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    The State of App and Game Backup on Android: Not Pretty

    Comparing the Android we have today to what was available several years back is stark not just in terms of UI. Google has addressed many pain points in the realm of usability and features over time. Many of the things we used to need root access to get done are now possible on completely stock devices, even on the stripped down Nexus variant of Android. One notable exception is the state of application backup on Android. It's an absolute mess, and Google has tried to fix it with little success. Let's go over your options and find out where things stand.

    What is app data?

    When people talk about app data, they are usually referring to the content stored under each application or game's folder in the system directory of Android. You can see how much data an app has accumulated by going into the application settings. Android gives you the option to delete this data, but that's all. If you do so, it reminds you that you're going to lose all your settings, accounts, and so on. That's what we're talking about -- your stuff.

    For an app, this directory might contain your account information for an app that needs you to log in. It also contains any data you've input into the app since you started using it. For example, a fitness tracker app will have all your workout records and history. If you delete the app or clear the data, that's all gone. The developer needs to specifically make allowances to back that data up in such instances (more on the alter). For games, the app data folder contains save games and settings. Again, if you delete the data or uninstall the game, your progress is gone with it.

    So why can't you simply copy the data from these directories and save it somewhere? App data is all in the system partition, meaning you need to have root access to do anything with it. That might seem like a kick in the pants, but it's a common security measure. You don't want one app being able to just snoop around in the data of another app. The only way to back up and restore app data is through rooting or a system component. Google has thus far really dropped the ball on the latter.

    Google Play App Roundup: Bleep, Knights of Pen & Paper 2, and Sunburn!

    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.


    BitTorrent's various projects are mostly about leveraging the power of many individuals to create decentralized services. However, the newly released Bleep messaging app is a little different. Rather than dealing with the many, this secure messaging client relies on direct one-on-one connections and local encryption.

    Bleep was released as an Alpha several months ago, but now it's "done." BitTorrent has cleaned up the interface, squashed some bugs, and added new featured over the course of the beta. What we have now seems like a capable messaging service, and it supports completely anonymous usage. You can install Bleep and pick a nickname without adding your phone number or email. This is simply the name others will see when chatting with you.

    Should you choose, you can also verify your information with Bleep so any of your friends who sign up will see you in their contact lists. Otherwise, adding Bleep contacts is done by sharing your ID or letting the other party scan your QR code if you meet them in meatspace. All messages sent over Bleep are encrypted locally and sent directly to the recipient, making it difficult to eavesdrop on the conversation. You can also send pictures and initiate VoIP calls.

    The big new feature added for the launch of Bleep is called Whisper. It's basically an off-the-record chat with Snapchat-like automatic deletion. Any message or image you send will be deleted 25 seconds after it is viewed. BitTorrent opted for an odd method of privacy protection for Whispers. The message only shows up when the sender's name is hidden. If you toggle the name display on, the message is blurred. This is intended to disassociate the sender and message in screenshots and photos taken of the Whisper. It's a nice sentiment, but I can't help but note you can take two screenshots and match them up pretty easily.

    Bleep messages seem to come in reliably in just a few seconds, and I'm not seeing any appreciable impact on battery life. It seems like a really neat service, but you'll have to convince your friends to use Bleep before you can do much with it. It's worth a shot if you've got privacy concerns with services like Hangouts and WhatsApp.

    Google Play App Roundup: VoxelMaker, Earn to Die 2, and GoatZ

    It's that time of the week again. Time to shake off the weekend vibe and get back to work. But you can probably spare a few minutes to check out some new apps. This is the Tested Google Play App Roundup, which is where we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just follow the links to Google Play.


    This might look like a game at first--maybe some sort of Minecraft knockoff. However, VoxelMaker is actually a 3D art and modeling app. It gives you the tools to create nifty pixel art 3D designs on your Android device in just a few minutes (after you learn how to use it). You can even apply lighting, depth of field, and more before exporting as an image or a 3D file.

