is a capable and configurable gallery app.

    The app opens with each folder on your device containing photos displayed as a large rectangle with a thumbnail image. This is only the default, though. There are several different layouts including small cards, large cards, and scrollable horizontal blocks. The dark theme can also be flipped over to light or completely black, if you so desire.

    When you open a folder, Camera Roll starts showing off with some slick animations. The photo grid slides up from the bottom, and the images start as black and white. They re-saturate in about one second as you scroll. It's a neat effect. Tapping on individual photos also offers up a cool zooming animation. When you go back, the photo zooms back out into its place in the grid. Again, so slick.

    Unfortunately, there's no built-in editing for Camera Roll. I'd like to have at least seen some support for cropping. However, tapping the edit button does bring up compatible apps like Snapseed. The info button hides a few interesting surprised, though. Tap this when viewing a photo to get all the EXIF information, along with the ability to edit. At the top, you also have a bar of the most common color swatches from the image. Tapping on any of them copies the hex code. I don't know how useful this is, but I really like it.

    Should you have files that aren't showing up in the app, there's a toggle to show hidden files. Additionally, there's a file browser in the overflow menu. Launch that and you can navigate to any folder on the device to view images.

    Camera Roll is free and has no ads. Give it a shot if your current gallery app is getting old.

    Google Play App Roundup: Astro, Mini DAYZ, and All That Remains: Part 1

    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.

    Astro

    Google is pushing its AI muscle with Inbox, but not everyone wants to commit to the radically different way of organizing and managing email that comes with that app. The new email app Astro has some similar features, but it's more recognizable as a standard email client. It also supports Office 365 in addition to Gmail.

    Astro has a built-in chatbot that feels a little like Assistant in Allo. When you open the app for the first time, the bot asks what email account you want to add, then fires up the login tool. With that done, the bot also conducts a quick tour of Astro's features. Later on, you can use the bot to send quick emails, set reminders, and more. The bot can also help with things like unsubscribing from mailing lists and "zapping" emails, which appears to be a form of bulk archiving. It is by no means as smart as Assistant, though. The bot can be accessed at any time by tapping the action button at the bottom of your screen.

    The Inbox in Astro is split into two parts; there's the priority side and "other." The split is determined entirely by Astro's AI smarts. Messages from contacts that you often open and reply to are filtered into priority, and everything else ends up in other. It seems to be much more cautious in marking things as important than Gmail's built-in importance filter.

    The AI stuff is fun and all, but I think the mail management in Astro is its biggest selling point. You can swipe to archive or snooze an email. The length of snoozing can be configured as well. There's even an option to "snooze" a notification until the next time you open Astro on your desktop. Then, you'll get the notification for that email immediately. There's also an option to have your emails delayed until a later time. When composing, just look for the options button next to the send icon (a rocket). Set the time, and then let Astro send it for you at a more appropriate time.

    Astro plays nicely with all your existing Gmail labels, and It can handle multiple accounts. It even plugs into Slack so you can search Slack messages, get notifications all in one place, and easily attach files. If you use Amazon Alexa, you can connect that as well. The Alexa skill lets you control your email by voice.

    Astro is free and it's worth checking out if you're a little bored with Gmail.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (July 2017)

    Smartphones have become indispensable parts of daily life, offering on-demand access to all the world's information, turn-by-turn navigation, voice control, and more. This is one of the things it's okay to spend heavily on since you'll use it every day, but you should make sure you buy the right phone. Ideally, it'll last you a couple years without falling apart or falling behind on updates. There are a lot of phones out there, so let's take a look at the assortment of options available right now and see what the best bet is.

    Carrier phones: The Galaxy S8

    Buying phones from carriers used to be what you did because there were no reasonably priced unlocked options, but not it's the default option for most people because the carriers make it stupidly easy to get a new phone with payment plans, lease agreements, and various other deals. If you go this route, there are two solid choices right now, the Galaxy S8 and the LG G6. These are both good phones, and LG has improved since last year. Still, the Galaxy S8 is an overall better option for most people.

    The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch curved display, and you can't get a non-curved version this time. Both the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus have have the curved design that minimizes the bezel. Samsung opted for this after seeing its curved phones selling much better than the flat ones. The GS8 Plus bumps the display size to 6.2-inches, but they both feel much smaller in the hand and have a resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels. The Plus variant is just a little too tall to be used comfortably in one hand. Samsung's AMOLED displays are still the best you can get, and DisplayMate confirms that Samsung's GS8 panel has the most accurate colors and highest brightness.

    This phone feels great in the hand with the symmetrically curved front and back glass, although the rounded glass frame means it's very exposed should you ever drop it. Broken Galaxy S8s are apparently common, and the glass picks up fingerprints like no one's business.