    So what's a voxel? You can probably guess from the look and feel of this app, but it's a grid of blocks that are essentially the 3D counterpart to a pixel. It's a mashup of the words volume and pixel. There are plenty of games, like the aforementioned Minecraft, that are based on voxel art. In addition to the obvious stuff, a number of game engines and rendering technologies make use of voxels as a way of approximating shapes and lighting. For example, Nvidia's Maxwell GPUs use voxel mapping to generate realistic surface lighting in real time.

    VoxelMaker is a little confusing at first, but there are a few example scenes available in the app. You might want to start by taking these apart and seeing how all the tools work. You've got four basic modes to create and edit images. There's draw, select, paint, and light. The drawing mode is where you should start. This is how you create new blocks in your 3D canvas. There are three lines that intersect on the screen to show you where the cursor is. This is important because you are operating in a 3D space with a 2D interface, and these lines keep you oriented. You can tap anywhere to move the cursor there, but VoxelMaker also has a few arrow buttons in the lower left corner for finer control.

    The selection mode lets you grab large areas of your design to copy, delete, or insert elements. Painting mode similarly lets you change large sections of the image at once, but by altering the colors of the voxels. This is faster than replacing the voxels with the correct color ones. Then there's lighting, which is the simplest, but also has a dramatic impact on your designs. This mode simply lets you choose from where the light is coming.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (April 2015)

    The big US carriers have traditionally had a lot of variation in the selection of phones they offer, and that's still true to a degree. However, we're in a place right now where there's one phone that is probably best for most people, and it's available everywhere. Of course I speak of the Samsung Galaxy S6. It hasn't been so clear cut in my opinion since the Galaxy S3 was the hot new phone. Still, the Galaxy S6 isn't the perfect phone, and depending on what you want, it might not be an option at all.

    So let's do things a little differently this month -- let's check out the lineup of each carrier and see what you might want to get if the Galaxy S6 isn't a good fit.

    Why the Galaxy S6?

    The Galaxy S6 is the default choice right now if you want a flagship smartphone. Norm and myself have both posted our thoughts on this phone, and the consensus is that Samsung hit one out of the park. Let's first quickly go over why you should (and maybe shouldn't) settle for this phone. You can read our field reports for all the details.

    If you thought the Galaxy S5 was boring and expected, Samsung agrees. They changed so, so much with the Galaxy S6 it seems like a phone made by a completely different company. The metal and glass construction feels very premium and precise in the hand. You may remember some issues with manufacturing tolerances on the Note 4 (mostly in the way the glass met the bezel), but the Galaxy S6 is pristine.

    Tested In-Depth: Samsung Galaxy S6 Smartphone

    Samsung's new Galaxy S6 smartphone is a bit controversial, with its familiar design to the flagship's omission of a removable battery and microSD card slot. But its brilliant screen and camera make it very compelling. We sit down to run through all the important things about this phone and compare it to the iPhone 6. Here's why the Galaxy S6 is the best phone Norm has ever tested.

    Google Play App Roundup: AppChat, Wire Defuser, and Battledots

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

    This week you can chat about apps with other people, defuse bombs, and battle dots.


    You've probably got at least a few apps installed on your phone, and so do a lot of other people. If only there was an easy way to connect with people who use the same apps. Hey, that's a thing now that AppChat is available. This app is still very new and basic, but you can get it from Google Play and instantly start chatting up people who use the same apps as you.

    AppChat basically hosts a live chat room for each app and game it detects on users' devices. You can open AppChat to browse your installed apps and the associated chat rooms. The app lists how many registered users have each one installed, and how many new messages have been posted since the last time you looked.

    You can also access the chat room for an app by dragging up from the bottom right corner of the screen in any app. This displays a shortcut button to jump right into the AppChat room for that app or game. Edge gestures tend to be somewhat wonky on Android, but this one doesn't seem to get in the way too much.

    So maybe you're wondering why you'd want this. Let's say you've got a calendar app on your phone that you're quite fond of. There's an update, and something seems broken. Rather than digging blindly through Google results to see if it's something others are seeing, you can just ask in the chat room. You could also chat about features you might not know about or get tips in a game.

    AppChat is light on features right now, but you can mention users, delete your own messages, and share links/screenshots. AppChat will actually detect which app a screenshot was taken in and offer to share it to the right room, which is neat. The account system is a little too rudimentary right now. Once you set a username, you can't uninstall the app and then use the same name again later. There's really no account system -- you pick a name, and if it's used (even by you in a previous install), that's it. The app also doesn't offer any control over notifications. You can either disable them at the system level, or see notifications every time there are new posts in a chatroom you've been active in.

    This app is completely free, and I feel like it's got real potential. You should check it out and see what wisdom you can gleen from your fellow app users. And yes, there's an AppChat room. It's so meta.

    My Testing of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Smartphone

    Editor's Note: Our Android expert Ryan Whitwam gives his take on the new Galaxy S6 smartphone. This review complements my own thoughts and testing on the phone, and we'll have a full In-Depth video on Tested next week!

    Samsung needed a change after the Galaxy S5's lackluster performance last year, and the Galaxy S6 is what the Korean company came up with. Many of the basic tenets of Android design from Samsung have been abandoned, and the build quality is worlds apart from the last five Galaxy flagships.

    We're in a completely new and unexplored Galaxy, so here's what you need to know.

    Samsung makes the nicest phones now

    From this point forward, we can no longer say that Samsung is addicted to making plastic phones that feel cheap. They got the hint, and the Galaxy S6 is completely different. It's all metal and glass, but it still has that standard Samsung shape. An aluminum band wraps around the edge of the device. It's rounded at the corners and flattens out along the sides.

    The front and back of the Galaxy S6 are Gorilla Glass 4, which does give it a very nice feel in the hand. It's virtually impossible to scratch this glass, but it can break if you drop the GS6 just right. It's also a bit of a magnet for fingerprints (maybe go with the white one if that bothers you). Samsung has taken heat in the past for having some loose manufacturing tolerances, leading to gaps and wobbly buttons. The Galaxy S6 is flawless in this respect. The bezel meets up with the metal rim perfectly with no gap at all, and the buttons are solid.

    Google Play App Roundup: Overam, Does not Commute, and Beatdown

    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.

    This week we've got a new photo editor with a cool vibe, a game about commuting, and a good old-fashioned beat-em-up.


    Taking photos is definitely one of the primary uses for a smartphone these days. In fact, most people don't even buy dedicated cameras any more. There are plenty of apps that will help you edit photos to make them look a little nicer, but Overam just makes them more funky. I can get behind that.

    As with most photo editing apps, you can use a photo you've taken previously, or you can use the app itself to take a photo. If you think you might want to use said photo for anything else ever, you might want to take it with the built-in camera app from your device. Overam will apply the filters and overlays to the original image when taken with its camera.

    If you choose an existing photo, the app gives you an opportunity to crop it. The default mode is custom aspect ratio, but you can also limit it to certain ratios, which is handy if you're planning to share to Instagram (kids still use that, right?). Overam's distinctive image manipulations are based on geometric shapes. There are the more standard squares, pentagons, and trapezoids, as well as more exotic barbell and Pac Man shapes. You can set the position, rotation, and scale of the shape as you like. This serves as the base of your image transformations.

    Along the bottom of the editing interface are buttons for the various effects. The main event after adding the shape is the blur effect. This is applied to either the inside or outside of the shape, which you can still move around and re-scale at any point using swiping and multitouch. Some of the blur effects are a little generic, but the ones that apply transformations are neat--like the stacked overlay one or the expanding blur in the screenshot there. You also have filters, glow effects, and color overlays. All of this can be applied outside or inside the shape, whatever fits with your artistic vision.

    Again, these photos look cool, but they aren't archival quality. You can probably guess that by how fast the filters are applied (really fast). Even a full crop of a high-resolution photo will only be about 1200 pixels high. That's fine if you're sharing it online, though.

    Overam is free to use, as long as you don't mind an ad hovering at the bottom of the screen. You can remove it for $0.99, and that's it. There are no paid filters or additional in-app purchases.

    Google Play App Roundup: Trepn Profiler, Space Marshals, and Implosion

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

    This week Qualcomm demystifies your phone's hardware, there's a prison break in space, and a battle suit gets serious.

    Trepn Profiler

    Qualcomm is mostly known as a maker of ARM chips, cellular radios, and other bits of silicon that power many phones and tablets. However, the company has also produced a few system tools of Android. These are usually exclusive to Snapdragon chips made by Qualcomm, but the new Trepn Profiler app runs on all chips to help you take a closer look at your hardware and system performance.

    Trepn Profiler includes six different system monitoring tools. You get a CPU frequency overlay, mobile data analysis, performance graph, CPU usage monitor, CPU load overlay, and network activity monitor. Several of these profiling presets can be used in the app as a way to monitor system activity while you do other things. For example, you can start a profile for CPU usage, and use your phone normally for a few minutes. When you check back with Trepn Profiler, you can see if an app you don't need is eating up a chunk of your CPU with background processes.

    Most of the tests in Trepn Profiler can be activated in overlay mode, which positions a floating chart or graph on top of whatever you're doing. This is great for seeing what your phone or tablet is up to internally while you're actively using it. The CPU tests are particularly cool in overlay mode as you get a small graph for each main core in your device. Each of the graphs can be collapsed and moved around to keep them out of the way temporarily.

    This is just the simple "presets" mode of Trepn Profiler. More technical users and developers might want to dig around in the advanced mode, which allows you to build your own presets to see how an app or the total system is working. When you create one of these custom presets, there are more than 30 different data points that can be logged including individual CPU core frequencies, memory use, screen state, battery power, and more. There are also a few extra automation and code auditing features for developers who are testing apps.

    The app has a persistent notification when a profile is active, which you'll want to watch for. Accidentally leaving Trepn running in the background will chew through battery. It should shut down fine as long as you don't leave any floating windows or background profiles active. Trepn Profiler is a little more complicated than other system diagnostic tools, but there's a lot more power too. The app is completely free in the Play Store.

    Testing: Samsung Galaxy S6 Smartphone

    The new Samsung Galaxy S6 released last Friday sure looks more like an iPhone than any of Samsung's Galaxy phones before it. Unibody aluminum construction, glass front and back, and nary a screw or chunky piece of plastic in sight. Is the design an egregious rip-off? That's for lawyers to argue. But it is absolutely a concession by Samsung that the design ethos we've seen from Apple since the iPhone 4 has merit: a beautiful unibody phone is worth the omission of "power-user" features like a user-replaceable battery and memory card slot. And in this case, I think the tradeoffs may be worth it. There's so much to like in the new GS6.

    I picked up my Galaxy S6 from Best Buy when it was released and have been using it for the past three days. That's not enough time for a thorough evaluation of its technical performance and nuances of long-term use, but enough to share some impressions of the attributes that stand out. Let's run through those, starting with the design.

    The GS6's Design is Beautiful

    Regardless of how Samsung came to the design of the Galaxy S6, they ended up with one of the best-looking and feeling Android phones I've used. It looks especially fetching in white, where the illuminated menu and back buttons fade into the glass of the front face. But it's less about the glass on the front and back of the phone than it is about the aluminum band wrapped around the phone. Yes, from the bottom, it looks very much like an iPhone 6, speaker grille, headphone jack, and all. But the aluminum on the long sides of the phone is a flat edge, making it much easier to grip than the fully-curved sides of the latest iPhones. The GS6 is light, thin, and doesn't make me worry that it'll slip out of my hands when typing single-handed.

    Using glass for the phone's back may be the most questionable design decision for this phone. Glass may be prettier than aluminum, but this is a phone that will shatter if you drop it on concrete. I'm not going to get a case for it, but I am definitely treating it more carefully than the OnePlus One and Moto X I was using before. And no, I'm not going to try to bend it to the point of breaking.

    Google Play App Roundup: Office Remote, Corridor Z, and Dragon Hills

    It's time once again to find out what's going on in the Play Store. This is the Google Play App Roundup where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just hit the links below to head right to the Play Store on your device.

    This week Office gets official remote control, the zombies are coming, and dragons erupt from the ground.

    Office Remote

    Microsoft has lately been all about expanding its products beyond the consistently underperforming Windows Phone platform. The latest feature to reach Android is the Office Remote app, which can be used to access and control documents in the Office 2013 desktop suite. You'll need Bluetooth on your PC and a full version of Office, but the results are neat.

    Office Remote connects to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. The idea is that you'll use this as a way to control a presentation, which is mostly a PowerPoint thing. However, anyone who has ever sat through meetings as part of the daily grind know that there's not always time to turn something into a Powerpoint. As such, it's nice there's support for all three of the core Office apps.

    Setup is fairly easy -- turn on Bluetooth on your Android device and PC, then install the Office Remote add-on from Microsoft. The app will send you a link to download it. That places an Office Remote tab in your desktop Office apps. Just go there and enable remote access to your open documents. Next, you need to pair your devices, which can be fussy depending on your setup. You might need to manually pair your PC and phone from the system menu before it will show up in the list of available devices in the Office Remote app.

    If you're connecting to Powerpoint, you get the most options including advancing slides, thumbnail view, and virtual laser pointer control using the phone's screen (this is more fun than you think). With Excel, you're basically moving around the document in various ways. You can jump between worksheets, go to named objects, filter data, and more. Word lets you scroll around, zoom, jump to comments/headings, and a few other things.

    Once you're connected, Office Remote seems very stable and reliable. I did have some issues getting it to refresh the list of open files, but closing and reopening the app seemed to fix it. If you ever have to show an Office document to others, you should definitely consider using Office Remote. It's much easier than most of those third-party presentation management apps out there. It's also free, aside from the cost of Office.

    Google Play App Roundup: Infinit, Tetrobot and Co, and DuckTales: Remastered

    The time has come again to shine a light into all the shadowy corners of Google Play to find the best new and newly updated stuff for your phone or tablet. The Google Play App Roundup is where you can come every week to see what's cool on Android, and this week is no exception. Click on the links to head right to Google Play and download for yourself.

    This week we look at sending big files, a robo-puzzler, and a classic game remastered.


    So you've got a file on your phone or tablet, and you want it somewhere else? You could upload it to a cloud storage service, send an email, or set up a local WiFi share. A new app called Infinit promises to handle all the legwork for you, and do so super-fast.

    You need to sign up for an Infinit account before you can use it, which isn't uncommon. However, the app only allows you to use an email address or Facebook. Google sign-in would be appreciated. At any rate, the app itself is very straightforward to use. It's arranged into a series of tabs, with the main one being a list of files you've transferred. There's a floating action button to initiate file transfers (the only real material element in the app).

    After choosing a file, you have the option of sending it to your own devices (Android and desktop) or to any of your contacts. This is one of the cool things about Infinit. You don't need to have other people set up with the app ahead of time. When you send them the transfer request by email or SMS, they will get a unique link to download the app and link their account with yours. After this first transfer, they will just receive a notification for each new transfer, which can be accepted or rejected.

    Infinit claims its transfers are faster than simply using the cloud, although that's what it uses most of the time. What I suspect they mean is that the app is smart enough to know if two devices are on the same local WiFi network. If that's the case, they will connect over the local network for a much faster transfer. Another advantage, according to the developers, is that there is absolutely no limit on the file type or size you can send. That really makes it stand out from most file transfer tools.

    The functionality seems to all be there, but I feel like the app could use a redesign to look more suited to Android. The icons and styling look a little too much like iOS for my taste. The FAB only helps a little. Still, this is worth checking out if you need to send big files with a minimum of hassle.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (March 2015)

    The season for 2015 flagship phones is upon us, and it's hard to make a bad choice. Truth be told, most Android phones are quite good now. You'll probably be satisfied with most of them, but we want more than good enough. We want the best. Most people don't pick up a new phone every six months, so you need to get something that has staying power.

    Samsung and HTC are both taking pre-orders for their flagship phones, and you can get them on all four big US carriers. Before we dig in, we need to sort out which one of those is best.

    Photo credit: Flickr user bestboyzde via Creative Commons

    The HTC One M9 and the Samsung Galaxy S6

    This is a strange time for Android as OEMs are finally figuring out how important it is to make your phone available to everyone. The days of carrier exclusives for flagship phones are well and truly gone, and that means you can pick up the HTC One M9 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 on any carrier of your choice. Let's see how these two stack up before we dive down into the specifics.

    Samsung has completely redesigned the Galaxy S6 this year after a lackluster showing from the GS5 last year.

    The first wave of reviews for these devices have started to hit, so we've got a good idea how they will perform if you opt to buy one on your carrier of choice. Samsung has completely redesigned the Galaxy S6 this year after a lackluster showing from the GS5 last year. The entire phone is metal and glass, and it really and truly does feel like a premium piece of hardware. It has the precision and elegance of Apple's engineering with a little Samsung flair thrown in.

    Toward the bottom of the front of this device Samsung has placed its customary physics home button and capacitive multi-tasking and back buttons. The home button is a little larger this year and has a proper touch-based fingerprint sensor. It's very clicky and feels solid. The buttons on the side are also extremely tactile and tight. Around back is a camera hump for Samsung's new 16MP image sensor. It has a wider aperture than last year for better low-light shots, and it performs every bit as well as you'd expect. Samsung's HDR photos are second to none.

    Google Play App Roundup: Open Imgur, Frozen Synapse Prime, and Overpaint

    The time has come again to shine a light into all the shadowy corners of Google Play to find the best new and newly updated stuff for your phone or tablet. The Google Play App Roundup is where you can come every week to see what's cool on Android, and this week is no exception. Click on the links to head right to Google Play and download for yourself.

    This week you can share images more easily, hack the system, and mix up some colors.

    Open Imgur

    Seldom will you see a more negative reaction on the internet than if you post a link on Reddit that does not go to Imgur. The image sharing site has become the go-to way to host images for Reddit, as well as many other sites and services. There is an official Imgur app, but it's really just okay. Open Imgur, on the other hand, seems pretty great.

    This app comes to the Play Store packing a fully material interface with an "imgur green" action bar and light backdrop. That's just the default, though. As with most material apps, you can change the action/status bar color in the settings. There's also a dark theme, which actually looks a bit more like the Imgur website.

    The main screen when you open the app is a feed of recent galleries posted by users in a grid layout. To get around, there's a slide-out nav menu on the left. Again, this is done with proper material styling. From here you can log in if you have an Imgur account, as well as access different areas of the app. You can view images by topic, subreddit, or random. When viewing individual images you can add comments and favorite posts.

    Open Imgur also has a meme generator built-in, which comes with a selection of all the big memes. There's Scumbag Steve, Insanity Wolf, Skeptical Third-World Kid, and more. If you're already tired of all the memes you've ever seen, feel free to avoid this section of the app. Actually, why are you using Imgur at all? I kid.

    Of course, Imgur is all about sharing your pics, and you can do that with Open Imgur. There's a section of the app where you can get images from your device uploaded and share the links. A FAB on the main page also lets you upload images. If you're logged in, you can access all your past uploads from the app as well.

    One last thing, this is called Open Imgur, right? Well, it's open source, You can go to the Github and download the code, fork it, file changes, and so on. You can get the finished app free in the Play Store.

    Android Tablet Roundup: Which Tablet Is Right for You?

    Android tablets are going through an interesting transition right now. We're seeing the first few hints of 64-bit support, 4:3 screens, and some powerful gaming features. However, these products are still imperfect. I don't think there's such a thing as the perfect Android tablet for everyone right now, but there are a few good ones that might work well for you.

    Let's check out all the top tablets on the market and see what they all have going for them.

    Nexus 9

    If you like having access to the latest software and dig the 4:3 form factor, the Nexus 9 might be an appealing option. This tablet runs on a Denver dual-core Nvidia Tegra K1 chip with 2GB of RAM and 16-32GB of storage. The centerpiece is clearly the screen, which is above average compared to most Android tablets. It's an 8.9-inch LCD with a resolution of 2048x1536, just like the iPad. At 8.9-inches, a widescreen tablet would be awkward to use in portrait orientation, but the the N9 is quite comfy.

    The Nexus 9 runs Android 5.0/5.1 Lollipop without any OEM junk added. This is Android as Google intended with updates more or less guaranteed for at least two years. The Nexus 9 might fall back to second priority in a year or so when new devices come out, but you won't be left to rot on an old version of Android within the expected life of this tablet. There are also full system images for the Nexus 9 and an unlockable bootloader, making for easy modding (and fixing your mistakes so you don't end up with a brick).

    I think the biggest knock against the Nexus 9 is that the build quality simply isn't where it needs to be for a $400 and up tablet. The buttons are a little mushy, the soft touch plastic feels a little cheap, and it's slightly heavy. More recent production runs of the Nexus 9 are much more solid. It still takes a weirdly long time to charge, though.

    More problematic is the state of the Nexus 9's software. It's overall a better experience than many Android tablets, but the N9 still stutters and hangs more than it should. Nvidia's Denver CPU core has a lot of power, but it seems like it's not being fully harnessed in the N9. Hopefully a future software update gives this tablet the extra boost it needs to be a better experience.

    The Nexus 9 is a good tablet, but it's pricey. If you can find one on sale, it might be a good buy. Even if you can't the form factor makes it worth considering.

    Google Play App Roundup: Tinkerplay, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Boss Monster

    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.

    This week we finally put that 3D printer to use, visit the past, and become a boss monster.


    In my day we didn't have any choice in the design of our action figures. We took what we were given and we liked it. Also snow, uphill both ways, and so on. With the advent of 3D printing, it has become possible to make real world objects dreamed up on a computer from the comfort of your own home. Autodesk's new Tinkerplay app lets you create characters from a plethora of interchangeable parts, then export a file to have it 3D printed. The future is now.

    All the parts are available in the arc-shaped menu in the top right corner. From here you can choose any of a number of torsos to use at the starting point of a design. There are also categories for arms, legs, hands, weapons, and other miscellaneous parts. To attach something new, simply drag it from the list and to the general vicinity of the connection point. The app will display an arc of electricity to show where it will snap on if released at that moment.

    You can start from scratch and build whatever you like, but the app also comes with some complete advanced models that can be tweaked to your liking. However you decide to use the app, you can move the parts around to pose your creation by tapping and dragging. If you need to precisely position a single component without affecting everything it's attached to, you can double tap to get a 3D rotation interface. You might want to zoom in to do this more effectively.

    Tinkerplay also has full support for adding colors and textures to your models. This is all reflected in the final file export as well. Speaking of the file export, you can select the type of printer you're using to get the proper format, but all you really need to worry about is getting a .stl or .thing file. You can change the scale of the parts, separate by color, and more. The app also gives you an approximate printing time.

    Google Play App Roundup: Source, Table Tennis Touch, and Dungeon Hunter 5

    The week is just getting started, but you can ease the transition with some new apps and games. You've come to the right place, too. This is the Google Play App Roundup, the weekly feature where we tell you what's new and cool in Google Play.

    This week there's a lovely new news reader, a game about a game, and a new dungeon crawler.


    Source is a feed reader client from the developers of the popular Talon for Twitter. The two apps have a lot in common, meaning a strict adherence to material design aesthetics and plenty of colors. Source has been in beta for a few months, but now it's ready for primetime. This isn't meant to be a replacement as your main RSS hub, but it plugs into services like Feedly, The Old Reader, and others to provide a clean, attractive interface for keeping an eye on those feeds.

    When you first open Source, it asks you to add feeds via whatever service you have previously used. It lists any groups you may have set up in Feedly or something else, and allows you to choose which ones you want synced to Source. If you don't have an account at one of the established services, you can add RSS feeds individually to Source.

    The main interface for checking articles in Source, is very clean--there's not even a slide-out navigation menu, just a list of cards. You can tap on any article to have it expanded in-line (similar to Talon). If the site only provides a snippet of text you can open the full article in a browser, but there isn't one built into Source. Source has background sync for articles, and it can be limited to only work on WiFi to control your data usage.

    Where this app truly shines is with the interface--it's really pretty. The default theme is a white background with an orange status/action bar. In the settings you can change to a dark theme and pick from a dozen different accent colors. The navigation bar can be colored as well. Just about every button and card in the interface has a touch effect attached to it too.

    Source's last trick is something that's becoming increasingly popular--Wear integration. When you connect an Android Wear watch, a Source module will sync over that lets you view the entire feed on your wrist. You can scroll through cards for each article and tap on them to view all the available text. I don't know that I'd want to do this very much on such a small screen, but it's an option.

    Source is a very attractive app with solid, though basic functionality. Although, I think it's going to be a somewhat hard sell for $2.99 when it lacks some of the features of a full-featured client. If you already use Feedly or a similar service, Source could be a great way to see your pre-built feeds in a better app.

    Google Play App Roundup: Ampere, Dark Echo, and Blockwick 2

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

    This week you can see power, sound, and illuminated blocks.


    It used to be that all microUSB phone chargers were created equal, but that's no longer the case. There are power adapters with different ratings, and then there are all those Quick Charge-compatible chargers. Wireless chargers complicate matters even more. Ampere is a simple app that tells you what kind of juice you're getting from your charger with a pleasant material interface.

    Ampere is not the first app to display battery current on Android. The system exposes this information to apps, but few have ever implemented it in a compelling way. This app is geared only toward showing you your battery's state. At the top is a display of the current as measured in milliampere hours. If you're discharging, that number is negative. Plugged in, it's positive. Alongside that value are the minimum and maximum for the current observation period, which can be reset by tapping the "x" under the current value.

    Below the measurement area is some basic system information like the type of charging reported by the system (USB, AC, wireless), battery health, and device model. There's also a floating action button that links to the system battery stats interface. Settings are sparse, and you can't really do anything with the free ad-supported version of the app. It's $1 up upgrade via in-app purchase, which grants you an optional notification that shows you the charge information at all times and a few other small tweaks.

    Device support is not universal because of the different power control ICs that are used in some phones and tablets. I've tested it on a few devices like the Nexus 6, Nexus 9, and LG G3 without issue. The developer has an official list of supported devices on the app description page, but I suspect it's intentionally conservative. You'll probably be fine, but you don't have to pay anything to try it out.

    With this app you can easily figure out how much power you're getting from different chargers without looking at the regulatory markings on them. Even if you did know the specs, not all chargers work as advertised. Keep in mind this app is displaying the power measured at the battery, so it won't exactly match the specs of any charger due to inefficiencies in the hardware.

    I can see a clear difference between standard AC adapters and Quick Charge ones with Ampere, but more interesting is the difference between various wireless chargers. Wireless charging is slower than wired, of course, but some of the ones I've tested are more than twice as fast as others. It's times like that Ampere comes in handy.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (February 2015)

    This is a strange time in the Android world. Big phones are on the way, but there are already so many great ones out there. Getting a new phone can be a two-year investment (at least for most people). You don't want to get the wrong thing and regret it on a daily basis. What's a phone nerd to do? Well, let's try to figure that out.

    Photo credit: Flickr user janitors via creative commons.

    This month is all about playing the waiting game or jumping on something that seems good enough.

    Wait it out? The HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6

    If you think you need a new phone right now, I would urge you to consider if need is really the right word. Maybe you just really want one. If that's the case, you should wait. Samsung and HTC have both announced updated versions of their flagship devices, and they'll probably be on sale in just a few weeks -- probably late March or early April.

    So we're going to do things a little differently this month. Since both these devices will be going up against each other, let's talk about what each one brings to the table so you can get a feel for them. They'll be on all four major carriers, so you can take you pick in a month or so when they come out, if that's what you decide to do. If you're ready to buy a phone right now, we'll go over an alternative on each carrier.